Ambient Alphabet 1999

Ambient Alphabet

Questions from Gino Dal Soler for Blow Up Magazine (Italy), May 1999


A – Like AMBIENT Music…20 years after Brian Eno what means now the word “ambient” to you?

I still use the word in its original sense, meaning a background. I never thought of my music as functioning in an ambient sense, since it is usually a bit too active, at least in a psychological sense. I want even my slow music to be engaging and engulfing. If it also functions well in the background for some people, then I am glad that it has found a multiple use. Even Bach functions well in the background, although it is much too interesting to be called ‘ambient.’ This implies that ‘ambient’ has more to do with the way that the music is used by the listener, and less to do with the structure of the music itself.

B- Like Brad Cole, the photographer of your Stalker-cover but also maybe of many inner landscapes… Could you tell me something about him?

Brad creates landscapes that resemble some of my soundscapes. He reaches into a place with his camera, and transforms that view into an image with mythic depth. I feel lucky to be his friend, and we have many long talks about our purpose in art. He is a very complex person. When I first met him, I was not so impressed by him – until I saw his photographs! Then, as we became friends over time, I developed a great respect for his depth as a person, as well as his artistic talent. We are currently trying to create more oportunities to work together. We are discussing a collaboration between my music and his images, which we might present together as an installation in a museum. Also, I am helping to sell his book, The Last Dream, from my website. (People can see images from it at http://www.amoeba.com/bradcole.html)

C- Like Collaborations…Are you still interested/involved on new collaborations with other musicians..Have some projects about?

Yes, collaborations are still very important for me, but I sometimes need to spend time working alone. Amoeba is my prime collaboration right now. I just finished the new Amoeba CD, which took almost a year to make, and now I think I need to create some more solo albums.

D- Like DRONES…A title piece of your 1983 work, but still a subtle, immanent presence in your music…Just some words about the beauty of drones…

Drones are an essential part of the structure of trance music. Even rhythmic music can retain some quality of a drone, moving slowly inside the rhythm. A drone can be much more than just a single long note, of course. I prefer a cloud of sound that moves slowly but always changes, something that evolves over time. A drone like this can maintain interest while still building a trance energy in the music.

E- Like Electronic Music.. In these years electronic scene seems to increase through his several and different aspects: >from ethereal ambient to experimental and techno grooves…Are you tempted to confront your sound with apparently different languages?

I always try to stretch the language of my music, because I don’t want to stay in one place. However it is also important for me that the direction of my movement is honest and organic. I don’t look at other music to borrow a style or vocabulary. Too much modern music plunders the sounds of other music without digesting these sounds, whithout creating a personal statement. In this post-modern mentality, everything that is not created ironically or cynically is considered naive. In this sense, maybe I am naive, because I want to create music that is personal and honest, yet I still feel that I can grow and learn by listening to the work of others.

F- Like FOURTH WORLD music..Once you tell me you be influenced from JON HASSELL fourth world visions..Today he seems to move away…What remains of that important experience?

We all pursue our personal interests. Jon Hassell is perhaps no longer interested in repeating the sound of his early albums. I don’t blame him for this – I don’t want to repeat my early work, either! Some of Hassell’s albums showed me a new way to combine elements from other cultures, and I still feel inspired by some of these combinations of sounds. But it is important to find one’s own voice within a world of influences.

G- Like GLURP…The symbol of your liquid world. Are you still trying to expand or evolve it?

Glurp is my way of joking about something that is actually very deeply inspiring to me. I will always feel a connection to the magic of the natural world, because it is a reflection of the creative force of the Universe. I am motivated by the tension between the manifested creation and the purity of underlying structure (or perhaps, the purity of mind, or no-mind.) My music often serves to help me resolve this tension in a way that shows that there is really no dichotomy, that everything is unified.

H- Like HARRY PARTCH and HARIPRASAD CHAURASIA…two important sources to you…When did you discover their music the first time?

I first heard Harry Partch when I was about 16 years old, at the home of a friend who was building gamelan-style instruments (since he had recently returned from Bali.) Partch was a revelation to me. A new way to think about music! At that time, his records were still very hard to find. I made a cassette copy of that record, the Music of Harry Partch, and found his book, Genesis of a Music. It was difficult to understand, but it made sense in other ways. I began to explore new tunings and found that my music became stronger and more personal. Partch and Terry Riley were both very important sources for me to learn this new vocabulary. As I began to learn more about the music of other cultures, I found certain styles that spoke to me more personally. I first heard Indian classical music because Ali Akbar Khan lives and teaches in the Bay Area (near San Francisco, the region where I live.) For me it is some of the most beautiful music in the world. I began to seek out the recordings of other Indian masters. I discovered Hariprasad Chaurasia by finding his recordings. His playing made me cry, it’s so deeply connected to the source of all music.

J-I- Like JUST INTONATION. Why it’s so important in your music?

It just sounds better! It allows me to express more in my music, something deeper and more truthful to me. I sometimes work in standard 12-tone Equal Temperament (12-ET), like in Amoeba, or when I collaborate with others, but I prefer to have the extra vocabulary of Just Intonation. It’s like a spice that adds a layer of complexity to the music, and helps to integrate the various parts into a coherent whole. It helps me make sense out of my music, while 12-ET seems to obscure a certain potential energy.

