The concept for 'A Moment of Clarity' began with a remix of a different Brian Eno piece I'd composed, comprised of various short samples of popular songs fading in and out over an ambient score--not so much a mash-up in concept as it was a musical collage. The choice of samples was created unconsciously as I used what music was left ringing in my ears after consecutive days of listening and listening and listening. Some samples were obscure jazz recordings, some were popular country songs, some were just drums pounding away; however, the emphasis on this variety is that these selections, for whatever reason, possessed a certain quality of being memorable. These were the passages that stuck out in my mind. I then selected an ambient work I found to be particularly meditative and tried to create a portrait of music in the mind: what one hears as 'music,' as 'sound,' what one can remember, can recognize, can perceive.
In the first draft of this work, there was far more noise. The background ambient track was much lower in the mix, many of the longer samples were also quieter, and there was a flurry of short samples of ambient noise, ranging from the loud to the inaudible, that would jump back and forth through stereo panning. All of the samples were more modified: longer samples were sped up/slowed down so that their key signature would align (or relatively align) with the background track, instruments and solos would be isolated, layered and looped, and the use of stereo panning distorted the original sound of many samples. The ambience was still ever-present, yet it could no longer be defined accordingly, as Eno stated ambient music "must be as easy to ignore as it is to listen to." The first draft drew sourcing into the forefront, as it contained five times the amount of sources as the current draft, but in using these it nearly undermined its own purpose as ambient music. In some ways, this might highlight an inherent contradiction in the concept of an "ambient mash-up," though I hope the second draft might disprove this.
Listening to the first draft, there are three obvious layers of music: one continuous background track, longer harmonic samples of three to ten minutes, and short ornamental samples less than a minute, characterized by a distinct sonic presence and quick, noticeable fade-ins and fade-outs. Unfortunately, in the process of bouncing the first draft to disk, this entire third layer was lost. The details that enlivened the silences and served to divide the hour-long background track (and were by far the most tedious to create) were entirely removed, but the accidental product emphasizes the concept all the more. The novel feature of dance mash-ups is that nearly every musical component is a recognizable sample from some other work, thus producing not only a comprehensive dance track but also a stimulating name-that-tune collage. With ambient music desiring a certain relegation by the listener, the idea of samples being identifiable is counter to its essence. So, when these detailed samples were lost, I was able to listen to the piece again and recognize what aspects, sounds, and samples served to blur this line between foreground and background, and rebuild the piece around these. (This rebuilding consisted mostly of re-leveling many samples, reducing the stereophonic effects, and undoing digital modulations.) My realization of this "ambient mash-up" is thereby creating a piece of music in the method of a mash-up that can function as either a musical feature or background music, the concept of ambience.
The title of this piece is a tribute to my friend Jay Bodley (aka A Setting Sun) who was a great inspiration for this piece. Both fans of electronic and ambient music, we've worked together before on creating soundscapes and similar musical effects for other projects. His alias A Setting Sun, under which he produces minimalist electronic music, was recently retired after producing only one complete recording and two fragmented compilations. Many of his pieces (that are the least recognizable in this composition) appear throughout: they can be heard as almost purely harmonic in contrast with the dominant key of the background track; their tonalities form other chords and dissonances that can temporarily change the mood or character of the entire piece. One of the concluding samples is from the Scottish duo Boards of Canada; the track titled 'A Moment of Clarity' is one that Bodley cites as a major influence on him in contextualizing the use of ambient noise within larger musical works. I appropriated this title not only to dedicate this work to Jay, but to expand his concept of ambience toward a new realization.
(For those interested in name-that-sample, the included artists: Brian Eno, A Setting Sun, Jay Bodley, Steve Hall, Iggy Ignotious, David Bowie, Harold Budd, Apparat, Radiohead, M83, Manitoba, Keith Jarrett, Boards of Canada, Kim Hiorthøy, Cornelius, Doctor Oscillator, Ingram Marshall, Nico Muhly, Savath & Savalas, Thank You!, The Durutti Column, and Zach Saginaw.)
UPDATE: As of today, after the presentation of this work yesterday, I have retitled the piece "A Moment of Clarity (dedicated to A Setting Sun)". In sharing this work with a friend from home, I was informed that Jay Bodley's alias A Setting Sun has been revived to continue producing, therefore titling this piece in his memory seemed inaccurate.