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Collected Thematic Works 1977-1987

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Album Review

This compilation collects early "melodic" works of space music pioneer Michael Stearns; his other compilation album, Collected Ambient and Textural Works: 1977-1987, offers Stearns' classical space music, pieces that used drones, tones, chants, and nature sounds to aurally move the listener into a meditative space. The music on this album (the majority of the tracks taken from his 1986 album Plunge), as abstract as it is at times, is melody-driven. On "Spanish Twilight" (1987, from the Floating Whispers album), Stearns creates an atmosphere of chimes, drones, and vocalese, but an electric guitar (with a Spanish flavor) is the obvious star. Here we have music that is evocative of external scenes, more like an accompanying movie score than a meditative tool. "Her Way" (previously unpublished) is the score for a dance performance titled "Three Faces of the Goddess." An atmosphere, perhaps of a Greek temple, is created. Gongs, broad brass tones, snare drums, create an ominous processional on "Dark Passage" (from the 1986 album Plunge); the piece then accelerates into chaos, then opens to a peaceful plateau with Spanish guitar. Highly processed electric guitar is featured on "Space Grass," also from the Plunge album; the grass does not refer to marijuana, but the bluegrass, as evident by the fancy fiddling of Dennis Fetchet. "A Moment Before" from Stearn's 1987 Floating Whispers is an ambient piece that yaws and careens; a crystalline metronome keeps cosmic time. These 17 pieces are indicative of Michael Stearns, the film score composer. It's fascinating to compare the two albums; so similar, yet so distinct. Audiophiles will appreciate that Stearns recorded all these pieces on a four-track analog tape recorder. Stearns' liner notes explain the early new age music scene and the early synthesizers and other techniques used to create this music.


Born: Tucson, AZ

Genre: New Age

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Composer/sound sculptor Michael Stearns was born and raised in Tucson, AZ, taking up classical guitar as a teen; in time he moved on to rock and jazz, and by the age of 16 was regularly backing top pop acts including the Lovin' Spoonful and Paul Revere & the Raiders. While a student at the University of the Pacific he turned to electronic music, completing his first musique concrète piece in 1968; four years later, Stearns returned to Tucson to open his own recording studio, subsequently producing...
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Collected Thematic Works 1977-1987, Michael Stearns
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