Michael Mantra ‎– Sonic Alter

Silent ‎– SR9449
CD, Album


1 Sonic Alter 22:15
2 Heaven Below 22:03
3 Heaven Above 22:04

Companies, etc.



Sonic Alter is an extended remix of Sonic Transform made at the request of Kim Cascone for release on Silent Records.

© 1993 Tranquil Technology Music, ASCAP
℗ 1994 Silent Records

Made in Canada.

Barcode and Other Identifiers

  • Barcode: 753443944928
  • Rights Society: ASCAP


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March 17, 2010
edited about 1 month ago

All three tracks on this dilated-pupil ambient disc are essentially the same, all being dominated by the lulling sounds of the ocean surf and mountain streams, and underpinned by many gently faded layers of harmonic drones - some tonal, some bassy, some almost growling. Pulsing, morphing "binaural beat" resonances form among Tibetan bell-like and bass drones that are very close together in fundamental frequency. Footsteps, seagulls, distant laughter, whalesong, and Far Eastern monk "aahhs" are in abundance, but are also buried in the drones, yielding a rather eerie feel, soundtracky and deep. It's also comparable to the Primordial Atmospheres album by Mystical Sun (especially Mystical Sun's "Journey to Samadhi"). Both composers pair dreamlike and "primordial" noises with drones that seemingly attempt to exploit the much-hyped-in-the-'90s pseudoscience of "brainwave entrainment", the manipulation of relaxing mental states via stimuli operating at the same, slow rhythmic frequencies that have been observed in EEG measurements. Regardless of whether this was intended or if it even works, the effect can be quite hypnotic, which is exactly what connoisseurs of psychedelic ambience are looking for. A perennial favorite.

Bonus content—a review I wrote in August 1994:

Summary: Ultra-ambient meditation assistance, no drugs required, for those who want to seriously stare wide-eyed in a pitch black room.

I'd laugh at myself if I wrote more than a paragraph about an album this minimal. On first listen I was wondering why anyone would want to make an album of tones, "ohm"s and ocean waves. Sure, the pieces did evolve over time and were subjected to subtle treatments throughout, but heck if I could go from listening to, say, just about anything, to listening to Mantra's themes for catatonia.

However, I eventually took the time to give it another listen. I read the liner notes and then realized what was really going on.

Sonic Alter is meditative music for the subconscious. It is the recorded equivalent of the Voyager mind machine, a little device that produces pairs of sine wave tones through headphones, flashes LEDs at your eyelids in programmed patterns, and lets you listen to music or sound effects at the same time. The theory is that the brain's activity, upon hearing two tones of close frequencies, adapts to match the beat frequency, which is the difference between the frequencies of the two tones.

Mantra combines different tone pairs with the sound of running water, the ocean surf, sea mammals, and drones, all of which—despite being the biggest cliches in ambient music not counting astronaut samples—were established millennia ago as being useful for this sort of thing. This music is not intended so much for drug-assisted trance induction as it is for mental manipulation and modern meditation. What at first seems like a misspelled New Age album title actually turns out to be an appropriate assessment of the action of the recording on the listener. More than just background noise, this type of minimalism actively encourages changes in your state of consciousness. Or it might just bore you to tears.

Yes, when I come out of this coma I'll be laughing at myself.


July 12, 2006
edited over 11 years ago

A written-in-stone classic of ambient music. I remember first hearing an excerpt of this in 1994 on a Silent compilation and feeling that I didn't "get" it, but knew I needed to know more about it.

"Sonic Alter" still doesn't sound like anything else in ambient, other than, perhaps, some primordial childhood memory of listening through the floorboards to your mother or father vacuuming the living-room downstairs. The whalesong dates this a little, but I think the experience of listening to this record is still as strong, disorienting, and pleasant today as it was in '94.