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Stephen Philips: Desert Landscapes

AAJ Staff By

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If Steve Roach’s Quiet Music or Structures From Silence era releases are exactly your ambient cup of tea, your preferred sonic sauna setting, or you just want ultra-restful, deeply, minimalistic synth structures and unimposing drones, (pause to breathe), then add this Stephen Philips creation to that certain area in your CD collection. Whew, long sentence, as if I were a word-drone-smith – now back to the review.

“Dry River”: Philips departs somewhat from Roachisms in adding some synth embellishings and textures that call to mind distant, higher frequency pulsars, dancing about in your head, as the muted chirpings of Don Slepian’s stylings from his “Sonic Perfume” piece. Even a Nik Tyndall twinkling gestalt or that Wendy Carlos “Summer” shimmering-heat-feel can be “sensed”. But Philips is no copy-cat in any way. I merely reference works and artists that seem to have influenced Philips somehow.

In “Saguaro”, the same overall flow and feel of track one is continued but Philips adds in some wandering, melodic flute-like “solos” or “calls” over the drones to break any sense of an insipid monotony creeping in. He maintains however a sense of broad vistas of endless “horizontals” and a sense of infinite featurelessness in any vertical dimensions. Your inner visions tend to be overwhelmed by distance versus spectacle. Philips captures “that great void” in this piece. There is no real beginning, no middle, and no ending in this piece – it just is.

“Sonoran Lights”: Well, if by now, any doubts remain as to Philips being influenced by Roach’s Structures From Silence, this 29:10 track erases them totally. Yet Philips still manages to overlay signature Roach-deep-drone/ alien-synth, octave-roaming, “French Horn” with odd percussives that come and go in the background. Imagine some downed UFO’s mechanic attempting exotic repairs before the U.S. military arrives. (And by the way, rumors still exist that an unidentified craft did do a nose-dive in the Sonoran desert in the same era as the Roswell enigma.) So there, you have it. About half-way into the piece, Philips returns to very sparse synth “soloing” and an increased presence of new synth textures hovering over the steady Roach-drone. But even that moment vanishes swiftly like morning dream imagery. Be sure to realize that Philips keeps this ubiquitous drone in an ever-evolving, swirling movement through octaves, echoes, calls, departures and resoundingly huge returns. It is very effective and in no way – just some synth set on some unimaginative loop mode. Philips keeps close watch here and an attention to effective details, though not readily apparent. I’d call this tourist alien ambience or being adrift on ammonia oceans of Jupiter.

Philips has crafted a real winner here and an obvious tribute to Steve Roach. High recommendations.

Track Listing: Dry River - 20:14, Saguaro - 25:10, Sonoran Lights - 29:10

Personnel: Stephen Philips

Title: Desert Landscapes | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Dark Duck Records


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