AV: Tell me about where the idea of an infinite ambient experience came from and how long it had been a concept in your mind.
JP: The idea, in its extreme infancy, came to me when I was in high school, and playing with the “new” Radio Shack TRS-80 computers in our school’s brand new computer lab! I found that random number generators were easy to create, and being a guitar player, I thought it would be a fun experiment to assign chords to the random number generator and see what kind of music suggestions it had for
me- so I assigned, say, the number one to A minor, the number two to F major, etc….
What SOUNDS fun on paper, however, doesn’t always lead to fun listening, and this was no exception. So I thought it would be fun to have pre-recorded phrases of my music, and have the random number generators select THOSE, but we were MANY years from recording music into computers- so, like a lot of ideas, it was filed away in my mental filing cabinet. But it never fully left me.
As computer technology progressed, it wasn’t long before this idea became more feasible.
And after playing a set at the AMBIcon 2013 festival sponsored by Hearts of Space, I met with Eric Freeman, who was in attendance.
He had mentioned that he had done the coding for a music app that Steve Roach had out at the time.
I told him about my idea for an app that used a random number generator to select pre-recorded phrases of my music, andasked him if it was possible to do such a thing. And he replied “of course it is”, so we had an ongoing conversation about my vision regarding the project. I didn’t want a “random music generator”, since those often feel cold and lifeless- I wanted music phrases, played by a human, to be selected by random numbers. And to have that listening experience go on for as long as the listener wished.
Before long, I had recorded two sets of piano recordings, each set with about 15 different phrases. And with those, Eric had designed the “night” and “afternoon” apps, which were hosted on my website (www.jeffpearcemusic.com) from early 2014 to early 2020. During that time, I received such wonderful feedback about those two infinite ambient apps; since random number generators selected the phrases, no one would hear the same program twice, which
kept the experience new each time someone stopped by the website. But in early 2020, my hosting service shut down their business, and my new host didn’t have the tech to keep the apps operating.
And then- 2020 happened. And my focus shifted fully to my audience, because I knew that a LOT of them were struggling and stressed out. I thought it would be a WONDERFUL opportunity for the musicians in the new age/ambient genre to “step up” and do something for their listeners at a difficult time. And in early 2020, I was in a great point in my music career- my two previous albums (“From the Darker Seasons” and “Skies and Stars”)
had both charted on Billboard Magazine’s New Age sales chart, with “Skies and Stars” debuting at #2- and this was solely because of a dedicated and supportive listening audience.
So it was my turn to be supportive and give back; I reached into my personal archives and started making unreleased music available- “Path to Returning”, a concert I had recorded on Star’s End in 2017- was the first digital release, and I made that available for free on Bandcamp. Then, in May of 2020, I released the “Hidden Shores” home concert video- and of course it was free to view on YouTube. I made previous albums of mine available for
free, my audience was appreciative- and yet, in the midst of this, I would get questions via email and Facebook Messenger: “are you going to bring back those piano apps on your website?” And it bothered me- but in a good way, because it started me looking around for a new solution- and for new SOUNDS- for other experiences.
AV: What is there about having music that never ends that's appealing to listeners?
JP: I think it has to do with “immersion”- to feel like the music becomes part of the environment you’re in, but then also part of your “inner environment”. It’s hard enough to do that when composing music for a CD release, but with the Experiences on the Infinite Ambient site, there were a few “challenges”, let’s say.
AV: What are some of the challenges you faced as a musician in creating music that could be woven together seamlessly into a continuous stream of ambient music?
JP: Well, that was one of the big challenges: keeping everything seamless. Fortunately, the coding could be tweaked to the thousandth of a second to make sure there were no sudden stops or anything like that. So “seamless” was a solvable challenge- the other one was to make sure nothing was “jarring”- no sudden key or tempo changes that would pull someone out of the immersive listening experience. Compositionally, this
was a bigger challenge for me, because I like to have a few “ear catching” key changes and elements like that when I’m composing songs for an album. But for the Infinite Ambient Experiences, it was all about keeping everything as non-jarring as possible, while still avoiding predictability.
AV: How is the compositional process different when compared to what you did in creating 54 minute album like you released on Hidden Shores?
JP: Something like “Hidden Shores” is a matter of composing music in real time, while it’s being layered over something you created 30-some seconds ago, and is a continual process because of the looping used. Whereas something like “Clouds”, on Infinite Ambient, depended on me making sure that the ~40 seconds in each sample sounded good with every sample that could come before it, and every sample that could come after it. And
that requires I spend a LOT of time with the individual samples of each Experience, to make sure all the components get along with each other.
Now, I have two recent additions to the site- “Infinite Ambient Mixes”- where I’ve taken two previously released ambient songs of mine and remixed them in such a way that they can be infinitely looped for as long as the listener wishes. Unlike the Experiences, the infinite ambient mixes have files that are close to song-length (7-8 minutes), whereas the Experiences are smaller “building blocks” that are anywhere from 30-50 seconds long, but there
are a LOT of them that can be used; there’s only one music file in the infinite mixes.
AV: Tell me about what makes this happen in regards to the app or the programming that works in the background.
