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...invigorating examples of how traditional instruments can be augmented by and allied with modern technology.

Music Review: Various Performers – Caravan Of Light

Anyone who has read a substantial amount of my writing (bless you, you brave soul) will probably know by now of my less than stellar opinion of all things New Age.

Quickly, then, for those who aren't familiar or who need reminding, my main objective is they want results without having to do any work. As a brief example, let's look at one of the newer fads, the branch of Jewish mysticism known as The Kaballah.

Twenty years ago when I looked into studying The Kaballah I realized it would be impossible – not only didn't I speak or read Hebrew, I wasn't prepared to make the commitment to study what was required to even start out on their path to enlightenment.

Anybody who is serious about wanting spirituality is either willing to dedicate themselves to the amount required or they are charlatans. New Age versions of spirituality are the equivalent of fast food and microwave dinners — all body and no substance.

You can cover yourself in all the pretty wrapping that you want, but that still won't give you any soul. That sort of work has to be done from the inside out. The same goes for so much of the band's music; a pastiche of sounds, styles, cultures and ethnicities that on first listen is pleasant enough, but quickly wears thin for lack of substance. There are far too many CDs claiming collaborative-world antecedents that end up in that category.

Looking at Caravan Of Light, a new package of CD music and a short DVD film, you could easily think it would fall into the above category. It turns out to not be a problem with the music, but with the people responsible for the packaging – specifically the liner notes. Instead of being willing to let the performers communicate through their music, they litter the air with pronouncements like "sonically invokes the spirit of a growing community of musicians seeking harmony through song." It was almost enough to make me put it down the garbage disposal without listening to it.

It was the fact that the music of the various cultures represented appeared to be performed by people who would at least have a nodding acquaintance with the respective heritages that prevented that from happening. While one or two of the tracks could be easily consigned to the waste bin of aural atrocity known as wallpaper, the rest are invigorating examples of how traditional instruments can be augmented by and allied with modern technology.

I'm not one of those who think music should be museum pieces remaining unchanged since the culture responsible first began to give expression to their beliefs in song. If music hadn't evolved, none of us would have gotten beyond beating logs with bits of stick and rock yet. What I do object to is change that gives no consideration to the ramifications of what is being attempted and ends up robbing the music of what made it unique and significant to its own people.

The homogenization of culture in the name of universal understanding is misguided and ethnocentric at best and racist at its worst. Aside from the crime of watering down any one's music until it becomes more "acceptable" to other ears the problem is usually a dominant culture provides the basis for the common ground needed to achieve the above result.

How many times have you heard the Indian Raga form serve the purpose? Nine times out of ten everything is welded onto a framework that originated in the West ignoring billions of people the world over.

Yes, those sounds are ubiquitous now, but that's only because nobody else has had the chance to compete yet. With the increased availability of inexpensive digital recording equipment via computers anybody anywhere can record a CD of music and upload it to the Internet and at least listen to it. Such an increase in access to styles means there is no longer any excuse to use only one culture's measure as our yardstick.

The music on Caravan Of Light's CD, "Incantation," is far from amateur or something that's just been whipped together on a home computer. In fact, two of the best tracks are ones that have gone through the remix process.

Michael Franti & Spearhead's "Skin On The Drum" (Basnectar Remix) with remix and additional production by Lorin Ashton, and "Take A Flight" (Ramasutra Remix) by Omar Faruk Tekbilek with remix and additional production by Ram Borcar show how a song in a good producer's hands can be augmented intelligently.

In both instances the producers have allowed, as far as I can tell, the original song's integrity to be preserved with their additions merely giving the material another dimension. The juxtaposition of their touches to the material is subtle enough not to be jarring; it's like seasoning that enhances flavours instead of overwhelming them so you can appreciation a meal all the more.

The really good thing about Caravan Of Light's CD is that the musicians are sufficiently grounded in their own culture's musical traditions to prevent the augmentations from turning their compositions into generic sounding mush.

Even better is that the producer responsible for the remixes are all cut from the same mold as Lorin Ashton and Ram Borcar and have the perfect amount of respect for the material they work with. Ironically I found the weakest songs on the CD were a couple of the ones that hadn't experienced the delicate touch of a second producer.

Unfortunately, the same complimentary things can't be said about the DVD, "Initiation." It is the usual New Age spiritual void of pretty on the outside and nothing inside holding it together. The only thing going for it is the soundtrack, as that was lifted from some of the better music of the CD.

Twelve minutes of filmed flames with voiceovers making claims to being goddesses from various cultures does not make a statement of any special spiritual significance as far as I'm concerned. It comes across like just another half-baked idea that has latched onto one small piece of ancient learning, the four elements and taken it out of its cultural context for no real purpose.

All they've succeeded in doing is marring the efforts of those responsible for the CD who showed a real commitment to breaking the pattern of superficiality that too often accompanies projects like these. It appears that those responsible for the packaging and the film still believe that spirituality is all about how you go about doing something – not what you do. Watching "Initiation" was like eating an apple where you bight through the skin and find it hollowed out at the core; all show and no substance.

If you get an opportunity to listen to the "Incantation" part of the two disc CD/DVD set Caravan Of Light, do so, it will be time well spent.

Try not to be put off by the liner notes – or the DVD, and appreciate the work that people have done in realizing some of technology's potential for helping the evolution of music. They have done a good job of not sacrificing content for the sake of form, and it appears sometimes that's plenty to be grateful for and appreciate.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.

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