Ether Or
1997
Tracks
  • circular motion (recorded live at Tunnelwerks, Dallas TX)
  • whispers of momentum
  • flicker
  • shady character
  • repetitive smile
  • a collection of smoke (recorded live at Metrophobia, Pheonix AZ)
  • don't look in the mirror (recorded live at Tunnelwerks, Dallas TX)

When Mason gave me a chance to put out SubArachnoid Space’s second CD (their first was on Charnel House), I jumped at the chance. SAS’ music is sometimes wild, sometimes subtle, but always interesting. Even more interesting when you consider that ALL of it is improvised. I was given a ton of material that the band had recorded, and I selected a set of pieces that I thought fit well withing the Unit Circle’s roster. The work presented on this disc is slightly more ponderous and dark, but it still shows their range as a unique ensemble.

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Reviews
Nox

SubArachnoid Space are an improvisational band. This CD contains 55 minutes of music that is a mix of live performances, practice and studio sessions. The music is mostly experimental, with some rock, jazz, and even a didgeridoo thrown in. Much of the music here is comprised of interesting soundscapes -- the perfect music to be used at a laserium show.

The first track, Circular Motion, is a piece I enjoyed quite a bit. At times the music soars, and at others it is gentle. While listening to Flicker, it struck me that much of this music reminded me of the music performed in the off-Broadway performance art show, Tubes, by Blue Man Group. There just aren't quite as many drums. Repetitive Smile has a nice psychedelic and spacey feel to it, and A Collection of Smoke follows along in the same vein until it speeds up a bit and takes on a darker, almost gothic quality. It continues to slow down and speed up through the end of the track -- all 14 minutes of it -- the CD's longest track.

Technically, Ether Or isn't perfect, but the band is very tight considering everything is improvised. If you like ambient/experimental music, then you'll like this.

