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Neu Harmony

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David Law, Synth Music Direct, PO Box 1557, Doncaster, DN10 4NX, Great Britain.

Tel: 01427 890758


Various - Harmonised (NH100)

For those who enjoy what is now termed 'Electronica', and the rest of us call 'synth music like what Tangerine Dream used to play [and arguably still do]', then Harmonized should be sheer pleasure for your ears. The seven tracks on this CD compilation brilliantly showcase many of the artists on Dave Law's Neu Harmony label. Asana and Airsculpture each have a brace of tracks: the X-Files conspiracy homage Re-Embodiment and the more ambient sounding Gold, and the very TD-like Pogofish and Translucent Edge respectively. Then there's the rhythmic sequencer beats of Under The Dome's Launch and the slow- burning Flussiger VierTakter [translation, anyone?], finally a single track by veteran synth maestro Paul Nagle, the extremely atmospheric Lore. Harmonized is that almost impossible concept, a compilation album with 100% quality music and no filler. If you've not explored the Neu Harmony catalogue, buy this first and prepare to be very pleasantly surprised.


Lyle Newton - Light At The Edge
Of Darkness
(NUSA 199)

As with many of the names on the Neu Harmony label, Lyle Newton is unknown to me, but I think that he is the sole American artist on the label. As with Mark Shreeve's Embryo album the spread of instrumental 'voices' is limited but far more interesting and pleasing to the ear. With 19 tracks spread over 76 minutes, there are few epics on this album, and some tracks tend to just fade into nothingness. Opening track Moon Over Elmora is a good introduction, a gentle, rather spacious percussion track overlaid by some meandering synth lines. One Step At A Time is better, a rather more commercial sounding track with an actual melody one can hum. The Search has a pulsing sequencer riff overlaid by what sounds like a honky tonk synth line, and sounds a little like a tv theme. Overall, Light At The Edge Of Darkness is a little overlong, with some of the tracks sounding underdeveloped, but there is a lot of very listenable music here and Lyle Newton is a musician to watch out for in the future.


Asana - Trikuti (NH005)

In many ways Trikuti reminds me of those early Vangelis albums which featured techno babble voice-overs giving the music a pseudoscientific veneer. Indeed, Trikuti is one of the most rhythmic album reviewed here, at times veering closely towards techno and drums ‘n’ bass club music. Normally I don’t like that type of music as it is usually very monotonous, but this album is anything but that - instead it is one of the most infectious ‘play again’ albums I’ve heard in a long time. Just listen to Union of Knowledge or Signals to see hear what I mean. Asana is the pseudonym for composer Dave Barker, and once again it’s a case of a single person performing/sampling everything on the album. As with the Jim Kirwood CD Trikuti has a concept, one that should appeal to X Files fans as it deals with UFOs and alien kidnapping and invasion.


Airsculpture - Thunderhead (NH009)

Thunderhead is one of the best synth-driven albums I’ve heard in a long time, strongly influenced by 70’s period Tangerine Dream and favouring a Dream-like trio of keyboard players. This album has it all: space-evoking sounds, cosmic riffs, rumbling bass-line that weaves in and out of the melodies. Airsculpture are Adrian Beasley, John Christian and Peter Ruczynski, and the music on the album is based on spontaneous improvisation, with a few minor overdubs to clean up the sound afterwards. Highlight of the album is the title track, a thirty-one minute masterpiece of slow burning control, restraint, and atmosphere that is probably the nearest thing most of us will get to travelling in space. The rest of the album: Dark Design, Aerostatic, Polarvoid and Pogofish are of the same equally high standard. Quite bluntly this is one of the best albums Tangerine Dream never recorded but should have!)


