Switched On – Richard Norris: Elements (Group Mind)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Richard Norris has kept himself busy during lockdown. As well as running the excellent Group Mind resource on Facebook (do join if you have an interest in any sort of ambient music!) he has been making music to help ease the stress created by the COVID-19 pandemic, confinement and worrisome news headlines – to name just a few of our bugbears in recent months.

Having released a series of Music for Healing tracks, Norris now heads into album territory with meditations on the five Chinese elements. He is helped by vocalist Bishi (who appears on Water) and some wonderful artwork by Mark Golding and Andy Ball, and a striking front cover image designed by Lyndon Pike.

What’s the music like?

Although his music with The Grid and Beyond The Wizards Sleeve is largely beat-driven, Norris has always shown a talent for creating musical textures that can soothe or comfort, and Elements is a fruitful use of that resource.

He uses appealing, analogue-driven sounds twinned with sequencers, making consonant musical motifs and – where required – well-crafted beats. Earth sets a solid base, its loops unfolding at a naturally relaxed pace, while Water is a more expansive structure, contrasting immersive vocals from Bishi with gentle instrumental oscillations.

Norris’s interpretation of Fire brings to mind the vision of flames lazily flickering in the half-light, with glowing embers that leave a lasting warmth. This eases us into the lovely stillness of Air, which could easily go on for longer than five minutes and not outstay its welcome, after which Space is appropriately remote, with lights twinkling in the distance.

Does it all work?

Yes. Elements is ideal for either end of the day, soothing the fevered brow but also working the brain nicely with its loops and well-constructed melodies. The music is always on the move, but the mind can choose the intensity with which it follows the designs.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. If the cover hasn’t already drawn you in then the music will. For best results the LP is strongly recommended, but anything linked to headphones will do the job. Norris offers a half hour of escapism, something we can all do with right now!

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