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Chrys Bocast: Reviews/Radioplay

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This Month's Pick:
Chris Bocast and MJCatalin's Stratagem

What do you do when you're a guitarist playing new wave music, but you get seduced by shape-shifting players like David Gilmour, Jimi Hendrix and Bill Nelson? When Chris Bocast came to that crossroads, he dug deep into the ambient expanse and has now emerged with Stratagem, an album that is breathtaking in its scope and entrancing in its melodic thrust.

Working in a virtual, transcontinental mode with Cătălin Pîntea, a.k.a. MJCatalin, Bocast has found a meeting ground between dynamic compositions and ambient designs, a place where echoes of progressive rock are heard in electronica grooves.

From the opening track, "To Cross the Sea of Clouds,” Bocast and MJCatalin establish the strategy of Stratagem. An ostinato bass line, ricochet filtered snare hits and a looping sequencer groove link up to an electronic drum loop while sweeping chords push the piece forward, It gradually opens up to Bocast's crying e-bow solos. After that, just sink into the world these two musicians orchestrate.

MJCatalin is a Romanian drummer and electronic artist and he mixes both modes here. "Song of the Dodo," a lament for the extinct bird, is driven by his kinetic groove which sounds acoustically played until sound effects start streaming off his drum hits.

Ironically, many of these tracks are sampled from their own works as each artist lifted from the other as well as cannibalizing their own recordings. A hidden track, "Zbor Indepartat" actually began as "Return of the Far Fleet" from Bocast's previous solo CD, Through the Airlock. MJCatalin added grooves and changed the piece completely. A track called "Nocturne" actually began as an MJCatalin piece called “That Magic Light.” Both tracks are reborn under Bocast and MJCatalin’s virtual ministrations. MJCatalin supercharges Bocast's soundscapes with swampy, churning rhythms, while Bocast adds harmonic complexity and melodic flights to MJCatalin's electronica loops.

You can hear the roots of both artists in 80s synth pop (Bocast played in Tokyo Vogue) with songs like “Mr. X,” but there's also a progressive side to these musicians that emerges on the dynamic, shifting scenes of "The Hidden Face of Eva" and "Caelestis Caravel."

Stratagem is an album of cinematic sweep. It's our CD of the Month for August.

© 2009 John Diliberto
John Diliberto - Echoes (Jul 29, 2009)

Echoes - Public Radio International, 2009: Top 25 in July (#7), Number One in August, #13 in September

130+ stations nationwide, satellite, online, you name it

WZBC - Boston College Radio MTPR - Montana Public Radio KCUR 89.3 - Night Tides with Renee Blanche in Kansas City KRNN 102.7 - Public radio in Juneau, Alaska KKUP - Santa Clara, CA Eric Mystic's Mystik Music PCAT - pirate radio in San Francisco (the first to play it) Galactic Travels - DIY 88.1 FM in Allentown and Bethlehem, 93.9 FM in Easton and Phillipsburg, and on 93.7 FM in Trexlertown and Fogelsville, and online Live365 online

Radio Stations playing ''Stratagem' (Jul 29, 2009)
From New Wave to brain waves with Chris Bocast
UW grad student merges art and science

There are thousands of doctoral students in Madison at any given time, but few of them have the claim to fame that Chris Bocast does. While some Ph.D.s-to-be were still learning to crawl in the mid-'80s, Bocast had already made a name for himself as guitarist in the California New Wave band Tokyo Vogue.

Since then, he's produced records and served as touring bassist with the Mission U.K. He's also reinvented himself as a composer and performer of ambient music, as evidenced by Stratagem, a hypnotic album of electronica, released earlier this year, that falls somewhere between Boards of Canada and Martian ocean sounds — or perhaps Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. It's the kind of thing that summons both the mystical history of ancient ruins and the magical futurism of space.

After orbiting around San Francisco, Austin and the mountains of Colorado, Bocast landed in Madison about a year ago when his girlfriend chose the UW for her doctoral studies. Pretty soon he found himself doing the same.

"My girlfriend studies dildos, and me, I'm making 'strange' sounds. What more could the university want?" he says.

Bocast's strange sounds belong to the field of acoustic ecology, which uses sound to investigate the relationships between living things and their habitats.

