Magazine Reviews of Eleven Shadows "Sangsara"

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From an obscure (to me, anyway) label in Ohio comes this gem of a CD that just transported me to untold heights. I have a thing for mood music, the kind of stuff you can meditate to, and I also harbor a passion for things Tibetan. This album is a dream come true.

The instruments include: voice, Tibetan Singing Bowls, Burmese bells, bowed bass, keyboards, Tibetan bells, guitar, Javanese gamelan, electric bass, wind chimes, and "assorted sounds and voices taped while traveling in Northern India." Need I say

Sangsara is a great album for background music, for meditating to, for conjuring up vivid daydreams, and for making you feellike you're somewhere else. It's atmosphere in the best possible sense. I'll be telling everyone I know to go and fetch
themselves a copy.

--- Shirley Brown/ Flow Online

Stirring and calming by turns, the sounds of sangsara arise in a heady blend of Tibetan beliefs, atmospherically mystic soundscapes, female vocals, ethnic instruments and modern electronics. Led by Ken Lee, and with lead vocalizations by
Esther TessÚl, Eleven Shadows brings an arty seriousness to the sometimes-insincere marriage of musical culturalisms.
This disk opens to a full-bore military assualt. After the chaotic sounds of destruction and resultant suffering subside, shegar is awash in emotional operatic/Oriental female vocals and darkly swelling strings. Warmer dentro continues with Esther
TessÚl's Eastern vocalese, backed by a droning haze of brassy resonance. The mountain-inspired flute sounds of kailas (1:34) wail with earnest praise.

The Tibetan word for death is shiya; the track enters a swelteringly murky world, laced with diffused spoken fragments of childlike voices and cello sounds which are suddenly unleashed upon by an intense barrage, then funereal drumming. When
between the mysterious and moody realms of bardo, the listener is surrounded by a densely surging sonic stew from which various sounds bubble up, both worldly and preternatural. An impressively arranged mayhem which fades on gong tones which
re-renter into amittabha's territory. Over a powerful, deep drone, acrobatically trilling Cantonese vocals invite.

Demonstrating its self-definition through lovely waves of ethereal radiance, gyewalang means "reborn" in the Tibetan language. Ghostly singing emerges briefly as the piece fades, becoming the sweet and tuneful sangsara. TessÚl adroitly emotes
over Lee's muffled gamelan, which rings with clunky expressiveness. Resplendent l'oceano is a short voice-and-shimmer/swell exultation of the Dalai Lama.  Distant vocals ripple and are swept over by lushly amorphous waves of synth in paragate, with occasional rings and clangs of ethnic innstrumentation fading into the growing silence. chenrezi (15:21) is the embodiment of mercy and compassion; this track signifies its meaning through a long, reverent drone with assorted levels of ringing em-bell-ishments which slur into the ongoing flow.

Eleven Shadows fully demonstrates the conviction which is so often missing in most ethno-ambient excursions, displaying the best of both worlds. While the strength o fEsther TessÚl's singing may disconcert the ears of anti-vocalists, the language
barrier holds direct meaning to a user-definable level of mystery (though the translations are given in the attractively-designed and informative liner notes). sangsara receives a glowing 8.4 for transcendental journeying through sound.

- David P. Opdyke/The AmbiEntrance


The cover of this CD looked interesting, so I picked it up to review it, completely unprepared for the incredible lyric beauty I heard. This CD is ethereal, hauntingly picturesque and stunningly composed. Dark and rich, with heavily Asian influenced
vocals, this CD will appeal to Goth fans, Ethereal fans, and fans of World Music. The liner notes give some interesting information about the creation of the CD and the stories behind some of the songs as well as the lyrics. Some of the best tracks on Sangsara are Shegar, Shiya, and the title track, Sangsara.

-- The Alternative Voice


Sangsara, an openly politically-influenced album that has its inspiration in the plight of the Tibetans who are under oppression by communist China, is an emotionally powerful and, at times, musically wondrous album from AdAstra, the home of
adventurous ambient music. I was wholly unprepared for the passion and pain of this recording. I was, in a few words, blown away on first listen.

The album is anchored by the almost operatic vocals of Esther TessÚl and the multi-instrumental talents of Ken Lee (on everything from keyboards to Tibetan bells and Javanese gamelan), along with two other accompanists. The music is rooted in
both Tibetan and ambient sensibilities. It is impossible to evaluate or even describe this album without mentioning the vocal work of TessÚl who sings in Spanish and whose voice is almost painfully emotionally-laden. This is not Enya! TessÚl's voice is
so naked and soaring in its own emotive ability that it would be inhuman to be unfazed by the songs on which she appears.

