The 12th instalment of ‘The Maker’ series brings Brian Barth into conversation. Under the name of his ambient project, andarctica, Brian’s latest album ‘buried with the bells’ (RTR020) came out on Monday. Four long-form mediations on closure created with lengthy manipulated bell passages a gradually evolving loops.
The Amsterdam-based musician talks about Steve Reich’s ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ as a pivotal listening experience, treating music making as a form of discovery rather than composition, and the transience of the cassette.
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
It really started with an accidental introduction to American Minimalism. In highschool I was making films, and there was a computer in the lab with Final Cut on it that everyone cut their projects on. I remember that I was importing some audio files and accidentally opened iTunes. The only album in the library was Steve Reich’s ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ – I assumed it was for someone else’s film – so I put it on. The following 45 minutes passed in a wash of calm focus – I felt fully present with a clear and quiet mind, making creative decisions without hesitation or distraction. I left the piece on repeat for my entire editing session, and when I finished up after a few hours, I burned it to a CD and brought it home (hooray 2004!). I took a much deeper dive in 2015 while working in Berlin. I had a lot of writing and planning to do and I found myself in a constant state of distraction and adrenaline-induced focus. Then the wonderful piece ‘Wold’ by Machinefabriek came across my Bandcamp feed. I was completely hooked. It felt like drifting through a damp cool morning; I could close the doors to distraction, release the grip of tension and gain the clarity to do what had to be done.
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
Ambient has been a rewarding outlet for me to create work that is specifically designed to not cater to the appetite of human attention. This non-human-centric perspective has been difficult for me to communicate through other mediums, but it wasn’t until I dove in to more minimal music that I found others making work that seemed to have similar aims. Now that I know where to look, I’m constantly finding pieces that help me feel more connected to the true scale and pace of reality, as well as the underlying principles that govern them. It’s from these pieces that I derive the most inspiration from. When I’m in flow, working on an ambient track, I’m trying to create a work that reflects the patience of a mountain, the quiet at the bottom of the ocean, and the flowing river of time that is passing through it all.
How do you approach working on a new release?
Making ambient for me is more an act of discovery than composition. I’ll open a blank session with some basic function or principle I’d like to test (such as an effects chain or sound source), and I’ll explore it until I’m finding sounds / moments / places that I’m responding to. I’ll often separate my creation sessions from my editing sessions; create and discover sounds in the evening, edit and arrange in the morning. I find that method helps keep me out of myopic creative loops and brings clarity and structure to the work.
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
Based on play-count alone, it definitely goes to ‘Close to Heart’ by Mnemonic45. There’s just something about the way they make their drones a swirling mix of full-frequency waves, punctuated by distant tones while everything is phasing over and through one another. I’ll have it on for much of my day, and it’s definitely a style that I’d like to explore more with andarctica in the future as well.
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
Cassettes to me are humble artefacts. I see a certain beauty in how they’re intentionally obsolete, imperfect representations of a work. Each one introduces its own character to the work; each will degrade with every play; The format serves as a reminder of how you really can’t truly ever capture or replicate anything, ever. Even the act of remembering is form of imperfect translation; that ephemeral fragility really resonates with me and why I’m making the music I am right now.