AmbiEntrance: Stephen, would you please introduce yourself?
Philips: I've always loved music and it's a very important part of my life. Being a
musician is not something I do, it's something I am. I've been playing
music of various forms for the last 24 years or so, and I imagine that I
will do it till the day I die.
AmbiEntrance: What were your first musical endeavors like (24 years ago)?
Philips: Nothing like they are now. I started playing the clarinet at the age of
8,and later moved onto the guitar, bass, and piano. It wasn't until the mid
80's when I started experimenting with a friends Yamaha Portastudio that
things started getting interesting.
AmbiEntrance: How did you get into the ambient "business"?
Philips: Dark Duck Records was born around 1988 in an attempt to expose my music to a
wider audience. I firmly believe that music doesn't need to come from a big
record label in order to be good. Having my own label gives me the creative
freedom to do whatever I like without having to answer to anyone other then
myself. Great creativity comes from not having to conform to guidelines set
forth by a record label.
The desire to create "ambient" music grew out of my own personal interest in
the music. About 10 years ago I was seduced by the slowly evolving textures
of ambient music, and I've been driven to create this kind of music ever
since. My first explorations of ambient music came with my Cyber Sleep
series which was a series of cassette tapes that I created for my own
personal use as sleep aids. I shared some of these cassettes with friends
and they then wanted copies for themselves, so I decided to release them
The "business" end of it grew out of people/friends being interested in my
music and encouraging me to release it and "get it out there." My early
recordings were cassette-only, then I started offering my recordings on
minidisc, then CDR and CD. With the World Wide Web, I've been able to get
my music out to a global audience, and the response has been very good. The
"business" end of things is probably the most frustrating thing about label.
What I'd really love is to just create music and have other labels release
it, and use Dark Duck Records as a way to help other musicians get started.
AmbiEntrance: How did you arrive upon the "Dark Duck" name?
Philips:There's no great story behind the name. When I was in college I used to doodle in class and one day a doodle
I did resembled a duck head, the only thing was it was a solid black duck
head, a sort of *dark duck* if you will. The name just came to me and I
stuck with it. Not very interesting huh?
One guy I was talking to a while
back said he thought the "dark" suggested something dark and ominous while
the "duck" suggested a playful side which I think kind of sums it up.
AmbiEntrance: Your Deep Chill Network releases only say that you produce the discs...
*are* you Deep Chill Network?
Philips: Err um, yeah I'm Deep Chill Network for the most part, although my friend
Ben Summers contributes to DCN at times, whether he realizes it or not.
AmbiEntrance: Whether he realizes it or not?
Philips: Ben Summers and I have recorded a whole lot of material over the last 6 or 7
years, most of which has never seen the light of day. Sometimes I revisit
some of that material, sample it, and use it to create new sounds. Some of
that has crept into the Cyber Sleep series and the Dreams series.
AmbiEntrance: How would you say Dreams 3 differs from Dreams 2?
Philips: Well, the Dreams was born out of the sleep series. Due to my own personal insomnia
problems, I began creating minimal ambient music for sleep. My goal is to
create music that you can put on, and drift off listening to, that won't
wake you suddenly.
As far as the differences between Dreams 2 and Dreams 3...it's subtle
differences really. Some of the music is more active and some less active.
The real differences are more in the way the music is composed and recorded
more then anything else. There's definitely a common thread that can be
heard throughout the Dreams series although all 3 CDs are very different in
their own way.
AmbiEntrance: Will there be a Dreams 4?
Philips: Yes and most likely a Dreams 5. I'm also planning a Cyber Sleep 5 which
will involve a re-blending of some of the material from the now deleted
Cyber Sleeps 1 through 3 with some new source material. The result will
hopefully shed some new light on the Cyber Sleep music.
AmbiEntrance: What can you tell us about the making of Natural Environments?
Philips: I started the Environments series because I've always been fascinated with
various everyday environments and the way that music interacts with
environmental sounds and vice versa. I started the environments series (and
Natural Environments) about 3 years and a half ago with the initial
environmental samples. At that time I was also working on "Subtle
Environments" and "Synthetic Environments" and that's when I knew it would
end up being a series. I initially started by collecting the "environments"
samples and then added the ambiences, and music later grew in the studio.
The music was basically based on the samples.
AmbiEntrance: Why do you seem to do things in series?
Philips: When I start out in a new musical direction, all of my ideas and sounds
don't necessarily fit onto just 1 or 2 CDs and I don't like to rush things.
I feel I need to exhaust an idea before moving on. At the same time, after
releasing a CD, there are times I feel the need to re-visit a theme and
expand upon it and other times it's just a matter of separating out
different ideas. Like with the Environments series, the first CD called
Subtle Environments focused on environmental drones, the 2nd, Synthetic
Environments focused on creating environmental ambiences with the use of
instruments and effects, and the 3rd Natural Environments featured the
blending of natural samples with electronic
AmbiEntrance: Why Washington DC? Are you politicizing with "Breath" and "Prattle"?
Philips: Washington DC because I live around here and no, I'm not politicizing at
all. The samples for the tracks "breath" and "prattle" actually came from
an exhibit at the library at the National Institutes of Health. There was
this huge exhibit on asthma, and the environment was so live I just had to
sample it. There was this continual drone, (probably from the building
itself) and then there was the exhibit, which also featured audio samples of
people speaking, music, and other things. I spent many weeks just absorbing
the environment before actually sampling it for the CD. The sampled stuff
didn't really do the environment justice, but that's the case with a lot of
environmental music. There's just something that's lost in the transfer
from environment to tape; it's a shame really.
AmbiEntrance: What if you were asked to create an "environments" track based on the 2000 election? (plenty of noise coming out of DC now, eh?)