M- Like MEMORY, or better like Dali’s Persistence of Memory and so like a beautiful track from STRATA, your first record with Steve Roach… Are you still in contact with Steve?

Yes, Steve and I are still good friends. We speak with each other every month or so, and we find that we often follow a parallel course. We are also very different from each other, but our respect for each other is very strong, and I think our names are often linked together in people’s minds.

N- Like NUMENA, your astonishing first Multimood LP…Could you spend just some words about the genesis of this brilliant release?

Most of my releases before Numena were very slow, more texture than melody. I wanted to move into a more active compositional style, but I wanted to keep the slowly evolving structures of my early work. I also wanted to incorporate more Just Intonation into my composition. Numena just grew out of all these things. It was a big push forward for me in terms of my evolution, and I think I captured a special magic somehow. Sometimes, when I am working on an album, the music takes on a life of its own. I get a feeling that I have discovered something that is bigger than I am. Numena was an album like that. It felt like a breakthrough for me at the time, and I still think it is one of my best albums.

P- Like PETRI DISH-the logo of your web site..What’s means exactly…What hides this strange creature…?

Well, it partly reflects my strange sense of humor. I think the creature is kind of cute, don’t you? The creature comes from a 17th century German book of animal woodcuts, which includes several fanciful beasts that the artist believed might live in the oceans of the New World. The Petri Dish creature was one of these fanciful beasts. (By the way, a Petri Dish is a little plate with nutrients on it, that biologists use to grow cultures of bacteria, fungus, or other microscopic colonies. I felt somehow that this was a good metaphor for creativity, and it also reflects my love for living things, the microscopic, the little things we never notice.)

R- Like RAINFOREST, maybe your bestseller, successfull and luxuriant album… But what’s really your best composition to you?

I don’t have one favorite. I think different pieces succeed for different reasons. Each album might have one or two songs that are extra special to me. Some favorites on different CDs include: Geometry of the Skies (Geometry), The Raining Room (Rainforest), Grotto of Time Lost (Strata), Spiral Steps and Minaret/Mosaic (Gaudi), Nightshade (Soma), Luminous Horizon (Propagation), Night Sky Replies, Starmaker (Below Zero) and Book of Ecstacy (7 Veils).

S- Like SLEEP… CONCERTS… A deep live extension of your sounds…After so many years from the start ..some reflections upon it..

I developed a bit of a reputation for doing these concerts, and now I guess I will always be associated with them, even though I do many different kinds of things. Perhaps it is one of the few unique and original things I have done. I don’t know. I simply wanted to find a way to bring an audience into a deeper kind of listening, to encourage them to hear sound as a psychoactive environment rather than as music in the normal sense. I wanted to create a ritual where some kind of energy could form in the room, an energy that only forms when long durations and long silence combine with a group of people sharing the same space, with the same intention. It is a way to trick the audience into finding a meditative state that combines extended awareness with deep calm, or to encourage them to explore their dream world by dislocating them from their normal environment. By the way, I plan to release a 5-CD Sleep Music set sometime next year, which will be a studio version of the Sleep Concerts.

T- Like TARKOVSKI, maybe your favourite director and inspiring of Stalker one of your best records … You never think to release a movie soundtracks?

I’m releasing soundtracks without a picture! The listeners create their own movies…. I have done some work as a sound-designer for a few films, but I am not sure I want to go all the way and make music for film, unless it’s an interesting art-film with a very sympathetic director. I don’t like the way Hollywood makes films, and I doubt that I have the skills that I would need to deliver what those filmakers expect.

W- Like Watchful, your song album with AMOEBA group.. You will continue on this group releases?

Yes, in fact we just finished a new album, which will hopefully be released in 2000 on a good label. I really like working in a song format, and I like working with my close friend Rick Davies. It’s a real challenge for me, too. The songs on the new album have a tighter structure than Watchful, with a more “up-front” sound, but the lyrics are still very personal and introspective. Watchful will hopefully be re-released later this year. Unfortunately, Watchful has temporarily gone out of print while we change over to the new label.

Z- Like ZERO or better BELOW ZERO, the most glacial and obscure of your soundscapes… A possible direction in your future music or else?

Below Zero reflects one world among many of the moods that I like to explore. I think Stalker and Troubled Resting Place also look into this strange world. I will continue to explore places like this, but I have many other directions for future projects, so I don’t think I can say this is the sound of my future. However, I will be releasing a 3-CD live album later this year that has a similar mood. Below Zero is an important work for me, and it is very serious and sometimes difficult music. But I don’t think of this music as “dark” or “scary.” To me, this music reflects processes that are larger than we are, places that are so vast that the human scale vanishes. I feel a sense of awe when my mind dwells in these places; I feel no fear, only wonder. But it is a realm of the unknown, and many people are frightened by the unknown. Hopefully this music is not overtly dark, but rather womb-like and mysterious. I want people to feel at home in this unknown and wonderous place..