New Age music innovator Gandalf released Dreamweaver in 2013 and he’s back in early 2016 with a new album called All Is One - One Is All. A number of musicians appear on All Is One - One Is All, but the accent is purely upon Gandalf’s piano, guitar, assorted keyboard sounds and various atmospherics. Gandalf has released over thirty albums since the early 1980’s and he’s been an acclaimed forerunner of New Age and heavenly sounds for decades. Although he was raised on the early guitar instrumental sounds of The Shadows and later, prog-rock guitar icons such as Steve Hackett, Gandalf’s specialty has always been his spectacular, symphonic instrumental music opuses, many of which have been released in recent years by California-based label Real Music. As he did on 2013’s Dreamweaver, on 2016’s All Is One - One Is All, Gandalf scaled back the electronics in favor of a sound that is more pure and natural — he even described the sound as being neoclassical in scope. That’s partly what makes All Is One - One Is All so appealing. The melodies are still there to be appreciated, but the sound is very pure and undiluted. That approach works wonders, for example, on track six “Paint You a Song,” which is a superb showcase for Gandalf’s haunting piano melodies, as well as the Celtic sounding “The Fragrance of Eden,” with cello strings provided by Merike Hilmar and Irish Whistle from Karin Leitner. With a legacy going back decades, Gandalf is one of Real Music’s most acclaimed artists and he will please his many fans with his 2016 masterpiece All Is One - One Is All. -mwe3.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with GANDALF
mwe3: Did you set out to make a different sounding album with All Is One - One Is All and how do you feel it fits into your sound and compares with your other albums and recording sessions? It seems the new CD really has a great flow to it.
Gandalf: Creating music always feels like taking off for a journey into the unknown, you never can be sure where it is going to take you. For me, it is important to experience new territories. I like to travel and mostly return with new inspiration. Every other album captures its own magic, I never wanted to get stuck within my own clichés and I think the new album is both—something new, but also very much my personal style. I’m really happy about what it turned out to be.
mwe3: Regarding All Is One - One Is All, you speak about your visit to the volcano on the Canary Island of La Palma. In what ways did that influence you, or was it just the wonders of it that created a musical space? It seems like you’re very influenced by nature in your music.
Gandalf: The fascination about such a place as La Palma is that you can almost watch the development of the surface of our planet in various states since the very beginning. There are areas freshly flooded by liquid lava only about forty years ago, a desert of stones and ashes completely burnt with no sign of life. In other places first green has just settled on pale volcanic slopes, and then there are regions rich and fruitful, like a garden of Eden. This is extremely inspiring; so much beauty and diversity. And yes, nature has many times been a major source for my music.
mwe3: The sound you get with Merike Hilmar on cello is mesmerizing. What is the chemistry like with you and Merike? She is one of the great string players in New Age. How long have you known her?
Gandalf: We first played together when I engaged her for a concert in Vienna in 2007. This was about the time when my musical path began to head towards a more acoustic direction and I discovered that the cello worked perfect with my guitars and piano. Merike is an extremely sensitive player and it is a real pleasure working with her. She opened up a new dimension to my music and so I began to give the cello more space in my compositions. On the album Dreamweaver I even wrote a solo-piece for her, “Between Ebb and Flow.”
mwe3: You say you are planning some concerts this year. What is the story of those concerts and what are the complexities of performing your music in a live setting? Is touring something you like or are you mostly happiest in the studio or writing music?
Gandalf: This year is my 35th anniversary since the start of my career in 1981 and we just settled a concert on November 24th at the “Konzerthaus Wien,” one of the best places for Classical Music in Vienna. It’s an occasion to perform my piano-works on the Boesendorfer Imperial Grand. I am keeping the lineup rather minimalistic—basically with Merike Hilmar on cello and my son, Christian Strobl on percussion with a couple of guests joining in here and there. We are going to play music from the new album and some selected pieces out of my rich repertoire. A couple of other concerts in Austria are about to be scheduled.
There is nothing on earth that compares to the magical moments of a really good live concert, when time seems to stand still and the audience even holds its breath so as not to disturb the harmony. I love composing and recording new music in the studio, but I would not want to miss the feeling of playing live.
mwe3: Seems some artists, and I’m thinking of Steve Hackett with whom you worked, love to tour. Do you feel you could have more widespread success in a live concert tour?
Gandalf: I would not mind playing a bit more live than I have in the recent years, but the business is not what it used to be back in the 1980’s. Record companies are not supporting tours anymore and for musicians out of the mainstream, it has become difficult to find concert-promoters who are willing to take any financial risks. My experience shows me that there definitely is an audience for my music, but it would take a lot of money for promotion to make people come to the show.
mwe3: The title track on All Is One - One Is All is a kind of medieval pop vocal track that’s speaks of a “dream within a dream” and that features a young singer from Poland named Agnes Milewski. The track makes for an interesting change of pace for you. How did you meet Agnes and what made you want to create New Age vocal sound on a track here? What do the lyrics speak of in “All is One” and is there a concept you had in mind for the song and the album overall?
Gandalf: Agnes played as a support act at one of my concerts and I was very impressed by her performance. She has already released three albums with her own songs and she is really gifted singer/songwriter. One day the lyrics for “All Is One” came to my mind and I knew that she was the perfect person to interpret this song.
There appears to be a general cosmic law that can be found in everything that exists—from the smallest particles of matter up to planetary systems and galaxies, and all things are connected in a special way. This is what the song is about and I thought it was a good topic for the album.
mwe3: You balance this album with some superb Celtic flavored songs such as “The Fragrance of Eden” which features some nice flutes and whistles from Peter Aschenbrenner. What can you tell us about that track and how long have you worked with Peter?
Gandalf: I’ve always had and still have a strong affinity to Celtic music, which breaks through from time to time. There are all kinds of emotions in it, from very sad and melancholic to extremely joyful. Peter has been working with me almost since the beginning of my career thirty-five years ago. For me he is one of the most authentic players of Irish/Celtic music outside of Ireland; his band is called Ciunas
Actually, Peter does not play on “The Fragrance of Eden.” That is Karin Leitner, another specialist in Celtic tunes, and she has released a couple of CDs with wonderful orchestral compositions of her own with Irish influences. Peter plays on “The Tree of Life.”
mwe3: Were you happy with the CD mastering on All Is One - One Is All? When you prepare a new album do you have specific mastering instructions for your engineer? Personally, I think the mastering came out great.
Gandalf: On most of my productions I am also the recording engineer and also do the mixing and mastering completely on my own to get as close to my sound-vision as possible. The album already sounded really good when it left my studio and the mastering studio in California gave it the final polishing.
mwe3: So a 2016 concert is planned, and how else are you spending the musical time in 2016? Seems like a transitional year for the world! What else are you looking ahead to regarding your upcoming musical activities that might blossom in the future?
Gandalf: Currently I am preparing for the concerts, which takes most of my time to get things into place. It is a different thing to work on the creation of music in the studio, or to make it work properly on stage, and I am kind of a perfectionist as far as this is concerned. At this stage I can’t tell where the Muses are going to take me next.
It appears that the world is cracking in every corner and there are a lot of challenges for all of us to handle, including political, economic, and ecological problems. Sometimes you can really get depressed when you watch the news too much.
I do not think that I am able to change this world, but I am sure that with my music I can send out some positive signals, and to a very small extent give comfort and faith to people in all this craziness.