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.”
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