Original Issue: 1996 Soleilmoon (DFX 26) Buy it here!!!
Margot-meter: 4,5 moons / 5
Option May-June 1997
Nerells' chops as both a synthesizer expert and a student of the gamelan allow him to explore the border region between electronics and one of the world's most highly developed acoustic orchestras -- not that this hasn't been done before. But Nerell takes the gamelan into ambient realms, where-as many of the other fusions of Western musics with gamelan have turned on gamelan's rhythmic elements, Nerell uses gamelan in combination with synths, but also electronically morphs the gamelans into subtle, delicate resonant spaces, where just traces of the originals loop through the composition. At times reminiscent of Jon Hassell and the darker soundscapes of Steve Roach, Nerell's music shows a delicate touch of great beauty, and his understanding and love of gamelan never leave you feeling even the hint of appropriation. John Baxter
Alternative Press May 1997
(four fingers out of five meaning: well done).
Nerell is an American who became spellbound by Bali and Java's gamelan music after a chance encounter with it 15 years ago. He merges field recordings of said music with his own studio manipulaitons (via synths and samplers), but only skilled ears could tell which is which. Nerell's tools include various Indonesian gongs, rain-stick, dholak and slenthem.
Lilin Dewa should strike a resonant chord with Westerners receptive to contemplative musics, even if they don't have a clue about gamelan. The moan-and-groan drone of Galungan has ritualistic overtones that induce an uneasy, peaceful feeling, like being isloated in a desert, Borobudur 4AM is akin to Paul Schutze's cinematic take on Souteastern Asian ambience. Muted chanting and cricketsong add to the song's mesmerizing chill. Bamboo, Iron, Resin, Bronze is one of the most gorgeous and euphoric peices of music since Don Cherry's "brown Rice" (1975), conjuring the image of a stately glide down an Indoesian river. Dave Segal
Interface version 4.1
It seems as though everytime you turn around, Portland-based Soleilmoon Recordings puts out another batch of reissues, collections, anthologies and new releases that transcend the usual glut of meaningless industrial anthem rock, and define a whole other, more sincere world of ambient sounds and settings. Quickly becoming the grandfather of Industrial World Music, Soleilmoon must rank at the top of the list for any aficionado of textual sound canvases and internationally-mixed keyboard cacophonies. This latest batch of exceptional ambient releases all arrived at my door within the last few months, and they are collectively better than the junk-mail singles collections substituting for albums that clutter major labels, release schedules for an entire year.....Nerell and Muzlimgauze offer enchanting forays into the realm of world music with their new releases....all are superior and recommended trance music for the thinking man. Anais
Nerell, originally awakened by Tangerine Dream's Rubycon, also took an early liking to gamelan music, tape manipulation, and electronic sound generation. He's been known for his work with Steve Roach, Djam Karet, Kronos Quartet, Paul Haslinger, and others. Why he's taken so long to release his first solo is a mystery, but some artists only do things when they consider the time is exactly right. Lilin Dewa is a slow, brooding, swirling, mysterious quintet of nighted murals. A cross between Vidna Obmana, Alain Kremski, and a somnabulistic Steve Reich, it demands liquid patience from the listener and displays a debt to Harry Partch that only the initiated will understand. It also requires a breadth of experience, attention, and, at least initially, non-judgementalism. The opening track, Irama, is deceptive, seeming somewhat more minimal than necessary, and perhaps a tad paradoxically World Music-y in this fad-time of politically correct obeisance to imaginary social demands from art (of all things). It is, however, a preparation agent and owes no uncivil subordination to current contexts and trends. It slows the listener and thickens the listening environment, and is important to the fourth track, Hiasan (Ornament), which contains very subtle information and is an epic (20:00) of quietude, joining such masterpieces as Eno's 2/2, John Abercrombie's Still, and a much-too-small body of sublime quiet-art. It also has latencies of the On Land work.
The closer, Borobudur 4AM, carries on Hiasan's mission, but as terrenely alien electronics within a rain forest (the ambients were recorded at Borobudur, in Java, site of the largest Buddhist stupa in the world) counterpointed by a distanced ceremonial event. And neither Nerell nor the label indicate whether there was an intention for the bird song and insects to act as natural music, but they do, giving a bit of an exposure to the coincidental experience of nature as an unrecognized music "form". Given the savantry displayed and Nerell's immersion in the culture (he played in-country with native bands) bounced against his American birth, I'd wager he knew exactly what he was doing yet got more than he intended. The degree of identification with this environment is almost unsettling, creating the transference for the wet loamy fecundity of the jungle to seep slowly into the listener's bones......through the ears.
