Friday, 29 July 2011
Title: Ancient Space
Format: Cassette tape release on Depressive Illusions Records (Ukraine) in 2011, cat ref cut132. Glossy colour inlay, and a split release with Brazilian band Arvorar.
Edition: 100 hand-numbered copies
01. Transitoriedade 7.51
Saturn Form Essence
02. Ancient Space 5.31
A quick post today to discuss a short - but nonetheless excellent - release on the prolific Depressive Illusions label. This tape features our old favourites SFE (as ever, piloted by the enigmatic S.) and a new band for me: Arvorar from Brazil.
The limited information I have on this latter band (mostly gleaned from their MySpace site) shows that they are most typically described as a 'dark ambient' formation. That description - broad brush as it is - serves to give sufficient information to identify a likely style of song on this release. And indeed, some Vinterriket-esque opening synthesised sequences pave the way to a really fine song, crafted over a background noise of crashing waves and sounds of the ocean, and with an interesting mixture of up-tempo percussion and some nifty keyboard riffs. The end of the song, swathed in silence with that gentle sound of crashing waves, is a very enjoyable experience.
I think it fair to say that the most appropriate complement I can give Arvorar is that I've thoroughly enjoyed their song on this release and will now actively seek out other recordings of theirs.
The SFE song 'Ancient Space' is very short by the usual standards of the band, but lacks nothing in quality or enjoyability for all that. Rather than draw out the track with epic expanses of near-silence or a recreation of the vacuum of space, there is quite a lot going on with its five and a half minute duration for the listener to get a handle on. Interesting wind effects and enigmatic keyboard impulses start proceedings off well, and a moody sense of foreboding and mystery slowly envelops you as the song progresses.
The cover artwork on this tape is rather excellent too, as I hope the photographs at the top of this post will illustrate.
For two bands on either side of the globe to collaborate this successfully is an excellent achievement: whilst both stare out into the abyss looking through very different night skies based on their hemispheres of origin, the unmistakable kinship of ambient art unites them together in a triumphant release.
Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Format: Four-way split CDr and tape release from 2010. The CDr pressing was released on the Nazgul Productions & Distro label (Brazil), cat ref NDP002, and the tape on Bosque Produções label (Brazil), the latter label run by Kevera of Northern Forest.
Edition: CDr pressing limited to 20 copies. Tape version unknown
01. Northern Forest * Summons Winter Night 04:14
02. Vorkh * Agartha 04:26
03. Vorkh * Evoria, The Garden 02:48
04. Saturn Form Essence * Galaxy M31: Andromeda 08:10
05. Levrij * A Fine Line... ( part 2 ) 07:24
This four-way split release brings together an interesting variety of bands from around the globe, revealing some memorable dark ambient soundscapes within its 27 minute duration.
Northern Forest (ironically from the southern forests of Manaus, Brazil) have been around since 2008 and in recent years have put forth a positive deluge of demos in their dark ambient / black metal fuelled attack, covering in their misanthropic lyrics the themes of the seasons, nature, landscapes, and the night-time. I confess to knowing little about fellow Brazilian band Vorkh (save that they managed to sneak two songs onto this release), or Argentinian horde Levrij, but between all three of these bands a splendid racket is created that combines some atmospheric twists and turns with some creative drumming (a pleasant change from the overdone blast-beats too many bands employ) and interesting ambient sections in amidst the hate.
Saturn Form Essence pitch up with the track 'Andromeda' or, to give it its full title, 'Galaxy M31: Andromeda'. Originally released in unusual packaging back in February 2010 (a format that has so far eluded my collection), this track has popped up here and there across other releases - the "Cosmogony" split with Ablaze Eternal being another - and is something of a minor classic of recent SFE recordings. Varied instrumentation - more so than, say, many of the very ambient , ethereal solar-wind style SFE releases can be - gives this song more groove than other tracks from this Ukrainian project, and with that comes a more rounded listening experience. It's still very quiet in places: great, in as far as it conveys the vastness of space, less great if you're attempting to review the song whilst listening to the CD in the car though!
