Sunday, 17 March 2013

Review: Gate/Sol – Gate/Sol (1994) PS 08/47

Gate/Sol are Charles Gate and Victor Sol (aka Lars Müller). Their sole collaborative album consists of just two tracks, Red and Blue, each a little short of 30 minutes in duration and the format of these two efforts is essentially the same: very gentle, sparse pads and some highly melodic, fluid keyboard playing. This is no join the dots ambient record with themes that are purposely semi-sketched. The reason that this album could be described as ambient comes from the very noticeable contrast between what is going on in the foreground and the background.

In terms of the emotions that it offers up this record is a contradiction in terms, both warm and a little chilly at the same time and it took this listener a short while to work out that this is because the warm lead instrument, the keyboard, sounds almost lonely in the middle of its spartan musical surroundings. This mixture of moods is amply demonstrated with the first offering, Red. Gentle synth pads and the finest of atmospheric sounds, suggesting breezes and distant chirping insects introduce the record and an atmospheric motif that will return cyclically is played. There is also something faintly cosmic in the shimmering ambient sounds that provide the piece’s atmosphere.
Some African percussion arrives, subsequently weaving its way in and out of the mix at various points and a synthesiser is used to play some lovely melodic lead that sounds somewhere between an electric piano and a classical guitar. The cumulative effect of all of this is like sitting around a bedouin campfire under a canopy of stars, whilst cold winds shave across the surrounding desert dunes.
The two tracks are bridged by thunder and a rainstorm somewhere in the distance. Blue is upon us, and the rather arid environmental sounds of Red are replaced by waves breaking on the shore. Once again tasteful atmospheres and some lush, unobtrusive chords are joined by a sparkling electric piano-like lead. This time there is more playing and what is there is even more melodic. Whilst Red may have provided some African flavours, Blue sounds decidedly European in its approach.
The opening theme, a lovely melody, dominates the track and snippets of both birdsong and lapping waves help to create a sense of environment. At one stage, fairly early in the recording the piano-like keyboard voice skates gracefully and joyously away from the main theme, sounding like something from a Hans-Joachim Roedelius record, before returning to a more subdued section and ultimately the rather wistful, recurrent theme.

Initially Gate/Sol had this listener perplexed, as it sounds unlike anything else in the Fax discography. The keyboard playing is unusually melodic for recordings on the label and the contrasts offered by the record take a little getting used to. This record is an acquired taste but an acquired taste that most certainly pays big dividends after three or four listens. Gems like this, scattered throughout the Fax back catalogue make the label what it is and the clever contrasts between the record’s background and foreground make for some powerful, emotional music. That Charles Gate and Victor Sol didn’t record together again is a crying shame but at least we have this excellent album to enjoy.    

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