This cd will not be for everyone, of course. It requires more than a modicum of culture and serenity of mind and spirit. Many who essay it unprepared will soon be clawing to crawl out of their skins and toss on some Metallica. But, for the connoisseur, it will sit on the shelf of outre musics for slightly twisted ears. And once you've finished listening, the answer to my curiosity (as to why he took so long to go solo) should become obvious. Marc Tucker
Exposé No. 14, Winter 1998
Here is a composer who has been busy working to put Indonesia on the map as the next landing point in the trek in search of inspiration. In his music Loren Nerell has always shown the explorer spirit, and Lilin Dewa reflects the fruits of his study of ancient and rare forms of Balinese gamelan. This he uses as source material to create ethnic-drone hybrid material that you could safely say has precedence in Brian Eno's seminal On Land. Reference points to the techno-tribal or Berlin-style space music directions taken on his previous cassettes (not to mention other influences such as Harry Partch) are scant, if existent at all, on this (his third) release. Far and away the standout track for me was the evocatively titled, Bamboo, Iron, Resin, Bronze, with its simple but very effective hints at gamelan. Such a beautiful blending of authentic instrumentation flanked by a synthetic layering - you wish it would go on much longer. Hiasan is a sedate meditation constructed around motives played on the kempul (a row of highly vibrant, tuned Javanese gongs). If their resonance seems to beckon one to the imperial courts of Jogyakarta, then the Roach-like drone of Galungan bids one to stay and soak in the ceremonial atmosphere the work evinces. Voices and flute creep into the menacing admixture ever so subtly. The ambient drone supporting Borubudur 4AM is based around field recordings made near the Borubudur temple in Java. It is the next best thing to being there I'm sure, but given its fifteen-minute length you might wish for the intrusion of some more prominent instrumentation. The CD closes there, however, leaving us to ponder what may follow. That this one-time Djam Karet collaborator has few peers in the subgenre lends a sense of limitlessness which I hope Loren will exploit further in the future. Mike Ezzo
Wind & Wire Issue 7 July/August 1998
Genre: Gamelan (Ambient/Trance/World)
Music that invites the deepest of listenings are few and far between when one reviews music as much as I do. Loren Nerell's recording Lilin Dewa is music that merits it, though. Seldom do I hear a work that almost literally jumps into my head and says, "Listen, dammit. I have something important to say." But, after hearing just the first several minutes of this CD, listen (and very intently) is just what I did. It was time well spent.
Lilin Dewa could very well be the sequel to Robert Rich's superlative 1989 recording, Rainforest. Both are heavily influenced (and in the case of Loren, very directly so) by the gamelan music of Bali. To put this CD in the same league of Robert's is, coming from me, very heady praise. To me, Rainforest is a literally essential CD and may be Robert's best work. That Lilin Dewa stands toe-to-toe with it and even expands on some of that release's work is quite a feat.
Using an assortment of Indonesian gongs and kempuls, Balinese suling and gambuh, plus many other instruments that not only do I not know what they are but probably can't even pronounce them, along with wonderful synth and sampler textures, Loren has produced a work of feeling, mystery, depth, and beauty. I want to submerge myself in this CD and let my mind drift away to distant lands. This is not ambient music in that it should not be ignored. Or, if you treat it as such, you are missing the point. Which is not to say that you can't play this in the background. God knows it's beautifully unobtrusive at times. But, be prepared to pay attention and allow the music to work its magic on you.
The album opens with Irama which uses gongs and percussion to sound a steady rhythm which should immediately make those comparisons to Rainforest evident to anyone who knows the recording. But on the next cut, Galungan, the CD shifts gears abruptly into trance and drone-mode. Galungan, per the liner notes, is a ceremony practiced in Bali to commemorate the beginning of a new year. The ceremony must be very spiritual because this is not "Auld Lang Syne!"
With the exception of the third cut, Bamboo, Iron, Resin, Bronze which is just over six minutes long and is a wonderful excursion into dense polyrhythms, the other four songs are all at least ten minutes long (one clocks in at twenty minutes!). This is music that breathes. It is patient and develops over time. For example, the last two songs on the CD are wonderfully evocative and atmospheric. But the listener must commit themselves to really listening to this music. Again, this may not mean sitting still. It depends on how skillful a listener you are. For me, I simply had to pay attention to this music.
Loren is deeply committed to gamelan music and has spent the better part of this decade studying it first-hand. Lilin Dewa is a recording that shows what happens when an artist becomes not just inspired but even consumed by his or her love of music. Loren has created a work deeply enmeshed with this other culture. I admire not just his craft and his devotion, but also his conviction. For those interested in gamelan music and/or recordings that truly draw the listener into the experience of the music, I recommend spending some time with Lilin Dewa. Bill Binkelman
I always love it when an artist successfully blends different styles of music into a unique listening experience. Combining modern dark ambient and ages old gamelan music may not seem an easy task, but in the hands of Loren Nerell, it feels that way on Lilin Dewa. Dark drones open Irama, but are soon joined by metallic chimes of ancient instruments. Beginning slowly, the beats gradually pick up speed and musical intensity. Just when it seems things will build to a crescendo, the music slows down again. Ah, but wait, here it goes again. Irama rides a musical wave up and down, then finally crests and falls. On listening, the musical pattern seems deceptively simple, though it is probably not easily achieved. Primitive influences continue with Galungan, an 18-minute journey into long forgotten cultures, again blending traditional instruments and synthesizers, this time with chants added as well. I must confess to a Western world bias against too much chanting in my music, but it is not too distracting here, and definitely fits with the overall mood.
Each of the five tracks range from ten to twenty minutes, with the exception of the six-minute Bamboo, Iron, Resin, Bronze, named for the four primary materials used in the recording. This is a fascinating sound collage, and should appeal to fans of Steve Roach's albums Artifacts and Origins.
The CD is beautifully packaged, with detailed liner notes explaining how Lilin Dewa came into being, including the meaning, intent, and recording method behind each song. For example, it is explained that the 20-minute Hiasan is based on small knobbed gongs, called kempuls, which are featured. This minimal piece very effectively uses ancient instruments in the same way modern ambient artists use synthesizers to soothe and relax the listener.
Lilin Dewa rewards both passive and attentive listening, though I highly recommend the latter, to fully appreciate all its nuances and subleties. Though it seems like many are going for a tribal ambient sound these days, something about Lilin Dewa is very refreshing and original. Recommended, especially for fans of ambient with tribal overtones. Phil Derby