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MORPHEUS MUSIC INTERVIEW - AMONSGST MYSELVES

20.07.12 - on release of Fragments

 
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Q: Firstly can you please tell us a bit about your early experiences with music?  

My siblings had a great influence on my listening. My parents didn't really listen to music, in fact I can't remember them really having a radio or record player. We, my brothers and I, had a big box full of pop singles from the 60s like Jan and Dean, The Beatles, The Monkees but we also had more unusual records like "Quiet Village" by Martin Denny which was done on a Moog modular. This really intrigued me as it was full of sounds that weren't the usual four piece rock band. One of my brothers who was still living at home and starting bringing home stuff like George Harrison's "Electronic Sounds" and other strange albums that were in some way related to rock music.

It was also during this time we found a radio program called "Scratching the Surface". We thought it was funny as well as scary – hey we were only young. The music played on this program included lots of Electro-Acoustic and sound scape type pieces. It was unlike anything we had heard before. A favourite of the time was Turkish composer Ilhan Mimaroglu's “Wings of the Delirious Demon”.
My brother's interest in classical types of music saw him buy albums like "Snowflakes are Dancing" by Isao Tomita.

At this stage I was exposed to synthesisers being used to create orchestral sounding instruments and more so to create classical sounding music with a twist like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Rick Wakeman, Genesis, Mike Oldfield. All using synths as a main part of their music but nothing new in the style of music but then again I was listening to them 10 years after they were made. It wasn't until I found another radio program called “Dream Time” that I started to hear pieces that used synthesisers as an instrument in their own right. Tangerine Dream would have been an initial spark for me also as introduced by another musical friend at the time. This lead to Edgar Froese's "Epsilon in Malaysian Pale" which certainly had a great influence on my future in composition. Another album that was part of that era for me is David Bedford's "The Odyssey". For me the long pieces with minimal sequence lines really started me off in the direction of long form beat-less music. Continuing on, Steve Roach, Brian Eno and Robert Rich helped bolster my direction.

 
  Q:  How did you develop your interests and style to become Amongst Myselves?  

My whole basis for Amongst Myselves' music is textural more than melodic. The line between sound scapes and real world sounds are being blurred in my mind. Long form pieces were always my goal more than likely because of the total immersion effect that I got from those early influences. I've always found percussion used as a constant beat to be something for pop music, yes I know I've done this also due to having a background in rock music as a guitarist and bass player playing in bands since I was 13 years old.

I found the re-ignition of ambient music that came with the dance scene in the 90s to be a double edged sword. It certainly helped to give ambient music a gritty edge and make it popular again but I think the down side for me is, once again, the need for a 4/4 beat to be hammering away. In my opinion for a piece of instrumental music to have a prominent beat almost negates the need for anything else in the piece but people get into it, that's what makes it pop music. Maybe I'll get used to it one day. Don't get me wrong. I love rock music and lots of pop as well but I don't see a place for a 4/4 constant beat as part of my ambient music. I did get reintroduced to ambient due to this scene though. Here was a group that was not only doing pieces that were full of sound scapes but also techno and that was "FSOL" or Future Sound of London. They really did bring me back to ambient and what made me end my career in the film industry and want to follow this music area. Not that I sound like FSOL.

   
     
Q:  The name is an interesting one - is there a story behind 'Amongst Myselves'?   It's pretty simple really. The previously mentioned band, FSOL, have a track titled "Among Myself". I changed it slightly to reflect that I was now a soloist with all the ideas coming from me, one person and with little or no other influences musically and quite clearly self obsessed. Their album "Dead Cities" was something that was right up my alley.

  Q: How would you describe your musical output prior to Fragments?  

Fragmented (laugh).
I still think what I do is a little fragmented and doesn't fit nicely into a sub genre but that's what I like about it as well. I find the idea of creating a style of music that people like which then gets repeated for following releases to be really boring and predictable. I suppose that's why I don't actually own many cds of any one ambient artist as I hear a wonderful piece by that artist, then get bored because that's the only sound or format they do and then the magic is totally gone.

Before "Fragments" I was still finding my feet and I still am. I like experimenting with different ideas that people think belong to other genres. I think it's strange because pop music is allowed to get away with cross genre pollination eg. Sigur Ros (another one of my favourite bands of recent times). Although Sigur Ros are probably more a product of the public (especially in Australia) being open to these sounds. But you have electronic music where someone uses a certain synth patch and it's instantly labelled under genre X. That's just weird. The whole genre thing annoys me and affects what I do. Several reviewers of "Auburn Silhouette", my release previous to "Fragments" which has a rocky track as the last track, couldn't deal with this and found it totally inappropriate, but I found it worked really well as it suited the mood. I would love a review to say that one of my albums is like a compilation of different artists as this would be a great compliment to me.

         
Q:  What sparked the initial idea for the Fragments album?  

I often think that I would be better as a remix person because I regularly hear where instruments and sequences could fit to create something totally different. I suppose "Fragments" was my first true long form piece, although it clearly has different sections and tracks, it certainly flows as one piece for me. I can clearly see the reason it worked well as it was created as one piece with different moods over a 2-3 year period as opposed to my other albums which are generally a collection of tracks.