Airsculpture - Fjord Transit (NH012)

Airsculpture take as their frame of reference the music of Tangerine Dream from circa 1975-79, a time when TD were renowned for their sequencer-led improvisation. TD's music may be more structured and formal now but Airsculpture are still the leaders when it comes to improvisation, and their new album Fjord Transit is a great example of this. Recorded live at the 1999 Eurosonic festival in Sweden, the album begins with the title track a thirty minute plus stunner of slow-burning ambience that shines under the midnight sun. Traditional Folk Music, the next track, is a little more high octane, not least 'cos it has a more industrial and spacey feel to it. Gloria Mundi returns to the feel of the first track, more slow burn but with a sequencer riff growing in intensity. Compared to previous albums, the use of sequencers is muted, and the overall feel here is of the ambient sound that you find on a Brian Eno album. Considering this was recorded at an outdoor venue, the sound is crystal clear, and the improvisations are of a high quality. This is a landmark album which deserves to be widely heard.


Otarion - Evolution (NH015)

Otarion - EvolutionNot sure who Otarion is but it is a single musician rather than a group, and he makes a strong opening presence on Twilight, which has a basso profundo synth line overlaid with bells and a choral synth voice. Impressive opening. Innovation is nice and heavy in a percussive way, with a chimes riff overlaying some crunchy beats. Connecting most tracks are the sound of waves lapping against a shore - not the most orginal effect as I can list any number of Kitaro albums with a similar sound effect. Mind you, it works very well here and links the tracks effectively. Track 3, Second Step, mixes the waves, a sighing wind and churchlike organ and choral sounds into a very atmospheric piece. The eponymous title track opens sounding a little like Vangelis' Blade Runner [which is no bad thing in my book!] but then it branches out into one of the albums most distinctive and 'rocky' sounding tracks. Brilliant! Indeed, the entire album barely has a duff moment on it, and you don't find many like that nowadays, do you?


Paul Ellis - Appears To Vanish (NH016)

Paul Ellis - Appears to VanishI think the most concise description of this album by Paul Ellis is moody - it opens with a slow lyrical passage that morphs into an even slower pulsing beat overlaid with a couple of mordent interweaving synth lines. Not so much ponderous as portentous - stylings and themes that are developed throughout the three lengthy sections of the title track. The soundscape isn't too rich, at most there are only a half dozen 'voices' filling the soundstage, making for a thinnish sound. The final track Mysterious Sketches is a little more upbeat, but not by much. I still don't know, after several hearings, whether I like this album - it isn't bad, but it seems slightly unfocussed to me, and doesn't have the interesting textures of other Neu Harmony artists.

As well as their Neu Harmony label, SMD have also produced two compilation CDs which highlight the best in British electronic music. Some of the musicians listed above are featured, along with T-Bass, Redshift, Paul Ward, John Dyson, Andy Pickford and many more. Compilation Disc #1 and Is There Anybody Out There are available from SMD [and Music & Elsewhere], Three quid per CD should be enough to bring you some musical nirvana. SMD also publish a regular newsletter and catalogue and they operate a membership scheme offering discounts on purchases from their label and catalogue.

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Neu Harmony is the record label offshoot of distribution/mail order company Synth Music Direct, and is dedicated to the best in electronic music. The following albums are representative of the Neu Harmony ‘sound’ and prime examples of what you can expect when ordering from SMD.

Jim Kirkwood - Tower Of Darkness (NH001)

Jim Kirkwood - Tower of DarknessThis was Neu Harmony’s debut album, and at the time (1993) must have been an impressive introduction to the label. The music is a mixture of short and lengthier tracks, most based on a strong rhythmic backing with bright, irresistible melody lines interweaving above that. From the cover illo and the track titles there appears to be gothic or dark fantasy theme running through the album: The Mad God, Perilous Ground, Time stream, Requiem For An Immortal, Legion of Dawn, Forgotten Realms, The Dreaming Lord. Thankfully there are no sleevenotes offering up a storyline, so you can make up your own screenplay to match the epic style of the music. Jim Kirkwood is a very able composer and musician and this is an impressive album mixing influences of TD, Hawkwind and Kraftwerk together into something very new.


