Experimental composers have long had a fascination with meditative practices. Take Pauline Oliveros's "Sonic Meditations," a set of 25 exercises intended to "tun[e] the mind and body" and lead to an "expanded consciousness." La Monte Young praised meditation as a tool to "achieve another aspect of existence." Young and his contemporary Terry Riley made formative trips to India, the birthplace of yoga, that heavily influenced their later output. For California native Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, inspiration came from closer to home. It was while staying at a Krishna temple in Los Angeles that she produced her first music, which was meant to accompany chanting. On Tides: Music For Yoga And Meditation, Smith crafts similarly pragmatic compositions, intimate and muted, that recall her meditatively minded forebears.
The Buchla Music Easel, a rare analog synthesizer first produced in 1973, is a bit of an obsession for Smith. She has used the Buchla on all of her studio albums, and in 2016 released a collaborative album with one of its earliest adapters, the synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani. The instrument allows her to build sustained tones that build and bubble with amplitude modulation, a perfect recipe for the droning frequencies that make up Tides.
Her preference for analog synthesis lends her music a classical element, connecting her to musicians like Riley, Ciani and Laurie Spiegel. Without her signature vocal arrangements or other musical accompaniments, their influence is even brighter on Tides. It's easy to hear the beginning to A Rainbow In Curved Air in the bright oscillations on "Tides VI," or Oliveros's Deep Listening recordings on the slow-building sine waves of "Tides IX."
Grounded in the work of these early electronic artists, the album feels like a natural extension of their meditative project. Its production is also predicated on practical use. It was produced originally as a soundtrack for Smith's mother's yoga classes. The slow modulation of the Buchla simulates breath on "Tides III," while sustained resonance on "Tides V" builds hypnotically. It is, in a word, relaxing.
But the record falters when it trends towards the overly literal. The bird calls and wind chimes that accompany the final track, "Tides IX," seem too trite for a record that largely avoids the hackneyed tropes of the genre. After 40 minutes spent under the warm blanket of analog synthesis, the two minutes of chirping that finish the record seem jarring, like a dream that ended too quickly.
Today, almost any music can be set to yoga. Manhattan moms are now doing yoga to A Tribe Called Quest. Just the other week, Boston's "More Than A Feeling" accompanied my vinyasa in Chinatown. But Tides presents songs that do their best to stay in the background. That might be the obvious route when crafting music meant for meditation. To the daughter of a yoga instructor and a Terry Riley devotee, it is a natural fit.
Tracklist01. Tides I
02. Tides II
03. Tides III
04. Tides IV
05. Tides V
06. Tides VI
07. Tides VII
08. Tides VIII
09. Tides IX