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Moving Through Worlds by Fiona Joy
- posted by Robin B. James on 8/21/2020
Moving Through Worlds
This is a great time for something brighter and lighter, something that brings some ease to the weary listener, who is seeking feelings of harmony and simple respite from our troubled world. The gifted composer, singer, and pianist Fiona Joy Hawkins has just the thing, a new album titled Moving Through Worlds. I hear an enchanting and amazing exploration of themes such as land, water, fire, climate change and the vanishing of souls into the wind. The 14 tracks feature mostly solo piano, some are duos with violin or cello, some have a more full range of accompanists. The sound has a way of traversing lots of moods, rich with dynamic energy. In places the sound is delicate and slow, in places the feelings build and gain velocity and then gently recede.

County Clare has a strong history of traditional music, with many seasonal music festivals. One of the legends for the origin of the county name Clare, sometimes also called the Banner County, comes from the settlement of Clare (now Clarecastle), whose name Clár, or plank bridge, is a place for crossing over the River Fergus. The first track, "Calling County Clare" (5:06) is a haunting bit of a quiet easy dance with piano, percussion, acoustic guitar, bass, Irish flute, and vocals floating ethereally. There is a new video that is based on this song:

The Australian bush is tinder dry and has been increasingly dangerous in recent times, last year was named the Black Summer because of the unusually intense bushfires throughout Australia. On this album, Fiona Joy has several songs meditating on this terrible time, the second track of the album is titled "Bushfire Moon" (5:03) The musical style crosses into the jazz world, and the solo piano brings the listener into a sense of wonder, while remembering and honoring the devastation of nature, enduring such a tragic inferno.

There's nothing like a bit of rain to gladden the hearts, "Prayer For Rain" (4:08) has a lighter, slower feel, with vocal touches. I am thinking of an undying wish during a drought, may God open the heavens and let the merciful rain down upon the fields and mountains, bringing relief to the parched landscape.

All we have left in the end is memories, and the fourth track is a graceful and powerful meditation on what is left. This is my favorite song on the album because it is somehow both sad, enduring, and life affirming. "All That is Left" (5:34) has a light vocal shadowing, a shifting pace, with violin and horn, understated percussion, like the breeze the song gradually slows down quietly then resumes.

The color of lakes and oceans ranges in hue, the deeper the pool, the bluer the water. Seen up close water is clear and might have no color, but from a distance oceans and deep lakes have a magical blue color, "Aqua 1" (1:55) it the first of two meditations on water heard on this album, the first meditation has quiet hesitant beginning that blossoms into brighter colors.

Legends tell of a time, thousands or millions of years ago, when the Crystal Desert was covered in water. When I first heard the title of this next track I thought of arid and dry sandy landscapes, a hot and hostile environment, with a lack of easily accessible resources, and intense isolation, yet filled with a strange sunbaked beauty. "Desert of Crystal" (4:28) makes me think of geometric forms in a large open landscape, vocals floating, violin shimmering. It turns out that the composer was thinking of ice, snow and the sphere of the winds.

Crystal Desert is a nickname for Australia's southern neighbor Antarctica, on average the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, invoking visions of endless permanent winter populated by isolated romping nematodes, penguins, seals and tardigrades. Other historical names for this ocean and ice-locked region of glaciers and rock outcrops include Ultima and Antipodea.

Timelessness matters most when you have no time. The heart of midnight homes in on the sadness of a friend passing at midnight. Am I the one who is dreaming? Art doesn’t “change the world," instead it changes the terms. Today we find a resurrection, yet no words pass between us. For the tenth track, "Passing Of Midnight" (3:39), I hear a thoughtful meditation, piano with cello in a quiet mood, bringing forth the subtle dynamics we so love, the feeling builds and the feeling relaxes.

Moving through parallel worlds, sometimes objects can exist in more than one location simultaneously, even though the objects are invisible to us in all but one location. To achieve our dreams and exist in a world that is exactly as you imagine it should be, with science and timeless wisdom, somehow to guide you on a path about the sweep of time and surviving how it fragments and impinges upon lived human experience.

Sometimes one has to go into those difficult issues in order to come out the other side, coming out the other side. This also unlocks the ability to dream and connect to the ghosts of those who died, and can modify the energy of the colors primarily to stretch and bend into themes of peace and release. Moving Through Worlds is a journey of transition from danger and loss, the transforming miracles of nature and humanity, but today we gather to mourn, honour, reflect and begin to learn from the black summer that continues. To enjoy the color of water's vibrational states, as well as the the cold and dark as deep related questions about what we do not see.

