On the Sensations of Tone

On the Sensations of Tone

A blue whale getting a deep tissue massage
Tom Heasley
Tom Heasley
Catalog Number: 
new music
Meditative (neo New Age)

Los Angeles, CA

Release Date: 
Nov 25, 2002
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
On the Sensations of ToneiTunes Artist's PageiTunes Album Page
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Forget Sousa and clown marches. This is an otherworldly drone experience. A cavernous panorama of sonic exploration: delicious deep drones; spiraling swells of brass shifting like seismic plates. 

Like LaMonte Young’s “Well-Tuned Piano,” Stuart Dempster’s trombone drones, or Main’s “Firmament,” Tom Heasley’s digitally manipulated tuba conjures up a distant cosmos that we can only hope to visit. 

Tom Heasley's ambient tuba is so deeply tranquil, it sounds like a blue whale getting a deep tissue massage...



Tom Heasley’s ambient tuba work is just plain lush. Besides tuba, composer/performer Heasley also experiments with digital processing and throat singing on this release. This work is improvised in the studio, without edits, which makes for an incredible attention-to-detail listen. Of the two pieces here “Prelude,” which was recorded and mixed by the ubiquitous Robert Rich, loses no subtleties in its open-air, beatless structure. Its sense of space is unusual as it is of the essence of San Francisco fog sensitively rolling in over the hills. At 42 minutes “Thonts” is the centerpiece here. Chilling and atmospheric – who knew the tuba could do that? – this is an evocative piece of music to be reckoned with. Recorded in Philadelphia this reminds me of sounds you might hear in the wilderness of the lost lava pits of Iceland. Before venturing solo, Bay Area-based Heasley played with a range of musicians from polar genres including Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Pauline Oliveros, Thomas Buckner, Eugene Chadbourne, Fred Frith, Loren Mazzacane Connors and ex-Mother of Invention Don Preston. This versatility has served his sensibilities well. He has played in museums and in barns, in grand opera halls and in living rooms. On The Sensations of Tone is truly a one-of-a-kind, sensory-driven composition. Heasley’s follow-up to Where The Earth Meets The Sky (Hypnos) is full with a stark depth that could be called mind yoga. This is by far, the ambient release of the year (and it’s only June!). - TJ Norris


“Intense” is definitely an overused term, but this album decidedly has a strong physical presence, leading the body into a state of deep calmness, while simultaneously keeping the mind hooked at every second. As you fully immerse “On the Sensations of Tone”, this duality becomes ever clearer: As radical as the approach may be, it is statement of beauty as well. And a very personal expression to boot: The honesty, the outspokenness, the chains and the blood, they’re all present – only refusing to be simply spelled out completely. - Tobias Fischer


Drop-dead beautiful -- one might not even guess there's a tuba in the sonic fabric, in fact. - David Cleary


“This CD transcends the curiousity factor of its odd instrumentation, and stands as a strong meditative statement, immersing the listener so deeply, that one never thinks of an oompah band.” - Jeff Towne


…a mesmerizing wonder of deep echoed atmospherics.” - David Beardsley


Rippling in an ocean of brassy waves, bone-stirring bass tones cruise the spectral ooze, highs and thrumming lows in long, long curtains of multilevel sheen…stunning stuff. Heasley is quite serious in his role as one of ambient’s leading tubaist." - David J Opdyke


If Brian Eno had had Melvyn Poore instead of Bob Fripp in the studio back in 1975, "No Pussyfooting" might have turned out something like this. - Dan Warburton


By using electronics, loops, digital processing as well as his voice and tuba playing, (Heasley) has created a soundscape quite unlike anything I have heard…Quite stunning. - Chuck Jackson


I love Tom's music; if you don't go to hear him whenya can, well.....your loss!" - David Tom


This recording, consisting of two improvisations using what is, for today, a very minimal setup, rekindled that sense of wonder in me - and a lot of other feelings besides. I cannot recommend this recording to ambient spacemusic fans strongly enough. 

Precedents for this type of exploration exist, from Stuart Dempster's trombone pieces to Pauline Oliveros' "Deep Listening" experiences. But this recording has a decidedly different flavor. I thought I was somewhat knowledgeable about ambient music (perhaps even jaded?) but I had not heard of this release before it was sent to me for review. It will amply repay your effort to seek it out. - Mark Morton


Top Five of 2003 - Mark Weinstein


Kudos to Tom Heasley, who has clearly expanded the harmonic and sonic horizons of the tuba. Heasley has firmly demonstrated that musical imagination and creativity are restricted only by the musician, not the instrument. In fact, this author believes that his choice of instruments for this album was most ideally suited to these unique soundscapes. In this time of great international upheaval it is essential to locate havens of peace and introspection. Tom Heasley's efforts have provided a much-needed source of tranquility and serenity. - David Spies