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Ambient: Book of Shadows, Jeff Greinke, Michael Peck, Bruno Sanfilippo

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BOOK OF SHADOWS: The Inner World (download album on Artificial Music Machine)

This release from 2007 offers 42 minutes of haunting soundscapes.

Book of Shadows is keyboardist Carlton Crutcher (from ST 37) and his wife Sharon on vocals. Joining them are: Aaron Bennack on guitar, Eric Archer on guitar and electronics, Lori 16MM Varga on theremin and keyboards, Erich Ragsdale on keyboards and electronics, and Douglas Fergusson on guitar, electronics, and Tibetan bowls.

Ethereal guitarscapes and tenuous tonalities establish a spacey backdrop for delicate vocal effects. Reverberating guitar textures pulsate with vibrant life, while more strident string expressions surge forth to generate a secondary layer of activity that gradually moves to the forefront of the music. Ambient electronics and ephemeral guitars produce a dreamy realm that is seasoned with ghostly embellishments. There is absolutely no rhythmic presence to these tunes.

Some of the guitars exhibit an airy demeanor, creating a tingling atmosphere of calm. Other guitars adopt a more demonstrative presence, cascading sustained tremblings while remaining in sedate territory.

The electronics permeate the mix with a fluid fashion. Moody tonalities blend with chittering diodes and sparkling punctuations, evoking an astral mien that merges outer and inner space.

Sharon's vocals are dreamy and angelic, nonlyrical warblings that expertly establish a human presence with haunting quality. In the final piece, her misty vocals delightfully interact with a bevy of imposing Tibetan bowl tones.

The compositions are more harmonious than melodic, pursuing vaporous structures that drift with roiling character. An overall moodiness is tempered with modern sensibilities as auxiliary elements churn in and out of the mix.

One track allows the abstract soundscape to achieve a decided level of intensity as the instruments strive for a vivid pinnacle of glory.

Not available as a traditional CD, this release can only be obtained as a digital download.

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JEFF GREINKE: Winter Light (CD on Lotuspike)

This CD from 2007 offers 55 minutes of calming music.

Stately piano is supported by orchestral strings and a hint of woodwinds. Fragile chords unfurl with distinct gentility. The overall mood is delicate, unhurried and pensive.

It's misleading to discuss the electronics, since the majority of the "traditional" instruments are synthetically generated. Actual electronics are rather sparse here, applied as hints and subliminal touches. Atmospheric tones are the strongest evidence of synthesizers at play.

Icy percussion of a severely understated manner punctuates a few of the pieces, contributing hesitant tempos that suit the sedate melodies.

A rigid sense of classical structure dominates the tunes. The piano and other crystalline keyboards pursue a serious recital-style performance, while the orchestral elements swarm with regal determination, generating vaporous embellishments that paint a series of melancholy gray skies above a frozen landscape.

Compositionally, this music has a strong cinematic feel to it, excellently capturing a protagonist's desire to flee a frozen landscape only to find himself returning to that chilled homeland in the end.

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MICHAEL PECK: Glacial (CD on Gears of Sand)

This release from 2007 features 48 minutes of frigid soundscapes.

Ethereal tonal clouds gather. Electronic effects emerge, slowly coalescing into harmonious passages which enhance the stark desolate flair of the tunes. Keyboards generate tenuous chords that are looped and function as auxiliary sonic clouds. Soon, the amorphous background becomes crowded with these vapors.

Each track serves to expand the notion of icy soundscapes, exploring that sentiment with diverse but calm expressions. Tonal effects are strained to an almost shrill level in one piece, establishing a haunting air. Another song employs shooting surges to describe the overall chill, while a surprisingly harsh guitar-like intrusion harnesses the cold air into an enormous pillar that occludes the heavens.

While featuring some melodic content, this music is generally harmonic in nature. Complimentary airs are juxtaposed to accomplish deeper resonance.

The result is a selection of ambience that superbly evokes arctic realms while seasoning those frozen vistas with the presence of manmade machinery.

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BRUNO SANFILIPPO: Piano Textures (CD on AD21 Music)

This CD from 2007 features 56 minutes of piano music.

While a grand piano is the main source for the sounds utilized on this release, strings and duduk are also sampled and heavily treated to contribute to the tunes. This union results in a haunting mood that goes beyond melancholy to inject brooding with a touch of optimism.

The piano serves as a focal point, expressing sedate chords of accentuated desolation. The strings, elongated and often flipped sideways, provide an emotional counterpoint for that ponderous mood. Their classical edge imbues the melodies with a vivid humanity, a sadness that remains unemotional as it strives for an objective vantage.

Synthesizers are also present, often producing a ghostly backdrop tapestry for the music's more prominent aspects.

These compositions explore a desire to temper despair with a greater neutrality, revealing the transience of depression and its skewed viewpoint once the bigger picture comes into focus. Classical sensibilities are fused with an ambient model, producing tunes that are modern yet nostalgic.

Surprisingly uplifting, all things considered.

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