on 5 December 1999
Edgar Froese's solo career has spanned all of the years since Tangerine Dream first signed with Virgin and represents an important and less showy side to his music. It has to be said, though, that his solo releases tend to be less well structured and show far less development than some of the contemporaneous TD releases. There are times, indeed, when they seem to be little more than sketches or musical doodlings, slipped into circulation to keep the fans quiet! Fortunately, that isn't the case here: "Aqua" was the first Froese solo release (dating from 1974, shortly after "Phaedra") and it is also just about the best, I'd say, with the music being almost as fulsome as the full band's output of the time.
Stylistically, "Aqua" is something of a hybrid between TD's newer Mellotron-driven sound of "Phaedra" and earlier works, like "Zeit", which used large amounts of 'pure' electronics from early synthesisers like the VCS3, and the Farfisa organ. The two major works on the album are 'Aqua' and 'NGC891'. These both add a new element-rare in TD's music generally-taped environmental sounds.
'Aqua' uses the sound of running water and gurgling synth voices to introduce a 17-minute study of water-like sounds, beneath brittle, reverberating rattles that suggest the creak and groan of large ice structures, and soaring choirs of synthetic voices. The work is both peaceful and eerie, and very reminiscent of the second movement of "Zeit", 'Nebulous Dawn'. This is one of Froese's (and TD's) finest tracks.
The 10-minute long 'Panorphelia' makes use of the pulsed white noise idea of 'Movements of a Visionary' from "Phaedra". Here, this introduces a solid and cleverly developed sequencer pulse over which the Mellotron sings a rambling but simple tune that sounds to be setting up another classically worked out number. Unfortunately, though, from about the midway point of the track, Froese seems to forget where things were heading and so they are left to carry on in the same vein. Boredom is just about setting in as the track winds to a close.
The title 'NGC891' continues the space theme of earlier albums (the designation refers to a galactic nebula, which can be found just to the left of the double star Alamak, or gamma Andromedae, in case you're wondering!). The music, though, is more firmly rooted here on planet Earth, as recordings of jet aircraft taking off and miscellaneous traffic sounds are woven into its 15 minutes of mostly pulsing LFO and sequencer-driven bass, overlaid with delicate Mellotron lines and some beautifully programmed Moog voices. The sleeve notes make much of the artificial head recording system used to capture the stereo effect of the environmental sounds incorporated here. I have to say that I have never found this system to be particularly effective, not even when listened to through headphones as is usually suggested. Certainly, any accuracy of stereo representation is somewhat spoiled here by the fact that the louder sounds overloaded the analogue tape onto which they were recorded, resulting is some rather jarring clipping and crackling distortion of the jet engine sounds. Nevertheless, the musical use made of these sounds is very good and the piece as a whole is brilliantly structured, constantly developing and never boring, making this track one of my all-time Froese/TD favourites. I just wish he (or they) had continued to explore the possibilities that environmental sound recordings had to offer into the digital recording age. [If you haven't already discovered them, check out the work of the acoustic ecology movement, as well as the works of the French Canadian acousmatic composers to see what I'm talking about--web addresses supplied on request!]
Finally, 'Upland' is another of those Froese tracks that starts with a couple of good ideas but then fails to do much with them except repeat them over and over. Strangely, that approach works to quite good effect here, with the relentless sequencer pulse driving the fairly ponderous organ line ever onwards. The underlying pulse slowly resolves into one of the burbling water motifs from 'Aqua', this bringing the whole album just about full circle, before some reverse-enveloped synth sounds snap it to a satisfying conclusion. (Incidentally, some pressings of this CD have the original order of the LP sides transposed for some reason. I recommend playing the tracks in the order they appeared on the black vinyl: 'Aqua', 'Panorphelia', 'NGC891' then 'Upland'. This is by far the most musically satisfying arrangement.)
The disc isn't particularly good value from a playing time point of view-just 45 minutes-and it isn't always of the hi-est of fi but most of the music is of such consistently high standard that it can be recommended without hesitation. I hope you'll give it a try.
on 21 May 2003
This is, quite simply, one of THE greatest ambient releases of all time. A glorious, ethereal journey thru the deepest primordial waters of oceans of innerspace to the most mysterious, far-flung regions of outerspace it stands as being both the perfect accompaniment to deep meditation or simply staring out of the window on a peaceful sunday afternoon. Mr Froese has succeeded in bringing a pure, transcendental alpha wave orgasm to to the ears of the fortunate listener with this veritable pillar of cosmic, aural ecstasy. In short, anyone with even the slightest proclivity to chill out for chilling outs sake NEEDS this album. Indeed, if and when the people of Earth travel beyond the stars and meet intelligent, extra terrestrial life then this album should become our planets inter-galactic anthem. Buy or die basically!
on 19 June 2013
Boring, repetitive, rubbish, waste of money, dirge, not actually music...... the list could easily have become exhaustive and over the years I've had to endure it all and more besides. The simple fact is that this was a ground breaking album and not many could get away with 17 minutes (title track) of water sounds gurgling around. Whatever, it works. What's more, even without headphones 'ngc891' is amazing but I'm still not sure what on earth the expanding head technology is. In fact who cares as the stereo effect is superb throughout. Like Tangerine Dream for best effect close your eyes and simply drift about. Very nearly gave it a five star rating and certainly would have were it not for Phaedra (Tangerine Dream) which is just in a league of it's own.