Saul Stokes - The Zo Pilots
Artist: Saul Stokes
Title: Zo Pilots
Label: Hypnos Recordings
1998. If machines could sing stories of the soul of a man... Stokes retains his recognizable sound even as he branches out into new sonic territory.
Zo Pilots track listing:
1 Fast Creatures
2 Altitude and Architecture
3 First Jump
4 Downtown Inaka
5 Open Your Eyes Maitreya
6 Wire Light Hills
7 The Zo Pilots
Total playing time: 71 minutes
Purchase direct for $8.99
Reviews"Top 10 of 1998."
--Chuck VanZyl, Star's End Radio, WXPN, Philadelphia
"Top 30 of 1998."
--Eric Meece / Mystic Music / KKUP Radio
"I just canīt praise this CD enough, I keep comming back to it and each listen just makes it just better.... This is truly a great label, I have around 5 CDs from them and they are all great!"
--Frimann Freyr Bjornsson on the Ambient Music mailing list
"Great album!!!! by innovative electronic artist Saul Stokes. I had sort of lowered expectations for this one, but the positive mention Robert Rich gave in an interview held the back of my mind these many months. Finally broke down. It arrived in the mail a couple days ago and I've played it maybe five or six times. I've woken up with it on and wondered "What the heck is THAT?"
This CD is very unlike most ambient discs, given all the electronic drones...surely it's the custom made synths...I get the feeling I'm seeing the prehistoric past and distant future simultaneously...weird metallic pterodactyls cry out from time to time...then interdimensional travelling machines whir and accelerate out of sensory realms... on Hypnos - which is beginning to be about all you need to know."
--John VanAken (on the Ambient mailing list)
"Wonderful, wonderful album -- chock full of dense, sweeping swathes of bristling drones and lilting half-melodies, with the odd smattering of understated, rubbery rhythms surfacing here 'n there. Everything does in fact have a slightly 'tweaked' sound to it, which I'm assuming is a result of Saul constructing his own synths. I can't, off da top o' me head, think of anyone else to even begin to compare him to, as his sound is so genuinely distinctive...
Check the Hypnos site for sound clips, if this sounds at all appealing (which it should)."
--Joel Krueger (on the Ambient mailing list)
"...this disk is great - it must surely be the custom synths - there's a texture to many of the tracks quite unlike anything I've heard before. I recommend this, too! "
--Mike Bennett (on the Ambient mailing list)
"I tend to describe this as Richard T James without the bad attitude. Like RJ, he builds a lot (perhaps all) of his own gear."
--Dr. T, Emile Tobenfeld (on the Ambient mailing list)
"Somehow I missed out on Stokes' debut CD and now I regret that. Building his own electronics and still being able to create a sonically fascinating world is something not many people can do. Yes, listeners... if the word 'world' comes around, it's ambient time again and I stated it before and here again: Hypnos are a strong label to release this music. Stokes is no different: a great talent of creating outerworld, outerlimit sounds that is dark. In comparision to the other recent Hypnos CD's, Stokes uses rhythms, not in a techno fashion, but much more in a machine like humming way. Spacey, yet down to earth. Highlights for me are the cosmic 'First Jump' and the laid back 'Fast Creatures.' But the other five are top too!"
--Frans DeWaard, Vital E-Zine, Staalplaat, The Netherlands
"A faint noise slowly gets louder and louder, almost like the approach of a propeller aircraft. When it is overhead lonesome synth pads join in one after the other in many different melancholy varieties. The sounds used are exquisite and ever changing. Just four minutes in and it becomes obvious why Saul Stokes seems an almost permanent feature on American Electronic Music radio shows, as far as sound sculpting goes this is high art.
The first track might sound like a traditional ambient piece and it is but much of the album is in a much more modern ambient mode though without any dance beats, these being replaced by very laid back drum loops. The sounds used are perfectly crafted and combined to make sonic paintings of unique images and new colours that the eye canít usually see. It is these sounds which make Saulís music stand out from the crowd. Sure, the music is also perfectly crafted but it is the sounds that hit home and to me, as I have said many times before, it is these unique possibilities that makes Electronic Music so appealing. On the second part of "Altitude and Architecture" we get the introduction of a looped four note sequence and the addition of a rhythm, if it can be called that. It is more like a deep space rumble.
"First Jump" isnít a million miles away from what you would have found on the recently released Morbius album. The hypnotic pulsations are exquisite, I just wish it had lasted longer than six minutes. Different drum sounds are used on "Downtown Inaka" but they are again low in the mix, the searing synth pads grabbing most of the attention. "Open Your Eyes Maitreta" is another floater, again very descriptive and though probably encouraged by the title it makes me think of being unconscious and struggling to wakefulness.
"Wire Light Hills" is a mesmerizing chugger with synth detail flickering in and out of the rhythm, swooping pads diving low before blasting back off into space. We finish with the title track and what sounds like an alien craft coming in to land, we then enter the vehicle and all sorts of other futuristic sounds can be heard. This would have been great music to use in a sci fi film. No rhythm at all is present though non is needed as we return to the standard of descriptive music found on the opener."
