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Over the course of several releases, Steve Brand has gotten me used to music constructed out of big, far-reaching ambient washes, long and meditative exhalations in sound. So it came as a pleasant surprise to hear acoustic instruments mixing with the flow on his recent re-release, Sunprints. Here, Brand laces together organic and electric, heavy and light, tribal and modern, crafting pieces that variegate from his familiar ambient stylings to pieces that are complex and comparatively challenging. Much of the disc is underscored by excellent field recordings that Brand uses judiciously. One of the recurring elements is the sound of a burbling stream. You’ll hear it on “Return of the Masters,” its trickling flow and twittering birds providing the backdrop for patient synth pads and the resonant and reverent voice of chimes. (Late in the track there’s also a recording of a cat [see album cover] and I have to admit that the first time I listened, alone at night in my office, it totally freaked me out.) The stream sound appears again on ”The Scent of Olibanum,” which finds Brand somewhat straddling the border between dark-ish ambient and a touch of tribal. This is a moody, slow-moving piece shot through with echoing dissonance. A very Steve Roach-like ocarina finds it way into the mix, providing that tribal ambient hint. The stream’s job here is to gurgle along in a reassuringly soothing way amid the more disconcerting elements.
Aside from the field recordings, Brand’s acoustic sources give Sunprints an even richer depth. Take the way “Return…” starts, opening almost jarringly with a huge note on a conch like an ancient call to prayer. Between that and the deep sound of the chimes/temple bells, Brand establishes an atmosphere that borders on ritualistic, then augments it with his synth tones. Or listen to the barking, almost dissonant notes of didgeridoo on “The Sun is the Mother of the Moon,” like a real-world shout launched into the meditative ether. Brand notes that he uses “Kora [a sort of West African harp], zither, kalimba, shakers, bells, cymbals, gongs, conch, bone, cane and cedar flutes, didgeridoo, whistles, voice, [and] accordion” here, and he puts them all to great use as sonic anchors in the flow. Each of the long tracks here moves through a series of identities, the changes coming naturally and in keeping with Brand’s narrative. The ride through Sunprints is diverse and shifting, and each new form, whether it’s a hushed ambient flow like the closing track, or the more tribal-tinged, rough-edged spaces of ”…Olibanum,” is engaging in its own way. On your first trip through, you may occasionally wonder where Brand is going or why this or that shift is happening. But don’t worry–you’ll be going back into Sunprints enough that you’ll become very at home with the ride.
The single word that best describes this exceptional new album by Steve Brand is "multi-dimensional." Brand offers two stunning soundscapes that are completely immersive, three-dimensional experiences. You've got to hear this with headphones to get the complete effect! The mix is never static, but dances and sparkles with sounds that evolve in the stereo space as well as through time. He does not rely on any familiar formulas--for example, at times, the bass is panned entirely to one side--and it works! For pure stereo magic, there are few comparisons, even within the comparatively rich sub-genre of atmospheric ambient music, but think of Bruno Sanfillipo, Ishq, or Max Corbacho at their best. For sound design, mixing and crystal clear mastering, this album is state of the art. Bravo to Steve Brand for an outstanding ambient recording and a beautiful addition to the Relaxed Machinery catalog.
by Jeffrey Ericson Allen, www.chronotope-project.com
rik - ping things
Fans of Steve Brand's work will no doubt be interested to learn that he has re-released his album "Sunprints" in an expanded format with an additional track. This new version of "Sunprints" is an excellent release, featuring intricately woven field recordings masterfully brought together to create a very engaging aural environment.
The opening track "Return of the Masters" features woodwinds, gongs, the sounds of birds, and more. It's a very natural and relaxed space where the sound of flowing water creates a very calming environment. From a distance you can hear the occasional rise and fall of a drifting pad, something rising to the surface and then going back down again just beyond the senses. It's a beautiful space, one that you could easily lose yourself in.
"Honoring the Beautiful Spirit" follows, a new space created using the sounds of storms and falling rain, with ghostly singing voices adding an ethereal organic beauty to the track. By contrast, "The Scent of Olibanum" creates an environment filled with echoing bells, gongs, and the sounds of flowing water, all of which combine to form an eerily haunting space without the use of spectral voices. An example of two different sides of the same musical coin.
"The Sun is the Mother of the Moon" is a dark and ominous piece, a long form track that creates a strong feeling of claustrophobia and unease, a tension much like the feelings evoked by suspenseful film noir. Great stuff that really appeals to this listener.
"Sunprints (the space where you used to be)" closes out the disc, a new track specially written for this release where the sound of wind blends with a steadily droning synth, an effect that recreates a feeling of isolation and tranquility. As time goes by you find yourself floating and drifting along the currents of the wind, eventually taking flight, launching yourself into a tinkling sky of stars. It's an awesome experience, and really, what better way is there to end such an awesome album?
