2. Throwing Salt
4. A Shadow on the Shore
5. From Post to Palm
6. Distant Figure
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The lush ambient space music of veteran Bay Area composer Forrest Fang explores the tactile nature of sound. On his latest, The Lost Seasons of Amorphia, he brings electronically-treated Asian instruments such as gu-zheng, kim and Javanese gamelan to the fore, subtly complementing them with hypnotic processed electronics in a manner that evokes his explorative sensitivities. Over four decades, Fang developed a distinctive style deeply informed and inspired by his studies of electronic music, minimalism, and Asian traditional musics of Indonesian Gamelan, Chinese classical music, and Japanese Gagaku court music.
The compositions are varied in mood, perhaps reflecting the “seasons” lost when our states of mind change during especially difficult times (such as the current one). “When I recorded the pieces, I tried to avoid being expressly programmatic,” says Fang. “However, the ups and downs of this past year probably had an indirect effect on what I created, and these pieces were my way of making sense of what have been strange and uncertain times.”
On the opening twenty-minute track, “The Isle of Welcome,” warm ambient textures flow within its four continuous sections with treated electronics and acoustic instruments bridging the transitions between sections. The sustained orchestral tones of the introduction gradually give way to the percussive interplay between an Asian zither, electric piano, and layered synthesizers. The synthesizers provide a continuing sonic bed for echoing and gongs and a gamelan at the halfway point, and also complement the electric piano, strings, and sequenced electronic tones in the final section. “Isle” was composed for a special Thanksgiving show in November 2021 for the celebrated Philadelphia-based space music radio program, “Star’s End.”
The album continues with “Throwing Salt,” an evocative amalgam of contrasting timbres that combines the primal sonorities of a gamelan with soft electronic strings lingering in the aural space. A short interlude for zither and electronic drones, “Inlets,” follows.
A moody and quiet foreboding prevails on “A Shadow on the Shore.” Airy and ephemeral synthesizers and processed field recordings slowly dissolve into a darker droning cloud of horns. Out of this season of darkness emerges a brighter sonic tableau in “From Post to Palm.” Violins and flutes are accompanied by hypnotic polyrhythms and ostinatos from gongs, hand percussion, metallophones, organ, and processed strings. The flutes are performed by veteran progressive musician Dave Newhouse, who also guested on Fang’s 2018 release, Scenes From a Ghost Train.
The ebullient atmosphere of “From Post to Palm” is soon replaced by the mysterious calm of a quiet and hypnotic “Distant Figure.” This interlude features shifting electronic drones, processed environmental sounds, and a faraway electric piano. The album concludes with “Urchins,” sequencer-based space music that gently undulates and gradually recedes into the night.
The Lost Seasons of Amorphia is a classic Fang release. Its ethereal atmospheres are grounded in primal Asian instruments that seek balance in the sometimes unpredictable darkness and light of our interior seasons.
Reviews Editor –
From Darkroom Magazine
New album for Forrest Fang, released last November. As usual, this author generates large environmental panoramas starting from both acoustic and electronic means, going to use in this case some highly sought-after and folk instruments from the Asian area to reprocess them with electronic support. Everything is connected to the “seasons” in which mental states change, also and above all going through moments of difficulty. The effect is airy, spacious, tending towards ancestral and distant panoramas that are colored by unknown worlds, relating to the “Asian” tones emitted by the instruments used. With the exception of the very long opening track, which was composed for a special occasion in 2021 (almost a programmatic summary of the entire album, played on piano laps combined with sinuous drone carpets), the rest of the album gives a fair space to Asian tonal drifts, supported by synthetic carpets that have always been a Forrest Fang trademark. Undoubtedly a well-crafted work that carries with it all the artistic characteristics of this composer, although there is a tendency to repeat itself, displaying a majesty that is predictable and pleasant for all who love this author. With the exception of a more instrumental touch which is evident not only from the refined tones, but also from the more classic piano and violin, the impression of deja-vu reigns throughout the disc, certainly not diminishing its goodness, but highlighting patterns that accompany the act from various works to this point. Fans won’t be disappointed. Contained in the four-panel digipak package with the inevitable undefined artwork. -Michele Viali
