Wednesday, September 14, 2022

My Favorite Prog Electronic Albums of All-Time

 A sub-genre of progressive rock that has never been of much interest to me, I have learned that not everything in Progressive Electronic music is done with sequencers and synthesizers. Thus, I have been able to find more music within the field that are interesting and enjoyable. Hence this list.





ALIO DIE & LORENZO MONTANÀ Holographic Codex (2015) Another one of Stefano Musso ("AlioDie")'s very successful collaborations, Holographic Codex explores some meditative, contemplative soundscapes that continue, for me, to evoke sacred religious sites--especially those of Christian and Muslim sacred and secular traditions.
     The opener, "Muns de Etrah" (6:58) makes me feel like I am walking around the streets and alleys of a some Arabian city in the middle of the day, always seeking the shadows with their possibility of cooler temperatures to find respite from the midday heat. (15/15)

2. "Hydra e Vers" (5:16) reminds me of a visit to the ancient mosque in Cordoba, Spain, when the facilities were virtually empty and yet the strains of voice and instruments in practice could be heard reverberating, as if from distant rooms, throughout the vaulted rooms and hallways. Islamic "call to prayer" type singing (heavily treated) with heavily treated piano and other soundscape-filling synthesized sounds make for a very neutral, very supportive ambience. (10/10)

3. "Akvil" (9:35) sounds strikingly similar to the cords struck by Larry Gordon to open the first song, "The Dance #1" but then of the pace and tempo of "5. Meditation #1" from the 1981 Eno/Laraaji collaboration, Ambient 3: Day of Radiance. In the third minute there arises some deep bass chords and several octaves of chimes taking the song into a more meditative direction. The emotions conjured up with this music are not necessarily pleasant but, instead, more evocative of shadow imagery and emotions. (18/20)

4. "Silent Rumon" (15:16) present fifteen minutes of pure disconcertment. The musical strains are unsettling, sometimes even disturbing or scary. Truly a masterpiece for bringing up the shadow side of our being. (28.5/30)

5. "Egetora" (5:24) a kind of nondescript but not unpleasant song; not plain, good but not great. (8.5/10)

6. "Cinta della Breccia Divina" (15:14) treated organ, synthesizers and plucked string instruments with some droning sounds alternating among several octave ranges. (27/30)

7. "Eternal Wisdom" (6:12) is the most uplifting song on the album--and what a relief! After such heavy, murky ambivalence, it is such a relief to experience such a spiritual uplift--almost like a resurrection; radiance, beauty and redemption. A wonderful way to end the album. (10/10)

93.60 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a true masterpiece of progressive electronic music.




STEVE HAUSCHILDT Strands (2016)

Before Steve turned master synthesizer of styles (with 2018's Dissolvi and 2019's Nonlin), he was a producer of top notch John Serrie-like space soundscapes.

1. "Horizon Of Appearances" (6:33) gorgeously rich John Serrie-like textured waves with off-world percussion and strings serving as animals or twinklings. Gourmet food for an active imagination like mine. Blade Runner 2049 could've used music like this. (10/10)

2. "Same River Twice" (5:59) opens with a bank of synthesized female voices that are soon joined by sequenced electronic percussives, a variety of arpeggiated keyboard lines, and a loose, almost syncopated bass line. The weave is rich and symphonic; more than minimalist though it has some of those sensibilities, too. Toward the end of the third minute the sequencer programs begin to feel very TANGERINE DREAM-like. (8.75/10)

3. "A False Seeming" (3:19) every ten seconds or so a lush synth chord comes rushing forward like a concussive wave from distant beginnings, washing right over/through the listener. It's an amazing half-comforting, half-exfoliating experience. Brilliant! (9.25/10)

4. "Ketracel" (4:34) straight out of the TD/KLAUS SCHULZE world of early video game soundtracks, the VANGELIS-like buzzing-synth in the lead position calms and reassures--until the two-minute mark when synth/computer pops and glitches take over the sound scape and all other seem unnatural to the musical world yet possible to a computer generated Neo-Jurassic world. Awesome! (9/10)

5. "Time We Have" (5:50) a near-exact replica if a chordal sequence and sound palette of MARK ISHAM from his 1982-5 period (Vapor Drawings and soundtracks to the spacious films, Mrs. SoffelCountry, and Never Cry Wolf). Beautiful! (9.5/10)

6. "Strands" (5:17) beautiful and melodic in a happy, almost New Age way. The John Serrie School of Space Electronica. I'm in heaven! (9.5/10)

7. "Transience Of Earthly Joys" (6:43) heavily treated piano and Mellotron voices yield a very familiar HAROLD BUDD/BRIAN ENO-like soundscape. (8.5/10)

8. "Die In Fascination" (4:21) waves of particles washing through the ocean of space, this is very VANGELIS/ROACH/RICH-like. A little too boring. (8.25/10)

Total Time 42:36

90.94 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a masterpiece of modern Progressive Electronic music and perhaps even a masterpiece of progressive rock music in general. Definitely an album that I'd highly recommend for anyone open to the spacey potentialities of modern computer synthesizer music.   




ALIO DIE  Honeysuckle (2011) Though not a huge fan of the overdrawn opening song of this album, I can say that the other 50 minutes are absolutely stellar. This may be my favorite Alio Die album and one of my Top Five Progressive Electronic albums of all-time.

1. "Honeysuckle" (24:00) Wooden flutes, old organ sounds, old metallic and organic acoustic hand percussion instruments, and a constant though protracted fading in and out of 'focus' gives the opening 24-minute epic and title song of this album the feel as if one were walking around--both inside and outside--an old monastery, only, perhaps three to five hundred years ago. A truly magical and evocative experience. My only criticism is that the overall length may be a bit too much; even a walk around St. Peter's or Hagia Sophia needn't take 24 minutes--nor would the minstrels inside be performing the same droning song for that length of time. I think. (40/50)

2. "Innamorato" (9:19) opens with a very familiar BRIAN ENO Ambient 2 or 4 feel to it--only this one may be better than the original. It's gorgeous! Zither, harp or other finger-played stringed instrument performs the foundational sound with some kind of 'almost-trumpet'-like sound looping within the weave while the harmonics drone, echo, and reverberate without. (20/20)

3. "Honey Mushroom" (40:00) is a suite of three parts which opens with at least five instruments contributing thread lines to the construction of the overall musical weave:  chimes, zither, organ, synthesizer, and bagpipe-like horn. The ethereal sound produced as result is gorgeous, mesmerizing, and truly enchanting. I feel as if I could fall under the spell of any one of the instruments but as a whole, in this weave, they are irrefutable. Unlike the opening number, there is enough developmental flow in the first movement of this suite to make it interesting and never boring.
     The second movement is slower, thicker, heavier, thicker, despite the more active play of the muted chimes over the top. There is a much more pronounced and slow moving wave-like low end here--harmonics or strums of a treated zither, I'm not sure. And a very engaging melody of longing and imploring seems to come from these harmonic overtones. Incredible!
     The third movement opens with a drone-like note in the unusual place of the upper registers of the harmonic mix--and it is sustained--almost like a large alabaster 'singing bowl' is being played. For the first three minutes, the background of various chimes, organ bass tones and zither are supportive but truly at the call and beckoning of the singing bowl in front. Then there is a subtle but pronounced shift as the drone of the singing bowl softens and recedes slightly, giving the zither and other sounds a little more prominence.
     Overall, "Honey Mushroom" is an absolutely brilliant piece of music--entertaining, satisfying, and never overstaying its welcome despite its 40 minutes. (80/80)

93.33 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a true masterpiece of Progressive Electronic music.




