January 1988 A4 3 pages
photocopy reprint (last 3 copies)
The music of Steve Hillman came as quite a revelation to me. In fact, until John Palmer announced that he had organised a concert featuring him, I'd never heard of the guy.
Steve is one of a rare breed, as far as British synthesists go. He has his own ways of producing music and more importantly styles that are recognisable as his own; inspired by past masters, but different. He has five tapes on release, which are all excellent (to varying degrees) and undoubtedly essential to anyone into expressive, inventive and vibrant synth music.
I asked Steve how he got into producing music, what inspired him, etc...
I became interested in electronic music when I was about 14 (around 1969), and bought what I could of the few records around then that featured synths, such as the (Walter Carlos) SWITCHED ON... LP's, Tonto's Expanding Headband etc. When I was 15, I found that when I connected the insides of an old tape recorded to an amplifier, out came these strange sounds for some unapparent reason (a familiar story! - Alan). Thus was born my sound generator which provided the "seagulls" for FROM DISTANT SHORES. Then, well before John Peel started giving them airplay, I heard Tangerine Dream on Jimmy Saville's Sunday afternoon radio programme being broadcast from Germany, and I was immediately taken with their music and proceeded to get all their available LP's. (An early example of "Jim'll fix it"? - Ed.) I was also drawn to groups like Hawkwind and Gong by their use of synths, as well as German groups: Neu!, Cosmic Jokers, Klaus Schulze etc. Parallel with this I was being drawn to Eastern and Medieval musics, as well as the music of Debussy and Satie. So my music is an amalgamation of all these diverse influences drawn together.
I'm self taught, but did music theory grades with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
And what happened next?
After some years of recording with the sound generator and an electronic organ, I got a Yamaha CS3OC synth in the early eighties and a Portastudio. I noticed that Lotus Records were beginning to sell cassettes of other UK synth musicians, so I decided to select some of my recorded output and put together FROM DISTANT SHORES on my Eye Tapes label in 1983.
In 1985 his ASHTAR tape was released by Mirage, but it seems that this missed the attention of most of us, seeing as Mirage magazine had ceased. This tape was a different type of music, as Steve says...
It was a collaboration with my wife Linda, who plays flute. The music was a development on the JEWELLED EYE track from FROM DISTANT SHORES, being Eastern in style and using various musical modes to create different moods and atmospheres. Having decided on the mode, I laid down a synth backing over which Linda improvised flute, or alternatively the flute was played first and then had the backing added. I re-released the tape this year and added some new digital synth parts to some tracks on side 1.
Now, before we reach the present, I'll review Steve's releases...
FROM DISTANT SHORES (Eye 001)
Opening with "seagull" effects, atmospheric sounds and a rhythmic base akin to Tangerine Dream circa RUBYCON, through a phase of bell-like pulses and into an abstract sound pool - the Steve Hillman is introduced in splendid glory, a sequence/pulse and drum rhythm enters, growing with a dynamic lead solo, and lots of swirling and expressive synth effects, to very powerful emotional and musical levels. Next we are left to recuperate in an echoey void akin to the quiet parts of PHAEDRA. Other tracks range from the tranquil Jewelled Eye, to the furious synth/rhythm machine riffing on Vortex, where Steve lets rip with some astounding (Klaus) Schulzian lead-lines. So, an exceptionally good debut by anyone's standards.
Article by Alan Freeman
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