Thursday, September 3, 2020

Derek Brown


There's a difference between hearing and listening. I think most of us hear a lot of music throughout the day, in the car radio, the grocery stores, elevators, commercials, etc. It probably is becoming more rare these days to actually LISTEN to music, where we're focused on the music, listening to the lyrics, song form, etc. And I'm not judging anybody, because I'm the same way. We have such short attention spans and there's SO MUCH media out there coming at us all the time, it's hard to sit down and focus on listening to something a lot of times. But that's why live concerts are so important these days. Going to a live show forces us to sit down and focus on watching and listening to a something that we paid for; that we got into the car and drove specifically to hear. But it also forces us to break away from the mundane of going through the everyday emotions; forces us to FEEL human again. 

A lot of people have assumed I combined the two loves of my life together: beatboxing and saxophone. However, that's not really the case (especially since I've never really ever beatboxed vocally before)! Instead, I had a very normal American music upbringing: playing in concert band and jazz band in high school, and then majoring in classical and jazz saxophone in college. It was only then that I heard various musicians making interesting percussive sounds on their instruments. And never really knowing whether I was more of a classical or jazz or pop saxophonist, I just starting messing around with the instrument. Adding musical things here and there, not knowing where it might lead. Over the years I slowly evolved my playing style, learning to "slap tongue" from contemporary classical saxophone, to hit the instrument from watching fingerstyle guitarists, experimenting with multiphonics from avant garde jazz players, getting my feet involved with stomps from playing the drum set, and even singing while playing since, well...guitarists and pianists do it all the time. Why not on the sax??

(Advice for getting started) Listen to a lot of music and learn particularly the chords of your favorite stuff, by ear preferably. I'm very chord/harmony driven, so I usually start there, coming up with chord progressions that sound good to me. People might find this unusual since I play a very non-chordal instrument, the saxophone, that can only play one note at a time. But maybe that's another reason I play like I do, I'm trying to treat the saxophone like a chordal instrument, like a piano or guitar!

But anyways, I like to improvise around with bass lines and chord progressions until I find something I like. Then I'll add a melody on top, repeating this process for other sections of the song (like verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, etc). 

And the most important thing I've learned with composition is, it's NEVER going to be perfect or even as good as your best song, but that's okay! Just keep writing in whatever system works for you. I often struggle with this perfectionist attitude, and so I often have to absolutely force myself to finish a darn song! I even started a Twitch channel where I would write a song in 90 minutes, and it wouldn't matter what came out on the other end, as long as I finished it!

As much as people say it, it's totally true: Only pursue music as a profession if it totally consumes your life; if it's all you can imagine doing. When you're young, explore it! Have fun with it! But when it's time to pick a career, just know that it's NOT easy. Even someone like me who has millions of Youtube videos and has played in over 30 countries and all 50 states; it's still a daily struggle to keep things moving forward constantly. 

But I do think there is a secret to success; maybe even guaranteed success. SUSTAIN IT! Millions of people have sought out a career in music but only a few make it, solely because they stuck with it, through the inspired and (mostly) uninspired times. So the million dollar question, I think, becomes 'How do you sustain a career?' I think it takes 3 things: Stay healthy, keep things challenging, and keep things fun! If you can keep these three things up, you won't get bored, you'll keep growing, and you'll be able to physically keep going!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Sverre Knut Johansen


HOW: Finding the right sound and seeing what happens. Most of my music is Improvised in real time.

BEGINNING: In 1976-1980 around this period I listened a lot to Isao Tomita and at the same time I read the books of Erik Von Daniken. A perfect combination. Tomita`s "Bermuda Triangle" was an exciting musical discovery.  This might mean that I have been growing up with more symphonic classical music and not so much electronic traditional music.

DREAMS BEYOND: Most of the music on this album is crafted and sound designed with inspiration from the art picture  BEACON by MichaƂ Karcz. The BEACON picture is the front cover on this album and for me it is quite magic and maybe a little unreal. 

I chose the picture because it reflected the music I want to make. Also I had this title “Beyond Dreams” in my mind for some years, and this fine picture also reflected this title. When I was working with the music I always used BEACON as my screensaver, for when I compose and when I listen. 

The meaning of the title Dreams Beyond is to explore and follow our dreams beyond the unknown, finding, searching and discovering a secret treasure (a paradise) hidden from the outside world, a peaceful place with long days surrounded by birds, beautiful landscapes, safe from all danger in this world. A healing place. 

The music is more ambient than what I have recorded before this time and some sounds also pull the music in a more orchestral direction.

