Heavy Breathing: Escalators In Space
Helene Rickhard: Magic Maze
New Age phantasmagorias from Oslo's Helene Rickard and St. Louis-based Heavy Breathing, each opus an hour long and spread across two C60 cassette sides; never have such soothing meditations sounded better than they do during these turmoil-saturated times.
Citing influences and inspirations as varied as Slowdive, Tangerine Dream, Gregg Araki, and Yellow Magic Orchestra, Heavy Breathing dives into the deep end in his tranquil Escalators in Space mixtape; don't be surprised if you find yourself lulled into a trance early on when gentle piano, flutes, harps, and percussion are augmented by the serene instructions of an unidentified sage: “Feel the position of your body in space … No place to go right now, nothing that you need to do, no problem that you need to solve … Feel the temperature of the air that touches your skin, and the gentle sensation of little breezes of air that gently caress the uncovered areas of your skin…” (side B revisits the theme when a female meditation guide softly intones, “Inhale, exhale … If there's any area that is not completely relaxed, take a long, slow deep breath now”). That intro having set the tone, the soundscape proceeds to peacefully drift through softly glimmering pools of synthesizers, the material in some places sighing and in others suggesting some Yanni-styled riff on chillwave.
There's variety aplenty in the sound design, and a number of aggressive passages surface to offset the quieter ones; towards the end of side A, for example, a bass-thudding funk groove materializes—hardly the kind of thing one encounters on a typical New Age tape. Admittedly, some parts are so downright cheesy, one begins to suspect Heavy Breathing might be putting us on, in those moments, for example, when raw electric guitar solos, tinkling analog synths, and crashing waves rub shoulders with drum beats airlifted straight out of the ‘70s. Yet the hour-long concoction is served up with such genuine affection one can't help but give its creator, who describes the mix as a “moving staircase, endlessly circulating, conveying you between the infinite depths of your mind,” the benefit of the doubt.
Rickard's Magic Maze forms a natural companion to Escalators In Space, even if it ventures more boldly into exotic climes. Without wholly negating the meditative spirit of the project, the Norwegian DJ opts for a punchier presentation, one drawing as much from World Music as New Age. Yes, there are sweeping synth whooshes, ocean waves, crystalline chimes, and seagull cries to establish its association with the latter, but Magic Maze also draws into its humid orbit tribal ambient rhythms reminiscent of those included in a Steve Roach production.Twelve minutes into the ride, a sequence surfaces that could pass for an homage by Rickard to the Metheny-and-Mays' epic “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls”; the woozy undulations that immediately follow, on the other hand, suggest a move into Fourth World territory with Jon Hassell as the tour guide. The sometimes rain-soaked minutes that follow teem with rapturous expressions of wordless vocals and wooden flutes, with the second half growing ever more fantastical in its incorporation of deep tribal voices, buzzing sitar textures, and thunderous percussion and horn flourishes (there's even a late-inning foray into dance music). In this ultra-dense production, Rickard puts considerable distance between herself and Heavy Breathing by fashioning her construction into a vibrant, constantly shape-shifting life-force.