Life Flows Water

Howard Givens / Craig Padilla

Life Flows Water

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Finalist - ZMR Music Award - Best Ambient Album

About Life Flows Water

Tracks:

1   Opening To New Perspectives

2   Awakened Consciousness

3   A Step Achieved

4   Reflection and Metamorphosis

5   Tide of the Opposition Moon

6   Life Flows Water

7   Shavasana

Life Flows Water is a collaboration between Spotted Peccary Music‘s founder and creative guru Howard Givens (Brain Laughter) and SPM veteran electronic virtuoso Craig Padilla. It is a meditation in form, opening and closing with tones from a Tibetan bowl, and flowing, evolving continuously through seven impressions of deeply nuanced ambient electronic artistry.  Featuring a profound array of electronic instruments from classic vintage and modular synths to modern digital keyboards, this delicately choreographed work is really about inward expansiveness – like true meditation – focused on a purity and simplicity in an abstract fulness.

The music is inspired by the moments and experiences that brought these artists together for this collaboration, and by the realization of a consciousness awakened from the steps taken on the discovery of this new path.  Padilla states: “We had been waiting to perform live together for quite some time.  Finally, due to numerous life changing events, the opportunity to create and perform new music had arrived and once we got started, the music continuously and effortlessly flowed from our hands and into the synthesizers; two collaborative energies finding a common singularity of creation.  The music describes this creative moment perfectly: getting lost and found in the present moment; taking an inward journey to communicate with the soul.”

This recording is the document of a specific moment and a testament to the process of simply being.

Reviews

The dreamlike whirl of Tibetan bowls, occasionally punctuated by bells in the beginning of the first cut “Opening to a New Perspective” sets the stage for all that follows in this slow-evolving inward expansive meditation that drifts and swells gently, unfolding as it goes. At nearly 20 minutes it’s the longest piece on the disc, ample time to introduce the classic vintage analog synths and sequencers as well as some relatively modern digital keyboards, all the while soothing the spirit and illuminating the inward path as it guides the listener down the eternal spiral. Shimmering melodies emerge from the flowing textures on subsequent pieces like “A Step Achieved,” while heavily processed ephemeral sounds of night insects and birds seem to make an appearance on “Reflection and Metamorphosis.” Givens and Padilla are both masters of the floating ambient form, the latter with numerous releases to his credit (over 24 at last count, either solo or in collaboration with others), many of which have been reviewed in these pages, the former is the founder and guiding light behind the Spotted Peccary label and associated studios, and his own Brain Laughter project. One can’t listen to this without hearing the occasional reminders of early Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and other pioneers who put this open ended form of electronic music on the map, but a lot of evolution and subsequent development has ensued in the years since, and Givens and Padilla are two of the groundbreakers at the forefront of it all. Life Flows Water is one of those recordings that one could play in an endless loop for a week and it would still be as magical as it was at the very first moment.

- Peter Thelen, Exposé

While the title Life Flows Water suggests something earthy and organic, the music on this collaboration between Howard Givens and Craig Padilla embraces the kind of broad, sweeping vistas and tonal elements of classic spacemusic. Whether you view the voyage as inner or outer, it’s going to be a fantastic ride. Bookended by chimes that mark it as a meditation, Life Flows Water immediately settles into that role. It is quiet and soft throughout, the calming flows perfectly ripped in places by slow-moving sequencer lines and gentle melodies. It’s the latter in “A Step Achieved,” where liquid pads swirl under a charmingly simple song. The notes of the melody are high and bright, popping up like bursts of color. The sequencer works beautifully into tracks such as “Awakened Consciousness” and “Tide of Opposition.” This is where it hits that spacemusic stride and pings certain nostalgia centers. It’s got the familiar energy and tone of classic electronic music and it makes for a nice change in the flow of things. “Tide…” is perhaps my favorite track here as it calls to mind my favorite Berlin-school artists, from T-Dream to Ministry of Inside Things, with precise lines cutting angles into the air and filling the space with a flute-like synth line. The intricacies of the sequencer work are what particularly catch my ear here. The rhythm gets me swaying and the whole piece reminds me what made me love this music in the first place.

