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Oct. 27th, 2005 @ 08:33 am Mellow Stasis by Solyaris
Mellow Stasis by SolyarisIn ambient music criticism, one is often tempted to box the work under review into a sub-genre, so that it can be matted, pinned, and placed in some elegant butterfly box of the critic's devising; a curious form of styrofoam-bordered box in which the critically defined boundaries overwhelm the colorful and delicate wings of the ambient works themselves. Yet ambient pieces are not wikipedia entries, but breathing expressions of artistic vision. When one places the butterfly in the cyanide jar, the wings may be preserved, but the life is drained inexorably.

In "Mellow Stasis", Giorgio Robino, who records as Solyaris, tackles issues of melody and intonation with a style that is more "light" than "dark," more "space" than "tribal," and based on treated guitars rather than merely synthesizers alone. Yet all those defining descriptors fail to convey what it is to listen to Solyaris' work.

Solyaris creates shimmering melodic soundscapes, but they are soundscapes not confined by diatonic scales. He experiments with alternative intonations, with varations from traditional scales, and with a variety of electronica effects devices to achieve an album which is consistently technically interesting.

An album, though, is more than its production values. Rather than give some play by play explanation of perceived audio innovations and imitations, I'd rather describe the experience one gets from listening to "Mellow Stasis." Solyaris creates a work which is consistently quite listenable. The listener has the feel of "sounds rising"—in pitch, in the texture of sounds, and in the progress of each piece. The melodies are all accessible, but not all easy to pin down. In "Despair Dissolution," the sounds are liberating, despite the sombreness implied by the title, and yet one can hear the tonal variations which hint at darker things. In my favorite piece, "Frogs Fall from the Sky in the Magnolias' Dales," one gets a sense of transport, as if the piece seeks to take the listener from headphones to heaven.

The array of guitars used in this album builds a wall of sound which makes for a rich, full-textured feel to the album. Although some pieces are long, the work is never boring. There is some repetition of musical ideas among the pieces, but the effect is, overall, one of a series of inter-related pieces rather than of needless repetition. I found less than ideal the way that sounds tend to rise in pitch in some "stairway upward" effect, which I thought might have been leavened with more "movements down," to create a richer palette of sonic choices. Still, I found this album to be of consistently high quality, with solid production values, made by an artist with a sure compositional style.

Solyaris is a good choice for one who wishes ambient work more on the "light/space" side of the spectrum, although he should not be dismissed as merely another "space ambient" guy. This is music with a lightness of touch but a seriousness of purpose. His music will not appeal to all—those who prefer only dark dissonance might be disappointed in the somewhat more formalistic and fundamentally "light," modest tonal experiments underpinning this work. For me, though, the test is a simpler one—I enjoy putting Solyaris into the CD player, because the melodies he writes are interesting and not trite. On a Wednesday night before a business trip, that seems to me to be an accomplishment indeed.

Available from the Solyaris website.

Review by gurdonark.
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