Real Music (2012)
The last thing that any long-time fan of the Real Music label would expect was for them to release a serious spacemusic recording - and I don't mean "la-di-da" flowery spacemusic, I mean spacemusic, (in the same vein as Meg Bowles and John Lyell). Maybe I'm wrong in that assumption, but I've reviewing music from Real Music for 17 years and I know I sure as hell was shocked the first time I listened to Thierry David's Stellar Connection. The opening track, "Portal Quest," kicks off the album with darkly tinted drones, swirling synths, and a palpable sense of forlorn loneliness. I did a double take and made sure the right CD had been in the jewel case. Yup, the CD was the right one. I settled in and played the album all the way through and thought, "Well, I'll be damned." Stellar Connection is a spot-on soundtrack for a first-class cruising expedition past the limits of our solar system, out toward the Andromeda galaxy or the Crab nebula or even beyond. Stellar work (pun intended) by David, indeed!
The French artist, whose previous releases on Real Music were either chill-out (Zen Pause), New Age/world beat (Zen World) or new age/world vocal (The Veil of Whispers), reveals an incredible talent for crafting ambient/spacemusic that drifts and cruises. Some tracks flow darkly, painting a sonic portrait of the desolate emptiness of space, tinted with a terrible sense of awe mixed with subtle, somber beauty. Other selections may infuse rhythms that suggest slow but purposeful cruising among the cosmos, perhaps planet hopping in different solar systems, or maybe surveying a distant world's surface. Track titles make it abundantly clear that David is purposefully training his musician's eye toward the distant stars. While some selections are melodic enough in a structured way that this disc will not alienate (no pun intended this time) his new age or chill-out fans, even songs that use echoed piano and warmer synth sounds still contain enough of an outer space atmospheric texture and feel that this album should find acceptance among an ambient fanbase, provided they are not looking for dronefests devoid of any melodic or rhythmic content.
Make no mistake, though. Some of the cuts on Stellar Connection are decidedly not new age (at least not by definition I would use). Besides the opening "Portal Quest," there is "Magnetic Spiral" which opens with layers of drones and pure textural sounds and eerie effects, before slowly evolving into a repeating series of pulses, tribal-esque rhythms, and a minor key echoed piano refrain, the latter of which evokes a deep loneliness and solitude. "Feeling a Stellar Pulse" blends alien-ish electronic textures with a repeating reverbed melodic pattern (again in a minor key) and more tribal percussion (this track reminded me of Robyn Miller's superb soundtrack for the computer game "Riven"). The short (2:00) "The Realm of the Golden helix" is pure, dark, deep spacedrift, with overlapping synth washes, drones, and vaguely metallic tones, as is the closing song, "A Silent Voice Answers," which ups the "creepy but cool" factor to a solid 11.
Other selections on the album include "Plenty of Space" (smooth layers of gently sighing keyboards blended with long, lonely peals of deeply echoed electric guitar), "A Long Crossing" (slow, metronomic rhythms, trumpet-like solos, and a forlorn sparse piano melody with a discernible sense of sadness, anchoring it all), "Surfing the Blue Orbit" (a relatively bubbly mixture of assorted bell and hang drum-like tones, shimmering textures, piano, and a rhythmic textures that are somewhere between mid and fast tempo), and "Galactic Bliss" (beginning as a warm space-drifting number and morphs into pleasantly chattering keyboards set against synth washes infused with some uptempo chill-out flavors as the track progresses).
There are thirteen tracks on Stellar Connection (some not mentioned above) for the listener to delve into and this album will reward total immersion using headphones. The carefully nuanced background music and textural effects will emerge on each successive play. Thierry David's recordings on Real Music have revealed him to be a meticulous artist who knows the magic is in the details, and Stellar Connection is proof of that. I consider the album near essential if you enjoy spacemusic that can really take you "out there" (provided you have the imagination for just such a trip). The album is a wholly unexpected delight from one of the shining lights in new age music and showcases a side of Thierry David that I sure hope to hear more from in the future.