For several years, the duo of Steve and Ami Sciulli -- as Life in Balance, a meditative blend of mellifluous shakuhachi flute and the ringing tones of quartz crystal bowls -- have been purveying their unique brand of "sound healing" in sessions and concerts among Pittsburgh's loosely defined new-age community. The feeling they've projected has always been serene and contemplative, reflective of the search for subconscious self and inner space.
But at least for the time being, Life In Balance's attitude has somewhat shifted on their latest CD Star, the yang to the yin of their earlier CD Deeper. That effort's focused simplicity is replaced on Star by a wide range of instrumentation, depth and complexity of production, and driving beats, leaning more towards the mainstream of today's ambient and new-age scene found in record stores and on syndicated radio shows such as Echoes. Ami Sciulli's vibrating bowls, formerly in the foreground, are now further back in the mix, sharing space with many special guests.
Whereas previously LIB's liner notes proudly proclaimed "no synthesizers," now Steve Sciulli deploys armadas of intergalactic synths on tracks such as "Ringo's Star," hearkening back to his '70s progressive rock roots a la Tangerine Dream. "Calibrate" is fairly reminiscent of Steve's '80s-era work with the groups Complex Variables and Bannerday, while "Dimensional Change" (which kicks off with a dramatic flute-led intro) morphs into propulsive proto-ambient techno straight from Jean-Michel Jarre.
He's also busy exploring many sources of world music, such as on "Viburnum," where his solo on the beautiful, mournful bansuri (Indian flute) is augmented by samples of sitar and tambura. "Flux," too, has a techno-organic Mideastern flavor, with dumbek and didgeridoo courtesy of Jeff Kowal (a.k.a. Terra Ambient).
Fans of Rusted Root's Jim Donovan will likely take to his participation in the serpentine space-trance of "Prowl," while reveling in the concept of "Cyber-Tribal," probably the most ambitious piece production-wise with serene drones, clicky rhythm programming, and multiple layers of drums and sampled dulcimers building into a frantic wall of Zen, punctuated by the sounds of birds, rain and crashing lightning.
After a half-decade of relaxing listeners into a dreamlike, introspective state, Life in Balance has finally chosen to exhale and issue a wake-up clarion for these divisive times, which call for mass consciousness and outward action. Parts of Star could definitely inspire anyone who's used to zoning out on the yoga studio floor to get up and shake their chakras.