Discoveries of the Dark Sky Alliance

Robin B James
17 min readMay 8, 2024

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Dark Sky Alliance is Eric Taylor, Rupert Greenall, Gerry Marotta and David Helpling.

Superclusters, galactic filaments and voids, various celestial bodies and the like are strategically arranged according to their proximity to the Earth. This horizontal distance to Earth scale is logarithmic and appears in deep blues and purples before erupting into a bright nebula, cradling stars between the soft glow of city skylines. Since the time of space exploration began, spacecraft have successfully examined each of the Solar System’s planets, as well their moons and many minor planets and comets. They remain a fundamental tool for the exploration of outer space, as well as for observation of the Earth. What about the nature of time if one does not live on a rotating Earth? How is transgalactic time to be comprehended, or otherwise measured and synchronized?

The Dark Sky Alliance brings music of worlds beyond our world, whose audio clues only reveal themselves when the light of our day grows quiet and low enough to view the dramatic and brilliantly colorful heavens after dusk, suggest a vastness that I for one cannot possibly comprehend, from somewhere way up there above our heads. Where does this conceptual space-dwelling music start?

For the Dark Sky Alliance the musical ideas generally start with a soundscape created by Eric “The” Taylor. Even after several listens I find it challenging to describe how amazing the sound is, what has been created here. My problem is with struggling to use only words to describe something invisible. With the best music, when so many of the elements therein remain elusive, the Dark Sky Alliance is from a kind of a place where they allow each of the four members to sonically push each other over the edge. The result is a collection of many layered pieces of listening wonderment, bringing together remarkable treasures and discoveries.

Each of these stellar works, which are the Dark Sky Alliance’s first offerings, are rendered in CD, 24-Bit Studio Master Downloads, as well as for Digital Streaming, to celebrate the possibilities of the unknown. I think that I may have found my tribe out here.

Interdwell could be the place you live when traveling for extended periods of time, between planets or solar systems. Here time is a mellowing experience, just relax to the almost jazzy space grooves in an ambient framework. The Dark Sky Alliance four core members are always collaborating with musical royalty, it is impossible to keep up with their activities. Jerry Marotta is the key percussionist and has recorded and toured with such stellar talents as Peter Gabriel, The Indigo Girls, Hall and Oates, Tears For Fears, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, 10,000 Maniacs, Suzanne Vega and Los Lonely Boys; Eric “the” Taylor is the Architect of Ambient Soundscapes and coaxes massive symphonic worlds from vintage analog synthesizers; David Helpling plays guitars also Yamaha CP70 and approaches his projects with a powerful sense of color and cinematic scope; while Rupert Greenall paints in textures by using his voice to play synthesizers. Rupert also continues to play with the new wave rock band The Fixx, whose bright and percussive guitar sound is an establishing element.

Constant listeners and those that can hear from front to back will find growing comfort and understanding from the messages woven therein. Not everyone needs to be an audiophile to appreciate this record, but there is an elevated level of fidelity these musicians have worked for years to create that a quality listening environment will reveal.

For the album Interdwell, extending the reach of the Dark Sky Alliance is the late Sonam Targee, vocalist and trumpet player. We lost Sonam to Lou Gehrig’s Disease on April 15th, 2022. We have the gifts of Robert Rich, multi-instrumentalist and pioneer of ambient, dark-ambient, tribal and trance genres, here he plays grand piano, self-made flute, as well as analog and digital synthesizers. Tony Levin, currently is also collaborating with King Crimson, Peter Gabriel Band, Stick Men and Levin Brothers, and here he plays a bowed double bass on the extended track, “The Slow Train Home.” Joe Locke was inducted into the Music Hall of Fame in Rochester, he is also a consultant at the Royal Academy of Music, he holds the title of Hon. ARAM, and plays vibraphones potentially everywhere he goes. My friend Forrest Fang is a legendary composer and home studio pioneer, here he provides sampled percussion. Forrest is a multi-instrumentalist exploring exotic and traditional instruments from all around the world, with a catalog of over two dozen amazing and inspiring self-produced albums, journeys to worlds somehow both ancient and futuristic. Jamie West Oram, longtime bandmate with Rupert and guitarist in the band The Fixx, here plays electric guitars, and so much more. Oram brings simple yet haunting beautiful melodic elements that are interlaced seamlessly into the ensemble. They are putting brilliantly purposeful layers into the music, as if they want listeners to experience these recordings in a way that is connected, authentic, and very personal.

