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Interviews

Graham Getty

July 2010

 

Graham Getty has been in the electronic music scene in a variety of capacities – helping to run labels, writing reviews, promoting concerts, and making his own music as well.  I’ve known him for several years, but realized I don’t know all that much really, so I decided to find out more.

 

Graham and I have a lot in common actually – we’re both family men with a few kids and pets, and ordinary day jobs that don’t involve music.  And we both like beer, which is a plus.  Thanks to Graham for doing the interview. 

 

So when did you first know that electronic music was something special, how did this love affair begin?

 

In the UK in the mid 70's there was a TV show that used Tomita's 'Arabesque no 1' as the theme tune. I didn't know who it was at the time, or what instrument was creating the sound. All I do know is that I was drawn to it. After tracking it down and eventually purchasing Tomita's album 'Snowflakes are Dancing' (which was a long process at pocket money rates:) the picture on the back cover of the Moog modular fascinated me. I'd never seen anything like it. It seemed almost other-worldly. I got the notion that it was a machine that you could use to create any sound imaginable.

 

I then started to search out other electronic music. Vangelis came to my attention (I think because of Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos' TV series) and at the same time Jarre's 'Oxygene' hit the streets, as did Space with 'Magic Fly' which charted quite high in the UK. It was an explosion of avenues to explore, and it was a fascinating voyage of discovery. What a period the mid 70's was for EM. Then a school friend mentioned this strange phrase "Tangerine Dream" to me, and he played 'Ricochet'. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

How and when did Synth Music Direct get started, and how involved were you with Dave Law in launching it?

 

Synth Music Direct is all Dave Law's work and was an evolution of his mail order company Neu Harmony. Myself and Dave had known each other for many years, I was basically a customer and we often chatted about the music. I felt I wanted to do more than simply listen to the music. I'm quite good with words so started to review albums. As a vehicle for these I teamed up with two friends Steve Roberts and Ian Floyd to produce a magazine called Zenith of which there were the sum total of 3 issues back in the early 90's. Dave said he was looking for help with a new project called Synth Music Direct, primarily with reviews and producing a monthly magazine. It was a perfect match with my skill set, and opened the door on a very wide range of EM to me, so I said yes and that's how I got involved.

 

The first issue of the SMD magazine was January 1996. And in total I produced 135 issues, the last one I produced being around October 2007 (Dave produces the magazine himself now). A selection of the magazines, including the first 2 issues, are still available in pdf format at http://www.neuharmony.co.uk/smdmags/index.htm

 

SMD was quite a forward thinking company. Pretty much the first EM distributor with a web site, first with an online shop, first with track samples on the site, first to embrace CDR as a viable commercial medium, first with the virtual ticket concept, first to offer EM MP3 downloads, and it even dabbled with lossless downloads as a proof of concept in the pre Musiczeit days. Again the technology aspects fitted in well with my interests and background so I was happy to help push the boundaries so-to-speak.

 

What people may not know is that we also put on in the region of 50 concerts at Jodrell Bank and the UK National Space Centre between 1996 and 2006 under the SMD banner. It was a prolific period in all respects.  Details of all the concerts are still on the smd site... http://www.synthmusicdirect.com/

 

What was the idea behind MusicZeit, and how did it get started?

 

The idea behind MusicZeit was simply to develop a high quality digital music distribution platform that was 100% legal and ensured the artist gets paid for their work. Dave Law mentioned to me that he planned to start it up, and I came on board to oversee all the technology aspects. Ian Boddy came on board with his experience as a professional musician and together with Dave and myself we make a good team.

 

What made MusicZeit different was that we were aiming at a market that did not want to compromise on sound quality. We distribute all albums as lossless FLAC, as well as MP3. This means that in terms of sound quality they get (at least) the equivalent of CD, and if customers want a physical product they can print off the artwork and burn a CDR. So, in a way, it's the best of both worlds.

 

Has MusicZeit been successful as a business model?  How does it compare to the old days of dealing with physical CDs all the time?

 

As a business model the company is making progress and growing, so yes it is working. We have made good progress in the Electronic Music genre but we have a long way to go outside this genre. The site was and is aimed at all music styles. But the challenge is that there are thousands of digital music sites and they pop up on a daily basis so there's plenty of competition out there. And often these businesses are more tuned to their own market, as we are with Electronic Music.

 

I've never run a physical distribution business so can only speculate as to the comparison. Clearly shipping physical product has its downsides in terms of the cost and time to ship product, as well as having to store and manage stock. What I'd like to comment on more is how adopting a purely media-less approach to your music collection can open it up in a way physical media cannot. I completely digitised my collection many years ago and I now enjoy it far more than I ever did when I relied on having the CD or vinyl record to hand. The ability to carry your entire collection around with you, in the car, on holiday etc, and to cut and slice it it so many ways has been a revelation to me.

 

The most disappointing aspect of download music is piracy of course. How some people's moral compass can be set to think that what they are doing is innocent and harmless is beyond me. It is illegal, and risks destroying the very scene they purport to enjoy. 

 

What do you think makes people so passionate about the "glory days" of electronic music in 1970s, the Berlin school sound?

 

I'm passionate about it because it's a style I enjoy immensely. Tangerine Dream's 'Ricochet' remains probably my favourite EM album of all time. The sonic power and unpredictability of improvising on those vast modular rigs, and harnessing them into one musical direction, was exciting and amazing to witness and hear. My personal frustration is that, Tangerine Dream especially, only explored Berlin School for 5 years tops in the mid 70's yet seem to have been ploughing the same musical furrow for the past 20 years with a style that does absolutely nothing for me.

 

The renaissance of this style during the mid to late 90's, and continuing apace now, is testament to the appeal of the Berlin School sound. And it's amazing to see how the price of classic analog synths, which were pretty much garage-sale material in the 80's, are now attracting astranomical prices. The smart people, like Jarre, held onto their kit. :)

 

You released your first album, Virtual Horizons, in 1992.  Now 18 years has gone by, and you've release 2 albums in the past 6 months.  What's up with that?

 

Ha ha. Yes it is strange isn't it. I bought a synth back in 1990, a Yamaha SY77 workstation. It said sequencer in the promo blurb so bought it expecting to dive headlong into Berlin School territory. Of course the reality was very different, it was a linear sequencer and demanded a more structured approach to music making. I pretty much spent every spare moment I had in 1991 making Virtual Horizons. Then married life and lots of children took over. :)

 

Fast forward 15 or so years and my feet started to get itchy again so I decided to buy a few bits of kit and see what I could do. I had a pretty good idea by now what I was aiming for and what I needed, so started to build a rig on which I could do the sort of Berlin School sequencing I enjoy. It's probably right to say at this juncture that I am a sequencer devotee. Much to the dismay of my family who find the endless looping patterns of notes very annoying! 

 

Anyway, it took me 3 or 4 years of trying stuff out and buying/selling on ebay before I hit on what I was looking for. A massive departure from Virtual Horizons. A total homage to Berlin School style sequencing with a few more modern elements thrown in for good measure. EMP3 was more of a collection of bits I had lying around. The Lattice is a more cohesive package and even I was surprised at how quickly it came together. I am planning to swap a couple of pieces of my rig before the next one, not least to have some true analog equipment in there (everything in my rig at the moment is virtual analog hardware).

 

Has there been any one event that stands out to you in all your years following this music?  A disc you put on for the first time, a concert you attended, a musician you met?

 

Has to be the first 10 minutes of Node at the 1994 Derby Assembly Rooms concert. It was like a musical rebirth.

 

Sometimes I get feedback as a reviewer that I'm too positive, and I've noticed that you tend to be quite positive in your reviews as well.  How would you respond to those who say we aren't being critical enough as critics?

 

Good question. Generally speaking I only review albums I enjoy. I have no desire to be a critic and slate music which I don't like in the first place. I must say that I write very few reviews now, and haven't done for many years. I simply don't have the time with everything else.

 

You do a lot of different things - web support, writing reviews, recording albums, promoting the EM scene in general - do you have time for any other interests besides music?  Family, friends, hobbies? 

 

Electronic Music is my main non-family/work pastime, though I do like watching films and my study acts as both a studio and home cinema. Family and working life does pretty much eat up the vast majority of my time.

 

If you could only pick one favorite EM artist, who would it be and why?

 

Predictably, Tangerine Dream. 1974 to 1983. What they did during this period, especially in the live setting, I don't think will ever be equalled.

 

Why are you still doing this after all these years?  How long will you continue?

 

I suppose it's because I enjoy it. When I stop enjoying it, I'll stop. MusicZeit, and getting back into making music, has given me fresh impetus. The technology available now to the electronic musician is incredible. My humble rig at home has more capability than the vast Tangerine Dream rigs of the 70's. Not that I consider myself in the same league as them, but it's nice to explore and stumble upon the sounds and techniques they employed back then.

 

Thanks again Graham for the interview!  Nice chatting with you. 

 

 

 

Darrell Burgan

June 2010

 

Darrell Burgan is truly a jack of all trades. Ok, so it’s not that uncommon for musicians, particularly in electronic music, to record under different names, both as a solo act and in various collaborative efforts. But to do that AND have your own label(s) AND host a web radio station…well, I don’t know how he finds the time, but we ambient fans are the better for it.

 

If you want to know more about Darrell aside from this interview, check out his bio on the Earth Mantra site here or his MySpace page under his music moniker Palancar here. 

 

I want to thank Darrell for taking time out of his obviously very busy schedule to talk about everything he’s up to.

 

So…you are a recording artist with several solo projects and collaborations.  You run an internet radio station and a free netlabel.  You have a commercial label as well.  Exactly how have you managed to distort the space-time continuum to allow you to do everything that you do?

 

Heh, well you didn't also mention my soundware business (Spirit Canyon Audio), my family (wife and four children), and of course my day job. It would actually be extremely nice to have a time machine, because balancing all this stuff can be quite challenging at times. All I can say is that I invest nearly every personal moment I have into ambient music, and I am very careful about managing my time.

Also, I am a software developer by trade, so I am able to automate a lot of the repetitive stuff. So, for example, I have developed StillStream.com to be a nearly automatic station which handles most of the day to day stuff itself. I still have to do things that defy automation, like writing up the features and auditioning new music, but the station is capable of doing an awful lot of tasks itself. If it weren't for that, I definitely would not be able to juggle nearly as much as I do.

Fortunately, I manage to find enough time between running all these web sites to actually make some music from time to time. I'd go nuts if I couldn't do that.

 

It’s also worth mentioning that you do virtually all of these things for FREE!  How do you manage to do that, are you independently wealthy, or simply crazy?  And WHY do you put so much energy into something that seemingly gives you nothing in return?

 

Not at all wealthy, but I am definitely not right in the head; my wife can attest to that. But yeah I do a lot of what I do for free consumption, for a lot of reasons.

 

One is that the ambient world is so small that attempting to make a commercial go of things just isn't very practical. There are a few really big labels that do well selling this kind of music, but my experience is that the finances aren't terribly attractive unless one's label is REALLY big.

 

I also find that there is a direct trade-off between gaining exposure for music and trying to sell it. There are very very few artists who can simultaneously sell their music and distribute their music widely. Those artists tend to be a lot more talented than I am.  :-)   I find that my music is far more widely heard if I give it away, rather than if I try to sell it. Given the amount of money that sales of my music have generated, it seems to be a much smarter idea for me to simply give it away.

 

But probably the biggest reason I do so much stuff free is that I admire the zen aspects of it. To me, ambient music is about artistic freedom. It is a genre without rules, one that forces the artist to chart new directions with almost every piece. Given this freedom, it seems very consistent to me to release that art freely to people, and to encourage them to distribute that art to other people themselves. That's why I am a big believer in Creative Commons, at least as far as ambient music goes. It allows me to focus my attention where it really belongs -- on the music itself -- rather than on mundane things like how much cash flow an album has generated. I think the art is better for it.

 

One last note: I'm sure it hasn't escaped anyone's notice that there is a certain amount of congruence between the various sites that I run. One is a commercial label that can distribute music via all the big digital music stores. Another is a noncommercial label that distributes to the burgeoning netaudio scene. Another is a radio station that distributes music rather widely too. So, when I make new music, I can distribute it myself via whichever label I feel like, and can immediately start getting airplay for it on the station. I don't have to bother with trying to find a label who won't reject my music, and I don't have to depend so heavily on achieving radio airplay on other stations (even though I have had really wonderful support from several, which I deeply appreciate). Each site supports and feeds back into the others. So it all sort of hangs together well. I kind of live in my own strange little ambient world.

 

Do you write all the copy on the Earth Mantra reviews? You seem as gifted with the written word as you do with music. And again, how do you find the time?

 

Yup, I handle all the details of Earth Mantra myself. Thanks for the kind feedback - I do put a lot of effort into those write-ups. Sometimes I think I should get someone a little more impartial to write the copy, though. I love the music on Earth Mantra so much that the copy tends to be rather effusive. But that's why I do the label in the first place: I love the music. For what other reason would someone run a netlabel in the first place?

 

How do artists find you? And how do you decide which ones to accept? Are there many that are willing to “give away” their music?

 

In the early days I had to go find artists, and invite them to submit music. Fortunately, I have been involved in the ambient and electronic music communities for so long that I already knew a lot of people, so it was easy to email them and say "hey, how about letting me release one of your albums".  But somewhere along the line my labels achieved enough critical mass that people I didn't know starting writing in to me independently, offering their music. Nowadays I actually receive a lot more submissions than I can feasibly release, so I've had to become selective about it.

And yes, there are definitely a lot of artists who are willing to give away some of their music, which might seem surprising on the surface, but really it makes a lot of sense.  It's important to note that Creative Commons does not demand that you give away everything you make; it is perfectly legitimate to release one album as a commercial release, then another as a Creative Commons release, then yet another as a commercial release again. So I don't have to ask artists to give away all of their music, only one specific title. A lot of musicians nowadays see that releasing at least part of their music under Creative Commons is actually a really effective way to gain some free exposure and mind-share in the listener community, which can actually help bolster commercial sales of their other commercial titles. For example, Nine Inch Nails has adopted this approach, and it seems to be working well for them. Some artists (like me) release nearly everything they do under Creative Commons, but there are plenty who balance free with commercial, which is fine by me.

 

What is the difference between your free label and your commercial one, and how do you decide which is more appropriate for a given artist or release?

 

There are two primary differences, the biggest being the word 'commercial'. Blue Water Records is fully commercial, and has a distributor who gets titles listed onto all the big digital stores like iTunes, EMusic, Amazon, etc., whereas Earth Mantra Netlabel distributes virally via Creative Commons and direct download. The other major difference is that Blue Water Records is a bit looser in terms of format, releasing a lot of non-ambient music in addition to the ambient stuff, whereas Earth Mantra is pretty tightly focused on ambient.

But in truth, I haven't done very much with the commercial label in a few years, simply because Earth Mantra is just so much more fun. It's very refreshing to be able to release music I love without having to negotiate contracts, fill out paperwork, deal with the distributor, maintain detailed accounting of sales, disburse payments, etc. It's much more fulfilling to focus on the art and the music and let all that boring administrative stuff slide. As a result, I have been very active with Earth Mantra but there have been no new releases on Blue Water Records in some time. Not sure what will happen with Blue Water Records, but for now I'm content to keep the label going and let the future take care of itself. Earth Mantra is definitely where my heart is at the moment.

 

How do you decide what is good enough to release and what isn’t?  What ratio would you say you accept vs. reject from what artists submit to Earth Mantra for release?

 

Earth Mantra receives maybe 5-10 submissions each month, and I probably end up releasing about 75% of them. Of the ones I don't release, most of the time the reason is that the album just isn't ambient enough. There seem to be a wide variety of definitions of what "ambient music" is, and sometimes I'll get a release that the artist thinks matches Earth Mantra's format but I just don't agree. I try to be very careful about keeping Earth Mantra's format fairly tightly defined, although I admit that I occasionally bend the rules for an exceptional set of music.

But anyway, rarely do I get a submission that I reject because I feel like it doesn't have sufficient quality, which is fortunate because I hate to say "no" to people, even though I have to do it sometimes. No matter what the cause, whenever I don't release a submission I always try to refer the artist to a netlabel that I think is a better match for their album. I feel strongly that the netaudio scene should be a positive one for everyone, artists included, so I try to help facilitate that.

 

Earth Mantra releases seem to have consistently high quality when it comes to not only the music, but the beautiful cover art as well. Do the individual artists create the covers, or is that another of your many talents?

 

Thanks. I work hard to try to ensure Earth Mantra's music represents the kind of label I think it ought to be. Quality is of course a very subjective thing but it is nonetheless important.

Usually I end up doing the artwork for most releases, although many times I will base the album art on photos or images that the artist has provided, which is always very helpful. Sometimes the artist does their own artwork, which is usually the best way since I do not pretend in any way to be a competent graphic designer. I have picked up enough tricks to be able to muddle through creating album artwork when I have to, but I have little confidence in my ability as a graphic artist. I'm very glad you find the artwork to be of good quality, because I am always worried about that aspect of the releases.

 

When you listen to the music, how much time do you spend with it before deciding whether it is worthy of release? Do you usually know from the opening moments, or do you revisit an album in different settings before deciding?

 

Usually I have to listen to an album end-to-end completely before I can make a decision. Occasionally, I will have to listen to an album several times to decide, if there is something controversial about it (for example, if it has a lot of non-ambient elements in it), or if I am just having trouble deciding. There are certain artists that I know almost without listening to anything that the album will be a match, just because their music is so familiar to me, but this is rare. I always try to give an album at least one detailed, thorough listen before I give the artist an answer. Unfortunately this means it sometimes takes a few weeks to respond to the artist, but that's just the best I can do.

 

Let’s talk about your own music. What sort of musical training do you have?

 

Very little training. I had piano lessons for a couple of years as a young child and as a teen took a year of percussion training, but in general I play by ear and am self taught. I couldn't read sheet music nowadays if my life depended on it. In some ways I think it is very helpful to have a fresh, independent perspective, but in other ways I have some huge holes in my experience and musical vocabulary. I am hoping that as my kids get older maybe I will be able to go back to school and study music more formally. I would very much like to have a better understanding of music than I do. I often think of myself as being a "child still learning to speak" from a musical standpoint, something I am anxious to improve on. In the meantime, I just try to do the best I can.

 

What is your studio like? Do you mostly use computers and softsynths, or do you have modulars and freestanding synths, or what? What about other instruments?

 

My studio has gone through so many changes over the past decade it is hard to draw generalities. Probably the two things I can consistently say are that I've always mixed up hardware and software, and that my setup is always evolving.

I love outboard synthesizers, but I also love software. At one time I owned quite a number of vintage synths, which was very fun, but these days I spend a lot of time using software simply because it is so convenient. Also, as a software developer myself, I find using software to actually be very liberating, since I can sometimes customize it in ways that maybe a non-geek wouldn't. Software synthesis is so powerful; I look at something like Reaktor and there just isn't anything in the hardware world that offers anything approaching a similar depth. I love making my own instruments and my own weird little sound generators, which I use a lot in my music. I'm a heavy user of modular synthesis, but it is all virtual for the time being. I'd love to have an outboard analog modular some day, but for now software is very much satisfying my urge to patch modules together.

The biggest problem with software, though, is playability. Outboard gear is so tactile and immediate, and when one is performing live it is so much better to have an instrument that responds to you instantly without hesitation. Much more expressive that way. Also, I have yet to have an outboard synth choke on me in a live performance, whereas it happens often if I use a computer (something that really kills creativity). So really I see the benefits of both worlds, and I try to use the strengths of each while minimizing the weaknesses.

As far as other instruments go, I have a fairly sizable collection of percussion instruments, including frame drums, djembe, bongos, rain sticks, shakers, rattles, chimes, children's toys and other fun stuff that is useful both for live performance as well as studio recording. I'm always on the lookout for new percussion pieces to add to my collection. Additionally, I have an old cheap electric guitar that I sometimes use to create weird textures and sounds. I also am working on learning to play some simple wind instruments, such as recorder and tin whistle, of which I have a small but growing collection. My primary instruments will always be keyboard and percussion, but I'm finding it is fun to use some of these other instruments in limited ways in my music.

Finally, I sometimes include vocals in my music. I am not a very good singer, but I have managed to find ways I can incorporate vocals that aren't overtly embarrassing.  :-)

 

How often are you recording music? And what percentage of what you record typically ends up getting released?

 

My music comes in fits and spurts. Sometimes I will go a month or more without recording anything new, then all of a sudden inspiration strikes and I'll find myself very productive for awhile. It's very erratic and it is hard for me to find any patterns. I figure all artists go through times of feast and famine, creatively speaking, and maybe I am just more prone to it than some, I don't know.

I also find that I am sort of all over the place genre-wise. For example, I spent nearly a year working on my most recent studio release "Serenitatis", which is sort of a melodic space music album, very tonal and melodic, with lots of time signatures and melodies and almost no abstract or experimental aspects to it at all. But since then, I've been working on a collaboration with Lucette Bourdin that is almost totally beatless, almost completely without melody, a collection of much more placid true ambient music. I'm also working on a different collaboration with David Herpich of Emerald Adrift that is much more textural/abstract/experimental music. I seem to be rather prone to musical "mood swings", but I find it is a lot of fun to switch it up and keep it fresh. This is one of the reasons I so admire people like Robert Rich, who are able to create such a diverse body of music and maintain such high quality across all of it. I try to be diverse myself, and it still is beyond my comprehension how he can be so masterful at every different style of music he takes on. Amazing.

It's funny that you ask about what percentage of music I release. Some of my friends think I release way too much music, which is probably true to an extent. It is something that seems to ebb and flow with time. When I'm working primarily in the studio, I find that I create an awful lot of stuff that I do not ever want to release, or at least is very rough and would need a lot of work to finish. Maybe 10% of my studio work ever makes it onto an album, if that. But with live music, I find I am a lot less inhibited about releasing -- perhaps I need to be more inhibited than I am!

My "ambient train wreck" series is an example of this. I have done a ton of live ambient improvisations over the years and have recorded nearly all of them. Since each one is a distinct piece unlike any other, I found myself releasing excerpts of nearly all of them as individual "train wrecks", just because each one was a piece unto itself. So when you see on Earth Mantra all those "train wreck back catalog" collections, those are essentially an archive of most of the live performances I've done over the years. With that said, however, I have not released any train wrecks in more than a year, and I'm just kind of burnt out on releasing live improvs. I have literally dozens of hours of recent live music recorded gathering dust, stuff with which I can't figure out what to do. Also, the live performances I've done in the past several months I haven't even bothered to record. Maybe I will get the train wreck bug back again sometime soon, who knows. For now, I'm having much more fun in the studio, so that is the direction I am going til things change again.

 

You have your hand in so many things - net radio, net label, promoting other artists, making your own music, collaborating with others - is it fair to say you are in this to leave a legacy of some kind? What motivates you? What do you most want to accomplish in the world of ambient music?

 

Yes indeed, leaving a legacy is very important to me. It's the reason that Earth Mantra hosts everything at the Internet Archive, which has the stated goal of preserving human knowledge for the truly long term. I am hoping that Earth Mantra's music is a small part of what they are preserving. The thought that people in the next century and beyond might be discovering and enjoying Earth Mantra's music is very exciting to me.

In general, music for me is definitely a mode of expression, but more deeply, it is a way for me to create something that lives beyond me. Whether my music and related work in the world of music has enough value that anybody wants it to live beyond me is another question entirely, of course, but I've long since reached the age when I start to ask the big questions and wonder what my real purpose on this planet is and what I ought to do with the time I have left to me. I look around me and the things that truly matter, the things that will live on after time bypasses me, are twofold: my family and my music. So I view music as being as important in my life as my children, which is to say, very important indeed.

Speaking candidly, I hope I'm doing a better job of parenting than I am at being a musician, though.  :-)

 

Sounds like you have your priorities in order Darrell.  Thanks again for the interview, it was great chatting with you!

 

Computerchemist

May 2010

 

Computerchemist is Dave Pearson, formerly of the UK, now living in Hungary. He makes very active electronic music with elements of progressive rock much like Tangerine Dream did in their heyday. Beyond that I knew little, so here’s another interview where I’m finding out about Dave along with the rest of you.

 

Reading your home page, and your sites on FaceBook and MySpace, it looks like you've been into music for quite a long time, yet your solo career seems to have taken off rather recently.  Why the seemingly sudden regular output of electronic music?

 

I've been pretty musically active through the years, but after I stopped the band circuits in the late '80s I've been mainly jamming in the studio, not really compiling any permanent recordings. I hate to use the old cliché of "work commitments" but sadly the music did take a back seat for many years over my day job. I discovered MySpace in 2006 and thought it would be cool to put some of my older stuff on there, and was literally quite stunned with the really positive responses I was getting, to music which is very definitely in the "old school" mould and certainly not the sort of music which may seem more predominant on social networking sites! I got approached by a record company with a view to including some tracks on a compilation CD project, so I penned some tunes especially for that ("Flight of F", "Dominos Lament"). The project never materialized, but I thought it would be a waste just to throw this new work away, so I fleshed out another couple of ideas I had at the time, and ended up pretty much with a whole album - "Atmospheric". The track "French Game Idea" was a last minute add-on, UbiSoft in Quebec were interested in using some of my work in a game, so I included this "musical swatch" on the album. So that was my first album wrapped, and having received a very favorable reaction, I've managed to produce one every year for the past 4 years. What helped with this considerably was giving up full-time work in 2008 and moving to Hungary, allowing me to concentrate pretty much 24/7 on my music.

 

 

What is it about electronic music in particular that is so appealing to you, and why do you think EM fans are so passionate?

 

For me, one of the reasons is that it's "Musique sans frontières" - it doesn't matter whether you're listening to music from Germany, or Spain, or Brazil, or Japan, because EM has the ability to transcend borders in a way that very few other genres can, with the exception of classical instrumental music possibly. So you get to hear a lot more styles of music from a lot more different places than you would find being limited to a language barrier, it just makes it so much more accessible. I personally like the driving sequencer music typified by late '70s TD, Schulze and others. Maybe it's because EM not only transcends borders but it's also quite unique in the number of different permutations of styles, from drone to virtually prog, and sideways to dance, and out to experimental. But it's also, in the main, "intelligent" music too. You don't just get a quick 3 minute "fix" like you would with pop music, it's music to be experienced, and contemplated, and thought about. I guess that's one of the reasons why EM fans are passionate about their music. It is refreshing to think that the genre is still so active after 40 years too - it would be nice to think in future times some of the more dominant contributors like Froese and Schulze may well be rolled into the "classical" 1900's composers for a listener in the 24th century, as just another variety of musical expression.

 

 

You also have quite an affinity for rock, and that shows in your music as well.  What would you recommend as the quintessential Computerchemist track that really shows what you are aiming for in blending rock and EM, the one that really hit the sweet spot for you?

 

It's a musical journey of constant discovery (and re-discovery) that I'm on, and one that I hope the listener will accompany me along on too. As such, there's no "one" track for me that says that's it, that's the one. I think it's a state of mind - if I actually thought I couldn't better a track, forever, I might as well just stop right there! So yes, each album has a favorite for me personally, but what I find even more intriguing is everybody else seems to have their own favorite, and they all seem to be different answers depending on who I ask!

 

 

How much gear do you currently have?  Do you mostly use actual synthesizers, softsynths, or a combination of both?

 

I sold my last "actual" synth a few years ago. It's all virtual "VSTi" synths, softsynths, that you hear on the albums. I use Cubase SX3 as my DAW, with an 88 key master keyboard and a motorized midi controller surface.

 

The guitar work has been a mixture of e-guitar and real guitar on the first 2 albums, but the last two have been "real" guitar through and through. For the guitar I have a customized Behringer with Fender lace pickups and Sperzel machine heads, routed through a valve preamp, gate compander and into an external soundpod. There's also a long neck Yamaha bass I use on some tracks, like "Tantric Race".

 

The drums are all processed, individually sampled and layered hits from real acoustic drumkits, played live by myself on a Yamaha drumpad kit or via the master keyboard through a VSTi sampler. There's definitely not a single loop on any track!

 

The great thing about going virtual is the fact that there's very little kit to lug around - in fact I can play a live set now with just a laptop, the keyboard and surface, the soundpod and a guitar!

 

 

How do your musical ideas evolve?  Does a tune pop into your head, or does it start with an idea, or do you just go into the studio and start playing?

 

It depends. Often it's a case of sitting down, laying down a good sequence and then getting into the groove. Sometimes I may get an idea when I'm away from the equipment, so then I need to try and remember it! A lot of the longer tracks were evolved over a period of time, I find it's best to lay down as much as I can, then see what can be pruned back to make it more aesthetically pleasing - so it's composing first, then arranging, and then often iteratively going back and doing it over again... and again....

 

 

Your previous interviews talk only about your music.  What other interests or passions do you have, or is music far and away the main thing?

 

My other interests tend to be, maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, mostly based around the computer too. I especially like FPS gaming, flightsimming and mapping. I'm very passionate about maps, especially old maps. I can quite literally get lost in a good map for hours, there's something so compelling about the format! How the ancients saw the world, how we see the world. I cycle a lot too, and always carry a GPS logger to map my journey. I've been contributing to the open-source mapping project "open streetmap" over the past 2 years mapping the town I now live in - when I first moved here two years ago it was uncharted territory, now it's looking pretty good. http://www.openstreetmap.org/?lat=47.1837&lon=18.449&zoom=13&layers=B000FTF

 if you're interested!

 

 

Do you have a family, or maybe pets, living with you?  What do they think of your music?

 

My wife and younger daughter live with me in Hungary, my eldest daughter is living in the UK. Although EM may not be their favorite genre they are always interested in what I'm doing and give me lots of support and encouragement.

 

 

Have you done any live performing?  If so, what has that been like, and what do you like best about it?  If you haven't, is that a possibility in the future?

 

I was with quite a few bands in the '80s, all of which used to gig quite intensively, and which I enjoyed immensely. After a long gap, this year I'm starting to play live again - I have been invited to perform as the opening act at E-Live in the Netherlands in October, with more follow on venues to be announced soon, which I'm really looking forwards to. What do I like about it? Well, you can't beat the atmosphere and ambience of a live set.

 

 

When people find out you are a musician and ask what kind of music you make, what do you tell them?

 

It's..... actually, that's a good question. I seem to defy pigeon holes. There again, I'm not a pigeon! I have been, and I'm still being influenced by so many artists from so many genres, that even I would struggle to find a single category - but the huge range of "EM" seems to fall mostly upon what I do!

 

 

Why Computerchemist?  (which is a really cool name, BTW)

 

Thanks! The chemistry, as they say, is in the computer... as all the tracks are composed and played inside the computer, the only "real" instrumental input being the guitar, it seemed like an apt name :)

 

 

Thanks for the interview Dave; looking forward to the next album!

 

Mac of BIOnighT

February 2010

 

The man who mysteriously goes only by Mac is not that mysterious in other ways. In fact, I would say Mac is one of the most open, transparent individuals I’ve met in EM circles. He is very easy to get to know, and we have talked about many things over the years via email. I know him to be a very warm, caring, compassionate individual who cares deeply about many things. He is one of the few EM musicians that I know well enough to consider a personal friend, even though we’ve never met face to face.

 

When Mac asked if I’d be willing to do an interview, I had actually forgotten that we had never done one before. I just sort of assumed I must have at some point. Having not was certainly an oversight on my part, which will now be rectified.

 

Please be sure to check out Mac’s home page at www.macvibes.com, which includes more information about him, lots of FREE music for download (several albums worth), and displays of his photography, which is quite good.

 

According to your webpage, you started playing at the age of 16, mostly with self-built instruments. How did that come about? What sort of things did you build?

 

Well, I always had this thing about sounds; when I was a small child, I spent whole afternoons in my bedroom experimenting with a cheap reel-to-reel recorder, recording sounds and changing their pitch, stuff like that. One of my favorite pastimes was what I called "counting the instruments," that is to say, I put on a record and focused on a single instrument and followed it throughout the track, then I listened to the song again focusing on another instrument and so on, till I knew exactly how many instruments were playing in that track and what each of them did.

 

In 1972 - I was about seven or eight - two songs hit the radios and record stores: one was a version of the brilliant song Pop Corn by an Italian band (La Strana Società - here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQGDeZdGsOc ); the other one a version of Amazing Grace performed on a Moog by another Italian artist (Il Guardiano del Faro - here it is, slaughtered by Youtube's sound quality http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b40RYoiSy6g ). For the first time I realized I was listening to electronic instruments and I was totally fascinated and baffled at the same time. I drove my mum nuts keeping on asking her how it was possible to make music with a machine!  I've been hooked to electronic sounds ever after.

 

Fast forward to when I was about 16 and started making noise that was a bit more organized and could almost be called music, if you were very generous. I didn't have any real acoustic instrument, let alone electronic ones, but the strong need to make sounds was there, so I started building weird, raw, kinds of ridiculous devices with anything I could get my hands on. One was a toy tennis racket string attached to the head of a record player - a sort of odd electric guitar - another one was a part of a home stereo amplifier that I short circuited to get some fascinating electronic rhythms - it wasn't long before it blew up, of course - and many more, all equally odd. My percussion instruments were made of inflatable balloons stretched on top of tin cans, broken kitchen tools, old couch cushions, lawnmower blades, etc.  Some toy guitars, cheap plastic flutes, an orange and white plastic organ, and some more garbage completed the set of my not-exactly-instruments.  

 

And now, you lucky readers, here's an amazing EAS exclusive: a compilation of brief snippets from that long-gone era - I was somewhere between 16 and 18 - in their full tape-deck-to-tape-deck-multiple-overdubbing glory:  www.macvibes.com/TEMPORSOUNDS/EAS_Mac_of_BIOnighT-early_snippets.mp3

 and this is just about the most embarrassing thing I've ever made public  #>___>#

 

Please, nobody remind me Mike Oldfield recorded Tubular Bells at around that same age...

 

 

In addition to your background in building instruments, do you have formal music training?

 

No, I don't; my parents never encouraged any of my artistic inclinations and were especially against my music.  Sure, after listening to the excerpts above, it's kind of hard to blame them  ;-)   but that's not the point.  I must regretfully admit that whatever skill I acquired in my life, I did in spite of them, and never thanks to them. I don't bear any grudge against my parents, mind you, the time I did is buried in the distant past. They were human beings, they made mistakes. I think growing up also means letting bygones be bygones and getting rid of those emotional burdens that can only block your evolution as a person and often even destroy your every chance for happiness. Forgiving yourself and those who shaped your past to start anew with a clearer soul is the first, fundamental step towards a life without torments.

 

 

How did you meet the other half of BIOnighT, Sbrizzi FaBIO?

 

I've always only told part of the story, because the premise is kind of odd and some people may think it's just a freak coincidence (and maybe it is) or something I made up to draw attention (which it is not). Allow me tell it in its entirety for the first time.

 

Many years ago, I used to take my car in the middle of the night (I normally go to bed at around 6.00 am and get up at 2.00 pm), drive like five minutes to a place where I could park it and take a long walk in the peace and quiet of nearby villages. One night I felt compelled to take a short downhill private road that led to a group of houses, all identical to one another. I found myself walking in front of them till I got to one that looked precisely like the others, and still I just couldn't help staring at it for a while, feeling attracted to it for some reason I couldn't find. For a couple of years, this weird thing happened again during most of my night walks, and I just didn't know why.

 

It was a late afternoon in December 1998 when FaBIO gave a ride to my nephew Abraham, who was hitchhiking. They started talking about music and Abraham discovered that FaBIO, just like me, loved Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and all those musicians most people over here don't even know exist, and that he was an electronic musician to boot. He got us in contact (we had never met before), and FaBIO invited me to his house. Now, as far as I know, we're the only Italians who make this kind of music, so discovering that we lived 5 minutes from each other was weird enough, but it was even weirder to discover that he lived in that house I found myself standing in front of so often for two years without knowing why...

 

There, now I've told the whole story, you decide if it is coincidence or something else - personally, I have no idea.

 

 

There was a string of BIOnighT albums for a while, then nothing, and now they seem to have resumed. What happened, or can you talk about that?

 

First off, personal lives inevitably interfere with any creative activity – day job, family (he has a wife and two kids) and all life is made of take up a lot of time. Second, FaBIO and I are totally different, in every possible way. As a result of this, we recurrently have stormy periods that we are only able to overcome thanks to our friendship, but it's never easy. Consequently, we do have some non-creative (and non-friendly) spells, which is not necessarily bad, as it allows us to grow and develop new ideas to put into our music when we finally get back to working on it.

 

 

Your extensive liner notes in your albums and on your webpage are quite personal. It sounds like you really pour your heart and soul into your music. Describe how your life and your music are intertwined, how each affects the other.

 

My music (I'm referring to my solo albums) is simply the result and the reflection of all I feel, think, need, fear - basically, every aspect of all I experience as a human being. Which also explains my abundant production  ;-)   Sometimes it's a confused sensation that drives the creative process, but most of the time it's a precise concept or feeling that I just need to turn into music to get it out of myself and turn it into sounds.

 

It may be just a mood stimulated by the outside world, like this track about the end of summer's atmosphere www.macvibes.com/TEMPORSOUNDS/END_OF_SUMMER---Mac_of_BIOnighT.mp3 or the need to describe what is going on in my inner world, as in this piece about the silent seas of lonely agitation and pain I had inside when I recorded it www.macvibes.com/TEMPORSOUNDS/SILENT_SEAS---Mac_of_BIOnighT.mp3.

 

However, it's not necessarily a deep emotion that becomes music, it may simply be a part of my child-like fantasies like the Space Adventures series of albums ( http://www.macvibes.com/spaceadventures/ ) or a funny little track like this one www.macvibes.com/TEMPORSOUNDS/THE_NEXT_SUMMER_HIT---by_Mac_of_BIOnighT.mp3, which I created as a sort of joke for one of my nieces. 

 

In any case, whatever I record, my life and my music are definitely one and the same.

 

By the way: my apologies to you, Phil, and to the readers for turning this interview into a multimedia mess, but music is my words...

