Sometimes you just vibe with a certain person’s music; you don’t really know why, you just experience a more profound reaction than you do to the music of other, ostensibly similar musicians. That’s the magic and mystery of the effect of music. I’m totally passionate about music, as you know, so there are many such artists in my life, and one such is Floridian Phillip Wilkerson, who makes ambient music. In fact, you could say there’s none more ambient than he. While there is some stylistic variation between Wilkerson’s releases, he does not generally stray from a purity of texture and a sweetness of tone that is very uplifting. Even when trying to be dark, I think this guy’s soul is just too buoyant to keep things from raising the listener’s spirits. The style he works in could be considered “space music”, being based on thick synth pad sounds that create an ethereal mood, in a similar vein to Thom Brennan.
For many years, he has been putting out a steady stream of releases, some free to download, some “commercial”, and I do genuinely believe that he is refining his craft as he goes, for each release just seems to get better. Wondrous Encounters has a theme of first contact, at least suggested by the fine cover art and the titles of the pieces.
Titles are funny things in the world of instrumental music; the artist clearly composes the music with certain imagery or themes in mind and titles the pieces accordingly. Hence Phillip’s album contains a number of space travel-type images; however, you could just easily title most of these pieces “Sitting by a Stream in Springtime” or “Stopped in Traffic on the Pacific Highway”, and it might well evoke those exact images in a listener’s mind. I digress, as usual, but it’s an interesting thought that occurs to me when I’m trying to come up with concepts for my own music — generally I come up with the theme and compose after. It just seems more genuine that way.
In any case, back to Mr. Wilkerson. These titles do indeed make sense, for music simply does not get any more “astral” than this, as is evident from the first notes of “Into the Blue”. Wilkerson is expert at layering downy strata of pads and organ sounds into an enveloping but welcoming wall of sound. There is a palpable sense of eternal peace to these sounds that likely explains the attraction to myself and many other listeners.
“They Came and Were Gone” adds light, chimy sequencing to provide a little more drama and energy to illustrate the mysterious title, which implies an earthly visit by interstellar personalities. “First Glimpse of the Milky Way” is, appropriately, supremely spacious, like the vista of the galaxy itself and the sense of wonder at its vastness.
“Asynchronous Maneuvers” comes from the book of Steve Roach; a bit more abstract and without hints of melody, it’s a dramatic, sweeping journey, like space travel itself would be. Definitely, fans of The Magnificent Void will love this.
“Ionized Drift” is an eleven-minute surprise, a very abstract piece that’s more sound art than pure ambient, an interlude of metallic, hollow sounds and slightly dissonant chords, with traces of elegant harmony. But Wilkerson soon comes back to the peaceful side of space music with the lengthy, pad-based “Low Gravity Field”.
The title track and “Above the Clouds” send the album to its conclusion with an aura of ultimate peace, particularly in the latter track, which is a pure, slowly undulating slice of meditative ambient, the kind we all love.
Wilkerson has kindly furnished four bonus tracks that take a more aggressive approach, particularly “Range Safety Clear”, a nice homage to classic Berlin School sounds, featuring urgent sequencing and a pretty synth solo running throughout.
Wilkerson has again proven himself a master of the ambient music form, particularly the beatific kind that can potentially trigger flashes of calm enlightenment in the listener’s mind. I’m not sure a musician can bestow a more valuable gift.