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cover art
Second Nature

 Second Nature - PS 08/78
  Release Date: 14 August 1995
  Limitation: 1000

   Synthetic Forest       28.42
   Green Paste            16.59
   Artificial Seaside     16.29
   Landing Cycle           6.25

  all tracks written by Bill Laswell, Atom Heart and Tetsu Inoue

If environmental sound be the food of ambient play on I say!

Taking as its inspiration a synthetic variation on the natural sounds which often form the basis of ambient musics Second Nature brings together three of the biggest talents in the FAX stable; Inoue, Laswell and Atom Heart. In their alternate universe, not so very far from the Aerial Service Area, lies a planet not unlike our own. It is lush in tall vegetation which conceals most of the planet's surface. The unusual green sea of this planet laps against enormous stretches of silvery sand. No one has been here before but for the unmanned landing craft that make occasional forays to unlock the mineral richness of this place. Their moaning engines can be traced to the Synthetic Forest where an emotive warbling sound accompanies our first glimpse. It's concealed fauna chattering and clicking in the distance leads to a curious and super-fast spoken voice and a movement of bending and growing sound like an animal cry infinitely slowed-down. What is going on? Things come clearer into focus with a coherent twittering chime and a pedestrian bassline and steam-driven beat. Being on the Green Paste of the sea is odd, aren't we near some kind of place of worship? Those sounds are certainly calming but soon make way for the pulse of our radar screen and shimmering patterns of light, the effect is hypnotic; slow use of keyboards, uplifting atmospheres and nostalgia-inducing scales. Altogether a relaxing place. The soundscape of the Artificial Seaside is no less so. The reconstructed sound of a long lapping wave is combined with gleaming sounds and an otherworldly theme. This is built from the super-tweaked sound of a water droplet, deep bass and a sentimental electronic refrain. The two steps forward and two back of the bassline are covered with cracked chips of sound, fragments of an exotic soundscape and whining screams hollowed out by the heat of the sun. As we take our leave the Landing Cycle comes into view and the ever-descending washes of its sombre engine glide by. The sounds are subtle, mild even, but also melancholy with a hint of uneasiness. Given time I could grow to like this place.

(review by Rowland Atkinson)

I was really looking forward to this disc. Here we have Tetsu Inoue, Atom Heart, and Bill Laswell all rolled into one. Being a huge Inoue and Atom Heart fan, I knew this disc could do no wrong. Synthetic Forest starts out with sounds very much in the MU vein- abstract in some ways, very floaty and formless. Some strange beats break in- and finally merge into this almost industrial rhythm. It didn't go over the edge, which is good since I'm not an industrial fan at all. But the beats and sounds managed to stay slightly eerie, and that was cool. Then about 15 minutes into the track, I found myself thinking about FSoL with those nice stomping beats on ISDN. Same sorta thing in some respects. The Laswell bass in this track works really nice. The track then fades away into this nice ambiance that is very signature to Inoue and Atom Heart. Great track. Green Paste (what a name) starts with more floating melodies with a little bit of distortion added in- which fades into a darker sound which is formless- but very deep. Midway through, the darkness gives way to a more peaceful sound. Serene is a better word. The track finally closes with the same ambiance it started with. Artificial Seaside starts with some of those ocean wave synth sounds that sweep in- and thankfully they don't last very long. This tracks has a lot of great elements in it...dub, sweeping synths, eccentric blips and bleeps, abstract sounds...but the bass seemed to over power the other sounds a bit too much...my only complaint. Landing Cycle closes the disc with some creepy space sounds which fade off into the far reaches of the galaxy.

On the whole, this disc is more environmental than other stuff I've heard. Since I'm not as familiar with Laswell (excepting in recognizing his bass) as Inoue or Atom Heart, I can say how Laswell fans would take this disc. But I think that fans of Inoue and Atom Heart will definitely enjoy it a great deal. Each individual's style is well mixed and works together for a unique sound. A great release.

(review by rdudley)

With "Second Nature", a trio of FAX personalities present us with a highly theme-oriented disc and a captivating excursion into synthesized organics. All three musicians involved (Tetsu Inoue, Atom Heart, Bill Laswell) seem to take a background role all at once, allowing their three distinct styles to interweave quite masterfully throughout the entirety of the work. This disc is full of subtleties and harmonic interaction, each artist producing consistently understated contributions which results in the best form of collaboration: a perfect meshing of musical styles which form a solid, unique whole. I receive similar emotions from this disc as i do from Schmidt/Inoue's "Flowerhead", but contrasted with the dreamy suede finish of that work, "Second Nature" seems positively gritty. A scratchy, all-analog feel throughout the disc strengthens the theme and provides a convincingly raw emotion to all of the tracks presented here.

