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  • Jonathan Widran

PALM READING, Malibu: Point Mugu

From the depths of the earth’s vast oceans and the peaks of its mighty mountains to the stunning desert vistas and the multi-faceted landscapes of America’s National Parks, new age, mindfulness and ambient artists have drawn endless conceptual and thematic inspiration from the eternal art of nature and its connection to humanity. Yet not until Palm Reading – the fascinating new visionary dual project by musical veterans Scooby Laposky and Charles Copley – has a project in this genre been so immersed in the magical, mysterious world of plants.

On Malibu: Point Mugu, the first of a series of recording locations released on myndstream, the two do more than simply draw on the visual and textural aspects of plant life to spark their compositional and improvisational excursions. They created these three transcendent, tenderly melodic and soul stirring meditational pieces by combining synthesized electronic music generated by biodata recorded from plants using a biodata sonification device, in addition to ambient field recordings and original acoustic guitar accompaniment. It is their intention to “give plants a voice” (literally!) and further inspire sustainability and action to protect ecosystems around us. By showcasing the humanlike qualities of plants through music, Scooby and Charles helps us better connect with their strength and fragility on an empathetic level.

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of this 15-minute plus “location” is the fact that it can be fully appreciated by the mind and heart even without any understanding of the detailed science behind it. Inviting us to join them at the promontory of Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County, CA before the vast Pacific, they share the wonders and worlds of “White Sage” and “Laurel Sumac,” plants found mainly in the coastal sage scrub habitat of coastal Southern California and Baja California.

On “White Sage,” they envelop and caress our senses with a gentle swirl of the surf below, distant seabirds, Scooby’s hypnotic synth atmospheres and Charles’s soft-spoken, melodic and lyrical acoustic guitar. After a brief “White Sage Interlude,” which builds on the longer piece’s motif’s with slightly more pronounced intensity, the expansive, eight minute plus “Laurel Sumac” sweeps in with an even softer rush of chill ambience before building towards a more potent fusion of swaying synth wash and plucky guitar. If you listen closely and use your imagination just a bit, you can literally hear the plants singing to you and telling them they need the same care, sustenance and environmental consciousness that humans do if they are to survive.

Because Palm Reading and Malibu: Point Mugu are such unique undertakings, understanding the duo’s background, passion for the project and the mechanics of the recording are essential. A songwriter, composer and guitarist for 20 years, Charles’ first introduction to ambient/mindfulness music was performing solo acoustic guitar for yoga sessions. Skooby has been a sound designer, composer and electronic musician working in the film, fashion and design worlds for over two decades. Many of his projects involved creating ambient music to transform architectural spaces for events, and composing film scores to establish a mood for documentary films.

Several years ago, when Skooby discovered technology for biodata sonification, he became interested in the possibility of using nature as a compositional tool. He began to build his own version of a device that takes reading of the biorhythms (electrical signals) of plants and translates them into MIDI data to drive synthesizers, which led to creating site-specific sound installations capturing the life of plants in different locations. At the same time, Charles had begun to experiment more with creating new age inspired acoustic music. The two had collaborated on numerous recording projects in the past and shared a deep love of nature and the world of plants - so combining forces to explore new environments and see what music they inspired seemed like a great opportunity.

Charles and Scooby explain their process this way: “All of our recording sessions are captured live, on location. We begin by connecting to plants, which generate the information that controls several synthesizers, giving voice to the data that the plants are producing. Charles records live acoustic guitar in real time, taking inspiration from the melodies and harmonies that we are hearing produced by the plants. We will often set up and record for several hours, and we also capture field recordings of the ambient environment which help to complete the sonic picture of a certain place.

It is their hope that Palm Reading, by giving a certain voice to plant life (and all the goings on below the surface of what we can see), will inspire people to pay closer attention to the natural environment around them. They always hope to leave any location as they found it, and that they are able to utilize the connection they make to the plants to create something without the need to harm or destroy any aspect of the environment in which they are lucky enough to record. Over the past 18 months, they’ve recorded in many beautiful, often remote locations, focusing their first sessions in Southern California while also exploration places on the East Coast.

Explaining why they choose to call each project a “location” rather than an EP or album, they say, “In deciding how to present this project, we felt the best way to organize and share the music would be by location. All of the locations that Palm Reading will release will be comprised of music recorded live on-site in those places. In the case of Malibu, we set up for a recording session in the mountains near Point Mugu, and created our recordings using data we captured while connected to plants in that location.

"When naming the tracks, we usually try to highlight whatever plant we were connected to during the recording of that track, as well as set the scene for the place and time in which we captured these recordings. It’s our hope that this will be the first in a series of recordings that share our experiences, in capturing live sound from plants and environments that are in a constant state of change.”


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