Nuovo album per Forrest Fang, uscito lo scorso novembre. Come di norma, questo autore genera grandi panorami ambientali partendo sia da mezzi acustici che elettronici, andando ad utilizzare in questo caso alcuni strumenti di area asiatica altamente ricercati e folklorici per ritrattarli col supporto elettronico. Il tutto viene collegato alle “stagioni” in cui gli stati mentali vanno a cambiare, attraversando anche e soprattutto momenti di difficoltà. L’effetto è arioso, spazioso, teso verso panorami ancestrali e lontani che si colorano di mondi sconosciuti, relativi ai toni “asiatici” emessi dagli strumenti utilizzati. Ad eccezione della lunghissima traccia d’avvio, che fu composta per un’occasione speciale nel 2021 (quasi un sunto programmatico dell’intero album, giocata su giri di piano uniti a tappeti dronici sinuosi), il resto del disco dà un discreto spazio alle derive tonali asiatiche, sorrette da tappeti sintetici che sono marchio di fabbrica di FF da sempre. Indubbiamente un lavoro di buona fattura che porta con sé tutte le caratteristiche artistiche di questo compositore, sebbene ci sia una tendenza a ripetersi, sfoggiando una maestosità prevedibile e piacevole per tutti quelli che amano questo autore. Ad eccezione di un tocco maggiormente strumentale che si evince non solo dai toni ricercati, ma anche dai più classici piano e violino, l’impressione di deja-vu impera in tutto il disco, non certo sminuendone la bontà, ma evidenziando schemi che accompagnano l’act da svariati lavori a questa parte. I fans non rimarranno delusi. Contenuta la confezione in digipak a quattro pannelli con immancabile artwork indefinito. -Michele Viali
Reviews Editor –
From Audion #73
Always an impossible talent to fully fathom, the Asian rooted California Bay Area musician Forrest Fang has constantly been seeking out new ways of expression ever since his earliest more contemporary classical roots. Here, making use of a gu-zheng (a Chinese plucked zither with a distinctive sound) and elements of Javanese “Gamelan” styles, The Lost Seasons of Amorphia tends to run in the direction of some Stephan Micus or Laraaji, but with lots of synthetic elements that take it beyond those realms, amounting to a music that’s largely rich, polished and vibrant. -Alan Freeman
Reviews Editor –
From Chain DLK
Even if not fully covered by the majority of music-related mainstream media, Projekt records, the legendary label founded by Sam Rosenthal (the man behind the curtains of the well-known dark wave band Black Tape for a Blue Girl), is super active and keeps on releasing a lot of awesome stuff both from big names of the electronic music scene and new names. Forrest Fang definitely belongs to the first group. Younger readers maybe don’t know his name, but the way this Los Angeles-born composer forged his very personal interpretation of electronic world music along the 90ies is undoubtedly one of the more interesting. His first albums were perhaps excessively influenced by European electronic progressive music (some shades of musicians like Mike Oldfield and Jade Warrior are clearly recognizable) and Terry Riley’s minimalism. Possibly the eureka moment in his artistic path was the artistic meeting with Zhang Yan, a master of gu-zheng, a Chinese zither, who also introduced him to Oriental philosophy besides some compositional techniques. Her teachings strongly influenced Fang’s first proper masterpiece, The Wolf At The Ruins (1989), whose impressive combination of acoustic and electronic sounds and the function of percussive elements (typical in Oriental music), that seem to lead melodic lines in spite of being a mere accompaniment, was so amazing that is one of the album that I keep recommending when someone asks for a list of world-music suggestions. I really invite exploring the long path by this discreet composer, but in the meanwhile you can enjoy his last album on Projekt.
Apparently the first brick of The Lost Seasons of Amorphia – a title that could be perfect for a fantasy saga – was the 22-minutes lasting overture “The Isle of Welcome”, coming out of a commission from Chuck Van Zyl’s space music radio program, where a placidly sumptuous electronic suites can be thought as a homogeneous ocean of frequencies, where Forrest gently release entities and sequences of what sounds like a (supposedly sampled) Taishogoto (a kinf of Japanese harp) together with lowered tones of some metallophonic or maybe a gamelan of his wide collection to ripple the flow. The reason I mentioned The Wolf At The Ruins is not casual at all, as the role of percussion over the following bricks of this ascending constructions by Forrest is closer to the one I briefly described, and this is clear since the following track “Throwing Salt” – whose lines are led by what sounds like a Balinese Kegdang, but also the ones where there are no proper percussion, the dynamics of strings drifts the entire flow (as it happens on the entrancing “Inlets”. I let you discover the other parts of this awesome release, but I can’t close this review before thanking Forrest Fang’s to unblock one of my nicest video gaming memories by mean of the hypnotic track “From Post to Palm”, which immediately made me think of nocturnal infinite gaming sessions on “Ballance” and its paper/wooden/metal ball driving on impossible tracks suspended in likewise impossible skies! Have a try! Rating: 4/5 -Vito Camarretta
Reviews Editor –
From CD Hot List
Joint review for Erik Wøllo The Shape of Time and Forrest Fang The Lost Seasons of Amorphia
Two recent releases from the venerable Projekt label showcase very different approaches to the general category of ambient music. Norwegian composer Erik Wøllo’s album The Shape of Time reflects his contemplations of how time works on both the planetary and the personal/psychological levels. There are choir sounds, swirling textures, and the creation of the kinds of enormous sonic spaces that the album’s title and theme would suggest. As with all good ambient music, it’s attractive and quiet but never cloying or saccharine.
