Listening to the music of Joseph L Young on his fourth and latest release, I was transported by his exquisite blend of the earthy and the ethereal… the worldly and the otherworldly. Over the course of 12 luminous tracks, Joseph creates an alchemical blend of the natural sounds of a variety of flutes from different cultures, world music instruments such as hammered dulcimer, udu drum, tin whistle, Chinese erhu, Celtic harp and various ethnic percussion, with ambient synthesizer soundscapes, atmospheric electronic textures, and even a bit of saxophone. The result is quite transcendental, taking the listener on a journey to serene sonic vistas.
This idea of combining acoustic and electronic instruments was not new to Joseph however and has roots that go back to his earlier days as a musician and student of the saxophone. As Joseph describes: “When I was in junior high school, my band instructor introduced me to Mannheim Steamroller, which I immediately took a liking to. I already had my first synthesizer, so the idea of combining synth lines with acoustic instruments was intriguing and got me experimenting. That was about the time I wrote my first song ‘Shaman’s Dream,’ although I didn’t have a flute yet. Soon after, I discovered Kitaro, Tangerine Dream, and other similar artists; their sounds really resonated with me. In my late 20s I became enamored with world flutes. The Native American flute and the Irish tin whistle were my entryway to folk and/or traditional world instruments. I loved their emotive sound and expressive play; they fit right in with all the music I liked and had been listening to.”
As his career evolved, Joseph went on to record four albums, including this latest release. This album is a bit different from some of his previous recordings, and in my interview with Joseph, he spoke a bit about this: “For the albumEthereum I wanted to compose a more down-tempo meditative type of album. This had been on my mind for a long time, but with the large proliferation of meditation music already out there today, I wanted to somehow differentiate my music. As I contemplated this album and thought about my experiences with meditation, I realized that some of the music I listen to that tends to put me in “the zone,” so to speak, wasn’t really what I would initially consider stereotypical meditative music. This opened my mind as to where I wanted to take this album. I really wanted to create a listening experience that could be easily active or passive.”
In this age of downloading single tracks, I couldn’t agree more with Joseph as he shared: “I also love the concept of having an album be a total listening experience from beginning to end, where the order of songs and how they fit together takes the listener on an extended journey that lasts for the length of the album, a journey that takes the listener to different places as the album progresses.” And that sonic excursion gets off to a transcendent start right from the opening track. According to Joseph: “The first song, ‘Wavelength’ is an open, more cosmic composition signifying the beginning of a transformational journey, thus I chose to play the ancient Pueblo (Anasazi) flute which has a history going back to A.D. 800.” While this flute has links to the ancient past, it is set against a background of spacious synthesizers and subtly morphing electronic ambiance that is a perfect example of the worldly/otherworldly contrast mentioned earlier.
This is followed by the title track, which adds an additional earthy element with the use of percussion. Interestingly, however, the percussion is not used to create a rhythm, but is more for accents, such as an occasional rattle, shaker, or bell sound. One of the synthesizers provides a feeling of wind, and with eyes closed, it’s easy to imagine oneself surrounded by the red rocks of Arizona as the sound of the low D Native American flute echoes through the canyon. A different vibe is felt on “Shimmer,” as gently plucked harp arpeggios combined with low whistle and high tin whistle create a bit of a Celtic feel. The sound of rain adds yet another dimension to this lovely piece. On “Boundless,” unlike the title track, the percussion is used rhythmically in a slow ceremonial-type beat, along with Native flute, and chanting by Joseph and Lenise Redding. I particularly liked the use of effects like reverb and echo to add a sense of spaciousness to the various elements.
With twelve tracks on the album, I won’t go into detail on all of them, but will share, what were for me, some of the highlights and interesting aspects. One such example is the combining of various flutes from different cultures within a song, as in “Illumination” that blends a low E Native American flute with the higher pitched Chinese xiao flute. Another unique combination is the sound of Native flute and tenor saxophone over the beat of an African Udu gourd drum with keyboard background on a track called “Entangled.” Further cultural merging is heard on “Free,” with the sound of hammered dulcimer, Central American clay harmony flute, Chinese erhu (a violin-like instrument), and vocals by Lenise Redding.
An instrument I wasn’t familiar with, that is heard on “Flirting with Fireflies,” is the Moyo steel tongue drum. After a bit of research, however, I found that is somewhat similar to the currently very popular hang drum, which has kind of steel pan sound. The album draws to a peaceful dreamy conclusion with “Sapphire Moon,” that features one of the most metaphysical instruments that I’ve encountered in a while, the Phi flute, which is tuned using the Golden Ratio and Fibonacci sequence, as known in sacred geometry. It is said that the notes played by this flute are not specific to modern day tuning(s) but are pure, natural sounds of Mother Nature and the unheard voice of the Universe.
In addition to playing this incredibly diverse array of acoustic and electronic instruments, Joseph composed, recorded and mixed all of the music in his own studio, and also designed and created the album cover art for Ethereum. And as if that was not enough, in addition he produced the absolutely stunning video sampler with 3D animation seen below. According to Joseph, he locked himself in the studio for three weeks to complete this. Its one of the more unique videos that I’ve seen in this genre.
While the music on Ethereum is clearly in the new age category, Joseph’s musical horizons stretch beyond as evidenced by his also currently playing in an R&B band, a Celtic fusion band and a Texas Latin band. He also annually performs and teaches at the Pacific Northwest Native American Flute Gathering on Vashon Island, Washington; the Summer Solstice Flute Festival and School in Utah; and the Zion Canyon Native Flute School near Zion National Park, Utah. However, Joseph feels a special calling to create music that touches the listener on a deep heart and soul level. And to conclude this feature article, I leave the final words to Joseph to express that: “I have been exploring music for a long time that is good for meditation and relaxation. One of my goals is to help people work through their emotions, releasing the negative as they grow and change. I hope my music can serve as a catalyst to help with their transformation. It can be challenging to compose meditative music that is also interesting as a deep listening experience. One of my goals is to make ‘music without boundaries’ and all of the music on this album is my offering of a universal sound that everyone can enjoy. I am a musician because it runs in my soul. Music isn’t just what I do; it’s who I am. I realize that’s cliché, but it’s true.”