As veteran composer-synthesist Meg Bowles boldly ventures from her early 2022 epic album Pilgrimage to explore, on her latest recording, the deep and resonant Voices from the Ethereal Forest, it’s interesting to note that she has capped her three decades of recording with two transcendent releases in a single calendar year – perfectly bookending her auspicious start as a sonically innovative force in ambient-orchestral new age music with her 1993 debut collections Inner Space and Solstice Dreams. Testament to her enduring influence and impact, the multi-talented artist’s two releases prior to Pilgrimage, The Shimmering Land (2013) and Evensong: Canticles for the Earth (2018) were voted Best Ambient Album by Zone Music Reporter (ZMR).
In many ways, the seven track, nearly hour-long journey Meg invites us on via Voices from the Ethereal Forest feels like a lush, alluring and thought-provoking extension of some of the themes she ventured into on Pilgrimage. To recap, on that earlier work, she naturally reflected the notion that music often serves as a portal into the greater mystery of life, or what renowned analytical psychologist Carl Jung once termed “the realm of the numinous.” One of the key elements that guided the craft and manifestation of Pilgrimage was the beauty and power of the natural world – including all beings we share the planet with, its landscapes, natural phenomena and the cycles of creation and rebirth.
While Pilgrimage explored, among other natural locales, ancient paths, deserts, mountains, caves and gardens, Meg focuses her new album on the vibrant, intricate colors, textures and sensations of ancient and modern forests, combining alternating synth-generated soundscapes and moods and soft-spoken vocal textures to convey a seamless flow of the greenery over the course of centuries. By design, from the graceful and angelic, then dramatic emotional swells of the opening title track through the hypnotic and surreal dive into the ever-undulating depths of the grand eternal mystery she captures on “Evening Chorus,” Meg’s vision is to pay homage to the delicate yet powerful majesty and life of forests which – because of the natural aging process, climate change and destructive human footprints – no longer exist in our physical world. Through her exquisite musical tapestries, she creates a mythical extension of an environment that was once conducive to thriving life on earth.
Following the aforementioned title track, Meg essentially chronicles different aspects of the forests’ existence via her unique sense of musical impressionism. Through creative sonic modulation and varying volumes and tones, she dives into the intense vastness and tenuous fraily of the source of all life on “Ode to a Fragile Sea,” then offers a hopeful vision of a dream of an idyllic earth (where destruction would never happen) via the optimistic sweep of “Grove of Light.”
Meg then invites us to experience an often quirky yet intensely immersive “Slow Dance Under a Red Moon,” where we can imagine ourselves exulting in the ever-darkened forest even as the sky darkens into a lunar eclipse. She also includes an emotional lament with choral voices textured over a heavy wall of sonic energy, on “Woodland of Sorrows,” which is followed by a provocative metaphor in “Winter Fog,” showing how blind, self-serving human interaction with nature can lead to devastation we may not be able to see until we see the results much later.
These illuminations are my personal interpretations of Meg’s music based on the presented theme. While experiencing a wondrous landscape full of life, light and intricate textures, each listener will be prompted to draw their own unique picture of what she is creating. Though a straight through listen via headphones is probably the best way to experience the aural wonder of Meg’s magic, another option would be to engage with it on the Spotify phone app, where each track is accompanied by dynamic animation. The most compelling of these are the sunlight through the water on “Ode to a Fragile Sea,” the slowly eclipsing moon on “Slow Dance…” and the journey through deep starry space via “Winter Fog.”