Textured Monotonies series I – IV (2023)

There’s more than a few threads to the creation of this series, but I’d like to start with the coagulent, the binding agent, as it were.  A while ago I met a highly intelligent young autistic man with a gift for written language and astute observation. He was also acutely sensitive and found social interaction very challenging, verging on impossible.  Over emails, we’d discovered a common interest in uncommon music – mostly experimental, atmospheric, spacious, minimalist, early electronic and ambient soundscapes. In one email he pointed me to Terry Riley’s work in the early 70s, which inspired me to record the 20-minute piece that became The Spatial Tectonics Of Formative Interaction. As he was integral in the track’s creation, I sent it to him by way of thanks. He liked it, and I asked if he would like to come up with a title based on his impressions of the music, as a creative exercise. For various reasons, it didn’t happen, and instead I quoted a phrase from one of his emails for the title, as it seemed apt.

During our emails I had also suggested another possible collaboration: would he like to try some creative writing (anything) in response to my most ‘ambient’ tracks? Poetry, narrative, disjointed evocative imagery or thoughts that could be recorded and edited into the soundtracks. He was keen but tentative, he hadn’t written anything for awhile. I compiled a few playlists of possibilities for him to rummage through, 4 hours in total, but again life got in the way and unfortunately I didn’t hear from him again. Of course I worried that in my own autistic creative enthusiasm I might have overwhelmed him, but I’m sure there were many reasons at play.

The upshot was a long playlist that I continued to listen to and enjoy in its own right, leading my thoughts toward yet another compilation, and as 4 hours was too long for a single release, I decided on a series. It wasn’t until I divided the playlist into separate albums of roughly an hour each that each album seemed to take on certain features of their own.

I originally described some of my music as ‘textured monotony’ a few years back, around the time of my dub-ish experiments in 2019. Partly it was a play on words, a cynical self-deprecation, but I also felt it was an accurate summation of the music.

I enjoy making soundscapes (moments / atmospheres) that are long, slow and repetitive, that sit in one place yet contain much subtle movement. I have a lifelong interest in states of consciousness in general, and how sound interacts with consciousness in particular. For many decades I’ve had a fascination with the uses of repetitive polyrhythm, primarily in shamanic and mystic traditions, to facilitate altered states, and I spent many years exploring rhythm in this context; these days I gravitate more to making music that floats rather than drives. Often my ‘textured monotonies’ are more interested in what happens in the spaces in between things. There may be a sense of an underlying pulse, but it’s usually pretty rubbery, undulatory, waves & ripples. Other times my ‘monotonies’ may have a minimalist rhythm or melody motif and the transportive or reflective effect comes from its repetition.

The first four albums in the Textured Monotonies series are selections of some favourite pieces from previous albums released between 2018 – 2022. Some of the original albums are consistently gentle in their own right (such as Loveletters From Beneath The Waves, Elegiac Reaction, Temple), but most of the pieces compiled here were originally tucked in amongst other less ambient material. My intention is to continue this series as a vessel for any new material I create in this vein, starting with Textured Monotonies V, which is complete and will be released soon.

All of this music is best appreciated with headphones, but is equally intended as background texture to a room while doing something creatively meditative.

Textured Monotonies I

Of these four albums, Textured Monotonies I is maybe the most ‘traditionally’ ambient, the most gentle on the ears and brain. These were the first pieces I selected with the possibility of adding spoken word in mind, as most of them are quieter or have minimal melodic or rhythmic interference, whereas later selections include more elements of musicality. Several tracks are textured drone & loop experiments, such as Ear Am Eye, Peacecore, and Oort. Reflections IV and Murmurations make use of treated guitar in different ways, to create freeform washes of soothing sound, and Elegy IV is possibly the closest I’ve gotten to creating a sonic brain massage.

Textured Monotonies II

On revisiting Textured Monotonies II, it seemed to me these pieces shared a conceptual thread. Reading through the titles, each seemed to describe some kind of invisible dynamic entity, in the sense of spiritual, metaphysical, and cosmic (planetary / magnetic / galactic) forces. Sama-Zan is the original Persian name for the transcendent whirling practiced by Sufi dervishes. Ngangkari is an Aboriginal name for a ‘clever man’, shaman or healer. Both operate in the territory of trance and interdimensional states of consciousness.  Iosphere and Kuiper Belt are directly referencing far-reaching planetary forces. Ghost Piano and Echo Location describe ‘entity’ in a more etheric sense, of subtle and unseen ‘living’ signals moving all around us. And when I originally recorded River Of Dust, my thinking was with the incomprehensibly vast flow of human history, and the entropic passing of time on a universal scale, the dust of every life, every millennia, every eon.

Textured Monotonies III

On re-listen, all the pieces in Textured Monotonies III seem particularly slow, with focus to the spaces between things, sonic tensions, harmonies and dissonances often taking place gradually, almost imperceptibly, over time. These are pieces for deep listening, offering subtle textures. Sometimes a tension arises simply from the cyclic, repetitive nature of the piece – the (seeming) monotone, where (seemingly) ‘nothing’ happens. I know this tension (sometimes called ‘boredom / impatience’) from my experiences of deep meditation, but in both cases there’s an opportunity to just sit with it and dissolve.

Elegy II is from the Elegiac Reaction album, in which the core theme is grief and loss, a theme also central to the album The Witnessing Of Paint In Its Drying Moments, from which the piece Evaporation is taken. Both albums were exploring how the dimension of time, or perception of it, is infinitely slower in some states of grief. If felt in their fullness, this family of emotions (grief, loss, depression, sadness) often move through our lives in long, deep waves, in cycles that may span years or even a lifetime. Uncertainty Box was one of my first experiments in slowing down the rate of a recording and discovering different overtones and frequencies that emerge, in this case a recording of my partner and her father singing inside an abandoned silo. I have since employed this technique on many recordings. On this album, Waiting slows down the kalimba in order to alter its pitch to a bassier resonance, and Exosphere Blues uses the lingering resonances of piano strings slowed at varying rates to create quite spacey textures.

Textured Monotonies IV

Textured Monotonies IV is possibly the least ambient of these first four in the series, maybe there’s more melody and percussive textures in these pieces, and a more cinematic leaning in places, but no particular thread between them. There’s a tonal consistency with I – III in that all contain tracks from some of the same albums: The Witnessing Of Paint In Its Drying Moments, Oort, Xenografika, Loveletters From Beneath The Waves, Crucible and Elegiac Reaction. But there’s still a diverse variety of moods and atmospheres here that offer a sense of reflective, exploratory space, in keeping with the series.