Mind Over Mirrors is the ever-evolving project of composer, harmoniumist, and synthesist Jaime Fennelly, who buttresses his modest instrumental foundation of Indian pedal harmonium with an array of tape delays, effect processors, and a number of Oberheim synthesizers that belong to the world of classic analog electronic composition. The choice of the harmonium—a 19th-century pump and pedal-operated reed keyboard instrument that once featured prominently in North Indian and European classical and religious canons as well as the vernacular music of Scandinavia, the American South, and seagoing vessels—is significant for its historical, cultural, and folkloric associations as much the self-imposed compositional or technological limitations. But make no mistake—despite the academic and abstract valences, Mind Over Mirrors is body music. In live performance, Jaime’s feet are constantly pumping the harmonium’s pedals, and the music’s essential corporeality has fostered a close collaborative relationship with celebrated choreographer and dancer Miguel Gutierrez since 2001. The current quartet incarnation of Mind Over Mirrors furthers this essential physicality through a new emphasis on interlocking full-band polyrhythmic grooves, offering a radiant palette of rhythmic, textural, and tonal complexity.
A twelve-faceted sonic inquiry into celestial cycles and the illuminating nature of darkness, Bellowing Sun (2018) is the majestic culmination of Fennelly’s immersive explorations of the natural world’s sensory dimensions and the dialogues between musical traditions. Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for its world premiere performance, and recorded and mixed by Fennelly with John McEntire (Tortoise), the work developed over the course of nearly three years, gradually accreting into a rapturous, prismatic seventy-three minute composition for a group comprised of Fennelly (Oberheim SEMs, OB-6 synthesizer, and Indian harmonium) and fellow veteran Chicago musicians Janet Beveridge Bean (Freakwater, Eleventh Dream Day: lead vocals, zither, percussion); Jim Becker (Iron and Wine, Califone: fiddle, vocals); and Jon Mueller (Death Blues, Volcano Choir: drums, vocals).
In its live iterations, the quartet performs Bellowing Sun in the round, with the audience encircling the musicians, each of whom plays multiple instruments. The visual centerpiece (reproduced on the album cover) is a large kinetic light sculpture hovering suspended above the players, a monumental zoetrope in the shape of a great, internally illuminated drum, conceived and hand fabricated in collaboration with artists Eliot Irwin and Timothy Breen and lighting designer Keith Parham. This arresting cylindrical form, adorned with patterns, abstract figures, and dyed gradients on its translucent textile skin, rotates to create an ever-changing architectural kaleidoscope of organic shapes and color, a delicate but imposing firmament-tent that simultaneously evokes astronomical objects and microscopic life forms.
Though Fennelly now resides in Chicago, Mind Over Mirrors emerged during a three-year period during 2007-2010 while he was living on a remote island in the Salish Sea of Washington State. Since then, he has released recordings on Immune as well as Digitalis, Hands In the Dark, Aguirre/Gift Tapes, and Paradise of Bachelors. In the early 2000’s, Fennelly co-founded the iconoclastic group Peeesseye (with guitarist Chris Forsyth and drummer/visual artist Fritz Welch) in Brooklyn. While Mind Over Mirrors emerged along a decidedly solo axis, in 2014 Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux began accompanying him on select recordings and performances, complementing his solitary reeling and gorgeous, woozy speechlessness with her electrifying singing and contributing a new textual dimension with her occasional, elliptical lyrics. As challenging and enveloping as ever, The Voice Calling (2015) achieved a more immediate emotional and psychological register.
The spellbinding Undying Color (2017), Fennelly’s Paradise of Bachelor's debut, was the first to supplement his foundational arsenal of Indian pedal harmonium, analog synthesizers, and incantatory voices with a full ensemble that included Bean, Becker, Mueller, and Fohr. Undying Color braids folk and formal, praise and play, within its heady swells and troughs, invoking American vernacular musical traditions and pulsating avant-garde electronics alike. With prayerful patience and ceremonial gravity, it conjures and celebrates the cyclical rhythms of nature: tidal surges, human breathing, cicadas in the wilderness gloaming. It garnered new audiences and earned acclaim from the likes of Uncut, The Quietus, The Observer, Blouin Artinfo, and NPR, who described it as “praise music for the American landscape."