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By Mark Biehl
Label: Acuity Soundworks
Reviewing a sixty-plus minute recording (containing only one album-length track) comprised primarily of Tibetan singing bowls is not as easy as one might expect, unless all the reader expects is whether or not the reviewer liked the album. If that's all you need from this critique, then the answer is a resounding "YES!"

Pranah is one of the most peaceful, contemplative and expansive CDs I've heard in the last few years; it's almost luxuriantly calm (yet it's also suffused with subtle mystery and a sense of the ancient). So many new age and ambient recordings are labeled "ideal for meditation or contemplation," where they actually are more suited toward relaxation (which, as far as I'm concerned is equally valuable for people). However, Mark Biehl's Pranah achieves a musical sonic "environment" in which one can "hide," and subsequently, get lost in (without becoming overtly aware of the music itself). True, some ambient recordings has that same effect, but frequently they "color" the mood in one way or another (e.g. Lost at Dunn"s Lake has sound effects that, while soothing, also tend to take the listener to a place other just inside oneself). Pranah's mixture of struck Tibetan bowls (and their resonant vibrations) with gently twinkling high-pitched chimes (as if they were being blown by a soft breeze) and occasional low-key textural synthesizer shadings (which add that element of mystery I alluded to earlier) do not paint a specific visual image for the listener, nor do they evoke a particular place or time (unless, I imagine, one has experienced the playing of Tibetan bowls in Tibet itself, in which case the association might trigger a visual memory). Instead, the random nature of the bowl notes/echoes, the chimes and the textural synths envelop the listener in a pleasant musical "mist" which acts like an insulator from stress, worry and the outside world.

From a technical standpoint, Pranah is an exceptionally engineered and produced recording. The soundfield is spacious and all-encompassing, as it should be. However, on direct listening through headphones, the placement of each tone, note, and reverberation demonstrates the great care Biehl exercised in the final mix.

The first synthesizer textures (which resemble the washes and pads which Al Gromer Khan used on his breakthrough CD, Mahogany Nights, especially the track "Taj") occur at around the fifteen minute mark. Biehl displays utmost discretion in both the synthesizer sounds themselves as well as how slowly he folds them in amidst the bowls’ tones and reverberations. The synths never rise to the level of more than accompaniment, but they are also not "invisible." They are, simply put, just right! During those parts of the album when synths are heard, I was also reminded (in addition to the aforementioned Mahogany Nights) of the fantastic soundtrack to the computer game Riven (music by Robyn Miller), one of my all-time favorite releases. While more heady and substantially more minimal than Riven, the same haunting mood (yet completely unscary) of mystery is abundantly present at those times..

Pranah certainly deserves being labeled as meditative music. However, even if all you seek is a spacious calming album to play in the background, perhaps while reading, cooking or writing, I still highly recommend it simply because the sound of the Tibetan bowls is so soothing and natural. Biehl's occasional intermixing of chimes and synths adds a breadth to the CD which makes it more enjoyable as music, pure and simple, not just as an accompaniment to meditation. In the end, whether you use it as the former or the latter, I give it my unqualified highest recommendation.

Rating: Excellent   Excellent
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 5/6/2007
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