HAMMOCK Silencia (2017)

I totally resonate with the word "resolution" that I've seen used to describe the music of this album; the grieving process that began with 2017's Mysterium must be complete (as complete as grieving ever gets) for that is the feeling one comes away with after hearing this collection of calm, soothing songs. And we, the public, are so blessed for Marc Byrd's choice to process his grief through his amazing music. As I listen to this absolutely gorgeous music, I am bathed in feelings of peace, of relief, of completion and readiness for the journey to pick up and start again, anew, refreshed, after a much needed long and healing delay. Would that all humans were able to find such means to process their emotional challenges; it is a flaw in the human design that so few ever reach the heights of artistic perfection that Marc and Andrew do; it is a gift that some of us get to experience their artful expression.
     As other reviewers have noted, this music may be more accurately categorized as ambient or neo-classical though the Post Rock label works, too.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Marc Byrd / composer, performer & producer
- Andrew Thompson / composer, performer & producer


1. "Circular As Our Way" (7:00) strings, muted horns, voices at the end (14/15)

2. "Silencia" (5:09) slow and unevolving, it's about constancy. And backdrop. (8.5/10)


3. "When It Hurts to Remember" (6:16) very much like a BERSARIN QUARTETT song; very little development or change. (8.5/10)


4. "Afraid to Forget" (7:08) haunting female choir and organ and, later, strings, all repeating the same Inception/Harry Potter-like theme. Big shift for the final two minutes. (13.5/15)


5. "Saudade" (5:18) horns, strings, and distant choir carrying "arpeggio" of three descending "chords" for five minutes with varying volume, dynamic, and with occasional addition of other solo instrument like cello, synth "underwater bleep" and others. (9/10)


6. "In the Shattering of Things" (5:51) a song that affirms how amazingly evocative music can be. Stunningly gorgeous. A song that pierces me to the core. (10/10)


7. "We Try to Make Sense of It All" (3:56) Piano! and then, Cello! Multiple strings! A modern day chamber quintet masterpiece. With choir of angels! Wow! (10/10)


8. "Slowly You Dissolve" (5:18) slowly shifting low chords with heavily treated electric guitar harmonics and single notes played, one slowly decaying note at a time, over the top almost ROBIN GUTHRIE-like. Strings join in toward the end of the third minute and begin to take the fore. Brilliant. (8.75/10)


9. "Fascinans" (4:16) slow, murky horn arpeggio joined by synth/strings to expand each "note" into a chord and then add embellishments from individual stringed instruments. Beautiful like a lullaby for mermaids. Effected choir is added to the mix in the fourth minute to back the viola and cello as they sing the lead melody. (9/10)


10. "Life is Life" (3:48) 
low end horns muted and synth washed open this one while whispery things play about at the other end. Then the treble register intensifies as the Icarus-flighty things soar and dissolve. Another piece of emotive genius. (9.5/10)

11. "Without Form and Void" (8:05) quite heavenly--not unlike some of the gentler, more slowly scored work of BATTLESTATIONS, DAVID DARLING or New Age masters like STEVE ROACH. (13.5/15)

Total Time: 62:05

Songs that sound like they could have come from soundtracks by HANS ZIMMER or CLINT MANSELL or albums by Post Rock bands like ULVER, THE BERSARIN QUARTETT, JAKOB, or GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR. 
Having explored many of the earlier Hammock releases, I am quite convinced that this is the finest and most mature musical release of this band thus far. Well done!

91.4 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and a masterpiece of neoclassical/ambient Post Rock music.






RYUICHI SAKAMOTO async (2017)

Minimalist music expression of multi-dimensional aspects of the human experience--usually all at once, Ryuichi is here offering us glimpses into the beauty and pain of his everyday life: his physical and mental challenges with aging, the calamaties in his homeland (Fukushima, etc.) as well as his own battles with cancer and an ever-isolated and limited world. In reaching back to his past--to the great masters that have moved and inspired him so--like Andrei Tarkovsky, Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederic Chopin--and fusing them with his present: with his walks, his addled, medicated brain, the impositions of chemotherapy and COVID-19--we are privileged to be given an inside ticket into the real-life world of one of the artistic masters of our era.

1. "andata" (4:39) what sounds like a 21st Century take on a Bach funerary piece is apparently inspired by a piece by a band Ryuichi helped to work on a few years ago, Solo Andata. (9.5/10) 

2. "disintegration" (5:46) haunting sounds created from a pattern of plucked piano strings inside the body of the piano. The addition of the metronomic timekeeper in the second half gives one the feeling of the urgent, unrelenting push of time while the introduction of ghost-like synth wash chords feels like the lingering, insistent presence of Death making himself known. Genius. (9/10)

3. "solari" (3:52) inspired by Tarkovsky's use of Bach music in the soundtrack of his 1972 film, "Solaris." Beautiful and pacifying. (9/10)

4. "ZURE" (5:12) familiar for being similar to the soundtrack music of The Revenant (which, of course, Ryuichi helped score). More evidence of Ryuichi's amazing plasticity: his ability, willingness, even eagerness, to continue growing, to continue experimenting with sound and with how to deliver his interpretations of sound and music's place and effect in human life (or Nature). Amazing. (9/10)
 
5. "walker" (4:20) one of Ryuichi's sources of solace (and strength) has been his desire to commune with Nature. Here we get a recording of his footsteps as he walks in Nature, coupled with the musical musings of his mind. One can almost feel the Maestro's thoughts. (8.75/10) 

6. "stakra" (3:41) heavily treated/edited synth play. Beautiful progression of arpeggiated chords with strings and white noise static accompaniment. Must be what it's like in a brain fogged by chemo. Thank you for sharing this, Mr. Sakamoto! (9.5/10)
 
7. "ubi" (4:03) submarine blips and other industrial noises as if the Chopin-inspired piano player had tinnitis or was playing from within a high-class prison or a post-apocalyptic world. (9.5/10)

8. "fullmooon" (5:13) one hit of a piano chord immersed within the world's background of industrial white noise is, amazingly, enough to provide the foundation for the recitation of a literary quote by many people, each in his or her own native tongue. World Citizen, Babel, part 2. (9.25/10)

9. "async" (2:45) more picking, hitting, and plucking of the piano's strings, carriage, and body--this time quite aggressively. Like the annoyance of overwhelm. How frustrating! (8.75/10)

10. "tri" (3:29) triangle play. My least favorite. (6/10)

11. "Life, Life" (4:24) David Sylvian reading a poem of by Russian/Soviet poet laureate, Arseny Tarkovsky (Andrei's father) over Ryuichi's glammed out piano and synth play. Brilliant! So powerful! Art doesn't get much better than this, folks! (10/10)

12. "honj" (3:42) using some traditional Japanese stringed instrument--like a lap dulcimer (koto?) with rain, electronic squeals, and other incidental percussion instruments. It's nice, peaceful, yet unsettling for the feeling of being trapped by the rain. (8.75/10)

13. "ff" (5:13) Eno-esque sound manipulations. Beautiful and reassuring. Makes me love and appreciate this Game of Life! Must have been a good day for Ryuichi. (9.5/10)

14.  "garden" (4:16) kind of an experimental play on an organ--fed through many sound processors.  (8.75/10)

89.46 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive electronica from one of the true masters of music in the last 100 years. Ryuichi is an international treasure like very few others. 
An album spoiled by only one poor song, otherwise this would (should) be considered one of the great achievements in 21st Century musical artistry. 




YVES POTIN aka JAZZCOMPUTER.ORG Forest Stairways (2017) Jazz multi-instrumentalist Yves Potin puts lush soundscapes together in a way that might be familiar to lovers of the music of Andreas Vollenveider and Robin Guthrie or even Ozric Tentacles, Steve and David Gordon, and Paul Hardcastle but where Yves' music is different from the cited artists is in his exciting and use of percussion, layers and layers of synthetically-rendered musical nature sounds over which he employs heavily treated guitars, koto, and other synths to move the music forward on their melody lines. It's truly gorgeous music, soul-engaging music.

1. "Flying Owl" (10:12) has the rhythmic drive of a Berlin School sequence-driven song but is guitar, koto, and percussion dominated! The opening 90 seconds is more ambient and relaxing, but by the two minute mark we are off to the races! (19/20)

2. "Fern Chimes" (9:47) sounds like the music I would have made had I stuck with it! Love the deep bass tone, the percussive and computer-generated nature sounds, and the guitar strums, and the gentle keyboard play. At 4:50 there is a shift as a bulfrog-like bass line takes over as the main driving force. Many layers of keyboard-generated sounds are interspersed over the top of the bass creating quite a busy image of a nature scene. Vibes in the seventh and eighth minutes are cool. (19/20)

3. "Forest Mist" (9:20) wonderfully beautiful and relaxing "Tropical" background over which heavily reverbed electric guitar strums are spaced out so that they can float away with the mist. This is so like a Robin Guthrie soundscape! Then the koto comes in as the lead instrument. Gorgeous! (18/20)

4. "Mirror Lake" (9:17) despite the draw of the lush synths and deep bass lines, it is the busy hand percussion that is my favorite stuff to pay attention to on this one. Great chord and melody lines from the keys here. The added keyboard percussion in the final third of the song is really cool. (18/20)

5. "Future Tribes" (11:32) opens with very slow attacking synth washes and lots of waves of tuned and electronic percussion sounds over which large hand drums are played in hypnotic patterns. Echoing guitar strums enter in the fifth minute while some slow-decaying lead notes also present themselves, one at a time. At the very end of the sixth minute these lead guitar notes start to feel as if it's Allan Holdsworth playing them. Then Pat Metheny-like synth-horn guitar lead joins the party! (Think "Are You Going With Me?") This is awesome! The bass has transformed into something more upbeat and insistent and the percussion falls right in line. I'm dancing! I'm in Heaven! (My version of heaven will have lots of dancing and lots of music like this.) (19/20)

I will repeat the statement I made in song #2: Yves has created music that I feel would very well have come out of my own heart/mind/brain had I continued trying to pursue a course as a musician/composer--music that comes from the soul and feeds and affects other souls. Well done! Bravo and Encore! LOTS more!

