Full of Life – Spotted Peccary Music SPM 1803
Full of Life has an awakening contemplative spiritual sound that invites mystery and joy to flow together, the listener experiences a series of smooth and polished instrumentals, exploring a deep spiritual space with layers, atmospheres and melodies that feel much like being up in the Sonoran Desert mountains with breezes blowing through the trees, discovering spiritual connections in nature and the spirit of love. John Gregorius invites you to watch the evening light change the distant mountain’s rocky slopes and high-desert washes as it flows, creating deep channels of shadows and mirages, “painting” the music. The listener can become awake to the divine presence, which is how music can become prayer.
1. About the album Full of Life
The music of John Gregorius blends a…
…love of both acoustic and ambient electric guitars, resulting in a wonderful sound that is easygoing and engaging, a mixture of acoustic and amplified instrumental music that ranges from refreshingly simple fingerstyle guitar to the emotional resonance of layered textural soundscapes. The sounds that result grow out of life’s mysteries, and through this process continues a search for meaning within a highly dynamic environment that is tightly focused on the volatility and transience of listening. For the tracks on his newest album, Full of Life, Gregorius employs New Standard Tuning, which was developed by Robert Fripp.
Five consecutive open-notes of new standard tuning are spaced seven semitones apart on the chromatic circle; the highest interval is only three semitones apart, which places some of the guitar strings under greater tension than standard tuning. Standard sets of guitar strings do not work well with the tuning as the lowest strings are too loose and the highest string may snap under the increased tension. The body of the instrument seems to focus a heightened sonic awareness of what falls within the listener’s contextual perception, filling the space with a sound that we appreciate and enjoy, thus prompting a rich and satisfying mode of experiencing the music.
His first album is titled…
…Under the Ice. It was released in 2000, from his studio Sound Art Recording. In his own words, found on John’s website: “From this, I discovered my music created a space for people to live, travel, pray or even sleep with. Under the Ice was followed by Heaven and Earth, which was picked up by Spotted Peccary Music, and that was followed by Still Voice, which features electric and acoustic ambient guitar with piano, cello, upright bass, drums, programming and vocals.”
Yet, with all of these new instrumental layers and dimensions, there remains a sense of minimalism and mystery. “The music I create is part of a larger spiritual quest. I am learning that being still and listening is important beyond measure and my hope is that my music will facilitate a deeper and more real experience of what it is to be awake and alive. Ultimately, if one sees a glimpse of the source of beauty and love from the music then I am greatly blessed.”
The sound of this album…
…Full Of Life, mastered by Howard Givens, makes me think of a unique new southwestern guitar sensation, with a very bright and wide open sky and yet somehow without a big cowboy hat on it. The rocky slopes and sandy areas of the desert floor merge in the distance into shimmering waves with harsh, serrated outlines of chaotic peaks and craggy ranges. The album’s brilliant and dazzling cover art features original photography by Micayla Gregorius. The Sonoran Desert’s biseasonal rainfall pattern results in more living species than any other desert in the world and are home to a variety of plants, animals, and other organisms which add their songs to the western wind for an unforgettable calming and attractive instrumental sound that is comforting in this mysterious auditory desert landscape.
2. The tracks
Full of Life opens with an energetic…
…beat and that big sky feeling. An easy groove sets in right away, an upbeat sound with simple electric guitars and drums. “The Expansive Sky“ (5:45) expresses a picture of optimism and having no limits, like a deep ocean current in the sky, unseen, but flowing through all our experiences, moving us to seek fulfillment and connectedness, impelling us towards truth, goodness and beauty.
Contemplation widens perspectives, and “Unfolding Beauty“ (5:08) continues the same electric guitar mood but the feeling for this track is more slow and delicate, it starts with no drums, the pace is set by fingers in the beginning, then some analog drum samples (provided by Howard Givens) emerge deep into the song. Fingerpicking, or playing fingerstyle, is a technique for playing the guitar with an interactive, interconnected, interdependent, and dynamic feeling, like the rocky desert slopes and hillsides that are teeming with life that evolved to have specialized adaptations to the desert climate.
