Inspired by the mysterious depths of the hidden lake under Antarctica, Vostok is a haunting voyage into an unknown space filled with wonder and awe. Craig Padilla masterfully crafts a subterranean soundworld, transforming electronic instruments into subtle abstract beauty that feels no less organic than inorganic, in this visionary long-form ambient work. Vostok is a place of purity and stillness, of undisturbed existence.
Vostok is the new long-form (fifty+ minutes long) ambient recording from Craig Padilla (who, by my experience, usually operates in a more obvious Berlin school-EM vein). Well, within a few minutes of listening to Vostok, it's obvious he's left not just Berlin or Germany behind - but most (not all - I'll explain shortly) of planet Earth for that matter! This is a supremely sublime long-form recording - it took me three listenings before I really started getting into the almost organic feel to the ebb and flow of the drones (sounding like the slow measured breathing of some slumbering yet musical subterranean beast). Drawing inspiration from (as he puts it in the liner notes) ‘contemplation of the inner stillness reflected by a distant sub-glacial lake beneath Antarctica...’ Padilla crafts icy yet comforting waves of slowly morphing organic-electronic sighs. The subtle changes in the early part of the CD are indicative of the best of the new long-form ambient subgenre. What may appear monotonous to the uninitiated is actually both constantly evolving and yet also maintaining a smooth equilibrium, even as new elements (e.g. whistling mournful synths, hand-percussion rhythms) are introduced over the bellows-like breathing of the main drones.
As with any long-form ambient piece, one of the tests I use is how well the music itself permeates a room and subtly alters the atmosphere. I won't go as far as to state that playing Vostok will make you see your own breath by lowering the air temperature, but there is a pleasant ‘chill’ to the album's overall vibe. Somehow, Craig found a way, musically, to impart the feeling of cold without resorting to various clichés usually found in dark ambient. Of course, I don't mean to say this is new age music or anything ‘light’ (either substantively or thematically). But, as I stated earlier, the textures on Vostok are comforting - as if one were walking on an ice floe under the midnight sun, but dressed warmly enough that, while you are aware of the intense cold, the inhospitable environment does not keep you from taking in the unearthly beauty of your surroundings.
Padilla does not just use drones and whistling synths, either, on this album. Tribal rhythms, muted and echoed, evoke both spiritual and ancient feelings. The introduction of various (more Padilla-like?) spacier synth/EM touches neither distracts nor detracts from the main undulating presence of the work, as he keeps them on the recording's periphery, most of the time at least.
There are other elements throughout the remainder of the album (this is only about the first half I have commented on so far), but as with all long-form reviews, it would take more words than most people would care to read to comment fully on each metamorphosis of the music. I heard echoes of Steve Roach (from his Structures from Silence period) when Craig introduced a repeating series of clipped notes at about the 35-minute mark. (but Vostok is not the least bit derivative, I assure you). About ten minutes later, the music becomes more active and, while the same base motifs are there, there is a more electronic passage that offers a nice contrast. Another thing I admired on this CD was how Padilla intermixed the tribal rhythmic elements with spacier textures and more overt (but subdued) EM touches (whirring synths at the twenty-minute mark also carry the hint of Berlin, especially because at around this point, the ebbing/flowing that has permeated the recording up to this point briefly subsides).