Forrest Fang takes a different approach: his music is based on a fusion of electronic and acoustic instruments, and draws on influences as disparate as Japanese gagaku court music, Indonesian gamelan, and Chinese classical composition. Fang’s music is more minimal, with less harmonic movement; his pieces tend to hover in place rather than drift in a specific direction. “Inlets” uses a hammered zither in a hypnotic way that evokes Laraaji’s 1980s recordings with Brian Eno, while other tracks hint at the phasing processes popular with 1960s minimalists. Both albums are richly rewarding and recommended to all libraries.
Reviews Editor –
From Synth & Sequences
“Enigmatic, dark and lyrical, there is emotion to the square inch in this Fang CD”
What an enchanting title! And unlike its title, which can be interpreted by different ways, the music of The Lost Seasons of Amorphia is anything but amorphous. For Forrest Fang, the 69 minutes of this new album offer moods modulated by the different levels of intensity that inspire them, depicting those long moments, those seasons lost in the latest planetary upheavals. And the music breathes all these contrasts with atmospheric phases that are conducive to meditation, even in these phases tossed of stationary jolts. The Chinese-American musician extends the arsenal of his know-how with textures and layers of hand percussions and oriental stringed instruments from which the beats and the plucks sparkle with a thousand sonic reflections in the apathetic heaviness of synth layers with their slow, buzzing reverberations. Enigmatic, dark and lyrical, there is emotion to the square inch in this The Lost Seasons of Amorphia.
A rich, evolving track that flirts with the 22-minute mark, The Isle of Welcome was composed on the Thanksgiving evening in the fall of 2021 for Chuck van Zyl’s acclaimed Star’s End radio show. Its opening is woven with orchestral layers that float and drift with emotional fluctuations. The texture is semi-granular with barely audible vocal effects, as does the piano that crumbles its musings in a rather melancholy mood. The opening slides until it meets a fusion of piano and Asian zither about 40 seconds into the 3rd minute. The notes follow each other in an alternating pattern, creating a cascade that shapes an ambient rhythm structure. The string instrument makes also drift arcs of Chinese melodies, while the orchestrations weave a vision of repressed passion and assumed melancholy with tender weeping of a nostalgic violin in the background of this cadenced cascade. A third mutation of The Isle of Welcome occurs a little after the 10th minute, offering an atmospheric passage linked to tender orchestral moans on reverberating waves of a synth that fills the scene with a sibylline vision. Its droning irradiation serves as a bed for a duel between gongs and gamelan percussions whose sparkles weave a feast of scintillations under the muffled bites of a bass layer. Here again, the rhythm is meditative. It subtly transforms itself in a troubled passage that densifies with a heap of synth layers whose tenebrous texture ends up enveloping a structure of tinkling and/or percussive chords, freezing between our ears and for the pleasure of our neurons the trot of a distant and fascinating sequence of ambient rhythm.
Speaking of trotting, this is how Throwing Salt starts a delicate and improbable lullaby. The percussions, which sound like opaline arpeggios, eventually weighs down its hypnotic step to a slow and rather heavy ascent under a pile of synth layers and waves. Their textures, always dark, give the impression of wanting to drown this cadence which wanders between a circular and ascending vision. But no matter, the music, with its haunting harmonies, sparkles with a thousand sonic brilliance with this mix of gamelan percussions and other string chords in a magnetizing whirlwind of sounds that lazily rotates so that one can admire the many contrasts of its tonalities. More fluid, From Post to Palm offers an equally beautiful texture of melody that chimes with a Sino-Amerindian tribal rhythm. The orchestrations float like silk veils and the Chinese violin is delectable in this beautiful, exhilarating and melodious track. Moreover, Dave Newhouse, whom we heard on Scenes From a Ghost Train, plays the flute. What are the instruments that make up the stationary dynamism of Inlets? Unlike Throwing Salt, the structure relies on a set of brightly plucked string instruments with dancing prism tones which are swirling in a lively and yet stationary flow. As the track progresses, a moiré percussive texture is heard in its background. I imagine there a fascinating Chinese shadows choreography on this track that could easily make a Cirque du Soleil dancer-acrobat twirl. Beautiful and striking! With its huge shadow of iridescent and iodized particles that glitter in suspension, A Shadow on the Shore admirably bears the meaning of its title. This long linear mass of sounds exploits a deafening texture, sounding like dozens of voices walled up in nothingness, which roars as if driven by tornado tentacles filled with grains of sand. It’s heavy and murky with a mesh of various percussive elements (gongs, gamelans, and the like) whose tinkles fizzle under dark axes of caustic