Steve Baltes: Bochum Sky (2014)
Updated: Jul 26, 2019
“Here is a nice unexpected surprise where retro Berlin School gets mixed to a kind of dance music intoxicated of sonic elements which are at the threshold of the psychedelism”
Member of Ashra during the 97 tour and partner of Harald Grosskpof in Sunya Beat and Holo Syndrome's albums as well as in the too good Vier Mal Drei in 2001, Steve Baltes goes his own sweet way through the roads of EM by bringing with him his mastery for rhythms and keys into diverse musical projects introduced by other artists. He proclaims himself, rightly, as being a musician at the service of others. And in each project where he puts his collaboration, the music breathed of rhythms and arrangements just as much lively as harmonious. The roles are inversed for BOCHUM SKY! Steve Baltes has rather answered to the invitation of a friend in order to participate at the Sound of Sky event, set up by Stefan Erbe, which took place on July 13th, 2013. For the occasion he had to composed himself and performed three long musical acts strongly impregnated by the model of Ashra with structures of rhythms flirting between space funk and cosmic techno and which dissociate themselves from their shadows in order to flow in opposite directions. It's a first album in 14 years, either since Rhythm of Life, for Steve Baltes. And let's just hope that it won't be that long before we hear from him again!
Hollow winds which hoot and others more metallic which squeal! It's with a dense thick cloud of shrill scarlet tones that he decides to draw our attention. The intro of this long first act of BOCHUM SKY is very realistic of an interstellar sky where comets, stars and sedimentary residues whistle, rumble and throb in a din that scratches a bit those very helmeted ears. Bells, small bells and carillons flutter and tinkle in these winds where are hiding the first pulsations of Bochum Sky I which throb as much weakly as slyly. Subtly, the dance of the bells turns into a movement of sequences which makes its keys scintillate in this static storm where tears of synth ooze throughout a dense noisy panorama. The movement of sequences is gamboling on the spot, beneath the bites of the whooshes and of the noisy sonic serpentines. Little by little Steve Baltes spreads his electronic canvas which clears up a little after the point of the 8 minutes. We are seduced by this minimalist dance of sequences which is whipped by the banging of electronic percussions. The pulsations remain placid and the synth winds calm their intergalactic anger with more astral waves. Bochum Sky I get softer. Skipping in a wide hypnotic circle and adorned of fine dreamy arpeggios, the rhythm is nibbled by percussions which pound with more vigor than the sequences are skipping. Sequences that detach their shadows to increase a pattern of motionless rhythm that is always hypnotic and that enters its 3rd phase with a more funky, a more abrupt structure around the 15th minute. We are in the lands of Ashra, the guitar of Manuel Gottsching or Lutz Ulbrich in less, and where techno and funk clinch their cosmic flavors under a sky multicolored of electronic effects. The hypnotic movement of the sequences gets lost in electronic percussions and in bass bumps of which the symbiosis shapes a livelier parallel rhythm. And the whole thing becomes punchier. We draw an obvious parallel with the sequencing universe of Chris Franke while the rhythm is skipping in cosmic electronic elements for about 20 minutes, before crossing a more ambiospherical phase. Bochum Sky I enters in its 4th phase with an even more lively structure of rhythm. A curt rhythm fed this time by organic keys and by lively beatings where the tears of Oliver Franks' guitar get lost in synth lines a little more spectral. And quietly Bochum Sky I reaches its finale that is decorated by dialogues and electronic elements, reminding to all that the sound universe of Steve Baltes likes to cross the borders of time and of genres.
More accessible, and clearly more musical, Bochum Sky II also extricates itself from a dense cloud of noisy radio-activities before offering a superb movement of sequences which brings us back in Tangerine Dream's Flashpoint era. The jingle of the percussions is machine-gunning this bewitching circular rhythm. Percussions which become more incisive and, with the help of the bass pulsations, redirect the axis of the rhythm which bickers in this change of skin before going in a nice symbiosis. The approach of Jean-Michel Jarre's kind of cosmic dance music breathes in this track constantly pecked by iridescent lines and by electronic gurglings. The airs of the flutes let nibble themselves by the charms by these organic pulsations, spreading all the paradoxes and the nuances inside this surprising sonic saga that is BOCHUM SKY. And with its finale clearly stronger than on Bochum Sky I, and where the synth solos remind of the complex charms of EM harmonies, Bochum Sky II loops the loop with a return to basics where its introduction was flooded by an opaque veil as ambiospherical as ambiosonic. A finale and an introduction that are absent of Bochum Sky III which ends this new album of Steve Baltes with a softer, a dreamier approach. The rhythm is delicate. The percussions start the dance of meditation where the knocks of the grumpy pulsations disturb at no moment a serenity wrapped up in tears and sighs of the synth. Oliver Franks' guitar scatters its melancholy while a soft movement of sequencer reminds us the structures of rhythms in constant opposition of BOCHUM SKY. It's a beautiful piece of music and a soft moment which little by little awakens its appetite for more swiftness. An always peaceful swiftness that will reach the nirvana of meditation more than excitement, ending so a concert and an album where the contrasts, both in rhythms and ambiences, are what there is of the most attractive.
BOCHUM SKY is a nice surprise. With a superb dexterity for pattern of rhythms in constant evolution and opposition and for atmospheres fed on contrasts, Steve Baltes presents an album where the borders of Ashra flirt with the hypnotic movements of the retro Berlin School. Our ears are full of tones and totally fascinated by this immense sonic mosaic that is certainly the anchor point of this album where the minimalist structures are used as bases to an impressive sound arsenal full of nuances. Despite some lengths in intros, unless we are a fan of intense sound scribblings, BOCHUM SKY remains a good album where dance music gets intoxicated by tone elements which are at the threshold of psychedelism. A very solid opus that will inevitably make us dig in Ashra' discography, or Harald Grosskopf's one, so much the musical winks abound.
Sylvain Lupari (April 14th, 2015) *****
Available at MellowJet records shop