Michael StearnsLive at
The Gatherings Concert Series
4 October 2003 8:00pmSt. Mary's Hamilton Village
Review: Stearns Sublime
It was the music of Michael Stearns as much any other's that drew me to The Gatherings Concert Series back in the late 1980s. Stearns has topped a personal wish list of artists I've longed to have visit our sanctuary. Though there were a couple false alarms in regard to Michael coming in years past, yesterday the dream finally came true.
As Stearns took his place on the stage at the outset of last night's concert, Chuck van Zyl, as he always so-eloquently does, offered some introspection into the music of the artist-at-hand. Van Zyl would bring up the word "sublime" and relate to us its often not-quite-accurate use when describing something as being "Beautiful." Chuck weighed his thoughts carefully as he spoke to us, using an effective space of silence between words, as he offered what he believes to be sublimity's truest definition. To paraphrase, Chuck described sublime as being "Like the desert. Beautiful, yes, but only in the harshest sense of the word." Before turning the stage over to the artist, van Zyl described the music of Michael Stearns as being "sublime."
Those familiar with the artist no-doubt know of Stearns' history of mixing his sound designs with cinematic images. Both sound and film would take us on a stimulating array of diversified journeys.
The images offered: Pure movements of abstraction to journeys around the nebulous universe, through our solar system and a home-world sunrise; across both kaleidoscopic - and natural-shaped earthly landscapes before speeding through a high-speed, hard-edged metropolis; black-and-white images contrasting the hypnotic motions and gestures of impoverished peoples with the neon and resource-pumping in lands of oil; and dramatic Zozobra footage occasionally superimposed by flashes of an in-progress Balinese "Monkey" chant.
One knowing of Stearns' musical-directing efforts in films such as "Baraka" and "Chronos" also understands the talents he possesses with his ability to enhance potent motion-picture images via his personally composed soundscapes. This talent is exactly what those at The Gatherings would be awed by last night.
The space journey images were matched by a mixture of transcendent musical quietness, subtlety and grandness. There is no comparison to Stearns ability to create beauty through the softest of sound. The tonal depth during the tour of the universe literally had the church vibrating in response. The kaliedescopic/nature images were matched by a nonstop techno beat. The transitional movement to urbanity's so-called grandeur was not quite out of control. The knife-edged Middle East images were scored by a seemingly endless and near-hypnosis-effecting underlay, succeeding in matching the macro-images of the people and their movements, their eyes, their markets, the heads of bodiless lambs, the poverty, the oil wells and the missing rich. The Zozobra footage was musically interpreted with the strange and scary piece from Stearns' "The Storm" CD release, called "The Gathering."
Except for a pre-concert request for his audience to refrain from applauding between pieces, and explaining as best he could what he had prepared for us to absorb, Stearns remained silent throughout his single-set performance. He stayed off-center stage and low key, letting the sound and images tell the story.
A personal 8 years into this fine concert series, I can now say that Michael Stearns was well worth waiting for.
Review: Michael Stearns in concert
Usually when I get home from a Gatherings event, I sit at my PC while doing a (Progressive Soundscapes) show and share with the fans of this genre via this newsgroup my experiences at the evening's performance. Michael Stearns last night has literally left me "speechless". Anything I might attempt to write would undoubtedly do his performance an injustice; it was that incredible. Michael played for about 90 amazing minutes with no intermission and the sounds and images coming from the stage created a stunning and dramatic aural and visual experience. Stearns performed with a large video screen behind him which employed images conjured up by various film-makers and videographers that were at times mesmerizing, haunting, beautiful and frightening. From real photography and video of far off mysterious lands and cultures, to hypnotic animation and abstract images; it was definitely visual overload at it's most enjoyable. (Stearns actually noted at the beginning of his performance that if any of the images were disturbing to any of the audience members, they should just close their eyes and enjoy the music. It's possible he said that at the behest of the small children who came with their parents and were camped out on sleeping bags at the foot of the stage.) The audience was one of the largest I've yet to see at a Gatherings series event and as always, it was a great time spending this evening with everyone. My congratulations to Chuck and the gang. Great job guys! It was a show I'll long remember.
by John Garaguso/Progressive Soundscapes
Review: Michael Stearns at The Gatherings - Oct 4
"Michael Stearns performed last night, October 4, at The Gatherings, Philadelphia's premier ambient, electronic and space music concert series. Stearns has been doing space music since the 1970's and is considered a pioneer in the genre. He has composed music for many films, including Baraka, Chronos, Ring of Fire and the Lost World. He's also produced nearly 30 albums, collaborations and anthologies..."
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by Howard Moscovitz/Electro-Music
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Concert Photos by Bill Forcier