The songs come from different worlds and together they create a sense of hope and beauty for listeners to enjoy. We are forced to continually change our strategies and tactics to accomplish our tasks. The winds blow hard, making and unmaking dunes, covering up the present and uncovering the past. We utilize these traditions as symbols, which reflect honor and respect on those who have given so much and who have served so well, sharing concerns for the future of threatened wildlife, such as glossy black cockatoos, Kangaroo Island dunnarts, and koalas. If the legends are true, we can pass through worlds again and again, always learning and always experiencing new seasons.

1 Calling County Clare (5:06)
2 Bushfire Moon (5:03)
3 Prayer For Rain (4:08)
4 All That is Left (5:34)
5 Aqua 1 (1:55)
6 Prelude in E Minor (Chopin, #4) (2:37)
7 Desert of Crystal (4:28)
8 Tolling of the Fire Bell (5:18)
9 Aqua 2 (1:20)
10 Passing Of Midnight (3:39)
11 Moving Through Worlds (4:28)
12 For the Roses (Solo Piano) (3:28)
13 Song For Louise (1:49)
14 Twilight Moment (2:32)
Rating: Excellent
Emotional Landscapes by Erik Wøllo
- posted by Robin B. James on 8/7/2020
Remastered album from Spotted Peccary Music
Electric guitar soundscapes, layered textures and atmospheric symphonics, remastered from the original 2003 release SPM-1203, this is a streaming digital-only re-release, not available on vinyl or CD, originally recorded at Wintergarden Studio in Norway 2001-2002, with cover art by Greg Klamt, and photography by Erik Wøllo.

Imagine different types of twilight in which emotions could form a landscape described best from a distant vantage point, moving through a wide range in style and mood, giving us time to dream. Erik Wøllo is a Norwegian composer and musician, a guitarist and synthesist, on this album he plays guitar synthesizers, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, electric bass guitar, percussion, and created the programming. Liv Frengstad plays cello on "Sounds of the Seen, Part I" and "Sounds of the Seen, Part II."

Music is a way to utilize the power of creativity, an entry point for connection and meaning. On Emotional Landscapes I hear variations of meditations on sunrises that start quietly and build into complex layers. Human emotions could mean many things, the range of emotions could possibly include war as well as peace, energized and dormant, negative and positive, but the songs on Emotional Landscapes are consistently calm and positive, often constructed by steadily building themes and layers, always an interesting weave of ideas expressed on guitars and electronics, the music is sometimes melancholic, always very hopeful and affirming.

Erik Wøllo has been using his guitar since he was 11 years old, learning to bring a new freshness to the light, to ignite our thoughts to beauty. Under the midnight sun, there is a continuous period of twilight during the summer months in Norway, and during the winter, the darkness, a musical silence, the soul hearing the melody that the ears could not. The dawn of a new beginning, when light is still visible in the sky due to sunlight scattering off the atmosphere, the sunrise over the water with distant mountains. When the world is sleeping at midnight, dreams come as nature's easel, giving brilliant colors and mystery to the vast starlit night.

The symbols of nature are usually the objects and things from nature that represent thoughts related to them, I hear whirling air, I think of dawn on the water as a new day begins. There is color on the cloudy horizon, with textured atmospherics, distant birds at sunrise, the musical elements collect and grow into melodic themes. "In The Picture" (2:46).

Metaphors can be implied and extended nonliteral comparisons, the metaphors we use shape the world and our interactions to it. Metaphors spontaneously arise in art and serve as an entry point for connection and meaning. They spread so quickly and smoothly, a new beginning, symbolizing nature's easel, giving brilliant color to what was hidden under the passing starlit night. The second track, "Metaphor" (4:45) begins with guitar finger patterns, continuing the cloudy melodic dawn, which expands into a flow, and then percussion completes the transition into form.

Euclid defined the term "prism," referring to a geometric shape with polished surfaces that refract light and display the colors of the rainbow. In the track "Prism" (4:16) I hear emerging textures patterns, kalidescopic synthesizer drones arcing over clouds and then wind, changing light caused by subtle movement, rising patterns and glowing.

A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe. The "Second Totem" (5:25) begins with voices from distant times that blend and echo through a matrix, shamanic dance elements with melodic patterns unfolding joined by beats that layer in repeating patterns.

