Lots of great ambient music is improvised, and many groups are formed for the sole purpose of improv. Different Skies, Team Metlay and Spheric Lounge are just a few examples, and we’ll hear some of their work along with lots of other great tracks on our Improv program. Here’s what you can expect:

Team Metlay – “Fragment G (Zap 22)” – Ballistic – 1995 (8:20)
Team Metlay – “Aqua Regia (Zap 23)” – Ballistic – 1995 (29:44)

Section I: Immerse me not in benzene
Section II: Give us back our solvents
Section III: The carbon tet offensive

In December 1994, Team Metlay got together for a recording session. They used to call themselves “the Internet’s first supergroup”, a term that still gets used in places, but this has connotations of previously famous people banding together, which they claim not to have been. What they now prefer to say is that they were a “hypergroup”, in the same way that a Web page is “hypertext”. They interacted both in realspace and cyberspace, even when the medium was young, communicating with one another via the Internet as well as getting together in person, once every two years, to visit and record music. They got to know one another, and became good friends, there for one another through marriages, divorces, children being born and growing up, and life-threatening illnesses.

Mike Metlay is the founder and coordinator of the annual Different Skies festival, launched in 2003 (we’ll hear more about that later in the program). Mike’s first experiments in collaborative space music resulted the trilogy of CDs by Team Metlay; his efforts now are concentrated both at Different Skies and in his small-group collaborations under the mindSpiral banner.

Mike holds a doctorate in nuclear physics; he left science in 1996 and combined his dual passions—music and writing—by joining Recording’s Editorial staff. He became Associate Editor in 2002. Mike has been recording and producing music since 1979. Nowadays he’s most interested in new avenues for musical collaboration, whether in person (e.g. the Different Skies Music Festival in Arizona and his mindSpiral “pickup band” projects) or over the Internet. He lives near Boulder with his wife and daughters.

Spheric Lounge – “Atmospheric Drift” – Session 42 22.01.2006 – 2006 (66:23)

Spheric Lounge is a longstanding live ambient collective based in Munich, Germany, releasing more than 300 titles so far under creative commons license. They regularly bring together musicians, dancers, video artists and other improv artists.

Greg Hurley – “REVOLVE” – REVOLVE – 2009 (47:51)

Clocking in at nearly 48 minutes of continuous music, this is without a doubt a longplayer; but this is very unlike any other ambient release the folks at Earth Mantra netlabel had ever heard. In fact, the music lays somewhere in the hazy boundary between ambient, electronic, instrumental rock, and even jazz, combining elements of all but without committing to any one genre. It is precisely this fusion of styles that makes this album such a refreshing treat.

And if his clever blending of musical colors weren’t enough, REVOLVE is actually a live performance. Captured in one take from a live solo performance on on August 14, 2009, Greg used no loops or backing tracks — everything that you hear in this recording was performed by Greg exactly as the audience heard it that night.

His approach, in his own words, was:

“… to create a piece that evolved cyclically as if to never resolve. Inspired by the idea of objects catching critical velocity by revolving around planets in order to propel them ever-faster through space — effectively jettisoning them out of orbit on their way to their destination. For this performance I combined ambient textures with jazz chordal structures and layered it with synth support layers and rhythms. Additionally, I used a Resonator for creating wild searing, soaring lead sounds to evoke the idea of being propelled through space.”

Different Skies – “She Calls” – Arcs and Angles – 2005 (5:51)
Different Skies – “First Crocus” – Arcs and Angles – 2005 (11:15)

Mike Metlay began Different Skies in 2003 with the assistance of Tucson musician and radio show host Doug Wellington, as an opportunity that rarely presents itself in the rarefied world of space music: a chance for members of our community to get together for an extended period of time in a controlled and isolated environment, to network and learn from one another, form new professional alliances and new friendships, and to create and perform an evening of entirely original new music for an enthusiastic audience.

Electronic music, which features the synthesizer and computer as prominently as it does traditional amplified and acoustic instruments, is traditionally viewed as a lonely art form, created by musicians working alone in small studios. Opportunities to build community among these musicians are few and far between.

A big challenge was to find a place which was inspiring and welcoming to visiting musicians, where rehearsals could be both relaxed and energetic, with a fixed goal in mind while allowing for flexibility of scheduling on a day to day basis. Arcosanti, with its wonderful admixture of futuristic architecture and art-colony sensibility, has been a perfect choice, in no small part due to the welcoming and supportive nature of the Arcosanti community. Different Skies is an exceptional experience for all concerned.

Different Skies happens every year, though this was officially the last year under Mike’s leadership, with artists old and new, a new palette of ideas, and a lot of energy and drive to create beauty for the listener. Earth Mantra is proud to bring its listeners the music of this totally unique electronic music festival.

Stephen Briggs – “Parisian Walkway” – Live Improv – 2012 (27:25)

Stephen Briggs is an ambient guitarist currently residing in New Zealand. Work is in progress on several ambient albums due for release 2013.

“Parisian Walkway” is a Pitchfactor inspired loopy ambient Stratocaster live improv, according to Stephen. He used nothing but his guitar, a volume pedal and a loop or two on the boomerang and the Eventide Space, and Pitchfactor. This was recorded entirely live, no PC and no overdubs!

High Chair – “Chiron Dawn” – Guitar Improvs – 1995 (12:41)

Another Spacey guitar drone piece, this track was recorded 1995 on a Teac reel to reel machine, in one take with no overdubs.

High Chair is Billy Surgeoner, based in London.

Team Metlay – “Exosphere ~ Intercept” – Ballistic – 1995 (4:37)

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