In this instalment of ‘The Maker’, we speak to ambient musician and label owner, James Osland. James crafts gentle ambient music with an emphasis on field recordings, using music creation as a sonic journal influenced by time and place. As an artist, James has released his own music on Whitelabrecs, Shimmering Moods Records, and Flaming Pines, amongst others. James also runs Elm Records, a label specialising in organic ambience, with releases by the likes of Sound Awakener, Now Sleep, and Gallery Six. Over the past few years, James has provided the ambient and experimental community with a vast amount of mixes, posted weekly on Soundcloud under the title of the ‘Sleep Sunday’ podcast.
James Osland – ‘Manitoba Gardens’ was the fourth album released on RTR back in May 2018, and became the first to sell out completely on the label. In this feature, James talks about pivotal listen experiences, using emotive experiences to create a narrative within his music, and the positive restrictions of the cassette tape format.
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
It must have been around 2007 that I became seriously interested in ambient music; I was listening to a lot of post-rock and electronica at the time and was starting to lean towards the more ambient side of things. A good friend of mine slipped me a copy of ‘and their Refinement of the Decline’ by Stars Of The Lid with no other explanation than “you NEED to listen to this”. It completely changed my world. I must have had that album on repeat for a good few months. There was definitely something there that changed the way I thought about listening; it was very liberating. After that I was completely hooked.
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
It can be hard to pinpoint the exact inspiration that kickstarts a new project. It can often be a fragment of memory, a particular sound, or place that gets me thinking. I like to think of my music as a kind of sonic journal – each album is always rooted in a specific time or place. Field recordings play a big part in this. I can listen back to moments I recorded years ago and vividly recount the sights, the smells, and my emotional response. I fill in the rest from there using a variety of tools; some hardware, some software, some live instrumentation and some DSP processing.
How do you approach working on a new release?
I try and approach each album from a different angle. I like to challenge myself musically and am very cautious about repeating the same process too often. I think it’s easy to jump to a default mode with music creation and this can cause things to sound a little tired and predictable. It’s a fine line between keeping your own ‘sound’ and creating something completely new. Having said that, each release will start with a clear concept in mind – usually a time, place or memory I would like to capture. The concept then dictates the direction of the music, including sound pallet, instrumentation and recording process. As I start to focus in on this specific idea I am able to unearth emotions related to that time and this usually helps to inform the narrative of the album.
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
Ahh that’s a hard one – there are so many great artists releasing such beautiful music at the moment. I’m always amazed at how many great albums are released each month, it can be difficult to keep up with it all sometimes. I’ve really been enjoying the vinyl release of Ian Hawgood’s ‘光’. It’s such a beautifully crafted minimalist album, very fragile and delicate – you almost feel as if you don’t want to listen “too hard” in case you break it. It’s a very moving piece of music. His latest offering, ‘Impermanence’, on James Murray’s Slowcraft Records is absolutely stunning as well. It’s refreshing to hear music that is completely bereft of computers. Federico Durand’s ‘Pequeñas Melodías’ (IKKI) and Simon Scott’s ‘Sounding’ also deserve a mention.
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
There are so many great things about tape. I love the fragility of it, I think it’s really suited to ambient music. I love the soft and warm tone of tape as well, to me it sounds just like nostalgia. It’s like watching a grainy Super 8 film, you can’t help but be transported to another time or place. It also removes the temptation of skipping through certain tracks – it forces you to listen to the album as a whole which for me is an important aspect of ambient music, It’s easier to get lost that way.