In Search of Silence:  
AV Talks with David Wright

 

David Wright

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In Search of Silence (New November 2011)

Between Realities

Momentum


AV:  Where did your love of music come from? Family, radio? 

DW:  My mother has always been very musical and still plays the grand piano in her living room at 85 years old! I’ve always just loved music from an early age. I did listen to the radio a lot in the 60‘s and was well into the pirate radios like radio Caroline. TV shows like SixFive Special, Juke Box Jury and of course Top of the Pops (wow, showing my age?). I bought my first 45rpm singles in 1965 - “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys and “Glad all Over” by The Dave Clarke Five. Loved the mid to late 60‘s and into the early 70’s for pop music but also loved other music of the period like Pink Floyd, Cream, Santana, Taste, Credence Clearwater Revival, Moody Blues etc etc. I lost interest in pop music in the mid 70’s - HATED punk and started to take an interest in Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze circa 1971/72 and then into more instrumental based music of EM genre, Kitaro, Jarre, Vangelis, Oldfield etc etc. 

AV:  Did you have any formal training in music and if so how did that help you to define the style of music you would eventually create?
DW
:  No formal training. I played drums, not that well, in a band covering Credence Clearwater, Canned Heat, Cream style rock but that was just fun in my teens when I lived in the Far East (my father was in the Royal Navy). When I was younger I always saw myself as a Dennis Wilson style drummer (sorry, Beach Boys fan I always was and always will be) and as I grew older those rock star aspirations faded as I got a job, got married and found myself in the real world. Actually, I’m pretty sure that not having any formal training was a blessing because I’ve never been confined or influenced by any preconceived ideas about how the music should be. I think some musicians get hung up on the
“technical” instead of letting their imagination take them along. 

AV:  In our previous chat about your album Continuum you mentioned, " My influences can be traced back to Pink Floyd's 'Meddle' and Mike Oldfield's' Tubular Bells'. From there I got into Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Kitaro and Vangelis..." How is it that you as musician are able to take these various influences and forge a sound that is as much uniquely yours as it is a part of these other artists?  

DW:  Well, firstly, I take the question as a compliment, so “thanks”. Answering it is a little more difficult though. So okay.....my first forays into writing EM came in the mid 1980’s. My musical tastes are well documented but I wanted to create my own music, so I made a conscious decision to try and do something different that appealed to ME on a personal level.  I carried the philosophy forward with AD Music, to follow my own path, not current trends; to try and build on rather than emulate the current and historical electronic/instrumental music.

So for me, that meant it must have strong emotive content, melody and a sense of purpose, things I felt not all EM had. Y’know, while Klaus Schulze is arguably king of sequencers, a lot of EM fans miss the key element of his music - Emotion! His music is incredibly emotive (as well as being very clever!) and I have always been a great admirer of his work. Tangerine Dream made great sequencer based tracks with terrific feel and melody. Kitaro does wonderful melodies while Vangelis, well I guess Vangelis just does it all...and perfectly.

I wanted to do ALL that these luminaries of the genre were doing, but differently and in my own way. Bizarrely, I also wanted to layer melodies and counter melodies a la The Beach Boys, plus add classical and ethnic influences. So I wanted to include all the musical influences I loved in my music

. Obviously, over the years, my style has evolved, but what I have always tried to do is steer clear of mimicking or copying any one style that I recognize as belonging to someone else, or being close to someone else. It’s okay to nod in a particular direction now and again, but basically, I’ve worked hard at developing my style by consciously NOT copying others.

Okay, there are tracks here and there that may, that’s unavoidable for any artist in any genre. I’ve also been careful not to fall into, for example, doing “Ethnic” or “World Music” even though I quite like ethnic influences. So what I’ve tried to do is just that, “ethnically influence” the music from time to time, not beat the listener around the head with it. And that’s probably true of other styles, e.g. some ambient now and again, etc etc.  I’ve always tried to be subtle with my music

With every new album, I start with a blank canvas and with a ‘set in stone’ knowledge of what MY music is all about. I stay true to what I want to do, I don’t give a dam what critics or anyone else says about my music and set about creating something that I can pour my emotions into that will give me a sense of satisfaction in its ‘creation’ and I know will give others pleasure when they listen. In other words, I’m a single minded SOB who totally believes in what he does, because that is the only way I believe an artist CAN be original and unique. As Klaus Schulze once said, “the way I do music is the right way, everyone else is wrong”, or something like that, ha ha. But the basic sentiment is that I’m my own man, my own musician (as KS is!). So the music you get is deliberately and consciously a reflection of ME. Me the person, Me the musician and my interpretation of the many influences I have, and I guess it’s that that makes it original and unique.

