Interviews with A Produce

Deep Listenings (Italy), 1995

Wind and Wire Magazine, 1997




Originally appeared in Wind and Wire magazine, 1997

W & W:

Was music always an important part of your life, or did it develop that way after a certain age?


A Produce:

Music has always been a part of my life. From taking piano lessons at an early age to picking up the guitar when the Beatles hit big in the U.S., to doing rock bands, to being a part-time radio DJ, to writing about music, it's always been a part of my life--sometimes a big part; at other times, smaller. I've taken various detours over the years away from music, but have always ended up coming back to it to the point now that I'm convinced it's what I'm supposed to doing.


W & W:

When you remember the music you listened to as a teenager (or about that time), was there any indication of the direction you would go as a musician yourself?


A Produce:

Like most musicians/artists who get involved with music, it's been a growth process. An artist works with the materials available in his or her time. In the '60s, everyone was playing guitars, forming bands--so that's what I did. At that time, synthesizers were very primitive by today's standards. I wrote songs because that's what was on the radio; I had no idea I'd end up doing instrumental music. In that era, if an instrumental made it to radio, it was usually considered a novelty record.


W & W:

Since you were once part of the rock music scene, what was the creative impetus for your leaving that discipline and heading into more experimental and instrumental music?


A Produce:

That too was an evolution, but it didn't come until the early '80s. Playing the rock music game is very tough, especially these days, but any time really. In addition to good songs, you've got to have a great hair, be under 25, or maybe 30 if you're lucky. In addition to burning out on all that around 1982, I found myself being attracted to other non-rock music--Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Eno and a few others.


W & W:

Do you miss any part of doing that kind of music and do you still listen to rock or progressive rock music at all?


A Produce:

Don't miss it at all. Ironically, I find I'm using guitar more and more in my current music. Even though I'm no longer interested in doing traditional rock music, I've never stopped liking the sound of the guitar. I found and still discover to this day that the guitar can be a powerful, even vital instrument outside traditional genres. A rock guitar backed by, say, a strong tabla track is potentially more interesting to me than one with the backbeat of a traditional drum kit.


W & W:

So, how did your first release come about, i.e. how did you arrive at the decision to do this for a living (become "A Produce")?


A Produce:

Well, I'm still not doing it for a living per se.... I'm doing it because I want to do it--it's more a calling than anything else. Almost like one gets a calling for the clergy or some other kind of work. I do it because it'd be more difficult not to do it. As I'm sure others would agree, it's self-therapy.

Trance Port was set up in the early '80s as a cassette releasing company. I had hoped to release my own music on it, but ended up getting bogged down in the running of the label. Ironically, very little of my music came out in the original incarnation of Trance Port. It wasn't until the cassette phase ended that I decided it was time to really concentrate on what I had to offer, nurture that. My first "solo" album, The Clearing, was an attempt to due a series of pieces that had a trance/ambient vibe to them. It utilized several people from the Trance Port Tapes era. It was a transitional album compared to where I'm at now.


W & W:

Was there ever an attempt by you to first pursue a career with a label, e.g. Hearts of Space, or from the beginning did you see Trance Port being your label and something necessary to your musical future (for creative purposes)?


A Produce:

One of my career "detours" was as rock journalist. It was short-lived, ha-ha.... but I did do work for some local labels--updating bios, doing record reviews for 'zines, review shows, that sort of thing. I got to see a lot of free shows back in the late '70s.

As for the reasons why I started Trance Port, I don't think anyone starts out wanting to put out their own stuff, or is eager to reach into their own pocket and be the bank, and put up with all the hassles…. But, unless one is really lucky, or is perceived to be on the verge of what somebody thinks is the Next Big Thing, it's hard to get a label deal--so sometimes, self-releasing is actually more efficient in the long run. There are benefits to doing it that way, as well as drawbacks. One of the benefits is having more control over everything, knowing more what's going on, or not going on. In my case, I was way too impatient to shop my wares to labels that might be interested, so I just ended up doing it myself.


W & W:

Let's discuss the recordings themselves. Your packaging, until the recent re-release of REFLECT...was very unique. Do you design the artwork for the covers? Is the use of unconventional material and design aesthetic or are there other factors as well?


A Produce:

I designed the first four CD covers. I'm to a point now where I let others handle that, though I still have a lot of input into the process. Originally, I used custom packages when I was starting out because I didn't want to look like everybody else. Unfortunately, custom packages can be very expensive, and for that reason, I've gone to the standard jewel case. I've found other ways to make what I do stand out visually.


W & W:

The first A Produce CD I heard was LAND...THOUSAND TRANCES. Now, after hearing most of the rest of your work, that CD still comes across as the most rhythm oriented with the more percussive tracks being VERY percussive. Assuming I am correct in this judgement, why is that? Is that a musical statement or something more or is it just the way the music turned out at that particular stage?