Eric, Rupert and Jerry have been working on music together in one form or another for many many years. David’s added touch has brought the Dark Sky Alliance into this ambient electronic cosmic landscape. Initially it probably was just Eric and Jerry with occasional help from Bassist Tony Levin — Jerry’s good friend and collaborator on numerous records, projects and tours. They shared 10 years of recording/touring with artists such as Peter Gabriel, over time they found that they had way more material than they knew what to do with. Jerry reflects, “How Eric ‘the’ Taylor found any time to create music while being a spouse, a father to two small children and living with and taking care of his ailing Mother I’ll never understand. But in fact the guy is a music making machine. He’s a living, breathing human jukebox of ambient music. OY!”

Eric had long been attracted to the cinematic guitarwork of an artist called David Helpling and suggested the trio should send David some of their new material to see what he thought and if he was inspired to contribute. Little did they know that if Eric is a music making machine David Helpling is a veritable Tsunami of sound and textures! David took what they gave him and turned it on its ear. Major changes. Major impact. Jerry continues, “It was really awesome to have someone who hadn’t been listening to what we had done and approached with fresh ears.” Adding a whole new chapter to this uniquely different type of creative story. David completes this band.

Dark Sky Alliance is progressive in a sense, and many of the drum-forward tracks feel like big-sound pioneering 80’s pop, but without the loquacious vocals. With heavy electric bass lines and a huge drum sound, no amount of synchronized synths and dreamy textures can hide the feeling of this project having a contemporary core. With several tracks featuring guitar riffs from Jamie West Oram, this project gets rather Fixx-like at times, but never steps out of the ambient massiveness that is the Dark Sky Alliance.

The deep cuts and ambient interludes on Interdwell go far beyond expectation and will delight fans of vast textural electronic music. David continues, “What I’ve learned after distancing myself from working on these tracks and mixing the record is that this is a new genre that brings huge pop vibes to space music. It’s cool, it’s catchy and every track is compelling and full of nostalgia and deep emotions simultaneously.”

This time the percussion is what pulls me in, but I will always love guitars, especially electric guitars. Here the percussion takes me out of this world. What I hear is both tempered and visceral. It’s physical. That’s the beauty of real drums. Sometimes the feeling is of someone nimbly running or scrambling on a difficult course. Sometimes the feeling is of effortless deep cosmic swimming. Sometimes I hop on one foot. Sometimes Jerry is attempting to stand still. Negative space between notes is as important if not more important than the notes I do hear.

Space flight is an application of astronautics to fly objects, usually spacecraft, into or through outer space, either with or without humans on board. The craft is to overcome the force of gravity and propel a spaceship from the surface of the Earth. Interdwell is finding a home for your ears while you proceed with the art of travel by spacecraft from one star system, solitary star, or planetary system to another. In ancient China, the 2nd-century astronomer Zhang Heng became convinced that space must be infinite, extending well beyond the mechanism that supports the Sun and the stars. Astronomy is one of the oldest of the natural sciences.

Pragmatically, Eric shares his thoughts, “This band is everything I need to hear in song. Extremely creative soundscapes with structure. Pop-like sensibilities brought to the table from both Rupert and Jerry, vast knowledge of placement and arrangement by David and myself “Taylorizing” the texture at every turn.”

This album is said to be organized in chapters, and it is understood that the crew that arrives at the destination will be several generations distant, but directly descended from those who started the journey. Thus each chapter best represents an evolving sound poem or improvisational mnemonic device, based on an evolving intergalactic culture.

Now step through the portal and leave everything behind, enter Interdwell time. As the solar wind passes the Earth, it interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere and will deflect the gathering solar winds that envelop the Earth. Time is a way to describe the pace of motion or release, such as the speed of a light wave, how fast a heart beats, or how frequently a planet completes one spin. Modern philosophers once asked, is time real or unreal? Is time happening all at once or is it a duration? Music from the Dark Sky Alliance offers another response to these important puzzles. Listen and see for yourself.

Humans began the physical exploration of space during the 20th century with the advent of high-altitude balloon flights. Chapter 1, “Search” (2:36) begins this journey into which you will begin to hear analog and digital synthesizers, bass, electronic percussion, slow and gentle rising opening gliding, briefly a mysterious beat, just a glimpse at the end of the track, under an endless twilight that reflects upon the water’s mirror of a floor that the expanse’s ground actually claims. Outer space presents a challenging environment for human exploration. The size of the whole universe is unknown, and it might be infinite in extent. The constant listener continues the search.

