Anthony Wright: Ashera Interview

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I can't imagine sounds being much softer or sweeter than those of Australia's Ashera... it's my pleasure to speak with the man who intuitively creates the lush atmospheres found in Cobalt 144, Ambient Selections, and most recently Colour Glow...

Welcome to the AmbiEntrance, Anthony Wright.

AmbiEntrance: How would you describe your music (and why it is that way) to someone completely unfamiliar with your work?

Wright: Well, as most artists, I think that "style labels" are just that, but I do refer it to "ambient" for practicality. I rather let the language of music to express and communicate what it has to, even if it is ambiguous. Generally speaking, the intent behind the music of Ashera is that of peace, introspection visual exploration, healing and hopefully some poetic inspiration.

The principles and techniques are no other than the ones already invented and tried by previous composers which you and your audience are already familiar with.

AmbiEntrance: (Even if your techniques are nothing new) I find the end results to be fascinating (and everything you intend them to be)... but you seem to always downplay your talents; what would it take for you to personally feel that you're creating something exceptional?

Wright: I guess it does not matter what I think. The real value resides in the Intent behind the piece, the actual result will be always limited in some way or another, by our circumstances: The cultural musical background, the musical skills, the performing skills, the quality of instruments, recording, mixing, mastering.... the BUDGET! All these can be limitations, we are not always in control of these.

The intent, is something different: What is the artist trying to communicate? What is the overall level of emotional energy? Is it of pleasure, peace, reflection, optimism, light, colour, healing, a metaphor, a parable, a suggestion? or maybe: darkness, fear, mystery, suspense, conflict, drama, the void ? In between? the kitsch? and more importantly, why? Is it a continuous act? or simply turned out that way?

That, we can be in control of.

I worry about some ambient / spacemusic out there. You know, it is interesting and clever, but try to listen to it in a dark room with children and most of them will call "mummy ! " straight away and start crying. Is this appropriate? Does it matter?

On the other hand, there is some New Age stuff with a level of "suffocating prettiness", that could make most adults run for air!

I try to stay away from these extremes, and hopefully suggest, in an non-rhetorical way, with the music, an uplifting sense of inspiration and optimism. Suggestion is very important here. In an invitation, there is always more courtesy than by pulling the emotions of the listener to the pigeonhole of the composer. Let the listener create their own dream with the "tools"and "suggestions" ( i.e. music) given.

Discovering the order, unveiling the light that already exists here, in our universe, waiting to be discovered. Ambient and related music can be excellent tools for this. Composers may not be creators, but rather discoverers of a new creation.

AmbiEntrance: You steer clear of any percussion in your works; is that just not your thing?

Wright: I have nothing against percussion. I am actually a fan of good Jazz-Salsa, especially Poncho Sanchez, and will always enjoy the primal feeling of dancing to it, it is joy, and humor.

Listen to Africa and their cross pollinated sub-cultures, it can be joy, and it is complex. Percussion is like a skeleton, look how beautiful the structure of fish's bones are. Order, is imperative, but to the right level, because it can be rigid and limiting.

Listen again to Africa, this time to the incredible complex counterpoint of the songs of the Pygmies Tribe. These are bursts of pure beauty and joy! How complex ! , and it has no percussion most of the time, it does not need it. The harmony, counterpoint, the order in this apparent improvisational chaos is enough.

I can not offer anything new to the world in regards to percussion, unless it would be in collaboration with a percussionist, (I just imagined the sounds from Nana Vasconcelos...) So I will work for now with the idea behind "suggestion" of structures within structures, mainly in musical harmony, but with the implied rhythm created by repetition, phasing and other techniques.

AmbiEntrance: Can you give us a bit of your history? Are you originally from Australia?

Wright: I was born in Venezuela and left to Australia at 25. The insecurity, violence and corruption of South America was not easy for me to handle.

AmbiEntrance: Would you say then that the escape to serenity which your music provides is similar to your leaving Venezuala?

Wright: It is possible, but there is always a level of intolerable chaos everywhere you go, so you have to try to create a balance, with whatever you have to give. On the other hand, for me it would be very hard if I had to live in the middle of Tokyo or New York City.

AmbiEntrance: Does living in Australia add anything "different" to your outlook, and your music?

Wright: It is a big place, with more space that you would ever need. It is an ideal "Outdoor" living place, for those like me, which loves nature. Australia is relatively a peaceful and prosperous place. When conditions exist for people to relax, the art might reflect that condition. Unfortunately, on the other hand, easy living, and good weather is an excuse to avoid introspection, the beaches, sport, food and alcohol is tempting indeed. And I like all of the above.r

AmbiEntrance: Your musical pace is so relaxed... is that like (or unlike) your own pace in life?

