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MORPHEUS MUSIC INTERVIEW - THOM BRENNAN

18.12.04

     
 

Q: What’s the story behind ‘Silver’?
  Silver began originally under the working theme "The Fall of Winter". A lot of my music is inspired by seasons, landscapes, and environments. An image as simple as the skeleton of a tree against a gray background is enough to inspire something, and thats where the original idea came from. As the music evolved, which it does because I am bad at staying focused on a theme, the original idea faded away and it became more abstract, less defined. The new title came to mind after a particular piece was recorded and because of its lack of defined meaning, I stuck with it.
I usually try to avoid any real defined meanings. The first editions of " Mist" and "Mountains" for example had specific references to places that gave the track titles meaning. But in the latest editions I have removed those references, leaving it more up to the listener to create the mood the music suggests.

  Q:  How does it differ from your previous musical output?
 

"Silver" appears to be moving a bit backwards in time for me, because there are influences from "Mountains" and "Beneath Clouds" (particularly "B. Clouds").

Its a nice merger of ambient layers that I have been creating, with cyclic structures that occasionally appear as rhythms, sometimes as some sort of timbral movement. It has more life in it, more movement. It is also, I think more melodic than a lot of my more recent music.

I have always liked melody.

     
             
Q: What question ought we to ask you regarding Silver - and what is the answer?
  I have already been asked what the title refers to. Pretty simply, its what came to mind while I was working on the music.   Q:   What made you choose to write music in the ambient style that you have adopted?
  There are certain elements of music that really attract me. Generally its a slower tempo, but not too slow. Its melody, and chords. But at the same time I like abstract structures, and a sense of no beginning, no end. You can find these elements in ambient music. I like the sound of the synthesizer, and certainly that has been a big part of ambient music. I was inspired heavily in my early years by the European musicians like, Edgar Froese, Schulze, Vangelis, Heldon, Wappasou, Brian and Roger Eno, Michael Brook... and many others.

I dont think I could do anything else. I have done some more active music, especially in the 90s, although most of that remains unreleased. I recorded an album called The Last Dragons Dream in the mid 90s, and that has heavy use of drum machines.

Over the years though I have settled in with more ambient type music, and its where I feel most at home.

             
Q: Who would you say are your musical influences?
 
Terry Riley, who to me is the god-father of this music. His live perfromances with tape loops and electric organs really opened the gates for T. Dream and Schulze.

Certain albums are big inspirations - Froese's "Aqua" and "Epsilon in Malaysian Pale", Schulze's "Timewind", "Mirage", "Picture Music".

Harold Budd was a big influence for "Mist", although you would never hear it in the final music. That album was recorded completely live, with no sequencers, no overdubs, because I wanted to do am album of simple live music- but I don't play piano. So I took the same approach but with a couple of synths instead. You have to make the sounds complex since electronic sound is not as naturally complex as the overtones of a single piano, so although Mist was only 2 synths, I layered about 32 digital tone generators on top of one another to create the sounds on that album.

Michael Brook is a great influence for me. I love guitar, and have often tried to emulate it with synths. Certainly Steve Roach and Robert Rich. I grew up near both of them in California, and we met up many times. Steve really taught me about the quality of sound. The silence behind it, and how important that is to the overall music. The silence between notes, or i behind the field of music, is equally important. I have never achieved it to the levl he has though.

  Q: Clearly your music is inspired by the landscape around you – how does this lead to you actually producing sounds?  

I like an organic quality to the sound.

Movement within the timbre is very important, and for many years was hard to do with digital synths.

I cant really say what about nature helps create the sound. Nature inspires moods, and the moods create the sounds I think.

             
 
     
Q:   What process do you use to make music?

  I go through many dry phases - times when I am not able to do anything. These phases can last for days, or even months. I have to have a really clear state of mind, without mental distractions.

I usually start with a sound, which suggests a theme- maybe a repeating melody or a looping phrase. Creating the ensemble of sounds can take a long time. The rest is built around that. Its improvised upon, and once I feel it is leading somewhere, I turn on the recorders. I rarely use recording overdubs.

  Q: Where do you start?
  Usually with a sound, but sometimes with an image. I like imagery, so something like watching the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) could inspire the type of sound I use. the sound then usually leads to the musical structure that I build on.
             
Q:  How do develop a piece?
 
Once I have that structure going, it may undergo dozens of changes, or if it seems to develop into nothing, I will start from scratch. Its improvisational, with the use of sequenced loops to create the framework.
    Q: How do you decide when a piece is complete?  

I never can get to that point. Its frustrating. But generally when I feel it can go no further, its done.

 

           
Q: Most of your CDs have been released independently via the internet – why have you chosen this method of distribution?   I like the control it gives me. It ties in with my use of on-demand production. It allows me total control over the music, the package, and the distribution. Well, almost total control.

I am using 2 San Francisco based on-demand CD manufacturers. They produce very professional, high quality CD's on demand- meaning they are "burned" when ordered.

I just like that better than turning my masters over to a label and losing control over it. That's not to say labels are bad. They certainly have access to distribution that I dont have.

There is also a huge number of people now who think of music as part of their computer and their portable Mp3 player. I dont listen to music that way myself, but it is the direction things are moving. So I have some of my albums at Emusic.com, and I also manage my own mp3 site through a host called Viztas.com. Its an entirely different group of people buying the mp3s, vs. the CDs.

  Q: How do you see your music developing in the future?  

I dont know. Never can tell.

Usually when I start a project, the final result is different from what I first imagined. It evolves during the process.

I know I am getting back into more thematic structures and rhythmic structures than I have in recent years. "Signals in Moonlight" and "Silver" both moved in that direction. But I also have plans for more pure ambient music.

             
Q: What music do you listen to for pleasure?  

A lot of alternative and modern Rock, Brian and Roger Eno, early Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh, Harold Budd, David Sylvian, Depeche Mode, Enigma (I love Enigma!), U2, some classical, especially impressionists, some jazz- slow moody jazz, and some obscure electronic bands like Moodswings, Carbon Based Lifeforms... and a lot more. Ofcourse I always like to hear what Steve Roach and Robert Rich are cooking up.

" Steve Roach's "Dream Time Return" is one of my all time favorite listens. It was pivotal for Steve, and I think for e-music. Around that time Steve produced my first album "Mountains". We have kept in close touch ever since. Also Lamont Youngs "Well Tuned Piano". This is an epic of solo piano music in Just Intonation, alternate tunings that create mathmatically pure harmonics. Something I know a little about, but really love the sound."

My musical tastes though shift from time to time. I never really got into the ethno-tribal ambient music, except for some of Steve's albums. I prefer pure electronic music with an organic feel to it.

     

18.12.04

Thanks to Thom Brennan for allowing us that interview.