The Beacon Sound Choir – Sunday Songs

Sunday Songs introduces the listener to The Beacon Sound Choir, a 35-strong choir founded on the West Coast of America (in Portland, Oregon). The project was conceived by none other than Peter Broderick with the aim of getting as many people to sing together as possible, no matter their musical experience.

As the early blossom of ‘Spring Song’ falls, the harmonies unite, merging as one. A palpable (and inevitable) weight presses into the music – the weight of a vocal army – but the troops have a spring in their step. Like sunshine the singing lightens and brightens the music, clearing away the cold cobwebs of February, ushering out the yellowing, Old Testament air of dusty tomes and ancient religious ceremonies, but minus the stuffiness of a formal service. Vocal-born drones seem to echo out from distant centuries while retaining and celebrating the power of community, fellowship and collaboration. Those things are timeless, I think.

Sunday Songs is angelic music; the choir is sublime. It’s proof that you don’t necessarily need professional training – the passion for singing rests in the heart, in the soul and in the blood – and passion will always outshine a pitch-perfect note. Authenticity beats auto-tune. No effects are used, and that creates a natural atmosphere…it’s as if we’re sitting in that sun-illumined room as they sing with elation. The beautiful counterpoint is both independent and interconnected, a single voice transforming into a chorus of sound. Every note – every voice – is a completely separate being that coalesces and coexists with the others in sweet harmony, and that’s part of the magic.

A ‘religious’ tone naturally permeates the sound – the history goes way back to the worshipping, hooded monks and their sequencing of perfect fifth intervals.

We might not always think of it as such, but it shouldn’t come as a shock to say that this was and still is ambient music. It’s a pure sound – a voice, only a voice – and the one true instrument; one we’re born with.

A space opens up as the voices all merge together, a portal into another world rising out of a sea of voices, the rippling of naked vibrations shaping the air. At Portland’s Beacon Sound record shop on a Sunday morning, Peter described the act of singing as “nothing short of a magical teleportation to another realm”, and you can believe that.

The relaxed parts help to keep the vibe loose and free: it’s easy like Sunday morning. Sunday Songs drinks in the sweet morning nectar of light, but it also carries that reverential weight of an early Sunday morning. The voices move slowly through the songs, like swaying fog lamps. On the slightly sombre ‘Fortunate Ones’, ghostly female vocals lead a phantom procession, and the glowing harmonies send a shiver down the spine. They’re all enjoying themselves – the laughs are easy and the seconds are warm.

Machinefabriek’s sixteen-minute ambient reinvention was partly inspired by Renaissance composer Josquin des Prez, and the treated, reshaped ‘Sea of Voices’ closes the album. Voices are spread out, reverberating over the waters, emanating from a liquid citadel. Machinefabriek accurately said, “When I discovered his choir music not so long ago I realized that ambient music already existed around the 1500s”…

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