Posts Tagged transcendent

Album Appreciation: Relayer by Yes

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Progressive rockers Yes’ 1974 release Relayer was one of the first albums that opened my ears to what was possible in music. Pretty difficult to overstate the importance of that – especially to an impressionable teenager.

This was in the mid-70s. I didn’t know anything about Yes and hadn’t heard a single note. I was fascinated by Roger Dean’s amazing cover and bought Relayer partly for that, and partly out of curiosity to learn what these guys were about. Of course, seeing only three song titles on the back cover really piqued my curiosity.

I was blown away at once, listened to Relayer many, many times, and naturally dove into the rest of the classic Yes catalog. On my commute this morning, I heard Relayer for the first time in at least 25 years, and was almost in tears of joy. I had never forgotten it; it was just one of those things that drift out of your life somehow…

Some of those things we come back to, and find that their attraction has been lost. Relayer has lost nothing for me over time; it’s still incredible.

Gates of Delirium is one of the handful of absolute Yes masterpieces. Epic in scope, prodigious in moods, brilliantly executed, with passages of intense power and sublime beauty. It has always blown me away. This is what music is supposed to do. I began to know it then, and that conviction has only grown over the years.

Sound Chaser has the strongest fusion elements and bears the largest stamp of Patrick Moraz’ input – though the band was already well down the fusion path, as composition and arrangement for Relayer was well underway before he came on board. The three-way interplay (not to say flat-out battle) between Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Moraz just explodes all through this track, and Howe’s solo section is a gem.

To Be Over closes on a more mellow note, slowing to a pastoral and dreamy – but somehow still well-grounded – vibe. It fully embodies the opening line “We go sailing down the calming stream.” Beautifully done.

This was Patrick Moraz’ only album with Yes. Rick Wakeman is surely Yes’ Keyboardist of Destiny, but it’s tantalizing to try to imagine where Yes would have gone if they’d stuck with Moraz for a few more albums. The possibilities were surely unlimited. The next album with Wakeman, 1977’s Going for the One, was definitely another masterpiece, but Moraz’ departure closed off a path of exciting possibilities.

Yes’ best work remains a huge influence on what I do, and I expect that to be heard in my work going forward. Thanks, guys!


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Album Review: Worlds, Afterworlds by Zero Ohms

Album cover: Worlds, Afterworlds by Zero OhmsRichard Roberts (Zero Ohms) has just released Worlds, Afterworlds, his debut on the Relaxed Machinery label (rM_0019).

Richard is a veteran performer on flutes, wind-synth and other woodwinds. In addition to solo releases, he has collaborated with artists such as Craig Padilla and Markus Reuter, and has produced albums for overtone singer Gordon Rhyne and Inuit shaman Angaangaq.

The five pieces on Worlds, Afterworlds are created with bass flute, wind-synth and field recordings. In an amusing yin-yang progression, the pieces get shorter (and the titles longer) as the album moves forward.

From the beginning of the 28-minute Translation, Richard establishes a minimal, timeless space which is almost hollow at times but never empty. A peaceful stillness holds throughout, lightly punctuated with serene bits of melody, evoking the low, deep breathing (and ringing) of the cosmos – the stillness (full of potential) in which worlds can form. This would be great for meditation, deep listening, background or drift. The birds sound right at home – just as I felt. It made me want to grab a few singing bowls and join in.

This Beautiful Now flows by like a stream, slowing time to irrelevance, evoking and celebrating the joy of being fully present and mindful. It’s never fluff – these slow shifts could almost be tectonic – rather the music is subtle and full in stillness.

Worlds, Afterworlds sample clips by Zero Ohms

Peace of the Pi is a walk in the country on a windy day. Mournful Light of a Gibbous Moon is a melancholy bass flute alone in the moonlight, joined by a second one in a duet of loss.

I Become the Emptiness Thru Which the Axle Turns closes the album with wind-synth lines over a processed wind/hollow bass drone. It’s a soundtrack for letting go and stepping back from the entanglements of this world – perhaps not without regret, but with resolve all the same.

Arvo Pärt famously said that one note beautifully played is enough for him. The music of Zero Ohms perfectly embodies that minimalist ethic. You don’t need a lot of notes when they’re played with the kind of presence and still joy that Richard brings to every moment of playing.

Zero Ohms is yet another impressive addition to the Relaxed Machinery roster of artists, which includes Max Corbacho, Steve Brand, Bob Ohrum, Chris Russell and I’ve Lost. Forthcoming albums from Robert Scott Thompson (December) and Andrew Lahiff (early 2012) can only be expected to increase the label’s panache.

Worlds, Afterworlds is available by download from CD Baby, and is coming on CDR from Hypnos and in FLAC from AD21 Music. Highest recommendation!

