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Steve Roach and vidnaObmana: The Inner Zone 2002 The English language has not yet produced enough superlatives to describe Inner Zone, by vidnaObmana, nee Dirk Serries, and Steve Roach. "Fantastalacious" has a nice ring to it. "Fantastalacious" it is! This CD has many different influences and is a bit of a departure from Steve's and Dirk's norm. There are certainly traces of the electro-tribal ambience that their fans expect. And there is more! This disc has echoes of Steve's work with Vir Unis, Dirk's recent solo efforts, pure space minimalism, desert ambience and deep atmospheres. It is, quite simply, a diverse effort with something for everybody. And it has traces of the electronic music symphony that Steve has been constructing and developing for years. His signature wash and swoosh synth timbres give it away. Each note has its own depth and character. The synth riffs are smooth and stunning. There are no holes, no missing parts. From, note one to note last, this is pure electronic enjoyment. And it gets better with each listen! (This CD coincides with the upcoming Projektfest/Gathering scheduled for Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia.) - Jim Brenholts
vidnaObmana , Tremor Release Records, RR6509-2, October, 2001 www.vidnaobmana.org www.releaseentertainment.com email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org vidnaObmana, nee Dirk Serries, is one of the most talented and prolific electronicians in our e-music community. His newest CD, Tremor, is the beginning of a new trilogy based on Dante's Inferno. Only the most confident musicians would undertake such a challenge. And it also takes someone with strong introspective capabilities. "Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost." That passage is from the first Canto of Dante's Inferno. Dante focused on our relationship with the devil. Dirk has chosen to translate that focus into a metaphor for the constant ebb and flow in our daily lives, like (topically and timely) the struggle between good and evil. (Quite coincidentally, Belgium's national television and radio stations chose an excerpt from The Surreal Sanctuary as the prelude to the European day of mourning. That was on Friday, September 14. The continent was mourning the tragic events of September 11.) This CD is one of Dirk's best. His multi-instrumental talents are in top form as he uses his flutes, percussion, synths and manipulations to create a deep sense of balance for listeners. Listeners will have to translate that sense into their own balance. Dirk is only a guide, not a director. Musically, this has everything that fans have come to expect from a vidnaObmana CD. Dirk's ethnic and tribal influences compliment his deep minimalism. His trance-inducing percussion carries the project forward. This is a worthwhile trip to the perpendicular universe. The irony is that Dirk fashioned it with a trip to the Inferno. - Jim Brenholts
Soundtrack for the Aquarium by Vidna Obmana Hypnos Recordings, 2000 http://www.hypnos.com “Vidna Obmana” (whose real name is Dirk Serries) evokes the sunless wet gloom of his native Belgium in this two-CD set which, as its name says, is music composed by Obmana as background sound for an aquarium installation. The first disc has seven sections of his atmospheric (or rather, aquatic) ambience, dating from ’92 and ’93. The second disc is also a recording from 1993, using some of the same material performed in Germany, according to the notes, at the (peculiar) hour of 6 AM.
Obmana stays with his familiar repertoire of long, floating electronic drone tones over percussion and sound effects. When he uses tonality, he favors ninths, elevenths, and fifths, intervals which could be considered his "signature.” Other sections use microtones. The watery ambience is constantly reinforced by the sound of rainstick rattles, recorded water sounds, the occasional fish groan or human voice, and of course the obligatory vast reverberation. This is quintessentially European electronic music, harkening back to the ring modulator and oscillator work done by Belgian and Dutch composers back in the ‘50s and ‘60s one could even call it, at this 21st century date, “traditional.” It has an autumnal quality, like a long, rainy day in November. It moves slowly, like waves of clouds, filling the listening room with audible mist, peaceful but chilly and very soggy.
