Silver by Thom Brennan


Thom Brennan

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AV:  Before we get down to questions about Silver, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you got started creating the style of music that you do now?

TB:  I developed an interest in electronic music in the mid 70s.  I was listening to Morton Sobotnik, Tomita, and the early styles of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. Certain albums really inspired me- Edgar Froese “Aqua”,  Terry Riley “Persian Surgery Dervishes”,  Klaus’s “Timewind”, among many others. I self taught myself keyboard using a massive double manual, and very old vacuum tube organ I bought for about $150. We almost always had a piano in the house growing up, but I wanted the ability to sustain sound- so I was always playing it with the sustain pedal down.  All of this taught me some basic harmonic relationships, but I would never proclaim to be a great keyboardist. I was more interested in synths, so by the time I was in college I purchased an Italian made unit made by Crumar. It was very cool- I wish I still had it. It essentially had a monophonic synth built on top of a polyphonic organ.  Later I acquired a Roland system 101 module and sequencer and from there kept upgrading until I had some decent knowledge, skill, and a couple of really good machines to record my first album on. 

I was studying film production inLos Angeles, like just about everyone else in LA, but really found that I was thinking in terms of sound more and more. But it was a very visual sort of sound- all about atmosphere. The word ambient didn’t exist then outside of Eno's music, and the term new age was just starting to pop up. 


In the early 80s I met Steve Roach and we would meet up almost weekly for several years to follow. Steve really taught me about the studio. We have different approaches- I am very Zen. Less is more when it comes to the
studio. If I can get it all out of one or two boxes, that’s good. I still work that way today with minimal synths and equipment.  

Steve helped me assemble “Mountains”, my first release in 1987, on a cassette. It was recorded on a 2 track stereo cassette deck in my bedroom, and later ended up on CD through Rubicon Records inCanada, and a phonogram subsidiary inFrance.  Who would have thought that at the time? 

Over the years, maybe having to do with getting older, more mature, my tastes became a bit more “ambient”, and my style went through a lot of changes. I didn’t release much of the music, because I never felt it was what I wanted to produce. I felt it was still evolving, and I didn’t want to publish just for the sake of publishing.  “Beneath Clouds” came out in 1986 on Amplexus –Arya, and they also put out a mini CD “The Path Not Taken”, but for the years between 87 and 2001, those 3 were the only solo recordings I released. I did work with Steve on 2 tracks for his album “Western Spaces” in 87. 

In 2001, after a move toSeattle, I began recording again and the result was really a new direction, and the one that I have been on since. Very impressionistic, inspired largely by the landscapes here. I kind of think of each album now as a Coffee Table Book of landscape photos- but in music instead of paper. This began with “Mist” which did very well in 2001 and I found that I was very warmly welcomed back into the ambient community after being gone so long. 

AV:  Your latest CD, Silver, was released not too long ago. What was the inspiration for this project and when did you actually start work on it? 

TB:  Silver began the same way most of my recent albums have – starting with an image. The winters here are stark, gray, and wet.  The alder wood forests become skeletons and there was a particular morning when I was driving out in the foothills, and the combination of morning light, the skeletal forest, mist, and frost, - it brought to mind the glistening sounds that I wanted for the next album.  From there I developed the timbres, and those usually inspire the melodic themes. 

I began work on it in winter 2003, and finished it in winter of 2004.  

AV:  Once you get an idea for a music project like Silver do you set aside the time to work on the music and dedicate your full attention to the project or is it a little less structured than that?

TB:  Much less structured. I will go through phases where I am really inspired and work for hours on end, and I will go through phases where I stay out of the studio for days, maybe a week or two. I need to take breaks in order to hear it objectively.

AV:  Did beginning Silver bring to mind echoes of your previous works and how do you let your new work be its own creation without becoming too derivative of what you have created before?

TB:  I really don’t make any decision at all in that regard. What happens, happens.  If someone were to listen to all 9 albums, I don’t think they would find too much similarity except that they all fall into a category of impressionist ambient.  I do try to work to keep the album tied together. I start with an ensemble of sounds that usually reappear throughout an album. 

AV:  On a project like this do you isolate yourself during the creation process or do you sometimes seek outside opinions as to how things are going?

