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Emotional Landscapes by Erik Wøllo
- posted by Robin B. James on 8/7/2020
Remastered album from Spotted Peccary Music
Electric guitar soundscapes, layered textures and atmospheric symphonics, remastered from the original 2003 release SPM-1203, this is a streaming digital-only re-release, not available on vinyl or CD, originally recorded at Wintergarden Studio in Norway 2001-2002, with cover art by Greg Klamt, and photography by Erik Wøllo.

Imagine different types of twilight in which emotions could form a landscape described best from a distant vantage point, moving through a wide range in style and mood, giving us time to dream. Erik Wøllo is a Norwegian composer and musician, a guitarist and synthesist, on this album he plays guitar synthesizers, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, electric bass guitar, percussion, and created the programming. Liv Frengstad plays cello on "Sounds of the Seen, Part I" and "Sounds of the Seen, Part II."

Music is a way to utilize the power of creativity, an entry point for connection and meaning. On Emotional Landscapes I hear variations of meditations on sunrises that start quietly and build into complex layers. Human emotions could mean many things, the range of emotions could possibly include war as well as peace, energized and dormant, negative and positive, but the songs on Emotional Landscapes are consistently calm and positive, often constructed by steadily building themes and layers, always an interesting weave of ideas expressed on guitars and electronics, the music is sometimes melancholic, always very hopeful and affirming.

Erik Wøllo has been using his guitar since he was 11 years old, learning to bring a new freshness to the light, to ignite our thoughts to beauty. Under the midnight sun, there is a continuous period of twilight during the summer months in Norway, and during the winter, the darkness, a musical silence, the soul hearing the melody that the ears could not. The dawn of a new beginning, when light is still visible in the sky due to sunlight scattering off the atmosphere, the sunrise over the water with distant mountains. When the world is sleeping at midnight, dreams come as nature's easel, giving brilliant colors and mystery to the vast starlit night.

The symbols of nature are usually the objects and things from nature that represent thoughts related to them, I hear whirling air, I think of dawn on the water as a new day begins. There is color on the cloudy horizon, with textured atmospherics, distant birds at sunrise, the musical elements collect and grow into melodic themes. "In The Picture" (2:46).

Metaphors can be implied and extended nonliteral comparisons, the metaphors we use shape the world and our interactions to it. Metaphors spontaneously arise in art and serve as an entry point for connection and meaning. They spread so quickly and smoothly, a new beginning, symbolizing nature's easel, giving brilliant color to what was hidden under the passing starlit night. The second track, "Metaphor" (4:45) begins with guitar finger patterns, continuing the cloudy melodic dawn, which expands into a flow, and then percussion completes the transition into form.

Euclid defined the term "prism," referring to a geometric shape with polished surfaces that refract light and display the colors of the rainbow. In the track "Prism" (4:16) I hear emerging textures patterns, kalidescopic synthesizer drones arcing over clouds and then wind, changing light caused by subtle movement, rising patterns and glowing.

A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe. The "Second Totem" (5:25) begins with voices from distant times that blend and echo through a matrix, shamanic dance elements with melodic patterns unfolding joined by beats that layer in repeating patterns.

This next track is my favorite song, "Sounds of the Seen, Part I" (8:06). It begins as the cello sings a sad haunting melody floating through a wash of atmospheric electronic textures, eventually percussion kicks in and the textures take movement and form, a dance takes shape about half way through, and after a journey, the track ends in a collage including field recordings of people's voices happily echoing in a large building. The album notes indicate that the voices of people were recorded under the World Trade Center in August of 2001. Liv Frengstad plays the cello.

A valley is a low area between hills or mountains often with a river running through it. The sixth track is titled "Valley" (3:02) and what I hear is a guitar cathedral, atmospherics sustained high above us, framed by a landscape that is green and alive in the warm weather, valleys surround the mountains in all directions and in the darkness of night, northern lights illuminate the sky.

The concept of virtual worlds significantly predates computers, Pliny the Elder spoke of perceptual illusion, and in 1962 the cinematographer Morton Heilig explored the creation of the Sensorama, a theatre experience designed to stimulate vision, sound, balance, smell, even touch, through wind. A virtual world facilitates interaction across time and geographic boundaries, on the track "Virtual World" (5:54) I hear thicker electronics emerging with beats forming textures and glowing complexities, guitar sounds travel along, interlocking elements create a kinetic feeling of dance and locomotion.

The synthetic worlds blend into the next track, "Mountain Beach" (5:20) in which I hear cascading melodic pulses merging rhythmically into repeating patterns, subtle ringing chimes and even these toughest and most rugged landscapes shine beautifully, through deep forests, arctic tundras, grand mountain tops, colorful grass-roofed houses, and, of course, majestic fjords.

Next, it is time to return to the big room with the sad cello that haunts our memories, "Sounds of the Seen, Part II" (3:06) makes me think of flocks of small electronic birds at dawn taking form, joined by Liv Frengstad on cello.

