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OFFAIR, like VMP, wants to facilitate deeper explorations of music, by cultivating “a space for established artists to release music that explores beyond their familiar sonic territories.” Music for Water, Lullabies for the Damned, Mouthful of Salt and The Power of your Subconscious Mind Vol. 1: SPACE are the result of that intention: ambient albums to soundtrack daily mental spaces and moods, evoking outer space, the ocean and beyond. Learn more about VMP’s collaboration with OFFAIR below, and read a Q&A with the artists — Highland Park Sleep Collective, If Anything, Suspicious, Niia and Pauli The PSM — conducted via email.
Releasing these records on vinyl with VMP is a natural extension of the OFFAIR ethos: These are intentional soundtracks to environments, and listening to music on vinyl provides the most tangible, mindful listening experience. These ambient sounds are meant for relaxation and are well-suited for yoga and meditation.
Focusing on new sonic territories means that for some of the artists featured, this is their first electronic work — the most surprising inclusion here is Swedish death metal frontman Anders Fridén, creating solo work in an unexpected genre under the moniker If Anything, Suspicious (with a quite metal title, Lullabies for the Damned). Fridén explained, “When I was 10 years old, I found Scorpions and Depeche Mode pretty much at the same time, so electronic music has always been there for me, even though I should say metal has been my greatest passion up until recently. I do still love metal, of course — that’s the music that I decided to do as my hobby, which then became my work; and now my whole grown-up life I’ve been part of a metal band [In Flames].”
Fridén said he felt “really free” making electronic music, working without the judgment he feels when making music with In Flames, a “way bigger project [where] there are more expectations.” He explained: “With If Anything, Suspicious, I feel I can do whatever I want and no one can say anything ... I like that it’s a big difference — it would be way too easy for me to do something that sounded sort of similar to In Flames. and that’s no challenge. This was way more of a challenge — even though I didn’t treat the project or the music as a challenge. It’s just something that comes naturally to me, and now I like to just create these soundscapes that evoke some sort of feeling in the listener.”
For Highland Park Sleep Collective and Niia, water served as inspiration for their OFFAIR contributions — with the former’s album explicitly labeled Music for Water. The duo behind Highland Park Sleep Collective, Filip Nikolic and Tim Anderson, wanted to create “a devotional offering to the natural world,” and incorporated real water sounds into the record.
Anderson explained, “The devotional part is just to say, water sounds are so relaxing and soothing and fundamental to our way of making ambient music, we wanted to make a record that showcased that process while paying homage to the kindness the earth continues to show us. Our way of giving back.”
About capturing real nature sounds, he said, “We love recording our own nature sounds as a way to get out and hang together in the woods. We start every project with a field-recording exploration. We also made some sounds with a Eurorack module that takes plant energy and converts it to gate and CV information, [which] is a cool way to randomize things and add some modular unpredictability. We go backpacking and hiking together a few times a year and gather whatever sounds we can, then bring them back to the studio and paint over them. It’s the most fun part of every song.”
Niia’s Mouthful of Salt is similarly water-based, but stemmed from her “deep obsession with the ocean.” She said, “My goal was to compose an album that emulated an actual underwater dive experience. To be exact, my underwater dive experience. My personal relationship with underwater diving has been quite volatile. Every time I descended, memory, anxiety and fear flooded my mind causing panic and disorientation. The deeper I went physically on a dive, the harder it was emotionally. I needed to understand … This album was my coping method to understand myself and hopefully get back down there.”
Unlike Highland Park Sleep Collective, Mouthful of Salt doesn’t incorporate real water sounds. “This album has an affinity for water,” Niia explained, “However, sonically it uses no aquatic, or actual ocean samples. I wanted to create an auditory illusion. We hear sound differently underwater due to sound waves traveling faster in water than in air. This creates a distortion. Incorporating jazz improvisation and impressionist classical elements, with minimal instrumentation helped achieve this interruptive illusion. Bass, piano, and voice are the main instruments that create a tether for the listener. Adding crystal sound bowls, minimal electronics, tempo and drums, pedal effects and a few other instruments such as harp and guitar on certain tracks creates a blurred underwater odyssey that descends deeper into sadness and ascends finding peace and acceptance.”
For The Power of your Subconscious Mind Vol. 1: SPACE, Pauli The PSM turned to less earthly inspiration, and even features collaborations with veteran NASA astronauts, Ron Garan and Jean-Francois Clervoy. About working with Garan and Clervoy, Pauli The PSM said, “I’m a massive fan of space and futurism. I’ve made friends with some [astronauts] over the years via the Planetary Collective and it was an honor to feature Ron and JFC on this record. Their perspective of the ‘overview effect’ is so beautifully poetic and I loved the idea of giving them a sound bed for their musings. It was a fun experiment marrying the worlds of astrology and astronomy. I hope I’ve done both worlds justice.”
VMP: What first drew you to ambient music?
Highland Park Sleep Collective: We each have seminal artists and records for sure, but a lot of the love of ambient comes from utility. Filip has issues with sleep for instance, and I (Tim) hate flying. Or, rather, I feel so out of control when flying that I just hate that sensation, so I started looking for ways to self-soothe. “The Pearl” by [Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Harold Budd] was the first record I found that cured that anxiety, and I listened to it thousands of times. Listening to that record changed my life, not only because it calmed my nerves but it allowed me to forget myself completely and drift off.
