While the name Jon Gibson may not be the household name that Phillip Glass or Steve Reich has become since the 1970s, he was a vital part of the emergence of American minimalism. He was a founding member of the Phillip Glass Ensemble and performed many pieces by Reich, including “Reed Phase” which was written by Reich for him in particular. He began his career performing on flute and saxophone, though he has done some beautiful work with the pipe organ as well as evidenced by the piece above. This recording was done at Washington Square Church in New York in April of 1975 and was released two years later by Chatham Square Productions on an album titled Two Solo Pieces. He has dabbled in the visual arts as well, creating the cover art for Two Solo Pieces as well as others. The improvisational and highly collaborative nature of the New York scene at the time created fertile ground for composers interested in repetition, silence, and non-Western drone music. Though I like to think I’m fairly well-versed (for a layman) on this area, finding things like Cycles are what keeps me going back to this well.
Rainpiece comes from the first of Sylvan Grey’s two releases, Ice Flowers Melting, from Fortuna Records in 1981. Grey discovered the kantele while travelling in England, though the instrument is actually of Finnish origin. She trained for a while with the Finnish master Ulla Katajavuori, who herself was an active player from the 1930s through the 1990s. Grey released one more album for Fortuna in 1989 called Recurring Dream that is perhaps more well-known in New Age circles, both featuring original music for the kantele. Fortuna Records is a sister label to Celestial Harmonies, which over the years has put out material by Terry Riley and Popol Vuh along with many other new age and non-Western artists. Since the kantele in many ways resembles the zither, it may sound familiar to anybody who has listened to the work of Laraaji, who was a prominent name in ambient/new age music, although his was electrified where Grey’s instrument has a more acoustic feel to it. If you enjoyed Rainpiece there’s a song from Recurring Dream entitled Rainshadow that feels very much like a companion to Rainpiece despite being recorded almost a decade later. There wasn’t much in the way of biography for Sylvan Grey, but I’m tempted to think that great ambient stuff like this can speak for itself.
Jordan De La Sierra was a classically trained pianist who began his recording career with a double LP of hypnotizing long form ambient works in the minimalist style of Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and La Monte Young. It anticipates a lot of the work that would make Windham Hill a new age juggernaut, but his debut record, Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose, was released on a small label called Unity Records in 1978. Though it received little attention at the time, it has luckily been given the Numero treatment since then, and I would argue the world is a better place for it.
The original release came with a 16 page booklet which includes some original artwork, an essay by the artist called “The Tableau of Space” and a greeting from the artist (image from Discogs):
Now who isn’t charmed by that kind of earnestness. It reminds me of the art of Gilbert Williams, who really embodies the sort of hypercolor utopia that I find so irresistible:
In short, put on your peasant shirt and dangly earring, get out your crystal prayer bowl, and become a being of pure light.
Pearl kicks off the excellent second installment of UK-based label Where to Now’s minimal ambient series Where to Be, which invited artists to
create works of total ambience, incorporating the idea that the power of the music presented is in that which is barely there, embracing space, silence, cyclical repetition, and minimalism. The music is to help us function – it’s music to work to, to sleep to, to help us find a sense of space and oneness within a world that is increasingly wild and untameable. [sic]
I am obviously not the only one to have taken notice, as the cassette pressing of that release is sold out, though if you can I’d recommend taking a listen and purchasing the digital version. A bit earlier in 2015 he released Sea Meditation through the label Entertainment Systems, which promises “practical audio solutions to everyday living,” which is available on cassette on their Bandcamp site.