A review of Spicelab's A Day on Our Planet
Spicelab is one
of numerous production names used by Oliver
Lieb. (Others include Paragliders, LSG, ..). This particular record, while not commercially successful as many of
his other works,
is an exceptional gem of classic trance and "acid" sounds. Because it uses a
large number of electronic instruments at once and has four parts, I like to think
of it as an electronic "symphony". However, the pieces do not follow any set
form (as far as I can tell), other then the usual alternations of tension and
release, otherwise known as build-breakdown form. It was released on CD under the Harthouse label in
1994 (hh cd 09) and 1995 (hh1003-2) and by Planet Earth Recordings in 1995
Journey 1: “Falling” 18:02
The piece starts slowly and quietly. Although they seem like a typical ambient progressive opening, the opening moments are an excellent test of deep listening. Unlike many other pieces with similar openings, the aural landscape here is quite rich, with many different sounds blending to create a spacey, mechanical type of sound-space. One already is getting that classic outer-worldly feel typical of Harthouse. The voice over says "Main stairwell secure.. we think he’s on two" which gives some contextual information. It as if we are exploring an alien spacecraft. The vocal resonance effects are perfectly done. Some dissonance in the air; tension mounts with nervous expectation of the strange aural landscapes that await us on our journey. Then we hear some other muffled voices.. “I’m on the elevator.. he seems to be hanging on.. about 3/4 of the way down… we thinks he’s on 2”. Finally, a gentle build up beings. The beat kicks in, a deep, smooth “underground rave” type of beat, but only for a little while. It is quickly layered with African-style drums, but delicately filtered and suppressed. Despite similar instrumentation, at no moment does the piece actually become rave style dance music. After another minute, the high hat kicks in, at this point the layering has achieved a high-trance groove. Ambient washes slowly move in and out, followed by out-of this world sound effects. Superb acidy sounds drift down in the background. The progression of strange sound effects continues, but in a highly controlled manner. Finally, a bass-line arpeggio begins to dominate, slowly oscillating up and down. The complexity in form is quite high, but slowly and surely tension is building. Phasers and deep bass instrumentation come into play. Steady increase in volume and trill like sounds continue the build until : bang: a clean anthem line jolts the listener in an epic release. I call this anthem line “theme 1”. A progression starts rebuilding on top of this theme quickly, the tempo mounting, as if we are flying over an alien landscape. Then, there is a breakdown.. The bubbly acid continues, but there is a clear melody pattern arising out of the chaos… we are drifting through some of the sounds heard earlier, and “theme 2”, a variation of “theme 1”, heard quietly in the background. The female vocals, "…. and falling" announce a slow progression of falling. This can be interpreted as either falling down a shaft, falling into a trance, falling to sleep, or into an coma. The downward arpeggio on the "bongo drums" conveys this sense, as does the heavy filtering and cross-fading or "blurring". We heard another variation on "theme 1" played in a variety of instruments, included a arpeggiator which sounds a lot like "pipe drums", and later a trancey synth. Flanger and distortion effects are modulated with great care throughout, maintaining the "dreamy" feeling. Finally, the main synth cuts out and return the the soundscapes heard at the beginning, and we have reached the end of journey 1.
Journey 2: “We Got Spice” 19:19
The piece begins with phaser type sounds, like a laboratory equipment, fading in and out, followed by robot-type sounds, and computer sounds, and a female computer type voice (although not in any recognizable language). All effects are highly filtered, as if the listener is slowly waking up from a cryogenic chamber or an alien lab where they are conducting experiments on human subjects. Then, trademark industrial style drums start in slowly, with a carefully measured and fairly sophisticated progression of beats, finally followed by the kick drums at a moderate tempo. Compared to most trance, the beats have some unpredictable shifts. There are many interesting sounds which are hard to describe in words. Oliver Lieb has one of the largest collections of synthesizers of any electronic musician, and he loves to include lots of instrumentation. Finally, we hear some “breaks” sounds”, which release some tension by balancing bass-centered texture and by brining us back to a more accessible rave-type soundscape. We also hear a classic 303 sound, and classic “metapharstic” (ala Aphex Twin) industrial sounds. The journey continues, into a section which I picture as futuristic robots quickly assembling something; perhaps other robots. Despite a fair degree of consistency in the beat line (at least for the moment), the acid lines are extremely organic and rich. Finally, ambient washes overtake the industrial sounds, with cleaner, “airy” acid washes, which are very uplifting, as if we are finally leaving the mayhem of the machine world. The computer sounds are really amazing. There is a ethereal female voice in the background… it as if we just came out of some weird acid trip and we are moving back into classic rave / anthem trance territory. The appreciators are typical, modulated at two frequencies, fast and slow, building up, the basso-continuo sounds familiar and groovy, the ambient washes are quite pleasant, and we even hear some classic 303 sounds. This is quite danceable… the breakdown is not unexpected.. we hear the same bass-continuo (I actually did not notice this right away), and all sorts of new sounds, claps, high hats, acid sounds, synths, ambient (very subtle) tones, glitch/click sounds, “trill bird” and eventually, bongo sounds. Ambient pads start growing in the background, lifting the listener to new heights. Finally, we hear the female voice in the background, and the piece slowly drifts away.
Journey 3: “A Day on Our Planet” 17:52
The piece starts with a long 303 wash, and thumping acidy sounds, and ambient sounds like strange sirens heard in the distance through a network of subway tunnels. Once again we hear “metapharstic” industrial sounds. Once again there is a wide variety of abstract, strange sounds. The sound at 3:50 are awesome! (The boom-boom-boom-bwaaaaae)… That is definitely the main "theme" (or motif or riff) of this piece. This section is quite rave-y and would be great for club dancing. Around 4:30 we hear some cool filtered patterns on the 303, and some lots of cool whirling sounds. There is a breakdown of sorts at 5:31. We then hear the main motif repeated over again. There is a long, somewhat tedious breakdown, and then we hear a new theme, and a slow movement downward.. we are drifting over the planets surface now.. the computer voice is saying "please enjoy your day on this planet..".
Journey 4: “Planet Spice” 16:21
The opening is a great progressive groove. Nearly the entire trance is danceable. We hear lots of cool industrial bells and whistles and bunch of other cool groovy stuff. The breakdown in the middle is fairly epic, but not as epic as epic trance. We hear spacecraft sounds similar to those heard in the first journey. The last section contains the highly unexpected introduction of new material thus far unheard: string instruments. Here I have just described the pieces in a stream of consciousness style.. I have not sought to elevate this album to its proper place.
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