This next track is my favorite song, "Sounds of the Seen, Part I" (8:06). It begins as the cello sings a sad haunting melody floating through a wash of atmospheric electronic textures, eventually percussion kicks in and the textures take movement and form, a dance takes shape about half way through, and after a journey, the track ends in a collage including field recordings of people's voices happily echoing in a large building. The album notes indicate that the voices of people were recorded under the World Trade Center in August of 2001. Liv Frengstad plays the cello.

A valley is a low area between hills or mountains often with a river running through it. The sixth track is titled "Valley" (3:02) and what I hear is a guitar cathedral, atmospherics sustained high above us, framed by a landscape that is green and alive in the warm weather, valleys surround the mountains in all directions and in the darkness of night, northern lights illuminate the sky.

The concept of virtual worlds significantly predates computers, Pliny the Elder spoke of perceptual illusion, and in 1962 the cinematographer Morton Heilig explored the creation of the Sensorama, a theatre experience designed to stimulate vision, sound, balance, smell, even touch, through wind. A virtual world facilitates interaction across time and geographic boundaries, on the track "Virtual World" (5:54) I hear thicker electronics emerging with beats forming textures and glowing complexities, guitar sounds travel along, interlocking elements create a kinetic feeling of dance and locomotion.

The synthetic worlds blend into the next track, "Mountain Beach" (5:20) in which I hear cascading melodic pulses merging rhythmically into repeating patterns, subtle ringing chimes and even these toughest and most rugged landscapes shine beautifully, through deep forests, arctic tundras, grand mountain tops, colorful grass-roofed houses, and, of course, majestic fjords.

Next, it is time to return to the big room with the sad cello that haunts our memories, "Sounds of the Seen, Part II" (3:06) makes me think of flocks of small electronic birds at dawn taking form, joined by Liv Frengstad on cello.

In outer space, a satellite is an object in orbit around a larger object, and can take the form of natural satellites such as Earth's Moon, or the word can refer to objects such as the world's first artificial satellite, such as Sputnik 1, which joined the peripheral regions of our planet on the 4th of October in 1957, and began the age of space exploration. The track "Satellite" (4:20) brings the listener deep into space where a repeating melody rises, transforms, and then fades into the darkness.

The measure or beat of movement, the pulse or pace in the darkness, "Echo of Night / Cadence" (6:20) brings to my mind’s eye many layers of electronic textures emerging from the void and taking form, lightly dancing, a science fiction ghost story told with distinct electric guitar engaging in dialogue with keyboards, washed away to be replaced by a more somber ceremonial dawn.

It has been a long journey through many different slow textures, clouds of cicada, the ocean in the distance gently slips away to reveal the final song, "The Hidden Track" (9:53).

Norway is famous for its fjords, still blue lakes that stretch deep inland, often with cliffs towering either side. Waterfalls in Norway are renowned for their power and size, with a steady supply of water coming from its fjords, lakes, glaciers and mountains. Twilight is the time between day and night when there is light outside, but the Sun is below the horizon. Allowing for silence, choice, exploration, and observation, what would an emotional landscape sound like in terms of melody, intensity, setting, style, and feeling? Landscapes can be vastly different and can include settings like the woods, oceans, deserts, fields, mountains, etc. Silence can be supportive and grounding, especially as a sanctuary from the often frenetic energy of the universe. This collection of guitar-based electronica offers ways to explore our emotions and experiences through metaphor, in a continuous period of darkness becoming twilight that transforms into d
Rating: Excellent
Consciousness, and other Tricks of the Light by Ben Cox
- posted by Jonathan Widran on 7/24/2020
Consciousness, and other tricks of the light
In a true sign of this strange and challenging pandemic filled era known as 2020, recorded and livestreamed music has played an important role in helping us collectively mourn the old world, cope with the day to day “new normal” and find emotional and spiritual joy in the midst whenever possible.

Most of the recordings that have been released for our enjoyment and enrichment during COVI-19 were conceived and created before the universe shifted – but there’s a thought I’ve been writing over and over every time I feel an artist and album meet the moment in beautiful unanticipated ways.

As I wrap my conscious and subconscious minds around the inventive, sonically expansive astral journey composer and synth master Ben Cox takes us on with provocatively titled new collection Consciousness, and other tricks of the light, these words bear repeating because they apply: “There is something wondrous and inspiring about artists whose insight into the human condition, world affairs and our spiritual needs allows them to create works that serve to meet the moment.”