 

As to BIOnighT, the process is quite different, as FaBIO's musical soul works without any pre-existing concepts to express and is just stimulated by sounds or notes that set his creativity in motion.  This difference is yet another thing that makes our working together so difficult, but - in the end - rewarding.

 

 

You had quite a serious accident a couple of years ago. Tell us about that specific incident and how it has impacted your life and your music.

 

2004 - and the previous few years - had been pretty difficult for me, in many ways. The most painful thing was that my friend/brother-in-law Eros had been fighting cancer for quite a while and the first signs of his losing the battle were beginning to appear. A new year was about to start and I was hoping - and needed to believe - that 2005 would be the year when things were going to look up. Yeah, sure.

 

On January 3rd I was cutting some logs for my stove with a chainsaw. To this day, I'm not sure what happened: maybe it was a nail in the wood, maybe something else, but whatever it was, the chainsaw (a nasty, powerful one) bounced back violently and hit my face, splitting it in two.  I was lucky, three or four inches below and I would have cut my head off, an inch to the right and it would have destroyed my nose and one of my eyes, and I probably wouldn't have survived. As it was, it severed everything from right below my left eye to the tip of my chin, diagonally, leaving nothing at all to connect the two halves and smashing my cheekbone into pieces (I'm still missing a bit of my eye socket), plus a tooth and some other stuff. The operation, fortunately performed by a fantastic ER surgeon, was over four hours long and for some weeks I lived at one of my sisters' (once again, let me thank my sisters for all the help they've been to me throughout my life!). I lost some facial nerves and muscles, and part of my face's and lips' sensitivity. It took me months to learn to eat and to speak properly again, training the remaining muscles to compensate for the lost ones. And, of course, I looked like the Frankenstein creature.

 

Often we say, "I can imagine what it's like..." or "I understand...". No. It's not true. Just like I didn't understand what it's like to lose somebody to cancer before losing Eros, I just thought I did. Don't ever say "I can imagine...," because some things you can't imagine unless you experience them yourself, believe me.

 

I am extremely grateful for the chainsaw accident, as I didn't know and didn't understand what it's like to have a physical handicap and having to relate to people everyday. Children were scared and hid behind their mothers, who tried to calm them down without me noticing too much - and in those conditions you notice everything, all is amplified. Adults talked to me concentrating their eyes on my eyebrows, hoping I didn't notice they were just trying hard not to hurt me by looking at my face, and hurting me even more in doing so. Now I look almost normal, but I'm am grateful for those long months, because now I can really imagine what it's like to be on a wheelchair, or without an arm, or anything else that makes one "different" while having to be among people, when every look and every non-look can pierce right through your heart. I consider having been given the chance to understand that a real gift.

 

As to my music, the result of what I had inside was my album "Black Light," and it's probably no coincidence that it's still one of my most intense and tortured ones. Here's a track from it www.macvibes.com/TEMPORSOUNDS/IF_I_HAVE_TO---Mac_of_BIOnighT.mp3

 

 

You've mentioned to me on several occasions the importance of friends and family. Are you close with your family, do they all live in Italy nearby?

 

Except for one of my nephews, who lives in Scotland, all the people I consider my family - though I don't necessarily share their blood - live in Italy, in the same area as I do. And I'm a very lucky person regarding both my friends and my family. If I am a reasonably happy person, it's also thanks to them, especially those who are closer to my soul.

 

 

You and Sbrizzi have a new BIOnighT album, Resonance of the Spirit. What was the inspiration for the album?

 

This album pivots on FaBIO's zither, basically. He was introduced to this instrument in 2006 during a visit to a monastery, where a monk was playing it. That particular kind of zither is only made by a couple of artisans in Italy. FaBIO contacted the closest one and had one built for him. He was very excited and started learning to play as soon as he got it. He suggested that we used it on the new album, and so we did. It took us over two years to complete this record, so he's actually a much better player now compared to what you can hear on the album, but I think he did a good job nonetheless  :)   

 

This is a more spiritual work than the previous ones, though not in a religious sense, and it is more soothing for the spirit, though not in a new age sense.

 

 

This has a different sound from the Berlin school style that BIOnighT usually creates, including some acoustic instruments and wordless vocals. Did you intentionally set about to do something different, or did that just sort of happen?

 

We try not to repeat ourselves, though that unavoidably happens to everybody and we're no exception. However, we do strive to make each album a little different. After "Back to Orion" we experimented with several things, such as an (aborted) album inspired by "20000 leagues under the sea". At one point I suggested an album vaguely inspired by middle-eastern rhythms and atmospheres, which I find deeply fascinating. The track with the vocals and bamboo flute (Narem) was actually the demo track I recorded to let FaBIO hear what I had in mind, but - as usual - he rejected the idea...  Finally we just settled for the zither+synths concept as the main one, though we also kept the bamboo flute and vocal parts I had already recorded.

 

Anyway, in spite of my initial doubts, the mixture of acoustic and electronics turned out to be kind of interesting, as in this track http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpT-8Mneqa0 in which we used the zither (by FaBIO) and two Mellotron emulations (by me), so we're quite happy with this album  :)

 

 

You use a lot of soft synths. How does that work when you are collaborating with someone in the studio?  How do you and Sbrizzi create the music together?

 

Actually, since 2006 we've only used soft synths - or better, free soft synths and effects that a bunch of brilliant and generous developers make available to everybody through the net (a huge THANK YOU to all of them once again!).

 

FaBIO and I take turns in front of the keyboard and the computer screen to record what we play, sometimes directing each other in real time, and later work on the recorded material together, so most of the time each part is the result of the work of both of us. In fact, it is sometimes difficult for us to tell who did what on a given track after a few years  O___O

 

It is quite another world compared to the typical guitar/bass/drums band where each member has a defined role; here the blending of musical souls and techniques is much deeper, as we both intervene on everything. Alas, sometimes one is oil and the other is water, so the blending just doesn't work  ;-)   That accounts for the occasional hiatus between albums, too.

 

As to the less technical aspects, it takes a lot of patience from both of us because of the very different methods we use and the different emotional paths we would like to follow as soon as a track starts to emerge. I guess the most difficult thing is trusting the other person and helping him shape his vision, while letting go of your own, but in the end it's worth it and so far we haven't regretted it that often.

 

 

Are you ever going to tell us your real name?

 

Nope  ;-)    But I'm gonna tell the story behind my name publicly for the first time (hey, lots of exclusive scoops here ;-)

 

A name is much more powerful than one may think.  That's why I believe that everybody should be free to do what some Native American tribes did (as far as I know: when a kid became an adult, he could choose his adult name that would represent him).

 

In my case, it's not just that I never liked the name I was given at birth, and it's not just that it doesn't represent me as an adult, but it also prevents me from getting rid of a past full of deep unhappiness, disease, and loneliness. Mind you, I'm well aware of the fact that there are people who had some  truly horrible experiences in their life and I was pretty lucky after all. Still, it's a part of life I wish I could leave behind me. When, in my late twenties (when the kidney condition that had made me an invalid for around fourteen years disappeared mysteriously, among other weird occurrences) I decided that I finally wanted a life worth living instead of that blur of dull emotional pain it had been until then. To strengthen this decision, I also chose a name for myself I could finally feel comfortable with. This name is me, the person I shaped myself into, the other one is what I never wanted to be and I'm not anymore anyway. Every time somebody uses it, it's as if they slapped my past hard on my face. It doesn't feel good, no sir and not at all.

 

So, as a German dixieland musician I once knew used to say, "first name is Mac, last name is BIOnighT". And that just about sums it all up  ;-) 

 

Thanks Mac! Always a pleasure talking with you.

 

 

Joost Egelie

January 2010

 

Before I interviewed Joost I knew about as much as you all do. One thing I do know: I love his music! Great Berlin school with wonderful seuqencing and melodies, a more structured approach than some. Be sure to check out the reviews of his two fine albums discussed in the interview, I highly recommend them both. Thank you Joost for doing this interview!

 

How and when did your love of electronic music start?

 

Well, that is a funny story. I went on a summer holiday trip to Sweden. I can't remember how long ago, I must have been about 14 or so. It was the first vacation "on my own" with a group from all over Belgium. But at a certain time, we were all sitting in the sun, when someone just out of the blue started whistling Jarre's “Equinoxe Part 5.” And I whistled along - I knew the melody, but I did not know what it really was. I knew the song from "Locomotive", a highly addictive game on the Commodore 64 - and "highly addictive" describes what the C64 meant for me.

 

That was the start of a long friendship, and he let me hear all kinds of EM. First of course the "regular" things, like Vangelis, Jarre, late Tangerine Dream... and then some of the more obscure works like Neuronium, Peru, and Par Example. Later on I started looking for EM in the local library. Its collection was quite extensive. I came across Trancefer by Klaus Schulze. The first time I heard it I thought that it wasn't really my cup of tea, but the strange sounds kept somehow lingering inside my head. So after a while I listened to the record a second time. At that point I was completely turned and I became a diehard EM lover.

 

 

What sort of musical training do you have?

 

None whatsoever. ha!  No, that is only half the truth. For about 6 months there was the obligatory music course at school in The Netherlands, but since my grades went down - mostly due to the Commodore - I ended up in a school in Belgium where music had to make room for the more hands-on courses like math, Latin, and physics.

 

Since music was my hobby and subconsciously I wanted to be more active in it, somewhere along the way I got my first synth. I think it was a Casio with mini keys - what do parents know? I might have had a little Yamaha synth...and a book on chords. From that book I picked up something about harmonics.

But the rest is all learning by ear. I know I'm not always putting my fingers on the keyboard in the right way, but hey I passed my typing exam as second best of the class and I don't use all ten fingers on that keyboard either, haha. "Non scolae, sed vitae discimus", as they say.

 

 

When I listen to your music, I hear Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre, and maybe a little Vangelis.  Who would you say are your biggest influences?

 

Let me see... Yes, the early Tangerine Dream I guess. Klaus Schulze (before he went MIDI), Robert Schroeder in some ways... But I think mostly it is a mix from the luggage I gathered during my life. So expect Michael Stearns and Steve Roach, Par Example and Peru as well. Vangelis? Hmmm... perhaps you tasted that in the trumpet-like sound I wrought out of my Roland JX-3P. It is so warm, and expressive - the sound "speaks" in its own way. But Jarre - no, not that I know of. That would be a major back-to-the-roots, wouldn't it?

 

 

Not that anyone is going to get rich in this genre of music, but why have you chosen to release your music for free on the web instead of trying to either self-release CDs or connect with an EM label?

 

When I finished "Boundaries of Infinity", the first album, no one had ever heard of me or my music. I was looking for a way to get this on CD, so I looked at the major labels to see how I would get the best chance of them accepting the music and putting me under contract. Along the way I read the various Terms and Conditions, and more and more I saw that that was not going to be the right way for a debut.

 

In the mean time I stumbled upon the net label Jamendo and the Creative Commons License. Now that was something familiar; when it comes to software I tend to always look for a freeware, open source (and legal!) alternative. You can't imagine what you can do with the free stuff people make. And since my music was made using just that open source and free software, I felt this was the right thing to do. I have a day job providing for me, I don't have to acquire expensive licenses for musical software, and I don't have heavy contracts I must answer to.

 

In a way free music means freedom. I enjoy making the music, and I hope to share that same joy with everyone.

 

And from the other side: more and more you see that copyright activist foundations try to reel in the Big Bucks, while just leaving oh so little to the artists who spent night after night working on their next release. The internet tore open that system, the copyright frenzy never has been so madly screwed up. Did you know parents have to pay for the music that children learn in kindergarten? And that I have to pay an extra fee on empty CD-R's, on which I intend to burn my very own home-made music? How crooked can the world be?

 

So for that reason too, I decided to cut out any money-hungry parties between me and the listener, and offer the music for what it really costs. Nothing. Oh, I do leave the option open where listeners can make a donation, but that is for another reason - which is another story by the way; it involves buying a synth I once had but sold too soon (and too friggin cheap!).

 

 

What's the state of electronic music in Belgium?

 

Boomboomboomboom, in a nutshell.

 

We had Walter Christian Rothe once, who did a freakishly stunning "Let The Night Last Forever", and a somewhat less freakishly stunning "Zebra" - but who is not musically active nowadays. And we had Symbian, who was a kind of extension to "Let The Night Last Forever". Um... I can't think of any more at the moment. I know New Beat (Sound of C) and Acid destroyed the whole original EM scene, even today you can't make a decent search for EM on the internet anymore.

 

To my knowledge there aren't that many EM artists in Belgium. I know five times more coming from The Netherlands and ten times more coming from Germany. My guess is that Belgium is too much a country of division, you can find that back in a very basic principle such as language. There is an almost visible line across the country, dividing the people in a Dutch speaking and French speaking population - and they try not to talk to each other (there is even a small German speaking part!). The country is too small to house an extensive number of artists, especially in the somewhat rare genre of Electro-Ambient (I still call it EM like we did in the days of KLEM, http://www.klemblad.nl/). The genre is also not that well-known here, at least not in the part where I live. Funny thing though is that I know several people from the scene living in The Netherlands who are living or used to live just a stone's throw away. Rob Papen for instance, part of Peru once, now a very established creator of softsynths, lives very nearby.

 

 

Have you performed live, or do you just work in the studio setting?

 

I haven't touched a key in public yet - this is all done under the headphone in the very early or very late hours. I'll go live when opportunity unfolds, but until then I rather keep building confidence. Yes, I have a bit of stage fright, yes, I admit it. The mere thought of hitting the keys and firing around a hundred decibels into a concentrated audience gives me a bit of the heebie-jeebies, ha ha ha...  But in due time, I will be on stage too. I think every starting artist would have felt the same way facing their first audience, and so will I.

 

 

What is your approach when you go into the studio to make your music? Do you have a set idea in mind, or do you just start playing and see what develops?  And how long does it typically take for you to put an album together?

 

Actually, let's set this straight. I don't really have a studio. It's two synths, a desk and an iMac. Oh, and a homemade mixer. This is really poor man’s studio equipment - when the battery of the mixer runs out, I have to stop playing, or start editing or play softsynths.

 

When I started Boundaries, it was an adventure that unfolded itself in place and time. "Transcend" was something I did years ago, on an old Mac, that was perhaps too slow to do a thing such as hard disk recording. It was only til I got a faster computer that the whole music making hobby caught fire again.

 

Not long after publishing the Boundaries of Infinity album, perhaps two or three months later, I got the idea of Music for Mars Missions.  Literally, that exact title popped in my mind, so I Googled it to make sure it wasn't an existing title. This title alone was the muse behind the whole album. Ideas for tracks kept coming to mind, and it was hard for me to not start a new track when the current one wasn't finished yet (as I did in Boundaries, which made it extremely hard to keep the oversight and make proper endings to each song...)

 

So in a way, yes, I have a set idea in mind, AND yes, I just start playing and see what develops. I sit down behind my synths, try some instruments, play some chords or step-program a sequence, adjust some parameters in a plugin, and presto - the music unfolds. I listen back over and over and as if I'm listening to someone else's music. I try to "expect" things like modulation, or other sequences, or string sections. These are the things I feel the track "needs" and I just try to fill in those needs.

 

Sometimes this process takes weeks, months, as a piece can drag along just not becoming what I seek in it - and then I often have to rip its guts out and start trying other things. But often a piece takes form so quickly that after finishing I can throw my headphones down and jump up (accelerated heartbeat) and say out loud "this is freakin' awesome!" Usually this is when my wife gives me the eyebrow, haha.

 

You know, you have your average good and bad days.

 

 

So would you consider Music For Mars Missions a concept then? It seems that way when I listen to it.

 

Let me try to interpret that question in the right way. Do you mean that you expect, for instance, a "Music For Proxima Centauri Exodi" or something like that? Well, in that case, let me register that title right away, hehe. Um, I don't know. I guess the concept still stands open to sequels, yes. I never thought about that actually. Perhaps, we'll see.

 

But recently I had another "epiphany" regarding the next album. It is a much short title I can give you that, but for the rest I shut my mouth. I tend to keep everything hush hush until I upload the album for distribution. I am the only one who hears the tracks when they are not published. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes I want to share a track right after finishing. Only that would tear the whole album apart, so I just keep sitting on it.

 

 

Do you have a particular favorite track among your works?

 

Yes, on Boundaries of Infinity it is "Void" and on Music for Mars Missions it is the first track, "Embark". Especially the end of that track; the lift off and then the star twinkle barely audible. It just so vividly outlines the scene...it gives me chills. I don't know what other listeners think of it, but the coincidence that made that "ending", just made it a very special track to me. In one hour everything in that track fell into place. That wow-feeling I described earlier? That was after making this very track. I still have that feeling listening to it.

 

 

I feel the same way, “Embark” is my favorite track of yours, and I love the ending.

 

You mentioned the next album. Have you started working on it yet? What will it be about, or sound like?

 

Ha ha ha... (ominous laughter)... and then utter silence. Well, let me put it this way, I have the album title ready, along with the track titles. I guess the titles make the music here. I have to do a little research, and investigate a very cool plugin set I stumbled upon via Mac of BIOnighT (also on Jamendo: http://www.jamendo.com/en/album/49233), but the rough-edged framework is already there. It follows the path of Boundaries of Infinity intellectually, though not necessary musically, and will be less tranquil. But this doesn't mean I am changing my style, au contraire...

 

 

If you could collaborate with any musician, who would it be and why?

 

Well, being a musician amongst your idols, who would you collaborate with if you could? I mean, you would want to collaborate with every great name, wouldn't you? This is a trick question, I bet. But I'll humor you, and step into it with eyes wide open. Let’s start:

 

- Klaus Schulze. He's a master in Berlin School.

- Vangelis. I'd like to learn "the soundtrack way of music".

- Steve Roach. Just for the float of it.

- Michael Stearns. Not only for that mighty Serge synthesizer of his, but mainly for the way he can turn sequences into strings and music into stories.

- Par Example. Too bad they split, their music had something indescribably magical about it.

- The old setting of Tangerine Dream - for that 70s drum work and the Mellotrons.

- Michael Garrison, may he rest in peace. He made such wonderful music, with sequences not that vast, but cooking up your blood til you'd think your car could fly (and stepping down the pedal to the metal, in a way it does fly).

 

Oh, I could go on and on... Essentially it boils down to this: yes, I'd like to meet the masters of my school and do a track with them.

 

Gosh, your going bone deep with the questions, aren't you? (laughing) Well, I don't mind. I just hope your readers get a better picture of me. I have never been in the open that much. I mean, in the open in ElectroAmbient land. It has been a while since I last was on any festival or event... I kinda gave up my hobby when I married, built a home and got two kids. And now, with a little bit more time on my hands I'm just starting up again.

 

 

Well I am for one am awfully glad you did – thanks so much for the interview, Joost!

 

 

 

Forrest Fang

October 2009

 

As I was pondering this month’s interview subject for Electroambient Space, I was spending a fair amount of time listening to Phantoms, the latest album by ambient artist Forrest Fang. I realized I know very little about him, other than that I like his music quite a bit. I also discovered few online biographies about or interviews with him (you can check out a bio here on Amazon, and another interview here, which appears to be from a decade or so ago).

 

So…long story short, that made him an easy choice for this month’s interview. Thank you Forrest for your quick and thoughtful responses to my questions; it was a pleasure getting to know you.

 

You have such a wide range of musical background and experiences – from jazz to rock, Chinese to American, primitive and modern instruments. And yet your albums seem to be quite focused. How do you incorporate all these influences into a single musical vision?

 

I don’t make a conscious effort to incorporate my musical influences, though I’d like to think they make their way into my music in an organic way that depends more on the context of a given piece than on an attempt to be eclectic.  Very early on, I was heavily influenced by the minimalism of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley, but since the late 80s, I’ve been fascinated with various forms of non-Western music such Chinese classical music, Japanese gagaku (ancient Imperial Court music) and Indonesian gamelan.

 

How long does it take you to do an album, from conception to completion?

 

My albums tend to take several years to complete.  The beginning of each project tends to be a very gradual process that begins with an extended period of experimenting, with a very open-ended, improvisational approach to recording.  After compiling and listening to many hours of recording, a tentative form for a project hopefully begins to take shape.  Once I can see an overall shape, the recordings tend to gradually become more structured.

 

You write your music in both Western and Chinese notation. How carefully do you plan your music in advance, and how much does improvisation play a part?

 

I have actually used notation of any kind very sparingly in recent years, and have been relying more heavily on my ears to detect and preserve musical structures.  This freeform approach tends to be a bit messier, but I think that the results can be more complex and satisfying than if I used formal notation.  The last album in which I used Chinese notation extensively was my 1994 release on Cuneiform, “Folklore.”

 

Describe how your latest album Phantoms came about. What theme, message or feeling are you trying to convey to the listener?

 

Phantoms was probably one of the more difficult albums for me to finish.  I began it about 8 years ago, but took a break from it for about a year or two because I wasn’t hearing enough space in the music for acoustic instruments.  During that break, I finished my 2006 collaboration with guitarist Carl Weingarten, Invisibility, on Foundry.  It’s hard to describe what feelings or moods I intended to convey with Phantoms, but I hope that it comes across as a layered work that reveals itself gradually over multiple listens.

 

Phantoms was mastered by Robert Rich, with whom you have collaborated in the past. What do you like best about working with him?

 

Robert is a longtime friend I have known since the early 90s.  He has a fertile mind, and it is fun to talk shop with him and get feedback on some of my untested ideas.  He is also an extremely talented musician with a great set of ears to boot.

 

Some may not realize that you also released a recording for Hypnos under a pseudonym, Sans Serif, entitled Tones for Lamonte. Why did you choose to release this under another name?

 

My Sans Serif side project from 2008 was a pretty significant departure from releases under my own name up to that point.  It was a small scale experiment to create complex drones in real time that morphed into an entire album that I recorded during a single month—May 2008.  I hope to do follow-up to it at some point.

 

Who is Lamonte?

 

LaMonte refers to LaMonte Young, one of the godfathers of minimalism.  His music is drone-based.

 

I thought your collaboration with Carl Weingarten, Invisibility, was fantastic, my pick for best ambient album of that year. How did you two come together, and what do you think worked so well about that album?

 

Thanks, I’m glad you liked it.  I met Carl in the mid-90s at house party in San Francisco being thrown for a visiting musician, Gianluigi Gasparetti, who records under the name Oöphoi.  Both Carl and I had gone to the same university in the Midwest and had even heard of each other, but had never met until the night of that party.  I think our collaboration worked well because we had complementary sounds and textures, an open, improvisatory approach to composition, and no preconceptions about how the collaboration would turn out.

 

If you could name only three artists as your main influences, who would they be?

 

Hard to answer that one.  Over time, I’d have to go with Steve Reich, Brian Eno, and my late teacher on gu zheng (Chinese zither), Zhang Yan.

 

Have you started working on your next project yet? What will it be like?

 

I’ve started recording rough demos again, but it’s hard to tell at this point whether they will make it to my next project.  I also will have to record quite a bit more before hearing a shape and form for my next project.

 

Do you wish your music had a wider audience, or do you enjoy working somewhat anonymously and below the radar?

 

I am content to continue working as I have for many years, at my own pace and without the pressure or immediate expectation of another album.  I also consider myself fortunate to have worked with some great and supportive labels (Projekt, Hypnos, Cuneiform, Foundry) that have provided new outlets for my music, while at the same time giving me full autonomy with my music.

 

What is the best thing about making music?

 

The point of creation is most satisfying thing about making music.  Everything after that is gravy.

 

Thanks again Forrest for being such an engaging subject! 

 

 

Chuck van Zyl

August 2009

Chuck van Zyl’s long running radio program of spacey soundscapes STAR'S END has been on the air at public radio station WXPN in Philadelphia since 1976. Every weekend from 1:00am Saturday night until 6:00am Sunday morning finds van Zyl at the FM broadcast studio spinning a wealth of ambient, ethereal and space music. The mix is dreamy and seamless, his on-air announcements gently delivered so as not to wake the sleepers in the audience. Van Zyl also authors the many album reviews and artist profiles for the STAR'S END website.

 

Van Zyl originated The Gatherings Concert Series in 1992 as a listener get-together. In 2003 van Zyl founded The Corporation for Innovative Music and Arts of PA (CIMA), and the series has continued as an independent, volunteer-run non-profit ever since. Focusing on the same genres as the STAR’S END broadcasts, The Gatherings has presented concerts with dozens of recognized and emerging musicians from all over the world.

 

Van Zyl is also an accomplished musician in his own right, making solo and collaborative space music recordings since the mid-1980s. He has played live at an interesting range of venues and released numerous CDs, most notably with guitarist Art Cohen in their duo The Ministry of Inside Things. In 2009 van Zyl has been getting back to basics with several solo concerts and work on a solo studio CD.

 

A friend once called Chuck van Zyl the "Complete Ambient Entity". Now at age 51 van Zyl reflects on the past, his life in the present and trust in the future.

 

You performed an interesting concert in January of 2009, during a yoga class at The Philadelphia Museum of Art. What was that like?

 

Over my many years of performing (and presenting) live space music I've noticed that every concert presents its own special set of circumstances, challenges and rewards. But my solo concert at the PMA this past winter was significantly different than anything else I've ever done – even though I'd played a concert there previously (with MoIT back on 16 September 1998). As this evening's program at the museum was somewhat of a free-form activity, staged in the PMA's Great Stair Hall, what I came up with was quite unconventional for both myself and for the museum – but turned out to be totally appropriate for the night's proceedings.

 

After a brief introduction to the museum crowd (wondering what exactly was going on here) the yoga class leader began stretching and posing. Her group of students followed, and I began producing some very long, slow moving tones with my synthesizers. The Great Stair Hall is extremely reverberant and as the gently sweeping and shifting pads emanated from a series of speakers distributed around the massive hall, a contemplative atmosphere seemed to fill the space. As the lesson concluded and the yoga class wandered off, I continued to play music - bringing in more focused sequencer pieces. With MoIT I'd become accustomed to timing out sets across a pre-conceived musical arc, but during this concert I was truly reacting to the environment, my own mood and that of the audience.

 

Afterwards, I heard from attendees that the music really sounded good in the museum - swirling around the rafters and tripping through the hallways and galleries. I'll take their word for it - making this music was such an intense and absorbing process for me that I found it difficult to know what it sounded like or how it was being received in every corner of the museum. But this was truly a wonderful experience for me and I hope I am asked back to do it again. Yet for all this concert's unique characteristics and exposure, ultimately I do feel more comfortable playing music in a darkened space made intimate by an audience in attendance there expressly for the concert.

 

What is the most memorable or unique setting you've performed in?

 

Certainly the solo concert at the PMA that I just described was quite memorable. There was a concert MoIT played at a coffee shop one time in Wilmington, Delaware - memorable because by the time our set ended there was absolutely no one left in the place! Even the guy who booked us had stepped out, which was depressing. But mostly I have quite positive memories of the concerts I've played. Creating space music under the dome of a planetarium is quite a profound experience. What with the pinpoints of stars and enormous images of planets drifting above our heads in conjunction with the live music, I've felt overwhelmed in the beauty of a stolen moment. Also, MoIT has had the opportunity to play a few house concerts - occasionally out of doors. In this instance we'd set up our gear on a deck overlooking a lake, and with the sun setting beautifully behind us happily played our set through the twilight and on into the night. I also have very fond memories of playing live in Philadelphia at The Gatherings Concert Series. The church setting is lovely but strong feelings linger at the support and enthusiasm shown by the audience. Any concert with this kind of connection is memorable - and affirming!

 

I did not realize before preparing for this interview what a truly gifted photographer you are. I found them quite striking. What is it about cemeteries and similar settings that inspire you?

 

Thanks for having a look at my photography. I was first drawn to cemeteries because they offered a landscape suitable for the infrared film I was using. The statuary, trees, shrubs and open sky fully exploited all the esoteric properties of this film. But it soon became apparent to me that these places possessed a fascinating power. Yet in spite of this strange beauty, they have gone completely ignored by the following generations. The original purpose of the Victorian rural cemetery was to provide a tranquil and pastoral setting where we the living could contemplate grief, loss and our own mortality - concepts seemingly of a bygone age. Over the past few years I've learned something about the history of these 19th century rural cemeteries as well as the fascinating symbolism that adorns many of the monuments. Traveling to quite a few cities around the USA I have photographed the many hidden, yet wondrous old cemeteries that still exist - seemingly just beyond the perception of modern society.

 

What inspires me is the sense of timelessness I encounter when exploring the grounds of these unique places. To me it really feels like entering another realm - one just outside everyday life. I hope to bring this feeling back with me in the form of photographs - which have been described as atmospheric, providing a mood within which the viewer provides a narrative... much like the Space music for which I am so closely associated.

 

Is Van Zyl your real name? It sounds like it was made for space music.

 

Yes, it is the true surname of my family. I'm told that it is quite common in Holland and South Africa, and until I read this question considered it something of a liability (so thanks very much for expressing your impression that it is perfectly suited to my avocation). All through school, or anywhere one's name must be read aloud, the reader always seemed to mispronounce it. I believe the proper pronunciation is "vanzi-le", Europeans always get it right. According to a book on surnames, van Zyl means, "one who lives by stagnant water". I imagine this refers to the line of people who tended the vast system of locks and canals in Holland. Along with being one fourth Dutch, my family line traces back to Ireland, Germany and Italy - I'm definitely part of the "melting pot" here in The States!

 

Are you able make your living just from your radio and other music-related activities? How do you do it?

 

I learned early on that for me there was no money in this kind of music. I know of a few artists in our community who earn their living at music, and I know that I am not of the personality type that would allow me to function in their league. So I've always had a "day job" – and for the last 25 years or so it's been with the US Postal Service as a Letter Carrier. The area I work in includes my own house, so I derive a great sense of satisfaction in serving the community I live in. Along with having a job where my personal values are present, delivering mail also lines up with being a DJ on STAR'S END where I deliver music to listeners, and presenting The Gatherings Concert Series where I am delivering concerts to an audience. So I don't think I consider myself a Mailman who promotes concerts on the side, or a DJ who also brings the daily post, but rather someone who delivers things. I guess I am always looking for unity in my life...

 

Describe a typical day for you from when you get up to when you go to bed. What hours do you keep? How many hours a week do you spend on your radio show? On writing/making music?  On other things?

 

On some occasions I will be awake for 24 hours straight. For instance the weekend of 16 - 17 May 2009, which included the Ben Neill/Soporus performance at The Gatherings Concert Series as well as the Spring fundraiser on STAR'S END. On this day I was awake at 6:30am to be at work by 7:30am. Delivered mail to 600 or 700 houses (skipping lunch) until 3:30pm. Went straight home to meet Jeff and Art to load up the cars with PA, lights and various concert gear. Helped get Soporus and Ben Neill set up, then helped sort out "amplitude" issues with Soporus during the soundcheck. We opened the doors at 7:30pm and by 8:15pm or so the house lights were dimmed and I was welcoming the audience from the stage, and introducing the opening act - which was Soporus, an all-guitar ensemble, then after an intermission Ben Neill and his Mutantrumpet. The concert was great and afterwards I helped get everything packed up and loaded back into the cars and put away back at my house. I got to WXPN by about 12:30am to sort out the phone room volunteers for STAR'S END, and at 1:00am was on the air spinning music and asking listeners to call in with a pledge. By 6:00am we'd raised $5000.00 and by 7:00am or thereabouts I was at last back home in bed fast asleep (the weekend of 27 - 28 June 2009 was somewhat similar, but less intense, what with me working at the PO only a half day, doing the Johann Johannsson/Lichens performance at The Gatherings and then a normal all-nighter on STAR'S END).

 

I should point out that during this weekend I was working with some extraordinary people who volunteer their time to make all this music happen, in particular are my good friends Art Cohen and Jeff Towne – plus there were the phoneroom volunteers ay WXPN as well as friends who help out at The Gatherings. There are some good people here in Philadelphia and it is through their passion and devotion that this scene exists.

 

I usually spend every day but Sunday working - delivering the daily post, so I may spend evenings working on various projects and interests. Thursday evening I spend a few hours writing the weekly music review for the STAR'S END website, then spend Friday evening previewing music and planning out the upcoming broadcast of STAR'S END. After work on Saturday I get a few hours sleep then go in to WXPN to present STAR'S END live beginning at 1:00am. Sunday's are sometimes spent in a catatonic state, but more often working on my music - either practicing with Art or more recently recording solo material with Jeff.

 

As for my photography, I've used vacation time from work for several epic Summer road trips through the USA.

 

Although you play a variety of styles on your Star's End radio show and on your albums, you seem comfortable with the Berlin School sound, which many seem to enjoy bashing. Any comment on the negative take on this style of music, on those who say it is a dinosaur, or uninspired noodling, or worse?

 

I believe that the so-called "Berlin School Sound" does not deserve any bashing, nor should it be ignored, as is often the case in the mainstream. The space music that came out of Berlin during the early 1970s was perhaps the most innovative and expressive music ever realized, yet it has never really been given its due by anyone outside the underground. Even in books about Electronic Music, the topic of Space music is often completely overlooked or just given a quick mention as a sub-genre of New Age, the bastard child of the Avant-Garde or third cousin to Minimalism. I find this extremely irritating because Space music and especially its origins deserves some recognition in the evolution of contemporary music. When it was released in 1974 the album "Phaedra" was a quantum leap beyond anything that had ever been heard before. Tangerine Dream understood that with their new instruments (the recently developed synthesizer) they could make a new music. The political and cultural climate of post-war Germany supported this aspiration and lead the country's youth to fix their vision on a future with little connection to their devastated past. The otherworldly mood and mysterious atmosphere that emanates from "Phaedra" was a unique expression of technological and spiritual discovery that occurred during an era of political change. Is this not the great aspiration of music? That is, to create a mood or an atmosphere that happens over time? If so, then these early works of Space music succeed in great measure. So please Mr. Basher, realize that musicians still playing Space music are not mindlessly trying to recreate the "Berlin School Sound" of sequencer runs, organ drones and Mellotron pads, we're trying to recapture the mood and atmosphere of discovery, human expansiveness and cosmic yearning - mainly through the use of timbre.

 

[Note: Please read Chuck van Zyl's previous article on "Berlin School Essentials" on the STAR'S END Website: http://www.starsend.org/berlinschool.html ]

 

Ambient Elsewhere seems an intentional departure from earlier MoiT albums. Why the change? Will the next album continue in that direction, or is it too early to tell?

 

The Ministry of Inside Things has three CD releases through Synkronos Music: "Everlasting Moment" (2003), "Contact Point" (2006) and "Ambient Elsewhere" (2008), two of which are double CD sets. That's five physical CDs in all, each about an hour in length. From the beginning we'd set out to make five different musical suites suitable for each of the five one-hour segments of a typical broadcast of STAR'S END. I think that in producing the radio show for so many years I have developed some musical sense of pacing, dynamics and arrangement which has influenced my work in MoIT. When we set about conceiving the music for "Ambient Elsewhere" we were looking at composing music in keeping with the darker 4:00am and the more earthly pre-dawn 5:00am hours of STAR'S END. An influence on disc two of "AE" (the more affirming of the two discs) was an invitation by the nationally syndicated radio program ECHOES to be part of their annual "Sonic Seasonings" Winter Solstice Living Room Concerts broadcast. For this we came up with three pieces appropriate for the Winter theme - "Aphelion Season". "Naylor's Run" and "The New Past", which aired on radio stations around the country on Christmas Eve 2004. We carried these pieces over, along with a few others, into a full new one hour live set which we played at quite a number of venues. It may be that you found the mood and atmosphere of "Ambient Elsewhere" so distinctive because it is our most thematically focused release. Not only were we trying to convey (on disc one) the odd darker themes of the dead of night, and (on disc two) the brighter Winter themes of peace and renewal, at this stage we'd been conceiving and playing music together for a several years - and as with any good collaboration the work progresses into new areas and levels spontaneously. I think that to a great degree this is happening with this release and naturally will be present in our future work as well.

 

How many incarnations of Van Zyl-Gulch-Rath/MoiT/Xisle etc. have there been?

 

I've got a complex musical family tree. As I recall I bought my first synthesizer in 1984 and produced a cassette not long after. It was called "Runway" and featured a 15 minute tone poem on the one side and a reading of "The Midnight Express" I did over the air on STAR'S END with an original synthesized soundtrack on the other. Back then I went by the most cryptic "Xyl" and made a few cassettes under that name. I was always hanging out with The Nightcrawlers and so got together with member Tom Gulch to form "Xisle". Our first of several concerts was in March of 1986 at "The Creative Underground" in New Brunswick, NJ. By December of 1987 Tom had left Xisle and my friends Peter Gulch and D. Andrew Rath joined. During this period Xisle created some really great live music.

 

Over the years the three of us became quite tuned-in to one another - sometimes to the point where the music was based more on an intuitive connection than on pre-planned motifs. When our live improvisations worked it was very powerful for us - the experience enhanced by the presence of an audience. We came up with a totally new set every time we played out - each of us contributing our own elements and concepts to realize the new material. Among the highlights were concerts at Novins Planetarium, Pebble Hill Peace Site and two performances for The Gatherings Concert Series, including the very first event in the series in 1992.

 

Somewhere in the early 1990's D. A. Rath dropped out which left Peter and I to continue as a duo. We did a few concerts together as "van Zyl and Gulch" (as we'd released the collaborative studio CD "Regeneration Mode"); most notable among them was the EMMA Festival in Sheffield, England. In 1996 we changed our name to "The Ministry of Inside Things" and after a few concerts guitarist Art Cohen was added in 1997. With this new member came an entirely unique element to our sound. Not only did Art introduce an expansive new sonic palette made with guitar; he also brought sensibilities from his background in rock and folk music. After a few concerts as a trio Peter retired from music and Art and I went on with MoIT (to this day) as a duo. This incarnation of MoIT has been quite prolific, playing concerts at all kinds of venues: on the radio, coffee shops, concert series, planetariums, even in a friend's bedroom. We did a few regional tours as well and released three live CDs made up of definitive versions of pieces from the five different performance sets we'd realized at concerts between 1999 and 2007.

 

I quite enjoy your album The Sound Museum with Gulch and Rath. How many hours of other archival recordings, either solo or collaboration, do you think you have, and what are the odds we may hear more of it on future releases?

