Psycho: Marion & Sam, by The Lord

So, yeah, typing in that title felt a little awkward, so let me unpack this. The artist in question (The Lord) is Greg Anderson, who’s better known for his monstrous doom metal outfit sunn O))). This is a solo project that takes inspiration from the works of film composer Bernard Herrmann. You might not be familiar with sunn 0))), but you’ve probably heard Herrmann’s scores for Taxi Driver, North by Northwest and Citizen Kane. Thus the title of the album “Worship,” as Anderson takes inspiration from Herrmann’s work. The piece I’ve shared is from a theme taken from the soundtrack to Psycho.

Not for all ears, yes, but I love the intensity of it!


May Update

Hi all,

I’ve needed time away from here, for a variety of work-related and personal reasons. I’m going to be back with a vengeance as I start ramping up promotion of Radioland, but until then, please enjoy the following…


Doing Research

A while back, I read a lovely piece about David Sylvian, vocalist with 80s new wave band Japan and an accomplished solo artist, and was struck by an observation he made, reflecting upon hearing a track by ambient artist Christian Fennesz:

‘What I liked about his work is that there’s a melodicism to it. It wasn’t all sample manipulation. lt really had a heart to it somewhere. I was talking to Ryuichi [Sakamoto] about two years ago and he said, “Do you still listen to music?” I said, “Well, I still tend to buy a lot of music and I listen to a fair amount of it. But I’m not touched by it. I’m not moved by it.” He said, “Yeah, that’s right. It’s just a process of education. It’s a means of finding out what is now possible with this or that technology. You’re no longer listening to music. You’re doing research.” And what I liked about Christian’s work is that there it all was: modern technology, but in the service of the heart. I always come back to the heart.

There are two things that stood out to me in this passage. The first was Sylvian speaking about how his relationship with music had changed. So, first, I suppose it needs to be contextualized that when someone is working in a creative field they should (unsurprisingly) not only be affected by but also actively familiarizing themselves with other artist’s works. The problem is that, after a number of years/decades, it can feel as if everything has been done. Note Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s question; it’s not Have you heard anything good lately. His question is distressing: Do you still listen to music? It raises the spectre of a rupture between an artist and their craft. Sylvian’s answer and Sakamoto’s response, while relieving also point to a sense of being lost. “Yeah,” says Sakamoto, referring to his listening habits, “that’s right. It’s just a process of education. It’s a means of finding out what is now possible with this or that technology. You’re no longer listening to music. You’re doing research.” In other words, the naive curiosity which can be so important for any artist has become dormant. Yes, you are still listening to music, but it’s become reference material; a question of keeping up; who’s doing what with which device.

I have not become anesthetized to music, and the reason for this is most likely because I am not a professional in that industry, and I’m thankful for this. I do relate to this situation with respect to TV and film however. Having gone to school and eked out a career in televised programming followed by long-form motion pictures, it became second nature to watch (and deconstruct) a wide variety of works. And having worked in the sausage factory for 20 years I must admit to feeling a resonant frequency with regards to moving pictures at least, reading Sylvian’s conversation with Sakamoto. Yes, I’m still watching shows and movies, but am I affected by them or am I simply filling in time with reference material? Let’s just say that I am not easily affected these days.

Which brings me to the second thing about this passage: deliverance. In coming across the track from Christian Fennesz, Sylvian seems to rediscover something. Cliché though it may sound, there is the sense of having faith restored. And who could not be struck by something that, while technically accomplished, is “in the service of the heart”? In other words, there is honesty in this work, and depth. Something that is ultimately restorative and worthy of kick-starting another artist’s relationship with their work once more.

I share this because it’s good to share stories of inspiration, and good to admit that sometimes inspiration can be hard to find.


Ambient Album Picks 2020

Here are a few ambient/experimental albums last year that I really liked:



I don’t know how or when I got into ambient music. I can tell you there have been a few seminal contributors: classical music, movie soundtracks, minimalist and so-called world music composers, and the more spacious actors in pop/rock music.

Let’s start with a sort-of definition of ambient music, and I will begin by saying that I have no formal education in this realm. Ambient music is typically experimental and tends toward spaciousness and a lack of traditional (Western) song structure; it has its roots in the likes of 20th century composers such as John Cage, as well, during its development, contributions from traditional music from India and Japan, as well as from jazz. It can be a formless and electronic haze, or it could be all about exacting pattern and repetition using traditional instrumentation. There is also often a sense of the tactile. I will include some examples toward the end of this piece to begin to provide some context. At the end of the day, what is and isn’t strictly termed “ambient” is often more a question of the composer’s intent. You will just as likely see genre labels such as “minimalist,” “drone,” and “experimental” instead, as the term “ambient” can be a sort of kludge.

