Ami and Steve Sciulli met through a vortex. "I was at working at Mandala Books on Murray Avenue," Steve recalls, "and the owner said there was a woman in Oakmont that had a 'vortex machine' in her living room. So we went out there, and this device had several speakers wrapped around it."
"It was huge," says Ami. "It reached up to my ceiling, was made of piping and had seven different geometric forms. In the middle was a seat. Eventually, Mandala put it in the back of the store."
Ami and Steve soon formed a relationship and, in 1997, a musical project called Life in Balance. Ami had pursued spiritual studies; Steve had a fruitful history in Pittsburgh's underground scene, stretching back to art-punkers Carsickness and Irish rockers Ploughman's Lunch, as well as electronic duo Complex Variables. Life in Balance began with the tranquil base of Ami coaxing ringing tones from quartz crystal bowls and Steve trilling a shakuhachi flute through spacey effects, though their music gradually became more complex, layered and intricate, even as it remained meditative.
Om to Ohm, their newest and seventh CD, is being promulgated worldwide by Namaste (the label run by Steven Machat, co-founder of the WOMAD festival with Peter Gabriel) and distributed by indie powerhouse Koch Records. The CD's title refers to the path from the "divine outbreath" of creation to the transcendent hybridization of humans and technology. Sound sources range from a multitude of flutes and synths (including theremin and breath-triggered EWI) to several guitars (featuring guest musicians Steve Kornicki and Maurice Rickard) and tribalistic rhythm programming.
One piece, "Rt. 70," boasts lapsteel guitar, invoking desert climes like the spaghetti-Western works of Morricone and Badalamenti, or more recently, Lanterna and A Small Good Thing. Along with the likes of Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis, much of Life in Balance's music is particularly appropriate for soundtracks. Just don't call them "New Age." If anything, the duo prefers "post-New Age" for their music, the same way Tortoise is post-rock.
With music as its bread and butter, Life in Balance has traveled around the country -- literally from Anchorage to Key West -- spreading its "sound seeds." The duo have shared stages with gurus and monks, as well as artists from Robert Rich to Rusted Root. Here in Pittsburgh, they're providing live music for yoga classes, planning a release party on Aug. 16 at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, and working in September with the Flow Fest, a benefit for the Tireless Project, which cleans the city's river banks.
"We judge the success of the music not by the take at the door, but by the connections that are made," stresses Steve, sounding more like an activist than a typical musician. "We spent ten years helping people relax. Now we want to wake them up on all levels -- political, social, and emotional. Be aware and be responsible."
Life in Balance plays a sound meditation. 7 p.m. Sat., July 28. Yoga on Centre, 6016 Penn Circle S., East Liberty. $10. 412-363-9642