1. Emerald Web | Flight Of The Raven
Visions into the Realm of Pure Fantasy: shades of Druidic ritual, Tolkien-esque world maps unfurling, Metal forged in the heart of the Earth, expanses of uninhabited Nature. Emerald Web weave Narrative through sections of Pastoral Prog and Naturalistic Electronic passages, including some wild Primitive Sound Effects and Kat Epple's insane flute solos. Dragons Wings And Wizard Tales is essentially a soundtrack with no need for a text or film. Each passing track reveals a new action, landscape, or scene. My favorite tracks are those that function as portals into worlds just beyond or parallel to our own. I like the very short glimpses the most. The sparse lyrics on Flight Of The Raven are the perfect web on which to stretch out your Imagination. What I wouldn’t give to have seen these guys play Planetarium shows!
2. Suzanne Ciani | The Fifth Wave: Water Lullaby
Water Lullaby is the absolute pinnacle of New Age synthesis. Immaculately composed, sequenced, pitched, and paced, this track (and all of Seven Waves, really) achieves an infinite, soothing depth. Coming in under six minutes, not a single second is bereft of a new joy. Ciani’s ability to seamlessly blend (nearly) pure Electronic instrumentation yields a true Organic Holism rather than a jarringly uncanny emulation of Reality (which has its own pleasures). Everything flows as pure liquid; to take a current reference, The-Drum channel this expertly. Equally astounding is Ciani’s ability to create Infinite Melodic Propulsion. What on first gloss might come off as airbrushed Aquarian vapor is actually extremely informed synthesis, which might be the best part of all. If I had to settle for just one song forever, this would be it.
3. Terry Riley | Celestial Valley
How could I not add a Terry Riley organ piece? All that is above and below is situated within the Minimalist tradition of Riley’s keyboard works. The mystic bent, in both mode and style, which is firmly his (nice try LaMonte Young), is critical to this whole American New Age thing. Not to mention his blend of Concept and Improvisation and his innovative use of Delay! Riley’s solo multilayered time lag accumulators and overdubs fill the entire sonic space with staccato life, endlessly opening onto further mirrored corridors. I am always drawing comparisons to Shri Camel, whether in the recently rediscovered music of J.D. Emmanuel, or Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Generators. Despite the Eastern trappings and the stream of Consciousness, higher being keyboard shredding, I find Celestial Valley to be ultimately Ecclesiastical, solemn and awe inspiring.
4. George Garside | Pulse To Ontology
For me, Mind Over Matter, George Garside’s (perhaps) third release, quietly ushered into the World in the late 80s, embodies the mysterious lost tape. It is the first contact I had with self-released New Age outside of what was coming out of the post-No Fun Fest Noise scene (see below). George Garside remains a complete loner and enigma in my mind--certainly more so than Nik Pascal or someone of that sort--which I find endlessly refreshing. I can only imagine the amateur synthesist reveling in his studio when I put this on. Like the other tracks on this album, Pulse To Ontology has a humble character to it, and I love the searching, fantasy quest leads! I liked this track so much I named my first radio show after it (WHPK 88.5FM Chicago forever). The corny track titles, riffs on classics of Western Philosophy, are also wonderful.
5. Oneohtrix Point Never | Betrayed In The Octagon
Danny ushered me into this whole Synth thing. Astronaut--which was Danny pre-OPN, Lee Tindall (Belarisk, Zerfallt, Mutations In The Gryd), and A R Plovnick (Rudy Stone, Andy And Zeus)--was my first zoner at Twisted Village in Cambridge, MA. Emeralds, Beemask, and Perpetual Amnesia also played. It got weird quickly. Chris from Beemask was using light oscillators triggered by a high-wattage gallery clip lamp. He left it face down on the carpeted floor too long, and as the plastic in the cheap carpeting began to melt it filled the whole room with intense noxious plastic fumes. Later, in the middle of the Astronaut set, Lee got a massive nosebleed and had to step outside. Danny ripped an early take on bits of what would later become the Betrayed In The Octagon tape. That was it, I remain hopelessly hooked. This track has the endless inward folding thru heavy, constantly morphing arpeggiations that define the best Nu New Age tracks. Danny works perfectly within the restrictive parameters, the grain, of the Juno-60 (and the Freedom of its arpeggiator) to create a singular, gripping voice (and causing the price of used Junos on eBay to skyrocket). Oh, and the Emeralds set was incredible.
