Magazine Reviews of Eleven Shadows
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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
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
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
themselves a copy.
--- Shirley Brown/
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
female vocals. With the state of mind I was in while listening,
its ironic that the song Sangsara (also the
album name) comes from the Prayer of Guidance...
hmmmmmm... Zoar fans will definitely dig this ...
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 Amazon.com, Backroads Music,
Projekt Records and Hypnos Recordings)
- Alan Ezust/The
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
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.
Magazine: Making Music with Modern Technology, U.K.
(includes "Shegar" by Eleven Shadows on their
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).
Magazine, U.K. (50th Issue Special Edition)
(includes "Caro Mio Ben" by Eleven Shadows on their
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
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,
Eleven Shadows is beautiful, intricate, emotional music. It's
(The 'Rolling Stone' of Germany), Germany
ELEVEN SHADOWS "Sangsara"
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
A modern classic masterpiece!
Beautiful, beautiful music by Eleven Shadows. I love
this mixture of ambience and Eastern melodies! Where can I
Ken Lee is obviously a very talented musician.
Well, sure, if you like that sort of thing...
how do I order
my Eleven Shadows discs?
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