The music itself on sangsara, the term which refers to the Tibetan cycles of birth and death, could probably be described as world ambient. The blending of the Tibetan and gamelan influences with the more overt electronic elements produces music that is both spiritual and electronic, yet with no trace of traditional Demby-esque Westernism. Some cuts, e.g. the collage-like "shiya" are more demanding for the casual listener. At times, while listening to sangsara, I was reminded of the brilliant
album By The Pricking of My Thumb by where echoes end. This has the same feel of abstract beauty melded to a powerful message. But, where By The Pricking...was almost conceptual in its fusion of dialogue and samples with music, this seems more
musical as a whole. There are some dialogue samples and recorded dialogue. But, overall, this album is more of a musical journey into a political statement than the aforementioned By The Pricking...

I consider myself a fan of gamelan and Tibetan music, so the use of bells, chimes, and other world elements actually enhanced the appeal of this recording for me.   However, unless a listener is deliberately turned off by vocals, even if you have
never listened to world music, if you are a fan of ambient music, this may appeal to you. Dead Can Dance fans should be very enthused with at least parts of this album, as, at times, Esther can sound a lot like Lisa Gerrard.  Not everything here is ultra-heavy duty. The title cut is almost light in feel, as Esther's vocal and the accompanying gamelan sound almost joyful (well, in a subdued way). The second to last cut, "paragate" is nearly ethereal as the vocal and synths operate in almost angelic harmony. Bringing the album to an especially effective close is the fifteen-plus minute ambient number "chenrezi" which blends
the Tibetan, Javanese, and ambient soundscapes together in seamless fashion to produce a floating yet densely textured ocean of serene mystery.

I never expected such an emotionally charged album from a label like AdAstra, although I shouldn't be that surprised. John Michael Zorko, the label's founder, has always shown a deeper side than is usual in the ambient field. Trust him to release an
album whose noble intentions are easily matched by music that is both emotionally charged and beautifully complex. Recommended.

- Bill Binkleman/Wind and Wire


With its newest signee, Eleven Shadows, AdAstra Records continues to explore the outer reaches of what could be considered ambience. In this case, the territory covered includes elements of opera, film-score music and Tibetan spiritual music.
Eleven Shadows frontman Ken Lee is joined on Sangsara by vocalist Esther TessÚl, percussionist Richard Lanchester and bassist Connie Deeter for a musically varied exploration of Tibetan Buddhism.

Singing lyrics in Italian on five of the album's 11 tracks, TessÚl evokes the tragedy of the current Tibetan occupation and the mysteries of the Buddhist faith. While her vocals are impressive, they may not appeal to the strictly ambient listener with their
soaring, operatic quality. Lee moves from striding themes to more subtle ambient soundscapes and back throughout the album, using synthesizers, samples and a variety of acoustic instruments while achieving his greatest successes on purely instrumental tracks like "Shiya," "Bardo" and "Gyewalang."

Sangsara is not for every ambient fan, but it's a worthwhile listen for those who like to hear things mixed together a bit differently than usual.

- Eric Prindle/Ujamaa's Ambient Experience



I think this album has propelled me through a very stressful time, and has probably saved me from strangling the shit out of someone. I just put on my headphones and sunk into an atmosphere of ambient tones with Tibetan influences and soaring
female vocals. With the state of mind I was in while listening, it’s ironic that the song “Sangsara” (also the album name) comes from the “Prayer of Guidance”... hmmmmmm... Zoar fans will definitely dig this ...

- Laura McCutchen/Morbid Outlook



I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for sad female vocals and dreamy electronic soundscapes. When Heavenly Voices came out with their first two compilations, I was in heaven.  There were tons of bands I "discovered" directly as a result of this comp. Eleven
Shadows, however, was not one of them, even though they have a very moving piece on Volume 2 called "56 in 81, sampling liberally from a senator discussing the Rodney King trial who was describing what it might be like to be beaten 56 times in
81 seconds. A very vivid and disturbing song. The vocals which sounded german and very sad and operatic were almost eclipsed by the spoken word.

I came across this new release in the used bin and decided to check it out. The dark brooding synths, and the operatic female vocals did it for me. She sings in Italian and Tibetan, and sometimes her voice takes on this Bjork-like quality to it which I find
quite endearing. But if this wasn't enough, in the middle of the CD, I was pleasantly surprised to hear some instrumental ambient noise tracks. The shimmering bright bell sounds combined with heavily aliased and distorted sound samples created an atmosphere which reminded me quite a bit of the instrumental bits in Tear Garden's 'Tired Eyes Slowly Burning'. What a combination! It's their third album, but their first on this very young record label out of Ohio. Good luck finding it in stores though! (actually, it's available from, Backroads Music, Projekt Records and Hypnos Recordings)

- Alan Ezust/The Brain


Eleven Shadows is the brainchild of Los Angeles resident Ken Lee, though to realise these beautiful textures and tunes, he has enlisted the help of Esther Tessel and Connie Deeter, to make this one of the most organic and haunting releases we've had the pleasure of reviewing. Ken explains the rather surprising way "Shegar" evolved: "The song was created by having Esther sing a capella, and then enveloping sounds around her voice in an attempt to have the song live and breathe more naturally." Ken then built up the keyboard textures without a sequencer to maintain the organic feel.

