Exercise Music is an album designed specifically for use while exercising (as the title states). It is a mix of progressive rock, electronic dance music, and minimalism. The result is an eclectic work that focuses on synthesized sonorities, rhythmically-driven tracks, extremes in volume, and large fluxes between simplicity and complexity.
By throwing the listener into a trance of sorts, the album is also a type of meditation while one exerts oneself. This provides both an allegory and a literal connection to the trance that physical exercise can induce in the mind of the person working out.
As if booting up a computer or preparing to exercise, the first track “Loading” features an ever-deepening, ever-escalating synthesizer that leads to the second track, “The Crucible”. As if pounded and compounded, this track serves as the first true track for exercising. Drawing from progressive rock/metal, the track features the EDM-like synthesizer from “Loading”, but also introduces the traditional rock instruments electric guitar, electric bass, and drum set. This track introduces us to the highly repetitive structures that allow the listener to both enter a trance and feel the exercise. Even though this album is best suited for intense workouts, even tracks such as “The Crucible” take breaks in the distorted soundscape for moments of clarity.
As a recovery to the extremely intense track before it, “She” is a reflection on beauty. It describes this concept through extremely soft piano-based minimalism. This is not an attempt to make a statement about women or feminism, but is rather an appreciation of something other than pure force. This solo piano track can still be used to induce a trance, but is much quieter and subtler, for those who were overwhelmed by the intensity of “The Crucible”.
The fourth track, “Marco Polo”, is the first track that dives extremely and almost exclusively into electronic dance music. The use of an ever-escalating pentatonic scale as the main motive is alluded to in the title–as if we are Marco Polo discovering a new scale associated with eastern music. Take a look at a spectrograph video I made of the track here:
Returning to the pithy synthesizer dominating the first two tracks, “Game On” fuses the energy of Marco Polo with the tracks before it. Creating a feel similar to an “old-school” gaming system, this song takes the ideas of multiple simultaneous polyrhythms and phrases and pushes it further than I have ever done. My inspiration from this track is the last movement of a string quartet I wrote, which in turn was drawn from the fusion of Louis Adriessen’s “De Staat” and Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music”. The trance has returned to a certain intensity reminiscent of “The Crucible”, but with subtleties and clearer textures drawn from “Marco Polo”.
Like the first track that served as a warm-up, the cool-down to this CD-length workout appears as “Shut Down”. An homage to the band Opeth in some ways, this jazz-fusion track allows the listener to drink some water, towel down, and walk off to the shower. The workout is complete, and the endorphins are in full effect. The listener knows the struggle they endured, and how they are better off for having experienced it.
Here are the program notes for Exercise Music, as released:
This album stems from a desire to listen to music while exercising. The result is a highly rhythmic, complex, trance-inducing wash of dark, open, and energetic colors and shapes that throw you into and out of grooves while keeping your ears interested.
Tracks range from obsessive polyrhythms, to dark metal/dance fusion, to minimalist solo piano, and pieces focusing entirely on tone color. This is reminiscent of tape music, minimalism, vernacular music, and cognitive dissonance. Its cerebral qualities are balanced by a heavy emphasis on groove, feel, repetition, energy, and spunk.
This album is a pluralist’s take on the music that surrounds us–from radios fading in and out, to progressive rock, to incessant pulses of electronic dance music. Overall, this pushes the goal of inducing a trance, a meditative state, and an intense focus on detail–all of which are characteristics of a mind during exercising.
In short: listen to this while exercising, but listen to it with interest at other times when you need rhythm, reflection, and groove.
– Dan Lis, 2014, Bloomfield, CT