Jeffrey Ericson Allen Review – Portal by Chriss Russell

22nd February 2012

Chris Russell’s latest release on Relaxed Machinery (rm_0037), Portal, explores deep sonic territory in a series of seven exploratory soundscapes. It’s revealing, and worth quoting, what the composer says this of his work:

“Other worlds, other dimensions and glimpses behind the veil. A strange beautiful music brewed up on this release, this album born out of dark and experimental sessions led to a bold new direction for me. Deep space pics along with some of my light photography were the visual backdrop while this project was created. My studio really became a vehicle traveling in a void of sound, exploring a place I plan to visit again.”

Portal is, indeed, extremely visual, a collage of seven abstract sound canvases that stand alone as musical works, but which I would give my eye teeth to see in concert with the visual art that inspired it. (There’s a video project for you, Chris!) While each of these pieces has its own unique character, most share the double aesthetic of atmospheric space music and industrial /tech noise-art. Russell likes to superimpose lush and ethereal pads with earthy knocks, creaks and scrapes, as well as DJ-inspired crackles and gated sounds. These play for me like underworld prisoners, trying to escape their bonds to soar in the cosmic winds that swirl above. It’s an extremely effective dichotomy of sound. Whatever your personal imagery, it’s incredibly rich and fertile ground for imaginative listening. The sound design is sophisticated and artistic, making full and elegant use of the stereo field to present the well-conceived compositions. Russell also makes effective use of harmonics—especially the delicious odd partials—to spice and sweeten his sound.

I do hope that the composer will at some point consider releasing this as a high bitrate FLAC download. While the MP3 encoding offers a reasonable facsimile, I yearn to hear all of the sparkle, detail and full dynamic contrast that I know is there in the original. But I feel that way about virtually all ambient recordings presented in MP3 format—so do not let that in any way deter you from buying this exceptional album in its present form. It’s really stunning work, and a welcome addition to any quality collection of ambient music recordings. Visit the Relaxed Machinery website to learn more about Portal, hear samples, and buy the download.

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