One of the highlights of the early year, Seeking the Sources of Streams sounds just like its title and its inspiration. Piano notes sparkle like sunlight on water; strings swirl like eddies around stones. The music sounds as cool and crisp as a drink from an unpolluted spring.
The cover art is a gorgeous reflection of the journey taken by Jesy Chiang, the composer for the Taiwan ensemble. Her hike in the Central Mountain Range led her to later adventures, accompanied by the other players. Together they encountered the relationship between earth and water, mountain and stream: fallen trees feeding the soil, water seeking its source, spiritual impressions becoming droplets of notes.
The twelve minute title track is accompanied by a video with cinematography by Ai Ju Wang, as seen below. The additional field recordings invite the viewer into the multi-sensory experience; one does wish to drink from this stream. The guitar adds additional warmth. Then the vantage point shifts to a bird’s-eye view; the clouds are racing, preparing to drop their nourishment onto the forest, where it will feed the flow. The hiker is first seen only in shadow, followed by shots of the beckoning path. Woodwinds reflect the aspirations of the peaks.
As they have on previous recordings, the members of Cicada demonstrate an acute awareness of pacing: sound and silence, slowdowns and accelerations. Their ability to shift between the macro and micro finds perfect accompaniment in the images. As one watches through Jesy’s lens, one realizes she is not simply seeking the sources of streams, but of wisdom and an inner spring.
The album is constructed as a travelogue, from departing to home away home, suggesting that the invitation is available to all. The brief early tracks are like the checking of supplies and greeting of friends before the foray into the forest. Once civilization disappears, the tracks increase in length. “On the Way to the Glacial Cirque” is particularly cool in tone, shuddering yet still sweet, picking up speed as it progresses. On “Foggy Rain,” glockenspiel adds an additional taste of tenderness.
The last of the long tracks, “Remains of Ancient Trees,” adds a note of melancholy. Such trees, older than the hikers themselves, often fell to loggers, a disruption to the natural cycle. Cicada allows space for a minor requiem, pausing to recognize their worth, beginning with acoustic guitar, the instrument itself hewn from a tree.
The closing title, “Forest Trail to the Home Away Home,” suggests that the forest may be our home, and our houses our homes away from home, a beautiful thought that brings us back to nature ~ if not in person, at least in our minds. Is the ocean the source of a stream, or the cloud? Where did we come from, and where will we return? The questions are as beguiling as the hidden answers, reflected in the final, unresolved note. (Richard Allen)