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Multiple reviews follow . . .

Reflections in Water
by Stephen Philips
Dark Duck Records, 2002

        The prolific and creative Stephen Philips, the main drake at
DarkDuck Records, here re-enters the waters for another undersea-
themed album of liquid ambient. We've already visited the Abyss
with him (From Within the Abyss, 2002); here we are diving
through lighter but just as murky spaces. Philips uses bubbly sounds,
aqualung breathing, synthesizer drones, and electronic loops to create
watery textures, reminiscent of Robert Rich's work and what Rich calls
"glurp." Effects vary from loud rushing waves to soft drips; there's
quite a range in Philips' dynamics here, rather than just unchanging

        Though his notes are mainly microtonal, without clear
harmonies, the mood at least for me isn't particularly dark. It's
more exotic than spooky. In track 4 he adds some looping rhythms
which rise out of the slow-moving water to get a techno-"tribal"
beat going. This track also features harsher sounds than the
previous ones, and builds to a nice noisy ensemble sequence, after
which it sinks back into the glurp.

        Track 5, "Reflection," is at 18 minutes the longest on the
album, and here Philips (in my opinion) shows some influence
from earlier Roach and Obmana explorations in neo-primitive
percussion and looped rhythms. Once the rhythms fade away, you
are back in the watery depths for the end of this track and the
entirety of the last track, "At the Bottom," listening to what sounds
like electronic imitations of fish noises: barks, chirps, burps,
grunts. Altogether, Reflections in Water is a submarine
journey into a very wet, and wild, world of sea sound.