The present day shape of the universe has been determined from measurements of the cosmic microwave background using satellites like the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. Chapter 2, “Fortunate One” (7:19) probes the notion that luck is a melody in which you will hear Taos drums, shakers, analog and digital synthesizers, vocoder, upright piano, acoustic and electronic percussion, guitar textures, synth bass, vocal chants, and Tibetan bells. Jamie West Oram also plays electric guitars. Because of the hazards of a vacuum, astronauts must wear a pressurized space suit while off-Earth and outside their spacecraft. Despite the harsh environment, several life forms have been found that can withstand extreme space conditions for extended periods. This track is a call for understanding and a plea for the human condition, moving forward with peace in hand and heart, if one could be so fortunate. Now the feeling is slow and gentle, deep in there might dwell reverb ghosts with their ethereal vocals and chanting. Soon a pulsing drum emerges and a melody takes form, while more percussive electronics come together. Wait, now there is a break and things get quiet. I swear I feel something like a whale calling, summoning us to dwell forever in the vast oceans of happiness.

Outer space does not begin at a definite altitude above the Earth’s surface. Chapter 3, “Warm Inlet” (6:42) is almost a sound bath in motion. Here is where you will hear Taos drums, shakers, percussion, analog and digital synthesizers, vocoder, grand piano, electric bass, guitar, trumpet. Jamie West Oram also plays electric guitars. The story has it that there’s a cabin in the Adirondacks, right there on 7th Lake where there’s an inlet that can only be reached by boat. The sun is shining and the sand is almost luminescent with reflection. The glow emerges and the percussion jumps in, soon achieving a steady beat until it breaks into a new beatless glow. As the piano takes form and the beat warms up again, with an easy groove and upbeat jazzy feeling, I am caught on the intricate beats and a dangling string flutters.

Stars, planets, and moons retain their atmospheres by gravitational attraction. Chapter 4, “The Desert Mind” (5:43) tells a new part of the story, in which you will hear flowing granular waves on a desert planet with no natural precipitation, Taos drums, shakers, bells, acoustic and electronic percussion, analog and digital synthesizers, and ambient textures. Robert Rich plays the flutes. This is a story of the harsh climate of a planet and the beauty that can be found in dangerous places. Be wise with the gift of eternity. We fade in swirling, there are Fort Apache meadowlarks at dawn, desert winds and something is taking form, a caravan. How can that be?

I might hear hints of woodwind instruments and piano, now an intricate beat pattern moderate tempo clicks in full of jazzy feeling. The feeling of time pops into its own unique full strength, somehow keeping the moderate groovy tempo. Now the caravan slows down momentarily to sort things out, then the beat returns and everyone gets back into the journey. This happens several times, and in the end the caravan just flows away. One wrong turn and the desert lays claim to you. Be mindful. Chapter 5, “Latch” (3:16) keeps safe a place in which you will hear analog and digital synthesizers, electronic percussion, and ambient textures. Joe Locke plays the vibraphone.

Think of the latch to the space pod as you enter the great unknown, on a whimsical odyssey you must experience alone. Then let go of the latch. Imagine in the dark distant void a growl almost emerges, low like thunder as more instruments assemble. We are preparing and rising to the occasion to further compliment the slowing atmosphere with those buzzing low vibrations. Interplanetary space contains the magnetic field generated by the Sun. Humans evolved for life in Earth gravity, and exposure to weightlessness has been shown to have complicated challenges to human health. The latch keeps us safe.

We come to the title track, Chapter 6, “Interdwell” (8:30), where space is the place in which you will hear Taos drums, electronic percussion, shakers, analog percussion, analog and digital synthesizers, guitar textures, synth bass. Here Jamie West Oram also plays cosmic electric guitars; Robert Rich also plays cosmic analog and digital synthesizers and Joe Lock plays cosmic vibraphones, all right here on this track.

One meaning of the song is that “Interdwell” explores time and space travel through music, imagining the sound of a welcoming portal opening to reveal another land to the listener-traveler, a place with a downbeat jazz feeling. A traveler might need that low slow beat that comes in eventually, soon to hear a gentle but unmistakable boom and now we have a solid slow foundation that is rising. Now everything flows in and takes form, then slows down and almost stops. It then pours in again. During all this the guitars weave in and around the stuttering percussion that almost stops. Then the beat bursts back in with more strength, taking over with a singing beast of a guitar. In glory the scene slows down, everyone is there to support the guitar as it soars and we have liftoff and stop to watch it shoot off up into the distant sky above, now traveling on forever.

