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The Ambient Tuba of Tom Heasley

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Tom Heasley is an internationally acclaimed composer who applies ambient sensibilities to the tuba, an instrument rarely connected with sedate soundscapes. Yet, Heasley has forged a unique alliance between these diverse elements, generating lush tonalities that are pensive and invigorating. Armed with modern technology, he has established that the tuba can indeed be an instrument of serenity and not just a fixture in marching bands. He has successfully performed his esoteric music for conservatory students at Oberlin and inmates at San Quentin.

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TOM HEASLEY: Where the Earth Meets the Sky (CD on Hypnos)

This release from 2001 features 63 minutes of ambient tuba.

On this record, Heasley plays Mirafone 188 tuba, throat singing, loops, and digital processing.

Languid textures float with bulbous inclination, establishing ethereal resonance that is tenuous yet decisive. These sighing expressions possess foggy definition, seething and unfurling into harmonic expanses designed to fill the environment with tranquil sensibilities. These temperate sounds meld with the psyche of the audience, evoking a union between listener and music that is staged in a realm of imaginary vastness.

Unlike most electronically generated ambient music, a peculiar density is present in these rarefied tunes. The music’s soothing quality carries an undercurrent of girth and solidity that bestows a pleasant distinction to the normally fragile tones found in normal ambient compositions. These gossamer textures serve as a mental path conveying the audience inwards into pure contemplation.

One can often detect a hint of horns drifting in the mix, a clever deception achieved by meticulous processing, allowing traces of the source instrument to peek through the digital enhancement.

This CD was recorded, mixed and mastered by ambient pioneer Robert Rich.

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TOM HEASLEY: On the Sensations of Tone (CD on Innova Records)

This release from 2002 features 56 minutes of improvised ambience.

Again, Heasley plays tuba, throat singing, loops, and digital processing.

This release features two tracks. The first was recorded live at Robert Rich’s Soundscape Studios in California. The second (lengthier piece) was performed live on Star’s End on WXPN Radio in Philadelphia on September 16, 2001. No edits or overdubbing were utilized for these recordings.

“Prelude” (the first piece) displays a more horn-like disposition in its ephemeral sound. Sighing tones blend with aerial textures, establishing a decidedly introductory feeling, lulling the listener for the denser sonic pilgrimage of the second track.

“Thonis” (the second piece) is 42 minutes long, allowing the pensive textures to build gradually to an august drama that remains sedate yet galvanizing. Delicate threads form with careful methodology, undulating with frail vigor until the air seems crowded by these flimsy resonances. The sounds become almost organic in their remote definition, evoking forgotten eras of peaceful antiquity. This serenity adopts a substantial presence that permeates the minimalism with a churning verve.

A remarkably unique example of ambience composition that will delight and mesmerize.

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TOM HEASLEY: Desert Triptych (CD on Farfield Records)

This release from 2005 features 67 minutes of arid ambience.

Heasley’s chosen instruments for these live recordings are: didjeridu, voice, and electronics. He remarkably captures the milieu of hot desert landscapes with these haunting electronic textures and elongated wind notes laced with ethereal vocal effects.

Delivered with pensive constancy, the didjeridu tones achieve a solidity of airiness, dense yet nearly intangible. These seamless harmonics waft with soothing determination, unhurried and confident of their own sedative qualities. The mood generated is one of intense sparseness, unfettered by beats or pulsations. Notes stretch out with infinite intention, reaching far beyond mortal perceptions, delving deep into psychic terrain.

The voices utilized are equally as ethereal and elusive, comprising no syllables or communicative content other than a general ease. Severely subtle changes in tone create an eerie progression from one passage to the next.

Meanwhile, the electronics occupy the imperceptible spaces between these other rarefied elements, strengthening the soundscape’s absolute serenity. Spectral rises and descents are conducted almost in secrecy, sneaking past the audience’s cognitive notice and working primarily on the subconscious.

This recording was mixed and mastered by Robert Rich.

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