The title song, “Full of Life“ (5:49) is music created to fit perfectly to these surroundings, the music to the listener, and the listener to the surroundings. This track features a finger picked acoustic guitar, in the classical style with understated delicate synth frame in the background, riding along at a moderate pace with no other percussion, expressing the goodness that flows from the gift of life. The mood is quiet, somehow bringing us along to our spiritual home and a place of retreat and renewal where new insights for our numinous journey may be revealed.
Allow yourself to be amazed…
…to let go, build layers upon layers of a finger picking progression of chords, soon strings emerge, with violin and cello played by Kayla Applegate. From the beginning of the track the only beat is set by the finger pattern, but halfway through the strength of the structural pulse is joined by a drumbeat. Prayer and contemplation are not separate moments from practice, they all become an inner element of that practice, along the “Path of Renewal“ (5:22) .
Deep in the darkness of night imagine large stretches of bare rocks, swept clear of sand and dust by the wind. The exposed rocks are thoroughly mirrored by a “Blanket of Stars“ (4:51) Lush electric guitar finger work with high hat and drums, layers of simple playing, haunted repetition creating an elegant sensation of slowly changing music, and occasionally supercharged by scorching lead riffs rocketing off into remote distances somewhere deep in the background.
The long, stretched out, soft passages, with predominantly tonal and simple melodic contours, imply a music that could continue on into infinity, building guitar and synth dialogs, joined by drums and then what seems like a whole orchestral procession with strings, climaxing with a big production, “Winds of Change“ (5:21). I think it has to do with an instrument’s ability to impart feelings, like happiness and beauty, causing the listener to experience the sounds with a joyfully deliberate abandonment that results in a deeper realization of truth.
Silence, prayer and listening to…
…what the music has to say, “Wellspring“ (4:28) furnished by an electric guitar complete with drums and the whole band, big reverb overhead, repeating theme layers taps into the disturbing, chaotic undertow of the environment. Saguaro cactuses, which live in the Sonoran Desert expand like accordions to store water in the cells of their trunks and branches. A large saguaro is a living storage tower and can live for hundreds of years.
Silence enables, communicates and reveals truth. “Early Reflection“ (5:01) brings a slow dreamy vista with electric guitar layers, slow finger notes emerge lots of sustained meditative atmosphere, there are no drums but there are restful, life-giving rhythms as well as abstract thinking, free choice, and compassion for others.
With tiny electronic buzzing and whispering, “Monsoon Clearing“ (4:49) has more non-guitar electronics than the other numbers and hand drums, and ethereal vocals soaring overhead which weaves a poetic narrative of ambient sound throughout and suggests a way of focusing one’s life, through prayer, living in love, and an awareness of nature’s presence. Drums were played by Mitch Ross, bass by Rick Baptista, with vocals by Kimberly Daniels.
Climbing up and up to view…
…panoramic serrated outlines of chaotic peaks and craggy ranges, “Painted Vistas“ (3:19) awards the listener with electric guitar finger picking with reverb layers, emerging drums, the basic energy living within a contemplative dimension to consider the situation from a variety of angles.
I had the chance to ask John about this song, “Catalina“ (4:15) and he told me that in Tucson there are the beautiful Catalina mountains which could be translated as “Catherine.” So, Catalina is actually a song for Catherine. Elegant strummed guitars with the finger style layers telling the story on top, with a soaring synth perfume in the background.
My personal favorite track on this album is the final track, “Rincon Fading Light“ (4:00) because it has the most ambient electronic feeling. I hear a calm dark night with tiny tapped chimes and metallic objects, a form of music that can freely move in a perceived spaceless and timeless fashion to provide you with life-giving rhythms, grow your internal sense of self-awareness, bring about inner healing, sharpen your discernment, and lead you toward a greater sense of purpose.
3. Where to buy Full of Life?
Written by Robin James, April 21st, 2020