New Horizons Review
CHAKRAS - Oliver Wakeman
Track list: Muladhara (10.45); Svadisthana (10.37); Manipura (5.15); Anahata (6.40); Vishuddi (11.10); Ajna (8.48); Sahasrara (10.04).
'Chakras' is one of a series of disks to be released by Balance and Harmony under their 'Spiritual Vitamins' series and, although the artist is not given a mention on the front sleeve, the liner notes do clearly credit the composition and performance of the music to Oliver Wakeman - although perhaps I should add that this is the only CD in the series Oliver has written. It consists of music that is best categorised as New Age and it is intended to promote relaxation and meditation.
This is a commissioned piece: there is nothing new in musician's writing works to order, indeed many classical composers made their living on this basis; but it is worth pointing out, because, although worthy of merit in its own field, this album is very different in nature to Oliver's other more recent releases.
In trying to understand the concepts behind this CD I have read through a wealth of information about the chakras, and spiritual well being. Much of this information, written by 'authorities' on the subject I have found to be confusing at best and downright contradictory in the worst cases, and while I try to remain open minded about such things, it is sometimes very hard in the light of such 'evidence'. The following is a summary based on my current understanding - it is intended purely as background and is not intended to be in any way definitive!
The word 'Chakra' is derived from Sanskit and is normally translated as meaning 'wheel'. According to the most widely observed system it is suggested that the human body is governed by seven primary chakra points, each centered on a different part of the body, and each controlling different aspects of emotional and spiritual well being. It is further maintained that any imbalance in the Chakras due to spiritual or emotional causes can result in a manifestation through physical ailments. In addition to this, the Chakras also apparently correlate to different levels of conciousness: the physical, the etheric, the astral, the mental, the spiritual, the cosmic, and the nirvanic.
Now onto the actual content: the music is arranged into seven pieces, one relating to each of the primary Chakras, and fundamentally it seems to be about creating a feeling of inner calm and a sense of well being. This is achieved by soft soothing tones, with the melody itself generating any sense of rhythm - no drums or drum machines here! The music also makes strong use of repetition - a factor common in New Age music - and patterns are constantly recycled, often with only minor variations.
There is strong interplay between the piano and other keyboards, and a balance between the foreground melodies and the flowing ambience (from the controlled use of synthesisers). While these interactions can be complex, the basic tunes themselves are often quite simplistic in nature, but none the less pleasing for that.
Tracks like 'Muladhara' and 'Manipura' are good examples and, in each case, the use of soft piano playing - with gentle interjections from the synths helping to fill out the sound - creates a restful vista which is perfect for relaxation.
Slightly more ambitious is 'Svadisthana', which begins with a humming drone. The sound of water, dripping and echoing as if in a cavern, gives a real sense of space. The repeating four note rising pattern from the keyboards tends to hold the attention and presents a sound that is immediately familiar. This may be because it is the type of thing used in piano exercises, bit it does have a marked similarity to the opening bass line in Marillion's 'Chelsea Monday'. The other keyboard work away from the piano however forms the mainstay of the track, and the music flows in smooth uninterrupted fashion. Around the midpoint the instrumentation adopts a more eastern flavour, but despite this change of tone, the music still hold the senses in a kind of stasis. Before long we gradually become aware of the opening piano pattern reasserting itself, and we are back on familiar ground once more.
For me the centre piece of the album has to be 'Anahata', which is another wonderfully calming piano based piece. This one seems to have the possibility of reaching a greater potential then is allowed by the constraints of this album. The background keyboard arrangements work beautifully against the main piano themes, and I could well imagine a more fully orchestrated version of this track working very well indeed.
'Vishuddi' has a very much more lazy, mellow mood and the spotlight falls upon the string section effects from the keyboards. In the more melancholic 'Ajna' it is initially the sound of panpipes that carries the listener along. Later in the piece, this light tone is slowly replaced with a deeper, richer sound that rolls gently along, creating a real feeling of inner calm, heightened by the rejoinder of the panpipes in the closing moments.
The last track 'Sahasrara' is another fairly soft and subdued piece, and while it may not contain any particularly noteworthy features it does bring matters to a very pleasant conclusion.
Time to move on briefly to more mundane matters - the CD is packaged in the ever more widely used digipack format, and comes with a fairly plain multi lingual booklet that gives a bit more background information into the spiritual concepts that underlie the album. For those interested in such things, the credits, as mentioned previously, confirm Oliver as composer and performer, and also show that the CD was mastered by Rob Aubrey (whose name will be already be well known to our progressive rock readers) at the Nomansland studio.
In summing up, whether you are a Wakeman fan or not is in all honesty of no consequence here, since this album is written in a style very different to Oliver's own more progressive outings. What 'Chakras' does offer the listener is a well composed and well presented instrumental work, that fits neatly into the New Age category and if you enjoy reflective, meditative music, then this album is bound to please and I strongly recommend checking it out on this basis.
Simon 6th March 2002