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Milestones by Hollan Holmes
- posted by Robin James on 3/27/2020
Milestones
Electronic space music made with software synthesizers and sequencer layers, human voices are never included except for the second track. Use this music to explore the unknown, fulfilling the urge of hearing something completely different, as though from a faraway planet nothing like Earth. What you will hear are daring new sounds with a Berlin School theme of astronomy and science fiction.

It feels exciting, like walking on thin ice, it can feel so transparent, with note-by-note realizations utilizing hypnotic rhythms and extensive use of the sound-design capabilities of his instruments with repeated pitch, filter or effects changes creating genuine spacescapes. Holmes is creating or discovering music using different tone qualities that breaks free from existing ideas.

I had the opportunity to exchange email with Hollan Holmes about Milestones and his creative process. He said that Software Synthesizers (Soft Synths) can make sounds no one has ever heard before, and he uses those sounds to describe human emotions or to tell a particular story in very creative ways. Also, working with soft synths is both very efficient and intuitive (most of the time). "Sound design is something that makes up half of my interest in all of my musical endeavors. It's very important to my overall music making experience. Eric Persing and Richard Devine are among my favorites. Joel Thomas Zimmerman (Deadmau5) comes to mind, as well. They're an inspiration, because they create sounds that are original, very unique and very emotive."

“In the last few years, we've seen an explosion in software synth technology. The main attraction is that they're very cheap when compared to their hardware-based counterparts. However, it's so much more fun to play with hardware synthesizers, especially the modulars, because they're tactile; you can touch them. Physically twisting a knob is so much more fun than pushing a mouse around on a computer screen. Each realm has their advantages and disadvantages. The old vintage modulars were problematic, they would drift out of tune and you couldn't save patches. Software synths pretty much eliminate those drawbacks.”

In reviewing the first track, what comes to mind is music brought by aliens from outer space. “Transmitter” (5:00) pulses with cycling patterns that build at a moderate pace with a strong beat sensations of flying, floating, cruising, gliding, or hovering and providing an amazing kind of acoustic atmospheric resonance.

“One Giant Leap” (5:17) kicks in by building layers of the pulsing cycling patterns with historic recordings of actual voices from NASA woven into the mix as an homage. “Okay Houston, I am on the porch…” Imagine, they must have heard these strange noises during the Apollo 11 mission, when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, uttering the famous words “...One Giant Leap For Mankind.” He knew he was going to be walking on the moon, he had time to think about it, about the moment when human destiny experienced a major milestone. When asked, Armstrong said that he did not pre-plan what he would say and came up with the phrase only after the landing.

Experimental droning, pulsating sounds giving it an avant-garde feel, with melodic cycling patterns that pulse with added electronic ambient vocalisms drawn to a more mechanical and electronic sound, by using synthesizers to create new sounds to accompany and enhance these electronic realizations on a continuum of spatial imagery and emotion pure atmospheric minimalism, this is the travel and exploration leg of the journey. “The Truth Laid Bare” (5:44)

Imagine a celestial sunrise, sparkling sequencers weaving layers that build a genuine sense of awe and wonder, the wave forms of electromagnetic emanations from various stars and constellations for the sonic textures of this album. You can hear something happening right at that moment somewhere in the universe that has tremendous atmospheric qualities. While the journey continues, so does the beauty -- “Slipstream” (7:02). A slipstream is the area immediately behind a moving object in which a wake of gases or water is brought along at velocities comparable to the speed of the moving object.

West of the Pecos River is often referred to as "Far West Texas" or the "Trans-Pecos", next to the Llano Estacado, a vast region of high, level plains extending into Eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. Holmes tells of his personal feelings about the vast territories where he lives. "While I love my Texas, I do not love her heat. I'm definitely wired for cold weather. I guess my dream home would be somewhere in Western Wyoming or Eastern Idaho. I have a thing for mountains and clear rivers. Both are deeply inspiring and peaceful places. Maybe I would spend Winters in Southern Utah, Arizona and West Texas. The Desert Southwest is crazy beautiful to me. I was born in Dallas, Texas. From there I moved to Wichita Falls, then Abilene, then to my current location of Euless, so I've been in Texas all my life. The land is what inspires me the most. I love the Hill Country of Central Texas, but I find most of my inspiration in the rugged lands of West Texas. While West Texas may seem more connected to Country and Western music, I think there is a connection between that land and more electronic based sounds. The possibilities are endless. It's about how the land makes me feel."

To the east of the Llano Estacado lies the “redbed country” of the Rolling Plains and to the south of the Llano Estacado lies the Edwards Plateau. West Texas receives much less rainfall than the rest of Texas and has an arid or semiarid climate. Much of West Texas has rugged terrain, including many small mountain ranges, while most parts of the state are at or near sea level. The sound on this track, “West Texas Backroads” (7:05), sounds to me like pulsating sequences of woven melodic keyboard patterns, celebrating how the chords were layered into hypnotic, minimalistic rhythms, futuristic science-fiction themes that represent an end or a milestone of the journey.

