3 tracks that shaped my music

Container ships by Volkan Olmez
Container ships by Volkan Olmez https://unsplash.com/@volkanolmez

An Ambient Trinity

When I look back at the music that inspired me to compose in the ambient genre, three tracks stand out, each representing an aesthetic or concept that informs my music:

“Dlp 1.1” by William Basinski

“Dlp 1.1” is an hour-long track from The Disintegration Loops, a series of four albums released between 2002 and 2003 by avant-garde composer William Basinski. For one hour, you hear a cassette tape looping a short fragment of ambient music. With each cycle under the player’s head, the magnetic tape deteriorates. As the quality decreases, the anomalies and distortions increase, until only the ghosts of the original recording remain. The result is a poignant, immersive, void-gazing drone. It is simultaneously outrageous and mesmerising. To me, this approach to musicmaking was a revelation. Basinski opened my eyes to what music could be. Through “Dlp 1.1”, he introduced me to experimental music and specifically, the power of repetition, distortion and texture.

“Container Ships” by Loscil

“Container Ships” is the fourth track on Sketches From New Brighton (2012) by Loscil (Scott Morgan). The album is a series of ambient electronic “sketches” inspired by scenery surrounding a Vancouver shipping port. Throughout the track, a pulsing bass theme surges and recedes like an enormous engine. This is joined by an optimistic tune in a higher register, animating the piece. There are distinct, contrasting layers that seamlessly blend together—methodically assembled, yet unfolding naturally. This is what makes Loscil so impressive: the ability to make the calculated feel organic. His minimal soundscapes are pristine but personal, and their warmth draws you in. “Container Ships” pushed me into making ambient music, and for that I owe its composer a debt of gratitude.

“Repose In Blue” by Eluvium

“Repose In Blue” is the finale of Eluvium’s 2007 Copia album. Matthew Cooper, the man behind the moniker, is known for his cinematic ambient compositions, and this nine-and-a-half-minute track does not disappoint, expertly employing the element of surprise. For the first five-and-a-half minutes, an unassuming, string-laden stream of synths passes unhurriedly along—later joined by the laziest horn imaginable—when all of a sudden, a series of deep, unsynchronised drums begin to randomly explode beneath the surface, like subterranean pyrotechnics! This interruption is nothing short of sublime, given the placid expanse he so carefully constructs, up to that point. If I could convey a fraction of such drama and emotional content in my music, I would be delighted!


Why I Compose in GarageBand

GarageBand, compose, music, electronic, post-rock, Erik Satie, Grooverider, William Basinski, Antonin Dvorak, Edvard Grieg, minimalism, creativity, French horn
The preliminary mix for “Airship” in GarageBand
I compose using the GarageBand app for iPad. I use a limited selection of instruments and any field recordings I make. My arsenal consists of a small number of synths and, on occasion, any instruments that suit the aesthetic or theme of a track (the French horn* in “Airship”, for example). I think I work best when I have these self-imposed restraints. When you only have two bass synths to choose from, you spend less time cycling through endless options and more time wrestling with what you have to produce the sounds, effects and textures you want. To me, that is the “experimental” part in experimental post-rock music. This rigid framework forces me to be creative. It is a stimulating and interesting exercise and GarageBand provides the perfect environment in which to do this. It is uncomplicated, often very sophisticated and always a pleasure to use. This approach appeals to my minimalist aesthetic and love of precision. I like “clean” music, whatever the genre, from Erik Satie to William Basinski to Grooverider. I want to create such simplicity in my own work and composing music digitally helps me do that.

Forgotten Fields

* My adoration of the French horn comes as a direct result of my obsession with Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191 and Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16. If you have a quiet moment, please listen to the first movement of the Dvorak cello concerto for the most sublime use of a French horn I have ever heard. (Only Grieg’s subtlest use in the second movement of his piano concerto—my favourite piano concerto—comes close, in my opinion). When I first heard Dvorak’s use of that instrument, I am not ashamed to say that I wept, as I do today, every time I hear it—so graceful, so delicate and so stirring of one’s soul is the sound it produces.