"Synthetic Universe " 

Press Reviews

WIND AND WIRE     ( March 2002 )

On their sophomore effort, ambient artists John Lyell and Brent A. Reiland leave behind the darker and foreboding currents of their debut CD, "Wormholes" and cruise over into the warmer, friendlier quadrant of the galaxy."Synthetic Universe" offers up ten selections that should delight fans of both the giants in the genre e.g. Jonn Serrie and Geodesium, as well as newer talents such as Stephanie Sante, Meg Bowles, Ray and Rudy Adrian. The music on "Synthetic Universe" is immediately enjoyable, since there is a mild stressing of melodic content and repeating musical phrases. However, this is still spacemusic - no new age trappings or adult contemporary leanings here. Washes of electronic bliss fill the air and the listener is transported into the blackness of space, albeit with no trace of fear or danger.

The CD opens with "Ethereal Float," one of the strongest cuts. A midtempo plucked-string synth sequence anchors the song as spacy synths offer a variety of melodic refrains, washes, and subtle undercurrents of electronic velvet. The deliberate pace carries with it a feeling of motion but not freneticism; we're on impulse drive, not warp engines, for this trip into the cosmos. "Dream of the Solstice" begins with gently thumping synth bass beats and lovely synth choruses, soon joined by sparse keyboard echoes and patient graceful washes, sounding a lot like Serrie's classic "And the Stars Go With You." The mix on Synthetic Universe is excellent with just the right amount of spaciousness and ever-so-subtle panning effects to add a "wide field" sensation to the listening experience without making it distracting. 

I was impressed with how restrained John and Brent were with this album. Gone is some of the over-kill from their debut, replaced with an assuredness and a technical proficiency on their assorted electronic keyboards. "Planetary Caverns" blends in just the right amount of sound effects (water dripping in caves) to the ambient music (whistling washes, drones, floating chords) so that the song is fleshed out thematically without masking the soft tonal soundscapes of the cut.

Not everything on Synthetic Universe is classic spacemusic, per se, although that depends on your definition, I suppose. But everything here is very good, even if it's a deviation from the Serrie-Bowles sound. "Afterlife" mines Tuu or o yuki conjugate territory, with shadowy (and subdued, not overpowering) tribal rhythms, echoed minimal piano, synth flutes, and processed voice. "The Edge of Forever" has a faint Germanic feel to it, courtesy of some faster tempo sequenced beats (once again, kept in the background with utmost discretion). When I say the song has a Berlin-like sound to it, I'm using the term liberally, but unmistakably just the same. For comparison's sake, I also consider some of the beats in Geodesium's music as being semi-Berlin schoolish. Another fascinating blending of rhythm with spacemusic takes place on "Cosmic Serengeti," which features unique and exciting tribal rhythms (played on wood log drums) folded into the gently soaring synths and choruses with flair and style).

The overall tone of the album, as I stated above, is warm, and for some it could possibly approach the new age music aesthetic. However, to my ears, the execution is surely either spacemusic and/or ambient music. Granted, cynics and hard-core dark ambient fans may find the hushed choruses, twinkling synth notes, and plucked strings of  "Enigmatic Muse"  too pretty, but those people would obviously also consider Jonn Serrie's older recordings to be new age music as well.  It's all subjective, I suppose, but I can easily make the distinction without feeling like I am betraying the spacemusic mindset.

I am, frankly, impressed to hell with this offering from my fellow Minneapolis residents.  It's a mature piece of work - flawlessly recorded, showing growth from both a technical and artistic standpoint, and accessible without falling into the gaping chasm of simplicity or mediocrity.  In fewer words, it's one of the best spacemusic recordings of the last few years. That it comes from two artists who have just begun (relatively) their artistic voyage, bodes a bright future indeed for Reiland and Lyell.  I remember how enthusiastically I reviewed Meg Bowles' Blue Cosmos back in issue one of Wind and Wire and the overwhelming agreement I received via e-mail and letters from people who read the review, bought the CD, and loved it.  Well, to those same people I state that here is another one to trust me on. Traversing a surprisingly diverse (for spacemusic) musical terrain, yet unified by consistent high quality, "Synthetic Universe" earns my highest recommendation.

~ Bill Binkelman, WIND AND WIRE


AmbiEntrance   (April 2002) 

Delicate synthnotes trickle over star-seeking drones and glares in aptly-titled opener, Ethereal Float (9:36) (ask for one of those at your local ice cream parlor!) which wafts with charming old-school techniques. Low tonal pulsations propel  Dream of the Solstice through gently swishing starstreams and ephemeral waves. My favorite, Afterlife seems to land upon a planet of lovely spookiness, powered by light tribal rhythms, loon-like wails and soft piano musings. 

With my anti-repetitive stance, Pleiadean Sky (6:01) gets a bit tiresome as its tweedling tones cycle through the same riff again and again while a more-vaporous backdrop drifts pleasantly enough.  With toot-sweet flutations dancing in the distance, an almost-new-aginess creeps into Cosmic Serengeti counterbalanced by celestial ooze and soft e-tribalisms. The tenth and final piece is Light Years Away in a place where synthorchestral swells roll in serene majesty.

No earths are shattered in the making of Synthetic Universe (77:37) which better suits its purpose as a nice, contemplative space in which to weightlessly sail with little or no turbulence or unexpected detours.  John Lyell & Brent A. Reiland's new sonic galaxies earn a solid B for accomplishing their apparent goals in subtle elegance.

