|by Kinski and Kaufman reviewers for Kindred Spirit Magazine|
|FREE CDs - Enter our bi-monthly draw NOW!||
Ambient Roots still growing?
Having received a fair bit of ‘ambient’ music for review recently, it reminded me of its origins, which then led to these ruminations on what the word might really mean. 'Of the surroundings’ is what my dictionary suggests which instantly brought to mind the ‘night-music’ sections of many works by the composer Béla Bartók, in which he conjures the sounds of scurrying, flapping and buzzing nature going about its business. He certainly captures some primal essence of this particular natural soundscape. Although considered by many a ‘difficult’ composer to listen to, I find his 3rd Piano Concerto, written just before his death in the mid 1940s, stimulating but accessible, and has a wonderful night-music section juxtaposed in the slow 2nd movement with a chorale-like fugal exposition of deep, tragic but spellbinding beauty.
Was Bartók one of the first in the classical genre to attempt to reproduce the ambience of nature? Certainly, but Claude Debussy’s orchestral masterpiece La Mer, which evokes a variety of oceanic moods and passions, came earlier, around 1905. Debussy’s ouvre is usually regarded as impressionism, offering a subjective emotional response to surroundings, rather that being a representation of them. Many budget CD labels including Naxos offer to bring Debussy’s vivid and almost overwhelmingly beautiful seascapes into your living-room for around a fiver.
So if Debussy’s work isn’t quite true to the dictionary definition, then what about Brian Eno’s Music for Airports and his other ‘discreet music’ LPs of the late 70s for which the term ‘ambient’ was originally coined? On reflection it seems that Eno was attempting to create surroundings for the listener, rather than reflect something of the surroundings, and his efforts were apparently a response in opposition to the dreadful re-constituted canned music which started seeping into public places around that time.
Eno’s groundbreaking Ambient series inspired a whole catalogue of artists who expanded the concept check out Michael Brook, Daniel Lanois and Harold Budd. And of course many of these original ambient artists have been working and developing into new worlds of sound ever since. Like Brian’s brother Roger, whose band of the early 90s, Channel Light Vessel, which also included Bill Nelson of Be Bop Deluxe amongst others, has had their first album Automatic re-released and is well worth a listen because of its inventive composition and instrumentation.
The rise of the sampler coincided with that of sequencers and the linear-editing capabilities of computer-based recording, and although this opened up many new creative possibilities, it also seemed to standardize the technique of using loops or repeated patterns as being the main way to create music. Not only are many dance/ambient music creators seemingly stuck in a mental loop, the music software creators have compounded the problem by gearing their products to conform to this narrowly defined, but obviously popular groove (or rut).
Metronomic drum loops seem great for creating hypnotic dance music, but are they so suitable for chillin’? Can you really relax to music that is constantly reminding you of the passage of time like a ticking stop-watch? Obviously many people feel they can, but I find more joy and nurture, more consciousness and less hypnosis in music that confounds and weakens the mind’s bonding with time, and helps reveal the timelessness and newborn wonder behind each and every moment.
The type of music that is now widely known as ambient was developed as a partner and alternative to the dance music of the mid 80s, providing something less full-on to chill to when taking a rest from the dance floor. What a shame that a new term couldn’t have been found for this sub-genre, because not only does it obscure the original ambient movement and its development, it has also strayed far from the meaning of the word ambient. That is not to say that this poorly named genre is devoid of good compositions, far from it. And also, being a burgeoning contemporary genre, it is spawning sub-categories, such as the deep and hazy ghost-ambient sonics of Tor Lundvall. His Seasons Unfold sampler CD is mercifully free of repetitive tight percussion, and casts a soporific spell with Floyd-esque vocal stylings, and soundscapes that seem to ebb and flow, as if breathing by themselves.
I’m not sure whether ‘ambient chill’ is a sub-category as such, but this is how Matt Coldrick describes his new release, Conscious Pilot, by Pan Electric. Collaborations with Neil Cowley (Brand New Heavies) on Rhodes piano, and the illustrious BJ Cole on pedal steel, provide a more improvisational narrative to the refined and well-balanced arrangements we come to expect from Matt’s Absolute Ambient catalogue.
Many Kindred Spirit readers will be familiar with the healing work and philosophies of neo-Taoism practitioner Barefoot Doctor (Stephen Russell), though maybe you were unaware that he is also an accomplished musician? There are currently four ambient CD downloads available from his website. Two are referred to as ‘Speed ambient’ and are aimed at the dance floor, with ‘Deep’ and ‘Pure’ titles also available for less full-on vibes. The Barefoot Doc claims that his music is intended to produce ‘a palpable benign alteration in energy flow and frequency, thereby improving mood and outlook’. I doubt whether any double-blind clinical trials have been run to prove the efficacy of his music as a healing medium, as has apparently been done with the music of Mozart, but in my communications with the Doc, and having seen and heard a little of his work, I get a good feeling about his integrity and commitment to give of his best and shower love and good vibes to all, and doubtless for many people his music will have a special quality because it is from him. In line with my previous comments regarding ambient music being born out of dance culture, I feel the Speed ambient CDs work best and are more fun because they don’t attempt to shoe-horn an essentially un-relaxing musical style into the meditation room.
