After Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose, Jordan De La Sierra’s New Age magnum opus, flopped in 1977, the classically trained Bay Area composer occupied himself as a professional landscaper. Because of course he did. The metaphor almost seems too groaningly obvious to be true: If he wasn’t going to be patiently trimming shapes out of vast space in one medium, it seemed, another one would have to do.
More than any other subgenre, New Age is concerned with space, about placing sounds like immaculately arranged furniture in a white room. Gymnosphere, in that regard, was rather unwieldy—at least as a physical retail object. Spread across two LPs and occupying nearly 120 minutes, the album also came with De La Sierra’s 20-page hand-drawn booklet to accompany it. “Greetings to all fellow members and space colonizers here present in this our local universe,” De La Sierra wrote in the liners’ opening page, in a decorous Hallmark script. The music within he humbly offered as “spatial food… for our finer being bodies” along with his instructions that portions of it be specifically listened to “at the nexus in the diurnal-nocturnal cycle” (presumably, he meant “twilight”). It was, in every way, a big object with no space to fit into: Unity Records, which had the misfortune of releasing New Age records before anyone had figured out how to sell New Age records, eventually went under, just a few minutes on the cosmic calendar before Enya and Yanni turned New Age into an industry.
Now Numero Group has reissued De La Sierra’s Gymnosphere in its original length and with De La Sierra’s original drawings lovingly intact. It’s a remarkable turnabout for an album that was lost in the digital wilderness for decades. Finding information on the Internet about De La Sierra that predates last year is rough, usually turning only a few tremulous queries for this “orphaned work” to find a new home. But recently, as labels reissue more material from the period, there has been an unusual amount of energy and attention devoted to the pre-boom New Age years. A few years ago, the thought of hardcore music kids aggressively seeking out long-lost New Age documents by Laraaji, Iasos, and Constance Demby would have seemed like a gentle joke, but now it just feels like the inevitable next step in the acceleration of reissue culture.
Narrating music without any legible action is a bit if a riddle, but a salient measure of New Age is how lightly it inspires intangible feelings like melancholy and contemplation without alerting your higher mind that you’re being “bored.” De La Sierra’s piano, recorded live in Grace Cathedral in 1977, is an elusive sound, at once tactile and abstract. On the one hand, it’s clearly a piano ringing out into a drafty cathedral, muffled by room tone and tape recording, and occasionally you can feel the stale breeze from the chapel pews on your face. On the other, his glimmering tone feels like a trick of the light, something that catches your attention and then promptly disappears. His lightly dancing playing, spelling out one or two chords for uninterrupted minutes at a time, turns notes into vague shapes of the kind you see when you press on your closed eyelids.
Gymnosphere consists of four separate pieces—”Music for Gymnastics”, “Temple of Aesthetic Action”, “Music for Devotional Past”, and “Sphere of Sublime Dances”. Each runs over 20 minutes, the space between them little more than a breath for silence and composure. “Music for Gymnastics” consists mostly of one chord, spelled out in the left hand again and again while the right hand dances over runs. The chords don’t change, in any active sense, as much as they cloud into new harmonies, touch on suggestions of new chords. It’s like watching sediment stir and settle in your tea—contemplative, mundane, somehow, on a tiny level, awe-inspiring.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1s6DkQ1