Can you take me to the places where The Blue of Distance came together? How do you think those places may have seeped into the music?
The album was written over a year in two distinct places: I wrote the first half in the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York state. I was in a place called Blue Mountain, it was summer, everything was green and wet, I was surrounded by people who made me feel loved, and I felt quite ecstatic. I wrote the second half many months later in the middle of winter on Madeline Island, an island in Lake Superior off the coast of northern Wisconsin. I was surrounded by ice and snow, I was in a pretty low place, and I felt quite lonely. The album ended up being a record of my attempts to access the feeling of being in a place and time that you are not in currently. I looked at photographs and videos of my summer and tried to remember what it felt like to be there. It didn’t work. It increased the longing. Eventually I made friends with the longing.
So the places very much influenced the sounds, but also the failed attempts to access another place influenced the sounds. Also, the album is built around processed recordings of wind and water from both places, so on a very literal and physical level, the places are in the music.”
Was it a healing process, or a form of therapy, making this album?
Yes, definitely. A lot of making the album was quite painful and not very enjoyable because I was trying so desperately to get back to a place, time, and feeling that had passed. I was also very confused about where I wanted to be (in many senses), and that confusion was total agony. Eventually, through the process of making the music, I realized that tension between places and identities just is who I am, and that the way to soften the pain was to become friends with the tension and longing and fully feel and accept its shape and form.
You’re interested in “humanity’s changing relationship with land through new technology”; to what extent did making this album, and the technology you applied (warped field recordings, modular synths, etc.) with nature?
It highlighted for me just how impossible it is to ever fully reach a distant place, person, or feeling. We can get increasingly closer through improvements in technology, but we don’t seem to be able to ever actually get there. It made me more aware and accepting of how specific my generation’s experience with land and technology is. I think there’s like a 5-year window of people who really came of age at the exact same time as the internet, and that’s a strange place to be. We’re young enough to be comfortable having all this technology fully integrated into our lives, but we’re also old enough to hold onto a fair amount of scepticism. We have memories of both worlds, and that creates a certain tension in us.
You went into this album with a concept in mind; to what extent did the presence and the fickleness of nature alter the course you had set out for this album’s creation process?
I’d say the album changed more as a result of my own life getting in the way. I started with an abstract conceptual idea, and then I was overcome with real events in my life and emotions that I couldn’t just push aside. But I think the epiphany was realizing that the issues in my own life inherently mirrored the larger concepts I’d wanted to think about because I am a human living through this specific time and grappling with how technology is changing me. So maybe the lesson was that no matter how abstract you think you’re going, it will always be personal.
For me, my love for ambient music was enhanced by the first lockdown last year, when the lack of structure, the quiet intensity and the spaciousness of it all suddenly aligned with my day-to-day life. I’m curious as to whether you experienced ambient music differently this last year; and also, if there was a specific moment or experience you remember that made you fall in love with ambient music?
To be honest, I don’t really listen to much ambient music. I’m actually not entirely certain I even know what it is! This past year, I’ve found I really crave things with easy access points: groove, hooks, melodies. Been listening to a lot of Dua Lipa, Haim, Christine and the Queens, Amber Mark, Tyler, The Creator, and Rosalía. I don’t know why that is – maybe life has felt challenging enough as is, that I just needed some easy music. I do have a very specific memory of the first time I felt overcome by repeating and slowly shifting music, and that was listening to ‘Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ’ by Steve Reich. It was a completely physical and sensual experience. I had never felt that with music before.
Finally: are there any ambient records that have impacted you or have had a healing effect on you, that you would like to recommend?
I’m not sure if these are ambient, but The Wind in High Places by John Luther Adams, ‘Almost All the Time’ by David Lang, ‘Pushpulling’ by Donnacha Dennehy, ‘Panorama’ by Big Dog Little Dog, and ‘Entr’acte’ and ‘Ritornello’ by Caroline Shaw are all somewhat slow moving, deep groove pieces that have made me feel some very big things. Lately, I’ve been really loving The Sacrificial Code by Kali Malone.