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Hypnagogue Review: Souls Adrift, in Disrepair

Big thanks to John Shanahan (Hypnagogue) for his review of Souls Adrift, in Disrepair (original post here).

After over a decade, John is putting aside the Reviewer’s hat to undertake new ventures. His enthusiasm, keen observations and support will be greatly missed.

“It may not matter to you that Souls Adrift, in Disrepair began its life as a set of live improvised pieces to accompany an art installation. It’s nice to know, sure, but not necessary to take the voyage this album offers. All that really matters is how easily you got lost in the sound. Ambient guitarist Eyes Cast Down (Greg Moorcroft) provides five nuanced soundscapes in this “…spiritual journey, facing down sorrow and loss, in order to see through them and beyond…” There are long stretches of grim shadow, passages of optimistic light, and a mostly seamless sonic topography that gives your mind’s eye plenty to gaze into as you go deeper. “Fading Angel” opens the album in a light space, presenting floating ambient washes. It’s the lightest Souls… gets–or, at least, its longest sustained stretch of lightness, and as you get more into the album, you understand that this is something of a cleansing breath before it’s time to get deeper and darker. Impatient listeners may have issues with the mist-wrapped, near-static drones of the next track, “Astral Drift.” Moorcroft keeps the voices very low on this piece, both in volume and in timbre, and although there are shifts of sound and the emergence of fresh textures and directions, they come at a glacial pace in this 17-minute journey. Those who appreciate drone work will go deep into this one. I find myself halfway between. On different listens I have alternately been pulled completely into it or gotten to a point where I want something to happen. Regardless, its dark and mysterious flow makes a fine counterpoint to the lighter tracks. In fact, “Sirens of Maya” leaps into your head after that down-the-well experience with high, bright tones that bounce into view. They get somewhat smoothed out as they go along, but also spend some time working through a hint of dissonance that rolls through the space. I pick up chime tones in the wash, and wavering pads that ripple across the piece’s surface. “Transcending Memory” is a Steve Roach-style piece, the kind that blends moody darkness with a bigger stellar sense–The Magnificent Void comes to mind. It’s a dynamic ambient work, its pads in constant morphing motion like swirling storm clouds. The Roach sensibility rears up in sudden dramatic swells, and the whole thing has an ominous tone. That carries into “At This Body’s Final Hour,” which frankly is where Moorcroft loses me a little. He shoots for upping the dramatic ante, but chooses to do so by dropping in some big kettle drum tones. I understand the idea, but it comes across as out of place from what has gone before, and he’s already using super-heavy bass notes to give the piece the cadence and gravity of a funeral march. He offsets that weight with a rising, tonally brighter piano line, creating a powerful mood that doesn’t need the extra bombast.

“I like the balance of light and dark that runs through Souls Adrift, in Disrepair. I think there’s just enough of a challenge in the heavier pieces, and Moorcroft skirts the edge of alienating listeners who don’t want that kind of experience. As droning as “Astral Drift” gets, Moorcroft gives it enough dynamism to make you maybe want to keep listening even if it’s not your thing. We can all use a little darkness now and then. It sets you up for the next step of the voyage, and that path the album takes makes excellent sense overall.”

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Divinations – Album Review and Radio Feature

Album cover: Divinations by eyes cast down

Design by Greg M, Photos by Greg M & Dasi.

Much gratitude to John Shanahan (Hypnagogue) for his enthusiastic review of my Divinations album, and to Brian at Our Place Radio for featuring the album on Feb. 25. Reaching such kindred spirits makes releasing the music all the more rewarding!

