I’ve been playing a lot of music by Alex Gray, a guy from Oxnard, California, who tends to work under the name of Deep Magic.
Gray favours New Age jargon to describe his sound – “Deep Magic is mystical music. Listen to it in a dark room and align yr chakras,” for instance – although it’s not entirely clear how seriously he buys into his own rhetoric. That said, if you actually were looking for music to play while aligning your chakras, then any number of Deep Magic releases would probably work just fine.
Ostensibly, Gray deals in a particularly meditative kind of ambient music; gracefully dawdling epics of bells, drone, echo and endlessly rippling guitars. There are plenty of underground artists working this beat at the moment, stretching from assiduous students of 1970s German kosmische music, through to the hipper, ‘80s-obsessed types that are often described by bloggers as hypnagogic pop. For all the heat-hazed aesthetics and lo-fi warp, though, Deep Magic is closer to the German style – Gray’s albums like “Lucid Thought” have a sort of calm and organic grandeur that recalls Popol Vuh.
Gray’s music is tranquil and addictive, too, but it’s also caused me to ask a mildly profound question: how much do you need to own an album that barely exists? My interest in Deep Magic was prompted a few weeks ago by the arrival of “Lucid Thought”, on CD, from the Preservation label in Australia. The disc, it transpired, was part of a limited run of 300, so before writing about it, I made sure that it was also available digitally (It is).
A few days spent peering into the nooks and crannies of Gray’s deeptapes.com have revealed, however, that a run of 300 CDs constitutes something of a major corporate push in Deep Magic’s world. Gray plays alongside Cameron Stallones in the live incarnation of Sun Araw, but he has also found time to create a bewildering number of his own releases in the last year or so, mostly on cassette, mostly in editions of 50 or less: I can recommend “Sky Haze”, “Ancestor Worship” and “Ocean Breaths” in particular. The most beatifically ambient I’ve come across, “Illuminated Offerings”, was limited to 25 copies, on microcassettes, packaged inside aromatherapy candles.
From the pictures online, these are plainly lovely artefacts. But at the same time, the collaged cassette boxes and so on feel a little like the fetish objects of a lost Amazonian tribe. Many of us might still cling to concrete manifestations of recorded music, jewel cases and all, in the face of unavoidable digital realities. Nevertheless, the allure of Deep Magic seems uncommonly divorced from such material concerns. If ambient music thrives on the ethereal, on a concept of weightlessness, then surely the last thing it needs is a tangible physical form to anchor it? I am as guilty as anyone of hoarding CDs, records, even microcassettes in candles, given the chance. But still, it feels like I don’t need any Deep Magic cassettes: these “archaic spirit hymns”, as Gray describes them, seem much more at home in the virtual world.