Not many artists can point to an early '80s action/sci-fi film and claim it as an influence on their approach to making music. But that's exactly what composer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Biehl is saying when he refers to the 15-year-old, low-profile movie Brainstorm, which starred Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood.
"The plot revolved around the development of a machine that
could capture human experiences as they occurred," Biehl
explains. "Someone would put on a special helmet, and the
machine was able to record the person's memory and thoughts onto
a unique gold foil tape. Then, someone else could experience those
same memories and thoughts just by putting on the helmet and playing
back the tape. It wasn't just about creating a synthetic virtual
reality; this was taking actual thoughts and reliving what the
other person had experienced it went so much deeper. The
movie was a real influence in terms of inspiring me to think about
the possibilities of mind travel."
Now, all these years later, Biehl is fully embracing that mind
travel theme on LANDSCAPES, his debut CD, which serves to take
listeners on an invigorating musical journey to distant lands
and exotic places. Biehl composed and performed the entire project
using a tasteful blend of interwoven sampled and synthesized sources.
"I'd say that I'm probably on the fringe of new age,"
Biehl says when asked to categorize his music. "It shares
some of the qualities of new age music in terms of the lush arrangements,
the more spiritual aspects and the relation to nature. But it
is more uptempo and upbeat. I encourage listeners to take a more
active approach, raise their energy level, and give themselves something to think about."
On his new CD, Biehl embarks on a cinematic adventure that allows his listeners/passengers to experience destinations around the globe and beyond: a lush, tropical rain forest... the discovery of Mayan ruins... the cradle of ancient civilization in the Middle East... the wild and rugged desert of southwest Africa... the hidden reaches of the Tibetan plateau... the escape of a renegade pirate ship to the South Pacific... even a space flight to Mars.
And all through the use of appealing layered sounds and creative
"LANDSCAPES is not a relaxation tape," Biehl says. "It
definitely demands your attention. It's more of a device to get
you up and going instead of taking you down and out."
That energy and stimulation even extends to the elaborate booklet
that accompanies the CD. Colorful and eye-catching, it offers
a minute by minute tour of each track. "I felt the need to
provide a visual stimulus for listeners, something to entice their imagination," Biehl
explains. "It provides a storyline, a complete package of
the travel adventure."
The booklet also contains a philosophical message that runs in
light blue italics throughout every page. When read in its entirety,
the sentence offers an inspiring sentiment regarding a human being's
potential to use his or her mind and imagination.
"Ever since I was young, I've had a clear sense of the power
of the imagination," the composer says. "When you're
a child, you can go anywhere you want to in your mind. Children
don't have the barriers of daily worries and are able to go off
and think about the wildest things. That kind of stuff is fun.
It's hard for most adults to take the time to clear out all the garbage and allow themselves to open up to the
possibilities that exist within their minds."
Biehl adds, "One way to help people do that is to provide
them with visuals and a musical soundtrack, and draw them into
a world that can help them recapture their imagination."
Mark Biehl was born and raised in the semi-rural, blue collar
town of Belleville, Ill. not far from St. Louis, Mo. His
early musical forays in the mid '70s had him playing cover songs
by progressive rockers such as Yes, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin,
the Moody Blues and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
In the '80s, Biehl relocated to Los Angeles to further his musical
career, and also took on work as an audio engineer for a post-production
house. He was able to work on major projects, synching up and
sweetening audio tracks to videos by Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, Keith
Richards, Bon Jovi and others. One of the studio1s clients at
the time was producing the A&E network's The Edge and Beyond,
a TV program that featured adventure activities from around the
world (an early stab at covering what's known today as "extreme
"The producer asked if anybody on staff would be interested
in contributing music," Biehl recalls. "I said 'Sure'
and was able to get one of my pieces on the air with that show."
The music Biehl created for the program was used to accompany
video footage of an exhilarating downhill ski run. The travel/
adventure seed was planted. Biehl started thinking more and more that music could be used to stimulate the
imagination and (with a nod to the Brainstorm film) create an
experience in the mind.
(Note: The piece that was used for the ski segment in The Edge
and Beyond later became "Chamonix-Mont-Blanc," the third
track on LANDSCAPES.)
Growing tired of the traffic and sometimes less-than-ethical practices
of Tinsel Town, Biehl returned to the St. Louis area and went
to work as an engineer at a local recording studio. During off
hours, he started taking his ideas and putting together the sounds
that would become LANDSCAPES.
Biehl describes his new CD as "a hybrid of new age, jazz
and world music. "The world music aspect, in particular,
plays well into the travel theme of LANDSCAPES. "I like to
draw in as much of the original musical forms of a particular
region as possible, soak that in and then develop my own interpretation
of it," he says. "I'm not going to try and attempt to
reproduce music made by people who live in these areas. I'm taking
what a Midwestern artist interprets through his mind by absorbing
the music, culture and geography of an area, and using the imagination
as much as possible to create an image of a visit to that place."
Biehl elaborates on the process: "What I try to do is somehow
capture the emotion of being there and what it feels like. The
times I'm able to compose pieces that give me that feeling, it's
usually coming out so quickly that I have to work fast to get
it all down and recorded. That's how my writing is: bursts of
emotional energy and feeling, capturing a certain thought. Then
comes the tedious process of mapping it out, arranging and orchestrating
This multi-talented musician is also an avid bicyclist. "In
addition to long, pleasurable weekend rides in the farm country
of Southwestern Illinois, I also participate in several charity-sponsored
cycling events every summer," Biehl says. "Most of the
time I ride in the Century category, which is a 100-mile ride
that usually takes about six hours to complete."
Biehl is a member of several worthy environmental organizations
as well. Among them are the National Geographic Society (a scientific
and educational organization that supports explorations and research
projects), the World Wildlife Fund (dedicated to saving wildlife
and habitats around the planet) and the Wilderness Society (devoted
to preserving America's forests, parks, rivers, deserts and shorelands).
But it's the music that is Biehl's primary passion, especially
when combined with the power of the mind and the imagination.
"Imagination is the basis for all creation, and creativity
itself is the essential spark of life which gives all of us a
grounded sense of purpose, or reason for living," Biehl adds.
"By inviting listeners to become travelers to these distant
lands, I hope to give them a sense of creative freedom by encouraging
their use of the imagination."
When asked to elaborate on that concept, Biehl explains, "I'm
sure you've heard the expression 'Music is the soundtrack to our
lives.' It's true. Familiar songs can conjure up fond memories
and long-forgotten emotions. But I also contend that music can
- and should - be used as the soundtrack to our imagined lives.
I'm referring to the healthy mental pictures that we all have
the ability to create through the positive use of our minds."
"The unfortunate thing is, most adults have forgotten how
to use their brains in this playful and energizing manner. Which
is why I think you'll discover that the LANDSCAPES CD offers an
ideal soundtrack to help people get back in touch with their imaginations.
The music, artwork and text all work together to stimulate listeners
and inspire them to journey inward for an exciting travel adventure. It's
invigorating, upbeat and fun."
And what are his ultimate goals for this debut CD?
"I want this to be an album that you just don't listen to
and look through the booklet one time," Biehl adds. "I
wanted to create enough depth to both the music and the visuals
that you can have repeated listenings and get something different
or something new every time you go through it. Over a period of
time, it provides a continuous source of fun and inspiration."
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