Up till now, I have mostly applied that sentiment to gentle, meditative new age works that were clearly designed to calm the nerves and soothe the spirit – a most helpful notion during a time of fear and uncertainty. But chilling out is only one way to venture beyond our present and all too problematic concerns. No offense to those artists and their excellent much appreciated projects, but the other option, and a much more fascinating and engaging one, is to create something that’s like an audio version of “Star Wars,” taking us to a far-off galaxy of unlimited sonic detail and creativity.

Cox’s rich and insightful understanding of Consciousness is one that allows our imaginations to run wild and create our own reality far away from the present world. That would be a powerful gift in any place and time, but it’s even more meaningful and necessary during a global pandemic.

As you listen, you’ll realize that the collection is best enjoyed as a full on 40 minute through-line, but the fact that each of the six tracks is crafted (or channeled, since these sonic concepts are truly otherworldly) via a blend of analog and digital synthesis helps us regress into a more innocent past even as we progress forward into uncharted territory fueled by our own needs and desires.

Perhaps because the ultimate spiritual result of Cox’s expedition is up to each individual listener, it’s best not to lead the witness. Yet a few humble comments might help guide your own path through this. “Einstein’s Cross” is organic synth funk with live sounding high hat and mind-bending echoing harmonics. It’s a fanciful adventure using soaring (and sometimes brassy) synth sounds grounded in the groove. It’s also notable for its spoken word vocal (something about gravity and symmetry) that may remind those of a certain age of Paul Hardcastle’s hypnotic mid-80’s hit “19.” The eight and a half minute “Delta Waves” is relaxing, spacey and atmospheric, but deeply core-vibrational and infused with sonic sparkles that rattle the heart and mind to make sure we’re not drifting too far off and can pay attention to the next stop on the astral journey.

Full disclaimer before commenting on the trippy and hypnotic six-minute gem “Just Begin Again” at the center of the excursion: I’m a big classic rock fan. So the minute I heard the spacey, “out there” riff patterns ping ponging in each ear – a foundational undertone throughout the piece – I’m thinking this is the kind of stuff Pete Townshend did to animate all our favorite classics from The Who. The tune picks up energy, speed and subtle bass tones, but the “Who without Roger Daltrey” effect endures mystically throughout.

“Now” plays similar aural tricks with the echoing effect of its hypno-chimes bouncing from ear to ear, and those keep going – artfully modulated for colorful variety - as Cox creates a dark bass driven counterpoint with moody, mysterious immersive energies. If that’s truly our “Now,” it’s a place we can exhale before we return to the stranger reality of present-day life on earth. As we try to figure out what the title “Chirality” means, we can let our mind’s eye soar along the ambient rock highway, where atmospheres provide intense backdrops for crisp, edgy electric guitar sounds.

At two and a half minutes, this is a nice respite leading up to the massive crescendo of the Consciousness experience, a 13-minute deep dive into a world of airy, breathtaking ambience, contrasting shards of darkness and light and curious and slowly crawling, synth generated creatures that tickle our ears as they wait for more shards of dawn to emerge. The press materials call these “tiny metallic tinkling echoes, perhaps in a huge dark cave well after midnight.” If you believe in such things, spending extended time in this arena of peculiar characters and textures may be your ticket to a past life regression or future life projection.

Wherever you go, it’s still the trip of a lifetime, limited only by the parameters of your own spirit and imagination and driven by an artist whose faith in the power of sonics knows no bounds.

As a bonus for the tech-heads, Mix magazine crowd and synthesizer nerds, in an interview about his methodology by music writer Robin James, Cox revealed his preferences for the My Eurorack modular, Moog Voyager (Anniversary Edition), Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2, Nord Modular G2, DSI/Oberheim OB-6, a pair of Moog Mother-32, Novation UltraNova, Moog Little Phatty, and a Roland JV-2080. Instrument used: Line6 Variax JTV-59, Helix Rack Software used: Avid Pro Tools, Plugins from u-he, Native Instruments, Eventide, McDSP, Waves, Lexicon, Arturia, iZotope, FabFilter, Csound Hardware used: Focusrite Red8Pre and Red16Line audio interfaces (DigiLink, Dante), Avid Pro Tools HDX, Artist Mix, Focal Trio6BE+Sub6, and a TC Electronic M3000.
Rating: Very Good +
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