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Joanne Forman - Cave Vaults of the Moon Music Album Reviews

Joanne Forman - Cave Vaults of the Moon Music Album Reviews
The Taos composer’s 1987 accompaniment to a sculpture exhibition with a sci-fi bent makes for a synth-heavy adventure in new age that’s by turns eerie and playful.

The Toronto DJ, musician, and producer Brandon Hocura co-founded Invisible City Editions—a hybrid record store, soundsystem, and label—back in 2012. The imprint specialized in strains of dance music that fell between genre’s cracks: African deep house, left-field soca, and opulent calypso disco. But last year Hocura stepped away from Invisible City and established Séance Centre, another label with an archival focus, but this time less oriented toward dancefloors and more toward meditation centers. But finding unusual music remains his expertise. So far, the label’s reissues include Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s effervescent new-age synth ruminations and MJ Lallo’s ambient boogie.

They’ve found a similarly hard-to-slot character in Joanne Forman. The Taos, New Mexico, composer has written operas, song cycles based on e.e. cummings poems, and children’s musicals; she’s also worked as a journalist and puppeteer. The oddest job of them all was back in 1987, when Forman was commissioned to create a sound piece for a Taos sculpture exhibition entitled “Artifacts From an Alien Civilization.” Cave Vaults of the Moon is the end result, a rare cassette now returned like some lost transmission from beyond.

The last few years have seen a reconsideration of new-age music, from a comprehensive historical survey to a well-deserved renaissance of the iconic Laraaji. With its meditative pacing, wordless voices, analog electronic washes, and abundance of flutes, Cave Vaults sounds at first blush very much like a cassette that might be found alongside crystals in an esoteric bookstore. Despite having many of the genre’s earmarks, Forman soon wriggles out of easy classification.

Cycling acoustic guitar underpins songs like “Moon Castle I” and “Promeni I,” but they sound less like something from the Windham Hill catalog and more like lost airs from The Wicker Man. They are bucolic like the former, but one can just as easily imagine eerie, disquieting pagan rituals being enacted to their stately melodies; baritone humming adds another exotic aspect to the proceedings.

Forman apparently imagined the moon as a potential vacation destination for extraterrestrial beings from other galaxies; in this thought experiment, the sculptures in “Artifacts From an Advanced Civilization” became the remnants of an abandoned playground. It’s a curious inversion that makes the music feel earthbound and alien at once. But for the most part, Cave Vaults’ most lasting memories are its darkest ones: a vacation marked not by glowing sunsets so much as looming thunderheads. “Codex” and its gently lapping rhythms bring to mind the hazy imaginary realms of Jon Hassell’s Fourth World music. But while the song moves at the relaxing pace of a lullaby, the synthesized choir that rises up in the background casts a shadow across it. It’s a dread-inducing sound that comes back later on “Compline” to much darker effect.

Amid such disturbing ambience, the album’s most curious moment suggests a playful undercurrent. A shimmering soundscape using Forman’s Ensoniq Mirage and Juno 106 makes for a ticklish and disorienting three minutes on “The Twittering Machine.” Whether anticipating the social-media platform by two decades or simply imagining a frivolous state of play and relaxation, Forman paints a vivid picture of intergalactic beings sunning themselves at the poolside.

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