Sometimes this involves installations of "sonic environments" to raise people's awareness of the sounds that shape their lives — and the health of the planet. At other times Bocast designs sound samples for Julia Wilbarger, a kinesiology professor and occupational therapy expert who's studying the physical and emotional effects different sounds create for people with neurodevelopmental disorders, like autism.

Bocast explains: "If the researchers say, 'I want the most irritating sound possible: What have you got?' I'm the one who says, 'How about a cat in heat?' and creates it for them."

But re-creating the screeches of fingernails on blackboards and colicky babies isn't all that Bocast has set out to do. In addition to installation work, teaching and perhaps producing a few albums here in town, he'd like to rock out in the near future.

He's got a solo gig at the Crossroads Coffeehouse in Cross Plains, where he showcases ambient guitar works and songs with a classical bent, but he's looking for a few partners.

"I would like to start a band that's really, really professional, with solid musicians who know where they're headed," he says. "The best band regionally. I'm not sure if that exists here."

Bocast also wouldn't mind setting Madison straight about the soundtrack to Pretty in Pink in the wake of John Hughes' death.

"'Pretty in Pink' isn't even the Psychedelic Furs' best song," he says. "But New Wave was really fun around the time that song came out: It was the other side of punk rock, and new technology was coming out every year. First it was synthesizers, then drum machines that actually sounded like drums — anything seemed possible."

At the same time, Bocast insists that the music-tech revolution of the current decade is more about distribution practices than innovation in instruments, sounds or even genres. He just happens to be toting around a New Yorker article outlining how live shows and merchandising are the top ways for musicians to turn a profit nowadays — a sea change from the way the biz used to operate.

But Bocast isn't making much New Wave anymore. He's traded mod hairstyles and choppy, poppy melodies for wordless meditations on the void.

"What kind of T-shirt should I make for that?" he asks. "And who would buy it?"
MadTracks -- 'The Hidden Face of Eva' by Chris Bocast

Guitarist Chris Bocast cut his teeth as a performer in the San Francisco-area New Wave/synthpop band Tokyo Vogue, which had a fair share of notoriety in the mid-’80s, then sharpened his chops as the touring bassist with The Mission U.K. His work took an ambient turn in the early ’90s, and last summer, the artist himself took a turn to the north, moving to Madison from a Colorado mountain town.

Most recently, Bocast has been making ambient music tied to themes about the natural environment. While these compositions have strong ties to the earth, they’re quite ethereal sounding, making them popular among crystal collectors and other New Age folks. Songs like “The Hidden Face of Eva” -- a track off Bocast’s newest album, Stratagem, made in collaboration with the Romanian percussionist MJCatalin -- shows that as in the case of our planet, there’s much to be found beneath its outer crust.

The song begins with swatches of percussion and a slight breeze of guitar, under which a steady beat takes the stage, providing a focal point -- a meditation, even -- much like a ticking clock does in a quiet room. It’s this dreamy layer of ambience and faux heartbeat that makes songs like Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” so riveting.

”Eva” -- which stands for EVA, or Extra Vehicular Activity, a NASA term for a space-walk -- soon unfolds into a melody that seems to stretch into the past and the present simultaneously, channeling bits of ’80s movie soundtracks where star-crossed lovers ride off into the sunset, as well as the spacey synth songs of Gary Numan and the out-there early electronic experiments of Neu!, which sound futuristic to this day.

Bocast says his fans often describe the track as triumphant-sounding, but to him, it’s a song about love, awe and loss of control as well.

“It sort of becomes an ambient ‘Layla’ at the end,” he says.

It’s a rare event that a CD of instrumental music covers so much ground, but that’s exactly the case with the 2009 release of the latest CD from Stratagem. A crossover project featuring guitarist / producer Chris Bocast and percussionist MJ Catalin, Stratagem is a masterpiece of futuristic sounding instrumental New Age and electronic based rock music. Of course, those words offer just a description so it’s best to hear things for yourself. In this amazing world of creating music online, it's stunning that these tracks were traded and created over the web with music emailed back and forth between Colorado, where Bocast lives and Bucharest, Romania, where Catalin lives. Combining Bocast’s spacy and spatial electric guitar, e-bow guitar, piano, moog and bass work with Catalin’s Euro-beat style drums, programming and synth work, Stratagem may have its roots in ‘70s European progressive electronic rock music but the duo’s modern approach really makes the CD one of the most compelling examples of electro / avant gard rock music of the 21st century. Also appearing on guitar is guest star Dave Shul, guitarist for Michael Franti and Spearhead. Instrumental rock fans with a taste for adventurous yet accessible, electronica and avant garde rock should pick up on the Stratagem CD. The CD sounds great and the packaging, artwork and design by artist John Hundt is first rate too.