Asana - Shrine (NH002)

Asana - ShrineThis was Asana's [aka David Barker] debut album for Neu Harmony back in 1994, and it is rather different to much of the music made by many of NH's other artists. For a start Shrine wouldn't sound out of place in the clubs, the music has a definite dance beat, and uses repetitive sound voice samples and chants. Ideal for raves and the chill-out tents at Glastonbury. Unlike Asana's later album Trikuti with its strong sci-fi alien invasion conspiracy theme, Shrine is sci-fi lite, with track titles such as Ascent, Jupiter, Scan F, Radiant, Dream, Saviour, Shrine and Children of the Earth. This is a fine album if perhaps a little anonymous in character, when compared to Trikuti, but it should please those going through withdrawal symptoms from a lack of Kraftwerk new material, and I did enjoy it a lot.


Airsculpture - Impossible Geometries (NHCD 003)

Airsculpture - Impossible GeometriesThis was Airsculpture's debut album and somehow I'm not surprised to hear all the hallmarks of their later albums already in place. Airsculpture are a trio, Adrian Beasley, John Christian and Peter Ruczynski, though when you hear the group in action you'd be very hard pressed to know who is playing what on each track - imagine a six-handed creature and perhaps you're almost there. Anyway, back to Impossible Geometries, three tracks, the first is called Floe and is a twenty-five minute tour de force of ambience and sequencer programming. It's arctic ice for the first ten minutes then wham! [no, not the group] a sequencer riff opens up the soundscape and we're off. The following tracks, Impossible Geometries and Stranger Tractors, both follow the same formula - slow gentle beginnings and gradually kicking up a level some way in. Airsculpture are something very special - they're original.


Airsculpture - Attrition System (NH004)

Airsculpture in performanceAttrition System is a collection of live recordings made during various rehearsal sessions - there's no audience to get in the way of the music, but what you hear on this CD was spontaneously improvised in a live, no overdubbing situation. And you don't get secondhand goods here either, all the music is original and not remixes. Nuff said on that, I think, now to the actual music on this cd: With a title like Amazonian Lepidoptera Theorise On Chaos for an opening track you expect something special and you aren't disappointed - a slow dreamy [no pun intended] opening sequence for several minutes and then a cosmic sequencer riff slides in, mix in pulses and upping the tempo and you have a classic slice of electronic music. Syzygy holds onto the slow cosmic vibe throughout its length, just a hint of rhythm pushing it along. Indeed the slow dreamy spacious soundscape is the root of all the tracks here, with variations of pulsing rhythms and sequencer riffs adding spice along the way. Gegenshein takes the prize for most infectious track, while Void is much more ambient, with drones and industrial sounds creating something very eerie. This is a very fine album by one of Neu Harmony's premier acts, and only goes to prove that Airsculpture (Adrian Beasley, John Christian and Peter Ruczynski) could easily take over the Tangerine Dream franchise if Edgar and Jerome Froese decided to call it a day. TD are my benchmark for electronica artists and in my opinion the quality of Airsculpture's music and performance is right up there with TD.


Airsculpture - Europa (NH006)

Airsculpture - EuropaEuropa is another live recording, but this time one performed in front of an audience in Holland. There are five tracks [though six show up on the CD screen], all titleless, varying in length from six minutes to twenty-four minutes, so a variety of soundscapes to immerse yourself into. Part One starts with some swirling ambience that swishes between the speakers for several minutes as various synths and sequencers start to mould the sounds into something cohesive. It's all very dreamlike, and it isn't until seven minutes in that a rhythmic sequencer riff appears lifting the momentum of the music - from then it is freefall ride as the three banks of synths interact lifting the music higher and higher. Part Two again starts slow but a mid tempo sequencer riff quickly comes in to push things along until the music is rocking. Part Three again starts slow, building up atmosphere with a variety of ambient sounds, allowing the melody lines to morph in slowly for the climax. Part Four begins with a quasi-classical orchestral sound mixed with ambient swirls, slowly resolving into an uptempo riffathon with sequencers rocking away, only to die away again into what can only be described as the ambience of an electronic jungle. Part Five begins with an eerie almost choral intro that quickly evolves into a raging sequencer riff which grows wilder by the second. The final part is, I think, the encore, and pretty much summarises all the musical moods and soundscapes visited throughout this outstanding album. This is live music warts and all [though very few of them to my ears!] and is an excellent example of all that is good about Airsculpture.


