Divining the Creative Ripple

Local music artist explores the many moods of nature, synthesized

By Julie Horner

Waves of vividly evolving earth impressions dance inside closed eyelids. At times, fluidly womb-like, the tonally suggestive near-silence of floating in space or being submerged in amniotic suppleness gives way to the rumble of thunder, a taste of nourishing rain, ebulliently flowing streams, and the pulse of the ocean’s tide. In the mind’s eye and in the heart, there is a very real feeling of resting one’s head upon the bosom of the earth. All is released, unclenched, and the spirit is at ease.

Sapphire Oceans is a single one-hour track representing a complete hydrological cycle with music and sounds of nature. Composed by Felton musician and Mountain Spirit co-owner, Josh Kunkel, this original composition washes away the relentless press of the day’s needs.

“The music begins with a storm-burst, then focuses in on a single drop of rain. The raindrops pool together, forming a stream, which flows down to the ocean shore. After playing in the waves, the music plunges below the surface, descending deeper and deeper, past the reach of the sun’s rays, until a place of profound mystery and silence is reached. Rising to the surface again, the journey ends as we hear the sound of waves crashing and birds chirping on the shore. The sounds of rain and thunder make themselves present in the background, reminding us that the cycle will renew itself again and again.”

The sounds began in nature. “We have recorded stream, ocean, and water sounds at dozens of different locations from Malibu to Mendocino,” Kunkel says.

After he produced the field recordings, he wrote several instrumental sections, performed over multiple sessions, to develop layers of expression and to add color to the track. “Techniques drawn from Impressionist and classical music have been used to render the natural sounds of water on acoustic instruments. Tempo devices such as ritardando, accelerando, and tempo rubato convey the rising and falling movements of the waves, and instrumental portamento effects like harp glissandos and timpani roll pedal glissandos evoke the shimmer of sunlight on the water and the rumbling crash of the ocean breaking up on the shoreline.”

The album is produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Kunkel at West Park Avenue Studios. The recording intertwines the sounds of nature with adept use of advanced technical know-how. Kunkel describes the process: “Never-before-heard new timbres have been created by fusing the sound of acoustic orchestra instruments with cutting-edge, avant-garde, forward-looking sound synthesis, resulting in clean, clear, sparkling tessellated electronic textures utilizing the Elka Synthex, EMS VCS3 and Synthi AKS, Oberheim OB-X, and Roland Juno 60.”

An extra set of ears on a project can be revealing. “At a certain point in the project, David Streit, who has worked with everyone from Johnny Cash and Dave Brubeck to GZA and Cliff Richard, had come on board to help me engineer and mix. That is an invaluable contribution that I’ll always appreciate,” says Kunkel.

Like a natural mountain spring, Kunkel’s project trickled and transformed over time. “Sapphire Oceans had just spontaneously grown; it had just taken on a life of its own. Like it had needed to be born, to well up and burst through into existence, and I had just been the channel for it. It is like the quote from the Hindu holy book, the Chandogya Upanishad, about a drop of water flowing into the river, and then into the infinite vastness of the sea, losing its sense of separateness in the process. That is literally how the project has grown, from one tiny little droplet of an idea, to this sprawling, long, complex track with many moods and emotions.”

“There are things that happened during the recording of this album that are so spooky, I’ll never tell. But you can hear them happen on the record. Things that are just from beyond this plane of existence, unknowable things that are from outside of our realm of understanding. But after many months, the project finally coalesced, and all the different tributaries ultimately came together to form a work greater than the sum of all its parts.”

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Music Artist Josh Kunkel – Sapphire Oceans

When not divining the creative ripple, Josh enjoys the bounty of living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. “I get pleasure from cooking international cuisine, going on long hikes in nature, and relaxing with family and friends. I am also a movie connoisseur and news junkie. I enjoy art, fashion, photography, and collecting historical armaments.”

