Danna & Clement - "A Gradual Awakening"
(Earthhaven/Mirage EMO 096, CD)
From Aural Innovations #34 (August 2006)
Though often lumped in with New Age artists such as Michael Stearns, Kevin Braheny and Steve Roach, the music of Danna & Clement in fact reflects a far more experimental and less formulaic vision of the quieter possibilities of electronic composition than many of their yoga-practicing brethren. A Gradual Awakening, originally released on cassette in 1983, has over the past two decades become a much sought after jewel by aficionados of pure environmental music. And with good reason, too. Left to age in the wake of the digital onslaught of the 80s and 90s, A Gradual Awakening is a startling reminder of what can be accomplished with just a few analog synthesizers, a guitar, autoharp, flute and a Revox tape machine. Ostensibly inspired by the duo's immediate living space in the Madawaska Valley of Ontario, Canada, the nine songs on A Gradual Awakening evoke the majesty of the pristine glacial landscape of the great Canadian wilderness and often reflect the dynamic awe and wonder of its ever changing character. The disc's opening track "Lydian Lights" is a prismatic cascade of melting and swirling synthesizer textures that loop and intertwine to create the sonic equivalent of an aurora borealis, its spectral curtains waving ghost-like across the frozen horizon of a northern sky. Both "Ontario" and "Sudden Night" are more overtly experimental, utilizing an array of natural sounds (the plaintive howls of timber wolves, the distant croaking of frogs, as well as the vocalizations of owls, loons and sparrows) in concert with various percussive elements (seashells, wind chimes and bottles), all manipulated at different tape speeds to create an eerie evocation of the primeval beauty of the Canadian forestlands. "Chrysolite" is a delicate, fragile duet between the chiming harmonics of Tim Clement's guitar and the liquid rhythms of Mychael Danna's Korg synthesizer and leads directly into the disc's stunningly impressionistic title track. Danna's languorous synthesizers create a constantly shifting, though slowly evolving, tapestry of sound over which Clement threads sweeping waves of guitar arpeggios and the dulcet tones of shimmering autoharp crescendos. Though you're likely to find A Gradual Awakening in the New Age section of whatever record store you frequent, don't be fooled - this is ambient music of the highest caliber, derived from a highly personal interaction with the composers' rarefied environment and yet, for all that, still strangely accessible to listeners outside the general sphere of influence of conventional New Age music. Kudos to the Earthaven/Mirage labels for collaborating on this much appreciated reissue of a lost masterpiece.
Reviewed by Charles Van de Kree