In outer space, a satellite is an object in orbit around a larger object, and can take the form of natural satellites such as Earth's Moon, or the word can refer to objects such as the world's first artificial satellite, such as Sputnik 1, which joined the peripheral regions of our planet on the 4th of October in 1957, and began the age of space exploration. The track "Satellite" (4:20) brings the listener deep into space where a repeating melody rises, transforms, and then fades into the darkness.

The measure or beat of movement, the pulse or pace in the darkness, "Echo of Night / Cadence" (6:20) brings to my mind’s eye many layers of electronic textures emerging from the void and taking form, lightly dancing, a science fiction ghost story told with distinct electric guitar engaging in dialogue with keyboards, washed away to be replaced by a more somber ceremonial dawn.

It has been a long journey through many different slow textures, clouds of cicada, the ocean in the distance gently slips away to reveal the final song, "The Hidden Track" (9:53).

Norway is famous for its fjords, still blue lakes that stretch deep inland, often with cliffs towering either side. Waterfalls in Norway are renowned for their power and size, with a steady supply of water coming from its fjords, lakes, glaciers and mountains. Twilight is the time between day and night when there is light outside, but the Sun is below the horizon. Allowing for silence, choice, exploration, and observation, what would an emotional landscape sound like in terms of melody, intensity, setting, style, and feeling? Landscapes can be vastly different and can include settings like the woods, oceans, deserts, fields, mountains, etc. Silence can be supportive and grounding, especially as a sanctuary from the often frenetic energy of the universe. This collection of guitar-based electronica offers ways to explore our emotions and experiences through metaphor, in a continuous period of darkness becoming twilight that transforms into d
Rating: Excellent
Consciousness, and other Tricks of the Light by Ben Cox
- posted by Jonathan Widran on 7/24/2020
Consciousness, and other tricks of the light
In a true sign of this strange and challenging pandemic filled era known as 2020, recorded and livestreamed music has played an important role in helping us collectively mourn the old world, cope with the day to day “new normal” and find emotional and spiritual joy in the midst whenever possible.

Most of the recordings that have been released for our enjoyment and enrichment during COVI-19 were conceived and created before the universe shifted – but there’s a thought I’ve been writing over and over every time I feel an artist and album meet the moment in beautiful unanticipated ways.

As I wrap my conscious and subconscious minds around the inventive, sonically expansive astral journey composer and synth master Ben Cox takes us on with provocatively titled new collection Consciousness, and other tricks of the light, these words bear repeating because they apply: “There is something wondrous and inspiring about artists whose insight into the human condition, world affairs and our spiritual needs allows them to create works that serve to meet the moment.”

Up till now, I have mostly applied that sentiment to gentle, meditative new age works that were clearly designed to calm the nerves and soothe the spirit – a most helpful notion during a time of fear and uncertainty. But chilling out is only one way to venture beyond our present and all too problematic concerns. No offense to those artists and their excellent much appreciated projects, but the other option, and a much more fascinating and engaging one, is to create something that’s like an audio version of “Star Wars,” taking us to a far-off galaxy of unlimited sonic detail and creativity.

Cox’s rich and insightful understanding of Consciousness is one that allows our imaginations to run wild and create our own reality far away from the present world. That would be a powerful gift in any place and time, but it’s even more meaningful and necessary during a global pandemic.

As you listen, you’ll realize that the collection is best enjoyed as a full on 40 minute through-line, but the fact that each of the six tracks is crafted (or channeled, since these sonic concepts are truly otherworldly) via a blend of analog and digital synthesis helps us regress into a more innocent past even as we progress forward into uncharted territory fueled by our own needs and desires.

Perhaps because the ultimate spiritual result of Cox’s expedition is up to each individual listener, it’s best not to lead the witness. Yet a few humble comments might help guide your own path through this. “Einstein’s Cross” is organic synth funk with live sounding high hat and mind-bending echoing harmonics. It’s a fanciful adventure using soaring (and sometimes brassy) synth sounds grounded in the groove. It’s also notable for its spoken word vocal (something about gravity and symmetry) that may remind those of a certain age of Paul Hardcastle’s hypnotic mid-80’s hit “19.” The eight and a half minute “Delta Waves” is relaxing, spacey and atmospheric, but deeply core-vibrational and infused with sonic sparkles that rattle the heart and mind to make sure we’re not drifting too far off and can pay attention to the next stop on the astral journey.

Full disclaimer before commenting on the trippy and hypnotic six-minute gem “Just Begin Again” at the center of the excursion: I’m a big classic rock fan. So the minute I heard the spacey, “out there” riff patterns ping ponging in each ear – a foundational undertone throughout the piece – I’m thinking this is the kind of stuff Pete Townshend did to animate all our favorite classics from The Who. The tune picks up energy, speed and subtle bass tones, but the “Who without Roger Daltrey” effect endures mystically throughout.

“Now” plays similar aural tricks with the echoing effect of its hypno-chimes bouncing from ear to ear, and those keep going – artfully modulated for colorful variety - as Cox creates a dark bass driven counterpoint with moody, mysterious immersive energies. If that’s truly our “Now,” it’s a place we can exhale before we return to the stranger reality of present-day life on earth. As we try to figure out what the title “Chirality” means, we can let our mind’s eye soar along the ambient rock highway, where atmospheres provide intense backdrops for crisp, edgy electric guitar sounds.

