c o n t a c t   p o i n t   r e v i e w s


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c o n t a c t   p o i n t

The Philadelphia based Spacemusic duo The Ministry of Inside Things exist outside the confines of the recording studio and in the realm of live performance. As MoIT, Art Cohen (guitar) and Chuck van Zyl (synths) continue a tradition of bringing an otherwise methodical studio based artform out into the spontaneity of the performance environment. CONTACT POINT, their second live release, feels warm and earthy compared to their debut double CD set Everlasting Moment. While their earlier album explored the edges, dynamics and tension of space and atmosphere, CONTACT POINT presents the more unified themes of cosmic, biospheric and macrocosmic interaction. Through the use of environmental field recordings, drifting melodies and soft sonic textures set against submerged drones, billowing sequencer patterns and breezy guitar and synth lead lines, Contact Point depicts the mystery and beauty of telluric ideals. While their music touches on many of the hallmarks of Berlin-School Spacemusic, MoIT brings their own influences and innovation to the process. The result is a sound that is uniquely individual. Music from CONTACT POINT has been drawn from several live performances and features definitive concert versions of classic MoIT pieces such as "Fortescue", "Serenity Cove" and "Nightscene". The disc plays for about one hour, easily flowing through a variety of themes, moods and styles of Spacemusic.

Synkronos Music - 20 May 2006

The "Ministry of Inside Things," composed of Pennsylvania synth-man Chuck van Zyl on electronic keyboards, and Art Cohen on electric guitar, have released another compilation of passages from their live concerts. CONTACT POINT was recorded in various places in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including two planetaria. Chuck van Zyl, as ambient aficionados know, is the host of the "Star's End" [space] music program on WXPN in Philadelphia, as well as the organizer of the ambient music festival series, "The Gatherings."

CONTACT POINT follows in the "traditional electronic" style set by "Ministry" (also known as the acronym MoiT) in their previous albums and concerts. The seven tracks on the album (this time a single CD) contain a wide variety of moods and paces. It opens with surf sounds, as the first track. Track 2, "Serenity Cove," is restful, contemplative trancemusic, with a floating, modal melodic line over a slow repeating sequencer. Track 3, "Uncharted Isle," is more weird, spacey, and expansive, best listened to in a quiet dark place. Track 4, "Fortescue," is an uptempo, sequencer-driven jam, accented with looping guitar by Cohen. It's all in one minor key, sounding like the European synthesizer pop of decades past. Track 5, "River Dream," is a more experimental piece, full of eerie sound-effects including water glurp, distorted guitars, electronic bleeps, static, and multiple echoes. An even weirder element is a distorted loop repeating a clip from a Yiddish folk song. At times, "River Dream" sinks into very soft atonal minimalism, and would be best listened to on headphones. After that, Track 6, "Nightscene," returns to a more rock-influenced sequencer sound, led by Cohen's sustained electric guitar melodic line. The collection ends with "The Red Sun Rises," another evocative, gentle piece accented with natural sounds of tree peeper frogs.

This album features a rich array of tone colors, feelings, arrangements, textures, speeds, and instrumental virtuosity. But it all hangs together stylistically. These are ambient professionals and it shows in their work. If you're an ambient fan, you're sure to find lots to listen to in CONTACT POINT.

Included with CONTACT POINT in the sample package sent to me was a CD of a live solo electronic set by Chuck Van Zyl, dated October 2005. This set lasts about 26 minutes, and moves from drone electronica to hard-driving sequencers. Van Zyl provides the melodic line on keyboard over the sequence, using his wide electronic and sampling resources to sound like a flute, an electric guitar, an organ, or a more raw synthesizer sound. He also punctuates one of his more droney sections with a field recording of what sounds like a chanting sports crowd. Or is it a political demonstration? He returns to a rhythmic sequencer improvisation with a keyboard melody overlay, before he ends with a sampled choral and orchestral sound, adding a kind of majesty and even reverence to his electronic panorama. It ends somewhat abruptly, rather than trailing off into a fade. As this is all in one single modal/minor key, it holds together tonally.

This set is certainly worthy of commercial release, though I don't know whether he's planning to do it. At 26 minutes, it would have to be collected with other pieces to make up a typical hour-long CD. It shows how a talented electronic musician can continue to be creative within the "traditions" of electronic music.

Hannah Shapero/Electron Blue/Ambient Visions (31july06)

The Ministry of Inside Things is the Philadelphia-based space music duo of Chuck van Zyl (synths) and Art Cohen (guitar). Individually, both Chuck and Art have been involved in the Philadelphia electronic/space music scene for well over 20 years. Chuck is best known for hosting the Philadelphia radio show Star's End. He has a number of solo releases (cassette and CD) as well as collaborations with Peter Gulch of the Nightcrawlers. Art has a number of solo releases as well. Chuck and Art formed The Ministry of Inside Things about 6 years ago and have released two CDs of live material, EVERLASTING MOMENT (2002) and CONTACT POINT. Their music is firmly rooted in the Berlin space music school of Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra, and Klaus Schulze. There are seven tracks on CONTACT POINT that take you from quiet ambience to energetic rhythms. The obvious comparisons are with Tangerine Dream (cyclical pulsating sequencer patterns), but I also detect the influence of Pink Floyd's "Echoes". On top of this are some artistic found sounds peppered throughout the CD (lapping water and chirping crickets). The duo of Chuck and Art, with their musical roots in two different genres (electronic and rock), work together to craft beautiful music that can stand the test of time. Highly recommended to all fans of space music.

Henry Schneider (20aug06)

With a title like "Contact Point," one might assume this music to be concerned with a human/alien rendezvous, but the truth here deals more with the juxtaposition of earthly elements, specifically between the sea and the land. The band does a remarkable job of capturing the dreamy mood of the New Jersey coastline, evoking languid beaches and foggy marshes with preternatural acumen.

Eerie slide guitar notes provide haunting accompaniment for keyboards of a sedate nature. Textures flow with calculated serenity, generating oceanic realms of heavenly proportion. Approximated foghorns warn that land is nearby as the tuneage navigates through unseen islands whose embankments are hidden by resolute mist. Gradually, the ambience builds to peppier tuneage as keyboards start twinkling amid a bank of growling tonalities. Fingers commence dancing across keys, describing playful melodies that are rich with a sense of breathtaking discovery. Chittering noises and ghostly expressions enter the flow as the journey starts its way up a somnambulant river. Surrounded by pensive resonance, night embraces the music with somber chords and ascendant sequencing that reaches quite a shrill pinnacle of ecstatic delight. The CD concludes with a sunrise that is luxurious with promise and superbly duplicates that feeling of drifting in a void between sleep and wakefulness.

Even if you harbor no interest in the Jersey coastline and its contemplative environment, this music will still mesmerize and captivate the listener with its lush ruminative qualities.

Matt Howarth/Sonic Curiosity (26nov06)


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