August 11, 2009

Tom Heasley - On The Sensations Of Tone (2002, Innova Recordings)

During my time at Mills College in '03-'04, I got to see many concerts of cutting-edge electronic and avant-garde music all over the SF Bay Area. One evening, some friends wanted to go into SF to a performance space in The Mission that was having an ambient night. By the time we got there, all the bands had already played, including the one my friends wanted to see, except for the last performer of the evening, Tom Heasley. When we entered the space, which was upstairs in a big funky warehouse loft full of art/junk/debris, I was struck by a blissed-out wall of sound composed of deep, soothing tones and a washed-out shimmer and crackle reminiscent of ancient records. My first thoughts were that it must be a cutting-edge laptop performer making electronic ambient music in the vein of the recent Kompakt Pop Ambient series I had been enjoying at the time. Instead, when I got to the top of the stairs, I was surprised to encounter a man sitting on a stool playing a tuba, with a bank of pedals at his feet. As I watched him play long sustained tones on his horn and occasionally stoop to adjust settings on his pedals, I realized the entire texture was being created in real-time via his tuba! Using a loop pedal, Heasley would layer up harmonic notes, breaths and vocalisations through his tuba, similar to creating tape loops on an old reel-to-reel, resulting in an immense and enveloping sound with a fabulous organic, bass-y character. Everyone in the space was reclining on pillows and the place was fairly full, making me wish I had been there for the whole evening. Even now I have no idea what the name of the place was, it may have just been an artist's/collective's residence for all I know. After the performance, I picked up Heasley's then-newest CD "On The Sensations Of Tone", subtitled "Ambient Tuba". Consisting of two long tracks adding up to about an hour, the aesthetic of the concert was reproduced with great effect, both soothing and haunting at times. I lost track of Heasley's more recent work until earlier this year when I came across his myspace page, where he has posted some fascinating blogs including an announcement that he will be working with Stuart Dempster of Deep Listening Band fame. His more recent recordings have featured Heasley on dijeridoo as well as chanting/overtone singing, and his most recent CD is a collaboration with drummer Toss Panos. Heasley's music is an exciting, unique organic sound for people who think they've "heard it all" in the drone/ambient genre!