"All of the keyboard sounds were sent through daisy-chained effects and then through speakers, multi-miked to add a sense of space, and then recorded to the multi-track. I find most synth sounds painfully boring unless they are screwed up!"

The string pads from the Kurzweil MicroPiano complement the bowed double bass, but the lushness of the pads is down to Ken building up layers of strings on the multitrack, each time slightly altering the varispeed to give a natural chorusing effect. Esther's voice has a well chosen long reverb that gives it space without smothering the track, but when the track comes down in the middle, the voice is dry, creating a wonderful sense of intimacy. It's subtle touches like these that make it obvious that this is someone who knows how to get the most out of his equipment. The result is an extremely professional sounding release; the nearest reference point might be Dead Can Dance or Arvo Part, but this is music that defies categorisation.

"Dentro" is another similarly constructed tune, though while "Shegar" is dark and haunting, "Dentro" is more contemplative and hopeful. "Bardo" is a dark collage of abstract sounds, backwards noises, treated gamelans, Tibetan bells, and vocal samples, very similar to the opening atmospheres of "Shegar". Finally, "L'Oceano" is another beautiful tune, halfway between the moods of "Dentro" and "Shegar", with some atmospheres comparable to the best of Mark Isham.

-Future Music Magazine: Making Music with Modern Technology, U.K.
(includes "Shegar" by Eleven Shadows on their accompanying CD)



Eleven Shadows' "Shegar" had us all swooning back in Future Music 41. Replete with multi-layered Kurzweil string pads, bowed double bass and beautiful vocals, the earlier track proved to be something of a sponge for superlatives. Described at the time as 'organic and haunting', among other things, Ken Lee's orchestral epic provoked a flurry of activity around the 'organic and haunting' section of the office thesaurus. "Shegar" also got an airing on the fabulous "Mixing It" show on Radio 3 on the BBC thrice!

"Caro Mio Ben" is a new track from Eleven Shadows, and I'm sure you'll agree, a testament to their past Demo of the Month status on Future Music Magazine (referring to previous inclusions on a couple of their CDs that accompany each issue! -- your friendly editors).

-Future Music Magazine, U.K. (50th Issue Special Edition)
(includes "Caro Mio Ben" by Eleven Shadows on their accompanying CD)



Ken Lee, a Californian of Chinese ancestry, makes shimmery, vibrant music as Eleven Shadows with both electronic instruments and traditional Asian instruments, such as Tibetan bells and bowls and Indonesian gamelan. These melt (together) with very beautiful vocals from Esther Tessel and acoustic bass from Connie Deeter.

Lee combines Asian and Western influences together effectively in a way that a person of Chinese ancestry living in the United States can only do. Many musical combinations of both Asian and Western worlds are hollow. This is not. It is music that feels complete and satisfies.

-Music and Sounds, Hong Kong



Eleven Shadows is beautiful, intricate, emotional music. It's magic!

-Zillo Magazine (The 'Rolling Stone' of Germany), Germany



This is the 2nd Eleven Shadows release we are carrying. The other (reviewed Dec. 99-Jan. 2000) has two distinctly different sides within its 2 CDs. One is very ambient/rhythmic, world textures and compelling beats like Dileo. The other CD on "Irian Jaya/Chronograph" is abstract, experimental and with eerie vocal portions that border on operatic. "Sangsara" is more like the 2nd CD, with elements of opera, film-score music and Tibetan spiritual music. Vocalist Esther TessÚl sings in Italian on five of the eleven tracks, and manages to evoke the tragedy of the current Tibetan occupation and the mysteries of the Buddhist faith. Others add Tibetan singing bowls and Burmese bells, or bowed bass. Frontman and leader Ken Lee moves from striding themes to more subtle ambient soundscapes and back throughout the recording, playing keyboards, voice, atmosphere guitar, Javanese gamelan, wind chimes and assorted sounds and voices taped while traveling in Northern India. His instrumental tracks seem to stand out, and the rest is for those who enjoy unusual combining and themes mixed together a bit differently than usual.




A modern classic masterpiece!

-Darkwave, USA



Beautiful, beautiful music by Eleven Shadows.  I love this mixture of ambience and Eastern melodies!  Where can I hear more?

-Sonica, Australia


Ken Lee is obviously a very talented musician.

-Option Magazine, USA


Well, sure, if you like that sort of thing...

-Ken's Dad

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