 

Thanks! "The Sound Museum" CD (released by Groove Unlimited in 2001) contains most of the music from the double cassette of the same name (released by Synkronos Music in 1992). It's true, quite a bit of recorded material has accumulated in the archives. With Xisle (Peter Gulch, D. A. Rath and myself) several cassettes of live music were released. There also exists many hours of unreleased yet viable recordings from other Xisle concerts and practice sessions. Plus I have a few very early solo studio and live cassette releases which deserve some attention as well.

 

All of this work has either been out of circulation for many years or never presented to the public in any meaningful way. What with digital distribution methods such as MusicZeit.com this early music should see the light of day at some point in the near future (same goes for our growing archive of MoIT concert recordings). Finding the time to recover, evaluate, edit and master this material will be an issue in the completion of this project.

 

I also love your solo albums, Celestial Mechanics and The Relic, particularly the latter. Why have you not released a solo album in so long? Any new ones in the works?

 

"Celestial Mechanics" and "The Relic" were solo van Zyl CDs released by Centaur Discs LTD in the mid-1990s. They were comprised of music from previous solo cassettes out on Synkronos Music. Now that I Iook back over the years since that time I see that my efforts in developing The Gatherings Concert Series and our music community, the weekly presentation of the STAR'S END Ambient Radio program and my group work with Xisle and then The Ministry of Inside Things has kept me from doing any significant solo work. Of course my pursuits with Peter, Art and D. A. Rath have been very rewarding, and I have felt a great sense of growth and achievement in these collaborations - but it was not until a friend encouraged me to do a concert incorporating projections of my infrared photography that I began to consider making solo music again.

 

After months of rumination I began to move more towards this idea. Working in a group setting, as I did with Xisle and MoIT, led to music that I could not have realized on my own. I know I have benefited from working with some very talented musicians. Together we've expanded each other's vision and understanding of the music. But since the "First Night Out" concert at The Gatherings in May of 2008 - where I did play a solo concert along with large cross-fading projections of my photos - I've felt a desire to create music that is entirely an expression of my own inner workings - to have something resolve completely as I've envisioned it rather than as the result of collaboration.

 

For the past several months I have been working toward this end with several solo live concerts and in the home recording studio. I hope to have a new solo CD out in 2010. I'm not sure of the title yet, possibly "MemorySpace". This music came out of my performance at "First Night Out" and the solo concerts I put together in early 2009. Upon listening to this new material I notice that it seems to begin in the same place as a much earlier solo piece called "Callisto". At first I thought that after all these years I'd really not progressed that far. But I realized that maybe it is best to go back to the basics, back to the beginning. As the current rough mix of the album plays, I do hear new and unique atmospheres, themes and moods developing - all stuff informed through years of collaborations and listening. So I feel that I will not be merely replicating my earlier work. Although I still have a ways to go in editing and mixing the new music, I feel that in the end this release will be a significant contribution to the Space music genre as well as a genuine personal artistic statement.

  

You must be proud that the Star's End radio is now over 30 years old, and that you were there from almost the beginning. How would you describe the show's outlook for the future?

 

I do feel some sense of pride in my involvement with STAR'S END. The show is totally unique in the radio landscape and I believe it really makes a positive difference in the lives of the listeners. The five-hour overnight weekend time slot opens up a space for contemplation and creativity or for some maybe just a more interesting night's sleep. However the show is used or perceived, it is there consistently every week - for over 30 years - new every time. But I also feel pride (and gratitude) when I think about the listeners who support the show. Were it not for them STAR'S END would no longer exist - as is the case for so many other worthy public radio shows that have been removed from the airwaves. As long as there are listeners willing to, not only tune in and listen but, call in and pledge during the few fundraisers we have - STAR'S END will be okay.

 

I'm pleased to report that the one thing that hasn't changed after all these years is my enthusiasm for the music. It's wonderful to be involved with something that has so much potential - I feel I will be pursuing this end for many more years!

 

Thank you Chuck for doing this interview! We hope Star's End will be around for another 30 years and then some...

 

 

Mark Jenkins

June 2009

 

Mark Jenkins has been part of Britain’s electronic music scene for quite some time now, having been inspired since seeing Mike Oldfield perform “Tubular Bells” on TV way back in 1974. He has released a number of solo albums, as well as collaborations with others, including the electronic music band White Noise. In November he’ll be the first British musician to perform at the Greenwich Planetarium.

 

Let's start with your upcoming performance at the Peter Harrison Planetarium at The Royal Observatory in Greenwich.  How did this all come about?

 

I've always tried to play great venues which offer fantastic visuals, so have performed in the past at the old London Planetarium, as well as venues like the very modern Teatro Nacional in Brazilia. I played several planetarium shows in the USA recently, so I contacted London's new planetarium pretty much as soon as it opened, and they were very enthusiastic. The performance "Supernova" has a fully synchronized computer graphic show which should look great converted to the dome shape.

 

Will this be a solo performance, or will others be joining you?

 

This is the launch concert for my "Best Of..." CD and DVD "Supernova" which is compiled from all my early space music CD's like "Space Dreams" and "Mexico Rising". I've given the performance a couple of times notably in the big Bochum Planetarium in Germany, but this time the actual album will be launched, and on the DVD version there'll be a narrative voiceover by Arthur Brown as well as alternative soundtracks in German and French. The second half of the show is with White Noise playing some new material, and we'll be playing both sets twice.

 

You have done a mix of solo recordings and various collaborations.  What do you like best about working solo, and what do you like best about working with others?

 

Solo work gives you ultimate control over the music, though I find it's always best to take some time off when it's nearly finished, play it for other people, and get their input about the final form of the music and the mix. In the past, collaborating with others has given me textures I couldn't manage myself - singing voices, flutes, guitars and other instruments. These days I'm working more on my guitar playing alongside the synths so I'm stronger in that area now. I do like collaborating with singers (most recently with Arthur Brown in the studio and live on stage in Holland) and haven't imposed my singing voice on anyone yet, though that's coming too.

 

In the last couple of years I've been performing a lot with David Vorhaus as White Noise. That's a very unusual collaboration because we're literally sharing an instrument; we're both plugged into his M.A.N.I.A.C. software on a single laptop. Otherwise I haven't done as much band playing as I'd like; the last major one was with a full rock band lineup with the improvising singer Damo Suzuki from Can and members of Gong and Here & Now at the Royal Festival Hall. Playing alongside a real rock drummer is a buzz, not something a lot of solo synth musicians get to do. It’s a great chance to take some of my old classic keyboards like the huge Elka X705 also played by Jean-Michel Jarre out on the stage. I have a prog rock band lineup called Perfect Earth in development, but don't have a full lineup for it yet. It will sound like classic Pink Floyd.

 

Who did you most feel you really "clicked" with musically when you performed with them, either live or in the studio?

 

Most of my recent activity has been with David Vorhaus within the White Noise lineup, and we did some tremendous performances for a project of mine called "The Ceremony of Innocence"; twice with Arthur Brown and the singer Alquimia, once with a solo cellist and drummer also involved. That album's getting some remixing done but I think when people hear it they'll really like the mix of electronic and acoustic textures, which is one of the main things I've always aimed for. I really never liked bands which used all synthesizers and nothing else. Tangerine Dream used Mellotrons which were really sampled sounds, plus guitars and drums, and Kraftwerk used the Optigan (a kind of digital Mellotron) and voices, and I really liked Mike Oldfield and his layers of guitars, voices, winds and keyboards. I have trouble now listening to music which is just layers and layers of analog synths.   

 

Do you actively set out to work with others, have they sought you out, or is it a little of both?  Any particularly interesting stories of how some of these relationships were established?

 

I've always been interested in adding anybody who can do something I can't, and most recently with the "Ghosts of Mars" CD "Something Dancing In The Darkness" taught myself a bit more songwriting (at least in a techno ambient dance style, nothing complex) for Alquimia to create some more commercial style songs. A lot of the other collaborations came about naturally with musicians whose albums I was releasing. Steve Jolliffe plays winds on one CD, Richard Pinhas some feedback guitar on another. But I've always found it difficult to hold a whole band together. I'm envious of stories like "everyone in Roxy Music went to art school together" or "everyone in Genesis was at the same boarding school". Living in central London and mixing with musicians who are always moving around or who have families and day jobs makes it much more difficult to hold together anything like that.

 

In addition to making music, you've written extensively about it, having published a book on analog synthesizers, and of course numerous music reviews.  It seems like usually musicians and reviewers are two different breeds, how is it you came to do both and what do you feel you bring to the table as a reviewer?

 

I was pretty actively interested in electronic music when I was studying, then looking for jobs in TV and magazines, and was lucky enough to get onto one of the first of the electronic music magazines. After that I never really worked on anything else, and was able to tie in special events with the various magazines, and meetings and interviews with musicians, with the type of concerts and promotion I wanted to do, so I've been very lucky. Most of the people I collaborate with now I met through interviewing them, though of course more recently I can more or less call up anyone I'm interested in. Most music paper people aren't musicians. For instance, when I worked for Melody Maker they didn't like Kate Bush because they said she was a "real muso."  To be fair though, there's a lot of enjoyment to be had from listening to music and not really understanding it. Knowing how it works and exactly what you're listening to definitely spoils the enjoyment in a lot of cases. For example a British musician who shall be nameless put out an album with a big picture of a classic old ARP analog synth on the cover, which looked interesting enough for me to buy. The whole of the first half was just Preset No.1 on a recently released Roland synth played endlessly, so a complete travesty as far as I was concerned.  But anyone who didn't know that stood a much better chance of enjoying it, I suppose.

 

You haven't been shy about stating your honest opinion in your music reviews.  Have you ever regretted any of the more negative reviews you've made, or changed your mind later about the music or the artist in question?

 

Unfortunately solo electronic music admits of no objective quality control, so I think the standard over the years has been pretty low. The standard of musicianship for example in prog rock bands is infinitely higher, and I think that's the fact in any conventional band music area - so I'm sure there are really great surf music or jug band CD's being released too. As mentioned above, I can tell a lazy electronic music release very quickly, and I think some of the long established names in the field as well as their more unimaginative imitators have been guilty of these recently, though many reviewers insist that they're still going from strength to strength. Most of the "reviews" published these days are by sellers who have to shift the CD's; a culture of encouraging more constructive criticism over the last 25 years would have helped keep electronic music out of the tiny ghetto which it now inhabits.

 

Usually musicians want to read books about how to use and program their synthesizers, but your book, Analog Synthesizers, goes more in depth into the history of them.  Why did you decide to write from this perspective?

 

I wasn't covering a specific synth but a whole genre, so it wouldn't have been possible to go into detail about programming them all, though there are lots of general hints and tips in the book (as well as a CD full of sounds which really lets you hear what you should be aiming for). But I felt the history of the analog synth hadn't been fully put into context, at least not from a non-USA perspective, though there had been good coverage of the Moog, ARP and Oberheim stories. So my book really lets you know what was going on in the UK, Italy and Japan at the same time that the American synth manufacturers were flourishing, and gives an idea of how all that activity ground to a halt, started up again after Acid House, and started to co-exist with software sound synthesis.

 

I see the book has been adapted for Amazon's popular Kindle device.  How do you think readers' experience will compare in this format, and are you in favor of it?

 

I haven't seen the Kindle version but I think inevitably electronic books will become popular. I can already see that the print magazine is falling away in favor of the website. In London these days they hand out free newspapers at the underground stations; then 1.5 million papers per day get thrown away. I think very soon we will receive that sort of publication just by waving our Kindle or similar at the turnstile on the way into the station. Anyway, I've gone fully virtual myself; I have my own web magazine EMIX now (http://emixmagazine.wordpress.com) for electronic music, technology and media reviews, and will link that to other news services around the world. 

 

Do you consider yourself old school or new when it comes to physical CDs versus music files?  Do you lean strongly toward one camp or the other, or do both have their benefits as far as you are concerned?

 

I do like vinyl (I have about 3,000 LP's but they're currently in storage) and CD's (which I've had to crate up without their plastic cases, but again I have around 3,000-4,000 so they're difficult to access). I've started using MP3 files a lot but hardly ever buy anything by download, just a couple of singles I wanted to work out arrangements for. But the purchase of a download is never going to give the same sense of connection to an artist as owning their album or CD, so I think it's become part of the process of music no longer being a way of making a living, just a hobby which almost anyone can partake in. Two hundred years ago you could make a living as a poet; 30 years from now, I think it will be possible to be a really great musician, a popular musician, a creative musician, but maybe it just won't be something you can do for a living any more.

   

What would you say to encourage someone starting out today as an electronic musician?  What would you tell them to focus on?

 

I wouldn't advise anyone to start out as an electronic musician today. I went to see Jean Michel Jarre's "Greatest Hits" tour this week, and of course none of the tracks dated from the last 20 years. If Jean Michel Jarre presented himself to the majors today he'd be laughed at - not a criticism at all, but a simple fact. Vangelis, Mike Oldfield, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk all invented themselves over 30 years ago, and nobody is looking for anything similar now.

 

There's a festival in the UK which bizarrely describes itself as an "Electronic Music Festival", but the lineup is almost all DJ's. This is the only area in which anyone will find any action these days, other than an avant-garde academic field inhabited by the likes of Scanner. So if you want to do electronic music, do not wear a cape, do not surround yourself with the gear, but try to look accessible, get a fashionable haircut, do something populist, and try to sing, or find and get along with a singer, even if the singing is not the most important part of the music. Lady Gaga is electronic music - kinda.

 

Thanks Mark for the interview, and good luck with your planetarium show this autumn!

Between Interval

May 2009

 

Stefan Strand is the young man behind Between Interval, an ambient collective of one. For a more thorough introduction to the man behind this excellent music, you have several options, as he has not one but two very good webpages. One is his band webpage, with, of course, information about the band. For a more in depth look at the man himself, check out his blog and his biography.  As I said in this month's review of his latest CD, he truly is one of my favorite artists of the moment.  I am very pleased to introduce Stefan to EAS readers.

 

What does Between Interval mean, and how did you come up with that name?

 

When I started out making electronic music, nearly everything I did was within club music genres. Production-wise, there are so many rules to follow when making club music. After a while I felt strongly that I had to break out of it somehow and try out something completely different. 'Between Interval' is a name sprung out of that feeling. It was the name I used whenever I took breaks from the regular intervals in music. These days I compose a lot more ambient music than club music though, but the name still hangs in there, nowadays symbolizing more of taking a break and shutting out the 'real world' for a moment, disappearing into the ambient void.

Speaking of names, you recently changed your last name from Jönsson to Strand.  Why the change, if I may ask?

 

That's correct, I changed my last name a while ago. There's no thrilling story behind the change though. Strand is a name from my family a few generations ago, and I've been thinking about taking it back for a good amount of years, but never gotten around to doing it until now.

You've had a lot of good press, from myself and others.  What do you think it is about your music that really reaches people in a special way?

 

Yeah I've had some really amazing and overwhelming reviews! Thank you Phil, and everyone else! Initially I dove right into the ambient/space music genre without any particular plans, expectations or guidelines, allowing myself to experiment with the sounds wholeheartedly no matter the outcome of it. Maybe that feeling of tentatively exploring freedom shines through in the music somehow, I don't know. I'm not sure if I'm the right person to answer this.


Your music has such a deep, rich sound.  However, you mention on your webpage that your studio is rather minimal, and almost entirely soft synths.  How do you create such rich soundworlds?  Or would that give away your trade secrets?

 

For me, it's probably a matter of knowing my studio setup very well. With a studio as small as mine, I can focus on creating music instead of learning how to use advanced equipment. Without doubt, I think that hardware synthesizers and other hardware gear is very cool, but the thought that I'd probably spend more time setting up and learning new equipment than actually creating music is honestly a bit frightening. Every now and then I expand my studio little by little, but I'm taking it slowly at my own pace. And about the trade secrets, well it's not really a secret, but reverb is always present in my music. Lots of it :)


Why do you think musicians, esp. electronic musicians, are so multitalented?  For example, in addition to creating music, you design websites and you have some very nice photography on display on your personal webpage.  Is it just that whole right brain creative thing, or do you think it's something else?  

 

First of all, thanks for the compliments! This is a tough one, but I see what you mean. Actually several of my fellow music making friends are also working with the web in one way or another. I can only speak for myself though, but for me it's probably a combination of the wish to create something, and my interest in technology. I don't think that electronic musicians are more talented than anyone else; however they are usually interested in not only the music, but also the electronic equipment. And with the electronics and computers, web design and programming are close at hand, just as with digital photography and photo editing. If I had the time and money, I'd probably be experimenting with short films as well. I did some of that back at senior high school and really loved it. It's very time consuming though, and doesn't fit into my life right at this point in time.


Let's talk about your latest album, The Edge of a Fairytale.  How is it different from your previous releases, and what did you like best about making it and how it turned out?

 

The most obvious difference compared to my previous albums is the fact that the tracks aren't mixed together to a continuous flow on this one. Instead the tracks are clearly divided into separate pieces. However there's still a story, or a theme, going as a red line through the album just like in my previous work. I have worked a bit more with sampled loops this time. There's no percussion, but I'm letting the sounds form rhythms probably to a larger extent than on previous albums.

 

When composing music, I usually start with a thought or a feeling. Then I try to make a "soundtrack" to that feeling. The ideal situation for producing music is when this soundtrack evokes more feelings, thoughts and ideas that inspire me once again. So, the creation process becomes like a loop, starting out small and growing bigger and bigger when my own creations feed me with new ideas.

 

The Edge of a Fairytale is my soundtrack to questions about the origin of life, old religious beliefs, stories, legends and myths that have survived thousands of years. The music is dark, but not dark as in evil, more like a darkness representing the unknown - and somehow knowing that there's light to be found somewhere ahead. I think that people familiar with my previous work will feel quite at home with this release.


The photography on your web page is not only from your homeland of Sweden, but also England and Japan.  Do you get the opportunity to travel a lot?

 

As a kid, my parents often brought me on bus trips through Europe during the summers. So I have seen quite a few of the countries around here. I don't travel that often nowadays, but Japan is definitely one of the countries I'd like to return to. My trip there back in 2004 was really amazing. 

 

What was it in particular that moved you about Japan, what was the special connection for you?

 

The contrast between the big cities and the countryside is quite something. Just being in a city like Tokyo, that has more inhabitants than my home country Sweden, was a cool experience for me. At the same time, the calmness at a Buddhist temple in the foggy mountains in a remote area really had an impact on me. I have also been a long time fan of Japanese movies, animation, video games, and interested in the culture in general. So I was quite excited to visit the home country of some of my favourite soundtrack composers like Kenji Kawai, Joe Hisaishi, Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu. There's something special about the music these Japanese composers create, I can't define it, but it really touches and inspires me in a special way.

 

You mention you have some other aliases, including Halftone, where you work with Olof Lönnroth.  Will Between Interval remain a solo project?  Any other collaborations planned in the future?

 

The collaboration with Olof was really fun. He's both a very talented singer and producer. He's been singing on a few of my club/house music tracks as well, that go under my alias Monodrive. I hope that we can make more Halftone-tracks in the future, but it's a bit tricky due to the fact that we live quite far from each other. Of course it's always possible to work via internet (we did that on the previous release), but it can be hard to find momentum. Between Interval will most likely remain a solo project, yes, but there might be more remixing of other artists coming up in the future. There might be collaborations as well, although I have nothing particular in store at the moment.

 

Are you making music pretty much continuously, or do you take a break in between albums?  For example, have you started work yet on the new album, and any idea what it will be about?

 

I make music more or less continuously, there are no breaks in particular. However I'm working at a full time job these days, which gives me less time for music than earlier. I have no intentions of giving up music though, I just need to work to be able to pay my rent. Actually I haven't started working on my next album yet - or maybe I have, without being aware of it. I guess you could say it's in an early stage, where I'm collecting data and inspiration that eventually will form my next album. I don't know yet what it'll be about.

 

Do you listen to your own music after the albums are completed?

 

Yes I do! I know there are artists and musicians out there claiming they never listen to their own music, something I find really odd. I create the music that I want to hear, so naturally I listen to it as well. And I need to listen to my own sounds to be able to find the details that work well, the parts that I really like, and sometimes parts that I'm not too fond of afterwards. It helps me when creating new music.

 

What other music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?  Any particular favorites at the moment, ambient or otherwise?

 

Lots of electronic music. There are far too many good artists out there for me to mention them here and now. But to give you a hint about what I've been listening to recently, I can mention Lulu Rouge's deep techno album "Bless you", and Swedish drum'n'bass artist Seba's collaboration with Krister Linder entitled "Blaze and fade out". Ambient-wise in recent times I've been discovering and enjoying the music of John Serrie, and lately I've found myself listening a lot to movie soundtracks like Cliff Martinez' soundtrack for Solaris and the soundtrack for Michael Clayton, composed by James Newton Howard.

 

If you had to pick a single greatest influence on your music - a person, a style of music, an album, a mood, anything - what would it be?

 

Wow, can I pick only one? There's so much that influence me! I guess it has to be something from my childhood then. The obvious choice would be either Pink Floyd or Jean Michel Jarre. But that simplifies it somehow. What initially pointed me towards electronic music was the video & computer game soundtracks of the late 80's and early 90's, before I discovered Jarre and Pink Floyd. Maybe I can say games from the Amiga-, 8- and 16-bit era, as my answer to your question. Without them, I probably wouldn't be where I am today.

 

Thanks so much for the interview Stefan!

 

 

Dan Pound

April 2009

 

Dan Pound was born and raised in California, now living in the wine country of Sonoma County with his wife, two dogs, a cat, and a fish named Fred. You can read more about Dan in the bio on his webpage here.

 

Dan sent me his CD Liquid Planet to review an embarrassingly long time ago, which I recently dusted off and listened to when he sent me his new album Esoterica. Both are excellent, as you’ll see on the Reviews page this month. I immediately asked Dan for an interview, and he thankfully agreed.

 

You are classically trained in a number of instruments. Why did you decide to focus on electronic music?

Like many people in the arts, my path has not been a straight and narrow one.

I was classically trained on guitar, piano and double bass. My musical influences and tastes have always been varied and eclectic. Growing up, I was exposed to a wide variety of genres and musical styles. I heard jazz, classical, rock, folk, blues, Broadway, standards, roots and old country, among other things. My first exposure to electronic music was through progressive bands like ELP, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd and King Crimson and the like. Later, I finally discovered Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, and Steve Roach among others in this genre. This was a whole new aural experience for me, with a unique power that resonated deeply with me.

Initially, I went the singer/songwriter route, writing songs at a very early age after learning the guitar. I honed this craft by reading everything I could about songwriting, listening to everything, copying song books and tablature, etc. I got pretty good at song writing and lyrics, and even had some forwards from Taxi to A & R people for corporate consideration. After many forwards but no real breaks, I decided I was better at the instrumental, soundtrack kind of thing, and started exploring this more. I realized right away that this music was more "real" to me.

After getting serious about electronic music composing, I started seeing more success and soon realized that this was indeed my path. To this day, I have never looked back from this area and genre of music making.

I still incorporate guitar in my work, and even use my voice, but with non-lyrical vocal chants and shamanic style vocalizations. I still write songs, just without words and with very minimalistic melodies. 


Do you still play acoustic instruments on your recordings?

Yes. Besides guitar, I play a variety of ethnic percussion, Lakota flutes, didgeridoos, singing bowls, ocarina, anything that makes an interesting sound.

What exactly is a Lakota flute?

 

A guy by the name of Odell Borg makes these for his line, High Spirit Flutes, in Patagonia, Arizona. They are Native American Cedar flutes. I have three of them so far in different keys. They are amazing. The first time I tried one at one of the local music shops, it was immediately familiar to me and I had to have one. It brought a definite organic and emotional flavor to my sound. I love anything that takes breath to make the sound. That feels so primal and human to me and makes a nice contrast to the synthetic sound worlds I make.

 

What do you think sets you apart from other ambient and new age artists?

I think because of the fact that I incorporate a variety of non-traditional acoustic instruments and unique vocalizations into my work. This gives my electronic music more of an organic sound. I often describe my music as the soundtrack for a Shaman who goes to outer space; not your everyday ambient electronic music, nor is it typical new age. Often my music is of a meditative quality, yet it's also very dark at times.

How much does improvisation play a part in your compositions?

This plays a big part as far as exploring new ideas goes. It can also take effect when a new part is added to existing sound beds as overdubs. Even though the part might be fairly planned out, the actual in-the-moment executing of the event happens in real time, in an exploring manner, where the part comes out as sort of a surprising creation for me. In other words, the unfolding of the part or even the whole piece never comes out as planned all the way. The feeling of being in the moment while creating music takes over and the whole process takes on a life of its own, giving you a very different outcome than was originally intended.

For sure though, when I am exploring new sounds on an instrument or processing sounds, improvisation plays a big role.

What is your favorite instrument or piece of gear at the moment and why?

I know this is cheating, but I would say that the whole studio is my favorite. It’s like one big instrument for me. You almost never play every single note in one track, and you would almost never use every patch or feature, or parameter on, say, a keyboard synth for a single track. The same goes for the studio. I have many parts, features, dials, knobs, keys, reeds, strings, strikers etc. available to me at any time for whatever sound I need for any given track or piece of music.

If I had to choose one instrument, again I would cheat and name two. My analog modular set-up is at once alien and yet like an extension of me with built-in instincts. This would be one, and then probably my Nord lead 2-x synth. Then I would still have to mention my Lexicon pcm91 Reverb. Without this I could not get that expansive sound my music demands. Then of course there are the didge and flutes.

 

Would it be fair to assume, since your music was used for a Greenpeace documentary, that you support their work? You must have been very proud to have them use your music.

I am always proud for uses like this, and yes, I do support the Greenpeace project and others like them. Most of my music is based on themes of the environment, the Earth, the cosmos, our oceans and so on. In fact the entire Heat Waves album is based on the theme of global warming. Greenpeace used the title track from Return in the project you're referring to. It was used at the very beginning of the documentary, very effectively.

I am finding more and more use for my music in projects in the healing arts world, and I am proud of that. I've had my music used in projects like yoga videos, guided meditations, relaxation CDs and the like. Although maybe not as significant as issues of the environment, I very much support these arenas as having a positive effect on our health and overall living quality. I understand the need for quietude, meditation, relaxing and letting go of everything. I am always honored when anything I have created is used to enhance such a project.

 

I've always thought of music as a way and a passage vessel to help transport one to another plane, and to help the entire thought process explore and transmit higher themes than the usual everyday internal dialogues. This type of music along with say, yoga, is a perfect combination to achieve such a state.

 

So what do you do when you aren’t making music?

 

I like to read, mostly philosophy and "how to" books. I like learning about and how to do new things. This week, I rebuilt a small pond in my back yard. I like to landscape, cook, build things, write, and listen to music. I love movies. I like photography.

 

Have you started on your next musical project? What's it going to sound like, any idea yet?

 

I have most of a CD recorded called Living Planet that is almost ready for the final mixing and mastering stages after a few more brush strokes. In this one, you'll hear a lot of modular analog drones, along with very spacey atmospheres, some techno flavored grooves, some great lead synth parts, a little guitar looping, and lots of shamanic infusion. I did more vocal stuff on this one than usual, as well as more rhythmic based tracks. It's very much Shamanic space music but with a slight techno edge. I believe that it's my best work to date.

 

What's the best advice or feedback you've been given about your music?

 

I was lucky enough to have a three day, one-on-one master class stint with Steve Roach at his Timeroom Studio in December 2007. Along with all the technical areas, he also gave me many words of advice that I have retained in my memory and refer to often. The main thing that stands out is that he questioned the integrity of my CD releases at the time. They were flying out of my studio at a rapid fire rate. These were CDs with strong ideas, lots of substance and emotion, but they were CDRs not replicated CDs, and the labels were the peel and stick on type, and many times these were not playable in basic players. Also, there are a lot of EQ obscurities in these recordings and mixes that I wasn't hearing at the time that I hear now. I've since learned many critical listening skills, as well as fine tuned my studio environment and monitor setup. Steve taught me about these things as well. The whole way I record, monitor, mix and even compose has completely changed since. Also the final product is now a professional replication of the original master with screen printed artwork, so there are no errors with these discs. I take more time with the music now; there is no hurry to release the next title until it's really ready. I owe Steve much, and realize now that he really pushed me to the other side where I finally found my own sound, and now I'm just perfecting that.

 

What advice would you give someone else starting out in this genre of music?

 

I would say it's okay to emulate others at first because you learn a lot by doing this, but that in the long run, if you're serious about music making, you have to find your true self in your music; it should be your own sound. When I first started out as a singer/songwriter, one of the problems I had with song writing in general was that my rebellious nature took over when it came to the rules of the trade. I wasn't a top notch writer because my intros were too long, or I took too long to get to the chorus, or I didn't include a bridge, or the melody wasn't memorable enough, or the verses sounded too much like the chorus, etc. The great thing that turned me on to this genre is that there really are no rules. This made it fun to create music and sound worlds. I could just compose what I thought was cool and moving and just hoped that others would get it. This helped me find what works for me and to just be real, and produce music that emulates only what my emotions and states of mind are. The best works of music, that people love for years on end are the works that are totally original and outside the box. My best advice is to take chances, break the rules and be real to yourself. Find your own sound.

 

New age music seemed to peak in popularity around the 80s or early 90s, and may have dropped off a little since then. What do you think of the current outlook for the future of new age, ambient and electronic music in general?

 

I think it's getting harder to define what New Age music is anymore. There are so many subgenres out there. That's the problem with people relying on definitions and title labels. Some of us artists are hard to find out there because our music is not even definable by any known genre or even subgenre. Take for instance my own music. Some of it is dark ambient, some space music, some soundtrack, some new age, some experimental, some meditation music. In general, I think the outlook is good as more people are hungering for what’s different, especially in other regions like Europe and Japan and elsewhere. I hope it becomes more experimental, rather than continue the pop-infused phase it seems to be in right now.

 

What do you like best about making music?

 

Music to me is God's gift to us. It's the perfect, safe drug. I'm not a very religious person, but I am of a spiritual nature, and that's what making music is to me - a spiritual experience. It's the one thing in my life that I can construct and manipulate exactly how I want to. When I am in the creating phase of music making, I am not in this world, I am somewhere else. I guess it's not entirely true that I control all of it either. I am somewhat of a conduit for the receiving of aural vibrations that eventually twist and turn to create this living sound space that one can literally live in and even return to at a different time. Making music is the one thing I do foremost, just for me. The nice by-product is that other people tune in and like it too.

 

Thanks Dan for the interview, and for the music!

 

Mystical Sun

March 2009

 

Your identity seems somewhat elusive. We know Mystical Sun is Richard from California, but little else.  So what else can you tell us about yourself as a way of introduction? 

 

There isn't much to tell, my name is Richard and I live in California.  It happens that I produce music and release it and have been at this for as long as I remember.  Discovered a way of making music and have been evolving it ever since.  Music is only useful if other people hear it too.  With the notion that it might be helpful and enjoyed by others the music is released.  

 

My identity isn't elusive when put into context.  When someone makes popular music, the public expectation is that they need to promote themselves as an entertainer.  The Mystical Sun project is abstract music for listeners and seekers to enjoy in their own space.  Since there isn't a Mystical Sun performing act, there is no performer to promote and no reason to focus on anything other than the music itself.  On a practical note, it takes too much time and energy to write bios, take pictures and think about a public image.  I'd rather just make new music or a video as it is more productive use of the time.

 

What were your musical influences growing up?  What did you listen to?  And what do you like to listen to now?

 

All the sounds ever picked up by the ears and stored in the brain were my influences.  Everything input is filtered and then returned to the world in a new form.  It's impossible to isolate specific influences.

 

I enjoy the abundance of sound, take everything in, see something in it.  There are many talented musicians out there producing now and there's some very incredible music out there just over the horizon. 

 

Describe your musical training and background.

 

Self taught over time.  I play a few instruments and run a computer.  Music is a discipline and an art and I approach it in that manner.  I study many of the the world's musical forms and research sound synthesis on a constant basis.  Particularly I've focused in on micro-harmonics, the sounds that are more or less overtones as an area for further development.

 

You've mentioned that you view your current album, Energy Mind Consciousness, as something to be listened to as a whole.  What is the message or effect you are trying to convey?

 

The effect of a movie soundtrack sans the movie; the opposite notion of the shuffle play way; if an album is a movie then a song is a scene and the scenes go in sequence. The music is instrumental, because there's no specific message.  It is about creating a sense of place and a sonic landscape; more akin to an experience.  If you go to a national park like Yosemite, what's the message Yosemite is trying to convey?  The question doesn't make sense, Yosemite is an environment.

 

I like to leave open the interpretation of the music to the listener and keep things as abstract as possible. My job is to produce music that people can use in their lives to fill the spaces they are looking to fill.  The music covers the walls with sound and creates an environment. All the sounds are custom designed and no loops were used in the production.  It takes a lot longer to make an album when you don't take the readymade shortcuts.

 

The songs have a linear non-repeating structure which makes them less accessible to most people.  This has the disadvantage of rendering the tracks difficult to remember, which is why most popular music is hook laden.  But, it also has the advantage of giving the songs a longer shelf life because hooks are the first thing that date and wear a song out.  Still for most this album will slip past them unnoticed as it is very subtle; by design it’s for a niche audience.

 

Does your music start with an idea in your head, or notes on paper, or do you just start playing around in the studio, or what?

 

Every song and project comes about in a different and unpredictable way.  There's no process or repeatable steps.  When the inspiration comes, I try and capture it.  I try and start a project with no preconceived ideas about it and follow the clues and leads along the way.  The answer is all of the above.

 

What do your pets or other roommates/family members think of your music?

 

My family says they like it and are very supportive.

 

Once you've finished an album, do you listen to it for your own enjoyment?

 

Only after a long period of not hearing it and sometimes in gaps of years.  My job was to make the songs and listen to them very closely then.  I spend an extra long time on each track and a track might be in the works for many years, so I hear them so many times that distance is required to regain perspective after they are complete.

 

Have you started your next project yet?  Any idea what it's going to be like, anything you'd be willing to share about it?

 

Almost, still producing videos for Energy Mind Consciousness.  Before moving on to a new project there are some album support tasks at hand.  Nothing to report on the new project this moment as it hasn't formed.  I know from past experience that it will be different from the current album, but still have something Mystical Sun about it.  Very much looking forward to working on new songs and seeing where that leads.

 

You've really embraced the internet, mp3 files, that sort of thing, for making and marketing your music.  Do you think the CD is on its way out?  And what do you think the future will bring to music technology?

 

The first album was released in 1994 and at that time the normal way to release music was to get signed to a label and then hope their distribution channels could get the music out there.  However at this same time the internet was gaining initial acceptance and there were only a few sites compared to now.  The internet fans embraced the music made it possible to get it out to others around the world.  Mystical Sun was lucky to be in a window of time when there were fewer people making music and fewer artists on the internet.  This allowed for the project to become known and find a few fans.  Nowadays the opposite is true an artist becomes a drop in the world wide ocean.

 

The future of music technology is unlimited.  More people will be making music because the tools are going to be everywhere.  The line between listening and creating will blur more, putting the listener in control.  The role of the artist will be something like a content provider.  The cultural aspect of the music industry is in for a big change as people will lose interest in stars as they become capable of creating their own entertainment.  Technology is flattening the music industry hierarchy and democratizing access.  

 

So do you consider this a good thing or a bad thing, and why?

 

The answer is both and neither.  Look at what is happening with video sites, blogging and social networks.  It's neither good or bad, because times, events, cultures, art and everything else change anyway.  The 20th century culture and music business created a model and it ran for more than half a century.  Something has to replace it to keep up with technology.  Change creates new opportunities and destroys some older ones.  The best one can do is ride the changes like a wave.

 

Will you continue to work as a solo project, or are you considering any collaborations in the future?  Anyone in particular you'd like to work with?

 

Probably both.  The project is based around my time availably.  If events are favorable there will be collaborations, but unsure of with whom.  

 

What do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?

 

Unknown.  Predicting that far ahead is difficult.  Anything can happen between now and then, there are many possible futures.  I know for certain that I am not certain about anything.  If quantum particles are uncertain then how can people be?  Are we now where we expected to be 10 years ago?

 

The probability is there will be another Mystical Sun album around 2010 and compilation appearances along the way.

 

Thanks Richard for the interview, and for introducing me to your music. Everybody check out his new album on iTunes or on his website. You’ll be glad you did!

 

 

Javi Canovas

January 2009

 

There is virtually no personal information about you that I can find on the web.  (Ed. note: this has now changed, Javi has a new webpage, check it out at www.javicanovas.com.) So who is Javi Canovas really? Where were you born, where do you live now, what is your musical background?

 

I was born in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and actually I live in this town. It is in the Canary Islands. I live here still. I've travel very little and I never have visited another country.

 

I studied piano in the Conservatory of Music for 4 years and I learned to play duduk in a workshop with the Armenian master Vardan Hovanessian. I learned electric guitar by myself.

 

Was your first love electronic music or something else?

 

EM was the first that I remember, but at the same time I listened to progressive rock, including Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Camel, and ELP. I also listened to jazz rock, such as Pat Metheny, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and various artists on the ECM label.

 

Who is your greatest influence in terms of EM?

 

Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Vangelis, Kraftwerk and the first works of Jean-Michel Jarre.

 

What interests do you have apart from music?

Music fills almost all my life but I also like literature, cinema, philosophy and photography.

 

How did you discover electronic music, since you have always lived on the Canary Islands?  Was it through the internet? I can’t imagine record shops there just happened to have Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze on the shelves, or did they?

 

I discovered it searching between LPs and cassettes of my brother. Surprisingly there were LPs of TD, Schulze, Vangelis, etc. in many records shops. Although these islands are culturally Caribbean the Anglo influence was still very strong in the eighties. So for example I could buy Tangerine Dream’s "Exit" punctually when it was released.

 

How old were you when you got your first synthesizer, and what was it? Do you still have it?

 

I think I was nineteen or twenty when I had my first synthesizer, a Roland JX8P. But I had to sell it due to economic difficulties.