JP: Being someone who is only “basic” computer literate (I can empty the cache file in my web browser, that’s about the extent of my skills ) I can honestly say I don’t know most of what is happening in the background. What I DO know is that it’s highly customized; there aren’t a lot of templates out there for this sort of thing as compared to templates for, say, a word processing program. But there are constant calculations
happening in the background that, fortunately, do not interfere with the music files themselves. And that might seem like a VERY general and obvious statement to make, but I think we’d all sleep a little bit worse if we knew what was happening in the background on social media sites when we stream a song, or watch a video, or even click a “like” for someone’s post! The coding on the Infinite Ambient site is strictly about the experience the listener has. The MAIN thing happening in the background
is the “infinite” process, which will run until the listener turns it off.
AV: What kind of discussions did you have with Edward Melville about the rules of the random number generator and how extensive did these rules have to be in creating the soundworlds that we hear as the final product on the Infinite Ambient website?
JP: First of all, I found Edward Melville when Eric Freeman was unable to work on the new Experiences, because of his (noble) profession as a teacher of computer coding. And before even a line of code was written, Edward and I had MANY discussions about what you asked: what are the rules? How many of them are there? If the random number generator spits out “1,1,1,1,1”- does that mean it’s broken, or is it just
being a random number generator? How “customized” are we going to make this for the listener?
For example, the “Winter” Experience has the sound of wind-blown snow in the background. I wanted to give the listener the option to turn that sound off, if they wished (they may have had a real life blizzard happening outside, and had no need for the nature sounds!). Same with the “afternoon” and “night” Experiences- you can turn off the rain sound if you wish, and just hear piano.
There’s also a very clever autoplay feature, in the options menu, that will play an Experience for one hour, then move on to the next Experience- which will play for one hour, then move to the next- and so on and so on.
One of the main things for the Experiences was that I have multiple versions of each file. For example, I might have a file that is a C minor chord. And that’s great, but in real life, no musician on the piano or guitar or whatever is going to play a C minor chord the same way every time; there will always be some “human variation” each instance. I wanted to have those human variations in these Experiences. In this case, when the
random number generator picks a C minor, it has a few variations to choose from.
AV: As a musician do you ever sit and listen to the experience yourself to see how the app is "creating" new music from the pieces that you have provided? How does that make you feel to hear your music combined in new ways?
JP: When I’m recording and assembling the components for each Experience, I kind of HAVE to listen to myself- which is something
I’ve always had a bit of a problem with; once I’m done recording an album, and listening to the final mixes, I am DONE with the project, and ready to move on to the next one.
With these Experiences, it’s fascinating to listen to the sequences of the different phrases, because that particular order of chords, more often than not, is an order that I would not choose when composing a song. But I’ve heard moments in the Experiences where I’ve thought “maybe I SHOULD try that chord progression in a new song!”
AV: Is there a lot of bandwidth required on the server end in regards to streaming these infinite experiences? If listeners enjoy the experiences and listen to them often how can they help make sure that you are financially able to continue to load up new experiences & keep them all running on your server?
JP: There’s some bandwidth required; while the files sizes aren’t what downloading a whole CD would be, it still requires the files exist in your browser in order for the experiences to work, so at that point, it becomes more about browser cache size. That’s only a real concern with mobile devices due to their inherent limits at the moment; on a computer or laptop, there’s MORE than enough space for files the size of multiple CD’s-
those files would just take a LONG TIME to load.
Creating the Experiences and maintaining the site is not cheap- but I’m not ready to charge anyone for access. I’ve written in the “how you can help?” section of the site that if you want to help support the site, then purchase a CD of mine- or download an album. They’re available in all the usual places- Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes- and the money goes to keeping the site running, and progressing.
I’ve also told people that it greatly helps if they share the site with a friend. I certainly don’t need someone spamming their friend’s list on Facebook, but if you check out Infinite Ambient, and you can think of a friend who might get some use out of it? Send them a note with a link.
Ultimately, I view the Infinite Ambient site (and the upcoming iOS and Android apps) as a “service” on my part; a way to, in this crazy time, give back to an audience who has supported me since my first album was released 29 years ago in 1993; if my music- whether it be an infinite ambient listening Experience, or one of my albums- can give people a few moments to catch their breath, then I am honored that the music has helped.
AV: Going forward what plans do you have for these infinite ambient experiences and will there be a large variety to choose from that cover different moods & serve different purposes?
JP: The Experiences and infinite mixes will keep appearing on the site, as time permits; I still have music to release in the traditional physical/digital formats (on April 8 I will be releasing a digital only EP of piano songs inspired by the Spring season, and am also finishing up work on a Chapman Stick® CD). The Experiences require a slightly different mindset to create, but it is still a creative process, and I always find
myself nourished by the process.
AV: Do you foresee a time when the graphics on the page also shift to a variety of views that support the main theme of the experience being listened to?
JP: At this time, such a thing is possible. However, I want to make sure that even people with modest internet connections can enjoy these Experiences and infinite mixes; the more there is to load on a page, the slower the loading goes. Eventually, speeds will catch up, but with Infinite Ambient, no matter how complex the behind the scenes tech gets, the focus is going to remain on the music, and what it can do for the listener.
AV: This has been a fascinating look behind the scenes of how something like Infinite Ambient came into being and how it works. I thank you for taking the time to talk to me about this website and what you hope to accomplish by it being there. I appreciate your time and I for one will be visiting the site on a regular basis when I need something in the background to help me focus and relax. Thanks so much.