93.0 on the Fishscales = a masterpiece of progressive rock music and definitely a shining masterpiece of prog electronic music. This is my first exposure to Yves' music! I can't wait to get to know his previous (and future) work!




STEVE HAUSCHILDT Nonlin (2019)

New to me as of this album, I am blown away by Steve's innovative and refreshing approach to a melodic multi-instrumental (and multi-dimensional) Berlin School-type of electronic music. Steve merges recognizable instruments with computer generated "noise music," arpeggiated sequences, and even ambient techno synth washes and rhythms.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Steve Hauschildt ‎/ performer, composer, co-production
With:
- Lisa Kohl / cello (7)

1. "Cloudloss" (3:45) a strangely satisfying excursion into controlled chaos as layered beauty of ambient synth washes are paired up with a cacophony discordant and, at times, disturbing computer noise "music." Somehow it works. (9/10)

2. "Subtractive Skies" (6:46) hypnotic ambient techno weave of layers of synths and computer percussives, all with a steady and driving presence of a pulsing bass line--at least until the final two minutes when bass cuts out as synth flock seems to fly slowly and beautifully fly away like a thick flock of birds all flying in perfectly synchrony. (14/15)

3. "A Planet Left Behind" (3:36) pitch-warped and warbled keyboard play is soon joined and suppressed by deep bass and slow rise of muted synth washes, thus creating space for a delicate dance of synth strings. Beautifully "orchestrated." (9.5/10)

4. "Attractor B" (5:29) opens with slow pensive electric piano chords, by the third minute has become dominated by computer techno noise music. (9/10)

5. "The Nature Remaining" (2:34) echoing electric piano play over distant etheric synth washes. (4.25/5)

6. "Nonlin" (5:15) techno track and RADIOHEAD-like synth chord with busy and heavily treated bass synth performing the lead work. Interesting for the pops and glitches. (8.5/10)

7. "Reverse Culture Music" (6:09) opens sounding like a slow Gamelan song performed by Western orchestral strings under the guidance of Phillip Glass. By the second minute it has morphed into a more Western hypno-trance piece with Steve Reich and Pat Metheny's guidance. By the third minute it's feeling more like a SEQUENTIA LEGENDA song. Cool and sly flow of transformative shape-shifting. The cello use is genius! (9.5/10)

8. "The Spring In Chartreuse" (3:26) this is no spring from my experience! Maybe the opening of discordant backward notes is supposed to represent the chaos of late Winter weather, or perhaps the title is merely an afterthought, but the weave of reverse and forward arpeggi is weird and a bit unsettling. Still, nobody else that I know of is doing taking music in this direction. (8.5/10)

9. "American Spiral" (5:35) slow arpeggio of VANGELIS-like space synth notes opens this one--notes covering the entire breadth of the keyboard. At the one minute mark a blob of computer noise music in a kind of raw Kanye West "Faster, stronger" pattern enters while the space notes continue to arpeggiate slowly behind. The noise music gets quite gnarly, like the movement and noise of a creature from Ghostbusters. Weird, ending with a slow exit/escape of the alien usurper. (8.5/10)

Total time 42:35

89.72 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars. I vouch for this album as a masterpiece of progressive electronic music though it only qualifies as a near-masterpiece of progressive rock.




STELLARDRONE Light Years (2013) Stellardrone is the name that Lithuanian artist Edgaras Žakevičius has been using to release self-published music over the past ten years. While Edgaras' output has been at a fairly pleasing level from the start, it feels to me that until this album, Light Years, each of the Stellardrone albums has provided me with a bit of a rollercoaster ride--a lot of great songs pitted with the valleys of some weaker ones--songs that feel underdeveloped or 'cheesy' in their simplicity or in the choice of computer synthesized sounds chosen therein. Light Years is the first Stellardrone album that I absolutely love start to finish. There is no song-skipping here, no weak songs, only shifts in dynamics and speed, provocations of dreaminess or movement and adventure.

Five star songs: 1. "Red Giant" (3:15) (9/10); 2. "Airglow" (5:16) (10/10); 3. "Eternity" (6:21) (10/10); 4. "Light Years" (6:04) (10/10); "Comet Halley" (3:42) (9/10); 8. "Ultra Deep Field" (5:44) (10/10), and; 9. "Eternity (Reprise)" (3:33) (10/10).

Four star songs: 5. "In Time" (3:47) (8/10);  6. "Cepheid" (4:32) (8/10), and; 10. "Messier 45" (2:26) (8/10).

92.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of modern electronica.




OÖPHOI Bardo (2002) *

Oöphoi is the brainchild of the late Gianluigi Gasparetti (1958-2013). Gianluigi used electronically treated sounds to imitate a distorted Mother Nature much in the same way that Stefano Musso does in his ALIO DIE releases.

1. "Samten Bardo - Contemplation" (16:14) a droning number of synth chords, rustling wind chimes, and intermittent and linear transpiring muted and muffled industrial sounds that soften and smooth out in the mid-section. Nothing very special or memorable here. (24/30)

2. "Chikai Bardo - Dissolution" (11:38) I love the slightly over-loud "rocket" effect employed within which are some of the clearest, most steadfast notes and chords while incidental spirits and sprites visit and, sometimes, try to engage with us. Starting in the third minute it feels as if we are on a space train to some unknown destination: to an internment camp, or the outer suburbs of København, into the mines of Lusus or who knows where! I love it! This is Brian Eno's 1980s Ambient work taken further: into the subliminal! I could see how this could be disturbing for some, but I find it exhilarating! (19/20)

3. "Chonyi Bardo - A Path Of The Lights" (28:54) deeply engaging and hypnotic. A great trip-inducing passage of electronica--as if escaping the gravitational pull of Self to fly freely among the Truth. Flawless! (60/60)

4. "Sipai Bardo - Crossing The Bridge Of Existence The Eternal Cycle" (17:34) deeply echoing gongs and Tibetan instrumental and vocal sounds drawn out over seventeen minutes. Not nearly as engaging, transportive, or transformative as the previous two--though the intensification of Tibetan overtone throat singing and volume rise in the eleventh minute does kind of lock one in for a few minutes--but then things begin to back off and let one go for the final three minutes. Too bad. I'd much rather be thrown into the fire and left to simmer and seep like the previous two songs. (30/35)

91.72 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and a sure-fire masterpiece of 21st Century Progressive Electronica.




KLAUS SCHULZE Kontinuum
 (2007)

Though I found myself fascinated by the albums of Tangerine Dream in the 1970s, I never really became a fan. I think that I always thought that the production was weak, murky, even cheezy. Now I hear a 21st Century Electronic Prog album by maestro Klaus Schulze--using 21st Century technologies and recording advances--and I am blown away. Had the TD/KSchulze albums of the 70s had this engineering and production they would be on my frequent playlists. Despite Schulze's use of familiar song structures, these three epics are nearly flawless: engaging, creative, melodic yet creepy or quirky when they need to be. From the first notes of "Sequencer" (10/10) I was sucked in and did not want to tear myself away. The same feeling occurs with each replay. It is a true masterpiece of the sub-genre--maybe the one that I would play first were anyone to ask me to play a track best exemplifying the TD/Schulze sound. 

