California-based Joanna Brouk composed slow, sparse works intended for meditation and reflection, utilizing acoustic instruments, vintage synthesizers, field recordings, and the human voice. Her music was inspired by classical minimalism, but it was embraced by the burgeoning new age movement during the 1980s. Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1949, Brouk moved to Berkeley, California in 1970 to study literature. Inspired by the cadences of poetry and the human voice, as well as the rhythms and soundings of nature, she began creating music. She spent numerous hours experimenting with synthesizers at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College in Oakland, and studied under the tutelage of avant-garde legends Robert Ashley and Terry Riley. Her music was introduced to radio listeners in October 1972, when she appeared on KPFA's contemporary music program Ode to Gravity.
After graduating, she went into radio production, and composed music for documentaries and other programs. She entered Mills' graduate program for electronic music in 1980, and created a work titled Holy Saturday Mass, performed at the Oakland Cathedral of Saint Francis de Sales, as her thesis. Brouk's classmate Maggi Payne contributed flute, and the compositions appeared on Brouk's 1981 debut Healing Music, the first of five cassettes she released on her own Hummingbird Productions throughout the '80s. The tapes were a success with listeners of KPFA (where Brouk became program director) as well as therapists and hospitals. Sounds of the Sea, also released in 1981, was Brouk's most fully realized recording, bringing together nature sounds as well as hypnotic vocals and manipulated electronic and acoustic instruments. Brouk's most ambitious composition was Lalinia Electra, a symphonic work commissioned by the Bay Area Women's Philharmonic in 1982.
As well-received and innovative as Brouk's recordings and performances were, she stopped making music in 1985, as she moved to San Diego and started a family. Under the name Joanne (with an 'e') Brouk, she became a prolific writer of historical fiction and plays, as well as a notable producer of Internet content. Brouk's music found a new audience during the 2010s, when new age music received a resurgence in interest and critical re-appraisal. Brouk's composition "Lifting Off" appeared on I Am the Center, Light in the Attic's 2013 anthology of private press new age recordings. Three years later, Numero Group issued Hearing Music, a comprehensive anthology of Brouk's music, compiling material from her cassettes in addition to previously unissued works. ~ Paul Simpson