Intergalactic space takes up most of the volume of the universe, but even galaxies and star systems consist almost entirely of empty space. Observations suggest that the majority of the mass-energy in the observable universe is dark energy, a type of vacuum energy that is poorly understood. Chapter 7, “The Far Cry” (7:46) comes from a distant place in which you will hear Taos drums, electronic percussion, analog and digital synthesizers, ebow guitar; notably Robert Rich plays grand piano. Now we come to that moment, internally when I tell myself “no, it doesn’t end here and I will overcome.” ‘The Far Cry’ is what is then heard inside, a reply of affirmation. The feeling is like taking altitude, I think I hear the piano speaking gently, the percussion is slow and the bass talks perfectly slowly. It feels like there is more distance as more instruments ease in. This feeling stays slow as it builds in complexity. To achieve an orbit, a spacecraft must travel faster than a sub-orbital spaceflight.

Chapter 8, “Marotta Swamp” (6:27) takes us all to a fine quiet place in which you will hear analog and digital synthesizers, field recordings, percussion, guitar textures; there are Fort Apache Meadowlarks and you can smell the lush greenery. Listen to the ecosystem. The electronic glow builds with a hint of night insects creaking, somehow floating above the swamp at night.

Take a slow groove while puzzling as details take shape all over the strangely forested wetlands. In the end there is a slow fade, no beats, no flashy percussion, just a swamp-glow. For all of the other tracks Jerry is much busier, “My sonic palette traditionally consists of things that can be hit, shaken, dropped, tossed, blown into, stepped on, swung around your head etc you get the idea. I’m very attached to my Taos Drums made in Taos, New Mexico. I also use a traditional drum kit many times in an unconventional way. I also love my Handsonic and 2 Korg Wavedrums. But in this project I ve at different times added Guitar, Bass, Voice and Keyboards. Oh I mustn’t forget my Garden Weasel.” In elegant contradiction, Chapter 8 is a quiet reflection on nocturnal revelations.

Local concentrations of matter have condensed into stars and galaxies. Chapter 9, “Tré Pur” (4:20) opens a new channel in which you will hear analog and digital synthesizers, vocoder, grand piano, guitar textures, electronic percussion. Tré Pur, is Rupert spelled backwards and is an ode to Rupert, who is understood as one of the master synthesists of our generation. The sound of Chapter 9 opens into a pure sustained glow, building and rising. Now a piano brings a reverberating chord fluttering and flickering against the slow drone coming from somewhere high up on top. Most of Rupert’s pieces are first take performances. He feels that “Playing music can be as therapeutic as listening to it. Some of the best ideas and phrases usually occur during the first takes, usually when I’m unfamiliar with the piece.”

Outer space, commonly shortened to space, is the vast expanse that exists beyond Earth and its atmosphere and between celestial bodies. Chapter 10, “The Slow Train Home” (10:29) brings us to the longest track, one in which you will hear analog and digital synthesizers, field recordings, guitar textures. Tony Levin plays the bowed double bass. Robert Rich plays the flute. Joe Locke plays vibraphone and this is the story of riding the train, covering the longest distances on the album. Some wonderful strange sounds visit and vanish, I think we are in the terminal, the sounds blast and echo, I think of restless water and a tram rushes off. Now it is more quiet. Soon the clickety-clack of the night motion starts to remind the sleeper of where we are traveling tonight, the bowed bass is the main voice. Here all is slow and easy with a dark echo, the feeling is sad and relaxed, this builds as it keeps slow and easy, stronger-stronger as a flute comes in, and then it is all secretly opening up more and more, somehow keeping sleepy and slow. This feels like a soaring night flight rather than a clattering railroad, no, wait, here comes a train calling or answering in the distance and the tracks ring, fade to black.

This next part is about the particular space between two celestial bodies. Chapter 11, “Linear” (5:06), is a continuum in which you will hear drums, electronic percussion, shakers, log drum, analog and digital synthesizers, guitar textures, synth bass; with Jamie West Oram who also plays electric guitars, and Forrest Fang provides the sampled percussion. I say blast this next track with the top down at full speed, and feel the night air whip as your third eye tears up. Searching for that rising glow gets complicated, now the tempo takes off and this is the energy and groove coming together. Yes, this is the guitar jam. Reaching warp in an easy but kinetic sense while keeping in a slow flowing way. The guitar voice is on top playing against the complicated percussion and things seem to pause and then get moving a bit more here on this track overall. What am I trying to say? This track truly ROCKS — check it out!

