Kronomyth x.x: ICE AGE. Real Music owner Terence Yallop (a pioneer in new age music) and producer/radio show host Anna Turner assembled a compilation of prominent new age artists to raise awareness of Antarctica and benefit the Cousteau Society, entitled Polar Shift. The impetus, apparently, was the imminent Antarctica Treaty ratification for environmental protection of the area (it was approved several months after the compilation’s release). Only three of the compilation’s thirteen songs are unique to the compilation, including Yanni’s “Song For Antarctica,” Constance Demby’s “Into Forever” and a collaboration between Demby, Paul Sutin and Steve Howe, “Polar Flight.” The remainder is borrowed from existing albums, including two tracks from Vangelis’ 1983 soundtrack, Antarctica. If you enjoy new age music, you’ll enjoy this sampler. (You’re also a marshmallow. A big, fluffy marshmallow.) If you don’t enjoy new age music, the words “pile of shift” will likely come to mind at some point (say, during the histrionic and anticlimactic “Light of the Spirit”). My only interest in this CD was to hear “Polar Flight,” and as the first of the Sutin/Howe works I’ve heard, it’s pretty good (probably no worse than Rick Wakeman’s Aspirant Sun series). Of the remaining cuts, “Pura Vida” from Chris Spheeris and Paul Voudouris caught my ear, so I may have to check out more of that. The rest of the artists (Yanni, John Tesh, Enya) left me cold. Those in search of icy tones would do better to seek out the original Antarctica from Vangelis, Mannheim Steamroller’s Fresh Aire IV or The Pearl by Harold Budd and Brian Eno.
The closest parallel I have in my life to the music of Jon and Vangelis is counting to 10 when I’m angry. It’s not that I find their music calming but frustrating, and only with time do I soften on it. So it requires a lot of patience and roughly ten licks before I can speak without sputtering about the muzakal dalliances of two otherwise remarkably talented musicians. Both Vangelis and Jon Anderson come from the “inspirational” school that favors music caught in the act of creation over critical self-editing. (Which isn’t how I would have phrased it before I got to 10.) Thus the creative process is about channeling two muses in a duet of demigods. (Or goading on another overinflated ego. Sorry. 1, 2, 3…) The truth is I have a lot of respect for the music of Vangelis and the music of Jon Anderson, which is ironically a very different thing than having respect for the music of Jon and Vangelis. When the pair sets out to actually write a song together (as on “He Is Sailing”), the results are magical. When they set out on an ambitious side-long piece (“Horizons”), the journey provides plenty of interesting sights and sounds. But for the most part, we’ve been here before: Vangelis provides a light lullaby melody with the same familiar sounds and flourishes while Jon takes his critical mind out of the equation and lets his spirituality flow in fragmentary sentences. Critics of the pair, of course, will find armfuls of ammunition here. Nobody, not even Jon Anderson, can get away with a line like “All that is good in this life is good, Good is good.” (4, 5, 6…) And the opening “Italian Song” isn’t sung in Italian, but nonsensical words and syllables that Jon felt sounded like Italian. Honestly, there are times when the pair’s collaborative process reminds me of two convicts in a prison cell playing the “I’m thinking of something in this room” game. (Is it the bed? Is it the toilet? Is it me? Is it the toilet?) I know, I’m slipping back into cynicism, 7, 8, 9… That there are people who love the music of Jon and Vangelis validates the whole experiment I suppose. Ultimately, Private Collection isn’t quantifiably better than their earlier collaborations but (based on my and others’ experience) it is at least empirically better.