Stellar OM Source
The works of Paris-born, Antwerp-based Christelle Gualdi aka Stellar OM Source never cease to amaze me. I am a huge fan of her complete works, and she has yet to make a step into the wrong direction. Maybe she already has, but I for one won’t notice, as her production technique is boldly unique despite her deliberate reliance on the past: Stellar OM Source creates retrograde flows in futuristic cyberscapes. Yes, you have heard such descriptions before, but the consistency and dedication to this – nowadays deemed old-fashioned – approach is remarkable. Do you remember the colorful music videos about flying dolphins in space or their artificial landscapes full of checkered patterns in pink and green, with various suns or moons on the horizon? Do you secretly admire the foggy, distopian covers of science fiction novels when you haste past the station bookshop? Have you ever played the Nintendo classic F-Zero and were as fascinated by the adrenaline rush as by the pixel art of a forlorn wilderness or the densely populated megacities? These are some of the worlds Stellar OM Source is able to create. Taste the colors, touch the music. Anime movies of the 80’s clash with the video game nostalgia of the 90’s, but neither one is directly interwoven in the music, only slightly perceptible to the connoisseur. The subjective perception does not always mesh with the track title or a certain timbre, and yet does it feel just right. Alliance of 2009 is one of Gualdi’s earliest works, self-released and not featured on a label yet. While a few of its tunes made it to her anthology release Trilogy Select of 2010, the best tunes, to my mind, were left out, as it is usual with such synopses. Alliance manages to be particularly interesting to Ambient fans, but consists of one potentially alienating but highly prolific factor: it is completely beatless, but ever-bubbling. It features almost unnoticeable scents of loops, but otherwise reels freely, holding improvisational acid hooks and gossamer synth pads in high esteem. Loop-based Ambient music is more and more questioned, becomes shady and dubious in our times, and Gualdi couples this notion with 100% synth-based virtual reality-evoking gemstones. Ambient fans will rejoice, but former Ravers and glowstick munchers should especially watch out.
The album launches with the longest piece already, and every second of it is loaded with vivacious synth whirrs and futuristic particles: Fantazia succeeds with a free flow of carved out retrograde synth stabs that are at first a bit wonky and muffled. Their strongest enemy is the pitch-black background which consists of… silence. It is the haphazard interplay of sound, sustain and space that remind of a cleverly interpreted Jazz segue of roboticists. However, once there is a second, eminently gleaming and effervescent synth stream added, every moment of silence is successfully bridged. This very stream itself is ever-changing, resembling space flute tonalities, rising Doppler sirens and artificial wind gusts. Fantazia provides a magnificent start: the arrangement is breathing, everything is dynamically bubbling and in constant motion. A luminescent megacity in the distance comes to mind that is watched by the listener on an incandescent speedway in a far future. Absolutely grand! The following Red Green Blue builds on the same diversified pattern, but tries to mediate between clashing molecules otherwise. Dark Roland synth pads of the mean-spirited kind are entangled with coruscating glitters and heavily oscillating electric guitar-mocking square lead fragments in sky-high regions. The murkiness is skillfully fend off with a mélange of swirling synth creeks. One can almost taste the plastic odor that derives from this aural-chemical fluid. Again, the same tone sequence is never found twice on the main riff, and if there wasn’t the bustling accompaniment of gurgling synths in the distance, both the progression and the coincidental factor would almost be too vigorous.
Up next is Alpine Architective, a curiously contemplative and mellifluous soundscape. Multilayered crystalline textures are accentuated by cherubic emerald-green serpentines, plinking cyber zithers and truly sparkling glints and twinkles that unite this wuthering sirocco with a pristine fragility of languorous quality. The dynamic range of the tone pitch and the many rows is higher than ever, and even though the ensuing relaxation and smoothness of this tune seem to suggest the opposite effect, the ensuing peacefulness is astonishing. While Equalizer 2600 moves into decisively harsher climes thanks to its raspy Drone-resembling buzzes and the counter-attacking eeriness of many electric guitar-like sound bursts, the transfiguring Time To Live reactivates the buzzing nature, but places it in-between a gorgeously enigmatic setting of a dripstone cave full of aqueous-mellow reverberations and spacey swirls. The listener is covered in a blue-tinted aura which illuminates the cavernous mystique. A very deep track whose quiescence is not perturbed by the ongoing commingling of the specks and splinters which waft in higher regions. It is Dynamic Of Here that provides a comprehensible formulaic maintenance for the first time on the album: an arpeggiated rotor-esque synth aorta serves as the constant for the dreamy legato washes and gelidly twirling flutes which fathom an acroamatic path into virtual reality checkers, presenting yet again a depth of field in the background that is completed by the piercing brightness in the foreground.
