“Virga: streaks or wisps of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporating before reaching the ground. In certain cases, shafts of virga may precede a microburst.” – NOAA
Virga is the eighteenth release from Jeff Greinke, whose respected career as a musician, composer, performer and sound-sculptor spans 30 years. With a discography that includes album titles like Winter Light, Weather From Another Planet, Cities In Fog, Big Weather, Changing Skies, Moving Climates, and Before The Storm to name a few, it’s clear that Greinke draws great inspiration from the atmospheric conditions of his environment. “This music is informed by my visual surroundings, primarily the landscapes, big skies and weather of the desert Southwest,” confirms Greinke, who currently resides in Tucson, Arizona, where the virga phenomenon is common during the monsoon season.
Greinke continues, “With Virga I have returned to a textural and ambient approach to composing music, similar to my work of the 80’s and 90’s, and merged that with the more harmonic / melodic sound I’ve been exploring in recent years. After completing the title track I was struck by how the sonic fabric of the music resembled curtains of rain falling from the sky, so I was inspired to call it Virga. Virga sometimes occurs at the onset of dangerous and dramatic weather. The mood present preceding an intense storm is similar to the subtle foreboding quality of some of the pieces on this album.”
The music on Virga takes shape as strata of slow moving melodies stream their way through expansive atmospherics and pastoral passages of ambient chamber music, highlighted by cello, trumpet and piano on many selections; all drifting together to construct complex harmonic musical skyscapes. The cumulative result is a collection of vast, textural, cinematic, and melodic compositions with a strong sense of mood and place that gently evolve and drift like the clouds themselves.
To these ears, Virga, the latest offering from Jeff Greinke, is a stunning soundtrack in search of the touching, beautiful, meaningful film to which it should rightfully belong. A neo-classical work edged with ambient expressions, Virga is emotionally packed and gorgeously constructed. It’s engaging from the first spattering of here-comes-the-rain notes in the opening title track and proceeds to just get deeper and more interesting from there. Greinke has always composed with a strong cinematic flair and that, along with his stated intent to capture the feel of the environment as a storm approaches, carries clearly through all the pieces on Virga. In ‘The Wake,’ Greinke conjures darkening skies in a slow-moving, somber tone. I love the Asian-flavored edge at work in ‘East Facing Slope.’ (Similarly, I enjoyed that same feel in ‘Moving to Malaysia’ from Winter Light.) There’s a strong Mark Isham quality to the track–think Tibet–that makes it the musical equivalent of staring into a Japanese pen-and-ink drawing or watching the colors darken on a mountainside as weather rolls in. ‘Before the Storm’ deftly captures its titular image as woodwinds swirl like gathering clouds and distantly rumbling bass notes carry the blue-black threat of hard rain. ‘Contrails’ is suitably light in tone, with wispy piano notes and high synth strings describing washed-blue skies and the return of the sun. By contrast, its followup track, ‘Partial Light,’ imparts an edge of drama with an abundance of minor chords, long-held notes and phrases that ease down the scale in short steps, all with a gentle rush of wind beneath it. There’s a pure and gentle romance to the stilted structure of ‘Old Friends’ that quite honestly threatens to move me to tears. Greinke’s master craftsmanship is on display here, track after track. Every piece of work here is rich and full, landscapes completely described in intimate detail while still leaving space for you to create your own mental pictures. This is a disk you’ll return to often to re-explore, and it will easily stand up to the scrutiny. For its depth and beauty, Virga is a Hypnagogue Highly Recommended CD.- Hypnagogue
Jeff Greinke (joined on several tracks by cellist Christiana Morgan and trumpet player Lesli Dalaba) continues to evolve his music away from his more abstract and textural ambient beginnings, choosing to explore a more melodic neo-classical minimalist landscape on Virga, his latest CD and, from where I stand, one of the best recordings of his long career. While some cuts are less overtly ‘soundtrackish’ than his previous CD, venturing into ambient soundscape territory, I believe that the overriding musical presence here is still closer to that of Winter Light and, to a lesser but still noticeable degree, Wide View, than it is to past works such as In Another Place, Places of Motility and Cities in Fog.
I'm well aware that some of Greinke's long-time fans are somewhat discouraged by this new direction he is headed in, and they are entitled to that opinion of course. However, baring the obvious statement that an artist must answer the call of his/her muse if he/she is to be true to his/her musical self, I think this new direction represents a greater depth of emotion, a more complex (certainly not less so) approach to the music itself, and resonates on a more direct (i.e. less abstract) level than purer ‘ambient’ pieces ever could. Of course, that's only my personal opinion.