Chris Bocast moved to Madison about a year ago from Woodland Park, Colorado, where he ran Ascendant Studios. Prior to locating in Colorado, he lived in San Francisco where he played in various bands (including Tokyo Vogue) but most notably landed a touring spot as the bassist for the Mission U.K. It was at Ascendant where he crafted his first solo album Through the Airlock in 2003. Part of Stratagem was also recorded at Ascendant but it’s the international collaboration with Romanian percussionist MJ Catalin that makes this project unique. Caitlin contacted Bocast in 2006 after sampling some of his music on iSound. After deciding to collaborate they traded tracks back and forth, with Catalin recording his parts at Matchbox Studios in Bucharest. It’s obvious that these two are seasoned studio producers as the aural landscape they have created here is lush and dramatic.

Stratagem is all instrumental. It’s not your typical brand of ambient music, however because frequently Bocast’s guitar parts dominate. He specializes in his use of e-bow, creating landscapes of sound that flow over the complex rhythm tracks that Catalin layers underneath. The music is melody-centric with the compositions having a melodic theme rather than a central tone. Drone music this is definitely not.

The duo leaves plenty of breathing space however, and “Song of the Dodo” is a prime example of this. The effects are stunning with long reverb decays on the drums. It’s an awesome mix and actually features a rare Moog solo from Bocast. Album opener “To Cross the Sea of Clouds” is another highlight, with waves of electronic pop that crescendos with a satisfying e-bow statement. At eight minutes this is the longest track on the album. The other lengthier track, “The Hidden Face of Eva” is a standout as well. Here Bocast’s shimmering guitar takes on glass-like tones.

“Detector” features the only guest on the album, Dave Shul (guitarist for Michael Franti and Spearhead). The track is immediately more edgy, giving the false impression of something more exciting to come. And this may be the album’s one fault; there is constant anticipation that someone will step out and make a bold statement but it never really arrives. Instead the pair plays it a bit safe, leaving the music to swirl in its own themes. Since the compositions are so melodic it may be a natural tendency to look for a little more departure in what at times becomes overly repetitive refrains.

Nonetheless, Stratagem has a natural feel and is quite an accomplishment for two accomplished artists with so much physical space between them. The recording bears repeated listening and its lavish but unpretentious production should inspire the next generation of studio wizards. To have Bocast in Madison now is a unique opportunity to collaborate for those of you paying attention.

XM-Sirius Satellite Radio
Ch. 72 "Spa"- regular rotation
WZBC 90.3 FM Newton
Boston College Radio,
Chestnut Hill MA
WORT - Madison WI "RTQE"
KSER - Everett WA "Starlit Skies"
KCUR - Kansas City 'Night Tides' - Best of 2004
WWSP - Stevens Pt WI 'Ambient Ether' Top 20
WXPN - Philadelphia 'Star's End'
WXPH - Harrisburg 'Star's End'
WKHS - Baltimore 'Star's End'
- Top 20 - Significant Release
KKUP - Cupertino CA 'Mystic Music' Top 20
WSKG - New York 'Soundscapes'
WDBX - Carbondale IL ' Beyond the Lakes' Top 20
WDIY - Allentown PA 'Galactic Travels'
KAOS - Evergreen State College WA 'Super Secret Lodge Show'
WXDU - Duke University NC 'Music XDU'
WTUL - Tulane University LA
WVKR - 'Secret Music', Vassar College, NY
WXXI - Rochester, NY
KZYX & Z - 'Iridium Music' Mendocino, CA
WFIT - 'Future Echoes' - Florida
Ultima Thule - Australia
"Vertical Solitude" Radio Network Dynamite 101.2 FM., Moscow Russia.

also thanks to stations in Hawaii, Sacramento, and everywhere else that I don't have the call letters for.

