Just as many people think that the quote "Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast," comes from Shakespeare, lot of folks believe that new age meditation music has got to be bland and vapid or it just can't "transport you" to wherever it is your happy place happens to be.
And that's just not so.
For the past few months, I've been hooked on a five-song CD entitled Inhale Slowly by Tim White and Joe Paulino, both residents of Northern California since attending high school together in El Cerrito. (Curiously, even though they've known each other for 30 years now, this is the first musical project they've teamed up on.)
The nature of my main work is creating brand names, which I do as the creative director for Lexicon Branding in Sausalito. And I often listen to music when I'm doing my thing, because it helps to create a peaceful space to create. The one element my music must have -- or, rather, not have -- is lyrics. I've found that I have trouble thinking of words when someone else is singing other words into my ears. So I listen to classical. Jazz. And new age which is, in most cases, too bland to really stir the creative juices.
That's why, when I found Inhale Slowly, I was intrigued. It was familiar, yet was different in ways I was having trouble putting my finger on. Maybe if I was a music reviewer (or maybe had paid better attention when I was playing the French horn back in high school), I'd be better equipped to understand what I was hearing. Since the artists are local, I did the next best thing: I contacted them by email and invited them to lunch to talk about their album.
We met at Sartaj, an Indian restaurant in Sausalito that Paulino frequents so often that one of the specials on the menu is named in his honor. (And that the two musicians dedicated their first song, Morning Chai, to on the cover of their CD.)
The album, as it turns out, happened pretty much by accident. Paulino, a music producer, engineer and voiceover announcer with a sophisticated home studio, was working with a couple of different performers -- Patricia Ellsberg and Heidi Hans Scott -- who were creating spoken word recordings to teach aspects of meditation. Paulino asked if they wanted music for the background and when they said yes, he reached out to White and the two men began their collaboration.
"We liked our first two compositions a lot and, when Patricia didn't think a second one we'd done for her was what she wanted," says Paulino, "we realized there was an album coming together." When another meditation instructor, Dr. Khaleghl Quinn, entered the picture looking for music, the two men had all the pieces in place to begin planning their debut.
"We kept the licensing for all the music," White points out. "So we own it and enjoyed it too much to just give away as a work-for-hire."
I really wanted to get to the heart of the reason for contacting the two artists so I asked them directly: "Why is this album so subtlely yet powerfully different from the meditation music I'm used to?" I was about to discover that a couple of different elements contributed to what I was experiencing.
Paulino drew parallels between he and White and the musicians Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. "Fripp is highly trained, a great teacher, slavish dedication to form and structure. And Tim has all of this education, really knows how to do it right. And I come to the process more 'Ready, Fire, Aim...' More 'Enoesque,' in a way, just trying to keep up with Tim and his tremendous musical ability."
White really nails the difference for me, though. "We used unusual instrument combinations. Bamboo flute and piano, that's unusual. The piano and the tambura, which is the drone instrument in the background." White points out, "The two quintessential Western instruments are the piano and the violin. In Indian music, the sitar is a quintessential instrument, and so is the bamboo flute. So it was very interesting to bring these very different evolved instruments together and to make it work."
"We actually had to bring in someone to re-tune the piano for one song," adds Paulino. Both of the men talk about the music as if it's a different medium. Paulino says the process was like sanding down the rough spots in wood. White mentions "It's interesting to sculpt it this way, because it's different from most music where you're trying to grab the attention of the listener. Here we're trying to NOT interrupt your attention."
And that last point is precisely what I was experiencing -- soothing music without being pulled out of my peaceful place to work. White put it another way, paraphrasing French composer Satie who made music that was "like furniture, that just fit in the room you were in."
With some people claiming the music has lowered their blood pressure, it seems the album not only has the ability to "charm the savage breast" (a quote actually by William Congreave, in 1697) but that Inhale Slowly is very comfortable furniture, indeed.