This compilation album preserves (with digital remastering) the brilliant early works of space music composer Michael Stearns
. Short of re-releasing all the albums in their entirety, this compilation approaches perfection; if you want to experience the transformative thrills of space music, you can't go wrong in the hands of this master. It's best if you play the music on a good stereo system, place yourself between the speakers (perhaps boost the bass a bit), AND wear good-quality headphones. If the bass tones break apart on an inferior system, you won't get the full impact of the vibrations. I won't describe all the various tracks, but will point out elements that make his music work. First, Stearns
composed for dance and movement classes, so he has a natural affinity for the breath, stretching, trancework, meditation, etc. On the first track, "Elysian E" (from Ancient Leaves, 1978), massive bass drones attract the body; swirling layers of organ sounds swirl woozily in your head; the music is forever taking off to new cosmic and stellar dimensions. Stearns'
occasional vocal chants bring in monastic overtones, and he often mixes natural sounds and electronic music. "M'ocean" from the 1982 album Light Play uses the rhythm of waves for the structure of his unfolding and percolating tapestry of sound. His 1979 "Morning" begins with the cheery patter of a Mexican village coming to life: a rooster, children's voices, bird songs, horse hooves. Organ drones and layered angelic voices (by Stearns
and Marsha Lee) cast a spell that seems to spread over the whole desert to proclaim the arrival of flying saucers. Magical chimes like a crystalline harpsichord echo through the heavens. The intensity of the organ tone patterns build until the saucer seems right overhead. The arrival of horses and chanting Indians make the experience even more exciting. Again, more dramatic in the original longer version, but moving nevertheless. A dizzying sequence of tones welcome your ears on the title track from Ancient Leaves; Stearns
also plays a hypnotic melodic patterns on the metallic Finnish kantele, a form of hammered dulcimer. The layers swirl and build until it sounds like you are surrounded by a swarm of fairies, crows, and flying saucers. More live sounds are recorded with the gigantic stringed Lyra (three pieces from Lyra: Sound Constellation
and with vocals and crystal bells on "Vickie's Dance" (1983). "Jewel" (1979) is more peaceful, working crystalline tones with and against each other; the voice of Marsha Lee -- seductive, haunting, and angelic -- almost seems to turn to solid light. (These days, the voice would come from MIDI sources; this is obviously a custom job.) Stearns
explains that the tones of this music were created on processed sound originating from the "Eikosany" vibes. Stearns'
in-depth liner notes add to the appreciation of what it took to produce this early pre-MIDI, pre-digital music. Excellent album.