There’s an interesting debate that’s been raging – as much one could rage – in the yoga world. It’s over whether music should be played during yoga classes. Modern, decidedly more western, yogis argue that there is no problem with hearing music while practicing, since the act of hearing music seems to stimulate their muscle intensity. Classically-trained yogis err on the side of leading classes through music-less sessions where any music, if any is heard, occurs naturally (and sparingly) from either mantras repeated out loud by the class or through drone instruments (sitar, harmonium, shruti box, tibetan bowls, etc.) that can be performed to help facilitate meditation at key points. Is there a role for such things as meditative music in this betwixt world? If so, what does all of this have to do with Peter Davison’s Glide?
Peter Davison is what you would call a “New Age” musician. His long trajectory as a professional composer for hire and solo musician is built on music that’s meant to serve as background music to something. Look at his long credited work //CLICK TO VIEW// and you’d see how he has soundtracked anything from your favorite History Channel programs to doze off too, all the way to those fly-by-night DVD releases that litter your local Dollar Store. That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here for the sprinkling of music you’d hear inspire all these works belonging to that column of music released soundtracking noted global corporation Gaiam‘s Yoga DVDs. Before he was this any man, journeyman music producer, he was this visionary new kind of musician. It all began with 1980’s Music On the Way.
There are many schools of New Age music, but the most popular can be easily derived from three sources: anywhere from the abstract experimental work of Stockhausen, Pierre Schaeffer, and Cornelius Cardew to the ambient music of Western composers like Eno, Terry Riley, Glass, etc. or the European-style cosmiche music by the likes of German bands like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, AshRa, and musicians like Vangelis, Mike Oldfield, or Jean-Michel Jarre. It was in America that musicians were experimenting with a new, alternate way to make mood music.
Led by artists like Iasos, Constance Demby, and transplants like Deuter, these new kind of musicians were attempting to reconcile this promise of new metaphysical beliefs and alternative lifestyles with technology that ran counter by projecting realms deep into the future unattainable. Music On the Way finds a great compromise. Using a combination of traditional acoustic instruments with modern analog synthesizers, Peter blends them into a new kind of organic musical movement. Blurring the line between which bit of soft sound is synthetic and which one is acoustic, his music hovered in a meditative state. Yes, it could be unobtrusive like European ambient music, but it never was repetitive enough to blend into the background. This was music that commanded a certain degree of attention.
Like it’s closest cousin the silent modal Jazz of Miles Davis, the spiritual rumination of Alice Coltrane, and the Indo exploration of Don Cherry, it was music that saw no divide between tradition and innovation. There was this distinct acceptance of the divine in their musical design. Harp, guitar, cello, flute, saxophones – as found in the work of Peter – liberally mixed electronic synths and percussion in music inspired by reaching to make its audience feel worthwhile inspiration. This was no downer, or chin-scratching kind of music. This was music made to be absorbed.
Not much out there was made with the clear purpose to uplift, heal, or relax. On Glide there are no mantras to remember, there are no drones to wash away any thoughts, and there are no abstractions to decipher with time. What you have here is a masterpiece to focus with on the here and now. Yoga has a word for this: asana. Asana means to position yourself in a firm but relaxed way. It is the mastery of that duality we often struggle with: how to free ourselves as a rigid, biforked being. In the end, it’s all a practice.
To go back to the beginning, I see no reason we can’t reconcile those two posited arguments. If only we had more music like Peter Davison’s to enhance our practice, who says we wouldn’t use it to refine our focus? Of course, not much music out there is as effortless, or quite like this.
It’s been a hard day, nothing’s gone right and all the details are scrambled. You come home and, knowing of the healing power of music, head for your sound system. What to play? A bland mood piece or a composition that relaxes you while still full of texture, depth, and ear-capturing melodies? My own preference is for the latter kind of music. It works a kind of transformational magic on the listener, not just once, but time after time.
A favorite of mine is Glide, a short cassette by Peter Davison. True to its title, Davison’s music glides through different moods, nurturing in the listener a sense of possibilities. The performers include Davison on flute and synthesizers. Peter Kenton violin, Katie Kirkpatrick on harp, Sarah Ross on vocals, Joey Glaser on guitar and John Magnussen on percussion. Glide is available from Avocado Records. – From Music by Paul Ramana Das, Yoga Journal (September/October 1982, p. 67)