Oddly perhaps, once I’ve completed an album, I rarely ever play it again and I hate it when I’m in the room when others play it...go figure?!

AV:  Tell me about your first cassette called Reflections and how it received public attention from a rather well known personality in the EM field? How much of a difference did this make to your fledgling career as an EM musician?  

DW:  I’d been writing music since the mid 80’s but Refections was my first serious attempt at a complete “album” and was very much an emotional outlet after the death of my first wife in 1989. I sent a copy to KD Mueller, more for an opinion than anything else. I wasn’t expecting the reaction and response I got - he really liked it and went on record as saying that “Reflections was the only demo he ever really liked”. What KD picked up on was the emotional content, (as is in KS’s work, mentioned earlier) and his POEM Musikverlag published the music, as it did my next six releases. He tried, unsuccessfully, to get me a record deal but did put me in contact with a lot of people, some of whom I still have contact with all these years later. He gave me a lot of good advice in those early years when I set up AD Music and I have a lot of respect for him. I think it did make a difference in the early years, just by association. I was able to get Klaus Schulze to come to the UK for the AD Music festival in 1996 and Code Indigo played the Duisberg concert with Klaus Schulze a year later. The fact I got to know someone I so admired, Klaus Schulze, personally, was an added bonus!! 

AV:  When you are composing music what is it that you draw on for inspiration and how do you take that raw inspiration and mold it into the songs that find their way onto your albums?

DW:  Difficult to answer this one. Mostly, I work on songs and ideas and these may come about from simply “playing and improvising” on piano, or playing with sounds and textures, or jamming over a rhythm. I tend to have an “In Progress Can” and at some point, something comes along that gives me an idea for a concept for an album. Often, it’s an image that ends up being used for the cover e.g. Dreams and Distant Moonlight. Or it may be an event in my life e.g. Momentum (USA concerts). Then I start to formulate these songs, mostly just raw ideas at this point, into a coherent “start, middle and end” for an emotional journey. As already mentioned, I naturally want to make the music as interesting as I can by ensuring it has rhythmic motion, melody and emotion and the songs simply grow through a process of me putting my heart and soul into them. Sometimes, after hours working on a piece, I can honestly say I sit and think, “where did that come from?”

Sometimes the emotional juices flow after watching a good movie or reading a good book. I wanted to write a Dune soundtrack years ago - not for a movie, just to do my musical interpretation of the incredible books and characters. But I couldn’t get approval from the Frank Herbert estate, which was a shame.

However, I am doing a soundtrack to a sci-fi book with US writer Matt Howarth and that will be released by AD next year. I’ve already started the music and am looking forward to the process. Matt is doing art and graphics and the book will be a file on the CD, like an e-book I guess. I’ve already read the book several times and its a good read. Provisional working title is “The Alpha Colony”

AV:  I've been listening to music put out on AD Music for quite a number of years now and have always enjoyed the journey. Tell me about how AD Music came about, your role in that formation, how it is doing in 2011 and what it was that you wanted the label to stand for in terms of the music that you released for the EM community.  

DW:  Thanks. Again, appreciate your comments. When people started to ask for “Reflections”, in 1989 after KDM “spread the word”, so to speak, I decided to release it on cassette to see the reaction and response I would get - there seemed no shortage of outlets wanting to sell it. At that time, my younger brother Andrew, a good musician as well, also wanted to release some music, so we founded the label AD Music. He always thought it should be DA Music, but AD sounded much better. And of course, while it originally came from our names, it is not known for that.

I always wanted the label to reflect what I believed, which as mentioned earlier, was to follow its own path, not current trends; to try and build on rather than emulate the current and historical electronic/instrumental music. Indeed, probably the only thing I shifted in later years was to push AD as an “Instrumental Music” label as opposed to an electronic music label. I wanted a label that produced quality instrumental based music that had melody and emotion with creativity.

