Label: Numero Group
Format: LP, Sea Blue Vinyl
** Sea Blue (Seaglass Wave Translucent) Vinyl edition ** Joanna Brouk’s most ambitious recording, Sounds of the Sea is a concept album full of mystery and eroticism. An immersive world populated by pulses, swells, drones and voices, Sounds of The Sea taking us on Hindustani-tinged journey with shimmering lines executed on synths, threaded by Joanna’s vocal drones, while Celestial Lake weaves imagistic expanses from slowly evolving melodies, culminating as immersive and meditative world of its own. A conch shell bookends this journey into the deep, going down and down and down further, never reaching bottom. Drawing inspiration from various legends of mermaids and sailors, Brouk weaves circling flutes, vocals, drones and whale songs to describe a sense of unfathomable longing more clearly than words could ever express. Sounds of the Sea is a hypnotic and profound achievement by one of new age's greatest composers.
Brouk was a pioneer of electronic and new age music who explored the underlying sounds of words and their effects on the emotions and health. She also wrote extensively for theatre, television and radio. At Mills College Center for Contemporary Music in Oakland, California, she studied under Terry Riley and Robert Ashley, and in the 1980s she released a series of cassettes on her Hummingbird Productions label.
Joanna Brouk was an intriguing figure, a St Louis County, Missouri born composer who came to music from the world of creative writing and poetry, and began creating music while studying under Terry Riley. As a radio producer, she composed music for nature documentaries and self-released a number of her own compositions on cassette via her own Hummingbird Productions label before quite deliberately ending all her compositional work in 1985. This music gained Brouk recognition in new age circles but it has been often overlooked until now.
Sounds Of The Sea is one of Brouk’s tapes from 1981, reissued here by Numero Group, who also collated archival recordings for 2016’s Hearing Music. It’s a hugely evocative album, especially for those of us far from any sea. The album opens with “Invocation” – a conch shell played into an infinite vista of sky and horizon – before subsequent tracks like “Atavesta” subtly fill out the beach-wide picture with Brouk’s suggestive flute playing, seemingly hugely influenced by Indian classical flautists like Pannalal Ghosh.
As this immersive, Turner-esque picture of the sea as natural church unfolds, we hear drones swimming up from the depths, whalesong and vocal extemporisations conjuring images of marine life, swirling echoey bird calls pulling us back to the surface. There’s a deeply charged eroticism inherent in this record – a sense of tingling bliss that takes over the body of the listener – skin salty with spray, soul pulled into the waves. This plays resonantly with the mythical elements of sirens and shipwrecks Brouk brings in on the devastating “The Nymph Rising/Calling The Sailor”.
By the album’s end, Brouk’s voice is dominant, raw and wondrous, but also slow-dubbed into gorgeous dissonances and Eastern harmonics. Sceptics are urged to forget the new age aspect of this music and surrender to it without prejudice. It’s a hypnotic and profound gateway to a shore you won’t want to leave. (Neil Kulkarni)