Issue number 2 of Wind and Wire, the magazine, is now available for viewing at this link.
About the issue: First off, you will see that I took the complaints I received of too many fonts very seriously and went with a straight Times Roman font for nearly everything. I published my first letters in this issue (yes, they were real letters). I also wrote my first "controversial" editorial (the first of a few). This issue's review section started to show how diverse the musical coverage was in the magazine, with everything from the dark ambient of Tuu, Robert Rich and Alio Die to the jazz of Val Gardena to the piano stylings of William Watson and the contemporary acoustic music of Tingstad and Rumbel, plus EM from Greg Klamt and more. Be sure to read the interviews, too, of course. I hope you enjoy it! Again, please leave some comments if you are so moved.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Finally, and long overdue I might add, I have started converting issues of Wind and Wire, the magazine I started, edited, and published, featuring the best reviewers in the new age and ambient business (in my humble opinion), to free PDF downloads (well, they are actually on my Google drive so technically you are not downloading anything, as a result you can have no worries as far as viruses go). Now you can either see what started it all or revisit "the good old days." The premier issue, featured interviews with Kevin Kendle, Jeff Pearce, and Jon Jenkins and Howard Givens (of the Spotted Peccary label), as well as our first batch of reviews from Hannah Shapero, David Hassell, Chad Gould, Judy Markworth, Neil Leacy, myself, plus a Suzanne Ciani concert review by Kathy Parsons.
Take a trip down nostalgia lane and view the first issue of Wind and Wire from 1997 by clicking here.
More issues will be coming as I convert them to PDFs. The entire 12 issue run will be available as soon as I can get this done...all free of charge (duh!). Issue 2 will have interviews with Tim Story, Chuck Wild (Liquid Mind), Meg Bowles, and Rob Eberhard Young.
As each issue is uploaded for viewing, you may find it interesting - and amusing - to see how "rough" the first two or three issues were (I think I used 10 different fonts in issue 1) and by the end, I actually was getting the hang of being a publisher and knowing the art of layout. I will share anecdotes when I post each issue. For issue one, I'll let you know that the name of Wind and Wire was not my first choice. My first choice was SoundWaves, but when I did a copyright search, it was already taken. How I came up with Wind and Wire is something that I have no memory of whatsoever. Divine providence, I guess. I hope you enjoy this look back at Wind and Wire's roots.
Oh, and PLEASE leave me some comments even if you think this is a dumb idea.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Reflection of Time
Minneapolis ambient artist John Lyell purposely tries to take each successive album in a slightly different direction (he cites Steve Roach as an influence in this regard, not just his music but his always-morphing style as well). It didn't take long during my first listen to Reflection of Time to discern that either. Lyell's previous release, Eternity, was a soft-edged space exploration with an emphasis on waves of flowing electronic melodies, sometimes punctuated by gentle pulsing rhythms. Not dark by any stretch of the imagination, it was closer to the spacier side of Jonn Serrie's early work. On his newest recording, Lyell morphs that formula somewhat and invites the listener deeper into the inky-black backwaters of the galaxy and sometimes out into the space between galaxies where nothingness beckons with a sense of both awe and forlornness. Lyell's music is still not what I would label as dark or "scary," but it's more moody and evoking of the loneliness and isolation of deep space travel (or what I might assume it to be).
One of the most distinct differences musically is a shift to less of a melodic-based approach and more of a textural one, as well as the use of retro electronic "SF" effects, e.g. burbling synths, static noises, spacy sounds. Yes, Lyell's deft touch with shimmering bell-like tones is still present but so are many instances where the electronics, devoid of overt musicality, are also at center stage. It's to Lyell's credit that he deftly manages to blend these apparently disparate elements into a cohesive whole, somehow mixing them into an alchemy that evokes both golden age science fiction films with their synthesized sounds and early electronic music releases (from artists like the late Michael Garrison or Patrick Gleason or even Larry Fast, perhaps) as well as a contemporary sensibility with top notch production quality. Lyell's discs have always sounded good and Reflection of Time is no different, especially since it was mastered by Robert Rich, although credit is also due the artist himself who handled production and engineering.
Another thing that I give props to Lyell for is how he avoids the ambient/spacemusic pitfall of extra-long tracks, i.e. individual songs of over 10 minute duration. Apparently, he favors brevity over track duration, of which I am particularly grateful. The album contains eight tracks, averaging about 7 minutes or so in length.
On "The Deep Unknown," we are off cruising into the blackness with a repeating pattern of sonar-esque blips (like a repeating radio signal) set off against a series of shadowy synth washes and whooshing effects that sometimes echo off into the distance in a forlorn fashion. Things brighten a bit on "Above the Stratos" with static-effect noises intermixed with retro-synth SF-themed sounds, blipping and bleeping, and ethereal chorals. It's hard to "describe" the overtly SF/computer-like synth effects, but you will know them when you hear them. The ebbing and flowing static in the background might grate on some folks' ears, but likely only if you are listening on headphones. On "Dreaming In Sine Waves" we are settled in for a dreamy smooth passage through deep space with twinkling bell tones and lots of whooshing sounds and an occasional burbling series of synth effects. The loneliness of isolation is conveyed in "A Far Away Place" with more background static-like sounds (almost akin to waves continuously crashing on a beach but distorted) and the barest hint of melodic content in the way of a occasional synth wash or keyboard tone. "Space Ethereal" features reverbed bell tones and gentle bass rhythms pinging into the emptiness, cradled by vibrato chorals and occasional synthesized sighs of relief.