Synthetic Forest - - -This opening track is a lengthy one, but the experience starts up quickly as a thicket of synthetic and distorted samples fade in, providing us with a tranquil but intense nature setting. Echoing, screechy synthetic birds surround us with electric wildlife, and there are bugs everywhere! A calm and rather indecipherable melody pipes along the background and soon harsh but immersive noises pan in from all sides. The forest is very much alive with a fuzzy form of ambience that begins to include samples of a more human origin, along with some bending and melancholy tones. Distorted human breathing surges in the right channel and is rather disconcerting due to the fact that one can't quite tell if it's synthetic or not. Whatever the case, the effect is wonderful. Bright and shimmery melodies abstractly drift along. Somehow our trio gives us a very "green" sound here, hitting their intended mark dead on. More repetitive loops enter and the pace begins to pick up playfully. The track is beginning to take on much more structure as humming bass repeats softly from the lower regions. These lush-sounding organic textures juxtapose nicely with their own electric sources, with wonderful reference again to the title of the piece. This is convincing stuff! :) Elements intensify and recede like the sun shining through foliage, accenting and subduing. Some soft, snappy double-percussion invades the right channel like two robotic woodpeckers having a conversation: Uwe's here! They're joined by a third companion, a more present snare in the middle pipes up and *eep!*, a sudden thumping bassline jumps in! The track immediately gains lots of rich structure as we're visited by the first of Laswell's bass. In the course of the past couple minutes our track has progressed from abstract, melodic ambient to a funky, drum-filled textural jam! The movement of the rhythm is very steady and not overbearing whatsoever, as Inoue's masterful backgrounds prove equally important as Atom Heart's asymmetrical rhythmic work. Our artists continue to paint a vivid picture: Laswell describes the thick forms of the forest-the rugged terrain, redwoods and logs stand looming, Atom Heart shows us the wildlife of the forest-birds, rodents and bugs fill up the airspace, while Inoue provides a sense of space, the light filtering between all the physicality in a hazy drifting. We're treated to a warbling solo of some kind as the thumping excursion continues. Things progress nicely for several minutes (the elements thinning and thickening like the forest), until a sudden decomposition tells us we've reached a clearing. A rest is needed after that rugged journey, time for a lie in the grass. Some kind of live instrumental samples and the recurring bending tones provide a calmer, still organic feel as Inoue takes the reins for the track's finale. Clouds roll by in a summertime haze and the memory of wildlife returns with the breeze. The track's total 28:42 passes in no time. A wonderful opening experience.

Green Paste - - -A soft Inouean vista opens before us and the intangibility of the melody is strikingly beautiful. This is somewhat of a night piece, and we can see a massive forest filled with futuristic air traffic, the air is very clean. Floating staticy noises and tones drift like fireflies in the dark, together with intrusive elements that vanish as quickly as they appear. A garbling insectile whisper fills the left channel, with a matching oddity in the right, and a sweetly meandering moonlight melody fills it all out peacefully. Intermittently, sounds like jets traverse the night sky high above and in places the energy of this environment becomes somewhat chaotic. There are wonderfully processed textures here. Harmonic washes and computerized ramblings fill the air. The moonlight melody returns, but by now the track has entered into a state of fragile unrest..the sunrise is imminent. Some warmer analog synths take the forefront in a night breeze, the fireflies dancing in its gusts. The beautiful Inouean expanse again makes itself known as the sun rises....

Artificial Seaside - - -Synthetic gulls and tidal washings open the track in an amusingly accurate interpretation, along with some subdued and grand echoes. A vast-sounding tone gives a nice sparse but massive sea view. More vocal samples make a return appearance, and this track in general appears to be a more laid back return to the emotions of "Synthetic Forest". A gusty, sandy and dry feel predominates and some bubbly preliminary percussive sounds begins to filter in. Drawn out tones and stretched synths combine with a shimmering watery texture and some ghostly washings: Inoue is at work. The interesting harmonic tapestry effect that characterizes this cd is exemplified here. Notes that seem unrelated establish links somehow. Gently vibrating bass and airy, electric analog melodies fade in with a ticking hi-hat. Tasty subtle percussive interaction begins to knock and softly cycle and soon another round of Laswell bass begins to throb. The light beats play around the plodding bass playfully, with an odd and pleasing time signature. It's very relaxed here :) Elements return and leave dreamily. The gentle rolling of sand dunes and the windswept grooves are described here. Things float around gently until gradually fading away, leaving the lingering bass wobble pulsing along with the tide and wind-swept tones.

Landing Cycle - - -A much darker ambient piece ends the disc. This seems much more technological than the rest, focusing on the aforementioned air traffic above our synthetic landscape. Deep and dark drones contain a wonderful doppler effect as aircraft come and go, invisible in the nightscape. Beautiful bending harmonic progressions intrude. A deep, slow, repeating melody adds a super-subtle underlayer to lingering drones and one of Inoue's trademarks: thin, stretched notes which seem to implode upon themselves as they gain their highest pitch. The dark cyclings continue and then fade as some more lonely, calling instruments join the deepening night-mesh.

Overall this is one of my favorite and most comfortable-feeling FAX releases. The wonderful collaboratory aspect of it is a particular draw, and the way the theme is so subtly executed make this an outstanding collection of music. The subdued psychedelia present here is highly entertaining and immersive, but anyone hoping for same ol' same ol' from Atom Heart or Inoue here will be disappointed. Fun, interesting, and fuzzy!

(review by Auraphage)

Three masters unite for a very nature-oriented album. Titles include "Synthetic forest" and "Artificial seaside", and as usual with Fax the thing here is not the melody or the chords, but the textures and the "sonic landscape", if I may say so. Very tranquil and relaxing. (I have to find new words for the Fax reviews.) And highly recommended!

(review by Christian)

The opening measures of this release provide great promise as Atom Heart and Tetsu Inoue begin to carefully construct a three-dimensional facade of sonic pleasantries. But, unfortunately, the walls come tumbling down early. Unexpectedly and irritatingly, thunderous bass bombs are leveled against the wonderfully sculpted architecture. Being a fan of _Psychonavigation_, I thought Laswell might shed more of his rhythmic wizardry, but the only magic here is between the basslines. Inoue and Heart let a great effort go the way of typical thud-thuds and a Led Zeppelin bass riff. Did someone mention a sequel minus one? 2/5

(review by zig)


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