Expanding Horizon (2003)

A review from ambientrance.org

A host of keys, synths, samples, drum loops, cithers, voices and nature sounds (plus Indian instrumentation and percussion from friends) are melted indiscernibly down into sprawling riverlike essences. For more than ten minutes, Enchanted Land crosses steadily churning streams of slightly contoured vapors; their low, rolling timbre is decorated with sparse cymbal clatters and watery textures. A short dip into Radiant Clearing is met by sizzling atmospheres, keening tones and a distantly throbbing rhythm. With sinuous twangs and tick-tocking percussion buried within its ever-turning billows, the deeply sheening currents of The First Bright Light cut through fogbank of smoke-and-chitter. Trickling rivulets splatter into the wavering gauze and emerging radiance of eighth track, Dewdrops (3:27) which closes the first CD at nearly 75 minutes. As strings jangle lazily in a swelling resonance, The Falcon seems to soar over washing surf; as the piece evolves, a thumping rhythm arises from slowly stirring ambiance, followed by sitar-iffically melting environments from The Poetess (which is in turn backed by the shorter, drummier dream of Serpent's Hollow). Another luxurious (and rather organic) earscape unfolds before the final track expels its mystical mistiness; Brugh na Boine - The Elves Realm (28:12) exists in a land of cricket-inhabited haze which ripples and crests in oceanic motions. After 11 minutes metallic strands vibrate pensively into the shadowy stew. Overall, the soundcolors tend toward a not-unappealling greyness, though the somber palette is uplifted by sky-swallowing trails of gustiness, and naturalized by field recordings. The near-homogenity makes for a practically seamless immersion into masterly longform abstractions from Alio Die and Matthias Grassow. Drone fans are directed to head for the Expanding Horizon straight away! 


Sometimes I forget just how obscure certain ambient/atmospheric artists are in the broad scheme of things. For me, the names Alio Die and Mathias Grassow mean deep drones and no small amount of prodigious output. However, both of these artists have only released works on, at best, obscure labels. That's why it is doubly refreshing to see Expanding Horizon -- it is the first collaboration by two extremely complimentary artists, and it is the first widely released CD (ignoring Alio Die's releases on Projekt, which aside from the masterful Apsaras were woefully under-distributed and now out of print) by either of them. It's great to see this type of music finally filtering into larger retail outlets. I can only hope it helps to get the word out about two fascinating sound craftsmen. Expanding Horizon was originally available on vinyl from Amplexus, and now is a sprawling two CD set with much, much more music. Musically, it is exactly what you might expect from both artists--a rich drone-based tapestry, steeped in Eastern mysticism and instrumentation courtesy of the recent styles we've seen from Grassow. Alio Die fans be warned: Musso's contribution is largely culled from previous sound sources that a freakish Alio Die completist (like yours truly) will recognize instantly. Parts of this recording are lifted straight from Incantamento, almost to the point where it seems Grassow is "remixing" previously released material. However, ignoring the fact that many people picking up the disc will not have heard Incantamento, this is no reason not to buy this disc. This is rather like saying the sky is only beautiful without clouds! While the Alio Die atmospheres are extremely familiar, Grassow, Klaus Wiese, and occasionally Carsten Agthe add enough to the mix to create an almost wholly different work. I'm used to hearing Grassow take pre-existing Wiese material and creating new, fascinating work--in fact, it says something about Grassow's great talent that he is able to do this and not harm or dilute the integrity of the source material. A major attribute of Expanding Horizon is the increased attention to nature samples over the course of both discs. I've always enjoyed this effect, because it naturally grounds the celestial course of the music and creates a verdant, sylvan effect, akin to resting in a densely forested area and listening to the music of the spheres around. These extremely atmospheric selections are awash in water trickles, cicada, crickets, whispery wind, and subvocalizations. The drones are what you would expect from Alio Die (which is a selling point, for me) and the overlaid textures by Grassow are equally entrancing. This is a living, breathing atmosphere, with the benefit of extremely excellent production--something often lacking on Grassow or Wiese releases (like the otherwise excellent Holy Domain). The nature samples are almost in surround sound out of speakers, and through headphones it is like being outside with Alio Die and Grassow as musical company. The first disc focuses more on textural drones accompanied by pervasive nature samples, occasionally broken up with martial sounding percussion. The tracks all blend together well as a totality--though there are eight tracks, there are unobtrusive transitions between cuts. There is a nighttime feel to this entire set, as if the artists wish you to play the music during dusk as the earth begins to settle into sleep. Occasionally the atmospheres are so intense they are breathtaking. There is even extremely engaging zither playing, bringing that vague Middle Eastern or Indian tone I mentioned earlier. The second disc inhabits this Eastern continent less subtly, with an increased focus on stringed instrumentation of varying origin. While the first disc's content can be more readily applied to any experience in time or place, the second disc recalls for me the dusky nights of Scheherazade and her mysterious, often erotic, tales of the Arabian Nights. This disc does not have the aridity of Rich & Moskow's fine Yearning disc, but the flair and elan of the Arabian Nights in their timeless splendor are here to enjoy. The second disc is more sonically varied than the first, which makes it my favorite of the two. While disc one focused more on textures, the second disc allows much more development in instrumentation and mood. A clear highlight is the nearly thirty minute "Brugh na Boine -- The Elves Realm," which functions as a culmination of all the tracks before it on the album. It is an incredible mixture of nature samples, atmospheres, and the spirited zither work displayed over the second disc. The title leads me to believe it's inspired by Celtic mythology--in my mind, it's difficult to kick the Middle Eastern vibe. I cannot think of a better introduction to Alio Die and Mathias Grassow than Expanding Horizon. While I find that certain work by each individual to be more satisfying (Grassow's Bliss or The Fragrance of Eternal Roses, Alio Die's Leaves Net or Password for Entheogenic Experience, for example), this is a more than worthy entry into both canons. I must also say that Release's packaging is absolutely sumptuous, with gothic and ethereal imagery. It's clear they are trying to appeal to the vast goth audience, but with such attention to fine design it's an absolutely excusable marketing angle. It is my hope that releases like this will compel new listeners to pick up the more obscure offerings by both artists on Amplexus and Hic Sunt Leones. Until that happens, it's wonderful for the initiated like me to have such a sprawling and impressive new work by both artists.