--Neu Harmony, UK
"This newcomer from the American electronic music scene puts forth a music in the line of his remarkable participation in the compilation The Other World, reviewed elsewhere in these pages. The environments are varied: dynamics are the style of of "First Jump," "Downtown Inaka" and "Wire Light Hills," in which rhythms propelled by "blips" and "bleeps" lend a light and hypnotic pace; or languid and plaintive like "Fast Creatures" and "The Zo Pilots." Saul Stokes uses traditional electronic instruments, and integrates elements of the artist's own design, thus endowing the music with a personal touch. This is an evolutionary ambient music, alive, of almost organic construction. Very refreshing! An excellent discovery by a label with a very promising future. "
(translated from French by Monsieur Griffin)
--David Fabre, Continuum (Orleans, France)
"The one that hypnotizes. Here, space music shimmers, cascades and swarms, with a more upfront set of sounds that are altogether louder than the normal drifting music [on the Hypnos label], still spacey and cosmic, and joined by the occasional deep, slow percussive rhythms. The majority of the music features the sort of phased synth-meets-mellotron style sweeps, similar to a cross between the orchestral part of side one of Schulze's "Irrlicht" album, Tangerine Dream's Zeit" and Cluster's "Fur Die Katz." The music constantly flows and evolves, yet it's so completely mesmerising, wiht a strange, eerie beauty and inner depths. A late-night listening gem."
--CD Services newsletter (Scotland)
"Saul Stokes really takes the whole concept of Do-It-Yourself quite seriously... besides fashioning his electric soundworlds, he also constructs his own electronic instruments to take us there. The recordings of zo pilots were performed on Stokes' homemade synths which, if anything, give the pieces a more personal, unusually direct contact with the artist; it shows in these light, lush, electro-powered tunes.
fast creatures dwell in a hazily static drone which sets the stage for later effects, like string section sweeps, cycling electric wah-wahs and muted alarm buzzes. altitude and architecture are both amorphously expressed via musical swells which are eventually puntuated by slight, slow percussive elements which subtly drive the piece. Helicoptery effects fly by before the track quietly blips out. Against a more rhythmic backdrop, bubbly and melodious first jump features softly dancing and ringing synthnotes with occasional faraway bird-like cries.
Radiant downtown inaka is built upon a concise background cycle and, eventually, cool beats. Notable residents include Oriental-ish serpentine synth strands, jazzy sax-like meanderings, and a growing, glowing sonic shimmer, rising like an electrified mist. From silence, the brassy/buzzy resonance of open your eyes maitreya (6:10) slowly emerges into aural view. Rich, panning drones swelter forward and backward, right and left, not-quite-but-almost disorientingly. Gives me the feeling of riding amongst a hovering swarm of dragonflys, steering here then there; the track, while overtly electronic, still seems somehow organic, with animalistic sqeaks and chitters toward its end.
The drone which opens wire light hills is thinner and smoother, propelled by clunky drumbeats and accompanied by assorted electronic warbles and squeals. The track simmers at a steady boiling point until all recedes. Flying in from deepest space, the zo pilots (14:41) pass through several distinct zones, from the intergalactic radio-static opening sequence, to a honking cyber-alarm and electro-warbles, to softer, symphonic-like swells, to an oscillating pulse accented by dozens of computerized bleeps.
Yet another quality release from Hypnos Recordings, the pieces of zo pilots buzz by through Saul Stokes's self-made electronic skies. Electrical currents are transformed into softly energized atmospheres, sometimes lighter, sometimes spacier, always interesting. I'm decreeing an 8.3 (out of 10) for these ambient flyboys."
--David Opdyke / The AmbiEntrance AmbiEntrance © 1999 David J Opdyke
"Cool, cutting edge ambient, thy name is Hypnos. Among those artists making a name for himself on this label is Saul Stokes, whose previous release, Washed In Mercury, was well-received on space music radio programs. This is intelligent, creative music with elements of both ambient and dance genres. Stokes not only creates the compositions himself, he built all of the electronic instruments and control devices used to make the recording. So you know you are getting a one-of-a-kind listening experience. Because of this, the music is somewhat difficult to describe in words. There are seven tracks, most developing slowly over at least ten to fourteen minutes each.
The disc opens with a very ambient piece, "fast creatures," which is actually a live recording from a concert in Vancouver, B.C., with some additional instrumentation added in the studio later on. The track is dark, yet soothing, and sets a nice opening tone. Similar to start is "altitude and architecture," but things then proceed to get beat-oriented midway through the piece, giving a hint of things to come. The listener is then hit with a barrage of unusual sounds in "first jump." Here, as with the other percussive tracks on the disc, Stokes features very interesting drum sounds with a lot of punch. It is as if these sounds are intended to poke and jab at the listener (or the listener's stereo speakers!). Some may find the beats in these tracks to be a bit unrelenting, but in the right mood it can be quite hypnotic. This effect is apparent in "downtown inaka," which becomes downright noisy by the end of it, but the buildup is so slow, adding layer upon layer, that you may have trouble figuring out how you got there from its unobtrusive beginnings. The title track is a perfect closer, completing a great journey for outer or inner space.