I met Robert Fox in 1991 and we combined labels, keeping the AD name for the label and later, using his FX label name for our publishing arm. I met up with Fred Becker and Jeff Filbert of Enterphase through a radio contact and they joined the label with their Phase One CD and slowly the label expanded. In 1995 I managed to secure a Publishing deal with Notting Hill Music and it has just grown from there. We’ve had ups and downs like any business but we’re still here more than 20 years later with over 100 releases and 24 artists.

AV:  You are one busy guy when it comes to your solo music but you also are involved with a group called Code Indigo and a duo called Callisto and a newer project called Trinity. When it comes to working with groups and other musicians what is it that you are aiming to achieve that you could not do as a solo artist?  

DW:  Well, simply put, I seek to do music that I wouldn’t do as a solo artist. And in turn, working with other musicians gives me ideas for my solo work. It’s a learning curve really, I’ve worked with other musicians since 1993 on solo and band projects and I believe that has helped me enormously to grow as a musician and a composer. It has broadened my musical horizons. I think working on your own all the time gives one tunnel vision. Code Indigo actually started as a duo project with Robert Fox in preparation for a BBC radio concert in 1993 but several musicians who worked with me on my live solo gradually became more and more involved so it kinda grew into a band.

Code Indigo was very successful in the late 90’s with For Whom the Bell winning a lot of critical acclaim and selling a lot of CDs. It was part of the foundation upon which AD Music was built. However, the band kinda imploded, in part for non band or music related reasons.

By the time we recorded the second studio album Uforia in 1999, the band really was in turmoil and it was 2004 before it recorded a third studio album with a new line up that lasted for just two albums, Timecode (2004) and Chill (2006). Robert Fox left the band after the live double album “In Concert” was released in 2008.

We’re hoping to start a new Code Indigo album for release in 2012.

Callisto came about when Dave Massey and I decided to do a Tangerine Dream style sequencer album for the 21st Century. That has been fun because sequencer music isn’t really my forte, but it is Dave’s, so he has taken the leads on the sequencing while I basically take the lead on the music. It’s worked well and allowed me to do music I wouldn’t usually do as a solo artist, which was the point of course.

Trinity ( CD: Music for Angels) is slightly different because it is unashamedly done purely to try and cash in on the very large meditation and relaxation market. Working with Code Indigo colleagues Neil Fellowes and guitarist Nigel Turner-Heffer, we ended up producing our own take on this style of music, which turned out to be gentle acoustic guitar on nice pads - minimal music, with echoes of blues. Amazingly, it’s got very good reviews in mainstream mags, although they did HATE the Angels connection, ha ha!

AV:  When  it comes to the music that is played by Code Indigo are you all working together as composers and is that more difficult for you than simply sitting down and writing your own compositions?  

DW:  Early albums tended to be predominantly composed by Robert Fox and me, but as time has gone one and now Robert has left the band, it will become more of a shared responsibility I guess. Although, as the only surviving original band member and leader of the band, I’ll continue to be a key writer of the music. I’ll answer that question better after the new Code Indigo album is finished.  

Yes, its a much tougher process writing with other people, always is and even if there are no problems, it’s a balancing act of compromise and fighting your corner. But..it’s out of the angst that great music is born, so the angst is an integral and very important and necessary part of the process.

The secret is to be able to get original ideas from each composer molded into music for the band, not music that sounds like the original composer, if that makes sense...that’s the hard part, getting the originator to ‘let go of the baby’, so to speak, and allow the idea to be changed to best suit the band.

It’s all about the music, not the ego of the individual band members. So yeah, it can be a difficult and sometimes volatile process. But like I already said, I accept that that this is necessary to get great music - it’s the interaction of different composers styles and ideas that sparks new music.

AV:  Have you found the technological revolution (internet, MP3s, digital recording software etc.) occurring in sound recording and distribution to have been a boon or a hurt to what you do as an EM musician? Please explain. 

DW:  Oh, unequivocally a boon! New technology has improved sound and recording and made making music easier and more accessible. There’s a whole other debate though as to whether that’s in the long term best interest of music!

I still use hard synths along with soft synths and I still use hardware processing along with software processing, so there’s a place for both.

