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.
People of the Trees comes from Indigo Aura’s Deep Dreaming in Minecraft release from July of 2015. Along with three beautiful ambient tracks, the release also features a 75-page PDF booklet of images created by Google’s Deep Dream Generator, which uses neural network computing to analyze images and classify them according to their contents. The computing side of it is certainly beyond my understanding, but try to tell me these pictures don’t belong in a head shop right above the incense and Tibetan prayer flags. The images associated with this release were created from Minecraft screenshots, and Indigo Aura has found a way to get images that don’t just look like weird dogs.
Much of Indigo Aura’s music can be placed pretty firmly in the new age camp, which certainly has its share of misses. Much of Indigo Aura’s work focuses on demonstrating the benefits Pythagorean tuning. Attributed to Pythagoras, the thinking behind this system, at least in modern times, goes something like this: much of western music, starting in the 20th century, tunes their instruments to “concert pitch” of A-440Hz, meaning that the A above middle C on a piano, for example, would be tuned to a frequency of 440Hz. While this standard is in widespread use, it’s interesting to note that well-known orchestras like the New York Philharmonic use 442Hz for A above middle C. There are conspiracy theories that accuse Nazis of supporting adoption of tuning A to 440Hz because it is more likely to induce feelings of fear and aggression. In any case, an effort to come up with a standard which started in the 19th century eventually led to widespread adoption of A440Hz as a common concert tuning.
Because Nazis and their evil tunings have to be stopped, some claim that tuning the A to 432Hz and tuning the other notes around that frequency puts an instrument in alignment with the vibration of Earth and the rest of the Universe. Indigo Aura has a webpage which discusses this concept in a more in-depth way and has in fact an entire release, Mathemagical Music Production, which demonstrates this slightly different scale and comes with a booklet about Pythagorean tuning. People have uploaded a shocking number of versions of popular songs that have been tuned to 432Hz. Maybe this is musical Wind turbine syndrome, but since nobody’s making you buy a peasant shirt, get one dangly earring, and start learning the didgeridoo, I’d encourage you to take it for what it’s worth. Like a lot of new age stuff, you gotta separate the wheat from the chaff and I think Indigo Aura is more wheat than chaff. Or chaff than wheat. I don’t really get that expression/know anything about wheat separation. Just listen to the music.
Gimmer Nicholson had been poking around the Memphis blues/folk scene for a number of years before moving to San Francisco in the mid-1960s. He recorded a few demos on a crude reel-to-reel deck and sent them to his brother, who brought the tapes in a brown paper bag to Terry Manning back in Memphis. When Nicholson returned from the Bay Area, he went into the studio with Terry-the same studio where Big Star would later record-and they began combining Nicholson’s acoustic playing with electronic delays.
I recorded on an 8 track 1″ Scully at 30 ips. Although most of the guitar is acoustic, there is actually some electric also. Gimmer had a Gibson Howard Roberts, a beautiful jazz guitar that is almost an acoustic (I liked it so much that I bought one a few years later, but I stupidly sold it when I moved here to Nassau in ’92). He played that through a Fender Bassman blackface amp, through some kind of guitar delay/repeat box I had, which had just come out. Gimmer was euphoric about the delay, and loved to set it very long, then play a phrase, and when it repeated, he would play live a copasetic second phrase, then do the same for the next bar, playing with the second phrase, and so on (sort of like a “round”). When we did the acoustics, I got the longest tape delay that I could to accomplish this. It had to be carefully timed to the tempo of the composition. EMT 140 plate reverb was also used.
With recording finished, Manning began the mastering process only after providing a rough mix for Nicholson to take home. This proved disastrous, as Nicholson was outraged when he heard this new, cleaned up mix and left Memphis in a huff. The album gathered dust and Manning moved on, but not before the sounds of the album would infuse other artists in that milieu, most notably Chris Bell. Manning released the album, titled Christopher Idylls on CD in 1994 on his own imprint, Lucky Seven Records, the first time the songs got any wider audience. However, the good folks over at Light in the Attic Records have recently announced a new vinyl reissue of Christopher Idylls that is available for pre-order and set to ship later this month. Gimmer Nicholson passed away a few years ago after years of working for the Red Cross, according to Manning. He had contacted him regarding some new compositions, but nothing materialized. It appears this beautiful release will have to suffice.
The Trees Community was a communal musical project based out of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. The group were a religious order of sorts in that community, splitting their time between performing music, giving tours of the church, among other duties. A key feature of their work was the use of an array of instruments from around the world including the sitar, tamboura, and Venezuelan harp accompanying complicated vocal arrangements.
According to their website they began meeting in an abandoned loft in New York’s East Village to share meals and discuss all manner of spiritual matters, eventually incorporating music into their spiritual practice. When the building was set to be demolished, they–in true hippie fashion–purchased a bus and began living communally within and performing across the country. A member of the group has written a book documenting their experiences that you can read here. A few years after leaving NYC, they recorded an album called The Christ Tree, which was the only official release that the group ever put out. In 2006, Hand/Eye released The Christ Tree on CD for the first time. This box set contained all extant material recorded by the group, including live performances and a cassette released by the group called Portrait of Jesus Christ in Music. It looks like Discogs is your best bet to track down the release, although digital files can be found on CDBaby if that’s your bag.
Though Golowin would be lauded primarily for his writing in the area of folklore and esotericism, Golowin turned out a real psych-infused treat with1973’s Lord Krishna Von Goloka. With help from Klaus Schulze (of Tangerine Dream fame),Golowin’s only record certainly captures the blend inviting psychedelia and electronic experimentation, perhaps best on this track. I first heard this release on Soul Jazz Records’ fantastic Deutsche Elektronische Musik 2 compilation. What stands out on this track and others on the album is the blending of acoustic jamming worthy of any flower child with enchanting vocal experimentation. In many ways it reminds me of something like Popol Vuh’s Song of the Earth. Though most versions feature the cover above, check out the cover of the Italian quadrophonic release.
Mathias Grassow has been recording synthesizer music since the mid 80s, where he drew inspiration from fellow German groups like Popol Vuh and Tangerine Dream and began recording a meditative blend of New Age and Krautrock. His first release, At the Gates of Dawn, came out on cassette in 1986. In addition to synth he also records with flute, guitar, and other electronics and while live performances are rare, they are crafted to create an immersive experience.
In this kind of music it’s very important, to have a nice place to play – not normal locations, but more places like a church, caves (remember my ‘Lanzarote concerts’) and open-airs.
I tried to find some pictures of those concerts but was unable to find any, but this video of a performance seems to capture the spirit nicely. In fact a recent concert of his took place at a retreat in Germany where all the guests had just completed a ten day vow of silence! While much of his output consists of solo works, he has released collaborations with Agalloch member John Haugm and Closing the Eternity in addition to projects like Nostalgia and KarmaCosmic. Most if not all his discography his available for streaming/purchase on his Bandcamp page. Those interested in physical releases should head over to Discogs.