And what do we know of Galaxy M31 itself, after which this song is named? Also known as Messier 31 or NGC 224, and occasionally referred to as the Great Andromeda Nebula, Andromeda was formed out of the collision of two smaller galaxies between 5 and 9 billion years ago. It is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Andromeda, named after the mythological princess. You will doubtless recall from your education in the Classics that Andromeda, as divine punishment for her mother's bragging (the 'Boast of Cassiopeia') was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster. She was saved from death by Perseus, her future husband.
Andromeda is the nearest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way, but not the closest galaxy overall. The 2006 observations by the Spitzer Space Telescope revealed that M31 contains one trillion (1012) stars, more than the number of stars in our own galaxy, estimated to be around 200-400 billion in total. Neither total comes close to the number of demos from Austrian musician Hugin that have been amassed by the infamous Nazgul, however, secreted away in his Castle in the stars beyond the edge of the universe (left at the roundabout, straight on past the fish and chip shop).
Interestingly the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way are thus expected to collide in about 4.5 billion years, although the details are uncertain since Andromeda's tangential velocity with respect to the Milky Way is only known to within about a factor of two. A likely outcome of the collision is that the galaxies will merge to form a giant elliptical galaxy. If the galaxies do not merge, there is a small chance that the Solar System could be ejected from the Milky Way or join Andromeda. The fate of the Earth and the Solar System in the event of a collision are currently unknown, so if you have pressing business to attend to in 4.5 billion years from now I'd suggest getting your affairs in order sooner rather than later.
Did you also know that Andromeda has featured regularly in sci-fi films and books over the years? In the novel 'Voyage of the Space Beagle' by A.E. Van Vogt for example, the starship (Space Beagle) is sent out by Earth to investigate alien life forms. When it reaches the Andromeda Galaxy, it encounters an enormous disembodied life form called S. - no, wait, called The Anabis - that covers the entire galaxy. The Anabis turns planets into jungle planets because it lives off the life force of living beings when they die and jungle planets have the highest rate of 'ecological energetics'. Since "The Anabis" has destroyed civilized planets in this way, the crew of the starship devises a way to defeat this being.
In the 1968 Star Trek episode "By Any Other Name", the starship Enterprise is hijacked by Kelvans, aliens from an empire spanning the Andromeda Galaxy; their home galaxy was approaching an uninhabitable state and thus they aimed to conquer our own. In another episode, "I, Mudd" the lead android says their creators were humanoids from Andromeda. The galaxy also features in Blakes 7, Doctor Who and, perhaps most oddly, in the seventh episode in the first series of the British comedy sketch show Monty Python's Flying Circus, where blancmanges from the planet Skyron in the Andromeda galaxy were a major plot point and, I seem to recall, converted people into stereotypical Scotsmen in order to win the Wimbledon tennis tournament...
All of which is very interesting but has little bearing on the grim musical machinations generated on this release. Sadly there seems to be no internet coverage of the demo worth shaking a stick at, so you're stuck with me for the last word on this particular release.
An "Enigma", aside from being a WWII German code-making device, can be defined as a type of riddle generally expressed in radical or allegorical language that requires ingenuity and careful thinking for its solution. There really isn't much careful thinking involved in whether you should seek out a copy of this demo for your listening pleasure though: it's a good one, you should buy a copy. Simple enough, really...
Saturday, 16 July 2011
Format: Cassette release on the Depressive Illusion Records label (Ukraine) from 2011, cat ref cut234. This is a split release with Anhedonia (Russia). The SFE website dedicates this release to the planet Mars.
Edition: Limited to 119 hand-numbered copies
01. Cydonia Mensae
02. Sadness Of Mars
The name "Cydonia" has a multitude of references across both cultural and earth-science bases.
For instance: Cydonia was the goddess of heroic endeavour in Greek mythology; is a location in Crete; is a monotypic genus of flowering plants in family Rosaceae, containing only the fruit tree Cydonia oblonga (quince); and is a main belt asteroid (1106 Cydonia). It's also turns out to be a popular subject in music, being the title of a 2001 album by The Orb; a song by British rock band Muse (Knights of Cydonia) and in 'Hunting and Gathering (Cydonia)' by Sunn O))) from 2009, and also included in a a song by British symphonic black metal band, Bal-Sagoth Beneath the Crimson Vaults of Cydonia (2006).
