(De Nederlandse versie van onderstaande tekst is HIER te vinden.)
The Arkhive: Meditation No. 1 is a project with a peculiar story to it. It is not the music that we are used to from Tonal Assembly (the artist name of Taede A. Smedes). It is strictly speaking Tonal Assembly’s music, but stems from a project that hides behind the name “The Arkhive”. In an extensive explanation, Taede Smedes describes a special experience and the history of a special project.
The project explained
Some months ago I was noodling one night with a piano plugin and some effect plugins. Eventually I came across one specific combination that I just felt “made sense”. The following days I fine-tuned the combination. It really sounded so beautiful and clear. While playing I saw images in my mind of landscapes, picturesque cosmic scenes, swirling stars and planets. The combination had a supernatural or otherworldly beauty and yet was minimalistic.
In my experience, music is a very spiritual affair which has a lot to do with images and with seeing colors. I see sounds as colors in my mind’s eye. Sounds evoke colors and the combination of those sounds determines whether the music is “just right”. But here I had a piano sound with effects, echoes, minimal, like meteor showers, with a touch of reverb at the end, cosmic and expansive. I spent several evenings playing with this combination. But in the end nothing came out. There was no composition, no piece of music. In the end, I left this combination alone for a few months.
Until I woke up on Monday, July 27, 2020, with the feeling that I just had to play that day. The week before, I had participated in the Alternative Four Days Marches. I had walked six miles for four days in a row, yet other than that, I had been restless. I couldn’t bring myself to read or write that week. Tension seemed to be building. On that particular July 27, I felt early in the morning that something was about to happen.
Around 3 pm I turned on my DAW (digital audio workstation, the computer program I use to make music, in this case Ableton Live). It was warm both outside and in my studio. I loaded the combination of piano with effects. At exactly 3.19 pm I clicked the record button. I closed my eyes, focused on my breathing, placed my fingers gently on the keyboard and started playing. Exactly an hour later I opened my eyes and was back in my home studio. I stopped the recording and immediately saved what I had recorded in the hour before. I called the piece, without even having listened to it, Meditation No. 1. The first meditative session, numbered because somewhere deep inside I felt (and still feel) that this was the first but not yet the last session.
In the days that followed I listened to the recording. It really surprised me. Every time I started the recording anew I was immediately taken on a cosmic journey, right from the start. I listened through the entire recording, the entire hour, a number of times. I noticed that I had played almost flawlessly. The timing, the melodic lines that gradually develop in a wavy manner and eventually disappear again, the swirly echoes and reverb – everything sounded right. Yet, a number of times I had accidentally hit two adjacent keys, which produced dissonant tones. I have removed about five such dissonant notes from the recording. Just that. I did not change anything else. What you hear on Meditation No. 1 is just as it was recorded.
It’s eccentric music, surrounded by a mystical aura. It is ambient music, music that does not intend to be in the foreground, it does not want to intrude but can be played in the background while you are doing something else. It is also meditation music, with which you can discover the stillness within yourself. After listening more often, I noticed that certain melodies develop, hesitantly, sometimes repeating, like children playing and hiding behind trees. These melodic traces never develop into a full melody line, yet those melodic traces tease you enough so that you keep listening. They also linger. They still resound when the music has already ended. Sometimes during the day they suddenly pop up in my head, I can then hum them. The tones of the piano shine like silver in moonlight and the echoes are like crystal waterfalls, twinkling starlight, or green-blue raindrops on a nighttime window. It’s cosmic music. These are cosmic sounds.
Yet, I didn’t make the music. It is not Tonal Assembly’s music. The music is very different from the more rhythmic music that listeners would normally associate with Tonal Assembly. I consider myself just the medium that has received and “downloaded” the sounds that float through the cosmos. The music is so different from the music I normally make that it feels as if I was an instrument played by cosmic minds. I just emptied myself, made myself available, and these minds made themselves heard by controlling my brain and my fingers.
