“If you’re a fan of artists like Alice Coltrane, Magma, Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, Tangerine Dream and David Bedford, you must get this album. Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is a cosmic feast for the ears and mind, and will take you to places unknown, from the depths of the human soul to the farthest, darkest reaches of the universe. Highly recommended! “– Jeff Fitzgerald AURAL INNOVATIONS
Wow! Real progressive rock music is still made! – BABYBLAUESEITEN PROG REVIEWS
“It is the job of the progressive artist to propose an alternative reality, and preferably one in which all notions of common sense have been completely eradicated. This collection is our proposal.” The sleeve note in no idle boast (or threat?). The 150 minutes or so of music on this double CD has taken three years to write, record, arrange, revisit, mix, re-mix, master, generally agonise over and finally release. During the course of this music journey OUA has turned from an idea for simply another Archer studio project into a fully functioning and gigging band.
From the start the concept was to give the audience a Big Listen. Dual keyboard interplay by two decades long music associates Archer and Bywater takes its initial inspiration from the endless hall of mirrors found within the music of Terry Riley. Add to that a rhythm section referencing both freeform and classic krautrock styles equally authoritatively. Then finalise with carefully crafted arrangements for strings: sometimes static / stately, sometimes swooping wildly and referencing Alice Coltrane, sometimes processed and reconstructed into Stockhausen-influenced electroacoustic knots. Finally, enter Juxtavoices, Martin’s finely drilled 30 strong troupe of performance poetry and new music voice explorers, and already a widely experienced gigging outfit in its own right since they first began to surprise, delight, and occasionally alarm audiences across the North some 2 years ago.
This CD contains a lot of elements we have come to love over the many years we have all been making music. We hope you will find some things to enjoy too.
Martin Archer – organ, electric piano, laptop, saxophones, bass clarinet
Chris Bywater – organ, synthesizers, laptop, acoustic and electronic percussion, electric violin
Steve Dinsdale – drums, percussion, synthesizer
Walt Shaw – percussion, electronics
Terry Todd – bass guitar
La Garotte String Quartet:
Paul Schatzberger, Yvonna Magda (violins), Barbara Chisholm (viola), Angela Rosenfeld (cello) also Sarah Henderson (violin)
The Divine Winds:
Martin Archer, Mike Ward, Mick Beck, Geoff Bright, Herve Perez (saxophones)
Martin Archer, Julie Archer, Jon Ashe, Ian Baxter, Mick Beck, Geoff Bright, Chris Bywater, Julie Cole, Emma Cooper, Edward Eggleston, Alan Halsey, Lyn Hodnet, Richard Kedward, Christine Kennedy, Bo Meson, Geraldine Monk, Mike Reid, Marion Rout, Walt Shaw, Jan Todd, Jane Tormey, Caroline Veal, Peter Veal, Linda Lee Welch, Gillian Whiteley
As soon as we heard this the massive and mesmeric sounds found here on the debut from the Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere, we knew it was Record Of The Week material! And while it’s the record of our week (and many weeks to come, we imagine), it was three years in the making, a grandiose accomplishment involving the efforts of around 40 musicians and singers. The British new music ensemble responsible for this sprawling double cd has an appropriately evocative name, they are in the business of generating clouds of sound from on high, and they are indeed a sort of Orchestra, certainly a lot of musicians on a lot of intruments making a BIG sound, the actual core group of the UOA itself comprising only five folks, but they’re augmented by a string quartet (the La Garotte String Quartet), a woodwinds ensemble (The Divine Winds), and a 25 person avant-garde choral group (Juxtavoices). Together, the UOA and friends create a hybrid akin to 20th century classical chamber music meets propulsive krautrock meets ’70s cosmic jazz (some parts, like the ten minute track “Coherent Backscattering” that closes the first disc, remind us of the wonderful Alice Coltrane With Strings album World Galaxy, complete with what sounds like varispeed tape manipulation)… But it’s probably most heavily influenced by the work of modern minimalist master Terry Riley in particular – imagine portions of the Riley/Cale album Church Of Anthrax heavied up by a psychedelic stage band, with tons of synth and electronics amidst the strings and horns and percussive skitter. Other comparisons we could cite include the Swedish sixties psych groups Parson Sound/International Harvester (also big Riley fans), some large prog jazz rock ensembles of the ’70s, like Keith Tippett’s Canterbury based Centipede, and krautrockers Out Of Focus (circa Four Letter Monday Afternoon), as well as various underground free drone ensembles of more recent vintage. The two part, twenty-plus-minute “Seen From Above” early in the first disc is really worth the price of admission alone, a tour de force that sums up the glories of the OUA without revealing quite all the secrets that you’ll encounter elsewhere on these two densely-packed discs (77+ minutes disc 1, 76+ minutes disc 2, no wasted space in other words, you get your money’s worth!). The piece is full of droning deep rumbles that resolve into strong bass pulsations, graced with gorgeous organ tones, and dramatic drum rolls and cymbal crashes. But the next track, the 10 minute plus “The Opposition Effect” is equally impressive, getting even heavier with the krautROCK elements, and brings the Juxtavoices to bear as well, with some intense vocal chant that reminds us of the aforementioned International Harvester. And so it goes, and goes, the UOA at times bombastic and heavy, at others more hauntingly subtle and murmuring, with squeaks and mumbles, like an orchestra tuning up, in a murky sonic miasma. Much of this is stirring & cinematic, with parts that remind us of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and experimental Norwegian “death-jazzers” Supersilent too. The latter especially on disc two, which opens in an even, ah, moodier mood, the sound ever more abstract and ambient on “An Open Vista Is Revealed”, followed by “He Died Before I Could Get My Revenge”, which begins with shimmering jittering electronics and stumbling drums. Towards the end of that track, the Juxtavoices ensemble is employed to provide a bed of buried, layered and effected vocal snippets on the subject of the track’s disturbing title (giving both a “hearing creepy voices in your head” and “overheard noisy cocktail party conversation” vibe at once). On both discs, the Juxtavoices talents are used judiciously in ways that really put this over the top in the sheer weirdness dep’t., really letting it all out in feral, primal form amidst the murk of disc two’s closer “Their Dark Presence Stretches Through The Void”. Oh, and eventually of course the krauty drum propulsion kicks in on this disc as well. Essentially, the UOA take krautrock derived, pounding rhythmic hypnosis a la Circle, and combines it with the symphonic majesty of something like another recent aQ Record Of The Week, the reissue of William Sheller’s glorious Lux Aeterna, if you can imagine that, or (if you’ve ever heard it) Richard Youngs’ pseudo prog-rock Ilk project taken to Magma-like orchestral extremes. At the core of the UOA, is English composer/improviser Martin Archer, also a member of The Divine Winds, and organizer of Juxtavoices. He’s a quite prolific musician, who runs the Discus label that put this out, and we should really review more of his releases in future. Previously, Archer’s name HAS appeared on the aQ list as a key member of crushing industrial doom/free jazz prog outfit Combat Astronomy, much loved by us; he’s also the fellow responsible for the Saint Agnes Fountain album from about ten years ago, a clever hoax that purported to be an early ’70s recording from a fictional female Japanese minimalist composer named Masayo Asahara (and if you liked that Martin Archer alter-ego as much as we did, you’ll totally dig the UOA, they seem to share a lot of the same sonic inspirations). We’re less familiar with the other key member of the UOA, multi-instrumentalist Chris Bywater, responsible for a good deal of the compositions and arrangements as well. Martin and Chris, we’re impressed! And this couldn’t be more up our alley, as you can perhaps judge by the artists we’ve attempted to compare this to. In a word, wow. – J Allan Horrocks, Aquarius Records, San Francisco
An improbable meeting between Ligeti, Klaus Schulze, & Quarkspace – SQUIDCO
A double CD (over 150 minutes of music), the debut release by this orchestra co-led by Martin Archer and Chris Bywater – who used to form a duo called Transient v Resident. Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is impressive squared – nay, cubed – a blend of kosmische musik, space rock, and contemporary classical, an improbable meeting between Ligeti, Klaus Schulze, Quarkspace, and “Atom Heart Mother”-era Pink Floyd. The core of the ensemble…..is supplemented here and there by a string quartet, a sax quintet, and a 25-piece mixed choir. That will give your band some torque. Some tracks run for too long, but there are also grandiose moments where voices and instruments are brilliantly directed to colour the music’s fantastic flights. It’s bewitching. Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first contender for 2013’s year-end list – Francois Couture, Monsieur Delire
