Mars Lasar,
The Music of Olympic National Park
(Real Music, 1996)

Real Music released a series of CDs in the 1990s featuring works by several new age composer/performers focusing on the National Parks of the United States. The parks included were Great Smoky Mountains (Gary Remal Malkin), Grand Canyon (Nicholas Gunn), Yosemite (Rick Erlien) and Mars Lasar's Olympic National Park.

The opening track of The Music of Olympic National Park, "Gods of Olympus," is either charming or distressing, depending on your reaction to bird song incorporated into music. However, Lasar handles it well and recovers beautifully in the second track, "Merymere Falls Trail," giving us a sweetly romantic melody over a quiet, syncopated beat (if one can forgive the crickets). "Eagle Flight," the third track, introduces a thunderstorm that moves back and forth between drums and samples (Lasar himself does both percussion and sound design, and does an excellent job throughout), perfectly complementing the brooding melody. Further highlights include "Kuyu Ancestors," with a wistful flute melody, provided by Richard Bugg on several varieties of flute, both straight and transverse, trading places with Lasar's deft and sensitive piano.

"Vision Quest," a quietly slinky song with steel and acoustic guitars provided by Carlos Villobos, Tod Griffin and Winslow Crockwell, Jr. -- and occasional neighing horses -- has a country-western feel to it that somehow blends with what I can only call "quiet acid rock" to become an amazingly effective combination. "Shi Beach Romance" is just that: quiet, delicate guitar work in the service of a softly evocative melody. "Deep Canopy" picks up the mood and tempo a bit after a quiet introduction on bass flute, with a "Native American" drumbeat that is more Indian than not, although it rapidly becomes much more complex and multilayered than traditional Indian rhythms tend to be. "Sacred Land," the final track, is a terrific synthesis of what this music has been about: good, sultry guitars, complex, subtle rhythms, ear-catching melody, bird calls that actually work, all combining in music of appealing sensuality and some surprising intensity, if not profundity.

In spite of the fact that I was exposed, in the early days of new age music, to a recording of Bach's Toccata & Fugue in D Minor scored for what sounded like a flock of panicked sparrows (from which I have never quite recovered), I have to admit that the nature sounds Lasar incorporates in this CD are not inappropriate. If one has heard Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus, in which the composer has very deftly used sampled bird calls to reinforce a mood of vast silence, or Morton Feldman's Why Patterns? in which there are no "nature sounds" -- but there are, one would swear to it -- one can see just how tricky this sort of thing can be, particularly when contrasted to an affront like the Bach mentioned above. (Real Music also released a CD by Anastasi titled The Pachelbel Canon with Ocean Sounds, the very thought of which seems to cause an uncontrollable tic in my left eye.) In fact, this is one of those rare new age recordings in which sampled sounds work very well, being neither obtrusive nor ludicrous and actually supporting the music. Lasar set out to create a series of songs that evoke an area of the country that is rich in history, spiritually significant, physically beautiful, and itself terrifically moody and changeable, and has done an excellent job at it. Looking back over this text, I realize that there are more highlights than not in this album, which in itself is an indicator of just how enjoyable I found it.

- Rambles
written by Robert M. Tilendis
published 1 January 2005

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