Coyote Oldman

Music centering around the Native American flute - both authentic and adapted music - has proliferated under the new age and world music umbrella to such an extent that finding the really great stuff can be difficult. If you love meditative flute sounds and you aren't a purist, these albums by American duo Coyote Oldman are a must.

series:
Coyote Oldman

country of origin:
USA

style(s):
Native flutes, electro-acoustic, ethno ambient, spacemusic

decades active:
80's - 00's

essential releases:

  • Tear Of The Moon (1987, Coyote Oldman Music)
  • Thunder Chord (1990, Hearts Of Space)
  • Compassion (1993, Coyote Oldman Music)
  • The Shape Of Time (1995, Coyote Oldman Music)
  • In Beauty I Walk: The Best Of Coyote Oldman (1997, Hearts Of Space)

Reviewed by Mike G

Music centering around the Native American flute - both authentic and adapted music - has proliferated under the new age and world music umbrella to such an extent that finding the really great stuff can be difficult. If you love meditative flute sounds and aren't a purist, these albums by American duo Coyote Oldman are a must.

No recording artist has explored the spaces between electronic sound design and native flute music better than Coyote Oldman has. The original lineup of flute player Michael Allen and musician and sound designer Barry Stramp have delved deeply into America's indigenous flute sounds - and other non-Western flute and percussion sounds, too - without ever claiming to be making authentic music in a cultural sense. Michael Allen is very clear on this point in his sleeve notes to one of the albums:

"We are not here to romanticize the past or to idealize a particular culture. In reaching back into the past, we are reintroducing ancient American flutes which are of great value to us all. We are stretching the most advanced recording technologies to talk about something which is timeless in all people, all cultures. We are fortunate to be when and where we are."

The duo's second album Tear Of The Moon (1987) establishes the signature Coyote Oldman sound: single or sometimes layered flute melodies weaving their way around subtle, celestial drones and slightly reverberating spaces. Deeply serene without ever being bland, this is warm yet haunting ambience performed and sculpted with great skill. Thunder Chord (1989) is Coyote's debut on legendary Californian label Hearts Of Space Records. Here the meeting of electronic and acoustic becomes utterly seamless, the harmonies deep and ravishing. It's spacemusic all right; not in the narrow sense but in the way it captures a sense of space and openess and awe-inspring wonder. As well as Native American flutes, Incan panpipes are also featured.

Tear Of The Moon and Thunder Chord are definitive and may well be all the Coyote Oldman you need. Given the band's modus operandi its inevitable that a certain sameness is apparent across the band's discography of more than a dozen releases. Several other albums, however, are particularly noteworthy.

The Shape Of Time (1995) is specifically about space, a natural theme for the band's sound. Words like cosmic perfectly describe the rich, widescreen drone and subtle heartbeat percussion of the title track, while on "Brilliant Darkness" it's hard to believe there's not synthesisers in the mix - a reminder of Barry Stramp's production nous and talent for using loops and delay. Compassion (1993) stands out for its enveloping, rumbling bass flutes and - on some tracks - the wordless vocals of guest Hui Cheng, a Chinese opera singer. Her delivery is free of operatic bombast, instead curling and caressing itself around the shimmering flute melodies with great sensitivity. In Beauty I Walk (1997) from Hearts Of Space Records is a lovingly compiled and mastered compilation that draws on albums released between 1987-1997.

Barry Stramp appears to have left the band sometime in the 2000's, with Michael Allen now the guiding light. Allen is an educator and longtime champion of native flute music and also an accomplished flute maker, sometimes recreating flutes 1000's of years old based on drawings and writings. He also sells handmade flutes via his website.

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