Wow! Real progressive rock music is still made! It is rather seldom that I’m positively surprised by a new release. Nowadays it is rather difficult to create something truly new in terms of music – and the album which is presented here does not offer you anything new. But unconventional, very creative, and at the same time atmospheric sound collages are rare, which form complexity, elaborate instrumentation and atmosphere to a progressive (in the literal sense of the word) whole, without producing only odd noise or whisked hurly-burly. “Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere” is such a recent production. The Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere (shortly OUA) is a project of Martin Archer from Britain, who might be known in this scene as one of the players in Combat Astronomy. Some years ago he joined with the electronic keyboard inventor / tinkerer Chris Bywater and Steve Dinsdale (from radio massacre international) to make improvised rock music. Soon more fellow musicians were found (Walt Shaw and Terry Todd) and they started to appear on stage, mostly supported by more musicians (strings, brass or singers). In 2012 the debut recording media of the formation was released on Archer’s Discus label. Two CDs were filled with music by Archer and his fellow campaigners. This is of course too much to cope with in this review. You can hear really progressive music, created by sundry electronic or electrically amplified keyboards instruments, percussions, bass, strings, brass and occasionally a choir. It results in diverse sounds, which range between electronic, krautish experimental, occasionally modern classical fields. It shows occasionally minimalistic patterns, is Jazz Rock, Postrock, or Modern Prog and is best to be put into the RIO drawer. The pieces are mostly long, voluminously instrumented, occasionally purely electronic, loaded with string and brass sounds, powerful percussion, repetitive keyboard patterns, reverberant improvisations, (free) jazz like or nearly (free) base rock interludes, bizarre voice exaltations, skewed chamber rock, ambience like, hypnotic mixtures of keyboard, meaty noise and droning, folk ethno brass, melodious improv sounds, voluminous tone pictures, repetitive improvisations and heavy, psychedelic krautish Postrock excursions. “Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere” offers a downright impressive, very individual and colourful mixture of sound, that I can only insufficiently describe, so as if Circle, Terry Riley, Tuxedomoon, the Taj Mahal Travellers and some post rockers from Montreal, often supplemented by a little string or brass ensemble, would have recorded an album. The music is very dense, very intensive, very colourful, very professionally presented and with its very own atmosphere, so that one can only listen in awesome fascination despite the length of the album. Whoever likes the krautish experimental, the electonical post rock, the minimalistic hypnotic, modern ensemble music, and true progressive sounds should get immediately the “Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere”. – BABYBLAUESEITEN PROG REVIEWS
A bold experiment takes flight. Since the early ’80s, multi-instrumentalist Martin Archer has taken an intriguing path criss-crossing jazz, free improv and electronica. Releases such as 2001’s /Angel High Wires/ are indicative of a back catalogue brimming with copious ideas and an unbridled sense of adventure. His latest project moves away from small-scale collaboration – though retaining the partnership with keyboard player Chris Bywater – towards something far grander and expansive in scope. Spread across two discs, with bass, drums and keyboards augmented by brass, woodwind, strings and a small chorus of voices, there’s an exemplary open-mindedness as the ensemble navigates both composed and improvised titles. With male and female voices forming terse, wordless interjections between starkly acerbic string motifs, the hawkish and often strident mood is helped along by Steve Dinsdale’s insistently hypnotic drum patterns. Dripping with luxuriant folds of droning, organs that recall the stately grace of Terry Riley’s early works, the swirling movements and textures create a series of collisions that are stylish and arresting. Archer says it’s “the job of the progressive artist to propose an alternative reality” An assured convergence of intuitive experimentalism and inspired editing, he can count this album as a job well done indeed. – Sid Smith, PROG
Martin Archer is also the leader of the Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere, where he fills the roles of composer, arranger, producer, organist, pianist (on electronic piano), computer tech, saxophonist (not only as a soloist, but also as a member of a saxophone quintet), bass clarinetist, and a member of the vocal ensemble. He is not alone in the leadership role: Chris Bywater holds the same position, also working as a composer, arranger, and producer. In addition, he is an organist, plays the synthesizers and computers, electronic and acoustic percussion, and the electric violin. Alongside the two leaders, the main band members include drummer, percussionist and keyboardist Steve Dinsdale, percussionist and electronics tech Walt Shaw, and bass