Every now and then an extraordinary CD arrives for review, and this is one of them! “Hearing Music” is a 2-disc compilation of music from the brief but highly influential career of Joanna Brouk.

Brouk was a pioneer of electronic music. She worked at the crossroads of ambient, new age, drone, and classical minimalism. Brouk went to U of C, Berkeley in 1970 to study lit and creative writing. Her early sound recordings were hypnotic layers of repeated words. She began to record nature sounds, like bees, crickets, and frogs. When she slowed them down, she realized that these sounded like drones. Brouk taught herself to play piano. She got access to an early model synthesizer and the electronic recording studio (analog) at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College in Oakland.

Brouk pursued a unique and minimal sound. Several of her compositions were broadcast on progressive radio station KPFA-FM starting in October 1972. After graduating, Brouk went into radio production, putting her music in the background of shows and documentaries. In 1980 she enrolled in Mills’ graduate program for electronic music. She produced work for NPR and became the program director at KPFA. She produced her own cassette tapes for fund-raising schemes. Her music was used for post-surgical sound therapy.

Her music career ended abruptly in 1985 when she married, moved to San Diego and had a child. She had no access to recording equipment. She hasn’t written any music in 30 years.

This double CD set is a compilation of Brouk’s recordings. There are 8 tracks on the first disc and 14 tracks on the second disc (a few songs on disc 1 have longer versions on disc 2). A pamphlet with Brouk’s history is included with the CD set. The music utilizes different instruments including piano, gongs, wordless vocals, and nature sounds.  The instrumental sounds are layered and textured. Riffs back up and cross over and through one another. There’s plenty of space between the sounds, however. The music is never cluttered. It becomes a series of effects as much as a collection of musical ideas. The albums include recordings that have never been heard or distributed before.

It’s easy to imagine how stunningly revolutionary this music must have been to listeners in the 1970s and early 1980s. The new age genre was just taking shape. This is an extraordinary CD set. I’m grateful that these recordings have been preserved and digitized for a new generation! This is wonderful music for meditation, healing, and relaxation. Highly recommended.

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Music by Joanna Brouk.
CD 2016
compiled/produced by Douglas Mcgown, Numero Group. 2 CD set $18.00. Mp3 $15.00. Double LP/Vinyl $25.00