To be quite honest, I didn't like about half of this disc the first time I played it, but I became captivated with repeated listening. The discs that I grow to treasure most, I often find challenging to begin with. If history holds, I'll be keeping Zo Pilots in permanent rotation among my favorites."
--Phil Derby, Wind and Wire Magazine
"An improvement on the first album and THAT was good, but this is better. Cosmic synth music with a twist for it's crreated entirely on electronic instruments designed and built by the artist. As a result you will discover new ways of flowing and floating through space with assorted soundscapes passing by and a rich textural quality to the drifting music, but layers unfolding that slide and glide through the cosmios, excellently produced, giving the listener an extended sense of vast space and a brief glimpse of unknown worlds to come across 7 lengthy tracks."
--CD Services Newsletter (Scotland)
"With two albums to his credit and represented on several compilations, Saul Stokes is already recognised as one of the leading voices in modern Electronic Music. Described as "fresh and inventive", Stokes brings together elements of Space, Ambient, Industrial and Intelligent-Techno, forging a sound all his own. Performing on custom designed, hand built synthesizers, Stokes creates a sonic landscape somewhere between the floating textures of Vintage Spacemusic and the focused rhythms of Modern Ambient."
--Chuck VanZyl, Star's End Radio, WXPN, Philadelphia
"Zo Pilots is the second release for Saul Stokes on the Hypnos label and carries on where he left off with Washed In Mercury. You have similar sonic terrains being traversed, that same industrial feel, at times pulse driven, long pieces which explore for the better part the darker side of his electronic music. It still reminds me of music I might have listened to in the late seventies or early eighties, not that this is a criticism, for there is a genuine rawness to Stokes's creative output that is quite pleasing. The pieces are mostly developed over long periods of time and for the better part there is no distinct sense of melody as a lot of this is improvised. When it does come it kind of takes you by surprise almost, because our western way of hearing has taught us to listen to melody,rhythm and harmony within music itself.
"fast creatures" starts this release off. This is a somewhat cold and alienating soundscape, big and at times dramatic, Saul Stokes performing on his home made synthesizers, drones, lots of repetition, at times industrial, experimental avant garde. About ten minutes into the piece it descends into a somewhat quieter environment eventually fading out.
"altitude and architecture" starts off in a primordial way, a liquidy environment reminiscent of some of Robert Rich's sounds. It doesn't really go anywhere till about the three and a half minute mark when it changes tempo somewhat. The track doesn't really get off the ground for me, though there are some interesting subterranean textures created in the process, working again with tones and signals.
"first jump" is a bit more up tempo, almost into some sort of Scritti Politti territory, light weight compared to the previous tracks. There is a sense of melody and rhythm, of the artist indulging in something musical, as opposed to experimental and seeing where the piece can go.
"downtown inaka" continues this theme. It reminds me of the late seventies when people were exploring the possibilities of the synthesizer, when ambient started creeping into music but at that time we didn't know it as ambient. A sense of subtlety and grace had not yet been established, until Brian Eno came along and showed people what could really be done with the synth. That's not to say Saul Stokes doesn't possess this. What Eno managed to convey was a sense of stillness and serenity, like a ripple expanding outwards, almost a Zen like quality within the music. I think what Saul Stokes does through these machines that he is creating, is to try and get into the heart and soul of these creations and explore them to the utmost degree. He surrounds himself with sound, immerses himself into the beauty of noise / sound and the electronics of the machine itself. It's almost a cathartic experience at times, this rawness of sound he creates.
"wire light hills" is another long track where lots of sounds are happening simultaneously. What drives the piece is this swirling electronic background that is constant throughout. It gets somewhat chaotic as the piece develops, but it's filled with a dark joy and innocence and in the end becomes quite a beautiful piece of music in itself.
"the zo pilots," what ever the hell they are meant to be, ends the piece. It's the longest piece on this release clocking in at under fifteen minutes. It is industrial and says in the beginning 'don't mess with me'. There is a real sense of purpose in this piece keeping in mind it is improvised. It changes pace about the five minute mark and again a drone starts this phase of the track off. Sound is whirled off in all directions and you end up with some of the finest soundscapes you will ever hear. I hear North Indian raga influences and think of some of the soundscapes David Parsons created on releases such as Yatra or Himalaya. This is very enjoyable indeed. Saul Stokes has done a lot of work with this particular release, and it shows in the quality of the recording. I also believe his best is yet to come. Be that as it may this is unique and original in its own ways and Stokes deserves to have more of an audience for his sound worlds. Another fine release for Hypnos."
--Hans Stoeve, host of Powerspot on 2RES, FM 89.7, NSW Australia