Hannah M.G. Shapero 12/24/02

Reflections in Water 2002 Stephen Philips Dark Duck Records Reflections in Water is a set of deep angst ridden minimalism from a master of the dark drone - Stephen Philips. This is some deep stuff. Stephen is exploring avenues of isolation and loneliness. In the void of loneliness, he finds heartache and pain. Deep listeners will feel the pangs of regret and the despair of aimless wandering as the organic textures envelop them. The music is not aimless. The journey is aimless with a purpose. The goal of such journeys is usually to cleanse the self by seeing and embracing the darker sides. Stephen's innovative techniques allow him to create organic soundscapes with few - if any - samples. His atmospheres are almost exclusively electronic. He adds some experimental sci-fi sounds to put this CD over the top. It is fun to be scared. This is a scary CD. Ergo, this is a fun CD. It is also a great CD, certainly among the year's best. - Jim Brenholts Stephen Philips and Numina, From Within the Abyss dark Duck Records, pre-release promo, 2002 Stephen Philips, nee Stephen Philips has been called the Western Hemisphere's drone king. Numina, nee Jesse Sola, is one of the most accomplished sound designers in new millennium minimalism. to have a collaboration between these two is an exciting and inspired concept. Congratulations and gratitude are owed to the originators of this pairing. From Within the Abyss is a set of subtle soundscapes and seamless connections. The organic pulse and foggy atmospheres have neither beginnings nor endings. This music has always been here and always will be here. It is ethereal and limitless. The drones and samples are perfect compliments to the drifting atmospheres. There are no overt rhythms and there is plenty of energy. This is a "feel good" CD. Deep listeners will be smiling broadly and peacefully. This excellent CD is due soon on Stephen's Dark Duck label. There has already been much greatness from Gaithersburg. Here's some more. - Jim Brenholts
From Within the Abyss by Stephen Philips and “Numina” Dark Duck Records, 2002 In the last few years Stephen Philips and his Dark Duck Records, based in Gaithersburg, MD near Washington DC, have become prominent in the American electronic music scene. Philips, his alternative musical identities, and his collaborators have released album after album of challenging and sometimes forbidding electronic ambient sounds. Now, with this album, Philips proves that he can also do “traditional” electronic ambient, and do it well. Most of From Within the Abyss relies on the standard ambient repertoire: long sustained notes, floating chords, and synthesizer-generated rhythms. Philips leaves behind the white noise roars, superlow bass throbs, and harsh clanks of the more “out” stuff and stays not only with clear reverberated sound, but conventional harmonies, and recognizable notes. Some of the slightly dissonant harmonies and sort-of-“tribal” rhythms are reminiscent of the Belgian ambient veteran “Vidna Obmana.” But the textures are characteristic of Philips: lighter and more minimal than the multi-layered “walls of sound” laid down by other well-known ambient artists. This is not to say that Philips ignores his more experimental side here. In track 5, “Surrender,” for instance, he uses loops and softer, non-harmonic, modified “industrial” sounds, while on track 7, “Into the Abyss,” (my favorite on the album) he uses what sounds like a slower version of one of Vir Unis’ “fractal rhythms” to speed the journey along. Philips’ “Abyss” is not a murky submarine trip like some of his other “dark ambient,” rather it’ s a smooth space ride, lit with clear radiance. Hannah M.G. Shapero 3/30/02
Cycles 4 by Stephen Philips Dark Duck Records, 2002 Prolific experimentalist Stephen Philips returns with another exploration of the extreme edges of electronic music, Cycles 4. This undivided piece runs for about an hour, taking the brave listener through spaces of submarine gloom and lightless depths. In the first half of the piece, there are semi-melodic elements of recognizable notes, moving against blurred, murky backgrounds. Echoing, repeated “ping” noises suggest the old-fashioned sonar on a submarine. In the middle of the piece, the notes fade off into industrial drones, spacey oscillations, and toneless humming. As Cycles 4 oozes into its last third, the sound bottoms out in throbbing, woofer-taxing sub-bass drones, ultra-low-frequency sound suitable for cetaceans in the depths of the ocean. Philips, in an ironically traditional gesture, reprises some of the “theme” notes of its early minutes at some points in the piece, including at the end. If you want an audible atmosphere for the abyss, then Philips’ Cycles 4 is your soundtrack. Hannah M.G. Shapero 2/24/02
Cycles 4 is an expansive long-form composition from Stephen Philips, the drone king of the Western Hemisphere. He augments that drone with drifting atmospheres and experimental computer sounds. This is a wild CD. it is not frantic, it is just wild. The notes are just there with no obvious connections. It is a confusing soundscape. And that is a good thing. This is not dissonance. It is organized confusion with a purpose. Deep listening is both difficult and rewarding. Listeners getting past the confusion experience the warmth and comfort of the other side. This is another essential CD from Stephen. ~ Jim Brenholts,
Stephen Philips: Desert Landscapes (CD, 73:36); Dark Duck Records, DDR 72 1998 E-mail: Cyberhome: If Steve Roach's Quiet Music or Structures From Silence era releases are exactly your ambient cup of tea, your preferred sonic sauna setting, or you just want ultra-restful, deeply, minimalistic synth structures and unimposing drones, (pause to breathe), then add this Stephen Philips creation to that certain area in your CD collection. Whew, long sentence, as if I were a word-drone-smith – now back to the review. "Dry River": Philips departs somewhat from Roachisms in adding some synth embellishings and textures that call to mind distant, higher frequency pulsars, dancing about in your head, as the muted chirpings of Don Slepian's stylings from his "Sonic Perfume" piece. Even a Nik Tyndall twinkling gestalt or that Wendy Carlos "Summer" shimmering-heat-feel can be "sensed". But Philips is no copy-cat in any way. I merely reference works and artists that seem to have influenced Philips somehow. In "Saguaro", the same overall flow and feel of track one is continued but Philips adds in some wandering, melodic flute-like "solos" or "calls" over the drones to break any sense of an insipid monotony creeping in. He maintains however a sense of broad vistas of endless "horizontals" and a sense of infinite featurelessness in any vertical dimensions. Your inner visions tend to be overwhelmed by distance versus spectacle. Philips captures "that great void" in this piece. There is no real beginning, no middle, and no ending in this piece – it just is. "Sonoran Lights": Well, if by now, any doubts remain as to Philips being influenced by Roach's Structures From Silence, this 29:10 track erases them totally. Yet Philips still manages to overlay signature Roach-deep-drone/ alien-synth, octave-roaming, "French Horn" with odd percussives that come and go in the background. Imagine some downed UFO's mechanic attempting exotic repairs before the U.S. military arrives. (And by the way, rumors still exist that an unidentified craft did do a nose-dive in the Sonoran desert in the same era as the Roswell enigma.) So there, you have it. About half-way into the piece, Philips returns to very sparse synth "soloing" and an increased presence of new synth textures hovering over the steady Roach-drone. But even that moment vanishes swiftly like morning dream imagery. Be sure to realize that Philips keeps this ubiquitous drone in an ever-evolving, swirling movement through octaves, echoes, calls, departures and resoundingly huge returns. It is very effective and in no way – just some synth set on some unimaginative loop mode. Philips keeps close watch here and an attention to effective details, though not readily apparent. I'd call this tourist alien ambience or being adrift on ammonia oceans of Jupiter. Philips has crafted a real winner here and an obvious tribute to Steve Roach. High recommendations. ~ John W. Patterson Personnel: Stephen Philips – all synths Tracks: Dry River, Saguaro, Sonoran Lights
Desert Landscapes, by Stephen Philips, is a homage to the Desert Southwest. It is three long-form compositions of expansive and atmospheric desert minimalism. It goes beyond desert ambience to a zone with no overt rhythms. Stephen's deep drones and dark manipulations explore the scarier sides of desert soundscapes. The liner notes issue this advice: "Warning: May cause drowsiness. Do not attempt to listen to this music while driving or operating large machinery." That is a wise suggestion. This music is best suited for deep meditation and contemplation. It is a worthy addition to any collection. ~ Jim Brenholts,

