I have always had trouble describing my work.
The problem is partly due to the fact that no easy 'pigeonhole' seems to exist
for the music that I create. Some have tried to call it 'New Age'...but often
it has too many abrasive elements, dark tones, and sometimes actual noise to fit
that. Others have considered it 'Space Music'...which is a bit closer, although
I'm not exactly sure what space my work would be describing. 'Ambient'
therefore seems to fit best, as it does tend to be music that's suitable for a 'backdrop'...but
at the same time, music that also describes a certain 'ambiance'. Music that's
a snapshot of sorts of places, feelings, sensations, states of mind, and the
Years and years ago, around the same time I was first learning piano as a small
child, I also encountered the shortwave radio. It fascinated me...this box of
strange sounds, pulsations, voices from other places phasing in and out. And
then later in the 1960s, I heard the first stirrings of the Moog synthesizer...and
others as well, as I attended a concert given by David Rosenboom while still in
the second grade, with him performing his meditative style of electronics on a
massive ARP 2500 rig. I suppose it was that formative experience that cemented
what I was to try and do in my life.
As the 1970s progressed, I encountered a number of important musical 'signposts'...the
work of Eno, Stockhausen, Cage, the music of the 'Krautrock' and punk scenes,
and so on. All of these were, I think, important musical influences because
they were not so much music that I only listened to, but music that made me want
to try and do what I was hearing in it. I banged around some with some
industrial/noise ideas, worked some in the early phases of the punk scene in
Nashville (and yes, we did have one there), but it was also during this same
period, around 1979-1980, that I started tinkering with tapes, delays, simple
synths and sometimes just raw electronics. Everything that goes up to now seems
to stem from there.
I studied composition at Middle Tennessee State, under Dr. Thom Hutcheson, to
whom I'm forever indebted because he allowed me a massive amount of rein to
experiment in the electronic music studios there...as well as the commercial
studios which were very much on par with typical industry-standard facilities of
the day. These were critical times, with Hutch allowing me to try as much as I
could, making important mistakes alongside successes. Later on, I studied under
John Anthony Lennon at Tennessee, then with Salvatore Martirano at Illinois...both
while I was in attendance there, and then off and on privately after a little 'falling-out'
I had over some aesthetic differences with the rest of the composition faculty
there. Sal taught me one thing that's been important...trust instinct and a
belief in yourself and in your music. And from the early 1990s on, I have. Very
I went on from there, gradually building up a studio from a room-corner pile of
gear into what I have now, which is requiring the complete remodeling of the
walk-up attic of our rural home. In a decade's time, it grew like topsy. As
did my music, as I explored deeper and deeper introspections in my 'ambient'
work, and I explored the ranges of rhythmic expression in early IDM-style techno.
But throughout both, there was and still is a strain of sound that owes its
origins to the avant-garde. I have never really gotten away from it, and I don't
think it would be in my best interests to try. It's the little bit of cayenne
pepper that adds a 'zing' to what would otherwise be a typical dish. And given
that I like spicy things, well...
In the past few years, I also was privileged to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen,
at his Courses for New Music in Germany. It was not so much an
experience of learning basics, but an affirmation that I was pursuing the right
directions. Everything that he said or discussed, I already believed or had
arrived at a similar conclusion myself. It was very liberating, I said at the
time, and from those days on, I've felt a freedom to take what I feel, hear,
envision, and set this down as best I can, following instinct, capturing the
immediate 'now' of a work.
And it's that 'now'...that is the key here. Framing the 'now', following a
sense of the true nature of things, relying on instinct and a fluid mind...all
of these things are my guideposts, along with so many things I've heard and
experienced. Works that capture a certain 'now', such as "Mendota" and its
impression of sunset colors sliding across a vast frozen lake and snowscape...or
"SPCTR", which attempts to magnify the 'world inside a single tone'...these and
so many other 'nows' are the ones I try to paint as best as I can in the sounds
that I use. And perhaps the results evoke other things, as everyone's
experience of something as fundamentally communicating as music is colored by
their own experiences in so many ways.
In Zen disciplines, one hears of the concept of 'samu'...work as meditation or
practice. And I view what I do, when I'm creating or performing, or even
tweaking the settings on an existing work...as a manner of that same practice.
But it's a practice with an open mind, receptive, waiting for something to sound
from beyond the fundamental self and not merely 'just doing something, no matter
what'. Creativity within a mindful state, and continuously trying to seize the 'now'
in a work...it's not the easiest way I can think of to work, nor the easiest way
that I have worked over the years. But it is the right way for me, as trying to
be a 'New Music star' only ever led to a lot of ego-driven angst and annoyance.
That's not who I am, not my nature, not my music.
Where from here, then? Who can say? Not me. None of those 'nows' have
happened yet, so I suppose I'll simply have to wait for them so that I can
encounter each one. I encourage you to wait and see what happens, as well.
The Mechanisms of Starlight
WEST - Nocturnal Music in Five Movements
The sea and the sky
Within This Space