Feedback Monitor interview by I. Khider - 2000
"improvisation - is another form of chaos"
Toronto has a thriving ambient music scene. You wouldn't know it from the general absence of media attention, but if one is willing to look beneath the flimsy layers of apathy you will find the complex thriving miasma of soundscapists.
Among the more arterial members of this organism is dreamSTATE, a duo who have generated their infinitesimal eddies of sound at art installations, rave chill-out rooms and several clubs throughout Toronto. Contrary to the status-quo of most ambient musicians, they have even earned some attention in mainstream outlets like The Toronto Star and Chart Magazine.
I met dreamSTATE - who are Scott McGregor Moore and Jamie Todd - to talk about their music over the din of a packed house at the Rhino Bar & Grill in Toronto's west end. Over the course of the conversation, I noticed that the pair are polar opposites: whereas Scott is the more reserved and contemplative of the two, Jamie is the more spontaneous and animated who thinks as he speaks.
Over coffee, we talked first about waveforms, a sound installation that they presented several years ago at The H5 Project, a holographic gallery in The Beaches district of Toronto. The installation consisted of several MiniDiscs of ambient soundscapes and environmental noise on endless random play.
Jamie: "We've always been in love with the idea of generating sound. We were brought to the project by some friends who wanted to have an ever-changing landscape, they wanted to reflect the area. The Beaches in the summer time is a very beautiful area. We wanted to create something three dimensional, picking up from the neighbourhood, reflecting the culture that is around it. The technique was to create a realm that was constantly evolving and changing."
This installation provided the raw material for dreamSTATE's debut CD, Between Realities which brought critical attention to the duo. As described on the dreamSTATE website: "On a beautiful hot summer evening in June, after the H5 had locked it's doors for the night, recordist Perren Baker set up his amazing Calrec Soundfield microphone in the centre of the room. We adjusted the DAT recorders, tweaked the microphone and all headed out for a pub down the street for the next couple of hours while the installation played on. Between Realities, the resulting CD, is a rare 'live' album recorded without the band actually being in the room"
Jamie: "We were sitting at the H5 after we got the installation up and running, and we were recording it directly down to tape and were sitting there listening to all the outside noises blending in and saying 'That's beautiful'. The streetcars come up and they start to squeal and the synth part takes off - wonderful bits of synchronicity that were happening. But when we start playing back our recordings, especially things that have been miced in the studio, there's a big worry that the subwoofer is going pick up things like buses and traffic creeping in unknowingly."
"I think that's about acceptance," reflects Scott. But the way that he says it gives me the impression that he means more than just the audience's reaction. Acceptance also in terms of dreamSTATE's approach to their recorded sounds. Because of their acceptance, their music has achieved a fuller sound.
Rather than use the term musicians to describe dreamSTATE, it seems better to use the term 'sound sculptors' - artfully juxtaposing noise into a continuously myriad stream of sound. A sonic oasis in the arid realm of the mainstream, they are like scientists who compose a lifelong thesis on the observation of the "sound that occurs around us" which is ambiance in it's purest form.
Jamie: "When I'm at work, I'm surrounded by two hundred computers and people in this warehouse environment, I listen and I hear what I'm hearing when I'm working at home, the same types of synth sounds. I think it's because we've developed an ear for it, because we go out with the tape recorders and tape sounds throughout the streets. There are sounds out there that sound like what we do live."
Scott: "And it was getting really tough to distinguish, which is why we called the CD Between Realities, because we were sort of playing with reality that way."
Another great element of dreamSTATE is their diversity, as reflected in the difference between their live and recorded material. Between Realities has a drifting, atmospheric sound, but live they are like careening (albeit graceful) chaos. The duo's latest performances have been occurring in Kensington Market's Po' Boys Club as part of the weekly Ambient Ping night. The monthly series is entitled Drone Cycle 2000, "a twelve month cycle of drone events touring the twelve notes of the chromatic scale as foundations for ambient improvisations with a series of special guests."
Jamie: "We're very loose when we play live. We don't come in there with a preset list of what we're going to do. The sounds mesh together and they get chaotic and disjointed. But there is a pattern to it all."
Scott: "That's why it's nice to play live sets - from how we are in the first little bit, we're going to be in a totally different place a half an hour later. We try to be in the moment as much as possible."
Jamie: "That's what's beautiful about the series we're doing right now because every time there's a new element. It just depends on how Scott and I feel that day."
Scott: "What we do live - improvisation - is another form of chaos."
At this point in the conversation the pair are on their fourth cup of coffee and their eyes gleam with an added enthusiasm as their words ricochet from discussing different recording techniques to their favourite sound artists (ranging from Frank Zappa and T-Rex, to the more ambient oriented Robert Fripp and Steve Roach) to the influences of chaos theory in their music to describing their equipment. Watching dreamSTATE live is impressive to behold not only because of their music and the duo's trance-like immersion, but their layers upon layers of keyboards, samplers and complex mesh of wires.
Jamie: "When we first started playing together, things were analogue, big and cumbersome and expensive. Today it's more of a digital domain recorded onto computers. We've got synthesizers that are models of old synthesizer Korg samples, so we're doing the same thing, but with smaller boxes."
I asked them about the way computers are running virtual programs of equipment that already exists, whether they feel that computers are making everything obsolete.
Scott: "I kind of can go either way. The problem with old synthesizer equipment was that they were less transportable."
Jamie: "We don't treat computers as the end, but it's an umbilical cord to synthesizers, effects, mixing devices and samplers. Computers have given us more hands to interact with a wider audience and to get closer to like minded people."
In closing, the final question was whether a dreamSTATE philosophy exists. Both give me their broad, Buddha-like smiles.
Jamie: "I think that artists have a responsibility to look at our culture and say something about it, do something about it, and reflect what's out there. We're trying to bring order to this random stuff that's around us."
Scott: "And then randomizing the order. I think we're trying to communicate the philosophy of our dream environment. The name dreamSTATE really communicates that well for us. We're trying to create dreamscapes."