Blue Sky, Red Guitars
About Blue Sky, Red Guitars
Erik Wøllo’s latest exploration into the creative possibilities of the guitar is rich with texture and melody, highly sculpted and detailed – a pulsing vibrant and atmospherically three-dimensional experience. Influenced by his travels to the North American Southwest, Wollo manifests the natural wonders of the area through his instrument, painting profound vistas with many types of acoustic, electric, electronic, and classical guitar voices.
Erik Wollo's music floats with the grace of a hawk, effortlessly riding air currents that are left painted and glistening in his wake. But what sounds effortless is actually deeply layered, intricately woven and composed with a poetic language. Sometimes Erik is acoustic, as on GUITAR NOVA, sometimes all electronic, like POLAR DRONES, but it's on the blending of these two worlds that BLUE SKY, RED GUITARS really glistens. Erik Wollo bases most of his compositions on ostinato patterns that flicker at your consciousness like a mandala in motion, constantly cycling in prismatic shifts. Because of this modal approach, and his arching single string e-bow solos, Wollo's music has an Indian sensibility, without sounding Indian at all. Revealing roots that you might not suspect from most of his music, Wollo covers two songs from German electro-dance godfathers, Kraftwerk. He transforms their ‘In the Hall of Mirrors’ and ‘Computerlove’ into pastoral guitar chamber instrumentals. It's difficult to make music that is at once pristine and still screams through the air, but Erik Wollo does it on BLUE SKY, RED GUITARS, an album that is about as perfect as they come.- John Diliberto, Echoes CD of the Month
Erik Wøllo's 12th release finds the Norwegian composer returning to his roots with the acoustic guitar. Like 2003's Emotional Landscapes, this collection of 11 tracks is steeped in lush ambient textures that lead the listener through richly textured and impressionistic vistas, though perhaps with less of the forbidding chilliness this time around. Other than the guitar, Wøllo's main tool on the album is his Wintergarden Studio. He makes heavy use of looping and layering of acoustic guitar tracks with often busy and active foundation tracks serving as the harmonic backdrop for the melodic lead lines, exemplified by the songs ‘Blue Sky,’ ‘Destiny,’ and ‘Moving.’ At their most polyphonic there's even a trace of Guitar Craft and California Guitar Trio to the pieces, especially when e-bow is added as in ‘Blue Sky.’ The piece ‘Timeless’ even reminds me of early Fripp/Eno collaborations with guitar droning over a gently cycling ambient backdrop. Wøllo reveals his love for old-school electronic music and pushes the multi-tracked guitar concept further by taking two of Kraftwerk's sequenced synth pieces, ‘Computerlove’ and ‘In the Hall of Mirrors,’ and gives them an entirely new context with winning results. Wøllo's roots are in Jazz (although in a Steve Tibbets sort of way) and as usual his playing throughout displays a light yet nimble touch with restrained yet expressive fretwork. Blue Sky, Red Guitars is another marvelously crafted and executed package and a safe bet for ambient fans everywhere.- Paul Hightower, Exposé Magazine
Erik Wøllo, the Norwegian guitarist and keyboardist, seemingly can do no wrong. This is, I think, the fifth or sixth recording of his that I have reviewed and, once again, it's stunningly beautiful, expertly recorded, and showcases his apparently boundless talent for composing in a wide variety of styles, from cheery acoustic-guitar driven new age/adult contemporary (’Red Guitars’ which could be a Bruce BecVar track), to a more introspective Windham Hill-ish guitar-oriented soundscape (’Silent Nostalgia’), to an intense progressive fusion-like piece (’In The Hall of Mirrors). All of the songs on Blue Sky, Red Guitars feature Wøllo's guitar playing front and center (unlike his last recording for Groove Unltd., The Polar Drones, which contained a fair amount of his synth playing). While keyboards do play a part on this CD, they're used to add texture and depth to the music, not to detract from the main attraction - the artist's dexterous and outstanding guitar-playing (either solo or multi-tracked, on lead melody or lead and harmony). By the way ‘In The Hall of Mirrors’ and another song on the album, ‘Computerlove,’ are both covers of works originally recorded by Kraftwerk! How's that for displaying one's musical courage and innovation?
