As more artists in the ambient and electronic music genres collaborate, one should not be surprised at the pairings that surface, although combining the ethereal electro-acoustic ambience of Zero Ohms (a.k.a. Richard Roberts) with the neo-Berlin EM and synthesizers of Craig Padilla did seem like a risky venture to me. However, after thoroughly digesting Path Of Least Resistance (on Lotuspike Records), I am once again delighted at how wrong my preconceptions can be. Featuring the wind-synth and assorted flutes of Roberts and Padilla’s arsenal of synths, samplers, and sequencers, this is a surprisingly complex and diverse recording, although much of the album is anchored in the ‘classic’ spacemusic theater, consisting of fluid textures which gently soar with both subtlety and grandeur.
As such, one could draw parallels to previous releases from artists such as Michael Stearns, Kevin Braheny, or even Geodesium and Jonn Serrie. However, upon close analysis of the music itself, while there are traces of those other musicians here and there, Path Of Least Resistance is a relatively unique, if not near singular, take on composing and performing music that reflects ‘slipping the bonds of Earth’ and cruising out amongst the stars and galaxies. Variety from track to track, or even within individual cuts, doesn’t detract from the overall flow of the album, although some transitions present the listener with shifts in mood, to be sure.
‘Leaving This Shadow Of Heaven’ (great title, that!) opens with long droning washes and lush synth chords, but morphs into a dramatic retro EM/spacemusic piece with sparkling circular keyboards and crescendos that perfectly capture the essence of the track’s intent. Sampled electric guitar may take things slightly over the top near the end, but it’s appropriate enough since it underscores and boldfaces the song’s title. ‘The Everything That Is No Thing’ (yet another excellent choice of words) also begins in an ambient vein with haunting subtle swirling wind-synths that slowly pan from left to right and back again, holding an unmistakable bell-like resonance. Eventually, Padilla’s neo-Berlin synths and sequencers, carrying strong echoes of Tangerine Dream and similar artists, are folded into the mix and the resulting alchemy represents a spot-on symbiosis of the disparate elements. Electronic pulses, mournful retro synth-horns, and buzzing textures are buoyed by the soft under-cushion of Roberts’ bedrock ambient soundscape.
The most ambitious track is ‘Frequencies (of Life)’ which opens with the sound of the original Star Trek transporter beam (the sound effect surfaces sporadically throughout the track). Over the course of the song’s nearly eleven minute duration, there are mysterious drifting synth washes, reverberating rumbling drone-like tones, laser-zapping flashes of SF-type synthesizers, rapid-fire sequences that sound like Robbie the Robot’s memory can terribly awry, and in the final stretch, graceful and serene wind-synth which floats over an undercurrent of billowing keyboards and amidst sampled bird calls. This track, by the way, while not having distinct time cues, is divided into three sections, subtitled ‘Dawning Realization’, ‘Frequencies Received’, and ‘Just Like Home’.
Closing out the CD are the tracks ‘The One’ which is another healthy dose of Padilla’s excellent take on retro-Teutonic EM (blended with some nice flute work by Roberts which pokes its head through now and then) and the title song which ends the recording with an assortment of Roberts’ flutes (perhaps the best playing he’s ever done on CD, in fact), deeply echoed and wafting gently in mid-air, later joined by subtle sampled guitar and various hand percussion. The cut reminded me of Stephen Bacchus’ over-looked gem of a CD, Pangaea, in how it evokes images that are peaceful yet primeval with the added spice of world music flavors.
Path Of Least Resistance is one of those cds which offer something for nearly everyone: Germanic/retro EM goodness, classic drifting spacemusic, haunting quasi-ambient tones and warm drones, serene flutes and wind-synths for those seeking calm and serene soundscapes, and that last touch of world beat for those whose view of ambient music is global in nature. Expertly recorded and mixed (I have read that the final tweaking of the album took a lot of time and it shows in the attention to detail), the CD displays both of the artists’ strengths while also pointing out how well they fit together as a ‘whole.’ It earns a highly recommended from me as an example of ambient music which exemplifies the concept of ‘cohesive diversity’ in masterful fashion.
- Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire