Artists struggling with anxiety, depression and stress often find a sanctuary in their art. It is a place they control and feel safe. When we experience art, we take part in the artist’s quest for inner peace – and we can learn from it too. “After a decade-long struggle with anxiety, searching for music, meditations, reasons, and tricks to quell the noise in my head, I realized that I wasn’t looking for something that could dull the discomfort or put me to sleep,” says Cheryl B. Engelhardt about her new album “Luminary”. “I was looking for something to keep me present. I couldn’t find such recordings, so I decided to compose them myself”. The result is “Luminary”, a magnificent, brave and unique release. It is not easy listening, but that is perhaps why it is working. Engelhardt may single-handedly have updated the New Age music genre for the 2020s and beyond.
Cheryl B. Engelhardt is a classically-trained pianist, composer and songwriter with film and ad scores, four piano-pop albums (the latest being “Inevitably” from 2016), 20 tours and over 40 TV placements under her belt. About the creation of “Luminary”, Engelhardt says: “I wrote “Luminary” in a small stone room in a tiny mountain town on Crete, Greece. The source of this music is a grand piano, a bell, and my voice. I plucked piano strings and played around with my breath. I then altered the audio files as I mixed the record to add textures and interruptions, prompting me to stay present while I listen.”
Sister of Eos
In terms of sound, “Luminary” reminds of Jordan De La Sierra’s masterwork “Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose” (1977). Reverb makes the soundscape feel large, bare and desolate. The piano is also distant, giving the impression that the music is coming from somewhere else. There’s also quite a lot of air between the microphone and her vocal. The only close instrument is the warm and rich bass. In an age of ultra-close, crisp recordings, this surprising “harshness” is Engelhardt’s winning formula. It feels real and unfiltered.
The album opener is called “Sister of Eos”. Eos is the name of the Greek goodness of the dawn. We are greeted by a gentle piano. The tender melody immediately connects with the listener’s heart and soul. Suddenly it stops, and we hear only the bass and textures – complex and hard to identify. Some of the sounds seem to be playing backward, giving the impression that this is a place is not entirely real – like a vision in a Salvador Dali painting, making “Sister of Eos” into a sublime, highly creative and very different album opener. It is not exactly beautiful or pretty, but who said that meditative music had to be polished and dull?
Next out is “Deliquesce”. We hear Engelhardt’s vocalization, which adds a human touch. The bass is gone, so the soundscape feels open and bare. Suddenly we hear a scream played backward. The mixing is extraordinary, making each track unique and different.
Light in its various forms is an important topic here, as indicated by the album title. “Earthshine” is a piece that you can almost can “see”. It is incredible how Engelhardt can turn her vision of the dim earthshine into music. Her vocalization, the long “aaa”, is a response to witnessing this beautiful phenomenon. Each of the piano notes is like a ray of light, reflected twice – like earthshine.
My favorite piece on the album is “M. Aurora. It is as beautiful as the glowing Aurora morpho butterfly, which I presume is the inspiration behind the piece. “Luminary” is a distinctive blue album, and “M. Aurora” is no exception. The Enya-like vocalization is terrific. I also like how the piano comes and goes, playing ambient melodies. It is a delightful representation of how the butterfly moves; it is there, and suddenly it is gone. The moment has passed.
The mood changes with “Mortal Tides”. Something is threatening here – underlined by the irregular breathing and the distant piano. We are guided by the vocals, which have a reassuring quality. “Mortal Tides” prepares our ears for “Galileo’s Rings”, a hard-hitting and experimental piece. One thing seems inevitable; Engelhardt’s artistic project has struck gold. It is radically different, yet rewarding and beautiful. Her presentation of the rings of Saturn, which Galileo saw through his telescope, is mesmerizing.
“Moon Harvest” is a glowing piece! Again I’m struck by the quality of the mixing. There are so many layers of sound to appreciate, so many details. “Moon Harvest” has the larger-than-life atmosphere of the cover artwork. “Ataraxy” is slow and contemplative, making us reflect on all we have experienced this far on the album.
“Glisten Up” and “Bioluminescence” round off the album on a high note. The atmosphere is lighter, almost cheerful. It is an excellent way to finish the meditation. I love how colorful “Bioluminescence” is. Close your eyes, and the music will start its emission of light. Blue light. That is extraordinary!
In conclusion: I believe many people don’t like meditation music because it is too pretty and lovely, with its bamboo flutes, harps and deep synth pads. The psychology behind this is simple; “easy and soft” meditation music doesn’t match the mind it is supposed to soothe. The music of Cheryl B. Engelhardt, on the other hand, greets the troubled, stressed-out mind. It is hypnotic, incredibly well-mixed, and highly creative. Each piece is like an artwork in its own right.
It seems fitting that “Luminary” was released in the age of Covid19, just when we needed it the most. Let it be a guiding star for the future of New Age music!
Score: 98/100 – See our scoring policy
For more information and music samples, visit iamaluminary.com
“Luminary” is now playing on New Age Stars Radio.