guitarist Terry Todd. If you really want to consider the band as a whole you must also include the La Garotte String Quartet, the The Divide Winds (with saxophones) and the twenty five-member choir Juxtavoices. All together, this is a group that really gets your attention. They do this on two CD’s that cover more than 150 minutes of music of considerable merit. The leader of the band says that they are an improvisational rock band that utilizes a technical style somewhere between Terry Riley and Kraut Rock. In reality, they are a hybrid that draws on everything under the sun, ranging from contemporary chamber music to electronic rampage music to drone music. The two discs are comprised of 15 songs, one of which lasts nearly 20 minutes. The majority of songs, however, last about half as long. Archer, together with Bywater, understandably tries to make each one of them something special, yet there is a basic commonality between them. They are bound together by bombastic grandiosity, a rumbling thunder, and a formidable cyclone of sound, – a veritable tangle of instruments, voices, and ideas. It’s an unstoppable marathon characterized by persistence, struggle, and uncontrollability. The sound is a constant whirling, creating a sense of a panicky journey as if one were spinning in mid-air with arms outstretched. It’s a robust excitement and an exigent unpredictability that overpower the contemplative and quieter passages. We noted in contrast to this – in addition to the passages of variable monotonicity, which invariably occur because of the sheer length of each composition – an artful bustle, like a carousel or a musical train of thought running through the scene. But underneath the melodies offered up to us there is a chaotic struggle all the while taking place. The musicians play one trump card after another, and miraculously don’t lose their gains in the bubbling cauldron that is the music. The vocal chorus is either rhythmically tuned in the style of Orff or it sounds like the chanting in a Jewish school or at a demonstration. The effect is enhanced by sound effects like a helicopter rotor coming unscrewed and the percussion stumbling. This is a sound that is continually kneading, blending, piercing, and roaring like a church organ. It is the sublime creation of a world without limits that the leader of the orchestra proclaims to be an alternative reality. To our amazement, the piece doesn’t buckle under this heavy armour of musical weightiness. Quite the contrary, it’s a succession of intermittent and oblique sounds that sometimes sound like an Olbrim organ grinder. It is precisely this succession that lends a sense of cohesion and feeling that the overall specificity of the musical score does not get lost in the continual crescendo. This is, above all, a testimony, that both of the group’s leaders are masters of the skill of controlling antithetical tendencies. The disconcerting rustling, the swirling frenziedness, and the sighs of relief all meld into one common language. I don’t want to allege that originality triumphs over persistence here, but in the most noteworthy of instances, which certainly include Star Procession from the first disc and Nimbus from the second disc, there is a balanced sense of cohesion. The passages are eruptive yet lightly steeped with an air of the esoteric. The severe explosive intensity is mitigated by ethereal benevolence. And the composers got it right every single time they did it. Archer and Bywater tie together everything possible, from Alice Coltrane to Centipede. This is understandable because nothing appears out of thin air. But their (perhaps slightly excessive) enterprise brings a billowing gust of positivity, a musical soul-searching and a feeling of falling headlong into the music into these frequently uncertain times. It is necessary to give credit where credit is due because when you listen to this music it will send shivers down your spine. – Zdenek Slaby, HISVOICE
“It is the job of the progressive artist to propose an alternative reality, and preferably one in which all notions of common sense have been completely eradicated. This collection is our proposal.” So states the opening lines of the promo sheet that came with this double CD. This massive project (around 150 minutes of music) is the work of long-time associates Martin Archer (organ, electric piano, laptop, saxophones and bass clarinet) and Chris Bywater (organ, synthesizers, laptop, acoustic and electronic percussion and electric violin), with the help of Steve Dinsdale (drums, percussion and synthesizer), Walt Shaw (percussion and electronics) and Terry Todd (bass guitar). That’s just the core band. Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere earns the “Orchestra” part of their name by rounding out their sound with a string quartet and wind and voice ensembles. Up to some 30 musicians appear on the album. So how is the album? The band make references to Terry Riley and Alice Coltrane in their promo sheet, and those are two perfect touchstones in beginning to describe this music. You can especially hear this on, for example, the first two cuts on the album, Scene From Above Parts 1 and 2 (clocking in at 5 and 15 minutes respectively) as the band blends lush but very moody orchestral arrangements and jazzy, free explorations in the vein of Alice Coltrane’s World Galaxy album with minimalist electronic patterns similar to Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air. But that’s only where things start as the band stretches out and explores a lot of territory over the course of two discs. The Opposition Effect, with its pounding martial rhythms, gothic organ, John Coltrane-esque saxophone and Carl Orff like choral interjections would not be out of place on, say, Magma’s Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh album, and When Thin Clouds Scud Across a Bright Moon , with its hypnotic rhythms and circular choirs, could almost be a lost Phillip Glass composition. Space fans have something to enjoy here too, with tracks like the 14-minute long Anti-Crepuscular Rays, sounding like very early Tangerine Dream falling in league with David Bedford’s Stars End. If I’m making it sound like Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is all over the place and can’t decide what they want to sound like, I don’t mean it that way. There is a very homogenous quality to the music. The lack of guitars, along with the use of lengthy organ chords and mysterious orchestral arrangements tie it all together. The thing that’s really interesting about it all is that it is neither rock music, nor classical, nor jazz, yet comprises elements of all three, blending them into a unique, but really kind of undefinable sound. The explorations continue on the second disc, expanding outwards like the universe itself, into deep space ambience, experimental randomness and throbbing electronica. Sometimes, as on the track Their Dark Presence Stretches Through the Void, the music can get quite harrowing, suggesting a sense of almost Lovecraftian cosmic horror; or it can be vaguely unsettling, like the otherworldly woodland evoked in Rainforest Tension, but at other times it’s quite playful, as on The Umbral Length of Shadows, with its pulsing electronic signature, calliope-like arrangements and whooping Atom Heart Mother-esque choirs. One thing it never is, is boring. The band is careful to let each piece constantly evolve. Even when it’s tied together with a repetitive rhythm, the sounds swirling around it progress and allow the rhythm itself to seemingly transform with them. If you’re a fan of some of the above mentioned artists like Alice Coltrane, Magma, Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, Tangerine Dream and David Bedford, you must get this album. Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is a cosmic feast for the ears and mind, and will take you to places unknown, from the depths of the human soul to the farthest, darkest reaches of the universe. Highly recommended! – Jeff Fitzgerald AURAL INNOVATIONS
The Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere are a collective of musicians collaborating on a vast expanse of orchestral, instrumental and electronic music. The objective of this ensemble is to “propose an alternative reality, and preferably one in which all notions of common sense have been completely eradicated.” This the band did between 2010 and 2012 while recording their self-titled work. The opening track of the album matches synths, lengthy notes held on orchestral instruments and an arsenal of voices and sounds deep in the mix to create an atmospheric opening. The next track does similarly, creating over fifteen minutes a striking piece of music – atmospheric, nostalgic (for Krautrock and the very early days of the Berlin scene amongst others) and engaging. There are hints of the early Tangerine Dream albums in some of the sections. ‘The Opposition Effect’ is more of a Kraut cut, with its insistent drums and wailing sax – the addition of the 30-strong Juxta Voices adds to the massive sound world. ‘When Thin Clouds Scud Across A Bright Moon’ is similar in tone, but with more of a Floyd feel (chorus especially) and analogue synths pulsing away in the background – a fine piece of music. ‘Anti-Crepuscular Rays’ is more ambient, with lots of floating textures and electronic sounds bouncing around the mix. ‘Duty Music’ evokes jazz rock hell, ‘Star Procession’ is trippy and electronically suffused, while closing cut ‘Coherent Backscattering’ is a Hammond enlivened return to the sounds of 1969 or thereabouts. The disk as a whole demands attention, and is something to be discovered and rediscovered over and over again. A notable achievement. And that’s only one album! Disk two begins with ‘An Open Vista Is Revealed,’ which opens with spooky voices and orchestral effects, before the electronic spikiness and pounding avant-garde