Randall McClellan - The Healing Music of Rana
For fans of ambient and New Age music from the '70s and '80s, there are a handful of names - Ariel Kalma, Joanna Brouk, JD Emmanuel, Pauline-Anna Strom, Laraaji, Iasos, etc. - that rise above the rest. These artists are distinguished by a fierce sense of independence - self-releasing their own music - and display a close alignment with avant-garde ideas, approaches, and techniques. Among the most ambitious and striking of these was Randall McClellan, a musician and composer who has yet to fully receive the attention he deserves. Thankfully that’s about to change with three astounding reissues of his efforts from the late '70s and early '80s - The Healing Music of Rana, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 - pressed onto vinyl for the very first time by the amazing folks over at Aguirre. An absolutely incredible blending of electronic and acoustic sound, they’ll leave you wondering where they’ve been all your life.
Randall McClellan is a fascinating figure in the history of music. His life, work and legacy represent an import, tangible link between the avant-garde music that developed during the post-war period, and the emerging movements of ambient and New Age musics that flowered in their wake. In 1967 he became a founding member of the electronic music studio at the Eastman School of Music, where he later received a Ph.D. in Composition, Theory and Musicology, laying the foundations for his singular practice. Like many of his generation, these roots, hybridized with a growing interest in Hindustani / North Indian classical music and vocal technique prompted him to develop a new means of composition, positioned as an active platform for inducing altered states of mind.
Between 1977 and 1983, McClellan embarked upon a series of improvisational performances - lasting from twenty-five to forty-five minutes and held in carpeted, semi-darkened spaces designed as total environments of meditative sound and the harmonization of mind and body - that gave us the astounding recordings encountered across the volumes of The Healing Music of Rana (Sonic Environments for Quiet Listening). Originally self-issued on cassettes by McClellan during these years, they fell into total obscurity until being rediscovered by his friend JD Emmanuel and the band Sun Araw, both of whom contributed to their return to the world. Recorded on Moog Prodigy and Micromoog synthesizers - often played simultaneously - accompanied at times by drone box, tamboura, tape delay, and McClellan’s incredible vocals, each of these albums - easily approached as a single, evolving body or as a series of discrete, free-standing works - deftly expands the territories of creative, sonic exploration beloved by fans of Terry Riley, Prima Materia, Pauline Oliveros, David Hykes, and La Monte Young.
The first - The Healing Music of Rana, Volume 1 - sprawling across two full LPs, comprises the long form works, Sirius and Celestial Lake, both over 40 minutes long; Sirius taking us on Hindustani-tinged journey with shimmering lines executed on synths, threaded by McClellan’s vocal drones, while Celestial Lake weaves imagistic expanses from slowly evolving melodies, culminating as immersive and meditative world of its own. Displaying deep links to minimalism, while putting one foot forward into a deeply spiritual realm of creativity, it's one of those records that rewrites history and the brain in a single swoop.
The Healing Music of Rana, Volume 2 comprises two slightly shorter works - Across Clouds of Distance Past and Mountain Frangrance - each roughly 20 minutes long. Both dive into the realm of immersive ambiences, built from the harmonic interplay of long tones, threaded by deconstructed, evolving melodic fragments, and rippling overtones that send the mind and body into a total state of bliss. Foreshadowing huge swaths of ambient music that would follow in its wake over the decades, words fail how beautiful McClellan’s second volume is.
The Healing Music of Rana, Volume 3, recorded toward the end of McClellan’s 15-year long series of concerts, during August of 1983, is among the richest and complex of his available efforts, falling somewhere between the rippling tonal interventions of Volume 1 and the droning expanses of Volume 2, while moving toward something slightly more abstract and inward. Like their predecessors, the album’s two long form works - Solarwind Play and Crystal Morning - were created via the simultaneous interplay of the Moog Prodigy and Micromoog synths, fed through tape delay which activates continuously evolving, multi-level melodic passages, each repetition becoming progressively quieter and more distant as new melody presents itself. Darker and moodier than McClellan’s other efforts - as though alluding to the coming end of an era - the richness and intensity of the composer’s practice comes into center stage across the album's two sides, leaving you longing for more.
For those previously unaware of his work, the long-awaited reissues of Randall McClellan’s The Healing Music of Rana will inevitably be a total revelation and the foundation of hours of thrilling listening. For those aware of him, Aguirre’s first time ever vinyl reissue of these works will likely represent nothing short of a momentous event. They’re all incredible and impossible to recommend enough.