Ambient music fans should be warned that the opening short track, ‘Morning Dew’ is about as close as this CD gets to being ambient in sonic character. ‘Blue Sky’ the next song, is a fiery but dark number, with superb interplay between multi-tracked rhythm acoustic guitars and a sensual lead electric guitar, played in an ethereal and spacy style by Wøllo. The track builds up steam as it progresses and it has become one of my favorite songs from this artist. When the song hits its stride at around the two minute mark, I sure wish I could be behind the wheel of a fast car, cruising through the desert southwest under a full moon; the music has a frenetic pace but is laced with a haunting beauty. The combination evoke the sensation of needing to get somewhere in a hurry, as if one is being pursued not by something dark and scary but by the inevitability of time itself! Very cool image, that!
‘Sedona’ is another fantastic song, albeit a totally different mood than ‘Blue Sky.’ Here, the multi-tracked (left and rear channels) are occupied by rhythm acoustic guitars and the center channel houses the lead acoustic line. Wøllo plays with delicate grace and yet surprising emotional depth and passion. ‘Destiny’ begins very slowly and quietly but soon blasts off with some of the artist's most fiery and dexterous fingering, but again Wøllo laces the music with a darker shadowy presence so that the music has a pleasant albeit palpable sense of tension. This characteristic, while not exclusive to the Norwegian artist, is one of his strongest traits and he surely is one of the best in the business at melding dark with neutral so that even while the listener taps his or her foot, there is an undercurrent of emotional complexity in his/her reaction.
Whether the somber delicate quasi-Spanish ‘Rain Tree,’ the reverberating massed guitars of ‘Timeless’ which all seem to coalesce into one massed instrument, dancing around the lone electric lead, or the minimal reflective beauty of ‘Silent Nostalgia’ (the least adorned track on the album, with either just one or two guitars discernible), Erik Wøllo delivers the goods on yet another highly recommendable album. He now joins an elite group of artists I have reviewed (e.g. Kevin Kendle, Richard Bone, Llewellyn, Clarelynn Rose) whom I can almost unquestionably state ‘Anything you buy from him/her is gonna be impressive.’ Is this Wøllo's best guitar-oriented album so far? Perhaps it is. Fans of the six-stringed instrument owe it to themselves to buy this CD. They are going to love it!- Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire
Long before he mastered the kind of icy Nordic electro-keyboard ambience featured on works like Traces and Images of Light, Norwegian composer Erik Wøllo earned his keep playing guitar in various jazz groups around Oslo with the likes of Øystein Sevåg. After years of producing primarily keyboard-based works, Wøllo brought his guitar skills back to the forefront with 1998’s Guitar Nova, driven primarily by 6 and 12 string acoustics, along with the odd ethnic stringed instrument here and there. Blue Sky, Red Guitars follows in a similar vein, albeit with a tad more electronic seasoning. If you’re looking for fretboard pyrotechnics, you won’t find them here. Wøllo is clearly a talented guitarist, but all of the layers of guitar have been laid down in service of atmosphere and melody; here Wøllo proves to be every bit as adept in creating them with stringed instruments as he has been with keyboards. The music on Blue Sky, Red Guitars was, according to Wøllo, influenced by his travels in the North American Southwest. Thankfully, that doesn’t manifest in the sort of godawful faux-American Indian tribal nonsense produced by so many well-intentioned artists who claim similar inspiration. Instead, musical comparisons that come to mind more readily include the acoustic soundtrack work of Mark Knopfler (Cal, The Princess Bride,) Peter Maunu’s Warm Sound in a Grey Field, the quieter moments from any number of Acoustic Alchemy and Al Dimeola tracks, and even the ‘echo-guitar’ techniques of Achim Reichel. The influence of Wøllo’s own keyboard composition techniques can be heard, as well, in the percolating background rhythms assembled with multitracked guitar as opposed to synths. Standout compositions include the title tracks ‘Blue Sky’ and ‘Red Guitars,’ and the brief but inspiringly quiet and beautiful ‘Rain Tree.’ However, the biggest revelation here is the amazing guitar reworking of Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer Love’ (another Kraftwerk composition, ‘In the Hall of Mirrors’ also gets the acoustic treatment). What sounds like a really bad idea on paper proves to be pure genius instead. It will immediately become your favorite version—trust me.- Darren Bergstein, e/i Magazine, installment 9