Another name doubtless familiar to many of you is that of Japanese-born Kitaro a key figure in the birth of New Age music, around the same time as Eno created ambient. It’s interesting to see how the two genres have intertwined since the beginning.
Kitaro’s recent release, Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai, Vol.3, shows the master’s touch 30 years on, and includes some really nice electric guitar solos that haven’t been stripped of their wild, edgy excitement, as is often the case with the over-production of MOR new age music these days as if passion isn’t quite polite when trying to convey an air of spirituality? Bollocks to that, I say I find it heartening that Kitaro remains unblinkered regarding mixing influences and energies, and has even worked with Megadeath guitarist, Marty Friedman, in the recent past. Although some tracks lack coherence and direction in their form, I still found this CD well worth a listen to see where the grand master is at 30 years on.
- kinski, Jan/Feb 2008
CDs mentioned in this article:
(Sample tracks are as .m3u streaming mp3 files. If they don't play automatically please open the .m3u file in your audio player)
Is it just me or have you noticed signs that, in some ways at least, the world of popular music is becoming a tad more broadminded? For quite a while there’s been that nasty tendency for bands and artists to get pigeonholed and not be allowed to grow freely the music biz often displays an uneasy relationship with it’s own past glories. But then how old would you say pop culture is? 50 years? Not long really.
But then again, 50 years is plenty long enough for The Who’s ‘my generation’ to have raised alright kids of their own and for those kids, unlike previous generations, it’s as if pop culture has always been there as part of the norm; a bit like football. They’ve been exposed to a lot of music some considered pretty wild and anarchic in its day even Terry Wogan plays Hendrix for breakfast these days. And even though it rankles in some ways to see one’s hero-rebel-gods disempowered by being included in the schools national curriculum, the upside is seeing prog giants,Yes, captivating an audience of eight to eighty-year-olds at Glastonbury Festival last year, and a friend’s 16-year-old visibly filled with the gravitas of witnessing possibly Paul McCartney’s last Glasto festival appearance of his life.
And then there’s the fabulous Mr Robert Plant who, at the age of 54, has smashed his way out of the cave for rock dinosaurs to take a whole new audience up the stairway to… somewhere really new and exciting anyway.
Listening to your parents’ music is acceptable these days (and in return I’m more than happy to listen to Katy Rose or Radiohead). Liking old geezers like Planty seems fine too. And for a fan-base to have the power to go against the dictates of the rock journo mafia and elevate a band as deeply unfashionable as the Darkness to (thankfully short-lived) fame I find really heartening.
But is it working on all levels? - perhaps not. When established artists find religion, or even just a personal spirituality, it often precipitates them being shepherded into the wilderness by the Godless Brotherhood of mainstream media tykes. And generally Mind Body Spirit artists don’t get to swim outside their own little pond at all. So why is this? Many reasons?
In most areas of life the Great British Public tends to show a restrained disdain towards those who try to foster their beliefs on others. ‘Religion should be kept a personal matter’, and being preached at, especially joyfully, makes many of us feel distinctly squirmy. Having ‘saintliness’ thrust in front of us can unfortunately engender unwelcome feelings of inferiority and unworthiness - or twists us with guilt for daring to judgementally think that said musical messenger of hope has obviously bought a one way ticket to Fluffyland. Tricky stuff: and sadly it’s often easier to just smirk in tacet assent as the media lays into poor old Sir Cliff each Xmas.
But it does seem that so often when major artists start talking of god and spirituality they seem to stop talking to us.
We’re used to them talking to and about our shared pain and imperfection and humanness. But is this apparent need just habit? Surely it’s not the only thing that works for us? Is it possible for a new movement in music to take hold? One that is positive, inspiring and uplifting - and non-preachy?
Of course this is the aspiration of most ‘MBS’ or ‘new age’ music, but sadly so far what we’ve had is far too much safe, shallow and unadventurous music that’s far too afraid to say boo to the goose of political correctness so much so that it’s hardly surprising that the mainstream media has generally overlooked the many quality artists and written off MBS music as something irrelevant and in a well worn groove that merely serves its own cosy little minority market.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if things could evolve, mutate and grow to the point where positive and ‘spiritual’ music becomes part of a healthier mainstream one in which established artists could share their spiritual side and not be rejected for it…? (You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us… etc.)
- Kinski, from Kindred Spirit Issue 75, May 2005
- by a split personality!
To be honest we’ve been wondering how to do this topic justice for a while now. Kinski has always held certain reservations about the apparent groundswell of interest in angels plus I’m not too sure how to review guided meditation CDs as their effect in essence is a very subjective and personal one. But as we get sent so many angel music and guided meditation CDs for review I felt that the run up to Christmas, a time when images of angels abound, would be the opportune moment to ask Chamuel to help us face our dither demons.