Perhaps more familiarly, however, Cydonia is known as a famous region of the planet Mars - the so-called 'Face on Mars' In this latter context it has attracted both scientific and popular interest. The name originally referred to the albedo feature (distinctively coloured area) that was visible from Earthbound telescopes. The area borders plains of Acidalia Planitia and the Arabia Terra highlands and includes the Mars regions: "Cydonia Mensae", an area of flat-topped mesa-like features, "Cydonia Colles", a region of small hills or knobs, and "Cydonia Labyrinthus", a complex of intersecting valleys.
As with other albedo features on Mars, the name Cydonia was drawn from classical antiquity, in this case from Kydonia, a historic polis (or "city-state") on the island of Crete. Cydonia contains the infamous "face on Mars" feature — located about half-way between Arandas Crater and Bamberg Crater.
The face is featured on the cover artwork for this release, and to some is evidence of intelligent design and thus proof of life beyond Earth. To others, it is a chance formation of rock and not a question of design but interpretation into a familiar pattern by the eye and brain. The "face on Mars" (about 1.5 kilometers - one mile - across), has had special notoriety in Western culture since it was imaged in 1976, because it looks, well... like a face.
When it was first imaged, and into the 21st century, the "Face" is near universally accepted to be an optical illusion, an example of pareidolia. After analysis of the higher resolution Mars Global Surveyor data NASA stated that "a detailed analysis of multiple images of this feature reveals a natural looking Martian hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination". Similar optical illusions can be found in the geology of Earth; examples include the Old Man of the Mountain, the Pedra da Gávea, the Old Man of Hoy and the Badlands Guardian. Conversely, the Cydonia facial pareidolia inspired individuals and organizations interested in extraterrestrial intelligence and visitations to Earth, and the images were published in this context in 1977.
Some commentators, most notably Richard C. Hoagland, believe the "Face" to be evidence of a long-lost Martian civilization along with other features they believe are present, such as apparent pyramids, which they argue are part of a ruined city. Sceptics point out that there are other faces on Mars, often much clearer, but their images do not elicit the same level of study. An example is the Galle Crater, which can show a rendition of a smiley, or a profile of Kermit the Frog and the ESA "skull" formation, which is a few kilometres south of the "Face".
Such musings over galactic mysteries are the perfect way to spend your time whilst drifting through space listening to the combined tracks of Saturn Form Essence and Anhedonia (the latters name defined, by the way, as "the inability to experience pleasure from activities formerly found enjoyable, e.g. hobbies, exercise, social interaction or sexual activity"). To clarify further, this is the Russian 'drone space ambient' Anhedonia, not the Swedish Black Metal band or the Mexican Doom Metal band. Alas, there are so many pigeon-holes in metal nowadays, it must be said...
The first challenge to overcome with this release is to determine which side is which:the tape is blank, and my copy came part wound through with no indication of which side is A or B, let alone which band corresponds with it! A random rewind and press of play sooon reveals the unmistakeable tones of Saturn Form Essence, with both tracks accentuated by the general drone and general ambience of a trip through the heavens, speeding at the rate of a trapped fly passing slowly through a block of amber.
Anhedonia's songs are a little more varied, to the extent of using samples of narrative from (presumably) film scores: not an experience that proves unlistenable by any margin, but not my personal preference in this context.
Should you wish to play tribute to the red planet, Mars, then the purchase and aural consumption of this particular tape would set you far down the path of righteousness....
Saturday, 25 June 2011
Title: Pure Crystalline Emptiness Of Saturn
Format: A glittery green 3"CDr housed in a plastic blue 'ufo' case, with 6 yellow 'jewels' positioned around the perimeter. Released in May 2009 by Toxic Industries (Italy) in their Very Toxic Series, cat ref T+005. Inside the release a circular paper inlay shows track details. The reverse side of this copy is signed by Saturn Form Essence's mysterious 'S'.
Edition: Hand-numbered edition of 35 copies
01. Pure Crystalline Emptiness Of Saturn 7.34
02. No Life Here... 6.21
Goodness me, it's good to be back.
