Offerings from the Ethereal Live netlabel fill a very interesting niche in the ambient/electronic realm: everything they put out is, as the name denotes, a live set. Many of these releases are straight from the board with little post-production, giving that interesting mix that live electronic music thrives on, that middle ground where pre-set pads and patches meet the in-the-moment spirit of improv. Symatic Star, aka Simon Walsh, presents two long live tracks on his first solo release, The Distance. The ride here moves from space-borne synth drifts and Berlin-esque excursions into the more experimental side of knob-twiddling, and Walsh pilots it all admirably. The first track, “Voyage to the Heliosphere,” is the more straightforward of the two, a familiar deep-space ride on drone-powered engines out in the void between the darkly shining stars. Just short of the midpoint, Walsh changes tone and guides the flow into grimmer, more minimalist structures. There’s a dead-ship feel to this passage, the sense of some hulking space-freighter and its unfortunately fated crew drifting out of radio contact. And this is where we stay for a good long stretch, hunkered down in this shadow-shrouded meditative state, listening to the hull vibrate and feeling the air run out just a touch with every new breath. It is pure atmosphere, perfectly executed. Walsh knows how to work the minimalism, drawing notes out and often keeping his layers shallow for full effect. The second track, “Beyond the Heliosphere,” is the more out-there of the pair, a stretch of modulation adjusting, knob-twisting sound sculpture that maintains an ominous overtone throughout. Of the two, this one feels a touch more spontaneous, new sounds birthing out of the mire at odd points and sliding back down, everything adding to the sense that All Is Not Well. All the choices speak to Walsh’s confidence at the controls. A rich abstract piece painted in a wide array of electronic colors, The Distance is a strong live performance, a work that’s a pleasure to go back into to take in all of the artist’s nuances.
Available from Ethereal Live.