Meditation music is an often overlooked and underappreciated genre. Mixing traditional instruments with cutting-edge sounds, a new generation of artists is now trying to upgrade the genre to the 2020s and beyond. NTHNL is a music project by Jacob Rudin. Fascinated by algorithmic music, brainwave frequency and how it might fit with traditional instruments and arrangements, Rudin has created a sound – or perhaps state is a better word – that is as unique as it is interesting. NTHNL’s Tranquility Studies volumes 1 and 2 represent a huge leap forward.
NTHNL is a music project by Jacob Rudin. About the Tranquility Studies series, he writes: “It is an attempt to summarize and present my current explorations in medicinal music. I first became interested in healing music through early experiments in algorithmic (or automatically generated) music. I would listen to these pretty, repetitive, shimmering textures for hours at a time making slight tweaks, always feeling calm and blissed at the end of my sessions. These early ideas incorporated Just-Intonation (or whole number ratios between notes) and binaural beating between the ears. The idea being that when sound is passed between the ears at a certain speed (or frequency), it is possible to entrain the listener’s brainwaves to that frequency; in the case of my music I tend to shoot for “low-alpha” or “high-theta” (around 7-10 hZ), which is a very calming and focused brain-state.”
“The constant variation and reinforcement of these healing frequencies create a soothing, entrancing effect in the listener that I soon became hooked on,” continues Rudin. “It wasn’t long before I took my explorations outside of the computer and began to incorporate my instrumental playing. I found that through playing a necessarily human, almost narrative component, could be added to the music that would act as a further anchor to the listener, grounding them in the sonic present while allowing for ever deeper immersion.”
Below is the first installment in this series, Tranquility Studies Vol. 1 – an EP released last year – which gives you an idea of what it is all about. The focus of this review is Vol. 2, where the tracks are longer and more meditative.
Each piece on Tranquility Studies Vol. 2 is called Soundbath, plus the track number. They are very long, between 16 and 23 minutes – ideal for meditation, thinking or creative work. The first soundbath starts slowly; its “center” moves towards the listener in a hushed and mysterious way. We hear Rudin’s flute playing structures of a melody. It has an Eastern touch, is quite hypnotic and is fast too compared to the other arrangement. Very carefully the hum of the synths rises in the background. Their sound seems charged, electric. There are textures too, wind chimes, birds chirping, and light percussion instruments. It is a complex and a bit dark soundscape, easy to get lost in. Luckily, NTHNL is there to guide us. The mid-section on Soundbath1 is long with little variation. Then the synths fade out, replaced by sounds of nature. Around 20 minutes, a jazzy and happy Rhodes keyboard comes on. It is a nice contrast, which rounds off this first piece.
The Rhodes keyboard is back on Soundbath2. Around five and a half minutes there is a notable change; sharp string-like leads cut in, icy and distant. It is not to last though; Rudin’s flute is suddenly center stage, adding positivity, humanity and leading us along. It is as if the flute is driving the darkness away. The gentle background textures are amazing.
It is not to last though. The icy strings, powerful and exhilarating, are back in the beginning of Soundbath3. It sounds sharp, but it is remarkably calming and grounding. It truly feels like being bathed in sounds. Seven minutes into the piece, we hear male vocalizing, a long aaa – which introduces the next part. And wow, what a selection of instruments that rises out of the monotony! Violin, flute and a gorgeous sounding Rhodes keyboard. It is a very nice way to end the session.
NTHNL got more surprises up his sleeves. Not many albums for deep meditation feature saxophone, but the Tranquility Studies are not like other albums either. The sax solo is magnificent, although its relaxing qualities are entirely up to the listener to decide. The sax is replaced by layers of intriguing textures before a more meditative soundscape manifests itself like magic. The flute sounds larger-than-life thanks to Rudin’s skills and the synth drones that hum delightfully in the background.
Tranquility Studies Vol. 2 is available on Bandcamp:
Soundbath5 has a more experimental feel to it thanks to a raving saxophone. At this stage, it sounds very jazz – but it is not to last. Suddenly the sax fades away, and an ambient world of music reveals itself. The melody is positive and light, backed by nice effects. The ending features an oboe, which adds to the experimental and playful nature of this album.
The last soundbath has an accordion-like lead instrument before the Rhodes keyboard and flute are back. The main thing, of course, are the background synths; They are the canvas that holds it all together. It is up to the listener to decide how relaxing Soundbath6 is, but I think it is great for chilling at places where there is background noise. One of the mistakes many artists do when it comes to meditation music is that they give the listener little or no time to adjust. They don’t take into consideration that the listener might be somewhere noisy (like the subway perhaps). NTHNL’s music, on the other hand, does not require stillness and is not instantly “pretty.” I tried listening to it during my commute, and it cut 20 minutes off my trip and I arrived feeling energized and renewed.
In conclusion: I would never expect an album like this to “knock my socks off,” but NTHNL’s Tranquility Studies has that kind of uniqueness and energy that will surprise even the most eager meditation music enthusiast. I’m no expert of the science behind it – but I can say that it is a superb release that you should try if you are looking to extend your meditation playlist with truly cutting-edge material. The acoustic instruments used, especially the flute, sound amazing too.
There is an album experimental edge to NTHNL’s work, hence the studies in the title. The music itself is, as mentioned above, a lot sharper than one would expect from a meditation album – especially one with tranquility in the title. I guess this is one of the reasons why the music feels like such a breath of fresh air. That said, if you want your meditation music to be “soft and pretty,” this one is not for you.
Tranquility Studies Vol 1 & 2 are, in short, fantastic and very promising meditation music albums! I cannot say if they represent a scientific breakthrough, but in terms of music, they are the next generation for sure!
For more information and music samples, visit Bandcamp.