Bliss. Blessed. Blasted. What’s the word for breaking free from words to pure sounds?
Sean Conrad and Michael Henning’s reputations both precede them, but Skyminds is a collaboration hewn from the facet of a celestial ideal, the sort of simple floating enlightenment I suspect actually predates the Big Bang.
Conrad, of course, has brought us some of the finest new-new age pioneers from Stag Hare to Braeyden Jae through his peerless tape label Inner Islands. Henning is perhaps best known under the moniker Selaroda for a series of spiritually masterful, futuristic-yet-ancient psychedelic synth jams. (Somewhat less well known, Henning sometimes works at Berkeley’s Amoeba Records location, and the stickers bearing his name recommend some of the very best new arrivals.)
Conrad, too, has a prolific reputation, having organised a vast network of “New Weird” nirvana-driven electroacoustic music during his time in the UC Berkeley student co-op community. First making his mark on the underground tape scene in the semi-acoustic free-improv group Campfire, Conrad continued somewhat in that vein with the project Gkfoes Vjgoaf. Later work under the Ashan moniker explores dreamy, somnambulant dance music, while other releases as Channelers explore more space-driven, improvised terrain.
All of those elements emerge within Skyminds.
Henning and Conrad are no stranger to collaborations, and it shows on the sun-drenched, rock-infused daydream of “Desert Winds” and the acoustic ballad “Sunrise Trails the Growing Dawn.” Even on the seemingly static ambient pieces that accompany them, the album is united by a dense, electrifying pulse that can only come from two human beings deeply in tune with each other’s intuitions. Bright shimmer the guitars and deep drink the drums from the well of sheer joy.
There’s a lot of cynicism in the world, and the survival instinct to distrust sincerity now seems drilled into us before birth. Even in Berkeley and Oakland, where the artists and this author reside, what once seemed noble ideals have long since disintegrated off the naked empire. Yesterday’s hippies ram into pedestrians in Priuses with stickers decrying “overpopulation,” while students sleep in cars and The Help pulls bland zucchini out of the leaded soil. But this isn’t the 1960’s, and Skyminds isn’t your happy-go-lucky, naive sham.
On the plaintive, poignant centrepiece “Morning Way,” hushed voices implore you to “feel today.” And the distant guitars, strumming or wailing above the beat, seem to recognise that this is no easy task.
Any practitioner of mindfulness meditation can tell you that external distractions are not something to be avoided or disdained, but rather compassionately accepted, like a hummingbird buzzing at your window. The shrieking sirens and roaring engines around you may peck at your conscious being, but the inner pillar of your breath is still there, apprehending, comprehending, accepting. This tape is a healing journey, each glockenspiel or flute like a drop of honey sweetening the medicine.
Skyminds is a crowning achievement for Henning and Conrad. The crooning, soothing soundscapes may be finite here, but like a rising and falling breath, we know there’s more to come.