Having distracted Kinski’s sceptical alter-ego with a bag of metaphorical Yuletide humbugs and a promise of his favourite Angel DVDs (the ones featuring Buffy and friends) I’m seizing this opportunity to take a look at some of the angel themed CDs on offer at the moment.
The seasonal loss of light and warmth means that for many of us any help and support we can get, worldly or otherwise, is welcome and I don’t just mean with the torturous task of choosing presents! If you’re finding yourself struggling in the battle to stop some ‘little angels’ close to you turning into sugar-high desire-filled demons by this year’s onslaught of Xmas advertising then you probably know what I mean. A guided meditation that gently leads you to rest in your inner angelic realm for an hour a day may be just the thing to revitalise you and put some magic back into your experience of the outer realms including Santa’s increasingly corporate grotto.
Follow the Guide Lines
To be honest I was half expecting to find myself transported to the land of uncontrollable cynical giggles, so it was something of a surprise to find that all the CDs featured here worked for me in some way. Some of the imagery such as finding a key to open a door to a secret garden didn’t particularly resonate, but the principle of counting down steps to a safe inner sanctum I imagine will be conducive to a state of gentle self-hypnosis and trust for many. I liked the sound of the sea on some of the CDs, but for others this may seem a bit naff I guess it all depends on how you’re wired. Surprisingly I found none of the music got in the way and most worked well in the way it’s intended, but I did find myself temporarily distracted by some of the regional accents.
I’m loving Arwen instead
The Temple of Forgiveness Michelle Roberton-Jones www.sanctuaryofangels.com
Healing with your Guardian Angel Jackie Newcomb - www.jackienewcomb.co.uk
- from Kindred Spirit Issue 77, for Xmas 2005
To India and back again
Cross-cultural fertilisation there, I thought I’d just drop that in at the start. I’m not going to essay for long this issue because there’s quite a stack of CDs I want to mention.
What they all have in common is India. I’ve never been there, but I think it’s pretty obvious to most people that as a sub-continent it is historically probably about the richest, culturally and spiritually, that the world has ever known. And consequently it has so much to offer musically.
The arrival over the last few months of a number of CDs influenced by, or in some way to do with India caused me to not only reflect on how things have developed over the last few decades, but also what a curious and fascinating thing this cross-cultural fertilisation process is!
As has often been the case, it was the Beatles (with the help of their pivotal and magnanimous producer, George Martin) who most effectively opened the eyes and ears of popular culture to the enchanting sounds of India with their sincere and respectful use of Indian musical influences and collaborations with eminent Indian musicians in the mid-sixties.
Needless to say, many people including academia’s ranks of ethnomusicologists puffed and blew about the ensuing misappropriation and the cheap sullying of traditional ethnic art forms, and this largely healthy argument for authenticity bore fruits too: such as Peter Gabriel et al giving birth to the Womad festivals.
And now, only a few decades on, the World Music genre has grown to become part of our cultural furniture, which for the most part is probably A Good Thing. Though it appears some World Music aficionados can get a bit bloody precious and one-sided about it all: scornfully overlooking our own western classical music tradition, and seeing western influences on ethnic music as tantamount to ‘pollution’. Surely the point of artistic cross-cultural fertilization is that it can go both ways - and that the degree of authenticity and sincerity/irreverence is largely a matter of personal preference? Bhangra band Opium Jukebox’s trashy ‘tributes’ to the Stones, Sabbath and the Pistols (Sticky Bhangra, Bhangra Bloody Bhangra, and Never mind the Bhangra respectively) show a humungously bulging cheek that some would find hard to swallow if the joke were on the other foot(!) With that bizarre and slightly worrying jumble of body parts let’s leave the petty squabbles of these post-postmodern times and make way to the music…
- Kinski, from Kindred Spirit Issue 78, May 2005
In my darker moments I wonder why people bother creating yet more New Age/Relaxation music because, as a genre, it seems remarkably disinterested in innovation and in any way going beyond itself. Therefore there is already a huge back-catalogue of perfectly adequate material more than enough maybe. But whenever I allow such negative thoughts free rein I’m often missing the point, or at least a point.
Each spring when the first snowdrops appear, do I dismiss them because they all look the same as those the year before? No. And yet nature as a whole seems to offer inexhaustible wonder through its myriad forms and is truly the ultimate innovator.
So if we equate the entire world of music to that of the natural world, then maybe New Age music is representative of all the buttercups? They may all be very similar in shape, size and colour, but we love the way their bright golden yellow warms the heart of summer and makes the cheeks and chins of children glow! And it would be ridiculous to suggest that buttercups are in any way lacking when compared to volcanoes or humpback whales. And right now a buttercup might be instilling total awe and wonder in someone somewhere and therefore I guess there is always the chance that the latest ‘unremarkable’ New Age album might be doing the same!
All reviews and articles ©2007 Kinski, Kaufman and Kinski.co.uk