Echoes Radio September 2020 CD of the Month!
Echoes Radio #16 Album of 2020!
“A new Michael Stearns album is a rare treat, but teaming up with Norwegian guitarist Erik Wøllo is a move that was unexpected but makes exhilarating sense. Stearns crafts ambient landscapes for Wøllo to stretch out on his skyscraping, icily poetic guitar solos. I never pick a CD of the Month so far in advance, but who is going to release something better?” – John Diliberto, Echoes
01: TRIPTYK 10:12
02: RUINS OF THE PAST 07:34
03: THE WAY AHEAD 1 05:41
04: A SOLITARY PLACE 08:13
05: THE NOMAD’S JOURNEY 07:12
06: SOMEWHERE IN THE DISTANCE 07:12
07: THE WAY AHEAD 2 06:15
08: SUBTERRANEAN CANYON 06:42
09: THE HERALD 07:38
10: CIRRUS (POSTLUDE) 05:30
total time 66:44
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Soulful electronic sound-painting and evocative space music combine on Convergence, the debut collaboration between Norway’s Erik Wøllo and America’s Michael Stearns. Known for passionate soundtrack work on director Ron Fricke’s Chronos, Baraka and Samsara, Stearns collaborates with Wøllo on his first indie-label-released non-film-score since 2001. Together, these guitarists/synthesists weave a haunting and shadowy world filled with longing melodies and alluring glimmering sonic textures.
Convergence ranges from slowly-evolving contemplative and reflective tracks like “Somewhere in the distance” and “Subterranean Canyon” to hypnotically pulsing rhythmic movements in “The Nomad’s Journey” or the “The Herald.” The album is a subtle interplay between these two pioneering artists’ mystical and emotional sonic styles, developing an inner resonance of expressive reveries that venture into dark mystical terrain as the album progresses.
Erik says, “It became obvious when working with Michael that the music would reflect a very visionary and vast landscape. During the album sessions, I had a dream about the music and about an expedition into a totally unexplored endless, surrealistic desert-like territory. I travelled into an abstract zone I could imagine had never seen people before, yet there were still some traces of human civilizations. In it, the beauty of the present met the imagination of the past. There were dark and dangerous places too. Inspired by this dream, we named some of the album tracks for these visions. And it ended well; the last piece on the album is calm and melodic, reflecting memories of the travelogue that yields new, positive and open doorways.”
In 2018, Wøllo and Stearns performed solo headline sets at the B-Wave Electronic Music Festival in Belgium. At dinner the night after their momentous performances, conversation got around to merging their talents and working on new music — Convergence was born. Over a year in the making, Michael worked in his studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Erik in his studios in Hvaler, Norway. The album is a perfect blending of technology, music and emotion utilizing sophisticated electronics, acoustic and original instruments like the Kantele from Finland and Michael’s self-built string instrument “The Beam.”
Michael reflects, “The seeds of this collaboration were planted while I watched and listened to Erik’s performance at B-Wave. His set was an incredible blend of synthesis and live guitar. I was moved and thought, ‘Wow, it would be fantastic for us to create music together!’ I had collaborated with other artists before — Lisa Gerard, Steve Roach — but this was my first opportunity to blend with another guitar player (!) and an amazing synthesist too. After the festival, we sent each other photos from our teenage years as guitarists performing in bands. Amazingly we had begun our musical explorations at the same age in the same way. We began Convergence in the spring of 2019 with Erik sending a series of sketches, some rhythmic, others melodic. I worked with them using guitar, synthesizers and my scoring libraries. At some point, I sent Erik several sketches that were very atmospheric in nature. We shared audio files back and forth between Norway and New Mexico, and we would Skype to talk face-to-face about our ideas and progress. It was a great way to work, very different from scoring a film, where the collaboration follows the vision of a director and there are endless re-writes. Working with Erik felt more authentically creative, our musical personalities naturally finding a common creative ground like ‘Musical birds of a feather’.”
Convergence develops an inner resonance that is visceral, the masterful blend of these two pioneering artists’ mystical and emotional sonic styles.
