Semantic Spaces Review
by Gavin Stok November 7 1994
It is a rare occassion for there to be an album which I literally feel compelled to play over and over again - the only albums this year which have achieved this goal have been Enigma's The CROSS of Changes and Cosmic Baby's Thinking About Myself (to a lesser degree). I am now proud to add Delerium's Semantic Spaces to this list.
Since getting the album through Canada's Nettwerk Records I have been impressed at the different sort of sound that Delerium offers in the album, but let's get one thing straight - there are two types of records, one which is similar to style to another band, and another type which uses lots of the other band's samples. In the case of Semantic Spaces it is definitely a case of the latter - you'll find lots of Enigma samples scattered throughout the song, but the style and sound of the overall track is definitely not that of Enigma. Lots of other samples are used as well, including those from Vangelis, Deep Forest, Cosmic Baby, and Ennio Morricone.
Going for a whole 78 minutes in total, the album can boast that it does not sound repetitive - each track has its own unique style and sound about it, while still having the basic ingredients of merging a sense of atmosphere, and using the right samples at the right time (without just using it for no reason). Great detail seems to have been focussed on the bass line and the beat (one clearly "stolen" from Enigma) but it is the subliminal atmosphere created through the use of samples and equipment which gives the album a fantastic overall feel. A track-by-track rundown goes as follows (the number of asterisks to the right of each track title gives my rating out of 5 asterisks):
Flowers Become Screens [7'55"] ***
- The droning at the start is from tracks 1, 10, and 11 taken from the soundtrack Baraka
The first single off the album, this track starts off creating an atmosphere through the use of vocal drones. Soon after the voice of Kristy Thirsk (credited as the angelic vocals!) begins speaking different vocals of the lyrics. With the drone still present, her speaking turns into a chant and the beat begins.... The bass line then enters and you soon start hearing layer on layer of sounds (drones, various electronic sounds, initial chant) with Kristy speaking out the verse lyrics. It is the chorus which she sings in her angelic voice with the bass line highlighted. This repeats for the second verse and chorus. After this there is more drones and her voice is swirled around with other special sound effects before the comes is performed one final time.
Overall this song has a sort of pop feel to it, but is more complex due to the layering of sounds and atmosphere. It is one of only two vocal tracks on the album and soon has you singing along. The mixing of the track is also done in such a way that the second verse & chorus don't sound like a total repeat of the sounds used in the first verse & chorus.
Metaphor [7'49"] ***
- At 1'15" & 5'02" is the drum bridge from Sadeness at 0'12" taken from the album MCMXC a.D.
- At 0'00" is the sound from Opening taken from 1492
This track revolves around the use of a chant which appears to be sung by Kristy. The atmosphere is once again set up during the first of the track with the use of the Vangelis sample, some bells, and deep electronic sounds. The track turns at 0'57" where the sample is introduced and the beat soon after that. It is also here that we are first introduced to some Gregorian chants! After the chants come some atmospheric sounds followed by the introduction of the bass line and the Greogorian chants again. For the majority of the song a mixture of Kristy's chant, electronic atmosphere, and Gregorian chants give the song its sound and atmosphere. At 4'10" another chant is introduced and the song takes on a slightly different direction. More percussion enters at 5'00" alongside a slightly different beat, before the track returns to its original style at around 6'00".
This track uses stereo to great effect, not creating atmosphere by drones or consistent background noises, but by physically trying to shift the sound around the listener. Through the use of the sound engineering and the chants, this is achieved well. Also note that the Gregorian chants weren't the subject of the song - they simply formed part of the whole.
Resurrection [9'24"] ****
- 0'33"->0'41" & 0'51"->0'58" taken from Opening on the album 1492
This track starts, progresses, and ends focussing on one particular chant. It sounds as if it is sung by a choir of males & females, and seems partly Eastern in origin but may simply have been made up! The beat enters at 1'12" and is fairly fast in pace. From here is a mixture of the beat, the chant, and some other electronic sounds including distorted flutes and other little samples. Other segments use the same beat but introduce different electronic samples and make the atmosphere more apparent. The bass line also becomes more apparent as the track goes on. A more percussioned sound can be heard at 5'45" and more new segments are added on top of the beat and bass line, mostly using a number of stereo effects. The track ends with layers stripped back, leaving just the chant sung.
It does not take long before the listener is singing along to the chant! The track has a good paced beat, lots of samples which add to the flavour of the song, and once again that sense of atmosphere which Delerium seem to have mastered. One thing all tracks use to great effect is stereo - the quality of the recording is excellent, and the number of samples used are great, some of which can be easily heard, and others which are at low levels.
