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Alex Crispin * Erik Wøllo

Treshold Point

Open Submissions


When an album is introduced with the suggestion to file it under “New Age, Healing, Devotional, Spiritual” and stuff like that I usually approach with caution. I’m not particularly fond of music classified as New Age, since it often is too sugary for me and lacks tension and depth (to my ears).
I’m afraid that marketing tags like these open up a specific audience but at the same time scare off many other listeners who would probably enjoy it in a different context.

But a tag is just a tag, and genres are only there to be crossed… so one has to keep an open-mind and try to listen without prejudices.. and as a result sometimes find a gem that really is a pleasure to listen to. (This, by the way is one of the reason I do not read any album promo information before listening to it).

Such a surprise is the release of Alex Crispin‘s album Open Submissions on the Constellation Tatsu cassette label (a debut for this particular label focusing on the “adventurous with spiritual artistic sensibilities”).

Sometimes people ask why most of the ambient electronic music is dark and tense, why it is harder to find ‘light-hearted’ and brighter examples of the genre. Open Submissions is one of these examples: bright, flowing, lovely and optimistic music created with guitar, rhodes piano and synths – and on church organ on St. Stephens.
A pleasure to listen to, especially on a sunny day.

Treshold Point


Somewhat in the same vein, musically, is the music of Norwegian composer Erik Wøllo. His back-catalogue boasts over 40 albums in various genres, but he is probably best known for his electronic music releases on the Projekt label. Not specifically labelled ‘new age’ this time, more as ‘down-tempo electronics’ (see how a different label tag might completely change the audience?).
But with the same ‘optimistic’ approach: uplifting, positive sounding music.. let’s say it’s almost a counterpart to music that is described as ‘isolationist’ or ‘arctic’.

It may be a bit strange to describe this music in terms like this, since according to the liner notes these pieces were written under tragical circumstances: while Wøllo was staying in Brooklyn, his sister grew ill and died. “I sense these circumstances influenced the music, making it more ethereal  and humble than some of my other works.” 

Erik Wøllo is on the scene since 1980, so he is among the veterans of this sound. He has worked with artists like Steve Roach, Byron Metcalf and Ian Boddy – among many others – and if you know these names you can almost point out the sound of his music. The guitar is his main instrument, embedded in electronic soundscapes and sequencer loops. The mood is “contemplative and expressively intense”, ranging from floating ambientscapes to pulsating rhythmic pieces  as in the four-part Mosaic Of Time.

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Steve Roach & Robert Logan; Phonothek; Erik Wøllo & Byron Metcalf

Second Nature

Second Nature

Second Nature is part of a set of two distinctively different albums released simultaneously.
Biosonic, the twin album, focuses on ‘elegant futurism: a labyrinth of bio-electrical rhythmic pieces mixed with passages of deep drifting textural magnetism’, while Second Nature is filled with ‘romantic minimalism: nuanced, sparse, ambient-atmospherics and processed-piano tone paintings’.
In short, they both serve quite a different mood.

In a way, it’s a meeting of two generations and Anglo-American cultures: 28-year-old (England-based) Robert Logan has been a fan of 61-year-old (American) ambient performer Steve Roach ever since he was 13 years old.

From these two albums, Second Nature is my favourite because of it’s dreamlike tranquility; the way Roach‘s vintage analog synths, live looping, mixing and effects processing merge with Logan‘s (processed) electric grand piano playing.  The 70 minutes of music are divided in four tracks: two long (22/32 minutes), and two relatively short (8-10 minutes).

Lost in Fog

“Recommended as a companion for sleepless nights”…. I’m not sure about that, personally, since the overall sound of this album is rather dark and might not really help you to feel comfortable enough to fall asleep. But if you have no desire to fall asleep soon you might very well enjoy its companionship: it’s a fascinating cinematic sound indeed, created using, vinyl crackles, echoes, bowed strings and horns.

Phonothek is a (‘male/female’) duo from Georgia, Europe (further details unknown); their sound is recognisable European in its resemblances to names like Bohren & der Club of Gore, Kilimanjaro Dark Jazz Ensemble and their music revealing influences from the experimental artists recording for the Crammed/Made to Measure series.

Like ‘new age’, ‘dark ambient’ is a dangerous label because it may scare away some listeners, the tag evokes possible prejudices about dolphin sounds (in the former) or monk chants (in the latter).
Don’t let such a prejudice misguide you: there’s none of this here – and you would definitely miss out of a great atmospheric, David Lynchian ambient-jazz album.