There are «two» important synth pads that have been great for making this album: The "Equinox" Pad from PRISM for REAKTOR By Native Instruments and the "Epic Majestic" Pad from OmniChill by Plugin Guru for Omnisphere.

The Epic Majestic Pad is the foundation for the two "Tatra Mountains" tracks, also giving life and passion to "Dreams Beyond" and "Awakening" tracks. 

The dramatic bird sounds I use in "Tatra Mountains" are a big part of this song as they create a more dramatic and intense vibe throughout the track. These two minutes I created with these sounds are important to the whole album as I also use them elsewhere to link the tracks together. The bird sounds on "Tatra Mountains" along with different effects and synth sounds was crafted from the OSCar programmable Music Synthesiser.

I have for some years been thinking about the guitar and for this album I asked some friends and borrowed a guitar and a EBow.

Playing the guitar is a new experience for me and this can be heard on all songs except «Tatra Mountains». - For the tracks - Dreams Beyond - Dawn - Echoes of The past -  Human Connection - I use EBow on the guitars.

Q: What would you like to try that you have not tried yet?

A concert.


Spotted Peccary


Friday, June 19, 2020

Craig Padilla

Music is the language of the Universe. It can be created with nature, and with man-made instruments. It can speak to the soul. It can tell a story. And all music is a part of history that gets preserved once it's recorded.  Music is vibrations of frequencies which stimulate the senses in all living things. "Listening" is both a proactive and a subconscious act of being in tune with sonic vibrations emanating around and within us.

My task as a composer is to make a musical story that I would want to hear and feel, and have that energy pass along to the listener. I've been playing guitar all of my life. The moment I had first heard Jean-Michel Jarre's "Oxygene" album in a local planetarium during a high school field trip, I decided that I wanted to make music like that.

My advice to artists is "Never give up. Never stop creating."  If you want something bad enough, and you're really passionate about it, then it's possible to manifest whatever it is that you are trying to accomplish. It is the Law of Attraction.  My other advice is "Listen to constructive criticism." Criticism can be good and bad. If it's constructive then there is something that an artist may be able to learn to better their craft.

There have been many occasions when I've suddenly awakened in the middle of the night with a melody stuck in my head. I've had to get out of bed and go into the music studio to record the idea so that I wouldn't forget it later. When creative inspiration hits me, I must act on it immediately. It feels like it's a part of my DNA.

Howard Givens and I continue to grow as a musical duo every time we create music, both solo and as a duo. This new album evolved from our personal journey of music, which is based on our appreciation of the way we have been experiencing the perception of consciousness. This is "The Bodhi Mantra": Bodhi is a Sanskrit name translated as "enlightenment" or "awakening" which relates to a Buddhist concept, wherein Bodhi is synonymous with the state of nirvana, being freed from hate, greed and ego. We represented this idea in the music by making it sound warm and peaceful; hypnotic and uplifting.

When I created "Vostok" in 2001, I had no intention on releasing it because I was making upbeat music at the time. However, I had sent a copy of it to a music reviewer who really enjoyed it, and he suggested that I send it to Spotted Peccary Music. I was not familiar with the label at the time, but I thought I'd reach out to them. Once they heard "Vostok", they were interested in releasing it, as well as future albums. I was also attracted by the positive and creative energy from Howard Givens and Deborah Martin, and by the high quality of music that was (and still is) being released on their label. I feel honored to be included on their roster.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


Music, for me, has become a way of life. I write most days, and in fact, it is a chief pastime. That being said, I can’t be sure how the lightning of ideas strikes the inorganic molecule and brings it life. Inspiration remains a mystery. I can suggest that it has helped a great deal to follow my instincts and intuitions, given that they tend to take my music into more fruitful and less-predictable places.

It has been said that all music is rhythm, or percussion. If this is true, then I hope to help musicians and listeners alike realize that they can be free of militant or precise rhythms, as I feel that the West has a sort of craze with rhythmic precision that is far from ideal.

I would add music as a virtue that tends to be human. And I want to add that I love music, even traditional music, and would suggest to no one that they throw out their recordings. What generative enables us to see is that humans can also systematically PLAN music, in some ways. In other words, we can enable the computer certain possibilities, which it then enacts-- and often, then, we can and do curate the results.

That being said, music remains a mystery in many ways. Especially interesting to me are the ways that certain tones sound good together, and the existence of harmonics-- a documented phenomenon that shows what happens as key frequencies unite.

The act of listening-- we open our ears, and invite music into our minds. We allow it to create its effects. And I feel that we can open our ears and minds more or less according to our inclination(s). For example, Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” makes me weep with emotion every time I listen closely, so I tend to avoid listening to it except for at certain times.

