Memories of the Elder review
by Bill Binkelman of Wind and Wire
I'm more than a little impressed with this debut effort from electronic keyboardist Bryan Tewell Hughes, recording as AeTopus. It ranks alongside other "out of the blue" releases like David Friedman's Moonrise or Michael Walthius's Dreaming in Stereo. Hughes unleashes twelve superb tracks on Memories of the Elder, swinging from the uptempo energizing opener, "The Running Path" (with rapidly cascading synth piano, keyboard textures, synth pan-pipes and other electronic effects) to more ambient-like and somber tunes, such as "Still Ruin" (anchored by slowly sequenced beats and Geodesium-like [circa Anasazi] synth-piano and keyboard elements).
Truly, I can't think of an apt comparison to Hughes's release. He is adroit and comfortable across a variety of subgenres, for example the tribal flavors of the moody "Campfire Spirit Horizon" (which mixes together Crown Invisible's lush synths and Open Canvas's exotic hand percussion). Percussion on some tracks is ably, if not inspiredly, handled by Michael Bajuk on an assortment of instruments. I have played a variety of tunes from this album on my radio show, attesting to how "accessible" this music is, yet no trace of new age syrup nor overly slick pop-ism exists on this remarkable debut recording.
Every song offers a new gem which sparkles through repeated playings (which I availed myself of, by the way, to the tune of about ten playings before writing this review). The sheer variety of musical styles on Memories of the Elder keeps the album fresh, exciting, and allows for a gradual unfolding of the mysteries inherent in tracks like "Elder" (harpsichord married to booming lower register synths and spacy keyboards on the periphery), "Grand Microscopic" (a slow tempo cut played out on plucked string synths with an undercurrent of dark drones, enhanced with female spoken word vocals - by Melissa Macapulay), and "Day Glide" (which flirts with classic Berlin-school EM sounds and retro-analog synth textures in a fluid tone-poem that straddles both light and dark shadings).
Owing to their being over an hour of music here, all of it well-executed and encompassing an assortment of subgenres and styles, a comprehensive review would require another thousand words - at least. Suffice it to say that Memories of the Elder explores darker territory than most modern day electronic keyboard music, but seldom, if ever, wanders over into floating ambient terrain or noir-ish scariness. However, the album also has firm roots in various electronic music subgenres, including Berlin, "active" spacemusic, and the heydays of the Narada Mystique sub-label. What makes the work of Aetopus/Hughes so remarkable is how fresh all this sounds. There is no trace of faux sentimentality and no attempt to play it safe on this CD. While it's nothing if not accessible, it's also an exciting and different take on keyboard music that I never grew tired of, even when I played it back-to-back. I can't offer a stronger endorsement than that.
by Bill Binkelman of Wind and Wire
Tempula is defined in the liner notes as “consecrated terrain or partitions of the sky, typically marked or enclosed, through which humans may interact with deities.” Using this as an inspiration/starting point, Bryan T. Hughes (aka AeTopus) has crafted an album that sits at the crossroads of an assortment of musical genres: new age, ethno-tribal, melodic EM, and probably a few more at times as well. The man has few, if any, contemporaries in his multi-dimensional approach to music, although if pressed, I would name Kudzu (who has been absent from the scene for years), Andrew Kennedy (also absent since his debut), and then to lesser degrees, Jon O’Bergh, Patrick O’Hearn (only tangentially) and maybe Richard Bone or Frank VonBogaert. Kudzu’s collaboration with Peter Griggs, Children of the Amazon, may be the best comparison to make to Tempula, since both share a perfect melding of accessible new age melodies with the well-crafted techniques and instrumentation of EM plus plenty of ethno-tribal percussion interwoven throughout the songs to give the music an added dimension and a sense of primal/ritualistic themes. But where Children of the Amazon had a solid South American influence, owing to Griggs acoustic guitar, Hughes has fashioned a type of music that is, part of no particular country and yet also all countries. Remarkable! It’s all wrapped up in sterling production and engineering and the individual compositions are instantly enjoyable, yet never less than rich and complex.
As he did on his debut CD, Memories of the Elder, Hughes works in relatively short track format, with only three of the thirteen songs clocking in at between 6 and 7 minutes. By interweaving some common keyboard and percussion sounds, and building on common tempos and thematic elements, Hughes unites the separate cuts into a cohesive vision which carries with it strains of tribal spirituality, awe, power, passion, and a more than a whiff of the sensation of ancient ceremonies, portrayed through the CD’s flowing melodies, pulsing drum beats, and EM/new age electronic textures.