1. "Sequenzer (from 70 to 07)" (24:54) begins with a gorgeous computer keyboard sequence that just suck you in and keeps you there. For fully eight minutes little major changes, yet I'm still there, in the music. Wordless vocals join in brilliantly causing major and minor key shifts to the main melody with their own pitch changes. Another ten minutes passes like this before things begin to fade out and shift toward a new, spacey background synth. A pause and then a couple of new synths play out the rest of the song in some eery minor key. Starkly cold--like being on the moon, alone. Amazing! (50/50)

2. "Euro Caravan" (19:41) (Sample is an excerpt) begins with some low notes while some odd/eery ENO Ambient 4: On Land-esque noises flit around in the background like fairies flying around. After two minutes of this a lone male voice enters singing in a heavily treated voice some nondescript words á la LISA GERRARD. A very DEAD CAN DANCE-like soundtrack song. In the sixth and seventh minutes the vocals take on more of an Arab religious tone, style and feel. Then at the 9:45 mark one of TD/Schulze's signature bass synth driving sequences enters as the keening voice slowly fades further and further to the background. At 11:25 enters another signature sound from olden days: a computer/synth originating 'drum'/rhythm sequence. The new, playful, mostly-bass synth hits playing around over the top keep the song driving forward--into the distant future (the same very distant future that these guys were playing in during the 70s). At 14:10 the rhythm and the haunting ghost-voices flitting in and around the soundscape become more insistent, more driven. At 17:30 the song's male Arab keening-sounding voice returns, though he disappears for the final minute as the song's initial faerie voices return to take us out (or, truly, into the next song). (34/40)

3. "Thor (Thunder)" (31:47). The music here does not quite match its title, in my humble opinion. Instead, it has a very sparse, Blade Runner-like sound and feel to it--at least for the first seven and a half minutes--before the computer rhythm track begins. Then the lead synth begins to show some teeth--and support keyboard sounds fill the sonic universe in a more cosmic majestic way. At the eleven minute mark a very fast paced synthesized 'tambourine' joins the music, accompanied by some more wordless vocal keenings á la LISA GERRARD. This continues for ten minutes with little or no significant or emotional shift until at the 23-minute mark the rhythm 'instruments' cut out, leaving us with a kind of shifting progression of chords of mellotron voices over which which a solo voice and occasional synthesizer single note their ambiguous, androgynous melodies. To the end. (57/65)

Not enough development and variety on the album's last song, and yet the album as a whole is a perfect update of some of the best sounds and techniques of the pioneers of electronic music. Only, here, they benefit from the technological advances in sound production and music recording.

90.97 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.  




HAROLD BUDD & BRIAN ENO Ambient 2 - The Plateaux of Mirror (1980)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Harold Budd / acoustic & electric pianos
AND 
- Brian Eno / performer, treatments, producer

1. First Light (6:59)
2. Steal Away (1:29)
3. The Plateaux of Mirror (4:10)
4. Above Chiangmai (2:49)
5. An Arc of Doves (6:22)
6. Not Yet Remembered (3:50)
7. The Chill Air (2:13)
8. Among Fields of Crystal (3:24)
9. Wind in Lonely Fences (3:57)
10. Failing Light (4:17)

Total Time: 39:30

This miraculous album provoked multi-level personal transformation in my life over the course of several years in the early 1980s--musically, spiritually, and even creatively. This album contributed to the broadening and expansion of my perspectives beyond Earth, "reality," and self, and into my own creative potential as both thinker, writer, and musician. This album provided me with my introduction to Brian Eno which then incited a desperate and frenzied search among a vast back-logue of his earlier creations and collaborations (a search that seems on-going as I am ever-surprised to find to this day Eno appearances or connections from the 70s and 80s). In retrospect, Brian Eno has been one of the top three or four artists to have led me to other artists that I now cherish and love. What Eno and Budd accomplished here, on "Plateaux of Mirror," was the full and complete arc of time--of a day, if you will, of something of a complete circle which opens with "First Light" and it's fleeting touches with the day's first beams of light using single piano notes, spaced sometimes seconds apart, flitting at the listener from an octave on the piano far above, but sometimes nearer to earth, nearer to hand-held, nearer to sleep, and then each song takes us through ordinary events and moments of a typical day on Earth, among nature, helping us to notice here-to-fore sights and moments we normally take quite for granted, and then ending the album with a return to the form and sounds of the opening song yet somehow more subdued, less immediate and less tenable. The notes from the piano seem to be floating away, receding, shimmering etherically as the light does at sunset and dusk. The effect is to me, to this day, one of the most amazing and masterful renderings of real life through art--of the emotional content of six-dimensional "physical" reality--that I've ever-EVER--encountered. It is an accomplishment that I can call nothing short of miraculous.




KLAUS SCHULZE X (1978)

When I began my explorations of the work and evolution of Klaus Schulze, I started with his most highly acclaimed albums and then when back to his origins--his work with Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, and Cosmic Jokers. While I enjoyed these pieces, I never really felt that anything he had done was so very earth-shattering or timeless. Until I stumbled upon this album. Once Klaus had made the commitment to the incorporation of other instruments and other collaborators to his music I feel there is finally a breakthrough--a true expansion and fulfillment of the potential of his music. I feel a tremendous augmentation of the power of Klaus's music with the addition/incorporation of strings, cello, orchestra, violin, live percussion as well as Harald Grosskopf's drums--so much so that I would call "Ludwig II von Bayern," "Heinrich von Kleist" and "Objet d'Louis" three of the greatest Progressive Rock epics ever produced. That would lead us back to review the album's original two sides--of which one, "Georg Trakl" was relegated to a five-minute edit due to the physical limitations of sound reproduction on vinyl. (Too bad Klaus was German: his standards were too high. Had he known what Todd Rundgren had been squeezing into his vinyl albums, he might have reconsidered.) Anyway, I have the advantage of working from the latest 2018 CD release of the album, thus the inclusion of "Louis" and a full, 26-minute version of "Georg Trakl." 

The opener, "Friedrich Neitzsche" (24:53), benefits tremendously from the masterful use of Mellotron choir, Harald Grosskopf's drums as well as Klaus's great organ and synth play. (49/50) 

2. "Georg Trakl" (26:04)--the full-length version--opens with two minutes of space blob music before it turns to more pop-familiar sounds and melodies (PINK FLOYD comes to mind). Harald's subtle cymbal play becomes more attention-grabbing in the sixth minute. A key shift at 8:38 provides a kind of "refresh" while Klaus's own percussive synth work becomes interesting. Multiple sequences layered over one another in the sixteenth minute offer another shift. But, alas! the song just doesn't do enough to warrant 26 minutes of the listener's dedication, even with a shift into minor key with six minutes left. (43/50) 

3. "Frank Herbert" (10:51) a big "orchestra hit" opens this before a fast-paced TD-"Thief"-like sequence establishes the breakneck speed we're going to be subjected to for the next ten minutes. (I know: the movie "Thief" won't be coming out for another three years.) Everything on this song is hyped up and fast, even the incidentals that Klaus keeps throwing in from every direction. Other than tom-tom flourishes, I'm grateful for Harald's rather subdued role as simple time keeper (very Jaki L-like metronomic snare and kick drum play) (17.25/20) 

4. "Friedemann Bach" (17:58) opens very sparsely with two slowly bouncing synth strings chords while Harald throws in some syncopated tom hits. In the second minute Klaus's synth work builds as the chords climb in pitch until a pause for some freaky "alien voices" at the two minute mark opens a new section--one with a break from any drums and with more "string" instruments introduced as solo items. Cool! In the fifth minute, everything we've heard so far begins to reenter and slowly congeal as Klaus's strings build to a fever pitch. Just before the five minute mark, a simple four-note sequence emerges into the mix, giving the song some kind of frail stability. The myriad incidental instruments and noises continue to make their sudden and random appearances until a wild flying violin begins to take a more permanent presence. I don't know who Friedmann Bach was, but the eeriness of this music makes me believe that he must have been the purveyor of some pretty frightening ideas or art. Things really peak in the 12th minute before there is an odd and unsettling break--a premature reprieve, it turns out, as more waves of chaotic continue to flash through the soundscape. Then the final two minutes give a kind of Fall of the House of Usher dénouement--as if everything comes crashing in. What a ride! Genius! and effective! (32/35) 

5. "Ludwig II. von Bayern" (28:42) the perfect blend of electronica and real orchestra. Very evocative music. Though not about the other, more famous Ludwig von, there are passages that remind me of Beethovian music. (58/60) 

6. "Heinrich von Kleist" (29:33) is a fine un-tempoed piece of orchestra, synthesizer and improvised percussion play--becoming much more of this latter during the middle section, but then returning to music with the organ and Mellotron choir entries in the eighteenth minute. It is dark and ominous throughout, thickening on the lower end for the full-spectrum sound of the final six minutes. (53/60) 

7. "Objet d'Louis" (21:27) though unpolished--as evidenced by the scratchy sound on the recovered tapes--this eery song would make for a great soundtrack to a sci-fi time travel film. Very skilled classical music composition with some great themes and movements. No sign of Harald, drums, or even percussives anywhere! (36/40)

All in all, this is probably the finest album of Prog Electronic music (or "Krautrock") that I've ever heard--certainly head and shoulders above anything I've heard by any other artist from the 1970s. Without question, this deserves full marks.