I try to amass a substantially-sized batch of sounds that I think will work together. These have to be iterable-- they have to work with themselves and one another, in pretty much any combination. It is helpful, for example, if they are already in tune with one another, and don’t contain sonic elements that are silly or offensive or might stick out from the rest. The second level happens with each track, and that is where I use my Python to index the larger set and randomly make extractions from it, then treating the extractions in ways that make them more musical in a loop-based mixing context.

Q How did your own parents introduce music to you growing up?

They were great lovers of music. They played their records all of the time, including especially The Beatles and The Beach Boys. My father was, secretly, very talented, and could play banjo, ukelele and piano. I always imagined he could have become a musician, if he had wanted.

Q If a youngster was interested in making music, how would you advise her?

I am afraid the good old, it’s going to take a number of years and please stick with it, remains the best advice. It might be some time before the music even feels personal or relevant. Stick with it, and sooner or later, I believe it will. And as a young person makes the music more and more their own, so do they progress, until their relationship with music becomes an impassioned commitment.

Q How would you explain your creative process to a youngster who is curious about life's possibilities?

There will be times, I would suggest, when life seems to restrict a person, to limit their range of choices. I would reassure the young person that music, and art, in general, have a way of re-opening these closed pathways, and restoring creativity and free expression to one’s life.

Q There is a river in Russia, the Yenisei (which is sometimes spelled Yenisey) does this have anything to do with your album title, Yenisei Crossing?

The river “Yenisei” is part of “Yenisei Crossing”, which alludes to a crossing of that river. Why a remote part of Russia? I have had a series of dreams of varying clarity in which I live in primitive Siberia, eking out a living on the chilly plains. Siberians would know about the Yenisei-- where it is located and its resources.

Q What is the story of the creation of your album Yenisei Crossing?

At the time, a lot was going on with me creatively. I had been working on a series of Python applications that enabled my processor to, mainly, choose a body of samples, treat them in any of certain ways, and then map them out on a live looping console. I could get some unexpected and really interesting loop-based compositions this way.

The first immediate advantage was that I did not have to spend hours preparing loops for mixing. The Python code took that task out of my hands. Nor did I have to rely on my own rather specific and perhaps predictable choices. The random functions available to me put sounds together in ways I would not have predicted. Sometimes the result was unlistenable, but more often than not it was intriguing, to say the least.

Pursuing coded music has become a sort of dream-escape for me, or pastime. Like my nocturnal visions of Siberia, they took me places I never thought I would experience.

Q What is it about the sound that attracts you to your unique work?

All I can say is that I like what certain music(s) do to my mind. And I am amazed at the chance to help others feel the same way.

Q What would you like to try that you have not tried yet?

It certainly would be a thrill to have a church’s pipe organ to play.

Q Where do you dream of going? (vacation, tour, exploration, by time machine, etc.)

Portland is already a favorite destination, though my wife and I have only been once. We actually plan to move there when we retire. I like the idea of setting down that close to the Pacific Ocean.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ben Cox

I think music is particularly interesting because it is temporal. You can read at whatever speed you want. You can look at sculpture or paintings at your own pace. You can watch movies (or video of theatre) at a different speed and still get the gist. Music (including opera) is experienced at a specific speed which is part of the experience.

I’ve been making music with electronics since I was about 12. It’s something I can’t not do. My previous album came out in 2005, and although I never stopped making music in the interim, I didn’t dedicate as much time toward my own music as I felt was necessary to come up with results that I was happy with sharing, other than a few tracks here and there that I was happy with. Much of my musical efforts over the past 15 years or so have been toward mastering other people’s music (see discography here). I decided it was time to come back out of hibernation and put together a (small) collection of tracks that I could be happy with presenting as an album; this is the result.

I know that I am conscious. You know that you are conscious. This knowledge is itself consciousness. I know that you are conscious (and vice versa) because you and I know that we are the same sort of thing, and because we observe behaviors in each other that are consistent with our own experience of consciousness. And thus, (most of us) conclude by induction that others are conscious, as we are.

Now consider a cat. A cat exhibits complex behaviors, and most people agree that cats are conscious (at least, for a few hours a day). The jury is still out on ants, though. Plankton? Probably not, except on SpongeBob.