As a primary influence on me, classical music is a no-brainer, and like a lot of kids who grew up at the time I did, we were treated (or as I like to say, inculcated) to classical music through Bugs Bunny and Disney cartoons. As an adult I love the flourish and bombast of Shostakovich and Borodin, and the aching lyricism of Vivaldi and Bach. However, there is something undeniably mesmerizing about a brief section of Act II of Wagner’s opera Siegfried, where, through gorgeous use of instrumentation and dynamics we are surrounded by the quiet stirrings of nature — it surrounds the listener and one has no choice but to surrender to its formlessness. This formlessness is not something we often associate with something so strictly structured as classical* music.

the cover of Twine, an album by Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer. This image shows 1/4" audio tape loops hanging from the top of the frame.

As a movie buff, it makes perfect sense, given my exposure to classical music as a child, that movie soundtracks would inspire my appreciation of ambient music. Even in an epic space opera such as The Emperor Strikes Back there are many moments — particularly the suspenseful, quiet bits — where John Williams draws from classical roots, but of course, in order to create mood and retain timbre, sections end up as long stretches of almost abstract-sounding composition. Another perfect example would be the use of György Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey during the monolith scenes. Funny how sci-fi tends toward this direction.

A movie and a soundtrack that shook my foundations as a teenager was Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi. While the imagery was both disturbing and inventive, it was my introduction to Philip Glass’ minimalist composition that entranced me. Its mantric dedication to repetition using an orchestral ensemble and use of church organ and choir during its more climactic parts was catnip to this kid. When, a year or so later after seeing this, I discovered that Glass had collaborated on an album with Ravi Shankar (1990’s Passages) I couldn’t resist picking up a copy at a classical/jazz record shop near where I worked as a photolab technician. It was love at first listen; while some might’ve thought that the two were at odds with each other — one an avant-garde composer, the other an Indian classicist — their collaboration (each took turns orchestrating the other’s compositions) was a major influence on me.

To save space here, I will briefly name three other significant musical influences: David Sylvian, Talk Talk, and Miles Davis. Sylvian’s Japan reunion of-sorts, Rain Tree Crow, only put out one album but it was a low-key combination of rock/jazz/experimental soundscapes with African rhythms that has had a lasting influence on how I decided to listen to music. Talk Talk’s last two albums — Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock — are rightly hailed as experimental masterpieces of pop-meets-improv jazz however a single song deserves mention, from their comparatively more formal pop album The Colour of Spring: April 5th. You can see where they were going with only that one song (and the album is wonderful as it is). Lastly, discovering Miles Davis’ album In A Silent Way was another key piece in my ad hoc self-education: the tactile nature of the instrumentation has been hugely influential on composers of all genres since then (and you can hear a motif from this album used on Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer’s Twine).

Over the last seven or more years, I’ve become deeply involved with ambient/experimental works by composers such as Stephan Mathieu (who not only composes but masters others’ work at his studio) , Deupree (who established the influential ambient label 12K), and France Jobin, as well as those, like Ryuichi Sakamoto and Christian Fennesz, who dip in and out of the ambient genre.

In an age where we are bombarded with divisive and interruptive dialogs encouraging us to be outraged at every turn (not to mention the very real aspects of society that are worth our outrage, if only we had the time and energy to devote to them while being able to support ourselves financially), experimental ambient music allows me — on a good day — to reset my thoughts and tune into a more free-form sonic world. Ambient is not pablum. Ambient is not “new age music.” If anything ambient has been about transcending the boundaries of “instrument” and “technology”, something all genres of music have attempted at one time or another; hip-hop does this particularly well.

Here are some examples that have been influential for me:

Radioland, by Stephan Mathieu:

Perpetual, by Ruyuichi Sakamoto / Illuha / Taylor Deupree:

Duo, by France Jobin + Richard Chartier:

~~~, anna roxanne:

Arrow, by Richard Youngs:

Tracing Back The Radiance, by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma:

Allister Thompson hosted a blog, Make Your Own Taste, that contains a lot of ambient artists and contextual information on the genre. You would do well to visit if this is your thing.

*note: I use the term “classical” generically; technically I prefer the Baroque and Romantic periods best, truth be told.