“Bulletproof” (6:21) is about graduating high school and thinking we're going to live forever; that nothing can stop us; that nothing bad will ever happen to us and that feeling of freedom and energy and that we can accomplish anything. Patterns emerge from deep space sounds huge atmospherics more about color, not chords or melody, or just the tone, but also incorporating various other sounds. I’ve always found that really interesting. Listening, I imagine rowing a boat all by myself into the pitch-black sea, or in outer space maybe?

The Inner Sanctum was a radio mystery program that was broadcast from 1941 to 1952 and in the music of this track I see no direct references to the dramatic word-plays with sound effects from that series. The name, Inner Sanctum, refers to a sacred place within a church, or to a private or secret place where few are admitted. Now that sounds more like this music, with its terrifying depths and coiling darkness related to space or otherworldliness, emphasizing texture, ventured into the world of electronic music, which is something that listeners will find fascinating. “Inner Sanctum” (7:12) reveals secret layers built upon a basic pulse, going deeper, opening into an electronic choir of immense dimensions and surrounding the audience in a cloud of sound.

There was a time when electronic music was said to sound flat. Early electronic musicians began by emulating existing sounds, that was all they knew, now we are in a new era of ears where we can invent or discover sounds never before heard. Unlike sculpting or painting, when working with music it is possible to listen to music the way we listen to the sounds that surround us in our daily lives, like rowing a boat into the darkness. Being able to keep going is what matters, right?
Rating: Excellent
Winds of Change by Denise Young
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 3/8/2020
Denise's best work so far, a real bar raiser
I had to do it didn’t I, I just couldn’t resist taking a peak, and then with a sharp intake of breath, could it really be 6 years and some since my last Denise Young fix with the album Passionata, but it was and I am therefore absolutely delighted today to be reviewing her latest work Winds Of Change, so my fix has been satisfied.
The beauty of this album cannot be hidden and we will indeed explore every nook and cranny of this amazing new release, starting with the first offering entitled Under the Olive Tree, well this is something we have plenty of in Cyprus; this track flows like a summer afternoon sitting under one, tips of the musical hats must go to Germaine Booker (Cello) and the quite brilliant Tavi Jinariu on Classical Guitar, both of which manifest a total stand out track along with the skills of the maestro Denise Young, on this proud opener.
The following offering has a somewhat European flavour to it in my view; the smooth and flowing performance on piano by Young is breathtakingly beautiful, as is the quite emotive Cello presentation by Booker. Ballerina is a piece that dances to its own tune with a pristine sense of movement, one that indeed expresses feelings of great emotion and passion.
The following musical narrative has a sense of the mournful about its repose, but one that tugs delightfully at the emotions too, and called Moonlit Heart. The added vocalisations by Baraka May created a deeper dimension to get musically lost within; this was one very powerful performance by Young, a true moving opus of the heart, and one that also contained the Cello of Eugene Friesen as well.
This wonderful journey on piano is a pleasure to flow with, and we are going to do just that now with this next piece called Alegria. This is a beautifully bright and very organic offering from the artist, one that contains some wonderful instrumental work, hats off once more to Booker on Cello, but a classical performance by the wonderful Kevin Enstrom on guitar here sealed it, this track would become a personal favourite of mine, I’m guessing for a long time.
So we’re at the tipping point of the album where we find the title track, it is nestled comfortably at the midway point of the release. Winds of Change is another personal favourite, but almost anthem like in its construction; Young’s piano here is rich in texture and passion, and when you add the flute of David Weiss into the mix you bathe musically in genius, this is what music of this genre should be all about.
Teardrop Symphony is next, be prepared to be amazed, this is a wondrous work of art that truly needs to be admired, and given a hell of a lot of respect. Denise Young has such a deft touch on the piano within this graphic and moving composition, this creates a wide open canvas to allow a level of heart-felt orchestration like never before, please also pay close attention to the wonderful performance on French horn by Andre Bercellini.
The multi-dimensional nature of this track is simply transcendent, I have listened to it few times now and I am still noticing little nuances that I love more each time I do so. Reflections is such a clever track, it is almost like Young is playing in front of a looking glass mirror, and her reflection is playing right back at her.
We are now swimming into the deeper waters of the album and as we do so we come across a charming offering entitled Blue Violet. The melody here is delicious; it is one of those pieces you may well find yourself whistling to yourself later on without even realising you’re doing it. Note the consummate brilliance of Booker on Cello, and the sparkling performance of the one and only Charlie Bisharat on Violin is simply, and undeniably masterful.
Our penultimate musical gift is entitled Dannsa, a piece that in parts has a little almost folk styled ethic to its overall construction, one must applaud Young here, she plays with such energy and colour that it literally lights up the room, partner that with the radiating performance by Bisharat and you have a total winner of a track.
