Gymnosphere is a lost gem from the earliest days of American new age music. Sierra's blurry, cyclic, melodic creations on his 'prepared piano' are partly improvised and take some ideas from classical minimalism, yet the album has not a trace of academic coldness. The music positively glows; you can almost feel the love coming out the speakers.
Jordan De La Sierra
country of origin:
New age, modern classical, minimalism, spacemusic
70's - 80's
- Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose (1978, Numero Group)
Reviewed by Mike G
Gymnosphere (1978) is a lost gem from the earliest days of American new age music and was completely unknown to me until it resurfaced in 2014, recovered and restored by two enthusiasts and released on Chicago-based re-issue label Numero Group. Subtitled "music for the well-tuned piano", fans of minimalism will immediately recognise the La Monte Young reference. They'll also be interested to know that Jorden De La Sierra was a student of another minimalist master, American composer Terry Riley.
Recorded in 1976 but released two years later, Sierra took an overtly spiritual approach to the album's presentation - just see how far you make it through the dense gobbledegook of the original liner notes. Fortunately, he is also an inspired and gifted artist. Gymnosphere was originally a double LP and the reissued CD features four tracks averaging 25 minutes each. Needless to say, things develop slowly. Sierra's blurry, cyclic, melodic creations on his "prepared piano" are partly improvised and unsurprisingly take some ideas from classical minimalism. Yet I find this music a good deal more approachable than most of the solo piano work released by either Young or Riley. For starters, Sierrra's album has not a trace of academic coldness. The music positively glows; you can almost feel the love coming out the speakers, expressed without any of the sugary sentimentality that damns much in the new age genre. Certain passages have strong echoes of Florian Fricke's sublime meditations for solo piano which occasionally graced albums by his band Popol Vuh. It's that good.
Crucial to the album's enveloping sound is the complex production by Hearts Of Space Records founder and radio broadcaster Stephen Hill; in fact it was the first album he ever produced. What we hear is in fact a deftly blended mix of two recordings of the same performance. One is the original studio tapes, the other is those same tapes playing through a PA system in Grace Cathedral, which was the premiere reverberant environment in Northern California at the time. Reverb hardware at the era just didn't cut it. The aim, as Stephen Hill puts it, "was to turn the piano into an ancient cosmic space harp: a space piano." I asked him what he thinks of it all now. "I'm proud of what Jordan and I created and delighted to see it out in the world again. I hope the album takes its rightful place in the history of early 'new age' and contemporary ambient."
If you're at all curious to hear what new age artists were creating in the days before the genre blanded out, Gymnosphere is a must. The intriguing Sierra only ever released one other album - a forgettable 80's synthpop record - and then disappeared as a recording artist altogether.