“I was never worried that synthesizers would replace musicians. First of all, you have to be a musician in order to make music with a synthesizer.” (Robert Moog)
Ah…those velvet lush pads, endless sparkling arpeggios, sharp basslines and liquid lead sounds. Those crafty, intelligent machines, little and sometimes enormous, in the right hands can create magnificent worlds of sound for our minds and souls to delve into and slide through. Magical windows to the outside of reality, the perfect escapism. Once you’re hooked, it’s a lifelong addiction, one you don’t need to stop feeding; well, as long you can still pay your rent and bills and your house doesn’t look like a warehouse of vinyl, cassettes and CDs.
Whether it was Tangerine Dream, Manuel Göttsching, Jean-Michel Jarre, the funky pyrotechnics of Herbie Hancock, the liquid sorcery of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine,” Kraftwerk’s quirkiness, the mind-boggling gymnastics of Ozric Tentacles, the deep, eclectic explorations of Robert Rich or the eccentric inventiveness of Aphex Twin that got you all hooked up or lured deeper, you’ll forever be searching for more synth wonders to ignite your imagination and quench the endless consuming thirst.
In recent years there has been a significant increase in the department of good, retro style synth-based outputs. For a while it was ok to call it a comeback or say those outputs were homages, but now it really feels like a new generation of musicians that confidently carries on this particular and quite peculiar torch. These artists no longer pay tribute. They make the music they want to make, guided by deep passion and curiosity. They don’t forget the origins, but also don’t fear to embrace the current and look into the future. In the words of influential composer Philip Glass: “The past is reinvented and becomes the future. But the lineage is everything.” New York City based trio, Forma, and Cleveland’s Steve Hauschildt are two excellent examples. Both have been torch carriers for a while now and recently released wonderful new albums on the always explorative Kranky label.
Inside Forma’s Physicalist, between the swirling arpeggios, delightful fat and clicky beats, shimmering pads and hypnotic luminosity, flows the spirit of improvisation, which gives the structures flexibility and spice. Most of the sounds are generated from machines but the human spirit shines strongly through every movement, twist and turn. It feels like Forma has been visiting other worlds and is now back to transmit earth all kinds of esoteric transmissions and secret codes via the most addictive streams of sound. The eleven tracks assemble a vivid and dynamic celebration of color, texture and shape. Each track simply bursts with life and intoxicating vigor. Forma has crafted a rich sonic mosaic that communicates fluently and expressively, one just needs to open his/her mind and let the mighty wheels of the imagination give in to the simple yet deep charm.
Strands is Steve Hauschildt’s most reflective work to date. The dream weaver and founding member of the no longer active space ambient/kosmische band, Emeralds, returns to Kranky with an expertly concocted sonic potion that arouses the mind and stirs the soul. Strands sounds like it came out of the ’70s but got a sharp modern treatment somewhere along the way. It beautifully carries the genre’s classic maneuvers, flow and textures, but without sounding clichéd. The entire record feels deeply personal and emotionally charged. There is a sense of contrast pulsing within the music, at times an elegant sparkly grit wraps the crisp luminous layers. Relaxed and ethereal yet deep, powerful and penetrating, Strands demonstrates a timeless art form at its most expressive and fluid style. An essential creation by a master of the field.
Both Physicalist and Strands are available on Kranky.