“Once you become fearless, life becomes limitless,” a famous quote says. Listening to Michael Hugh Dixon’s album “Of Fearlessness”, the same logic seems to apply to how he composes and performs music. There is something unstoppable and infinite about this highly experimental release. Known as The Brass Whisperer, Dixon performs this 27-minute long piece on the French horn. It might not qualify as easy listening – but take my word for it; “Of Fearlessness” is surprisingly mediative, ideal for creative work and moments when you need bold and unrestrained thinking.
New Zealander Michael Hugh Dixon was born into a musical family. He played piano, drums, strings, and brass at an early age. He has full-time positions with several Australian orchestras including the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra – and in 2011, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong. He has written music for a variety of ensembles along with songs and percussion works. Over the last years, Dixon has released 13 singles. The most recent are “We Are Sufficient” (2021) and “Door of Many Mysteries” (2021).
The moment you start listening to “Of Fearlessness” – especially if you don’t usually listen to innovative brass music – questions start forming in your brain; “What is this?” and “Where is this going?”. I believe it is a kind of low-level fear that we all experience when encountering something we don’t understand. As soon as your ears have adjusted, though, you see the grandness of Dixon’s musical ideas. Indeed, it is not an album for every occasion. You have to feel it – but when you do, you will see the complexity, richness, and usefulness of it all.
The composition is fascinating, especially the build-up. It might sound strange given the powerful brass tone, but silence is a vital part of the composition. Yet the most fundamental aspect is its watchful atmosphere. Without even noticing it, “Of Fearlessness” makes us pay attention; it sharpens our senses. This is the kind of music used in movies when something is about to happen, the moment when our hero descends into darkness – and it lasts for 27-minutes straight!
There are many elements here that are present throughout, yet the intensity rises the closer we get to the end. Usually, I’m not a big fan of blue notes, but here they extend key parts of the soundscape. They make the listening so much more interesting. For a New Age music fan, that is hard to admit.
I absolutely love the recording, mixing, and mastering. The French horn is both close and far away, making the soundscape intense and charged. If Dixon recorded it in one take, I’m incredibly impressed. It must have been like a full-body workout.
I often think of music in terms of colors, and “Of Fearlessness” is quite dark. The ending, though, is much more colorful, almost shining. Another question is about the atmosphere: there is something negative initially, no doubt about that – but overall, I find that it is a deeply hopeful album. It is about overcoming obstacles and winning against all odds. It has that delightful “you can do it” vibe, but without giving any false pretensions that it will be easy. In other words, this is not music for yoga in the park; it is music for hard mental (and perhaps physical) work.
It is not a secret that many find meditation music boring. “Of Fearlessness” is the opposite of the usual synth and flute arrangement that 90 % of meditation releases feature. Dixon’s album is acoustic, sharp, and very direct. That’s why I believe it has broad appeal. Even people who usually only listen to classical, who never would dream of listening to a synth and flute release, will immediately pick up on the album’s brilliance.
In conclusion: Michael Hugh Dixon’s “Of Fearlessness” is a unique, well-made, and inspiring release. You don’t have to listen long to sense his level of fearlessness, which comes from mastering brass music and the French horn to perfection (it is notoriously hard to play) – and a willingness to enter a brand-new territory of sound. The album’s relentless nature makes it great for complex reading – before an exam, for instance – since it makes you push on no matter what. The ending and beginning are so short that you can safely put it on replay and have a “never-ending” focus.
When you are fearless, you 100 % know what you are doing. Michael Hugh Dixon’s “Of Fearlessness” proves this beyond doubt.
For more information and music samples, visit thebrasswhisperer.com