Michael Stearns is an American musician and composer of ambient electronic music. He is also a multi genre composer, sound designer, and soundtrack producer. His credits include music for television, feature films, planetariums, theme parks, World Fairs, twenty-two IMAX films and nineteen solo albums. He has created music for NASA, Laserium, Disney Films, HBO, ABC’s The World of Explorers, 20/20, Ron Fricke’s non-verbal global film masterpieces Chronos, Sacred Site, Baraka and Samsara. His career began with electronic music releases in the late 70s; his landmark Planetary Unfolding came out in 1981.
Erik Wøllo is a Norwegian composer and musician known for spacious, evocative ambient music primarily using atmospheric guitars and synthesizers. He has composed numerous works for contemporary classical ensembles as well as pieces for ballet, theater, multimedia installations, and library music. Coming from a background of jazz and progressive rock, Wøllo began making music in 1980 but really found his own style with his 1985 solo full-length Traces. Since then he has released over 50 albums including collaborations with other noted ambient artists such as Steve Roach, Ian Boddy, and percussionist Byron Metcalf.
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Reviews Editor –
The album brought together musicians from far and wide – Norway and the USA. They met at a festival in Belgium, found interest in them, began to skype and send their creations. They were united by common beginnings as guitarists in rock bands, later keyboard instruments and works for film, theater and other social events. So, although multi-instrumentalists, they both used their guitar style a lot on this album.
You will hear 10 songs of very similar length, about six to eight minutes each. The longest is only the first called Triptyk. I wondered what the word might mean. It seems that the content of the album would suit its importance as a pass for a trip to foreign regions and back, as will be the case in the following songs. Wøllo starts with a typical synthesizer guitar and a bottom quivering surface. The perfect invitation to the fairytale realm of sounds. The elongated melody in the high tones slides into the depths after the fourth minute and rhythms in the middle of the song, before it starts singing a motif typical of Wøllo in the middle positions, and the Stearns guitar creates a rhythmic background. After the seventh minute, the two musicians begin to communicate and complement each other, intertwining with each other. It is still a kind of invitation to follow and a certain expectation.
This song is followed by Ruins of the Past. The composition is meditative, almost in the style of the new age. In a slightly swaying rhythm created by the synthesizer background. Then comes one of the shortest The Way Ahead 1. I’d rather call it On the Road, because the guitar creates a kind of walking rhythm all the time and the other complements it in the background. But the walk is not in a hurry, only powerful, it is enriched with other melodies.
Then you will hear the second longest song, A Solitary Place. Even this song is slow, again a bit new age, and has a kind of icy, Nordic feeling in it, which Wøllo certainly brought, expressing loneliness. This is also supported by a permanent drone of one tone, which introduces it. It’s such a chilling beauty. But that will change in the next The Nomads Journey. In tones, nature seems to bloom. Wøllo used the traditional Finnish zander kantele here. I expected more from his play, because I play the kantel myself and I know the color of its tones, but I focused more on the rhythmic background. Above him, Stearns conjured guitars.
And here we have the sixth song Somewhere in the Distance. It begins with a kind of rustling and a muted, almost choral, repetitive melody. In this uplifting spirit, the whole composition, enriched by other, powerful melodies, flows away. Then we have The Way Ahead 2 again. This time we walk bolder and faster, we probably already know where we want to go, so the song is instrumentally richer than the first version, especially towards the end. Subterranean Canyon is mysterious with its deep and veiled tones and I would say caution. They are sunbathing, sometimes groping.
The penultimate song of The Herald should be a business card as a bearer of the coat of arms, expressing the essence of the whole album. It really has its typical features – what each of the musicians brings together. They both compete in this powerful, dynamic explosion, ending slowly and reconciledly. The translation of Cirrus’s short, final song will probably mean a kind of cloud that flows slowly just like her.