JAZZCOMPUTER.ORG Elsewhere (2007)

The second album released by guitar-based prog electronic/jazz/fusion artist Yves Potin under the JazzComputer.Org name. The music here is very difficult to categorize. It is a fusion of many eclectic styles, all very nicely engaging the listener on some wild and otherworldly yet relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable journeys through some very exotic aural topographies that might be better described as coming from "ancient futures."

Line-up / Musicians:
- Yves Potin / All instruments, electronics and effects

1. "Indian Mood on Thethys" (9:38) opens like a jazz guitarist's solo sound experimentation. I'm reminded of both Pat Metheny's totally solo album from 1979, New Chautauqua, as well as some of Jan Akkerman's late 1970s solo experimentation (Eli). Gorgeous stuff. The first half goes with very little rhythmic structure (the occasional background synth wash chord), but in the second half the guitar and newly-present bass and talking drum and rim shot percussives become support for the soloing of a koto. Cool sounds and cool stuff. I'd like to have seen a little more melodic development to engage me a little more deeply. (8.5/20)

2. "Dawn in the Snow" (11:34) opens as if it came straight from outtakes from Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack, this song contains some absolutely magical moments (like the sparsely used operatic voice notes) but lacks from full development in many overly-spacious places. (8.25/20)

3. "Elsewhere" (24.55) other than the opening atonal space synthesizer section (which is very cool but a little too long), this song stands up as one of the prettiest, most deeply engaging and evocative electronica pieces I know of from the Naughties. The section from the beginning of minute seven to ten is absolute prog perfection. The percussives in the next section are really cool, as are the space sounds and unsettling synth worms in the thirteenth minute and the guitar "punches" in the fourteenth and fifteenth minutes. The next section that establishes itself around 17:30, driven by the "lunge jazz" beat, is really cool for the scurrilous flights of the synth "bats." If the opening four minutes were as peaceful and engaging as the final four this would be a perfect prog epic. (9.5/50)

90.55 on the Fishscales = A-/a five star minor masterpiece of ambient electronic jazz fusion (or something like that) and a gorgeous example of the possibilities of 21st Century technological potential.



AIDAN BAKER The Sea Swells a Bit (2006)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Aidan Baker / electric & acoustic guitars, bass, drum machine, flute

1. "The Sea Swells A Bit" (21:00) layers upon layers built over three repeating notes/chords of bass lines on an electric guitar. Just right for me. (37/40)
2. "When Sailors Die" (17:19) has an ENO-esque pop-sensibility to it, as if one of Brian's wonderful riffs/measures were looped out over seventeen minutes. (31/35)
3. "Davy Jones' Locker" (15:58) Post Rock! A mellower early MONO or early BATTLESTATIONS. (26/30)

Total time 76:06

89.52 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of prog electronic music.




MANUEL GÖTTSCHING E2-E4 (1981/1984)

Though a fairly recent discovery of mine, this wonderful album stands up strong against any of the other Berlin School albums of its era--including the masterpieces of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. BTW: don't be deceived: this plays out like one continuous rave party dance song; the demarcations and separate song titles are purely artificial!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Manuel Göttsching / guitar, electronics, composer & producer

1. "Ruhige Nervositäet / Quiet Nervousness" (13:00) cool groove with treated percussion in the lead positions. As instruments are gradually introduced and molded into the weave, the song just keeps getting stronger. It is truly difficult to discern whether or not these individual tracks woven together are in fact generated by guitars--I would argue that they're not. As the song plays on I'm feeling as if I'm in a big dance party--or Ibiza; some huge dance hall where disco balls, flashing colored lights, and multi-level platforms are disbursed for dancing and losing onesself. The start of trance dancing or house music. Even today, at age 64, I'm compelled to want to get up and dance by this music. Brilliant. I want to demerit this for its sameness but at the same time I want to reward Manuel for producing such a mesmerizing, joy-filled, dance generator. (23.5/25)
2. "Gemäßigter Aufbruch / Moderate Start" (10:00) apparently, at some point in the flow of the first song it became the second song. Even more Tiësto or Oakenfold than before, it is really just a continuation of what he started in the opening 13 minutes. (17.75/20)
3. "...Und Mittelspiel / ...And Central Game" (7:00) the song finally seems as if it's evolving as the percussive elements diminish and dwindle leaving a combo harmonium-accordion-guitar strum sound to dance around the chord chart. The percussives are still there, just at much lower levels, allowing the organ-like combination of pipe sounds to stand out. Cool. Again, I appreciate the happy, upbeat nature of the music. (13.25/15)
4. "Ansatz / Promise" (6:00) Until the soloing guitar comes through well into the second minute of this I'm not quite sure what distinguishes this "song" from the previous one, but, once the guitar is blues-jazz soloing, I get it. (8.5/10)
5. "Damen Eleganza / Queen A Pawn" (5:00) at which point the soloing Bob WELCH-like guitar changes sound and the percussives rise back into greater prominence in the mix. (9/10)
6. "Ehrenvoller Kampf / Glorious Fight" (3:00) the guitar soloing reaches a crescendo in pitch and speed, gradually shifting over to artistically strumming the song's two chords as a different lead instrument enters in the higher pitch ranges. (Sounds like KC's speeded up tapes of his guitar on his big hit, "Get Down Tonight".) (8.75/10)
7." Hoheit Weicht (Nicht Ohne Schwung) / H. R. H. Retreats (With A Swing...)" (9:00) Then the percussive "bent" lead sounds return and the strumming guitar has gotten wild and crazy before it returns to soloing--this time way more jazzy and impressively than before. Fun and, again, so dance-inducing. (18.5/20)
8. "...Und Souveränität / ...And Sovereignty" (3:00) once again the point of demarcation from "before" and "now" is so subtle and arbitrary: The soloing guitar is still going. As a matter of fact, he seems to have gotten a little second wind! All the while, the Tangerine Dream-like dance weave continues, though it begins to thin out, but the party isn't quite over yet. (I am still so in the Zone!) (9/10)
9. "Remis / Draw" (3:00) well, it turns out the guitarist was finally finished, and so the rest of the electronica ensemble begins to slowly withdraw. The crowd gets the idea and begins to leave the dance floor--headed for the bathrooms, bar/waitresses, exits, and/or beach. What a night! What a dance! (8.75/10)

Total time 59:00

Thanks to the stupendous groove and George Benson show, the dance party was a HUGE success!

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of prog electronica and a major step forward from the world of Disco to the world of all night raves. 




