"There is something about the harp that captivates not only the listener, but reaches a part of me as well that is difficult to describe or understand."—Hilary Stagg
In the Presence of Nature is Lightyear Entertainment's first foray into New Age relaxation videos. This two-part video was originally marketed towards health-care professionals as a way to help patients relax as they healed. This DVD makes the soothing strains available not only to doctors, but to stressed-out wannabe doctor graduate students, "not a doctor but I play one on TV"s, even folks completely unrelated to the medical profession.
I scoff at relaxation videos. I am therefore exactly the type of person the makers of this video think needs help. Ironically, those who are in tune with the healing sounds of harp strings probably don't need this video to relax. It is a paradox. To help you resolve where you stand on this issue, the prosecution presents Exhibit A, the video segments and accompanying songs:
• Wild Places—"Before Time"
I'm pleased to report that the music is quite listenable: reflective and soothing without being complacent or sleep-inducing. Hilary Stagg's music has been called spiraling, cyclical, and dreamlike. The music lacks specific focus; it drifts around within a fairly constrained orbit. On a casual listen, it took me quite some time to realize that the DVD had ended and returned to the repeating menu music. However, that is the whole point. The music is not there to draw attention to itself, it is there to calm your restive spirit. This DVD delivers in the musical department. I've had the DVD for two days and played it over five times.
The accompanying visuals do not match the quality of the music. The video stream is a slideshow-esque montage of natural scenery, such as birds in flight, sweeping clouds, sunrises and sunsets, preening herons, and other such postcard standbys. These scenes aren't objectionable, simply uninspired. Most shots are medium shots with an object of focus squarely centered in the middle of the frame. The camera follows riverbanks and tidelines with predictable regularity. The shots are so iconic and routinely framed that I felt I was watching a souped-up PowerPoint presentation. In contrast, documentaries such as The Shape of Life offer decent music along with truly stunning visual displays. In the Presence of Nature occasionally presents impressionistic natural imagery, such as time lapse photography of cloud shadows moving over mesas and waves washing ashore, but there is a lot of chaff mixed in with the wheat.
Bland visual effects are not the only issue. Pervasive grain and lack of detail mar the soothing effect. Focus drifts regularly. Colors are neither deep nor saturated, overall contrast is low, and the colors take on an overly greenish cast. There is also frequent twitter that may be due to digital noise reduction.
The lone extra is a biographical summary of Hilary Stagg's career and musical philosophy. It is an informative read with some nice headshots, but nothing a quick Google search wouldn't turn up.
This is a noble effort, but the visuals don't live up to the music. Had the photography been less static and the post-production incorporated less obvious effects and transitions, the package would feel better balanced. Video production has come a long way, and I've seen more captivating visual imagery on most made-for-TV nature specials. As it stands, I would simply pick up Stagg's Dream Spiral CD and forego the DVD. But the court will be keeping an eye on Lightyear, because this debut effort has a lot of promise to build upon.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Lightyear Entertainment
• Dream Spiral: The Music of Hilary Stagg
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