Music for a Busy Head Vol. 1: 
 AV talks with Matt Coldrick

 

Matt Coldrick

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AV: Why is music your preferred form of artistic expression instead of painting or some other endeavor? What is it about playing music that allows you to access the inner parts of who you are?

MC:  I used to draw pictures of enormous ships when I was very young. Dad would come home with computer printer paper like huge toilet rolls and I'd un-roll one to about six foot and then draw a massive ship. I still doodle!

Writing was also within me but a deprecating and rather cruel teacher stunted my passion by accusing me of copying a poem I wrote  when I was about 8 !

I recovered my zest for writing after completing  "The Artists way for the first time ".  (I've done it 5 times now!)

I got my first guitar at 7 and according to my mum it brought me out of my shell . I was surrounded by music as my Dad was and still is a huge enthusiast. I was lucky to be aware of The Beatles, Dave Brubeck and Debussy at a very young age. I discovered I have a great memory for music. I could sing Beethovens 7th from start to finish-from memory

Something about the headspace music took me to when I played and listened  kept me hooked in. Its still my first medium but I write a lot and take a lot of pictures and see creativity as a state of mind now . Working in Multimedia in Australia for 4 years taught me that.

AV:  What kinds of music in your past made enough of an impression on you that you felt that you would like to follow the musical path yourself?

MC:  Well its a cheesy response for a Brit but seeing  " Help and Hard Days night" , the Beatles films  on TV opened a fascination with Popular culture that Ive never lost.

The fact they changed  from suit wearing teen popsters  and evolved so much in the 7 or 8 years of being in the public eye showed me that music and artists can be progressive .

Dad encouraged me with guitar lessons when I was 12 and again when I was 15 but his attitude was "do what you love, it doesn't matter what it
is, if you love it do it." It was a great attitude but he had huge reservations about me following the path all the way. He could see the freedom he wanted me to have but couldn't equate it to a career or vocation.  

I also had several inspired teachers at School who encouraged and empowered me to be creative, to perform and when I was 16 to compose.

The head of music pulled me into his office and he said "If you going to make a go with music you have to start now, we're doing an adaptation of King Lear for the School play this year….as a musical….set in the future….on an imaginary planet…….and you're writing the music." THAT was inspired leadership. He empowered me and trusted me to deliver and I did. The play was a success and we commemorated it by recording all the songs at a studio in Bognor in the South of England. This was 1978. I was 15/16 and I'd written a musical and recorded an album.

AV:  Just in case readers aren’t familiar with your work to this point maybe you could give them a crash course in “Who is Matt Coldrick and what has he done so far.”

MC:  1982 left school , after 3 months of music college I dropped out and went to live in Spain to perform to tourists.

1984- 1989 ( approx) Played in a covers band and started to write and record my own (pop) songs.

1990 - 2000 - lived and worked in London as a session player, ran a small basement studio producing demos and masters for indie hip hop and rap artists - eventually got a break producing a track for Betty Boo on her platinum album "Boomaina". This opened the doors to session work more than production and led to playing guitar on Gabrielles 2nd album which we then toured on TV's worldwide. Gabrielle won a Britpop after this.

1992-2000 - Concurrently I'd started making Trance records with Dick Trevor under the rather daft name "The Green Nuns of the revolution"
( The nuns )  Played many festivals world wide. Learnt a huge amount about production

2000- wrote Music for a busy head and set up Absolute Ambient record label .

2000 - 2007 Composed and produced music for TV and computer games.

2009 - 20014 Moved to Australia  worked in Communication Design/Multimedia

2015 moved to NZ …..now exploring the next bit :)  

AV:  What was it that drew you to ambient music?

MC:  Exhaustion …ha ha ha. We ( The Nuns) were touring in Australia in 1999 and we had a car accident. It was a spiritual awakening for me. I was kind of over Trance music and needed to go my own path. I spent 3 weeks in Queenstown after the accident to recover and had some Reiki treatments from a local shamanic type….who proceeded to blow my mind with her view of energetics. I was so narrow minded in my view of reality and she offered me another way of seeing things.

