Touching the Serpent’s Tail, the latest CD from synthesist and composer Robert Fox, is a polished new age/space music release.
Fox describes himself as “master of the grand soundscape and one of the UK’s leading exponents of melodic orchestral instrumental music”. He’s released twelve solo CDs and also works with label mate David Wright as part of Code Indigo.
Most of the music on Touching the Serpent’s Tail is symphonic electronica, with some tracks leaning more towards new age and others more towards ambient electronica.
Throughout the CD, Fox creates masterful synthesized orchestrations. He draws on analog-style synth voicings, sample-based synth textures, vocal samples and effects to create arrangements that are frequently very beautiful.
The highlights of the CD are the more ambient sections. On tracks like the fantastic kick-off track, Earth, Fox wows you with majestic but subtle synth orchestrations. Earth is an exceptional track, and a great example of symphonic electronica.
Another highlight of the CD is the reflective Of A Time Gone By. The track introduces a hymn-like progression, and then repeats it with added elements. First Fox solos over the backing, using a sax-like synth timbre. Next, Fox layers sampled Gregorian chant over it. He ends the track with a final variation which combines the chant and sax variations.
After the stunning first track, Fox moves more into melodic new age territory. These tracks showcase Fox’s ear for gorgeous synth orchestration, but the standard rhythm tracks make them less memorable. Instead of the rhythm tracks propelling the music forward, they often seem to slow the tracks down and make them feel rigid. One example is Strange Voices in Ancient Tongues. On this track Fox mixes in some sampled Gregorian chant and drops it in over a drum track. The drum track competes with the freeness of the chant instead of supporting it.
All in all, though, Touching the Serpent’s Tail is a very nice melodic new age release. When Fox focuses on the creative synth arrangement, though, the music is frequently gorgeous, making us wish for more synth orchestration and less pop new age arrangement.