Jim Ottaway takes his inspiration for Southern Cross from the night sky view from his Gold Coast Hinterland, Australia, home. In trying to capture its beauty, he lays out an hour’s worth of pad-driven spacemusic, slow moving and broad in scope. While the album does not chart new stellar territory, it does a great job of describing these heavenly vistas while giving us an immersive journey. To some degree, this is a set-it-and-forget-it work, one that’s going to go about its business in quieting the space and setting you adrift whether you’re paying attention or not. When you do decide to tune in closely, however, you’re treated to well-woven layers of sound and effect, with a great deal of attention given to the use of small background sounds. One of the things I appreciate most about Southern Cross is that Ottaway doesn’t give in to going down the obvious spacemusic path. You know the one, where we start quietly, thrown in a roar of metaphorical engine noise, ramp up the tempo, and then shift it back down. It’s not here, and that’s good. Instead, we get deep, telescopic stargazing, the churn and drift of nebular clouds. The five main tracks, representing the points of the cross, Alpha through Epsilon, flow together well, with only slight pauses marking the move to each new track. I have tended to get so lost in the music here that it seemed like Ottaway had laid them out without actual end points. (Although I do find the ending of “Delta Crucis” to be a bit rough.) Alpha, Gamma, and Epsilon each spool out slowly across just over fourteen minutes, with Beta and Delta acting as brief waypoints of eight and a half and five an half minutes, respectively. By the time you’ve visited “Alpha Crucis” and “Beta Crucis,” you’ve been in almost half an hour’s worth of seamless drift. “Beta…” in particular comes in slow and amorphous, the refracting and shifting of stellar dust. Ottaway puts a slight warble into some of the tones here, a nice ear-catching bit of texture. “Gamma Crucis” brings a shift in feel, with Ottaway playing with ringing metallic sounds and, overall, a darker sensibility. Tremolo chords feel like ripples in the fabric of space, and long, low pads chart their course through the background. Toward the end, Ottaway shifts into territory that almost loses me. He goes a little science fiction-y with various bloops and swoops of the knob-twisting analog type. They’re fine, and it can be argued that they come at a point where we could theoretically use a shift in tone—for me it’s just almost too much. To his credit, if you listen closely, these sounds exist in small blurbs throughout the piece, and come to the forefront later. “Delta Crucis” carries the darker tone. At just over five minutes, I’m not sure it adds that much to the flow; the other pieces feel more like full expressions and explorations. The main voyage concludes with the very deep “Epsilon Crucis,” a track that merits its own repeat play. Close your eyes and let 14 minutes of very light pads just flow across you. Bright tones highlight a slowly developing melody, and the sense is just a blissful, coasting float accented with starshine. The album closes with “Southern Cross (Timeless Motion),” and in a nice choice by Ottaway, we’re given a subtle, constant drum pulse meting out a steady rhythm over more rich pad work. It acts like a nice “welcome back” after your long, deep trek out to the stars.
Southern Cross was my introduction to Jim Ottaway’s music. His catalog goes back to 2004. With this album, however, my interest is definitely piqued to hear more of his work. His spacey vistas are descriptive without being overdone or obvious. The album plays well at low volume, and offers a lot of interest in a deep listen. Take your own voyage out to the Southern Cross soon.
Available from Jim Ottaway’s website.