Under The Dome - The Demon
Haunted World

Under The Dome - The Demon Haunted WorldUnder The Dome consist of the duo Grant Middleton and Colin Anderson playing an assortment of synths and guitars. The Demon Haunted World contains four tracks, the opener Flüssiger Vier-Takter being most obviously a homage to Tangerine Dream, with its beautifully layered cosmic 70's sound - though I'm sure I heard a little tribute to Gary Numan's gothic synth sounds as well. The Aeon's Day opens with some sumptuously spacious [and swirling] ambient sounds, bringing to mind sounds rattling around the cosmos. This continues for over four minutes until the sequencers kick in with a pulsing cyclical rhythm and a crystal sounding lead line begins a melody that takes over twenty minutes to complete. The Bridge is another lengthy trip into spacious ambience, before diving into cosmic winds and kicking into some rocking sequencer riffing. The final track Hell opens with a touch of Hammer Horror gothic: choral synths laying down huge slabs of Dantesque wailing sounds from which short melody and rhythmic sequences start to appear, lifting the music back up into space again. Overall, this is a very fine album which conjures a lot of mind images and is getting played quite often.


Paul Nagle - Lore (NH008)

Paul Nagle - LoreThe opening minutes of Paul Nagle's Lore album reminded me [a little] of the sort of ambient backdrops that Brian Eno created on those groundbreaking EG albums back in the 1979's. But then Chill Factor broadens out with washes of Spanish guitar, violin and synth loops, along with assorted percussion and beeps and boops until it takes on the air of some Latin electronica. Anachronist starts very cosmic, with a spaciousness that is impressive, this morphs into a gentle sequencer loop fleshed out with choral synths and some Floydian guitars, all rolling towards a grand climax before gently slowing down again with some oriental sounding synths. Title track Lore continues the oriental feel by opening with the sounds of a gong and chimes, and then some four minutes in a lovely theme on synths appears taking the listener on a flight of fancy. Final track Cascade mixes the cosmic and oriental together into a section that is both tender and reflective, then it kicks into a rocky pulsing sequence before ending with some gentle cosmic vibes. This is certainly a very distinctive and original album with much to recommend it, not least the sympathetic accompaniment by fellow collaborators Tony Bateman, Andy Boland, Rick Curran and Matthew Shepherd.


Arcane - Gather Darkness (NH010)

Arcane - Gather DarknessAccording to the sleevenotes Arcane go back all the way to 1972 and hail from one of electronic music's birthplaces, Dusseldorf, in Germany. Contemporaries of Kraftwerk, Arcane struggled for success for five years, only to fold when one of its three members died in 1977. The two survivors, Gerhard Schreck and Hans-Ulrich Buchloh, reformed the band last year and Gather Darkness is the result of their new collaboration. Opening track Dystopian Fictions is a very melancholic slab of sequencer rhythms, and the title track is even slower, harbouring a very gothic feel. Indeed the whole album exudes an unyielding gothic atmosphere, with sections of the music being eminently suitable for a modern day 'Hammer Horror' - this is especially so on Requiem. Despite the low key style of the music here, I rather like Gather Darkness, it should suit those who like their music to brood a bit.


