An Electronic Walk Through Leafy Glades: Rudy Adrian
Nature is a magical place, the woodlands once covered huge portions of our planet. According to the old legends, almost forgotten, there once were no walls or paved plots, or plowed zones, just a continuous flowing region of arboreal splendor, green during the summer, for the autumn festooned with bright colors a short time, followed by seemingly endless frozen months with only sticks protruding through drifting snow, and then returning to a glorious emergence of green once again each spring. The sounds on Rudy Adrian's newest album Woodlands evoke pure atmosphere, the listener is drifting in space, imagining the sensations of walking along a wooded path and experiencing the bliss of deep listening, in a contemplative forest of mystical moods, expressed using textural electronics. Rudy Adrian is an electronic musician with a history in the study of botany and forestry, who lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Dunedin is a city on the South Island of New Zealand in the Otago region, the home of the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic, blending with manufacturing, publishing, technology-based industries, and tourism. Otago takes its name from the Ngai Tahu village of Otakou, and the name Dunedin is of Scottish Gaelic origin, derived from Dùn Èideann, the ancient capital of Scotland now known as Edinburgh in our contemporary tongue. On Otago Harbor there are hills and an extinct volcano. The land was originally inhabited by the Maori people before the Europeans came and established a whaling station in the 1830s. The city grew into the surrounding valleys and hills to become the principal city in the region.
Woodlands is Rudy Adrian's sixth album on the Spotted Peccary Music label, which includes the smaller sub-labels Lotuspike and Brain Laughter, he has albums on all three label names. Altogether he has created over a dozen albums including his work on Groove Unlimited Records, White Cloud, and Quantum Records. Working in styles ranging from beatless atmospheric music to heavily sequenced electronica, as well as producing sound track for television in his profession as a sound engineer for Taylormade Media, he has also been one of the hosts of a radio programme specialising in ambient music on the Dunedin campus radio station, Radio One.
On Woodlands his magic blends the universe of his Yamaha SY77 synthesizer, and his Kurzweil K2000R sampler, with wee bits of sounds taken from the flute, some tiny birds singing, his own ethereal wordless voice, trickling water, and the sound of thunder lightly and occasionally seasoning the musical mixture. Leading up to the release of Woodlands, I asked Rudy some questions about being a musician and his composition process, technology, a little bit about his album, and finally his perspective about science in general. Here is what he told me:
I use the computer to lay out my music tracks, I like the fact I can adjust individual note values - a bit longer, a bit shorter, a bit brighter, a bit duller, maybe playing a slightly different sound, maybe up an octave. All those tiny adjustments may sound tedious, but can be very satisfying. Because I'm multi-tracking, I often play in live a musical idea for say 3 or 4 minutes, then I add little overdubs overtop. I do tend to find it gets rather cluttered after a while and I end up muting some tracks to figure out where to go from here. So often I find muting the original track seems to give the best results, so obviously, it's a mysterious process! What I love about atmospheric music is that there's a lot of rules you don't have to follow, because you're hopefully making a slightly mysterious, evolving soundscape.
One of the most important rules for atmospheric music is to have things slowly evolving.
One little sound effect I occasionally use is a little clicking sound, on tracks such as "Hidden Pond" on Woodlands. It sounds a little like a cricket chirp, or perhaps the winding in of a fishing reel. It really is as simple as a woodblock sample. I just play it live, a single key, played faster and faster and then a bit slower and then speeding up again. After that I adjust playback speed to about four times as fast, so it becomes a pace much quicker than I could ever play, then I overdub pitch bend data to make the sound go slightly up and down in pitch. I really enjoy this sort of creativity, making my own sounds in often unusual ways.
It's like if you want to give someone a small cake. You could either buy it at a bakery at the supermarket, OR you could teach yourself how to make a cake yourself One option is obviously far simpler and has maybe better results than the other, but which would be more satisfying?
