The Baroque Atrium is apparently named after ‘a state of mind evoking an idyllic, peaceful place’, which will disappoint those hoping for an album inspired by a hotel reception area where a string quartet plays Vivaldi for eternity. Anyway, for all you budding field recordists, that idea is still out there and I look forward to hearing your album when it’s submitted to A Closer Listen in a couple of months. In the meantime we’ll just have to cope with this excellent album from Panabrite, the recording alias for Norm (‘NORM!’) Chambers.
The ingredients used are deceptively simple: some analogue synths seemingly imported from 1970s Germany, a guitar and a artificial-sounding voice (it could be a vocoder, it might be an old MacInTalk setting). There’s also some birdsong as an atmospheric bonus. But like a chef whipping up a banquet from a handful of items found in a fridge, the results are impressive. Chambers keeps his work concise and avoids drifting off into excessive noodle territory. Even the album’s centrepiece, the 17-minute “Suite (for Winnie and Roxy)” divides itself into sections rather than exploring a single theme for the whole duration. There’s a wit and lightness of touch throughout the album which its Preservation sibling from Mirror To Mirror sadly lacks, and is the stronger of the two recent Circa 2012 releases from the label. The mood is consistent from beginning to end, and providing you have a soft spot for Tangerine Dream or Popol Vuh this is recommended without reservation.
As the synths undulate away, one can be grateful that the often overlooked pre-digital synth work is finally having its moment in the sun. An inaccessible and expensive musical approach when it first arrived on the scene, it was swiftly taken over by fresh and rapidly evolving styles (post-punk and disco notably dragged some of the techniques on board) and left, in a manner of speaking, on the shelf. The last five years or so have seen a revival in the sound, and it’s now an approach accessible to all given the relative affordability of equipment. It seems the surface of the sound was barely scratched in the 70s and there are any number of artists doffing the cap and making fresh, interesting music in that field. It’s an area that may become over-populated too soon and but the best stuff will always stand out and on the strength of this release, Panabrite is right at the forefront. (Jeremy Bye)