Ambient Excursions

1999 / 2004





Ambient composer Bobby DeVito aka Stargarden has written several Ambient albums, the aptly titled Ambient Excursions being his first one, originally released in 1999 and re-issued in 2004. Although he states that the album was created by using both analog and digital equipment, I am particularly fond of the organic, lo-fi soundscapes. The term lo-fi isn't meant to be an insult, though. Retro might be another fitting term. I am using it to stress the oscillating warmth and purposeful fuzziness of the synth pads. The album itself sounds placid and soothing. It also gives you a hint about its focus, for it is always easy to categorize an album when it already wears the Ambient genre in its title. The tunes also show a strong 80's feeling I was hinting at in the above description; it is in parts similar to the technology-driven New Age movement of that time which, in contrast to the faux-aborigine New Age extravaganza, paints cyberspace-like aural worlds via analog synths. Stargarden's music belongs to the – in my opinion – better scheme that was recently revitalized by Stellar OM Source, although her music is much more punchy and jumpy. So Stargarden’s music consists of two main ingredients: the New Age synth pads I’ve just mentioned and a space or galactic setting where these devices can unfurl. Read about Star Garden's seven tracks below.

Ghosts Of Ocean Gardens starts with a galactic four-note synth pad and warm, coruscating synth washes plus accordingly quirky backing bits. The main synths remind me of C64 titles with a similarly incisive and bold presence: its long sustain is shrill and doesn't work all too well with the dreamy surroundings, but it's not terribly out of place because it serves the purpose of reminding the listener of the old New Age days (what?). Again, this is my interpretation, and if Bobby DeVito ever reads this review, I'm hoping that he's not shaking his head in disdain. It's a great first track, not at all as ghostly or spectral as its title suggests. Millenia starts with slow, cozy synth pulses and vestigial percussive bursts. Thin 80's synth pads are integrated again at a later point, float by, rise and fall incessantly, all the while the hypnotic synth pulses remain audible. Over 12 minutes, not much changes, and that's a good thing. In short: another great track. The following tracks Mt Fuji and the short Ambient 5 put the lo-fi actor to extreme dimensions. While the first one is surprisingly gloomy at times, intermingling glacially angelic strings with dark synth sweeps, the latter is a let-down to my ears, presenting uninspired strumming with an added echo and hall effect. It's simply a lackluster track due to the omission of thought-out strings or other interesting background tidbits. It really is just the synth pads alone, nothing else.

Astral Dub does what its title promises: it starts with a sample of an esoteric self-help tape about interpreting dreams, but soon thereafter introduces gorgeous dub lines and sizzling hot synth backings. In these surroundings, an 80's lo-fi synth floats along, maintaining the distinct sound of Stargarden in this dubby and beat-driven track. A superb one for fans of Adrian Sherwood, Audio Active or the space albums of Mad Professor with Mafia & Fluxy. Chenrezig starts with various bells and wind chimes. It mixes Far Eastern tone keys on string-like synths with brightly illuminated galaxies, gloomy synth pads and a female announcer. Once more, the aura is kept alive for almost 12 minutes, and when all elements are introduced after 3 minutes, nothing changes or is enhanced. I like this track due to its Asian flavor, but would have rooted for more sophisticated synth backings. These are delivered by the final Nitro Dub: multitextured synth sweeps, quirky spacey echoes and the heftiest percussion make this the workout-compatible track of the album. If it was just a bit faster, it could have been a Jungle track. The synth sweeps consist of multiple square leads that sound perfectly warm. It so happens that Stargarden's Ambient Excursions ends on a Trip Hop note, but also with a strong Ambient factor.


Ambient Excursions is a good first entry in the universe of Stargarden. The synth sweeps are always gorgeous, no matter where on which track they appear. It is their interplay with the 80’s synth pads in the foreground that makes this good album a great one if you are searching for this certain style. There is only one track on the album which I cannot stand, Ambient 5 with its trivial presentation of chance and luck on the keyboard. Each remaining track is worth your while, even the two dub tracks Star Dub and Nitro Dub have their distinct qualities, merging superior blissful synth washes with bass drones and clear cut percussion. Whether you call this album retro, New Age or 80’s, it is probably a mixture of all three categories. It is thus purposefully dated. If Bobby DeVito is able to come up with lush modulations, he should be equally skilled in determining eclectic main melodies; those, however, are always rather thin, fragile or unsubstantial in order to let the backings shine all the more. Ghosts Of Ocean Gardens, the opening track, may well be my favorite, but I need to stress once again that you need to tolerate or better like the technology-driven New Age niche of Ambient music, for this tune and all remaining ones can (but don’t need to) be placed in that category. Another plausible classification of Ambient Excursions would be the genre of spacey Ambient albums which would be the domain for artists like Shambala Networks, Gel-Sol, Sun Electric’s 30.7.94 Live and about 300 other artists I forgot to mention. So in a nutshell, spacey New Age Ambient music with an 80’s feeling it is.




Ambient Review 061: Stargarden – Ambient Excursions (1999). Originally published on Apr. 18, 2012 at