Astro Zombie
There's a track called "Don't Look In The Mirror" and the title briefly brought back all those fears, mummy, mummy, help, I'm scared of the dark. Step into the light. This aside, the Subarachnoids are cool. Free form rambling jammers, psychedelic swirls an' all, so keep swaying to the flicker of the lava lamp, in the murky insense-heavy darkness. Wowww! I just saw a shooting star! This sounds a lot like early Hawkwind, blistering beltane sores on the underside of the planet! Unhallowed space madness, leaking fat scars of intergalactic pus! "Circular Motion" gets sound, chugging guitar, subliminal bass, this is molten astral mellifluity in time with the rhythms of beyond. Alien life-forms are sucking up your identity, please no, here we go, it's the plethora of nether ether they call "Whispers of Momentum"! It's more of the same picked-out everlasting chords, crepuscular swirlings, pictures from the dark side of humanity's collective unconscious... and it's not bad, at that. Space Ritual comes to mind, here-then we got "Flicker" which features some pretty mad tom-tom drumming. Space Indians! Run! the spooky trip continues with "Repetitive Smile", it's incensed-wreathed lysergically-altered white noise. If you like dark munch n' scrunch psych-out jams, this is definitely the one.
C & D Services
Probably the best example of psychedelic-meets-Kraut style guitar jamming with acres of space and the dual electric guitars interacting in glorious early '70's-meets-'90's post-rock fashion. Even the bass and drums are out of the early Ash Ra Tempel/Guru Guru mould while the guitar shine out from spacey layers through classic A.R.T/Guru style excursions, made even better by the fact that there are 2 guitars not just one. The miles of scorching twin leads don't so much solo as cover the musical high ground with soaring textures and chiming electric atmospherics. A really brilliant album. - Andy G.
Improvijazzation Nation - Issue #28
This Seattle label, Unit Circle Rekkids, keeps sendin' these FINE improvised/experimental CD's in - ETHER OR is no exception to that rule. Credits only list first names (they're onna' "hit list" somewhere?), so it's difficult to tell much about 'em (from the CD cover, that is; the promo sheets have much more info). Alla' that is totally unimportant, if you (take the time to) LISTEN to this... slow build, fusion-oriented space climb... to thee starz! That bass just INVADES th' space, some nice exploratory weave pieces. There are sections where th' drums sound just a little "clacky", but for the most part, they shine... 'specially on the cymbal work. The thing that's so nice about these pieces (IF yer' into electronic/rock improvisations - if yer' NOT, shy away from this one) is that it IS live/spontaneous.. feels like that really comes across - & I know (from similar performances myself) that is often VERY hard to do! Seems like every Unit Circle release that's come our way (there've been 3) in the last year has gotten a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED... if yer' ear is tuned to DANGER - you'll think so, too! - Rotcod Zzaj
Vital Weekly - Issue #80
I can be short about this one: tons of fuzzy guitars, tons to psychedelic drumming and no vocals. That what made F/i ages sounding outdated, but is totally cool nowadays: space rock. These girls and boys jamm their brains out and are on a far away astral trip. And I even like it!
Sonic Boom - May 1997
SubArachnoid Space is a recently formed San Franciscan improvisational quartet who utilize a myriad of different musical styles in the music. All of the tracks on this album were culled from live performances, practices, and studio sessions, all which were improvised. Also of note is the absence of electronic instrumentation from the majority of the album. Most of the instruments used are of either ethnic or traditional western origin, which include such items as violin, hammer dulcimer, flute, drums, bass & guitar. The only electronic instrument used is a simple keyboard, with the remainder of the depth and atmosphere being derived from various guitar pedals and other similar equipment. Musically SubArachnoid Space fuse elements of rock, noise, jazz, and experimental music into a variety of both calming and jarring audio atmospheres. And even though all of the compositions are improvised, no two tracks sound remotely alike.
INsite University Reporter
For dark nights when you're alone and need to hear atmospheric pounding drums and feedback guitars fade in and out of your speakers, I suggest SubArachnoid Space's new disc, Ether Or. Sub Arachnoid Space's improvised music is moodily engrossing. The seven tracks on the CD are culled from live performances and feature undulating percussive work and wailing guitars that weave their way into your head. While sometimes "improvised" can mean meandering and arduous solos that drone on, SubArachnoid Space's improvised pieces grab the listener by creating soundscapes and atmospheres augmented by slowboiling hooks. Each song takes a theme and explores it thoroughly by adding textures, rhythm, and noises to complement and push the main melody line. After listening to the disc, I was entranced by the variety of themes and ready to turn off the lights, lay on the floor, and let SubArachnoid Space's sounds take me away.
Outburn - Issue #4
This improvisational band is lead by the prolific Mason Jones of Charnel Music along with Jason Stein from Tekachi, Melynda Jackson, and Michelle Schreiber. Named after a part of the brain called the subarachnoid space, this quartet creates a high-flying instrumental trip into the outer and inner limits of human experience. Relaxed tribalistic drums, swirling atmospheric and spacey guitars, bass, and the occasional didgeridoo provide the backbone for Ether Or, their second release. I enjoy the way the music is at times soft and soothing while others it swells into a dreamy trance inducing rhythm, providing an entertaining background of organic improvisational sounds. Their next CD will be out soon on Release. - Octavia
Resonance - Issue #11
SubArachnoid Space is a Bay Area band whose music pursues a "psychedelic-drone" direction along the lines of Skullflower, Cul de Sac, and Seattle's own Hovercraft. In 1996, SubArachnoid Space released their first full-length CD Delicate Membrane and went on a West Coast tour that included playing with Pain Teens and opening for industrial noise legends Merzbow in LA. In keeping with their musical aesthetic, the tracks on this disc were chosen from several hours of recorded live and studio improvisations. This disc captures a live-recording sound to the point of making the band sound amateurish. The best jams here are "Repetitive Smile" and "A Collection of Smoke," where things start to rock with some good guitar work, but without some tighter bass lines and rhythms, it just doesn't stay together. The music never builds the intensity necessary for a great improvisational experience - the tension is missing somewhere. Without a great multimedia performance like Hovercraft's, one wonders how interesting SAS would actually be live. - Matt Anderson
Voltage - Issue #3

Dark, spacey, ambient psychedelia - I love it. This amazing CD contains no lyrics to interfere with the multi-layered texture of the music. The band's instruments consist of guitars, drums and programmed effects, all blended together in lengthy, winding tracks.

