01) The Passage
Sam Rosenthal is a name synonymous with the darkwave and ethereal genres that were largely popular and highly influential throughout the 90’s, and though popularity and exposure for these genres has waned over the past decade or so, Rosenthal’s now nearly three decade old label Projekt is still running strong, especially over the past five years with the coming-to-age of dark cabaret. Even with those ties however, lately Projekt has taken on a slightly new face. At one time, the ambient genre was only hinted at as a minor interest for the label, occasionally featuring albums by the great and largely underrated Alio Die, and the scarce neoclassic tidings of long-lost projects like Frolic. Lately though, Projekt has a renewed interest in the genre, showing so by not only throwing their full support behind one of the most monolithic figures in ambient music today, Steve Roach, but also through this release; Sam Rosenthal’s first solo ambient effort in twenty-five years. True, the effort that we’re speaking of from two and a half decades ago, “Before the Buildings Fell”, is far from the sound that is found on “The Passage,” but Rosenthal has worked in the past under another moniker in Terrace of Memories with Dirk Serries (aka Vidna Obmana), at least for the one-off self-titled album in ’92, that is far closer to the sound found here.
“The Passage” was originally composed under the Black Tape for a Blue Girl moniker as the final track on “As One Aflame Laid Bare by Desire,” and eventually found a re-working for Tantra teachers Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson on the recent Projekt-released meditative album “Ananda Nidra: Blissful Sleep.” This experience kick-started Rosenthal’s interest in the track as the now fourty-four minute end-result has been remixed and is accompanied by the new track “Rae”. On the latter track, Rosenthal is accompanied by Vicki Richards, a violinist whom has released five full-lengths since 1998 in the realm of meditative music, spiritual healing and ambient. Considering the fact that “The Passage” was re-worked and utilized for the aforementioned meditative work for Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson, this makes Richards the perfect accomanying artist, not only in sound but also in spirit.
It’s unclear what really renewed Rosenthal’s interest in “The Passage” beyond the reworking of the track for the aforementioned meditative album and simply wanting fans to hear the music without spoken word over it. Though the man is increasingly outspoken on his opinions regarding piracy and the growing surge of music-streaming services like Spotify, he rarely speaks of his personal life in the public spectrum. While listening to this work that clearly begs for retrospective thoughts and emotions, it becomes increasingly hard to ignore the ties between the dedication to “Tori Rae Cole” on the inside of the ecowallet, the title of the second track, “Rae”, and the album title. Teamed with the simplistic and surreal blue/white on mostly black artwork, one can’t help but feel that this pair of compositions was in some way produced as a means to deal with grief and a specific loss in Rosenthal’s life. While there isn’t any information readily available to support this, and indeed Rosenthal attempts to explain the meaning behind the album on the purchase page at the Projekt website, the ambiance within “The Passage” begs for a deeper meaning than that which was carefully given. In fact, in the decription behind the album’s theme, the writer speaks of the cyclical properties of the record, writing “On The Passage, everything hinges on the comforting arrival, dissolution and re-appearance of events…” On the contrary, from the listener’s perspective, the album seems like a one-way journey. A combination in theme and experience seems to direct that voyage, from the 44 minutes of spherical, hazey drones on “The Passage” that scarcely change in mood despite the occasional crescendo, to the bright, shimmering and subtle tones on “Rae”. The entire work as a collective aural entity is reminescent of an act of deliverance, of floating among the void in a journey of aeons to arrive, finally, and become one with whatever awaits us in one increasingly short, harmonious and truly liberating release of light. The end of the album, which purls in sound by boldly swelling in volume and substance before pulling itself back, eventually reaches a definitively climactic moment, before rather quickly submerging and fading out into nothingness.
While “The Passage” doesn’t have the depth in sound that Steve Roach achieves in his releases on Projekt, it certainly offers a great deal by way of a contemplative experience and still retains quality behind the music that you won’t typically find behind more amateur contemporary electronic works. There’s something strangely authentic about “The Passage”, an album that obviously means a great deal to the artist on a personal level, certainly enough to label it under his own name. Though I feel the fact that the larger portion of the album is a re-worked track is slightly disparaging, it remains a fantastic example of ambient music that isn’t completely devoid of heart and depth, but rather contains a genuine and focused effort from the artist to communicate his emotions through sound with the listener.