Tag Archives: ambient music

Borghi | Teager at Muskegon’s The Block on Saturday 02.21.15

All has been quiet on the blog front this last month due to the wonderful new addition to our family. Regular posting should resume soon, but first a concert announcement:

This Saturday, I’ll be performing what I believe to be my first hometown show as a leader. I’ve played a number of fun (and occasionally featured) gigs in Muskegon over the years, but none of those have included my name in the top billing. This weekend, however, the Borghi | Teager ambient juggernaut will land in and sound throughout Michigan’s City by the Lake. The weather should hold for the evening, so please come out if you’re in the area. And don’t just take my word for it – we’re #1 is this weekend’s Top 5 Things To Do in the Muskegon Chronicle.

We’re performing at The Block, a wonderful, intimate venue opened by the West Michigan Symphony a couple years ago that offers up-close performances in myriad styles. Matt and I have long thought that our music is more akin to a listening space such as a concert hall as opposed to a rock club (even though we’re happy to play the latter!). Generally, for this type of music in that type of an environment, it’s been Philadelphia’s The Gathering or bust for us, and so we’re excited to have such a great opportunity close to home.

From the official press release:

Performance duo Borghi and Teager bring “jambient” music to a February performance at The Block in downtown Muskegon.

Matt Borghi (guitars, effects) and Michael Teager (saxophones, flute) are a recording and live performance duo focusing on improvised ambient, or “jambient,” music. The duo combines guitars, winds and electronics to make each performance a unique experience. The program starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21. Doors and cash bar open at 6:30 p.m.

Matt Borghi is a sound artist, music composer, writer, but he claims that above all he’s a musical improviser, using his guitar in traditional and non-traditional means. His recordings have been featured on NPR, BBC and CBC.

Michael Teager is a Muskegon native and versatile musician, performing frequently throughout the Midwest in a variety of styles. He also serves on the faculties of Spring Arbor University and Michigan State University’s Office of Study Abroad, teaching each summer in Bregenz, Austria.

Saturday evening’s concert is titled “Soundscape. Improvised. Jazz.” When asked what audiences might expect form a Borghi and Teager concert, Michael Teager, who also regularly plays saxophone with the West Michigan Symphony, explained that the concert would be “a unique, contemplative evening of sound. Our music is too active to be considered traditionally ambient, it’s melodic and heavily improvised but doesn’t swing, and there are formal structures that constantly evolve.” Teager continued, “There’s something for everyone. We’ve also put together some visuals to make it a more immersive, sensuous experience.”

Overall, musicians Borghi and Teager are focused on the spontaneity of live performance and on taking the listener on a journey into sound.

Tickets for Borghi and Teager’s concert “Soundscape. Improvised. Jazz.” are $20 and available at the West Michigan Symphony ticket office: 231.726.3231 ext. 223; online at https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/WMSO/; or in person at 360 W. Western Ave. in Muskegon. For more information, visit www.westmichigansymphony.org/the-block.

When: Saturday 02.21 @ 7:30 PM (doors & cash bar at 6:30)
Where: The Block; Muskegon, MI
Tickets: $20, available here

Borghi & Teager on this week’s ‘Hearts of Space’

As a heads-up, Matt Borghi & Michael Teager are featured on this week’s episode of Hearts of Space. The episode, titled “SAXOPHONIC,” looks at the saxophone’s use in ambient music. It’s a tremendous honor for Matt and myself to have been featured on the holy trinity of ambient music programs – Star’s End, Echoes, and now Hearts of Space – these last few months. More info here.

[NOTE: This post replaces a previous iteration of the same, which has since been deleted.]

My Ambient Canon II: Pumpkin Seeds


As I wrote in my previous post, my introduction to ambient music wasn’t via ambient music directly, but rather through a variety of other sources. This nascent series isn’t intended to be chronological (from an autobiographical point of view). I’ll attempt some organization, but we’ll see. For this entry, I’ll begin with what I think may be my “patient zero,” at least as much as my memory is concerned: Smashing Pumpkins.

