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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Alan Stivell: Harpes Du Nouvel Age


1) Musique Sacrée; 2) Dor I; 3) Piberezh; 4) Dor II; 5) Rory Dall's Love Tune; 6) Kervalan; 7) Luskellerezh; 8) Dihun'ta; 9) En Dro Inis-Arzh; 10) Dans Fanch Mitt; 11) Suite Ecossaise; 12) Dor III.

This is a minor and little-known release, sort of a tiny footnote in Alan's 1980s catalog, notable for but two things: (a) it garnered him an Indie Award (his only «official» recognition by the Ame­­rican industry, if I have not missed anything), (b) simply put, it may well have been his fi­nest hour for that decade.

What we have here is simply thirty-five minutes of slow, samey, meditative harp playing. With New Age and ambient stuff a firm presence on the market, why refrain from showing the world that his old love, the Celtic harp, can be just as effective at this «maximum mood, minimum me­lody» thing that everyone was going so crazy about at the time? If there is an audience out there for Music For Airports, surely there must be someone who will lap at the chance to hear the same stuff reproduced on an exotic plucked instrument.

And? Well, the harp definitely works fine as an «ambient» instrument. Of course, you have to un­derstand that this kind of «ambient» is still very different structurally from the Glass/Eno school: Stivell's «ambience» is derived from — guess what — Celtic folk and the amount of notes he plays is still fairly high; the difference is that about ninety percent of this stuff is built on drones or circle loops that go on and on with but slight changes that only register on the subconscious level. Sort of a virulent Celtic radiation thing on your brain.

One technical innovation is Stivell's use of a freshly designed electric harp — which, to my un­trained ears, sounds undistinguishable from an acoustic one (now if he'd only attach a distortion pedal, that would be something!..), but the man is fond of those kinds of symbolic gestures — bridging the gaps between the past and the future, that sort of thing.

Anyway, it all sounds lovely and fresh, with very little in the way of «murky», «cloudy» ambi­ence of his last two records, certainly a major rarity for an album from 1985. None of the «tunes» seriously merit individual description, but altogether they add up to a one-of-a-kind experience from Stivell and show that his fantasy well had not yet completely run dry by then. On the other hand, I hesitate to freely recommend this to anyone not yet deeply engaged in meditative spiritual practices — and Zen Yoga devotees will probably prefer something with a more Eastern flavor.

Check "Harpes Du Nouvel Age" (CD) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. I suspect that, if anything, what the electric harp is valuable for is live shows. I imagine miking a harp must be quite difficult.

    (Aside: I have a mandolin with a pickup. I ran it through my guitar setup, with lots of distortion, and it sounded awesome, but it lost all the character that made it a mandolin. I sounded simply like a guitar with a capo).