Tracks: 1—Aurora; 2—Devic Dances; 3—Coeur de Lion; 4—Heartland; 5—The River Why; 6—From Heart to Crown.
Tags: Instrumental, New Age, Meditative
Release Date: August 30, 1994
A meditative, multi-instrumental presentation from a (regretfully) lesser-known master of the genre, this album is excellent for background, for a thoughtful mood, and for soothing frayed nerves after a long and tiresome day. Woo performs with harp, strings, and winds to create an aural soundscape that deserves a lot more praise and discussion, so keep reading.
“Back in the day” (read: when I had actual money to spend), I was on just about every mailing list in the world. Companies offered everything from T-shirts to T-squares, music to mosaics, soup to nuts (and fruits, flakes, and anything else), and hardly a mail delivery day went by that I didn’t get some kind of catalog. The glut was so amazing that I would give catalogs only a cursory glance before deciding to keep it for a more important read-through, usually in the loo (amazing how much you can read, spending time there).
I’m glad that I kept the catalog for “Serenity Recordings” (nowadays, you’ll find them online at www.serenitymusic.com, where you can download their sampler CD). In the old days of “vinyl” – which, oddly, is making a comeback – even purchasing something from an artist you know and love could be a dicey proposition (see my review of Brian Eno’s Nerve Net). Recordings by artists you’ve never heard of, from a small independent producer, can lead to some tough decisions about parting with your hard-won cash. In those ancient days (the early 1990s, before you were born, remember, kids?), Serenity did something intelligent: A sampler, which was on cassette in those early days (CD pressings being a little pricey), for a couple of bucks plus a few more for shipping. Called “The Taster #1”, it provided several long cuts from various artists as well as from the artists’ various albums. Even better, the cost of the tape was refundable on any order placed within 30 days of receipt of the sampler. Add to this the guarantee from founder Jim Moeller (still in charge after all this time) backing up his claim that you’ll enjoy the music, or you can return it for any reason, receiving either credit or refund for the product… yeah, worth taking a chance on.
These days, you can listen to samples of the music right from your computer (or, as mentioned, download the demo), and I think you’ll agree that the offer is still a good one. At the time, I took the chance on From Heart to Crown, by Rob Whitesides-Woo, a CD subtitled “Music for the Heart for Harp, Strings, and Winds”. The disc was a frequent visitor to my CD player of the day, the music lingers in my “Writing Music” playlist for the simple reason that it’s just that relaxing.
The selections show quite a versatility of style which is pleasing to the ears as well as the heart and probably the other chakras as well. Some of the melodies remind me of the softer passages of Vangelis’ China album, not so much for any duplication of notes or sound, but because of the delicate use of bells and wind instruments, all of which are played by the composer. Some of the phrasing in “Coeur de Lion” (yes, he anglicized the spelling of “Leon”) reminds me strongly of David Arkenstone’s work on the Narada Wilderness compilation album. Even so, while I make these comparisons to give you, Constant Reader, some possibly familiar references by which to gauge this new work, I must stress that the sounds are unique, not copies or “knock offs”, nor even an affectionate homage to other artists. You most certainly have not heard this album “somewhere else”.
It’s difficult to describe just why I enjoy this album so much. If you look at the more than 3000 selections in my randomized “Writing Music” playlist, you’ll see a wide variety of work similar only in that they contain no words (when I write, I need to focus on my own words). The composer Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) argued for what he called “furniture music”, something that is present and comfortable yet does not distract from one’s guests. From Heart to Crown fits this need ideally as it has the ability to be non-intrusive, yet when you really stop to listen to it, you find it interesting, entertaining, worthy of study and of contemplation. I have the sense that the composer/performer is content to let you decide just how much of your attention you wish to give him at any one time. Listening to it, it’s difficult to avoid the colossal conceit that Whitesides-Woo wrote and performed this work just for me.
Certain tones, individually and in concert, will affect various chakras (power centers, as it were) within the body. The selections on this album have a gently energizing, focusing effect upon the fourth and sixth chakras (heart and mind) while soothing the seventh, or crown, chakra (spirit). At the time, I was uncertain whether this might have been the intent of the composer; the CD liner contained information about other artists and recordings, but nothing about Whitesides-Woo himself or comments about his music. It’s the only mistake that Serenity made, in my opinion, and it’s corrected to a slight degree on the website. At the time, I let the beauty of the album make up for the oversight… but I did make mention of it to the company through a quaint and old-fashioned method known as a “letter” (a physical medium of communication which some of my younger readers may not relate to).
Rob Whitesides-Woo deserves attention on at least four levels. First: He is a deft and clever musician, playing many instruments, all of them well. Second: He is a fine arranger, balancing winds, strings, and gentle percussion into a dynamic presentation that neither overwhelms nor cowers. Third: He is a composer of lovely, flowing aural visions (pardon my synesthesia), using tone patterns and progressions of West and East in perfect harmony. Fourth: I will repeat my suspicion that he has affected a touch of New Age sorcery in his musical appeal to the chakras.
You may not find this music in the average music or department store; a New Age gift shop may carry them, or perhaps you might discover that some philistine has sold off their copy to a used book shop. However, if you visit Serenity Music, you will find that CDs and direct MP3 downloads are available of their music, at very reasonable prices. You can browse by artist, album, or by music created for particular moods or purposes, and you can sample just about anything. They are not stingy with their samples, either – not merely a half minute, but some more than two minutes each. For this particular album, you can use this link, where you’ll find samples for all seven tracks. Go have a listen. You’re welcome to tell them that Tristan Black Wolf sent you. They won’t know who you’re talking about, but you’re certainly welcome to tell them.