Various Artists: MetaSynthia 1

va-ms1.jpg (19k) Various Artists: MetaSynthia 1
(Glen Bledsoe - 2000)

Epitomizing the DIY abilities afforded by today's electronic technology (MetaSynth in particular) and the communal spirit of the Internet, these Various Artists are using the 2CD collection of MetaSynthia 1 to share intriguing sounds with the world and information with other users.

Glen Bledsoe is the ringleader behind the project which features audio tracks for all ears, plus additional onscreen information, and more, for Mac people and MetaSynthesists.

Briefly, MetaSynth is a (Mac-only) graphic synthesizer wherein users can "paint with sound"; pixel position, color, length, etc. affect its pitch, channel, duration, etc.) It gets much more involved, but that's the nutshell... Several of our favorite ambient electronicians currently use the program and its counterparts in their aresenal of sound-creating devices; Taylor Deupree and Andrew Lagowski to name only two... I'll provide a feature on the program itself in next month's upload...

Disk A (54:05) features 11 tracks focusing the on the more straightforward (though still often quite experimental) usage of a new sonic tool. Also, Kenneth Newby (yes, that Kenneth Newby of ambient/digeridoo fame) contributes ScaleComposer, a utility for algorithmically defining MetaSynth custom scales.

If U&I Software-head Eric Wenger is the Dr. Frankenstein behind MetaSynth, then "Here I Am" is his raging electrogothtechno monster, pulling out the stops of his own creation to showcase its audioshaping skills. A flurry of beats, danceably spooky organ grooves, vocoder-like phrases and shifting moods make this an interesting intro by any standard. Raphael Elig presents two quirky beatfests which introduce additional spoken samples into the mix with "Ghost" and "Big Bug", a funtime visit from the ghost of Disco Past. Cool rhythmic effects top the phantasmally entrancing electronic backdrop of "Lakas" by RJ Valeo. Laird Sheldahl's "Ducskyp" (9:06) begins with thuddingly gritty textures, evolving into various more-musical modes via smooth synth waves, robotic voices, pseudo-sitar sounds and much more.

In "The Get-Go", Glen Bledsoe tosses dozens of instrument sounds into a buoyant tribal-powered ditty which demonstrates the morphing abilities of MetaSynth as flute and guitar sounds become one. His "Golden Spy" is a reverberating electro-minuet which takes a jazz-combo detour. "Get With It!" (2:22) shuts it down with a groovy little cajun-flavored number.

Seven artists deliver a dozen pieces on Disk B (58:02), probing the more abstract regions into which MetaSynth can lead; Eric Wenger again leads the way with "Whale's Song", a droning, (wh)alien atmosphere laced with a multitude of other unknown soundsources (though the online Notes do provide clues) which becomes more tonal and rhythmic as it progresses. "Harp Piece Mix" from David Coffin swirls in a jazzy cyclone of tones, bass pulses and tiny cymbal sounds. Len Sasso builds his own multi-voiced tower of babble with "Three Phases", an impressively disorienting vocal-fragmentized rhythm-and-waft scenario.

Helge Krabye's spacious explorations of "Japan - Electronic Suite" (12:35) move from drum-and-drone expanses to floatingly flutey passages of amorphous beauty, then into "natural" phenomena of weather and water and radiantly entwined frequencies... and then, beyond. Impressive electro-ambient sounds by any measure... Todd Barton explores the excitingly bleak "Terrains 1138", a shapelessly churning mass of sound ooze which radiates brassy overtones, windy gusts and mutant choral drifts. Lovely! Barton also contributes the staccato piano and brass chaos of "Desperate Flight" (2:43).

Wenger, master of his own domain to be sure, closes the comp with the dark orchestral ambiance of I mi ne te; moody symphonics sweep in evocative theatrical moods. Other contributing artists include Mike Steelman, James Brody and Tommi Lindell.

We Mac folks can enjoy further with Bledsoe's attractive MetaSynthia Notes which give behind the scenes glimpes at the artists in text, photos, animations and brief tutorials. Some neat programming tricks enhance the informative experience.

Overall an ear-turning listen for anyone with a penchant for inventive sound sculpture, though to be critical, sometimes the straight instrument sounds can come across as a wee bit sterile, and the sound levels seemed to vary between contributers. A couple of the included animations didn't work, but that's only icing anyway. I also had a problem getting Disk B to always load properly on my G3... but these criticisms are minor in face of such a major development on so many levels.

At a mere $8 (postpaid in the US) for 2 CDRs, anyone can listen to the intriguing sounds which are emerging from MetaSynthia 1. Mac owners get a bit more with the additional visuals, and MetaSynthesists get the most with program-related software and tutorials from some of the artists involved. An admittedly biased 8.8 rating from someone enjoying the discs on all accounts. A great start for something which can only get better as everyone improves their skills through mutual sharing like this.

Learn more at the MetaSynthia website, or vist U&I Software to learn more about the amazing program behind the sounds.

This review posted May 29, 2000

AmbiEntrance © 2000-1997 by David J Opdyke (except CD cover art, rights retained by original owners).