6. Isao Tomita | Arabesque No. 1 (Claude Debussy Cover)
I can’t deny being a big fan of switched-on Moog records. While there are many strange interpretations of the Western Canon, none is so expertly executed as Tomita’s (Gustav Holst’s daughter demanded that Tomita’s rendition of The Planets be withdrawn from the market). Pick up Snowflakes Are Dancing and Bermuda Triangle immediately if you don’t already have them, they are super cheap and easy to find as Tomita was a big deal! The Programming on all of Tomita’s releases is especially wonderful, and he always manages to augment his playful, Sci-Fi interpretations with a gloss of crystalline shimmer and synthesized birdsong. His Debussy is particularly masterful--to my untrained ears he’s a naturally, effortlessly languid player--and Arabesque No. 1 is the ultimate showcase for his trademark Moog whistle. This guy once played in a glass pyramid suspended over 80,000 people, which, as far as I can tell, is the dream realized.
7. Belbury Poly | Pan’s Garden
Before I started getting into Drone and then thru to Astral synth, I stumbled across Belbury Poly’s The Owl’s Map. I now can’t remember if it was in a copy of the Wire or in some fringe early torrenting site. Regardless, I was pulled in by the Fictional world framed by the LP liner notes and their reminiscences of near forgotten Irreal places past. I’ve always loved English Pastoral Folk and Prog--Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention, King Crimson, Pentangle, Fuchsia--and the latter day cast of hauntologists like Belbury Poly, Broadcast, et al (ex-Chicagoan Flower Man has had some really amazing work in this vein lately). What’s great about the work of the latter are the little sonic and contextual details--the Radiophonic Workshop wonky oscillators, Brutalist Utopian Architecture, nodding heather, cranky viccars--that are thrown in to create the impression of its existing synchronically with that of the former. It’s into this half-known microworld that I am pitched time and time again when putting on a Ghost Box or Mordant Music album, and something I try to do in my own work. Again I unabashedly use a track like Pan’s Garden to talk about the whole swathe of material. To focus solely on the track, the stately yet playful interwoven wind instruments spilling over into a tumult of concrete and foleyed Natural sounds just pushes all of my buttons (well, maybe you could sneak an arpeggiated synth in there somewhere...). Then there’s the whole forgotten historical pseudonym thing... Okay I’ll stop and move on.
8. Belarisk | Wilted Pine
Lee Tindall, the Reptilian shapeshifter, crosses unseen between worlds. He effortlessly jams damaged black nightmare Electronics and puts together heartbreaking, delicately Romantic synth pieces like Wilted Pine without coming off as Dark Ambient. I’ve always been jealous of his ability to create a middle path, a finely articulated grey, using an intimacy with modified electronics and carefully deployed imagery. He also keeps himself cloaked and moving. All of these should be factored into the appreciation of any fringe synth persona. Lee pulls it off expertly and drops progressions like Wilted Pine before he’s gone again.
9. Dolphins Into The Future | Ho’okena Halawi
The ultimate Calm. At this point just lie back. Relax. Let the weight of the day fall away. Feel the warm breeze off the water pass gently over your skin. Mo’ana is all around you.
10. Om | On The Mountain At Dawn
Since this mix is purely imaginary, why not end with the ultimate Ascendant, locked-groove amplifier worship Mantra? The cycling endless riff, dutifully crafted from pure ecstatic distorted bass tone, the occluded alternate aspect of the aum. The never wearying, near Hysteria of the drums. Ascetic, Egoless, and Devoted. Cisneros dilates Time, Language, and signifier to peer into the Hidden Realm, found but a koan away.