Howard Givens and Madhavi Devi: Source Of Compassion
Deborah Martin& Cheryl Gallagher: Tibet
Deborah Martin isn't the only Spotted Peccary artist with an affinity for collaborations. Her Tibet partner Cheryl Gallagher unites with Howard Givens under the Madhavi Devi name on Source Of Compassion, while Givens himself has recorded with many artists on the label (with Craig Padilla for 2015's Life Flows Water, for example) and has produced, mixed, and mastered a large portion of the Spotted Peccary catalogue (including Tibet). One of the more interesting things about the two Gallagher-related releases is how different they are in style, though they're equally strong on content grounds; that they contrast so greatly suggests that the harpist and ambient-electronic sound painter uses her artistic abilities to serve the project itself instead of treating it as a means by which to showcase herself.
Issued in 2004, Tibet grew out a trip Martin and Gallagher undertook to “the land above the clouds” to absorb firsthand its majestic beauty and then translate their impressions into musical form. Working with electronics, samples, Cama electric harp, field recordings (sherpas, monks, and nuns in Tibet and Nepal), and a large selection of percussion instruments (Tibetan bells, bowls, drums, cymbals, Taos drums, ceremonial conch shell), the two are joined on the journey by Givens (electronics, ambient guitar textures) on two tracks as well as Mark Hunton (flute), Mark Rownd (Taos drum), and David Helpling (djembe) on others. Even if (like me) you haven't visited the locale, the material convincingly evokes its powerful, awe-inspiring character, never more so than during the ceremonial opener “Palace.” Gong strikes punctuate ethereal choral atmospheres, the whole collectively conjuring the image of an intricate network of ornate hallways and open spaces. Here and elsewhere, luxuriant synthetic textures give the material a contemporary sheen and strengthen the meditative effect of the sound design. Much like a Tibetan monastery, the settings combine the earthy and the ethereal: drums and percussion tether the eight pieces to the ground whereas electronics loosen their earthly ties through liberal sprinklings of spiritual mist. Throughout this contemplation-inducing recording, chanting voices and radiant harp patterns appear alongside delicate keyboard and stately flute melodies, and the whoosh of ambient textures amplifies Tibet's celestial reach.
Instrumentation details aren't shown on the inner sleeve of Source Of Compassion, but suffice it to say its space ambient-styled settings suggest that synthesizers (modular, analog, and digital) were the primary sound sources for the project, though samples and acoustic elements (electric guitar, percussion) also appear to be present. Indicative of the material's expansive reach, four of the six ambient-electronic pieces push past the ten-minute mark. There's a palpable sense of journeys being undertaken, never more so than in the case of “Omkara,” whose itinerary takes in mournful contemplation and wide-eyed wonder during its seventeen-minute run. Givens and Devi seamlessly blend their talents into polished meditations that flow and evolve organically, with beats sometimes on hand to rhythmically advance the material; there's a live feel to the recording that gives the impression that the two mapped out structural roadmaps beforehand but then allowed the compositions to develop in real time as they naturally would. Episodes of gentle, church-like serenity (“Emergence,” which hews to the level of a whisper for its full nine minutes, and the hymnal closer “Connected Space”) intermingle with passages of controlled intensity and brooding mystery, and though most pieces cast their gaze on the stars, the title track exudes an earthier dimension in working drum pulses and crashing waves into its mix. Still, despite Gallagher's involvement, the style, sound design, and tone of Source Of Compassion makes its seem more like a natural companion to Life Flows Water, Givens' set with Padilla, than Tibet.