Internet Radio:
Pandora.com (which is awesome!)
SOMA-FM 'Drone Zone' San Francisco
Nautic Radio Groningen The Netherlands 'License to Chill'
UMFM - Toronto, Canada 'Sea@Night'
"Back to the Universe"
Radiotochka, Russia
Radio Stations playing 'Through the Airlock' (Mar 16, 2009)
Through The Airlock
Divergent Arts (2005)

Here’s an unusual yet appealing and accessible take on spacemusic from Chris Bocast. The CD is never overtly abstract or especially dark (although it flirts with dark ambient at times, much like Hammock’s music does on Kenotic). Bocast also, for the most part, avoids sounding similar to “classics” from artists like Jonn Serrie, Geodesium, or Kevin Braheny. Bocast is in the same category as Pete Kelly, a.k.a. Igneous Flame. Both craft shorter (three to five minute) “spacescapes” which evoke the deeper darker edges of the cosmos or stark unforgiving alien environments. Both artists also feature prominent use of electric guitar, frequently unrecognizable as such. On this album, Bocast also plays piano, ebow, and moog. His use of heavily-echoed piano on the nine-minute “EVA” brings an original elegance to spacemusic. Notes hang suspended and reverberate forever painting a somber yet beautiful mood. On the other hand, the piano on “Return of the Far Fleet” is used in dramatic powerful fashion, playing almost in an anthem-like fashion, matched by what I think is an undercurrent of moog and perhaps ebow. The song paints an appropriately heroic ode to conquering heroes, or so I assume it’s meant to with the title being what it is.

Most of Through the Airlock is haunting, mysterious, and would serve as perfect laying-in-the-dark music for taking imaginary voyages out beyond the Crab Nebula. The short track “Intake” opens the album with a series of electronic tonalities that shift and pan. All the album’s tracks segue directly into one another with no pauses and this one leads into the drifting sustained guitar peals and drones of “Numinous,” blending warmth with shadow the same way that Kelly does on Oxana. With a title like “Ice Cauldron” you’d expect a disturbing and forbidding sonic adventure and you get just that: rumbling drones and subtle buzz-saw guitar and soaring notes (judiciously pushed to the back of the mix so as to not prove too jarring). This cut flows into “Radiant” which is the exact opposite in mood and character, comprised of shimmering synths and gently flowing washes that alternately sparkle and wash over you, bathing you in retro-sounding electronics. “Charred Relic Drifting,” is well-matched to its title, presenting distorted guitar feedback and swirling tones that are as close as the CD gets to deliberately “dark.” I particularly enjoyed “The Dry Lake” which is a minimalist excursion into higher pitched sustained notes/tones that seem to stretch on into infinity, and “Heart’s Rest” with gently pealing guitars layered in such a soothing way that I can see why Bocast gave the song its title. There is also a bonus thirteenth track (almost thirteen minutes long), a long ambient/spacemusic drifting soundscape that slowly evolves through its duration yet sustains a warm mood throughout. It’s a lovely way to close out this ambitious and praiseworthy recording.

Being a sucker for recordings with an outer space or SF inspiration, I was bound to like Through The Airlock (as long as it was halfway decent). I was, however, unprepared for how adventurous, unique, yet accessible and easy to digest this album proved to be (from the first playing, in fact). While I’m somewhat late to the party (both my New Age Reporter colleague RJ Lannan and my friend and fellow reviewer Dene Bebbington of the review site Melliflua www.melliflua.com both praised this CD in earlier reviews) I believe it deserves all the exposure and extolling of its virtues as possible. Chris Bocast brings forth a unique musical vision on Through The Airlock. If you want to hear a special brand of spacemusic that remains grounded in the general aesthetic of the genre but still explores vast new territory, this is the album for you. Solidly recommended.

Bill Binkelman
New Age Reporter
Bill Binkelman - New Age Reporter (Oct 31, 2006)

Chris Bocast played in new wave and rock bands prior to becoming interested in ambient and experimental music to explore the tonal possibilities of electric guitar. One of the results of this is his first solo album Through the Airlock - a sonic excursion into the depths of space created by electric guitar, ebow, Moog synth, and piano. It comes in a stylish four piece digipak illustrated with scientific diagrams and star maps.

After the slightly quirky short opening track the style settles down into otherworldly and often formless spacemusic with a raw sonic edge. You can tell this is a musician experimenting with the kind of sounds possible from the instruments, but the result is cohesive and satisfying rather than outright weird. Sonically and atmospherically it's a somewhat reminiscent of Mingo's The Once and Future World.

Exemplifying the hypnotic aspect of the album is the piece “Cold Sleep”. Initially fat reverbing drones give way to harsher drones twisting around each other like the resonances from a taut metallic rope. A proto melody is created by notes that flash into the soundscape and fade away like repeated shooting stars.

