There is geometry in the humming of the strings. There is music in the spacing of the spheres – Pythagoras

Nala Sinephro is a young harpist, keyboard player and composer from Belgium now based in London. Composed and recorded between 2018 and 2019 and released on 3 September 2021 last on Warp Records, Space 1.8 blends spiritual jazz with field recordings and modular synthesisers through a series of informal collaborations with musicians from the emerging London jazz scene.  

Nala Sinephro - Space 1.8 (2021)
Nala Sinephro – Space 1.8 (2021)

Space is the place

In an effort to escape the confines of life on earth as a black man in a segregated society, jazz visionary Sun Ra embraced mysticism, science fiction and early electronic instruments to create an entirely new conceptual musical space influenced by the cosmos. For most of his career, the interstellar voyager who came from Saturn shared his unique and spiritualised vision of the universe by “travelling the spaceways from planet to planet” through the prism of rule-breaking space jams, jazz-funk and sensory-altering ambient musings with the various guises of his shapeshifting and travelling Intergalactic / Solar Myth / Outer Space / Astro Infinity or 21st Century Omniverse Arkestra.

Sun Ra’s musical legacy is immense, and his artistic intuition somewhat materialised in a literal sense when NASA started releasing recordings made by the Voyager 1 and 2 space crafts launched in the late 1970s. Symphonies of the Planets (1993) captured the electromagnetic vibrations of four planets from our solar system and 48 of their moons in the form of long single-note drones.

Several artists have since tapped into the study of cosmic soundwaves including American ambient composer and sound artist William Basinski for instance. His 2019 On Time Out of Time album uses “recordings from the interferometers of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) capturing the sounds of the merging of two distant massive black holes, 1.3 billion years ago” as source material.

Nala Sinephro’s interest in physics and psychoacoustics – the study of how humans perceive sounds – naturally drew her to integrate the “music of the spheres” into her music, in the metaphorical footsteps of Sun Ra. In the mid-2000s, a team of English astronomers started mapping the frequencies emitted by a black hole amid the Perseus Cluster 250 million light years away from earth using orbiting X-Rays NASA telescopes and determined that the Perseus soundwaves corresponded to a B-flat.

The Perseus cluster black hole’s B-flat, by contrast, is 57 octaves below middle C or one million, billion times lower than the lowest sound audible to the human ear.

I used those concepts to create the album says the musician.

Space 1.8 consists of eight distinct self-contained, minimal and elegiac sections or “spaces” built around the sound of the classical pedal harp and modular synthesisers. If spiritual jazz and the classical harp immediately point to the recordings of Dorothy Ashby or Alice Coltrane, the musician does not make reference to their respective music. In the same vein as the various Manchester-based collectives all featuring classical harp and led by trumpet player Matthew Halsall, Nala Sinephro uncovers an entirely new and contemporary soundscape.

The interweaving sounds of birds chirping with processed harp strings and synthesiser layers on “Space 1” set the tone for a glowing and radiating album. It is also a case of the stars aligning in the context of Space 1.8 as the album includes several guest musicians. All from the young London jazz scene, it features the playing of James Mollison (Ezra collective) on saxophone, Lyle Barton on piano, Shirley Tetteh (Nérija collective) on guitar, multi-instrumentalist and producer Wonky Logic aka Dwayne Kilvington, Jake Long (Maisha ensemble) and Eddie Hick (Sons of Kemet) on drums, Rudi Creswick and Twm Dylan on double bass.

“Space 4” is a jazz ballad fronted by saxophonist Nubya Garcia, and like Promises – the fantastic collaboration between Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra released earlier this year – the composition was also inspired by visual arts, namely “the work of the iconoclast Jean Michael Basquiat, and in particular his painting of the Sumerian goddess Ishtar”. Nala Sinephro also contributed to a remix of “Together is a Nice Place to Be” on Nubya Garcia’s October 2021 SOURCE ⧺ WE MOVE release, the nine track remix of her original 2020 Source record.

Underpinned by an unearthly three note ostinato and concluding the record, “Space 8” is a magnificent and ethereal 17mn reverie featuring the processed saxophone of Ahnansé aka Wayne Francis and founder of the Steam Down collective.

Entirely recorded and produced by Nala Sinephro, the relaxed collaborative sessions distil a sublime and elegant balance between the celestial tones of the classical harp, keyboard layers, acoustic instruments and the constant oscillations of the modular synthesisers. An outstanding ambient jazz début for Warp Records.