A Produce:

I hadn't noticed that 1000 Trances was more rhythmic than the others, but you're probably right. It does have two heavy rhythm tracks on it--but there's also other rhythms that don't use percussion, which I find are sometimes even more powerful, but in a different way. That album had some leftovers from my collaborations with Pierre Lambow that I wanted to put out--"Insect Justice," and the title track in particular.


W & W:

Your song titles can seem very cryptic, but not unnecessarily esoteric. Unlike the emotionally ambiguous titles of a Tim Story, they remind me of Jeff Greinke's a little bit. Do the titles come before or after the music?


A Produce:

Titles usually come afterwards. There's never an intention to deliberately be cryptic; rather, it's to capture a feeling that resonates within the piece--sometimes it's a vague feeling.


W & W:

Your titles can also be very visual ("the far shore," "the mystic circle," "the dreaming room," "a smooth surface"). Is there a visual side to your music? Do you often envision things, and do those images lead to music or is it the other way around?


A Produce:

Many of my titles have come from radio programs Jack Gariss did years ago. In fact, "The Mystic Circle" was the name of his first show done on a radio station out here in 1967. "The Far Shore" was a phrase from another of his talks. "The Dreaming Room" came from an early episode of The Fugitive, but also was my ode to analog and possibly to T-Dream, so the titles work on more than one level sometimes.


W & W:

Your liner notes refer to the Bio-Meditation society. Can you tell us a little about it and its importance to you personally and as a musician?


A Produce:

Jack Gariss and the non-profit organization he founded, the Bio-Meditation Society, have exerted enormous influence on my consciousness and therefore my music. It's no long active like it once was--in fact, Jack Gariss died in 1985--but through his tapes, he lives on and those are still available. Jack's gift was to contrast the world of science and mysticism in a skillful way which showed they were not so far apart after all. His other great gift was that he never advocated "one" way--he surveyed the entire spectrum of mysticism and spiritual beliefs and compared them, without favoring any one in particular. One of his best quotes was "be your own guru."


W & W:

In your liner notes, your song credits have some unusual instrumentation, e.g. on "the far shore" you list "01/W Flutters, Fly-byes," and on "it comes in waves," there is "sombre reptiles." Obviously, like a magician, I can't ask you to reveal anything you don't want to, but what is that stuff all about?


A Produce:

It's really a tip of the hat to Eno, who used to put credits like that on his albums. Eno plays "Eno." "Sombre Reptiles" is an actual piece on Another Green World. Other credits are "desert guitars" and "switchblade guitars." Stuff like that. It's really disposable fun. Let the listeners draw from it what they want. Sometimes the sounds suggest imaginary sources that may or may not enrich the listening experience. I don't expect people to take it that seriously, but if they want to, that's okay.


W & W:

Most other artists just say, "Keyboards" but you go into extensive detail about model numbers and sound patches and more technicalities than I could fathom. What's the intention there? To just be thorough?


A Produce:

That's just stuff other keyboard players might find interesting. I'm not sure I'm going to keep doing it.


W & W:

Some people might be surprised to find out that you often have guest musicians with you on your songs. Doing this kind of music, is it difficult to work with others or are these people (Ruben, Pierre, et al) close friends so it's more "symbiotic" to use a term that Robert Rich has used to describe his collaborations?


A Produce:

Everyone I've worked with I'd known for a long time before we made music. Some musicians can get on stage or jam in the studio with anyone. Especially if you're just doing a straight 12-bar blues. That's a universal language. But for doing something like space/ambient music, I've always felt a little more non-musical preparation was necessary.


W & W:

Unlike many artists in the ambient and space-music field, your music is extremely varied, alternating between heavily rhythmic and even intense songs ("land of a thousand trances") to very floating and minimalist pieces ("dwell"). Do you feel equal affinity for all the colors on your musical palette?


A Produce:

Yes. I started off calling this music "trance" music--that's since been co-opted by the dance franchise, along with "ambient." So, I'm now referring to what I do as "space/ambient." I'm not completely comfortable with that either. But I really believe that ambient, trance, space/ambient, ethno-ambient, whatever you want to call it, is not limited to a small palette of shifting colors in which the piece basically stays in the one place.


W & W:

I've read that you think "trance" music is not limited to what some people would call trance, i.e. a steady rhythmic droning music. Do you want to elaborate on that?


A Produce:

My feeling is this genre of music has many doors to draw or "seduce" listeners in through. It's really more of an abstract construct than a definitive list of instruments like flutes, harps, acoustic guitars and pretty synthesizers like the New Age formula has come to be known and loved by some. What I'm interested in is a deeper experience. This genre of music, no matter what you call it, can be melodic, dissonant, gentle, aggressive, environmental, industrial....rhythmic, droney. Whatever instrumentation is used is secondary to the effect it achieves rather than the sum of the parts-the object is to weave a spell in sound, draw the listener in, lift them out of their daily routine into a realm where their thoughts can soar into other realms. Whether it's simple daydreaming or into the deepest of trances.


W & W:

What is your goal in being a recording artist, i.e. are you motivated by pursuing your personal muse or do you purposely want your music to reach people on a certain level and communicate or evoke a response?