About three years ago I briefly wrote about SP as being a musical “primary source” of mine. Among the band’s many musical layers and nuances is the use of sonic ambience. Although it’s not a crutch, Billy Corgan‘s (and James Iha’s, etc. – but, primarily for studio recordings, Billy’s) guitar is often made many through overdubbing. Beyond that, the group has always featured two guitarists live (2+ via studio magic), and the added chordal layer is part of what gives the band’s music such sonic weight. Aside from weight, the additional guitar allows for layering in both the foreground and background. This is quite prevalent throughout Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and album that left a profound impression on me. (After all, I was 12 when it was released and I first heard it.) The album is mammoth in scope and sonic breadth – alternately intimate and epic. Some songs include layers that I would now consider to be ambient-friendly, though at the time it wasn’t in my vocabulary. One example is the lush and often soaring layers atop the core band in “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans.” The song itself is good enough, but that layer greatly enhances the sonic depth and I’ve always been very attracted to it. Of course, such layering is different from the symphony orchestra employed in “Tonight, Tonight” (bravo Chicago Symphony Orchestra!), as the orchestra plays defined parts and lines. “Porcelina,” on the other hand, includes additional layers meant to simply add sonic presence and/or weight. If you eliminate the core song – vocals, rhythm & solo guitars, bass, drums – the remaining layers would themselves, to me, provide an enjoyable listening experience. While I may not have been able to precisely put my finger on it as a preteen, I know that part of the attraction to this song has always been my wanting to listen to and enjoy that layer in a vacuum.

Another SP song to do this, released a year later, is “Set the Ray to Jerry” from 1996’s MCIS b-side box set The Aeroplane Flies High. “Jerry” is nowhere near as grandiose as “Porcelina.” It’s a chill, contemplative, midtempo number – one of the band’s hidden gems. (The box set, originally printed as a limited edition, has now been reissued and I encourage SP fans without it to correct themselves.) The song begins with a quiet arpeggiated ostinato before the full band enters, and it remains throughout most of the song. And while its nowhere near the piece’s focus, like “Porcelina,” it dramatically improves the listening experience. Towards the end of the song, additional soaring-but-subtle guitar lines are added to drive – or, in this case, coast – things to a close.

There are many other examples from the entire Pumpkins catalogue from which to choose, but these are early examples that stuck out to me at the time, especially considering that Mellon Collie was the first full SP album I dug deep into. But many other SP songs can be argued to have either ambient-, space-, or drone-/noise-friendly qualities. Some are: the outro in “For Martha” (…and much of the rest of the drum machine-laden Adore), “Soma,” “Glissandra,” “Owata,” “Silverfuck” from Earphoria (utilizing pure noise in a live rock performance blew my early adolescent mind), the 23-minute Cage-ian “Pistachio Medley,” and much of MACHINA: The Machines of God, including the fabulous outro of “This Time.” And of course there’s the seemingly ubiquitous EBow

Beyond the Smashing Pumpkins, Billy let these tendencies run rampant as well. An easy go-to would be his digital-heavy solo effort TheFutureEmbrace, which I described here. Also, Zwan, with its lineup featuring three guitarist, offered a richer sonic palette live than the Smashing Pumpkins, particularly on the epic “Mary, Star of the Sea.” In fact, droning nature of that song’s intro is something that, even now, my mind quickly goes to when in an ambient mood.

Interestingly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t that about a year ago Matt and I briefly discussed Robert Fripp, after which he sent me a video clip of him performing live. (A big name in ambient and non-ambient music, of course.) I don’t recall what it was specifically, but it instantly reminded me of Billy Corgan. I don’t know how much Fripp influenced Corgan specifically, but it’s interesting to somewhat reverse-engineer that lineage now, even if I’m largely speculating. (I know Billy likes David Bowie, but I’m unsure of King Crimson or Fripp alone.) And it was less than two months ago that I purchased Travis & Fripp’s Thread, an ambient album featuring guitar and sax/flute. Talk about coming full circle…

VIDEO: “Set the Ray to Jerry” live at Detroit’s Fox Theater 10.07.07. (I was there and pleasantly surprised that they played this one…)

(Photo: Smashing Pumpkins logo)

My Ambient Canon I

Throughout the last few months, Matt and I have discussed – in interviews and conversations – our individual and collective influences vis-à-vis ambient music, particularly Convocation. This topic kicked off in a big way while in Philadelphia, being surrounded there by a strong, deeply knowledgeable ambient music community. Much of the time, we explained that our artistic models were different than what others had inferred. One trope was the fact that, individually, our original, primary influences are not ambient per se. Ambient traits abound, however there’s a lack of ambient artists atop each of our own personal canons.

