2005. Latest solo release from this former member of Dweller at the Threshold, whose
solo debut was released on Hypnos/Binary a few years back.
Reviewed by Bill Binkelman of Wind & Wire:
"Portland-based EM artist/synthesist Paul Ellis reveals his multi-faceted musical talents on his latest release, Silent Conversations, and he wastes little time doing so on the first track, "The only known photograph of God" when, amidst the percolating sequence and swirls of keyboards (some of which are handled by guests Steve Roach and Jeffrey Koepper), he breaks out his electric guitar and sets to riffing in a decidedly jazzy fashion, cooking up some brilliant counterpoints to the quasi-Berlin and spacemusic elements of the track. Who the hell knew the man had axe chops? The sequenced notes and buzzing, whirring synths circle the guitar refrain and a thumping bass guitar pumps underneath it all with just a hint of some keyboard jazz riffs at the tail end.
"Trillium" steers back into more familiar territory, with Ellis alone on assorted synths, carving out a solid nine-minute piece that unfolds ever-so-slowly, with spacy textures, a wonderful solo flute carrying a refrain, cascading sequence high notes, and some deep bass beats, all of it added layer by layer until there is so much going on that keeping track of it all is an exercise akin to watching several flocks of different species of birds all take flight at once and trying to follow them as they speed away. By track's end, Ellis has brought in retro EM elements, a la Synergy and Jarre, as well as trace fractal grooves. Wow!
"Peripheral Vision" is the shortest song on the album at five and a half minutes and its another melding of EM and jazz elements, this time in a more dark ambient vein (Steve Roach sits in on this cut with synth support - and he is immediately recognizable - plus Will Merkle contributes on bass as well). The jazz elements come from Ellis' integration of Fender Rhodes keys with the more desert-like drifting electronic ambient textures. He really allows the Fender to reverberate way back to the horizon line, and boy does it make the music sound cool! I really like the mellow vibe of this track, yet laced with mystery and a palpable sense of wandering in the desert at dusk.
There are six more tracks on the album including the quirky and sinistro-whimsy of "The wind-up synthesizers of the Glass Reich" (Ozone Player, a.k.a. Otso Pakarinen, guests on this one and again, for anyone who has heard his stuff, his handiwork is immediately apparent). Label this one "dueling synths" as Ellis and Pakarinen see who can top the other with getting truly bizarre, yet accessible, textures and sounds from their keyboards!
"Trance figure" has Ellis bringing out both his guitar and Fender Rhodes again as well a featuring a real flutist (Laurie Guild). The cut merges an almost Western-motif form of guitar with washes of synths, once again conjuring up mental images of forlorn desert landscapes, this time more in tune with walking down the empty streets of a ghost town, as tumbleweeds do their dance under the hot noon-day sun. When Ellis plunks the main refrain, accompanied by unbelievably "bassy" bass and flowing keys underneath, the music is both eerie and nostalgic.
"Continental Drift" is vintage Ellis (working alone again), i.e. his unique take on EM which combines elements of Berlin school, retro European electronics, and contemporary elements that lend a futuristic air to the proceedings while still rooting it in accessibility with a nod toward tradition, i.e., soaring synths and mellotrons, bubbly sequenced rhythms and notes, and catchy melodic refrains.
"The dumb angel's periscope" once again mixes Ellis brand of EM with Roach's fractal sensibilities. Label this one "controlled chaos" as the assorted synthesizers (it sounds like there are about ten or more lines going at once) flit, chatter, ping-pong, and float all over the soundfield.
Silent conversations the title track has Brenda Erickson guest starring on cello and Alison O'Connor contributing vocals. It's the longest piece at eleven and a half minutes and it's unlike everything else on the disc (and maybe unlike anything Ellis has ever recorded), as Erickson's cello, mildly distorted, melds with electronic waves and washes, sounding almost spiritual and/or classical at times. However, don't mistake this for sounding the least bit "new agey" as it's got a subtle dark edge to it, as well as being overtly electronic (except for the discernible cello and O'Connor's vocals which are wordless, ethereal in nature, and quite beautiful, to be honest). The more I listened to this, the better it got * warmer, more expressive, almost achingly sad or haunting at times, yet compelling so you can't turn it off. It ends quirkily, with a series of halting spacy electronics, pealing church bells, and O'Connor's voice, more naked and present then before.
Closing out the album is "Dialing in the Sun" which is Ellis' reinterpretation/arrangement of Roach's fractal/ambient/EM composition "Sundial" (featured on the latter's album Life Sequence). The track is easily identifiable, yet Ellis (working with Roach again) re-imagines the music with some distinct differences that merit its inclusion on this album.
Silent Conversations will prove revealing and rewarding for long-time Ellis fans as they discover new-found subgenres that the artist is comfortable exploring and traversing. While I was surprised at some of the directions he has taken, I wasn't (nor shouldn't have been) surprised to witness the diversity and scope of his talent. I'd love for him to further plumb the lands of cyber-EM jazz, as those were the tracks which blew me away the fastest here.
However, all of Silent Conversations is worthy of your attention and the CD offers proof that Ellis is a solitary visionary when it comes to forming an alchemy of past and future electronic music. "