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Reviews

HEMISPHERE
Sea of Tranquility/Alex Torres

British musician Geoffrey Armes has a fascinating professional biography...

British musician Geoffrey Armes has a fascinating professional biography that charts his move from his earliest celtic, folk and eastern music influences in 1970s London to his embracement of electronic keyboards and a host of other techniques during his journey through Europe to New York City, where he now lives. This is a man to whom the music has a spiritual meaning: to him how he arrives is as important as where. As he says “what use is the note if it is laden with wrong action in its making”. It is, then, important to understand the context of this Hemisphere CD for the purposes of review.

Amongst the activities that Armes engages in to keep himself financially afloat is that of composing and playing for dance and movement classes: during the last seven years he has played twice weekly sessions for the Neighborhood Playhouse Theatre School, working with actors. Armes explains: “Over this period I’ve developed a number of quirky approaches in an attempt to amuse myself, the students and the instructors, and have engaged in some serious music making”. The backbone of these pieces on Hemisphere is tracks that Armes lay down during live sessions in February of this year, when he was playing piano, synth (Korg Poly 800 II) and a Roland Handsonic 15 percussion controller. Armes plays solo at the studio so he will use techniques such as setting up a rhythm on the Roland with one hand while playing a melody with the other. Later, in his home studio, Armes worked on “filling out” the pieces or editing them, as appropriate (one piece was left as he’d played it during the workshop), to create what we hear on this album. An interesting feature is that Armes has allowed some of the actors’ voices, heard quietly as they go about their work, to adorn some of the tracks.

Given this background it is perhaps not surprising that the album lacks the cohesion of the best electronic or ambient music albums, which often use variations on a central theme to hook the listener in to the album throughout its run. Not so here: whilst the individual pieces are pleasant enough, the album, at over an hour’s length, is difficult to listen through at one sitting. More so if you include the bonus disc (which is only available if you download the album from the artist’s website, not if you purchase the CD through itunes, cdbaby or elsewhere). Funnily enough, “Astin Place”, the bonus disc opener was the piece I found most satisfying; it felt to me as though it had been composed as a piece of music itself, rather than for the purpose of assisting actors with their movement. Its low backround hum was like a cosmic heartbeat, with ambient musical colorspainted on top: very effective!

Elsewhere, there are some high points that can be mentioned: “The Neighbourhood Dubhouse” had a catchy rhythm and you could easily imagine the piece being used for a “catwalk” model parade; “A Narrative of Paradise” was wistful and pretty; “Tuning a Soul” featured a reed synth that added effective textural colors; and “Geology” was pleasantly rockier than the rest. Of course, you might pick out different individual moments yourself, but the main point is that you are unlikely to find this as successful an album experience as, say, a Jean-Michel Jarre album. Or, perhaps, not even as successful an experience as one of his own previous albums: for instance, Noor received a favourable review from Richard Barnes on SoT last year.

Armes clearly has plenty of musical ability and imagination: if he can find the finances and time to focus on the music for the music’s sake, then his music will succeed in a fashion that Hemisphere does not. As it stands, it points to the qualities of the man, but it’s not the work that will make his name as a great composer. Track Listing:- 1) Endless Mansion (2:38) 2) The Neighbourhood Dubhouse (5:23) 3) Some Helpers (8:47) 4) A Narrative of Paradise (3:13) 5) Ancient Flow (4:54) 6) Light Fantastic Trip (7:18) 7) Friedrichstrasse (5:31) 8) Tuning a Soul (6:56) 9) Geology (4:24) 10) Clay Clusters (7:44) 11) Possibility (4:13) 12) With Clarity (6:46)

Bonus Disc Track Listing:- 1) Astin Place (3:58) 2) Goodness (5:19) 3) Requiem (2:54) 4) Dare Earth (5:37) 5) Las Americas (12:20)

Added: November 15th 2009
Reviewer: Alex Torres