Zones Under Influence may be one of the standout tracks due to its utter focus on a tense coziness. This ambiguity is realized with warm and hazy synthetic bubbles, epicurean square flecks that elbow their way through the ooze due to their bit-crushed nature, and muffled static noise injections. Despite the invoked hodgepodge and squeaky acidity that gyrate round the lilac liquid, the constant flow of the backing drone fends off the feeling of utter chaos, making this another meditative tune. Fittingly enough, the magnificent Universal Export relies on that very notion and revs up the balminess of the synth drones even further. Here, Christelle Gualdi prefers to make cuts in the admixed synth globs, as this tune is all about the multicolored setting of an orange-shimmering warmth in the limelight, as the nimble synth molecules are much softer and blurrier. The repeated pattern of these warmer elements is strangely lenient and majestic, there is no element of uncertainty or uneasiness interwoven. It is the two-part Time Sensitive that harks back to the timbre of the opener Fantazia, although in a down-pitched form that is permeated by the scintillating chirps of cyberbirds, celestial droplets and rounded off by a second phase depicting galactosamine cavities and deliciously texturized synth pads. In contrast, the title track Alliance is an aural artifact where Stellar OM Source bows down before her album Ocean Woman (2009), for this piece is without a doubt the dreamiest injection of the album with no spikes or shards whatsoever. Deep bass drones underline a misty cocktail of trembling blebs and shedloads of ethereal strings which lead to the final Irreversible, an unexpectedly baneful closing track full of intense space pads, a brazen darkness and claustrophobic tone sequences in minor. The friendly vesicles at the end cannot fend off the murkiness of this highly intense track which provides a different aesthetics-related scope that Gualdi revisited occasionally but constantly in her later works.
Alliance is a great retro-futuristic Ambient album. There is not one single beat on any of the eleven compositions, and yet do the created synthscapes feel positively crammed, ebullient and alive. It is the jazzy approach of Stellar OM Source that makes this counterintuitive assertion possible; the freely flowing notes, incessantly changing sequences, surprising hooks, contrastive tones and the differing textures in tandem with the ensuing chemistry of conflation, absorption and repulsion altogether create unbelievably credible cyberspace dioramas that are – mark my words – one of a kind to this day. Only in hindsight do the complete works of Stellar OM Source show a golden thread that may be excruciatingly entangled in the gallimaufry of hooks, riffs, stabs and waves… until one realizes that all these devices, the carefully orchestrated and oxymoronically planned chaos itself is the golden thread, the constant law of artificial nature in Christelle Gualdi’s music. Don’t get me wrong, there are loops and repeated patterns in this release, for there must be some kind of stabilizer and harmonious force enabled, but the perpetual alteration of the textures and melodies is refreshing and feels very mercurial and vivid. This is one of the albums I would recommend to haters of Ambient music, regardless of whether they are accidental fans of the so-called nostalgia layering technique, alternative realities, neon-colored cyberspace harbors or whether these things are of no interest at all. Video game culture and futuristic anime settings are deeply written into this music, but please don’t expect 8-bit bleeps or sampled field recordings. Such mundane ingredients are nowhere to be found. If Alliance is nonetheless too dynamic, frantic or hectic and you still want to experience the entrancing state of tastefully technocratic New Age vistas, Stellar OM Source’s aforementioned Ocean Woman is a proper Drone album, extremely aquatic and mellow. Likewise, her 2010 release Exises features a beat structure in some of the tunes which adds another layer of magic to the ever-whirling turbulence. Stellar OM Source creates Ambient(-related) music that relies on various sound phenomena of the past in order to create a distinct, novelly future. A blast!
Follow Stellar OM Source on Twitter: @omsource.
Ambient Review 137: Stellar OM Source – Alliance (2009). Originally published on Oct. 24, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.