Released in 2009, Soundzero was the second album I made in partnership with Philip Clemo. It had excellent reviews in Mojo Magazine, The Independent (UK), and beyond… press links below.
Here’s a video for the lead track, The strings are all composed and performed by me, and Clemo produced the track as well as making this beautiful video. The drums are by Mark Sanders (David Sylvian / Jah Wobble).
It’s called Surfing Dreams and Chaos
Soundzero is available in my online store as a physical CD and MP3 bundle, and on iTunes.
The Independent, UK
It opens like a nightmare running at slow speed, sound textures blooming and crackling like skin blemishes. The spooky electro-atmospherics of Soundzero are driven by Philip Clemo and violinist Ysanne Spevack. It’s orchestrated in microscopic detail without losing an epic, boundless feel. Across 12 tracks, Spevack’s rack of electric and metallic violins and Clemo’s palette of guitars, noises and “atmospheres” are ferried by a smoky rhythm section including three percussionists as they journey into uncharted waters. At times, the music becomes so otherworldly it sounds as if it’s drifting from the deck of the Marie Celeste.
Tim Cumming, The Independent Newspaper
Mojo Magazine, UK/US
Intricate, immersive soundscapes are best heard on headphones or the sort of fabulous hi-fi that neither you nor I can afford. The composer(s) delight in unexpected combinations – tabla, trumpet, guitar, deep bass and vocals which swim in and out of focus kaleidoscope-style. Sometimes it’s just the violin of Ysanne Spevack weaving elegant patterns, while Irian Jaya, with snatches of soulful vocal, sounds like Marvin Gaye heard in a dream, and Friction is sitar, tabla and burning lead (violin) – Hawkwind on holiday in Goa… Glittering surfaces – but hey, it makes a change from Coldplay.
John Bungey, Mojo, Issue 187, June 2009
Cyclic Defrost Magazine, Australia
Ysanne Spevack’s talents on the violin are of a singular nature in regards to the reimagining of the soundscape of the instrument, it tears, wails and sings outside the confines of its 16th century and ancient roots… There are a plethora of well noted musicians who form the band on this studio piece whose sonic tapestry is a well woven affair.
To a great degree it is a musician’s album, for … the sheer virtuosity displayed by the players here is something of a rare and somewhat hidden quality in general life. Soundzero at times displays all the sound stories populating its world at the time, ambient sensibility, world music vocal and instrument sensibility, classical rigor and discrete variation, jazz influenced free form construction especially amongst the percussion and drums. As a sound event it scales the heights of what a psychedelic ambient album amounted to… yet rarely did. It holds to none of the clichés of the genre and mixes instruments, phrasing, intonation, technique, and technology with a light deftness not displayed by the banner wielder.
Innerversitysound, Cyclic Defrost, Australia
MetalJazz, Los Angeles
Damn, has it been 28 years since Eno and Byrne dropped “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”? After all the world/ambience that’s passed between, you’d hardly think there’d be anything to add, but violinist Ysanne Spevack and Philip Clemo have mixed up a highly refined and distinctive blend.
No instrument dominates; half the time, because of the “atmospherics” and “treatments”, you can’t even tell what the instruments are. Yet there’s evidence that Spevack commands quite a palette, from posh minimalism to hummingbird bowing, and can gorge on distortion and wah while managing to integrate the noise into the overall lull.
Every track grooves ever so quietly, with simple bass riffs accenting nearly subliminal trap drums from the ingeniously subtle Mark Sanders, who has graced the ensembles of extremists such as Jah Wobble, Ken Vandermark, Charles Gayle and Evan Parker. Clemo’s moony synthesizers well up out of the mist, cushioning intermittent eargrab contributions from the likes of buzzing standup bassist John Edwards and perky tabla man Bobby Singh.
Ambient is the world of “Soundzero,” but that doesn’t mean it can’t tell a story. On “Burn Out the Channels,” synthesized kalimba and quick drums chase you onto the African veldt to run through the tall grass; an elephant rears up, a flock of birds flap skyward, a big cat growls, all with the feel of a handheld camera. “Irian Jaya” plunges you into an electronic lake where Cleveland Watkiss’ exotically harmonized vocals babble stoned comfort. The traveler enjoys moments of freight-train rhythm and hellbent blues, ending the journey with a strange multi-violin stereo effect that lends a note of watchful unease to the safari stroll.
The fine-grained, carefully calibrated production puts the final touch on this sensual trance. Don’t play it while driving.
Greg Burke, MetalJazz
“Ysanne’s string performances create auras ranging from hypnotic dreamlike to spine tingling drama. The slow burning delight of ‘What the Voice Leaves Behind’ is truly intoxicating but the album delivers time and time again with the similarly mesmerising ‘Irian Jaya’ and the heartbeat laden ‘The Black Dog.’ ”
Joe Ward, SubbaCultcha.com
Violinist Ysanne Spevack has recorded aplenty for other artists, but there are very few albums credited to her name. “Soundzero”, her collaboration with guitarist Philip Clemo, is a statement to her creativity and sound, but also a true mind-melding between strong artists.
Soundzero offers a surprising and enticing blend of styles: jazz rock and space rock (Spevack’s electric violin is echo-drenched at times), reggae and Indian world fusion, and touches of free improvisation here and there to spice things up. There are no real comparisons to this album, but possible inspirations and markers come to mind: Soft Heap and Soft Machine Legacy for the free-jazz rock feel; Ozric Tentacles and Spaceheads for the spaciness and drive of “Burn Out the Channels” (among other tracks); Strings of Consciousness for the multilayered arrangements, cross-stylistic approach and use of vocals on “What the Voice Leaves Behind”; Robert Wyatt for the use of contributions from experimental musicians and a certain whimsy.
