by Mark Morton, Wind and Wire
Percussionist Metcalf, overtone vocalist and flute player Seelig, and synthesist Roach combine here to produce a "deep listening" event that has given me much pleasure. Metcalf is highly skilled at providing the right percussion backdrop to fit the mood of the pieces. Seelig's singing is multifaceted (and multitracked) to great advantage, and his wood flute playing sounds full and sweet. Roach provides sympathetic synth drone backgrounds that are sometimes so sympathetic that it is difficult to tell where voice ends and synth begins. When I was asked to review this, I already had it in my collection but had not given it the kind of "in-depth" listening it deserved. I was rewarded beyond my expectations and I highly recommend this recording to fans of ambient, world music, space music, and to anyone who wants to engage in meditation through immersing themselves in careful listening.
Someone who is not familiar with overtone singing may not be aware that the particular drone they are hearing is partly or entirely a creation of one singer. Overtone singing has existed in many cultures but the primary awareness of it in the west stems from field recordings of then-isolated Tibetan Buddhist monks chanting and the subsequent use of these techniques by David Hykes. By emphasizing the overtones inherent in a sung tone, the singer creates the impression that he or she is singing several notes simultaneously. The singer can also produce "filtersweep" like effects by varying the shape of his or her mouth and vocal cavity. If multitracking is used, entire orchestral or otherworldly timbres can be built from one person's voice. But this is merely technique and what makes Seelig stand out is what he does with the technique.
The first track, "Wachuma's Wave" opens with a very nice deep atmosphere, drones from the singer and synth, suffused with a light almost airy sound. The deep overtone vocals in the first track are a good example of Seelig's ability to sing in an interesting way, and both he and Metcalf are very sympathetic to each other. Many of the passages have a relaxed, improvisational feel to them. Roach complements this perfectly, sounding as though he is in the room reacting in "real time" to the other players, although the cover notes indicate his parts were added later. The basic sound is earthy acoustic percussion, played with a "swing" feel and hitting a relaxed slow groove, layered, harmonic drones provided by voice and synth, and modal flute improvisations that fit the backdrop atmosphere perfectly. If this sounds appealing to you, you should definitely seek this one out.
"Gone... Beyond" continues in this vein, with Metcalf switching to clay pot drums and providing another laid back groove. Here the percussion sounds tabla-like in spots, with well-timed starts and stops. In addition to the melodic flute passages, Seelig also sings melodies over the layered drones, making for a pleasing sound.
"Deep Time Dreaming" introduces Roach's synth pad sounds into the mix, to great advantage as the timbre of the music is varied for the listener. Metcalf also switches gears, bringing the drumming up front and beginning to propel the pieces in the fashion of his other recordings. In addition to some very fine overtone singing, Seelig here plays the flute expressively, using a lot of slurs and vibrato. The players succeed in blending themselves into a unity that creates a shimmering, floating landscape.
"Last Remnants of Reality", the recording's spaciest piece, opens with slow undulating synth waves and a shot of overtone harmonics that could be coming from Seelig, Roach, or both. The mood here is one of losing the familiar and venturing into the unknown. To this end, Metcalf does not lay down an ambient groove or keep time, but uses rattles and other acoustic devices to keep the listener off balance. The result is a slow, arrhythmic cascade of rising choir-sounding material, emanating from Seelig and Roach that piques the listener's curiosity and pulls him or her in deeper. The drones are gradually stripped of recognizable pitch and harmonic content and become more otherworldly sounding. This furthers the sense of transition to a different state, and the entire piece is very effective.
"Dance of the Heart Voyager" is indeed a dance, and finds Seelig improvising on the flute with abandon and Metcalf cooking up a motoric rhythm that drives the piece into an excited, "trance ritual" space. This is another in a series of very effective mood changes that keeps the listener fully engaged.
The final piece "Across the Water" is a duet between Seelig and Roach, with Seelig chanting in a more traditional manner over a backdrop of overtone drones. Roach provides some gorgeous accompaniment here, and Seelig uses the "Om Shanti" chant very effectively. I listen to this track repeatedly and find it is a great mood enhancer and a terrific way to calm down.
The artists are to be commended for producing music that speaks forcefully to the call of deep meditation and brain adventure. The empathy the artists have for each and this music is superb, and harkens to a new collaborative age in the ongoing development of improvisatory ambient tribal music.