Mark Biehl at Chaumette
We’re so pleased to bring you these fantastic performers in our live entertainment calendar lineup for 2016, and we hope that you will join us for great music, great views and great wine this season! Live entertainment is complimentary, at Chaumette, as always. :)
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 mental imagery.
"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 sports"). "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 it." 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.