Art by Harry Gassel and Eric Hu.
The Cleveland-based ambient composer Steve Hauschildt has always made music that feels something like staring up at the sky. Since his days in the cosmos-traversing, anything-goes trio Emeralds, he's manipulated synthesizers and assorted other electronics with an eye on the existential, creating instrumentals that creep and ooze along the space-time continuum to allow for quiet contemplation. His latest full-length Strands—released October 28 on Kranky—carries on in this meditative tradition.
Over the course of eight short pieces, Hauschildt moves through the spacious synth pads that you might expect from his past work, before diving through more structured passages of interstellar sequencer arpeggiations, and then receding back into cosmic gunk. It has the reflective effect of breathwork—the delicately arranged passages feel like a sharp intake of air and then the move back to abstraction is a more controlled exhalation—putting you in a headspace to mull over the themes that he intended to shape this release: cosmogony (the science of the origin of the universe), creation myths, the structure and tensile strength of ropes (hence the title), and the movement of rivers.
As an instrumental record, there's little in the actual sounds that directly lead toward these themes, but in the placid geometry of these intersecting lines you can feel Hauschildt straining toward something greater. This is a quality that's reflected in the selection of tracks that he's put together for the latest THUMP Mix, a drifting collection of compositions that could nominally be called ambient music, but feel a little grander—music for searching yourself and the world around you. Listen to that mix below on Mixcloud, download via WeTransfer, and read along with a brief email conversation with Hauschildt about the reflecting pool that is Strands.
THUMP: How are we meant to enjoy the mix? What's the perfect setting?
Steve Hauschildt: I'd hope that you could enjoy it in various settings. It's probably more relevant to introspection than, say, something you would experience in a club.
Is synesthesia a real thing and if so, what color is this mix?
I'm not a synesthete so I can't answer that truthfully but I've definitely hallucinated a lot in the past. Those are very different experiences though but there can be some overlap. Synesthesia is real but I think it has varying levels of its intensity for people who experience it. For lack of a real answer. I'll just say that it reminds me of some of the colors I saw in the park the other day—golden yellow, bright red, muted gray.
Was there any specific concept to the mix?
Not really, but there is a kind of elemental direction to it. As in, it has titles that reference the sea, the sky, clouds, flames, snow, etc. There's a lot of beauty and inspiration in nature.
Do you have a favorite moment on the mix?
No favorite moment, but I do like when the lead in David Lange's track slowly fades in over the Takemura track.
You've said that Strands is about "cosmogony and creation/destruction myths," what drew you to tackle such big themes on the album and how did you seek to do so concretely?
There were a number of things—some of the inspiration came from re-watching an old episode of Cosmos that had a segment on the Hindu conception of universe. I learned about that stuff in-depth while I was in college awhile ago studying Indian art, but it was great to see Carl Sagan explain certain concepts in simplistic, concise terms. The concreteness you mention is debatable as I think it's important to have some level of ambiguity with the work as opposed to an entirely literal, enclosed meaning.
In a way, seems natural that music like yours would lend itself to these discussions. Is that what you aim to get out of the music you make—a connection to a big picture, a transcendence from the mundane?
I suppose that it could be interpreted in that way although I don't normally concern myself with transcendence. But from the context of escaping the mundane, I think it does make sense. I don't make new age music and I actually loathe the pseudo-spirituality that is attached to that stuff. There are way more epiphanic possibilities in nonsecular music; organ music being one example. But like I've said before, there is a lot of great musical expression under the new age umbrella if you can filter out the apparatus of gimmickry that accompanies it.
You mention in the press release too that there's an optimism buried in Strands. Do you feel more hopeful now than you have in the past?
With the way we understand time right now there's actually no way to escape chaos because we inhabit and experience an entropic universe. I think one of the basic drives of my music is to bring some kind of order or quiet commentary to this idea. It's still very difficult to remain hopeful about anything in the face of the damage that human beings have inflicted upon the Earth.
I'm especially interested in how those ideas connect, the presence of hope or lack thereof when you are exploring the genesis of the existence. How do you explore those questions and maintain hope?
Music has many functions for me one of which is as a cathartic outlet. In some weird, hypothetical scenario in which I had to choose one sense over all of the others I would undoubtedly choose audioception (hearing). Music can take you so many places and express things beyond the normal spectrum of human emotion. So the idea that organized sound or music could bring hope to people is not farfetched at all—it has been doing this for tens of thousands of years since prehistoric times. Even on that time scale we are still only in the beginning stages of dealing with the damage of human industry (a relatively new, destructive force) through the arts and music.
Anne Dudley - Bubblegum
Pep Llopis - El Vell Rei De La Serp
Bill Nelson - Forever Orpheus
Golden Teacher - No Hemos Vívído
Walt Rockman - Dangerous Deep Sea 1
Jean-Sébastien Truchy - You Shine In The Sky Of My Mind
Stuart Dempster - Cloud Landings
Vidna Obmana - Over Clouds
Thom Brennan - Beneath Clouds (Part One)
Akio - In Flames
Nobukazu Takemura - Overture
David Lange - Tales of Snow
Karl Schaffner & Lothar Grimm - Changing Planet
Earthstar - One Flew Over the Ridge
Colin Joyce is THUMP's Managing Editor. You can find him on Twitter.