 

Do you primarily use hardware or soft synths to create your music?  What is your studio set up like?

 

I started composing with soft synths and then I bought some hard ones. I have an Alesis Andromeda A6, Korg MS 20, Roland SH 201 and Clavia Nord lead 2x.

 

Do you have a particular favorite tool or sound when composing your music?

 

At first it was Reason software and now the Andromeda.

 

Where do you get the inspiration for your musical ideas?  For example, for some it is nature, for some it is science fiction, for some it is their spirituality, or something else.

 

There's no a clear relation between concrete motives or images and the music; it is born spontaneously. Then it generally transforms in an introspective way, where I watch all kinds of things in my mind; emotions, or visual scenes of the past or present. But I can't tell you about defined motives or inspiration – sometimes it could be many, or sometimes none. It is based predominantly on general sensations or very abstract, surrealistic ideas.

 

How do you go about composing a piece of music?  Do you improvise, or are you very intentional about what you set out to do?

 

Mostly times I compose while playing but other times, I find ideas in my mind before write or play them. I don't have a fixed way. It depends on circumstances.

 

Your first couple of albums had very long Berlin school tracks with lots of sequencing. Now you seem to do shorter tracks with a lot more structure in terms of the melody.  Is this the style of music you plan to continue making for the time being?  Will you possibly go back to making longer pieces of music?

 

Normally I don't plan an album before I start to do it. I'm not sure what form the next album will take; perhaps I’ll return to long pieces, I just don't know yet.

 

How many other musicians have you met, either via the internet or other means?  Have you created music with anyone else?

 

I collaborated with The Omega Syndicate on the track "Anamorphosis" from the album Riding the Revelations. Brendan Pollard and I are planning a collaboration for his next CD. I played the duduk for some tracks by Rudy Adrian, which I hope will be released sometime this year.

 

What is your next project going to be, and when can we expect to hear it?

 

I haven’t started the new album yet, so I can't say anything concrete. It will be along this year.

 

Anything else you’d like to say to EAS readers?

 

Simply send them very warm regards and encourage them to continue listening to the electronic music that you write about on Electroambient Space.

 

Thanks very much Javi for the interview, and for the great music! 

 

Two inteview this month! Keep reading...

 

Michel van Osenbruggen

January 2009

 

Michel van Osenbruggen is the man behind Synth.nl from the Netherlands, recording fun upbeat electronic music. For general background on Michel, check out his well-written detailed bio on his webpage, or check out his blog. 

 

You mention on your webpage that you have no significant formal music training, and still don’t read music.  How do you go about creating it?

Well I had one year of organ lessons when I was 10, but I didn't like reading notes at all. I did learn some basic playing techniques though and learned a bit about chords. When I create a song I usually start with some sounds I recorded with my mobile recorder. That sets an image in my mind that I try to convert into sounds. Then I start playing some chords over that on one of my synthesizers. From there I start working out an arrangement in my sequencer software, add some drums or percussion and then play some extra lead lines to go with it. At the end I add some more sound effects to create the right atmosphere and remix the whole thing again.

You have a great deal of background in electronics.  Describe how that helps you in making your music.

Well I see a lot of fellow musicians struggling a lot with their studio equipment, cabling and especially their PC. I think this takes me minimal time because of my background. So this way I have more time to make music I think. My electronics background also helps me to understand my synthesizers better I guess. I never read manuals or anything. Currently I'm even building my own modular synthesizers from electronics components. That is really gratifying I can tell you. I will be using these a lot in the future to create more complex sound effects and textures. I think regular synthesizers are quite limited in that area.

Do you spend time working with sound envelopes, creating your own sounds, or are you more into just jumping right in and composing music?

I try to create original sounds, but most of the time I adjust existing presets to my needs and layer them together with others. I rarely create a sound from scratch. I don't see the point in that either by the way. The end result is what counts. Sometimes I come across a preset that I like so much that I can't resist using it. I do spend quite some time on tweaking sounds with effects processors afterwards as well. But most time I spend on creating sound effects since I think these are the signature on your music. Luckily I also have some friends that make sounds for me. That saves me some time also.

Have you played live yet, and if not do you have any plans to?

Not really. I know a lot of musicians that love to be in the spotlight, but I'm more a background kind of guy. I think I would die of stress on a podium by the way. Not nice for the audience! ;) I really like to work alone in my studio at night when everyone is asleep. I usually work in the dark since that helps me focus better. I'm very easily distracted. Besides all this I wouldn't even know how to produce my music live.

I was impressed at the number of interviews you have already done that are posted on your site.  I take it reaction to your CDs has been very positive?  That must be very gratifying for you.

Yes I'm still quite amazed about all the positive reactions I get. Especially on my MySpace account it is overwhelming. It is very motivating and that is what keeps me going. I'm glad there is still an audience for this kind of music.

Electronic music tends to be a very male-dominated genre.  You have a wife and two daughters.  What do they think of your music?

My wife doesn't really like my music. She is more into singing artists and listens to lyrics. So instrumental music isn't really up her alley and she prefers guitars over synthesizers. My kids do like my music. My wife has my CDs on her iPod in the car and my kids recognize my music instantly. My oldest daughter is very musical and I hope to do some musical adventures with her in the future.

 

On your blog you have some cool pictures of your studio set up. How did you gather such an impressive collection of gear?

I didn't buy it all overnight. It was a long process. I have been collecting synthesizers since 1990 or so and I hardly ever sell anything. I must admit that I do spend most of my money on equipment. I work a lot of hours so I don't have time to spend money on other things anyway. The last 14 years I have been fortunate to run my own company and the hard work that I put in there is paying off so now I can spend more time and money on my music.

How many CDs do you have in your personal collection, and how many of those are electronic music and/or synth pop?

I have about 200 CDs in my collection. About 50 percent of that is pure electronic music and 40 percent is synth pop for the rest some classical and even some metal and Celtic. My taste is quite wide, but I do prefer synthesizers over acoustic instruments and instrumental music over anything else. I do like the human voice when used as an instrument like choirs, but I don't like lyrics. I think the nice thing with instrumental music is that you can have your own picture with a song.


If you could only pick 5 CDs – no iPod – to take with you on a desert island, what would they be?

I would take Oxygene and Equinox from Jean-Michel Jarre, and Soil Festivities and Antarctica from Vangelis. I really love those records. I think I played them like a hundred times already. I would also take my own AtmoSphere album with me. All these albums all make me forget the world around me. That is also the reason I produce my own music. It takes me into my own imaginary world.

Your next project is going to be classical music. How did you decide that, and how is it coming along?

When I started to produce my own music about 3 years ago I didn't know anything about composing or harmony. I started reconstructing some classical tracks that I like a lot to learn from. Then I found out that I loved these tracks even more with my own sounds than I did with the classical instruments they are normally played on. I let some people hear the tracks and they all asked me when it was going to be released. At first I said it was not the plan and I put some of these tracks on my website and then I was overwhelmed by the requests so much that I decided it would have to go on CD for people to enjoy. I'm not sure though yet when it will be released. I'm currently also working on two other projects at the same time.

Do you have any collaborations planned, or do you intend to just continue doing solo recordings?

On my AtmoSphere album I actually did my first collaboration. The track “Nimbostratus” was produced together with Hans Landman a good friend of me. I will certainly do more with him, but I also have some other friends that can play very well on the keys. It would be fun maybe in the future to do a 'Synth.nl and Friends' album. I have that on my wishlist anyway. There are also some Groove colleagues that I think would be nice to work with and of course my own favorite artists.

If you were to collaborate with anyone, who would you choose?

I don't have to think about that. My big inspiration has always been Jean-Michel Jarre. If he would call me or mail me for a collaboration project I would drop everything get in my car and drive over there right away.

So who do you want to be when you grow up?


Well actually I intend not to grow up at all ;) But in the future I would love to do music for films or documentaries. Or maybe I could do something with visuals myself. I love the concept of surround sound and also prefer the better quality audio you have on SACD, DVD and Bluray over the CD. So I'm definitely planning to do some work in surround sound preferably with moving images that fit the picture I have in my mind while producing it.

 

Michel, thanks so much for the interview! 

 

 

 

Pete Kelly

November 2008

 

Pete Kelly aka Igneous Flame is a full-time musician who lives near the edge of the North York Moors in England with his partner and his dog. He notes that he has lived in cities all his life until moving out to the Moors and that there's a world of difference.

 

Pete has worked in the Electronics Industry and the Arts - which he much preferred - and has exhibited as a ‘sound-artist’ as well as creating soundtracks for short films and theatre productions. He has been releasing his Igneous Flame material since 2003 and hopes to carry on releasing work in the future. He says that he works slowly, aspiring to constant improvement and diversification. Let's see what else he has to say in this month's interview... 

 

Your MySpace page mentions that you have a Master's Degree in Music Technology. Where did you study, and what was involved in completing the program?

 

I got that degree at York University in 1998. It was quite an intensive course, some of the material covered turned out to be very useful, some of it not. From memory we covered such topics as: Studio Techniques, Programming, Basic Electronic theory, Acoustics and Electro-acoustic music. York was big on Ambisonics, a form of surround sound; my dissertation was concerned with the compositional use of surround sound. I was very interested in that for some time, but I feel it's something that just isn't going to catch on.

 

I must credit the course with starting my ambient 'career'. I was set an assignment to create an electroacoustic piece, made from transformed field recordings and synthesized sounds. I worked on some Silicon Graphics machines that were high-end at the time and I predominantly used a program called 'MIX' which was developed by NoTAM in Norway. It was visually not dissimilar to a lot of track based Digital Audio Workstations (DAW's) of today. The visual representation of sound - waveforms / spectrograms and being able to move 'blocks' of sound around a time-based grid was a revelation to me after having used traditional tape-based setups. I made some of my own pieces using the program using manipulated guitar samples and it really got me thinking that this was a great way to construct ambient music.

 

I wasn't new to using computers for music making. I had used the original Steinberg Pro24 / Atari combination as well as early incarnations of Cubase and GM sounds, but it didn't really work for me. I wasn't wild about the whole MIDI sequencing thing. However, the prospect of working with audio was a different matter. I was particularly intrigued by 'sound design' - really altering the original sounds in all manner of esoteric ways. At York, we had access to some very idiosyncratic processing tools such as the 'Composers Desktop Project' (CDP) which had lots of uber-weird spectral / granular / algorithmic modules, which were run from command lines on some madly cryptic operating system. Thankfully, similar results can be achieved much more easily these days!

 

I'm not a 'techie'; I view tools as a means to an end. I'm not that interested in how something works, I'm much more interested in what it can do, musically.

 

What was your musical upbringing - both your training, and your listening tastes growing up?

 

I've played guitar since I was 16 and am self taught. In my earlier learning years, I went to see lots of bands and watched the guitarist to see what he was doing. I was very much into heavy rock as a kid and was something of a 'speed-demon' guitar player, which is ironic considering the nature of the music I am creating now. I'm left-handed, but have learnt to play the guitar 'upside down' (it not me) to a point which can make for some interesting outcomes. I played in quite a few bands that didn't really go anywhere, but it was fun.

 

A pivotal point for me was when I was living in a house with some Buddhists and someone played 'The Pearl' by Brian Eno and Harold Budd which immediately impressed me as I hadn't heard anything like it before. It's still one of my favourite albums, as are the 'Gone to Earth' album by David Sylvian and the 'Apollo' and 'Thursday Afternoon' albums by Brian Eno. Eno really got me into ambient music. I listened to his work for a long time.

 

In general, I like to think I have fairly diverse musical taste; currently I'm much more into music as a whole than just guitar-based material.

 

What was the first instrument you played?

 

The guitar (I played the recorder in school, but that doesn't really count). My first guitar was a classical guitar and my first electric was a Kay that I bought in the 80s. I've had some lovely instruments that I've had to sell on including a left-handed Gibson Les Paul DeLuxe and a fantastically idiosyncratic Gibson RD Artist. I also played bass in quite a few bands - usually 'lead bass'!

 

What was your first synthesizer?

 

A Casio VL tone - I don't know if that can be termed a 'real' synthesizer' ! The only real synth I've owned was a Casio CZ 3000. It was great fun making sounds on it, but it weighed a ton.  I used it on a lot of 4-track work-in-progress recordings in the nineties. I can't really play a keyboard well at all, so it didn't see a great deal of use. I have a few soft-synths now, which I use in my 'Formbank' beat-based side project. For my Igneous Flame material, I'm more interested in creating sounds 'from scratch' - manipulating guitar parts / binaural recordings (recordings made using tiny in-the-ear mics). There are virtually no 'synth' sounds on my Igneous Flame albums.

 

What do you like best about playing guitar?

 

I like the physicality of the guitar - the vibration, bending the strings and the like. I don't do it now, but playing very loud and using feedback to sustain notes was a fantastic feeling. When I was younger, I used to go and see lots of bands and I was always more drawn to what the guitarist was playing. I was excited by the playing of Eddie Van Halen, Todd Rundgren, Uli Roth, Alex Lifeson and Michael Schenker to name but a few.

 

What is your favorite musical toy at the moment?

 

At the moment, I'm getting to grips with all manner of samplers, beat-slicers and drum pattern thingies. I'm currently working on producing the debut album by UK artist Achromus. This will entail working in a completely different way that I'm used to. I'm having to integrate audio and sequenced stuff and add guitar parts, so I'm having to learn some new tricks - which is good fun. I've done reworks in the past and have always found the process to be musically stimulating. So I suppose the computer is my favorite musical toy, in that I do pretty much everything on it. In fact, pretty much all of my music could only be created using a computer as virtual studio, due to some of the techniques I use. I've worked in the past with ADATs / mixers / external FX units and the like and I wouldn't go back to them.

 

Your music has a very free flowing quality, but also seems pretty well put together. How much is deliberate composition versus improvisation?

 

Referring primarily to the beatless side of ambient, I feel that the compositional element is much 'underlooked'. I spent years working on guitar and studio techniques prior to releasing my debut album 'Tolmon' in 2003. In the same way, I think that compositional skills are something that is developed over time, with discrimination being a particularly relevant factor.

 

If there's an improvisational element in my work, it’s in the initial stages of a track. I play a few chords and experiment with different processing techniques or start off with a field recording and do the same. The 'live' element in this case is the capturing of some real time manipulations / tweaking which I record with another program. However, on my primarily guitar based 'Astra' and 'Satu' albums, there are guitar lines that I improvised over tonal drones and textures.

 

I start to construct a piece, paying attention to dynamics so that the piece has a structural variety as well as a tonal variety. I tend to use a selection of sounds that fit together, sometimes adding sounds from another (unfinished) track. I like to 'theme' tracks and in some cases a track is built entirely from a single source sound - usually a guitar part of some kind - made into multiple variants. Sound-design is a big part of my work, as is recycling - recycling the recycled, to obscure the source. Quite a lot of my tracks have changing tonal centers, which I think is unusual in ambient music, certainly in drone-ambient.

 

I should say that while I have enjoyed improvisation greatly in the past (jamming in bands and the like) and I do miss it, it's not the approach I now adopt to create music. The way I do things now takes a long time; I leave out a lot and self-edit rigorously, but I wouldn't be comfortable with, for example, playing long solos over backing tracks and using that as a basis for an album. I've done enough of that! I prefer to work in more of a 'wide-angle' manner, in terms of viewing an album as a whole. Whilst being able to 'zoom in' to really concentrate on tiny parts which could be only a few seconds in duration, but need the necessary attention to detail that is required to be incorporated into the track as a whole.  

 

You said that there's a world of difference between living in the city and living where you do now. How so, both for life in general and in terms of your musical creativity and/or inspiration? And which do you prefer, or do they both have their plusses and minuses?

 

I used to live in Leeds which is one of the biggest cities in the UK and before that, Middlesbrough, which is considered to be one of the worst places to live in the country. So, I could be considered a 'city boy'. The 'town' and the 'country' naturally both have positives and negatives. It took me quite a while to adapt to living in the country. Initially, I found there was much less 'to do' relative to the city. But that became a positive over time. In a sense, the country is the more 'ambient'. There is less stimulation - which is good for my work. For me, it's the beauty and easy accessibility of the North York Moors, which is the primary positive element, as well as the general lack of city blight - violence, sprawl, paranoia and noise.

 

On the subject of noise, where I live can be very quiet, which I very much appreciate, but there is the unpleasant high-intensity noise of military aircraft activity, which I wasn't used to in the city. Thankfully, this isn't constant - unlike city noise. Regarding 'visual noise', the country is far more preferable. On a clear night, the starry sky is fantastic. I don't miss not seeing miles of urban sprawl, busy roads and pylons either!

 

To sum up, the beauty of nature and the general isolation out here suits me and inspires me. I don't think it's for everyone though. I'd lived something of a 'full' life previously in the cities, so I can appreciate the differences.

How do you like collaborating with Achromus versus doing your solo material? It is hard for you, since you are so meticulous and deliberate with your own material, bringing another person into it?

 

For the 'HALO' album, the collaborative process with Achromus was probably an unusual one, in that I was allowed to simply get on with it. Achromus gave me his source material and I worked on it and completed the project. I sent him work-in-progress mixes periodically and I incorporated his comments. We never sat down to work together as such - we worked separately on different stages in the project.

 

I'm currently working on producing Achromus' debut solo album and that's a different way of working again. I can't comment fully as I'm in the middle of this one, but as I have mentioned earlier it's very different to my Igneous Flame methodology. I'm keeping what I feel is the core of his tracks whilst reworking them extensively - in terms of instrumentation, arranging, reworking parts and the like. That is the collaborative element essentially and again, we are working in isolation on different elements of the project. The main difference being that this is Achromus' album, so he is writing all the original material.  

 

What can listeners expect next from Igneous Flame or other Pete Kelly projects?

 

I will be releasing my 7th Igneous Flame album 'Electra' in spring 2009. This album will be a selection of some old and new material - with a theme. It will be 'abstract' guitar ambience, unlike my previous overtly ambient guitar albums. 'Electra' will be more sonorous and colourful whilst still retaining an esoteric 'core'.

 

The Achromus debut solo album I refered to earlier will be a 2009 release. It won't be an ambient album as such - it could be described more as 'instrumental electronic music' really (but not EM). We have similar influences and this album will show us wearing our Japan / David Sylvian / Harold Budd influences on our collective sleeves!

 

Sounds like more good stuff to look forward to. Thanks so much Pete for the interview!

 

Evan Bartholomew
October 2008

 

Though you have a fairly large web presence, there is very little personal information.  How about a brief bio as a way of introduction - name, age, where you live, family, what you do for a living.  Or are these closely guarded secrets as part of the ambient music mystique and persona? 

 

My name is Evan Bartholomew, I'm 31 years old, and recently moved to rural Hawaii.  I create music and all that that entails for a living - touring, remixing, scoring, and running a label.

 

Evan Marc, Evan Bluetech, Evan Bartholomew.  So just who is this Evan guy?  Why so many names and labels?

 

I've created different aliases which allow me to explore different parts of the musical spectrum without having to stretch any one alias too much.  Evan Marc is my alias for forward thinking uptempo music like tech-house, minimal, techno.  Evan Bartholomew is for more experimental soundscape, ambient, modern classical stuff.  My Bluetech alias is for all things electronic, downtempo, glitch, dub, etc. 

 

How long have you been on the music scene, and how did it start?  Was it always about electronic music, or did you start in other genres?

 

I played classical music since I was a little kid, but started on the scene in 2000 DJ'ing psytrance music.  By 2002 I had shifted into downtempo and was working on the material that became the first Bluetech album.

 

You have the most amazing cover art I've ever seen - hand stitched, homemade paper, with beautiful artwork.  I think it is wonderful.  But in a day and age when music is becoming more disposable and downloadable than ever before, why go to the effort?

 

I feel like you answered your own question!  It’s precisely because less and less people buy music, that we go to the extra effort to make really special packaging.  Instead of just being another plastic disc in a plastic case, we create numbered limited edition pieces of art, which I believe are an incentive to supporting the music.

 

So I'm thinking there's not a lot of call for DJing in rural Hawaii ...

 

I didn’t move to rural Hawaii to be getting a lot of DJ gigs!  I just moved out here a few months ago, though I lived her for awhile 10 years ago previously.  I’m sure there is an electronic scene here, but I haven't really sought it out.

 

How can you afford to live in Hawaii and just do ambient music?  Are you living in a hut and growing your own food or what?

 

I afford to live in Hawaii and do ambient music because I treat my music career like a day job.  I get up and put in my 8 hours a day running the labels, writing new music, searching out gigs, and doing all of the menial office works that goes with trying to keep a record label floating.

 

Do you live alone in your rural getaway?  Any family, friends, pets?  Do they like your music?

 

I have a dog named Kaia who is a blue eyed Siberian Husky, though all of my family is on the west coast.  I hope Kaia likes my music, though whenever I ask her, she just kind of wags her tail and puts her paw up on my foot, so I’ll take that as a yes.

 

What made you decide to move there?

 

I tour enough that I get hyper urban overdose I think.  There is something about being in 5 or 10 different cities in a short period of time that makes one really crave solitude and quiet somewhere in the country.

 

How and when did you meet Steve Hillage, how did that come about?  What was it like recording with him?

 

I originally met Steve and Miquette at Glade Festival in the UK, though I've been listening to System 7 music since high school.  We hit it off, and they licensed a few tracks of mine for a compilation they were putting together for Platipus Records.  I started working on Dreamtime Submersible, and had a feeling that it would be a much better album with the addition of Steve's signature guitar parts, so I asked him and it just kind of came together.  Hopefully it’s not our last collaboration!

 

How do you decide what music ends up under which pseudonym?  Do you compose/record it with a particular project/name in mind, or do you just record a bunch of stuff and decide later which ones "fit"?

 

I definitely compose with a specific project in mind.  Bluetech music is what I tour with most of the time, so I tend to write stuff that has a really kinetic personality to it, like some cosmic space hop - stuff that will move people on the dance floor as well as entertain them intellectually, and hopefully impart a spiritual component to their dance.  When I’m a particular techno mood, usually inspired by listening to something that gets me going, I write for the Evan Marc project.  When I’m feeling more intimate, or melancholic, or subdued I write ambient and experimental music for the Evan Bartholomew alias.

 

What are your primary sources of musical inspiration?

 

My primary sources of inspiration are extremely varied.  I am inspired by natural forces, and I mean that in a more animistic sort of way.  Like the force or energy of the volcano here is an inspiration to me, the way the lava destroys and creates room for new life and new land at the same time.  I’m an active dreamer, and many of the scenarios and events that occur in the dreamtime became inspirations for music, though I’m usually looking for a more universal thread, or element that reflects a common mythology, i.e. Phoenix Rising off the new Bluetech release on Somnia.  In one sense it’s about the larger mythos of the phoenix, but it’s also about a very personal and intense dream involving the energy of the phoenix, which affects and directs the way that I live my life.

 

What about your collaboration with Steve Hillage? Did you record together, or swap sound files across the net, or what?

 

Steve and I swapped files across the internet.  He's in the UK, so it’s hard for us to physically work together.  Sometimes I think that is better in a collaborative environment, as each person has their home base where they are used to creating.  I wrote base tracks and sent them to him, and he did a number of passes over what I had written and sent the parts back to me so that I could construct, edit, and reconfigure them to make it all work as a story.

 

Do you use both soft synths and actual gear? Any favorites?

 

I'm almost entirely digital at this point.  I had recently invested in a modular analog system, but sold it as I knew the Hawaii weather wouldn't be too kind on those circuits.  I am looking at the new Dave Smith analog devices with a bit of gear lust however. 

 

What do you like best about making electronic music?

 

I like electronic music because after a period of extreme specialization into infinite micro genres, it seems like the horizon is open again.  You can make music via electronic means that has the subtlety and sway of Debussy or Satie, music that sounds organic and otherworldly at the same time.  Truly there are no rules about what it’s supposed to sound like anymore.  It’s liberating as a composer to have that sort of freedom!

 

Thanks Evan for the interview!

 

 

Beta Two Agonist

September 2008

 

Beta Two Agonist is Ian Lizandra, who resides in The Netherlands and records on the Dutch label Databloem. I was very impressed with his debut album Zero Point Field, enough so that I named him best new ambient artist of 2007. His latest solo album is excellent as well, plus he has a new collaboration with Jason Corder - you can read reviews of both in this month’s CD reviews.

 

For a brief bio of Ian, check out his webpage here. Up until recently, I didn’t even know Ian’s name, so I figured I ought to get to know him better and enlighten EAS readers in the process.

 

How about an off-the-wall question to start with – do you have asthma?

 

As a matter of fact, yes. Since I can remember I've had respiratory problems associated with asthma, so I always carry an inhaler with me.

 

You probably guessed the true intent of my first question – what is the origin of your chosen band name?

 

A beta-2-agonist is a substance that can be found in asthma medication. It relaxes the airway muscles and allows for more air to reach the lungs. I adopted this moniker when I started making more ambient-based music. I found out later on that Aphex Twin has a track called 'Ventolin', which is also an asthma medicine that I used a lot as a kid. I have always had a special relationship with all things air-related, so air - or the lack of it - has always played an important role in my life. Just breathing in and out is a wonderful thing and the most fundamental aspect of life.

 

Your webpage says that you were born in Barcelona, the son of a Catalan musician and a Dutch mother. What nationality do you consider yourself?

 

I consider myself to be somewhat rootless, nationality-wise. I've never had the feeling of belonging to one nationality. When I'm in Barcelona I feel somewhat out-of-place or disconnected from that specific culture and when I'm in The Netherlands I have exactly the same feeling. Although I speak Dutch fluently and without accent, I don't feel Dutch. It's probably because of growing up between two worlds. I do love the Mediterranean way of life though and love spending time with my Catalan family. Barcelona is such a vibrant city and it definitely has a special place in my heart.

 

Does your multicultural background have any impact on the sound of your music?

 

I don't know if it's clearly recognizable in my own music, but one consequence of having a multi-cultural background is that in my case, one is more sensitive to both the differences and the similarities between cultures. There are a lot of similarities, especially in music. For example, in traditional flamenco music people speak of 'duende', which is difficult to translate but can be seen as a mysterious blend of passion, tragic sadness and expression. It's something that everyone feels when moved by music or other art forms but no philosopher can explain. By listening to lot of different musical styles from all around the world I realize that this is something universal, you can hear it in Indian raga, jazz, classical music, electronic music and so on. In every culture music expresses our deepest emotions and I can only hope that people hear and feel it in my music too. One thing I like about electronic music is that has no real form or footprint that ties it to a particular culture. It can take many shapes because it is not limited to instruments or a specific technique or sound.

 

The Databloem label, and your music in particular, can be difficult to categorize. What do you call it when people ask what style it is?

 

To be honest, I always have great difficulties to label my music and most other music for that matter. For sake of convenience it's ok to use terms like free-jazz, atmospheric ambient, avant-garde or whatever, but the music that moves me almost always defies boundaries, because it is something that is dynamic and elusive. I use the term atmospheric sometimes, because it implies that I try to establish an atmosphere with my music, but then again, isn't all music about mood and atmosphere? More often I just tell people to listen to my music if they're curious to know what it sounds like, but it's funny that most of the time people just want to categorize. I think it's difficult to label your own music, because you have no distance to it whatsoever. I find it very difficult to listen to my own compositions objectively, if that is possible at all. I rarely listen to my albums, besides the actual process of creating them.

 

What’s the coolest thing and the worst thing about making music on computers?

 

The coolest thing is that you have an infinite palette of sounds at your disposal, and even more ways to process and mangle sounds beyond recognition. But at the same time, that is the worst thing about computers or any machine that can be counter-intuitive and that needs your input. It is easy to become so absorbed by the endless creative and technical possibilities, that it starts working against you. That's why, for me, it is best to see the computer as a creative tool and instrument, not a means by itself. One can feel detached from music that way. When I see it as a vessel for expression, everything around me becomes an instrument. Computers, software and interfaces are the new musical instruments of our time and have expressive and technical capabilities that are inaccessible to traditional instrumentalists. One thing I am particularly wary about is the idea that you need more effects, instruments, software or any kind of expensive hardware to make better music. I love equipment too, and when it comes to certain types of equipment it really makes sense to buy the best quality you can afford, but I'm convinced that the latest gear won't necessarily inspire me to make music. The same goes for software. I used to have this huge list of VST plug-ins, now I use only those that prove to be essential. I don't know if it's a good or bad thing that electronic music is so influenced by software/hardware tools that the medium eventually becomes the message.

 

Describe how you go about composing a piece.

 

It's a really intuitive process. Most of the time I start with experimentation and collecting source material, looking for sounds and not really thinking about whether I can use something for a composition. Those sounds can come from field recordings or objects lying around, recordings of instruments or can be computer-generated. I leave a lot of room for randomness, chance and happy accidents. 

 

There is something magical about stumbling upon a sound that really excites me and gets my juices flowing. A composition might start with a chord, motif or texture that evokes a particular mood. When a sound raises the hairs in the back of my neck, I build on that emotion, adding to it without compromising that initial gut feeling I had. I try to avoid using the same approach or compositional method over and over and just let it happen. When I have a rough sketch for a piece, I start refining it and often a track is combined from several versions or other compositions. When I feel that the composition is well-balanced musically, I start working on the mixing/mastering stage.

 

It's not uncommon that images or words are the seeds for a composition, for me there are so many similarities between poetry, music and visual art. I find it very interesting that these fields are blending more and more. I remember reading something about certain composers seeing colors and forms when hearing notes or chords. When you think about the fact that colors are vibrations too, that's actually not very difficult to imagine. 

 

Your music tends to be more about unusual sounds than musical compositions in the conventional sense. So how do you tell when a piece of music is done to your liking?

 

That is the most difficult part, realizing that nothing is ever really finished. When I feel that there's nothing I can do or add that will improve it, I just leave it and listen to it a week later with fresh ears. When the music still captivates me at that point, I consider it finished. It's actually quite ironic when I stop and think about it; I strive to make the music sound free-flowing and organic, when it is actually deliberately arranged. I read something about a novelist who said that writing is more like stripping away, rather than adding.  I like to think of composing the same way and focus on the bare essentials of what I'm trying to convey.

 

Have you done any live performances yet, and if not are there any plans in the works? Or does your method of composing and playing not really work for that?

 

Yes, I do perform live occasionally and I always enjoy it.  The challenge for me in playing live is keeping an experimental and improvisational attitude towards electronic music. Without sounding like someone merely experimenting with sound in an unorganized fashion or just triggering sequences. It's interesting to note that a lot of people who are not used to electronic musicians, tend to complain about the lack of 'gestural' performance, such as in the way a violinist's or pianist's movements are connected to the sound they produce. They just see someone staring at a screen, pushing knobs and twisting buttons. One of the things I find difficult is that I never consider live performance when I compose my music, so that I really have a hard time translating it to a live setting. I'd love to find a way to play my music live like a jazz musician, to have true improvisational freedom.

 

What is the most unusual sound source you've used for a piece of music?

 

I was copying from a floppy disk once on a very old computer. Because of the old drive, it made this chittery rhythm. I immediately got my recorder and started copying files to and from the floppy drive. I also got this amazing surprise when I accidentally opened a non-audio file in an audio editor. And I used body sounds several times in my compositions. There is a hidden world of sounds that you would normally not be able to hear, unless you use extreme amplification, like putting something under a microscope. You can record the strangest sounds using contact microphones or a pick-up coil, of which the latter picks up electro-magnetic fields. Circuit-bending cheap toys can yield very interesting results too.

 

But in the end the most important thing for me is that the sound excites me, regardless of its origins. I don't focus on where a sound comes from, as long as it stirs something in my imagination. One thing I noticed over the years is that my perception of sound versus noise, if there is any distinction at all, has changed dramatically. I love listening to the murmur and noise of city and nature alike, or the drones and hums of machines. I've had numerous occasions, when composing, where the sounds outside would blend with my music. Every time that happens I feel great joy, because I feel that my music at that moment is part of a whole, as if the world adapts itself to the music, as well as the other way around. One time I had this wonderful experience where my composition blended with a piece of music from a documentary on TV. I listened in amazement how, in some uncanny example of synchronicity, two musical fragments that would normally be completely separated in place and time, were fused into something new. It was wondrous and I darted for my minidisc recorder, but sadly I was never able to capture that moment. 

 

What is the appeal of adding buzzes, static or distortion - sonic elements that most musicians work carefully to avoid?

 

Kim Cascone, an artist who himself has made extensive use of glitches and digital sound artifacts, wrote an essay about what he called 'The Aesthetics of Failure'. He describes it way better than I ever could. For me personally, there is something beautiful about using errors and grittiness and turning it into harmonic or rhythmical material - especially in this world where everything is supposed to be perfect on a superficial level. Maybe the crackle, static, clicks and pops of vinyl records influenced me, as I used to listen to my father's record collection as a kid. It's a very familiar sound to me. Because of our changing environment, immersed in digital technology, we are confronted with beeps, glitches, clipping, aliasing, distortion, quantization noise and so on. These tendencies can be seen in other fields as well, such as visual arts. Errors are way more interesting, because they catch us off guard and challenge our notions of what we define as right or wrong. Interestingly enough, a lot of sounds that I use come from organic sources and, when taken out of context, can be surprisingly similar to sounds generated by digital means. I also noticed that these types of sounds are becoming more common in mainstream music too, so that is an indication that we're growing accustomed to them.

 

You recently did a collaboration with Jason Corder.  How did that come about, and how did you like it?

 

We got in touch through an art project I was setting up, for which I was inviting musicians and visual artists. Because Jason is a label mate on Databloem Records, I thought he might be interested in participating so I got in touch with him. We talked about how we enjoy making music and he suggested exchanging some material for a possible collaboration. From then on, it just happened naturally. The first sound you hear on the 'Further to find closer' album is from a prayer bowl, which was the first sound I sent to Jason. We started processing and mixing the musical fragments after we made a few conceptual decisions, such as using mostly acoustic instruments as our source. After that we just kept adding elements to each other's sounds or processed them into something new. Before we knew it, we had almost an hour's worth of material.

 

I definitely loved working together. There's a term in Dutch that describes the process very well; 'kruisbestuiving'. Literally it means cross-fertilization, but it is mostly used in the context of two people influencing each other creatively or otherwise. Working with another musician adds a whole new dimension to the music, because of different approaches and ideas being introduced. The whole project was a free-form challenge-response improvisation. When Jason introduced a rhythmical idea somewhere along the line, I responded by developing that idea further. The result is that you can really hear a progression and flow in the album.

 

Any other collaborative music projects on the horizon?

 

At the moment, no. But It's definitely something I want to do more often. One of my long-time wishes is to collaborate with jazz musicians, because I like the modern jazz approach of experimentation combined with traditional instrumentation. I love that blend of organic sounds and digital processing. But I'm open to whatever musical avenue presents itself. I want to try to reinvent myself and find new approaches to make music.

 

Thanks much Ian for the interview, and for the great music! 

 

August 2008

Mike Griffin

 

I am proud to say I’ve known Mike Griffin almost from the beginning of Hypnos – not quite back to his Chromostatic 1 studio, but I did visit him at Chromostatic 2 on several occasions, since we live within a few miles of each other. I had the pleasure of bumping into him and his wife Lena at a Mexican restaurant a few months back. I interviewed Mike once before, but that seems eons ago, so he willingly accepted my invitation to update the record. For more information about Mike and his label, visit www.hypnos.com, in particular the forum there, where Mike posts frequently.

 

Your brief bio on the Hypnos page is almost apologetic about releasing your bizarre noises for public consumption. Several releases later, do you now consider yourself a “real” musician?

Well, that bit of text was tongue-in-cheek to begin with, and was written quite a while ago. It brings back a recollection of what it felt like to go from someone who bought other people's CDs and listened to them, to someone who made music and released CDs for other people to buy and listen to. It was a shift in self-perception, I guess, and I think most recording artists (if they were to be completely honest) would admit that one some level it still feels strange and sort of preposterous to release music out into the world, call oneself a recording artist, and try to "promote" the music into the hands of other people.

On another level, though, I've become accustomed to it and I know that even if I feel humble about what I do, there are people who like that sort of work, and will even pay to hear my latest recording.

When did you first realize that you really had something with the Hypnos label?

Pretty early on it became obvious that many of the artists I had enjoyed listening to before starting Hypnos were eagerly looking for good outlets for their work, and the number of independent, well-regarded ambient music labels was small. So even before Hypnos was very established, or selling many CDs at all, I could tell that there would be no trouble finding high-quality material by well-known artists for the label to release. Within the first year I could see that there would be plenty of great music to release, and then it would just be a matter of figuring out how to get the CDs into the hands of people who wanted them…something not quite as easy as it first seems.

You’ve had a number of spinoffs and collaborations – the Binary sublabel, the association with The Foundry, and now Hypnos Secret Sounds and an affiliation with AtmoWorks. What makes these partnerships work – or not?

Well, it's easy to make a spinoff work when it's still part of Hypnos, as with Binary or with Hypnos Secret Sounds. Those are just different ways of doing the same thing, in the case of Binary as an outlet for more dynamic electronica, and with HSS as a way of releasing smaller limited editions for odd projects or new emerging artists.

The other things you mentioned, The Foundry and now AtmoWorks, are more like partnerships, and they're both examples where I had a good relationship with other label owners, and there were potentials for what I guess business buzz-word types would call "synergies," or in other words, ways in which we could both help each other.

In the case of The Foundry, I thought it was a very cool, small label but Michael Bentley was about to shut it down because he couldn't sell enough CDs in order to justify releasing new projects. At that time, Hypnos mail order was booming like crazy and I was looking for a way of getting more ambient and experimental CDs released but I didn't have the time to do more Hypnos releases myself. So for a while, we basically treated The Foundry as an offshoot of Hypnos, where Michael would curate and design these great CD projects, and Hypnos would agree to purchase a large enough number of copies up-front that The Foundry could mostly be assured that each new release would break even. Even though that partnership didn't continue forever, I'd argue that it was still mostly successful.

