Tag Archives: matt borghi

“Making It” Up

A running thread through the last few posts (here, here, here), and occasional others throughout this blog (here, here, here, here), is that of the landscape and environment those of my generation(ish) and younger are facing. Gone – or at least fading away – are the “paths” (career or otherwise) that were supposedly ahead of us as we were coming up. It seems so, anyway. (And it was never going to be easy to begin with.) To echo author Bret Easton Ellis, as he put it so well: we’re moving from an age of Empire to Post-Empire. Now, there are certainly pros and cons to each, and I don’t even know if I fully believe that one is better than the other, but it can’t be denied that those big, shiny institutions (i.e., Empire, or, as discussed in my last post, the “real world”) are crumbling and we’re rebuilding a more fragmented cultural environment. Yeah, you can be a college professor (Empire), but you’ll likely be cobbling together adjunct or Visiting-Assistant-Instructor-Fellow-Lacking-Benefits work (Post-Empire). Gone are Mr. Big’s Six Album (and six figure) Deal record contracts given to only a select few (Empire), and everywhere are musicians with GoPros and MacBooks with a worldwide reach (post-Empire). You can ostensibly get your music to everyone right now, but do you actually expect to get compensated? Sure, there’s live performance, but that can also be a financial killer. And if not a killer, you won’t be saving for retirement. Speaking of which, I think we could put retirement in the Empire column…

Matt Borghi, my close friend and musical accomplice, happened to send me this article from The Atlantic on Monday, not knowing I had just posted a somewhat parallel (in parts) screed. Deresiewicz makes some good points, though I must admit that I didn’t walk away from it knowing what the overall thrust of the article was, if there was one. (Though, sometimes all you need is mention of entrepreneurship and declining superpowers.) Some of the thoughts were a bit bizarre – we’re beyond the age of the “great work”? I don’t buy that. Just because we don’t have as many powerful gatekeepers and curators as we once did doesn’t mean that the works aren’t being made. I would argue that it’s more of a problem of not being able to easily sift them out from all the others. Also, the author talks about the devaluing of the 10,000 hours concept. I don’t know about that. While he does have a point – and I’ve seen it firsthand – that connections can help one more than his or her work, most of the cream eventually rises to the top. (Even if eventually = after death.) The deep, substantial works are being made amongst the noise of the novelties surrounding them. And eventually the fluff will die away. And as far as depth vs. breadth, why are they mutually exclusive? As someone who has many disparate musical influences, I would like to think that such breadth is an asset in my hopefully one day making something with depth. Though, related to the 10,000 hours, I did ask on this blog over five years ago: For those with disparate influences (i.e., learning and become proficient in various and/or competing styles), is 15,000 the new 10,000?

Admittedly, this quick post may not have a point, other than to tie recent posts together and point to that Atlantic article. Ellis’s article on The Daily Beast is worth a read also. On a related note, I recommend this piece by Matt.

To close, the end of the first paragraph reminds me of a song by the long-defunct group in which I met Matt, The Elevator Conspiracy. Written shortly after the 2008 economic crash, we wrote and often played a sometimes-wailing-sometimes-spoken-word song in rehearsal titled “Retire the Empire.” We all really enjoyed it but I don’t believe we ever played it live. As much as we dug it, we just couldn’t get it to “click.” I have some scratchy recordings somewhere that I’m sure will never see the light of day beyond the band members. Though it was originally concerned primarily with the economy, it’s funny to think of how broadly accurate it was.

MBMT Ambient Weekend

A quick heads-up, as I know that there are a number of readers/subscribers in Chicago and Michigan. Matt Borghi & Michael Teager have a couple of noteworthy shows this weekend.

Friday 05.23.14 at Transistor in Chicago, IL:
We’re sharing the bill with Chicago-based The New Samuel Mösching Trio. The show starts at 7:30 PM (CT). Admission is free (donations encouraged), and it’s BYOB. Full info here.

Saturday 05.24.14 at (SCENE)metrospace in East Lansing, MI:
Billed as Deep Immersion: Journey Into Light & Sound, this will feature a ~2-hr. long form ambient performance by Matt and myself. We’ll be accompanied by visual projections by Detroit-based Troy Wehner, who himself will be performing a brief opening set. The show starts promptly at 7:00 PM and admission is $5. Full info 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 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.