drones. Although the winds howl with force in Distant Figure, the music is slightly less dark with piano chords that melt into nature samplings, I hear like a flowing stream. A short and beautiful moment of meditative moods before our ears wake up to the fabulous Urchins. A first tinkling weaves a line of sparkling reflections, opening the door to an undulating and ascending movement that a sequencer forges in ambient Berlin School mode. Soberly dressed keyboard chords sparkle alongside the rhythm, creating two adjacent structures where rhythm and its melody merge in a pleasant meditative texture. Its envelope is woven in this haze of cosmic orchestrations that evolves more and more towards our ears, quietly distancing this sequence of rhythm that ends one of Forrest Fang’s very beautiful albums. Rating: 4.5/5 -Sylvain Lupari
Reviews Editor –
Amorphia is a state of having no defined shape or structure, which may be referring to what we’ve all been going through for the last few years. Forrest Fang seems to have his finger on whatever it is in a musical sense, as the seven tracks at hand float into the consciousness and exist there with no defined structural reality; yet they are warm and beautiful edifices that a listener can find themselves within, a shimmering dreamworld of sounds if you will, where ideas stretch out and blossom freely. With the exception of some massed flutes on “From Post to Palm” played by Dave Newhouse, all off the sounds herein were created by Fang on his veritable arsenal of instruments, not the least of which are synthesizers, violins, and various Asian string and percussion instruments (gamelan, gongs, zither, hand drums, bamboo bells), those possibly being of software origin, but no less wonderful than the real thing. Worth noting is that these instruments don’t appear in their traditional setting, but as members of a dreamy orchestra in a completely new world of Fang’s creation — even the synths and electronics bear little resemblance to the standards that one might expect, save for the closing track “Urchins,” which is the only sequenced piece in the batch. “The Isle of Welcome,” a sprawling twenty-two minute multi-part epic, opens the set, wandering through different portals that nearly blend together seamlessly into a large forest of ambient sound, pierced by melodic beauty and scintillations, occasionally interrupted with more robust defined elements to carry the listener forward to the next section.
At times the sonic density is almost overwhelming — one could listen to a segment of this piece over and over and continually discover previously hidden details. With “A Shadow on the Shore” the tone is more elastic and introspective, but no less beautiful, borne of muted patterns and multiple layers of gongs as the piece proceeds. Bells, deep hand drums, gamelan, and mystical reverberations all combine to entice the listener into unfamiliar worlds on “Throwing Salt.” Bamboo bells create cloudy atmospheric shimmer at the opening of “Distant Figure,” an opening to a mysterious ambient world. Without getting caught up in comparisons to previous works, Fang seems to outdo himself with every new release, and The Lost Seasons of Amorphia is definitely an immersive adventure that a listener can easily get lost within. -Peter Thelen
Reviews Editor –
From Star’s End
Forrest Fang treats the mind as an area of activation – a dense meaning-space where each of us experiences subjective reality. Exceptionally rendered, his The Lost Seasons of Amorphia (68’48”) offers an encounter with some superior realm of the psyche. Intricately balanced, invariably surprising, in a density of detail Fang plays the music of the world he knows. From lulling dreamscapes and somnambulant bliss to the vigorous whorl of sharply conceived moments his studio and its implements provide plenty of room for inventiveness. Each of the seven tracks seem like a drama unto itself. In an abundance of color and presence the sounds and notes tell us something about the space they are resounding through. Sensuously swollen shapes recede into a soft-focus mood under points of starlight clustering in vastness.
Measured and finely modulated, scene after scene are calculated to colonize the listening mind. Some will hear melodies in the dancing, pulsing rhythms – as seductive percussion runs shift the shape of the palpitating drive – while others will be more attracted to the explorations of fabric and form, structure and tonality, timbre and pacing. In a unique intermingling of acoustic instruments and those more overtly electronic, patterned compositions float along an arc of lustrous synth tones and gently resounding gu-zheng, gongs and gamelan. Pushing through a dreamy, verdant realm we recognize this album’s sheen, unanimity and teeming complexities. So where does this music really come from? Is it from a region to our North, South, East or West? Is it from another world? …or from the future? The Lost Seasons of Amorphia is alternately dark and intense, dense and impenetrable, gentle and delicate, and ultimately conjures an atmosphere under which the truth of the composer is briefly known – as Forrest Fang continues to beautifully reveal himself to us one album at a time. -Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END