Matthew Barlow – Sound Meditations (2016)
Earlier this year, when Sounds of the Dawn launched as a record label, the prospect tickled my ears. I’m a hug fan of the site – dedicated to historic high-water marks of the New Age movement. Over the ensuing months, their efforts have defied expectation – issuing sonic marvels not from the past, but from the unheard depths of our present day.
As I’ve written previously, New Age carries a great deal of baggage. Commonly held misconceptions, drawn heavily on changing social concerns taking place during its heyday – a backlash against the hippie counterculture that it hoped to sustain, and a great many lackluster efforts, led to decades of stigmatization. New Age became synonymous with a bad cliche, and as such, remains one of the most misunderstood and under-acknowledged movements of 20th century music.
Most see New Age as the spaced out spiritual indulgences of a dying breed. What few understand is that it is one of the great and logical inheritors of the avant-garde. It is an attempt to push the sonic space sculpted by the Minimalist masters, to a point where mind, body, spirit, being, and sound meet as one. This becomes easier to observe with distance, and in the rising tide of its contemporary practice – within which Matthew Barlow is among the shining lights.
Barlow’s been floating around for years – issuing a steady stream of sonic journeys, largely centered around field recordings, synthesis, and Tibetan singing bowls. He also runs the fantastic Twin Springs Tapes – offering his support to like minded peers. What makes Barlow stand out, in an increasingly swelling field, is the unmistakable honesty of his work. Recently, as the New Age movement has grown in numbers and favor, it can be difficult to discern what’s what. Is this an aesthetic appropriated by the ironic hipster elite, or a legitimate practice tied to the avant-garde – entrenched in focused belief? Barlow’s work comfortably sets the record straight. These aren’t simply sounds. This is where the ear, mind, and soul become a single stream.
Sound Meditations is among Barlow’s most focused efforts within synthesis. An eight part work, which he embarked upon, not as a means to make music, but rather as an attempt for his process to generate a particular state of mind. They are, as the title implies, meditations, but in their own way, the totality is a piece of conceptualism – artifacts of moments and ideas, rather than refinements for display. They are to be entered, rather than heard. Within each discrete effort, ambience and melodic lines intertwine and punctuate his gauzy world, sculpting a lucid dream. Though seductive, enveloping, and undeniably beautiful, what becomes quickly apparent within Barlow’s work, is that aesthetics are inconsequential. These are not references to another era of music or ideals. These are gestures which embrace sound as an umbilical link. They are their composer’s effort to give.
In a world increasingly defined by narcissism, ego, division, and self-interest, it is the generosity of Sound Meditations that shines like a light. Particularly in this moment, the album couldn’t be more welcome. As the world darkens, and faith in humanity can easily fray to a thread, it offers listeners a protective space – one to recharge and consider – reminding us of the importance of giving, and thinking beyond ourselves. In Barlow’s effort to find himself, he has offered his listeners a sonic womb – a space to connect and meet as one. Sound Meditations is out now via Sounds of the Dawn in an edition of 100 cassettes. You can listen below, and pick it up from them directly.