DREAMS 3 by Stephen Philips Dark Duck Records, 2000 Maryland-based ambient producer Stephen Philips is back under his “Deep Chill Network” imprint, with another album of slow, somnolent sound. Unlike “Deep Chill’s” earlier album, Heart of the Tundra, this one has more recognizable notes, sometimes even in conventional harmonic sequences like the notes of a major triad or fifths. But there isn’t any melody here, nor did Philips intend there to be. Almost all of this album is done in series of single synthesizer notes, soft and mostly low-pitched, sustained and flowing, without any rhythm or percussion. This is ambient in the original sense that Brian Eno, its inventor, wanted it to be: background music purely for the purpose of setting a mood, which would not intrude into what the listener was doing. The Eno influence is noticeable here. This album is “audible wallpaper,” and its mood is mild, though it has a few slightly ominous moments. If you are looking for “musical content” in this album, you won’t find it. What you will find is a soothing hour and a quarter of quiet sound, suitable for non-strenuous activities which require sonic serenity. HMGS rating: 6 out of 10 11/9/00
Yukon by "Deep Chill Network" (Stephen Philips) Dark Duck Records, 2001 Washington DC-area electronic artist Stephen Philips returns under his "Deep Chill Network" byline to bring us another album of dark, atonal electronica. There are four shorter pieces at the beginning, and then two extended pieces in the main body of the album. Track 1, "Cold Breeze," sounds quite appropriate with a hissing deep drone; track 2, "Ice Crystals," features water-like drips and glassy tinkling sounds. Track 3, "Droplets," is the only piece that has any kind of recognizable harmony, synthesizer tones which are accompanied by retro-electronic bleeps and woops. Track 4, "Harsh Reality," gives us a selection of metallic drones, swooping up and down in pitch, along with some zaps and high- low hums. All of these pieces are "over-echoed" with an echo machine which adds some extra drone of its own when it is allowed to run unchecked.

The next piece, "Isolated Depths," lasts about 26 minutes and is a big long drone affair punctuated by zaps and swoops, and interspersed with heavy pulse tones which are sometimes so low that they are hard to hear. The last piece, "Ominous Stranger," lasts just short of 30 minutes and is all drones, with less variety of sound and more extreme use of ultra-low pulses and click tracks.

This is certainly not "musical" in the conventional sense of the word; it has little rhythm and almost no harmony. It is definitely not for the casual listener or for an ambient fan who wants a relaxing "atmosphere." Its drones and sound effects are purely experimental, along the lines of many highly abstract types of electronica currently being produced in the USA and in Europe. And although Philips wishes to evoke the frigid wastelands of the North, I was more reminded of outer space and even UFO's by these sounds. The toneless low drones could be the sound of the engines of a futuristic starship; the buzzes, bleeps and clicks could be the language of some other sentient, but very alien, visitors.

HMGS rating: 7 out of 10 1/24/01 (read another review on Philips' Deep Chill Network)


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