John says:

eyes cast down speaks in a quietly assured voice on Divinations, a suite of five pieces designed to be used for “inner work, healing and relaxation.” It’s something of a self-compilation, the first four tracks having previously appeared on multi-artist albums on the Free Floating netlabel and the last a recording of a live set composer Greg Moorcroft performed in 2012 and augmented in post-production in 2014. They come together here in a very pleasant, seamless and utterly relaxing flow. There’s no need to turn down the volume; Moorcroft’s pieces are naturally quiet, patiently carved in long, hushed pads and drones. His gossamer layers sit lightly atop one another, and even his most complex mixes of sound or percolations of texture land as more than a calm ripple. Which is wonderful. “Exquisite Divination of Patterns” sets the overall tone straight away with slowly circling ambient whispers, lightly Dopplered and paired against gentle keyboard notes. Moorcroft notes that this track marks his first use of soft synths. You’d never know, and you wouldn’t care; it’s enough to get carried off by the current of sound. And once you’re in it, you’ll stay there for the full voyage. Through the soft surroundings of “Crystalline” and on into “Radiant Perception.” This is where Moorcroft gets his “loudest” and the sound reaches its most active point. The sound here pulses, sounding a bit like a bowed instrument in spots. It’s got an interesting, almost hollow metallic edge and truly asserts itself over the meandering washes beneath it. Moorcroft goes heavy on the layers here, and the effect is nicely hypnotic. Acoustic guitar takes the forefront on “Snowdance in Starlight.” Moorcroft uses the instrument’s resonance beautifully, hitting hard, Hedges-reminiscent bass notes and letting them ring. Again, the layers here build, bringing the sustain and echo of the guitar into a constantly shifting background wash. “Ensō” is the live piece, nearly half an hour of complete immersion. Moorcroft laces in some bird sounds and prayer chant to further deepen the flow. On the chants, his voice is just a touch raspy–in a good way–and intimately close to the mic. It has the feel of ceremony, and the comparative coarseness of the voice contrasts the softness of everything else. A great way to spend half an hour.

I have been listening to Divinations quietly throughout several full work days, and left it looping in the Hypnagogue office. While I do recommend breaking out the headphones to get all the detail work, this album truly excels as an atmosphere enhancer. Whether you use it during your mediation or yoga or just letting it tint the air as you go about your daily routine, this is a release you’ll come back to. Absolutely worth listening to. Excellent work from eyes cast down.

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Reviews of The Separate Ones

The Separate Ones front coverUpdated April 21…

Many thanks to John Shanahan (Hypnagogue), Chuck van Zyl (Star’s End) and Bert Strolenberg (Sonic Immersion) for their generous reviews!

John writes:

Given that the recording of The Separate Ones, the debut full-length release from Eyes Cast Down, took place over seven years of part-time work, it’s no wonder that the finished product comes off as very intimate and personal. Surprisingly, considering its spread-out pedigree, it also manages to feel like a sensible, continuous narrative. Through six tracks, composer Greg Moorcroft moves his work from warm, straightforward guitar ambient to fever-dream ruminations graced with Sanskrit chant. The journey runs, by turns, from calming to halluncinatory, but keeps the listener engaged throughout. Starting as it does with the quiet ambient structures of “First Day Apart”, it would be easy to dismiss this within the first five minutes as simply that–quiet ambient. As much as I enjoy the rich guitar tones here, it’s when Moorcroft begins imbuing the work with more texture and drama that things get even more interesting. “Rebuild from Memory” retains the sighing notes at first, with Moorcroft rippling their surface with wavering treatments. It’s a very classic sound, broad and calming. “Knife of Karma” glides in on rich waveform pads, then adds a metallic clatter, creating moments of percussion that come and go. Mid-track it turns slightly toward a dissonant feel, like shadows falling across the sound. Sharp guitar notes cleave through the mix. Echoing, chanting vocals from singer Alannah drive “Expanse of Heart”. There’s a wonderful, gut-shaking bass chord that comes and goes throughout the piece, a great counter to the skyward-reaching vocals. And then there is the centerpiece here, “Like A Riven Cloud”, a piece composed of improvised parts, used as a conduit for Moorcroft’s feelings about a friend’s suicide. This is a bared-soul piece of work, extremely vulnerable, with the feel of an unsettled dream. Moorcroft’s wife Dasi recites part of a Sanksrit prayer for protection in the middle of a scattered wash of sounds, and the raw sadness in her voice, at times sounding quite on the verge of tears, cuts straight into you. Violin from Ezra Azmon – whom Moorcroft found busking on the street in Toronto – cries and calls from the distance and adds a fiery anger in spots. At 21 minutes, this is a long time to spend washed over with someone else’s potent emotions, and it’s hard not to come away a little changed from the experience. The disc ends with “Radha’s Tears”, pairing a solo processed guitar with vocals from Dasi. The guitar sounds swirl and resonate, and I find it interesting that the vocals come off as the sharper element here, not interruptive, but at times almost boldly challenging the instrument.