TANGERINE DREAM Rubycon (1975)

While the walls of the youthful yet fragile citadel of progressive rock music were beginning to crumble, TD was reaching its peak powers; all the familiarization and experimenting with their rather complicated equipment and sound manipulation techniques and miles of concert performing was paying off with a more confident trio of musicians and a more refined sound in the studio. Rubycon represents the achievement of that plateau of mastery as the previous album, Phaedra, was still showing engineering and sound quality flaws. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Edgar Froese / Mellotron, EMS Synthi A and VCS3 synthesizers, organ, guitar, gong
- Christoph Franke / prepared piano, Moog and Synthi A synths, organs (modified Elka tr. 1), gong
- Peter Baumann / organ, prepared piano, Fender Rhodes, EMS Synthi A and ARP 2600 synths

1. Rubycon Part 1 (17:18) While listening to the opening eight minutes of Rubycon, Side One, one can very easily find oneself thinking, "This is where Vangelis came from," but M. Papathanassiou had already released five solo albums since his departure from Aphrodite's Child--two of which were showing his very fast and deep descent into the music of the soon to be defined electronic or "ambient" instrumental soundtrack music. Where the Berlin School musicians and Vangelis differ the most is put on display with the entrance of the pulsating, forward-driving sequence in the ninth minute. This is no Vangelis! The clarity here, the emotion evoked, the sound as a whole, is vastly different from the other non-Berlin School artists exploring electronic soundscapes at the time (1974-5). The final, zither-based section of eerie water-based sound experiments takes us to the break. Weird. (31.5/35) 

2. Rubycon Part 2 (17:35) Side Two opens with gong and slow motion siren- and bird-like sounds wafting and drifting in and out of the soundscape. Cool! And a bit unsettling. While the morphing, floating sustained siren remains insistent in its place at the sound foundation, by the end of the third minute it turns into voices, multi-level choir voices--ghosts singing a perpetual drone of frustration and lament. At the end of the fifth minute a lower-mid-range sequence rises up to push away the voices of the dead. A couple of higher pitch synths throw in intermittent bursts to liven things up, but it is the shifting, morphing, mixing sequence that keeps my attention focused, urges the pilgrim onward. Awesome! Tangerine Dream, Masters of electronic music, have arrived! Edgar's guitar in the mid-section is a welcome addition--a feature of TD music that I will enjoy as they use it more--especially on the live album, "Encore!" recorded on their 1976 American tour. The final "flute"-dominated couple minutes are very serene and heavenly. The goal has been reached. Wonderful display of the potential of electronically-generated (and treated) music. (35/35)

Total Time: 34:53

95.0 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the shining moments in the history of Progressive Electronic music.




KLAUS SCHULZE Mirage (1977)

Welcome to the world of the few who came to believe that a side of vinyl could fit more than 18-20 minutes of music! With this 1975 release we see Klaus Schulze recreate himself and his vision as an artist with his first concept album. The results are mature and masterful--we've entered a new phase of Klaus' work: that of a master of craft--a craft that he and a few others were pioneering.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Klaus Schulze / ARP Odyssey & 2600, Minimoog, Micromoog, Polymoog, Moog CIIS, EMS Synthi A, Farfisa String Orchestra & Syntorchestra, PPG Synthi, Farfisa organ, Crumar keyboards, computer sequencer, Fx, producer


Side One: "Velvet Voyage" (28:28) is offers a sonic landscape that is stark, bleak, yet the music is constructed, to my ears, very similarly to a classical piece of music. The fact that there are no sequences or percussive sounds used to drive the music forward, that it's mostly done with a weave of individual, single note-playing keyboard instruments is what gives me that impression. Strings, winds, horns, and, yes, percussion instruments are magically replaced by electronically synthesized sounds. Remarkable. The second half of the song, in which the multi-instrumental fabric is full and at play, is my favorite part. I always find it weird that this weave begins to slowly fade into the background with over seven minutes yet remaining as gurgles, burbles, harpsichord, and Mellotron move out front with the soloing "cor anglais." The almost-cacophonous Mellotron dominance over the final two minutes is unsettling. I think I understand Klaus despondent mood while composing/recording this. (9/60)

Side Two: "Crystal Lake" (29:16) opens with a slowly emerging and developing sequence of "bell" arpeggi into which Klaus feeds other sounds and sequences. The bass-heralded shift at 4:40 is awesome! Such a surprise. The sequences awesomely alternate and shift into other chords over the next three minutes as Klaus keeps us in suspense with each and every new shift. At the end of the eighth minute a new horn-like synth brings in a spritely new "lead" instrument to distract us. More and increasingly quicker shifts, now supported by an accompanying bass line, exert some new tension into the song during the twelfth through fifteenth minutes. Thereafter the mid- and upper-range sounds fade out leaving low end sounds to dominate until a synth wash and Arp-like synth leads in the high end upper registers. In the nineteenth minute a high-end "tingling" sequence and Mellotron male (and later female) voices join in giving the song an interrupted, floundering feel, like an interlude. Soon a new tapestry of sound is constructed with a different set of sequences woven into the foundation while Arp does the soloing over the top. A perfect display of the power and breadth of the Berlin School apparatus. (10/60)

While I like Berlin School music that uses sequences as Klaus does on Side Two more than I do the airy, feathery effect of the first half of "Velvet Voyage," I understand the value others place on this album as a whole. Klaus took a step--a big step--out of his previous patterns with this one and the world is a much better place for it (for the reason of all of his output after this).

A five star masterpiece; a shining example of the potential realized for this new musical form.




TANGERINE DREAM Phaedra (1974)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Edgar Froese / organ, Mellotron, bass, guitar, Synthi A & VCS3 synths, producer
- Christopher Franke / Synthi A, Moog & VCS3 synths, keyboards
- Peter Baumann / organ, electric piano, Synthi A & VCS3 synths, flute

1. "Phaedra" (16:48) if ever there was a perfect electronica companion to Stanley Kubrick's film "2001: A Space Odyssey," this would be it. Eerie and spacey and forlorn yet powered by the human spirit of hope and adventure, TD put something together here that transcends just listening: this is music is suggestive of worlds and sensual experiences beyond normal imagination--or rather, this music enhances the capacity of imagination. Thought the driving sequences change and shift often throughout the course of "Phaedra" the pace is fairly consistent and insistent; there is no let up on the course into infinity--at least, that is, until 10:20, when it appears that we are waylaid by reaching the Void. (And people express their distaste for Genesis' "The Waiting Room"! This must have really irked them!) Luckily, an angelic force appears two minutes later to rescue us and push away the Faeiries of Kaos. Yet, these angels are not from Heaven, but from the Tao! They're here to tell us that beyond the illusory worlds of space and time there exists the potentiality and reality of Anything and Everything and Nothing! Nice song. (9.5/35)

2. "Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares" (10:46) opens with what sound like distant street noises as if heard through the bedroom window from a high rise apartment in the middle of a hot, windless summer night. Synth organ enters in a eerie, vampire movie soundtrack kind of way (though also exceedingly close to Tony Banks' intro to "Watcher in the Skies"). The organth floats slowly around the aural soundscape (panning) as flanging and sequenced riffs and synthesized wind noises flit in and around the soundscape. Very somber and depressing. In the sixth minutes signs of life appear in the form of bouncy synths chords and organ arpeggi while the somber organth continues its parade of death through the city streets. Flitting wind gusts (or are they bats?) seem to occasionally join ole Drac as he looks for his latest victim (the humanized chords just before the last minute?) Genius. (9/20)

3. "Movements of a Visionary" (7:58) opens with experimental sounds that seem unnatural without the contributions of electricity. At the end of the second minute a mallet-like sound creates a fast-paced sequence over which organ soon joins. Electric piano later is added while the sequence shifts down an octave or two. (8.5/15) 

4. "Sequence in 'C'" (2:17) is peaceful and serene as layers of "wooden flutes" create a pleasant, floating canopy of sheets blowing in the wind. (5/5)

Total Time: 37:35

An historic achievement in music and a masterpiece of its genre.




BRIAN ENO Ambient 4:  On Land (1982)

An excellent album in Brian Eno's Ambient Music series of releases, here progressing to the use of more sounds and instruments to replicate some of the sounds one might hear in nature, Brian collaborates with only a few artists on this one but the presence of trumpeter Jon Hassell, bass player Bill Laswell, and guitarist/sound experimentalists Michael Brook and Daniel Lanois on individual tracks is definitely a plus. This is such a memorable album for me for the fact that it assisted me on my first journeys into astral travelling and lucid dreaming. The music here serves such a deep and mind-altering purpose (if you let it) as nature sceneries are conjured up by all songs--some in a way that is quite sinister and unsettling--which was quite a revelation for me as a pleasure seeker in my musical choices. On Land was one of the openers to my Shadow side, to the fact that there can be beauty and lessons and learning in the darker elements of life. Perhaps more importantly, On Land is the album that introduced me to one of the most unique and "out-of-the-box" artists I had, and have, ever encountered in one trumpeter JON HASSELL, who would, in turn, soon lead me to another artist who changed my life in a very empowering way: David Sylvian (who led me to three other giants of boundary pushing, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Holger Czukay, and Bill Nelson).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Brian Eno / synthesizers, treatments, field recordings, etc., producer
With:
- Axel Gros / guitar (1)
- Michael Beinhorn / synthesizer (1)
- Bill Laswell / bass (1)
- Jon Hassell / trumpet (4)
- Felipe Orrego / recording of frogs' sounds (6)
- Michael Brook / guitar (8)
- Daniel Lanois / live equalization (8)

1. "Lizard Point" (4:34) (9/10)
2. "The Lost Day" (9:12) an eerie midnight walk in the empty seaside harbour. (18/20)
3. "Tal Coat" (5:27) a creepy re-visit to the thermal mud pools at Yellowstone, alone due to the cold mid-winter weather. (8.75/10)
4. "Shadow" (3:00) Jon Hassell and crickets! (8.75/10)
5. "Lantern Marsh" (5:31) sub-aural beats with more creepy night noises from the windy seaside. (9.25/10)
6. "Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills)" (5:26) eerie sounds from a walk under the canopy of a thick tropical jungle. (8.75/10) 
7. "A Clearing" (4:07) the hum of electric power lines above a expansive field in farmland. (8.5/10)
8. "Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960" (7:10) various sounds from a windy day at the beach of the now-submerged ghost town. (13.25/15)

Total Time: 44:27


88.68 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near masterpiece of progressive electronic music--a pioneering album in the Ambient and New Age field--and an amazing resource to meditate/dream to.




