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numün: voyage au soleil

Unlike virtually anything else recorded today, voyage au soleil by numün is a truly haunting recording of acoustic and electronic instruments. Incorporating traditional Balinese and Americana instrumentation plus synthesizers and loop manipulation, Bob Holmes, Joel Mellin and Christopher Romero have created a work commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Mellin points out the unique situation he was in as a child: “My father was an astronomy teacher for many years before he retired. He lived it. We all did. I always thought every family had moon rocks.”

Starting with “tranceport,” one is aware that this is a decidedly different listening experience. The sounds of an old mellotron come out of the mist. Joined by a cümbüş (a fretless turkish banjo), a ’52 Gibson hollow-body, violin and Balinese gongs, these instruments establish a tone both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The title itself is a pun combining both trance music and transport.

The piece most directly related to the moon landing may be “first steps,” where the tremolo twang of Holmes’ guitar combines with Romero’s cümbüş to create an intricate sense of give and take. It establishes the unfamiliarity of the moon and of stepping onto a landscape that had only existed in photographs until that moment. Setting foot on the lunar surface is transformed from something quite spooky to a more complex set of emotions as we listen to this newly unfolding experience.

What transpires from “tranquility base” is a sense of history being reborn. Using actual recordings of the Apollo 11 astronauts provides a sense of the history this occasion created. There is an obvious excitement in their voices, and the fact that the music also incorporates gamelan instrumentation helps to add to the universal nature of what was an iconic global experience.

Following “tranquility base,” a shift takes place as the album explores what happens when plans change as they obviously do on “mission loss.” From the opening moments it becomes clear that all is not well. Bells chime a warning joined by synthesizers, and swirls and drones create an edge of unease that continues to grow as the track moves forward. Finally, a piano offers a note of calm amidst the chaos. It begins to take on a larger role as it becomes more and more apparent the mission is coming undone.

Viewing the endless “expanse,” the discomfort continues. Yet amid the tension, a growing sense of calm begins to take hold, with a sense of acceptance even as the tension continues. A haunting mellotron riff hints at the undercurrents
being felt as the astronauts deal with both the growing fear and calmness of the moment.

Finally, with “voyage au soleil” the last moments are at hand. Bob Homes notes that, “This song brings the whole strange ride to a wild conclusion — definitely a trip to the heart of the sun.” The combination of instruments on this track, both gamelan and more traditional, join forces before fading out into the void. There is nothing left.

Bob Holmes, Joel Mellin and Christopher Romero all have unique backgrounds. Mellin and Romero are both members of Gamelan Dharma Swara, while Holmes is considered and ambient country pioneer. Yet together they have created something completely new. Voyage au soleil establishes a remarkable new approach for those interested in the cutting edge.

A remarkable new approach for those interested in the cutting edge.
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