Incantation [6'21"] *****
The second vocal track (and also the shortest), this one starts in a totally different tangent to the actual track. It begins with low-sounding electronic sounds, introduces a beat at 0'22" but then goes in a totally different direction at 0'38". The beat suddenly becomes faster, a short-sharp sample by Kristy is introduced and shortly after the beat becomes heavier and has Gregorian chants overdubbed on it. It is at 1'02" that the bass line is introduced and dominates the rest of the track (it is bassy, it is heavy, and it is contagious!). The verse of the song is sung, one word at a time and with a lot of delay in between each word. While this occurs, the bass line continues and Gregorian chants are swirled around (similar to that in the Enigmatic Club Mix of Age of Loneliness). At 1'48" the chorus is sung - present are only the bass line, the vocals, and some soft electronic sounds. A second verse then follows and the chorus is sung once again. After the chorus some new electronic sounds are introduced and a chant is played at medium volume. The song soon after reverts back to the original sample, has some more stereo effects and goes back to the chorus. A few more effects, and the chorus is sung once again to close the song.
This is perhaps my favourite track on the album - everything is just so right about it! The vocals are infectious, the bass line keeps going over and over in your head, and the Gregorian chants are used beatifully, once again not being a focus of the song, but simply part of it. The song also highlights Kristy Thirsk's vocals. If this song was released as a single I feel it has a lot of potential.
Consensual Worlds [10'04"] *
- Familiar instrument taken from Towers of Dub on U.F.Orb
Welcome to the track which pays tribute to The Orb. The song is fairly simplistic at the start, with long chords (reminiscent of Jean Michel Jarre) and a simple melody. At 1'40" some drones are introduced before the beat is introduced, similar to an Orb track. This beat is blended with the droning sounds to give a nice sound which circulates from speaker to speaker. At 2'34" however, the drones disappear to introduce a reggae-like bass line. From here, other Orb samples are used using full stereo effects (as The Orb are known to do) including the bubble-like sound and their other electronic sounds, along with some spoken samples. This goes on in various forms and using various effects until 6'06" where the sound of the track takes on a slightly different flavour (through the effective use of different electronic sounds) for a short period of time. After this however, it's back to the same sorts of sounds and effects as before. Towards the end of the track, drones are once again used to good effect, becoming more apparent (& louder) towards the climax of the track.
This track did not do much for me. There were some great sound effects and the merging of the drone with the initial beat had great potential, but overall the song sounded too much like an Orb-remake and went on too long for my liking. Orb fans, however, would probably love this track.
Metamorphisis [8'27"] ****
- 0'00"->1'24" repeated from the start of Pinta Maria (Into Eternity) on the album 1492
- 1'45"->1'54" & 1'54"->2'03" taken from the first 5 seconds of Ave Maria Guarani on the album The Mission
- From the album Deep Forest
Beginning with a strong emphasis on the Vangelis sample to create an uplifting atmosphere, a beat is introduced at 0'43" and a melody introduced shortly after to adjust the listener to the style of song they are about to listen to. This begins at 1'24" where the Vangelis sample disappears and a short, sharp electronic sound eminates from speakers. A vocal sample from The Mission (an "angelic" child singing) is overdubbed and at 2'04" the main beat kicks in. It is bassy in sound but ends with a highat sound (it's hard to explain but sounds industrial-like). Kristy uses her voice as an instrument shortly after and further electronic instrumenation is introduced, the beat being the predominant sound. A lot of short electornic samples are used to create an atmosphere and a lot of focus is placed during the centre of the track on Kristy's voice. Another sample around this time was from Deep Forest, but it is used at medium volume. At around 5'00" the beat is changed slightly with more bass sounds and focussing on the voice. At 6'05" however the beat returns and the song continues the way it did before. For some reason it appears the beginning of the next track is attatched onto the back of this one.
The feel & style of this track was very original, with lots of samples once again being employed perfectly, and the beat and bass line making the track a pleasure to listen to. There were a lot of different musical pieces in the track while the underlying beat was the same, and the mixing of the track somehow manages to make the merging of sharp beats with atmospheric sounds and backgrounds seem natural.