drums of ‘He Died Before I Could Get My Revenge,’ which is perhaps a tad too long; a minor complaint. ‘The Umbral Length Of Shadows’ channels the ‘sixties work of Terry Riley through a Krautrock filter to great effect, while ‘Rainforest Tension’ is another orchestral whimsy, this time with luscious strings and flutes riding the electronic effects. ‘Nimbus’ is almost twenty minutes long, starting small and strange before bringing in drums, more Riley-esque keyboards and an arsenal of instrumental effects – also bass and drums in various styles and locations. It’s a sort of massive Floyd meets Hawkwind meets Zappa jam. The concluding cut is merely trippy and weird. Nobody whole loves interesting, experimental, courageous, strange, lyrical music – the Big Listen that the five people at the heart of this project hoped for – will want to miss out on this one. Highly recommended – Terrascope
Nata da un’idea di studio del musicista e patron dell’etichetta Martin Archer, in tre anni l’Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere, nelle figure di Martin Archer, Chris Bywater, Steve Dinsdale, Walt Shaw, Terry Todd, a cui aggiungere il collettivo di poeti, performer ed artisti visuali Juxtavoices, il quartetto d’archi La Garotte Strings Quartete un collettivo di fiati, si produce in quest’opera per due dischi e 150 minuti di pura improvvisazione che tocca quasi tutto lo scibile sonico conosciuto. Da reminescenze Kraut Rock, passando per il Free Jazz, il minimalismo caro a Terry Riley, lunghe suite liriche di “contemporanea spezia”, l’orchestra di quasi quaranta elementi si diverte ad esplorare l’inesplorato, a suonare l’insuonato e a restare, fortunatamente, al di sotto della soglia di tolleranza evitando avvitamenti sonici dannosi e ripetitivi. Il tutto con grazia e maestria, con un tocco di “sana ironia” che non guasta mai. – Marco Paolucci, KATHODIK.
The Martin Archer all-you-can-eat buffet is open for business…better bring a big plate and an extra fork…it’s a real grand bouffe. This is another grand scaled project. Archer, highly conversant with saxophone and electronics, has been a past master of small and intimate group situations involving those instruments, but increasingly these days he is thinking big; there’s a large number of gifted people involved in this ambitious project, and while the core Orchestra itself – mostly keyboards, electronics, synths and percussion – comprises just five players, there are also performances from La Garotte String Quartet, The Divine Winds (a saxophone and woodwind group), and Juxtavoices, the unique singing choir whose work is also represented on this label on the record Juxtanother Antichoir From Sheffield released this year. With this small army of musicians, this lengthy album presents a cosmic sprawl of massed organ drones and electronic doodlings, enhanced with jazzy brass blasts and free-style vocal episodes from the choir. Think of Tangerine Dream to the power of ten, joined by an early incarnation of the Mike Westbrook Band and the Scratch Orchestra – an early 1970s music fan’s dream come true! On ‘Seen From Above Parts 1 and 2’, the Orchestra create a truly enormous and cavernous sound, occupied by detailed passages of free playing; it’s a remarkably sustained effort to keep the space as nebulous as possible, without allowing the work to collapse into a sludgy mess. Philip Glass saxophone arpeggios leak into this open-ended gaseous billow of Gong-esque organ and synth drone. ‘The Opposition Effect’ should appeal to anyone who enjoys the work of the John Aldiss choir on side one of Atom Heart Mother (and I know not many Pink Floyd fans do), with Juxtavoices chanting their clipped syllables in a strident manner to the backing of a lumbering rock beat, solid organ chords and flipped-out sax squawkings. “It’s a 25-voice choir that works on the premise that any 25 note chord is probably going to be OK,” is how Archer described the choir to me in 2011, reflecting on the mixed abilities of the singers in the group. “It’s more about text and performance and maybe experimental poetry.” That side of the choir is also to the fore on ‘An Open Vista Is Revealed’, an excellent short piece on the second CD, with the voices whistling and whispering in mysterious manner against a very restrained and open-ended instrumental backdrop. There’s more of their free-form poetry chants on ‘Star Procession’, which when combined with the dissonant string sections and electronic drones produces a heavy-duty dose of out-there weirdness. Archer has stressed that he isn’t out to experiment with variety just for the sake of novelty; rather he regards his multiple approaches as different ways of solving the same problem. This double CD set abounds with experiment and innovation, exploring ways to make these group combinations work. On ‘Almost Unrecognisable But For Its Surface Markings’, the string quartet wander an alien landscape in amazement, while percussion