by Marcus Pan
1. Nearly a decade of music, but
previous to your release of Discovery much of it was more synth-pop or
techno related. What made you turn your talents to the more ambient strains
found on Discovery and your latest, Talking To The Dead?
While the pop music was satisfactory to me, I felt that I
wasn't truly expressing myself artistically and it wasn't much different than
the music being created at the time. I guess I was more concerned then with
creating music that would be more widely accepted. Once I overcame that notion
I started creating music just for the sake of creating music. I felt more
freedom to explore different methods of creating songs. I wanted to do
something different than the usual three minute formulated song and created
something people could just put on and lose themselves in it.
2. Both of your ambient releases are of a distinct theme.
Discovery is set in space with sounds that are truly reminiscent of such
and can breathlessly take you there. With Talking To The Dead you imbued
into your soundscapes the paranormal. This is extremely difficult to do - many
ambient artists will have a similar tone yet provide sounds that are not as
concentric to a theme like you do. Is it difficult to seamlessly integrate all
your tracks together to equate with the theme you are producing?
At times it can be. I have written songs that were good on
their own but still scrapped because they didn't fit with the theme of the
project. Sometimes a song will be written but when placed within the context
doesn't quite fit and gets tweaked a little. One example I can think of is
The First Odyssey. The first draft was quite different than what made it
onto Talking to The Dead. It had a major key, a bright bouncy organ
solo, and sampled animal chatter. Changing it to a minor key, a droning guitar
and an amazing recording of the ghost of Ellen Terry made the song fit well to
the theme. Little changes like that can really make a difference on how a song
3. Walking the fine line between noise and music is one
of the most difficult ideas to arrange. Yet somehow you stray neither to one
side or the other - what makes you determine what is noise and what is music?
Or is there a determination of this at all?
The musical part is most important to me. Most of the time
the instrumentation is the key part of a song where the noise, FX, and
soundscapes add to the mood of the piece, creating a harmony between the two.
Sometimes a simple grand piano or acoustic guitar can speak volumes above
layered sweeping filters. I feel today actually playing an instrument and
knowing music theory is lost on many of today's electronic musicians. They just
don't want to take the time to learn. I really enjoy sound designing too.
Creating your own sound instead of simply dialing up a synth preset makes the
music more expressive and unique to the artist which is where the noise part
comes in. I also create songs based solely on textures and soundscapes, the art
of noise can make a profound statement. I use it much like a composer creates
sounds to tie in scenes in a film
4. How do you create your music and how would you
describe, assuming it is possible, the process by which a concept or theme idea
moves from thought to album?
In the case with Discovery, I knew what kind of
concept I wanted and created it around that theme creating the songs in that
order. Talking to The Dead was different. I didn't have a direction at
first, the album was originally called Kaleidoscope. I had a few phrases and
sounds written out. The concept idea came up when I added EVP sounds to a song.
With Lalurie, Zygote, and Talking To The Dead Part 1 created the
theme was developing. I usually have a general idea at a point of how the album
will progress and work on the songs accordingly, where they will be placed and
how the moods will develop and change throughout so it's all seamlessly
integrated. It not necessarily tells a story, but places the listener in a
specific environment and holds them.
5. What type of utilities, gear and equipment do you
utilize in your home studio to create your music?
The core system is a hot rodded G3 Mac which ties in all the
gear and is the multi-track recorder, sequencer, editor and mastering station.
Most of the parts are MIDI sequenced virtual tracks. The sequencer, which is
currently Logic, is a wonderful tool for writing as I can change sounds and
parts on the fly and I usually write the song as I'm recording it. Most of the
sounds are played from my Akai S2000 sampler with a couple old Roland synths
for the fat classic sounds. A couple racks of digital effects and analog tube
preamps and compressors and a few guitars. A good mix of analog & digital
hardware so the sound has a nice warm rich tone.
6. Have you ever worked with others on musical projects
or do you prefer to work alone? Do you feel you have more control over the
music if working alone and that the help of someone else would taint it, as is
common with artists of your genre?
I've pretty much worked alone. I guess I could fall into the
definition of control freak. I have worked briefly in the past in a couple of
projects. Once as a singer in a pop band and as a lead guitarist in an
Industrial metal band, which is where I got my pseudonym "Ax Nyslie." That was
pretty fun getting my angst out just shredding riffs on guitar. I still plan to
pursue my solo work alone but I would like to collaborate on other projects. I
recently did a remix for Estonian artist il_ya which is on his new CD. I'm also
part of a new network of ambient artists called Greyscale. It's a syndicate of
myself and eight other very talented artists. We are planning on releasing a
sampler CD soon in early 2000.
7. You released Discovery via MP3.com's DAM
(Digital Automatic Music) facility. How is it working with a company like
MP3.com? Do you find any truth to all the scrutiny web-based recording
facilities like them have come under or are you happy with the service and
support they have provided you thus far?
On line music distribution is still way in
it's infancy stage. There's still a ways to go before a real standard emerges,
so there are plenty of rough spots to be smoothed out. So far, MP3.com has been
pretty decent. Any little bit of publicity helps and providing mp3 songs is an
excellent way to showcase your music to fans all over the world. People will be
more inclined to by CDs from artists when they know if they have mp3 singles to
hear. After all if it wasn't for them, this interview wouldn't be happening.
