Monday, October 8, 2018

DVD REVIEW: New Horizon - Aerial Ambience Relaxing the Mind, Calming the Spirit

Relaxing the Mind, Calming the Spirit
A collaboration between Sky Lakes Media
and the music duo Minstrel Streams

For a brief time (mid '80s to early '90s) the now-defunct Miramar record label took some new age music albums and joined the evocative music with equally beautiful nature photography, creating, in essence, a video music album using the VHS format. The first two were well-known collaborations between David Lanz and Paul Speer (Natural States in 1985 and Desert Vision in 1987). Those were followed by Pete Bardens' (R.I.P.) Water Colours in 1991 and Tangerine Dreams' Canyon Dreams in 1992. This format never really caught on, although I personally enjoyed them (the label also released some ground-breaking computer animation videos in the "Mind's Eye" series).

Fast forward to now, and nature videography has grown by leaps and bounds due to two technological advances: high definition digital video and drone videography (allowing pictures never before possible via helicopter). As a result, Mark and Michelle Unger decided to resurrect the concept of nature videos set to new age music via their company Sky Lakes Media. The pair joined forces with another couple, Matt and Rebecca Stuart (who record under the name of Minstrel Streams) and the result is the video "album" (on DVD format) titled New Horizon (this appears to be the first release in a series entitled Aerial Ambience). The DVD title is also the title  of the album by the Stuarts and features music from that well-reviewed album (of which I wrote "The music has a timeless grace, a rich beauty, and an overwhelmingly lovely and simple charm, [simple meaning not cluttered with artifice or embellished needlessly]. There is so much inherent warmth and good will present throughout all thirteen selections that it would be damn near impossible to stay in a bad mood (if you started out that way) and played the whole album through.").

The thirteen selections feature beautifully shot videos of locations in southern Oregon and northern California and the images are, indeed, stunning! From the opening selection, "Ancient Mariner," with video of Indian Sands on the majestic southern Oregon coastline, we then set out for the Smith River area of northern California on the track "Come to the Waters," and progress on from there, visiting lakes, canyons, mountain ranges, more coastline, and even a vineyard! Some videos are ground-based, many are from drones in flight, and there are even some underwater shots! The amazing visuals are wedded to the wonderful melodies of the Stuarts' music (who even appear on camera in the vineyard track, "Golden Treasures"). I am particularly awed by the coastal videos, but that's a matter of my being emotionally drawn to coastlines, because the rivers, the canyons, the mountains, are all beautiful.

Joining Matt (guitar and piano) and Rebecca (flutes) are some stellar guest artists, including Jill Haley (English horn), Paul Kochanski (string bass), Eugene Friesen (cello), Noah Wilding (vocals), Matt Heaton (bodhran), and Tom Eaton on percussion and accordion. The music was recorded at Will Ackerman's Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont and Tom Eaton handled the engineering, mixing and mastering, so you know this is a video album that will sound as good as it looks!

Hopefully, New Horizon (the DVD) will inspire others to bring this format back to life. With the aforementioned advances in technology, the time is right. Viewed on a big screen HDTV with good speakers (e.g. a high end soundbar such as I have) it's quite the experience (especially the drone fly-overs). Tempo and energy level of the songs vary, but not distractingly so. However, one can always just watch one or two of the videos as a way of "whisking away" from the everyday and de-stressing. Or one might also view this as a precursor to voyaging to these locales to glimpse what lies ahead! Either way, or however you experience this DVD, it's a fantastic merging of the two mediums. I applaud both the Ungers and the Stuarts – well done, folks!

The DVD seems to be only available at CDBaby. I haven;t been able to find any sample videos (sorry).