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Following hot on the heels of his excellent ambient noir release, Lost Caverns of Thera, the amazingly versatile Brannan Lane has released still another premier ambient recording, Troposphere. But, where Lost Caverns...was dark and foreboding and organic in feel, Troposphere is more spacy and ethereal. In short, this is a must have (as much as some people discount my use of the term) for fans of spacemusic as well as those who like their ambient music filled with washes of synthesizers and pillows of floaty keyboards.
Troposphere has as its theme the musical interpretation of the various layers of Earth¹s atmosphere, from the close-in layer which the CD is named for, to the upper edge where Earth¹s atmosphere meets deep space, the "Thermosphere." And while each of the four "layers" on the CD (which have two songs each) are distinct, they flow together to form a wonderful "whole" much like the way the layers of the atmosphere merge seamlessly into one another as one leaves Earth¹s surface.
The recording begins with the sound of rain and a crack of thunder, which is soon joined by the almost plaintive sigh of a synthesizer, not really mournful, but almost sad in its emotional weight. Immediately in evidence on this song (and which is sustained throughout Troposphere) is Brannan¹s usual expert blending of various keyboards as well as his faultless engineering. Much like Lost Caverns of Thera, this is one incredible listen on headphones! The twinkling bell-like synths, synth strings, and patient washes all sound exquisite.
While there are "cues" (cuts) on the recording, as I stated above, Troposphere actually is one long slowly evolving work (again, like Lost Caverns...). The shift, for example, from "Troposphere" to "Mesosphere" is semi-abrupt but seems to come about subtly just the same. This next "layer" is mysterious and combines low register drones and chords with spacy ³fluttering² effects and the sound of cymbals. A vague melody line comes into the piece, but it continues in a slightly dark mood just the same, combining with the "fluttering" to paint a portrait of a cold place (this is the layer of the atmosphere where ice clouds form, per the liner notes). As the two-part song progresses, synth choruses lend an ethereal lightness to the oppression. The music heads into a higher-pitched realm (evoking an image of the atmosphere thinning, perhaps?). The song becomes awash with swirling synths and lush synth strings as it warms in feeling considerably.
Before heading into the "Thermosphere" and "Stratosphere," Brannan features a three-part song called "Odyssea" which begins with exotic bird song and eventually features layer upon layer of spacy synths and swooshing effects, reminding me somewhat of vintage Serrie at times. But this is the only song on the CD that I was conscious of a comparison to another artist. Troposphere is a highly original work, as it explores a unique interpretation of both spacemusic and ambient music. Part of this is due to the selection of synth sounds that Brannan uses; the other is the structure of the album itself, namely disparate cuts that still work together cohesively.
One of my favorite layers is "Thermosphere" with its delicate twinkling bells, although the left-to-right panning on this "song" (something Brannan featured on Caribbean Dream as well) is so severe at times that on headphones it¹s distracting. But on room speakers, the extreme separation is less pronounced. "Thermosphere" is full of drones, echoing synths, and lots of spacemusic touches. "Stratosphere" ends the album with warm washes of keyboards married to subtle gongs, triangles, and bell-like synth tones.
With the release of both Troposphere and Lost Caverns of Thera in the same year(!), Brannan Lane cruises into the upper echelons of new and exciting artists in the spacemusic and ambient genres. I have said of Brannan that he apparently can do no wrong.
Wind and Wire Review
by Bill Binkelman.
Brannan Lane is having a year and a half in 2002. And its still April! Soundfall to the Infinite is his fourth CD so far (one solo, three collaborations). And its only April! Brannans collaborator, Zero Ohms, nee Richard Roberts, is having quite a year also. Soundfall to the Infinite is his second CD of 2002. And its only April!
This CD is the total package. The cover artwork, by Robert Carty, is gorgeous. (Robert also did the cover artwork for Tracks Across the Universe.) The liner notes are sparse. (There is no need for them.) The music is awesome! Te deep minimalism is inspirational and warm. The disc is set up like a symphony. There are three sets, each with two movements. Richards breathy flutes supply a soft and gentle drone. Brannans gentle processes create massive atmospheres. The serene soundscape is captivating.
