Hearing Music

Hearing Music

by Joanna Brouk


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Hearing Music is a double-disc anthology of recordings by Joanna Brouk, a California-based composer whose reflective, meditative works were inspired by the sounds of nature. Her five self-released cassettes bore titles like Healing Music and The Healing Touch, and it's easy to hear why her recordings were embraced by the burgeoning new age movement in the 1980s. However, her drone-based music seems far more in tune with the ideas of avant-garde composers like Robert Ashley and Terry Riley (both of whom Brouk studied with) than the cloying mysticism that new age became associated with as it became more commercial. Many of her compositions seem sparse, concentrating on acoustic instruments like piano or flute, but they contain detailed, hypnotic arrangements which mirror the rhythms of the earth. "Going Through the Veil: Becoming a Swan" highlights Brouk's graceful, delicate piano notes, while "Lifting Off" and "Mary's Watch" features Maggi Payne's dynamic flute playing, as well as its resonant echoes. The anthology includes a few previously unissued works by Brouk, including the stunning "Fire Breath," which features wild, expansive synthesizer manipulations, hinting at a somewhat darker, fiercer side of her work. "The Creative" blends solemn synthesizer melodies with slowly paced gong peals, recalling Pauline Oliveros' pioneering deep listening concept in addition to prefiguring ambient gong experiments by Thomas Köner during the '90s. Hearing Music's double-CD issue contains the entirety of Brouk's most fully realized recording, the 1981 concept album Sounds of the Sea. The release incorporates the sounds of dolphins into its reverb-heavy flute meditations, but the album's second half takes things into a more eerie direction, as it highlights wailing wordless vocals over barely-there droning. Strange, haunting, and subliminal, it edges on being too unsettling to fit the new age description. Hearing Music is an enlightening, often fascinating compendium of works by a visionary composer who placed intense concentration on isolated aspects of our surroundings, resulting in simple yet resoundingly deep music.

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