An Album for the Weekend: Northern Lights, Ola Gjeilo/Phoenix Chorale (2009)

Remember those sensory deprivation tanks that used to be all the rage? One would climb inside this soundless, dark chamber for an hour and float on water that had a lot of Epsom salts dissolved in it, which helped you be more buoyant.

Evidently the things are still current. But I can help you be more buoyant without depriving you of your senses, and you don’t even have to get wet.

Ola Gjeilo (pronounced “yay-lo”) is a Norwegian composer in his mid-30s. On Northern Lights, an album of choral music that won a Grammy Award, he has built what one listener calls “spheres of sound.” The chords and lines Gjeilo has made do seem to take shape, drawn by the capable voices of the Phoenix Chorale. But the key benefit, and where the real relaxation and elevation come in, is in setting aside an hour and letting the shapes shift, bend, twist and metamorphose over you like a sky full of clouds.Ola

Or stars. Much of the work Gjeilo does on this album has a night feel to it, so much so that it might be wise to listen to it late at night. That’s just me, of course; your mind and musical heart may lead you in a different direction. The good news is, even if you’re new to choral music — or not a fan — Gjeilo’s work is very accessible. Yes, some of the texts are taken from religious works. But this does nothing to diminish the enjoyment of the stunning composing and singing. Indeed, a little research into the words (a digital booklet comes with the iTunes download) is rewarding.

Of special emotional note is “Pulchra es, amica mea” (“Beautiful thou art, my beloved”), which lays classic words of love from the Bible’s Song of Songs over simple but moving harmonics. Gjeilo said the inspiration for the music came from watching the aurora borealis (that is, the northern lights, of course) on a winter’s evening in Norway. Click on the video; it may be the best 4:27 you spend today.♦

© 2013 Adam Barr, except album art and linked music

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