If Anything, Suspicious: So I’ve been listening to Nine Inch Nails for a long, long time. And I remember hearing the ‘Ghosts’ albums that they released, and I thought [they were] amazing. And then, obviously, the soundtrack to ‘The Social Network’ was a huge thing in around 2010 — so I mean Nine Inch Nails in general, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and their soundtracks have been a huge inspiration to me. So during the pandemic, when I had no one around, I decided I wanted to build a studio in my house. I bought a lot of equipment, and there I was by myself, and I wasn’t that keen on writing lyrics actually. I was doing a project that was way calmer, but it was my intention to have vocals on there. But as soon as I was done with the music on one track, I immediately went for the next track, and then the next track. So I just never wrote the lyrics. It was so much more fun to just create music. And then I thought, why don’t I collect all these ideas and start actually building an album for real? Because I’ve been doing my own music for a long, long time, but it never got anywhere, I just kept it on my hard drive. And after a while doing these things, I started sending stuff to my friends and they said to me, like, “Why don’t you do something? This sounds really good.” And I was like, “Ah, yeah, OK, maybe I should.” So it was really during the pandemic that I collected all ideas and dived deep into my synth collection — my Moog, my Korg, my Roland, my modular synths and my ARPs and all these things.
Niia: Ambient music was a new sonic world and identity I could explore and express myself in. It also scared me which made me excited. I think once an artist gets comfortable it's not a good sign and the music can suffer.
Pauli The PSM: I met Brian Eno and recorded a bunch of sessions with him in Mali. At the end of the trip before we said goodbye he gave me a copy of his album ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports.’ That was the first time I consciously listened to ambient music and it changed my world.
How do you hope listeners will engage with your OFFAIR record? What do you imagine them doing while listening to it?
Highland Park Sleep Collective: We hope people will put it on and forget themselves. It’s great for meditating, sleeping and cooking but since vinyl needs to be flipped I’d say it’s more to chill out and hang out with friends. Focused Breathing is good too :)
If Anything, Suspicious: Honestly, if they fall asleep, that will be something good because I want people to really relax listening to it. To me it’s very meditative music: It’s something that you can either just have in the background while doing something else, or really dive deep into and put your headphones on and just listen to all the songs because there’s a lot of things going on, even though this is fairly minimalistic music. So I just want people to relax, have a good time and drift away and disappear for a second — we all need that in our daily lives. The world is way too hectic for our brains, so we need to relax.
Niia: I will never tell you how to experience or listen to music, but I will tell you, in the dark with headphones is where you'd find me. Maybe with a blue candle lit.
Pauli The PSM: This is a meditative album, and I believe meditation is cultivating the potential to transcend your limited self, limited beliefs and limited existence. I want listeners to delve deep within their subconscious mind and unlock the limitless potential of the superconscious mind.
Vinyl creates a tangible listening experience — do you have a favorite experience with vinyl that you’d like to share? What does it mean to you to have this project pressed on vinyl?
Highland Park Sleep Collective: We are so excited to have this record released on vinyl. Filip and I are both collectors and lovers of vinyl and it’s more important than ever to have products people can hold. Streaming is so interesting, it’s made music more readily available and less valuable all at once. The boom in vinyl sales must be attributed to the fact that people really want something tangible when they like an artist. It’s not nostalgia, we all want to touch something associated with music we dig. Our favorite experience in recent years was finding out that our album will be available on vinyl! It’s a great way to experience Ambient Music.
If Anything, Suspicious: When we started these conversations with OFFAIR, I was really, really hoping that this would be on vinyl. It’s the way you’re supposed to listen to this music, as I think it gives you a different experience, and you actually take your time rather than just jumping into one song and listening for 30 seconds and then moving on — here, you have to at least listen to one side of an album all the way through. I’ve been buying a lot of vinyl: I like electronic music on vinyl, and I think there’s a certain sound and a certain experience where you take your time. It’s like I’ve recently rediscovered vinyl in a way, I mean, I’ve been buying vinyl all the time, even during the CD times, and if there was a product that I was really into, I would want to own and have it on vinyl and on CD. But lately with rediscovering ambient music and electronic music in general, I’ve been listening to a lot of vinyl, and touring is really the only time that I’ll download music onto my phone. I love the vinyl experience, and I’m so happy that I get to hold this album that I created, and that other people get to share it, it’s awesome.
Niia: I grew up with classical and jazz music in my house. We didn’t own a record player in our house. But I vividly remember listening to records in my high school boyfriend’s basement. He was the tenor sax player in our competing jazz band. He would play me some of my favorite jazz artists’ versions and material I had never heard before. Probably why I liked him! It was so exciting to hear and learn how some live sets and albums were only found on vinyl. It was a club I didn’t know existed. Having my project pressed feels special and historic.
Pauli The PSM: This is my first record to be pressed on vinyl. I actually have a pretty solid vinyl collection — I’ve always loved vinyl, there’s an unmistakable honesty in the sound. The analog warmth feels closer to the way the music was intended to be listened to, something about it takes me to being in the studio with the artist and musicians. Maybe it’s the lossless nature of it all void of the compression we’re all so used to nowadays. And in this fast-paced digital era, it’s nice to have a keepsake out there in the world. Thanks for helping make a dream a reality, VMP!
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