Joanna Brouk

 Joanna used to say that she just “heard the music of the spheres” and she did strange abstract drawings trying to “write down” what she heard. In many ways her music was an effort to re-member that music that was already there. The same with her poems, which she said were more about “the space in-between than the actual words”. (

Studying under Robert Ashley and Terry Riley at the fabled Mills College Center For Contemporary Music before graduating into the margins of the ’70s bay area new music scene.

She was a composer who wrote scores with geometric shapes, a poet who became a pioneer of early electronic music. Joanna Brouk’s body of work exists at the nexus between ambient, new age, drone, and classical minimalism—stark in its simplicity, lush in its expanse. Studying under Robert Ashley and Terry Riley at the fabled Mills College Center For Contemporary Music before graduating into the margins of the ’70s Bay Area new music scene, Ms. Brouk blazed her own trail well outside of the musical establishment to create uncompromising electronic and acoustic work of sleek beauty and primal power. Describing herself as less a composer than a channel, she took her cues from the frequencies of the natural world and the talents of collaborators like Maggi Payne and Bill Maraldo. Hearing Music collects for the first time the deepest cuts from her beguiling and rare cassette releases and her archive of previously unreleased recordings.

I had to take out the first three minutes of Healing Music
because all I did was touch F# major (two below C) on the piano
and I would just listen,
and I’d listen,
and I’d listen
and if I didn’t hear the next note
I’d wait until there was absolute silence,
and then I’d hit it again,
and this went on for quite a while until I heard the next note.

Now I know of course the overtone series,
but what I was hearing back then
at the time it was quite innocent.
And that’s how I taught myself to play.
And I refused to play until the next note told me what it was going to play.
And with the synthesizer if you do the same thing
with octaves and fifths, and if you do it right and lay it over itself
It will start to do an arpeggio, it will start to wave up
It’s really magical
So I started hearing these rising arpeggios and that became “Maggi’s Flute”
That’s what I was hearing,

I started to meditate — Transcendental Meditation
And I almost knew when I started
that might be the end of it.
Because it’s such a balancing, wonderful technique
And if you are anywhere in your life out of balance it pulls you back in.
So for a while I stopped hearing music
And that was ok
I thought I really needed to get healthy
Then I took a long course, a teacher training course
And I started to hear music again
And I was so happy
I’m in the mountains though, meditating
And I’m hearing it and I’m wondering, what do I do with this?
I don’t have a piano, I don’t have a studio
So I grabbed some butcher paper in the room
And I started drawing the music I was hearing

It was geometric shapes
So an arpeggio might be a series of circles rising towards the sky
And I was very familiar from my days in the studio with the oscilloscope
which provides the dimensional shape of a sound
For example, a flute would give you a perfect circle
So I understood what different wave shapes would be,
the frequency and modulation.
And I was able to play with that.

I still see shapes when I hear music
It was never my desire to be “out there”
It was just my joy to do it
I hear music still
I write every day.
The writing and the music come from the same place.
There’s a lot of stuff coming through still
Last night I was awoken by Goddess dreams
And that happens a lot.

(From unpublished original liner notes for Hearing Music, constructed entirely from her own words from our conversations.


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