Seeing as how the definition of virga (the CD's title) is ‘streaks of water drops or ice particles falling out of a cloud and evaporating before reaching the ground’ (exceprted from dictionary.com), it may not be far-fetched to view Virga as an extrapolation from, or interpretation of, the themes which Mychael Danna plumbed on his 1993 Hearts of Space release, skys. Both albums are minimalist in their aesthetic, using a variety of classical instrumentation alongside somber piano, largely melancholic in nature, and use repeated musical refrains as their main compositional structure. According to the Hearts of Space website, the music on skys was ‘..inspired by the unrelenting monochromatic greyness of the Canadian winter skies.’ Since rain falls from the sky ..hmmm?
Not everything on Virga is confined to the neo-classical minimalist description from above, though. The opening title track features a rapid tempo piano theme played out against swirling keyboards, descending in a lush crescendo of sorts. night flyers opens amidst a nocturnal chorus of synthesized creatures set against shimmering synthesizers and a plaintive echoed piano. As he did on Winter Light's ‘Moving to Malaysia’ and ‘Under the Pagoda,’ Greinke again displays his affinity for Asian musical influences on east facing slope with gently plucked koto and delicate bell tones, joined by Morgan's sonorous cello and Dalaba's trumpet. contrails flows on airy layers of keyboards underneath echoed piano and the track could easily be classified as spacemusic especially when a particularly warm analog-ish sounding synthesizer is brought into focus.
Yet, it's the more minimalist-classical pieces here that blow me away the most—the sorrowful beauty of the wake, the expansive orchestral openness of slow rise, the stark desolation and subtle dissonance of abandoned place, the haunting drama of partial light and the slow-paced deliberate compassion of old friends.
In the end, Virga is less ‘passive’ yet also more ambient, at times, than Winter Light may have been perceived, but it's a subtle distinction for the most part. If you, like me, love this new direction that Jeff Greinke is headed in, you will greatly enjoy delving into the many pleasures of Virga, walking down its paths of beauty tinted with wonder married to despair, and serenity clouded by mystery. By the way, it goes without saying that since this is a Lotuspike release, and mastered by Ben Cox, the sound is tremendous, rife with nuance and finely captured detail and expertly mixed and engineered from every perspective.- Bill Binkelman, Zone Music Reporter
Over the course of some 25 years and 18 albums, composer Jeff Greinke has proven his mastery of fourth-world ambient sound. This new release combines his trademark spacious, exotic, and earthly atmospheres with more traditional instruments to form classically-structured chamber music, accented with cello, piano, and trumpet. During ‘Slow Rise’, Christiana Morgan's cello plays a major role, grounding the sounds in an earthy, harmonic fashion. ‘Night Flyers’ weds what sounds like field recordings of nocturnal frogs with treated piano and choral voices. ‘Abandoned Place’ is a shadowy, almost sad classical/ambient piece, with mournful strings and piano. ‘Before The Storm’ is beautifully self-explanatory, with an air of impending darkness. It's the calm before a potentially serious weather pattern, where the initial winds pick up to herald the oncoming storm. ‘Partial Light’ also manages to convey a peaceful solitude, but not without some darker force underneath the fragile hull. It's this dichotomy that makes ‘Virga’ so successful. Greinke balances the tender, fragile beauty of strings and shifting melodic strokes with undercurrents of regret, tension, sorrow, and uncertainty, without being cold or calculated in his approach or execution. To put in succinctly, this is ambient music with soul and feeling, and that makes ‘Virga’ a real winner.- Todd Zachritz, Goatsden
Virga’ is the 18th release by Jeff Greinke, and his second one on the LotusPike/Spotted Peccary. The character and shape of the music sees Greinke return to an ambient and textural approach which applied to his ‘80s and ‘90s work.
In a way, its electronic ambient chamber music, as the outcome merges sounscape electronics with trumpet, cello and piano in which elements of harmony and drama shimmer through the pastoral interludes and expansive, melodic and overall moody ambient spheres.
At times, it vaguely remembered me of the reflective music of Paul Sauvanet or Eno/Budd (’Abandoned Place’, ‘Contrails’), but also of music in which atmospheric conditions are a key element (such as Rich’s ‘Calling Down the Sky’).
Or, as nicely put in the press sheet:’the mood present preceding an intense storm is similar to the subtle foreboding quality of some of the pieces on this album’.