The music is communication from elsewhere, from above. The images they conjure up in people’s minds when they hear the music, the feelings that the music evoke, these are indeed subjectively colored, but are conveyed to us through the music, given to us by the music’s ultimate source. It is “inspiration” in the old-fashioned sense of the word. That is what makes the music so wonderful for me. I know that my fingers touched the keys of the keyboard, yet when I listen to the music, it is as “other” to me as it probably is to any other listener. The music doesn’t feel like “mine”, there is an indefinable “strangeness” or “alterity” to this music. I didn’t make this music… and yet of course I did. It was my brain and my body that was used.
A bigger project
But in the end, Meditation No. 1 turned out to be a much bigger project. Months of (unconscious?) preparation preceded, and even when the music was recorded, the project turned out not to be quite finished. First there had been the finding the right sounds (piano with effects), then recording, mixing and mastering, and finally there was the creation of the CD cover. The days after the music had been recorded, a specific color and a shape became apparent to me. The layout of the CD cover dawned on me. The quote from the Heart Sutra dawned on me. Everything was connected with everything else.
I am not a painter, yet I felt the urge to paint. So I bought canvas, paint, brushes, etc. And the next day I knew exactly how to create the painting that now adorns the cover of the CD. I just knew what it should look like, but I also knew intuitively how to achieve it, how to mix the colors, which brush I needed to get the necessary texture of the paint on the canvas. I was sitting outside, in the sun, painting. I felt happy. I know little else about it. This too was inspiration. I knew intuitively how to do what needed to be done. I also knew how to take pictures of the canvas, which lighting, aperture, etc. I knew what the cover of the CD should look like. Everything just happened, I did everything automatically, intuitively.
Ultimately, Bram Roza helped me out with the final design of the CD cover. I am extremely grateful for that. Bram made the design even more beautiful, with nicer fonts and with some adjustments that bring out the Rothko-esque character of the painting even more. I got goosebumps when Bram sent me the final layout. This was how it was supposed to be. The project was nearing completion.
Meditation No. 1 of course is all about the music. And yet it turned out to be an art project of several dimensions. Every little detail turned out to be connected with everything else. The colors, the shapes, the sounds. But that’s not the end to the story. Because I have no idea what the music will accomplish in this world. Once the music is mastered by Ron Boots and the CD or download is ready, it’s out of my hands. I don’t know what the music will achieve, I don’t know if the music is going to have any effect at all. I have no control over that. I just let it go. I trust that the project will do fine by itself. As this cosmic piece of music found me, it will also know how to find and touch other listeners.
A stone in the water
I’m not the creator of the music, it’s not my music, it’s not Tonal Assembly’s music. I was merely the chosen instrument. I was allowed to be the time and the place where the music manifested itself and came into this world. And I can now present this music and release it into the world. That is a great honor. This whole project felt mystical, like being touched by something that carries a character of sacredness. That is why the name of the source of the music eventually came to mind: The Arkhive.
It wasn’t until I thought about that name that I noticed that there are at least three connotations associated with it. First of all, in the Bible, the Ark of the Covenant was the wooden box where the Ten Commandments were kept. The Ark is the physical representation of the elusive but ever-present sacred. Subsequently, the music is, as it were, a “download” from a cosmic archive, a reservoir of an endless amount of melodies that are still waiting to be collected. And finally the music is somehow also the communication of a collective (a hive) of cosmic minds that resonated with my mind and opened me to their influence, so that now they communicate through the music and what it evokes in the listener and thereby in this world.
The Arkhive: Meditation No. 1 is a musical project that is still growing. Writing this explanation has also turned out to be part of the Arkhive project. And as you read this, you are now also involved in the Arkhive project, whether by just reading this explanation or eventually by experiencing the music. It’s a ripple effect: I threw a stone into the cosmic waters, and I have no idea where the waves will end. But I definitely would like to hear from you what your experience with the music was like.
How to order?
The album is released on the Groove Unlimited label and can be ordered here: http://www.groove.nl/index2.html (search for “Tonal Assembly” and the CD will appear).
The download is available from Bandcamp: https://tonalassembly.bandcamp.com/album/meditation-no-1.
Tonal Assembly (Taede A. Smedes),
Nijmegen, September 2020