Sarah Louise directly describes the instrumental parameters of the music on her latest album, Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars, in the liner notes. She wrote, “all compositions are made entirely of live and electronically manipulated six-string electric guitar in standard tuning.” Louise also added the sounds of frogs and birds, and a smidge of synth and voices. The sounds on the disc would be difficult to identify without her explanation. In a mostly quiet way, Louise combines layers of squeaky noises, choir-like drones, and mantra-length rhythms into spiritual cadences with spiritual affinities. It is cosmic in every sense of the word.
Louise also wrote in the liner notes that this album was “made in devotion to the divine earth” and that she offers this “in the hopes that some healing energy has made it into the music” so that “insights pass from your conscious mind so that your body can learn them”. The song titles often have mystical connotations (“Daybreak”, “R Mountain”, “Rime”, and “Ancient Intelligence”). Louise created her music as a form of meditation, but one need not be a believer in her philosophy and more than one has to be a Christian to appreciate Arvo Part or a Buddhist to like John Coltrane even though religious revelation is key to their music.
Considering this album is guitar-based, there is very little strumming. The one big exception is “Swarming at the Threshold” in which Louise plucks and plunks in quick thrums over a low drone that keeps getting louder to suggest that everything is coming together. Then Louise stops strumming and it is just the drone. This has a physical effect on the listener’s body. Going from a patterned chaos and noise into quiet and simplicity has a physiological impact—what Louise referred to as insights your body can learn.
These are experimental compositions. Some of these tracks seem incomplete. The avant-garde nature of the way the sonic materials are used may be intellectually interesting but ultimately not rewarding to hear. In this sense they resemble what can be called “museum music”—a sort of coffee table approach to performance. The thought-provoking nature of what is being made, how, and why offer appeal just like that big tome of photographs and reproductions by a talented practitioner may make one turn the page and admire what’s seen but still leave one cold: whereas coming face to face with the actual thing leaves a much more profound impression.
Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars shows Louise is not afraid to take risks. While the songs vary sonically in many different ways, they are connected by the way Louise approaches her compositions. They have a distinctive personality and bear her stamp. And even though the music is electronically created, it has an organic core. Louise evokes the natural landscapes of meadows, ponds and woods. She connects the spiritual and the material in creative ways that suggest there is more out there than one can understand through thought alone. One doesn’t have to agree with her to enjoy her cosmic explorations.