Terra Ambient — The Gate
(Lotuspike LS-0001, 2004, CD)
by A Skeoch, Published 2005-09-01The name sums it up – spacious electro/ethnic/ambient soundscapes, complete with moody, Porcupine Tree-like architectural cover imagery. Terra Ambient is Pittsburgh based Jeff Kowal’s solo studio project, and The Gate his second album. It is published through Lotuspike, a collective label that also features releases by ambient musicians Ben Cox and Michael Allison. Jeff is trained as a graphic designer and visual artist, and this may inform his approach to tonal coloring and layering. He begins with cavernous electronic and (real) didgeridoo drones, ornamenting with Indian bansuri, Chinese pipa lute, overtone vocals and processed guitar, all put through a suitably humongous reverb algorithm. A diversity of (again thankfully real) mainly African hand percussion emerge and recede into the mix to provide a shifting, loose and atmospheric pulse. The music is fairly homogeneous throughout the album, moving fluidly from one soundscape to another, the journey remaining essentially in the same emotional place. The result is too dark for new age, but nevertheless remains safely within a tonal realm. Robert Rich is an obvious comparison, and Kowal credits Rich in his liner notes for friendship and counsel. This may point to my only small reservation with the album; it is understandable that artists may want to emulate their heroes, but personally I would like to hear more individuality, personality and imagination in this music, especially considering that is a second album. That said, this is hypnotic, spacious, and sensitively composed music that fulfils its intention of providing deep night spaces for drifting.
Related artist(s): Terra Ambient (Jeff Kowal)
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