Wizard Chimes






As I am mentioning in roundabout every twentieth Ambient review, there is the genre called New Age, and an entirely different genre called New Age as well. Since I am constantly reviewing works of both highly distinct but blendable genres, I am re-evaluating their characteristic traits every so often. The following work – incidentally one of my absolute favorites – by the Seattle-based keyboardist and synth expert Panabrite aka Norm Chambers belongs to the exciting kind of New Age. Wizard Chimes, released on cassette in September 2010 on the Gift Tapes label and available to purchase and listen to in full at Bandcamp, is supercharged with eclectic synth patterns that evoke strong mind trips through Rave-fueled but beatless dioramas of the 90's such as dolphin-filled ethereal cyberspaces, neon-colored sunsets on Aztec temples in space as well as galactic maelstroms of the joyful kind.


This kind of New Age has nothing to do with the synth-heavy outlook to and yearning for the Age of Aquarius high above an isolated mountaintop, but is rooted in the modern video game culture and its implied intermediary sensory overloads. The best thing about Panabrite's music is its floating form, with only a few mild hints of snare drums or bass blebs reaching the intrinsic sound layers, if ever. In these stylistic and aesthetic regards, Chambers' music is concentrically placed between the ebullient Drone material of Stellar OM Source and even the more genteel concoctions by Lone and Model 500. Wizard Chimes is a bubbling nine-track artifact of the post-Rave era full of analogue synths, entangled pads and pulsating specks. It is even more exciting if you consider the fact that Panabrite permeates both definitions of New Age in his works. Thankfully, Wizard Chimes is all about the delicately spacey kind, with a deeper dissection of all nine tracks to follow in the next paragraphs.


The blazingly bedazzling attack rate of the synths in the opener Celestial Program make immediately clear where the album is heading to. Warm sunlight-coated cyber-bagpipe tone sequences in major merge with liquedous laser lights and crunchy bass accentuations. The aural panorama is wide, as if one gazed upon a majestic landscape, additional plinking synth spirals elevate this feeling further, a certain 80’s feeling is definitely perceptible. Even though the song is six and a half minutes long, it does not change anymore once all of its ingredients and layers are perfectly in sync, but boredom does not ensue, for the balance and euphony of its parts make it one of Panabrite’s mellowest mélanges shuttling between incisive perspicuity and a diffuse substratum. The following Triangle Foundation harks back to the 80’s, possibly even more so as the golden rhythm pad-driven structure in 3/4 time builds the base frame for cascading and rising synth glaciers, fuzzily protuberant lacunae and a Far Eastern timbre. Every brighter element seems so pristine and polished whereas the dark background allows the neon luminosity of the synths to conflate with the murkiness. A great piece that literally begs for an admixed beat, but factually works far better without one.


While the perniciously titled Randomizer Sect might be one of Norm Chambers’ few ideas that are taken a step too far due to the unending piles of analogue robot signals, bleepy pulses and staccato shockwaves which are altogether mellifluous and silky but lack a meaningful pizzazz, verve or catchy melody, it is Rapid Spectre which immediately returns to the galactosamine glowplug clime thanks to its bubbling rhythm synth aorta in hatched colors and the many icy sparkles that whirr in adjacency to the complemental scintillae. Its melodious aspects may again be a tad weaker, but the textures entrance me big time. Nocturnal gives its characteristic sound aspect right away, or so it seems at first, for the reduction to a nightly fume is only applied to the gloomy-amicable dualism of the oscillating synth placenta; the mercurial chirps of cyberbirds, the crystalline purity of the coruscating chimes and even the synth rivers that float in this positively cavernous antrum are loaded with lucent colors.


