Michael Stearns

Lyra Sound Constellation

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Space music composer Michael Stearns developed his musical explorations not in some lonely music studio, but with an experimental dance troupe in Los Angeles. Here, he could compose in real time, with real spaces, real instruments, and other musicians. On this album, Stearns uses a surreal instrument, the 156-string sound sculptor called the Lyra Sound Constellation, designed by George Landy. The metal strings are stretched 15' to 20' long, each tuned to microtones (intervals in between the regular intervals), and each string was connected to crystal and magnetic pickups. Two tracks were recorded directly from these pickups, and two tracks from mics placed in the room, in this case the Double Rocking G Gallery in Los Angeles. The four tracks (remember, this album predated MIDI samples and our digital recording capabilities) were then processed and orchestrated before final remixing. The players for this album include Stearns and Landy, plus Susan Harper. Additional players and chorus (for some ghostly voices) include Georgianne Cowan, Sandy Gekler, Jean Krois, and Kristine Shelton. The music is ethereal and heavy at the same time, vastly expanded with pluckings, sonorous echoes, rocket blasts, bass roars and yaws, ghostly gongs, and percussive sequences. The one sound that stays with me is the "crystal buzzsaw" section, especially on the track "Invocation." This abstract soundscape music is not particularly "pleasant," but it can be restful and healing if you go with it and use it to sand off the rough edges of your ego. (This form of space music has become more prevalent with the "dark ambient/ambient noir" movement of the '90s.) In some places, Stearns has augmented Lyra's vibrations with synthesizer music. Three of the tracks have been preserved on the Stearns compilation album Collected Ambient & Textural Works: 1977-1987 from Fathom/Hearts of Space.