Boomkat Product Review:
Originally released in 1981, Joanna Brouk's early new age masterwork blurs the line between classical minimalism and contemporary ambient. A gooey mixture of Moog drones, flute and soaring vocals, it's an absolute must for anyone into Antonina Nowacka, Carmen Villain, Sarah Davachi, or Mary Jane Leach.
Brouk was studying wriiting under poet Josephine Miles in California when she came across electronic music. Somewhere along her journey, she became obsessed with the idea of sound as it pertained to writing and from here, she began to explore the history of sound and its usage in rituals and healing traditions. Miles urged Brouk to continue her studies and sponsored her to major in electronic music at Mills, where she was able access a Moog modular system and a Buchla. Brouk didn't the instruments like many of her contemporaries, she'd never had any formal musical training and didn't have a concept of the established hierarchies of sound. To her, the sounds of nature were just as important and valid as an orchestra, or those generated by an expensive synthesizer.
'Sounds of the Sea' was released in 1981 on cassette, a private press release on Brouk's own Hummingbird Productions imprint. She'd taken her music to local radio station KPFA who were impressed enough to give her a regular slot - and when Brouk played her compositions they immediately struck a chord with listeners. The label followed as a necessity to get music to her fans, and she released a run of cassette-only albums, some of which were collected on Numero's 2016 anthology 'Hearing Music'.
Getting to experience 'Sounds of the Sea' in full though is a real privilege as the album's been difficult to acquire for some time now. Keith Fullerton Whitman's Mimaroglu store netted a job lot of the tapes a few years ago, but since then it's been crying out for a reissue. Long spoken about - and a favorite amongst new age/ambient revivalists - the album highlights not only Brouk's unique, soft-focus intermingling of 20th century minimal instrumentation and 1980s electronic experimentation, but how quietly influential her work has been.
It's not hard to hear the reverberations Brouk's music has had through contemporary artists like Antonina Nowacka on 'The Nymph Rising, Calling the Sailor' and 'First Meeting'. Wordless vocals hum over Brouk's warbling analog drones, and the resulting ritual isn't quite new age, or ambient, or modern classical. Similarly, on those pieces led by dueling flautists Lindsey Lalon and Nina Ruymakere, there are parallels to be drawn with Carmen Villain or Arve Henriksen. By attempting to find a poetic language with then modern recording techniques, and reflecting her location with natural sounds like water splashes or bird calls while flutes echoed into pools of rich resonance, she chanced on a style that would still capture the hearts and minds of listeners four decades later.
Don't be misled by the album's association with healing music and meditation and relaxation soundtracks, Brouk's music is undeniably physical, but it's free of the filigree frippery of the latter-day wellness movement. The fact is that Brouk was there first, and the joy of discovery is audible thru each careful, spaced-out note. Magical music that shouldn't be missed.