Three more tracks flesh out the release: "Dreaming In Sine Waves 2," "the title track, and Crossing the Barrier." All three take elements already presented in previous songs and shuffles them in how they are used, so that no one track sounds too much like another and yet all eight songs have definite cohesion. "Crossing The Barrier" is the sparsest piece on the album; it's more or less a layering of drones and tones gently easing the album to its warm, amiable conclusion.
I admire how John Lyell has not settled into a successful groove and has opted to allow his spacemusic to evolve over these last three releases. From a purely personal standpoint, I don't know that I "like" Reflection of Time as much as I did Eternity (his previous recording), but I recognize how much care Lyell put into his new album and applaud him in that regard. Reflection of Time is perfect for late-night imaginary stargazing or maybe star-tripping is a better phrase. This is a great soundtrack for a dark-room imaginary excursion to Orion's Belt and other distant destinations out among the comsos.
Reflection of Time is available from iTunes or CDBaby
Saturday, January 24, 2015
James Asher has been at the forefront of world fusion music since releasing such acclaimed recordings as Feet in the Soil (1996), Tigers of the Raj (1998), and Raising the Rhythms (1999). These albums displayed Asher's impressive musicality and inventive compositions as well as his meticulous attention to detail in the production and engineering areas. In 2014, Asher (keyboards, drums, percussion, hammered dulcimer) joined forces with renowned drummer/percussionist Sandeep Raval and the two artists have crafted a genre-smashing 2-disc collection that will almost certainly set the world fusion genre on fire in the same way that Feet in the Soil did almost 20 years ago.
With two discs totaling 143 minutes of music and 20 tracks featuring a dizzying variety of musical styles, trying to adequately describe this recording is akin to critiquing a 10-course tasting menu at a Michelin 3-star (highest rating) restaurant in Paris. Imagine attempting to capture in words each nuance of spice, of sweet and savory, of fire and subtlety, the textures, the tastes, the visual appeal of the plating of each course.
Besides Asher and Raval, two other artists play significant roles on the album: Simon Brewin on guitar and bass and Carolina Maggio who contributes her fantastic vocals and plays charango (an Andean string instrument of the lute family). Other musicians contribute on congas, violin, bansuri, melodic, cahon, sarangi and vocals. Brewin and Maggio are clearly the most involved alongside Asher and Raval, though.
Disc 1 features 14 tracks and kicks off with "Fugira," a spirited vocal track (I believe sung in Spanish or something similar) backed by jazz guitar and a mid tempo beat established by percussion and trap kits drums. The song has a samba-like feel to it, propelled by Asher and Raval's assorted beats, while Brewin unfurls some tasty electric guitar licks in the bridge and Maggio's vocals are fiery and passionate. The instrumental "Takita" features a wide assortment of drums and hand percussion galore all working up to a frenzied energy. "How It Feels," slows things down. Maggio picks up her charango as well as singing (in English). While the song has a sad, despairing feel to it, her beautiful voice is mesmerizing. Asher's and Raval's percussion work lends a distinct world flavor to the song but the rhythm is subdued so as to not interfere with the melancholic nature of the song itself. "Bring On Brasil" changes gears with a festive bossa nova influence. This instrumental track bursts with powerful percolating rhythms from Asher and Raval - the perfect soundtrack to a frenzied street dance in Rio during festival. "Drums for the Dragon" plays like Japanese taiko meets Caribbean funk while "Chili Pickle Chaser" pumps up the late '60s jazz fusion influence with chugging organ and funky guitar licks aplenty while trap kit drums lay down the groove. "Neptune Skank" sprinkles on sensual reggae spices with blistering electric guitar in the bridge and "Pappadoms from Persia" marries traditional Indian instrumentation (esraj and tabla) with a contemporary beat which propels the track into high BPM territory along with soaring wordless vocals. The last track on disc 1, "Seven Veils," is a 14 -minute excursion into Indian tabla rhythms and sultry melodies merged with bluesy guitar and psychedelic, swirling, echoed chants, winding down to barely a whisper by track's end.
Disc 2, subtitled "Tipi Experience," "deepens" the rhythmic journeys. It's a mellower collection of tracks with different musical influences. Despite its title, "African Angel" comes across more like a straight-up folk song (Maggio sings in English on this track) with a dash of world beat rhythms played on hand drums. "Los Cuentos" is a Peruvian-influenced instrumental with a pan pipe lead melody accented by percussion, drums, and charango. "Hey Wanaina" changes the focus to Native American and the track features chanting and Native drums The song has a joyous, celebratory feel with a great chorus of singers accompanying Maggio later in the song. After that song, the album takes on a different feel entirely; one might say it becomes more serious. That doesn't mean sedate necessarily, as fast-paced rhythms are present much of the time until the last track. Moods range from darkly introspective with dramatic tension ("If The Earth Could Speak") to a frenetic build-up of tension and power (the Cajun-flavored "Accelerando" which ends in an orgasmic explosion of drumming ferocity). The album concludes with the 30 minute "On The Outbreath" a slow, sensual, rhythmic Indian meditation, featuring an assortment of ethnic percussion, bansuri flute, vocals and an underlying drone. As a counterpoint to much of what has come before it, this last song is decidedly slower and deliberately paced - a brilliant ending to the album which allows the listener to "power down" so to speak.
James Asher and Sandeep Raval prove themselves to be master drummers par excellence throughout this album. Carolina Maggio's and Simon Brewin's talents flesh out the rhythms with superb contributions. The four artists combined have created something extra special with Drum Travel. As flattering as my descriptions of the music on this album may be, trust me when I say that hearing the music is light years better. Magical, mystical, mesmerizing and memorable - Drum Travel is all that and so much more. Hands down, this is one of the greatest world beat recordings in the history of the genre.
Drum Travel is available at iTunes and Amazon