In the case of AtmoWorks it's a label that's redefining itself as entirely a download-only label, and so nobody at AW has any interest in mailing out any physical CDs any longer, let alone making them and keeping CD stock. On the other hand, Hypnos has established a pretty efficient way of making our own limited-edition CDRs, from our Hypnos Secret Sounds imprint, and we also have a very good mail operation now that Lena is working on that full-time. Here then is another case where AW had a desire to still have the option of a tangible CD product for the customers who don't want downloads, and Hypnos has an ability to help with creating and mailing CDRs, and so we both benefit. And as with the Foundry deal, this is a way of feeding the Hypnos mail order business with a steady number of new releases to sell. This is a very new arrangement, as we've just been selling AW discs for about 10 days, but it appears that it will benefit both parties, and this arrangement might even be the sort of thing we'd consider doing with other small labels.

In general, I'd say that this music genre is so small, and there's so little money involved, that it doesn't make sense to be territorial or competitive. It's much more productive and healthy for everyone if you find ways to cooperate. Rather than viewing other small labels as competition, I view them as part of the lifeblood that keeps the genre going. When small labels die off, and music mail order companies shut down, and magazines and webzines cease publishing, it just de-energizes the whole scene. We all benefit when there are other people putting their work into the mix, as it keep people listening and enthusiastic. When people stop listening and lose their enthusiasm, the whole scene dies.

It’s no secret that there were some bumpy times for a while for the label. Was there ever a time that you thought about hanging it up, or that the label would fail?


Definitely there have been a couple of stretches where the label was half-dormant, not releasing much music, and infrequently updating the web site or the online store. There was never a thought that I would walk away from Hypnos, not for a moment. I viewed that time as a sort of hibernation, and I always knew that some kind of change would occur that would help me get Hypnos running full-speed again. Basically, Hypnos as a business was too successful to just walk away from it, but not so successful that I could just do it full-time, and coupled with the other demands of life, it was too much work for me to do it myself. I mean, you can work 12-16 hours a day for a while, and if you really push yourself you can do it for years, but eventually you will crash, or burn out. I've talked to many people who assumed that Hypnos was just trailing off into nothing, but it never seemed that way to me at the time. I just wanted to find a way to get a part-time helper or something, and get things revved back up again.

How in the world do you find the time to maintain a full-time day job, make your own music, and run an independent label solo (almost)?

As I said above, it's really not possible in the long term to do everything alone. I tried, and for at last 5 years after I started Hypnos, I slept no more than 4-5 hours per night, and I was constantly exhausted and stressed. I think it would be possible for someone to start a small label and make some music, in addition to the job, if they didn't spend so much time on it. Really the very time-consuming part of Hypnos that never stops and never lets you take a break is the mail order business. If a person had a label to run, and felt overwhelmed by the demands of life for a while, they could easily just not release any music for 6 months or so. Or a recording artist, who was really busy and stressed out, might just not record anything for a while, and spend one month per year making a new album. But the mail order business, there's no way to take a break, and if you're too busy to keep up with it the way it deserves, then you end up giving poor service and your customers start to drift away, even if they love your music. That started to happen a bit with Hypnos, for a while, but I'm happy to say that the mail order business is better than ever now that it has someone keeping up with it properly, and orders are going out quickly.

Of course, when I say “almost” in the previous question, I’m referring to your other full-time employee, your wife and fellow musician Lena. How did the two of you meet?

Lena and I got to know each other in a way that might seem like the least likely way to meet your ideal partner, but it happened... we actually became friends online, just casual friends not trying to date or anything. We got to know each other at a distance for quite a while before we started to realize we'd really like to meet. As I said, it seems like an incredibly far-fetched way to meet someone who is a perfect match for you, and that you'd be much more likely to meet crazy people this way, and we're both aware of that and sort of amused and astonished at how it worked out so well from such an unlikely beginning. But it has worked out not only for the two of us individually, but for Hypnos too. Hypnos really needed, and has really benefited from, a dedicated employee's full-time efforts and attention.

 

So are the two of you planning on collaborating musically?

 

We already have collaborated musically already in some ways. For her first album, I acted as engineer and producer, and while I think of the album as hers primarily, she views it as more of a 50/50 collaboration. In fact, if I think of some of Brian Eno's collaborations, at times he worked in a role as conceptualist and producer, using the studio as an instrument, in collaboration with someone like Harold Budd or Jon Hassell who performed as instrumentalists. I would view that kind of interaction as an "artist/producer" relationship even if the producer has a big role in how the album sounds, though others would call it a collaboration. From that perspective, you could say that Lena's first album was a collaboration and could have included both our names on the cover.

We definitely intend to collaborate in a more traditional sense soon. I can envision an interaction like the way I work in Viridian Sun with David Tollefson, where I take on the production side in the studio but I'm also an equal "player" at the same time. I had a dream a few weeks ago that I was looking at the Hypnos web site and saw a CD listed there by a group called "Wildwood" and I didn't know what it was, so I asked Lena and she said it was our collaborative project. Probably the name came from the fact that we love going up to the Wildwood trail to run through Forest Park. You know how dreams work, though... in my dream I had helped record and release this CD but had never heard of it before. One way or another, and whatever it's called, there will be a CD like that some day.

Any other collaborations you are working on?

I have done some work on a collaboration with the wonderful Italian ambient/drone artist Oöphoi, who has also released some work on the Hypnos label solo (Athlit) as well as with Paul Vnuk Jr. (Distance to Zero). He sent me some sound materials and I reworked them, and added new sound sources, and I've created about 2 hours worth of material that I like very much. I'm going to edit these down to about a CD's worth of material and send it back to him and see if maybe we have an album here.

I've discussed collaborations with a small number of other people, but I tend to be cautious about starting these things up, because they can take a lot of time and energy if the match is not a good one. I've observed collaborations between other artists that ended up being a difficult tug-of-war and both sides ended up frustrated. Still, I'd love to work with some different artists in the future. A good collaboration ends up being a cross-fertilization that helps both participants grow and learn in ways they couldn't have done alone. For future collaborations I might enjoy working with people whose work is very different from mine, coming from quite a different place rather than just minimal ambient.

Last month you performed for the first time in 10 years as half of Viridian Sun. Other than the technical problems you mentioned on the Hypnos Forum, what was that like, getting together after such a long break?

It was our first live performance in 10 years but it wasn't like we went into the show without familiarity. We had just finished a series of recording and editing sessions for our upcoming album, Infinite In All Directions. And in fact we had recorded another album about 5 years ago, which ended up being shelved not due to any problems with the material. We just got busy and stopped working on it for long enough that we never started again. So, Viridian Sun has seen some gaps in activity but not the full 10 years. The fact that David Tollefson and I are very good friends, and see each other regularly even when we're not making music, made it feel very natural to start recording again. This live performance was very easy, aside from the technical problem you mentioned, and we'll probably perform live again soon, maybe to celebrate our CD release.

Describe the process of recording Fabrications. How did you go about recording the sounds, and what sorts of processes did you do to get the sound the way you wanted?  How did you know when a piece was finished, what measure did you use to decide you were satisfied with a particular track?  And what inspired you to make "music" out of these sounds?  How happy are you with the end result after 10 years in the making?


Fabrications was really made with two totally different processes.  The first process was gathering location recordings, using a digital recorder and a pair of binaural microphones.  Binaural microphones are tiny little clip microphones intended to be replicate the human stereo hearing response, with sounds reflected and absorbed by the head in between two ears.  So you either mount the microphones on a dummy head, one next to where each ear would be, or more commonly you put on a pair of sunglasses and clip one microphone onto the glasses right next to each ear.  Ordinary stereo recordings give you some sense of location by the different sounds picked up by the left and right microphones, but when you record with binaural microphones this way, the sense of location in place is enhanced by the effect of the head in between the microphones.  Especially when you listen on good headphones, a good binaural location recording really gives you a weird, scary sense of being there.  Much of this is lost when you layer different sounds, and add effects, but some of it still comes through in this album.

And that brings me to the second part of the process, which was editing all the many hours of location sounds, labeling digital audio tapes and transferring them to my computer and trimming and labeling little clips.  After that, starting to layer location sounds together, and add some subtle effects, creating collages of different places and times to create new complex locations that never really existed.  When I started, I think my plan was to present the sounds in a way that was more naturalistic, fooling the mind and the ear a bit by combining incongruous sound-places with each other.  What I found was that the result of combining different sound sources was not bizarre and surreal but quite natural sounding.  If you add the sounds of an ocean walk in Kona, and the sounds of a crowd at a house party, and the sounds of an airplane cabin while passengers are boarding, you don't really end up with something that sounds odd or artistic.  It just sounds like regular life.  It often sounds like you're listening to a recording in an ordinary place, with a TV or radio on in the background.

I wanted the end result to be more interesting, but without chopping up the audio into little clips and creating a disorienting little sample experiment, so I started to abandon the idea of presenting just a few "clean" layers of location sound, and started to create much thicker and more complex layers, at first with 10 or 20 layers at a time and later with even more than that.  What started to emerge was that it was most interesting if you could just swim in this ocean of different sounds, with one layer or another briefly rising above the others and making itself known.  The thicker and more drone-like I made the tracks, the more interesting they became.  As long as I didn't leave all the layers equal, which just ended up making a gray, boring sound muck... the important thing was to have a lot of little hints and vapors of sound-places, with one or more making itself heard above the others to give your mind and ear something to grab onto.

That's a lot about the process and intentions so I'll try to address the rest.  Knowing when a piece was finished was the hardest part, and that's the reason it took me 10 years to finish.  I kept coming to places where I felt each piece needed something more in order to be interesting, but when I added more, it became less interesting.  It was not until I had allowed the project to sit for a very long time that I figured out the key to making the pieces interesting, and getting them to that "finished" state.  Then all the pieces came together very quickly.  I wanted each track to sound very different from the rest, and the thicker each track became the more difficult it was at first to differentiate them.  I had to undo some of what I had done, and add a couple of top layers to each track at the end, a sort of varnish or coating which livened up the mix.  In the end, I'm very happy with Fabrications and much more proud of it than anything I've ever done.  I'm not only proud of the end results, the sound and the art of it, but I'm also proud that I didn't just stick it on a shelf and move on to something else.  I learned something important about the creative process by "rescuing" this project that had dead-ended several times over the years, and neither just leaving it unfinished or releasing it in an unsatisfactory state.  I know that it's a challenging listen, and not conventionally musical, but I hope people will have a chance to hear it because I think it's very rewarding.

Just what magnitude are we generally talking about for sales of ambient CDs?  Are they generally in the thousands, the hundreds? What's the least amount of sales you've ever had for a Hypnos title?


I can't speak for all the other labels but I think generally, sales are much, much lower than people think they are.  Many small labels are selling less than 100 copies of each new release, including labels you've heard of.  I've talked to a few label owners who have told me they sell 90% of their CDs to us, through the Hypnos store, and in some cases we're only talking 40 or 60 copies or even fewer. 

 

It's no surprise that such a high percentage of small labels shut down quickly.  If you're getting CDs manufactured and need to sell a couple hundred copies of each release to cover your costs, you actually have to be more successful than most new labels just to break even.  Lots of people start a label with the expectation of losing a few thousand dollars a year on the venture, just for the fun of being involved in the music, but working hard AND losing money at the same time gets old quickly.

As for our worst-sellers, we have some CDs that have sold less than 100 copies even years after release, and while many of our Secret Sounds limited CDRs have sold pretty well, others have sold only a few dozen copies.  Even as relatively successful as Hypnos is, we sell a small enough number of CDs that we have to be extremely careful which projects we choose to manufacture conventionally. More projects have to be released as limited CDRs to control our costs and risk, so we can continue.


 

How closely do you track sales of Hypnos titles?  For example, can you tell me this Jeff Pearce or that Saul Stokes title sold 1124 copies, or 675, or whatever?  What is the bestseller in the Hypnos catalog?

We work up reports from time to time, to see how things are going.  After filling people's orders and reading reviews and answering inquiries about CDs, though, you get a sense of what's selling because it's what people are talking about.  There are those CDs that nobody ever talks about or buys, and it can be a bit puzzling.

The best seller so far is definitely Somnium by Robert Rich.  Not only did we press 2,000 copies of that one initially, instead of our usual 1,000, but that first pressing has sold out and we've just had another 1,000 made.  So, given that we sent out quite a few promotional copies from that first pressing, and have sold a few of the second pressing, I'd say we've actually sold around 2,000 copies.  There are other Hypnos releases that have sold out the first pressing of 1,000 and been re-pressed, such as Robert Rich's Inner Landscapes and Humidity, Vidna Obmana's Landscape in Obscurity, our first compilation The Other World, Jeff Pearce's To the Shores of Heaven (and we're about to re-press Daylight Slowly any time now).  There might be a couple more I'm forgetting, but CD sales in general have been slower the last 7-8 years so all of our all-time top sellers are from the first 4 years of Hypnos.


You mentioned earlier the importance of keeping the ambient genre alive in general, without regard to whether it is a Hypnos title or not.  What do you think of the health of the genre right now as compared to say, when Hypnos started?  Better, worse, about the same?  Any trends you've observed?


I think a few things have contributed to generally very low CD sales in the ambient world.  First, lots and lots of self-released CDRs by new artists trying to get exposure.  This results in a huge number of CD releases for an ambient music listener to choose from, and lots more CD releases means that each release sells fewer copies.  This is only a "bad" thing in the sense that it dilutes the soup for everyone, makes it harder for each label to become sustainable.

Second, lots of free and "netlabel" releases by both new and established artists trying to get listeners, resulting obviously in more free stuff for people to listen to, leaving them less time and "hunger" to search for CDs to buy.  It also contributes to the sense that music is something you just download for free these days, not something you buy.

Third, file sharing in the form of bittorrent and "download blogs," which means that even if there's an artist and a label out there making music to release on CD, many listeners who might otherwise have bought it can get a copy for free.   I understand that many who downloaded it wouldn't have bought it anyway, but my gut tells me that the number of "lost sales" (people who downloaded who would have purchased if they hadn't found it for free) is greater than the number of "gained sales" (people who wouldn't have bought the CD before, but downloaded it and liked it so much that they bought the disc or legal download), even if the huge majority of downloaders are neither "lost" nor "gained" sales, and would never have purchased the CD whether or not the download had been available.

The world we live in has changed, and I think the end result will be more people doing something (such a recording music) moderately well, for free, and fewer people doing something extremely well, for money. 


The "for free" practitioners will squeeze out many of the "for pay" artists.  We're actually doing great, and I'm not whining about our specific situation at Hypnos, but I worry for the scene in general that new labels will not start up, new mail order businesses will not start up, and the few that do start up will have such a hard time that they'll likely quit right away.

What we'll be left with is a small number of established artists like Roach and Rich doing their own thing, a few labels like Hypnos that are churning along doing OK in their niche, and other than that, just a vast sea of hobbyists releasing MP3s for free download by the thousands per year.  That's still OK for Hypnos but it doesn't make for a very healthy scene overall.  Will there be a new Robert Rich or Steve Roach, in a time when there will not be a Hearts of Space to launch them and promote them, and get their CDs into the hands of tens of thousands of listeners?

Labels will need to adjust, and find ways to connect with listeners in ways that the listeners find compelling enough to keep paying something to keep the labels alive.  I think part of the solution might be that labels need to offer more -- maybe better packaging and better liner notes and text, maybe video DVDs and "behind the scenes" materials, whatever they can come up with to make the experience of buying the official release much better, worth paying for, compared to downloading a ZIP file of MP3s from Bittorrent.  It also might mean lowering prices on CDs and legal downloads.  I think many people might be more likely to buy a CD for $10 than $16 or even $13, and at $8 the purchase becomes easier still. 

 

We're thinking of creative ways to get ambient music listeners to consider supporting Hypnos, whether it means buying CDs or downloads or CDs with free immediate download, or CDs plus DVD supplements... who knows?

 

So what’s next for Hypnos and for M Griffin?

Now that Lena is working on things full-time that frees me up to try to develop the label, interact with more artists, and work on releasing more music. So far that has been going very well, and our release schedule has been very busy with 8 releases in the first half of 2008, and at least 10 more planned for the second half.

I feel Hypnos and Hypnos Secret Sounds are going strong and pointed in the right direction, so now we want to concentrate on two things.

First, we want to start up our download store which will be called SoundSwim (
www.soundswim.com) and which will eventually replace the Hypnos Online Store, selling both downloads and CDs.

Our other big priority right now is to get the Binary sub-label built up to be more of an equal partner to Hypnos. We'd like to release more music on Binary, starting with Saul Stokes's new album Villa Galaxia coming in August, then followed by a compilation called Nevertime. The intention is to strongly define Binary as an outlet for modern electronica and minimal techno. We're also going to create a limited CDR imprint related to Binary, called Binary Explorer Series, which will relate to Binary the way Hypnos Secret Sounds relates to Hypnos. The limited CDR imprint lets us try new things, release live recordings or re-issues, or launch new unknown artists without worrying about selling a lot of copies.

 

Sounds like Hypnos plans to be around for a long time to come – which is great news for us ambient fans. Thanks so much Mike for the interview!

 

 

Jeffrey Koepper

July 2008

 

For more background on this month’s interview subject, solo American synth artist Jeffrey Koepper, please read his bio page on his website. Thanks Jeff for the interview, I really appreciate it!

 

In April you performed at The Gatherings concert series.  How did that go?


 

The Gatherings concert went great. Chuck Van Zyl and his crew are great guys to work with and everything went off without a hitch. I think that is the best venue to play live electronic music - being an old stone church the sound is incredible and it is visually very inspiring. I have become spoiled playing there. It doesn't get much better than that for atmosphere.

How does playing this sort of music live compare to being in the studio?

Playing live is like nothing else, it is an incredible feeling. For me it is very different from the studio. The studio is a more controlled intimate solo experience, where it is just you and the machines creating. Live has the energy of the room and the audience which can really build an intense feeling. This feeling in turn will take you into new directions for the compositions.

Your music has a very "composed" feel to it.  How much does improvisation play a part in your creative process, versus carefully planning things out?

Well, I would say my music is mostly improvised and done in the moment, inspired by the feeling of the moment. I rarely plan and compose music before I go into the studio. In the studio I work with the machines and the different interfaces they offer, these interfaces in turn influence the music and how I make music. I try to get as much of the composition going as possible and then capture it live to a two track mix. I feel that captures the life and energy of a piece. I may then add some textures and sounds during a final mix. That way the feeling of the composition is captured and there is still room at the end to fine tune and finalize a piece.

On your website, at the end of a long list of familiar musical influences in EM and synth-pop, you go on to mention "Arp, Oberheim, Moog, Sequential Circuits and many others."  So how important is the technology in making good electronic music?  And how is it an "influence"?

The technology I use to make music is very important. I feel the type of musical equipment you use directly influences the style and direction the music will take. I list companies such as Arp, Oberheim, Moog, Sequential Circuits and others as influences because the sound and interface they offer directly influences how I work on a composition. I also feel that most of the music I like and that I was influenced by was done in the past using that type of equipment; that is proof enough for me. I could be called a Luddite in the fact that I don't use a computer at all in the studio. Everything I use is hardware, down to an analog mixing board and recorder. I could never work in the "mouse controlled" world of computer recording and soft synths. I just can't connect to that world.

Your list of gear is impressive.  How were you able to amass such an impressive collection for your studio?

 

The gear and old technology has always been important for me from day one. When I first got into music and bought my first synthesizer in 1985, it was analog. The funny thing was analog was on its way out of fashion but I just knew from day one I loved analog synths. People would say to me back then "why do you want that old junk" but I didn't care, I knew what I wanted. During that period the prices of analog synths dropped very low because there was little or no interest in them from most musicians. So you were able to buy them reasonably priced. But little by little people started to realize that analog synths were incredible machines and not outdated, so now the prices are back up to where they should be in my opinion for such wonderful machines.

 

Do you have a personal favorite in your synth collection?

 

I really can't say I have one favorite synth, they are all so different and good at different things. I love the aspects of the synths that give them their unique personality. For example ARP instruments are very different in tone to the Oberheim synths but I like both just as well...they all have their applications. So I guess I love them all equally. But I do really love everything Arp has done. :) 

 

Your discs have a very professional look and sound, from the packaging to the music.  How do you manage to do it all yourself?

 

Wow thanks for that. I try really hard to bring the best product I can to my audience. I put alot of time and effort into creating and recording the music. I want it to sound beautiful and lush. Steve Roach has been great with mastering my records. He's a great guy and I appreciate what he does. Also the packaging and art is important to me, I grew up with records and incredible 12 X 12 album jackets. I miss that format alot. So with my releases, I try to make them like mini album covers with the digipak format.

  

Will you remain strictly a solo act, or have you considered collaborating with others?  If so, who would you like to work with and why?

 

I am always open to collaborations, given the members both have something unique to offer. I have collaborated with others in the past and there have been some great musical moments. I really enjoy the feeling of creating new pieces in a group situation. Working with others can lead you in directions you would have never ventured to on your own.  As far as people I'd like to work with in the future, I'd love to do a project with Steve Roach, I think that would be very cool.

 

What is your favorite part about making music?

 

Well, there are so many aspects I love about making music, it’s hard to pin it down to one. I guess one thing that I really love is the creative spark that happens when composing and a piece starts coming together and coming alive. It is a feeling like no other. This feeling can give me the chills and make you very high and that feeling is also addictive, once you experience it you want it more and more. Another aspect I love about making music is using the older technology to create and bring that to the world. I like to show what is possible using just vintage hardware synths and sequencers. I feel that there is still a lot of good work to be done with this technology and many new directions to explore.

 

With all the time spent creating music, do you get much of a chance to listen to others?  Who are some of your favorites, EM or otherwise?

I do listen to music all the time. I tend to listen to a lot of music that was recorded in the mid seventies to the early to mid eighties. I like the sound and production style of this period. I like the classic EM artists as well as the early eighties electropop artists.

 

In fact, in addition to the ambient music scene, I do early eighties influenced analog electropop music under the name Wire Service.


Do you listen to your own CDs after you are done with them, or do you tend to move on to the next thing?

 

I tend not to listen to my CDs for a while after I release them. During and production and mix down you can really over listen to a piece. I will usually go back after about a month and listen to the CD after it is fresh to my ears again and check it out.

Who is your "trusty assistant" in the photos section of your site?

 

My trusty assistant is my dog Kali, she is a chuiabull, which is a chuiahuia/pit bull mix. She is a great assistant and helps me with inspiration and with all my compositions.

When you aren't making music, what else do you like to do?

 

When I am not making music I like to restore, build and repair analog synths, this is good for me because I can keep up the studio in great working condition and is necessary. I like to hike and camp and get out into nature whenever possible. I also like to restore and play around with old Volkswagens so I keep pretty busy.

Thanks again Jeff for the great interview - we hope to hear from you again soon! Check out Jeff's latest CD Sequentaria, which was reviewed in the June 2008 issue of EAS.

 

 

June 2008

Deepspace

 

Deepspace is Mirko Ruckels. Born in Germany in 1972, he now lives in Australia and has been making ambient music since 2000. For these and other fun facts about Mirko, visit the bio page on his website. I want to thank Mirko for doing this interview.

 

How do your musical ideas come about, how are they inspired?

Ah, I'm fascinated by the idea of musical inspiration. There are so many ideas in our culture about it Some I agree with, some seem hideously mythic. Personally, inspiration can come from so many places. It can come from going for a walk, seeing a photo, having a dream, seeing an abandoned old house while driving along the highway, or basically any other interesting event in my life that "rings my ambient bell".

A lot of the time, my musical ideas come from trying to illustrate a certain emotion that I am feeling, via sound. The emotion can be anything. When I say emotion, I don't just mean happiness, sadness etc. It could be a sense of the quiet surrounding you, or the emotion you experience when you look up at the clouds, and for a second, grasp the great scale of things.

I'm constantly trying to capture feelings in music that I don't feel are fully explained by words or images. For example, the word "desolate." It's such a great word....but I'm frustrated by it. There is so much nuance music can give to this word, such that the word itself leaves things to chance and personal interpretation. As to images, I feel that I want to complement them with sounds. A tree swaying under the winter sun just sets me off! I want to create a piece that sounds like that!

I just realized while writing this that I often do the opposite too; I will hear a piece of music, and spend a lot of time trying to define it through mental images or through words, usually to my poor wife. Luckily, she is a writer and loves talking about the same sort of stuff.

Describe how you go about composing a piece of music.

I remember recording 'The First Glimpse of the...' from /The Barometric Sun /after a lunar eclipse less than a year ago. I was taking photos of the moon, and there were these vast beams of intense light coming off it, in a cross shape, probably because of the location of the sun at that point. I had no idea why, but it filled me with a profoundly serene feeling. I was thinking about the enormous size of those beams of light, each as wide as the moon itself, and I literally ran to the computer and wrote that piece.

I like having a few methods up my sleeve for composition. But at the centre of all of these methods, I'm very aware of idea of creative flow and energy. I try to get out of the way of my own often cynical brain, and let ideas come out fast without too much intellectual side-tracking. The best idea can seem absolutely stupid, or ridiculously simple. I love simple and stupid ideas. They are often overlooked by composers, as the ideas often *sound* different (ie good) to the way they feel when you play them. Musicians often like to play things that make them feel good about themselves.

This is where ambient musicians come into their own: they seem to think purely about the idea, not the technicalities, because of the expectations and wonderful limitations of the genre. Almost every other western genre of music I can think of requires a certain technical proficiency. Ambient music is very un-western in that sense. It seems to privilege the artistic over the technical. I recall Brian Eno saying that he used machines to record his early albums, because no musicians could play his ideas in a simple enough way. I like that sort of thinking. There is so much pathos in the simple.

As to the physical process, I will sit down and play with sounds on my computer, experimenting with ideas, or I will sit at the piano or guitar, and ideas will come there. I am an obsessive kind of writer, and I used to spend hours trying to craft the perfect chorus, for my previous bands, which were rock, usually Beatle-inspired affairs. Now I do the same with electronic music. I tend to not take ideas to the next stage unless they give me a kick. I have a little rule I use when writing, which I call the "smile" rule. I will not let an idea go to the next stage of recording until it makes me smile. That way, I know I'm not kidding myself. Kidding yourself is the biggest danger for a composer. Sometimes you can lose perspective, and then you begin to accept ideas that are substandard, because you are tired, or you think no-one will notice, or worse, because you think you are some wonderfully talented demi-god.

I use tricks to gain perspective on my compositions, especially when I feel like I'm losing it. I will write an idea, and record a rough version of it, then I will purposefully try to forget it, start a different piece, and come back to it after a few days, then listen to it again. I will have largely forgotten it, or at least in won't be in the front of my thoughts, and then I can hear it and be surprised by it. If I'm not pleasantly surprised, then the song usually ends up in a folder somewhere called 'never to be released.' or 'use in event of blackmail'…

The songwriters from ABBA (swedish ambient outfit) described the composer as a dragonhunter- you sit outside the cave, and wait for the dragon to appear. You may have to wait for days outside that cave, and if you turn your head for a second, the dragon may leave the cave, and you will have missed it. This sums up the approach that I like. I'm sure it sounded more eloquent when they said it. And it was possibly in Swedish. (Ed. note: Yes, Mirko is having a little fun here - just making sure you all are paying attention!)

How long, on average, would you say it takes you to put together a full album?

On average, I would say six months. I tend to have quite a few pieces on the "boil" at any one given time, so even though an album might be released only three months after another, as was the case with last year, the albums all had longer gestation periods that often overlap.

One thing I like to do is write pieces for future albums, that won't be released for a long time. That way, I don't have to hinder the flow, so to speak. I find it's important for me to let the ideas out, even if I'm never going to use the piece, or even if that future album is never going to see the light of day. The upshot of this is that there are many albums of material slowly filling up, as happened with Subantarctic Sessions, which came out of pieces that weren't included on other albums, mainly from the Slow Moving Lifeforms Volume 1 sessions. So there will eventually be albums that may be simultaneously released that have had a gestation period of years.

How do you decide what goes onto an album and what doesn’t make the cut?

I have scores of pieces sitting in folders on my computer that have missed out on being included on albums. Slow Moving Lifeforms Volume 1 for example, had a very particular sound and it was very easy to decide which pieces to leave out, and which pieces to include. The new album I'm working on, called The Glittering Domain/The Shrouded Domain is going to be a double album, because the pieces that I selected just *had* to go together, even though they fell into two slightly different camps that formed one concept. I have a pretty high mortality rate for pieces. Out of every five pieces, one will make it to some project, either deepspace, or my other electronic side-projects, Pilot of the Future and Atomium.

 

A lot of your music so far has been given away for free as downloads. Why is that?

Well actually, normally the albums are not available as free downloads, only as streams. I like the idea of being able to stream an ambient album, to see if you like the journey, and then buying the album if you like it. Previews of ambient music don't really work well for me. It's kind of like someone saying "look at this great picture!", and then only showing the top left hand corner of the frame. However, I do like the idea of a listener supporting their favorite artists as well, in a monetary way, as it does enable the artist to raise the quality of their work, by providing them with the funds to do so.

Subantarctic Sessions and Barometric Sun are available as free downloads for a couple of reasons. I put Subantarctic together simply as some out-takes from an unfinished Artic ambient project. The reception to that album took me completely by surprise- had I known people would like it that much, maybe I would have released it as normal on emusic or iTunes like the other albums. Clearly, a businessman I am not! And Barometric Sun ended up for free on lunarflower.us because I wanted to show some support to that label. I have noticed that today many beginning netlabels offer free downloads. Whether this is a good or bad thing....is going to be a very long argument isn't it. I do feel empathy for artists signed to labels that charge for releases. But then I also feel empathy for independents who are signed to no-one but themselves, who have to promote themselves without assistance. The music industry is tough. I take solace from the fact that in the end, the listeners benefit from the increased amount of music available.

You were born in Germany, but now you live in Australia. How did that happen?

My family moved from Bremen, Germany to Brisbane, Queensland when I was about 7 years old. I loved the little farm that we lived on, and to tell you the truth, I've always felt as little disconnected to the country that I live in now. It's a beautiful place, but I can't deny that I am from elsewhere. I'm actually half-french, half-german, and the older I get, the more that seems to awaken in me, and explain many things, such as where the music comes from. Maybe if I didn't live here, I wouldn't feel the need to travel musically. Not many people know of ambient music in Australia it seems- Having said that, Ultima Thule and artist/dj's like Mike G are clearly very much into ambient music, and I think it is there, but far under the surface.

Your wife writes supernatural thrillers, you write space music – how did the two of you meet?

We met playing in rock bands. I was a guitarist, and we were auditioning some lead vocalists, and she turned up, playing and singing "Picture This" by Blondie like she was Debbie Harry's long lost sister. I was quite a bit younger than her, and she actually introduced me to the more underground aspects of music. I became aware of artists such as Sonic Youth, The Cocteau Twins, Harold Budd and My Bloody Valentine through her influence. Those artists definitely became a big influence on me. Anyway, she has become very successful in her field and has published over 20 books now, all over the world.

What do your wife and kids think of your music?

I have a five year old boy called Luka, and a twenty-one month old girl called Astrid. To give you an idea of Luka; he is the most eccentric little guy. He'll be listening to Ulrich Schnauss - he has fearsomely good musical taste -  and he'll ask, "Is this you, daddy?" to which I'll answer "no" (I wish...). Some other of his other phrases include: "Can you put some Bowery Electric on?", "Is this Vidna?", or "Daddy, you need to put some drums into your music." He actually worked out the piano motif from "Endless Repeat of Waves onto a Landscape" from Slow Moving Lifeforms on piano a while back. So there you go. Five year olds can play Deepspace.

My wife loves ambient music, especially Stars of the Lid. I'm jealous of their powers over her, and I think I'm probably trying to compete with them on some subconscious level for her approval. :)

 

What is your studio set up like? What is your favorite hardware and/or software? Is your set up at home or in a studio elsewhere?

It's quite a simple setup really. Now, a lot of musicians these days like to create an aura of mystery about their setup, which I guess is in line with the mystery of sound that surrounds ambient music. But I use no mysterious gadgets. No clay urns and circuit-bent toy pianos here. I like to create my ideas harmonically and melodically, rather than purely sound-based. I use an old Beale piano, my beloved '91 Fender Strat, a Fender jazz bass, and then my computer, which is a PC - that's right, I don't use a Mac. The main programs I use on my computer are Sonar 7, which is a marvelous thing. And Reason 4, which is also brilliant and very fast for starting ideas.

As you can tell, I'm pretty much purely software based. (Absynth, Rapture, Thor) with a M-Audio midi interface keyboard. Then I transfer what I've done into Sonar, and add audio and other bits and pieces. I use a pair of KRK monitors, which are really nice, and that's basically it. I master at my friend Davin's place. He's got better gear than I have, and he's also brilliant sound-wise, so it's good to use him for an extra ear.

I'm not a gear junkie- I think I've learnt to limit myself. Less is more. I think this stops me from wasting endless hours getting sounds. You can waste your life doing that. It's a real trap for electronic
musicians. The palette of sounds is so infinite, that some musicians place everything on the sound. I spend time on sound, but I would say that I place more value on the harmonic structure and mood. If I'm going to waste hours, it'll be on trying to find a chord progression that makes me tingle.

My studio is in my home. It's a converted garage- nothing glamorous. There are some sound dispersal foam pads behind me, a lava lamp and that's about it. I figure that I make the sounds to go somewhere. If I was somewhere flash and opulent, then maybe I wouldn't want to go anywhere else. :)

 

Have you done any live ambient shows? If so, how have they gone over? If not, will you be doing this in the future?

Ah, the live ambient musician....a curious animal. I've never seen one live, such is the state of the live scene in Brisbane. Ambient gigs just don't exist here. Maybe I'll start doing some, I don't know. I grew up playing live, in many bands, and have spent many thousands of hours of my life playing on stage. I think I've developed some anti-live sentiment in all of that time, so my reaction to this question is complex. I've always been frustrated by playing live- the nuances of the music is often lost, and it becomes primal instead of intellectual. That's fine, but I don't like that trade-off unless it belongs in the music. I guess right now I'm enjoying not playing live at all.....even though a part of me fantasizes about playing Deepspace in a beautiful museum, cathedral, or library....or maybe in a remote outside location somewhere...

You mention many influences, including Debussy, Eno, Steve Roach, Stars of the Lid, Pete Namlook and Aphex Twin. The list is noticeably absent of Berlin school staples like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream. Any particular reason for that?

I came to ambient music from a slightly different direction than the traditional electronic musician, if there is such a thing. I didn't come via the German school, so Schulze and Tangerine Dream, however pioneering they were, aren't part of my musical vocabulary. I came to ambient later, in the 90's, through vidnaObmana and Steve Roach, so I guess that's called the New Wave of Ambient now isn't it? And I came from a place that sounded more like Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie than Kraftwerk.


I didn't progress to ambient because of the interest in keyboards and sound experimentation, as many who were into TD might have. I discovered later that certain types of keyboard sounds made those wonderful pieces that I was hearing on "River of Appearance." I was so mesmerized by that music, and I had no idea how it was created. So part of the fun for me was to find different bits of software and go "well....how could I make some of those sounds....?" and only after that did I start to understand more about subtractive/additive synthesis and so on.

The other area that I come from is the classical one. I did a music degree at the University of Queensland a few years back, where I studied music history, composition etc. And I was in love with composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and the French Impressionists, and also people like Ralph Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams is like Steve Roach in some ways. They both create landscapes out of music. There's a bush there, an old tree there, a mountain on the horizon. The music doesn't physically represent it, but becomes the space and feeling around the objects in the landscape, if that makes any sense.

So a lot of my references when creating ambient was the feeling of pieces like Ravel's "Daphis and Chloe", Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun", "Pagodes" and "The Egyptian". Even though ambient music is much simpler harmonically and structurally, there is the same sense of wonder and magic there. I also sang a lot of opera, and studied voice for about 8 years. I sang roles such as Tamino, Don Jose, Ferrando, and recently did a master's degree in voice. I've had a break from that, and in many ways, Deepspace rose out of the ashes of that. That's very un-electronic isn't it? :)

 

Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, or do you prefer creating music alone?

I love both. I love the autonomy of creating by myself. But I also love the excitement of creating something with someone else too. Right now, I'm in the middle of collaborating with Chris Macdonald, aka Telomere. He is utterly brilliant, and resides near the top of the ambient tree in my estimation. So doing a collaboration with him was very, very exciting for me. I remember listening to a piece that he added some of his sounds too. I was about to add a melody to it, and realized that my hands were shaking, that's how excited I was. Working with someone like Chris makes you more aware of your own style; his style is so focused and strong, that you can't help but hear your own idiosyncrasies next to it, and it makes you smile and think, "oh, there I am...."

I have another collaboration, with my brother Jeremy. The project is called Pilot of the Future, and we just released our first album on May 7. It's electronic, but is influenced by game music, in particular the C-64. So it's got this really cool sci-fi feel to it. We had never collaborated before, and then as soon as we did, this whole album just popped out.

I've done a few other collabs on some unreleased things, with artists such as Northcape, Mats Persson and Justin Robert too. Great guys, and really fun to work with.

I have a fantasy of collaborating with Alio Die. I've had this idea of writing an album long piece on piano with accompanying whispering voices, and I could imagine Alio's drones and soundscapes all over it. He is a magician, that man.

What do you do when you aren’t making music – not just your vocation, but what other interests and passions do you have?

My children and wife are the other big passions in my life. Also, I am a computer game fan from way back. I used to play my C-64 when I was a tyke, and now I'm playing World of Warcraft to get my RPG kicks. I knew this question was going to have the shortest answer....

 

Thanks so much Mirkel for the interview! –P.D.

 

 

Vir Unis

April 2008

 

As it says in his bio page on www.atmoworks.com, “Vir Unis is a synthesist, drummer/percussionist, electronic groove creator, and sound sculptor.” Vir Unis is John Strate-Hootman, and he has been one of my favorite electronic musicians for nearly a decade, since his solo debut The Drift Inside in 1999. Whether doing haunting dark ambient or frenetic fractal grooves, whether working alone or with others such as Steve Roach and James Johnson, Vir Unis has managed to keep his music fresh, exciting, and very much alive. His bio page concludes with the statement “Vir Unis' goal is nothing less than to create 100% original electro-psychedelic mind-body music.” A worthy goal, and one that I must say he accomplishes on a regular basis. I want to thank John for taking the time with me for this month’s Electroambient Space interview.