clatters around them in tiny explosions. In that case, the keynote is uncertainty and doubt, but not so on ‘Duty Music’, a big-band escapade with the strings and brass creating a very forthright and upbeat mood. ‘The Umbral Length of Shadows’ is an extremely bold attempt to use most if not all of the musicians in one collective blast; a somewhat lumbering beast results, which misfires in places and gives us almost too much to listen to as it tramps along its path propelled by a faux-funky beat; but you’ve rarely heard such remarkable combinations of unusual sounds, timbres and pitches. And at 20 minutes, ‘Nimbus’ is another major showcase for noodling keyboards, heavy drone and errant string solos creating unearthly effects, which somehow falls short of the best moments of Can. That said, Can never used strings and brass to such powerful effect on their records. With titles such as ‘Anti-Crepuscular Rays’, ‘Rainforest Tension’, and other titles quoted above you’ll have noticed the meteorological and sky-gazing themes of this release. It’s a promise that is borne out by the very airy and open sound the Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere are capable of generating with their competing frequencies and strange juxtapositions, at their best achieving the ethereality of the air itself. As to the music, which incidentally has taken three years to complete, the press notes make explicit aspirations in the direction of Terry Riley, Stockhausen, Alice Coltrane and Krautrock – which should give you sufficient orientation. I think this is an exceptional work, which testifies to Archer’s very sociable and outgoing approach to making music; he simply likes people and likes to gather them around him so he can perform music with them, and I would estimate that a significant percentage of this album is performed live or in real time. Certainly the electronic effects are kept to a minimum, with only a few audible foot-pedals to tweak the organ drone, and acoustic instruments abound, holding their own against the amplified section of the Orchestra. And the sheer length is mightily impressive. In duration alone this would have occupied a four-LP box set in the old days, a generosity that pays off even when the music does sag in places. Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere makes good its printed claim to “propose an alternative reality”, and is warmly recommended. – Ed Pinsent, SOUND PROJECTOR
The Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere under the leadership of Martin Archer show such formulas that come highly from Terry Riley’s influence. The term Orchestra in this case might be a bit be reformulated for it, because only partially we hear a few orchestral layers, being added here and there to power the expressions up, the general expressions are different, influenced by the aforementioned formula’s of Terry Riley nature of improvisation, enriched perhaps with comparable ideas, small elements from free jazz experience, vocal experiment contributions like Sound Art, which seem to show some kind of reference to Indonesian music, as separate themes that all contribute as formulas. A strong core for this project is the keyboards, as the Terry Riley core, which consists of church-organ alike drones, bubbling surroundings of sounds and slowly progressing melodies or loops or repetitions and of the improvisation element. The album starts more like a tuning in with its usefulness of harmonies, just like an Indian group is tuning in into the atmosphere. These harmonies and togetherness also includes the percussion element. It starts rather darkly and is dense but then something more melodic progresses from here. At times, the band’s interpretations fit with rock or even a psychedelic jam, although not too often. It is in welcome places that it shows itself that there it can be contributions in this way. Also the voices, expressed by the group Juxtavoices, succeed to give the evolutions something of a more theatrical, stage-like, and a real presence. Here and there violin solos mingle with the arrangements as another improvisational element. A successful release from an experienced band, bringing us closer to an area of insight of further possibilities of working with the core foundations of Terry Riley. – Gerald Van Waes www.psychefolk.com
This is the first self-titled album from this improvisational collective, released in 2012. A sprawling two and a half hour double CD, it features a vast array of musicians contributing electronic and acoustic instrumentation, including a string quartet, a wind ensemble, and appearances by the aforementioned Juxtavoices. The sounds created take up a mantle passed on by Terry Riley and the looser improvisational end of Krautrock. I am also put in mind of Keith Tippett’s Centipede. The end result is vast, loose, organic and thoroughly mesmerising. – ROGER TRENWITH, ASTOUINDED BY SOUND
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