When you listen to Life Flows Water, expect to get lost in it. Givens and Padilla revel in the softness of the sound here, and the consistently sighing pads that course beneath everything are utterly soothing. Headphones are a must for this; you want to get as close to the sound as possible and let it wrap around you. A beautiful work, perfect for your end-of-day listening.

- John Shanahan, Hypnagogue

Tonal Music is uniquely physical among the arts. Its simple mathematical foundation, based on the laws of acoustics, means it gets to your soul through your body. Out ahead of this idea are Howard Givens & Craig Padilla. Hearing them work together on their album Life Flows Water (68'40") we may surmise that they regard themselves as musicians who are part engineer. These cosmologists of music use established tonal and modal ideas to create a unique and delicate tapestry of dramatic and emotional textures - qualities that are otherwise sacrificed in much of contemporary music. Their fascination with the inner life of tones moves Life Flows Water from the dark immensity of heaven down to an uncommonly hushed concentration. Melody, texture and rhythm are all at work to make a truly deep listening album. At nearly seventy minutes of continuous music, Life Flows Water creates a timeless atmosphere - evoking feelings of antiquity and modernity, while being neither in any direct sense. Cast in seven interconnected movements the music unfurls in the most gradual of fashion. After several listening sessions we find sound itself becoming the grammatical focus. Timbral gradations set forth eddying, floating semi-circles of slow chords - in an easy calm as variable as the clouds. Deep growling forms reach for ethereal strings, while pattering sequencer blips brighten, then darken through their repeating cycle. The compositional geometry is free of angles, such that the shortest path between two points is always a slowly spiraling curve. We are softly lulled beneath calmly radiant drones and long lines of sustaining electronic harmonies in a measured ebb and flow of sound, texture and atmosphere. This unique and delicate tapestry of dramatic and emotional textures freely alludes to the entire history of Spacemusic. Although this review may have primed the listener to expect very simple, repetitive pieces, this duo transforms this sleep-inducing genre into mind-and-ear-engaging art. Givens & Padilla embellish, shape and imbue Life Flows Water with deeply felt expression, sometimes gentle, while at others intense, but always delivered as if in intimate, personal touch with their audience. So long as they remain completely lost in the sonoral quality of their performance, how this all works will remain a mystery.

- Chuck van Zyl, Star's End

"Life Flows Water" was performed one week after Craig Padilla gave several solo performances in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Seattle, Washington. All these occasions provided a lot of music within a matter of weeks. However, the live performance with Howard Givens (founder of the SP label and accomplished producer/musician) in Portland, Oregon was unlike Craig’s solo concerts, which tend to be a bit more upbeat.

For "Life Flows Water", both musicians envisioned and created a "Zen-like" sound environment on the spot for the audience, an aural meditation which would put them in a type of sacred space while still having hypnotic sequencer moments. During the gig, the music and sequences were performed and mixed live with numerous synths, including the Mattson Mini Modular and sequencer.

What the listener gets here is really about what the composers refer to as "inward expansiveness", a true and soft blooming sonic meditation where all spacious elements, spheres and waves focus on a purity and simplicity in an abstract fullness. Opening and closing with resonating bell sounds, the tranquil, flowing and soothing outcome (with an occasional nod of gently and subtle tuned sequences) simply centers on living and feeling in the present moment, communicating with the soul and being aware.

As such, "Life Flows Water" spirals down in continuous (drone) textural waves and currents running onward effortlessly in minimal, circular patterns.