The most downloaded piece from Chris's website is “EVA”, and with good reason. It's arguably the best track on the album in which echoey piano notes muse in both the foreground and background evoking the sense of wonder and expansiveness of a space walk outside a spacecraft. Toward the end of the album there's drama in the track “Return of the Far Fleet”. Deep and forceful sustained piano notes twinned with organ-esque, kind of melodic, pads can lead one to imagine the anticipation of a space fleet returning from distant adventures.

On first playing Through the Airlock I wasn't much taken by it, but after a couple of more intense listening sessions I've decided that this could be a classic spacemusic album.
Just a Little Past That Final Frontier

(From NewAgeReporter - June 2005 - RJ Lannan)

Take every sci-fi soundtrack you ever heard, roll them into a ball and throw them into a black hole. Now get ready for some real space music. Chris Bocast has created a soundtrack for the mind that makes other stuff pale in comparison even in zero-G. Ambient, with a generous helping of electronic, Bocast’s new album Through the Airlock generates that floating in space feeling from the very first chord.

Bocast’s album takes you on a journey through far space to a strange new planet that draws you in and then reveals its history in exciting, extraordinary music. Within are great discoveries that hold ominous clues to ancient civilizations. Some of them you really don’t want to know about. Chris Bocast is the chief pilot on this journey playing electric guitar, ebow, moog synthesizer and piano. I’m not surprised if there is a theremin in there somewhere. This is one of those seamless albums where the music segues so tightly that it sounds like one continuous track. Nothing wrong with that. Strap in, hold fast…and let the journey begin.

Intake, the first cut is the beginning of the voyage. It is a bouncy energy pulse tune with industrial overtones that bangs around from side to side. It is a sense of absorption more than ingestion. It free falls into the tune Numinous. Numinous is a track about things unexplained, things way beyond our comprehension. It is subtle blue waves that come over you and perhaps begin a transmogrification. We will only know the outcome by the end of the journey.

There is a hole detected on the surface of this planet. It is so deep that measurements are difficult to obtain. It reflects blinding blue-white light and it has glossy sides. It is the Ice Cauldron. As you edge closer you feel the pull. The force is so strong that you may not be able to resist. Low harmonics swirl around you as electric guitar riffs take on a mesmerizing tone. You keep pulling and pulling and finally you fall and find yourself not where you were.

The tune Charred Relic Drifting says they were different from us. Very different indeed. The remains suggest they had different needs to their physical being, but they still needed enclosures; protection from the invisible dangers of space. Bright swells and roaring tones produce an eerie atmosphere that suggests a vastness to our surroundings. It is cold. Oh, so very cold. The frightening part? Their ship was a hundred times the size of our vehicle.

Even as you are in Cold Sleep your mind is still wide awake. Unfortunately, it can not possibly process the incredible amounts of data it has absorbed in the first part of the journey. You drift with the music that has taken up residence in your head. Life has been reduced to half speed and so are your thoughts. You beg to wake up. This was my favorite track on Through the Airlock.

You arrive at an immense clearing on the surface of the rocky planet and you realize that this is The Dry Lake you saw from above. It was obviously made by a guided hand, more so than a natural phenomenon. What purpose did it serve on this craggy plain and what made it dry up? Echoing ambient waves of warm red music reflect off the edges of the horizons and into your psyche. It is that big.

Heart's Rest is one of the lightest tunes on the album and one of the best. With a bit of soothing inorganic voice Bocast creates that drifting quality. The music gives improved strength to your recuperative powers. For some unexplained reason your heart is lighter and your spirit refreshed.

The Upwelling is the final leg of our flight. Like your life passing before your eyes, all the twists and turns and stops and starts of your passage are there in your mind. And somewhere in there is a new beginning and a memory of new found friends. This is a wondrous track to end the album.

Multi-instrumentalist and composer Chris Bocast has five previously released albums. He is the lead guitarist for the band Boondoggle. He lives in an undisclosed location somewhere in Colorado.

Bocast is the quintessential sky pilot as he takes you on an ambient/electronic trip farther out then anyone else has ever ventured. And then brings you back!
Chris Bocast: Through the Airlock. This one is a real find. Very radiant
and expansive spacemusic of the most vintage kind. Some wonderful themes
and sounds.