I don’t talk much about ambient music in this project, but it is such a big part of my everyday life. This omission makes sense. I have spent a lot of my life over the past two years discussing the artists, events, and spaces where we have been united by volume, propulsive beats and anthemic chords. Our community was brought to life on the alter of the dancefloor where we all sought to celebrate life and I was there to document it. However, my experience of electronic music and my path to that sacred space of celebration did not come through techno, house, or any other traditional genre of dance music. It came through countless hours appreciating the slow beauty of Brian Eno, Steve Roach, and numerous other ambient artists. Every since listening to Eno’s “Music For Airports” and Roach’s “Structures of Silence”, my DNA has slowly mutated to give me feelings of profound calm and restfulness when I let those waves of soft, reoccurring loops wash over me. Even today, I spend the vast majority of my time in my listening chair exploring the dense sonic landscapes of Brock Van Wey and Tim Hecker or the beautiful ambience of Miles Davis rather than venture out into crowds and noise. So it seems fitting to return to where it all started. It seems fitting to complete the circle and end with an a local artist named Forest Management who has walked this path as well and has created beautiful ambient music.
I still remember when I saw Forest Management (John Daniel) perform live for the first time. It was a year or two back in the Frequency Friday series. He was playing tracks from his most recent album “Transparent” and had a reel-to-reel project set up playing stock footage of an old black and white movie.
The whole experience gave me a feeling of timelessness. Despite their date of creation being separated by vast expanses of time, it was as if all these images and sounds were meant to co-exist together in the same space. It was as if this music had been echoing through our forests, oceans, and atmosphere for all of time and John had somehow decoded the sonic vibrations that connect us to those people of so long ago. I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of the immense, but still finite, span of human history. So many individual lives all living by the same cycles and routines. So many individuals hearing and responding to the same rhythms of life, but responding to them all in different ways. This is the power of the patient, gorgeous loops in Forest Management’s music. It is a musical rosetta stone that gives us the headspace to explore the unexamined facets of our reality and see the interconnection of all things and time.
We need meaningful, powerful ambient music like Forest Management’s in these loud and chaotic times. We need music that helps us feel a range emotions. We need music that can offer us headspace and not just fill our empty moments with cacophony. We need music that can help us find ourselves and navigate the twists and turns of life in an intentional fashion and not just add in more statements about how we should be living. We need music that can quiet our fearful and nervous thoughts of the future and let us engage deeply with all the beauty going on around us. In short, we need music that can help us disengage and reconnect with all that it means to be human. Forest Management’s new album “The Contemplative Life” (out now on Cathedral Transmissions) is a perfect piece of ambient music to accompany your attempts to slow down and reflect on the world around you. It is one of his finest works to date and would be a fine accompaniment to any quiet moment that you hope to enjoy at a deeper level.
Local Autonomy: What does music and sound more broadly mean to the way you live and experience life?
Forest Management: I’ve always tried to live life through a reflective lens. There is too much meaning and purpose in every moment to just pass off as unimportant, or ignore all-together. In each day there are new things to learn, natural phenomena that we failed to notice the day before, and a freeing uncertainty for tomorrow. For me, music serves as a companion for those everyday moments. This companionship causes me to seek out music and sounds that resonate with my own unique self-reflection and daily life. It’s also a big part of my personal faith, as I see music as valid proof that I’m on this miracle of a planet for a reason.
LA: How did you get into making music?
FM: When it came to recording and listening to music I was kind of a late bloomer, though I had been in my school music program since the fifth grade. I started on the string bass, and didn’t appreciate it as much as I probably should have…I picked up percussion in high-school, and loved it…that’s when I began to call myself a musician. Drums will always be my first love. I started a band with three of my friends called Royal Waves towards the end of my sophomore year. We made post-rock, though it wasn’t extremely intentional – our recordings just came out of whatever was influencing us at the time. It was a nice feeling to stand for something that was different from what the other local bands at the time were putting out, though. I suppose that mode of creating kept developing, and I found myself attracted to the more ‘experimental’ elements of the music that we were into at the time. I kept pursuing that attraction, and it became more and more refined, even to this day. After I graduated high-school my youth pastor gave me a classical guitar, and I started to write songs on my own. I delved in the folk music scene a little bit, and was really into the personal, intimate aspects of independent songwriting. I really didn’t start making ambient music until later…I probably listened to ambient music for a good year or two before I attempted to create it on my own. The first ambient record I bought was Brian Eno’s Music For Airports. I got it on a Friday night at a Barnes & Noble when I was alone and had no real plans for the weekend (which was kind of the norm). I had no idea what to expect…I think the artwork just caught my attention. I still keep that CD in my car, and will only listen to it sparingly…it’s a very personal thing for me and sort of brings me back to that time of my life, a time that I cherish.
LA: What are some of the musical influences that helped shape your sound?
