a NASA photo of Neptune rising over Triton, one of its moons. Neptune has 13 known moons.

Hi, my name is Steve Davis, host of “Neptune Currents,” a radio program on listener-sponsored community radio station KKUP (91.5 FM) in the San Jose CA metropolitan area.  Info on KKUP at www.kkup.org (dot com works too!).  Not currently streaming online, but KKUP broadcasts throughout the South Bay & Santa Cruz/Monterey areas… and some points beyond. 😉

Heard on Sundays from 8-11 AM, “Neptune Currents” features an eclectic blend of ambient, electronic and contemplative music.  I’ll be using this blog to post playlists, recommendations, announcements of concerts of interest, etc.

To give newcomers and the curious web stroller an idea of what this music is like, I’ll try to describe it a bit here.  Many people write off “ambient” music as a kind of aural wallpaper, a background noise babbling away while you’re doing the dishes, reading the newspaper, surfing the net, sorting the laundry, scooping the cat’s litter box, etc.  Then there are also the long-standing jokes about “New Age” music (esp. since the Yanni & John Tesh era) and the “simple” repetitive structures of minimalism. [Remember the one that begins “knock knock, who’s there”?  I wonder what moron created that joke.]  The basic structure of process music & minimal music is transparent, even simple, but the music itself is hardly ever simplistic.  Try playing a few bars from “Music in Similar Motion” by Philip Glass on a piano, if you don’t believe me!

And the hyped-up pseudo orchestral synthi-sound of Yanni has very little to do with 1) meditative music or 2) the post-modern avant garde (of which the “minimalists” are certainly a part).  I don’t think I have ever played John Tesh on my radio program, and I’ve played early Yanni recordings _very_rarely, usually to fulfill a listener request… even then, being very selective — choosing, for example, a short piano interlude that felt more “honest” to me than the flourishy “fake rock” (to quote a former KKUP colleague) that Yanni churned out from the Acropolis and elsewhere, seeking the limelight, fame & fortune.

So what is the music of “Neptune Currents”?  Well, when I created my radio show in October 1985 (yikes! almost a quarter century ago!), I was drawn to the astrological symbolism of the planet Neptune, which relates to (among other things) mysticism, spirituality, the “other worldly” — going beyond.  The music that really captivates me is usually consonant, tonal music, but rarely conforms to 19th century harmonic practice.  In a way, it has more in common with the classical music of India, the gamelan music of Indonesia, or the trance-like music of the Gnawa (in Morocco).  I’ve also had a strong affinity for texture and timbre in music, sometimes preferring the immersive wash of tone colors to the linear nature of melody and the narrative approach of song.  Electronic music synthesis is the perfect vehicle to explore this sonic world, with its ability to create new sounds and, conversely, to imitate (to a degree) familiar acoustic instruments and even complex natural/environmental sounds.  Again, the “going beyond” aspect of Neptune is paramount… other-worldly yet connected to Earth; synthetic yet organic; cerebral yet transcendent/emotional; visceral yet psycho-active.

All this might give you a hint of what “Neptune Currents” is about… spacemusic, ambient music, tone-color music, contemplative moments within the realms of sacred and ethnic/folk music, the reawakening to harmony pioneered by the early “minimalists,” and explorations in sound by progressive rock and jazz fusion groups.  In short, a re-visioning of tonality… and with an ear turned toward that ever-present search for the Beyond…oceanic, immersive, atmospheric, mysterious.