Earth Rise Sound System :: The Yoga Sessions
[yoga organix]   review from douglas heselgrave  

Can a five thousand year old system of exercise and meditation survive the demands and manipulations of American culture?

When I first started practicing yoga more than twenty-five years ago, silence was a prerequisite. Conversation and mundane chatter about topics concerning everyday life were forbidden. If someone had suggested to my first yoga teacher that a little music might fit in well with a sun salutation sequence, she would have been scandalized and kicked the offending student who made such a suggestion out of the class. While I found her approach overly strict and restrictive at times, I began to appreciate how the simple, silent environment free of incursions from modern life deepened our commitment to yoga and enhanced the benefits we derived from it.

As the years passed, I got busy and regular yoga practice with a committed group of learners fell out of my routine. I still stretched at home, but hadn't attended any classes for several years when my wife, Jen started doing yoga again at the local community centre last fall. She came back from her first session and said that she'd enjoyed it, but that her instructor played music during the lesson - which she found very distracting. We had no idea how such a development - that had seemed unheard of a few years before - had come to be permitted, and both of us agreed that the world was going to Hell in a hand basket.

As the weeks passed, Jen got used to the music during yoga class. Once she had gotten over the fact that it was a part of the experience, she began to appreciate how it helped and flowed with her practice rather than hindering it. I was curious about what kind of music would be conducive to yoga, and decided that it was something I should look into and write about. And, as the world has a habit of doing, no sooner had I started to think about this project when a download of Earth Rise Sound System's The Yoga Sessions was delivered to me via email.

I've spent the last two weeks listening to The Yoga Sessions in a variety of settings and situations. I'm still undecided about whether or not the music on the disc would be beneficial to anyone's yoga practice, but I am sure that the music that Derek Beres and David Schommer, the creative minds behind Earthrise Sound System have recorded for this project is worthwhile and challenging. Followers of world music will recognize Beres as one of the genre's premiere journalists, but most people outside of Manhattan won't know that he's also been teaching yoga at the Equinox fitness center for the past five years. During his tenure there, he has had a lot of time to think about what kind of soundscapes worked for people while they are doing a yoga session. So, when he got together last year with David 'Mushroom' Schommer — the producer of the critically acclaimed 'Bole 2 Harlem' CD that merged Ethiopian melodies and songs with hip hop and dub rhythms - to remix a mantra sung by the popular German kirtan singer Deva Premal, the two realized that they were onto something that was worth exploring in more depth. EarthRise Soundsystem: The Yoga Sessions is the result.

The Yoga Sessions isn't simply the product of Beres and Schommer finding sacred recordings and putting them through the remix blender by tweaking the drum and bass and adding electronic flourishes. Most of the music is completely original — though many are based on sacred ancient sources and texts — with live performances featuring traditional instruments giving weight and gravity to the studio effects. The musicians tapped by Beres and Schommer include Lital Gabai from the groundbreaking Israeli singer Idan Raichel's band, Pharoah's Daughter founder, Basya Schecter as well as Eccodek, the Juno award nominated Canadian electronica artist whose contribution to the astral dub of 'Sombience', is just one of this albums many highlights. While many of these performers are hardly household names, they bring a high level of musicality to the project that prevents The Yoga Sessions from ever skirting into new age territory and getting trapped there. The understated funk guitar on tracks like 'Let it Burn' and 'Daylight as Sunset' is both surprising and quietly fulfilling. It's easy to miss all that's going on here as each cut on this collection is so understated and assured. This is music that doesn't blow its own horn — it can be enjoyed at a low volume as a meditative accompaniment to a quiet evening by the fire. But, every song stands up quite well when pumped at high volume. Beres and Schommer have inserted enough interesting musical textures into the body of each track to interest even the most discerning of listeners. This album that I'd originally thought would be an endurance test is now something that I turn to repeatedly to discover something new each time it's played.

In conclusion, EarthRise Soundsystem: The Yoga Sessions is surprisingly good. It stands head and shoulders above any other work in the 'yoga music' genre as its creators never contented themselves with creating sounds that were simply 'relaxing' or 'pretty.' There's a lot of meat on the bones of this music, but this isn't immediately obvious. The rhythms are embedded in the subtext of each song, and they creep up on a person slowly as I came to realize the other day when I caught myself spontaneously stretching to the disc in the middle of the kitchen floor after I'd finished washing the dishes.

Sometimes, there's nothing better than having one's preconceptions dashed. Listening to The Yoga Sessions has made me realize that maybe I'm just a stick in the mud and should ease up, let down my guard and accept that anything that gets our fat asses away from the TV and the computer to get down on the ground and stretch is a good thing.

To that end, EarthRise Soundsystem: The Yoga Sessions is definitely a good thing. Listening to it will certainly make your life better.

(cover art by Craig Anthony Miller)

ethnotechno rating: 5
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  1. Intention -feat. Morley
  2. Desh Nayad -feat. Lital Gabai (pick)
  3. Ajnabee -feat. Go-Ray (pick)
  4. May All Beings
  5. Daylight As Sunset -feat. Lucy Woodward
  6. Rama
  7. Makyen Ghrir Allah -feat. Hamid Boudai (pick)
  8. Sombience -feat. Eccodek
  9. Marom -feat. Basya Schechter (pick)
  10. Let It Burn -feat. Daniel Dworkin
  11. Daylight As Sunset -Warm Down Mix -feat. Lucy Woodward (pick)
  12. Embrace -feat. Morley