Artist Showcase: Terminus Void

I am honored to have the unique privilege of showcasing an emerging and impactful ambient artist operating under the moniker, Terminus Void, who is about to release his second full-length space music album, Origins Unknown. Origins follows the composer’s self-released debut album, Interstellar from 2021 issued in the middle of the global pandemic. The album’s transportive interstellar journey serves as a brilliant offering of experiential escapism to transcend the anxieties and troubles of the modern world.

From the composer’s official one-sheet press release:

Interstellar

The debut album by Terminus Void, Interstellar, is a dark ethereal journey to the deepest reaches of interstellar space with emotional and cinematic undertones.

Interstellar is an immersion for the senses, a gentle glide across an ambient wave of deep undulating bass and atmospheric chords. Haunting instrumentals and an ensemble of choral voices and ancient heraldic horns carry you deeper still on your inward journey. Interstellar is an auditory odyssey of humankind’s journey into the cosmic unknown.

About the Composer

1983 would be a monumental moment when J. Ronald Smith, an American electronic music Composer based in Seattle,Washington, was introduced to the nationally syndicated broadcast, Hearts of Space, created by Stephen Hill. Smith was awe inspired by music composers such as Michael Stearns, Brian Eno, Steve Roach and Evángelos Papathanassíou of Vangelis. Hill’s early broadcasts of these electronic music pioneers instilled a passion for Smith and opened a window of possibilities for him in this new experimental genre of music. In 2021, Smith founded Terminus Void to share this passion that has been nearly 40 years in the making.

I had the pleasure of engaging a dialog with the composer and he shared some of his insights and inspirations for his music project. He said that Interstellar was an enormous learning curve which he has honed and refined for the follow-up Origins Unknown album. But by no means does this suggest that Interstellar is in any way amateur or primitive. Contrarily, Smith demonstrates a magnificent proficiency in ambient soundscape composition from the very first track on his debut.

After only a few communications with Smith, it was instantly apparent that he is no dilettante by any stretch of the imagination. Smith expertly incorporates his penchant for the sciences into his musical efforts. When detailing the inspiration for Origins Unknown, he explained that the title track was inspired from Louis & Bebe Barron’s pioneering works featured in the 1956 film, Forbidden Planet. On this track, Smith incorporated into the baseline modified audible wave instrument recordings from the Juno spacecraft as it passed through the magnetosphere of the Jovian moon, Ganymede on June 7, 2021.

Smith’s passions for science and space exploration have been lifelong. Over twenty years ago, he constructed a radio telescope from a satellite TV antenna, microwave amplifier and a HAM radio receiver. This fact provides a glimpse of the artist’s technical proficiency and celestial-focused scientific intellect, and reveals that the idea to process these auditory frequencies into music had been there for some time. He was kind enough to expound his compositional methodology thusly:

In preparing my second album, I did take into account the interview of BeBe Barron from 1997 by Eric Chasalow. Specifically, her and Louie’s interpretation of Norbert Wiener’s theory of cybernetics as applied to music. I was impressed by the unpredictability and randomness of the electronic notes as they developed and processed the various pitches of the circuits. It was their freeform approach to these new “space sounds” that conducted the purposeful manipulation of circuits to ultimately “self-create” electronic notes. Their musical pioneering is inspiration enough, but then to apply a composition around those sounds that is both enjoyable and exciting in its strangeness, its beauty, and its soothing cosmological feel on the ear is the inspired approach I strive to attain. Like them I feel I am discovering new sounds to manipulate and self-create from the randomness of quite literally, thousands of possibilities of today’s modern synthesizer equipment along with the new discoveries in the astronomical sciences.

As one example, I took the following recording from the Juno spacecraft (https://youtu.be/_09R6jIo74U), slowed the audio and tempo down over 1000% and reprocessed it multiple times using crystallizers, flangers, shimmer modulators, echos and of course massive reverb. In the spirit of Bebe and Louie Barron’s works, the end result is an auditory experience that took on a life of its own. This was then utilized as the central focus of the track as I developed the rest of the piece with traditional and VTS synthesizers.