Many of this blog’s Constant Readers know of Matt Borghi‘s long, deep immersion in the ambient scene. (If you’re not a regular visitor here but are reading this post, then you probably knew that anyway.) Before I met Matt I was peripherally aware of ambient music as a specific genre with countless sub-niches. Yeah, I bought Ambient Music 1: Music for Airports long ago, and I knew about Eno generally, but not much else of his ilk outside of various electronic artists and experimental rock. And, given my classical background, I was literate in related ambient-friendly styles: Minimalism (e.g., my passion for Einstein on the Beach), neo-Minimalists such as Michael Nyman and Arvo Pärt, electronic/computer music (electronique & concrete), various world musics, and the list goes on. But when I met Matt in 2008 I quickly learned of ambient music’s depth and breadth. Without explicitly setting out to do so, he has provided me an ambient apprenticeship which, arguably, continues today. He introduced me to not only his own extensive discography (partial list here) but also to Harold Budd, Steve Roach, and others. And of course we’ve been playing ambient music all the while, leading up to and including the aforementioned Convocation and our recently-released Awaken the Electric Air.

What makes this worth writing about, of course, is that I’m a saxophonist. Saxophone is far from a fixture in ambient music, and therefore we get a lot of interesting comparisons in reviews, interviews, and conversations. The most common reference is ECM titan Jan Garbarek. I wrote a “New Listen” about him here, and that marked my first listening to him as a leader. Aside from his work with Keith Jarrett or the Hilliard Ensemble, I can’t say I’m much more familiar with his solo work now than I was after writing that post, for whatever reason. (And I really dig his work with Jarrett…) Anyway, Jan is nowhere near my mind when playing with Matt. If I’m thinking of any ECM saxophonist, it’s probably either Charles Lloyd (MTH-V here) or Tore Brunborg (praise here). (Or, if I make enough of a leap, Dave Liebman, as he did record two Lookout Farm albums with ECM in the 70s.) Others compare my playing to that of Theo Travis, one of the few “ambient saxophonists.” He and I are part of a VERY small community, and I hadn’t heard of him until Mike Hunter suggested him to me while setting up for our Star’s End performance. I’ve since become acquainted with Travis & (Robert) Fripp’s Thread. Personally, I don’t think my playing sounds anything like Jan or Theo. And I’m by no means saying I sound better – definitely not the case. We’re just different. (Come on…Garbarek is a virtuoso, and I wouldn’t dare be so presumptuous or delusional as to think that I’m in the same league. Please.)

Of course, I understand the desire to throw out Garbarek and Travis references. One just doesn’t see saxophone in ambient music, so visually there’s very little to associate our music with when seeing us performing in an ambient context. Acoustic instruments are a rarity in this style, and the saxophone is almost anathema. Also, the Jan comparison is curious because, at least to my knowledge, he’s not at all an ambient musician. But he’s a saxophonist and the best-selling artist (along with Keith Jarrett) on ECM, a label with ambient-friendly tendencies. If playing six degrees of separation, I suppose that one would have a case.

As mentioned, neither ambient saxophone nor ambient artists are on my mind when playing in this style. In order to have an idea of what is informing my ambient work, it’s best to start at the beginning. To do that, I’ve done a fair amount of working through musical traits and nuances I glommed onto that could be described as being “ambient.” Much of this digging started in conversation with Matt during our 10-hour trek back from the Echoes studio to our homes in East Lansing, and I’ve since given much thought to the matter. Given that, I’d like to devote an occasional series of posts to this topic over the next several weeks or months, time permitting. If nothing else, it’ll help me to provide myself with some additional ammunition in future interviews. 🙂

As a primer of sorts, here are links to two recently-aired interviews in which Matt and I both touch on this subject. The first is our Echoes interview, which was chosen as the weekly podcast for January 9. The second is of a recent interview on WKAR FM’s Current State, broadcast from MSU in East Lansing.

Echoes interview: podcast link in iTunesofficial page & description
Current State interview: stream here

Further posts on canon here and saxophone style here.

Thank You, Philadelphia

It’s been a week since Matt Borghi and I returned home to East Lansing from our promotional tour of Philadelphia. (Matt wrote some great reflections and thoughts here and here.) I’ve wanted to post something but have been quite busy catching up on grading and other work. That, and I’m still taking it all in. To say that our trek was memorable is an understatement. It’s hard to select just a few things to mention, but I’ll do what I can. While I’d love to gush on and on about every minor detail, neither you nor I have the time. Instead of giving the play-by-play, there are a some overall feelings and impressions that are worth discussion. What I was most struck by throughout the weekend was the tremendous sense of community.

