Album Review: Coniunctio by Steve Brand

Longform pieces and albums abound, but this is only the second album that I’ve heard of featuring more than one longform piece. This by itself is merely eyebrow-raising; the real astonishment is the music presented by Steve Brand in his double-CD Coniunctio (Relaxed Machinery 0006).

Like any good longform piece, you could happily spin either of these discs on repeat all day (or all night). Both are deep ambient, beatless and hypnotic.

Cover for Coniunctio by Steve Brand

The first piece, Pale Blue Orb, opens with intimations of celestial voices & an inviting deep space chord. The voices breathe long and slow, drawing the listener inward. The mysteries of space and consciousness – heralded by suitably eerie and entrancing chords, are soon beckoning.

Like the view of Earth from space, the majesty of space, or the extremes of consciousness, the contemplation of such mysteries is now serene, now severe. Steve’s music weaves the two together in an apparently effortless way.

At about the 21-minute mark, the music subsides to a rich, swelling drone, setting up a chorus of synth voices. This relaxing interlude is soon visited by slowly breathing, deep, dark chords with a hint of menace.

Pale Blue Orb is spacious, composed mostly of synths, with voice, didgeridoo, and then… the appearance of bells (contributed by Matt Hillier/Ishq) is a wonderfully surprising moment, in a brightly-lit synth chord with a dark subtext. The bells eventually fade away into a passage of singing radiance. Earthrise, perhaps, seen from another, distant landscape. Perhaps time feels slower out in space. Here, elsewhere, in inner space, it stops altogether. Space is vast, but time is even more remote.

The voices, pretty much alone, carry the last few minutes, and one last airy note breathes the music away into silence.

Steve Brand – Pale Blue Orb (Excerpts) by Relaxed Machinery

Pale Blue Orb’s 61 minutes stream by easily, though our listening experience can be effortless or intense, as we like. Is this a day in the passage of Earth across an alien sky, or a musical capsule of its long history, or the deep reflections on one moment of its living, breathing existence? Maybe all three and more.

The album’s earthy counterpart, The Beginning of Days, begins with a dawn. An ancients’ wakeup call of shamanistic, wildly echoing flutes. Earth sings her daylight song now, rhythms of processed breaths and subdued, flowing synth chords. Her song on this day is one of stillness, pregnant with potential.

Earth has her own rhythm and her own time, and her song is not to be rushed. This music flows along as naturally as breeze or stream. The moods change as do the seasons, or a whip of the wind. Nothing ephemeral here, everything is simply the inevitability of nature doing what it does.

The feeling is emphatically not one of sentimental homage or tribute; it’s simply as if Steve has somehow tapped a primal Earthsong and then stepped aside to let her sing directly.

At about midpoint, the music fades to near silence, the breathy flutes withdrawing. An organ-like chord heralds a shift into the depths. A more metallic-sounding chord draws us in deeper. More depth, and – strangely – more light. Muted to our eyes at first, not our accustomed wavelength. But it was always there, with the eternal, almost familiar beauty of the unknown. Processed cicadas and breath sounds are the quickening pulse of this quiet place.

A series of tectonic swells, beginning at the 60-minute mark, as the music is beginning to fade away, signals a new episode of flutes under a haunting, aurora-like chord, which repeats to hypnotic effect. The flutes and the aurora take us to the last minute, to a tectonic – or windblown – fade. These days will be full of mystery and wonder, never dull.

The Beginning of Days, for nearly 73 minutes, almost subverts its title by slowing time to an imperceptible crawl. Like Pale Blue Orb, it offers a mesmerizing and renewing experience.

Steve Brand – The Beginning Of Days (Excerpts) by Relaxed Machinery

Each of these longform pieces would have easily stood on its own as an album, but in musical terms they belong together. Steve’s choice to join the two – celestial and earthy, spacious and grounded, ethereal and visceral – is consistent with both his musical ethos and the optimistic worldview which informs it. The terrestrial and the divine need not be strangers to each other. Here, they go together beautifully.

Available by download from CD Baby at a bargain price. Highest recommendation!

Wallpaper for Coniunctio by Steve Brand

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