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Ambient Electronics: eM, Remco Helbers, Ben Swire, Terminal Sound System

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eM: Outward (CD EP on the Foundry)

This 21 minute CD EP from 2002 offers the latest tasty tuneage from ambient maestro eM (aka Michael Bentley).

Ethereal tonalities convey the audience outward, plunging the ambience through galactic clouds and vibrant vacuum to reach a realm of pulsating frequencies and crackling stellar cores.

The voyage begins with "From the Earth", which betrays harsher sensibilities than normal as the sonic POV slices through a gas envelope mired with radio waves and hostile atmosphere. This ascent evokes a triumphant release from earthly mores, delivering the listener to the next stage of the journey...

"Across the Milky Way" continues the music's FTL course, raising the standard for interstellar soundtracks with softly counterpointed bleeps swimming amid the lush texture of a cosmic-ray-thickened void. While seemingly sedate in temperament, a certain ratio of tension is experienced, hinting at grand discoveries in store.

With "Beyond the Magellanic Clouds", eM achieves a state of truly remote mesmerization with a deceptively more hollow tenor. This emptiness gradually swells, capturing an timeless approach to distant galaxies with chittering wavebands and chugging minimalism. This music leaves the audience holding their breath, anticipating a destination that forever lies beyond mortal reach.

This release can be considered a companion piece to eM's "All the Stars Burning Brightly", effectively picking up where that release leaves off, providing an alternate take on the same conceptual arc.

Bentley explains: "There are certainly parallels between 'All the Stars Burning Brightly' and 'Outward', but with this suite I made different choices in terms of compositional approach and sound palette. The first section ('From the Earth') is anchored in Earth sounds (animals, insects, earthquakes) though it includes a reiteration of one of the themes from 'All the Stars Burning Brightly' as well as manmade radio signals. The middle section ('Across the Milky Way') is centered around highly processed non-terrestrial sounds (satellite telemetry, etc.) and a numerically derived melodic sequence. The last section ('Beyond the Magellanic Clouds') utilizes hypnotic and percussive repetition to imply the infinity that lies beyond what we have explored. And while I use exterior references for the titling (a nod to years of interest in such things), for me 'Outward' expresses something rather interior, the movement from within the individual towards interaction and understanding the immensity of the outside world."

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REMCO HELBERS: On Some Road (CD on Edtion Blue)

This CD from 2002 is the debut release by Dutch musician Remco Helbers, offering 49 minutes of relaxing ambience based on the abstract paintings of British artist John Kimber. The two met while they were studying with legendary guitarist Robert Fripp.

Helbers' instrument of choice is the Chapman Stick. All sounds are transformed into StickLoops by his gentle touch. Some tracks feature a near-subliminal presence of bells and bowls, supplying an elusive percussive undercurrent for the ambient soundscapes.

This music flows like an imperturbable river. Tenuous fields of placid sonic textures impersonate an atmospheric calm. There is little variance among the minimal tonalities as the harmonic paths traverse their even-tempered course. Delicate waves of ethereal substance establish an airy sentiment that is serious but warm, generating an intriguing environment of unobtrusive resonance.

Although produced by layerings of ephemeral loops, this music possesses scarce cyclic demeanor, manifesting as seemingly infinite sheets of soothing textures. These emanations breathe and sigh, rippling with almost imperceptible hills and valleys. The constant quality of the melodies is deceptive, so gradual and slight are the variations.

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BEN SWIRE: Equilibrium (CD EP on the Foundry)

This 2002 CD EP features 17 minutes of delightful soundscapes that tickle the cerebellum as they lull the cortex. Ben Swire's accomplishments include recordings for NTone and collaborations with Minus. He also scored the soundtrack for "FM", an animation piece by Australia artist Rebecca Cannon, which premiered at the 2002 Transmediale Festival in Berlin.

On "Equilibrium", Swire delivers into more personal expressions, blending delicate beats with dreamy textures to achieve all-too-brief compositions that explore simple concepts with expansive results.

While atmospheric in initial appearance, this music needles the audience's deep memory with traces of distant crowds and swooning harmonics. Fragile E-perc lurks in the mix, lending pleasant rhythms to the drifting music, elevating it from the tedium of most ambience. These tempos fit perfectly with the relaxing melodies, injected just the right degree of insistence to the luxurious chillage.

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TERMINAL SOUND SYSTEM: RH-8SB (CD on Release Entertainment)

Terminal Sound System is Skye Klein (from Halo). This CD from 2002 offers 59 minutes of agro ambience. Agro ambience, now there's a unique concept. But that's a very apt description of the music on this CD.

While possessing an atmospheric foundation of floating textures and calming tonalities, the presence of harsh mechanical noises and abrupt (but unhurried) E-perc destroys most of the minimalistic sedation with jarring effect. The percussives snap out with unsoothing beats that stagger like a troop of malfunctioning robots across a barren glacier. The tempo is rarely melodic, for the rhythms are not designed to inspire dancing or even toe-tapping. Instead, an agitated state of contemplation is induced, prompting the audience with each unexpected eruption.

Electronic glitches and whirring crackles punctuate the illbient flow, evoking the notion of machinery pushed beyond its occupational limit. This only further induces an isolationist separation from the real world, plunging the listener into a realm of sparsely illuminated abstract darkness.

This music's intense edge is worn with pride and meticulous (not malicious) intention. And yet, the ambience flourishes, hardly daunted or submerged by the harsh embellishments. Comparisons to the early music of Aphex Twin is somewhat appropriate.

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