Weird - A Different Kind Of Normal (NH011)

Weird - A Different Kind Of NormalWeird are listed as Baron De Weird and Count De Weird on various keyboards and guitars - so I think it's safe to assume we've got a right pair of jokers here. Opening track Klaus To The Edge is a bubbling sequencer riffer [with a good pun in the title], quite poppy in a Magic Fly sort of way. Schaltzeit Nachtweit is a guitar-led bit of ambience, 9VFE10M carries on in the same vein, though with a much sparser feel to it. Tiefenfluss is another upbeat sequencer rifferolla with some nice electric guitar soloing on top. The title track slows things down to a simple echo-laden guitar led slice of prime electronica. A Different Kind Of Normal is a surprisingly jaunty sort of album, very uptempo but without the bass heavy beats. Weird but wonderful.


Kubusschnitt - The Cube (NH013)

Kubesschnitt - The CubeIt's encouraging to see musicians still using the synthesiser to explore sound and space, and not relegating it to the creation of moronic dance beats. Hey, Rave On!?! No, Kubusschnitt are true sonic explorers - The Cube should definitely please those who've not had enough Tangerine Dream, as the Kubusschnitt sound closely follows the original TD template: synths, synths and more synths - no guitars, saxes, etc. The album's title track starts with some fine sequencer riffing that slowly dies away into quiet spacey passages. Wormhole begins with Ronnie 'Raygun' Reagan spouting forth about alien invasions and Star Wars [his version], easing into some gentle melody lines and beats. Ra is more spatial meanderings, very slow, very relaxing. Track 4 is the magnum opus, a 27 minute intergalactic trip to Alpha Three - a bit like travelling on that Pan Am space liner in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Finally, Hypercube is a return/remix of track one, but more rocky. Kubusschnitt are Andy Bloyce, Tom Coppens, Ruud Heij and Jens Peschke, and long may they explore space. By the way, Star Trek fans will love the album sleeve with its space art, and the Borg-like cube...


Arcane - Future Wreck (NH014)

Arcane - Future WreckArcane hail from Germany, which in 'electronica' terms is the motherland for sequencer-led electronic music. Future Wreck is one of those brooding, almost gothic monster albums that creep up on you over the span of several listens to proclaim its greatness. Arcane date back to the early 70's but this new album by surviving members Gerhard Schreck and Hans-Ulrich Buchloh and an unidentified new member is bang up to date with four lengthy tracks of sequencer riffing and cosmic exploration. The title track opens with some gentle choral flute lines that shift after a few minutes into the first sequencer riff which then continually shift and mutate over the next twenty minutes. The Plastic Eaters starts with pulsating electronic heartbeat underlined by some eary bell sounds, this slowly increases tempo, with new melody lines slowly adding to the mix, until a fast sequencer riff and percussion kick in and take the track into flight. Classic slow burn tactics that work beautifully. The final tracks, The Visible Empty Man and Planet of the Blind, using a mixture of the previous formulas are equally good. Future Wreck is Arcane's most accessible album to date and I enjoyed it immensely.


Mark Shreeve - Embryo
(Synth Music Direct LOG 9)

Mark Shreeve - EmbryoThis is the CD reissue of Mark Shreeve's first album, dating back to 1980, and one has to admit that it shows. The sound and music is very minimalist, the four tracks employ only a few sonic voices to carry Shreeve's ideas, and one of these is a rather irritating buzz-saw sound that takes a while to get used to. Opening track The Keeper is a near thirty minute exploration of this soundscape, rather chameleon-like, forever changing moods and sounds. Impressive if you enjoy minimalism. Alive lives up to its name and is certainly more lively, a simple sequencer piece that goes around in circles for a couple of minutes. Embryo, another lengthy track, starts with some very brooding synths, pulsing under a cyclical slow lead line that eventually fades into something much more upbeat twelve minutes or so in. Final track Iceflakes is another slow, almost ambient piece, very reflective. Embryo is a very impressive album, though extremely stark and not easily approachable for the occasional EM listener.


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