The general mood is space jazz, but the aforementioned elements all filter in and out, each piece developing its own ambiance. Spevack and Clemo handle the bulk of the songwriting and playing, with a handful of guests stepping in, including jazz drummer Mark Sanders, improv bassist John Edwards, singer Cleveland Watkiss, trumpeter Phil Slater, and tabla player Tarlochan “Bobby” Singh.
Pieces are long, slow-developing but engulfing, aiming for the lasting mood instead of the one-two punch. Some tracks are definitely closer to spontaneous improvisation over a groove than compositions, with both Spevack and Clemo (either on guitar or keyboards) going textural and microtonal in their dialogues. I don’t know if Spevack and Clemo are musicians’ musicians
(probably), but Soundzero is a long-player lover’s long-player, something to dive and immerse yourself into.
Francois Couture, All Music Guide, USA
Straight No Chaser, UK
There is a sound processing technique, the details of which are kept secret by Philip Clemo, whereby the common frequencies of two different sounds (bowed cymbals and a moving train, say, or a choir and a shortwave radio) are combined and all the other frequencies are discarded. What do you get? Brilliant noises. soundzero is full of them.
Philip Clemo and Ysanne Spevack produce an electric-organic species of moving ‘jazz electronica’ (in the words of Ysanne) that references – however unintentionally – electric period Miles, Bill Laswell with his left-field internationalist head on, The Necks, Robert Fripp, early Trilok Gurtu, Don Cherry and experimentalists like Paul Schütze. Assembled from field recordings made globally and from the performances of musicians like the tabla player Bobby Singh, the percussionist Pete Lockett, the drummer Mark Sanders and an extensively processed Cleveland Watkiss, Ysanne and Clemo’s second album is multi-textured, surprising and altogether unorthodox.
“I’d build a structure for a piece, starting with sound recordings and manipulations, and then Ysanne would come and improvise to what I’d done. Then I’d rework the whole structure to adapt to what she’d done. Eventually it sounds live because everyone’s responding to each other”, explains Philip…”Things come in and out of focus, and often sounds and instruments are separated from their cultural references, so people will ask “is that a voice or an instrument?”
Ysanne and Philip have splendid ears for space and the dynamics of rhythm and sound too, and the result moves. It’s serious stuff. You can catch them live in London with Coldcut and the Aphex Twin at Bar AKA in West Central St WC2.
Neil Bennun, Straight No Chaser, UK
Hypnotic yet evolving soundscapes draw elements from ambient dub, world music and electronics.
Baby Sue, USA
Soundzero is the second full-length collaboration between composer/violinist Ysanne Spevack and composer/filmmaker Philip Clemo. This is one of those cases where the music is rather difficult to lump into one clean easy category. Is it world music? Is it experimental? Is it mood music? Is it progressive pop? Or is it modern classical….? Actually, the tracks on this album teeter in and out of all these categories and more. One thing is certain. Spevack and Clemo aren’t making music for the masses. This album features complex heady recordings that are not easily digested and/or understood. And yet…there is something about this music that is strangely calming and hypnotic. This album goes all over the place…yet all the while retaining a solid feeling of continuity. Intriguing cuts include “Merkaba,” “What the Voice Leaves Behind,” “Thinking of the Infinite Sun,” and “The Long Red Road.” Ultimately dreamy and complex. Recommended. (Rating: 5++)
Don W. Seven, BabySue.com
This is the kind of thing you really don’t expect to read about on ChainDLK. Now that we have that out of the way, this is really engaging stuff. Some comparisons that come to mind are Peter Gabriel’s more ethnically tinged work, Paul Schutze (who Clemo thanks in the credits), and Dif Juz, a band on the 4AD label (back when 4AD was still good)…
This is not a smooth jazz album. In fact, this is exactly what I like jazz to be like – complex, fast and loose. This is the aural equivalent to riding on a rickety roller coaster. The whole thing is swaying back and forth, and you’re probably going a bit too fast for comfort, but somehow it all holds together. Yet the album still retains a dreamlike quality that keeps the listener involved. This isn’t Sun Ra’s brand of jazz. It’s still accessible to the general public and a nice listen.
Some of the standout tracks include Surfing Dreams and Chaos which highlights Spevack’s violin skills, and Merkaba, which blends synth atmosphere with ethnic percussion and female (Ysanne’s) vocals. The drum interludes Catching the First Train and Catching the Second Train are also full of fun. The disc weighs in at 66 minutes.
Review by Eskaton
Information and Credits
2. Surfing Dreams and Chaos
3. Catching the First Train
4. What the Voice Leaves Behind
6, Irian Jaya
7. Thinking of the Infinite Sun
8. Burn Out the Channels
9. Catching the Second Train
10. The Black Dog
11. Long Red Road
12. Separated by Shadows
Ysanne Spevack – electric and acoustic metal violins, vocals, electronics, location sound recording
Philip Clemo – guitar, keyboards, electronics, additional location sound recordings, and production
Cleveland Watkiss – vocals
Phil Slater – trumpet
Chris Halliwell – guitar harmonica
John Edwards – double bass
Tarlochan ‘Bobby’ Singh – tabla
Pete Lockett – percussion
Mark Sanders – drums, percussion