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CD/LP/Track Review

Stephen Philips: Dreams 4

By Published: December 1, 2001
Stephen Philips, the tireless and prolific performer behind Maryland-based Dark Duck Records, returns with two more albums of sonic atmospheres, one under his "Deep Chill Network" alias and another under his own name plus a mysterious "Isomorph." Philips has, in the last few years, established a niche for himself in the esoteric world of minimalist ambient. This genre is characterized by non-rhythmic, floating electronic sounds that are not meant as structured "music" but as a sonic background establishing mood and feeling.

Though Brian Eno, the founder of "ambient" music, is the originator of this style, Steve Roach has experimented with it quite a lot, beginning with his early Quiet Music (1983-86) and his Structures from Silence (1984) and continuing with long-form pieces like The Dream Circle (1994) and Slow Heat (1998). These recordings are meant to be played at low levels, remaining unobtrusive while they do their mood- altering work. Tone and harmony exist, but not necessarily in the linear, sequential sense that they do in conventional music; minimalist ambient hovers around a cluster of notes, often for extended periods of time.

There's a lot of Roach influence in Philips' latest collection of minimalist ambient pieces, Dreams 4. Other Deep Chill efforts have been microtonal or even atonal (such as his 1999 Heart of the Tundra or 2001 Yukon , reviewed elsewhere on this site) but his "Dreams" series seems to be edging more and more towards the Roach/Eno version of minimalist ambient with actual musical harmonies. The last piece on Dreams 4 , simply called "Why?", is especially Roach-like, echoing Structures from Silence in its slowly turning sequences of notes. This harmonic choice gives Dreams 4 a more accessible, warmer quality, so that the mood it conveys is relaxing rather that chilling.

Record Label: Dark Duck Records

Style: Ambient



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