Married; children: Emily Morgan, Amanda Taylor. Education: University of Connecticut, B.A. in psychology. Addresses: Record company--Spectral Spiral Music, P.O. Box 466, Glastonbury, CT 06073. Website--Spectral Voices Official Website:

Vocalist Jim Cole is the founder of Spectral Voices, an a capella group that sings in a harmonic overtone style. Although his work is often called "New Age," Cole has resisted this label. On his website he explained, "I hold myself at a distance. It's really a marketing term." He prefers to call his work "ambient vocal space music," adding, "It's so much different than anything that is called 'New Age.' He prefers that people listen to his music and decide for themselves what category it fits into.

Cole had no formal musical training as a young man, but he was always a fan of vocal and polyphonic music, and taught himself to play the guitar while he was in college. He became interested in music and in spirituality after graduating from high school and joining the Peace Corps. He was sent to Thailand, where he lived in a deeply Buddhist culture and was ordained as a monk by a forest monastery.

In 1991 a friend gave him recordings of Tibetan monks chanting, as well as an album by David Hykes and the Harmonic Choir, titled Hearing Solar Winds. Both recordings featured "overtone" singing, in which each singer produced more than one note at the same time. The sound fascinated Cole. In an interview in Ambient Voices, Cole said that "Hearing Solar Winds moved and touched me as the human voice had never done before, and seemed to cut straight through to my heart directly and expressively." Fascinated, he decided to learn how to do overtone singing, and has since made singing and teaching this style of music his career. Over time, he and other singers created a group, Spectral Voices, to perform this music. In addition to Cole, members of Spectral Voices have included Alan Dow, Jim Desmond, Damon Honeycutt, and Geoffrey Brown.

Cole initially went to various reverberant spaces, such as churches and stone crypts, to practice his singing. He was joined by other friends who were also interested in this style of singing. In an interview posted on his website, Cole recalled that "the interaction of two or more [voices] gathered within these resonant spaces was spellbinding."

Cole was inspired to try a new approach to his music when he heard Pauline Oliveros's CD Deep Listening, which was recorded in an underground cistern. The echoing, reverberant space accentuated the overtones in the music, and he decided to find a similar space in which to sing. He eventually found an empty and abandoned water tower, and after obtaining permission, he and others recorded over 150 hours of improvisational singing there. At the time, they had no intention of releasing the recordings to the public. On his website, Cole described the acoustic properties of the tower: "The huge reverberation made it possible for a single voice to build complex chords simply by singing several pitches in succession. A series of notes would hang in the air, turning melodies into chords." He added, "Singing long notes with very long reverberations creates music that lingers in space and in the mind. The experience is very peaceful; time seems to stand still."

In 1996 Cole received an Artist's Fellowship Grant from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. The grant allowed Cole to produce and release Spectral Voices' debut album, Coalescence. He also used some of the money to get more training in overtone singing and to promote the group's live performances that year. Although he had initially thought that Coalescence would only sell to the group's family and friends, he received an overwhelming response from listeners of three radio programs that aired it. Encouraged, Cole promoted the album to hundreds of radio stations around the world, and for seven months in 1998 the album was on the New Age Voice top 50 chart based on station airplay. The recording also sold widely through word-of-mouth.

Coalescence was recorded during many sessions in the water tower, but the group's second album, Sky, was recorded during a single night there. Cole said in an interview posted on his website, "The focus, wonder and spirituality that pervaded was incredible! We sang for about two hours, pausing at times to listen to the natural ambience, but we never spoke during that session until it was clear that it was all over." In a review reprinted on the website, Bill Binkelman of Wind and Fire wrote, "Sky is even more ethereal and spiritual than their earlier release, Coalescence." He noted, "That it's human voices making these celestial sounds never fails to astonish me."

A sympathetic attorney negotiated with the owner of the property, and they were allowed to use the water tower on a continuing basis. Eventually, however, the land was sold and the tower was demolished. Cole looked for another large, reverberant space with no success. He eventually turned to using electronic means to recreate the water tower sound for the group's performances and recordings. Although his first two albums were recorded in the most low-tech manner possible, his subsequent works made use of electronic techniques to create the sound he wanted.

Cole has collaborated with several artists to produce other albums. He worked with Alpha Wave Movement to produce Bislama, and with Mathias Grassow to produce The Hollow. Cole joined with cellist and flutist Kevin Makarewicz and percussionist Matt Moadel on Labyrinth Walk Live, and has also worked with the progressive rock group Paranoise. He also records and frequently performs with a group called Leland Burr, which includes founder Larry D. playing keyboards, chong, flute, a broken auto-harp, kalimbas, Vietnamese clackers, and other instruments, and Geoffrey Brown playing percussion and providing harmonic overtone singing. This group, which describes its music as "surreal hypno-ambient world tribal grooves and beyond," performed at the opening and closing of the Salvador Dali exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, in Hartford, Connecticut.

In addition to a regular concert schedule, Cole and Spectral Voices provide home concerts for listeners who gather at least twelve people and provide a space for the performance. Cole said in an interview posted on his website, "I believe this kind of venue has great and valuable potential." When Cole is not working on his music, he works at the Catholic Migration and Refugee Services, an agency that resettles refugees from other countries in the United States.

On his website, Cole said of his music, "To be able to sing the way we do together--that is a gift. We tread the nebulous waves of space and cascade into shimmering realms. ... "No words can describe that place or that feeling. It is like some ancient and eternal understanding for what binds the universe, and what connects us all."

by Kelly Winters

Jim Cole's Career

Recorded Coalescence, 1997; and Sky, 2000; recorded Bislama with Alpha Wave Movement, 2001; recorded The Hollow with Matthias Grassow, 2001; and Godspace, 2002; recorded The Way Beyond, 2003; recorded The Last Bright Light with Matthias Grassow, 2004; works for Catholic Migration and Refugee Services.

Jim Cole's Awards

Connecticut Commission on the Arts, Artist Fellowship Award, 1996.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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