- Bert Strolenberg, Sonic Immersion

A hollow, a black and very reverberating breath besieges our ears. Kind of Tibetan bells resound in these dark winds while that another synth line, a little more translucent, makes the counterweight to this rather dark introduction of “Life Flows Water”. Other synth lines draw clouds of mists which steal very slowly around this dense opaque layer, while others are spreading strands of prism that one would guesses is escaping from a heavy and slow intergalactic vessel filled up with cosmic oracles. Immersive and very floating, "Opening to New Perspectives" multiplies its sibylline colors like we watched dumbfounded this water which waved while being a prisoner of its rectangle. I find hard to believe that “Life Flows Water” was recorded live, so much the wealth and the colors of sounds form a symbiosis with the slight crescendo of the ambient rhythms which invade our loudspeakers, in particular with the superb "Awakened Conciousness" and "A Step Achieved". Craig Padilla needs really no presentation. Those who know his works know also to which point he likes sculpturing ambient soundscapes decorated with delicate structures of ascending rhythms. For “Life Flows Water”, he teams up with the founder of the American label of ambiospherical music Spotted Peccary Howard Givens, that some define as being a creative guru. It results in a very dark ambient album with a multitude of reverberating lines which pile in order to draw up a kind of apocalyptic surrounding. With these 7 tracks which interlace in a long ambiospherical saga of 70 minutes, the duet Givens / Padilla aims at creating a Zen ambiance here, but those dark synth waves which get entangled indefatigably bring it at the edge of a Mephistophelian spiritual story. The ambiences are intense, reaching even some peaks at moments with splendid rhythmic crescendo which disconcert marvelously this very dark envelope of “Life Flows Water”.
The long dark synth waves get entangle such as metaphysical lovers. They float and decorate the nebulous soundscapes of "Opening to New Perspectives", whistling amorphous chants with slow lines inflated of reverberations. On the cusp of this blackness, fine hiccupping arpeggios forge a series of drummings which pound and sparkle in a sonic sky to the colors of Morpheus. The ambient crescendo is pouring now into "Awakened Conciousness". These sequences cavort now. They flutter awkwardly within dark winds whereas other sequences are pounding an intrusive sonic framework which dresses itself of a dramatic fur. And the percussions fall. They thunder for a short while on this spiral of dislocated sequences which decorate its line of ambient rhythm with delicate kicks, just before that the heavy atmospheres of “Life Flows Water” shut it down and make silent its tumult. Long lassoes of reverberations float like a scent of threat over the singings of those birds which open "A Step Achieved". A delicate movement of hypnotic rhythm makes clink its sequences, plunging the listener into his so delicious souvenirs of Michael Stearns in M'Ocean. This is a wonderful two tracks set that the tandem Givens / Padilla is giving to us. Here, the crystal clear arpeggios are ringing on a charming ascending movement always painted by these long twist filled by echoes. Superb! "Reflection and Metamorphosis" brings us in the heart of the gaps of “Life Flows Water” with shrill singings of sirens. Still there it's heavy and dark. Except that a bright period turns up on the horizon with the arrival of "Tide of the Opposition Moon" where some fine arpeggios shine in another movement of sequences with keys which weave an occasional rhythmic turbulence. The title-track is the nirvana of “Life Flows Water” with an ambient rhythm which winds groundwaters suspended, like a lake between the cosmos and the earth. The slow impulses which push the ambient rhythm, drawn by a series of sequences which sound like the skeleton of a snake crawling on a bed of rock, create good moments of intensity which seduces the listening. The most serene moment of the album, "Shavasana" brings us towards this Zen zone aimed by Howard Givens and Craig Padilla. Certainly, the hoarse breaths are always intrusive. But the more radiant synth lines hide a bit the repulsive approach that these long boas with ample and slow serpentines, ochred of sulfur, draw almost everywhere around the 68 minutes of “Life Flows Water” which loops the loop with this last track. And even if strongly tinted with this dark veil, this album remains a rather poetic work. A work mainly ambient which is knotted around beautiful gradations in its rhythms among which the ringings and the drumming are the secret of its charms.