All in all, ‘Virga’ makes a cinematic, slowly evolving set of quality ambient informed by big skies, vast landscapes and weather conditions of the American desert Southwest, in which the occasional use of trumpet is the only tricky element in my opinion.- Bert Strolenberg, Sonic Immersion
It's been a while since I've heard anything new from Jeff Greinke, probably my own fault since he has close to 20 releases to his credit now and I've heard less than half that number – mostly his early works from the 80s and 90s. Those classic early works were like lush ambient sound-paintings built mostly on dense multi-layered synth textures, creating moody slow-moving worlds of dramatic intensity. To its credit, Greinke still utilizes much of that bold visionary cinematic feel to create the twelve pieces on Virga, although many new elements have been added to Greinke's music, giving it a more overtly melodic articulation that intertwines with the atmospheric textures. Piano is one of those elements, offering a basis for well defined melodies that drift freely amid lush textural soundwalls, along with guest cello and trumpet that give many of the cuts a distinctly chamber feel. ‘Virga’ is defined as wisps of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporating before reaching the ground; anyone who has approached an incoming storm has probably seen this phenomenon first hand, and indeed this is a strong visual corollary to some of the more dreamy atmospheric works at hand, many bearing a somber or dark undercurrent that evolves slowly. This is a distinctive and engaging release that wont put the listener to sleep.- Peter Thelen, Exposé Magazine (issue 38)
Jeff Greinke realizes works inspired by something outside of music. The intricacies of climate, weather and time mimic the feelings he carries within. His CD Virga (55'36’) strives to give musical form to the sensation evoked by our planet's atmospheric activities. Applying a classicist form to his succinctly brief works Greinke produces 12 formal, fully composed and arranged Electro-ambient chamber music pieces. The listener's grasp on time weakens as in the span of a few minutes untold hours may seem to pass. The sound is sometimes airy, but never air-headed as the majority of the tracks posses a somber, elegiac sense. Greinke even references a few pieces from an earlier CD Soundtracks. With synthesizers alongside mellow trumpet and cello lines, Virga's classical influences lead the music toward territory inhabited by the likes of Harold Budd, Tim Story and K Leimer. With no exaggerated expressive effects, Greinke follows his contemporaries in simplicity, restraint, dignity, proportion and interest in form. Grenike is an artist working to engage us with our deepest emotions. His music unites us with one another - as not only are we connected to this music but connected by it.- Chuck van Zyl, Star's End
STYLE Electro-acoustic melodic ambient instrumentals. Jeff Greinke combines the textural richness of synthetic layering and found sound with the warmth of cello, trumpet and piano to create a series of filmic soundscapes that have moments of classical elegance. Inspired by both landscape and atmospheric conditions, Virga utilises sparse, delicate melodic forms to capture a sense of environment - sometimes moody and dark, sometimes meandering and airy, sometimes lucid, suggestive of airborne moisture. The album is without beats and for the most part without obvious rhythmic structure following a more neo-classical approach.
Virga comes in a jewel case with two panel insert. The cover image extends across the second panel of the insert once opened out showing a broad scene of pale grass and distant mountains black beneath the clouds. The sky takes up the greater part of the image - dense masses of battleship grey, catching the hidden sun in places, white over an almost obscured blue. The rear cover once more gives most space to the atmosphere - sweeping black font over light clouds. Each track shown with time alongside. Another skyscape is within - wispy forms to accompany brief credits, website details and the quote:’Virga: streaks or wisps of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporating before reaching the ground. In certain cases, shafts of virga may precede a microburst.’ – NOAA
US based musician, composer and performer Jeff Greinke has been composing music since 1980 and has over twenty five solo and collaborative recordings released to date through a number of different record labels. He formed his own label as a vehicle to deliver his debut CD, has composed music for film, video, dance, theatre, radio, and art installations and has been a part of many ensembles and joint projects over the years including co-founding Land. This album is released via Lotuspike and contains twelve concise recordings some of which can be heard at the artist's website. Promotional material has Greinke explaining ‘After completing the title track I was struck by how the sonic fabric of the music resembled curtains of rain falling from the sky, so I was inspired to call it Virga. Virga sometimes occurs at the onset of dangerous and dramatic weather. The mood present preceding an intense storm is similar to the subtle foreboding quality of some of the pieces on this album.’
With a title referring to the fascinating phenomenon of rain evaporating before it reaches the ground, the new work by veteran composer Jeff Greinke gathers acoustic and electronic sonorities in a collection of twelve beautiful themes. The acoustic instruments are the piano, the violoncello and the trumpet.
The music is slow and relaxing, rich in ethereal atmospheres and melodies. These flow among a romanticism of a melancholy air, the cosmic and the mysterious.
With regards to their structure, the themes have traits typical of Ambient and also of Chamber Music.
Greinke has a special talent to evoke in the listener ambiences of sound without the easy option of introducing recognizable ambient sounds. Making exclusive use of instrumental sounds, he places us in the midst of the immensity of his music.- Hector Jordan, Amazing Sounds