MP3 sites have been criticized for not compensating artists for the downloads
they receive. This is gradually changing now and how it will progress will be
interesting to see. For now I'll stick with it. It is a free service and it's
certainly better than not getting heard at all which is all that really matters
to me. I don't do this for the money. My biggest problem is my mp3 singles are
heard out of context from the conceptual album so listeners don't get the whole
8. To any other artists looking to use MP3.com's,
Riffage.com's or another similar groups recording facilities, what would you
say to help them not fall into the pitfall of obscurity?
Don't depend on these sites to do your promotion for you
because they wont. Get out in the real world and promote yourself and your
site. Play live gigs, flyer your town and clubs, send out promo CDs to
magazines and DJs, spread the word on BBS and newsgroups, collaborate with
other artists. Do what it takes to get noticed. An important thing to remember
is to know your fan base and your genre. If your an ambient artist, don't waste
time promoting to rock fans. Also don't just give away all your songs on line.
Just post a few singles to get attention.
9. Discovery - your first concept album. Space is
a much-explored concept within ambient electronic music and you can find the
idea in so many bands and artists these days that it has become almost
passé. Where did the idea come from? What made you decide to attempt
this of your own accord? What do you think it was that made Discovery so
much better than the other space-ambient attempts out there?
The idea came from "For All Mankind". It's a National
Geographic documentary about the Apollo missions showing film archives set to
music from Brian Eno's "Apollo-Atmospheres & Soundtracks." I was totally
mesmerized by the beauty of the music and visuals and listened to the CD
repeatedly. I almost immediately began writing songs of Discovery
inspired by it. I was also listening intensely to the public radio show Hearts
of Space, where I draw much of my inspiration This was also around the 25th
anniversary of the Apollo missions. So rather than making spacey trip-out
tunes, I really focused on trying to capture the mood and feel of what it must
be like being in space surrounded by vastness. The album is dubbed "A sonic
journey to the heart of inner space" since it's an aural journey the listener
visualizes in his mind. It was such a pleasure to make and I was very pleased
with the results. I did it just for fun yet it received lots of positive
feedback so I then knew I was on to something. This was the first project I
felt was original to me and I knew then this was what the direction I wanted to
10. Let's turn to your latest release
now - Talking To The Dead. An amazing concept album. Where did you first
find your interest in the paranormal world growing to the extent that you felt
it was time to put it to music?
The paranormal has been a life long interest for me. As far
back as I can remember. It escalated more a few years back when I started
reading a lot on the subject. I was reading true ghost stories a lot right when
I started writing the songs. Ambient music is very spiritual so the concept was
perfect. I wanted to make something that was real, not your typical Hollywood
horror. I approached it showing two faces of the spirit world. One being a more
positive dream-like experience marveling in the majestic divine atmosphere of
the afterlife. The other being the earthly realm of hauntings and psychic
intrusion invoking fear of the unknown.
11. Where did you procure all of the raudive voice
samples you've used throughout the album, such as those found in The First
Odyssey and Raudive Voices?
They mostly came from Paranormal research groups archive.
They were captured during haunting investigations. Some were submitted to them
by people who just happened to capture the voices on tape, such as the dog on
Ask the Horlo. Most are barely legible and required extensive audio
filtering to clean them up. But the lo-fi sounds added a nice element to the
music. A few came from archives of investigators George Woods and Betty Green.
The were recorded on paper tape in the '50s and the voices came through in
amazing clarity. There is also a collection of EVPs on a CD called The Ghost
Orchid. A huge library of voices obtained around the world. It was pretty
spooky working on the sounds late at night alone. Perhaps it was my imagination
but afterwards I was hearing things late at night and the lights would come on.
One listener told me when he played the CD his dog would freak out when voices
12. We must discuss Lalurie. I'm listening to it
right now as I write this question. Few songs can conjure up such dread and
mystery as is possible in the squelched screams, flowing chords and heartbeat
percussion of Lalurie. What was it like to write such a song that is
truly frightening about such a story that is as amazingly horrid as the work of
Madame LaLurie of New Orleans?
I visited New Orleans a few years back and I read the story
about what happened there. I was fascinated by it and had to visit the mansion.
It was a creepy experience seeing the room where it happened. I thought it
would make a great story for a song and knew I had to make one. I began making
Talking To The Dead with LaLurie in mind as one part of it. I
wanted to capture the horror of the atrocities that happened and the hauntings
that followed, kind of like giving a tour of the mansion. It took a lot of
sound tweaking to get it just right and making the tortured sounds was
intriguing. I worked on it right around Halloween too so that helped.
13. What's the next theme, if any, that you intend to
work on? Will you stay in the ambient genre like I hope you do, or will you
move back to the more synth-pop genre you were creating in before?
I don't know what the theme will be. But I will be
continuing the same ambient musical style. I can tell you it will be a bit more
guitar oriented. I've been wanting to experiment on making ambient sounds on
giutar as well as electronic instruments much like Biosphere and Daniel Lanois.
I hope to have something completed by the end of 2000.
14. Tell your fans how and where they can best contact
you. Do you prefer e-mail, written letters or other forms of contact and how
would they go about making this contact?
I can be e-mailed at email@example.com and I do like to
hear from people. I keep my official website and my mp3.com website updated
regularly with what's happening too.