“Sacred Spaces” is the title of Michael Whalen’s new album, which is being released today. Michael is known for many things – his two Emmy awards, Grammy nomination, the song “I Have Loved You For A Thousand Lifetimes”, which has been streamed 37 million times on Spotify – and also for creating and programming his synths. His ability to produce new and groundbreaking sounds is a significant part of “Sacred Spaces”. The album is also profoundly existential in nature, dealing with the search for a higher power. It is only March, but given the quality of this album, it is safe to say that “Sacred Spaces” will be on many “Best of 2020” lists. It’s a winner from start to finish.
Last year Michael Whalen released the solo piano album “Cupid Blindfolded“, to high acclaim and great reviews. About this year’s album, Michael says: “Over the past decade, I realized I am 100 percent responsible for whatever my relationship with a higher being might be. When I first had the idea to do an album about the search for a higher power, I was imagining an orchestral project — a symphony. There was a point where I ran out of gas, maybe because part of me didn’t really want an answer. A couple of years ago, I revisited some themes I’d written and thought that maybe I should do this as an electronic project.” The result is “Sacred Spaces”.
This episode of Chillout Wizardry is dedicated to Michael Whalen and “Sacred Spaces”:
A Metaphysical Morning
Working with Digital Audio Workstations (DAWS), artists today have a myriad of instruments available. But for some reason, synth-based albums often sound almost the same. The reason is simple; When artists use the same soundbanks, presets, and samples, the result will have much of the same expression and atmosphere. This is perhaps why the album opener on “Sacred Spaces” feels like a breath of fresh air. It is radically different and fresh.
Here’s a recent interview with Michael about the album and technology:
“A Metaphysical Morning” starts with birds singing. Then suddenly, the picturesque image is replaced by sharp metallic sounds. Are we witnessing a UFO landing? Or is it a symbol of a transition? Your guesses are as good as mine. One thing is sure, though; The next segment is ultra-light with a fast rhythm. The ambient melody has many nice twists and turns before the metallic sounds return with a vengeance. In short, world-class audio design, 2020 style.
The title track is a positive, warm, and upbeat piece. Notice the highly creative use of lead synths. It is part EDM, part Jean Michel Jarre – from flute and piano, via ethnic samples to hyper-modern voice synths. It is a very complex soundscape, but then again, capturing something sacred in art has never been an easy task. I’m sure Michelangelo would agree to that.
Talking about the divine; In his search for a higher power, Whalen is focusing on the here and now, on “Ordinary Miracles”, which is the name of the next song. I love the piano, the reverb, and the rich, well-crafted textures. This is what heaven on earth sounds like.
1000 Paper Cranes
“1000 Paper Cranes” is a tribute Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who – according to Wikipedia – became a victim of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima when she was two years old and one of the most widely known hibakusha – a Japanese term meaning “bomb-affected person. “There’s a Japanese legend that if you create a thousand origami cranes, you’ll be granted a wish,” says Whalen in the album’s one sheet. “Sadako’s wish was a world without nuclear weapons.” The song has a beautiful touch of chill out and a long build-up. The conclusion is breathtakingly beautiful. If world leaders listened to this, world peace would follow.
“The Pure and the Calm” is meditative and dreamy. The soundscape is ultra-modern, crisp, and clear. In the background (around 1 minute 35 seconds and onwards) is a sound that might be a Gregorian chant. It is a lovely effect. The song connects the here-and-now with the past, which is an essential aspect of any search for a higher power. “The Pure and the Calm” fades into “An Ocean of Candlelight”. It is a stunning piece with flute, strings and heavenly voices, backed by soothing synths.
This album is not just about sacred spaces. It tells the story of a spiritual journey. “The Inbetween” is a fascinating account of feelings of doubt and wariness. The atmosphere is quite dark, even sad. But it is not without hope, and when the upbeat “Devotion” comes on, we know that it was only a phase, a necessary step towards enlightenment. “Devotion” contains an imaginative and refreshing selection of synths, from Vangelis to experimental electronica.
Nearer the end, “In the Footsteps of the Blessed” takes the listener for a memorable walk. The ambient melody seems to underline that we have reached our destination and that everything is going to be ok. Then it is all over, and “The After Life” begins. Whalen’s vision of heaven is very cool! The carefree melody, light rhythm, and minimalistic arrangement show that life after death is nothing to fear. Indeed, it is laid-back and fun! The image of an angry, vengeful God was all wrong. It is a comforting, almost lifechanging, thought.
In conclusion: The French expression tour de force comes to mind many times while listening to “Sacred Spaces” – partly because of the highly creative soundscapes and partly thanks to Whalen’s exceptional melodic talent. “Sacred Spaces” is about the search for a higher power, yet it is still easy listening and unpretentious. That is a significant accomplishment. I guess we all could need some “Sacred Spaces” in our lives. Put it on, and see where the album will take you.
Score: 96/100 – See our scoring policy
For more information and music samples, visit michaelwhalen.com
The album is available here: https://fanlink.to/SacredSpaces