Tag Archives: ambient

East Coast Performances This Week 10.08-12

Just a quick heads-up, as I know that there are some readers on the East Coast. Should you want to take in some live ambient music, come see Borghi | Teager, my main project with friend and colleague Matt Borghi. The quick rundown:

10.08 Wed. – Baltimore, MD
10.09 Thurs. – Greenwich Village, NYC
10.10 Fri. – Brooklyn, NY
10.10 Fri. – Princeton, NJ (radio)
10.11 Sat. – Philadelphia, PA
10.12 Sun. – Philadelphia, PA (radio)

For full date and venue information, please check our dates page on http://borghi-teager.com.

Previous blog posts on ambient music and stuff related to this project here and here.

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.

Matt Borghi & Michael Teager Live on ‘Echoes’ Today – 01.08.14

As a follow-up to our previous appearance on Echoes, Matt Borghi and myself will be featured on today’s episode. Our previous episode featured our Living Room Concert, whereas today’s episode will feature the longform interview conducted by host John Diliberto. Both episodes are in support of Convocation, and they were taped just a day after we recorded Awaken the Electric Air.

John’s knowledgeable, engaged, and thoughtful questions and comments made for a wonderful conversation before, during, and after the taping. We discussed a variety of topics: our project, our individual and collective influences, our individual histories, and general thoughts on music and style. It’s just too bad the mics were off when we dug deeper into Pink Floyd and then covered some Ted Nugent… 🙂

Check your local listings (here and here) and tune in or stream online!

Echoes‘s official announcement here.

‘Convocation’ Out Now

Convocation, the new album by Matt Borghi and myself, is now available. I mentioned it a couple posts back when previewing 2013. The album was officially released digitally on January 31, but we’ve been waiting to really advertise it until we approved and finalized the hard copies.

My collaboration with Matt is five years old this year, and it’s been an ongoing reference on this blog. From our time together in The Elevator Conspiracy to our duo work in a variety of genres under both our own names and Teag & PK, we’ve been fighting the good fight – at least if you ask us for our opinion – for a few years now. A couple of last year’s posts were specifically about us. (See here and here.) Long story short, we cover a lot of musical ground. We started out with lounge-ish and jam-ish rock in The Elevator Conspiracy. Then, as a duo, we first explored acoustic indie-rock territory, but quickly pursued a parallel path of ambient-centric improvisation. We’ve continued down both paths the last couple years, but rarely have we mixed them. As Teag & PK, we perform original songs in coffee houses and on the radio. As Matt Borghi & Michael Teager, we explore sound in art galleries and other “listening space” environments. Convocation is an accidental culmination of the latter, and our first full-length album of either style.

I say accidental because we never intended for this to be an album. At least not originally. After a ~6-8 month spurt with our singer/songwriter material last year, we decided to go ambient at the last minute before a gig. (Matt wrote a great article about that evening here.) That gig’s success reinvigorated our ambient leanings, and so we booked some studio time a couple weeks later at Dan Jaquint‘s The Fort. We entered the studio with no plan other than wanting to capture some our new-found spirit. At best, we hoped to walk away with ~15 minutes of usable material for use as a launching point for an eventual album or project down the road. Because of our low expectations, our “rehearsing” consisted of a couple lunches, phone calls, and emails. Matt sent me about six minutes worth of sketches that he had been messing with, but we hadn’t played together since the aforementioned gig. Horn in hand, I noodled with those sketches for about ten minutes. That was it.

Once we were all set to go in the studio, we told Dan that we just wanted to record some chunks of improvisations. With our levels, etc., set, all he really needed to do was start and stop the recording equipment. For the first attempt, we improvised over a recently-composed loop of Matt’s for about 15-20 minutes. Once finished, we looked at each other with much relief – this was going much better than expected. So over the next ninety minutes we laid down four more chunks: two fully improvised without pre-conceived loops, and two fully improvised over loops that Matt had put together since our last gig. We had surprised ourselves and ended up with possibly more than our hoped-for 15-20 minutes of material.

All five of that evening’s sonic treks make up Convocation. Presented in the order in which they were recorded, all of the source material was recorded live. I say “source material” because Matt did some post-production work with the mix and other audiophile-related items, but, except for cutting out some chunks for brevity’s sake, the musical content wasn’t copied-and-pasted together a la Bitches Brew. Over the next several months we contemplated what to do with the material, finally deciding to release it via Matt’s record label Slo.Blor Media – an excellent source for ambient music and sound art.)

For purists, this album arguably may not be a strictly “ambient” work. While the whole album is grounded in an ambient foundation, the focal point, if there is one, is the improvisational monologues and dialogues. That’s where one may possibly hear jazz-ish influences, though don’t waste your time listening for any bop licks. Each of the five tracks is a collective improvisation over soundscapes, two of which were fully improvised and continually change. No “melodies,” “hooks,” or “beats.” Just sound. It’s somewhere in the nexus of ambient, jazz, sound art, and contemporary classical. (The latter if it were notated, but it wasn’t so it’s not.) Again, neither Matt nor I care what you call it. We haven’t even settled on the nomenclature. This is something we’re very proud of and want to share with open, willing ears. What you call it is a distant second to how you receive it.

Please do check it out if you’re interested. Feel free to drop a line if you dig it. And if you feel so inclined, feel free to leave a review on iTunes or Amazon.

Convocation is now available via iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, and Spotify. And you may order a hard copy via Kunaki. For more info, you can visit:

Here’s the official press release from Slo.Bor Media:

Convocation is the work of ambient composer Matt Borghi (www.mattborghi.com) and saxophonist Michael Teager (www.michaelteager.com). Recorded as a series of improvisational structures in spring of 2012, this is the first recording that Borghi and Teager have done together after a half-decade of working together.

With Convocation, Borghi brings in spacious guitar textures to create a harmonic fabric for Teager to lay out his saxophone playing with subtlety and nuance. With a background in classical and jazz saxophone, Teager brings a wide palette of influences to the music. Listeners will hear aspects of Jan Garbarek, John Coltrane and Dave Liebman that’s juxtaposed over Borghi’s pastoral guitar sounds that have more of their timbral origins in the work of Claude Debussy or Ralph Vaughan-Williams than they do other contemporary ambient guitarists.

Convocation, as a whole, aims to create a deep and timbrally interesting listening experience while also bringing together an interesting musical pairing and improvisational process. Saxophone and ambient music have never sounded like this, and Borghi & Teager attribute this to their friendship, their approach to the work and their diverse musical interests.

Buy the hard copy CD here now, or you can visit online retailers such as Amazon, iTunes, or eMusic to name just a few…