As Smith mentioned in his artist Bio, the Hearts of Space radio program was an incalculably influential force on his decision to begin creating his own soundworlds. He outlined this inspiration, touched upon some of the equipment he utilized to craft his music, and detailed what he desired to achieve through his composition. Smith explained:

I again can not stress enough the effect Stephen Hill’s broadcasts had as the primary influence for a lifetime’s passion of ambient space music. I was seventeen in the Winter of 1983 when I first experienced HOS. It was ’Transmission’ 11, “Innerspace Realms”. I can only describe the experience as a mind-awakening journey. Regrettably, it wasn’t until this past year that I dedicated myself to my passion as a composer. However, these past few years have given way to introspection. I felt the time was right to step into an auditory space I can share with others and offer a momentary interlude from everyday life.

The goal of my music is to take the listener on a journey by telling an emotional story within each track and expand on that theme through the album as a whole. Many of the themes center on mankind’s sense of exploration and wonder; on one’s hopes and dreams of the future, fears of the unknown and ultimately overcome and carry on.  

The debut album, Interstellar was an introductory sampling of that journey and I feel the second album, entitled, Origins Unknown will exemplify this even more as it will be more auditory focused with a natural sense of organic flow. As for the sound of Terminus Void, I have incorporated  a variety of synthesizers, VSTs, and filters. Some of the more prominent acoustic voices you will hear include the Sequential Prophet 6 and OB6, Moog Sub 37, Roland Jupiter 8 and VP03 along with the Arturia CS-80 V3. 

Following a dedicated listening session with Interstellar, I encouraged Smith to send a promotional copy to Stephen Hill, remarking that his music would sit brilliantly well alongside space music veterans like Steve Roach and Robert Rich. And Interstellar‘s selections, “Lost In Time” and “Arrival Home” capture a serene luxuriance reminiscent of Vangelis’ timeless score for the film, Blade Runner. While ambient music is notoriously difficult to articulate, I’ll do my best to highlight what I enjoyed of Smith’s work with the hope that I can inspire my readers and fellow ambient music lovers to explore this exceptional work.

I should call attention to a difference in the mixing of the material offered on the official Terminus Void YouTube channel and the content on his final albums. Smith explains that, as an incentive to his YouTube subscribers, he uses the channel to publish pre- album release tracks and that they are published as they are composed and recorded. He notes that these are non-mastered tracks and in some instances they are different from the final production in terms of length or tonality. For the truest Terminus Void experience, listeners should seek out and purchase the final mixes.

Check out the pre-mastered version of the title track from Terminus Void’s debut LP, Interstellar below.

I’ll offer a brief examination of Interstellar

“Interstellar” is the title track and lead single for the album. Beatless, though grounded with a few anchoring bass tones, we embark into the inky-black depths of space. There is an elegant timelessness to the piece, just as the absence of day and night in an extraterrestrial journey removes our perception of its passage. The work is brimming with anticipatory excitement of the voyage that lies ahead. It is a perfectly-fitting opener to the album. This serves as an exquisite introductory selection to the artist’s oeuvre.

“Distant World” opens with haunting spectral dissonant tonalities. The sparsely-placed heavenly and alienesque timbres suggest that this may serve as a science-fiction anthem for a yet-unnamed cinematic masterpiece. We are entering a world unknown.

“Arrival Home” features majestically suspended chords and a lone synthesized disembodied vocal. Its seraphic and gossamer quality truly marks our celestial homecoming.

“Beyond Static Tolerance” introduces a fixed low-frequency sequencer pattern beneath the drifting fleeting choral tones occupying the upper register of the spectrum. The track evokes feelings of isolation and suspense as the traveler awaits the climax of their cosmic journey. Expertly-mixed NASA communication samples appear toward the end of selection enhancing the experience.

“Darkness” is dark ambient music at its most superlative. And clocking in at over eleven minutes as the album’s longest track, it rewards careful attention in your finest circumaural headphones. At times I wondered whether futurist role-players might find this album useful to enhance the atmosphere during their gaming sessions. “Darkness” especially might lend itself to such an effort. The best ambient music functions well in both dedicated conscious and background listening, and “Darkness” works fantastically in an array of listening environments and conditions.

“Nothing In The Way” returns the listener to a rhythmic territory with a classic synthesizer pattern and soaring minimalistic melodies. The deep-voiced narration element dramatically complements the suspenseful quality of Interstellar. Whether intended to inspire feelings of weightlessness or timelessness, the theme of space travel is masterfully executed here and throughout the album.

“Lost In Time” is steady and rhythmic, but maintains the empyrean thematics employed consistently in all of Smith’s work. The track conveys a gaze toward the heavens, inviting the listener one final time to leave terra firma behind.