Brian Bieniowski

E-music legends and like-minded drone masters Alio Die and Mathias Grassow conspired to create one of 2003's finest ambient releases. Expanding Horizons, a double CD set, features deep drones, smooth samples, gentle rhythms and subtle melodies. Musso recorded his basic tracks in 99. Grassow added his touches and arranged and mixed the final master in 01 and 02. Klaus Wiese (singing bowls, zither, Indian strings) and Carsten Agthe (percussion) added their expertise as well. So, these discs feature three of the greatest drone artists ever - Grassow, Musso and Wiese. Agthe has recorded with Grassow and Wiese on frequent discs. His deft touch and sense of timing compliment the organic textures and dark timbres smoothly. Deep listeners will fall into the catacombs created by this outstanding conglomeration of e-music talent. The music mesmerizes and captivates. This quartet has created a bed of sonic feathers with some hard edges. The bed is comfortable and it is harsh. The conundrums define these soundscapes. This CD is surely an instant classic. Only the best CD's from Steve Roach and Robert Rich stir such strong reactions.  

Jim Brenholts / The All Music Guide

The combined effort of renowned sound masters ALIO DIE and MATHIAS GRASSOW brings us 'Expanding Horizons', a 2-CD bestowal of deep, evocative experimental atmospherics and electro-acoustic soundscapes. Playing ambient's static tendencies off of shifting melodic and textural passages,ALIO DIE and GRASSOW
combine their specialties in an enchanting convergence of lighter-than-liquid electronics, lush, hovering tonestreams and enticing sonic ecosystems.

Many many variations upon the same theme, each with a voice of its own. The elements in each track can be summarized as; multi-phasic waters and insects, a deep padded drone, and perhaps ethnic chords or percussion. There's a lot of reliance -- and justifiably so -- upon the sonic  of night creatures and babbling brooks. It induces a serene heavy-liddedness, like the feeling a cat has just after it's fifth afternoon nap. Refreshing.