HMGS rating: 7 out of 10 EER-MUSIC.com 8/2/01
The Contemporary Nocturne by Vidna Obmana (Dirk Serries) Hypnos Recordings, 2000 http://www.hypnos.com The Belgian surrealist Vidna Obmana returns with another album of eerie sounds which could be the background for paintings by Dali, Tanguy, or Vidna's countryman Rene Magritte. Here he presents eight very slow, deep-reverbed, drifting pieces using both electric and ethnic instruments. In many of the tracks he plays an Oriental flute, or a South Asian panpipe called a “fujara” which produces microtonal and untuned (to Western ears) tones. On other tracks, the more familiar sound of an electric guitar is stretched and draped out like one of Dali’s limp watches. Supporting all of these are his synthesizer chords, called “harmonics” on this album. (I believe that the description for Track 4, which reads “four harmonicas,” is really “four harmonics.”) In my opinion Obmana’s music has improved greatly since his association with Steve Roach (who plays an “E-bow guitar” on one track here). Obmana has learned not only the art of placing “floating chords” against more transient sounds, but has also learned to use more varied harmonies. He has also learned from Roach how to pace a piece, not too long or short. But Obmana has never been a “Roach clone” and this album is very definitely his own, especially in his use of dissonant, chromatic melodic lines. This last tendency is especially audible in track 5, “Mute Grief,” where minor seconds played on the Oriental flute are used to create intense emotional power, as if the piece accompanied visions of massacres and terrifying destruction. And yet Obmana is also capable of brightness and beauty, as in the track following “Grief,” called “Revelation.” This is the only piece on the album that has a human voice, ecstatic wordless overtone-singing over warm, major chords. But even in this relatively happy piece, there are still many moments of dissonance as other sounds, including more flute-playing, shift in and out. Though the first six tracks have a compelling power, the album in my opinion loses some of its momentum in the two last tracks, which are the longest, the 19-minute “The path downwards” (track 7) and the 15-minute track 8, “Infinity.” This last piece is borrowed from another Obmana album, The Surreal Sanctuary. If I had been the arranger on this album, I would have put the shorter and more comforting “Revelation” at the end, and kept the longer pieces for the middle of the set. HMGS rating: 7 out of 10 Hannah M.G. Shapero, EER-MUSIC.com 2/18/01
A renewed version of this review
also featured in 1999 issue of:
Crossing the Trail ~ vidnaObmana
(CD review for fAZE 3 magazine May 7, 1998)
release date: April 1998 http://www.vidnaobmana.org contact info: Projekt PO Box 166155 Chicago, IL 60616 USA Belgian composer, Dirk Serries, aka vidnaObmana has crafted a well polished, smooth stone that glistens in the river of Sound. His minimalist, trancewalk, dreamtime whispers on Crossing the Trail rates right up there with Steve Roach, Robert Rich, and Nik Tyndall, to mention just a few. In fact, Roach guests on this release having collaborated with vidnaObmana in past creations. Seamless, drifting, boundless, lilting, waves and rivulets of sound wash over you in the 69 plus minutes, that pass by in a timeless void. Seven journeys await you, each pouring into the next, "Encountering terrain" to "Trail dwelling" and into "Forest arrow", I hear a percussive, gently driven, trilogy, flowing from the headwaters of imagination to the broad expanses of vision. "Mission ground" glides you out onto a still lake of mists and ominous foreboding. That which pursued you in the first three pieces slowly draws near again, creeping out of the shrouded silence. Very tribal, very cryptic, very close but you elude them. They pass by unseen. Only insects in the edge of your mind can see you now. "The esoteric source" is, to me, passage inside a great Temple, the Hall of Records, spanning this tributary of Time we know as Life. Borges said, "Time is a river . . ." and vidnaObmana opens the ineffable gates of lucid dreaming with this piece. Cascades of memory echo as you pass through the dark-light portals. "The giant traveller" speaks to me of secrets now learned, we walk now in wisdom, unafraid of the darkness and the pace is our own. We have stepped beyond shaman, beyond fear and into the determination of Light. We are lucent beings and the serpents withdraw into shadows. We look down to see the jungles vanish beneath our feet. Gravity is behind us. "This splendid place" is the dimension of all our aspirations, now complete. Pain is past. Sorrow is unknown. Quicksilver, ebony dark seas caress the shores of the Overworld. Here is the land of the undiscovered way, the paths few trod, the pass through the snow-covered mountains on the edge of Being. vidnaObmana guides the soul in Crossing the Trail. vidnaObmana has learned his lessons well and offers a gift of thanks. -John W. Patterson, EER-MUSIC.com
This review featured in 1999 issue of:
