Fri, Oct 20 2017
Feature of: JONN SERRIE
Walk the Space Avenue: the world of Jonn Serrie
Jonn Serrie live at The Gatherings (photo copyright Bill Forcier)
"I envision a certain depth, an experience of sound that gives space for the listener to repose. My goal is to combine the elements of space and romance, creating a delicate backdrop to the soul". This is the philosophy that has propelled composer/producer Jonn Serrie to the forefront of the contemporary instrumental and space music field.
Atlanta-based musician Jonn Serrie grew up in Connecticut, New England. He started into music taking piano lessons for about 8 years, shortly followed by playing the church organ. Like in his own music that would follow later-on, he was more impressed by the textural possibilities than notes. At the age of 25 he stopped playing keyboards and started playing guitar for about 7 years.
In 1969 Serrie came across a copy of the album "Switched on Bach" by Wendy Carlos, which made him turn back into keyboards.
During his scholarship Serrie had the fortune his school had a small electronic music studio, which made him to get serious about composing electronic music.
Around 1975 Jonn was working at Electronic Music Laboratories where he demonstrated the products and held seminars as a resident synthesist. There he also extensive used the EML 101 synthesizer, which he later-on would use on all his albums. In that period his compositions were already becoming more textural and spacy. After some advise from a friend he took some of his tapes to the planetarium in Hartford, who wanted his music custom made and/or as library music. His further contacts to other planetariums were successful as well, they very much wanted custom-designed soundtracks to match their developing visual technologies. But the longer Serrie was mixing the music for all these shows, he became more and more aware that his music could also very well stand on its own without any narration. It could tell its own stories by means of its highly visual character.
In the early ’80 Serrie did shows for the planetarium in New York City, which hired narrators like Leonard Nimoy and Charlton Heston. Jonn Serrie would record the narration, edit them down and compose some music to several Voyager Shows.
After 9 years of shaping his skills and building a large library music of planetarium music, Jonn felt sure enough about his musical qualities, which made him decided to construct albums out of them.
The first would become "And the Stars go with you". In 1986 Serrie was involved with the Teacher in Space mission from NASA, which educated kids about space. As the space shuttle blew up, Jonn decided he needed to do something with the grief of the tragedy and the unfortunate death of teacher Christa McAuliffe, who was on the shuttle. His debut-album mirrors the subtle beauty and mystery of space, a sense of drifting through time and space. The visual image company Miramar decided to release the album by starting a record label. In spite of he sad circumstances the album became a huge success.
Jonn Serrie started working with George Lucas and a top team of professionals in the industry on the first interactive planetarium show for the Hayden Planetarium in New York. He did the complete sound design, music and mix for the show.
As he didn’t want to repeat his debut-album, Jonn (who is an experienced pilot himself) returned to his boyhood love for flying, aerospace and the various aspects of flight.
"Flightpath" traces the history of flight musically, transformed into the spacious realms of our imagination.
In 1990 the next album "Tingri" (named after a Tibetan village) came out. It emerged from Jonn’s interest in Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan cultures in general. For once, Serrie moved away from space as he wanted to capture the magic and spiritual wisdom in his music. On this album one can hear the first traces of romance which have entered his spacious music, e.g. on the closing track "Annie by the Sea" (a song dedicated to his wife)
The year 1992 saw the release of "Planetary Chronicles Volume 1", a great, adapted collection of Jonn’s planetarium music from the early days.
Jonn Serrie admits the romantic charm of the south of the US might have been one of the possible reasons why his music slowly developed into more melodic, popmusic-kindred compositions. But on the other hand this change also has to do with his development as a composer.
"Midsummer Century" is a science fiction fantasy story without words, which shows a relationship between the worlds of space and the worlds of romance. Each is infinite and has infinite possibilities to explore. The beautiful space-art painting by visual artist Michel Whelan is a book in itself. The album is a romance novel of the future, where people living 10.000 years in the future are looking back 4.000 years to the ancient ruins left behind by past generations. The album also features a instrumental cover version of Judy Collins song "Love is a harsh Mistress".
As the story in music grew even bigger, Serrie decided to compose a twin album next to it.
"Xlandia" followed the poignant sense of romance while it’s melodic, song-written music described the environments and places of the classified story.
"Planetary Chronicles Volume 2" marks the return to deep ambient space music. It offers another fine collection of planetarium music, built on deep atmospherics and layers of aural texture. The music breaths beautiful desolation of quiet places which lie in stretches of near silence as by sound itself. One of the 5 haunting tracks is the epic track "A Frontier of Fables", part of "Aniara", a show of the Bishop Planetarium in Florida.
When asked about the apparent duality in his space-excursions and his romantic music, Jonn says he finds the combination of ambient moods and strong melody exciting and challenging. He also asked himself the question how he could expand his audience and bring them in to what is viewed as a very narrow spectrum of music. So Jonn started using soft romantic images and traditional songwriting techniques which were more common to everyone and then introduced the spacier elements as the album progresses. This approach would really pay-off in the following years as his audience got bigger. He led them into the world of space music of which Jonn was absolutely sure they would really love, but of which the audience itself don’t know how to get to.