Flatlands [7'13"] ****
- From MCMXC a.D., beat to Sadeness, instrument from Way To Eternity at medium volume
Welcome to the Enigma triubute song! Full of Gregorian chants, Enigma beats, and Enigma samples, the song at first sounds like a total Enigma rip-off. But the amazing thing is that it isn't despite having all the same ingredients. The track begins with solo Gregorian chants and follows on with the beat of Sadeness with a repeat of the chants. At 0'37" the bass line is introduced along with a nice piano solo (reminiscent of what Michael Cretu does all the time). Merged on top of this is Kristy's voice used as an instrument (she is somewhere between singing and chanting, but her voice flows with the tune) which sounds wonderful and adds a dynamic new layer to the music. Her voice with the Sadeness beat and bass line continues until 1'51" where the Gregorian chants are once again introduced. Throughout, electronic sounds are once again used to create the atmosphere. The use of Kristy's vocals, the underlying bass line, the occasional use of piano, and the Gregorian chants are the main focus of the track. But at 5'29" there is a merging of the chants with Kristy's vocals which increases the sense of atmosphere and feeling about the song.
After first listening to this track, the Enigma similarities stood out and consequently made this my favourite track. Still one of my favourite tracks, this song takes what Enigma offered and ADDS (yes adds!) to it.... The merging of Kristy's voices to the Gregorian chants is fantastic, and the atmosphere of the song is higher than of other tracks. You feel a total sense of the chants and voice of Kristy surrounding you with the bass line pounding at you and other electronic sounds swirling all around. Finally, the piano adds to it and literally takes you away.... The song really has a feeling about it.
Sensorium [12'08"] *
- Background birds & low volume chant from The First Twilight, beginning beat from Savana Dance, pygmy sample from Sweet Lullaby, all taken from the album Deep Forest
- Beat taken from Sadeness (Reprise) from the album MCMXC a.D.
- Familar instrument recognised on Thinking About Myself
Every album generally can't be perfect, and this track proves it. It begins with Deep Forest samples in the background (from The First Twilight) along with some distorted bells followed by some other electronic sounds swirling from speaker to speaker. These continue for quite some time with other samples overdubbed (horses, low volume drone) until 1'46" where more electronic sounds begin swirling around as well. A chant is introduced as well at 2'46" and after this some chords give the track some melody. The familiar swirling sounds and occassional chords continue until 4'10" where a Deep Forest beat takes over (from Savana Dance) and a Cosmic Baby sample is introduced to create some electronic sounds at 4'29". Shortly after the same sounds as before are overdubbed onto the new beat. This Deep Forest beat finally ends at 6'14" only to be replaced at 6'22" with an Enigma beat. But its back to the normal sounds again (with one new Deep Forest sample) until 7'13" where the song finally takes on some new direction, going for a bassy beat and new electronic sounds. The chant re-enters shortly after and Deep Forest samples are repeated. The song continues in the same rough way it did throughout for the remainder of the track, although the pygmy chant from Deep Forest is highlighted.
This track showed me no direction and is the only track on the album which appeared to use samples for no logical reason (the Enigma beat sounded totally out of place!) and be too repetitive. For the most part it was the same sounds with different beats or too little change. Since the track is the longest on the album, I can only presume this is intentional (but don't ask me why!).
Gateway [8'13"] ****
The finale of the album begins with a storm overdubbed by deep-sounding electronic chords and a higher sounding melody. This changes over to the underlying beat at 1'07" which can only be described as jungle-sounding (those who have ever seen a computer demo involving a jungle may know what I mean!). The bass line further highlights it at 1'20" and various distorted electronic samples create an atmosphere. This atmopshere is further highlighted at 2'10" with other electronic sounds. 2'58" sees the introduction of an Indian-sounding chant, this time sung by a male and nicely blending into the song through the use of echo. An interesting sample is introduced at 4'10" and used to good use throughout the track. Further electronic sounds add to the overall sound at 5'00" before the track returns to the chant at 5'23" which is heard twice. The track finishes at 7'24" with the beat stopping and the storm once again re-entering with a harp before fading to finish.
It is undoubtedly the beat and bass line of this track which is the highlight - it is very bassy and felt on a good stereo. The rest of the track is atmospheric in its style and has a mellow feel to it due to the ongoing electronic chords and bass line. The song has an uplifting flavour to it and was a good choice to track to end the album on since it leaves the listener contented with what they heard and still impressed with the whole experience that the album offered.
The album as a whole is truly a worthwhile listen and anyone who loves the sound of Enigma and related artists should also like this album. Credit must go to Bill Leek and Rhy Fulber ("Ambient and Rhythmic Auditory Sculpture") and Greg Reely ("Sonic Architecture") who have created a sound and atmosphere which is unique and mixed perfectly.
Thanks go to Nettwerk Records in Canada for providing me with this CD for review.
Some information courtesy of Darius Galinis.