Vidna Obmana: Memories Compiled2 (2CD, 143:31); Projekt: Archive 8 This European ambient synths composer is easily one of the best out there. I have heard many a so-called “ambient” work that just left me flat-eared and ennui-laden, reaching for the remote to switch discs. Not so for Obmana’s creations. They lightshimmer, wavesparkle, synthsing, heartecho, and braindrone just exactly the right mix of off-world and terrestrial brilliance. I must mention folks like Steve Roach, Jeff Johnson, Jeff Greinke, Richard Bone, Harold Budd, and Brain Eno. Obmana is influenced by or mirrors the best of these artists. This release is freshly sequenced and remastered earlier works of Obmana. Disc one is dubbed Near the Flogging Landscape and disc two is tagged Refined on Gentle Clouds. They cover an original recording period of 1989 to 1991. Experience a very cohesive feel and flow from disc to disc and hear a wide range of soundcolor and subdued sonic texturing. Put this collection on, be relaxed, and travel inner dimensions of wonder and vision. Many “soul-travel/stress-reduction” moments within, an inspired offering. ~ John W. Patterson, EER-MUSIC.com
Landscape In Obscurity by Vidna Obmana Hypnos Records, 1998 http://www.hypnos.com Listening to this long ambient album by Obmana is like gazing into a shimmering pool of water in a secluded shadowy garden. It is restful and quiet and it makes no demands on your tired mind. Usually I associate the Belgian Vidna Obmana with dreary hours of melancholy electronic droning but this piece by him has a much lighter, sweeter sound to it. Some of this is due to his use of flute and saxophone riffs, most of them electronically loop-repeated, by a pair of Italian avant-garde jazzmen, Capriolo Trifoglio and Diego Borotti. Another factor in this nicer sound is that Obmana has chosen to use a more “major” harmonic atmosphere rather than the “minor” or microtonal harmonies of his other works. Though there are a few accents of acoustic percussion, mostly delicate rattles, the greatest part of this long single piece (68 ˝ minutes) is composed of long floating notes, which extend off into endless waves of echoes. As a big reverb fan, this is pleasing to me. Flute and sax notes percolate through the echoing mix in a kind of slow kaleidoscopic revolution. There is hardly any variation in volume, complexity, or harmonies; the piece retains the same character throughout its length. As with all “true” ambient music, this is not meant to be listened to with undivided attention. It is the analogy of incense or fragrance, meant to add quality, enjoyment, and mood to an environment rather than demanding a full commitment. As such, Landscape In Obscurity does its job of filling the air with its peaceful, comforting vibrations, a welcome sound in the leafless frozen months of winter. HMGS rating: 7 Hannah M.G.Shapero, EER-MUSIC.com 1/22/00
True Stories by Vidna Obmana and Jeff Pearce Mirage Records, 1999 http://www.oasisproductions.com Vidna Obmana (the Belgian ambient electronic composer, whose real name is Dirk Serries) has been prolific in the last half of the ‘90s and into this new decade. I am happy to report that I like his new music more and more. This collaboration with ambient guitarist Jeff Pearce is a good sample of the newer Obmana style. Obmana has chosen his collaborators wisely, especially his longtime musical partnership with Steve Roach. I must admit that the reason I like Obmana’s music a lot more now, is that there is a heavy Roach influence in it. Roach has given Obmana a better sense of chord choice and pacing than he had before they worked together. Similarly, here with Pearce, Obmana must work within the sweet harmonies of the guitar, rather than depend on the gloomy atonal or microtonal tone-clusters that used to dominate his sound. True Stories advertises itself as a series of small-scale, descriptive pieces designed to evoke an unspoken narrative. Each piece does have a different mood, but in general this album epitomizes throughout its length, the “relaxation” kind of ambient music – not too scary, very slow, devoid of rhythm or annoying percussion, and made with “floating” tones that drift in and out of hearing. Though Pearce contributes to every track, the actual sound of his guitar only appears in some of the pieces.. These are not necessarily my favorites. I especially enjoyed the all-electronic #3, “Horizon of thought” – though again, it is very much in the style of Steve Roach, almost to the point of direct imitation. I also liked #9, “The open darkness.” Both of these pieces use more dissonance, which gives the piece a “mysterious” mood. The other pieces have a sweeter, more harmonious sound. One thing which I noticed about this album is that between most of the cuts there is about 25 seconds of silence; this is probably a deliberate choice of the composers, but it can be misleading as I began to wonder at some points whether my CD player was working correctly. I guess you must factor the silence in as part of the listening experience. In general, it’s a good experience. If you are anxious - try True Stories - it might just be the drug-free tranquilizer you need. HMGS rating: 8 Hannah M.G.Shapero, EER-MUSIC.com 5/25/00
AND NOW, TWO CDs REVIEWED TOGETHER . . .