For "Fragments" I started playing around with taking an instrument or layer from one piece and mixing it with a totally different track off another album and found that it created something interesting and new. Luckily or sadly, which ever way you see it, many of my tracks are in the key of D, that's if they have a key, so that side of things was easy. I also wanted an album that focussed a little more on field recordings. I love doing field recordings. It's something that takes me back to the days of the radio program "Scratching the Surface" which often played artificially created field recordings. In several places you have very simple sounds - a field recording of crickets and frogs on a calm river and layered on top of this is a single note synthesizer. I think it makes the listener concentrate on those simple sounds and thus they hear more textures and naunces. I can' t remember if I left them in or not but on this particular field recording you can hear me in the background unloading my ute (pickup truck) and dumping my camping and cooking gear at a nearby campsite which adds to the sound scape as I'm the only one who knows what the sound is and the listener's imagination fills in the rest.

  Q:  How did the music for the album begin to take shape?   I'd take a layer from one track and mix it, or convolve it with another layer from a completely different track. At the time I was doing a few sound scapes for some short films and during the creation of these film soundtracks I started creating musically sounding sound effects tracks which held up by themselves without any need for dialog or "traditional" music. It was only when I started to make complete pieces that I began to think I could do a whole long form piece along these lines. I was limited to the sounds and layers from my own previous 4 albums although I did cheat for "She Who Loves Silence" which is a totally new track but something that was needed at this stage of the album's progress. In reality this track came partly from a sound effects track that I did for a short film but you'd not be able to pick it if you heard the original.

         
 
     
Q:  Could you tell us something of your recording/composing techniques?   Quite often I'll start with a synthesiser patch which I've either downloaded from somewhere or more often I've created via a randomiser. Then from some strange part of my mind I will start to play something that fits that sound. Of course this is when working with a chromatic sounding and playable patch. This can evolve from here to the point when I have created what I would call a bed piece which dictates the changes in moods or chords. From here I often use the sound or mix of what I've create, and funnel it through a convolution effect. This basically takes the characteristics of one sound and applies them to another. A good example of my use of convolution is the track "5am Melbourne 1996" from my "Sacred Black" album which is mostly a guitar strum being convoluted by a television commercial which gives the guitar a sort of wave crashing on the shoreline effect. From there I often pull the piece apart again and use the interesting sounding parts and start to create again.

As far as my composing tools I use a PC running Sonar and Sony Vegas, which also doubles for my video work. Most of the time I just use these programs like an old multi-track tape recorder where I would play a synth and layer up another part. I have a basic set of effects which I can configure anyway I like to create the sounds I need. Of course I have the wonderful ability to copy and paste things around and for the most of it I couldn't do what I do without a computer. I do find that I spend little time playing a keyboard or guitar and more time just recording single chords of sounds and then manipulation them with effects and creating my piece from there.

I've recently starting taking the approach of limiting my options whereby I only use a small set of software synthesizers and effects. The reason for this is overwhelming choice which slows the act of composing. So instead of having several softsynths that are sample based players, I have one flexible one. Limiting myself also allows me to learn this one synth to a greater depth as not knowing your programs also slows the process down. A sample player like "Dimenson Pro" is quite extensive and if the user goes to the extent of actually creating their own patches as opposed to relying on preset patches, or at least modifying the presets, the sound world is endless.

Another step I've also starting moving on is the use of analogue modular synths and other analog electronic sound making devices. Having a reasonable grip on the world of electronics and construction I recently built up a noise making box. This contains a MFOS Weird Sound Generator, MFOS 10 Step sequencer, PAIA 9700 mini modular along with a custom matrix mixer and quad effect unit. The noises this thing can make are wonderful. The plans for more stuff is also in the pipeline. MFOS stands for "Music from Outer Space" which is a synthesizer project microcosm created by the wonderful Ray Wilson.

  Q:  Are there any interesting anecdotes regarding the creation of Fragments?
(These might be things that happened during recording, background information or anything that somehow provides a personal touch).
  All the track names are either book titles, lines from reading material or town names. The track "Town on the Hill" comes from the English translation of the Cornish town "Ventonleague" where part of my family emigrated from in the 1800's. Another example is the opening track "Smell of the Sun" which is a children's book "Mona Minim and the Smell of the Sun" by a favorite New Zealand author, the late Janet Frame. In the process of checking the use of the book's title for my use , I didn’t realize that the person I was dealing with was in fact the niece of Janet Frame for whom the book was written.
         

Q:  Having completed the project - how would you like the music to affect listeners?

  It's a road trip through different environments. Like listening to a film with just the sound effects and music track turned on. That's the way I've thought of the music for this album myself. Mostly the music is sound effects that straddling the line between the two. Like most of my work I imagine the listener in a dark and quiet environment, listening with headphones to take them totally away from their own environment. After all this is the way I generally listen to ambient types of music.

  Q:  Has there been any feedback that you have found particularly gratifying/interesting?   My most humbling response to Fragments was the nomination for Best Ambient and Best Electronic album for 2010 from Zone Music Reporter and a national radio program here in Australia also made it one the best albums of 2010. It really shows that if you are into your music then it's a good chance other people will be as well.
         

Q:  What are you working on currently - or planning for the future?

  I've plans for a dark drone release which has been slowly coming together over the last five years. I do love the dark side of ambient. As part of this I want to spend more time working the visual elements into my music. Although ambient video doesn't appear to have a big audience or be part of the ambient music scene, it is part of what I do. I'd love to create a piece that integrates more of my timelapse photography and 3d graphics. My most recent release "Ambient, Landscape and Space" used these basic techniques for what was originally intended for live performance projections and I'd like to explore this in a more structured and narrative way via a piece which will either be a track or tracks from the album or the whole thing. At this stage I can't tell. The film side of things, especially timelapse, where I have constructed the gear to do the filming, takes lots of time away from music creation but for me this is all part of the process.        
         

Thanks to Steve for allowing us that interview.

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