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  • Jonathan Widran


As we marvel at the nearly 25 years that multi-faceted musical visionary David Helpling has been gracing our hearts and spirits with his innovative ambient guitarisma, we can approach his latest Spotted Peccary masterpiece RUNE from different entry points.

For the techies focused on the electronic magic behind the rich, immersive sonic details, it’s the fact that the eight expansive tracks (running 67 minutes) were created in his “sealed for sound” studio without the use of keyboards, synthesizers or computer-based sound generators. Every sound he creates to musically illuminate the dreamy calm, the intense power, endless majesty and murky mysteries of the ocean was created with just his guitars and a custom rig.

For mythology enthusiasts, Helpling is steeped in a powerful driving concept that gives texture and thrust to his explorations, whether he’s engaged in the shimmering, echoing, ultra-melodic and deeply hypnotic actions of the opening track of “Free Dive,” a spacey, meditative few moments of awe at the “Ascension of the Whales” or teaching us, via a percussive, gently rocking/jangling sonic journey, to appreciate the art of calming the outside distractions and just being (“Be”).

Emotionally, spiritually, physically and musically, RUNE is influenced by the ever-shifting waters of the ocean and the Norse Rune Laguz that reflects on deep ancient wisdom and respect for the sea. As Helpling explained in a recent Ello interview, the meaning of the Norse Ocean Rune is the emotional and spiritual core of the project. He has long been fascinated by cultural mythologies, but Norse is the most wondrous to him. Laguz is the “Ocean Rune” which first appeared in Denmark and Norway around 160 BCE. It translates to the ideas of both ocean and collective memory, which under the Rune are the same thing.

Two tracks in particular tap into the Norse idea that water is the symbol of unconscious and invisible life forces representing the Universal Ocean. The first is the moody, deeply atmospheric “Under Shallow Seas,” which culminates with touches of melodic and rhythmic guitar grace. The other is the increasingly boisterous 11 minute closer “The Heart of Us,” whose deepening textures and increasingly higher volume reflects exciting movement from shallow excursions to deeper discoveries, literal and metaphoric

If we open up to these deeper meanings, Helpling’s intricate dynamics can take us into this philosophical reality about the supreme unity of all life – past, present and future and of the unconscious context of becoming or the evolutionary process. After all, many evolutionary biologists believe that all life began as single cell organisms in the sea. Beyond that, the varied rhythmic motion of Helpling’s compositions help steep our senses in the wild, untamed forces of the ocean, which as we know from history, if not respected can lead to untold, chaos, destruction and death.

Helpling touches on this intense power on “The Black Rock,” which emerges from its gentle mediational ambience into high vibrational guitar driven abandon with deep, resonant energy. The same sort of soft to loud pitch dynamics are present on the multi-movement “Glass,” which showcases the sea’s ability to go from calm to chaotic with perhaps only a moment’s notice.

Much of Helpling’s fascination with the mysteries and mythologies of the blue – which he also shared memorably on his 2017 album A Sea Without Memory – is grounded in the San Diego based artist’s childhood being raised only a few blocks from the ocean. He spent most of his growing up time there. The ocean has always been his deepest healer and greatest source of wonder, and whether he’s on the beach of a remote Pacific island or just relaxing at home, he spends each day submerged in the stillness of water.

The imagery he takes in daily helped him deal in, keep calm and focus on achieving the sound of the ocean via his guitar and its many attendant effects. “When you are in the water, you are physically and electrically connected to everything…it is the ultimate grounding,” he says. “I feel like every piece on this record deeply resonates with its spirit.”

For more information on David Helpling:

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