 

What does Vir Unis mean?

 

Vir Unis is Latin for "one man" or "united man".  I realized early on that this whole process I am going through is to become whole.

 

Your bio on the AtmoWorks page mentions you got your start in music as a drummer in synth pop and new wave bands. Any we might've heard of?

 

No, they were all pretty much local bands in Chicagoland area.  Nothing of them really amount to much, despite all the intentions.  I played a lot in bars and clubs though so it really did help me hone my skills as a player somewhat.

 

Did you do anything with synths at that time, or were you strictly a drummer?

 

I played both.  I started as a drummer, but then got quickly fascinated with synthesizers and would go back and forth between the two in various bands.

 

Your bio says after this period you spent "several years in solitude". Was this an intentional isolation after being in bands?

 

Yes.  I had enough with being in bands and needed to find what I had been searching for all along.  It was always myself left holding the bag as various musicians would always end up leaving because of a job or other commitments.  I was tired and needed a new energy.  Focusing on a more personal and ethereal sound seemed like the right thing to do for myself.  I hadn't really heard much ambient music outside of (Brian) Eno, (David) Sylvian, and a few others, so it was truly a pure exploration into this type of music that was born out of this isolation.

 

How would you describe these early experiments in sound? Do you still have these recordings, and what do you think of them?

 

I have several boxes full of hundreds or thousands of tapes and CDs.  I think very highly of them.  It's the path that has led me to this moment right now.  I've released three CDs in the past couple years that focus on the early recordings.  The first one was called "Dreamers at the Edge of Decaying Light".  The second was "Primary Space", and the third was called "The Endless Days of the Mono Gods".  I plan on releasing more of these.  Listeners tend to like them as they help tell a story of how a lot of my music came to be.  For me the joy is of rediscovery.

 

Describe what it was like working with Steve Roach, in particular the recording process for Body Electric and Blood Machine.

 

Working with Steve was a lot of fun and gave me the opportunity to have a platform for a new kind of music that I had been exploring for years.  Steve is a good producer and obviously has an excellent ear for shaping mixes.  I would develop submixes of fractalized grooves in Sony's Acid program and also would drop in another mix of atmospheres I was working on.  Steve would take the two of these and shape them while adding on extra layers of textural works.  Sometimes it was the other way around, but mostly it was like this.  Body Electric was really an opening into a new world for me musically and Steve really helped make that happen.  Blood Machine was a further refinement of the process we had set in place in Body Electric and in Light Fantastic.

 

It has been a few years since you two have collaborated.  Do you have any plans to record together in the future?

 

None at this time.

 

GreenHouse Music, the label for your first two solo releases, was excellent.  What happened?

 

I think the change in the music business, at all levels had labels redefine themselves in the past couple years.  Unfortunately, a lot of well intentioned and interesting people were caught in this change and disappeared from the scene.  However, Nathan Larson, from GreenHouse has gone on with a couple interesting net labels in the past year or so.

 

How did you and your cohorts come to start AtmoWorks?

 

James Johnson and I first started it as a way to release music anytime we wanted in any format and in any length.  Understandably there are a lot of commercial restraints put on music that is released on record labels, even the so-called "indie" labels.  Anytime you work with a third party you are now working with someone else's agenda.  For some artists that's ok, and sometimes it's ok with me if it's a right fit.  AtmoWorks has been pure freedom for myself and for James.  It's my artistic home and will serve as such for many years to come.  James has left and now I am working with two long time friends and fellow artists, John Koch-Northrup and Matt McDonough.  The vision with us three remains the same as it was when James and I started.  It's very exciting and the possibilities are wide open.  We are now starting to work with post ambient bands and venturing outside of the small genre of space music type ambient.

 

Some of my favorite recordings are your collaborations with James Johnson, Perimeter and Perimeter II in particular.  Now that he is pursuing interests outside of AtmoWorks, does that preclude you two working in together in the future, or is the door still open to that possibility?

 

James and I remain very close friends and have plans to work on future projects together.  We are still very much open to it and James will probably release some work on AtmoWorks and also Hypnos.

 

Describe your fascination with two seemingly opposite styles in electronica, pure floating music versus active groove-oriented music.  Do you have a natural inclination toward one or the other, or an equal propensity to both?  How does your approach to these two types of compositions differ?

 

To me, opposites always suggest unity, even though it may be difficult to extract that unity from the deeper recesses.  I don't see a difference between the two.  Rhythm free floats as atmospheres and atmospheres move in rhythms, and obviously vice versa.  The approach can differ in so many ways it would be hard to pinpoint it down in a somewhat short answer.  Not to be elusive at all, I just can't put the approach down very easily in words. 

 

Although you have some more ethereal themes, some of your music, particularly recently, has had a more personal touch.  Describe how having a family has changed you, both as a person and as a musician.

 

Being a father has changed me a lot, but when you really sit and contemplate change you realize it's more a process of becoming who you truly are.  So this whole process of being someone's father and watching this wonderful process of consciousness developing has given me the freedom to truly be me.  Naturally, that affects my music deeply, as ultimately the art I create and myself are one.

 

What's next for Vir Unis?

 

I want to do more live performances.  I have one at the Butterfly Social Club here in Chicago with James Johnson.  It's an eco-friendly club and is run on solar and kinetic energy which is really great.  I love being a part of that.   I have more collaborations set up and as a solo artist I am integrating more of a performance based recording, recording a lot of material live in the studio and completely improvised.  I'm also producing a couple "rock" bands that are post-ambient and kind of an 80’s feel to them.  I'm working more in the producer role with younger musicians here in the Chicago area and really loving that.  I have a background of playing in rock bands and it's interesting to see this come full circle and I can also offer an ambient perspective as well.  AtmoWorks will be releasing these bands' albums.  It's great to see us expand the definition of ambient and hopefully reach a whole new crowd and generation of listeners.  It's something that the older artists of the ambient scene have tried to do and utterly failed.  This is something we will do.  The ambient "scene", I believe, must expand.  It has become way too insulated and self absorbed and ultimately out of touch with the world.  You can see this in a lot of graphic and musical works that are being put out by these older ambient artists as something "new" when they are quite dated and look like screensavers from Windows 3.1!  They think they are on the cutting edge and it's slightly embarrassing when you present this to a generation that has seen much more sophisticated examples of sound and vision works in video games and higher forms of art.  So, what's next for Vir Unis is to expand and grow.

 

Thanks John for the interview!

 

 

 

 

March 2008
Ami Hassinen of Nemesis
 
Finland's Nemesis is a perennial favorite of mine, ever since their Sky Archeology release - wow, has it really been over a decade since then? Anyway, I was very pleased when founding member Ami Hassinen agreed to answer a few questions for this month's EAS interview.
 

What are the odds that two, and now three, guys from a small town in Finland could come together and have such a similar musical vision, not to mention such an affinity for astronomy?

Well, I think that part of the answer is the fact that Kokkola is such a small city (population of about 36000 people). It was a sort of destiny I think; with the similar interests we were bound to meet sooner or later. Jyrki and I have known each other so long that our collaboration has shaped us as people quite a bit. Joni just appeared to be on the same track on his own, so we sort of linked - both musically and spiritually... if it had not worked out, we would not collaborate anymore. But, happily, we still seem to work very well together. We all are nowadays quite busy with our non-musical lives and families, so when we finally have the luxury of common studio time, we do not waste it. It’s no use to quarrel about details. We just try musical things out quite intuitively and if we come to a dead end (we do, quite often), we just stop and go to some other direction.

A lot of the archive material has been live. How often do you play live, and what sort of venues? Is it pretty much always in Finland?

Actually all the material in the live archive series (vol 1 - 3) are genuine live recordings. Please consult the liner notes of each album about the technical issues involved...but basically I have recorded almost every gig by Nemesis to a DAT via the soundboard.

In the golden age of e-music (in Finland, anyway) in 1997-2001, we used to do about 5-8 gigs each year. It doesn´t sound like much, but for a fully electronic band it was. I think there´s hardly any synth band in Finland that played so many gigs at the time. DJs were a different matter, of course. Most of the venues were small clubs etc. as it all was still quite "underground" at the time. So the hard work resulted only to an extended cult following...after those years, we have made just 2-3 gigs annually. There´s not so much happening in the scene anymore. And we are mainly a studio group anyway. By the way, Nemesis has always played all their gigs by request only. We do not have a management, so it has been all via network of friends and down to special interest on the behalf of the organizers. So you must see the total number of gigs in that light...and, yes, they have all been in Finland. We have never been asked to perform in other countries...

What's the strangest place you've ever played?

The Pauanne ambient happening in 2004 and 2005. It was a sort of "shadow" happening for the big Kaustinen Folk Music festival...the huge folk festival was down there in the Kaustinen valley and we were playing on a "mountain" beside the festival area. Pauanne is a very magical place, the only high ground on the flat plateau of Kaustinen. We played there in the midnight both years. In 2004 we played on top of a huge rock and in 2005 under a stone bridge (it was raining lightly). The music at both gigs gained a definite extra thanks to the surroundings. Hopefully there will be a third Pauanne happening in the future...who knows.

Discuss the importance of "Gort...Klaatu...barada...nikto" to Nemesis!

We all love good sci-fi movies and my favorites are those of the 50´s, 60´s and 70´s. One of the best is "The Day when the Earth stood still". It has a quite strong message of peace and ecology, despite the scary and dark atmosphere and all that resonates with my thinking. The phrase was used in the movie to stop the Klaatu (a sort of an alien robot) from destroying the world and I think that such a phrase is needed nowadays more than ever. It is a sort of symbol for the fact that we still have the means to stop the destruction if we really want to...a very good message in my opinion. And the movie has a great music as well! The most classic Theremin sections in the world of soundtracking...

You guys have some of the more interesting song titles, even in EM circles. Obviously some of these are inspired by astronomy. Where else to you get your titles? Do they usually come before, during, or after the recording?

Mostly they come afterwards. We rarely have very precise ideas of what we are going to do as we start. But sometimes we have agreed on a theme beforehand... there´s tracks on "Music for Earports" where we had a sort of mental image of a place which we then tried to describe musically. But mostly the titles appear afterwards according to the mood of the track. I also put a lot of weight on the visual appearance of the letters...some words look very impressive, regardless of what they mean. I like Latin quite a bit, so I often try to find good names there...it is also a universal language despite its age.

For a band sometimes labeled as "retro" you guys certainly display a wide range of styles. Describe how you come to incorporate these into your music, and how you decide what works and what is too far outside the "normal Nemesis sound."

There´s no "too far" for us, I hope :) But it is true that we try to make an album sound like a whole and a continuum, so there´s rarely place for the wildest experiments. But I think there might be some on the forthcoming albums. There has been talk of incorporating speech, vocals and sound effects into the Nemesis sound more heavily than ever before. But there will be no "Tyger" or "Cyclone", nevertheless!!! We try to keep the things much more abstract. But we shall see... We try to be very eclectic and not follow any certain pattern too strictly...so there will be probably some surprises coming. But we always try to keep our eye on style and the continuity...

One of my favorite tracks, that I probably wouldn't have given the time of day if I didn't love the rest of the album, is "Tango Fornax" from Sky Archeology. Tango? How in the world did this track happen?

Hehe...the chords and the melody are reminding me a bit of tango music...but the rhythm is of course something else. But it just happened that way. Jyrki had programmed the wild high note sequence that drives the middle section and I had done the tango part in the start and the end. We just put them together and it worked in its peculiar way! Then we just jammed the middle section into shape and that was it. Best things are often fast and easy! Some of the other tracks on that album, like "Monocheros" and "Anaxagoras" took a lot longer...they became a sort of dinosaurs in the end :) "Nova Stella" and "Almagest" were very quickly made, just improvised and then mixed/edited. Personally I like those tracks very much...they are so wonderfully loose. But then I might add that "Xtempora" is my favorite in Nemesis discography. It is the best cross-section of everything we have done so far.

You mention on the website that two of your favorite Nemesis tracks are Bubastis and Occultation. The latter, in particular, seems a surprising choice, as it is very different for the band. Why do these two track speak to you in particular?

"Bubastis" has that wonderful soundworld that evokes images of huge architecture and ancient cultures for me. It also grooves on beautifully and a very colorful and rich sound palette without sounding too cluttered. "Occultation" is one of our all-time-best improvisations and ambient tracks at the same time. It is also the very first proper track that has Joni in the line-up. And it was also the first track that I edited with a computer. I just cut a couple of minutes of less successful moments away and crossfaded the sections together...So the track has many "firsts" in its history and therefore it is important for me. And it sounds so wonderfully out-there, which I like especially.

Can you talk about what's happening with the band and the Origo Sound label?

Origo Sound finally decided to use the master we did for them in 2003. For a time it looked like it would not be ever released and we made a new version of the album ourselves. It was available as a download item for a short time. But last year Origo was reborn and they said they want to put it out in its original shape. Which is fine by us, as it is a very good album with some of our best compositions. And I do not say this for promotion, but it really has the tracks that have been honed to a relative perfection at many gigs since 1995 and have taken countless hours of studio work over the years. It is actually quite a heavy album, a sort of ambient heavy music, if there can be such a style! Ambient passages are very ambient and the darker, heavier parts very dark and heavy. Apart from the rich contrasts in the music, the album has fantastic digipak covers with a booklet by Kimmo Heikkilä and extensive liner notes by the foremost e-music radio DJ in Finland, Jukka Mikkola. Personally I am very happy that we finally got the album out in all its glory after all these years.

Your website says that the ambient album you were working on is on hold due to the happenings with Origo - why is that?

They have an option for the next album as well, so we decided to make it a more full-blooded nemesis album. It might be the "Kosmokrator" album we have been planning for quite some time now. But the ambient album will come out one way or another, eventually.

How different is the proper CD release of Gigaherz going to be from the download version that was previously available? Is it still on track for an imminent release?

It is 10 minutes longer and has two tracks not on the download version. There´s also an omission of one track, compared to the download version. It´s mostly a different mix and has clearer sound as it is professionally mastered. Yes, it should come out as soon as the distribution is sorted out. Hopefully in April 2008. It has already been printed, for sure. I have one advance copy already :)

A lot of music has been released from the archives of late, but Xcelsior remains out of print. What are the chances of a rerelease, either as a self release or on Origo?

The belgian company has still the rights for years, so I do not see that happening very soon. If Gigaherz would sell well, probably Origo would have an interest...it is a good album, anyway. A bit lightweight, but very colourful. We couldn´t make an album like that now, even if we tried!

When's the world tour?

Hahahaa...right after TD (Tangerine Dream) makes their reunion tour with EF/CF/PB lineup...  (Ed. note: for the uninitiated, that's Edgar Froese, Chris Franke, and Peter Baumann - we wish!)


Who is the musician you most admire, either musically or personally, and why?

A very hard question!!! I admire a musician like Jimi Hendrix, but I certainly would not like to live my life like him...he was a super talent, but terribly ripped-off all the time. Perhaps Robert Rich or Steve Roach??? They seem to be genuinely great guys and seem to have their musical visions/fates in their own hands...not too "rich" or famous, but they survive by making great and original music...and they have nice weather all the year, as well :)

The title track from Sky Archeology is probably my favorite Nemesis track, and all the band members list it as a favorite. Why do you think that track that works so well? Do you recall the circumstances when it was recorded?

It started as a little jam. I constructed a light rhythm pattern and Jyrki designed a couple of sonic "carpets" to the background, and then we jammed to them. I played a bass guitar and Jyrki did some soloing. From those elements it slowly developed to the "Sky Archeology" as the sequences were added over the weeks. In the early form there were even some reggae elements in there! It was a slow process and eventually it consisted of enormous amount of criss-crossing rhythms and sequences. Maybe that´s why people seem to like it; it develops all the time, there´s always something new coming on. And the structure is a bit like Ravel´s Bolero. It gets heavier all the time and fades slowly away after the climax. It is a true musical journey. I think that´s why it is a favorite...not just yours and ours, but many others have expressed their liking as well. It´s is probably the quintessential nemesis track and why not?

Thanks for your interest and keep watching the skies!!!

February 2008

Robert Scott Thompson

Part 1 of ?

 

Robert Scott Thompson has long been one of my favorite ambient composers. If you’d like to know more about RST before diving into this month’s interview, check out this excellent brief biography from his site. 

 

My asking Robert for an interview coincided with his desire to start promoting his music more, which includes a major redesign and unveiling of his new website, which is coming soon at www.robertscottthompson.com. Consequently, he had lots he wanted to share with EAS readers. His answer to my first questions alone ran longer than most interviews I have given. Rather than wait to see how the rest of our conversation unfolds, I wanted to bring you his first thoughts now, and as he and I have time to connect I will share his further musical insights in the future. For now, enjoy Part 1 of my interview with Robert. First, Robert wanted to say a few words as a means of introduction.

 

Before I get into my responses to your questions, I want to thank you for the opportunity to touch base with electroambientspace.com, your readers and listeners.  It is always a really great opportunity to do an interview such as this.  It provides a chance to reflect on what has been accomplished, renew vision and look to future projects. More importantly, perhaps, it gives the artist a chance to place his or her work into perspective – mainly on a personal level but also within the larger context of the field of contemporary music.

 

Your welcome Robert. I love doing the interviews for EAS, because that’s what really brings the fans closer to the musicians, and helps them appreciate the person and their motivations, taking them a step beyond just enjoying the music itself, and hopefully bringing a deeper appreciation of it.

 

Let’s start by talking a little bit about your general approach to music. You are involved in a variety of different genres and subgenres. How does that affect the way you work?

 

It seems that the artistic life, at least for me, cycles through periods of intense concentration on “the work” and periods of publication, archiving and dissemination – wherein perhaps there are more reviews, broadcasts and occasional interviews.  Increasingly, the opportunity to create new work takes precedence over the corollary activities of releasing new records and sending out promo copies to radio and press and so on. I like to periodically ‘switch (creative) gears’ as well. What I mean by ‘switching gears’ is that due to the fact that I work in more than one basic genre of music – namely ‘popular’ and ‘serious’ – I find it useful to periodically change my mode of working in order to squarely attend to the requirements of the opposite genre.  In other words, if I have come from a cycle of working diligently on recordings of ambient music (a serious undertaking that I consider an aspect of ‘popular music’) – such as the period of 1995 to 1998 during which I recorded two complex projects for Oasis/Mirage within a relatively short period – I will often wish to take a completely different approach to musical creation and engage in composing for chamber ensemble or avant-garde electroacoustics.

 

In the past, I was interested in maintaining a kind of careful compartmentalization of my work into a handful of genres – pop music (what I refer to as “experimental pop music,” think: Before and After Science or Bill Nelson’s work), ambient music (both classical ambient music, think: Apollo, the Pearl, On Land and what others might – incorrectly - refer to as New Age music, especially when pop and ambient sensibilities are melded), contemporary, or avant-garde instrumental music (in the spirit of high modernism – Messiaen, Stockhausen, Cage, Xenakis, and so on) and electroacoustic music.

 

This final category I used to refer to as “computer music,” until I concluded, around 1989, that only a few of us thought of the term in the way I meant it (the mediation of musical processes and sound objects through the use of computers, rather than USING computers to make music ~ something nearly everyone does these days irrespective of genre or aesthetic intention).  Basically, I became tired of answering the question “Yes, but can a computer compose music?”  In any case, electroacoustics itself is so broad a term that many don’t agree on what it really means – as Leigh Landly points out in his recent book “TITLE”. My work in electroacoustic music is most closely connected to the ideas of acousmatic music as developed by Francious Bayle, Francis Dhomont, Pete Stolley, David Berezan and others, and is increasingly influenced by the well-established context that is in firmly place in the U.K. and Europe.

 

Is it my imagination, or have things been quiet on the RST front the past 5 years or so?  What have you been up to?

 

During the last five or so years there has actually been a great deal of creative activity.  I have traveled quite a bit for my music – Prague, Paris, Bourges, Italy and within the U.S.  There have been a number of key new releases and various kinds of activities that have kept me busy. 

 

Affairs are certainly moving a bit more briskly than they were during the past few years and there is a lot of energy going into creative projects now.  My music is in more coherent distribution this year, thanks to my collaboration with Lens Records as a primary partner (www.lensrecords.com). Recordings are starting to appear with more visibility in foreign markets and there is renewed interest. My intention is that current efforts will translate to more broadcasts around the world, as well as articles, interviews and review, which in turn will hopefully develop professional opportunities as well. 

 

I am currently discussing a collaboration with a northern European electronica label who informed me, rather bluntly I might add, that no one in Europe knows my music!  That seems a reasonable conjecture given the plethora of artists and recordings worthy of a listener’s attentions.

 

To familiarize listeners both here and abroad, tell us about some of the releases you’ve done in recent years.

 

Both The Silent Shore (1996) and Frontier were important recordings, and the assistance of Oasis and Grant McKay to make them known to the public worldwide was essential and extremely helpful to me.  They brought my music to a much larger audience than I ever had before. These recordings are now released by Aucourant Records (www.aucourantrecords.com) and are available in the original form, as are my recordings released prior to them.

 

After the 1998 release of Frontier on Oasis/Mirage, several recordings were released that I think are significant and that are less well known today. One, Cloud Cover, under my pseudonym Fountainhead, is a really interesting recording that did not get much exposure at that time.  David Opdyke of AmbienTrance wrote that he found it to be very ‘dark and foreboding.’ I am not so sure I agree with his perspective on it, but I do think it is one of the deeper records from the 1990s, much like Frontier.  Also in 1998 was Aether, a recoding that included new mixes of a few tracks from the 1995 release Air Friction along with new material.  Aether might be more radio friendly than some of my other works of this time period.  Most of the music on Aether has beats but all of the music is instrumental. In some ways Aether is the antithesis of Cloud Cover.

 

Around 1999 I was very busy with work that would eventually culminate in the double CD on EMF-Media entitled Acousma, released in 2001.  However, there are also some projects that were created during 1999 that are now coming out on CD in newly mastered and packaged versions. Among these is Siren (Ambient) from 1999.  This is a recording that I think might be interesting for those into deep listening. It is one long, elaborate, evolutionary tone poem, made entirely from the vocalizations of a jazz singer with no other sounds added.

 

During this time period I was also beginning to look backwards into my catalog and develop CD releases of some of the more interesting material.  I have been recording since 1976, and I have a lot of material that originally was mastered on analog tape. I am working through this material, cleaning it up, remixing and mastering what I am most interested in for CD publication.  In 2000, In Ruins, the 1982 project that is perhaps my first serious and successful solo foray into classical ambient music, came out as a double CD set.  Now in 2008 it is newly published this year on two separate CDs.

 

Also in 2000 two ambient recordings of particular personal significant were created – Blue Day and Alchemy.  Because they did not have a label behind them at the time of their release they have languished in near total obscurity.  The finances were not there at the time to promote these new recordings to the radio, or reviewers, as they needed to be – with mass mailings and the kind of promotional effort that is often necessary but also so expensive. This is a kind of general problem with the genre, as well as with others that are related. People simply do not purchase this kind of music in mass quantities and those who might are content with mass marketed musicians to a large extent.  This makes it very difficult for the individual and independent composer and recording artist.  It is possible that the Internet is beginning to level the playing field a bit, yet the jury is still out on that.

 

Of these two recordings, Blue Day, has been reviewed at Billboard.com by Jim Brenholts.  In fact there are a number of helpful reviews of my music by Jim at the Billboard website. For those of you who do not know Mr. Brenholts, he is a mainstay in the field – and he literally wrote the book on this type of music – Across the Universe.  There is no one with more knowledge or love of this type music than he and he has listened to and reviewed literally thousands of recordings.  In his review, Jim calls Blue Day my “most important” recording.  I am not sure I would agree or know what to base this on, but I know which of my works are important to me and this is one of them.  It is gratifying that this recording has found a modest number of fans since its release. Yet, it is so little known to the general ambient music fan base that there have been few sales of the disc. Blue Day was originally released in 2000 and has recently been re-mastered and repackaged.  Hopefully more people will listen to it and add it to their collections. One of the features of this recording is that there are number of shorter tracks but also some very long tracks – it makes for a very unique flow to the record which was part of my concept when I created it.  A 25-minute track rarely gets airplay however!  Interested people can listen to excerpts from Blue Day at the Aucourant Records site here.

 

Shortly following Blue Day, there was a flurry of new work, including a project that I think is particularly beautiful.  A friend of mine, who happens to be a famous poet, favors this disc most among those he has heard – it is Alchemy, also from 2000.  Alchemy is both episodic, in the sense that materials return over the course of the recording, and developmental due to the fact that familiar materials return in new guises and forms.  The two key works that carry forth this process are Windswept and Summer Twilight.  Interspersed are other compositions that develop a highly peaceful flow for the recording.  It is more of a conceptual recording than Blue Day yet still retains a balance of new and recurring musical materials.  It is one of my personal favorites.

 

Since about 1998, I had been in dialogue with Mike Griffin of Hypnos about a solo release on the label.  Several projects, including Blue Day were proposed, but none of them really clicked.  Finally in 2005, At the Still Point of the Turning World was completed and released on the label.  I spent a very long time composing and developing the tracks on this recording and I am very pleased with the way it turned out.  There has been some strong broadcast support for the recording and some very good reviews as well.  Yet, I think it may not be as well known yet as it might be.  Some projects take longer than others, obviously, this one occupied my time for at least a year!

 

While Hypnos was busy putting the final touches on Still Point, I was busy producing On the Keyboard ~ Piano Works of Joji Yuasa on Aucourant Records, which was also released in 2005.  This recording presents the collected piano music of my mentor, Japanese master composer Joji Yuasa as performed by Dr. Ronald Squibbs.  It was a demanding and complex project and, I think, an important contribution to the field of contemporary avant-garde music.

 

This last release you mentioned brings up a point - you released several non-ambient music albums during this time, did you not?

 

Yes, parallel to this work in ambient music I was also releasing new projects in other genres – namely avant-garde classical and electroacoustic – during this time. In 1998, the long-form ambient /computer music crossover project Music for a Summer Evening was released (re-mastered and repackaged in 2007).  This is one of a series of works that engages the notion of algorithmic composition within the ambient music context.  These are self-generative, long-form, works that develop a soundscape through a simple process of musical stochastics (or the application of chance and probability).  The selection of musical materials for Summer Evening was very carefully and deliberately achieved but they are presented according to a probabilistic scheme.  The resulting musical soundscape is one that is enveloping, diverting and inviting.  Two concepts are at work in my music of this type – one is what Eno would refer to as ‘thinking music’ – music which compels thought but importantly allows for a space in which thinking can actually occur and the other is ‘musique d’ameublement’ – a term coined by one of my heroes, French composer Erik Satie – meaning ‘furniture music,’ sounds that can combine with the ambient surrounds, blending-in with the knives and forks of the dinner table, filling the lull in conversation briefly to descend into background sound once again.  Summer Evening and other works of this type invite both close listening (what some refer to as deep listening – almost as in meditation) and also casual use as background ambience.

 

I consider projects like Summer Evening to have ‘crossed the line’ over into contemporary art-music, what I refer to as the avant-garde –  even though it is likely that this term is now out-of-date and no longer all that useful in contemporary parlance.  Nevertheless, I apply a different kind of aesthetic to this type of work and engage a different aspect of my compositional technique when making this kind of project.  The music is microtonal, does not contain melodies, is based more-so on texture and sonic ‘screens’ and layers than on chord structures, formal repetition and common musical forms.  Even more firmly in the territory of ‘contemporary music in the tradition of high modernism’ is the collection of chamber music Meridian originally published in 1999 and now in re-mastered re-release.  This recording contains works for soloists and duos for flute, piano, clarinet and tape, violin and viola.  People interested in my ambient music might well find music of interest in a recording such as this one; however, it is nothing like a project such as The Silent Shore or Frontier, for example.

 

Around the time of the release of The Silent Shore in 1996, I completed several electroacoustic music projects that are now starting to be re-released in their original forms.  The first of these is Amorphia, from 1995, which includes a long-form work of over 30 minutes Wind in Trees, an homage to composer Joji Yuasa who as I mentioned earlier is my mentor.

 

One of my favorite recordings of yours is Sidereal. I understand you have done something interesting with the reissue. Tell us more about that.

 

Sidereal. – yes, the period goes with the word in the title – is my long-form ambient project originally released on the Space for Music label in 2002.  It is difficult for me to know how the recording fared originally.  I am not sure if it was made available to broadcasters and I do know that there were very few reviews.  This recording has just now been remixed and re-mastered into two new versions – ‘Continuous…’ and ‘Discrete…’ and has been published on Aucourant Records.  The ‘Continuous…’  version presents the music as it was originally on the Space for Music release – as one long, continuous sonic odyssey.  For the re-release on Aucourant Records, track indices were added, together with track titles to make the recording more approachable for radio presenters.  Originally, there was only one track ID and no titles.  A second version has also been made which is even more appropriate for broadcast, ‘Discrete…’.  This one has silences between the tracks and also adds three bonus tracks to the play list.  I am hopeful that there will be renewed interest in this recording in the new versions.  It has some really interesting music on it.

 

What do you think about the state of the ambient and space music scene?

 

It may be MY imagination, but it seems that after 2001, there was a general marked decline in broadcast opportunities, a growing paucity of reviewers and reviews, and in general a kind of cooling-off of interest in the whole field of ambient or spacemusic. People moved out of active participation in the field, due to overload and burnout in some cases, and others have not taken their places, leaving only the stalwart, long-time broadcasters and reviewers in place.  A case in point is the close of AmbienTrance  around 2000 – a wonderful review site that promoted a great many fine artists and recordings. I may be wrong about this, or at least I hope that the field is enjoying a renaissance now.  It seems that now in 2008 things are picking up again – new releases of importance are once again stirring the ears and minds of reviewers and broadcasters!  In my opinion, this kind of music is more important now in people’s lives than ever before.  With the world in such upheaval, uncertainty and transition, it is the music that allows the inner voices to be heard, the soul to wander and imagine and the heart to be opened, this seems to me to be the most essential aspect of music of this type – as a bridge to a new way of listening, seeing and believeing.  It is interesting and often disheartening to watch the reflection of our time in popular music and realize that it is a matter of exposure, education and access that makes the music that we create seem less essential, distant and unimportant.  There must be steps take to address this and Electroambientspace.com is one such place to do this.

 

Artists need also to be cognizant of what they are attempting to do. So many are concerned with making money, selling records and gaining fame.  This is not really possible within this genre and I dare say, that attempting to gain fame in music will make you “mad as a hatter” to quote Todd Rundgren.

 

This is the end of part one. Be sure to stay tuned for more from Robert in the months to come! And watch for the unveiling of his new website soon, which as I mentioned will be at www.robertscottthompson.com. 

 

Thanks so much Robert for giving this interview, and putting so much time and thought into it!

January 2008

Telomere

 

Telomere is Chris McDonald. For a bit more about him and his Telomere CDs, please check here and here.  Great music, nice guy, fun interview. Enjoy.

 

Hi Chris.  First of all, I can find virtually nothing about you on the web, just your site with brief info on your releases - no bios, interviews, etc.  Can you just tell EAS readers a little more about yourself?  Where were you born and raised, where do you live now?  Do you have a family?  What's your day job?  Then we can get into the music stuff.

Sure, well I am a Californian really, having lived here all but a few years of my life. I am married and have a wonderful young daughter. I am a software engineer by trade. I have been interested in music for many years though. I first began playing guitar when I was twelve and have played guitar and bass in a lot of rock bands over the years. I discovered synthesizers as a teen when a friend bought one and let me try it out for a while. My first (semi) modular synthesizer was an ARP 2600 which I bought about 20 years ago, and wish I still had! I actually did quite a bit of ambient/space music experimentation on this synth at that time, also using heavily effected electric guitars. By then I had heard some Vangelis, Jarre, Eno, Stearns, Schulze, etc. and was interested in exploring those styles of music. But I was still primarily playing rock and blues in those days and didn't get serious about recording what I was doing until quite a bit later.

 

What was the inspiration for the name Telomere?

I first heard the word when reading about telomeres and their functions in a cell – casual reading though, I'm not a biologist. I liked the sound of the word mainly, and thought of it again when trying to come up with a name for the project. I know it's more of an inner-space name for what is perhaps a more outer-space musical style, but I suppose it's all related in the end.

Your CDs are created almost exclusively on the Serge Modular synthesizer.  How did your love affair with this synthesizer begin?  When did you first get yours and how did that come about?

The Serge synthesizer has been around for over 30 years, and I first heard of them when I was a teenager. I ordered a catalog from the company, but was disappointed to discover that I couldn't really afford a single module, let alone a whole system. But I kept the idea in the back of my mind and finally had the opportunity to buy my first panel around 1995. After that I slowly built up my system as I figured out what additional modules would be a good fit for what I was trying to do.

 

The Serge has a wonderful sound and a great interface. Perhaps the Serge is best known to space music fans for its soothing ambient sound, but like most modular synthesizers it is capable of a wide variety of sounds, only a fraction of which I would classify as soothing or space-like. Conversely, most any modular synth could be used to make a similar kind of space music, but I think the Serge has a unique quality that sets it apart.

 

This may be review for the musicians reading this, but for less mechanically minded listeners like me, can you describe in a nutshell how you make music on the Serge?  I mean, all the photos I see on the web are just big metal cases with a bunch of inputs and cables.  How do you actually create the music?  Do you just hook it up to a keyboard as the controller, or is there more to it than that?

Modular synthesizers like the Serge often don't use a traditional keyboard. Instead there are modules called sequencers that allow a series of notes (actually just voltages) to be set up that can be started, stopped, and repeated indefinitely. Using patch cables, the sequencer can be connected to oscillators that make audio tones and these in turn can be connected to filters and other kinds of modules that can change the volume or character of the tones. So the Serge with no patch cables plugged in is basically a blank slate, no sound comes out. I plug in patch cords and adjust the modules until it is making the sound I want, then add reverb, echo and other post-synthesizer effects to further process the sound.  Then I record the result of all that, often while changing knobs on the modules to alter the sound as the recording takes place. When I'm satisfied with the recording, I usually pull out the patch cords and start all over again creating a new sound, which then gets layered on top of the previous recording. I use keyboard-based analog synthesizers as well, like the Oberheim OB-8 and Roland Jupiter 8, both of which I used a fair bit on The Stellar Sea. They have a liquid, organic sound that I think melds well with the Serge, especially the Jupiter 8.

How much do you think the instrumentation dictates how you compose your music?

I'd say quite a bit. The composition very much centers around the character of the sound that the synthesizer is generating and how it evolves over time. For me, it's something that doesn't translate easily to other kinds of instruments while retaining any of its important qualities. Of course there are chords, melody, etc., but replicating those on a piano or guitar or other instrument wouldn't mean the same thing.

Have you done any live performances, and do you plan any in the near future?

I haven't, and don't currently have any plans to do so. It's difficult because the Serge is a bulky, expensive, and somewhat fragile instrument. Also, at best it can only be patched to produce a few sounds at a time, unless you own a very large system. Most of my music has many layers of sound, with lots of overdubbing to generate it all. I haven't figured out a satisfactory way to replicate that in a live situation.

There was a long break between Zoetosis and The Stellar Sea.  Any particular reason for that?

Yes, a lot of things happened after Zoetosis. My daughter was born, we moved and I changed jobs, both my parents became ill and passed away. Also, I have had a few other projects that I've worked on, including making some synthesizer modules and writing a software program that records loops of audio. All of this took time away from recording new songs for the new CD. Hopefully the next one will happen much faster, maybe only three years this time...

So often it seems that our spouses and kids merely tolerate our passion for space music, or actively avoid it.  At least, that's the way it is around my house.  What do your wife and daughter think about your music?

Well, they support me and listen occasionally but I wouldn't say they are fans of space music. I don't get offended though when people don't "get" this kind of music. I understand that it's not to everyone's taste, or particularly easy to catch on to.

The music industry seems to be more and more fragmented, with so many genres and subgenres - and space music and new age seemed more popular perhaps 10-20 years ago.  Do you think it will just remain a niche market, or do you think it has greater potential?

I certainly think space music has a great potential; a lot of people who have discovered it and love it simply didn't know that it existed before. So I think as technology allows more people access to more kinds of music the audience will grow. But space music isn't built to compete with pop music of course and it may always be considered a niche when compared to the most popular styles.

What do you think of the proliferation of MP3 players, and people picking and choosing their favorite tracks, at compressed bit rates, as opposed to buying an artist's full album with the original sound quality?  Do you own an iPod or similar device?

Personally I always buy a CD. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I enjoy having the physical connection to the music. The issue of picking tracks is a tough one I think. I'm sure most musicians hope that their work is enjoyed all the way through without skipping or interruption. I certainly put a lot of thought into the sequence and flow of the songs. In the case of space music, because of its flowing, evolving style, I think most fans would want the complete experience. I certainly do when I listen. But in the end I can't really control how someone listens to the album, only suggest it by arranging the tracks as I do. And if they get something different out of the music by skipping, shuffling, or even not buying a track, that's okay with me. Maybe the rise of the mp3 will be tougher on the hit-oriented pop music formats, where a whole CD could be sold on the strength of one popular song. Perhaps pop music in the future will revert back to some kind of single-oriented format like the old 45 RPM record era. But it seems like most good artists in any genre will want to release a good set of songs, and I think most fans of those kinds of artists would want all those songs.

I do own an mp3 player, it's convenient and okay for casual listening. If more people are listening to more music because of them, then I think that's a good thing. I'm not a fan of the sound qualities of mp3 compression though. Certainly a better format could improve the sound, and maybe a new standard will replace mp3, but unfortunately the current tradeoff seems worth it to most people.

 

What sort of music do you like to listen to? What are your current favorites?

Mostly rock and ambient. I also like blues, jazz, reggae, soul, funk, but I listen to those less. Rock-wise I've been listening to Foo Fighters and for ambient lately it's been Steve Roach, vidnaObmana, Robert Rich, and Deepspace. I haven't listened to as much music lately, I think my ears needed a break after I finished mixing The Stellar Sea.

