Spirit Trance by Constance Demby (It has long been a tradition that good things come in threes. Well, there have been six great CD’s come across my desk just this month so great things come in sixes – at least it’s a multiple of three! The most recent is Spirit Trance, by the first lady of e-music – the talented, legendary and beautiful Constance Demby>.) In the liner notes of this CD, Constance relates a story about bats and the rebirth of one of the compositions on this disc. She discusses a street performance in Harvard Square in the 1970’s. HAH! That means that Constance was giving live ambient music performances as a pre-teen! :)(The performance was in 1979 and Constance was not in her pre-teens although she did give her first live performance at the age of 12!) Seriously, this is a masterful spiritual journey from one of the best of the genre. She continues her tradition of “Sacred Space Music” with these eight compositions – ncluding spirit trance mixes of two previously released tracks and a spirit trance transcription of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” destined to be an e-music and ambient classic! Indeed, the entire CD IS already a classic! These soundscapes and atmospheres are gentle and soft, exactly what listeners and meditaters have come to expect, know and crave from Constance’s music. The music has strong holistic healing and psychoactive overtone properties. Those qualities set the disc apart from the madding throng. They also place Constance in the perpendicular universe – rare air, indeed! This marvelous CD belongs in every serious meditater’s collection. It is an absolute must-have! ~ Jim Brenholts
Sanctum Sanctuorum by Constance Demby First Light Music, 2001 http://www.firstlightmusic.com Constance Demby has given us her unabashedly romantic music for almost thirty years now. She never ceases exploring, whether with instrumentation, style, or harmony. She has played the dulcimer, acoustic piano, numerous synthesizers, and the instruments she has created herself. In many albums she has also added her own vocals, ranging from traditional singing to avant-garde expressionism. She has gone from bouncy, almost pop anthems (“ I Set Myself Free”) to some of the most awe-inspiring and harmonically unusual space music I’ve ever heard (“Into the Center,” on the same album, Set Free, 1989). Her Novus Magnificat (1987) is a wall-of-sound cosmic classic. Now, with Sanctum Sanctuorum, Demby returns to the sacred space music she created a couple of years ago for a film soundtrack called “Faces of the Christ,” and re-creates it in a more structured form based on the Catholic Mass. She adds Gregorian chant samples, bell sounds, and other modified voices in a virtual chorus, blending in with her synthesized orchestral and organ sounds. It is the epitome of reverence; it would not be out of place in any cathedral. There is no dissonance or avant-garde experimenting French musical impressionism. In fact, tracks 3 and 4, “Kyrie” and “Sanctum,” are quite reminiscent of the Requiem Masses composed in the 20th century by French composers Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Duruflé. The pace is slow, the sound as soft as silk. It is contemplative, with at least to my ears, a sense of gentle melancholy, which is why I compare it to Requiems. Some of the melodies are Demby’s, but in the last section, “Veni Creato,” the chant is an authentic Catholic hymn, “Veni Creator Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”). This is an exquisite little album (only 45 minutes long) which sounds like real spirituality in a musical world of imitations. Note: I have only one complaint about this album: the Latin in many of the titles is wrong. As a student of Latin I must point out that the correct Latin for the title is “Sanctum Sanctorum,” not “Sanctuorum.” The track titles, according to the Latin Catholic usage, should be “Alleluiah,” not “Alleluliah,” “Sanctus,” not “Sanctum,” and “Veni Creator,” not “Veni Creato.” There may be some good reason why Demby left the Latin this way, but I don’t know what it could be. Hannah M.G. Shapero, EER-MUSIC.com 9/17/02 Attunement by Constance Demby Sound Currents/Current Sounds, 2000 http://www.constancedemby.com The music of Constance Demby, for me, has always ranged between the sublime and the ridiculous. I consider her album Novus Magnificat (1986) to be one of the masterpieces of the modern electronic/New Age genre,
and her Set Free (1989) is almost as good. Yet her Aeterna (1995) in my opinion sank into overblown sentimentality. Here on Attunement I find this same mixture of exaltation and embarrassment.
Demby’s got a powerful array of synthesizers, as well as the awesome “Space Bass,” a huge custom instrument made of tuned steel and brass rods. When she plays these, she’s a whole avant-garde orchestra, even when she’s playing live as she is in Attunement. She picks her harmonies well as in the first cut on Attunement, “Bringing down the Silence,” who can go wrong with a long series of neo-medieval parallel fifths? And in cut 3, “Out of the Mist,” she samples Scottish bagpipes, of all things, to create a wonderful, Celtic-inspired triumphant sound. When Demby goes to the “Space Bass,” she gets a grand, clanking roar out of it, as in cut 5, “Fathoms.” When it comes to pure music, Demby can still emit glorious sound-radiance.
But then this album also has tracks which feature sugary-sweet sentimentality, such as “Strings of my Heart” (track 3) and the organ-toned, funereal “Absolution.” (track 8) If the listener is in the mood for it, these are soothing, but if the listener is in another mood, they’re over-the top and a bit silly. Demby is solidly committed to the “romantic” part of New Age culture that almost fanatically exalts emotions, “healing,” and “the heart,” and if you like that, then you’ll like this side of Demby’s output.
I don’t mind most of the romantic stuff; even cynical old me gets emotional sometimes. My main problem with this album is that Constance vocalizes on it. She sang on “Set Free,” too, but she stayed in tune or at least hummed softly. On various cuts in Attunement, such as “Bringing Down the Silence,” and cut 4, “Eyes in the Mirror,” cut 6, “Deep Mother,” and cut 7, “Gabriel’s Dragon,” she feels the need to add lots of vocals. She does not always stay in tune with the music, and sometimes she doesn’t bother with tune at all. She groans, moans, sighs, whispers, and whimpers; she sounds like she’s kvetching rather than healing. This is where sublime meets ridiculous: when Constance is instrumental, she’s sublime, and when she’s singing, it’s, well, the other option.
HMGS rating: 7 out of 10 Hannah M.G. Shapero 5/5/01
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