As far as digital music is concerned, well, it’s here, so whether I like it or not is irrelevant. Personally, I’d rather still be playing LPs on my turntable and looking at lovely gatefold record sleeves, but those days are long gone! 60% of our turnover is downloads now, but advertising and promoting the music is probably harder than ever before because there is simply so much out there. I also think piracy has had a huge effect, as has streaming, in cheapening music - it doesn’t have the same value now as it once did, and that’s a great shame.

AV:  Are your wife and son involved with the music business, your career or AD Music? Is it comforting being surrounded by family as you pursue your musical dreams? Please explain.

DW:  Yes, my wife Elaine administers the company and her sister Lynn helps out a couple of days a week. My son Steve works for himself, and he regularly works for us on the internet side of the business. Yes, it’s great they’re involved. but in all honesty, I don’t believe it’s possible to be artistically successful without the full support of your partner. I certainly couldn’t have achieved what I have done with Elaine’s support!

AV:  How would you describe the current state of the EM, ambient, new age music genres in terms of being successful as a business model in 2011 and beyond? Are they gaining ground at all or are they just holding on? Please explain.

DW:  Difficult...all I know is that many labels have gone and my experience as a label boss is that it’s very difficult to get CD product “out there” now through distributors, particular in America, which is sadly, almost a waste of time. We just deal with our customers direct in the USA now, although I’m hoping USA fans will soon be able to get our product again via Lloyd Barde’s scaled down Backroads. This is not a reflection of our UK distributor, who do well with our product everywhere else. Maybe it’s as much about economic problems in the USA as it is anything else?

We’ve been going 23 years and have a good strong catalogue of varied instrumental music so the label is in a healthy condition. Good sales by Me, Robert Fox, Code Indigo and Bekki Williams have been the backbone of that success. We’ve been with the digital revolution from day 1, so we do well with digital sales through our digital distributor (The Orchard) and through our own website.

Our business model is probably not the norm. For a start, we have worldwide publishing through a major publishing company, Notting Hill Music Group plc and do all our website work and art and design “In House”, having built it all from scratch over the years, For example, we were one of the very first UK record labels to have a web site and as already mentioned, we were in on the digital revolution from day 1.

If I’m brutally honest, I don’t listen to a great deal of EM anymore, it really has to grab me and not a lot does. I’m only really interested in the music of the AD label.

I think it’s very difficult for labels now, that’s for sure and I wouldn’t want to be starting out now though, it’s a very different scene to what it was 20 years ago!

AV:  You have a brand new album coming up in November 2011 called In Search of Silence which is your 23rd instrumental music solo album. When an artist hits 23 or 30 or 40 albums does it become more difficult to be original with your compositions than when you first started writing music 20 years ago? How do you keep it fresh from your perspective as a musician?

DW:  Yes, it’s difficult to keep things fresh and original. It’s easy to become complacent and lazy by using the same sounds and chord structures. So I simply make a conscious effort not to. It’s all part of the process when writing an album - the process begins with how I feel, my “emotional state”, if you like, the things that have influenced me to write the music, my experiences etc etc. So theoretically, these should be different to a year ago when I wrote the last album. Periodically, I have a clear out of gear. I’ve done that several times over the years, completely revamped my studio and gotten rid of synths so I had to use different gear!

AV:  The cover of the new album certainly speaks to the concept of silence. Tell me about the title of the album and how the cover came to reflect that title in a work of still art?

DW:  The title popped into my head last year and soon afterwards I saw the cover image, which is licensed, while searching for imagery for the Robert Fox album artwork ‘Short Stories’, which I helped put together. I fell in love with the image, which is an award winning photo, and felt that it perfectly encapsulated the feel of the album and what I wanted to say, particularly with the rest of the booklet artwork. An album of melodic and emotive journey style music that ebbed and flowed through various moods and styles, changing as life changes - everything flows and nothing stays the same - being different, but being part of a whole like “sea and sand” and searching for the peace we all ultimately need and want. It’s a terrific photograph though!!

AV:  You were talking on your web page about changing things up for In Search of Silence "but in a way that didn't change who and what my fundamental musical style is all about." This might be a difficult question to answer but what is your fundamental musical style and how has it been the constant of your music through your career right up through your new album?