What do you find most rewarding about making space music - the process of making it, the end result, positive feedback from fans, or something else?

Of course there's no question that it's very rewarding when fans write to say they like the music, that's fantastic. But I think that the most rewarding moments probably occur in the process of creation. It can be time-consuming and difficult to finish a song because I tend to do a lot of self-editing along the way, reworking parts and remixing things as I go along. So it's a great feeling to be searching for the right sound, texture, transition, whatever it may be, and then finally find it. It's not always a clear-cut thing, sometimes it takes a while to be certain that a part is working, but overall without those moments I probably couldn't make it to the end, so they are important.

When it comes to the end result, for some reason it's difficult for me to enjoy a CD objectively for quite a while after finishing. I think it's because I'm so inside the music by then that it takes a while for that perspective to fade so I can hear it from the outside. It's nice when I can gain some space from the music so I can listen that way.

 

Well, we certainly enjoy listening to the results of your musical efforts, Chris. Thanks very much for this interview! 

Rene van der Wouden

Nov 2007

 

For a biography and more information about Rene and his releases, check out his webpage at http://www.renevanderwouden.net/

 

Is it just my perception as an American, or is there a disproportionately larger portion of the Dutch population who likes electronic music?  If yes, why do you think that is?

 

I can't tell you the right answer but I think that countries like France, Belgium and Italy have an active electronic music scene too. I think we have some very good Dutch musicians of electronic music here in Holland like Remy, Gert Emmens, Free System Project and Ron Boots.

 

Have you worked with any of the other Dutch musicians on the EM scene?

 

Yes I played a live concert together with Gert Emmens back in 2005 at E-Live which was fun to do. Over all I like to do composing on my own the most, but at the other hand I like to perform with others because I like the interaction between the musicians. Giving solo-concerts is nice for the audience to experience, but for most musicians it isn't and it's much more fun to play together, especially when people play different instruments. With the German EM-musicians Hajo Liese and Till Kopper at the first Gasometer Tower concert in Oberhausen we all three had different tasks. Hajo did sequencing, Till soloing and effects and I did the harmony.

 

For the future I hope to do another performance with Gert Emmens when the occasion is there. I also would like to do a concert with Ron Boots or with Remy perhaps even more, because we're from the same generation. Time will tell.

 

Is there a good English translation for "van der," which seems a very common part of the name of several Dutch electronic musicians?

 

Ah, that's a good question. I don't if there's an English equivalent of it. Best and most simple would be "of the", but I can't tell you for sure if this has got the same meaning as we know it in Dutch. There's a French one, namely as "DuBois". "DuBois" translated to Dutch means "van der Wouden". "DuBois" is a common name in the French speaking countries.

 

You went from piano lessons as a boy to playing synthesizers. Do you like the technical part of working with electronic gear and computers? Or do you sometimes wish you could just pull up a stool to a piano and start playing, without all the hookups?

 

I still play the piano because I like acoustic instruments a lot. And yes, I do like the technical part of using synthesizers. Especially the way sounds can be shaped on a synthesizer of computer. At the other hand it's very challenging to play an acoustic instrument as well and make a fine piece of music with only one sound, i.e. the sound of a piano. Back to basic that is for me.

 

When I was young my mother sent me to piano lessons for which I thank her a lot. First I didn't like it at all. I can remember that my first teacher had a nice dog called "Note". After a year I went to my 2nd teacher. This was a young guy who played in a band. I was 11 or 12 (1983-1984) at that time when he took his Roland Jupiter 6 (the last Jupiter, first you had the 4 and then the famous 8 and after than the 6). I was deeply impressed by the sounds it could make. I knew I wanted one of those as well. But as you can guess, those instruments were very expensive at that time. He has had a CASIO VL1 which was the first pocket calculator with a small keyboard and some sounds on it. Kraftwerk made a famous song with it.

 

It's interesting that you note a fascination with art, in particular the works of Dali. A certain famous Tangerine Dream founder shares this interest. Why do you think these particular tastes in art and music intersect?

 

When I was 20 or 21 – I’m 35 now – I walked into a bookshop and saw several books about this special Spanish artist, as well books about Jean Miro and the famous architect Antonio Gaudi. I immediately bought the books and went home afterwards to read the stories and watch the pictures of art. What interests me most, is the fact that Spanish art is a bit different than those of other countries but also has similarities with the Dutch. It's both very colorful and lots of depth in it. I like that and while composing music I try to capture that synergy as well in my music.  As you may know is that Salvador Dali was very fascinated by Sigmund Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams". Those dreams Dali had, were represented in the art of Dali. Dreams and pictures of the mind and of nature easily intersect with electronic music. Synthesizers are capable of generating surreal sounds. Dali, Magritte and Miro did the same with pictures, creating something from surreal to real; dreaming away for a few moments of worlds and spaces you haven't been before.

 

My interest in Dali's art has nothing to do with the fact that Edgar Froese shares this interest as well. It's just like anyone else who’s interested in the works of Dali. But when I think of the fact that Edgar Froese spent hours together with Dali, jealousy is taking over me in great proportions, more than anything Froese or TD did afterwards. This rendezvous between those two great talents has given the world some beautiful things.

 

How does art in other forms inspire you to make music?

 

Well I like architecture. Cities like Paris and Rome inspire me much because of the architecture and the way they communicate with the man. But also completely other forms of music like jazz and world music, classical and folk music gives me ideas for composing electronic music. Some things in art trigger me to write and produce new music, while other things get a visual place in my head after the piece is created. Painting and sculptures contain mostly those things. Also photography is an important part of my creative life. All the pictures in my album artwork have been shot by me. The artwork of "Pro Sequentia" and "Alchemia" are computed generated while the photos on "Recreation" were taken during the holidays in France in 2000 and Italy in 2001.

 

In addition to doing music, you started the forum EMPortal.  How did that come about, what is your role in that, and how is it coming along?

 

I started the EMportal after the sad demise of the EMforum. I always like the EMforum and its spin off projects like Analogy 1/2/3, and thought it was a pity that some people were attacking others. The one and only reason I started EMportal was that a forum is essential for listeners and musicians of electronic music. I never had the intention to take over anything from anyone. I think a forum works better than newsletters or spam mail. And I am not a fan of MySpace or anything similar either. It’s one-way communication. Yes, I am on MySpace, but only to support where I can.

 

So within a few hours after I started, Vignoble (Koos van Wijngaarden) joined in with the same thought I had in mind, creating a central meeting point for the EM scene. Those who own older KLEM magazine issues from 2001 and 2002 can read my call for such a forum back then. But then I had no clue whatsoever how to make this happen. So after I started, Vignoble said that he had some extra web space and the tools to make this forum work. Right after this the third man, Stef, came in. He is an internet and computer pro – just like Kees Aerts and James Clent of the EMforum, who did a great job for the whole scene – and Stef knows how to speak the language. I don’t know much of this and was already happy that some things worked. After a month I stopped the administration work and only continued the friendship with the others.


What is your favorite piece of gear and why?

 

I love the Moog sound and most of all the Korg stuff, the synths like DW8000, T3, Wavestation, Trinity and Z1 models. One of the all time favorites for me is the Yamaha SY77 and its advanced FM-synthesis compared to the DX7. I personally think it’s doable to program FM-synthesis, but you have to take time and effort to get results. If you want to do things quickly, then FM synthesis will disappoint you. One important starting point in FM is that you have to get grip on the multi-stage envelopes which have rates and levels and the different volumes of the operators. In short FM has an algorithm with 6 operators assigned to a carrier or a modifier in significant order. One of those 6 operators, for example OP5 can be a carrier in one algorithm or a modifier in another algorithm. So if you change from one algorithm to another, you have to think and start all over again. That’s a challenge for me. My Kurzweil K2500 is simply one of the best sounding boards I own. I like the pristine sound quality, so a board must have top-notch DACS, that is, D/A converters. That’s really important to me. These days there’re lots of cheaper, especially DSP (digital sound processing) based synths which have great sound engines – like Alesis Micron, Roland SH201, and Microkorg – but due to the cheaper audio circuits they sound horrible.

 

In the studio for producing good quality EM I use an Apple computer and Logic 8 or MOTU Digital Performer software. Both programs can work easy with audio and MIDI at the same time. Another vital part is the use of a high quality soundcard or better a external Firewire board like the MOTU 828 / 2408 or the Digidesign Digirack stuff. Especially analog sounds will have the benefit of (again) those better DACS. Good CD examples of perfectly recorded CDs are for me Ron Boots’ “Acoustic Shadows” and Frank van Bogaert’s “Nomads”. EM is about sound quality. I know some EM listeners who have HiFi sets which are more expensive than my SAAB. Record as good as you can, for the audience.


We talked briefly earlier about some live shows you’ve done. Tell us a little more about that, and how do you like the experience of playing EM live?

 

I played at E-Live 2005 at the Glass Room three times in a row and the last set was with Gert Emmens. In October 2006 there was a concert I did with Germans Hajo Liese and Till Kopper (EL-KA) at the Gasometer Tower in Oberhausen Germany. This is an old gas tower 140 meters high and 80 meters in diameter. It has one of the finest ambiances in sound I have ever heard. The reverb reflections are huge. I like to perform in those special places. A normal theatre is good too, but these special locations add something you will never get at a normal stage. But if an organization like E-Live asks me again to perform at the TU theatre I will not say no and I will be there.

 

2007 was a silent year for me, which I regret because I like to play live anywhere, anytime I can. The core of getting EM heard is performing. If you don’t like performing then don’t release CDs I always say, because your audience expects you to perform. I know some musicians who release CDs but don’t want to play. In the long run both parties will be disappointed. The audience will go to the EM artist who does perform.

 

Will you do any collaborating in the future, or do you think you will just continue to release solo works?

 

I am open to do recordings together with other musicians, but only when the artists get together in the studio. Sending over files via the internet and producing a track together that way, is not something I would prefer. When you’re together in one room, you will encourage each other more than sitting alone at home. Next to that I find it important that musicians work together because they like to, not that one musician wants to benefit from another. I experienced this several times, and then I leave home and delete the parts I did. Performing together with EL-KA is an example of people who wants to play together because they like to. The result is not that important and releasing music will only be done when all 3 want to. It’s the fun that binds us together. What also irritates me is that when people suggest doing something together and they repeat this wish every time you meet them and nothing happens. My opinion is, if you’re going to ask someone then start as soon as possible.

 

What is your current music project?

 

I just finished the new CD for the first half of 2008 which has the title "Universal Quiet".  I finished composing, recording and mixing now and will master the final project sometime in December 2007. The CD is scheduled to be released in February or March 2008. The CD contains sequencer driven retro music in a style that's more personal than before.  Real synthesized sounds from analog and FM-synthesizers and some Mellotron sounds are used only on this production. On other CDs I used all kinds of tools, from software to classic analog synthesizers, but this time I used a small set of electronics and the Apple computer to record it all. The theme of this CD is about silence all around people in a world that is faster and more polluting than ever before. So in general it's about the peace within the mind of man surrounded in the 24/7 economies of the world. I know it sounds a bit new age, but it isn't I can tell you.

 

Sounds cool. Thanks, Rene, for the interview!

 

© 2007 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

September 2007

Dennis Knopper (Spielerei)

 

Databloem was started in 2001 by Dennis Knopper in The Netherlands as an avenue for releasing new and talented artists in contemporary electronic music. He was later joined by Anthony Paul Kerby in Canada and the companion DataObscura label was formed.  The label seems to excel at finding new talent in the ambient electronica genre, with a niche sound so clearly defined that I have Databloem as a genre on my iPod. When I’m in the Databloem mood, nothing else will do. So I was most interested to talk to the man behind the label and find out how this all started, and what’s next.

 

Your webpage information lists FAX as an inspiration.  In what ways did you want to be similar to FAX, and in what ways did you set out to make Databloem different?

 

I was impressed by the label’s sound and concept, and how the label managed to release so frequently and still keep up the quality. The main difference would be that I primarily wanted to focus on new talents in the scene, while FAX also worked with established names such as (Bill) Laswell, (Richie) Hawtin and (Klaus) Schulze.

 

The music on Databloem and its associated labels is remarkably consistent in tone.  Is this primarily a product of your selection criteria?  And what is it exactly that you look for, can you put it into words?

 

It's a feeling, hard to describe. First there's a certain quality level in production the music should live up to but the main criteria's are originality, composition and continuity. The music should tell a story and excite me, rather than just doing the right things musically and technically. For example, I have deep respect for good Berlin school but it just doesn't excite me anymore. For me, electronic music is all about experimentation and creativity without formulas or boundaries. I'll never forget the excitement when I listened to Schulze's Timewind at the local record shop. I had never heard anything like it before....

 

How many demos do you get in, say, a week or a month?  Has that changed over time?  And what percentage of submitted demos eventually ends up accepted by your label? 

 

Some weeks we receive no demos, some weeks we get ten – it hasn't changed much over time. I would say 10% is suitable for release but I only have limited time and budget to release all the suitable stuff that comes in. This is the hard part, disappointing people.

 

Without naming names, what is the worst demo you ever received - anything really stand out that you care to mention? 

 

Hmm... I do get demos which don't connect to the label style in any way but all are treated with respect and I try to reply to all people who send in demos. And I do remember a very good demo I would have been interested in releasing but unfortunately without an address or telephone number to reply to.

 

You record as Spielerei.  Was that a major influence on your decision to start your own label, so that you could release your own music?

 

No. I've been listening to electronic music since my childhood but actually I'm a singer/songwriter/guitarist and never had the intention to compose or release electronic music. Only shortly after I started Databloem, I bought a Nord Lead synth and recorded my first ambient pieces. Reactions from other artists were so positive that I decided to release some of it.

 

How did your collaboration with Mantacoup, called Wichman and Other Pieces, come about?

 

We occasionally meet and share thoughts and music. Jeroen (Mantacoup) is good when it comes to interesting rhythms and has a crispy IDM sound, which blends very well with my atmospheric, minimal style. So, we decided to do an album together. We were both very surprised to see this album high in the ambient charts; we received lots of positive reactions.

 

Recently we released a second, more dark and conceptual album, on the Silentes label called Cold War.

 

Do Databloem acts, as a general rule, play live venues?  If so, where?  Unfortunately, I've never heard of any of them coming to the states, and wondered if that might happen, or if economics and logistics prevent it.

 

Yes, we try to get our artist on stage wherever we can. Getting our unknown artists lined up at festivals and venues isn't easy though. Also, the number of festivals/venues and visitors has decreased dramatically the last few years. Yeah, the economics and logistics are the main problem...it's hard to break even on the costs. However, Mathias Grassow is looking at the possibilities of touring in the US, probably together with Jason Corder (Off the Sky) – sounds like a great duo to see live, two generations of electronic music.

 

Yes, it sure does, that would be great. So how does it work having the two main operators of Databloem being thousands of miles apart, you in the Netherlands and Anthony in Canada?

 

It works but not being able to meet face to face isn't the ideal situation. There are so many things to handle and discuss, and being on two different continents really slows down the process. Initially we worked together producing albums but the last few years Tony has been focusing on dataObscura, while I've been mainly been working on Databloem. We help each other wherever we can when it comes to production, distribution and promotion.

 

What do you like most about running your own record label?

I really like looking out for new talent but the most enjoyable challenge is the process from demo to a consistently brilliant album – selecting/editing/mastering tracks, thinking of the best track order, and designing
the artwork. Also, thanks to the label I come into contact with many interesting people from all around the world.

 

Originally you had just the two labels, Databloem and dataObscura.  Explain the difference between the two, and how you decided what to release on each. 

 

We had lots of good music to release but not the budget to release it all on CD. Tony came with the idea to start a CDR sub-label. Tony isn't just one of the best artists in the scene but also one of the most productive. It's really amazing how he manages to compose and produce so much high quality music. Having the possibilities to do short runs gave us the opportunity to get more of his and other more experimental and less popular stuff out there, without having to worry much about breaking even on the costs.

 

You have now expanded into more sub-labels, Practising Nature and Bluebox, closely aligned with musicians Mathias Grassow and Amir Baghiri in Germany.  How did that come about, and do you foresee further expanding your electronic music kingdom in the future?

 

I'm a huge fan of Mathias’ and Amir's music and when the possibility came up to work with them I felt honored. Although both are very talented artists, they don't exactly match the Databloem profile of "new artists in contemporary electronica." So, we thought it would be better to create a sub-label for these occasions. Both have been developing and creating a new sound though, and slowly moving away from traditional ambient. Expect some very exciting stuff from these two in the near future!

 

Tony and I both have lots of plans and ideas for expanding and improving our "electronic music kingdom". The www.databloem.com website is the best place to keep informed. 

 

Thanks Dennis for the interview, and for thinking in English for me!  -P.D.

 

© 2007 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

Hashtronaut interview

August 2007

 

Hashtronaut is Michael “Mick” Daniel, an electronic musician from Liverpool UK. When not making very good Berlin school and ambient music, he spends time on his Hashtronaut online diaries, with entries ranging from the everyday to the mysterious. It is hard to tell where the line between fiction and reality begins and ends.  So to try to unravel the mystery a bit, Electroambient Space took some time recently to get to know the man behind the music.

 

So who is Hashtronaut really?

 

Hashtronaut is an everyday person, who really is just beginning to 'get it'. And this getting it has very little to do with music, but also has an awful lot to do with life. Its only now at 34 that I am starting to get the faintest glimmer of what it's all about. Also, I am starting to see the patterns and parameters that I operate within on a daily basis, which is something I could not do before 2006, which will forever be 'The dark Year' for me and my immediate family.

 

Hashtronaut is also a continuation of my musical side, which began a long time ago. I am primarily a guitarist, and most of my dad's side of the family are musical. For a long time I just played for myself, and then formed a succession of bands: Umbra, Couch, Acuphaze. Acuphaze was a band that I put an awful lot of time into, it was a space rock type of band – a friend who I heard the demo's a short while back christened it 'Hashwind', because it was very Hawkwind-ish, which is just fine by me. However, the vocalist in that band just couldn't accept the fact that there were periods where he would not be required on stage, because the 'space' element in a band is usually characterized by instrumental music, as well as electronic effects. All this caused arguments which eventually made everything implode. Immediately after this I went into my little studio place and recorded the most horrendously noisy piece, 'Report From An Unknown Planet' which featured detuned radios, recordings of scratched CDs, feedback, just anything you could think of, to vent my frustration at the break-up of the band. It owes more to Japanoise-avant-garde / psychedelic underground styles than Berlin or EM in general. During this preparation time for Acuphaze, I had also invested quite heavily in a projection light show for the band, and that never got an outing either, so at the time I was not a happy bunny at all.

 

Looking back, 'Report...' was just a good way to get rid of all this bile and vitriol that had built up. I then pressed 50 copies under the Hashtronaut name, the covers were printed out at work when no one was looking, and in the meantime I had stepped in playing guitar in Nanmess, which while I was there featured three of the four members of Umbra/Couch, so it was kind of a full circle, although we were playing much more straightforward rock music. I was never really happy there; it was a pretty boring time learning someone else's parts, even if it was a good discipline. I would give 'Report' away for free to people at Nanmess gigs. The same with the next discs up to the Lambda Variant, which was the first of my online sales, although these follow up discs were more in the Berlin School style. I didn't get my first PC until about 2003, and that was cannibalized from other people’s...and then I established a website the following year. I'm a slow starter.

 

As a result of  'The dark Year' in which I nearly lost Lindz when she had a really near-the-line bout of near fatal bad health, I now no longer smoke dope, or take any type of drug, so ironically, am I still really Hashtronaut? Perhaps time will tell.

 

Your Hashtronaut diaries are quite detailed.  How do you find the time for family, music, and the diaries, not to mention anything beyond that?

 

The diaries are usually written during the day when I should be working harder at my day job. I am lucky insomuch as the job I am currently in allows me to compile thoughts as I have them, put them on an e-mail and send them home to be entered onto the site, which I usually do on a Sunday evening. Not every Sunday, but at least once a week. I can now get a week’s worth done in about an hour and a half, less depending on the amount of photographs that are posted, as they are all sized individually, and other little tasks that need to be done. One purpose of the diaries is to show that a musician has no special qualities that set him aside from anyone else. He is not different to a street cleaner, or some other occupation that many would see themselves above – and I am not belittling street sweepers here, we would be in poor shape without them – who also has the potential to make music every bit as good or bad as anyone else. The diaries also maybe give clues as to how I work, that music happens in my life despite who I am and what I do, not because of it. Another purpose of the diaries is to show that I have no ‘side'. It’s just me on display to the general public, no barrier between musician and listener, or reader. I would hope that people enjoy reading them in the same way that they maybe watch Big Brother. The project is currently to complete a year's worth of entries, but it may go beyond that. The diary is also a result of 'The Dark Year'. It was a discipline that kept me sane.

 

On my days off, we try to get a bike ride or some other family activity done, even just a bit of shopping together, but as a rule we spend them together, which is always a pleasure. There is always something to do. The park is another favorite in the summer. Simple things – they are the easiest things to take delight in. I love my family, but I can, like most men, be a bit poor at showing it sometimes, something I try to remedy and refine every day, not always successfully. I try to be a good dad and partner though. Evenings that are not spent at the vault – my studio – are usually spent at home. I'm not one for being out at the pub.

 

When it comes to the music, I try to get to my recording space at least twice a week, three times in an ideal one. Those are long days, as I am up at 6:30am for work, finish at 4:00pm, over to the studio by 5:00pm and then record until midnight, or later, the early hours if I cycle home. I don't usually get into my stride till about 8:00 or 9:00pm, and many times in there nothing has been happening till very late when I suddenly hit upon something, and I have to follow it through. That can be as tiring as it is rewarding. But ultimately, it is rewarding. I really would like to have a larger house than the one we actually live in at the moment, though. I have never had the luxury of my recording place being part of my living space, which so many other people probably take as a given. Also the name of my space is '220 Vault' as it really is a vault, underground. I had a couple of emails the first time I mentioned it's name, saying 'That's not how you spell volt!'. Just while we are talking about the Vault, It can be extremely spooky down there at 2:00am in the morning. All you can hear when it’s quiet is the shutters in the wind upstairs at street level, and the dark down there is absolute. I always have a torch handy, I would not want to be in there totally blind. I was in there at about 2:00am one morning, and a friend of mine who I've known since school and been in a few bands with, came to the vault after a gig to crash there, and I have my gear set up with my back to the door. I just felt a hand on my shoulder, and f-ck me, I was clinging to the ceiling. I have returned the favor since then, and it looks like it’s going to be a running gag between us. I can feel a little guilty sometimes over going to the vault, as on a work day I am up before everyone, back after everyone in the house has gone to bed, and back up again the following morning for work, again before anyone else. I don't see them until 5:00pm the next day. Sometimes it feels like two days without seeing Lindz or 'The Keester' as my 9 year old sometimes refers to herself. This is a big downside of not having a recording space at home.

 

We've talked about your latest (now second latest, with "Soundcheck 1970" now available) piece of music, "Event One."  You refer to it as a new beginning for Hashtronaut.  What do you mean by that?

 

Many different things! 2007 has been a new start in so many different and important ways. Most importantly, my partner was critically ill in 2006, as I said earlier. It was far too close for comfort. Doctors were baffled until the 11th hour, and we really thought that we were going to lose her. I can’t even get my head around it now, it actually hurts to think about it, and I know that it all still overwhelms Lindz; it’s bound to. So we were lucky, we get to be back together all over again after our being separated while this illness dragged on and on. I am very grateful that the three of us are still together. I, she, we - we are all extremely lucky.

 

Secondly, earlier on I mentioned I was a guitarist who had more or less stumbled into EM by accident through the style the rock bands I had formed were taking – although I am au fait with EM in general). All the albums before 'Event One' were recorded with the most basic equipment – a CS1X synth, a QY70 sequencer, and an old Juno. Guitar FX pedals were used to try to increase the palette, but by 'Bottle Universe' I had pretty much pushed that little bit of kit that I had as far as it could go. The same week ‘Bottle Universe’ was released, it became clear that Lindz would need a major heart operation, and all the promotion for that album was just knocked in the head, a few token posts I think, and that was about it. The rest of the year, well I don't want to go into it...just awful times. Even though life was set to return back to normal at the end of January, it’s taken far longer to get back into any kind of creative frame of mind. I hadn't realized just how frazzled I was. And so this second phase of Hashtronaut activity also begins with a completely new set of kit, including some new synths with plenty of knobs on each, and one of the excellent real-time Doepfer sequencers, the MAQ 3/16. I initially had decided to use only soft synths, but as good as all these Arturia programs are for a PC, and they do sound authentic, let’s face it, I think my 'band' background made me decide to spend the money on hardware. I'm glad I did. I'm not going to run into a deep list of names of synths and such here, it not important, I haven't put it on the back of the CD sleeve either. Stuff like that is not important to me, although I know a lot of gear heads, performer and listener alike, do. That kind of thing isn't really for me.

 

Thirdly, 'Event One' also seems to sound more mature. Perhaps the new sound palette and the increased flexibility of the set up have paid off. Maybe the guitar being added to the mix elevated the whole thing a level or two. Perhaps the enforced lay off has in some way made me take stock of what Hashtronaut had done before, and consolidated that data in these new pieces that have been produced. It certainly seems to have made an agreeable impact on most people, which has thrilled me no end. I must admit that I was initially wary of playing guitar on the piece, but I am glad that I did. Another string to that bow and all that stuff, I suppose. Stay fluid!

 

I decided that I would put it online for free, the same way that I did 'Nexus', just to say that basically 'I'm back! I'm playing again!' It was also the first time that I have featured a guitar on a piece of music since 'Report...' in 2003. I was excited and pleased with 'Event One' –  when I first played back a finished mix, it sounded 'new' to me, totally different from what had gone before. Radio Massacre International's music really helped during the family woes, and so I felt that I should in part dedicate this to them, as they were a comfort and welcome distraction in 2006. Also at this point, I should really thank all the people at the Modulator ESP Electronic Music forum. I probably would have crumbled altogether without them last year. They carried me.

 

'Soundcheck 1970' is a throwaway track I posted on the download page of my site that just sounds nice to me. I was shaping sounds for another project, and just left the tape running and caught this. I listened back and thought 'that sounds like an early 1970's EM band soundcheck!', and hence the idea stuck. It really is what it says on the label in that one. I suppose that the lack of sequences also make it reminiscent of early EM forays like 'pink years' Tangerine Dream or early Klaus Schulze.

 

So I take it, even though your early experiences were in rock bands, that you were influenced by the big EM names, both past and present? For example, I really hear the RMI influences that you mentioned in 'Event One.'

 

That's totally correct, my first two EM albums were heard under the influence of acid, and were by the 'big guns'; I was about 16 or so, and they were total head openers for me – ‘Phaedra’ and ‘Rubycon’ back to back, and then some early Hawkwind. I'm not a fan of synth pop or stuff like that though – there's a fine line between EM artists I admire and where it just becomes cheese laden elevator muzak to me. People I really admire are Klaus Schulze, some of his early 80's output can leave me a bit cold, but he has stayed true to himself...early TD, Free System Projekt, but the UK is producing some excellent stuff at the moment as well, the aforementioned RMI, and many other acts. The forum that I post on a lot produces an excellent standard of music, and so here is a shameless plug for www.neusonik.co.uk - some beautiful stuff by people known and unknown. I really do like the rolling sequencer side of EM, commonly referred to as the 'Berlin Schule'. Still the best after all these years, still sounds fresh to me. I don't know what it is, but I still find it totally communicative music, something that other styles just don't do to me. It’s the deceptive sequencers – so simple sounding, and yet there's a lot of work gone into them just to get that rolling feeling. Magical.

 

The couple who introduced me to Berlin Schule EM have no idea that I now produce music along similar lines. I should really turn up at their front door and give them some of it, as I suppose that they unwittingly sent me on this path. Hawkwind have been the greatest influence to me though, they blew my head off - it took me years to shake off the impressions left with me the first time I saw them live, and those visual impressions will hopefully be part of the package if I decide to play Hashtronaut stuff live.

 

Your last two releases have been stand alone free downloads. Will you keep doing this, or is another proper Hashtronaut album looming on the horizon?

 

Yes and yes. ‘Event One’ was free release to celebrate new beginnings, as we have already talked about, and also I felt that some new music was due on the site, hence ‘Soundcheck 1970’. Now I am getting to grips with the new equipment, which, may I say, does not come easy to me. I just am not that clued up on a lot of things in the studio, as I have never owned much hardware, but more should appear. ‘Event One’ was the first complete piece to come out of the vault. It was borne out of sheer desperation and a desire to get something actually finished, instead of some half arsed virtual experiments where all the spontaneity was lost, because it was more like an IT session than a musical one. It was becoming soul destroying trying to work like that. Because it was the first piece, I did not feel that I could just storm back into the scene demanding cash of listeners when I was not totally confident about the actual music. It was an incredibly neurotic time for me just before its release. I knew that it was good, but after being away for more or less a year, I was really weary about releasing it, just real bad nerves I guess. The feedback I have got has been really positive, and that was just a huge relief to me. This wave of gracious feeling and commentary have buoyed me, and I now feel that I can start work on some new projects, some of which will be 'proper' Hashtronaut releases. These releases will hopefully be enjoyed just as much as the free stuff.

 

Sounds like you've been in a lot of bands when it comes to rock, but your EM projects have been solo.  Do you foresee any EM collaborations in the future, or do you prefer to keep that creative outlet to yourself?

 

I have never jammed with anyone as a synth/sequencer player. It would be fun and interesting, but at the moment there is no rush for me. I would like to get to know the machines that I do own a lot better, and build up my playing skills. I would feel terribly inadequate if something was asked of me in that situation and I did not have the knowledge or skill to contribute anything worthwhile. But never say never. I would probably be happy to contribute guitar to something, though. I suppose that it's just a case of growing in confidence and ability in different directions. 

 

What is your gear setup like?  Any particular favorite tools/synths/etc.?

 

I still have a soft spot for my Roland Juno6. I bought it at a car boot sale for £30. The lad who was selling it said it was that price as 'it only has one sound on it'. I agreed that it was pretty crap but would be ok to learn piano on, and snapped it up there and then. That started me on the road to forming bands in a more space rock vein. I remember getting it home and being so excited at the possibility of making 'swooshy beepy' noises.

 

Then I saved up and got a Yamaha CS1X, which I still think is a great synth for anyone who is starting out. This was also used to create noises more than anything, and a few pads and such, which were put onto my 12 track and carted out to gigs. I have always thought that that was a breakthrough synth for beginners, and it’s still much loved for sharper cutting sounds against the virtual analogue stuff. And then I got a little QY70 sequencer off Lindz’ brother, and that was used in the live set up with the band. I did all the recordings up to ‘Event One’ with that little set up, with further mangling from my guitar FX pedals.

 

Up until the start of this year the set up was very basic – two decidedly average synths and a handheld sequencer. They have served me well though, and I am grateful. I bought some other stuff around about March, and I will list this stuff here one time and one time only. As I mentioned, I hate this kind of thing. I know people are interested in things like this, but believe me, even if I had the good fortune to own a Moog IIIc, it will still only be listed as a synth on the back of my discs. A pet hate of mine is lists and lists of gear on the back of albums. Who is arsed really?

 

So for one time only: Synths are: Yamaha CS1X; Yamaha AN1X; Korg MS2000BR; Roland Juno6. Sequencing is: MAQ 16/3; Yamaha QY70. Guitars: Fender Stratocaster USA, and a Kramer Nightswan that is midway through a rebuild. The FX board for the guitars is a Boss GT-5. Amplification for the guitars is an H/H 212 Combo and a Marshall Valvestate. Mixer is a Beringer MX2642A. FX rack is a TC300.

 

See how dull this last paragraph reads! (Ed. note – no it doesn’t to the gear heads, they are drooling right now, aren’t you, guys?)

 

I rate the Arturia virtual synths very highly; I ended up going with hardware, but I really enjoyed tinkering with the Moog and ARP recreations – the sounds were excellent. And I guess I gained a new respect for the early pioneers. Arturia are doing some sterling work that should not be dismissed by gear fascists. It’s easy to call the MMV 'the spawn of Satan' when you’re leaning on a vintage modular system. Be grateful is what I say. Those softsynth designers are equipping the next generation of players and sound designers. The work they do is important, and simply dismissed by some as 'not the real thing' and even worse by others as 'not really electronic music' – I mean, what the f-ck? Does it matter? Why is it of lesser quality because no hardware was involved? I have seen this attitude pedaled on a forum or two. In some ways, the EM scene can be its own worst enemy, because it takes itself so seriously, and preaches to the converted in such a way that it can seem like a closed shop to newcomers sometimes. That is another reason why the diaries go online at my site. There are portions of the diaries that do not go online, obviously, but the relevant (and the irrelevant) information is there so that maybe if someone who likes my music gets in touch with me, well, to an extent, it’s nice to be an open book, and non-threatening to them. Hey I'm a friendly guy, I enjoy talking to people.

 

Take us through your compositional process.  Do the ideas form in your head first, or do you get inspired by playing in the studio for hours on end, or what exactly?

 

Well, it can differ from session to session. Some sessions I'm just trying to get sounds together, and the noodling will turn into something. It’s a bit like using an airbrush – out of little clouds, some kind of pattern or mood will appear, and I will run with it and see what happens. 'Nexus' happened that way, the rhythmic pattern that runs through it was something that happened by accident. I think it was just white noise that was put through an auto-wah. Everything then followed from there. ‘Event One’ came from a four-note bass sequence. ‘Soundcheck 1970’ was a total accident. I think that unless you have had some kind of formal music training, most songwriting is a series of happy accidents.

 

Sometimes I will have a definite idea, and once or twice almost completely formed musical ideas will fly past my ear, and stay just out of reach until they are ready to let themselves be caught and committed to tape. This happens very rarely. It happens more if I am writing something with a guitar, but I am far more used to that style.

 

Up until ‘Event One’ all the music was put down track by track, as I just couldn’t do it any other way, I simply didn’t have the hardware. I would try to do each layer in one or two passes, but it’s quite hard to keep that type of attention span over the course of a lengthy piece, much more so than if you’re doing 'live' so to speak. Maybe your mind just clicks into a different mode, but it doesn’t seem as tiring.

 

I m learning to write in a different way at the moment too - because of getting a couple of more synths, I can now more or less do complete improvisations, or things in one or two passes. I am finding this a lot more fun, and it seems to be improving the overall sound and feel of the music. It also is helping me to improve in my playing abilities, and the music seems much more 'direct' and 'to the point'. I don't think that I will be doing a structured piece for a while; I'm a bit like a kid in a sweetshop at the moment. I would like some more kit in the future, but it’s really not the be all and end all for me. There are some artists out there with huge arsenals of gear that are frankly, crap, and some of the most inspiring pieces I’ve heard have been by artists who own only a little gear but have 'the vision'.

 

What is your current project, and when might we hear the results?

 

‘Cloud Maps’ is one, but this always seems to be getting put back, as whenever I finish a piece of music, it seems to be too masculine for the title. I suppose that is the danger of a nice title popping into your head with no music to back it up. 'Capsule/Artefact' is another, that's just a title with a vague set of sequences at the moment. I think that may be a bit darker in tone, that concept.

 

If I can coax Peter, a drummer that I used to work with out of retirement, because he is all newly married and stuff like that, I am looking to do some work with real drums in the future. I think that would be a nice thing to try, and I do like the way Peter plays. We always used to tell him off for ‘frilly’ playing when we wanted straight 4/4 time, but he is well suited for some expressive styles, different signatures, and I think he could complement some of my sequencer work brilliantly. We will have to see on that one.

 

As to when you can hear any of these things, I've learned to keep my mouth shut. I've learned that lesson well. Nothing runs smooth once a deadline is in place, even if said deadline is self imposed. ‘The Lambda Variant’ was still being packaged on the morning of its release date, ‘Bottle Universe’ met its release date, but the push for it was smothered and more or less abandoned as Lindz took a bit of a turn that week, as that was the beginning of the period where she was really, really ill. So the moral of the story is, unless you are being backed by a label, keep shush until you have them ready, in envelopes, in a pile by the door. Before I was on the web, it didn't really matter about deadlines, I would just give the discs away at gigs with Acuphaze.

 

The EM community is about 99% male, or so it seems.  What does your wife think of your music?

 

She supports me in every way, she is fantastic. I suppose that some partners would resent their other half disappearing three nights a week, but as far as I know, she doesn't. I am a very lucky person to have her at my side. In regards to EM, she likes to hear each piece, but just the once. She is not a fan of EM music, or at least not the type of EM that I listen to or play. I usually listen to other stuff in the day, and EM when I am in the house, or on my MP3 player. That's not to say she doesn't have great taste in music though - she does. One of her ambitions is to meet Daevid Allen from Gong! We nearly went on tour with Gong a few years back in a lighting capacity, funnily enough, but the whole tour fell through. We were gutted.

 

Why is the EM scene 99% male? To me this is an interesting sub question. Some of the aspects of ambient music can be quite female in character - very delicate and sometimes curvy. And yet most women think that it sucks. I think that it is down to the way that the scene presents itself. It takes itself very seriously. Also it seems to emanate a sort of 'boys and their toys' vibration. It’s sad in a way. The scene needs more female input, they might shake everything up a bit, stop it being so inward looking. The general public responds to beauty apparently.

 

Where do you see yourself musically 5 years from now?

 

Begging for another interview! Seriously, I would hope to be playing some live concerts. Who knows really? I hope the EM scene has not imploded on itself by then. Sometimes I think that it may, because of the way it seems to present itself. It takes itself so seriously in the main, like it’s some sort of self proclaimed sacred cow. It’s not, it’s just music. It’s just as important or not as important as the rubbish that clogs up the charts these days. I fully expect death threats for that last comment. I would like to see it drastically re-invent itself, and hopefully be a part of that re-invention, even if just in a small, possibly subversive way. A campaign for levity in EM should be organized. Hashtronaut is a stupid name for an artist no matter how good or bad they may be, and this is a good thing.