At two and a half minutes, this is a nice respite leading up to the massive crescendo of the Consciousness experience, a 13-minute deep dive into a world of airy, breathtaking ambience, contrasting shards of darkness and light and curious and slowly crawling, synth generated creatures that tickle our ears as they wait for more shards of dawn to emerge. The press materials call these “tiny metallic tinkling echoes, perhaps in a huge dark cave well after midnight.” If you believe in such things, spending extended time in this arena of peculiar characters and textures may be your ticket to a past life regression or future life projection.

Wherever you go, it’s still the trip of a lifetime, limited only by the parameters of your own spirit and imagination and driven by an artist whose faith in the power of sonics knows no bounds.

As a bonus for the tech-heads, Mix magazine crowd and synthesizer nerds, in an interview about his methodology by music writer Robin James, Cox revealed his preferences for the My Eurorack modular, Moog Voyager (Anniversary Edition), Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2, Nord Modular G2, DSI/Oberheim OB-6, a pair of Moog Mother-32, Novation UltraNova, Moog Little Phatty, and a Roland JV-2080. Instrument used: Line6 Variax JTV-59, Helix Rack Software used: Avid Pro Tools, Plugins from u-he, Native Instruments, Eventide, McDSP, Waves, Lexicon, Arturia, iZotope, FabFilter, Csound Hardware used: Focusrite Red8Pre and Red16Line audio interfaces (DigiLink, Dante), Avid Pro Tools HDX, Artist Mix, Focal Trio6BE+Sub6, and a TC Electronic M3000.
Rating: Very Good +
Full of Life by John Gregorius
- posted by Steve Mecca on 7/24/2020
John Gregorius: Full Of Life
'Full Of Life' is ambient guitarist/composer John Gregorius's 3rd release on the Spotted Peccary label. Sorry I missed the other two, so this album is my only frame of reference for the artist.
According to the label promo sheet, 'Full Of Life' "...is a free-flowing, sincere set of compositions brought to life by the time-honored ensemble of guitar, bass and drums, all richly augmented by synth ambiences, electronic beats, and ambient guitar atmospheres. Moody and elegant, the album's melodic passages and tonal textures guide the listener on a delightful discovery of painted vistas and unfolding beauty." Yes, that's typical label flavor text, but what are we really listening to here? I'll get to that in a moment. First I should mention that Gregorius moved from his home in Southern California to the Sonoran Desert of Tuscon, Arizona (a place I've actually been, albeit briefly), after finishing his last album, 'Still Voice' in 2016. I imagine that kind of change really has an influence on one's outlook, as well as on their creativity. It must be an introspective, quiet and peaceful sort of effect that sets in after awhile. Such is the music on 'Full Of Life,' or life in the slow lane.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't much care for the album after the first couple of listenings. To me, it sounded generic, and too similar throughout. I could almost hear it being used as background music for The Weather Channel when no commentators were present as the screen flashed forecasts, temperatures and weather icons. I guess I wasn't really listening though, because after that, something happened that really made me like this album. The simple themes John was exploring just somehow broke through and massage the happy places in my brain. Yes, there is a degree of homogeneity running through the twelve tracks that clock in a little under an hour, but I think that's more due to the instruments and sounds used than the compositions. You can't really say that opening track "The Expansive Sky" with its downtempo shogazer atmosphere sounds anything like the Enoesque "Early Reflection" with its elongated ambiences and sparse melodicism.

Where melodic themes are presented, they are simple, but there is still a degree of wonder in that simplicity. Listening to the title track ("Full Of Life") I'm reminded of Pat Metheny, and how he could take something fairly simple and make it sound rich and complex. (And you know, Pat did occasionally have an ambient side in his music.)
Sometimes other musical elements appear, as on "Path Of Renewal" with violin and cello (courtesy of Kayla Applegate) playing the main theme while Gregorius fills in the spaces between. What initially struck me as "guitar noodling" is actually very adept but discreet soloing. And yes, there are ample examples of shoegaze atmospheres, such as on "Blanket of Stars" where gauzy guitar swirls in the piece filtered through the light streaming through echoey panes. There is also a definite emotional quality to 'Full Of Life'. Halfway through "Winds Of Change" when the sparse ambient section gives way to the fuller portion with the fingerpicked ostinato chords over a simple beat and some backing strings you could imagine Nick Drake (if he were still alive) singing a plaintive melody over it. "Wellspring" sounds like a pop song for a low key pop band, and there's a good chance that if a decent one had come up with this they'd have had a hit. Kimberly Daniels' wordless vocals on "Monsoon Clearing" are so subtle you're likely to miss them in the first listening of the album, but they do add quite a bit. It's little touches like this that make 'Full Of Life' extraordinary. It all ends fittingly enough with the amelodic elongated ambient piece "Rincon Fading Light" and here once again I'm reminded of Brian Eno. When you can amalgamate your influences into something that is a cohesive whole and yet sounds like no particular one as Gregorius does on this album, then you really have something.
Rating: Very Good +
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