A compelling voyage among elements and imaginings, Sapphire Oceans is available at Mountain Spirit 6299 Highway 9, Felton or everywhere online including: itunes.apple.com/Sapphire Oceans | www.youtube.com/SapphireOceans

Copyright Julie Horner 2017. Originally published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin July/August edition. http://www.santacruzmountainbulletin.net | www.facebook.com/SantaCruzMountainBulletin

 

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Got Vinyl? Swing into Swag

Curator of Boulder Creek’s eclectic collective specializes in vintage vinyl and refurbished stereo consoles

By Julie Horner

If only the vintage West German Grundig stereo console could speak, imagine the secrets it might tell of swanky summer evenings laced with cognac, the mood dreamy with the warm, smooth, easy-listening sounds of Perry Como on vinyl in analog high fidelity. Jeff Brough was head and torso into a neighboring console putting finishing touches on the innards. “Once upon a time it was a Grundig. It has different components now. It was missing stuff so I had to repopulate it.”

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According to Brough, owner of Swag in downtown Boulder Creek, “Most people are un-populating old consoles to turn into bars. I’m the only one restoring them. It’s a niche market, I guess.” Amazingly, you can even plug your smartphone into what appears to be all-original components and play your downloads through the console’s built-in speakers. “Almost all of them I add the ability to use your smartphone.” Brough picks a vinyl album from his collection and powers on the unit for a test spin. The big soulful sounds of Tyrone Davis fill the shop. “I love this old soul music…when I listen to the radio, this is what I tune in.”

Brough looks at it from the assembler’s point of view. “I’ve got four for sale and another one, two, three in queue.” He specializes in mid-century modern, from the mid-50s through the mid-70s. “Any later and they got ugly.” He can doll up just about any console to look just right. For instance, he might put peg legs on some of them to give them ‘that look’ if they didn’t have it when they rolled in. “This one, it’s got a real nice turntable in it.” The cabinet he picked up in Sacramento, the turntable and other components came from another unit. It’s what Jeff called a “triple threat.” It sounds good, looks good, and the turntable is good. “I do name them. I have a personal relationship with each one of them. Tamara’s that I just sold, I called Morse-l.” The brand, of course, being Morse. “I fall in love with them, have a hard time letting them go.” He always wonders, “Is this one better than the one I have in the living room?”

“I’ve driven as far as Santa Rosa to get things that suit my fancy.” He’s got eyes and ears out there now looking for items to add to the collection. The consoles are what got him started.

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“When I retired from Silicon Valley, I spent about a year chilling and figuring out where my stuff would go…I had to downsize. Originally it was a hobby, I don’t know exactly how it evolved, but I’d start finding things on craigslist.” Stephanie, owner of Foundre that used to occupy the space, gave him advice about obtaining old consoles. He would work on them in the basement with his wife and bandmates helping.

A customer walks in. “I have a first pressing of Meet the Beatles,” he says. “I have about 500 vinyl records.” Everyone knows that vinyl has come full circle and is all the rage now. For those who have held on to their collections over the years, it’s as cool as it’s always been to have full size art and sleeve notes. As the customer turns to leave he jokes. “I’m one of the few men who is married and still has his vinyl!” Brough is quick to point out, “There’s more here if you want to add to your collection!” Indeed, the sign out front that drew the customer in says, “We’ve got vinyl!”

“My selection of vinyl is comparative to any record store in Santa Cruz, maybe better. I’ve got some cool old records.”

Jeff has owned the building about seven years, with residences upstairs and now his business downstairs. “Even as a youngster, I’ve always been a creative collector with an entrepreneurial spirit so it only made sense to open my own space! My daughter and mother contribute time and energy…it’s all friends and family at this point.” And he’s looking for a partner to collaborate with, someone who might put their artwork on consignment and tag-team to help keep the doors open on weekends.

Swag. Affordable retail in Boulder Creek featuring restored mid-century modern stereos, vinyl, vintage and locally crafted apparel, jewelry, art, consignment, and event space.

13026 Highway 9
Boulder Creek, California
(831) 295-9191
http://www.facebook.com/JEFFSWAGSTORE

Copyright 2017 Julie Horner. Originally published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin June 2017 issue.