Tag Archives: convocation

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.

Matt Borghi & Michael Teager Live on ‘Echoes’ Today 11.06.13

As described here and hereMatt Borghi and I had a great time in Philadelphia supporting Convocation. While there, we had the honor of recording an episode of Echoes with John Diliberto. Our Living Room Concert will air on today’s episode. Check your local listings (here and here) and tune in!

Echoes‘s official announcement 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.


‘Convocation’ Philadelphia Promo Tour & The Gathering 100

This weekend I’ll be in the Philadelphia area for a promotional tour supporting Convocation, my album with my good friend and collaborator guitarist Matt Borghi. It’s not as much of a “performance” tour as there’s only one “public” show in Philadelphia, but we’ll be hitting up the holy trinity of ambient music outlets: The Gatherings Concert Series, a live set on ambient mainstay Star’s End on Philadelphia’s WXPN, and an Echoes Living Room Concert. If you happen to be in the greater Philadelphia area or that region of the east coast, do check out The Gathering if you’re so inclined. We’re performing an opening set for Vic Hennegan and Dave Luxton, who’ll each be performing solo sets.


We open the show at 8:00 PM on Saturday 10.19.13 at St. Mary’s Hamilton Village, 3916 Locust Walk on University of Pennsylvania’s campus. The show promises to offer much variety, as we’re all at different points in the “ambient” spectrum and all representing different parts of the country.

Official page with artist information here.

Advance tickets are available at a discount through http://www.ticketweb.com. Proceeds benefit CIMA of PA. For complete details please visit http://www.thegatherings.org.

Following that evening’s performance, all three acts will also perform live on the overnight broadcast of the long-running Star’s End radio show on WXPN. For complete details visit http://www.starsend.org. You can read a nice review of Convocation by Chuck van Zyl of Star’s End here.

Monday morning, before our return trip to the midwest, we’ll have the honor of doing a Living Room Concert at the Echoes studios. We’re humbled and excited to be performing for the two titans of ambient radio.

[Previous entry on Convocation here.]