Philips: I would probably just plug in my electric guitar and turn it all the way up
and just let the feedback go for about 5 minutes.
AmbiEntrance: On Ambient Landscapes 2, you appear as Excelsior, Deep Chill Network
and as Stephen Philips; how do you differentiate between these various
Philips: The different personas or "projects" as I like to call them, are just an
attempt to lump different musical styles into different categories.
Excelsior covers ambient techno, IDM, and other beat-oriented ambient.
Deep Chill Network covers deep chill ambient, minimal ambient, textures,
drone, etc. And Stephen Philips covers live material, experimental, chill,
space music, whatever. There's a fine line between them all, I supposed,
but I guess it really stems from a desire to be consistent and to keep
separate things separate. In other words, a person knows what to expect
from a Deep Chill Network CD.
AmbiEntrance: From that compilation, I really enjoyed the previously unheard sounds
of e. voice p.'s "Entered Apprentice"; can you give us any background info
and more importantly, will we being hearing more?
Philips: E. voice p. are a few guys from the Netherlands who do some really
incredible music. They're originally from communist Russia and they've got
stories they don't want to tell. They've sent me hours and hours of some of
the best music I've heard. I'm currently working on their debut LP which
should be out sometime in early 2001 if all goes well. I imagine we'll see
a lot of these guys in the future.
AmbiEntrance: What's your favorite part about doing Various Artist compilations?
Philips: My favorite part is meeting new people, working with new people, and having
the chance to expose exciting new artists to the world. (Oh that's 3 things
:-) One thing I love to do is discover new music and tell everyone about
it. There's a line from a movie that says something like "for every person
that makes it, there's 100 people you never hear about" and I'm just trying
to do my part to expose 1 or 2 or 3 of the other 100 people.
AmbiEntrance: Who are some new artists you've discovered lately?
Philips: One standout is Will Green. This is definitely a guy to keep an eye on. As
far as I know he doesn't have any CDs out but his music is sublime and
peaceful, and would be right at home on Dark Duck Records. Another standout
is Matt Borghi who also has a great set of music on MP3.com and several CDs
worth checking out. Another friend goes by the name of Synthuser and is
producing some very nice ambient music. His latest CD is called When
Children Sleep and is an outstanding exploration into dark ambient. Also
highly recommended are Liquid Morphine, Loscil, and Max Corbacho.
AmbiEntrance: With your Deep Space Studios and NASA photographs, would it be accurate
to assume you're into "space" more than just musically? How so?
Philips: I find the unknown regions of space to be very fascinating. The fact that
there's a lot of unknown area in the universe is very interesting. I'm
also intrigued by the vast emptiness of space. There's just so much nothing
out there, it's amazing. Some of my music is an attempt to re-create that
emptiness through music, stark, minimal music that just floats. Much of my
music is an attempt to re-create a landscape and I feel space is as much a
landscape as the desert is or any other place.
AmbiEntrance: What about the spaciness of Beyond The Glaze with Ben Summers?
Philips: Ben Summers has been a friend of mine from way back before Dark Duck Records
even started. He was the drummer in my first "band" Troubled Thought. The
Dark Duck Records project "Experimental Psychology" is basically Ben Summers
with my input from time to time. Most of our recordings are live improvised
sessions. When we get together in the studio there's just some kind of
magic that happens. Glaze was a particularly awesome session but the one
that followed that up was even better. A CD of that session will be
released the end of November and will be called Behind the Mirror and it's
a sort of companion piece to Glaze. As far as the spaciness goes, Ben
Summers and myself are very interested in the vast openness of space and the
possibilities that lie therein.
AmbiEntrance: You're also into fractal art... Can you tell us a bit about that?
Philips: I like the randomness of fractal art and I find the images very fascinating.
I like computer-generated art and I try to incorporate some of that into my
AmbiEntrance: What projects are upcoming in Dark Duck's future?
Philips: I have several live recordings that I will be releasing, including one done
at the Ambient Ping in Toronto this past summer. I'm also hoping 2001 with
be the year of the collaboration. I'm working on a few collaborations that
should provide some interesting sounds, and there will be an Ambient
Landscapes 3 but I don't know if it will be in 2001 or 2002.
AmbiEntrance: Collaborations with whom, may I ask?
Philips: I'm currently working on a collaboration with James Johnson. I'm also
working on some material with Matt Borghi and there has been talk about a
possible collaboration with the Toronto duo dreamSTATE. There may also be a
collaboration with the guys from e. Voice p. among others.
AmbiEntrance: How often do you play live?
Philips: Not often enough. I've done a few shows lately and some private party
chill-outs. Doing live shows is a very thrilling experience and I feed off
AmbiEntrance: Describe a "typical" live gig.
Philips: It depends on many things really. Live performances for me have always been
explorations into new territory. I don't "rehearse" or plan things out too
much. Every live performance that I do features all new material. As far
as live performances go, I like to live in the moment and get into the
"zone" so I tend to start with some basic premise, then go with the flow of
what feels right at the time.
AmbiEntrance: You've got a couple of tracks on the new ambient@hyperreal comp; what can
you tell us about those pieces?
Philips: The ambient@hyperreal compilation is an outstanding collection of ambient
music from some known and many unknown artists. I feel very fortunate to be
included in that compilation and George Biernadski has done a fabulous job
pulling the whole thing together.
The Excelsior track was a preview of things to come for Excelsior. I've
been focusing on the ambient IDM genre for my latest Excelsior material and
that track was a sort of preview to the new CD Structured Resistance. The
Deep Chill Network track was a drone track that I recorded specially for the
CD. I've been working on a lot of new chill material that focuses more on
complex textures and drones and that track is just one of the first
explorations in that avenue.
AmbiEntrance: Thanks very much Stephen; any parting comments?
Philips: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my music. I really
enjoy your site and your great reviews.