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TRACK LIST: 1. In the Spirit of Things 3:58 2. Vapor Trails 4:56 3. Spring Fever 5:54 4. Force Majeure 8:02 5. Grand Canyon 4:18 6. Icicles 3:58 7. The Shuffle 4:08 8. Wasteland 5:12 9. The Travels of Marco Polo 6:31 10. Russian Dance 2:15 11. Piccard's Flight 5:05 SOLO PILOT: Alfred Mueller – all instruments
Prolusion. SONIQ THEATER is the moniker chosen by German keyboardist and composer Alfred Mueller for his solo efforts. Following the break-up of his former band Rachel's Birthday in the late 90's, he's been steadily issuing new albums, of which "Force Majeure" from 2011 is his most recent.
Analysis. I don’t know what is the driving force for Alfred Mueller, but with 11 albums to his name so far I suspect that a certain level of natural creativity that needs an outlet will be at least part of the reason for his solo career. As for why he opts to do it all by himself rather than collaborating with someone, I don't know either but, as usual, when encountering one of his CDs it's crystal clear to my ears that his songs would benefit highly from the contributions of a select few instrumentalists: a guitarist first and foremost, although a skilful bassist and inventive drummer wouldn't be amiss either. Mueller's forte is as a composer and keyboardist. He's the kind of guy that seems to be able to pull off good to very good compositions with ease. Whatever one may think about his albums or individual tracks, they are all quality compositions. The make-or-break factor resides within his chosen confinement of doing it all by himself, and mostly so by way of the tangents. Whether he has started to employ some additional instruments himself at this point I don't know, but for some it seems obvious that it is emulated versions that have been used, the latter not always managing to come close to the real thing. Musically Mueller has moved from more of a flamboyant symphonic progressive rock-oriented style to a subtler and more refined variety of this expression over the years. Gentler arrangements, less use of dramatic surging motifs and more of an emphasis on subtle details mark his development as an artist in my ears, music fit to be a core or a soundtrack just as much as being entertaining creations in their own right. And "Force Majeure" is a pleasant example of just that, with acoustic guitars, glockenspiel-sounding textures and the sharper notes of the emulated electric guitar as key providers of basic motifs, a dual set of violins making an appearance at the aptly named Russian Dance, and even a banjo – unless I'm much mistaken – making an appearance on Spring Fever. All of them are supplemented to a lesser or greater degree by dampened symphonic layers fluctuating, swirling and hovering in the back of the arrangements. The slightly gloomy Wastelands utilizes a sophisticated, dampened rhythm construction and darker-tinged notes to good effect amidst the lighter-toned and often jubilant pieces elsewhere, with some Asian-tinged flavoring to top it off. The latter fragrance also finding its way into the following The Travels of Marco Polo, a piece noteworthy for being the main example of a song with a distinct emphasis on symphonic progressive rock on this production, featuring organ, digital strings and what I suspect is an emulated harpsichord by the dry and frail sound. The semi-dramatic, futuristic sounding Grand Canyon is another song worth mentioning as among the most intriguing this time around.
Conclusion. The German one-man band Soniq Theater continues producing high-quality material conveyed in a manner that ultimately will be an acquired taste. Keyboards and synths are the main, if not sole, providers of all instrumental duties, with the strengths, weaknesses and limitations that follow with that approach. His compositions are of high quality however, and if you tend to enjoy symphonic art rock with distinct cinematic features you might just want to give his productions a few minutes of your time. Chances are that you'll find it to be a pleasant experience, and for the right people the experience will prove to be much more rewarding than so as well.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: October 22, 2011
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