Spotted Peccary: AV Talks with Howard Givens ©2021 Ambient Visions

 

Howard Givens

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AV:  How long have you been involved in ambient music and how was it that you got started?

Was there a point in the evolution of electronic hardware/software that the age of ambient/electronic music was born or became feasible to create at the level of the musician? What were those advancements?

Do you think of electronic sounds/music as being organic in nature even though those sounds are not created on traditional instruments like the piano or the guitar?

As a composer & musician yourself how do you feel about creating your music on electronic instruments and software? Is there a different way you have to approach the compositions than you would if you were composing for piano or stringed instruments or other conventional musical instruments?

As you work on your own music what is it that you are hoping to achieve with your compositions & the sharing of them with others around the world?

HG:  I was always drawn to the sound of music, since I was very young, that created or suggested a sonic tapestry for visuals, like with soundtracks for film, or for visual impressions of scenes, space, or emotional imaginations, such as works by Wendy Carlos (Sonic Seasonings), Paul Horn (Inside the Great Pyramid), or the landscapes of sound by Yes (Tales of Topographic Oceans). Wendy Carlos, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Doctor Zhivago, Fantasia, various classical works, and then later Yes, Pink Floyd, Paul Horn, Tangerine Dream, KitaroÖ all these helped feed an innate desire to discover the space hidden within the music. Of course, delving deeper into this journey led me to Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, Phillip Glass, and then later Steve Roach, Robert Rich and others, all while developing my own voice through music creation, fueled by collaborations with other like-minded artists. I would always be on the lookout for those unique tracks that lit the ambient space on fire, and I couldnít get enough of it. 

The biggest hurdle that we had to overcome in those days, was that both the instruments, especially the electronic ones like polyphonic synthesizers, and the recording equipment - mixing consoles, multitrack reel-to-reel recorders, decent microphones - were all incredibly expensive. Even schools had very little of this kind of equipment. So access to these necessary instruments was very limited and it made both recording compositions in such a way that had the transparency required for this kind of music, and learning of how to even use this equipment or to be knowledgable about how the equipment would facilitate the creative process, very challenging. It took an incredible amount of commitment and focus to accomplish anything that was remotely close to the quality of the recordings that we were listening to. Fortunately, the affordability of all these tools has made creating ambient recordings way more accessible, and really, way more powerful. The fact that today we now have really high quality multi-track recording and editing, excellent reverbs, and an almost unlimited array of electronic sound sources and instruments, and even very decent sounding, affordable microphones and preamps for capturing acoustic instruments and sources, has empowered ambient composers everywhere, myself included.  

The key to crafting truly authentic, lasting ambient works, is to use these tools in such a way to achieve an illusion of space that feels very much three-dimensional and organic in nature, even if the original source was generated by purely electronic means. And that has always been the preeminent goal for me, whether working on other artistsí works or my own material, and definitely a fundamental vision of Spotted Peccary Music. By removing any sonic veils that might separate or distance the listener from the music, the communication from the sound experience to the listener becomes more vital, more tangible, more organic, making the experience completely transparent, which I think adds tremendously to the overall impression. For me, this music has an opportunity to focus on the subtler, abstract aspects of the lives of everyone, of life itself. It is perhaps the greatest of art forms because it brings emphasis to the space that surrounds us and fills us, that we occupy both externally and internally. This is what I love so much about ambient music and why I have always been compelled by it and to create it.

 

 AV:  Tell me about yourself as a producer of other musicianís visions and what you feel your job is as you help others to realize their musical dreams.

 What mindset do you have to be in as you work, not on your own music, but on someone elseís music helping them realizing their dreams?

 How has your perception of ambient/electronic music changed over the past 30 years after having spent so much time involved with creating your own music but helping others to do the same?

HG:  I see the role of the producer as someone who is almost a spiritual guide, who listens to both the music and the composer, the artist, and assists in finding the strongest relationship and communication between the two. So I usually start by listening to the music, and try to divine where it is at independently, what its needs are, and what is missing in its ability to communicate to the listener. Then I talk with the artist and suggest techniques that will often times help with finding a common language that will open up the conversation between the artist and the music. Itís really not that important what I think about the music, although it still needs to inspire or to be transportive. What is important is to discover how the artistís vision can flow through the musical voice. The producer is really all about communication. For me, itís not about doing their music for them, because after all, itís their music, their vision. This approach hasnít really changed much throughout the years, as the qualities that one seeks, as a listener or artist, that are in timeless ambient works, have remained pretty much the same. Possibly the quality of todayís playback devices or equipment, and of course, production tools, does seem to impact the ambient experience, deepening the impact and illuminating the subtleties.

