This re-released CD double-disc was an exceedingly pleasant surprise to find in my mailbox. I'd owned the works in their LP format (a two-fer) before some thief with excellent taste copped 'em from me. Since then, it's been impossible to find a replacement copy 'cause 1) it went out of print, and 2) those who purchased the release were loathe to part with it. Thus the new and used bins in record shops were barren wastelands for anyone in search of Gymnosphere. The reason for the intensity of appreciation lay in the fact that de la Sierra companioned Terry Riley, LaMont Young, Brian Eno, and Steve Reich while more prominently presaging the onrushing New Age movement. Delving into prolongations, simple and subtly tonally complex arrangements, intonation, decay, and other natural and inventive applications, the pieces remain as foundation enterprises.
Critic Thom Jurek has called the four long evolutions "mysterious, elegant, elliptical…tender, searching, and emotionally wide open". I find no reason to quibble. They are indeed all that and more. De la Sierra termed himself a 'possibilist' and joined in the turning tide of an exploration of notes, chords, and spaces so insufficiently addressed in past canons. If I name John Cage as the touchstone antecedent for everything unusual coming after his own work, this might well mis-indicate what here is simultaneously sidereal and terrene. Cage, after all, was a radical in the most extreme sense but the connections between his and others' work, de la Sierra's included, are unavoidable. John went in one direction with his spirituality and aesthetics, Jordan tread in another, but both were highly attuned to such things as the value and equivalencies of negative spaces as neglected naturalistic opportunities, repetition and overlap, pitch variations, and any number of phenomena not so much as contrast or harmony but as under-appreciated modes of flow.
What you hear, though, is not a performance as such but rather a re-performance and re-recording in unusual imprint. De la Sierra recorded the pieces (in '77) in a small studio, then let the tapes run in the Grace Cathedral, where the sounds could expand and intermesh a la Paul Horn's late-60s Taj Mahal and mid-70s Great Pyramids experiments. As would be expected of the piano over a flute, Sierra's work a great deal denser…delicate but denser and far more effulgently spectral, magisterial, stately without pretense. In that unusual application, the cathedral itself became the real-time, unliving, interactive performer as a team of engineers carefully captured the event. I needn't point out that the result is quite hypnotic, an element of trance music, and one can easily picture Sufi dervishes, or maybe even you, pirouetting to the refrains.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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