There are so many sides this next recording could fall under: New Age, ambient, environmental music, muzak, tone poems – I choose to give Dan Gibson’s Harmony: Exploring Nature With Music a personal tip of the hat in the direction of worthwhile music. A native of Montreal, Dan Gibson was the internationally renowned wildlife film-maker who basically created and popularized the whole nature soundtrack industry. Irv Teibel may have pioneered environmental music through his “Environments” series but Dan truly was the person who took field recording as a serious artform, pioneering various recording techniques and tools (the parabolic microphone for one…) to actually capture nature sounds as they weren’t possibly before. It was his own “Solitudes” series which convincingly – through your hi-fi stereo turntable system – put you in the woods of the Pacific coast, by the raging waters of Niagara Falls, or among the mountain canyons and valleys of the American southwest.
After selling countless copies of his field recordings, it wasn’t until 1989 that he entertained the idea of actually combining his field recordings with environmental music. This recording was the first, and arguably best, experimentation with this idea. Zambian-born Hennie Bekker was the person entrusted with providing an actual soundtrack to his field recordings. Not known for his musical work as much as his commercial and film composing work, somehow Hennie found a way to compose fitting musical motifs and arrangements that worked creatively with the field recordings he was sent. Harmony: Exploring Nature With Music uses mostly digital synths plus the odd acoustic percussion and electric guitar sprinkled here and there to amplify bits of bird song or spirit with the arctic winds splendidly captured by Dan. It’s not often I recommend listening to things on headphones but to actually put yourself there, a good pair of headphones really lets you hear the definition in sound the two land on.
If you must listen to one Dan Gibson recording this might be it. A read through the track listing actually shows you that the titles are composed of bits and pieces from across the actual “Solitudes” series. “Stream Of Dreams”, “A Night In the Everglades”, “Coastal Fog”, as on the nose as these tracks titles sound, to Hennie’s commendation, he musically actually puts you there as well. I’m reading the liner notes explaining “Timberwolves” and it states: “atop a lakeside cliff howl inexhaustibly through the night. Their calls filter through the still air of distant hills, leaving a wild and haunting trail. You are bound by a deep sense of intrigue.” Put on the track and hear it deliver the intrigue via Tangerine Dream-like guitar and synth movements.
Put on the the final track “Wilderness” – the only one that plays sans field recording, at first – and prepare to be amazed by the bonkers peek at a fictional future where nature is ravaged and destroyed, with Dan Gibson providing the only words you’ll hear on this album. It’s a musically nightmarish account of a possible future where we’re left pondering about humanity’s environmental carnage, it’s also a track that goes from Hennie’s dark ambient soundtracking to something more welcoming: a reintroduction to the loon and assorted nature sounds we heard at the beginning. It’s a fascinating way to end the album, but like Dan states in the liner notes: “without appreciation, love, and indeed love of that which is being harmed, we have neither the necessary compassion nor the incentive to produce change.” Luckily, most of the time the album has beautiful moments that match Dan’s gorgeous nature recordings.