Holodeck: the Q and the A

Some of the artists behind Holodeck’s slew of September releases mailed in their thoughts on composing, stumbling home after a night of drinking, and the ideal video game console. First in line was Silent Land Time Machine, responsible for the heady and lavish I am no longer alone with myself…

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The Unhappy Clef: Conversations with you often lead to the subject of Jung, and indeed your compositions feel lifted from the subconscious. This is surely not an accident.

Silent Land Time Machine: In part yes, in part no – in all honesty, I hadn’t started reading Jung until the last year – as I’ve continued studying his material, I began to feel very strongly that the composition process for SLTM was, largely, an unconscious one. I certainly think the Silent Land material has a feeling of being ‘lifted’ from somewhere…often it feels like the pieces write themselves, especially those that end up hinging on a “happy accident” in recording, where sometimes those pieces, many of which I had no intention of making, end up dictating the flow of a given song more than any melodies or phrases I had been working on. I guess, in a way, SLTM relies very much on accidents – it feels like those are the best parts of the songs to me – they maintain some kind of spontaneity, even for me, I am usually still surprised that they happened.

The U.C.: It appears that you intended some kind of emotional payoff comes with the closing track “Dealing with Doubt,” although the other, more cerebral pieces (example: “An Own To One’s Room”) don’t seem composed simply to build tension. Care to offer a word or two on your composing intent?

SLTM: For the former, it simply exploded into a swell of noise at the end of a (mostly) live performance in my recording space which I had to find a way of controlling into a “reasonable” ending…I was very much reacting to where the piece had been at that given point, and made few edits, which is pretty atypical of how I end up editing songs. The latter piece, by the end, had already come together completely – it was a full thought, per se, and I was in a more conscious position to “rip it apart”, to voluntarily fragment the thing…that all being said, I suppose there is a more clear payoff when I am less conscious of what I’m doing, ha!

The U.C.: You took the new material on tour in July. It’s difficult for the non-musician to understand how something so complex can be executed live by a single performer. Care to give us a glimpse how? Or at least let us in on any issues you encountered along the way?

SLTM: Often I strip the Silent Land material down into simpler versions, though, I significantly alter them typically, and they still always involve many “inputs” from different instruments to form a cohesive whole. I really wouldn’t be able to perform my recorded pieces in any sort of verbatim form, they just aren’t recorded with that in mind and would far too fragmented to reconstruct live without having to resort to banally pushing play on different multi-tracks on a laptop. It gives me a chance to re-approach the pieces, which, keeps it an evolving and fresh process – my live set switches up a lot, and I try different configurations of instruments, though I usually have my viola no matter what. There is a bit of juggling between instruments, looping things and synching with samples or drum machines or a woodblock or a tape player…but, it at least seems to work out ok. It was certainly a challenge, especially at first, to try and make Silent Land songs viable in a live format – I originally had no intention of performing live, but, it’s ultimately been a rewarding angle to explore musically.

The U.C.: While we’re on the subject of juggling: Xbox 360 or Wii?

SLTM: SNES!

The U.C.: In conclusion, would you consider your music to be tense, or delivering?

SLTM: It feels both tense and delivering, per se, in the composition process, so, I would hope that it bears the imprint somehow, and carries that on to listeners.

Buy I am no longer alone with myself… here. Next is SURVIVE, who reissued their trippy, untitled lab experiment HD009 in a now sold-out limited tape edition:

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The U.C.: A digital sound recorded with analog hardware that you have released on tape. Such a deliberate collision of styles seems like a philosophical statement. Care to comment?

SURVIVE: We don’t particularly care how the sound is made, as long as it sounds good. We use quite a few digital sounds, that we may or may not process through analog equipment. The release is on tape because cassettes are a cheap physical artifact.

The U.C.: How do your compositions start to take shape? Often ambient artists record alone, starting with a source sample and processing it out of recognition. It seems a four-member band doesn’t have the same luxury.

SURVIVE: Most of this release is composed of things that individuals in the group recorded alone, that we later either added to, or just compiled. There are a couple of moments where the entire band was recorded at the same time, but most of it was done separately.

The U.C.: If the only musical schism left is Music for Cars vs. Music for Earbuds, which of these do you think most fits this album?

SURVIVE: Music that people listen to in cars is usually more upbeat, so this is probably for headphones. Maybe good for walking home drunk at 3am in the rain.

Well met! Stream the untitled HD009 here. In no particular order, next is Thousand Foot Whale Claw:

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The U.C.: You seem to strike a careful balance between rehearsed and improvised. Which of the two better describes the origins of your music, and what deliberate steps do you take to maintain that balance?

Thousand Foot Whale Claw: I would say that our earlier stuff Lost in those Dunes and Time Brothers are definitely more improv based. With all of those pieces, we would basically just agree on a key and jam for a while. After doing it a few times, the “songs” made themselves more apparent. Most of Time Brothers is the very first stuff that we ever recorded, and it was all improvised.

Our newer stuff, Dope Moons Vol.1 and the new album we are currently recording, is much more rehearsed and dare I say, composed. All of the songs have planned events and stuff like that, so I guess you could say we “wrote” them. We are taking no steps to maintain that balance, we are just evolving and changing as a band.

The U.C.: Describe the ambient music scene in Austin. From the outside, it’s much more known for blues-based and roots-based rock.

TFWC: The Austin ambient music scene is pretty deep. My favorite Austin band of all time is Stars of the Lid, who has been a very successful ambient band. The current scene of ambient music is very rich and diverse. There are a lot of great noise acts, and a lot of older, more “academic” experimental class of ambient musicians. There are also a lot synth based bands that aren’t always very ambient, but veer into that territory – that is where we fit in. Austin ambient music ranges from snobby and artsy to vulgar and terrible often on the same bill. There are these types of shows most nights of the week.

The U.C.: We realize that we’re supposed to ask about something to do with Marvel, but the only thing on our minds right now comes from DC: how well did you think Christopher Nolan handled Bane’s character?

TFWC: We all saw the new Dark Knight movie and didn’t think too much of it. We are not really that into the Nolan take on Batman. I can see why people like it, but it’s not our thing.

Stream and buy Time Brothers here. Last is the genre-mocking AMASA•GANA, who tendered their debut in September.

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The U.C.: Describe the genesis of an individual song. Or, put another way, how do all five of you agree on compositions that are this handcrafted?

AMASA•GANA: The genesis of a song can come from variety of places: sometimes an interesting sound or a unique tone inspires a mood, or sometimes one of us will write a moving chord-phrase and come in with an idea. We try to make every song different in either the way it’s written or the approach to which we record and design sounds. We never have problems agreeing on compositions though, there’s been a tacit understanding throughout the composing process.

The U.C.: Brian Eno’s description of ambient music comes to mind when listening: “the cusp between melody and texture.” Thoughts?

AG: That quote seems pretty accurate, and it definitely applies to us. Enjoying ambient music certainly comes with an acceptance that tone and sound are equally as important as what you do with them.

The U.C.: We’re sure you have a theory on scales: when to stick to them, when to stray from them, and when to ignore them altogether.

AG: We don’t ever pay that much attention to scales. Our songs are often in more than one scale, but that is not a conscious thing. We always go with the flow of what we intuitively feel “needs” to come next in the song. Sometimes the song leads us to turn to a new set of notes, and we let it happen. We don’t like or dislike scales or music theory in general, but our mindset most definitely far from those concepts while we write and record.

Stream here. Thank you to all of the respondents, and a big thanks to Jon (SLTM, Holodeck, Indian Queen Records) for putting this all together.

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