But now let’s consider artificial intelligence. You and I can say “well we know Siri/Cortana/Bixby/Alexa aren’t conscious”;  we know how they work. Are they not conscious because we know how they work, or are they not conscious because their behaviors are insufficiently complex and we can explain them away? Science fiction abounds with robots and artificial intelligences with varying degrees of consciousness and recognition/acceptance of their consciousness (and their free will and their rights). (Maybe you can tell that my favorite literary genre is SciFi and my favorite writers are Asimov, Banks and Clarke?)

What about the in-between areas, where (when?) we have robots which (a) we know and can explain how they work and how they make decisions, and yet (b) exhibit behavior that’s complex enough that we can’t explain all of the factors that went into a given course of action? (We already have enough trouble auditing/debugging convolutional neural networks.) I would say that if a system exhibits behavior that we can’t tell whether is conscious or not, then it is morally imperative that we treat it as though it is conscious, and recognize its rights accordingly. If we turn that back around, can we prove that we are conscious?

My position is that it doesn’t matter. Consciousness is a red herring; it is a property that we can’t define, and can only implicitly/indirectly observe. It is an illusion; a trick of the light.

I’m attracted to mythology and folklore in general, not exclusively Egyptian. I think it’s actually part of my fascination with consciousness, as the archetypes that are explored in myth tend to be similar across cultures and may have origins that predate the emergence of humans. As a teenager, I was completely captivated by The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes, and although I understand that current science rejects some of his ideas, I found them fascinating and inspiring.

I was born in Cleveland and grew up in Northwest Indiana. I went to college in Illinois, and then came to Pittsburgh for grad school. I liked it here, so I stayed. I currently live in the Strip District right outside of “dahntahn” Pittsburgh. I have a reasonably short commute, which has gotten even shorter over the last six weeks. (I lived in the north suburbs and had a long commute for 10 years, which influenced my decision to go work on autonomous vehicles from 2015-2019, though I’m now back out of that industry.)

I think my interest in drones is explicitly linked to growing up in the Midwest where you can look off into the distance on a hazy summer day and just get lost in thought for hours on end. Some of the drones I make are explicit attempts to capture aspects of “The Hum.”

As a kid, I was very interested in listening to the LPs we had at the house, which included Switched-On Bach and Rumours and The White Album, along with some rock classics like ZZ Top Tres Hombres and Tejas. In school I was in all (ALL) of the bands and really loved a lot of the band and orchestral pieces we played, by people like Percy Grainger and Paul Hindemith. I was also a big fan of Claude Debussy, and Holst’s The Planets was huge for me as well. As a trumpet player, I was (am) pretty enamored of Live at Jimmy’s by Maynard Ferguson.

I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so the Foellinger Great Hall at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is pretty high on that list. It’s a gorgeous venue, which I got to know as an audience member and as a member of the University recording staff. I’ve seen hundreds of concerts in that hall, including the Chicago Symphony.

Another highlight was performing The Pines of Rome in a brass ensemble consisting of hundreds of high school and college students at Butler University in Indianapolis. I still get chills for that piece of music.

On the other end of the spectrum, there used to be a little cafe in Urbana called The Nature’s Table which was about 400 square feet with maybe five tables, that used to be jam-packed for live jazz combo music (many featuring university faculty) several nights a week until 3am or so.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

John Gregorius

I think what drew and still draws me to instrumental music is the mystery. It's a spiritual thing, it's an awe inspiring thing that 12 notes can produce something that moves us so deeply. Music has often been used as a product but in it's purest sense it's the connection with something bigger, something beyond our understanding.
It's sort of like breathing, it's just something I love to do. If prayer is simply talking, connecting and or listening to God, then while creating, recording or "painting" the music, being awake to this conversation or simply being awake to the divine presence is how music can become prayer. Instead of getting lost in the mechanics, get lost in the present, listening and speaking.
Through my years of playing with pop bands and many other times in life, I tried to make or play the music I thought people wanted. It wasn’t until I started making the music that honestly moved me that “success” happened.  Now, success often doesn’t mean money or huge numbers of people listening. Remember Van Gogh only sold 2 painting in his lifetime. Yet, there are stories of people playing my music through tough times and they found healing in it.  Now, that’s success! I say this to you and to myself. I’m constantly questioning the worth of my music and why I work so hard to make it. This has to be the answer. I make music because I love making music. If one person benefits, then it’s worth it. There’s a poem by Emily Dickinson called not in vain which speaks to this perfectly.
 If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