Wright: The ocean, the clouds in the sky, the movement of tree leaves by slow wind, are most of times slow and very relaxing to see... the pace of nature. These are home-safe feelings, and I hope to convey this speed and sensuality in the music.

AmbiEntrance: In what ways is Colour Glow different from your previous releases, and why?

Wright: It is an evolution, and an exploration, which serves me as self-education and hopefully preparation for better music. I make no apologies to use techniques and harmonic references from the music and ideas of the more established composers, that originally inspired the idea of making this type of music.

AmbiEntrance: Do you come up with your track titles before, during or after creating each piece?

Wright: All the above, depends on the piece, and if I changed my mind...something I do a lot.

AmbiEntrance: Most of Colour Glow's track titles seem apt and visual enough, but what is "Two fFlarian"?

Wright: It is from a painting by Richard M. Powers, a not-so-well-known master of surrealism. Here are some links: http://home.fuse.net/astroboy/RMPowers.html, and http://home.earthlink.net/~cjk5/greatbooks.html

AmbiEntrance: Tell us about Caroline Wilson and Adriana Korkosova who regularly appear in your works.

Wright: Caroline and Adrika are invited guests. They have been very generous to leave their voices recorded for me to play with. Adrika is a visual artist, and Caroline is the lead singer for the band Kinetic, a local alternative Sydney band.

AmbiEntrance: Do you write their vocal parts, telling them what to sing; or do they improvise and then you work with what they give you?

Wright: Most of the time I play lines on the keyboard, the voice will follow and gets recorded for my catalogue. I do record improvisations within the guidelines like a particular harmonic key...

Once I captured a noise that Caroline Wilson did as an expansive gesture, I sampled it on the keyboard and the sounds ended up in a piece called "Dolphin's past life" which is composed entirely of that voice sound by Caroline... there were no synths involved.

AmbiEntrance: Your CDs come with a request to "please play at lower levels"; are you worried that people will be cranking it up to 11?

Wright: I always loved the story about Brian Eno laying in bed, sick, unable to crank the LP that his friend brought him, and discovering a new way of listening.... Gentleness is what I rather refer to, leaving some details in the shadows, affecting the subconscious rather than receiving all the information in your face, like some pie thrown at your face.

This way, the music hopefully communicates at various levels, bypassing some "censorship" filters from our musical socialization psique. Then of course, is always enjoy the realization of discovering again an old album, which you are used to listen through speakers in a room, and then listen to it using headphones, getting almost all the nuances at moderate levels. I recommend Budd / Eno's The Pearl or On Landfor this . Let me quote Eno here:

"Ambient Music must be able to accomodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." -- Brian Eno - September 1978.

AmbiEntrance: I said Cobalt 144 was "delicately overpowering"; is this planned and if so how do you "do" it?

Wright: Well I guess it has to do with the intent and the energy level of the composer at the moment of the act of composing. I hope that if is overpowering, it does it in a positive way...

I use intuition a lot, so I guess that sometimes I strike luck as well. I compose a lot of pieces / sketches that get discarded, so planning is difficult. Structure and harmony of a piece can be important, and that is as far as it gets with me so far, the actual melodic or timbre content is developed on the way...by "ear".

AmbiEntrance: Let's go to your first CD, Ambient Selections... What were you doing musically before this and how did it lead to your debut?

Wright: I am actually musically illiterate. Had a total of 5 hours of piano lessons while in my teens. This can give you an Idea on my performing skills... nevertheless, I did read books related to music theory and history, and above all, listened to good music.

I will always remember 3 key moments in my life that stirred my direction and curiosity towards music. I was 15, hearing heavy metal and stupid pop songs, one day I played and old mono LP with music by Delius and Elgar, this was the first time I actually "listened", and boy did I like the sound of that 25 year old dust layer over "Brig Fair"! , it was visual.

Later on, maybe a couple of years later, I discovered "Music for 18 musicians" by Steve Reich, and a fiend lend me a copy of The Pearl by Budd / Eno. These musics taught me a different way of "listening" and "tripping".

AmbiEntrance: Is "Ashera" from the Asher in "Anthony Asher Wright"?

Wright: Partly, I originally wanted to use just "Asher" , and found out about an artist with that name already. Then I discovered the meaning behind "Ashera", the ancient Canannite / Hebrew goddess, which I found amusing and compatible with the intent behind the music I have been doing. ( "Asherah is the grandmother of Muslims, Jews and Christians". ), a few months later, after buying the Ashera domain in the internet, and pressing the first album, I found that there was a couple of Heavy Metal bands with that name !, and also that Ash Ra Temple changed their name a few years back to Ashra, which is close enough... There you go! I guess names are not that important.

AmbiEntrance: You've got a lot of MP3s posted on the Ashera wesbsite; how do you decide which tracks to make available?

Wright: I only post exerpts in lo-fi . They serve as an honest way for a listener to test the album before taking the decision to buy it.

