The Maker #42 – Yggdrasil

A very delayed return to posting blog features with artists releasing their wonderful music on RTR The Maker #42 with Yggdrasil. Based in Essex, south east of England, Yggdrasil is the solo project of Paul Blackburn. Combining eurorack, synths, bit-crushed keys, and field recordings, Yggdrasil focuses on representation of the relationship – and often conflict – between humans and nature. Released towards the end of Summer 2022, Yggdrasil released ‘9Worlds’ (RTR056) via the label; and album of two long-form pieces collaging lo-fi keys with natural field recordings and captured voices.

In this feature, Paul discusses his early discoveries in ambient music, sources of inspiration evolving over time, writing to a synopsis, and the cassette as a tactile object worth embracing. Paul also recommends an album by two musicians RTR readers and listeners will be very family with!

How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?

My first recollection of ambient music would be as a teenager in the 80’s, the album being ‘Music For Airports’ – Brian Eno. I was fascinated by the title and had never heard anything like it before. I knew of Brian Eno as the producer of Talking Heads – ‘Remain In Light’ and from there discovered ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ by Eno & David Byrne. That album really pushed the boundaries of my musical education but when I discovered Airports with its long form minimal pieces, it really opened me up to a new way of experiencing sound. It wasn’t like listening to tracks on an album but rather experiencing some kind of journey.

What inspires you to create a new body of work?

My initial inspiration for something new has changed over the years. In the past it was usually a scene from a film or a passage from a book. It was always something visual or the visual image conjured in my mind from something I’d read. Nowadays it tends to stem from being around nature, mainly woodlands or the coast. Those places are where I feel at my most balanced and where I go to keep my mental health positively charged.

A blank page is quite inspiring too. When I make a body of work, I tend to make a studio version and then break that up into loops and samples which then get loaded into my live set up and used for gigging. The live set will then evolve considerably over the next few months as I explore all different ways of performing it. At some point I’ll feel like it’s time to move on and create something new from scratch. There’s a real sense of freedom at that moment which is full of untapped possibilities and potential.

How do you approach working on a new release?

I will have a synopsis or theme and I’ll collect field recordings, start some piano pieces, and consider what other kinds of sounds I think will work. Then I will start making some initial sketch pieces to get a feel for the overall sound and to see how it all works together. More often than not the initial sketch will not be what I was aiming for. Then comes the challenge of figuring out how I’m going to make it work, why the initial sketch failed etc. It’s like a puzzle or maze that needs to be negotiated in just the right way. It is probably the most exciting part of the whole process for me. From experience I know I will get there; I just need to find the right path. When I make the sketch that gives me the exact sound, I was looking for there’s a real feeling of elation and achievement. It’s a really unique feeling.

Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?

At the time of writing this though I’m drawn to ‘A is for Autumn’ by Andrew Heath & Simon McCorry. Autumn is my favourite time of year. As the natural landscape changes and beds down for winter I feel the urge to hibernate and get really creative. It’s a time for reflection, for nature walks, all wrapped up and warm with the promise of getting home to a crackling fire. ‘A is for Autumn’ defines the season perfectly. It is an immersive experience that envelopes the listener in layers of soul baring textures and leaves you feeling ready to batten down the hatches for the coming winter.

As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?

Cassette is a gorgeous analogue format that in the past was the poor cousin to vinyl. I have always loved both. Vinyl would be the gold standard, but cassette is more flexible. It is portable and you can make mixtapes! They are known for bringing some hiss into the mix, but I embrace that. Some music even benefits from that. Cassette tapes, for me are nostalgic and tactile and their resurgence has given many small labels the capability to release music on an affordable physical format that has real warmth to it.

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