AV:  How did Spotted Peccary come about and what was your role in helping it become a reality?

Where did the name come from?

Was it surprising that Spotted Peccary has become one of the premier ambient labels over the years from when it started till now?

What is your role in the music that ends up on the label? Who is it that scouts out the acts you release on Spotted Peccary and brings them on board?

Where do you see Spotted Peccary going in the years to come? Will Spotted Peccaryís musical boundaries continue to expand to include even more of a variety of artists and styles.

How has Bandcamp and high-quality downloads not to mention the streaming services helped to boost Spotted Peccary and the music they offer into the spotlight on the national & the international stage?

Has the new world of streaming music been a winning situation for Spotted Peccary and the artists you represent? Explain.

HG:  Spotted Peccary Music evolved from the mystical desert setting of the North American Southwest, specifically the Sonoran Desert region of southern Arizona. Even the  name, Spotted Peccary was inspired by a legendary indigenous boar-like creature called the Collared Peccary, or Javelina as they are known locally. Some friends of mine and I were experimenting with recording music that would capture the essence of the energy of the desert and mountains surrounding the Tucson, Arizona area. Eventually, this project developed into a complete, finished album, which ultimately became In the Land of Power. This was our first full-length release under our collective name Brain Laughter which we released as a CD, a significant achievement in the 1980ís. We chose the made-up name of Spotted Peccary - our own mythical version of the Javelina - as our label name under which we self-released our music. 

And as life transpired, we changed our primary location, new artists became involved, Deborah Martin and then Jon Jenkins joined the label, new releases by different artists were released, and the label grew in size and focus, responding, in part, to the demand of the music. The music has always been the inspiration and the purpose for Spotted Peccary, although ultimately, itís really about the artists, and what they have to share, and the listeners, whose experience with the music is the greatest fulfillment of the creative process. It is this aspect that we focus on when choosing which artists might be a fit with the existing collective artist representation. Itís very much about the artist and their message that matters to us, understanding that oftentimes it takes many releases to develop a conversation with the listeners that feels compelling. We all work together to decide which artists to invite to the label and what music to add, seeing our relationship with the artists as a kind of creative partnership, intended to magnify the listener experience to the greatest possible extent regardless of the format used to present and deliver the final work such as streaming, downloads, or a physical form like CD or LP, with streaming being the greatest outreach. At this point streaming, whether audio only or video, is by far the most successful method of reaching the largest audiences, so itís a very important focus for us.


AV:  What is your creative process like when you are working on your own music? How does that change when you are producing music for someone else?

Do you see ambient/electronic music continuing to gain strength in the years to come or maybe even increasing its market share a little?

What have you come to love about what you do within the ambient music community both as a musician and as a producer to other peopleís music?

HG:  Over the years I have seen ambient music become more of interest to listeners everywhere, with both more music being produced and more tools and instruments becoming available to facilitate this, which is great! Finally, this style of music is being heard in so many different situations that the music is growing in appreciation and access, creating a deeper, wider awareness, which definitely feels so much more satisfying as an artist. And the abundance of tools today make collaboration even easier, fluid and totally expressive, which adds in so many ways.  

As an artist, I prefer to work collaboratively with other artists, finding the intuitive, connected process of creating together even more compelling than working by myself. Not that it doesnít have its challenges, but I find the results even more powerful through the synergy of this approach. This is also true when working with artists where I am assisting with some portion of the production or with the mastering of the many projects that Spotted Peccary Music releases, or some of the select releases I work on that are in addition to our releases. Like with many artists that we work with, I use a hybrid approach to the instruments including analog synthesizers, some digital synths, a eurorack format modular synth, electric guitar and some acoustic instruments, many effects including pedals as well as rack-mount effects, and some computer-based sources for sounds and instruments. All of this is recorded and edited in the computer environment using the Pro Tools software. Mostly the approach is to work out the details of the composition and then perform it, capturing the essence of a ďliveĒ performance.  

In every case, working with ambient music at this level of involvement is a real gift that directly corresponds to the other areas of life that I find the most important, primarily spiritual and yogic practices, and ultimately the reflection on the subtler aspects of being.

AV:  Many thanks Howard for your insights into the music that has always been a part of your life. Thanks for sharing your insights with Ambient Visions!

 

 

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