An Interview with MHC Synthesizers and Effects - Conducted by
Richard Bone has made music for many years, using synths and technology. You might know him from his releases on Survival Records UK or
from his more recent ambient / ethereal works which are available on CD from Amazon, CDBaby or his own web site www.richardbone.com.
One of his latest releases is "Infinite Plastic Creation", which was nominated for the 2007 NAR LifeStyle Music Awards 'Best Electronic Album'. The album is getting airplay on a number of radio stations and is climbing the independent charts. He's also a vocalist and has released an album which is labeled "Songs from the analog attic (unreleased vocal works 1992-1998)".
Michael of MHC spoke with Richard about the music he makes.
Has the name "Infinite Plastic Creation" anything to do with how you work?
The title, Infinite Plastic Creation" comes from the 1961 book "The Magic In Your Mind" by U.S. Andersen. On the spine of the CD is a quote from the book, "The ordered spinning of the planets, the arrangement of solar systems, the design of the atom, the deep and inscrutable mystery of animation....out of this infinite plastic creativeness have all things sprung"
For the last several years I have been reading and applying the techniques of the New Thought movement which began in the 1930s but, in fact dates back to ancient Greece where Hermes declared "As Within, So Without". Simply put it's an awareness that, at a quantum level, thoughts are not merely ephemeral ideas that evaporate into the night but rather, with focus and intent, manifest. Once you have that awareness it's life changing!
I see. Is your music going through a number of changes before it's completed? I mean, some artists end up with an arrangement which they listen to for
days or weeks and then they enter the studio again and change things.
Well, up until just 2 years ago, I was still recording using old analog midi modules and an Ensoniq ESQ-1 controller. The mix set up was so elaborate that, once broken down, you just could never get it back exactly the same. So, I'd work on a piece until my intuition said it was finished. Created a mix that felt correct and then erased all data leaving absolutely no chance to revisit the work.
Now that I'm working on a Mac I'm like a joyous kid jumping from song to song under construction. It gives me time for so much more perspective. And when I find new software that fires my imagination as MHC's Ambient Keys, Industrial
Tones and Pianos has done (as well as LinPlug's Sophistry & Aplha 3) my palette becomes one of ever changing colours and possibilities. But to answer you question specifically,
once I have finished a piece to the point where my trusted inner voice says it's done, I've learned to trust that voice and rarely would consider going back and changing anything.
In some of your songs you use the classic piano sound, mixed with synth sounds, such as pads and lead sounds. Which types of sounds are your favourite ones and why?
If I could work with noting else, I could be happy with a warm ethereal synth pad and a soft muted piano sound. These tones and textures speak to me. Even if used in a more mid tempo piece (as opposed to a beatless ambient one). The pads lay the foundation for me, but the piano sound or any gentle lead instrument is essential for delivering the melody.
I will always be a songwriter at heart and melody combined with song structure are at the center of my work. I feel there are more than enough established electronic artists out there who a brilliant at laptop knob twiddling but you rarely walk away from those works humming a melody. I'm told my work offers that. I hope it's true as that is my aim.
Technology opens up for a number of different ways to work, some musicians record in real time without editing anything and there are those who work exclusively with step programming. How do you work and why? Which parts of your recordings do you spend most time with? Because they're difficult or because you enjoy it?
I've never found one moment in the studio to be "difficult" because even the challenges are a joy and the result will always be a lesson learned however small. I rarely record in real time because that is not how I compose. Generally I start with a passage, or even a sound patch, that sparks my imagination and create a loop of it so that I then can create other parts. After enough parts have been created to form some kind of larger cohesive work, the parts are
about to create the arrangement. On occasion I've brought a piece of video that I've created and let it become part (a track) in this initial looping process.
I listened to Momentary Flux, Part 2 from Infinite Plastic Generation and it reminds me
of great composers such as Arvo Pärt, Roger Eno and maybe even Philip Glass. Do you enjoy composing? Do you see it as a challenge or pure joy?
It's pure joy for me....my studio is small, dark and lit by candles even in daytime. For me, it's my holy place and I feel as though I'm almost in a meditative state when I'm there. You mentioned the Momentary Flux track. Actually, that wasn't even meant for release. I had just bought my first iMac for video production but one day decided to open up GarageBand. I was curious to see what sounds it
offered and how it worked. Up
until that moment I had never created a single note on a computer.
Both Momentary Flux & Indiga, Once Again were simply improvisations to test the equipment. In fact, Indiga Once Again would have been much shorter except that I didn't realize the display was showing measures and not time. I remember thinking, "This is the longest 3 minutes in history!" It was only later when I finished the piece and discovered how to change the display to minutes that I realized the track was over 8 minutes long!!!!
