CD: Fields Beyond The Known
Artist: Alan Roth

Fields Beyond The Known CDComposer/ multi-instrumentalist Alan Roth has created Fields Beyond The Known, an album of deeply meditative music that is perfect for inner exploration. Recorded in the tropical Hawaiian paradise of Maui, Alan’s intention was to “capture a moment in time” and musically share, as much as possible, the lush surroundings and his peaceful yet focused state of being. The album also features legendary LA keyboardist/ soundscape artist Ben Dowling and was co-produced by Emmy Award winner and Oscar nominee Kit Thomas.


Alan’s profound interest in music that is both serene and sacred flows naturally from his more than 20 years of studying Nada Yoga (the yoga of sound,) meditation, shamanism, Eastern philosophy, chakras, energy balancing techniques, and more. A meeting with a shaman in 1995 proved to be a catalytic experience in Alan’s life, and in his words:” After the awakening shamanic experience, my path of personal evolution became so strong, so valuable, so enticing that my world Alan on Shakuhachiview shifted, and my musical tastes expanded…into world music and meditation music.” This was a radical shift indeed, since up until that point, Alan’s involvement in the music world was as rock guitarist in the concrete jungle of New York City, worlds away from the natural beauty of Hawaii, which would become his inspiration and refuge in years to come. Alan calls this journey “From rock to Zen.”


While Alan still plays guitar, as well as bass, percussion, and synthesizers, the primary focus for his lighter than air music is the Japanese bamboo Shakuhachi flute. As he relates: “One day, someone placed a Shakuhachi flute in my hands and my life changed. While the Shakuhachi is a long way from a Stratocaster, Alan still cites earlier influences such as Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd who he calls: “… the masters who have informed my playing, attention to tone, and heart as a musician.”


Fields Beyond The Known bookOver these past 20 years, Alan has traveled to India, Asia, and more studying, performing, and evolving in his knowledge and artistry. In addition to translating his transformative experiences into sound, Alan has also recently added the title of author to his resume with the release of a book of metaphysical fiction that has drawn comparisons with Carlos Casteneda, Paulo Coelho, and Richard Bach. The book and the album, which share the same title, are companions, and the music brings aspects of the story to life.


In an interview, Alan spoke with me about the making of his album, Fields Beyond The Known: “I made the decision that each solo Shakuhachi flute track be recorded in one take…with a window in the studio open to capture the lush energy of the West Maui Mountains where it was recorded. As the tracks are very long (from 16:00-21:00) and the Shakuhachi is a very challenging instrument, each take was an adventure…a tightrope act…an exercise in deep breath and remaining ‘mindfully present’ to each moment and phrase. It was a personal sadhana (path of self discipline)…but ultimately really empowered my skill and pitch on the instrument, and later allowed deeper live performances, session and ensemble work. The solo frame drums, which I overdubbed afterwards, were also recorded in one pass and so it’s a very live album in many senses.”


He goes on to say: “With this CD, I chose to explore the ‘A Piacere’ approach…playing with complete freedom as to dynamics or tempo…moment by moment…phrase by phrase… a relaxation from the boundaries of playing in strict metered time. ’WOW! What a sense of total expressive freedom I discovered. It was a very powerful awakening for me…akin to being given wings…allowing each ‘take’ and every performance of these pieces to be totally different in its subtleties and choices. On the CD, each melody is first explored ‘a piacere’, and then in tempo based sections…allowing me to explore each melody both ‘in and out of time.”


The album opens on track 1 with “Desert Spirit.” The first thing we hear is a rich ambient synthesizer soundscape that is exquisitely meditative and doesn’t call attention to itself other than as a sonic tapestry in the background. As the listener is drawn into its slow dreamy unfolding, Alan makes his entrance with the Shakuhachi, also known as the Japanese Zen flute.Alan on hand drum His long extended notes are suspended in space like an albatross gliding on the air currents. About half way through, a quietly mixed track of hand drums adds an understated rhythm and a bit of earth element to the ethereal atmosphere.


As the piece went on over its more than 21 minute length, I became aware of how incredibly expressive the Shakuhachi flute is, especially for a simple bamboo instrument. A note can be started with a slow smooth beginning or it can have a more percussive attack or “chuff” that the Shakuhachi is known for. According to Wikipedia: “Much of the Shakuhachi’s subtlety (and player’s skill) lies in its rich tone coloring, and the ability for its variation. Different fingerings, mouth placement, and breath flow can produce notes of the same pitch, but with subtle or dramatic differences in the tone coloring. Holes can be covered partially (1/3 covered, 1/2, 2/3, etc.) and pitch varied subtly or substantially by changing the blowing angle.” One of my favorite effects is when a long held note jumps up in pitch to a higher harmonic – a technique that Alan is quite adept at. Although the instrument is simple in its construction, learning to play it authentically is a serious pursuit, not only on the flute itself, but also in the spiritual discipline that accompanies it.


The remaining three tracks are similar to the first one in their composition, instrumentation, and overall feel. While this could be seen as repetitious in some contexts, here it is perfect as the meditative ambience is maintained throughout, providing a most wonderful soundtrack for relaxation, meditation, massage, yoga, etc. Variations in the synth background tracks and percussion add to the distinction between songs. As mentioned above, the range of sounds Alan gets from this seemingly simple wooden end-blown flute is continually amazing.


VishnuThis is hard to explain in words, but I had a deep sense of the artist’s unique energy or spirit coming through the instrument. Alan’s years of experience in spiritual studies are felt viscerally in his accomplished playing of the Shakuhachi flute. In his words: “In my evolution as a meditator, and student of energy healing and Reiki, I found a deepening connection to my ‘inner world’. As I explored the mystical place ‘between my thoughts’, I was able more deeply understand the power and beauty of the ‘space between the notes.’ As I became a more relaxed person, I performed as a more relaxed musician. Within that relaxation, I find that the muse can more easily flow through me. Music is a gateway to the inner world, and my intention, through recording and live performance, is to help people explore that expansive inner realm. Within that domain lies healing, growth, personal evolution and inner peace.”


From the competitive world of the NYC music scene, to his studies at the renown Berklee College of Music in Boston, to the more esoteric teachings that have shaped his life, both inner and outer, Alan Roth has come a long way and his music and writing in Fields Beyond The Known, reflect the path of a spiritual seeker and the gift he feels drawn to share with the world.