Singling out my favorite tracks is pointless because this is one of those damn-near perfect albums that holds goodness in every digital groove, so to speak. Much of the music is uptempo and features both a melodic component (from overt EM to new age to something in-between) and a rhythmic one, almost solely based around ethnic hand percussion, although there’s a wide variety of it. The track titles are somewhat cryptic, but hint at the artist’s ritual/spiritual origins: “Sky From Below,” “Sin of Conscience,” “Candles and Glass,” and “Throne.” Other titles resemble terms or words from the world of the computer game “Myst:” “Era Trans,” “Ish Nish Nish,” and “Pneuma.” In fact, in some ways, the fabricated mythology of the worlds of Myst and Riven and their sequels seem to fit with this music (although Robyn Miller’s soundtracks for those games tend to be slower tempo, more mysterious, and darker in nature). One thing about Tempula is that much of the time the music is powerful and catchy, although there are subdued moments as well. There are also a few spoken word vocals at times, in a language that Hughes told me is imaginary, but they are sparse so don’t be put off by my mentioning their presence. “Ish Nish Nish” also contains some nicely done male/female hymn singing in another made-up tongue.
Classifying Tempula as a whole is difficult to do. The percussion elements lend an air of world fusion to some cuts, but the music itself borrows so heavily from EM and electronic new age that I tend to think of the CD as an ethno-tribal/EM/new age hybrid. Regardless of how much I try to pigeonhole it, though, it’s too unique to be reduced to a strict definition. “Sky from Below” may remind you of Tuu or o yuki conjugate, while “Convoqué” reminded me of Geodesium’s Anasazi (which, come to think of it, is another excellent basis for comparison, being very similar at times to Tempula). “Sin of Conscience” is almost entirely EM, both retro and contemporary in nature, with dark and shadowy keyboards and synths employing both textures and melody with equal finesse. The closing track, “Nearer, clearer,” shimmers and twinkles in the same way that eien’s music does (e.g. dandelion dreamer) but an undercurrent of dramatic synth strings/washes imparts more gravity than the cheerful and playful starburst of synthesizer conveys. Try as I may to clearly delineate the characteristics and appeal of Tempula, what I’m left with is simply that this album kicks a hundred kinds of ass. The only folks that it won’t appeal to are hard core Eno-esque ambient-philes – there’s too much structure, melody, and rhythm for them, I fear. As for the rest of you, I urge you to grab a hold of this album pronto. It’s just way too cool to not have in your collection.
Memories of the Elder review
by Ben Ohmart of Muse’s Muse
Washington State composer/producer Bryan Tewell Hughes used to be a bass player in several Pacific Northwest bands, but now he’s taking the egghead helm and launching his own electronic world that shakes hands with the sleeves of Tangerine Dream, Ray Lynch and many of the pioneers of a genre I could, and do, listen to for hours.
The opening piece, 'The Running Path' is aptly named and a bit of a red herring for the new agers out there. The path that runs is piano, long and hard like a waterfall that won't dry up, encircled by a dark night of nature.
It is the 2nd tune of this hour long journey that probably sets the true pace for what to expect. And by the time you get to ‘Reflecting in the Glass’ you are well and truly energized and relaxed on the expedition, all in the same muscle group. How is this possible? AeTopus isn’t seeking passive, old lady-organ music whereby new age is defined as one finger on the melody and pre-set rhythm underneath. In ‘Glass’ for instance, there is an oriental feel to the orchestration which provides a tension while still not keenly tying nerve endings in knots. It’s a curious marriage of two seemingly distant occupations.
I’d never call this new age, and electronica is usually & frankly too busy a name for what’s going on in this 12 track media. It could best be described as movie music without the dramatic crashes. ‘The Child’ is one of my favorites, as repetitive and soft as the gentle rhythm rolls, it is a rambling tune with tinkly piano, easy bass locked in, and generally just a Tangerine Dream (before they got too techno) light surrounding it.
Same for ‘Grand Microscopic’ which makes the mind boggle at the infinitism of music and larger subjects. It is music which lays the brain open to its own interpretation of cerebral-sight and sound as a way into the Museum of Modern Art. Imagine walking around to all the paintings with this playing in your head. Or, perhaps the music would be an interesting exhibit; if music says something different to every listener, as does non-realistic art, perhaps the thing to do is hang a tape recorder in the gov’t-sponsored room and let each hear what s/he hears.
Anyway, a fine release, 2 years in the making. Well worth your hard-earned cash.
Memories of the Elder review (excerpt)
by Jim Brenholts of Ambient Visions
This is a huge CD! Bryan has created a delightful melange of deep space sequences and gentle new age melodies. He offsets some deep funereal drones with gentle nature samples and eerie computer beeps. His ethnic influences and passages are right on time. He has interspersed them well.
Bryan runs the gamut. This CD has elements of the Berlin school, pastoral new age, dark ambience and droning minimalism. At the same time, it is none of those styles. This unique hybrid has something for everybody.