Which music and music styles do you get inspiration from?
For composition the works of Antonio Carlos Jobim have been most influential. His melodies are timeless. For texture and mood I would say the music of Harold
Budd is the single most constant source of inspiration.
However, I rarely listen to ambient or electronic music. If I have dinner guests I usually play bossa nova from the 60's alternating with an assortment of moog recordings from the same period (I love the way instruments were miked in that era...the great, sparse stereo field. As much as any musician, the production work of Creed Taylor & Rudy van Gelder continue to guide me).
Perhaps because I spend a large part of my day making music, the only thing that quiets my mind is video. I need almost mindless television upon exiting the studio. I find The Sci-Fi Channel here gives me just that. I also find it difficult to fall asleep in a quiet room because that silence triggers the symphony in my head! I always drift off to the television playing very softly
Do you spend much time composing and planning before you arrange the music? Or do you use the synths and their sounds as inspirations which bring out ideas?
Yes, indeed, the sounds and guidance from the ether create the music. I adore the creative process and get completely lost in it. Hours pass like minutes.
You bought Ambient Keys, emailed us and told us that it was magic and inspiring. What was it that you fell for?
The first thing that struck me about Ambient Keys, and this is true for Industrial Tones & Pianos, is
the wealth of sounds that come with the units. Without having to modify them at all they are inspiring. The next great feature for me is the very intuitive way they are constructed.
I have bought many other synth programs but programming them is too involved. I do not want to stop the creative flow to have to figure out how to program a unit. That's for the laptop knob twiddlers! With the MHC units if I get a though like, "I want this sound to be rounder in tone" for instance, the intuitive design takes me right where I need to be and the creative stream flows unimpeded. That is a huge plus for me. Second only to their unique and useful sounds.
How do you think electronic music will evolve in the future? In terms och instruments and the way you make music.
Unfortunately, as technology evolves, I think we'll go through an intense period of music being dictated by computers and software. Making it more about using the next new gadget rather than having any real composing skills. Then, I think the dust will inevitably settle and the artists that emerge from the IO clutter will be the ones that, like their predecessors since man began composing, will be the ones who can write "songs".
Trends will come and go, but a good melody is eternal. You can even see this theory beginning to take place in rap music. The newer artists are discovering that, in order to not become a cliche, they are incorporating melody into their rap.
The track Kharmacom is one of the most beautiful tracks I've heard
for many years. You use a repeating square wave sound, layered with piano chords and a vocal pad sound. Repeating a short phrase in the background can result in beautiful musical textures, why do you think that is so?
First, I'm glad you enjoyed Kharmacom! As I've mentioned, I think it's all about hooks. Hooks can be many things. From the unforgettable chorus of a song, to a clever drum pattern or a repeating arpeggio that lays a foundation.
Your mixes are always well done. Are you careful with the levels, spending much time adjusting them? Or do you have enough experience to know relatively fast what works and what doesn't?
I take as much pride in the mixes and I do the tracks so thank you for that observation. I think it all goes back to the first time I put on headphones and heard George Martin's production on the Beatles White Album. It will always be the template I
use for mixing.
I enjoy wide stereo separation and I like movement within a mix. Not only are sounds placed left or right but near and far. A mix should continue to reveal itself with repeated listening.
Do you have any favourite effects, such as delay, reverb, filters or anything else?
And if so, why are they your favourite ones?
I really don't use too many effect beyond reverb and delay. There are of course occasional exceptions.
You have recorded vocal works too. Do you see yourself as an electronic musician or as a musician and artist in general?
Perhaps it's because I've never studied music and cannot read or write it, that I have a difficult time calling my a "musician" and if I am an "artist" that is for someone else to say. It's not false modesty, it's just that this what I must do. I don't know how to do anything else.
Your vocals are quite powerful. Do you use doubling techniques or other tricks to thicken the vocal tracks?
Oh my yes! My voice is far too thin when single tracked. The doubling technique goes directly back, once again, to George Martin.
What are your plans for the future? Are you working on new material?
I have two DVD projects on the horizon. The first is a DVD of the 6 videos I created for Infinite Plastic Creation. I just completed a new video work called "Short Waves:Brief Excursions Into Surreal Video" which is a DVD contain 12 works each between 2-3 minutes. We may also release the soundtracks from these videos in extended and alternate mixes as a very limited edition CD.
I've also completed about 6 new tracks for my next full length ambient CD. The work is tentatively titled "Sudden Departure" and is named after the exquisite charcoal work by artist Cynthia Lund Torroll. Her piece by the same name will hopefully grace the cover.
Beyond that I will just be watching the horizon for new knobs to twiddle!!!!
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