The album "Spirit Keepers" was the outcome of an introspective period in Serrie’s life. Jonn interest was aroused in the earthy, almost spacey atmosphere of the native American community after a trip to an Indian burial ground, where he played with the Native musicians John "Winterhawk" Johnson (narration/flute/percussion) and Tom "Walks In Dreams" Goodman (chanting and percussion). Together they wrote music which melts earth and space.
It was new-age pianist David Lanz who brought Jonn Serrie and Gary Stroutsos together for the native-American influenced album "Hidden World". Both musicians didn’t meet until the final mastering sessions at Narada Records as both musicians traded tapes back and forth. The lush sounds of synthesizers and a variety of ancient flutes displays both earthy spirituality as astral wonders.
On "Dream Journeys" we find new lengthy music Jonn made for 2 instructor video’s by David Carradine about Chi Kung and Tai Chi.
In 2000 Serrie moved further into-new age territory as he recorded the album "Upon A Midnight Clear". As the title suggests it’s collection of laidback popular Christmas and New Year melodies, but with a "space-treatment". A year after that he would "repeat" the same concept of re-arranging Christmas carols with lush, ethereal sounds for "Yuletides".
The year 2001 also saw the retrospective double-cd "Century Seasons" about which Jonn says: "I wanted to celebrate the artistic direction of pure space music which is where I began and ultimately where my deeper vision resides". He sees the album as his Jonn’s flagship, on which the space music is made available in one location without the songwriting cuts in the way. Next to longform space music it also contained the new track "Deep Mystery" which would end up on the forthcoming album "Lumia Nights" and the custom-scored album track "Andromeda Dream".
"Lumia Nights" was supposed to be released in Europe in 2002, but due to circumstances was transferred back to Valley Entertainment in the US.
In the meanwhile, the Miramar-label which had released most of Jonn’s cds, had unfortunately collapsed. Things got legally sorted out over a year’s time, and Jonn could walk away with his masters. Luckily, Serrie’s music found a new home at New World Music, which started to re-release all his cds. The remastered re-release of the album "And the Stars go with you" also contained a bonus track not featured on the original one.
Over the years Serrie had done a number of corporate projects with computer animation artist Charlie Case, who started to work with cosmic images. This led to the video and dvd-release "Star Chronicles" (Journeys in Imagination), for which Serrie selected some deep space cuts from his albums for the soundtrack while Charlie scored the visuals.
Fall of 2003 finally saw "The Stargazer’s Journey", Serrie long-awaited return to deep spacemusic, on which he made no compromises on the music whatsoever. Jonn took the best of what he had learned using his planetarium experience as he created a musical cushion for the telescope folks. Jonn also did a number of concerts using Stargazer and also plans to do cruise ship performances in the new planetarium on the Queen Mary 2. He also recently scored an the Imax-project "Galaxies across Space and Time", and contributed "Tingri Maiden" to the Hollywood hit "What the Bleep do we know?"
Charlie Case has been working on the new Lumia Nights dvd "Out of the Blue", the second release in the Star Chronicles-series "Music and visuals for the mind". Like "Star Chronicles" it contains one long piece of approximately 20 minutes and two shorter pieces 5 and 6 min each. The dvd features recreations of tropical forest, caves, Mayan Indian ruins, botany, Egyptian civilization, hieroglyphics and many real world phenomenon’s.
Just after the start of 2005, Serrie announces a new new-age album "Epiphany".
Jonn: "Epiphany" represents my return to the music of my youth; I was a church organist, taught by my grandmother. I knew these classics before I could talk by sitting at her feet and just listening. My basic style and electronic texturing comes from that time period in my life and I wanted to finally acknowledge my roots. I also wanted to make sure I was good enough to interpret God's music before I attempted it. There is one original piece on the project called "Light of Thy Countenance".
In 2006, Jonn Serrie composed the album "Sunday Morning", of which a portion of the proceeds of the sale are donated to the Autism Society of America. For this project he joined forces with long-time autism advocate Beth Clay "I was very touched by David Kirby's book "Evidence of Harm" and how difficult living with autism spectrum disorder is for both the individual and family members. I felt inspired to offer music that provides a relaxing and therapeutic atmosphere".
It’s remarkable that Jonn Serrie never listed any of his equipment on his albums. To this topic he reveals that if there’s a "secret" to his sound, it’s due to his understanding of synthesizer programming and advanced recording techniques. Regarding his creative process he likes to refer to weightlessness, anti-gravity and the feeling of flying. His firm knowledge of the science of synthesis, programming and engineering in the whole process of composing is very useful as well.
Space music is and always will be the absolute foundation of his sound, but Jonn likes to mix it up a bit and keep things fresh by introducing different elements and points of view. He prefers to balance the ambient structures with a common ground of familiar melodic structures, as it allows him to introduce textural ambience by starting from a more comfortable musical position for the audience. But next to his romantic, melodic side of music he will always come back to the deeper musical regions of the universe………
And the Stars Go With You (1986)
Planetary Chronicles Vol.1 (1992)
Midsummer Century (1993)
Planetary Chronicles Vol.2 (1994)
Spirit Keepers (1998)
Hidden World (2000) (with Gary Stroutos)
Dream Journeys (1998)
Upon A Midnight Clear (2000)
Century Seasons (2001)
Lumia Nights (2002)
The Stargazer’s Journey (2003)
Epiphany, Meditations on Sacred Hymns (2005)
Sunday Morning (2006)
© Bert Strolenberg
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