At the present moment, my opinion is that the internet is and will definitely democratize and increase exposure / sales for all artists, but I am not totally OK with the practice of posting full length pieces at almost CD quality. I believe that CD's , DVD-audio or CDDD-FMD will and should be the main delivery mediums. I am against compressed audio formats which deteriorate quality.

AmbiEntrance: You pointed me to Ksine's Ambient Christmas Music; do you spend much time checking out other people's ambient MP3's, etc?

Wright: No, time is limited, but now and again I do check, I think is a wonderful tool to get an idea about how an artist's music sounds like, specially unsigned ones.  I also think that all the Mp3 fever will force some signed recording artists to stop the mediocrity of using "filling" tracks to justify a complete album, where in reality, most people will only like one or two tracks.

AmbiEntrance: Your site also has a prominent link to Art Maze? What's that?

Wright: My way of sustenance, I make a living out of computer visualization services.

AmbiEntrance: Can you tell us a little about what you do there? Do you see any relation with your musical creations?

Wright: I am a Computer Graphic artist, and an Architect, so there is no direct relation to music, besides the similarities of Architectural composition and design with musical composition. Unfortunately, it seems there is less Architectural quality in the world than good music. Maybe this is because all the money involved in building.

There are systems of proportions wich have their counterparts in the musical harmony scales. I am currently working in pieces that reflect direct relationships between geometrical shapes, their proportions and musical chords, hopefully it will sound pleasant.

I am always inspired by good poetic Architecture, you have the old monuments of course..., and then you have some works by Luis Kahn, Barragan, Legorreta, Le Courbusier, Tadao Ando and many more.

There is a silence in those architectures that can make you deaf with overwhelming emotion. The contrast between light and shadow, the colour! just listen to "The Room" by Harold Budd, a hero of mine, or Debussy's "The Engulfed Cathedral". Ambient music can be very visual...

AmbiEntrance: Do you share your music with your co-workers? If so, what do they think of it?

Wright: I do not force music to anyone, musical taste is so personal...! It just does not work, people have to make the choice, and have the patience...to listen. Ambient music has little impact if you want an "immediate reward" like Pop music does.

AmbiEntrance: In a previous conversation, you mentioned that you hope to start producing more CDs, "aiming for 1.5 to 2 albums a year"? Can you elaborate?

Wright: Positive reviews, increased sales and air time definitively inspire me to do more music, as you may know, the cost of the instruments, recording and printing CD's is quite notable, not to mention the time required, and in my present situation where no record label is backing me up.... and the music will not get played in the commercial syndicated radio programs of the genre... well so there is no profit whatsoever.

I have decided though, that I was not to pay attention to this to much, and keep the work up.  On the other hand, there are many people, online-stores and radio programs that support me and other unsigned artists, you are one of them. This is very encouraging.

I am currently working in a project about the relationships between geometry and music, as a system of visual composition, where the music is the result of a non arbitrary geometric sequence, or description of forms and proportions, with the ultimate aim to still be pleasant music and without the feeling of cold "experimentalism". Maybe some other recording artist would like to explore this with me. Hello?

AmbiEntrance: What about your gear; is there anything unusual about your choice of sound-tools?

Wright: Nothing unusual that I can think off. Maybe the only thing is the lack of it...!

I will like one day to have a real good piano, a Fender Rhodes 73, a Lexicon 900 system reverb, Matrix 12 sinth, Alesis Andromeda synth, 48 channels of digital recording with 5.1 surround, and the appropriate space to put and record all this... Ha !

Well... I currently use one good sampler, a couple of sinths, and a digital 16 track recorder. There are all good enough, sometimes it is important to invert situations, and make a limitation work at your advantage.

AmbiEntrance: Are you making any resolutions for the New Year, musical or otherwise?

Wright: I want to compose more, release more work without diluting the quality, maybe collaborate with another Artist and hopefully get some Record label interested one day. You know, at least for the marketing and product placement. I can carry costs of production to an extent, print some CD's, sell them through some on-line shops...

But that will not get the attention of the average consumer of music out there, which still enjoys browsing in a shop, and in a Mall, and listening to the mainstream syndicated radio programs... Don't we all ( unsigned artists ) want this?

AmbiEntrance: Anything else you'd like to add while you're here?

Wright: I will like to thank all the people that have supported me through encouraging statements and actions in different Web resources, DJ's, radio hosts, Artists and on-line specialists retailers. You all show a wide understanding of music and egoless interest in mutually helping each other.

To all, let us have a prosperous and happy New Year!

AmbiEntrance: Thanks so much for your input, Anthony; and keep up the good work!

Wright: Thank You!, I will

This interview posted December 30, 2000 | Interview Index

AmbiEntrance © 2000-1997 by David J Opdyke (except CD cover art, rights retained by original owners).