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Classic Electronics: Mark Shreeve, Michael Stearns, Tangerine Dream, Lutz Ulbrich, Wavestar

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There's classic material getting reissued on CD all the time.

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MARK SHREEVE: Embryo (CD on Neu Harmony)

Originally released as a cassette tape in 1980, this 59 minute electronic gem was reissued on CD in the late Nineties by Neu Harmony, making this long deleted and sought after debut recording available once more to interested parties.

Shreeve's solo career during the Eighties and Nineties has indeed attracted a following, culminating with his recent work as a member of Redshift and his collaborations with Ian Boddy (under the name Arc).

"Embryo" displays a formative stage of Shreeve's electronics, devoid of the influences of the Berlin School of electronics that marks his later work. Here, the synthesizers maneuver through more somber territory with grinding patterns and keyboard riffs that take considerable time to achieve substance. Out of this seemingly abstract structure, melodies gradually appear and accumulate intricacy. Not unlike a creature making its debut crawl from the primordial ocean, this music evolves from basic outlines into lush crescendos that spiral out of view into the sky. Without the propulsion of percussives, these compositions are free to demonstrate their moodiness and dark majesty.

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MICHAEL STEARNS: Sustaining Cylinders (CD on Groove Unlimited)

This music by ambient maestro Stearns dates back to 1977. Here, its 61 minutes are remastered and reissued on CD in 2001.

This experimental ambient music is delivered in a pair of tracks, each just over 30 minutes in length.

The title track was generated on a 20-tone set of vibes (the Eikonsany), resulting in a languid flow of calming tonalities of ultimately relaxing quality.

The track "Sleeping Conches" was performed mainly on kitchen pots and pans, then processed electronically until the sounds deceptively mesh with the lazy crash of a Pacific surf. Expect no banging din here, for these kitchen instruments have been decelerated and transformed into extremely liquid bell tones.

Both pieces are designed to function as a sonic context for personal explorations. There is minimal melody, and the music is texturally atonal. Intended as soundscapes for meditation, both pieces are low and generally uneventful, maintaining just the proper level of sound required to stimulate subconscious hypnotic but not engage active thought or emotions.

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TANGERINE DREAM: Antique Dreams (CD on Tangerine Dream International)

This 70 minute CD presents a number of rare and unreleased and live tracks by Tangerine Dream, stretching from 1971 to 1990 through their expansive and influential career.

High points include: "Oedipus Tyrannus Overture"; "Ultima Thule Part 1" from the band's uber-rare 7-inch single from 1971; a selection of tracks from a German TV series; "Sorcerer and Thief", a live fusion of melodies from these pair of movie soundtracks by TD; "Southend Mall", a track that never made it onto the band's "Le Parc" CD in 1985; "Phaedra of Nottingham", a 1990 live revisit of the classic "Phaedra" track from 1974; and "House of the Rising Sun" from TD's New Orleans concert in 1988.

Other material on this CD collection proves to contain even further dramatic moments. Most of these are sections from the band's live concerts, and feature some startling incidents of non-LP brilliance.

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LUTZ ULBRICH: Kurzmusiken (double CD on Manikin Records)

Lutz Ulbrich has been active in the European electronic scene from its seminal inception in the early Seventies, as a co-founding member of Agitation Free all the way to his recent work as a member of Ashra's touring line-up. He even toured with Nico in 1979 (his guitar accompanying her harmonium). This boy has gotten around.

Released in 2001, this double CD features a wide selection of Ulbrich's instrumental music, ranging over the last fifteen years as a musician. The styles are diverse, sending the listener on a very unpredictable voyage for 107 minutes. Many of the songs within that timespan are extremely short.

You can expect to hear delicate ambient tunes with lilting crystalline electronics. You might be surprised by the synthetic mambo, but the cheerful-but-ominous "Wunderland" will raise your eyebrows even further. Carnival keyboards and robotic E-perc, cosmic passages of interstellar majesty, stately pipe organs followed by deadly bass, hyperspeed fingers on Spanish guitar strings, easy-listening rhythm machine with romantic electric guitar, heavenly choirs, incidents of quasi-Residential E-perc, banjo subway rides, cafe grand piano chased by a stratospheric banshee hiding in a row of orchestral strings. With a few brief abstract pieces collaged together to generate an exhibition of curious moments. No point in belaboring the point: Ulbrich is a versatile man, in instrument and in style.

Whether the track is a dynamic synthesizer piece or an underwater journey into wobbling ambience, Ulbrich's music shares a distinct trait in his cheerful attitude. This music is uplifting and positive.

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WAVESTAR: Zenith (CD on Groove Unlimited)

Originally released on cassette in 1985 (then on CD in 1993), this music has been remastered and added to, resulting in a total of 67 minutes for this 2001 CD reissue of this second album by Wavestar (aka John Dyson and David Ward-Hunt).

If this material is "dated" at all, it is firmly rooted in a time of expansive majesty in the genre of electronic music. Ambient electronics float in a sea of actively sequenced keyboards. When these sequencer rolls are not fulfilling the music's rhythmic quotient, E-perc delivers the required energetic elements. Searing guitar injects a visceral quality, bestowing both guts and intellectualism to the music.

The melodies are carefully balanced between brooding soundscapes and explosively dynamic structures. Slowburn passages lead into more intricate waves of ascendant music.

Besides featuring a different version of the track "Time Node" from the original release, this CD also features a live version of that piece from Wavestar's rehearsal for their KLEMdag concert in 1991.

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