The last thing that most musicians want is to put their audience to sleep. For Ottmar Liebert, his new release In the Arms of Love: Lullabies 4 Children + Adults is an attempt to do that very thing.
"It seems to me the world keeps getting louder, and in response to that I wanted to do something that was quiet," says the guitarist of the first release for the Spiral Subwave Records International (SSRI) label under exclusive license to Higher Octave Music. "It creates quite a contrast to modern life."
Since 1990's Nouveau Flamenco, the multiplatinum-selling Liebert has applied his distinctive artistic vision to a variety of musical styles—from Rumba to Bossa Nova to Classical to Christmas tunes. Now, with In the Arms of Love, he is delving into the soothing world of lullabies.
"That was probably the biggest challenge: to do something that was relaxing but not boring," he reveals. "It's about creating a musical island oasis that you can retreat to. I view it as a soundscape, much like a landscape."
The German-born performer offers 13 original compositions that explore his graceful elucidations on lullabies. The instrumentals include the hypnotic, shoreline texture of "Sea of Tranquility," the lush Eastern whir of "A Secret Garden" and the layered, anthemic quality of the title track.
Influenced by the Spanish flavors of his 17-year residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the solo acoustic piece "Querencia" personifies his mastery of keeping things simple. The title of the tune translates to "home," but the bigger meaning is "the land that you feel connected to."
On the other end of the technical spectrum, the closing cut "Waves of Sound (4 Captain Eno)" features 40 tracks of miniature phrases that independently repeat. Some of them duplicate every three bars, some five and some 12. The effect is of gorgeous mini-melodies that constantly keep shifting against each other.
Surprisingly, the delicate material proved to be rather challenging for the accomplished guitarist.
"It is incredibly difficult to play at those slow tempi—and make it work," he says. "Not to rush the time or slow down because the bar before was rushed, and then to play melodies that fit the mood of the piece. It was really quite demanding to record this music. If you had a cup of coffee too many, you had to run around the block a few times before you could get into a mellow mood."
As with previous albums, Liebert adopts a few unusual devices for In the Arms of Love. On the moody "Twilight Rain," he utilizes a "luitar"—a fretless, lute-like instrument that is the shape and scale of a guitar. Other atypical tones result from his use of Flamenco guitars played backwards or with the attack digitally removed.
In addition to his fretboard skills, Liebert contributes an assortment of other sounds to the songs.
"I've used snippets of field recordings ever since the album The Hours Between Night + Day," he recalls. "In 1992 I bought a DAT recorder, and everywhere I went I'd record stuff: the little Vespa in Italy coming through the small streets, a train making a turn, rain, water, all sorts of stuff. I tried to pick a few that fit this whole idea of lullabies and relaxing. The song 'Dreaming on the Starlight Train' has the sound of a train approaching, which I find very relaxing."
Liebert got the idea from a rail trip he remembers taking as a 19-year-old from Cologne to Moscow.
"I wanted to create an atmosphere where if you dozed off you might even think you're traveling," he says. "A whisper of a train might suggest that you're on a journey."
Liebert sees the overall journey suggested by In the Arms of Love as one that can be enjoyed by the whole family. He notes that even the term "lullaby" is taken from the Old English words "lull" and "byes"—both terms used to calm a child.
"I remember hearing some lullabies when I was a boy, but I thought most of them were pretty awful," he laughs. "There are lots that seem dumbed down for kids. I didn't think there was any reason to do that."
Beyond just providing melodies that can be appreciated by children and adults, Liebert has another motive for crafting the self-produced record.
"I enjoy getting massages, but the music that people play is not always very nice," he explains. "So I often ask them to turn it off. I thought it would be good to create some music that would be fitting for that sort of thing as well—something that is relaxing but has an engaging quality."
Liebert views In the Arms of Love as the debut element of his new career path. Believing he can no longer cram all his ideas into a singular album format, the guitarist is now dividing up his projects into three categories. First, he continues to record solo outings, which is what this latest effort falls into. Second, he embraces the live band concept with Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra, his formidable Flamenco ensemble. Third, he is experimenting with Ottmar Liebert's Euphoria, a studio collection of different Djs/Remixers providing dance-oriented remixes of his songs.
"This way there are three distinct directions, and if you prefer one or the other, then great," he explains.
As for how In the Arms of Love: Lullabies 4 Children + Adults might intersect with the other two directions, he is unsure.
"I don't think I'll play any of these songs live," Liebert says. "I might fall asleep too, and what then? But we will certainly try to create some remixes with these songs."