The problem of interstellar travel is the sheer time it takes to get anywhere, but even so who can believe that it's been over two months since we last docked with Voyages Along The Plutonium Path for a look-see at all things Saturn Form Essence...?
Well, it certainly has been a good while since the last post, it's true. My apologies. But fear not, for the quantity of releases from this most exciting of Ukrainian ambient/experimental bands has not diminished in my absence, and even as I type a parcel of new releases fresh from the S.F.E. Studio has landed on my launch pad.
This particular release, however, is one that's been in the collection for a little while now and is a nice one to get us back on track. A two track release in a distinctly experimental-noise style of fuzzy emanations, swathed in brooding clouds of dust and debris, hurtles across your senses like a comet being slingshot out of the orbit of Saturn itself. Neither track is an easy listen, pounding one's senses like a nebulous grey wall of anti-matter, but it certainly provokes a reaction and that surely is half the battle in creating interesting sounds.
And look at the sympathetic and most excellent packaging but together by Italian label Toxic Industries (http://www.toxicindustries.net84.net/home.php) who have really got it right with the 'ufo' design they deployed on this release. The bulge on the bottom of this particular copy (#24 of 35) has shed most of the original blue paint, leaving behind something vaguely sinister-looking that could very well double for the original single-celled protoplasmic visitor to earth in the 1950s classic "The Blob". The spray painted 3" disc is a suitably alien green still though, and the overall design genius at work deserves a pat on the back.
The release is now sold out, however, although you might find one lurking around the internet still as I did with this copy obtained through the excellent SkullLine distro in Germany. Well worth seeking out, to remind yourself just what a vast, cold place space can be...
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Title: Silence After The Fall
Format: CD release believed to be on the EProd23 label (Germany), no catalogue reference, released in 2010. A split release between Saturn Form Essence and +C+P+B+ (France). Picture disc CD comes in a black and white two-sided paper sleeve in plastic wallet.
Edition: Hand-numbered to 30 copies
Saturn Form Essence
01. Plutonium Shadows 20.55
02. Claustrofobia 24.51
Even allowing for the vast distances of space and the haphazard receipt of signals from the far reaches of the universe, it's been an awfully long time since the last post to this Blog. My apologies, but let us move straight into consideration of this very limited edition release (this is #12 of 30).
This is a split release, with one lengthy song from each project. To tackle the non-SFE project first, +C+P+B+ stands for Claustrophobic Power Bomb, a project based (I think) in France, whose philosophy is recorded on their MySpace page as follows:
"I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard."
The SFE song is 'Plutonium Shadows' and - in keeping with releases from this project - is a song that is not unique to this release. Two immediate places it occurs include the cassette of the same name released on Circumanalis Records in 2009, and also on the "H.Y.K.-14-1-01" self-released box-set from 2009.
"The Big Freeze is a scenario under which continued expansion results in a universe that is too cold. It could, in the absence of dark energy, occur only under a flat or hyperbolic geometry. With a positive cosmological constant, it could also occur in a closed universe. This scenario is currently the most commonly accepted theory within the scientific community. A related scenario is Heat Death, which states that the universe goes to a state of maximum entropy in which everything is evenly distributed, and there are no gradients - which are needed to sustain information processing, one form of which is life. The Heat Death scenario is compatible with any of the three spatial models, but requires that the universe reach an eventual temperature minimum"
Finally, the cover of "Silence After The Fall" uses the same image as seen on the cover of Alexander Wieser's Heimatleid release "Shock Millennium", which is a random trivia fact that may yet serve you well in years to come!
Saturday, 2 April 2011
One thing that you have to credit Saturn Form Essence with is the ability to come up with grandiose titles for its demos. The splendid "Under A Sphere Of Poisoned Uranium" was one of the early releases of the project, and appropriately sets the tone for many of the subsequent titles.
Well, there's nothing like a little light reading to pass the time.
Saturday, 26 March 2011
More impulses courtesy of S. and his cosmic journey beyond the frontier of time and space...
These radioactive emanations are not unique to this split tape, and appear on a few other CDr and tape releases in the SFE discography. However, it's the first time that we've encountered them on our travels so a quick word on each track.