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Album Review: Lost Links by Max Corbacho

Lost Links (Relaxed Machinery 0018) is a new collection of “lost pieces” from ambient-electronic wizard Max Corbacho, created during 2003-09 for other albums, but left out “for various reasons”. Fortunately, Max saved them for another day.

Created with synths, sequencers and atmospheres, the seven pieces on Lost Links, running 67 minutes in total, cover Max’s typically vast sonic range while sharing – given the circumstances – surprisingly common ground. All of the music has Max’s trademark sublimity, luminosity and depth.

You may find it difficult at first to choose favorites, as I did. They may emerge later. I admit to being partial to longer pieces, and there are three gems here, in the 12-16 minute range. The longest, the beautifully meditative One True Light, flows by effortlessly in no time, with wildly-bouncing glassy/reedy melodic sequences (like particles in the light) and brightly-lit pads. It’s followed by Mandala, thick with texture and color, rich tendrils of each chord spiraling out from the center, dazzling in its veiled effulgence.

The other long track, Slow Thunder, closes the album with 13 minutes of rich bass and ghostly chords, building and foreboding, all breathing like a big weather system. The piece is leisurely and perfectly paced, resisting any urge to hurry, its dramatic intensity quietly building – the feeling reminding me of Steve Roach’s wonderful Dynamic Stillness album, to which I was irresistibly drawn immediately afterwards.

Lost Links (medley excerpt) by Max Corbacho

The album opens very strongly with Earthflow Trance, a mystic, deep-earth illumination. This piece placed me in a cave cathedral, its blazing, eerie pitch-bent chords, thrilling and tantalizing dissonances, and roaring didgeridoo-like bass adding up to an irresistible mixture of searing etherea and deep earthcore. The glassy organ-like sheen of After Dream, with tones racing off into space, swells and contracts like a cosmic harmonium.

Sky Resonance and Third Exposure share a common mood of deep serenity, in contrasting modes: the former a darkish light, with the thrilling feel of discovery. An uplifting progression leaves us floating and soaring, feeling joy and wonder in encountering the unknown. This is the most common feeling I have in listening to Max’s music. The latter piece, with its night-like sounds, follows the bliss of a fine sunset and comforting twilight.

CD Cover" Lost Links by Max CorbachoAs is usual for Max’s albums, the artwork simply must be mentioned here. Max created the cover image himself with Apophysis software. It is vast, brilliant, gorgeously designed and sublimely beautiful. Steve Brand, Relaxed Machinery’s resident album designer, handles the package layout with his usual deft hand.

Lost Links is a perfect introduction to Max Corbacho’s music. If Max’s music is new to you, when you hear the quality of these pieces – leftovers from Max’s other albums – you will find it hard to resist discovering how great those albums are. That is an ongoing, joyful process: in my view, Max is one of our top-ranked ambient-electronic artists. His music is, quite simply, unforgettable, essential listening.

Lost Links is another strong release from the rapidly-growing Relaxed Machinery label. It’s available by download (MP3 from CD Baby and lossless FLAC from AD21 Music) and on CDR from Hypnos. Highly recommended!

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Album Review: Far Beyond the Immobile Point by Max Corbacho

Max CorbachoI think Max Corbacho is driven by a love of life’s great mysteries. His music is fully informed and animated by this, by (as I’m hearing it) a quest for something transcendent, something far beyond our conventional, mundane states of being. I believe that, in this respect, Max is a kindred spirit to Lucette Bourdin, whom I recently featured here. In its feeling of reverence, its quest for purity, Max’s music often reminds me of Steve Roach’s magnus opus, Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces.

Max recently re-released his second album, Far Beyond the Immobile Point, originally released in 2000. Two key features of this new, remastered version are (1) Max was able to segue all the tracks together, so we get to enjoy it as an unbroken flow, and (2) two bonus tracks. This all-synth, beatless, deep-ambient album now includes nine pieces, totaling nearly 75 minutes.

Any one of Max’s albums is evidence enough of his talent, commitment and maturity as an artist. Even this early in his career, Max’s sound-sculpting skills are clear, and goosebump-exciting to hear.

CD cover: Far Beyond the Immobile Point by Max CorbachoPrimigenial Frontier is an ideal opener, capturing the entire album’s essence. It’s far away and vast, soothing and chilling. Everything is strangely illuminated, deep and still. A boundless intelligence, patient and probing, is suggested. “Primigenial” means firstborn, original, primary – and this feels just like that. We’re on the threshold of the unknown (and perhaps unknowable). It’s not even drift – this is a mesmerizing standstill. “Tantalizing” is the best word I can conjure for it. One just wants to behold this, with no need to move or look elsewhere.

Our journey proceeds through the unnerving, yet tempting Predawn Darkness, with its ominous, tectonic roars, to The Threshold, which can be a gateway to whatever the listener dares. Mystery, knowledge and the great power that comes with it, are all beckoning.