Also on Spotify

Earth Luminous

Speaking of genre tags: Erik Wøllo usually operates at the lighter side of the ambient spectrum (and I deliberately avoid the use of ‘new age’ here since that doesn’t really do justice to his music).
The Norwegian composer/musician has been active since 1980, covering a wide range of styles, from rock to jazz to ambient music.
On this album, he pairs his widespread synthscapes to the tribal percussion of Byron Metcalf, who’s career spans over 40 years and many different genres. Ambient music devotees may know his name from his work with Steve Roach.
Metcalf‘s beautifully recorded ‘shamanic’ rhythm patterns add a steady, earthly beat to Wøllo ‘s ethereal, floating ambient – “a sound flowing freely along with the currents all the time balancing the dark with the light.”

Also on Spotify

Star's End 2015
This hour-long live-set, originally recorded for the Star’s End radio show on Philadelphia’s WXPN, shows a somewhat different side of Erik Wøllo.
On his Silent Currents series (which are all live-sets for Star’s End, by the way), Wøllo explores the more abstract, minimal side of ambient soundscapes.
This is ‘classic’ ambient, firmly rooted in the ambient music of the seventies’ (but without the sequenced arpeggio’s)

“I think the interesting things happen below the surface where everything has a slow, suspended character. Like a deep river flowing unnoticed, motion happening in the undercurrents, or tidal water flowing in the opposite direction of the top flow.”

Also on Spotify

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Steve Roach; Erik Wøllo; S.E.T.I.; As Lonely as Dave Bowman

Etheric Imprints

With a back catalogue boasting more than 100 releases since 1982, Steve Roach is one of the great Masters of ambient music. His output is immense: there are 6 releases mentioned on Discogs for 2015 and we’re only halfway through the year. It is also very diverse: his earlier work inspired by the likes of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Vangelis, often returning to the sequencer based Berlin-school and modular synths – but also tribal rhythms inspired by the natural beauty of the southwest of the United States… and everything inbetween.
Etheric Imprints offers four long highly introspective tracks – ‘focusing on the essential elements of sound, silence, tone, and time-altering forms; peeling away the surface layers to reveal the subterranean strata beneath.’
The opening title track, with 29:42 also the longest track on the album, has a beautiful deep grand piano sound ‘responding to an expansive electro-acoustic environment’ immediately reminiscing the best of Brian Eno‘s installation works. On the subsequent tracks, the piano slowly retreats to make place for more dissonant notes, but the overall sound remains etheric and totally immersive.


I have no idea why this is called an EP, because with the total length of 43 minutes it is longer than many other ‘full’ albums.
Possibly Erik Wøllo calls it that because he doesn’t consider this to be a ‘full’ album, but rather a collection of improvised experiments using guitars and a collection of chained pedals and devices, later enriched with sequenced synthesizer and percussion elements.
But whatever the reason, Echotides feels like a complete full album to me – and a rather nice and relaxing one too!
“The whole idea of the project was to create a sustained and free floating selection of tracks built upon interacting fragments of sound and processed textures, all blended together and forming a constant morphing endless flow.”

SETI - Companion

S.E.T.I. is Andrew Lagowski‘s personal Search for ExtraTerrestial Intelligence.
The Geometry of Night
 was S.E.T.I.‘s second full album, released in 1996. It now gets a double-cd-rerelease paired with a brand new ‘sister album’ called Companion.
Both albums are loosely related thematically yet quite different in nature. Geometry of Night has that typical late 90’s sound & feel, more beat-oriented,  and more light-hearted than Companion, that has no beats and presents more abstract spacey soundscapes. Some of them (like Roxs 42Bb and Rr Caeli Cataclysmic Variable) quite frightening because they sound like recordings of extra-terrestial lifeforms trying to reach out for us.
Play loud for maximum effect!

S.E.T.I. – Roxs42Bb

As Lonely as Dave Bowman

The project name, the album title, the track titles: everything in this project refers to Kubrick’s ground breaking sci-fi masterpiece 2001 – A Space Odyssey  (1968). ‘Monolith is a soundtrack for the final four months of Dave’s journey to Jupiter.’
2001 was (and still is) unique because of the stilistic choices made to represent life in space: no blasting spacecraft motors (‘in space, there is no sound’), and lóóng sequences, seemingly without much action, depicting the slow weightless life. This timelessness is carefully represented in the Monolith soundtrack, especially in the closing track A Long, Dark Corridor Filled With Lights. A Memory. And Then A Bright Room With Air., which is over 40 minutes long. It immediately recaptures the movie’s unforgettable closing scene.
As Lonely As Dave Bowman (Sam Rosenthalaka Black Tape For a Blue Girl side-project) creates a fully electronic revision of the soundtrack. In that, it diverts from Kubrick’s own choices: he didn’t use electronic music or the soundtrack but deliberately chose orchestral acoustics such as the Richard Strauss waltzes as well as the frightening choir music from György Ligeti.
Like the movie that inspired it, Monolith requires a certain mindset to be fully appreciated: ‘droning space, wordless drift with long suspended passages… the album touches the edges of isolation and glacial solitude, with a discernible warm human core.’
Available as a digital download album on Bandcamp, but there’s also limited Kickstarter-funded physical editions available.

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