Unless you're an aficionado of James Bond soundtracks or the sexy Kim Basinger flick 9 1/2 Weeks, you may not know the name of composer Jonathan Elias. But you've definitely heard his music, which has appeared in dozens of film, television, and advertising projects, including the famous Nike "Move" theme -- and in dozens of others for which he's loaded up a shelf full of Emmy and Clio Awards.
Now Elias has teamed with some of the biggest names in music (living and deceased) for his latest CD, Prayer Cycle 2: Path to Zero, the proceeds from which will benefit the nuclear nonproliferation organization, Global Zero.
A combination of spoken-word, singing, and symphonic sounds, Prayer Cycle 2: Path to Zero picks up where 1999's Prayer Cycle left off -- with Elias's trademark mix of choral overtones and world music inflections, both so intricate that headphones are a must for serious listeners. (That earlier project, by the way, featured Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Alanis Morrissette, James Taylor and others singing in a total of 12 languages.)
Although Sting and wife Trudie Styler appear on the current disc -- as well as Robert Downey, Jr., Angelique Kidjo, Yes frontman Jon Anderson, and Alex Ebert of hip band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, don't expect a collection of previously-released tracks from these artists; instead, remember that Elias is the composer here: imagine you're attending a major orchestral concert with a bevvy of surprise guests, whose voices appear in each song's twists and turns when you least expect them.
"I definitely see [the 7-track CD] as one complete piece," Elias tells me in a recent interview.
A cohesive aural patchwork, Prayer Cycle 2 gets its point across in subtle ways; whether it's Styler and Sting repeating/scolding Robert Oppenheimer's name in "Atomic Mother" (reminding us of Sting's "Russians") or O'Connor's haunting whispered prayer combined with the voices of Iroquois singer Joanne Shenandoah and System of a Down's Serj Tankian, all atop ethereal layers of the American Boy Choir in "Fallout/Path to Zero," the collective plea for freedom from nuclear destruction is palpable.
In the wake of the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, Prayer Cycle 2 feels relevant. Yet, as in many Elias projects, its homage to the plight of Native Americans gives it grounding in ancient spiritual yearning -- and, in this case, a base in the harsh reality of nuclear testing in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
That's where Jim Morrison comes in.
The late Doors frontman -- both a fascination and inspiration to Elias -- had recorded a poem in tribute to the Native Americans who were displaced and affected by the activities at Los Alamos.
"It seemed apropos," Elias says of the Morrison recording called "Moonshine Night" used in "Fallout/Path to Zero." Elias met Door's producer Paul Rothchild years before and recently cleared the rights to the poem. "It means a great deal to me to be able to use it," he says.
As for the cause, Elias says it was a no-brainer.
"24,000 nuclear weapons is not enough?" he says. "How many weapons do we need? I have kids and I want them to live in a world that's a little better."