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Vibrant Electronic Music:Airsculpture, Arcanum, Steve Bates/Harold Grosskopf/Axel Manrico Heilhecker, Syndromeda, Vir Unis

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AIRSCULPTURE: Quark Soup (double CD on Neu Harmony)

Airsculpture is: Adrian Beasley, John Christian, and Paul Rucznski.

This double CD features a maximum dose of dynamic electronic music, utilizing soft synthetics in a rhythmic application in lieu of any actually percussives.

Disc 1 is recorded live at the Netherlands E-live Festival from October 1999. The set is 64 minutes long. Known for their slowburn structures of astral sound, the band periodically displays a harsher, gutsier quality here with a profusion of meteoric rushes and cosmic gurgling. These stellar distractions invariably lead to some outstanding doses of the band's signature nimble sequencing and cloudlike textures. These passages swiftly gain energy as the melodies unfurl to hypnotize and enthrall the listener.

Disc 2 is recorded live at the Jodrell Bank Planetarium in England from May 2000. The set is 65 minutes long. The delicate nature of Airsculpture's sound is the keynote here. The majority of the disc comprises a 59 minute epic piece of atmospheric mastery peppered with comforting melodies and engaging keyboard patterns of unhurried but gripping quality. There's a midsection that harkens to the more aggressive tone of the first disc, but this soon relinquishes dominance to more energized ambience with textural drones and cyclic riffs. This latter passage attains quite an intensity before a stretch of ricocheting E-perc swamps the mix, laced with the spacey wails of quasi-guitar. Things get even more overt with dueling loops and sweeping rushes of alien chords....before the obligatory return to calm for the closing. The short final track is a tight and rapid piece exhibiting a dynamic flurry of Berlin School riffs that relentlessly compounds its intensity to an abrupt and breathless finish.

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ARCANUM: Das Labyrinth (CD on Manikin Records)

This 71 minute release from 2000 is a wonderful example of dense electronic music tinged with a cerebral darkness.

Arcanum is Bernd Braun with Raughi Ebert on guitar.

This music is extremely dark and haunting, with languid background textures establishing a nocturnal quality. Against this sonic foundation, cyclic synthesizers spin with ominous frenzy in conjunction with guitar effects of a disturbing nature. Gradually emerging from this sinister tableau are more uptempo riffs, crafted with sparkling keyboards and moving with determination toward a series of guitar outbursts that resound with cosmic delivery and passionate fury. There are even some metallic percussives, although they are not overwhelming or rapidly rhythmic, instead manifesting as the clanking of distant machinery. Rhythmic tempos are achieved with swiftly rolling pulsations that swim out of the mix to guide the drifting melodies into more velocity. Interlacing electronic riffs swarm to dominate the music with teutonic airs, demonstrative but each a breath shy of being oppressive. By the time actual E-perc appears, it is an enhancement, not a propellant.

This music is strongly rooted in the Berlin School of electronics, but Arcanum's sound moves far beyond those influences, delving into new territory with modern sensibilities and tensely emotional drama.

A double CD version of this release is also available. The additional disc features a spoken words recitation (in German) of John Doe's play "Das Labyrinth".

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This 54 minute CD from 2001 features an excellent dose of energetic electronic music.

While Baltes has gained a reputation for his keyboard work with Ashra during the band's tours in the late Nineties, Grosskopf has become a German legend for his drumming which has graced the recordings of Klaus Schulze, Ashra, and numerous others. A sample by Manuel Gottsching (Ashra's leader and guitarist extraordinaire) is featured in the third track.

If you're expecting a strong Ashra/Schulze sound with this music, you'd be relatively correct in that assumption. Ricocheting guitar notes looping into infinity, sinuous E-perc that mounts in passion with every moment, a wall of versatile electronics--all these factors are present in profusion, and delightfully so.

The guitar is very Gottschingesque, ringing from stage to heaven and back again with nimble fingered riffs that are cycled back on themselves faster than casual detection can glean. Add in some searing sustain chords that resound with nearly painful accord (normally these heights would be refered to as space guitar, but this time these peaks possess a very human touch, so we'll forego the "space" allusions).

The percussion is luxurious and complex. With quasi-normal sounding drums rolling a tempo, electronic bongos are adding sensual (but untribal) rhythms. Lurking at the edges of some of these percussive impacts are fuzzy coatings that shroud the beats with a forest-like quality. Then punctuate it all with deep bass drums, lending an immense stature to the music.

The electronics are not to be overlooked in this hyperactive mix. Keyboards bloop and swoon, delivering riffs that ooze through the fleeting spaces between beats. Scorning the use of sampled instruments to give the keyboards a varied palette, the keyboards that spill forth in this music are odd and unnatural: synthetic creations that evoke spiritual presence or giant machines eclipsing the sky. The result is a tasty undercurrent of weirdness pulsating behind the twin walls of hyper-percussions and flaming guitars.

Despite its obvious Ashra sound, this music bestows a striking variation to Ashra's aerial technique in that Baltes/Grosskopf/Heilhecker deliver an earthier dose of this style of electronic music. Their dynamic take is quite icy at points.

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SYNDROMEDA: The Alien Abduction Phenomena (CD on Neu Harmony/Groove Unlimited)

This 71 minute CD is the 2001 release by this band known for its spacey instrumental electronic music.

From the outset, this music displays an intensity and command with dense loops counterparted with cosmic sounds. Then the mammoth E-perc enters, resounding like colliding mountains set to sensual tempos. Church bells blend with astral sensibilities to produce a regal mood in the vacuum of space, shot with swooping rumblings and heavenly chords. Most instances of E-perc are driving and clever, enhancing rather than dominating the tunes.

Syndromeda has a distinctive and entertaining way of fusing atmospheric tones with dramatic electronics. Shrill sounds mix with deep-bass textures, resulting in a lush quality that attributes the music with a vibrant density. This ambience is far from soothing, energizing the listener with intricate layers of hyper-sequences and insistent melodies.

Compositionally, the music is quite striking. The substantial atmospherics grab the listener's attention, priming the audience for the vigorous sonic voyage ahead. Compelling riffs crawl from a sea of ambience to ascend contorting into a glorious sky. The outcome of this union is thrilling and dazzling.

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VIR UNIS: Pulse N Atmo (CD on Groove Unlimited)

This 71 minute CD reflects a demonstratively more rhythmic and far stranger sonic persona for Vir Unis (aka John Strate-Hootman) than he has displayed on his last few ambient releases.

This music is highly rhythmic, intensely electronic, and predominately extraterrestrial in pitch and timbre. Utilizing synthesized sounds as percussives, the melodies are infused with a drastic amount of pep, applied in engaging and notably catchy riffs. Underlying these rapid-fire tempos are clouds of energized ambience, shimmering like the slow-motion pulsations of a pre-explosive supernova. All this coalesces with drive and verve unfound in most contemporary electronic music.

Comparisons of a fusion of Stockhausen and Cluster are not unwarranted.

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