Info Tom Heasley: composer, tuba, didjeridoo 
"On the Sensations of Tone"
by Tom Heasley
Innova (innova 566)
"Where the Earth Meets the Sky"
by Tom Heasley
Hypnos (independant)
"Ground Zero"
"Desert Triptych"
by Tom Heasley
Farfield (FARCD012)
"29 Palms"
Tom Heasley


fn issue October 2011
'N-Plants' - Biosphere
'Sky Snails' - The Electric Golem
'Echo Park' - Willamette
'Gramophone Transmissions' - Broken Harbour
'Negative Space' - Blue Sausage Infant
'Home Patterning' - compilation
'Polychromatic Integers' - Richard Lainhart
'Generate Records' - compilation
'Sung In Broken Symmetry' - Aquarelle

Composer and performer Tom Heasley holds a unique place in the current drone/space/deep ambient scene, in that his primary instrument is the tuba. Since his first solo album in 2001, Heasley has released three CD's of beautiful, slow moving, deep ambient music. He started his career in jazz and new music, premiering Jonathan Harvey's Still for tuba and electronics. He also performed with the Anne LeBaron Quintet, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, and other improvising ensembles, including appearances on a couple of Eugene Chadbourne albums. But around the year 2000, Heasley switched to a solo performance practice, combining tuba and electronics into a reverberant and swirling haze.

He released his first album, Where the Earth Meets the Sky, on Portland's Hypnos label in 2001. Hypnos was already well known as an high-quality ambient label, and their consistent cover designs made them a recognizable brand, where a listener could seek out new music with a fairly good idea of the sound worlds it would inhabit. From the initial big blatt, we know we're listening to the tuba, meandering through slow undulations, with the electronics splitting the music into multiple foreground and background layers. Sometimes the music sounds like a choir of humpback whale songs, and sometimes it's just a solo tuba without much processing. Heasley also performs with throat singing, which he uses relatively sparingly on this album, but to excellent effects. With a lovely impressionistic mountainscape on the cover, and titles like Western Sky, Where the Earth Meets the Sky provides the same appeal as much of the desert ambient music typically associated with Steve Roach.

Heasley's connections with the American Composers Forum during his new music years led to the release of his second album, On the Sensations of Tone, on the ACF's label Innova. Subtitled "ambient tuba," Heasley stretches out here, with only two tracks, Prelude and Thonis, the latter lasting more than forty minutes. Both pieces were improvised live in the studio. The throat singing is a bit more prominent here, but the serene, drifting soundscapes from his first album are present again. Thonis slows to the point of becoming nearly timeless, turning its long expanse into a call for meditation. Both of Heasley's tuba albums are gorgeous, with the brass timbres providing a strong foundation for the electronic processing, sufficient to dispel any previous associations one might have with the instrument.

Recorded in 2003, Desert Triptych, Heasley's third album, contains no tuba at all, but represents a new sound, using didjeridoo and voice. Like Sensations, it was recorded live, but in concerts rather than in the studio. All three pieces start with the didjeridoo, which becomes the fundamental in an overtone exploration that takes place largely with the voice. The opening piece, Joshua Tree, introduces slow melodic loops that interact with each other, like a slowly revolving mobile. The longest piece on the album, Solitude, slowly undulates through a harmonic cloud, with the didjeridoo occasionally relaunching itself. Although Solitude's duration is nearly a half hour, it sounds like it could have gone on forever. 29 Palms follows a similar pattern, but the music is denser harmonically, with the various layers being much closer together. Subtitled "Three Meditations" and released on Britain's Farfield label, Desert Triptych continues Heasley's exploration of deep meditative states without simply rehashing the ideas of his first two solo albums.

Heasley has worked closely with Robert Rich since his first album. Rich has recorded, mixed or mastered all three of his solo records, and he appears on one of the pop albums that Rich recorded as Amoeba (with Rick Davies). His albums occupy the same sound world as Rich's sleep concerts and make an excellent accompaniment for meditation and deep trance states, and for late night listening. He is currently working in a new direction with a drummer, Anastasios 'Toss' Panos, which should be an interesting change in direction, harking back to his earlier work in free improvisation. Regardless of his future directions, Heasley's three albums to date are already classics for deep ambient listeners and space music aficionado's.

Review by Caleb Deupree


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