Monolith is the first piece that places eminent dark matter pads in the spotlight, but instead of creating a mediocre space theme full of malevolent dissonances and grave dimensions, Panabrite’s tune is of the flamboyant kind, gleams and glistens, stacks piles of interacting pads together and lets the – admittedly syrupy – majesty unfold. Every pad is conspicuous and distinct, no foggy filter is used to blur the aura. This ravishing clarity might explain the benign solemnity Monolith invokes. The next tune is called Peering Into Dust, and it is here where the aforementioned omission of haze is finally taken care of, as a superimposition of turquoise-tinted Detroit-y balm is floating in the distance, accompanied by laser-like snare eruptions, echoey birdcalls and celestial vortices orbiting around an acroamatic susurration. It is a beautifully contemplative piece that inherits the thought-provoking parts of the New Age genre. An arcane, decidedly mysterious centerpiece.


The counterpart follows in the form of Crystal Dawn Eject, a prime example of Chambers’ love for the term crystal and its related transliterations which are found throughout his complete works. And boy, is it great! It is the enormously catchy epicenter of the album. It is solely created to enchant, lure and entrance the listener with washes of wraithlike beauty. Comprising of only two notes which are created with a magnanimous amount of synth strata, the gyrating, increasingly arpeggiated pulses are the only bustling condiment to this pompously blissful opus. Heck, this piece contains almost every cheesy element out there to make it sound asinine, but its soft cumulation and intensification flow into an euphoric apex. So utterly sublime, and incidentally one of my jogging songs I take with me on every run. The final piece is the eponymous Wizard Chimes, the second dark matter pad-fueled mixture with a distinct four-note melody, electric guitar-evoking square lead oscillations and a ubiquitous amount of soft echoes. These dark, titular chimes are set against a dark background and hence feel lonely and thin, but also independent of any interpretative effort. In contrast to the apotheosis that is Crystal Dawn Eject, this title track seems too thin and cold a closer to make a big impact, I’m afraid, and it so happens that the album is curiously named after one of its perishing, more enigmatic tracks.


Wizard Chimes is one of my favorite cyberspace-oid New Age works ever created, and remains one of Panabrite's best works overall, at least in my humble opinion. His later works such as Blue Grotto (released in July 2012) focus a tad more on the former, retrogressive New Age side with ethereal legato layers and rapturous synth walls which bolster the majority of the results. Wizard Chimes is definitely a more progressive work with only whimsical acidic accents, but much more instances of virtual euphony, powerful pompousness and slices of quirkiness. From a conceptual viewpoint, it is definitely comparable to Stellar OM Source's shape-shifting synthorama called Alliance (2009), as it shares both the energetic levels of luminescence and the careful adjustment of silence, sustain and sound. The textural variety is equally successful, the variety is huge, and yet there is a recognizable coherence that runs as a golden thread to the whole material of Wizard Chimes. It is indeed a strange thing to notice as I have mentioned before, but the title track is one of two weaker pieces of an otherwise superb aural realization of virtual realities.


Crystal Dawn Eject is my favorite off the album, and one of the few Ambient pieces I consider for running and workout, for its glaring felicity and bliss give me goosebumps at worst and über-strong adrenaline kicks at best without the drop of a single drum; only the mighty power of the synths and their surfaces accomplishes this effect. This tune really is the show-stopper, with the opener Celestial Program being the second contender, and I believe Norm Chambers knows about their outstanding qualities. What this release delivers in different textures, it lacks in filters and alterations, but one does not necessarily notice this as a flaw: most backing synths and lead pads are presented in a piercing, vigorous and strong manner, there is neither a dreamy haze in-between their cusps, nor a crackling stream of pink noise applied to the sound layers. Everything seems to jump at the listener which is so unlike the originally envisioned ethereality of the New Age genre. Fans of 16-bit video games, sanguine science fiction and synth wizardry (!) will undoubtedly enjoy Wizard Chimes. This music is more relevant than ever, given the fact that the post-Rave scene has not cooled down yet as it is in fact on the rise again. But even if it does cool down at one point, Panabrite's music will always have a place in my heart, with much more to follow, I hope.


Further listening:

You can purchase and listen to Panabrite's Wizard Chimes in full at Bandcamp.


Ambient Review 183: Panabrite – Wizard Chimes (2010). Originally published on Feb. 20, 2013 at