On Feb. 26, 2011, StillStream featured the music of Lucette Bourdin in a five-hour edition of Zen Caffeine. This completed a week of tribute programs, which also included Kite Radio and Free Floating.
That was my introduction to Lucette’s music. While she was with us, I’d heard only one album: the fine light-ambient Prasantih (with Darrell Burgan). I knew that Lucette was very highly regarded in the ambient music community. I added her to my shortlist of artists I must check out more closely… “one of these days”.
That day has come but, sadly, it was her death on Feb. 17 – one week shy of her 57th birthday – which brought Lucette back to my attention.
The spontaneous outpouring of tributes from friends, fellow musicians and listeners made it clear that Lucette’s music resonates deeply with many. I heard about seven hours of it in those three evenings. All of it was powerful, beautiful ambient: full of mystery, depth and reverence. Not to put too fine a point on it: I was blown away. The whole experience was a major revelation.
The playful, earthy rhythms of Drums and Repercussions. The gorgeous space of Month-Long Sunset (from Nordic Waves). The healing energy of Calm Lamps (from Radiant Stars).
The music flowed by, the pieces expertly sequenced by our StillStream hosts. Every piece was uplifting and beautifully wrought.
The soothing, endless cool drift of Above the Hills (Golden Sun). The celestial, floating Space (Oceanic Space).
Lucette was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. Already a well-established visual artist, she at once acted on her desire to create music as well: “If not now, when?” She bought a synth and began learning how to use it. Within two years, she had begun releasing albums through her website.
While the tribute programs played, Lucette’s friends and admirers congregated in the StillStream chatroom. Her husband Michael was there. Fond memories, heartfelt responses to the music, and off-topic joking were all in abundance. Good company.
Sarga (Samhata, with Darrell Burgan) invokes a sacred space, a place of wonders. Celestial Winds (Horse Heaven) is a swirling, mystic ascent. The House of Laughter (Rumors From Cypress Town) is a playful delight.
Lucette’s discography numbers 25 albums, most of them on the Dark Duck and Earth Mantra labels (with an amazing 11 albums released in 2009-2010 alone). She collaborated with Darrell Burgan on two albums and with Phillip Wilkerson on one, but mostly worked alone.
Consider a moment: artistic output of this magnitude – so many albums, on such a high level of quality, sincerity, depth and playfulness – would be impressive over a 20- or 30-year career. That Lucette accomplished all this in less than eight years – starting from scratch and self-taught – simply beggars description.
The Zen Caffeine program melted into the most ethereal, effulgent and timeless pieces in Lucette’s oeuvre.
The Luminous Ocean (Horse Heaven) is another aptly-titled spiritual voyage. Timeless Shore (Timeless Shore) is a deeply profound long-form meditation, in a realm far outside material time and space. Flight Through Infinite Stars (Drum-atic Atmospheres) feels like a journey into the deep unknown, the unknowable. Dweller in the Infinite (Horse Heaven) feels like the rest after the “endless” journey.
Lucette had a knack for titles. My favorite right now is Part Memory, Part Distance (Coast to Coast, with Phillip Wilkerson), which perfectly captures the mood of the music – wistful and falling away.
Prelude (Soaring Above the Thunder) feels just like rising above a storm, to wonder what all the fuss and stress are really about. While the Storm Passes (Rising Fog) rides out the storm and lets it fall away. Finally Resting (Stories From the City) is peaceful, full of joyful energy and release. The Gardener of the World (which closes the double-disc Golden Sun) is a transcendent, awe-inspiring view from beyond our frames of reference. Sonoran Clouds (Under Currents) is a stirring, powerful desert landscape.
An artist, before anything else, is playing with the materials. Yes, it needs discipline and crafting; any art deserves to be taken seriously and created with sincerity. Elements of work are undeniably present. Still, at its root, I view creation as an act of play.
Lucette was clearly serious about her creations, but without taking herself too seriously. Playing, after all, is meant to be fun – and Lucette is playing music, not working it.
The seriousness (and, at times, the playfulness as well) is in the quest. And it was a quest – I’m convinced that with any truly committed artist, it’s never merely about self-expression. That’s not enough. If the titles alone don’t give it away, listening to one piece each from any three albums is more than enough to make it clear: Lucette was in search of the Transcendent. Nothing less. I take that to be the true end of artistic endeavor, and I believe Lucette was straight on course.
New Growth (Under Currents) is optimistic, pulsing with life energy, enthusiastic but refined and well-shaped. And the Rainbow Appeared (Rising Fog) has classical overtones, full of light and optimism. Nag Champa (Seeking Ganesha), with tablas and a restful atmosphere, ascends to a dizzying height. The Beginning (Oceanic Space), a deep space meditation, fittingly closed out the evening.
Sadly, I missed out on any possibility of making contact with Lucette. After hearing all of this joyous music, I’m sure I would have sent her a complimentary note. From what I learned in the chatroom, I can know that her reply would have been gracious. It was said there that she never had a negative word for anyone.
In due course, I will eventually write reviews of a few of Lucette’s albums, and I’m confident that whatever words I can conjure will fall far short of capturing the luminosity of the music. Still, one makes the effort. If you have not heard Lucette’s music, I hope that reading this moves you to discover it now. If even one person does so, my effort is rewarded. I can only say that the discovery has been a huge one for me.
The heart of any sincere artist is always manifest in their art – in Lucette’s case, radiantly so. She shared it all, without reservation, and the world is richer for it. Merci, Lucette.