DW:  Well I think my fundamental musical style is “ME”. Sorry if that sounds arrogant, but don’t really know how else to answer. I sit at the piano and play and build ideas based on how I feel and what I’ve experienced, or an image and an overall concept, like for the new album. That has been the fundamental start point for everything I’ve ever done.

AV:  So when you are trying to make In Search of Silence different but essentially still you does that make the whole composing part of writing the music for the album harder than normal for you? Why?  

DW:  Music is very personal to me. I’m making a personal statement with every album based on how I feel and what I’ve experienced all couched in a concept that I hope the listener will enjoy and relate to through, not just through the music, but the titles and artwork as well.

I don’t analyze the process - I’m not sure it’s possible to do that anyway, it just happens and I can only influence it by consciously making changes to how I approach it and being honest with myself at the outcome. ie “is the music saying what I want it so say in the way I want it to”?

AV:  With so much flexibility in synth software on the computer do you consider the computer to be an instrument that you as a musician still play or is it something else? You mentioned on your page about playing hard synths instead of just sitting in front of a computer screen. Tell me as a musician what the differences between the two mediums are for you.

DW:  Yes, there is an astonishing array of soft synths around now. I think the problem can be that there are so many soft synths with so many sounds, that’s it’s easy to fall into the trap of not investigating the full potential of the soft synth, something we always did with our hard synths. I mean, I programmed banks of sounds for my JD800 and on my Kawai K4 and my Korg synths. But there are so many sounds available for the soft synths, (good sounds I should add) that I stopped programming and just tweak what I need from the 1000‘s of sounds available. Also, I’d spend a lot of time searching for sequencer patterns that could be manipulated to fit the music I was working on. This also happens when as a composer, you’re working on lots of different projects - it’s quick and convenient. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this process, but I just felt that maybe I’d “played” less and “programmed” and relied on soft synths more. So I decided to go back to basics with the new album and
“play” - play the sequences, play the baselines etc and program less. That doesn’t make the process harder or easier, it’s almost like
‘readjusting’ to an earlier way of doing things and using the tools in a different way.

AV:  So will In Search of Silence be something your fans will recognize as immediately you and how will they hear it as something more than you?  

DW:  Fans will know it’s me - there isn’t a massive shift in style, well in fact I don’t think there’s a shift at all, I just think the music has a different feel than before while still being “me”. I put everything I’d accumulated over 25 years into practice for this album, both musically and technically, plus more of an awareness of playing and programming. I suppose it’s that that I feel makes this album different and hopefully stronger than previous outings.

AV:  Who else was involved with making In Search of Silence a reality? Was it completely your baby or did you have behind the scenes help?

DW:  Yes, completely my baby on the music front. But Dave Massey did help as sort of “executive producer” afterwards. The production is probably harder than the writing and often the mixing needs another set of ears - it’s too easy as the composer “not to see the wood for the
trees”. So Dave Massey would point out things that could improve the final mix and I’d implement them if I agreed.

AV:  Will you be doing any live shows spotlighting the music on In Search ofSilence? If so how do you feel about sharing new compositions with your fans?

DW:  Nothing planned for the end of 2011. Always enjoy sharing music with fans, that’s always something I’m happy to do. I have a live concert in the UK on 9th June 2012 which will feature music from the album. I’m in the USA in September 2012 as part of the Gatherings Concerts in Philadelphia, and in Germany at the end of 2012 performing at Boccum Planetarium with Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock.

AV:  Do you enjoy doing live music in front of an audience? What is it that your fans get out of hearing you perform your music live and what is it that you take away from the show as a musician?  

DW:  I love live work and wish I could fit more in, but it’s difficult in todays economic climate to get bums on seats to make live concerts and mini tours commercially viable. I hope fans enjoy the performance - we always try to make it a good stage show with lighting and computer generated backdrop. I just enjoy the experience and every show is a try out for the next.

AV:  Anything else you'd like to share with the readers of AV about your music in general or your latest release In Search of Silence?  

DW:  I hope fans enjoy the new release and will investigate more of the AD catalogue if they haven’t already. There’s a lot of diverse music to be found there. Also would like to thank readers for taking the time to read this, and of course thanks to AV.

AV: Well thank you very much for this in depth look at your music, your process and your philosophy of music that has guided your compositions over the years. I appreciate you taking a day away from your studio work to answer these questions. I'm sure that AD Music will be around for years to come.