FM: My influences are pretty straight-forward…when I first stumbled upon ambient music I immediately knew it was going to be my niche. It’s that feeling you get when you find something, and you know it’s what you’ve been looking for, what you’ve been waiting to hear. It amazed me that there were musicians who solely focused on these minimal, pure sounds, with no particular ‘catch’ or need for much more. Stars of The Lid is still my all-time favorite collaboration. I’m also very inspired by ambient composers & artists like William Basinski, Scott Solter, David Tagg, Tim Hecker, Sean McCann, and Celer – there are almost too many to name. However, I don’t intend to re-create any of the sounds I am influenced by, and I do listen to a variety of other types of music.
LA: There is a patience and beauty in your music that I often hear coming out of the music of Brian Eno, Steve Roach, and other like musicians. I find profound senses of calm and clarity when listening to the repetitions and slow evolution of your music. What is your approach to recording? How do you find these melodies?
FM: The approach is pretty simple – I decide I want to record music, and I get my computer and synthesizer and find a quiet place where I can concentrate. It usually comes just as that – a natural impulse rather than a planned event. Music For Stargazing was an exception, as I had set a deadline for myself to be able to give the music to a local planetarium. I kind of see that CD-R as a completely different time and phase of writing though, and my friend Adam Miltner and I actually held writing sessions for most of the tracks. Because I use computer software to both compose and record, I end up with a lot of recordings that I don’t use. Usually I’ll try different angles of progressions and textures, and once I achieve a foundation that feels right I’ll start to build upon it. About 90% of my recordings are first-takes, and I just add layers on top. The end product is something that I could have never predicted, and each track really takes a life of its own, since I don’t go back to cut or edit anything. If there is anything I’ve been striving or trying to do lately, it’s having the discipline to keep things simple. When I first started playing out about 2 years ago I would have all of this gear, and it would just become too much…it would stress me out. Now I just use one instrument, and maybe two or three different sounds. It’s what you do with it that really brings everything to fruition.
[The Contemplative Life Cover]
LA: Your new album is called The Contemplative Life. What were your thoughts behind the title to that work?
FM: One of my favorite parts of releasing instrumental music is being able to tie an idea, or some sort of underlying message along with it, in a way that is not always as overt as in most vocal music. Sometimes it is just one word. With The Contemplative Life, I again was looking through a reflective lens. I work a 9-5 office job, in a suburb that I grew up in and have since moved away from. The location of the office building I work in has always seemed like a very unique, surreal place to me. There is a sense of modern development, but not too much. There is plentiful vegetation and space. I always take a walk everyday from my building through these woods near the back of the parking lot. There is such a preserved peace – it’s as if the architects/investors/developers who were trying to make a ton of money off the property left in the early 1990’s and forgot about the place. Now it’s just there, totally functional but not swept up by the rapid development that takes place right down the street. The word “The Contemplative Life” just came to mind because as much as something like an office building can be a part of a person’s daily grind, there can still be a beauty and a peace within those places and moments. It’s up to us if we are willing to slow down enough to notice it. Usually we aren’t.
[A Running Stop from “The Contemplative Life”]
LA: You have a devotion to releasing your music physically and have a bandcamp to offer digital downloads as well. What are your thoughts on the interconnnection between physical and digital release formats? Do you have a preference of the two?
FM: If I had more resources from the start, I would have released all of my music physically. I first went the digital route because I had music that I wanted to share with others, and wasn’t quite yet turned onto the idea of cassettes and CD-R’s. Once I started hanging out with artists in the local underground scene, it became apparent that in many ways, physical can be a more rewarding and reciprocating way to share music. It’s definitely more personal. The one tape I’ve put out, Transparent, has been such a joy to be able to share with family and friends. I can just grab a couple and take them to shows. There is intentionality in it that is becoming scarcer in today’s music world…
LA: The Cleveland electronic music scene is always doing fun, forward-thinking events/releases/etc. What is it like to be a part of that community? Do you have any collaborators up there you like to work with?
FM: I love Cleveland and I’m here to stay. I owe a lot to the scene that I’m involved in here, as I find myself constantly challenged, inspired, and supported by the breadth of talent in this city. There are some great artists doing some great things. I think of guys like Sam Goldberg, who has made a ton of great music but then also turns around and supports other musicians by booking gigs and putting out tapes. When you say “forward-thinking” I immediately think of John Elliott and his label called Spectrum Spools – if you are not familiar with it you definitely need to check it out. It’s high-quality stuff. The community here may be small in some ways, but it’s tight-knit. My hope is that it won’t just survive, but that it will grow, and that a new generation of like-minded artists will step up to the plate. I’ve had a few jam sessions over the last year or so with some great artists up here, but no official collaboration as of yet. I also just recently began playing drums in a band called Infero – we just finished recording a new LP, and its sounding pretty awesome. Not ambient at all. It’s spectacular. It’s a ton of fun to hang out with those guys.