TB:  Mostly isolated – I may seek outside opinions towards the end, so its heard as a single work, rather than isolated tracks.

AV:  Tell me about what you found satisfying within Silver and is this feeling the same for all the music that you create?

TB:  That’s hard to quantify. I think the most satisfying part is finishing it. I don’t always find the creation process to be very enjoyable. In fact, my favorite tracks tend to be ones where I recorded without much thought. I spend a lot of time on the sound development side. That’s the hardest part.

Once I get past that, and I start improvising with a set of timbres, then it becomes more enjoyable. But the best moment is when the finished product is done.

AV:  If someone were to pick up Silver what would they find there? Give me an idea of the feel of your latest release as compared to some of your other work. Would your regular listeners recognize it as your “style” or might they be surprised?

TB:  I think they would recognize it if they know my music.  For me the music has a sheen to it, like ice frozen over water.

Some past reviewers have referred to me as sounding like Steve Roach. I don’t think they ever listened to my
music. They saw his name associated with my first 2 albums and made the conclusion that it must sound like Steve. I have never really gone for the ethnic element. My music owes more to Debussy than to tribal culture. I rarely use percussion sounds, and I never use acoustic instruments. I rarely use samples.

I would say a lot of it also has kind of an anthemic quality to a certain degree.

AV:  When did you know that Silver was done and that tweaking the mix would not make it any better?

TB:  That’s hard to determine. I usually have reached a point where I can't listen to it anymore. Then I shelve it for a few weeks and listen again. That’s judgment day.

AV:  Do you ever feel apprehensive when it comes time to take a project like Silver to the next stage and release it to the public?

TB:  Not too much. I wouldn’t put it out if I didn’t like it, and if I end up being the only one who does, so be it.

AV:  What kind of feedback have you been getting since releasing Silver? How closely do you follow reviews or the comments you receive from your listeners?

TB:  Feedback has been very positive. Some folks seem to feel it reminds them a bit of BENEATH CLOUDS, because a few of the tracks have some soft sequencer rhythms happening. I always like the feedback, but I don’t think it has any impact on what direction I will go next. What happens, happens.

AV:  When you finish a project like Silver and it has had a little time to settle down after the official release do you ever go back and take a critical look at the project and think about things that might have been done differently or have you already moved on in your mind to your next creation?

TB:  Certainly. And currently because my CD’s are done in short run batches and on demand, I can change things if I choose to.  The albums I issued in 2001 and 2002 were on’s CD program.  Quite revolutionary for its time, but it had serious limitations on audio quality and graphic design. When I formed RainGarden Music I chose 3 new on demand publishers to create the CD’s, and made full use of the superior design, audio…

Artwork was upgraded, tracks were returned to unedited lengths… 

I wouldn’t do it just for the sake of change, but if there is an improvement that can be made, and it is important to the album, I will do so at some point. 

AV:  Being intimately familiar with Silver what will listeners take away from this CD after they have listened to it a few times? What are you own hopes for this music when it leaves your hands and is given over to the listeners? 

TB:  Hopefully it brings a bit of nature into their minds. I really think most people are so disconnected from the natural world they cant appreciate its beauty, its uniqueness, or its connection with us.

AV:  When will Silver be available and how can AV’s readers get a copy of their own?

TB:  Silver is out now, and available from my website's store –

It will eventually be on the pay download sites like I-tunes and Napster, and a few wholesalers will have it – probably Backroads Music and Groove.

I believe it will be at Tower Records on line store also at some point.  But my distribution system is pretty set up around my own website. 

AV:  Is there anything else about Silver that stood out in your mind that we haven’t already covered that you would like to pass along the readers of Ambient Visions as we close out this spotlight? 

TB:  A lot of music was recorded for the album. Well over 6 hours worth. The process of putting it together involves extracting out the tracks that fit together as an album. Sometimes this leaves another CD in the wings. I hope to have 2 more completed this year, each with a unique flavor. I am in that process now.

In addition, my website offers a streaming webcast of 6 hours of music, with a lot of tracks never released, some from past albums, and some from upcoming albums. It’s a good place for someone to get an idea of what I do.

AV:  Thanks Thom for talking to Ambient Visions about your latest release, Silver. It's a great CD and I hope that this spotlight at the very least encourages readers to visit your site and take a listen to what you are all about. Good luck.