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Various Artists "Ambient Landscapes 2"

features a number of stars in the genre incl. James Johnson, Twine and dreamSTATE

"From Dark Duck Records comes the year's first great ambient compilation. It seems there is always at least one fantastic ambient compilation each year, usually from labels like Hypnos, Lektronik Soundscapes and Mirage. This year, Dark Duck Records (the home of Stephen Philips, Deep Chill Network, and Excelsior) beat them all to the punch. This is a fantastic collection of both dark and warm ambient, even crossing over into space music territory at times.

Excelsior is first up with a short (under four minutes) exploration of tone and beat, "Conscious Freq." Fuzzy synths, almost feedback-like in sound, hum and buzz while a metronome bass line beats a slow tempo and a soaring lead synth line ebbs and flows. The song straddles the line between ambient noir and a more neutral feel.

Twine, from the AdAstra label, contribute "Illumination," their unique take on dark ambient. The song features Ligeti-like (2001) choral effects floating over other haunting choral sounds and otherworldly electronic textures (distorted spoken word samples). The cut pulses with a strange alien life-force. Wonderful! This is ideal "turn off the lights and see what you see" music! Things get a little harsher toward the end as the vocal samples start to become insistent and more pronounced (but not so much so that it distracts).

The next artist is someone I've never heard of - e.Voice p. The cut, "Entered Apprentice" is really spooky! Think Stalker or, better yet, A Trouble Resting Place. Heavily echoed rumblings and rushing sounds, droning high-pitched (then low-pitched) synths, and whirring synth effects. Add strange metallic clanging noises and almost mournful sounding lead synth lines and you get a creepy excursion into the noir-est of ambient noir! Extremely cool listening in the dark (I tried it and it was both beautiful and unnerving).

"Alpha Waves," from Canadian duo dreamSTATE is less dark than the previous songs on the album. It's ultra-electronic though. Less melodic than you'd think yet possessed of a musicality that I can't describe, it's a picture of cyber-bliss. Circuits throb, synths echo long chords out to distant horizon lines, and vague shadowy tones rise and fall.

Alan Imberg's "Overview of Water" really turns the album in a warm direction. Bearing some resemblance to the work of Danna and Clement, the song has a natural organic ebb and flow which easily evokes scenes of gently undulating water. What sounds like guitar (a la Jeff Pearce) brings a second dimension to the song with its plaintive call and cry (aided by a nice echo effect).

Subspace's "Nebulunar" is an ambient-space music cut bathed in a warm blue glow. Lush synths rise and fall in the background and are eventually joined by piano-like notes, guitar, and subtle organ effects. Suggesting calm and beauty, the song is patient and stretches out for a tick over seven minutes.

The last three selections are uniformly excellent. "Explorations" is from Deep Chill Network. Semi-dark, resonating with singing bowl-like shimmerings and an undercurrent of synthesized hums along with other keyboard effects, the cut is fourteen-plus minutes long. Fans of the recordings from Hypnos will dig this a lot. Minimal and spacy, the music is formless yet contains an almost life-like essence as it meanders through its futuristic soundscape. The piece has a metallic edge to it that somehow elicits the image of refracted light. Interesting.

Next is label founder Stephen Philips' "On the Edge." I'm a huge fan of Stephen and he doesn't disappoint here. Synth chords held forever slowly pulse and more disquieting lower register keyboards play a somber free-form melody. Never truly dark, but deeply pensive, the music could also be heard as haunting. It's not hard to imagine standing at the edge of an abyss or a vast chasm, staring down and feeling that painful tug of vertigo as your consciousness struggles to maintain control. I'll tell you what comes to my mind with this - the mines of Moria in Tolkien's Lord the Rings. Stephen, call up Peter Jackson right now and tell him you'll be doing some of the soundtrack to the film!

Finally, one of the true masters of serene minimalism, James Johnson, ends the album with "Drift." It's typical Johnson, which is to say exquisite! Lush synths wafting delicately through the air, carrying you up through the layers of the atmosphere until the sky turns deep blue, then violet, and finally black and you realize the earth is disappearing beneath you. Yes, that's right, we're heading for the outer rim of deep space and we're not looking back.

Ambient Landscapes 2 contains almost all previously unreleased material (Twine's and Subspace's songs are from other albums of theirs). The CD is exceedingly well-recorded and mixed and the track ordering is spot on. If you claim to be a fan of ambient music, this should be your next purchase. Bravo to Stephen Philips for assembling this crew of stellar artists on one disc. Ambient Landscapes 2 is absolutely an essential recording for listeners of the genre. Highly recommended - obviously!

Bill Binkelman - Wind & Wire Magazine

Dark Duck is not a label I'm au fait with, though it looks like they have been around for twelve years. Which is a shame because if Ambient Landscapes 2 is anything to go by, than I'm sure some of the other releases may just be as tasty. AL2 is a compilation of tracks from nine artists, seven of which I need to plead ignorance of big time. As a collection it's interesting and holds up to repeated listening. There are lots of drones and textural possibilities, and the musical subject matters tends to not lean towards the darker spectrum of the ambient experience. It does highlight the fact that there are many people out there who compose interesting musics who, if it were not for labels like this, may never be given the chance to record. Now having just said that, I will confess to not being aware of how much of a profile anyone has besides dreamState. The ambiences drift beautifully, taking this listener to distant places and long forgotten memories. The works by Twine are of interest, utilising processed voices over a swirling electronic pattern. e.Voice.p follow with some subterranean primal wet atmospherics, at times dark and drone like, this sees them (?) exploring similar moods to O Yuki Conjugate and Suspended Memories. dreamState contribute one track 'Alpha Waves', which again is one of the many highlights on this release. If you are familiar with their release Between Realities and are hungering for more of that floating sound or intelligent space musics, it's definately worth a listen. Alan Imberg's 'Overview Of Water' is strongly reminiscent of Eno and Fripp, though not as harsh sounding as what they created some thirty odd years ago. A memerising piece. Subspace is about Fragile beauty with an almost blues element added in. Deep Chill Network have the longest piece on offer at 14'. minimalist, quiet drawn out sheets of sound. Occasional forays into top end keyboard this is a fine piece of ambience. Head duckman Stephen Philips gets in on the act as well. His piece reminds me of what Eno was doing in the late eighties, drones with a simple keyboard melody. Quietly hypnotic it almost seems the odd man out. James Johnson's Drift ends the album. It's a nice way to finish, again delving into space territories, unfolding vast possibilities within your ears. It's expansive, emotive and satisfying to listen to. It's nice to be able to add a few more names to the list of practitioners of this type of music with this recording. It's equally gratifying to know that there are still a lot of people out there composing within this genre.

Hans Stoeve - Nadabrahma Website

related items

Deep Chill Network - Live at the Ambient Ping 2000

dreamSTATE - Between Realities

James Johnson - The Butterfly Chamber

James Johnson - Entering Twilight

James Johnson - Minimum

James Johnson - Odyssey

James Johnson - Surrender

James Johnson - Unity

James Johnson/Ma Ja Le - Seed

James Johnson/Stephen Philips - Lost at Dunn's Lake

James Johnson/Robert Scott Thompson - Forgotten Places

James Johnson/Vir Unis - Perimeter

James Johnson/Vir Unis/Chris Short - Aqua Culture 1

last updated 08/30/05