Now the end is near. Slow it down. Take that deep breath. Chapter 12, “Bring Myself To Say It” (3:50), in which you will hear analog and digital synthesizers, grand piano, and ambient textures. The strength to say it can be found here. When nothing else can be said but the truth to begin the process of healing. Now I hear dawn breaking as the orchestral glow rises, the piano emerges hesitantly until we are soaring high in the sunset sky with those haunting twilight colors. In 350 BCE, Greek philosopher Aristotle suggested that nature abhors a vacuum, a principle that became known as the horror vacui. Now this has been said. Later a sleepy piano is the guiding voice above the glowing sub foundation and somehow has brought us all home safely.

How do they do it? David has given this a great deal of thought. “I’m always trying and looking for new ways to manipulate sound. Some of those things came to great use on this record. Sometimes running Rupert’s expressive vocoded synth pads through intelligent pattern gates yielded stunning results — especially when wrapping them around Jerry s drums “ This can be heard on tracks like “Fortunate One” and “Warm Inlet.” Listen closely. It’s veddy cool.

David takes the whole “studio as instrument” concept even further, “Another thing for me is using Granular Synthesis to explore micro detailed textures from my own guitar loops. I think “The Far Cry” is wrapped in this sound. It sounds like synth textures, but it’s all from guitar loops in a particular key. For this project I leaned on my Waldorf Iridium quite a bit for the top line synth parts. I had created a bank of new plucked sounds that just sounded insane with Floating over some of these ensemble progressions. The melody on Warm Inlet is one of them. My 1981 Yamaha CP70 is all over this record.

“On “The Desert Mind” you’ll hear my Yamaha CP70 questioning Robert Rich’s flute parts and later stating the melody. I used it to express Eric’s piano melody on the opening track, “Search.” I played a lot of guitars on this record, but in contrast to Jamie’s big chimey sound, my stuff is warmer and more fluid. I found an eBow tone I’ve been trying to nail for years and used it as a melodic element on the choruses of “The Far Cry.”

“I also used overdrive for the first time on this record (yes, the first time). I’m a clean, dreamy guitar person, but so many of these tracks asked for some parts with more edge. These guys are pushing me and I love it. I used my Virus TI2 synth quite a bit also. I had been creating some really rich synth tones and those were on hand to try out for the first time. Those big growling detuned bass parts on (the track) “Interdwell” are one example.

“This entire record was mixed on the SSL BiG SiX and all of my guitar, CP70 and synth parts were tracked through it as well. Such a great sound with so much headroom and the on-board EQ and G Bus Comp is GREAT. The Eventide H7600 box was always warm and cranking that beautiful modulated reverb — no track escaped it :^) I mixed and referenced everything through the Genelec. The on-board room calibration is everything.”

You can hear each of the musicians very distinctly and it clearly feels like they are vibing off of each other. Interdwell sounds like the band has somehow been traveling across time and space together. That’s part of why it’s such a great record. When you experience this album it sounds tight, huge and fresh. Many of the parts were recorded in New York at Jerry’s studio in Woodstock and Eric’s music room in Rochester before coming to David’s studio in California. Jamie s guitars and Rich s Flutes and PIano were added remotely. The record was Pre Produced by Eric, Jerry & Rupert in NY and Post Produced in San Diego where David added all of his parts.

Eric provides the perfect closing thought, “The story you hear, as the listener, is your own.”

Interdwell is available for intergalactic streaming on the platform of your choice.

Tracks
01 Search
02 Fortunate One
03 Warm Inlet
04 The Desert Mind
05 Latch
06 Interdwell
07 The Far Cry
08 Marotta Swamp
09 Tré Pur
10 The Slow Train Home
11 Linear
12: Bring Myself To Say It

LINKS
Alliance HQ https://darkskyalliance.com/
Spotted Peccary Artists https://spottedpeccary.com/artists/dark-sky-alliance/
Spotted Peccary Shop https://spottedpeccary.com/shop/interdwell/
BandCamp https://dark-sky-alliance.bandcamp.com/album/interdwell
Multiplatform https://orcd.co/interdwell
Amazon

Here is more about the band:

Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel, Indigo Girls) percussionist https://jerrymarotta.com/
Rupert Greenall (The Fixx) keyboards https://www.thefixx.com/
Eric Taylor, synthesizers https://ericthetaylor.com/
David Helpling, cinematic sound-maestro guitarist https://deepexile.com/

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Robin B James

We all thrive in collaboration with diverse entities who share our positive vision and values.