Meditative music doesn’t have to be elaborate to be effective. Indeed the genre that arguably reaches deepest into the human consciousness–drone–is rooted deeply in a simplistic consistency. Simultaneously, single chords which start out as recognizable can shift into a multitude of transcendental entities. In this manner, Mathias Grassow performs his spiritual communication. Beautiful, natural landscapes are painted with his warm synthesizer. The cloud of airy tones lead the mind to a deeper understanding of something beyond. Yet, an eerie sort of presence can be felt that slowly creeps into that peaceful aura. For every record Grassow releases, there’s another tone or emotion, and for every release there are a million visions that the music can guide the listener towards. Grassow can work his distorted samples into any atmosphere. Each track has infinite room for interpretation. Perhaps this is because he has insisted his music is not just entertainment, but a guide to achieve a certain state of mind. The same track might be fitting as the soundtrack to a UFO abduction, industrial decay, slow television, or a late-night walk in the park.
Mathias Grassow is a Wiesbaden, Germany master of spiritual ambient music. Born in the 1960s, he began playing the guitar and drums in the 1970s. As the technology arose, he transitioned to the keyboard and synthesizer. He has produced over one hundred and thirty albums since the mid-1980s. The list of artists that has influenced his sound includes Klaus Wiese, Pink Floyd, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Yes, and David Hykes. However, more than any musician, the literary works of Alan Watts had an enormous impact on the sound and meaning within Grassow’s creation. Thus, a strong Eastern religion and mystical Christian persists in each record. He feels his discography is a study of the flow of spiritual energy and its relationship to music. Influence is drawn from Sufism, Indian ragas, Viking culture, Celtic rituals, and Buddhism. Grassow has collaborated with artists such as Tomas Weiss, Jim Cole, Alio Die, Bruno Sanfilippo, and Agalloch. He has inspired a generation of introspective artists and Enlightenment-seekers.
Grassow’s music is perhaps too experimental to be classified as new age and is more properly thought of as an ambient extension of neofolk. The deeply Pagan thought which surges through the tones mixes with ominous overtures, leading to this conclusion. There are decidedly foul turns and industrial motifs in the throat-chanted “Breath of Trance” from Collaborations, and unwelcoming “The Old Park” from Ambience. In this way, Alchemystery presents an atmosphere of warm, open spaces, but with these dark, shadowy patches which drift across the meadows.
This album, released by the Swedish label Gterma, contains four tracks split between two CDs which last a little over two hours. Time spent listening to this album, of course, does not follow a conventional pace. Time passes slowly, meaningfully due to the chronomantic prowess of Grassow. Despite the overarching drone of the record, the samples and vocals are surprisingly quick and evolving. While “Veiled Auronauts” features a simple, constant flow of tones with a chanted background and bubbling samples, the sound grows in intensity as the track nears a close. The next track on this CD, “Obscured by a Fallen Light,” has a mechanical pattern running throughout. A sort of ventilator runs alongside a shaker and a rogue bell. The atmosphere is beautiful, but a layer of uncertainty lies upon it.
The second CD has a sinister twist. “In a Temple of Longing” has a suspenseful chord drawn across sorrowful wails and locust buzzing. Lazy percussion and distant chants uphold the feeling of a mystical rite processing through a prehistoric street. The album ends with “A Ring of Standing Stones.” A pure drone track, ethereal melodies combine in a symbiotic way, fading back into reality time-space.
This effort by Grassow is far from fruitless. Again he captures the essence of spiritual ambient music, building soundscapes for the imagination to decipher. It seems Grassow will be continuing his explorations for years to come, working with more artists and touching on new themes. Alchemystery is a meditation and a mirror, a blank page of music where the listener can make the next step in the human journey.
Alchemy Suit Part I; Adrift in a Strange World:
01) Veiled Auranauts
02) Obscured by a Falling Light
Alchemy Suit Part II; Inside the Inner:
03) In a Temple of Longing
04) A Ring of Standing Stones