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Dreams 4
by Stephen Philips and “Isomorph”
Dark Duck Records, 2001

        Stephen Philips, the tireless and prolific performer behind Maryland-based
Dark Duck Records, returns with two more albums of sonic atmospheres, one
under his “Deep Chill Network” alias and another under his own name plus a
mysterious “Isomorph.” Philips has, in the last few years, established a
niche for himself in the esoteric world of minimalist ambient. This genre is
characterized by non-rhythmic, floating electronic sounds that are not meant
as structured “music” but as a sonic background establishing mood and

Though Brian Eno, the founder of “ambient” music, is the originator of this style, Steve Roach has experimented with it quite a lot, beginning with his early Quiet Music(1983-86) and his Structures from Silence(1984) and continuing with long-form pieces like The Dream Circle(1994) and Slow Heat(1998). These recordings are meant to be played at low levels, remaining unobtrusive while they do their mood-altering work. Tone and harmony exist, but not necessarily in the linear, sequential sense that they do in conventional music; minimalist ambient hovers around a cluster of notes, often for extended periods of time.

There’s a lot of Roach influence in Philips’ latest collection of minimalist ambient pieces, Dreams 4. Other Deep Chill efforts have been microtonal or even atonal (such as his 1999 Heart of the Tundra or 2001 Yukon, reviewed elsewhere on this site) but his “Dreams” series seems to be edging more and more towards the Roach/Eno version of minimalist ambient with actual musical harmonies. The last piece on Dreams 4, simply called “Why?”, is especially Roach-like, echoing Structures from Silence in its slowly turning sequences of notes. This harmonic choice gives Dreams 4 a more accessible, warmer quality, so that the mood it conveys is relaxing rather that chilling.

The same cannot be said for the long ambient “atmosphere” provided by Philips and “Isomorph” in Cave of the Wind. This album features about 68 minutes of spooky, microtonal, rushing sound guaranteed to make you feel as though you are in a vast, chilly, misty, echoing, and pitiless environment. Softly roaring noise is layered with extended industrial metallic engine vibrations, punctuated by drifts of icy synthesizer tones. It’s definitely not dinner music. I’m not sure what occasion this would be a good background for, but an imaginative listener can certainly think of something. After listening to Cave of the Wind for any length of time, you find yourself wanting to put on your winter coat even in a dry, heated apartment.

Rating for both: 8 out of 10 Hannah M.G. Shapero, 11/12/01 HEART OF THE TUNDRA by "Deep Chill Network" Dark Duck Records, 1999 When I saw the grainy black-and-white cover of this CD, with its illiterate notes ("..through the icey (should be ICY) realms of the tundra….CHILL at it's (ITS, dammit) finest") I was tempted to simply dump the thing as an amateur vanity publication. But I put the CD on anyway, and was surprised to hear a rather well- made set of three electronic "dark ambient" pieces, each meant to evoke the frigid, dark wasteland of the North (no, not Boston, more like Siberia). Of course, this type of Dark Ambient isn't for everyone – like other esoteric genres of experimental music, it is an acquired taste. How do you judge something like this to be "good" or "bad?" There are no melodic or rhythmic elements, and even tones or notes are often masked with elements of windy, whooshy "white noise." Glassy ice is suggested by more "bell-like" sounds. Tones come and go slowly, like gusts of wind, ending in murmurs and rumbles, and nothing is very loud. What makes this set of wintry sound-sculptures more listenable ("better?") than others of their type is that the sounds constantly change. You don't find much repetition, and they don't last too long, either. Once you've heard one tone for a few seconds, it fades out to be replaced by a different one; this album has the virtue of sound variety. I can't say that about even some better-known artists on larger labels, like Jeff Greinke or Michael Griffin, whose "icy dark ambient" can ramble on tonelessly for what seems like hours. In its own way, this "tundra ambient" is the earthly version of "deep space music," without the sparkly synthesizer ornaments which suggest glittering stars. Its mood is not as dismal as you would think. Though it does evoke a frozen darkness, it has a kind of restful, peaceful quality to it that I found coldly comforting. HMGS rating: 6 Hannah M.G.Shapero, 12/7/99 (See EER's STEPHEN PHILIPS reviews for more info on his DCN "band" project)

Stephen Philips released Heart of the Tundra as Deep Chill Network. This cold and harsh minimalist drone is his interpretation of the other deserts - those above the Arctic Circle. This deals with the starkness and the isolation of the tundra. This CD is darker than dark and deeper than deep. Stephen's manipulations set the tone. His dark drone creates a howling wind and his manipulated electronics supplant the need for samples. Beyond the isolation, deep listeners will feel the cold air and the sting of the wind. Icicles will form on the speakers, breath will be visible and frostbite is a real danger. This is the perfect CD for a mid-summer CHILL. It is, to quote Stephen, "Chill at its finest!" ~ Jim Brenholts,
Deep Chill Network: Dreams 2 Dreams 2, by Deep Chill Network, nee Stephen Philips, "is intended for relaxation (or) sleep and maximized for chill effect." Indeed, all of Stephen's projects under this pseudonym are maximum chill. That is not the same as chill out as referenced in dance clubs. The depth of this chill would render those dancers stepless. Dancing - of any kind - would be difficult - nay, impossible - after listening to and absorbing this music. It is that deep! Stephen's drones surround his atmospheres and his atmospheres surround his drones. The walls of music evolve slowly; they build upon one another; they collapse under their own weight. The effect is, well, dreamy. This CD would have been the perfect follow-up to No Pussyfooting and Evening Star, the classic LP's by Fripp & Eno. It is that good and that essential. ~ Jim Brenholts,
Deep Chill Network: Dreams 4 Dreams 4 is more blatant ethereal minimalism from Deep Chill Network Stephen Philips). It is somewhat unusual - for Stephen - in that it has seven tracks varying in length from 3'31" to 21'09". Stephen's primary m.o. has been long-form composition. This is a gorgeous CD! It is minimalism with a twist. Stephen juxtaposes dark drones and gray atmospheres with pastoral samples and chorale symphonic synthesizers. The effect is, well, that of a deep chill. Deep listeners will get goose bumps as the emotional response wavers to and fro. It is difficult to peg such responses. They are usual too personal and too deep. But they are always strong! ~ Jim Brenholts,




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