Filed under: Jordan De La Sierra
To Numero Group,
I am interested in purchasing “Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose.” I do not use credit cards and was wondering if I could send you a check (Please let me know if I can). I have heard “Song Of The Rose” on the radio program “Hearts Of Space.” I was immediately inspired by the therapeutic effect the music had upon how I was feeling. I think it is an incredible experience to be able to listen to it.
Enclosed is a self-stamped envelope for your convenience. I hope I can purchase the CD by check as I am a senior who does not use credit cards.
Thank you. Sherry
I spend a lot of time writing. Rare is the day when a couple thousand words don’t spill out onto the screen, filling space in many of the booklets, books, stickers, press releases, and website blurbs that Numero creates in a given month. This process has been honed over the last decade, as we’ve gone from first-person narratives to laboriously researched books covering the most minute details, earning Grammy nominations and other back pats from the world at large. In the end, I estimate that less than 10% of the people who buy our records actually read our notes. But that doesn’t mean we’ll stop writing.
I begin always by listening to my subject matter. I’ll hear a record two dozen times in the first week, memorizing the lyrics and song titles before never listening to it again. I haven’t listened to Ladies From The Canyon all the way through since 2006, and there are plenty of other titles that I might spend a decade not hearing as well. There is one record that is an absolute exception: Jordan De La Sierra’s Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose. In the half decade since it was shared with me, I have used it as a meditative device while in the pursuit of words nine out of ten times. I don’t anticipate this changing any time soon.
Five years ago, while deep in the overnight trenches with my newborn son, I began watching the HBO series In Treatment. The three season, 106-episode run was put down in a matter of weeks, but the theme, Richard Marvin’s “Sophie,” stayed with me for months. There was no soundtrack available, so I satiated my sonic curiosity with a single You Tube clip, playing it end on end for hours while crafting the liner notes for Syl Johnson’s Complete Mythology, my son in the crook of my right arm.
“Sophie” is subtly elementary—it could be played on one hand by a first year piano student. A lone synth washes in the background. But that simplicity has an extremely hypnotic effect, one that coaxed some of my best work out. After a few thousand plays, I wanted more. Lakeshore had yet to release the In Treatment soundtrack, and even still, none of Richard Marvin’s other work struck me in the same way.
There is no one in my life who I believe is better equipped to select the next record than my partner Rob Sevier. Be it a dance party or just a few people hanging out in a darkened living room, he has that innate ability to reach to the right spot on the record shelf and pull out the perfect LP. I called him into my office and asked, “What else sounds like this?” A minute later, he sent me a zip of Jordan De La Sierra’s 1977 LP Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose. It immediately became my go-to album for writing and contemplation.
For context, I have left in the original draft of my press release:
Jordan De La Sierra came from the Terry Riley and La Monte Young’s “pure sound with shape” school of piano tuning. Notes that have not been confined by Bach’s Western, “well tempered” tuning. Instead, De La Sierra’s work incorporates the natural point of view, what Young called “well tuned,” where notes are not flattened or sharpened in order to fall into an octave of 12 equal semitones, but instead reverberate to the fullest extent of their potential at varying lengths, and simply bend within their player’s improvisations and textural sonic explorations.
Heavy stuff for 1977, and not exactly what the market was looking for—even in their native San Francisco. Still, Gymnosphere’s producer Stephen Hill convinced Unity Records—the label that has been referred to as the first New Age record company—to issue the unedited double album, clocking in at nearly 120 minutes, with an accompanying 20 page booklet crammed full of De La Sierra’s India-inspired drawings and musings on a pre-Star Wars concept he called “the force.” And of course it didn’t sell well. Gymnosphere was issued in a time before New Age had its own section at Tower. It wasn’t Classical, it wasn’t even 20th Century Classical. At the time, it was filed under World Beat.
After it’s poor showing, Unity neutered Gymnosphere, trimming it down to a single LP. No booklet. No musings. The 6’ 5” De La Sierra didn’t exactly disappear but by the time he returned in the middle of the ‘80s, an entire slew of post-Windham Hill wind-chime tinklers had come up behind him. Gymnosphere was scheduled for reissue on cassette and CD a handful of times, but was lost in various organizational shake ups. De La Sierra went into landscaping. Stephen Hill took his Hearts of Space radio program and created a worldwide “space music” phenomena. The tapes—five and half hours worth of Grace Cathedral-reverb drenched piano sonatas—sat on a shelf.
