Mike Lazarev ~ Sacred Tonalities

We have a dysfunctional relationship with time. We groan as the alarm calls us from our sleep. We feel harried by the clock, rushing from meeting to meeting. We spend hours mindlessly scrolling. We watch our children grow up and our parents grow old and are astonished by the rate of change. We try not to think about the implications for ourselves.

Mike Lazarev‘s been considering time for a while now. 2021 Out of Time was the soundtrack to an imaginary film in which the protagonists are constantly fighting against the fleeting moments on this plane. 2019’s Aeon, released with Arovane, featured track titles like “Distant, In Time”, “27th December, Recurring” and the richly poetic “Unendlich, Endlich”, whose meaning is ambiguous enough that it could be translated as either “Unending, ending” or “Unending, ultimately”. 2020’s Suññatā, with James Murray, stepped out of time and explored the experience of encountering the non-self through meditation, and it’s the latter album with which Sacred Tonalities shares the most in common.

As we know from his Headphone Commute, Lazarev’s musical interests are really broad, ranging from contemporary classical to dark drone via both ambient and electronic music. (Related note: you can get a great introduction to his taste and simultaneously support a great cause by supporting Headphone Commute’s excellent For Ukraine series). In Sacred Tonalities, Lazarev barely touches his old friend the piano, instead focusing on synth ambience: the Waldorf Iridium, the Sequential OB-6, the Roland JP-8000, the Novation Nova and Modal Electronics’ ARGON8M to name just a few. The drones help us to free ourselves from time: we can step out, experience timelessness, and step back in again. In doing so, we see that while we cannot stop time from happening, we can choose to move differently within its flow. It’s an album that shows Mike Lazarev’s deep understanding of a paradox of mindfulness: by focusing, we lose focus; by losing focus, we attain a new depth of focus.

“Tonality Number One”, the first track, expands from a single solitary held tone until synth textures surround us, enveloping us in warmth, evolving in ways we don’t fully understand. In the remaining six tonalities that make up the album we’re shown multiple versions of the same truth, a truth not easily expressed in words (see the convoluted attempts at the end of the preceding paragraph!) but familiar to anyone who has spent time concentrating on their breath and letting go of themself. At times synth arpeggios loop around us, reflecting the circularity of experience. In the final track, as if presaging death, distortion builds to a climax topped by the decay of a single piano note. Having listened to the album on repeat several times, there’s something reassuring about the return of the solitary tone that opens it: yes, time will ultimately kill us, but we will continue.  (Garreth Brooke)

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