The Surreal Sanctuary by Vidna Obmana Hypnos Records, 2000 http://www.hypnos.com AND: The Shape of Solitude by Vidna Obmana and Serge Devadder Multimood Records, 1999 http://www.multimood.com The Belgian electronic composer “Vidna Obmana,” whose real name is Dirk Serries, has been prolific in these last few years…perhaps TOO prolific. He’s released albums both by himself and with his longtime collaborator Steve Roach, as well as with guitarists Jeff Pearce and Serge Devadder. This proliferation of Obmana music inevitably leads, I believe, to a lessening of quality, or at least erratic quality. These two albums, in my opinion, show this irregular output of Obmana’s clearly. In the first and most recent album, The Surreal Sanctuary, he seems to be using not Steve Roach as a model, but Robert Rich – who, as far as I know, has not worked with him. The Surreal Sanctuary features many of the sound-motifs found in Robert Rich’s work, as exemplified by Rich’s recent 3-CD set Humidity: eccentric tonality (including the unconventional “just intonation” which is Rich’s trademark), wailing exotic flutes and voices, cavernous reverb drift, irregular, ultra-slow rhythms, and a general eerie surrealistic bleakness. In his True Stories done with Jeff Pearce, Obmana had to make his harmonies more conventionally tonal and “major key” to go with Pearce’s guitar style, but Obmana’s preferences have always seemed to be more toward the dissonant and atonal, and both these albums show it. Though there are some stirring passages in The Surreal Sanctuary, such as in the first cut, “Infinity” and the second cut, “Lamentation,” there are also long periods of toneless droning, or slow guitar twanging. The Surreal Sanctuary, when it is good, is sustained by its trance-inducing electronic intensity. When it is not so good, it is simply sleep-inducing. At any rate, this long (over 70 minutes) album will appeal only to hardcore fans of “dark ambient” or chill trance electronica. The Shape of Solitude, done by Obmana in collaboration with avant-garde guitarist Serge Devadder, is an example of the “erratic” output I’ve mentioned. Though it begins promisingly, with Devadder’s guitar tracing plaintive melodic lines in “just intonation,” it soon degenerates into a dreary mixture of aimless guitar noodling and electronic special effects. Anyone who has ever been to a Grateful Dead show will recognize this style as what the Dead produced during the psychedelic “space” interludes during their second set…meant to accompany the altered mental states of the audience. Imagine 56 minutes of this (rather than the 15 or so that the Dead used to do) and you have this album. Not that there aren’t some interesting mixes between modified or unmodified guitar, and Obmana’s icy electronic sounds – it’s that unlike Roach, Rich, and the Dead, there is no sustaining structure behind the music to make it travel along, and it just goes on way too long. The notes, some of them clear and some of them messy, drip and flow away in a great big virtual cave of digital reverb. After about the fourth or fifth track, I kept hoping that they would segue into “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” or some other Dead standard, but unfortunately, being Serious – dare I say, Pretentious – Europeans, they didn’t. HMGS rating: For The Surreal Sanctuary : 6 For The Shape of Solitude : 4 Hannah M.G.Shapero, EER-MUSIC.com 5/27/00
THE AMBIENT EXPANSE by Steve Roach, Patrick O'Hearn, Vidna Obmana, Stephen Bacchus, Vir Unis Mirage Records, 1999 Ambient music is above all a music of mood, an abstract sound rather than the conventional musical indicators of rhythm, harmonic progressions, and structure in time or tone. What makes ambient music good or great is where it takes you in your imagination, and how effectively it triggers inner states of mind. There is also a subtle musicality to ambient, when it's done by masters of the art. And Steve Roach, with his collaborators, shows once again that he and his team are indeed ambient masters. THE AMBIENT EXPANSE is intended to be a "five- movement collaborative work" rather than just a compilation of five different pieces by different artists. Therefore there is an underlying unity to the set, as well as a similar slow, stately pace. EXPANSE is well-named: it is an expansive, floating soundscape buoyed on vast swells of synthesizer chords. It evokes, as does so much work by Roach, the grand open spaces of deserts, oceans, or outer space. Here, because most of the chords are within the tonal system and either major key or modal, it is an almost always an ambient of light, rather than a fearsome darkness. Steve Roach and bassist Patrick O'Hearn collaborate on the first piece, in which O'Hearn's unmistakable bass work underlies Roach's familiar floating chords. If this is a preview of what Roach and O'Hearn have been working on for their collaborative album, I will be eagerly awaiting it. Vidna Obmana's "The Space In-Between," the fourth movement, is one of the best in the set. In my opinion, Vidna Obmana's music continues to improve year by year, and this is some of the best Obmana I've heard. He has learned to hitch his Euro-Wagnerian harmonic choices to a smoothly flowing, technical American sound, rather than aimlessly grinding about the way he used to do. Of all the pieces on the album, Obmana's is the most ambiguous, with hints of greyness and desolation among the pale clouds. The fifth and last movement, "The Eternal Expanse," belongs to Steve Roach, and is the longest in the set. It opens with an echo of Roach's recent "Dust to Dust," but it also looks back to other Roach ambient works such as "The Dream Circle." Unlike the other pieces, "Eternal" has some dynamic range, moving from soft to loud in big organ-like and almost romantic swells of sound. THE AMBIENT EXPANSE is not for everyone. Its lack of rhythm and trance-like quality are not good background music for working or driving. This is music for listeners who cherish space and silence; it is essentially a contemplative experience, designed not to incite emotion or passion but to lead into an inner world of serenity, to a state of what mystics might call "full emptiness." This review was first published in WIND AND WIRE magazine. HMGS rating: 8 Hannah M.G.Shapero, EER-MUSIC.com 10/03/98
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