SubArachnoid Space (named for a small part of the brain) hails from San Francisco. Members of the band include Charnel House head honcho Mason Jones (guitar), Melynda (guitar), Jason (bass), Chris (drums). As the wandering meodies demonstrate, this quartet prides themselves on spontaneity. All of the tracks on Ether Or were recorded improvisationally - a smart move, given the quality of tracks like "Whispers of Momentum" and "Shady Character." My current favorite is "Repetive Smile" for its hypnotic guitar work.

The bass sliding in the background is subtle and provides a good canvas on which the drums and guitars paint a dark scene. If you are into experimental textural tunes, this is a good band to investigate. Check it out for yourself, and I'll see you in the Either.

- Eric S.
Milk Magazine
Charnel Music head Mason Jones has put together a very solid experimental group which has only recorded live material, taken from their handful of shows. The music is a marvelous pastiche of all things space, and the improvisation that this group does sounds amazingly rehearsed, despite the fact that the melodic and dissonant sounds are often gloriously meandering. Fans of other sounds of this caliber (Magnog, Frontier, Skullflower, etc.) will find Ether Or to be a perfect addition to their color filled palettes of sonic wallpaper. Look for an actual studio album soon, and see them live if you can. - Erik Kowalski
Rockerilla

Questo disco contiene sei lunghe jam improvvisate dai quarteto di Mason Jones alla fine del 1996. Per chi si fosse perso la puntata precedente, il maestoso sound psichedelico degli SS si affida a progressioni ciclopiche di dissonanze

Il gruppo รจ all'apice delle proprie capacita nei grandi vortici di distorsione a passo di cerimoniale sacro di "Circular Motion" e nel concerto per sibili e ronzii di "Whispers of Momentum", che si librano in raga solenni. La carica un po'ubriaca e un po' tribale di "Shady Character" e il rombo ultrasonico di "Repetitive Smile" costituiscono un po' la controparte umana e persino comica di quella tragica apologia di infiniti. La frenesia liberatoria dei musicisti culmina nell cacofonie al limite del free-jazz di "A Collection Of Smoke" (quindici minuti). Decoroso seguito del superbo "Delicate Membrane" di un anno fa, anche se nettamente inferiore a quel capolavoro. 6/10

Audion - Issue #38
The "Arachnoid" is the sack that holds the brain, so I believe. So, what is "SubArachnoid Space" I wonder? A bizarre name for a bizarre cross-genre music that bridges from 60's acid-jamming through to the new industrial/chill-out rock zone. These can really whip-it-out whilst skirting the nether regions of space-rock. A hybrid of Djam Karet and Tortoise maybe, though not quite, as there's a bit more of a rough 'n'ready live sound to this, with very little in the way of post production or mixing. If this is what SubArachnoid Space sound like live, then great, but really with a CD I expect something better developed and also a little cleaner with more bite and definition. So, as a demo it's good, but for a proper album they've a way to go yet. - Alan Freeman
Alternative Press

(joint review of Almost Invisible and Ether Or)

Inhabiting a gray area between the expansive space rock of Magnog and the controlled chaos of Skullflower, SubArachnoid Space unfurl a tapestry of textured feedback and flowing psychedelia that envelops the listener. Much more than a bunch of individuals dicking around with their effects pedals, SubArachnoid Space take you on an exhaustive trip that gently ebbs and flows before dashing you against the rocks.

Almost Invisible offers an enthralling collection of instrumentals that seemingly last for days, but never wear out their welcome. It culminates with "Calm Fever," in which they toss down their gloves and come out swinging with some unholy jamming that sounds like a collision between Cul De Sac and a subway train.

Ether Or is a less focused effort inhabiting a much darker and contemplative vein than Almost Invisible, but still manages to lift you off the ground. Although displaying flashes of genius, SubArachnoid Space seem content only a contact high instead of tearing open your skull to see what makes you tick.

