Audion #2

September 1986 A4 28 pages


Reviews: Biomechanoid, Embryo, Klaus Schulze, Deuter, etc.


photocopy reprint (last 5 copies)



UK 5.80




Europe 9.25




World 10.50


Example article extract

Michael Stearns is probably the best, and certainly the most consistently interesting and intriguing American synthesist around and already has eight albums to his credit. Unfortunately his music seems to have been overlooked to a large extent in the UK, but there are signs that his popularity here is now on the increase. Hopefully, better distribution of his albums on this side of the Pond may go some way to increasing his deserved recognition here and maybe this little article will help a bit too.

Stearns' music has often been pigeon-holed as 'New Age' (possibly this has deterred a lot of people from investigating it?), but I feel this is only for want of a better description, personally I dislike such categorisation as it usually only leads to misinterpretation in the long run and often does the music and its furtherance far sore harm than good. In a recent interview (Syne, Fall l985) Stearns stated that he was not very excited with the so-called New Age Music that he'd heard and thought a lot of it, "drone music and not very inspiring to me, although it may have been to the person creating it".

With its soaring melodies, soaring climaxes, relaxed interludes and beautiful juxtapositioning of harmony with dissonance, I consider Stearns' music leans sore towards the Classical genre in composition and style. Indeed it is almost symphonic (without ever being pretentious) at times. However, whichever category you wish to place it in (and strictly speaking it's in a class of its own), one thing is certain, his music is, without exception, interesting and exciting to listen to. It demands attention and never fails to reward the listener time after time.

A few biographical details may be of interest here before I make mention of the albums themselves.

Stearns, born in Arizona, and now in his mid-thirties, was weaned on Classical music in his very early years and then, at the age of thirteen or so, began playing guitar. He and a friend got a group together around 1963 playing Surf music. They even managed to get dates playing support to surly bands as The Lovin' Spoonful and Paul Revere and the Raiders (big names in those far off days). Thus at a very early age he had experience at playing up on stage in front of large audiences sometimes numbering as many as 7000!

After a passing flirtation with the popular 'Acid Rock' of the late sixties Michael began to develop an interest in synthesizers and electronic music and in the early seventies was experimenting with tape manipulation and natural and electronic effects.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1975, where synthesizers and a recording studio were made available to him when he set up a sound system in the Continuum Studio. Continuum was actually the name of an experimental dance group and Stearns was resident musician with them for seven or eight years all told, playing three or four times a week for the group. At the same time he was also playing synthesizer with an improvisational group called "Alivity" and also managed to get some solo work in.

His first concert series was in 1977. Entitled "The Voice of The Dragon" it was performed for three weekends in Los Angeles and two weekends in San Francisco and was a multimedia event utilising colour, two dancers and Michael himself performing solo on synthesizers. It was thus that Michael gained invaluable experience working in all types of musical environment; multimedia, groups and perhaps more importantly, solo performance.
In the USA his music is being used in everything from multimedia events for NASA to ballet productions, and from TV and Hollywood films to Laserium programmes. The latter used 20 minutes of the "Planetary Unfolding" album in one of their features shown at various theatres.

Michael and his wife Susan, who is a dancer, now own M'Ocean Studio in Santa Monica.

Here then is a series of brief reviews of the albums available...

(Continuum Montage CM 1001) LP, MC

This was Michael's first LP (released in 1977) and a mighty impressive debut it was! The title track takes up Side 1 and is a slowly unfolding deeply sonorous affair realised mainly with Mini Moog and what Michael calls "The Beam" (or Cosmic/Blaster Beam). It also includes choral passages, Gregorian chant and harp. Elysian E spans Side 2 and is rather similar in style and content to Ancient Leaves but possesses a somewhat more static and meditative aura. The music on this album is wonderfully spacious and has an extremely earthy and organic feel to it; a veritable Hymn to the Earth.

(Continuum Montage CM 1002) MC

This also has one piece per side. The title track features an instrument called the Eikosany Vibes, which produces a hauntingly beautiful pattern of curious and melancholic bell-like sounds resulting in a very minimal, slowly moving and almost ambient soundscape. Sleeping Conches utilises mainly natural sounds. The washing of waves, conch shells and delicate bell notes interweave to form a relaxing, elemental and meditative carpet (or should I say ocean?) of sound.


Article by Peter Harrison

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