This joint album is an honest compositional, interpretive and communicative work that will please and not burden any cumbersomeness. Its name Convergence expresses their musical encounter very well. Jiří Mazánek – 1/19/2022
reviews editor –
From Ambient Music Guide
Best Albums of 2020
Sharing the bill at a small European music festival in 2018 sparked an unexpected collaboration between these two artists – one American, the other Norwegian – who had never met, despite both having long and distinguished careers in ambient and space music. The resulting album Convergence is a successful marriage of Erik Wøllo’s melodic gifts and guitar innovations (though they are both guitarists) with Michael Stearns skills as a synthesist, multi-instrumentalist and panoramic sound designer. I think the reason it works so well – as one Bandcamp fan pointed out – is that neither artist is trying too hard. Fans will be able to spot the sonic signatures of one or both artists at different times, and the music never strays too far from what they do so exceptionally well – liquid, lush spacemusic with touches of tribal, rock and classical. In particular, it’s great to see Michael Stearns releasing albums again, a West Coast ambient pioneer with a substantial 80’s and 90’s catalogue but who in the last two decades has largely focused on commercial production work including soundtrack commissions.
As one of the founding fathers of the floating ambient genre, Michael Stearns can’t be accused of glutting the market with product, especially in the new millennium, but what music he does release really counts. It may be because his time is divided between soundtrack and television work and other endeavors. Even at that, since 1977 he has released over thirty albums, either solo or in collaboration with other like-minded sonic pioneers. Wøllo, by comparison, started his career in the early 1980s as something of an ECM style guitarist, but quickly moved into a more ambient guitar style and has been developing and perfecting that style in all the years since, now with close to four dozen releases to his credit, both solo and in collaboration.
Convergence is their first collaboration together, the ten tracks spanning around 72 minutes and covering a lot of territory, wherever their musical interests converge. Throughout the set, the contribution of both artists remain astonishingly clear, without any mistake, the synths (primarily Stearns) and guitars (primarily Wøllo) create a sonic envelopment of surprising clarity The opening cut “Triptyk” sets the stage, and is also the longest of the tracks at nearly ten minutes, with shimmering textures, colorful sequences and deep but bass subtle pulses and percussion offering a panoramic vista for Wøllo’s soaring guitar melodies. Far darker and mysterious, “Subterranean Canyon” follows a serpentine path, growing slowly and persistently through patterns of sinister and shadowy patterns. As with all of the tracks here, it makes a concise statement that never overstays its welcome, perhaps leaving the listener wanting just a little more. From a vast spectral summit. The aptly titled “A Solitary Place” builds powerful imagery from the summit of sonic beauty, flowing outward to horizons in every direction. “The Way Ahead” is presented in two parts separated by three other tracks, a rhythmic piece powered by subtle pulses, whispering wind and glistening starlight, the latter more evident in the second part. The power and majesty of Convergence is absolutely stunning in every way, and gets my highest recommendation. -Peter Thelen
From Galactic Travels
Top 20 for August 2020!
From Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END
Spacemusic is equally complex at all scales. The majestic arrangement of sounds, notes and forms, even the silences become evident only when the music is surveyed over its largest extent. Yet, on a smaller scale the tones and timbres also impress – as it is through the manipulation of this sonic material that this genre enables its practitioners to make their most profound expressions. The music of Erik Wøllo & Michael Stearns flows across spatial scales. As might be expected from these notable names, their collaboration Convergence (72’13”) is a harmonic match for all the enigmas of the Universe. Playing beyond you the listener, beyond now, this duo freely roams through the colorful depths of their imaginations. Achieving a beautiful dramatic cohesion Convergence shows how firmly each musician has grown into his own identity – which has been admirably interweaved into each composition. This album comes at us with the force and sophistication of high art, provoking questions, yet still works to shore up the spirit. Chords shift surely, gradually craving that which is just out of reach. Charmed melodies and delicate choirs signal vastness, as limber, lucid leads exalt through incandescent voices and strings. Between Stearns’ high-sheen synth-craft and Wøllo’s striking guitar artistry their ten well-honed tracks aim for smart production and continuity, for a sound that feels effortlessly theirs. Profoundly otherworldly, but always reassuringly human, Convergence occasionally gestures at the New Age, but then quickly reasserts the dreamy brilliance of its cosmic music credentials. Traversing a wider spectrum of emotions than is typically covered by the more technology-minded acts, Wøllo & Stearns present their atmospheric constructs in swaths of electronics and floating mists of harmony – in hopes of enlivening the awesome potential of the individual mind-space. By bringing something of their cosmos into our listening area, we may feel their message, and some measure of peace.
– Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END 27 August 2020
Echoes Radio September CD of the Month!
Michael Stearns and Erik Wøllo are a musical generation apart and live 5000 miles away from each other. They’ve only met in person once, at the B-Wave Electronic Music Festival in Belgium two-years ago. But they have convened to create the most epic and deep ambient album of the year, Convergence.
Michael Stearns is a legend of electronic music. He was at ground zero of the early 1980s California electronic music scene along with Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Richard Burmer and Kevin Braheny Fortune. His 1982 album, Planetary Unfolding is a classic of electronic and space music and his scores for Koyaanisqatsi cinematographer Ron Fricke include Chronos, Baraka and Samsara.
It was Planetary Unfolding that was among the albums that got Erik Wøllo, 12 years Stearns’s junior, to move from fusion guitar to ambient electronics. Beginning with Traces in 1985 he’s released a string of meticulously-crafted albums of electronic ambiences and searing electric guitar, including five previous Echoes CD of the Month picks.
Convergence is a journey, each track taking you through a landscape that Wøllo says came from a dream, but into which you can easily place your own visions.
The opening track “Triptyk” is a foreshadowing of things to come, a voyage, moving seamlessly through shifting motifs, minimalist patterns, and fluttering synths spinning through the stereo field. A long, sustained guitar line from Wøllo opens the track like a call from the Nordic wilds. Loops phase in and out, synthesizers one moment, strums of the Finnish harp called the kantele the next. It shifts into a sequencer pulse and Moog-like melody that seems to propel a vast ship out of gravity’s pull into space.
Organic sounds like kantele, hand percussion, acoustic 12-string guitar, cellos and more, merge and morph through electronic processes and synthesizers. Wøllo draws upon some of his 40 guitars, sometimes sounding acoustic, sometimes electric, and often processed beyond all recognition.
“The Way Ahead Parts 1 and 2,” almost sound like they arrived out of a Middle Eastern desert, with a plucked guitar that could be a cümbüş. Its cyclical theme takes us into a deep ambient landscape that slowly evolves into a western classical sound, with sampled cellos played by Stearns.
Much of this album has the vast, awe-inspiring sweep of Stearns’s Planetary Unfolding, but that sweep may be coming from Wøllo as much as Stearns. “Cirrus (Postlude)” opens on one of those epically arcing modes, but there’s also a plaintive, acoustic-sounding guitar melody peaking through the veil.
“The Herald” is one of the most energized tracks on the album, fueled by throbbing acoustic percussion from India, synchronized to a sequencer and a searing E-Bow solo by Wøllo. It climaxes with the classic thunder of the Beam, Stearns’s 12-foot long, metal fret board strung with 24 piano strings.
Another transformative and energized track is “The Nomad’s Journey.” Percolating electronic percussion turns into acoustic toms, surging forward, buffeted by swooping synthesizer like a storm crossing the desert, as Wøllo lays down kantele cycles.
This marks a welcome return for Michael Stearns who hasn’t released a proper album since Sorcerer in 2000, collaborating with Ron Sunsinger. His last proper solo album was The Storm in 2001. For Erik Wøllo, this is another in an unbroken string of artisanally-crafted albums since his 1985 debut. He hasn’t made a bad one yet.
Convergence is an album we need right now. Erik Wøllo and Michael Stearns launch you off the surface of the planet and into the vast expanse of space where Earth is a harmonious blue-glowing orb of promise, wonder and mystery. It is a true convergence of two 21st century master musicians. -John Diliberto