CHUCK VAN ZYL: Spacetones (2019)
Updated: Feb 11
“The first 40 minutes are incredibly wild and throws a bit of shadows on the rest of this album where I just discovered a sequencer's virtuoso”
1 Spacetones Part 1 38:45
2 Spacetones Part 2 8:08
3 Spacetones Part 3 21:53
(CD/DDL 68:48) (V.F.)
(Berlin & England Schools)
As implausible as it sounds, I have never heard the music of Chuck van Zyl. This famous DJ from the equally famous radio program Star's End, which has been on the WXPN airwaves since 1976, is also a musician-synthesizer who has produced nearly 40 albums since the mid-80's. In solo or with Art Cohen for The Ministry of Inside Things, along with Andrew Rath and Peter Gulchfor Xisle, his music is mainly focused on long improvisations set which either visit the territories of ambient panoramas or those more animated of Tangerine Dream, the Peter Baumann years. SPACETONES is a second album on Groove and retraces the main lines of his concert at the famous E-Day festival in Oirschot in spring 2018.
It's an opening inspired by the Cosmos and these thrusts of wooshh filled with dusty particles that begins the journey of Spacetones Part 1. In fact, this introduction makes the visions of its title reflect in sounds. Dissonant, distorted noises and twinkling stars twirl in a sound maelstrom of a flowering also inspired by these sound spells of video games, as of these possible dialects with these inhabitants of the stars. Chuck van Zyl doesn't drag on this intro. From the 5 minutes exceeded, he throws the canvas of a rhythmic structure with a first jet of the sequencer. Two small bass pulsations stop the minimalist rush of a lively structure inspired by the Logos years of Tangerine Dream. In a pattern where the sequencer structures protean rhythms, the musician-synthesist from Pennsylvania thrills our ears with a solid almost 40 minutes of rhythms more often frenzied than passive. Another line of the sequencer adds a depth field which gives the illusion of a velocity, while the mass of sequence makes the rhythm almost heavier than lively. The American DJ continues to play with the speed of his rhythm structures which roll at an open pace by inserting a countermeasure, giving a new breath to the structure and to our ears. The solos arrive around 15 minutes with vampiric chants and layers singing with a supernatural tone. An atmospheric dead end forces the troops to withdraw from the sequencer, which makes undulating a single line around the 20 minutes, when Spacetones Part 1 is resourcing with a new tone which brings out arpeggios as limpid as drops of fire frozen by Cosmos. Teutonic percussions beat with more fervor in this phase which has become much more cosmic with a sampling of tones from the French School's cosmic years. Always very active, the sequencer sculpts lines of adjacent rhythms with lines of keys which oscillate innocently in the heavy rhythmic wrath of other piled up keys and whose mathematical jumps weave a nucleus of very opaque rhythmic heaviness. But during all this time, we are at the gate of 25 minutes, we have the impression that Spacetones Part 1 evolves in active permutation mode so that we neither see nor feel the minutes passed. The rhythm slowed down its infernal cadence past this point to change skins more than once without forgetting to insert ethereal passages with flute caresses. Spacetones Part 1 ends its intense rhythmic burst in these very colorful tones of its introduction which is wrapped this time with Mellotron layers from the Peter Baumann years. Solid from start to end!
After a nice interlude of cosmic atmospheres in Spacetones Part 2, Spacetones Part 3 opens our soothed ears with a big reverberating effect that continues to progress like the snoring of a machine that refuses silence by developing other sound themes that need of this reverb wire to survive. A pulsation, and its echo of two pom-pom, transits around the 3 minutes, modifying its sound axis and its course in order to sculpt the rhythmic protean birth of the 3rd part of SPACETONES. This one is less wild. The rhythm is pulsating, just like the landscape which breathes of these passive knocks from which the velocity resides in the flow of the sequencer which still succeeds in making very artistic antics with its lines of keys frolicking like giant rabbits in the land of dwarfs. It gives good impulses, less lightning than in Spacetones Part 1, and this translates into more static rhythmic patterns which oscillate adrift between a shower of asteroids and cosmic tones belonging to different interstellar tribes. The longest sustained rhythm phase is between the 10th and 15th minutes in a good Berlin School which fights another tonal charge to tie-up in with the sweetness of a mellotron lost in space.
I don't know if the universe of Chuck van Zyl is comparable to that of SPACETONES. If so, there will be catching up to do since the music here, and especially the first 40 minutes of this concert, is progressive and wild electronic rock that flirts between the borders of Airsculpture and Tangerine Dream. Amazing and stunning!
Sylvain Lupari (February 9th, 2020) *****
Available at Groove NL