Soothing ambient made for yoga.
The Buchla Music Easel, a rare analog synthesizer first produced in 1973, is a bit of an obsession for Smith. She has used the Buchla on all of her studio albums, and in 2016 released a collaborative album with one of its earliest adapters, the synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani. The instrument allows her to build sustained tones that build and bubble with amplitude modulation, a perfect recipe for the droning frequencies that make up Tides.
Her preference for analog synthesis lends her music a classical element, connecting her to musicians like Riley, Ciani and Laurie Spiegel. Without her signature vocal arrangements or other musical accompaniments, their influence is even brighter on Tides. It's easy to hear the beginning to A Rainbow In Curved Air in the bright oscillations on "Tides VI," or Oliveros's Deep Listening recordings on the slow-building sine waves of "Tides IX."
Grounded in the work of these early electronic artists, the album feels like a natural extension of their meditative project. Its production is also predicated on practical use. It was produced originally as a soundtrack for Smith's mother's yoga classes. The slow modulation of the Buchla simulates breath on "Tides III," while sustained resonance on "Tides V" builds hypnotically. It is, in a word, relaxing.
But the record falters when it trends towards the overly literal. The bird calls and wind chimes that accompany the final track, "Tides IX," seem too trite for a record that largely avoids the hackneyed tropes of the genre. After 40 minutes spent under the warm blanket of analog synthesis, the two minutes of chirping that finish the record seem jarring, like a dream that ended too quickly.
Today, almost any music can be set to yoga. Manhattan moms are now doing yoga to A Tribe Called Quest. Just the other week, Boston's "More Than A Feeling" accompanied my vinyasa in Chinatown. But Tides presents songs that do their best to stay in the background. That might be the obvious route when crafting music meant for meditation. To the daughter of a yoga instructor and a Terry Riley devotee, it is a natural fit.