~ David J. Opdyke

Instrumental Weekly   (April 2002)

Space music is one of my favorite sub genres of the instrumental world. When done well, this music can transport your mind to the furthest reaches of the universe and beyond, perpetually floating in an ether of warm sound and sublime imagery. Synthetic Universe, from Minnesota-based John Lyell and Brent Reiland, is one of the finest space music offerings I've come across in recent years, with superb production values and a complete lack of pretension. Restraint is evident throughout the 77-plus minutes of music, and the result is wholly satisfying.

For fans of more traditional "new age" music, a release such as Synthetic Universe may be a little difficult to appreciate. There are many repetitive musical elements found in most of the tracks on this recording, and with the exception of some bass guitar work, the exclusive use of electronic instrumentation may be a turn-off to acoustic devotees. Having said that, Synthetic Universe manages to induce those sometimes elusive mental images of vast amounts of space, darkness, and that wonderful sense of drifting among the stars.

A release such as Synthetic Universe is not simply an album you purchase, listen to once, and toss to the side. This recording could very easily become one of your handful of instrumental recordings that are listened to again and again, each listening session revealing some new path that was missed the time before.

To say that this album is "typical" space music would be far from the truth. I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of tribal elements on the fourth track on the album called "Afterlife". The persistent but not-in-your-face percussion set to far off flute-like sounds along with dark but subtle synth work makes the piece fit right in with its "spacier" counterparts on the album.

"Cosmic Serengeti" has to be my favorite track on Synthetic Universe. The somewhat tribal experience is again had here, and the recurring melody is powerfully compelling. As the longest piece on the album, this is an amazingly moving soundscape that you will want to visit often.

It's been said that there is no such thing as originality. In the instrumental music arena, space music specifically, many albums are compared to the likes of Tangerine Dream and Jonn Serrie. I'm pleased to report that John Lyell and Brent Reiland have conjured up a sound that as a whole is uniquely their own, and at the same time they offer their respect to others who have travelled this same territory in the past.

I think it would be fair to say that Synthetic Universe could very well be the influence for a new generation of space music artists, and that this recording could quite reasonably become one of those albums that others refer to when making their own music. Time will tell.

~ Jimmy D.

New Age Voice Magazine  (August 2002)

Gentle circles of arpeggios rocket us smoothly through the night skies as a diffuse mist of solar wind breaks across our bow in undulating wakes. This CD is prototypical space music, evocative of a journey through the mystery and grandeur of the cosmos. Much of the disc recalls Jonn Serrie’s classic starshow spacescapes, with plenty of lush harmonic movement but little distracting action in the foreground, allowing the listener to delve deeper-down, enthralled by texture and timbre.

The synthesizer voices, a mixture of analog and digital sources, are nicely animated, drifting, morphing and spiraling, lending an engaging sonic complexity to even serene tracks such as “Light Years Away.” “Ethereal Float” and “Dream of the Solstice” are driven by quiet pulses, tied together with twists of unabashedly electronic timbres and strings of ethereal voices. The nearly motionless “Planetary Caverns” drips and drizzles with undiscovered liquids, while “Cosmic Serengeti” throbs with a tribal groove. A quiet hand drum, or a thick electric bass adds a welcome contrast to the bright synth sounds, bridging the earthly and the celestial.

Twin-Cities based musicians Lyell and Reiland may not have jumped through any wormholes to a completely new sonic terrain, but they certainly pilot an enjoyable journey through their corner of the synthetic universe.

~ J T


Klem Magazine--The Netherlands  (September 2002)

“Synthetic Universe” is the 2nd cd of this Minneapolis based duo, that made quiet an impression with their debut-cd "Wormholes" back in ’98. This is another fairly strong effort in traditional spacemusic, but John Lyell & his musical companion Brent A. Reiland also dare to do their own thing by weaving seduced tribal-percussion "Cosmic Serengeti", deep bass-tones and intimate flutesounds into their slow-morphing, sometimes slightly repetitive soundtextures. The album clocks over 77 minutes, offering 10 tracks that spread out the universe before the listeners ears. This journey would be a perfect companion to a planetariumshow, where you step into deep-space, not knowing what will come along the way. Next to various mysterious & darker shades also more lighter, serene elements and spacy touches can be heard in the music.

Next to some vague melodies, intimate flute and pianosounds you are nicely carried away by the duo’s soaring synth-washes without things getting new-agy. Enigmatic Muse or Light Years Away e.g. get you in the same relaxed atmosphere as Jonn Serrie’s Tingri of Flightpath. To my modest opinion, John and Brent only make 1 small mistake in Zone 5, where they infuse some slightly experimental touches in the music, which isn’t appropriate to the other tracks. Nevertheless, Synthetic Universe will do very well next to the cosmic recordings of Meg Bowles, Glen Deardorff or Jonn Serrie…

~ Bert Strolenberg, KLEM magazine --The Netherlands


Something Instrumental  (June 2008)

A superb album from Messrs Lyell and Reiland with all the trimmings you'd want to find in a truly engaging and popular ambient work.

Watch out for the stunning "Ethereal Float" with it's nets cast back to the best of the likes of Tangerine Dream et al. The sequencing is very well executed and the choice of effects add a really nice touch to quite a glossy production.

"Dream of the Solstice" is another little gem that exudes confident and contemplative composition. "Pleiadean Sky", "Light Years Away", and " Zone 5" are all blessed with the same kind of approach in inventiveness......the stuff that really gives this album its trademark status.

I like the idea of synchronized collaborative effort and Lyell & Reiland appear to have mastered that process from track 1 to 10.

All in all, Synthetic Universe is a very cool electronic album that can rest with ease with the best of them and one that these guys should be really proud of.

~ Colin Lynch - Something Instrumental

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