This album is quite unlike anything (to my ears) from Spotted Peccary, although it does continue the label's movement into purer ambient territory (which began several years ago). Craig Padilla's Vostok is worlds apart from other artists' visions, yet it certainly deserves to stand alongside such gems as Silence Speaks in Shadow, Lost at Dunn's Lake and Unafraid of the Impending Silence. While not as ‘transparent’ as any of those three, it's not truly obtrusive unless the listener wants it to be - however, I do recommend hearing it at least once with headphones because it is a startlingly well-mixed and engineered recording (mixed by the artist and mastered by Howard Givens of Spotted Peccary). Recommended to fans of both ambient and EM, with the understanding that this is not a sequencer-happy beat fest and that it contains tribal elements amidst the frosty electronic waves.- Bill Binkelman, Wind And Wire
In this album, Craig Padilla has sculpted music inspired by the mysterious depths of the lake Vostok, hidden beneath Antarctica. The music flows, evolving, never losing its intrinsic beauty, deep, hypnotic, with electronic undercurrents that lead to atmospheres full of a soft energy, at times with dark brushes.- Edgar Kolger, Amazing Sounds
Craig Padilla is one of the premier Berlin school sequencers in the U.S.A. His discography is loaded with outstanding deep-space music. In 2000, he stepped out of his paradigm and recorded Vostok, a long-form composition built on one continuous sequence. He shopped it around and landed a deal with Spotted Peccary Music. Howard Givens, one of the label's founders and co-owners, co-produced. This piece is pure minimalism. It has all of the characteristics of desert ambience but the textures are those of the Antarctic wasteland. (’Vostok’ is an underground lake discovered by a Russian expedition. It is theorized to have some answers regarding the formation of life on Earth.) Padilla's atmosphere is deep and expansive. His sound design uses silence and empty spaces as integral elements of the soundscape. This is the ultimate icescape. It is also essential minimalism. Vostok will appeal to fans of James Johnson, Vidna Obmana, Rudy Adrian, and Tuu.- AllMusic.com
In late 2000, an aspiring writer/producer solicited some music from Craig Padilla for a book/CD project. Craig sent a CDR with three tracks - Distant Signals (chosen by the author), Monolith and Vostok.
Vostok was not one of the author's options. It is 51 minutes and 48 seconds of some of the deepest and iciest minimalism ever to grace a compact disc. It is due for a March, 2002 release on Spotted Peccary.
Craig composed and created this masterwork in honor of Lake Vostok in Antarctica. A Russian expedition discovered the lake under the vast frozen wasteland of that continent. The lake holds some mysterious to the beginnings of humankind.
But this music is about more than the lake. It is vast enough, vacuous enough and cold enough to represent the entire continent. The pounding winds and blinding snowstorms pound deep listeners from all directions - including within. (Headphones are highly recommended!) This is true desert ambience. It merely explores venues different from what the progenitors of that style envisioned. Much like Rudy Adrian, Vidna Obmana and TUU, Craig has mastered a difficult style - ICY DESERT MINIMALISM. That term rolls off the tongue quite nicely.- Jim Brenholts, Ambient Visions
The single 51:53 track echoes with the reflective depths of an Antarctic subglacial lake, organically stewing in slowly rippling lows and sonar-like highs which shimmer across the upper regions. Simultaneously vaporous and liquid, musical traces swirl in longform cycles of ebb-and-flow, sometimes even emitting distant rhythmic elements.
Rushing breezes stir chiming note patterns and loonlike tones, buoyed upon the bassy currents as all the previously mentioned activities pile up in separate-yet-connected layers. Percolating thusly for awhile, everything then begins to drift apart and fade in wondrous whispers and rumbles, always underscored by the oceanic rise-and-fall.
Various resurgences seem to be a natural part of this naturalistic environment as its sonic life goes on... deep and chilled, the tidal floes of Vostok will carry you into Craig Padilla's icy-though-hospitable soundworlds.- Ambientrance
The music of Craig Padilla falls squarely into the category of Electronic Spacemusic. His themes deal with distant places and far-out concepts meant to spark the imagination of the listener. But however high the musical concept, the execution of his albums is always a more tactile experience - the shaping of electronic sounds so that the Earthbound listener can also take part in the cerebral voyage. Padilla's album Vostok is an excellent combination of conceptualization, performance and transformation. At 51 minutes, Vostok is a long-form piece. The meditation begins with some classic white noise. The filter slowly sweeps us into the piece and soon low undulating drones are introduced, adding density to the windblown soundscape. The piece fills out with layers of breathy synth pads, resonant filter motion and arcs of meandering melody. From out of this dense interplay, the beginnings of a staggered, somewhat hesitant, pattern emerges. The pulse fills out and we travel along its ever evolving progression; a forward momentum towards the space that Padilla is bringing into our dreams. The cycle of smooth flowing chords and multi-layered rhythms provide the setting, but from here on it is up to the listener to make what they will out of this free musical fantasy. Vostok is an expansive piece. The music and sounds develop at their own pace, drifting in and out of focus according to each listener's disposition. With Vostok, Craig Padilla seeks to realize music that helps us find a way to a serene center in the midst of a perplexing world.- Chuck van Zyl, Star's End