SEQUENTIA LEGENDA Renaissance (2018)

More Berlin School magic from Klaus Schulze devot' Laurent Schieber, the Mulhouse Maestro seems to be pulling together an LP per year (or, more accurately, every nine months) all the while increasing in confidence, quality, and allure. While last year's Ethereal was a veritable prog masterpiece--and remains on my frequent rotation playlist-- I've been so busy this year (since May) that I've had little time to listen to much new music much less 20+ minute long epics like these. But, I can now say, these are every bit as much up to the standards set by Laurent's previous work--and by the master himself, M. Schulze.

1. "Out of the Silence" (21:55) starts surprisingly familiar and takes a little time growing and developing (a little too much time, in my humble opinion). A drummer's cymbol play enters and joins the sequence over the course of the fifth minute. It sounds live (not looped)! Full drums enter in the seventh minute, total key shift at 7:35 and then back to original formation at 8:25. Two more different key shifts in the tenth and eleventh minutes with a few more percussion noises added to the mix, but the song doesn't really go anywhere new, different, or exciting--not even the shift to a more minor key spectrum at the 11:00 mark--though it is nice that there are four key shifts to choose from instead of the usual two. At 14:00 all rhythm tracks are dropped and multiple layers of synth chords and synth noises hold their own in a new universe of spacey-ness. I like this section. Especially the hypnotic four-note electric piano arpeggio repeated as the central foundation. The brilliance of Rainer Br'ninghaus's work with Eberhard Weber comes to mind. A solid song with a wonderful final third--again, a song that is displaying the growth and development of Laurent's confidence and mastery. (8.5/10)

2. "Ici et Maintenant" (25:40) opening with a much darker, foreboding soundscape than is usual for Sequentia Legenda, the slow fade in of the rhythm and percussion tracks and multiple loops of synth washes brings with it a softening of the tension, a slight brightening of hope. By the fifth minute all levels seem set. By the ninth minute the repetition is starting to wear and then--boom!--at the 9:00 mark, just in perfect timing, there is a big shift--a key change which settles the nerves. Awesome! Laurent is getting so good at reading his listeners (or, at least, me). Something about this key makes the music so much more settling, more relaxing, then, at 11:00, the key shifts again--back to its original, but thanks to that two minute reprieve, it is much more tolerable, enjoyable. Another shift at 13:00--and with it some new synth and keyboard "harp" chords and flourishes. Nice! At 15:00 we enter yet another key. The sequenced items are feeling so friendly and close now. New percussives are being added-- prominent kick drum in the lower range and hi-hat cymbol in the high. After 17:00 a few more synth noises: insect buzzes, full synth wash chords, and an orchestra-like snare track. Nice. The soundscape is so perfectly balanced-- and not overly full. The subtle introduction of so many elements helps me, the listener, to stay entranced and entrenched . . . in the Here and Now. Tom-tom runs are added to the mix in the twentieth minute and then, quite suddenly, at the 20:00 mark, everything collapses; all tracks but the synth washes and a few two-note rhythm tracks disappear. This is awesome! I am so stupefied by the slowly panned and flanged single note "guitar pluck"--I'm reliving my deep connection to Propaganda's "Dream Within a Dream"--one of my all-time favorite songs. Love the prolonged exit with the percussives and upper octave electric piano arpeggi. Awesome song! Definitely a showcase piece of a Berlin School master! (10/10)

3. "Valentins Traum" (17:24) a long opening with minor or discordant chord choices over which odd and eerie, even disturbing, sounds flit in and out of the soundscape. The sequenced rhythm track stays far in the background, fading in and out of the aural spectrum. Only in the fifth minute does it begin to emerge and stay, even rise to a place within the thick of the sonic palette. By the end of the sixth minute an electronic harpsichord riff, insect zip!- buzz, electronic tambourine, and rotation of synth strings washes have established themselves as the mainstays. The chord selection is not quite as dark and scary now, though eerie, unnatural sounds continue to fly in and out of the soundscape. That "harp/harpsichord" riff is so hypnotizing! In the eleventh minute multiple components of a drum kit are introduced and interwoven. The eerie sounds become more frequent, constant, and layered in multiplicity as the drums and rhythm tracks fade out by the end of the fourteenth minute. The d'nouement is slow, gradual, and steady, so I'm guessing that Valentin's dream was a bit of a disturbing event, though not one that caused sudden fright or night terrors, but the persistence of the scary sounds continues in the fore despite the slow fade of the music into the background, so perhaps I a wrong. Nice work. Definitely engaging, mesmerizing, and convincing as a representation of its subject matter. (9/10)

Five stars; another masterpiece of Berlin School-inspired progressive electronic music from this evolving master-- and another superb masterpiece to contribute to the lexicon of Prog Electronic Epics and Prog Valhalla.




SEQUENTIA LEGENDA Ethereal (2017)

Laurent Schieber has done it again! Just when you think the Berlin School sound has been played out, Laurent releases something new that just keeps upping the ante! The second of these three epics of progressive electronic music may be my favorite Berlin School song ever made!

1. "Stratums of Seraphic Voices" (26:28) a variety of Moog Modular-sourced chords weave together for the first three minutes of this one. The plasticized percussive sounds MIDI-ed within the "drum" and rhythm sequence track (reminding me very much of the sounds produced from Blue Man Group music) that develop and establish themselves throughout the bulk of the song. (Love the tabla sound integrated in there, as well!) As a matter of fact, one might conclude that the percussives are the real lead track here with the synths playing second fiddle--though the song would be far from as effective without them and their steadfast swirling and spiraling. The addition of 80s sounding Western drum machine percussion sounds is well-integrated by this point. A key change at 17:38! What an unexpected surprise! And then back at 19:15. Back up again at 20:55. And another higher shift at 22:30. Bursts of Star Warsian space-spitting noises join in the soundscape during this last four minutes. A final downward key shift at 24:50 finds the music joined by Mellotron choir voices. Nice. (9/10)

2. "Around the Second Moon" (22:45) opens with some very interesting slowly sliding note "arpeggi" beneath which some sequential percussion/bass lines try to establish themselves. As the treble sounds thin and disappear, the "bubbling," "squirting" sequencer lines become more interesting, hypnotic, captivating, and then foundational, even melody holders. In the fourth minute, they are the only music placeholders before some synth washes sneak in from behind. The chord choices of the synths add so much to enhance the sequencing. It's not until the middle of the seventh minute that the first percussive sound arrives and begins to elbow its way into the mix. By now the bass and synth lines have wormed their way into your subconscious in a kind of Edgar Alan Poe way while syncopated, intermittent percussives make it sound like Madeline Usher trying to break out of her casket in the basement. This is SO COOOL!!! New upper octave sequence sneaks in during the twelfth minute before a wave of a cymbol crash signals the achievement of full sound. Simply brilliant! So cool that the free, or improvisational instrument is a kind of large, kodo-like drum--until the seventeenth minute when percussives fade out. By the beginning of the eighteenth minute, all of the original instrumental sounds and sequences have pretty much faded into the distant background save for the synth washes--which now seem augmented by Mellotron choir voices. Staticky-rainstick-fly noises pan quickly across the soundscape while all three of the dominant sequential tracks slowly reassert themselves, if still in the background. A little PETER GABRIEL Passion: Music for the Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack can be felt at the end. (10/10)

3. "Elevation" (20:36) very steady, even, and subtly uneventful over the first half, the second half sparks to life but then drags on without enough development, resolution, or dénouement. (8/10)

Were I more familiar with Klaus Schulze's work of the second half of the 1970s I might find more to compare and critique, but, as is, I can only find praise. The clarity and fullness of modern sound is so pleasant and fulfilling to the ear and soul than the often thin and scratchy stuff of recordings from the 70s that, as with the Master's 2007 release, Kontinuum, I am filled with only praise and joy.