Soundless Sign is enigmatic and still, a mystic vision of expansion and depth. The bass sounds like our frame of reference dropping off below, as spacetime flies away from us in all directions.

This all brings us to the title track, by far the album’s longest piece at over 23 minutes. A wonderful glassy, shimmering and chiming, over a thrilling depth. Glorious, luminous chords slowly flying past. We have travelled a long way – where are we? Look within for the answer.

Delightful bursts of living light dispel the murk; exhilarating and sobering. There is so much we don’t know and cannot know, so much we can’t even imagine, but how can that matter when we are given so much? Our vision – our sense of what is possible, despite so much unknowable – is expanding. The final few minutes settle us right here, in an unimaginable fertile vastness, as we reconcile with that unknown.

The two bonus tracks, which conclude the album, both have striking titles. Ancient Transition instills a sense of eons past. What changed, and what of the ancient ways was lost in transition? Hundred Miles of Emptiness is calm, but not serene – still, but foreboding. Mysteries remain, and there is no presumption of answers here.

Far Beyond the Immobile Point is thrilling, ecstatic, beautiful and joyous to hear. It’s available here, from Max’s label AD21 Music. Highly recommended!

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Album Review: Horse Heaven by Lucette Bourdin

Album cover: Horse Heaven by Lucette BourdinLucette Bourdin’s 2010 album Horse Heaven, her seventh release on the Earth Mantra netlabel, is excellently described on the album’s release page as one of Lucette’s most mystical, intimate, reflective and spiritual albums. At the same time, it evokes the glories of the night sky, of the mind-conquering vastness of creation, to an extent that is rarely equalled.

This sums up, as well as can be done, the dual qualities in Lucette’s music, and in all great space music, which may seem paradoxical on the surface but are seamlessly fused: the intimate and the infinite; the interstellar and the introspective. The telescope aimed at the heavens can also work as a microscope, a psychic mirror. So it is with Horse Heaven: what is clearly a personal, spiritual quest plays like a journey through deep space. Inner space and outer space – are they so different after all? Perhaps it merely depends on one’s level of vision.

Horse Heaven is ecstatic, transcendent deep drift, full of heavenly choir-like pads and organ-like sonorities. The opening piece, Inner Vastness, is a ten-minute heartsong, rising and falling like a hymn, not so much coming into being as coming into awareness that it was always present. In Torrent of Nectar, the artist stands in awe; beatific and still, only music can begin to describe her vision. How, then, can we reduce it to words?

Lucette taps the pulse of creation with the swelling, crystalline chords of The Luminous Ocean, radiating out to the dome of the universe, and the growling, powerful bass of Fearless Light. In Dweller in the Infinite, I hear reverence in the face of true majesty, ever-expanding, awe-inspiring and serene.

For the final three pieces, Lucette reaches to her palette for a few more colors and textures. The Unnumbered Stars features a classical chamber music feel, with a hybrid piano/cello sound. Celestial Winds, the album’s most active and layered piece, sweeps us away at once into a vast spiral eye, with wonders swirling around us. We hear harp, sitar, harpsichord, birds and burbling water, as we pass by many worlds – reminded of home, and on our way to returning there.

The closer, Mystic Horse, is altogether unlike anything else on the album: percussive echoes in deep space; a slow, primitive, ritual drumbeat; bits of wooden flute, triangle, claves – all of this fades out to a rising and falling electric piano-like line, but the drumbeat has the last word. The ritual remains, taking us out but bringing us back into the body, leaving us so much richer for the journey.

Horse Heaven is mystic, ineffable, introspective and god-seeking – exploring and celebrating both external and internal infinities, and a quest for their meeting place. Imagine church music for everyone, without any sectarian baggage, with no need for division or fear – just sharing the wonder of this life eternal. That’s how I would sum up this essential release, from an artist whose music should be heard by all.

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Let’s Share Some Music

My name is Greg M. I’m an ambient/electronic composer & musician using the name eyes cast down.

I enjoy reviewing albums by my fellow musicians, and my reviews have been generously received, which has only encouraged me to set up this blog. I’ll be posting reviews, and reflections on other subjects as they suggest themselves – such as, what I mean by “Music… in service of the Transcendent”.

Reviews will include artwork, audio clips and links. I expect to post one or two of them each week, starting in the next few days.

I hope you enjoy reading about the great music that I’m sharing, from some outstanding musicians, and are moved to listen to it yourself.

Photos, and clips of my music, can be found on my Relaxed Machinery page, and my home page.

A shout-out here to John Koch-Northrup – friend, musical colleague and owner of the Relaxed Machinery label and community, for encouraging me to set up this blog, and for general support.

Thanks for reading, and best wishes!

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