Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Beginning of the New Age, Again

Dig, if you will, a picture:

That's J.D. Emmanuel, circa 1982, amidst his gear during the genesis of a small private-press album titled Wizards. As soon as I first viewed this shot on Volcanic Tongue I knew I had to hear/have whatever it was this guy created. Without any further reading I checked fusetron, ordered myself a copy of the Wizards vinyl that's been reissued by Belgian label Dreamtime Taped Sounds, and began peeping around for more info about this mysterious guru. What I found was endearing.
Apparently J.D. (Daniel to his friends) Emmanuel is a (not-so) regular ol' Texan who's been making minimal electronic for last three decades. Inspired heavily by the work of Terry Riley (along with other minimalists like Reich and Glass) and to a lesser extent the mid-70's output of German artists like Moebius and Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler, Emmanuel set out to make spiritual relaxation music for various levels of meditation. As a self-taught expert on personal meditation and consciousness expansion, Emmanuel hoped to help others reach the "Seperate Realities" he was discovering through this new electronic music.
His first published piece was an album titled Rain Forest Music, which is available for download in its entirely on his website here. It is a pretty excellent set of tape loops (think Eno circa Discreet Music) against Emmanuel's field recordings of Texas forests, waterfalls and zoos. But Emmanuel's true masterpiece is Wizards. There's a reason why this album has been the object of nerdly desires for years, and the subject of a 2007 reissue. Wizards' 37 minutes contain some of the most delicate, captivating minimal electronic ideas ever put to tape. It is a song cycle containing five parts, each one based upon a cyclical synth pattern along with some form of melody. "Part II: Prayer" builds upon "Part I"'s simple repetition of notes with a more free-form use of sharp synth melody. These two tracks are similar in theme to much of Cluster's Zuckerzeit or parts of Low's second half. That is, it wanders along with other classic kosmiche nebula not missing a beat.
The album's three remaining tracks are longer and even more cosmic in spirit. Actually, the more I listen to these longer pieces the less Terry Riley I hear. These parts are more raw than anything the American minimalists recorded, and actually remind me of Conrad Schnitzler's Rot and Blau albums and Klaus Schulz's best work. Emmanuel does an excellent job of humanizing the synth without sacrificing the idea that it is an electronically programmed device. At its best, Wizards can either assist in relaxation as an ambient soundtrack or be the vehicle to whatever conscious voyage you wish to take.
It goes without saying that 2007 is a great revival year for Mr. Emmanuel. Still alive and well and living in Texas, Daniel has recently updated his site and has been posting some rare pressings of his work on eBay. The demand for a vinyl reissue of Wizards twenty five years after its release is direct proof of his growing influence on modern spiritual music. He says that a cd reissue is in the works, so those of you without turntables who want a copy won't have to wait much longer. But for now, you must seek out the last remaining copies of the vinyl or play the samples he provides on his website. Either way, Wizards and all of Emmanuel's work is worth your time.

(alternate artwork for Wizards)

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