Quite honestly, I struggled to find words for this review. I have probably listened to this disc more than 20 times in the past couple of weeks, and it has lost none of its potency for the repetition. While all music is personal at its core, The Separate Ones stands out for the extreme intimacy it conveys and the remarkable depth of effect it carries. It is profoundly intense in its honesty. I highly recommend reading Moorcroft’s extensive background notes on his pieces. The very good news is that while this disc was seven years in the making, Moorcroft says cracking this ice has opened the flow, and there will be several more Eyes Cast Down releases in 2013. This is quite a good thing for ambient music fans.

Chuck writes:

Eyes Cast Down is the ethereal music project by Greg Moorcroft. Using various guitars, synthesizers, computer programs and acoustic sources, Moorcroft has produced The Separate Ones (73’34”), a fascinating album of six sustained atmospheres. The Separate Ones provides the listener with intelligently directed soundscapes, within which we are almost certain to become lost. Measure upon measure of slowly changing, undulating chords advance and recede along a musical arc of vague dimensions. The slowly breathing tones summon interesting variations in mood and space. Yet these dark sonic clouds cannot keep the sacred from shining through. There are areas of minimal sound, which move on to a thick density of contrasting timbres and emanations in a striking drama of dynamic range. Other pieces dwell in restful sonic colors, luxuriant in their repose. The two final pieces are dreamy – truly depicting the often strange and surreal landscapes and images generated by the dreaming mind. Random voices speak softly amidst reverberant guitar plucks and swells as distant ringing percussion and deep rumblings meet to transform this section into abstraction. This sophisticated collection of Ambient realizations proves to be a delight of wit and wonder in its minimalist phantasmagoria of sounds. The Separate Ones seems felt rather than reasoned out, proving seductive in its use of musically dramatic forms – and achieves an uncanny haunting intensity equal to if not exceeding that of Moorcroft’s predecessors.

Bert writes:

The sole musician behind Eyes Cast Down is US-based ambient/electronic composer, musician and writer Greg Moorcroft. The Separate Ones (that demanded seven years of hard work to complete as life got in the way on many occasions during the process of creation and sculpting) is a concept album featuring a set of reflections on attachment, separation and loss. This automatically made me think of Paul Sauvanet’s Tristesse, along with an album by Boris Lelong (that I reviewed a while back), who also appears to have provided the artwork for The Separate Ones.

Work started with lots of trial and error of ambient improvisation and composition for which Greg stuck to synths only for about two years. Next, he decided to try his hand at composing for electric guitar. This turned out more effectively and satisfying, eventually leading to four guitar-driven works on a total of six compositions.

The 73-minute The Separate Ones features airy, drifting and lush textural worlds along gentle loops that now and then bring the older releases of Jeff Pearce to mind. Moreover, it’s an entrance into a slowly curling and flowing world of contemplation and inner thoughts despite a constant undercurrent of movement. Things go even deeper on the 17-minute “Knife of Karma”, where drifting pads, Tibetan drone chimes and soft bells run the celestial edge.

This moody sphere continues on the elevating “Expanse of Heart”, on which a heavenly female voice joins the gentle soundscapes. The 21-minute “Like a Riven Cloud” is the longest take on the album, entering a spacious dream sphere with soft mourning and wavering violin. But as the track progresses, a surreal/psychedelic world opens up as well, something that’ s also found in the final piece “Radha’s Tears”.

All in all, The Separate Ones is a peculiar but also fascinating ambient album needing a couple of spins before one can judge its real sonic impact.

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