Emerald Web

The Florida-based duo of Kat Epple and the late Bob Stohl were, in a way, new age music superstars. During Emerald Web's 12 year existence their records sold well, their live tours were popular and they forged an extensive career in the 1980's composing soundtrack music for film, TV and planetarium shows.

artist:
Emerald Web

country of origin:
USA

style(s):
New age, soundtrack, spacemusic, ethno-ambient, ambient pop

decades active:
70's - 80's

essential releases:

  • Sound Trek (1980, Stargate)
  • Valley Of The Birds (1981, Stargate/Narada)
  • Aqua Regia (1982, Stargate)
  • Nocturne (1983, Fortuna)
  • Traces Of Time (1987, Stargate)
  • Manatee Dreams Of Neptune (1990, Scarlet)
  • The Stargate Tapes (2013, Finders Keepers)

Reviewed by Mike G

The Florida-based duo of Kat Epple and the late Bob Stohl were, in a way, new age music superstars. During Emerald Web's 12 year existence their records sold well, their live tours were popular and they forged an extensive career composing soundtrack music for film, TV and planetarium shows. Both fine acoustic musicians - with Stohl also an outstanding synthesiser programmer - their partnership ended with Stohl's accidental death in 1989 at age 34, after which Epple continued with a solo career.

Emerald Web's electro-acoustic sound is crafted from keyboards, flutes, bells and - not least - a wide array of synthesisers and digital orchestrations. The albums are slickly produced but, at its considerable best, Emerald Web's music retains an exotic, meditative, other-worldly quality that's very special, coupled with a deep emphasis on melody that skillfully avoids veering into blandness. A quartet of the band's early albums, plus two latterday ones, best capture these qualities.

The band's third release Sound Trek (1980) is the first album on which the disparate currents in the their earliest music - synth-based psychedelia, prog rock, jazz, ethnic music and environmental ambience - coalesce into seductive and consistently well-developed tunes. "Nightsong" has a sighing melancholy that echoes Vangelis synth music a its most restrained, while "The Moving Of Mountains" cleverly blends multiple flute lines with reverb and echo and shows both musicians' great sensitivity as flautists.

On Valley Of The Birds (1981) - arguably the duo's greatest release - Bob Stohl has really mastered the use of electronics such as the the Minimoog, Oberheim and ARP synths. The album is a monument to the hypnotic quality of simple arpeggios, stretched out over long distances with only a few chord changes along the way. The throbbing bass pulse of "Openings" has an extraordinary mysterious quality, only deepened with whistling Minimoog melodies soaring above. "Photonos" and "Rain Forest" layer gentle spinning melodies beneath flute solos and are fine example of how jaw-droppingly pretty Emerald Web could be without tipping over into new age schlock.

Yet the band didn't just stick to one style. Aqua Regia (1982) and Nocturne (1983) are both quite different from Valley Of The Birds and capture the band at its most successfully diverse. A big churchy anthem called "Starfinder" opens Aqua Regia, followed by mostly meditative tracks ranging from quasi-classical to single chord drone-based pieces. The flutes are often joined here - and on subsequent albums - by the Lyricon, a hybrid synthesizer/woodwind instrument expertly played by Stohl and which variously sounds like a clarinet, saxophone or lead electric guitar. The Nocturne album from 1983 is almost neoclassical. It emphasises flute, harp and string sounds and is probably the duo's quietest work.

After Nocturne, drum machines configured in rock and pop patterns began to appear in the band's music - aging it quite badly - and some of the orchestrations tended towards a more overtly commercial sound, largely robbing the music of its earlier distinctiveness. Two latter-day Emerald Web albums are recommended, however: the best-of compilation Traces Of Time (1987) and the band's final release Manatee Dreams Of Neptune (1990). While the latter is a little erratic stylistically, it's still a must-have chiefly for the 17-minute epic "On And Off The Planet". This is one of Epple and Stohl's greatest moments, an utterly gorgeous piece of spacemusic that starts with minimalistic repetition and slowly builds layers of arpeggios, floating chords and ghostly choirs into a long euphoric peak.

Some of Emerald Web's earlier original releases are still not available on CD or digital download, though the recent compilation The Stargate Tapes (2013) is a fine collection from the early years including most tracks from Valley Of The Birds. Kat Epple also sells most of the catalogue on her website including the original cassettes and vinyl LP's at www.katepple.com.

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