Part I is the most ethereal of the three, almost ecclesiastical at times in the sense of giving a true sense of music within a vast space, akin to sounds disappearing in the rafters of an enormous cathedral. Dreamy and ambient, it's a very easy listen.
Part II has more of a sense of (hyper)drive to it, possessing waves of sound flowing over the listener, punctuated by short bursts of static, the occasional click and some brief periods of white noise/silence. There is a more noticeable keyboard melody throughout the piece, which again makes it an easy listen but with plenty of variety on offer throughout its drones.
Part III is the shortest piece, and continues the sense of waves of music pulsing through the cosmic reaches and finally coming back to Earth via your speakers.
Puzzle Records is a small d-i-y label based in Saarbruecken, Germany and is run by Wayne. They release all kinds of music on tape, vinyl, cdr and dvd-r and look to be offering this tape for sale still, despite the small production run (this copy is #4/20). Check out their wares at www.myspace.com/puzzlerecords666
Ausonia Mensa doubtless offers the perfect location for inspiration and reflection, which is also an opportunity offered through this meditative performance from our favourite Ukrainian project. Recommended.
Saturday, 19 March 2011
Format: Limited edition CDr released in May 2010 by Frozen Tendril Records (UK), cat ref FTR-03. This is a split release between Nathan Watson, SFE, Balbulus and Paregorik. The disc comes in a clear plastic wallet containing a black card sleeve speckled with red and silver spray, and a hand-numbered white insert.
Edition: Limited to 40 copies
01. Nathan Watson * Unearthly Dirge Part 1 13:38
02. Saturn Form Essence * Unearthly Dirge Part 2 15:30
03. Balbulus * Unearthly Dirge Part 3 17:50
04. Paregorik * Unearthly Dirge Part 4 11:47
This 4-way split CDr release saw the light of day in May 2010 courtesy of UK based Frozen Tendril Records, and features 4 bands from the downtempo/drone music genre in its digitised grooves.
There's some really interesting music on this release, with four lengthy tracks forming a cohesive whole. Notably it is Balbulus with their catchy yet downbeat approach on part 3 of 'Unearthly Dirge', that provide a stand-out track, but as we're really here to consider the Saturn Form Essence element of the release let's move off in that direction...
'Unearthly Dirge' part 2 is a 15 minute-plus slice of interstellar travel. The sensation created by this minimalist track is that of a massive body moving infinitesimally through time and space, ponderous yet inexorable. Forget catchy melodies or an 'everything but the kitchen sink' approach, this is a bare-bones piece of ambient drone that permeates your listening environment with its sullen tones and repetitive sequences. It is far truer to the concept of a dirge-like performance than the other 3 tracks, although perhaps by comparison to the others lacking in overall variety.
The cover design is suitably cosmic in theme and execution too, and suits the nature of Saturn Form Essence music down to the ground (or, more accurately perhaps, up in the stars).
During the course of writing this piece I was fortunate to be able to exchange a few words with Nathan Watson (also of Frozen Tendril Records) to understand a little more about how the release had been created:
How did the concept of the 4-way split came about: how did you know the bands, particularly SFE?
Are the songs linked in any way other than title, is there a concept here, what were the bands asked to provide?
I just mentioned to the bands that I was looking for any type of drone, roughly 10-20 minutes. I don't think I set any more constraints than that, apart from I suggested the use of white noise at the start of tracks, but I would not like someone to make music to my specifications just because I wanted it, the artist should have total control of their music, so these were merely suggestions.
Your thoughts (if any) about the SFE project?
I haven't heard anywhere near all of the SFE releases, just a handful or some individual tracks, but overall it really is something I enjoy. I appreciate the visual aspect of CDrs/tapes/records, and to a lesser extent, musical/lyrical themes. As someone with an academic interest in astrophysics, SFE is obviously a natural choice :)
Overall this is a fine release (mine is copy 25 of the 40) and a full gamut of sonic textures and styles. And what a nice chap Nathan is too - check out the Frozen Tendril Records webpage for more details about their current activities at frotenrec.blogspot.com
Wednesday, 9 March 2011
Further voyages into the cosmic abyss within this 2010 demo from Saturn Form Essence, our destination the dog-star Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major (right ascension: 06h 45m 08.9173s; declination: −16° 42′ 58.017").