So six years has indeed flown by, but before Denise Young signs off this time, she has one more musical gift to allow us to take with us along on our way, and it is indeed the timeless Dandelions, listening to this offering would be like laying in a summer meadow and watching them dance in the winds of time; utterly captivating indeed, and the best possible way to leave the album with ease.
Winds of Change by Denise Young is an album that has been created by an artist who clearly is in-touch with her own musical muse; it is the tune that flies on the wings of a radiant butterfly, it is the harmonic vibration that lays with in each of our artistic souls, and it should be the very next album you purchase right after reading this review, trust me your heart will love you forever. For me personally I rate this to be the best work the artist has ever created, a real bar raiser, now please excuse me while I hit repeat once more.
Rating: Excellent
Impressions by Shoshana Michel
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 3/8/2020
Another step up the musical ladder for Shoshana
I have been in a very reflective mood recently, this mirror existence I now have to call home just doesn’t feel like the dimension I used to reside within, so what better place to go than to seek sanctuary, and to do so in music. For me this has become a little easier today thanks to this brand new release by pianist Shoshana Michel and her latest offering Impressions.
The first foot falls take us on the perfect ambience of reflection, in the piece Imagination. The performance here is moving, but also deeply reflective, for me, this is one of those tracks that you might watch the rain trickling down the window pane on a cruel winter’s day, and your thoughts are of times when things were much brighter.
As we move into the next room of music opened by the artist, we come across a piece called Dancing in the Shadows. Firstly I adore the title; it is graphic and allows the mind to create images and day dreams, with this being so, perhaps the piano tells the tale of a lonely ballerina, she glides around the room as if in remembrance of a time long gone. Yes, a piece with a real sense of loneliness and almost mournful in its overall manifestation, which in its self makes it utterly brilliant.
On Quietly, Gently, Peacefully we have a handsome composition that is so beautifully played it is an honour to listen to it, at times almost classical, but on all occasions wonderfully transcendent, and performed with such a classy sense of warmth.
We mentioned the feeling of Loneliness a moment ago, now we can hear the actual sound track for this deeply reflective emotion. From the despair comes a strange beauty, this is called artistic genius, and once more we can hear that within this most mournful of arrangements.
So let’s flip that coin and gaze into Alice’s musical looking glass, where if we look in all the right corners and deep pockets of time, we can see happiness and cheer flowing in abundance. On Joyful Moments Michel has created something quite clever, she has manifested an up-tempo and positive piece, but one that retains the overall energy of the album, and all done with such a cleverly crafted performance on the piano.
There is a place on the album called the fulcrum; we have now reached that point as we touch the half way marker of the release, and as we do so we come across this mysterious yet incredibly colourful opus called Pierrot. Here is a delightful composition, one played with such charm and sensitivity; it’s the perfect segue into the latter half of the album.
Slowly we descend into the deeper realms of this moving release, and as we do so there is a reflective arrangement called Prelude in E Minor that literally demands to be listened to. The fluency here on this piece is so wonderful to listen to, one that flows with such grace into our next offering entitled In My Dreams, one of many favourites of mine from the album, this is a real memory palace of a track, a performance so sublime that is seemed to create a myriad of musical pathways as it progressed.
A peace filled refrain can be found on this next offering entitled Nocturne in E Flat. A 2am in the morning composition, a time when you gaze out at the inky black night sky and wonder at the sheer beauty of the sky above in all its transcendent glory, this is the soundtrack for this moment of magic with ease.
From one moment of time into another, from the mood of the warm days into the realm of mists, as we now listen to the track Summer into Fall. Once more perfectly played to give us the ever eager listener a track of memory, but also of hope, and followed by another magnificent opus called Yearning, a song of a different colour maybe, but the performance on piano is so good, it is like you are being told a tale of an unrequited need by the artist, musical story telling at its best here.
Elegy is our penultimate offering, one played with such respect and professionalism, a piece that borders the dimensions of the classical; it is a requiem to the past, a poem of a heart felt truth, one performed with such delicacy.
So we now have arrived at the final point of departure from the album, this last gift from the artist is entitled Long Ago and Far Away. Any artist will always look for the perfect departing composition for an album, and this is it with ease. There is an anthem like energy about the piece, one that reminds me in compositional style as well to the master David Lanz, and that can’t be a bad way to finish.
Impressions by Shoshana Michel is a collection of memory packed piano arrangements, each one personal to whoever listens to it. Her performances over the years have increased in texture and presentational style, this album is another step up the ladder for her and is an album that will allow each and every listener several moments of reflection and remembrance along the way, a colourful, moving and delightfully enjoyable release to listen to indeed.
Rating: Excellent
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