The outward appearance of The Relic is that of a CD album, but its true origin extends back to the era of tape. The 1980s found Chuck van Zyl (and his many compatriots) recording Spacemusic and releasing it on audio cassette. During this span, Synkronos Music put out a trove of cassette releases, including Europa (1991), Ganymede (1991) and Io (1991) by Chuck van Zyl. Each held two side-long pieces of music, and continued a series of releases by van Zyl representing his enthusiasm for Astronomy and the Cosmos.
The music found on The Relic seems cerebral, yet feels emotional. Its meticulous sound designs by Chuck van Zyl portray humanity’s contemplation of space and all its mysteries. This album presents a range of themes and styles connecting the stars with the earth, and the head with the heart. Although the product of thoroughly electronic procedures, the sound throughout comes across as organic and human – and gives The Relic its evocative depth and dimension. Through sustaining chords and spacey modulations, enigmatic synth timbres move the mind of the listener to the outer planets. Complex tonal form and grand sonic structures provide tension and release, and draw the listener steadily through the two discs and eight tracks. Further in, excitement builds through dramatic key changes and propulsive percussion – only to wind down in motoring sequencer runs and reassuring lead lines. There is more to this music than just spacing out. Listening to The Relic should call forth a sense of wonder at The Universe, and the journey outward.
The Relic is considered the logical follow-up to Celestial Mechanics, and the continued effort to compile early works onto CD, and getting them out before the public – which is exactly what Centaur Discs Ltd of Scotland did in 1995.
That original CD edition has been out of print for some time now. But thanks to the Philadelphia based label industry8, The Relic is back, re-mastered and treated to modern audio enhancements, and a vastly improved fidelity. Housed in a limited edition, four panel double CD jacket, and adorned with vivid NASA probe images, it offers those interested listeners and collectors the opportunity to encounter the significant backstory to one of our community’s most unique affiliates.
Also included on The Relic are a track each from the Synkronos Music cassette releases: Facets (1991) – an anthology which featured the title track “The Relic” – and The Sound Museum (1991) by Xisle – and its spontaneous in-studio live jam between D Andrew Rath, Peter D Gulch and Chuck van Zyl called, “Beyond the Known Horizon” (now restored to its original length).
Inspired by space, the physical universe, and all of its intricacies, as well as by classic Kosmische Musik works from out of the 1970s, van Zyl realized the pieces found on The Relic as personal electronic odes – to the four Galilean moons of Jupiter, and the astral motions and mysteries of the solar system.
Clearly influenced by Rubycon, Tangram, Planetary Unfolding and Ancient Leaves, as well as by the direct mentoring of The Nightcrawlers (the NJ Space trio with which he was so closely associated), van Zyl found himself finally making music that, not only properly portrayed his cosmic yearning, but was representative of the restless, creative spirit which had inhabited him for so long.
New musical territory can only be discovered once, and Chuck van Zyl has built profoundly on his early music. But these works are but reference points in a field that is inexhaustible. As we listen to The Relic, we can feel this world of discovery still living on today.
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