Sirius is a binary star system consisting of two white stars orbiting each other with a separation of about 20 astronomical units (3.0×109 km; 1.9×109 mi) (roughly the distance between the Sun and Uranus) and a period of 49.9 years. The brighter component, termed Sirius A, is a main sequence star of spectral type A1V, with an estimated surface temperature of 9,940 K. Its companion, Sirius B, is a star that has already evolved off the main sequence and become a white dwarf. Currently 10,000 times less luminous in the visual spectrum, Sirius B was once the more massive of the two. The age of the system has been estimated at around 230 million years.
The single track on this demo is somewhat shorter than 230 million years in duration, clocking in at a relatively modest 17 minutes and change. The recording fits neatly into the sub-genre of 'space-ambient-drone' in as far as it combines elements of both dark ambient and isolationist ambient music to create vast sonic spaces with ominous, bottom-heavy sounds (such as deep drones) whilst combining them with simple sonic textures to evoke a sense of continuum of spatial imagery and emotion, unresolved unease and desolation.
Sirius is prevalent in cultural writings across the globe and throughout time, one of the better known being its inclusion in verse in Homer's Iliad where it is referred to in Achilles' journey to Troy:
"Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid skyOn summer nights, star of stars, Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
Fans of this project might expect to see later reissues of this demo coming with free samples of alcohol and livestock - the Romans celebrated the helical setting of Sirius around April 25, sacrificing a dog, along with incense, wine, and a sheep, to the goddess Robigo so that the star's emanations would not cause wheat rust on wheat crops that year!
Brazilian readers of Voyages Along The Plutonium Path may also be aware that Sirius is one of the 27 stars on the flag of Brazil, where it represents the state of Mato Grosso.
A fine recording, and worthy of a home in your collection of SFE material.
Saturday, 5 March 2011
A split tape between three ambient drone/minimalist/experimental bands from across the European continent was always likely to be an interesting voyage of discovery. The label, Eternalwinter Records (http://www.myspace.com/eternalwinterrecords) describe the results as "cosmic ambient", and you'd be hard pressed to dispute that nomenclature on the basis of the aural experiences on offer here.
Our main focus comes with the middle - and longest - track, 'Vibrations Of Solar System' from Saturn Form Essence. As with other recordings from this Ukrainian project there underlying music is simple and pure, created electronically and often with lengthy periods of near silence as the literal vibrations of sound flux and warp their way across your synapses. Impossible to meaningfully describe, suffice to say that if you were required to embark on an interstellar trip of immense distance and time, the mental preparations would have to include exposure to this sonic impulse as a mandatory part of your training.
Transcendent and tranquil in equal parts, it's a pleasure to revel for 25 minutes in such an experience.
There are plans to release the tracks on CD with a re-run of the tape versions together with re-vamped versions for the digital pressing. Here's a flyer for said album, and it would be well worth investigating further.
Friday, 4 March 2011
Welcome to Voyages Along The Plutonium Path, a celebration of the releases of Ukrainian space drone/ambient project Saturn Form Essence. Little can be told of the background to this project, save that all recorded impulses are the creation of 'S', and the recorded history of the band dates back only to 2009.
Within that short space of time from inauguration to present, however, there has been a flurry of releases in tape and CDr format, and during the course of our voyage we'll be visiting some of them to see what they have to offer.
"Abyss" is a single track contained on a 3" CDr with a running time of exactly 666 seconds, maintaining throughout its duration a single path of synthesiser-driven drone, giving a background to deep space at its purest. The depth of the resonance evokes the passage of vast interstellar bodies, or the inexorable pull into the heart of the black hole so aptly featured on the cover illustration.
The music of Saturn Form Essence is difficult to describe, in all honesty: it is an aural representation of the universe, creating sounds and textures that allow you to imagine and feel as much as listen and absorb. As this Blog develops we'll delve further into the infinite reaches of space to unpick some of these most unusual releases.
Only 33 copies of this demo were pressed by the Dutch label, although the constant mixing of material on successive releases means that you'd be able to find this particular track on other demos too, which if nothing else reduces the frustration of not having grabbed an original first time around.
An effective and brooding instrumental piece, one for moments of contemplative tranquility.