Ariel Kalma - Osmose (Beta-Lactam Ring CD)
If I could, I'd like to talk a bit about a record that blows everything else today out of the water even if it was originally released in 1978. Since its original release on 2xLP, "Osmose" has been eternally out of print and unavailable until this year when the good peoples at Beta-Lactam Ring took it upon themselves to get a reissue going. Thank god they did. This music is just too great to not be heard and appreciated. The story behind "Osmose" is that in 1977 a visual artist named Richard Tinti set out for the Borneo rainforest equipped with a Nagra recorder, a pair of microphones and a camera, and spent many hours documenting the sounds within. So lots of insect noises, some birds, war drums (!), other animal-generated sounds, but mostly that kind of almost subliminal vibe that such a place emanates. More on that later. Later that year Tinti hooked up with musician/composer/artist Ariel Kalma and Kalma, using Tinti's recordings as the foundations, proceeded to create incredible works of cosmic ambience using saxophone, synthesizers, keyboards, flute, drum machines, harmonium, guitar, vocals and multiple effect/pitch filters. Heavy? No foolin' - "Osmose" is subtitled "space music in the rainforest - a breath of fresh air".
As the Beta-Lactam Ring website states, Kalma's creations don't just rely on the rainforest's drones to provide a backdrop - they're actively integrated into the sounds being produced and Kalma is careful to consider the pitch and tone of Tinti's original recordings before adding his own. Which is probably why the lush blast of warm harmonium drones on "Planet-Air" are a match made in heaven when combined with the call-and-response chirping of the birds, who sound like they may just as well be sitting atop the harmonium. Ditto for the swirling psychedelic opener "Saxo Planetariel" wherein Kalma uses circular breathing to draw out a heavenly, organic sound from his saxophone. It paints a strikingly vivid portrait of the rainforest at night, the kind that compels you to curl up right there on the dirt floor for 50 or 60 years. Some of the tracks on "Osmose" have a lot in common with the early space/kraut investigations of bands like Tangerine Dream, Guru Guru and Cluster, but very much relieved of their "rock" elements. What you're left with is a pure and sweet gloss that sticks in your nostrils and pollutes your mind in the kindest kind of ways. Most notable of these is "Manege" which features a loping keyboard rhythm in duet with "frogs, fireflies, and all kinds of night creatures", as the liner notes say, and "Gongmo" which was originally created for a 1973 slide show named "Voyage au Centre de la Tete" so you know it's turned on. Best of these cuts has to be "Forest Ballad" which is described so well in the liners that I could never top it so I'll just reproduce it: "a silver flut echoes ever changing, harmonic waves of flanged keyboards and tuned reverbs amongst the trees of the rainforest, and as the sun gets hotter, morning birds and insect alike revel in a crescendo of sounds". A-fucking-men. The morning birds, the insects, and me.
That sums up the tracks from the original issue but this re-release includes three bonus tracks, recorded at the same time as the others but completely unreleased until now. "Osmose Chant" is exactly what the name foretells it to be, and although Kalma's vocals aren't as striking as the man himself, the piece does a pretty great job of conjuring up visions of Prandit Pran Nath working on the morning raga in the heart of the forest. "Saxo Forest" is a bit of a companion piece to the first track but features no effects or synths that I can pick up...just the terrestrial ambience and Kalma's thoughtful huffing on the sax. You know how Kaoru Abe used to practice by the roadside until he could hear himself over the oncoming traffic? Exact opposite, baby. "Orguitar Soir" is the best possible closing track for the effort: "a sweet guitar and flanged keyboard (tuned in a Morrocan G' nawa music style) lounge in a summer glade, intermittently pierced by birdsong". If that doesn't make you want to strip off all your closes and live free, well nothing else ever recorded will.
The only critique I could possibly come up with in regards to "Osmose" is that it's got a pretty fierce "New Age" feel to it which could turn off some people/squares. But maybe if all New Age music was like this it wouldn't be such a maligned pseudo-genre. And if you've already had your run-ins with Hermann Nitsch, Charlemagne Palestine, Pran Nath, Akio Suzuki, Toru Takemitsu et al, then you've probably already wondered about the potential New Ageyness of it all already. Nevertheless. "Osmose" is all the relaxation you'll ever need compressed into just under an hour's time. The perfect album to sleep by, or do anything lazily by really. But it's such a beautiful, subtle, well-crafted album you'll be revisiting it over and over and over and soaking in it like hot bathwater. And best of all, now you don't have to pay $175+ for it either!