In 1975 Hearts of Space was a two-year old late night program on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California. One rainy November midnight, a local artist named JORDAN DE LA SIERRA showed up unannounced at the back door of the radio station and demanded to play the piano on the program, which was already in progress! From that unforgettable encounter came a legendary recording of "experimental, explorational, Ambient/new age/neo-classical music" called GYMNOSPHERE: SONG OF THE ROSE.
I'm STEPHEN HILL and on this transmission of HEARTS of SPACE, we revisit this timeless classic. We'll feature music from three of the four sides of the original double album. Along with PAUL HORN's Inside the Taj Mahal, it was among the first "acoustic-Ambient" albums. It was also the first original recording I produced — for Jordan de la Sierra was (and is) an exceptional artist in every way.
Born in Fresno in California's Central Valley, he studied music at the San Francisco Conservatory and Mills College, where he met TERRY RILEY, LA MONTE YOUNG and other avant-garde composers influenced by Khyal master PANDIT PRAN NATH, who were cross-pollinating Western and East Indian classical music. It was the beginning of the electronic music era, and out of this rich tapestry of cultural and technical possibilities came a contemplative classic.
Recorded in 1976 and released in 1978 on an early Northern California new age label, GYMNOSPHERE was an impressive double vinyl LP with a 20-page booklet. It was soon reduced to a single LP with no booklet, and then went out of print when the label failed a few years later. Thus began a long exile, punctuated by a cassette re-release in 1985 that also disappeared within a year. These were the realities of the "good old days" of the analog record business: all but the most popular music quickly went out of print.
Then in 2013, Jordan and I were approached by an independent label from Chicago called The Numero Group that specialized in reissuing lost-but-not-forgotten classics. And so in December 2014, after over 30 years in limbo, GYMNOSPHERE was re-released in its original double album and 20-page booklet format, on vinyl, CD, and digital download.
Several innovations contribute to the unique sound of this recording: the nine-foot concert grand piano is in a special "well-tuned" scale, rather than the conventional "well tempered" scale. This means that the notes ring and decay in elegant harmony — without any out-of-tune "beating" of the overtones. The felt dampers of the piano were raised for the entire recording, creating a sustained harmonic drone. Analog tape delay was used to create rhythmic repeats, creating a shimmering fractal texture.
And last but not least, the studio tapes were taken to Grace Cathedral — the premiere acoustic space in the Bay area — and played back through a large sound system where the reverberation of the great stone church was recorded and later mixed with the direct and delayed sound of the piano. In this way, the piano was "spatially expanded" into a vast, ancient space-harp that sings...for almost a minute.
In his notes, Jordan calls it "music as a form of spatial food for our finer being-bodies." Amen, Brother. JORDAN DE LA SIERRA's GYMNOSPHERE: SONG OF THE ROSE...reborn, on this transmission...of Hearts of Space.