Virgin Grounds, the ‘new’ album by Ton Scherpenzeel, best known for his work with Kayak, is an enhanced reissue of an instrumental album originally composed for a Dutch television series, Conquer the Arctic (1991). At the time, it was released under an alias, Orion. Several songs have been rearranged and two new songs, Departure and Arrival have been added to the original album.
Scherpenzeel comments: “As I dove into this project, I felt the old synthesiser flame more and more rekindled. I was inspired by images of the vast silver white landscapes and their overwhelming voids; reinforcing the feeling of human triviality when compared to nature’s sheer awesomeness.”
The album contains thirteen tracks, and only a limited amount of numbered and signed CDs will be made available, so far as the official information from the record company goes.
Don’t expect any Kayak or anything remotely comparable to it, although the instrumental part of Scherpenzeel’s second solo album, Heart of the Universe from 1984, is reminiscent. Virgin Grounds actually consists of three parts: one part is improvised, some pieces have a musical head and tail, and others are somewhere in between. It could be seen as a ‘lost’ album, rescued from oblivion, dusted off, refreshed and ready to be given another chance.
I was of course curious, but I couldn’t find any images online from the original documentary film. It’s all left to the imagination. OK, ice and snow are a fact, you can’t ignore them, but you can also conjure up your own images without much difficulty. For example, I can imagine images of water, space and nature with the music from Virgin Grounds.
It remains difficult to interpret instrumental music, especially when the synthesiser is the main (only) instrument. That’s why I have chosen a different approach to describe the music. Atmospheric, sacred, soporific, intriguing, yoga, depth, soothing, grandeur, starry sky, tedious. But also rhythmic, modern and melodic. These are some references that are evoked when listening to Scherpenzeel’s solo work from 1991, when listened to in 2023.
Sometimes I’m in danger of losing attention, especially during the longer tracks which can seem time-consuming and somewhat long-winded. Not surprisingly: they were created by the composer/keyboardist through improvisation and served the sole purpose of providing music for images. Three tracks created in this way have a combined playing time of approximately 25 minutes. That’s long, very long for a total playing time of 67 minutes. ‘Noodling’, jamming around in a positive way is probably the best description.
However, the album also contains a number of fine tunes, songs almost, with melody, head and tail – almost symphonic, dare I say. I personally like these songs best. I am specifically talking about the opening and closing tracks, both composed especially for the reissue. Opener Departure sounds rhythmic and modern, but the title track of the original TV series, Conquer the Arctic, is also an excellent piece with tempo and tension, plus a heroic theme, optimistic by nature. It could have easily ended up on a Kayak album.
Snowscape also contains a real song structure, with a strong melody referencing Kayak and Vangelis’ I Hear You Now. I would just like to highlight a few more: Crystal Waves is an ultra-short melodic song, while Frozen Air is especially intriguing with a drum sound that’s reminiscent of Peter Gabriel/Phil Collins. Finally, the closing track Arrival is an atmospheric piece in the vein of Lost Blue of Chartres and makes for a beautiful ending to the album, worthy of Kayak. A new cover design by Kerrie Savage tops it off.
There is something for everyone on Virgin Grounds, especially for quiet moments; headphones on, eyes closed, that seems to me to be the optimal way to listen to this album. The sound is beautiful and full, the old synths coming out well thanks to excellent production and remastering. Especially suited for fans of atmospheric, well-crafted synthesiser music. In any case, I have a good feeling about it. And what’s wrong with yoga?!
[You can read Alex’s recent interview with Ton Scherpenzeel HERE.]
01. Departure (4:34)
02. Virgin Grounds (3:00)
03. Conquer the Arctic (4:04)
04. White World (5:26)
05. Open Skies (7:50)
06. Snowscape (3:27)
07. Midnight Sun (8:38)
08. Polar Circle (2:55)
09. Crystal Waves (1:42)
10. Frozen Air (6:05)
11. Eternal Snow (5:04)
12. Northern Light (8:40)
13. Arrival (5:15)
Total Time – 66:40
Ton Scherpenzeel – Synthesisers
– Virgin Grounds (2023)
– Velvet Armour (2021)
– The Lion’s Dream (2013)
– Virgin Grounds (as Orion, 1991)
– Heart of the Universe (1984)
– Le Carnaval des Animaux (1978)