This very emotional and highly spiritual soundscape is some of the sweetest music from two of the kindest and gentlest souls in the e-music community. It defines the splendor of solitude. Deep listeners will appreciate the opportunity to explore the self. (I want to step out of character briefly to thank both of these fine gentlemen for their support and prayers during my recent trials and tribulations. I am always touched by the love in our little e-music community. It is with great pride and humility that I review this CD. Thank you, Richard! Thank you, Brannan!) - Jim Brenholts
Never have I played
a new (or old, for that matter) CD so much. Hypnotic Drift explores just
the right terrain I like to dwell in. It never becomes too familiar, but
always leaves me with an undercurrent of mystical appreciation. Every
time I tried to take it out of my CD player, it just hopped right back
in before too long. This really, really hits the mark for me. Awesome
I love the chordal swells
and the fine sonic detail of the backgrounds. Relatively abstract, but
still accessible...I feel it's music that really draws me in...gets my
attention. You probably already know this, but people are bound to find
similarities between this music and Steve Roach's MAGNIFICENT VOID, as
well as some of Robert Scott Thompson's work. There's tension in this
music, but also a sense of peace. Well done."
Immense Distance is an album of complimentary parallels. Stated on the cover is a dedication to the lost shuttle Columbia and its crew. Clearly the thematic focus to Immense Distance is exploration of unknown territories; a rich field to explore musically, indeed. We begin with tracks one and two--really one long track--titled "Flows Adrift" and "On a Cosmic Sea." These tracks are a single reverberant soundscape with trilling flutes, sustained bells (that sound similar to the Tibetan Singing Bowl), as well as various environmental effects that give the track a distinctly Alio Die feel. This is understated environmental ambient at its most brilliant, as the music conjures up still forest landscapes, ghostly fields, and piers overlooking a gently undulating sea stretching into the distance. It's quite easy to get lost in deep-drone tracks like this, especially easy when the tracks are as intoxicating as these. By the time track two begins (seamlessly), we obtain a clear view of Lane's and Robert's intent. A gradual focus on flute, reminding me very much of Robert Rich's work, is apparent. Almost imperceptibly, creaking and sloshing noises become more prominent. It all becomes clear. We are on a vast sailing ship, traveling a great distance to explore completely foreign territory. We are not there yet, and are not likely to be there for some time. This is not the vision of exploration from the captain's cabin, complete with thoughts of monetary or trade gain--this is the view of travel from a sailor's perspective, deep down in the bowels of the ship where the shaped wood cuts through the wine-dark ocean, ungainly but inexorable. This craft may never reach the far shores, but the tone of brave exploration is maintained nonetheless. Taken in this perspective, this nearly twenty-five minute composition is staggering.
We then move forward to track three, "Immense Distance," which begins with a modern synth tone melody, accompanied by dramatic tympani-sounds and Robert's delicate tinwhistle. We are on the ocean no longer, unless one regards infinite space as an ocean of a sort. In the spirit of past trailblazers, this track reminds one of the calm before a spacecraft begins its journey into the heavens. The synth melody earths this track, and also permeates it with a sense of modernity absent from the previous two tracks. Personally, I felt it to unnecessarily dominate the entire track, volume-wise, but it seems as if this might be intentional. Track four, "On Currents of Sound," brings us right back to the ocean-faring ship, this time having reached its destination--an undiscovered land. We drift on the currents, eyes to the coastline, wondering what might be hidden beneath the verdant green ashore. Perhaps uninhabited nothingness, perhaps burgeoning civilization; regardless this is rich terrain to explore. On track five, "Into the Nth," we are transported to the spacecraft's destination, the impossible gorgeousness of space. There is no up or down here, only ever-expanding distance, 360 degrees around. The craft floats weightlessly above Earth, providing the ultimate perspective--just how small our tiny pebble of Earth is compared to the supreme majesty of the Universe.
We have been following parallel journeys, similar in spirit, separated only by time and technology, when track six, "In the Next Future" begins. Here, we have transcended earlier journeys into a rich tradition of selfless exploration. This is a gusty, vibrant track, reminding me of Eno's seminal "An Ending (Ascent)" from Apollo--another musical work devoted to man's endeavors outside his limited sphere. There are hints of the previous tracks here, all complimentarily added together. This is a gentle, affecting ending to a very memorable work.
In all, Roberts and Lane have crafted one of the finest ambient collaborations in recent memory. While both work in familiar and well-trodden styles, the work is strong, affecting, and emotional. The added parallels of man's exploratory nature make the music on Immense Distance all the more satisfying. There is a hushed reverence that pulls you in from the very first listen, allowing you to imagine yourself in shoes that most people will never likely have the opportunity to fill. This is a fine effort, and one I will be returning to often.
Records, PO BOX 152, PORTISHEAD, BRISTOL, BS20 7WD