There’s lots of New Age music history that’s hidden on dusty tapes and scratchy records, waiting to be discovered like a treasure chest. In 2013 we got I Am The Center – Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990. More recently Numero Group reissued Jordan De La Sierra’s Gymnosphere – Song of the Rose – Music for the Well-tuned Piano (1977). It is a magnificent and totally different album, showing that Sierra is one of the pioneers of New Age music.
Jordan de la Sierra’s real name is Jordan Stenberg. He was a student of Terry Riley’s and Pandit Pran Nath in the early and mid 1970s. Gymnosphere was recorded during a live five-and-a-half-hour session in San Francisco, and the tapes were taken to the city’s Grace Cathedral. Here they where were played against the church’s giant walls, which created naturally reverberating echoes. Gymnosphere was released as a double album, with a detailed booklet filled with India-inspired drawings and observations by the composer, and was issued on the independent Unity label in 1977. Here is a recent interview with the composer where he talks about the recording of the album – and life in general.
Song of the Rose
Much music demands something from you. You really have to listen – again and again – to get it. Gymnosphere is not like that. You only have to listen for 10 seconds to see if you like it or not. The piano is a bit like the Tubular Bells intro, but without the fear and the exorcist (editor’s notice: Mike Oldfield never intended the TB intro to be scary either, but that’s about story). The simple yet beautiful piano melody comes and goes throughout the recording, and the heavy reverb makes it even more interesting. It is a highly meditative effect. The song consists mostly of one chord, spelled out in the left hand again and again while the right hand dances over runs.
Gymnosphere consists of four parts that all are from 25 to 27 minutes long. The first part, Music for Gymnastics, is all about the above mentioned piano melody – which is tastefully repeated again and again. Part two, Temple of Aesthetic Action, is much darker. Here the piano has a larger-than-life sound, and you feel that you are witnessing something important. I’m always amazed by the complexity of this part.
Track three is Music for Devotional Past. It’s more quiet, flowing like water, drifting like a cloud. The slow ambient melody is playing somewhere far away; You can feel it more than you can hear it. Part four, Sphere of the Sublime Dances, is again all about the mentioned piano, which is repeated for 27 minutes straight.
In conclusion: Gymnosphere – Song of the Rose is a must-have album for anyone who is into New Age music history. It didn’t have the impact albums such as Paul Horn’s Inside the Taj Mahal or Steven Halpern’s Spectrum Suite had, but it is still a monumental piece. It is also great if you just are looking for an inspiring album for meditation, relaxation, reading or creative work. Gymnosphere is one of the originals, while piano based meditation album released today are mere copies.
Score: 99/100 – See how I rate music here