My music comes from the desire for communion.  It can be deep or distant or mysterious and at times it’s a struggle but much of the time it’s a space of being home or grounded. For me, I cannot be content without a close, honest and prayerful connection with our Loving God. I think this comes out in the music.  On Heaven and Earth you hear a specific spiritual space compared to Still Voice which was a deeper time of searching of both God and who I was. Full of life is simply letting Joy and Mystery flow together, discovering spiritual connection in nature and love. 
The most beautiful place I performed in was St. John’s Episcopal Church in Rancho Santa Margarita.  The cathedral’s acoustics were amazing and was filled with natural light. It was a deep spiritual space which felt much like being up in the mountains with a breeze blowing through the trees.   
I would say that I come up with my best ideas by either sitting in a quiet room with a guitar, looper and reverb or out in nature.  We were able to get a home on the east side of Tucson. We are only 2 miles away from Saguaro National Park west which is home to the Rincon Mountains.  It’s a place we often hike. We often watch the evening light change these mountains to an amazing pink color. 
For Full of Life especially, I've been influenced by the Sonoran desert of Tucson. There is so much life that thrives in the many seasons here. We have a fairly short monsoon season in the middle of the hottest time of summer which nourishes the plants and animals through the year. The Saguaro cactus somehow thrives in the environment and can live up to 200 years. The spring is full of colorful flowers and creeks running from snow run off. It snowed a winter back and it was amazing to see snow falling on the cacti. So there is this great mystery of life in the desert. Maybe this is why mystics and monks have found deep spiritual life in the desert.
It usually starts with one or two chords or arpeggio. Then, I add harmony which moves it the way I'm feeling it should go. Sometimes I start out looking for a certain space, like slower repetition or maybe a bit more complex solo piece. I've been inspired by using different tunings. For Full of Life, I used Robert Fripp's New Standard Tuning which brought new ideas and ways of approaching the guitar and writing.
Much of the music is "written" on acoustic with a looper to either create atmosphere or second and third parts or melodies. Solos are improvised but I do this sparingly. The more ambient pieces like "Rincon Fading Light" are at least begun with improvisation. From there I work intuitively with layers, atmospheres and melodies.
I’m very interested in music as prayer.  Does that mean a more stripped down, solo performance kind of recording or a simple prayer without ceasing approach to production? Maybe it’s a entire record where the listener can sit in a prayerful space? I’m not sure yet, but I’m excited and inspired right now to keep creating.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Chris Russell

Nature is a big inspiration for the art I create. I love to go hiking, going into nature, recharging my creative battery. I feel like I am trying to bring the energy from the forest back into the studio. Inspiration is all around. You have to slow down and observe. I paint a picture in the mind's eye with sounds, all my tracks usually are, multiple takes stacked together with no composition or planning, for me my music is a mixed media collage that comes to life.

One reason I make Ambient music is to peer behind the veil, as an attempt to explore other realities. I love to go out at night stargazing, staring into the black void on a dark night far away from the light pollution of the city. My music is all about the vast expanse, other dimensions, paranormal, sci-fi themes. Sometimes I imagine that this music is what aliens would like to listen to, riding in their UFOs!

My Dad was a big believer in spiritualism, UFOs, Cryptids and Government Conspiracies, I have seen and experienced things most people have no grasp on. That all influences my deeper dive into creating soundscapes. I feel this is music for the future, I like to think I'm making it for a coming golden age.

I was baptized and raised a Catholic and now I feel like I have an even deeper spiritual level, I do not follow religious dogma, my church is the forest, nature.

I was born in the Peoria, Illinois area and currently live in LaSalle, Illinois with my wife Megan and our two cats Leo and Lulu. I spent about ten years playing and exploring electronic music in my bedroom, not being too serious. My first music released to the public was on and then later Myspace Music. MySpace got me in touch with other ambient musicians and helped me get my first record deal on AtmoWorks. My first ambient electronic album I released was titled Aralu.

I started off with computer based music tools, as the technology evolves I get new plugins, that is what I dive into, I like to keep it all on my personal cutting edge. All my music is DIY (do it yourself), I have had no classes, I watched no YouTube tutorials, I had no training. It's all just what I have figured out for myself. I started in the early days with two boomboxes, keyboards and a drum machine, I would bounce recorded tracks back and forth to add layers, one box playing and the other recording. Then in 1999, I got a PC with Sound Forge, and another program called Acid, which I currently still use today.

I love collaborating, I wish to do it more, I always pick up new things working with other people. I believe a good collaboration is going somewhere you couldn't get to yourself. I just recently finished a collaborative album with Philip Wilkerson, that is a follow up to our 2014 release Vague Traces.

My most recent release, Destiny (on Spotted Peccary Music) on a personal level is my ten year celebration of releasing my own music, and is a celebration of taking the creative path less traveled that can be both challenging and rewarding.

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