[Review] Rick Wakeman: Aspirant Sunset (1990)

The second in his Sun series of soporific soundtracks, stocked with stately synthesizers and the sonorous strains of soothing sssleep.

Kronomyth 28.0: To sleep, perchance to dream.

Rick Wakeman’s Sun Trilogy was created as music to calm and relax the listener. In that sense, it’s ambient music with a purpose that presumably lies outside the province of art. The second in the series, Aspirant Sunset, features ten more-or-less lullabies intended to induce sleep—not the goal of most great art. You can think of Aspirant Sunset as the complementary NyQuil to Aspirant Sunrise’s DayQuil.

That sounds dismissive, I realize, and I don’t want to dismiss the fact that some level of genius is at work on the Aspirant series. Now, I suppose that most classically trained composers could come up with thirty short pieces on relatively short notice. And yet few of them I suspect (as opposed to suppose) would stack up as well as the Sun series does. Warm melodies emerge, stately synthesizers arrive in orderly procession, subtle shadows rise and fall, the whole of it like lovely, dusky watercolors of the mind.

Since my goal isn’t to put you to sleep, I won’t be presenting a song-by-song description of the album. I don’t like to do that anyway, since music reviews should help you decide whether or not you want to listen to music, not replace that experience. I will tell you that “The Sleeping Village” (which sounds very familiar), “Peace” and “Evening Moods” stand out slightly from the pack as effective invocations of Hypnos, the god of sleep. If you only have fifteen minutes on your hands and want to skip through the disc to hear what is has to offer, you might start there.

I’ve often used music as a gentle shepherd to sleep, from Franck’s Symphony in D Minor to Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. And some of my favorite musical memories have occurred while casting off the last strands of a pleasant dream in the sensory decompression chamber of sound. So I do believe that the idea of music as a calming agent has merit. For now, I’ll add Aspirant Sunset to the shortlist of sleepherders but separate it from those works that would warrant more serious study.

Original cassette version

A1. Floating Clouds
A2. Still Waters
A3. The Dream
A4. The Sleeping Village
A5. Sea of Tranquility
B1. Peace
B2. Sunset
B3. Dying Embers
B4. Dusk
B5. Evening Moods

All songs composed by Rick Wakeman.

The Players

Rick Wakeman (all instruments). Produced by Rick Wakeman; engineered by Stuart Sawney.

The Pictures

Cover painting by Delio Vargas. Artwork by Kai Design, Munich.

The Plastic

Released on compact disc and cassette in 1990 in Germany (Sattva Art Music, SKV 026 CD/MC) and in 1991 in the UK (Ambient, AMB1 MCD) and Korea (Munhwa, MHC-7011). Also repackaged as The Sun Trilogy in 1991 in the UK (Ambient, AMB 4M) and Japan (Jimco, JIM 0072~4) [as Sunrise Sunset Sunshadows] with Aspirant Sunrise and Aspirant Sunshadows.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1991 in the UK (Rio Digital, RIO CD 1008).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 1993 in the UK (President, RWCD-18).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1996 in the UK (Pure Sounds, 40018).

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