I’ve performed for many audiences over the years in a great many styles and in a great many places, from academic to public to corporate and everything in between. However, I must say that I don’t think I’ve ever been – with or without Matt – surrounded by and performed for such an active, engaged, and thoughtful community as my time in Philly. Jason Sloan told Matt and me that we’d be spoiled rotten, and he couldn’t have been more accurate. As mentioned in my last post, we performed a set at The Gatherings Concert Series along with Dave Luxton and Vic Hennegan, a live overnight set on WXPN’s historic Star’s End, and a Living Room Concert and interview on PRI’s prestigious Echoes. That was an exciting enough schedule, but the experience itself was unparalleled.


It wasn’t just the size of the audience, as that varied for everything (a couple hundred+ at The Gathering, a dozen-ish in the studio at Star’s End, and a cast/crew of two for Echoes). The common thread for all was a mixture of:
engagement: They bought in. The listeners came along with us on our musical journey, as opposed to simply watching us play our instruments
• contextual knowledge: They got it. It’s not that I was wearing a tweed jacket and pontificating about art all weekend, but I talked with many folks about a wide range of musical topics including some common themes of the blog. And it wasn’t just about academic content and history, but rather many in attendance knew what we were going for and could discuss it intelligently.
• support: They cared. The ambient scene in Philly is not only strong but special. Its members know that they’ve cultivated something unique, and have banded together to ensure that it continues. (For an interesting look into that, watch the videos here.) A number of attendees traveled quite a distance, including one couple who drove from Rochester, NY. And it was a welcome change of pace to meet and talk with people who knew our names and music!
• lack of ego: Neither of the other performing acts nor the other artists in attendance got competitive. Matt and I, Luxton, and Hennegan all presented varying styles, and not once did I get a sense that one act was out to best another.

I like to joke that when Matt and I perform public ambient sets we generally have two people actively watching, one of whom doesn’t care. It felt so great to escape that for a few consecutive performances. The Gatherings audience was akin to those attending an academic recital or a contemporary music concert. The only difference is that they weren’t there to intellectualize it, only to take it in. All this and I haven’t yet mentioned the gorgeous venue The Gathering, St. Mary’s Hamilton Village in Philadelphia. The acoustics were superb and visually it was stunning. 

Our Star’s End set was a powerful experience. We were live on the air, playing continuously from 4:00 AM to 5:00 AM, having been up since The Gathering earlier that evening/the night before. Matt and I made some music we’re deeply proud of, and we were surrounded by a small but attentive crew and private audience. The time flew by; we were in the music all the while. The feeling in the room when we were finished is hard to describe, but suffice it to say that it won’t be easy to recreate any time soon. We’re greatly indebted to Star’s End host and alchemist Chuck van Zyl for making those two experiences possible. Chuck really rolled out the red carpet for us, and all of his thorough work and assistance during the weeks leading up to our visit meant a great deal. He made both Matt and myself feel like part of the Philly family. (And while I’m gushing over Chuck, thanks to him once again for the nice review of Convocation several months back!) And thanks to Art, Jeff, and Royce for the mixing and sound, and to Rich for the videography.

Monday 10.21 included our stop by Echoes studios for our Living Room Concert and interview. Host John Diliberto and producer/engineer Jeff Towne couldn’t have been more gracious hosts. We performed a Living Room Concert comprised of three selections from Convocation with brief interviews to accompany each. Afterwards we put down our axes and enjoyed a lengthy, thoughtful interview. John asked some insightful and interesting questions, and about knocked me off of my chair when he told me he saw Lookout Farm twice (!!) in the mid-70s. (The jealousy has since remained deep in my bones.) Our episode will air sometime in November or December; stay tuned for more official information. Off the mic, our conversation with both John and Jeff was just as engaging and enjoyable. It was a true honor for both Matt and I, and we can’t thank John and Jeff enough for the opportunity.


It’s worth noting that Jeff Towne was intensely working behind the scenes at all three events. He helped to make the whole weekend a pleasurable and memorable one.

 Our trip to Philly was easily one of my favorite musical experiences as a performer. The stars aligned so that not only the music was a success, but also the connections, audience, colleagues, and travel. Of course, looking back, Matt and I see it as our first musical trek to Philly, as we definitely hope to return.