With its recent unique rollout of individual artist singles as part of their first seasonal collection Summer Flight and now the myndstream Collection: Volume 1 – touted as the innovative and groundbreaking label’s biggest album of the year – myndstream continues in the glorious tradition of classic new age labels like Higher Octave and Narada, the latter of which released three albums by future myndstream Head of A&R/General Manager (and two time Emmy winning composer) Michael Whalen on its Cinema imprint in the mid-90s.
While generally compiled and designed to introduce the artists on a label’s current roster, traditional samplers would often loosely tie the tracks together around a similar vibe or theme. But in the entire multi-decade history of new age and ambient music, there’s never been anything quite as uplifting and empowering as myndstream Collecdtion, Volume 1, which is the dynamic, sonically eclectic response by 11 of the most renowned, highly awarded composer/musicians in the world (plus Whalen) to a simple but spiritually pointed question that reflects the label’s core mission: elevating mental and physical healthy through meditation, mindfulness and movement. Top wellness musicians, film/TV composers legendary rock and electronic performers and producers were asked: “What does mindfulness sound like?”
It’s always easy to find words to describe a state of being, but creating original music to do the same is the fresh challenge at hand. According to Mindful.com, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional and physical processes.
From an artist’s standpoint, one of the unique silver linings of the pandemic lockdown in 2020 was an opportunity to, as Whalen says, take a pause and think about what it means to be mindful. As he explains the project’s intention, “We kept mindful of that fact when we approached each artist. We wanted them to be free of any preconceptions about genre, what wellness-focused music is supposed to sound like, or what they are supposed to sound like. . .I would describe the result as some of the world’s best musicians composing and playing from the heart. Beyond engaging listeners who seek out wellness music, it is sure to show unexpected and intriguing new facets of each artist to their longtime fans.”
One of the strengths of the collection is the fact that all proverbial egos and accolades were checked at the door. These great artists, many highly awarded legends in their respective creative worlds, need not be touted or used in the marketing. Familiar pop and rock names like Daniel Lanois, Jordan Rudess (Dream Theatre), Rick Wakeman and Cliff Martinez (Red Hot Chili Peppers) are not the focal points – their new mindfulness compositions take precedence. The incredible film composing resumes and Oscars and Grammys won by Gustavo Santaolalla and Mark Isham are set aside in the service of musical mindfulness. The other contributing musicians may be lesser known, but their contributions carry equal weight. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Though like many releases in this genre, myndstream Collection Volume 1 is perhaps best experienced in a single listen while meditating, releasing fears and anxieties or falling asleep, from from Lanois’ offbeat, “tripnotic” swirl of atmospheric and pedal steel guitar on the mind-bending “Blue Steel” through Martinez’s dark, immersive and relaxing “Ambient 2.” If one chooses to engage during waking hours, however, they can explore and connect with each artist’s unique take on the mindfulness concept.
Some details for guidance: Isham starts the quirkily titled “Song of the Firefly Harmonium” with a haunting, atmospheric wall of sound, then slowly eases into a subtle and seductive pulsating energy that intensifies as the piece moves along. Santoalalla takes a more sonically consistent approach on “Realize,” with moody ambience and only small flickers of extra light or darkness throughout – very much like an eerie film score. Lisa Bella Donna, current artist in resident for Moog Music, Inc., employs a similar darkness/light approach (with splashes of surreal synthy space music) to the ambient, echoing and subtle vibrations of “Parting of the Ways.”
Listeners craving the gentle peace only an acoustic piano can provide will naturally gravitate to Emmy nominated composer/songwriter Kathryn Bostic’s tender, reflective solo piece “Sierra Dreamscape”; Rudess’ lilting, lighthearted and occasionally twinkling “Whispers of Hope” – easily the most optimistic sounding piece on the collection; Wakeman’s lyrical, hypnotic fusion tune “The Sunflower Ghost,” on which he combines his soft-spoken ivories with soaring atmospheres and resonating synth lines; and the contemplative. sweetly caressing solo ballad “Circles” by Brazilian film/TV composer Marcelo Zarvos.
One of the greatest personal artist discoveries here (with whom I was previously unfamiliar) is soundtrack veteran and Infinite Guitar creator Michael Brook, who artfully blends earthiness with transcendence on the ambient/electronic, strummed and echoing electric guitar gem “Garish.” A major pop/rock session cat known for both looping and combining electronic and acoustic instruments, David Torn takes that ambient guitar concept further with much more prominent, edgy, reverb and distortion heavy melodic lines on “and then there were no words…”
Whalen, the mastermind behind the project, contributes what he calls a “love sonnet” to his wife on “Always Returning,” an emotional power ballad which features swelling orchestral textures, colorful impassioned melodic synth lines and whimsical chime-like effects.