“Distant World – (Epilog Mix)” closes Interstellar. The alien landscapes are carved and charted to remain in our memory long after the album session concludes. The traveler’s odyssey is complete.

Terminus Void’s 2021 debut album, Interstellar

There are countless metaphors for the spacetime journeys offered to us by ambient space music artists like those showcased on Hearts of Space, and all of them are actively employed in each weekly segment of the show, now at over 1,300 episodes and counting. It is so exciting to discover a new musician who himself professes to draw inspiration from those very transmissions, and who successfully crafts soundworlds on par with the greatest veterans of the genre. What Terminus Void succeeds at accomplishing with his transportive music is to highlight the certitude that these impressioned interstellar journeys are, in truth, journeys within. As I said, I encouraged Smith to send his work to Stephen Hill, and hopefully he’ll find new fellow sonic travelers through playback on a future transmission of the program. 

On February 10, 2022, Smith posted a pre-mastered demo of the title track from his upcoming second album, Origins Unknown to YouTube. It is a superb specimen of dark ambient space music, richly-organic, rewardingly nuanced, and introduces the listener to a vast and intricate world of cosmic exploration.

Of the track, YouTuber, Paradigm writes: 

“I love those hidden gems where, once slowed, become something else entirely. Good job! It really encapsulates the beauty, strangeness, and terror that outer space has to offer.”

Tune in to the new demo here:

What I found most captivating about Terminus Void’s ambient style is its balance of classical sophistication and cinematic intrigue. It’s that property which inspires me to return to these songs again and again.

I was absolutely delighted to experience this music. The compositions are magnificently meditative, and certainly reward careful headphone listening. Terminus Void is otherworldly cosmic space music, and it’s the subtle and slowly-unfolding properties which make the works so enjoyable. These are intimately ethereal, transcendent, and heavenly soundscapes. Highly recommended!

Terminus Void’s music is now available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp, Amazon and other online distributors. Or visit https://terminusvoid.com/.

I’ll close with a personal comment from Smith, who concluded a letter with a touching statement about my work as an archivist. I believe it sheds some fantastic light on the mark of his character. Smith remarked:

It has been a pleasure speaking to you over these past few emails and I look forward to staying in touch and reading more from your blogs. I find your collections not only fascinating but also they are an equally important preservation of the cultural arts for future generations of listeners.  And, most importantly, they connect people, as evident in this conversation, in a world that seems to be separating us from one another on a daily basis. Your timing is brilliant!

Thank you, J, for the kind words and for the important music like yours that we need in the world today.

Watch https://terminusvoid.com for an official announcement of the release of Origins Unknown slated for release this April.

UPDATE: I’m delighted to share, after I recommended that J Ronald Smith send his album along with my article to Stephen Hill of Hearts of Space, that he did so and Hill generously featured Terminus Void on PGM No. 1314, Stellar Quest! We couldn’t be more pleased to have exposure to a global audience of discerning space music listeners!

To The Moon and Apollo 11

Last night I had the absolute honor of watching the new Apollo 11 moon mission movie composed of newly discovered footage from National archives along with previously existing footage. The content was expertly compiled into a riveting and breathtaking feature film, 100% authentic and free from Hollywood bombast and special effects. It was absolutely stunning.

And all throughout the film, I couldn’t help but grin like a child each time I heard voice samples from Mission Control, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Nixon’s legendary phone call to the astronauts all instantly recognizable from the countless downtempo/electronic/ambient techno albums which borrowed heavily from these classic archival recordings.

Among them, I recognized samples from:

  • Coldcut’s “Outer Planetary Mix” remix of “The Guitar” by They Might Be Giants
  • The Orb – (much of the Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld LP)
  • Public Service Broadcasting – The Race for Space LP (featuring Sputnik 1, the Apollo 1 fire, and the Vostok 1, Voskhod 2, Vostok 6, Apollo 8, Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 missions)
  • and Lemon Jelly’s beautiful “Spacewalk” from their classic Lost Horizons LP.

If I’ve missed any other classics, please let me know!

In celebration of the incredible spirit and inspiration of the new film, I’m spinning Time Life’s NASA: To The Moon 6LP archival vinyl box set issued in 1969.

If you haven’t seen the film yet – I highly recommend it!

And for more NASA vinyl beauty, don’t miss this entry for the 40th Anniversary Voyager Golden Record Box Set!

NASA - To the Moon (Time Life Records)