I NEVER set out to make music that would sell. I set out to make music I knew I really wanted to hear, and hopefully a few others would too. You gotta make music that's honest and true to yourself, not with some ulterior motive, because if you're doing it for cash, you'll probably never get far. The fact that my music now does sell, is great, but that's not why I make it. I make it for myself and others like me, many of whom I'll never meet, to enjoy. But I always made sure my day job (originally as a sound engineer) came first!
I've always loved forest glades and while I studied botany and forestry science at university, I've never applied it in the workforce, except in summer vacation jobs when I was a student. My quarter-acre garden is hotch-potch of conifers and Japanese maples. On a good day it looks a bit like a park, on a bad day it looks like a mess! It's been a long-term dream to make it a bit more organised, but I never seem to get very far with that plan...
For me the most important thing to do is imagine someone listening to your music in their own home for the first time. What will they think? Visualising your intended audience and trying to please them is important. Another thing is to make sure you have a gradual build up in a piece of music. Don't do all your tricks in the first minute of the piece! A third thing to consider is "musical suspensions", where things aren't settled, but wanting to go somewhere for musical resolution. It's really important to look into having the bass notes at time not as the root of your chord, but slightly at odds with the chord's root.
My parents bought a small piano in the hope we'd all learn to play it. My mother got pretty good on it, but I never did do much as I wasn't a fan of learning to play other people's music, and I'm still not. I'd rather make my own, and that's what the synthesizer allow me to do. I used to make my own samples for the Kurzweil K2000 sample, but it's sat unused for a long time. The majority were layered samples of synthesizers, in order to create pad sounds I otherwise didn't have, so it wasn't particularly experimental sampling. The SY77 synth has a small built-in sample library. Most are pretty unsuited to me (saxophone, orchestral effects, etc). But there's a few I do use regularly - a processed choir sound called "Itopia" and a glockenspiel. So rather than using samples, most of my sounds are created with the FM synthesis and filters of the SY77.
I spend a fair amount of free time improvising behind the keyboard thinking about sound combinations, and keys and sow gentle melodies which might work in an upcoming piece. It's actually pretty rare I'll turn on the computer and try and commit these ideas to a structured piece. And when I do, if often doesn't come out the way I'd hoped. I slipped in one or two live improvisations in "Woodlands" and might continue to do so in the next album. But there is something quite satisfying about the richness of a properly multi-tracked ambient piece with (hopefully) not a twinkle or drone out of place... I still think about one day doing another series of concerts in the northern hemisphere. It's easy to get enthused about the idea, but also easy to be daunted by the prospect and realisation it won't sound as good as a properly finished album does...
I've know flute and woodwind player Nick Prosser for many years. He kindly played flute on a number of tracks since the release of the album Twilight in 1999. We also did a live concert together (released as the first half of Concerts in New Zealand). He can create a tone on his baroque flute which sounds somewhat like a Japanese shakuhachi. Which is intriguing, because the shakuhachi is an end-blown bamboo flute, while a baroque flute is quite different, being a transverse-blown wooden flute. It's great to have his unusual technique on the Baroque flute adding a significant amount of magic to the albums. And I'm pleased to be sharing with him some of the royalties my music is now starting to earn. When I met up with him recently, he expressed an interest in doing some more music together, so maybe next year!
The Yamaha SY77 is integral in how I make music, although I'm sure you could make it with any synthesizer really, and there have been people such as the talented Jeff Kowal (Terra Ambient) who have created similar music using just acoustic sound sources. I always strongly recommend people don't buy an SY77 thinking that'll help them sound like me - it's an awfully difficult and finicky instrument to master. I've just gotten used to it and learned to work around its limitations. I quite like creating things under some degree of limitations - it's be comparable to an artist doing illustrations just in charcoal.
The SY77 came out in 1990, so my one is nearly thirty years old and going strong! It does both FM synthesis (good for creating bells but also good for gentle, thin drones that don't take over the whole sound spectrum) and it plays samples. But the beautiful thing is that these sounds can then be filtered to make sounds that slowly get brighter or duller, etc.