- Sylvain Lupari, Synth & Sequences

STYLE
Ambient electronic.
Rising out of silence in a smooth, dark drone Opening To New Perspectives announces its introspective context with the deep chimes of a Tibetan bowl. Minimal, silky and drifting this beatless music delightfully shifts in texture, density and intensity across its expansive breadth with light sequences dancing at times in the depths or upon the surface. These seasoned musicians deftly interweave electronic sound sources of a variety of forms, contemporary software gear alongside vintage and modular synths in subtle arrangements calling upon elements of modern ambient, Berlin School electronica and sparse space music. The tone is mostly one of gentle wonder and meandering calm, the tidal flow ultimately leading to a concluding series of bowl chimes.

ARTWORK
Life Flows Water is presented in a pleasing card wallet of two panels. The understated macro imagery enhances the meditative nature of the music: a pebble stack, a serene statue, grass blades and lilac sunset hues. Track titles are to be found on the rear cover each with running time alongside. Unfolded, the package reveals a monochrome portrait of each artist in action on the left and recording details, credits and web addresses to the right.

OVERALL
A collaborative album, Life Flows Water sees the founder of Spotted Peccary Music Howard Givens working together with electronic-ambient composer Craig Padilla. The seven tracks here range from the nineteen-minute-plus opener to the relatively brief five and a half minute Awakened Consciousness; most falling into the mid-length region necessary for the lush, unhurried development of such contemplative material.

- Paul Jury, Morpheus Music Reviews

I was so prepared to be excruciatingly bored by this release. After all, the cover art depicts a pile of smooth rocks balanced on top of each other on the front and a Buddha head on the back: it looks exactly like the kind of CD you would play in an ‘alternative therapies’ waiting room. Similarly, the track titles did not inspire confidence: ‘Awakened Consciousness’, ‘Savasana’, ‘Reflection and Metamorphosis’, and so on had me gritting my teeth before I’d even pressed the play button.

When I finally relented and put this CD on (telling myself that I was being narrow-minded and unfair), I felt like all my prejudices were perfectly justified. For a good nine or ten minutes, I felt like I was browsing for crystals in a ‘magick’ shop: nothing but new-age drones washing gently over relentlessly positive-sounding synth patches, calming tones respectfully floating around a pink fluffy cloud of inner peace. But then the synths got darker and rougher and an energetic arpeggiator crept in (as well as some treated guitar loops), and the whole thing went from Theosophical Society Bookshop to classic-era Tangerine Dream. I soon realised that I had judged Life Flows Water way too harshly and way too early, and this might actually be something engrossing, special, and pretty damn cool.

The whole album flows, more or less, as one seamless piece, rising from the initial meditative drone into pizzicato loops of krautrock-ish synth and sinking back into drone again, only to be met by more guitar loops and some (admittedly cheesy) keyboard melodies, before heading skywards with much twinkling and sparkling. Rise and fall, soar and sink, contemplation and interrogation—according to the liner notes, it was all recorded live, and Howard Givens and Craig Padilla definitely get credit for never letting the jam get boring or wallow in predictability. Just when I’d fear it had descended once more into spiritual-musak territory, it would swerve, the blue skies would go dark, and the journey would be filled with questions. The album constantly straddles this line between interesting synth music and yoga-supermarket, but never fully comes down on one side or the other, which actually keeps the whole thing surprisingly intriguing. It’s like three parts Robert Rich and one part Mike Oldfield, with a dash (just a dash) of John Carpenter thrown in for taste. This is honestly not a million miles away from Fenriz’s Neptune Towers, but then again, it’s not a million miles away from typing ‘meditation music YouTube’ into Google either. But I’ve listened to this release a bunch of times now, and I’m not sick of it yet: actually, I think I like it more and more with each listen.

The liner notes thank various people ‘for the use of the Mattson Mini Modular Synthesizer and SQ816 Sequencer’, and the artist photos have these two middle-aged gentlemen surrounded by at least two large keyboards each, so if you’re at all into synthesizers and don’t mind a smattering of cheese in your soundscapes, you’ll most likely get something out of Life Flows Water. I did, and I really—really—didn’t think I was going to.

- Mat Blackwell, Heathen Harvest

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