- Bill Cohen
Option Magazine - Issue #77
When a band tackles trance music, it has to be prepared to fail more often than succeed. When everything falls into place, the music can be sublime and timeless. Otherwise, it can become monotonous, succeeding at best in creating a good atmosphere. Founded by Charnel Music's Mason Jones, SubArachnoid Space works in similar sonic territory as Skullflower, though is somewhat quieter. Using a core of two guitars, bass and drums, they make drone-oriented, improvised jams with enough dynamic variation to show that they are listening and reacting well to each other. The problem is that after repeated plays, I still find my mind wandering, occaisonally coming back to acknowledge one of those fleeting good moments. Only one of the seven tracks, "Whispers of Momentum," grabs my attention each time around. Elsewhere, sometimes it works, and sometimes... well you know how it goes. - Chris Detzer
Immerse
Mason Jones (head of the Charnel Music label) and his happy band of spacemen recorded several hours of rehearsals, live work and studio sessions and submitted them to US label Unit Circle, who honed it down to this fine CD album. The characteristics of the debut CD Delicate Membrane are certainly still here - improvised rock noise, with structured percussion and jazzed up experi-psychedelia. Extremely accessible, with a organic feel of the ebb and flow of spontaneity and jamming coincidence. A band that should start being recognised as a important contributor to today's cerebral rock frontier cruising. - JM
Auf Abwegen - Issue #22
Subarachnoid Space sind endlich mal eine Band, die nicht auch am Sound festmachen mub, dab sie aus Seattle stammt. Die Erben dieser Space-Rock-Freaks durften wohl eher Can oder Amon Duul, denn Mudhoney oder Nirvana sein. Und das ist gut so. Psychedelisch, labbrige Akkorde scwirren'im Raum herum und werden oft brachial durchsiebt von gar nicht lustigen Drums. Die Taktstocke treiben das Ganze jedoch nicht in Form eines Rhythmus' auf ein angestrebtes Ziel zu, sondern bieten plotzliche Ausbruche unerwarteter Aggressivitat, die einen unheimlichen Sog produzieren. Wie implodierende Meteoriten.
Interface - Version 11

(joint review of Almost Invisible and Ether Or)

Subarachnoid Space is an improvisational outfit featuring Mason Jones of Trance. These two discs follow up on the Charnel Music release of Delicate Membrane, and were both taken from different shows only a few days apart in the fall of 1996. The tempo of the tracks wander back and forth between relaxed and aggressive in which the dreaminess of the rushing guitars is overtaken by the percussive tone in a consistent stream-of-consciousness. Neither disc has any characteristics that would outweigh the other; they instead compliment one another rather nicely. Since they represent improvisational flow of thought, the albums warrant being listened to as a whole instead of through individual songs. Subarachnoid Space's music style is identical on both discs, so no matter which CD you pick up, the effect is the same.

- Dave Henderson
RTFM - Issue #3
This is yet another collection of atmospheric psych-rock instrumentals, the kind of music that's often shepherded into the "space rock" category. In this particular case, the description fits this CD's contents perfectly, and the free-form jams on "Ether Or" have really grown on me, even though I think that "space rock" is poised to win an award in the "Next Genre to Turn Into a Stagnant Swamp of Mediocrity" category (a definite relief to the amazingly generic "indiepop"-types, who are currently the reigning champs). On powerful tracks like "Circular Motion," guitarists Mason and Melynda generate wonderful ghostly waves of echo-laden noisesound while drummer Michelle and bassist Jason do a fine job of pushing the song onward. Unfortunately, the tunes on "Ether Or" tend to lack sonic variety, and sometimes Michelle's drumming becomes heavy-handed and hinders the band's power. But when push comes to shove, it's Mason and Melynda's brainboiling kozmische-guitar fests that make this CD worth your while. Let's give "Ether Or" a 7.5 or 8 out of 10, and it's highly recommended to your favorite Hawkwind fans.