Constellations is the fourth studio album (not counting Equilibrium, the 2002 collaboration with Artemiy Artemiev) from ex-Lives & Times multi-instrumentalist Richard Wileman, who records under the pseudonym Karda Estra. Constellations is a fusion of spatial, ambient, classical & melodious electronic styles—not uproarious, free of chaos, but the music's gentle fury leaves much energy to be harnessed if one is in the proper state of mind.
In the early 1980s, Vangelis composed the score for a film titled Antarctica, which documented the extreme state of a simple, isolated but beautiful place— the music itself was not cold & somnolent, but warm and evocative of that unlikely paradise. If this new album by Karda Estra were the score for a similar film—now shifted toward outer spaces, versus Terran—this may be the result, only more dynamic, more brilliant. The grandness of "The Southern Cross (Crux)" swells with electronic strings, projecting an astral design on a galactic canopy. Track two, "Hydra (The Sea Serpent)," however, hits home with its mix of live percussion, alto sax (performed by Zoe King), and oboe (by Caron Hansford). The tag classical spacemusic keeps creeping into mind, but it shall remain suppressed.
"Cassiopeia," the most famous constellation on this set, opens with the strum of an acoustic guitar and King's alto sax. Ileesha Bailey's angelic voice sets the listener adrift on the back of celestial winds. "Phoenix" is surprisingly calm, considering its warlike image is associated with tumult & turbulence. Yet the phoenix also represents rebirth, resurrection, and Bailey's singing might indeed raise souls from their freshly expired shells. Fingerpicked acoustic guitar prefaces the advent of the Phoenix: an unrelenting crescendo, a fire blossom of synthetic orchestra crushing the sereneness without warning around the 4:22 mark.
"Scorpio" is the second longest composition, around eight minutes, and the most rhythmic. The sax melody is backed by violin (Helen Dearnley) & viola (Rachel Larkins). Reverbed electric guitar soars four minutes in, and is swallowed by the reprise of the mantralike rhythms before a quiet spell, after which Hansford's oboe works its magic. That's also over quickly enough for Wileman to enhance the tension on piano.
"Vela" is developed similarly for 2-½ minutes, then puts one a 'strict diet' of ambience, not at the cost of a life-pulse. This is still a journey through the depths of a vacuum; terse percussives point the quickest way from point-of-light to distant-point-of-light. The final third of the 9-½ minutes is a smooth transit, with Hansford as your tour guide. The album closer, "Twice Around The Sun," Wileman credits as a tribute to his hero, Steve Hackett—this gent's name pops up quite a bit, eh?
The material on Constellations is a bit on the homogenous side of the spectrum—toward the end, restlessness may not be uncommon—but one whole extra star is easily awarded for flawless execution—the classical musicians onhand are, pun intended, stellar—and the album's impeccable production. Fans of Vangelis, electronic/orchestral music & soundtracks may want to examine this specimen, closely.