 

© 2007 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

Paul Vnuk Jr. interview

July 2007 

 

When did you first start playing music, and what was your first instrument?  What formal music training do you have?

 

I actually started life as a vocalist and it is the only “instrument” that I have conservatory level training in – not counting my dismal attempt at piano lessons in 3rd grade. It all started with a brilliantly gifted and strict choir director in my grade school who also taught us basic music theory. In high school I started singing in punk rock bands, as well as attempting guitar lessons, and I continued in bands from prog to metal in college as a lead singer. Around my freshman year in college I gave up any guitar aspirations and switched to keyboards as a compositional tool. Parallel to this I developed a driving interest in recording and production.

 

Since then I have delved headlong into the study and practice of Arabic and African percussion as well as traditional jazz drumming. These two areas are where 70% of my non-ambient musical life is spent.

 

When did you first become interested specifically in ambient music, and what is it that attracts you to making this sort of music?

 

Largely by accident…as I mentioned I developed an interest in recording and even more so became a student of “how did they do that?” i.e., how did the Beatles or Pink Floyd get the strange sounds on tape that they did? Through that I abused many a 4-track recorder with abstract sound collages and such.

 

Around this time I was in art school and met Chris Short, a musician who did primitive guitar delay looping. This inspired me to move even further into avant-garde classical, free jazz and pure electronic music a la Cage, Varese and such. He and I started to push the rock bands we formed into these directions, much to the dismay of the other members who eventually quit. One day we decided to just go it alone as a duo, doing electronic improvisations for guitar, keyboard, delay, and found objects. We started doing coffee houses and college parties. This was essentially the formation and roots of Ma Ja Le.

 

Also during this time I heard three albums which changed my musical life and gave me further confidence to move in this direction; those being Eno’s Music For Airports, Peter Gabriel’s Passion and Japan’s reformed Rain Tree Crow album. Although the last two were not entirely ambient, they provided the bridge I needed at the time, simultaneously sparking my parallel interest in world rhythms and my life as a percussionist.

 

From there Chris and I heard and embraced the usual suspects of Steve Roach, Michael Sterns and Robert Rich and moved into more space music directions.

 

You have an interesting musical day job that your ambient fans probably don't know about.  Tell us a little about that. 

 

Well… not counting ambient music production, I am a professional sound designer and audio engineer and I write articles and reviews for a recording magazine, but the interesting day job on top of all that is I work in full time ministry in an 1800 member evangelical church in media, arts and worship which is a fancy way of saying I wear the hat of sound man and graphic arts guy among other things.

 

Are you able to work ambient touches into your worship music, or is that a musical alter ego that you keep out of the church?  I would think it would be difficult to incorporate that style into a traditional church service.

 

It is not without its challenges, I mean face it ambient/space music is a bit out there for most average people and it is equally so for many Christians, but having said that I have been quite blessed to create ambient Passion-influenced sound tracks to two past Easter services and videos, as well as being able to use some Ma Ja Le tracks for a few prayer services. I mean it is rare, but it happens from time to time when appropriate.

 

More common is that I play ethnic percussion regularly on our Sunday worship team and I do some pretty atmospheric stuff with that at times. Plus Chris, who is also on the worship team, does a lot of ambient guitar when he plays.

 

Perhaps your most interesting ambient album is Silence Speaks In Shadow, which is more sounds than music.  Talk about your inspiration for it, how it came about, and how pleased you were with the results.

 

Another happy accident recorded when I set up my first home ADAT studio, there was this incredible rainstorm and for some reason I put mic’s out of my windows on opposite sides of the house and was mesmerized by the sounds not only of the rain, but the city itself. So I fired up my synths and my Jamman – a live delay based looping device – and literally improvised to the rain.

 

This then sat untouched and un-thought about for a year, when I then was inspired to do the same thing a second time, and I did it on the 4 remaining tracks of the same 8-track ADAT tape. When I played back the two storms and improvisations together it was quite magical.

 

Chris helped me massage it in the computer into a cohesive listening experience and there it is.

 

How do you approach your music differently for your various monikers, e.g. Paul Vnuk Jr. as opposed to Ma Ja Le? 

 

I am not sure I do on a conscious level. The music I create is always me but as soon as others are added to the mix, which is often, then there comes a bit of give and take. Chris and I usually take a “King Crimson Philosophy” – adapted from Robert Fripp – when music appears that only Ma Ja Le can create, then Ma Ja Le appear to create it.

 

I have always found it amusing that so far 90% of my solo work contains zero percussion and I am a percussionist…

 

You've worked with a few others in the genre.  Who else would you like to add to that list?

 

This subject really hits on what I see as the biggest blessing in my musical journey. I have had an amazing opportunity to travel to amazing places and work with amazing people, whether in concert, production or the studio.

 

From early collaborations with Vir Unis and James Johnson to my recent work with Oöphoi, and a live festival with Messers (Dave) Fulton and (Giles) Reaves, it has been an incredible ride.

 

 I would say the coolest musical family I feel honored to be part of is that of Different Skies. Every year 15 to 25 electronic musicians from around the globe gather in the middle of the Arizona desert at Arcosanti to write, perform and share musical experiences.

 

The list of alumni is like an eclectic who’s who of modern space music and electronic experimentalism, and in this huge divergence of tastes and styles is a humbling loss of individual egos. The shared music experience is awesome! OK, it’s really a big geeky band camp for disenfranchised modern musical misfits, but the friends I have met there I will keep forever like luggage.

 

I guess this is a long way of saying…I don’t know who I haven’t had a chance to collaborate with yet, but would love to. Maybe Richard Barbierri or Rick Wright if I shoot for the moon…

 

Realistically the best collaborations happen when the time is right. I would love to do some avant-garde live-looped jazz drums to Fear Falls Burning’s guitars with an equally twisted upright bassist, and maybe a sax player, but that seems pretty farfetched too, seeing as he lives in Belgium.

 

What is your next ambient project going to be?

 

Released or in the works? Well the next ambient project that should hit the streets is an album I did as part of Mike Metlay’s Mind2Spiral project. This was a quartet album recorded by Mr. Metlay, myself, Greg Waltzer (of Xeroid Entity) and Nick Rothwell (Cassiel). It’s kind of spacey, Berliny and glitchy.

 

On the personal front Chris and I are hard at work on the newest Ma Ja Le record, which we actually have enough good stuff in the can for three possible releases. The first will pick up nicely where Seed left off, yet moves back into the more accessible nature of Imaginarium – which is to say this is happily the closest we have come to synthesizing our vision of space music, world music and compositional electronica.

 

Ma Ja Le seam to take a 3-5 year approach to album creation. Not on purpose, but it just always works out that way, which frustrates the heck out of many of our collaborators. I guess I am a real picky perfectionist in the studio in regard to recording technique, composition and performance. I have a full finished album that went out 6 years ago as radio promos, but still remains unreleased…go figure.

 

I also have the concept and artwork (my wife’s) together for my next solo release next year, but nothing tracked yet.

 

What is your biggest passion in life?

 

The easy stock answer would be my faith, my family – wife Trista and sons Paul and Benjamin – and music. On the less lofty side, I am a food and drink snob, especially fine teas and coffees, plus I think cats are the single greatest creation on the planet…

 

Thanks very much for the interview, Paul!

 

© 2007 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

 

Numina interview

May 2007

 

Jesse Sola from Colorado is the man behind the deep ambient musical act known as Numina, creating soundscapes influenced by luminaries such as Steve Roach and Robert Rich. A great musician and a truly nice guy, Jesse is this month’s EAS interview.

 

What is the origin or meaning of Numina?

 

The name Numina I came upon after first purchasing Robert Rich's Numena CD. Not knowing the word I looked it up in the dictionary and immediately connected with its meaning, to me anyway - that there is life in inanimate objects, or a divine presence. There is no religious connotation to the way I'm using it, just sort of a metaphysical one. There are two different spellings for the word, one being Numena and the other, of course, Numina. I went with Numina so as not to be so obviously taking Robert's title as my music project but I do owe him credit for the idea.

 

How did you come to make ambient music, how did this all start?

 Well, technically I started playing electronic music at the age of 6 when I used to jam on my Dad's Minimoog synthesizer back in, oh, 1977 or so. Growing up I listened to a lot of synthesizer-based music - 80s new wave and synthpop bands. Then one night I heard Hearts of Space playing on the radio and the music truly opened up all sorts of doors in my mind.

 

Throughout the years I often tinkered with the synthesizers I had, never really recording anything. I didn't take it seriously until I was in college during my mid-20s. Then one fine day I decided to move to a new level and start recording the music I was doing. The following years I had put together several tracks and then came along mp3.com. Mp3.com was an amazing opportunity. It was, to my recollection, the first really BIG name on the internet for getting your music heard; the community was really interested in it and the response I received from my music was overwhelming and really nailed it down that I'm doing something that other people enjoy and get something out of. So, that's how it came to be.

 

Your music tends toward the abstract, with non-conventional musical structure, time signatures, etc. How do you compose your music? Do you build and create sounds in the studio? Or do you start with a mood or feeling, or what?

The music I create starts off in many different ways. Often I am in a certain mood or frame of mind and something just comes out that works and sounds exactly the way I want it to sound. If everything is just right, the music truly "flows" and everything is good. I always work in the studio with my music.

How much thought do you put into the titles? Does a track get named while you are working on it, or after it is completed?

I keep a running list of words and phrases that I either think of or come across and when a song is complete I pick a title from this list that I feel connects with the music. So, it's nothing too complicated, just a part of the process.

What's it like for you to perform this music live?

In a word, stressful. I have only played live 3 times and each event went quite well but having had so few live performances under my belt I'm a long way off from being comfortable with the process. At the same time it's a great experience, when you have friends and fans of your music in the same room with you and the music envelops the room, which becomes a great way of connecting to others with the music.

Interestingly enough, as of the time I am writing this response I have committed to performing live in June 2007 alongside a friend of mine, Michael Todd, with whom I have collaborated with on an as-yet-to-be-released album under the band name Transcendent Device. It won't be a Numina performance. I'm catering to his style which is much more droney, dark and meditative. Should be fun.

Audiences for this genre tend to be very small, to put it mildly. I've personally been to concerts, in a real venue, not a home or a bar, with less than 50 people.  Does it bother you to perform before small groups?

Not at all, in fact I prefer a smaller group just because it is a more intimate connection. I suppose for those performances that are held at a theatre that it would be nice if the performer could look out into a sea of people and experience that kind of support, but I do believe the more intimate the experience the better.

From Within The Abyss is one of my favorite CDs of yours, a collaboration with Dark Duck label founder Stephen Philips. How did you meet and come to work with Stephen?

Gosh, it's been a long time. If I recall correctly we connected via an internet music list several years ago and we just got to talking - virtually speaking - and the next thing I knew we had established a friendship and ultimately produced our collaboration together.

Do you have any other collaborations planned for the future, either with Stephen or with others? And given the choice, who would you most want to work with on a music project?

Oh gosh, well, as mentioned I have been working on this Transcendent Device project and that's about it for the foreseeable future. Hypnos Records founder Mike Griffin and I have long spoke of collaborating together. Likely this would be the next joint effort I would work on. I have some rhythmic-based tracks that my friend Jim Lanpheer has produced that I also want to get working with soon. Jim Lanpheer also hosts many of the small live house show events and his home is where my Live at the Inner Sanctum disc was recorded, as an opening act for Robert Carty.

What is your next release going to be?

I'm not sure what or when my next release will be, considering I have three new albums out right now including Megaliths & Monoliths with IXOHOXI - who recently passed away, R.I.P. - and my two solo albums Shift to the Ghost on Hypnos and Symbiotic Spaces on Gestalt. I have some music that I had been working on for a project to be titled Sound Symbols but I think it's a ways off from being finished. Lots of polishing and additional work to be done with that one. So, you probably won't see anything from me until later this year or even perhaps 2008.

When listening to music yourself, what CD do you play the most right now?

I quite frequently listen to Steve Roach when I really want to establish a certain mood. His work always amazes me, and the music literally comforts me when I need to be grounded back down to reality from all of life's daily stresses. Robert Rich's music as well is in frequent rotation in my listening moments. I also listen to a lot of electronic industrial and synthpop music which I have been listening to for years. A few notable artists include VNV Nation, Assemblage 23, and Front Line Assembly. And I listen to a lot of retro stuff too.

When not composing, playing or listening to music, what are your other interests?

I quite enjoy sleeping. I also enjoy mountain biking, walking my dog, road trips, Chipotle, coffee, travelling - I love the ocean and I love the Colorado mountains - really bad weather, rainy days, spending time with my close friends, spending time with my wife, reading about synthesizers, surfing the web, science, going to record stores, and watching the sky for the mother ship.

What else would you like EAS readers to know about you? And is there any personal message you'd like to say to them?

I don't know that there is anything else of particular interest that your readers would like to know about me. If there is, anyone is welcome to contact me via the internet. I really just want to say how much I appreciate the support and correspondence I've had with so many kind souls over the years. It's largely these comments and compliments that provoke me to continue creating music. I would always be creating music, but I probably wouldn't enjoy it as much if I didn't think that others were as well. So, thanks everyone and keep dreaming the finest dreams.

Thanks much Jesse for the interview!

 

© 2007 Phil Derby / Electroambient Space. Any reprint in whole or in part must be appropriately credited.

 

 

 

 

 

February 2007

Tor Lundvall

 

Tor Lundvall’s album Empty City took me pleasantly by surprise last year, a truly unique entry in the world of electronic music. Prior to this interview, I knew as much about him as any EAS reader, so let’s discover more about him together…

Where do you see your "ghost ambient" music falling along the musical continuum?

Hopefully in a place of it's own alongside other individuals carving out their own sound.  The music is far more important than any label it is given.  I for one detest labels.  I chose the term “ghost ambient” because it made the most sense, but also to avoid being categorized by others.

In past interviews you've mentioned a fondness for Durutti Column and Zoviet France in particular.  What is it about their music that speaks to you?

I listen to loads of different things, but The Durutti Column and Zoviet France are two of my all time favorite music makers.  Although they come from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, both bands have managed to carve out their own unique sound.  They sound like no one else.  I was disappointed to read that Vini Reilly of The Durutti Column recently dismissed all of his past releases as “rubbish”.  His music deserves infinitely more praise than that.

Though I've not heard it, I understand that your previous album had vocals.  Will you continue to do instrumental albums like Empty City, or will you go back to vocals, or some of each?  Do you have a preference between the two?

At the moment, I'm more interested in recording instrumentals.  I feel I've said just about all that I've wanted to lyrically, although this doesn't mean I will stop doing vocals altogether.  In fact, I already have another album in progress which consists almost entirely of vocal tracks.  If I had to choose between the two however, I'd ultimately prefer listening to and recording instrumental music.

You have been both a painter and a musician for many years.  Do you consider yourself a painter first and a musician second, or vice versa, or do you even think in those terms?  And how are the two art forms interconnected for you?

I don't really think in those terms much anymore, although I suppose painting will always be my first love.  The two pursuits have become strongly interconnected over the years and it is almost impossible to separate the two at this point.

Have you always lived in the U.S.?  Tor Lundvall has a very Scandinavian sound to it.

I was born in New Jersey, although my grandparents originally came to America from Sweden.  My great grandfather Eric Lundvall was a Swedish inventor and he invented the spring clothespin among other strange things.  I visited Stockholm once when I was a child, but I'm hoping to return one day.

Are the other members of your family artistically inclined as well?

I think the artistic gene comes from my father's side.  My father is an excellent draftsman although he never pursued a life in art.  He also makes hilarious cartoons, and we often get in trouble drawing unflattering pictures of family members in unsavory situations.

What do you like most about living in New York?

The landscape, the silence and the solitude.  It gets uncomfortably crowded out here in the summertime, but it's quiet and peaceful the rest of the year.

Have you started work on your next album yet?  What will it sound like? 


My next album has the working title Sleeping and Hiding, and it's mostly a vocal effort so far.  I haven't decided yet if this will be the follow up album to Empty City.  It may end up on the back burner as I'm just starting work on another instrumental album based around the idea of an abandoned shipyard.

What do you hope people get out of your music and your paintings?  A message, a feeling, general appreciation?  Or is it something you do primarily for yourself, and people's reactions are secondary?

I hope that people will use their imaginations and are able to crawl into their own private worlds when listening to my music or viewing one of my paintings.  It is most definitely something I do for myself, although I hope others will appreciate my work and feel something from it as well.

Where do you hope to be 10, 20, or 30 years from now?

Hopefully I'll be doing exactly what I'm doing now - painting, recording music, enjoying nature and living my life with as little unwanted interference or interruption as possible.

 

Thanks Tor, for the interview - and for the great music!

 

 

November 2006
 

Rudy Adrian

Interview

November 2006

 

New Zealander Rudy Adrian was one of my first interview subjects way back in EAS #1, back when Electroambient Space was an actual printed magazine. A lot has changed since then, both for Rudy and for EAS, so it seemed high time that we reconnected. One of our more amusing anecdotes was my giving him a hard time for a recent parade in New Zealand celebrating, um, grown-up entertainment, including a very different version of the Golden Globes on parade, if you catch my meaning. I was quite surprised to find that this topic would actually become relevant during our interview, as you’ll see below.

 

It seems like you've been less active in music the past couple years.  What have you been up to?

 

Yes, it’s been a long time all right – and not entirely my own fault either! In 2002, Groove Unlimited put out Sequencer Sketches Volume 3: Starfields. This was followed with a small "world tour" – a couple of venues in the USA and due to conflicts of dates, none in Europe – and that resulted in the live album Concerts in the USA in 2003. I did an interview with Frits Cowenberg of the former Dutch magazine KLEM and told him that I thought I'd just about said all I wanted to say musically – I’d put out nine albums by that stage, after all.

 

Nevertheless, on returning home to New Zealand I started making some tracks with an atmospheric album in mind. That is to say, music with minimal rhythm or melody – just restful, flowing textures of musical sound. This eventually shaped into an album called The Shadow Garden. It had three piano pieces, a bunch of floating atmospheres, and a few tracks with either spooky wordless vocals or baroque flute care of my friend Nick Prosser. I'd done an album similar to this a few years earlier called Across the Silver River. But when I'd submitted that album to Groove, they said they'd like to get Ron Boots to add some tribal drums. This certainly made some of the tracks on that earlier album more interesting and dynamic, but took away for the original meditative qualities I'd intended with the music.

 

So this time I was keen to see the album come out as a restful atmospheric work.  I found a US label in 2003 and I recall our telephone conferences going along the lines of "You're going to love this Rudy. It's going to be great, just great!” Alas, twelve months later they'd got cold feet, largely due to a little bit of hiss that became apparent on a few of the tracks when they re-compressed them to make them even louder than before. Well, this alarmed me, as the album was never intended to have the same sonic energy as, say, a Billy Idol album. Anyway, by that time I'd been making some beds of quiet atmospheric music at the request of Ruben Garcia so that he could overdub his piano music over top. I had enjoyed this so much that I kept on making my own music until I had a whole new album made, MoonWater. I sent this to the same US label but, as I expected by this stage, I didn't get much of a reply, so happily I went and found Jeff (Kowal) and Ben (Cox) of Lotuspike and they were very enthusiastic about both albums. I recall the phone calls going along the lines of "You're going to love this Rudy. It's going to be great, just great!" But in this case they really did mean it, and so after much delay, MoonWater has finally come out late 2006!

 

We haven't made up our minds what to do with the earlier The Shadow Garden. Perhaps it'll come out, or perhaps it'll just be plundered for its better tracks for the next atmospheric album, which I think will be called Desert Realms. I already have a few tracks created for this one.

 

So what are you up to at the moment?

 

Well, Desert Realms is in the back of my mind when I noodle away in the evenings in my studio, however I'm busy trying to finish off an hour's worth of music for a radio show on Stars End. There’s a radio show that's been running a long time under the oversight of Chuck van Zyl in Philadelphia. It's broadcast in the Pennsylvania region as well as being streamed on the internet at http://www.starsend.org/. It will be an EXCLUSIVE broadcast for that show - thus it will probably not be heard anywhere else again. It's going to be a mix of space music stuff and sequencer stuff - and I'm hopeful that it's near completion! I'll let you and the readers know well in advance when the broadcast will be – probably early 2007.

 

The other thing I'm trying to finish off is Sequencer Sketches vol.4 - Par Avion. This will hopefully come out with Groove early in 2007.This album consists of 80 minutes of music - 40 minutes of sequencer pieces and 40 minutes of floating space music, a style that is a little more dynamic and harder than my gentle atmospheric style. I pretty much have to just finish one track on it, but it's a case of finding the time to do this. Most of it is new music, but one of the tracks is a re-edit of a piece from 1998 when I worked on an album for Neu Harmony which, due to my own dissatisfaction with the results, never saw the light of day.

 

One of the pieces on MoonWater is entitled "The Legend of Kristy Lynn.” Can you elaborate on this choice of name?

 

"The Legend of Kristy Lynn" is one with a lot of soft bells in it. I was imagining a palace decorated with jewels and since, in the words of De Beers, "diamonds are a girl's best friend", I was thinking of dedicating the music to a female character. Around that time I came across the story of Kristi Lynn, a porn actress who had committed suicide by driving off Mulholland Drive at high speed. I thought this poignant story was equatable to the tone of my piece, so I used it as a working title, accidentally misspelling her name as "Kristy". The title seemed to echo some folk tale such as Annie Oakley or similar person from history. As the pressing of the album came nearer, I realized that I should perhaps rethink some of the titles and tried to change it, only to be told by the guys at Lotuspike that it was too late! And as a result of that, we also have track three as "Summer Fields" instead of the preferable (in my opinion) "Of Clouds and Mountains". The thing is track titles are always an afterthought and quite frankly I get the impression that few people bother reading them or try to figure them out. If any listeners out there would like to know the meaning of a track title, I'm always happy to give it to them.


You've mentioned a few times in this and past interviews that you have music that you are working on that isn't finished, or might get dropped or reworked. How much time do you typically spend with a piece of music before you declare it ready?

Heh heh, sometimes it seems to takes ages! However, any inspiration tends to evaporate pretty quickly as well, so one has to watch out for that. I spend a bit of leisure time most evenings just noodling away on my synthesizer, rather similarly to my live performances. This allows me to stumble upon ideas and sonic juxtapositions I might otherwise not have considered. Every so often, say a couple of times a fortnight, I'll dedicate several hours to actually recording and developing some ideas on my computer. This is a very old one-megabyte Apple Macintosh from 1986, which is my favorite as is doesn't have a fan and hence is very quiet in the studio and uses very old software which is powerful but not laced with too much complexity. It takes a good hour for me just to get in the right frame of mind (almost a creative trance) and then about three or four hours to come up with something that's hopefully OK. If it still seems all right when I listen to it again the following day or so, then I'll spend several evenings getting it just right. The piece then gets recorded to tape and then gets loaded into some mastering software I have at my work and is eventually burned to CD-R. I'll spend the next few weeks occasionally listening to it in the evening whilst reading a book or doing e-mail interviews. For instance, I'm listening to something new at the moment.

I understand that you might scrap songs or move them to a different project. How do you decide what fits together on a single album? It sounds like you put more thought into it than most.

Yep, I'm constantly thinking about where a new piece might fit into my output. For instance, recently I created a unique piece for a podcast on the Lotuspike website. The thing with promotional material is that these tracks don't normally appear on an album under the name Rudy Adrian. I think it's quite unfair for a track supplied to a magazine to later appear on an album. So, for me the consideration with promotional tracks is that they should be as good or even better than the album they're promoting. Anyway, in this case the track is so beautiful and is not actually being issued with a magazine; so I think it will come out on the next atmospheric album. It’ll probably be called something like "Desert Realms and other spaces". So I've already got the first eight minutes sorted!  And I think there's some other good stuff of mine left over from the unreleased album I mentioned earlier, The Shadow Garden, that will go with it quite nicely. Some of it is not so desert-like and thus – as a listener in Sweden suggested to me – I should perhaps give those tracks names such as "Oasis" and "Subterranean River".

One of the most important things I think about is what the listener might think when they hear the music. I try to imagine them putting the album on for the first time and what it will seem like to them. However, as an album comes together, I get a little bit sick of the project and want to move on to the next, so near the end I'll be adding up track durations and thinking: "Are we there yet? Have we got enough to fill an album?"

What do you do to work through a musical mental block?

Creativity is a great mystery to me and I do like to keep it that way a bit. Klaus Schulze pointed out something in an interview that I've noticed for myself as well: every second day is better than the previous. So he apparently divides his time up into every other day being devoted to paperwork and housekeeping and other non-creative things, with the other days being reserved for creativity. I don't regiment things to Schulze's two-day creative cycle, but I do try to keep in mind that if things aren't going to well, they might be OK the next day. However it's quite easy to get into a panic and think that I'll never have another good idea and then I'll stay up quite late trying to prove that fear wrong. Another thing, as I mentioned earlier, is to devote the first hour to getting "in the zone". I guess some people might smoke pot to achieve this, I prefer to do it
un-aided by just goofing around on the keyboard until I'm in a more relaxed head space.

It sounds like most of your current projects are solo efforts. Any more collaborations in the works that you can reveal? Or at least a wish list of collaborators you'd like to work with?

I'd like to keep working with Nick Prosser. He's played some wonderful wood flute pieces on several of my albums over the years. Unfortunately, he's quite a perfectionist and hasn't been keeping up his practice and thus refuses to play until he's back in tone. There’s concert violinist Sydney Manowitz whom I helped master some of his music. He's offered to play for me and I think we could come up with some nice, evocative stuff. I've also got a friend who is a very versatile guitarist and I'd like to record something with him one day and someone else is a drummer - I'd like to do something with spooky cymbals and percussion one day. But, alas, it's so much easier to make music in your own time and to your own considerations, so, yes, most
of my output is solo!

What's the best restaurant in Dunedin, and what do they serve?

Dunedin, New Zealand is a pretty small city (population: 120,000), but there is a great little Japanese restaurant called Jizo I like to go to. They were shut down recently due to rodent infestation, but seem to be up and running again now.  I do like sushi and katsu and that sort of stuff. I'm not a huge fan of the English roasts or steak and fries that other places might be inclined to serve.

What are some of your favorite things to do when you aren't writing music? For example, I seem to recall you enjoy photography quite a bit.

I like cinema a lot. I know a number of directors and wish that I had more time to dabble in those sorts of areas too. As I consequence I do watch quite a bit on video. I saw a lot of Japanese anime on DVD earlier this year - everything from Spirited Away to Hentai. Currently I'm going through 17 hours of the 1980’s Twilight Zone on DVD - some really great stuff and some not so good stuff, all together. The commentaries – in some case by the writers complaining about what a mess the director made of their script! – make it all the more interesting. I'm always interested in finding out what was happening behind the scenes.

 

I really would like to start making documentaries. I'm talking to the guys who run a local TV station about a short series about the links between alcohol and crime in New Zealand - as you can guess I'm pretty conservative about that sort of thing!

I still do some photography and I was a little disappointed when Lotuspike didn't see eye-to-eye with my personal choice of cover for MoonWater. Rather than their preference of a MOON over WATER, I'd rather have had one of my close-up photos of river rocks, all shiny and glistening. Having said that, the resultant cover of MoonWater has received a lot of positive comments. What I really want to do soon is put out a small 24-page book, which includes the CD in the back.  I hope Desert Realms will work out that way as I have some great photos I took when I was in Utah with Robert Carty and Patricia Sandoval in 2002 – some of these appeared in the booklet for Concerts in the USA. I'd also like to do one of New Zealand landscapes as well.

I also enjoy mountain biking and going for short hikes in the hills behind out town, but so much time during the summer days seems to be spent mowing the lawn and trimming the trees in my garden!

Do you do music full time, or do you have other occupational endeavors that help pay the bills?

I have worked full time for the last twelve years as a sound engineer for television programs. I started off in the evenings as composer of music for promotional videos and also created sound effects for television commercials. Nowadays, this is all done with library music and sound effects
CDs, and I rather fear that today there's a lot less of those crumbs of encouragement for people starting out. But back in the day, it was through creating little low-budget soundtracks that one made the contact with producers and got the experience to eventually do it full time. In my case
I'm happy to have ended up where I am: just selecting, editing and mixing library music and sound effects into television programs rather than having to go through the creative pressure of creating the sound from scratch. I quite like keeping my creativity for my own albums, rather than fitting into someone else's commercial considerations.

Who is Barbara Stone?

Doctor Barbara Stone and I have been best of friends for a long time. We met back in 1990 and have stayed in pretty much daily contact ever since. She works as an academic, hence "Summa Cum Laude" (literally "Top of the Class") on Twilight being dedicated to her. I keep on wanting to record her voice and incorporate it on a Sequencer Sketches album one day - perhaps it'll be
on Par Avion with her reading from an imaginary postcard…we'll see!

 

What has been your favorite experience being a part of the electronic music scene?

 

There are so many positive things that I can't just list one! I think sitting down to listen to Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygene, Tangerine Dream's Ricochet, Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon or Vangelis' Antarctica are always highlights in my life. Those four artists are the great masters hanging over the rest of us musicians like a brooding spectre. I've really enjoyed playing that sort of music on a radio show of electronic music on the university campus for about 15 years. I met a lot of good, like-minded friends who I still use as listeners to test my new, unfinished music on, and I even dated one or two of the female listeners.

 

I have always enjoyed discovering new artists as well. I recall coming home from a trip in 1996, I had been disappointed in not finding any signs of electronic music in Europe or Britain and then discovered the new Hearts Of Space releases in Singapore, including Steve Roach's excellent Suspended Memories. For a long time I regretted not using my contacts sooner and getting on HOS, but looking at the dwindling sales and interest today, I'm really grateful that I didn't choose electronic music as a full-time career!

 

I enjoyed my US tour in 2002 culminating with my performance at The Gathering in Philadelphia, but wish I'd be able to time it with E-Live the same year. Unfortunately there was no way that would have worked out for most of the people concerned. It was great to meet you and others in Portland I remember fondly having dinner with Mike Griffin and Dave Fulton in what was an excellent Japanese restaurant as well as the camping trip I did with Robert Carty and his girlfriend in Utah was great too.

 

So there's been a lot of highlights so far, and hopefully a few more before everyone gets disinterested and goes home!

 

So what does 2007 hold for you?

 

One of the major events awaiting me next year is that I'll be single again. My girlfriend of the last three years is off to a city further north to study and so on. She's been a great inspiration to me - the tracks "MidnightFantasyAngel pt.1 & 2" on MoonWater were inspired by her, way back in 2003. But she has to get on with her life and she'll be leaving with my best wishes at the year's end. It will give me a lot of free time that I haven't had in the last year or so. More time to catch up with other friends and work on the next album. Hopefully both Desert Realms and Par Avion will get done next year. Par Avion is so close to finished that I can't stand it – I want it to be done and dealt with already! So that'll come out on Groove early next year.

But the most exciting thing for me is the radio show I mentioned earlier, which will happen in early March 2007. I’ll be playing a promo recording on two Internet streaming radio stations: Stars End (www.starsend.org/broadcast.html) and Silent Running (www.ara.lu/leit/silentrunning/gast.htm). I've written 50 minutes of music especially for this, all unique and never to be heard again – well, almost never to be heard again. I'm trying to arrange that the first 50 buyers of Par Avion will get a 10-minute excerpt on a bonus CDR and one lucky buyer will get the whole thing on CDR. Otherwise this 50 minutes of music will ONLY be available to those who tune into the radio broadcast. Hopefully it'll help promote these deserving radio shows a bit, as both Chuck van Zyl (Star's End) and Gaston Klares (Silent Running) have been hosting them for a long time!

I'm also planning to take an extra long break without pay from work and I dare say that much of that free time this coming summer vacation (December - March) will be spent gardening and painting the house!

Thanks Rudy for the interview. Enjoy your summer break, and we’ll eagerly look forward to those new albums in 2007.

 

Nattefrost interview

March 2006

 

 

1. Let’s start with some basic background information, since many EAS readers may not be familiar with you. How old are you?  Where were you born?  Is this your full time job, or what do you do for a living? 

 

I was born in Odense, Denmark in 1978. 

 

Well, I guess that most EM musicians need to have another job to earn for a living. So do I at the moment. I've got a full time job at a radio station in Roskilde here in Denmark and I am working mostly behind soundboards and reel-to-reel tape recorders there, editing lots of interviews that journalists have done. I am also doing a show myself as well twice a month called Elektroland.

 

2. What were your musical influences growing up, and when did you first realize that electronic music was the direction you wanted to go?

 

A very difficult question. I was given an electric organ at the age of 5 and 3 years later I got the yamaha DSR-2000 keyboard which sounds a bit similar to the well known DX-7 synthesizer. The DSR-2000 has a built in 4 track sequencer so I was recording lots of stuff on that for some years. At that time I also listened to some electronic artists like Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis.

 

As for Nattefrost I started it in 1995 and has since developed the musical ideas and built up my studio.

 

3. Wait a minute, hold on. You were given an electric organ at the age of FIVE? And by age 8 you had a synth similar to the DX-7? How did this happen? Did you express an interest, or were your parents musically inclined and wanted to encourage you? That seems awfully early to jump into the EM scene.

 

My parents might have thought that I was very much into music. I was given the electric organ at Christmas and I started to learn a track by Jean Michel Jarre, “Oxygene 4”. I also remember that I composed a track myself. And then later my parents were so kind to buy the Yamaha DSR-2000 for me, that made my day I remember. It has a 4-track sequencer built in and I had 2 tape recorders so I managed to record the music as well.

 

4. You mentioned you have your own radio show, Elektroland. What albums and/or bands might you play in a typical show?

 

It's all kinds of electronic music really. From ambient to the more sequencer driven music and some electro stuff too, maybe even a bit of different techno styles sometimes.

 

5. You said Jarre and Vangelis were early influences. They tend to be very melodic, sometimes melodramatic. Your music, what I've heard of it so far, seems more reserved, even ambient. Where does that influence come from?

 

Maybe they were influences at that time but I've always wanted to have my own style. It's not so easy with EM but at least I don't want to sound like someone just copying some other artist or band. That could also be why some of my tracks are more ambient than others. I don't know for sure but maybe I don't play a certain style of EM. I like to compose different things but I also want it to be smooth sounding all together, not just some ambient in the beginning and then a very melodic and happy tune afterwards, it has to go very well together.

 

I always tend to focus on the more melodic and harmonic things with Nattefrost, so even my ambient-like tracks have melodies. I think the new album is even more melodic than my previous releases.

 

6. Talk about your new record deal with Groove. How did that come about?

 

I think the guys behind Groove are doing an excellent job for the EM scene. And I also think they are very professional. And very important as well is that they are very respected and people like what they do and what they release. So I thought that I could ask them if they'd be interested in releasing my new album. And they agreed to do so.

 

7. You said that Nattefrost has been around since 1995. Of the 5 releases you’ve had in that time, some were EPs, some were cassettes, and one was a full CD release. Do you know if you will be reissuing any of this material on Groove, or will you just be releasing new material through them?

 

The 2 recent releases, De som sejrede... and Vejen til Asgård, were released on the Belgian label Nothingness Records. Those CDs are now only available from a few shops but have been sold out from Nothingness and I've been given the permission to re-release them myself since many people still ask for them. They'll be available later this year as a remastered CD, both the album and the EP on 1 CD. I'll also add some new artwork and English translation of the titles probably.

 

8. Will you be performing live to promote the new album?

 

There are no plans for that at the moment but we'll never know what the future might bring. I'd like to perform live with Nattefrost. I can say for sure though that I won't be performing with big modulars and vintage gear like many other "electronic musicians" do. For me it's important to also be a bit original, so I'll try to do it differently but of course still very interesting. I'd like something visual along with my music too.

 

9. Where do you get your inspiration for your musical ideas? Do they just pop into your head, are they inspired by stories, do they come from playing in the studio, or what?

 

Inspiration is always hard to explain, but I guess I've got it mainly from the Danish nature. I am very interested in our roots and ancient history here in Scandinavia and the other Germanic countries, so that's definately another input. On the more musical side I find lots of sounds from the synths to be quite inspiring. When I am trying to come up with new ideas I am in my studio surfing through the sounds and I sometimes find myself spending hours just trying to find the main sound for a track. At that time I haven't even recorded anything.

 

10. Sounds like the recording process can be different every time, then. So what was it like this time, creating your new album that's coming out?

 

This time I've worked both in the main studio and in my mobile studio. The mobile studio consists of a laptop with Steinberg Cubase SE 3 and Propellerhead Reason 3.0, an M-Audio Ozone 2 octave midi synth and of course the Sennheiser HD-280 headphones. This is a very simple setup and I am able to carry everything in a rucksack. I am very often visiting Germany so small parts of the new album are recorded there, in Münster that is. Well that doesn't give me much of a Scandinavian feeling, but I find this a good way to add something different to the music I create. I'd like to be able to travel around with this very simple setup since that means that I can compose or at least record some ideas and when I am back in my main studio I can continue working with the ideas. People sometimes ask me how much time I spend in my studio, it's really hard to say and I am not working everyday. But I work at least 4-5 days a week in the studio. Sometimes only 3 hours an evening, and sometimes up to 12 hours which means nearly the whole day, mainly weekends.

 

I think Absorbed in dreams and yearning is a bit different to my other releases, not very different but still there are new elements that are not to be found on the earlier CDs. I've always loved my music to be sounding very melodic and on my new album I would say that there are even more melodies. I also worked with drum machines this time, not very dominating at all, but they are there at least and I think they fit into the music.

 

One last thing I can say that I added is the use of samples. You'll hear the sound of thunder, water and wind and I recorded a few "speaks" myself too. Last but not least the guest vocalist Ute Stemmann did some "speak" and quiet singing on "Visions of a pale moon". None of this is dominating the music at all but I think that it gives the whole album some extra life. One might not even be able to hear Ute's backing vocals but they are definitely there and you'll hear if they aren't, that kind of feeling in music is for me very enjoyable.

 

Thanks for this interview, and we look forward to enjoying your music when the new CD comes out!
 
 

For more interviews from the archives, click here.

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Questions? Email Phil Derby, editor of Electroambient Space