Five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the 21st Century's shining examples of stellar Berlin School revitalization.




TANGERINE DREAM Force Majeure (1979)


Line-up / Musicians:
- Edgar Froese / keyboards, synthesizer, electric & acoustic guitars, bass, Fx, co-producer & mixing
- Christoph Franke / keyboards, sequencers, co-producer & mixing
With:
- Klaus Kräger / drums, percussion
- Eduard Meyer / cello, engineer


1. "Force Majeure" (18:18)
2. "Cloudburst Flight" (7:21)
3. "Thru Metamorphic Rocks" (14:15)

Total Time: 39:54

Having travelled through the discography of TD from their 1960s origins to this album, pretty much in order, and coming away surprisingly underwhelmed, I came upon this 1979 release and was completely sucked in. I love this! By far the most engaging and mature work of the band that I've encountered. Perhaps I am biased by my love of the Thief soundtrack (despite the album's ultimate song not being a TD performance), but I had long been a fan and frequent spinner of the "Encore" discs (especially the guitar-dominated Side Three epic, "Coldwater Canyon"). The sound on Force Majeure is just so much more forward, so much more surrounding and engulfing than many of their earlier works in which I always felt (feel) that I had to work so hard to enter, engage, and immerse myself into. Maybe its the more live sound of the drums, but I think it's the way the synth tracks are all finally mixed distinctly and forward. Also, the melodic constructs used here are much more dynamic whereas in older stuff the melodic shifting was so much more subtle, fluid, and gradual. This may not deserve a full five stars but for me it stands above their other acknowledged "masterpieces."




TANGERINE DREAM Raum (2022)

The last founding and continuous TD member, Edgar Froese died in 2015. (Other founding members still live but disassociated from the band long ago.) Some of his collaborators from 21st Century projects here continue to carry the torch of Edgar's ideas.

1. "Continuum" (7:09) nice, catchy melodies lets me know these musicians are serious and eager about preserving the Tangerine Dream story as well as taking it forward. My second favorite song on the album. (13.25/15)

2. "Portico" (6:42) pleasant soundscapes and interesting music constructed in an engaging fashion. (8.75/10)

3. "In 256 Zeichen" (19:07) floating nighttime land and skyscapes develop slowly over the first of the four sections (five minutes) of this long piece. The second section sounds like jungle forest scapes--with an almost gamelan or third world percussive sound component. The next section founds itself completely on those "third world" percussion sounds before 80s banks of Mark Isham-like synth-strings chords dart into the open fields. The final piece sees some space music devolve into entropic chaos. Cool composition. My third favorite song on the album. (36/40)

4. "You're Always on Time" (8:07) nice rolling synth-bass line. I like the song's spaciousness--sounds like subatomic particles moving through space. Violin is also a nice feature. It's not until the third minute that everything starts to come together. Nice finale. (13/15)

5. "Along the Canal" (5:29) a little too early-Vangelis sounding. (8.25/10)

6. "What You Should Know About Endings" (6:55) gets good in the third minute with the deep vein thrombosis, and then with the seriously moving rhythm sequence, but the song never really catches onto a melody to really bring me in. (13.25/15)

7. "Raum" (14:54) opens with some familiar DEAD CAN DANCE synth cords before sequenced rhythm track creeps into the background. Then highly distorted/degenerating synth notes try to add a melody line before disappearing. By the end of the third minute you get the feeling that something big and orchestral is brewing as many sounds and layers are slowly being introduced. A minute later it seems surprising that we are stripped down to a familiar Berlin School sequence with few embellishments, but then many incidentals are subtly snuck into the weave--some staying, many appearing and then disappearing. It's like a drive through the countryside with the numerous incidentals in the scenery passing us by. Definitely an "older" version of TD being played at here. The second half gets more aggressive though still using older sounds (instruments?) to create the tapestry--before we return to a classic spacescape in the tenth minute. This is gorgeous! Violin moves to the for and becomes quite prominent in the thirteenth minute. I really like this! Great song! Definitely my favorite on the album. (29/30)

Total Time 68:23

Even with the cheezy drum machines, two-chord synth washes, and simple synth bass, I cannot deny that there are some really engaging melodies and soundscapes here--not to mention some cool ideas--many of which apparently came from the late Edgar Froese's notebooks.

A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of Progressive Electronic music. All hail Edgar Froese: the king is gone but his spirit lives on! And, with music like this, we should be glad that it does.





KLAUS SCHULZE Trancefer (1983)

Some people beleive Prog Electronic music went terrible wrong (or downhill) in the 1980s--due to the influence and popularity of New Age music. Here is an album that proves an exception to the rule.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Klaus Schulze / performer (Yamaha CS-80, G.D.S. computer, ? ), producer
With:
- Wolfgang Tiepold / cello
- Michael Shrieve / percussion

1. "A Few Minutes After Trancefer" (18:20) (36.5/40)
2. Silent Running (18:57) (34/40)

Total Time: 37:17 

88.125 on the Fishscales = B+/four stars; an excellent addition of 1980s Prog Electronic music to any prog lover's music collection.




TANGERINE DREAM Hyperborea (1983)

As we get deeper into the 80s, there are some who believe TD's best is now behind them. 
 
Line-up / Musicians:
- Edgar Froese / ?
- Christoph Franke / ?
- Johannes Schmoelling / ?

1. "No Mans Land" (9:08) quite a few similarities with the foundation of this song to Thief-era stuff. It's the lead instruments' sound choices over the top (sampled world music instruments) that raise some eyebrows. Never really satisfies or surprises. (17/20)

2. "Hyperborea" (8:31) drum machine with thick, Alan Parsons-like synth washes!? And then synth bass!? Could be a Simple Minds song! Nice melodic sense in the lead instruments over the first three minutes, but then the tempo starts to get to me: I just want a different gear! Edgar Froese's guitar is just to flanged out--more like washed out.
     At the 4:30 mark there is a radical shift--as if an entirely different song is starting. Still slow, still surprisingly simple, synth saw gets the new lead. Cool drum effects introduced at 6:15 soon followed by bouncy synth string chord play. Me like. In the ninth minute all coherence gets a bit lost, muddled, until they finally decide to just fade it out and cut it. Weird. (17.25/20)

3. "Cinnamon Road" (3:54) cool synth rhythm track not unlike Robert Palmer's 1983 "Silver Gun" (only RP's song is much better). Weird pop chord sequence for the "chorus." Are TD attempting to go Top o' the Pops? Not sophisticated enough. (8/10)

4. "Sphinx Lightning" (20:01) 
(36.5/40)

Total Time: 41:34

87.50 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition of Prog Electronic music to any prog lover's music collection--especially because of the Side 2 epic, "Sphinx Lightning."




SEQUENTIA LEGENDA Blue Dream (2014) 

Frenchman Laurent Schieber has been a life-long fan of electronic music--especially the legendary synthesizer sequencing of the fictitious "Berlin School of Electronic Music" (there is not nor was there ever an actual school of electronic music in Berlin churning out the great artists or albums of the 1970s) and especially of the recently deceased Klaus Schulze. It seems that Laurent had been experimenting with his own imitations and compositions for years but is only now, in the last few years, publishing recordings of his compositions for public consumption--and I, for one, am so glad that he is. Blue Dream consists of three long songs: the 33-minute 10-part suite, "Fly Over Me" (10/10), the 22-minute "The Approach" (8/10) with its driving drum and synthesizer rhythm tracks and shifting synth washes beneath and within, and the 15-minute "bonus" song, "Vibrations" (9/10). All songs are very well mixed and produced (would that the Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze albums of the 1970s had this kind of sound quality) with my favorite being the opener--which is clearly the centerpiece of the album, with the bonus song, "Vibrations," next. While none of the compositions here reveal anything new or innovative in the world of electronic sound technology, the perfect imitation of the masters of the 1970s is a true homage and, I believe, fully Laurent's top intention.

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