A Produce:

Yes to all of the above.


W & W:

Let's examine your compositional style. Tell me how you create your music, i.e. which instrument do you use in the beginning and how does a piece evolve into a finished product?


A Produce:

A piece can start from anything--even an effects program. I too have to be pulled in by something that sounds like it might lead somewhere. Sometimes it's just the way a certain program sounds on the synthesizer that you just know you've got to do something with it. The piece almost cries out to be written....


W & W:

You're actively looking for a label to license your recordings, as opposed to your actually joining a label. Why is that?


A Produce:

There's many ways to market music. Licensing is one way--especially overseas since shipping is so costly and dealing with customs. If I were to "join a label," I think I'd be a lot more wary of doing it now than I would have five years ago. Many artists have no idea of what it's really like being on someone else's label. You're in essence going into business with that entity. Anything they do for you, i.e. advertising, marketing, promos, much of it gets credited against artist's royalties. The reality is you stand to make potentially more putting your music out on your own--but it's more work, and you have to deal with things that have nothing to do with music. It's a trade-off, really, what you can do for yourself vs. what a label with connections can do for you. Before getting affiliated with label, it's important for an artist to know what he or she can expect from that label, and what they expect from you, and most importantly to have all that spelled out in a contract.


W & W:

You have been quoted that you are concerned that the term "ambient music" has been co-opted by practitioners of dub, house, techno style of music. This also addresses a prevailing concern in the artistic and business end of the industry,i.e. the lack of a good genre term for this music. Is a single "name" even possible in your opinion?


A Produce:

That's a very good question. I think "contemporary instrumental" is a little too open-ended a term. Easy listening music, as it used to be called, could be considered contemporary instrumental. With the genre of New Age having fractured and splinted so much in the last several years, there's really no "one-size-fits-all" label. Unfortunately, from a merchandising standpoint, "New Age" is established--it's a catch-all bin stores put stuff when they don't know where else to put it.


W & W:

Where the independent more alternative store could possibly have an "ambient" or a "space-music" section, what do you think the major retailers could do to help this music become more of its own entity?


A Produce:

Don't get me started.... What I think and how retail operates is at totally opposite ends of the spectrum. I understand their realties, but there's nevertheless very narrow-minded, especially the chains. The only hope is specialty stores who hopefully know what's going on and who the artists are. You don't put George Winston and Yanni in the same section as Robert Rich and Steve Roach.


W & W:

Do you think that the kind of music that people like you, Robert Rich, Tim Story, Jeff Pearce and Meg Bowles compose and perform can reach a wider audience and if so, how?


A Produce:

It's somewhat of an esoteric question. Yes, I think this genre of music in general can reach far more people than it is presently. But, cynical as it sounds, that's just a question of marketing, distribution and promotion. The other part of that equation is the listener, and what he or she brings to the experience.

I really believe we're dealing with a whole new dynamic here-there's no way a Top 40 single is ever going to emerge from this genre-God forbid if it does. Enya has gotten airplay with a few things, but I don't really see her music as the same kind as I, Rich, Roach and all the others are doing.

Who are the people who listen to this kind of music? I believe it's mostly people are ready for something new. Along comes a friend who turns them on to something they've never heard before, which at first sound strange, but is still inviting. This is personal growth music… you have to have reached a certain point in your personal evolution to be open to a Roach or Rich recording or any of the others. Don't get me wrong-I like Enya, most of it, anyway, and my hope is that it will eventually lead the neophytes into what Robert Rich calls "the heavier territory."


W & W:

Robert Rich told me he didn't see his music as an evolution through time but rather as different points on a non-linear continuum that he jumps back and forth on. Do you share that view about your music and what direction do you see yourself headed in the future?


A Produce:

It's all how one views one's self. Personally, I see my self advancing, making discoveries and documenting those discoveries in new pieces I create. I'm really not interested in making the same kind of album over and over again. As you observed earlier about 1000 Trances, you get a different A Produce everytime-yet there's hopefully a thread of consistency, a trust even, that's built up from the other albums. Something open-ended that allows the artist to grow, yet still deliver a satisfying listening experience. Something that stretches the boundaries for both the artist and the listener.


W & W:

Any last thoughts about either your music or the state of ambient music today that you'd like to share with the readers?


A Produce:

Sometimes I liken the relationship between artists and listeners of this type of music to that of fans of country music or jazz. That may sound strange, but from a marketing standpoint, jazz and country fans are some of the most loyal in the world. They don't care if Willie Nelson looks a little crusty or if Keith Jarrett is showing his age…. All they care about is whether his latest album delivered the goods. It's my hope that the audience for this kind of music will grow along with the artists that make it.




This interview is copyright Bill Binkelman & Wind and Wire Magazine, 1997. Reproduced with permission.

Wind and Wire
3010 Hennepin Ave. S. #84
Minneapolis, MN 55447

email: billb@bitstream.net





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