I do remember my first experiments with wordless vocals and what I did then isn't too different to what I do now. They are supposed to be slightly evocative of inner thoughts. I'm not trying to re-create a scene in some exotic country with villagers singing a song or whatever. With wordless vocals on tracks such as "Fields in Evening Light," it's pretty easy to slip into something that might sound a bit like throat singing in Tuvalu, but it's in no way a deliberate imitation of that style.
Another major restriction I like to impose on myself is using a very old MIDI sequencer. This can record the notes as I play them on the keyboard and then I can overdub and manipulate the data (eg: transpose, change velocity, alter timbre) as I like. Once I've built up a nicely layered piece (the SY77 can play 16 different types of sounds at once) I can then record the audio of the final result. The software only works on an Apple MacIntosh Plus - so that's one megabyte of RAM, 800k floppy discs, etc, etc. The software was kindly given to me by a musician and businessman Murray Wood, back in 1988. Tragically, he died when the building he was in collapsed in the Christchurch earthquake of 2011.
There's quite a number of people who'd rather not have sounds of nature in the pieces, possibly because it distracts them for the landscape they're imagining when they hear it. So I'm cutting back on doing that, although for me the sound of blackbird song, gentle lapping waves or running brooks is very evocative for me.
Regarding the first track on Woodlands, "Postcard from Karnak," the reference to Karnak is partially to an earlier track called "The Legacy of Luxor" (another Egyptian tourist hot spot, where 62 people, mostly tourists were gunned down by jihadist rebels in 1997). I am vaguely curious about Egyptology, but the major inspiration for the title came while pondering a suitable title, and seeing displayed on a colleague's desk: a postcard from Karnak!
“Three Views of a Japanese Garden” was originally recorded live as a present for my good friend Rhys Buckingham. With his encouragement, I later released parts 2 and 3 on the album MoonWater. Part 1 wasn't a very successful improvisation. However, earlier this year (2019), I sat down and recorded an instrumental track which evoked some of the feeling I had been after. Then some months later, I went early one morning into the TV recording studio I have access to, and overdubbed the vocals. It was one take - and I recall - with my hands in my pockets. Sometimes it works best not to overthink the process and just do it!
As a science graduate, I tend to have views of the future which are out of step in today's social climate. Just let me point out: The thing which will finally destroy the Earth is the sun becoming larger and blowing the atmosphere off the Earth, and possibly absorbing it. But way before then, life will have been largely extinguished by insufficient CO2 for plant life to continue. That's a scientific fact.
What humans have done is simply putting a brief halt to the relentless process of photosynthetic life (plants) taking in CO2 and locking it up on the occasions they get buried and turned into oil, coal, natural gas, etc. That's a scientific fact.
It was once so warm that 20 million years ago, forests north of the arctic circle were inhabited by alligators and lemurs. The world wasn't terrible then, merely different. That's a scientific fact.
It was once so cold that ice had locked up so much water, the first humans to get to Britain and North America walked there as sea levels were far lower than now. That's a scientific fact.
There wasn't a "last ice age", because we're still in one. An ice-age is when there are poles wrapped up in ice. There's plenty of times in geological history when there hasn't been an ice age. That's a scientific fact.
Humanity has caused enormous environmental depletion and extinction, equivalent to a large meteor impact, and we're not done yet. As the population continues to relentlessly grow, we can't but help but destroy more species and ecologies. That's an obvious fact.
If the climate change we've wrought destroys civilisation, is that not a good thing for the environment? But even if we do destroy the planet almost entirely, once the sun blows the atmosphere right off, no one will be around to care very much…
Editor’s note: Chances are we will not personally experience the destruction of our planet by the sun during our lifetimes, there is hope for some good weather ahead, and best of all, Woodlands is available for physical purchase in CD format and in 24-bit audiophile, CD quality lossless, MP3 and streaming formats from Spotted Peccary Music: https://spottedpeccary.com/shop/woodlands/