"Sunprints" is another excellent album from Steve Brand that would serve as an excellent jumping on point for anybody new to his work. Similarly, anybody who's already aware of his many talents would do well to rediscover this very impressive release in all it's expanded glory. "Sunprints" comes very highly recommended.
DroneOn from Hypnos Forum
American composer Steve Brand has been quietly and steadily releasing a strong body of work since the early 90's, first as the ritual/industrial/drone project Augur, then under his own name around 2003, where his style switched from the more experimental to classic ambient. His often magical soundscapes celebrate the psychedelic intensity of nature's soul, much the same way as European kindred spirits like Alio Die, Vidna Obmana, and Oophoi, and American ambient masters Steve Roach and Robert Rich.
"Sunprints" was originally released on Atmoworks in 2010 but got somewhat "lost in the shuffle" during that label's closure. It now reappears on Brand's own Pioneer Light label, in association with Relaxed Machinery, with a bonus track included for this reissue, and it is unquestionably among his best works to date. Strikingly processed photo of Steve's black cat graces the cover art on this album of five long, quiet, intimate pieces which plays like the soundtrack to a moonlit garden under a gentle rain. 15 minute "Return of the Masters" begins with the cry of a conch shell, giving way to layers of nature sounds, gongs, shakers, shadowy even gloomy synth drones, spacious processing, and even a sample of his cat's vocalizations. 17 minute "Honoring the Beautiful Spirit (for Stefano)" I assume is dedicated to Stefano Musso (Alio Die). This piece effectively merges rain sounds with reverb-drenched gentle vocal chants, like a conjured up spirit of the late Jorge Reyes, strummed and plucked strings via zither and kora, and ethereal electronics. A very ritual-like track. The excellent "Scent of Olibanum" is a stunningly mesmeric piece for flutes and electronics with a flowing water soundscape that is haunting in its quiet intensity. A gorgeous track and my favorite of the whole album. The longest track, at 23 minutes, "The Sun is the Mother of the Moon," with its swells of airy electronics, feels like you're levitating out of this shadowy garden into the clouds for the first several minutes, morphing serenely into an Eno-like hymnal with beautifully emotive flute playing a la Rich, OYC, and TUU. Then about 15 minutes in Steve lays down some absolutely surreal processed didgeridoo that is just perfection! Another brilliant track!! The closer is the previously mentioned bonus track "Sunprints (The space where you used to be)", which is a logical continuation of themes explored on the previous track. A perfect ending to a flawless album.
Relaxed Machinery has also released Steve's companion album to "Sunprints," called "Our True Nature." This work is comprised of two 35-minute pieces exploring similar intimate terrain found on "Sunprints." Meditatively breathing electronic washes, nature sounds, bells, rainsticks and shakers form the first track, "True Nature," which is much less shadowy and dense overall than anything on "Sunprints," although some darker shades to appear towards the end. It's a nice enough track, but didn't do much for me. The second track, "Genuine Nature," however, has some amazing electronic textures and reminded me of David Sylvian's "Words With the Shaman" album (particularly the track "Preparations for a Journey") in conjuring up images of hidden rainforests and sacred sites. This piece is simply top-notch soundscaping, and even the black cat makes another cameo!
All in all, I can highly recommend these two fine works of Steve Brand to both the uninitiated and followers of his continuing high-quality ambient work. On a personal note, in my opinion there aren't many these days doing this kind of quiet, contemplative "nature music," and I think Steve Brand should be treasured in this regard as it is so needed in today's information overload/hi-tech world, where the simple beauty of life can be overlooked.
I've had a bit of a thing for Steve Brand's wonderfully unique version of ambient music lately... and cannot recommend his latest release enough - a rerelease of "Sunprints" on his own label 'Pioneer Light'.
I was really grateful to John Koch-Northrup's email giving me details of this album... and downloaded it almost immediately. It instantly grabbed me and so far hasn't let me go... it is simply sublime!
Brand's use of field recordings is unsurpassed, in my opinion. He uses the sounds of nature... of flowing water and birdsong to great effect... creating something that is wonderfully organic. To this he adds his sounds... subtly... gently... graciously... building upon what's there without seeking to overpower it.
What's more... each track is deliciously long-form and has it's own room to breathe... to grow and develop. I love this. It makes for a truly immersive and all-encompassing experience.
On this release he uses the kora, zither, kalimba, shakers, bells, cymbals, gongs, conch, bone, cane and cedar flutes, didgeridoo, whistles voice, accordion, gutterphone, and keyboards to complement these field recordings and create something truly ethereal and other-worldly... a space to get lost in... a place to forget today.
This is why I love ambient music... it is truly varied, wide and rich genre of music... and this album is tremendously rich. The sounds presented are divine... and truly engrossing. I can not recommend this album enough and would consider it $8 well spent... if it weren't for Koch-Northrup's generosity.