I don’t know if De La Sierra envisioned Gymnosphere as a mediative tool to inspire ideophones, but I do know that he hoped to galvanize the listener, to shape moods and emotions, and he thought it would be best if we listened at night. “May this music be a key for man in his search for himself,” he wrote in 1977. “That he may find his life in love, realizing ultimately that for him all that happens is impeccably correct, reflected in the tone of the situation at hand, through this mirror, the sound of our life.”
I often find that I’ll write something, strip out what’s useful, and then save the document for later contemplation. I’d completely forgotten about the above four paragraphs until stumbling onto “Sophie” again while working on a bio about Lester Bangs. He would have hated this shit, and howled to the moon about it being naval-gazing sonic wallpaper, but I know that in his Romilar-induced trance he found a similar kind of peace. Setting out on a journey that might take all night if he was lucky. We all have our own way.
My way involved another 40 clicks on the YouTube page for “Sophie” and then cracking the shrink on our Gymnosphere reissue. 50,000 word box set liner notes don’t write themselves, but they do require assistance.
Filed under: Jordan De La Sierra | Tags: Alan Watts, Clarence Clemons, Grateful Dead
For those overwhelmed by the minimalist masterpiece that is Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose, Red Bull Music Academy just published a lengthy interview with the man behind the music, Jordan De La Sierra. A litany of “Did you know?” crops up, connecting De La Sierra with the Grateful Dead, E-Street sax man Clarence Clemons, and fellow Numero Group honoree, Alan Watts. For instance, did you know that Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose was performed using only seven notes? Well, you would if you’d read this interview, so, you should probably read this interview.
Filed under: Jordan De La Sierra
Since 1973, Stephen Hill has been curating and transmitting his Hearts of Space radio program from (where else?) Berkeley, California. The theme: “space music,” a term he coined and a genre he has championed via four decades of contemplative broadcasts. Just this past weekend, Hill dedicated his entire show to Jordan De La Sierra’s Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose. While this broadcast is only available to subscribers, a 99-cent iPhone app allows you access to 8-channels of infinite space music (plus this week’s show). More dedicated extraterrestrials might want to spring for the full service which grants you access to over 1000 archived radio shows, albums—uninterrupted background music of the highest order.
Filed under: Jordan De La Sierra
What can be said about Jordan De La Sierra that can’t be best said by Jordan De La Sierra? During an interview from 1971, Terry Riley and De La Sierra (then DBA Jordan Stenberg) get pretty trippy on the topics of Indian vocal music, spirituality, the notes found between the notes—in essence a pretty ordinary conversation in Berkeley, California in 1971.
Jordan De La Sierra’s Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose will be in stores December 2nd. Copies are shipping now from our webstore. Should you wish to hear the Riley/De La Sierra interview in its entirety, you can follow this link to KPFA’s online archives.
Filed under: Jordan De La Sierra
Here in 2014, there are countless ways to evaluate a record’s relative success (clicks, views, tweets, retweets, plays, points, purchases, downloads, illegal downloads, et al). One thing that is for certain is that Jordan De La Sierra currently has Soundcloud in a transcendental headlock, his recent Numero release accounting for 80% of the Numero Group’s total Soundcloud traffic. It seems that a lot of this attention is coming from assorted explorers using the browsing function, #piano, only to wade into 25 minutes of mellow madness ℅ De La Sierra. Listener feedback ranges from “your piano sounds sometimes like more than one instrument :-)” to “Beautiful work, bro.”
We’ve got lots of neat stuff on our Soundcloud page, but nothing is putting up numbers like “Temple Of Aesthetic Action,” which constitutes merely 1/4th of NUM059 Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose. So if you like what you hear, you can pre-order the 2CD/2LP set here.
Filed under: Bedhead, Cavern, Jordan De La Sierra, Music From The Mountain Provinces, Unwound
In the spirit of heading back to school, the world’s finest purveyors of aural academia have created this walkman (or iPod if you’re digitally inclined) ready tape of selections from our forthcoming fall releases. All tracks are free for you to download, distribute, dub, and digest.