Alba Ecstasy – X Edition
Mihail-Adrian Simion is the name of the talented synthesist behind the Berlin-school infused music of Alba Ecstasy. It’s hard to pin down from his bio exactly where Alba Ecstasy started, but his involvement with synthesizers spans almost 30 years, and featured working along such luminaries like Peter Baumann (of Tangerine Dream fame), Wolfgang Palm and also synth instrument companies like Roland and Novation.
I first came to know his works through the single tracked album ‘Unpredictable Intersections Over The Time and Now’, a 32-minute love letter to the classic berlin-school sequencer music.
X Edition, released on the 3rd March of 2022, is a continuation of the modern style of this sequencer laden music from this supremely skilled synth master.
Strangely enough there are no sleeve-notes or description of the intent of the album. I’d guess this is one of those where they decide to let the music do the talking.
1. The Voice of the Desert [12:57]
2. X Edition [9:07]
3. Infinity Train [21:31]
4. Microcosmos [8:00]
The Voice of the Desert starts with a strange effect sound, repeated from time to time, with the track almost kicking in to high gear within the first minute. We’re not talking long, drawn out analogue pads and synth burbling from the retro berlin school artists of yore. I’d wager this is a more 80’s reinterpretation of the genre. That is, until the lead synths come in. Pure synth tones, replete with pitch bends, modulation wheel and filtering along with some deft improvisation that really pulls the whole track along. You’d think the sequencing would be doing that, but at times the build up of the lead solo synth is really what captivates the ears. The understated kick drum with the lovely hi-hat do help to provide a pulse to the track when the minimal bass sequencing starts to waver in it’s effectiveness. The ending with it’s resonant filtering is somewhat unusual, but tastefully done along with a subtle vocoder synth to provide us with a fitting end to the opening track. Phew!
X Edition is a much more 80’s infused track than I expected. Some lovely synth sequencing to open, along with improvised piano and pads, giving way to a more synth-oriented lead and those crisp, 80’s drums and percussion. We return to the piano later on this track, along with a punchy pulse-waveform based sound before returning to the beginning as it were with a sequence/piano improvisation/synth pad. Lovely stuff.
Infinity Train begins straight off the starting line with a lovely sequence and some great reverb/delay giving it tons of space. If the intention was to help associate the title with a train hurtling through the void of space, then it succeeds. A heavy bass sequence joins it, one that is much more decidedly retro in tone compared to the sound design in the other tracks, or even in this one. This sonic setup continues for a while, before adding a higher register ratcheted sequence and then some more retro-tinged pads to fill out the sonic palette on this piece. Synth percussion bursts in through filtered sweeps, along with resonant tweaking providing more ‘spaciness’ to the track. Click-style percussion rounds out the elements on this track before they begin to fade out for the ending. The structure is unashamedly monotone in layout, there’s no real distinct parts as such – but this isn’t a bad thing as the strength of the core sequences really do carry this ‘Infinity Train’ across space and time.
Microcosmos is the most ambient of all the tracks. In fact the first half of it is pure synth pad and sound design at various parts of the sound scale, with the introductory sounds covering most of the high and mid-range spectrum. It’s largely a drone-style affair here, not melodic as such. About a third of the way in we get get an almost Vangelis-esque synth providing an improvised melody which fills out the mix. It’s got some lovely discordant moments creating sonic tension, and other moments just hauntingly beautiful. I felt some definite frisson when the bass pads also kicked in at the halfway mark. Just after halfway we get some sequencing – thin, short loops, gently modulated and with tons of reverb giving it a softer edge that helps it fit in the mix nicely along with the more drone/ambient elements we’re already listening to. If a track on here has one criticism it’s this one – it’s too short! I could quite happily have this sequencer section fade out and return to the ambient, and then have it return again. I’d still enjoy it. Suffice to say I just put the track on again because it’s the last one.
Alba Ecstasy occupies a strange place in my ears. He’s prolific, talented and certainly very skilled. I’ve seen him perform on his live streams, or even on his recorded videos, and there’s no doubt he’s got a ton of talent when it comes to sound design. But unlike modern berlin-school or sequencer-based electronic musicians, he’s very… ‘clean’. Some people might not like that, but I find that this is one of his distinctive signatures to his music. Whereas someone like Arjen Schat may be very authentic in the retro sound, Alba Ecstasy is a wonderful fusion of the ethos of sequencer music, but fused with the influences of 80’s synth sound and manipulation.
Out of the tracks, I often find myself gravitating towards Infinity Train or Microcosmos as my tracks of choice. Both are in my ‘Personal Favourites’ playlist, a selection of what my brain defines as the crème de la crème of music from my collection. To be in the playlist is to be a track I’ll play again and again, with no qualms about being in the right ‘mood’.
X Edition as an album works as a whole, but I’ve personally taken to preferring playing each track as it’s own element. Usually when I listen to this it’s typically one track – like picking the excellent Infinity Train or Microcosmos and playing it through a couple of times, depending on what I’m doing. Overall, the whole album is a solid listen from beginning to end and if you’re a fan of sequencer music like the legends of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze et al, you won’t go wrong with giving this a try. This album is a great starting point to explore this artists wonderful works.