I left Queenstown with a very clear vision of using music beyond entertainment. I'd seen how Trance music could "Transport " people on the dance floor and realised that if you could excite people through the energy of music you could also change people's energy and behaviour other ways i.e healing or a change of consciousness.  

I set up my own studio on a loan, moved to my parents house for a year to regroup and started to study Vibrational healing, Sound healing and aspects of esoteric music therapy. Music became a very different and more powerful tool very quickly.

Being in the trance scene exposed me to a lot of other experimental and mostly underground electronic music. "Ambient Dub" evolved out of the trance scene and the people making it were listening to Eno, Harold Budd and co.

AV:  How is composing ambient music different in comparison  to other genres that you might write music in?

MC:  What a great question! Mind set is important. Is more akin to impressionism in many ways. It's a textural journey and I look to get lost in the journey as I create. It's like setting sale across an unknown sea.

Working with Ishq (Matt Hiller) was a major step for me. We would agree a theme, Matt would then create abstract waveforms and sounds indicative of the feel we had decided on and mail them to me on a disc. I'd then follow a sort of  Jackson Pollack approach of throwing Paint ( his samples) at a wall ( the Logic arrange page )  randomly. I'd hit play and see which collisions of sound worked and then focus on those. I love to arrange ideas - I love the narrative, the journey and the randomness of scattering the sounds and hitting play.

AV:  Pop, Rock and most mainstream music is pretty straight forward entertainment. It seems to me that ambient music runs deeper than that and oftentimes is connected to performer and listener at a much more personal level than your average entertainment. Would you care to comment on that observation as a composer?

MC:  Well, its a lot about intent and mind set. I swear the best music I make comes through me but is not of me. I'm the channel. Sometimes there's a cerebral element but that's so the ship points in the right direction before we set sail. i.e  using a theme like "time" or the elements. Then its about flow and feel.

I often describe the way I make ambient music as  being on train with an ever changing landscape. The notion of the journey is important . We're generally not working with catchy hook melodies to get on radio or TV ads. And it s not really star oriented. I didn't want my name on Music for a Busy Head or Elemental Journey. I didn't want them to be about me and Matt Hillier but about the topics.

Space and time are important factors - ambient music plays with our perceptions of both and I love that "how did I end up here?" feeling  when you reach the end of a long piece.

If you're producing a 3 minute pop  or rock single there's very different parameters to work to, same with writing to picture. These are more product oriented processes and very different to the rather more indulgent world of ambient. Ambient music is less restrictive and less of the culture of ego, personality and  market!  

Ambient music offers, at least to me, a longer and deeper  journey of the listeners inner realms .

AV:  You released your ambient music on your own label back in the 90’s but it has been out of print for some time now. Tell me about your label, what you wanted to achieve with it and your music?

MC:  I set up Absolute ambient in 1998/9 mostly out of frustration at the New Age labels in the UK and the response I got when looking for a deal for Music For a Busy Head.

It was a cottage industry approach and an exploration of the independence that the internet was offering artists.

I'd got good digi distribution and was getting reasonable coverage and airplay on the specialist shows and was looking to expand the label after "Conscious Pilot ". A spanish label appeared out of the blue using the same name and I decided ( very foolishly) to trade mark my in Europe label as protection. Then out of the blue a multinational alcohol brand threatened to take me to court for infringing their ™. I held out the legal battle for about 18 months and got an out of court settlement to re-brand but the battle broke me on all levels. It destroyed my love of music and  any desire to be in the music industry and I left England to work in Australia. It still astonished me that a major corporate player would even bother to take a solo ambient artist to task over a tiny label name. Perhaps they were in bed with the Spanish label in some way. I've no idea whether that was the case but it got very messy and pretty much broke my will. A good lesson!

Overall the process of running a label took me a long way from the artist I thought I was. I was writing TV and computer music to pay the bills and ambient music for personal pleasure and expression but somewhere the worlds got intertwined and the whole show came crashing down.

AV:  Pink Lizard Music is re-releasing some of your older albums. How did this come about and why bring them back now?

MC:  I met Tris Taylor on a UK Govt sponsored program called Digital Horizons. It was an inspired way of prepping small businesses for digital convergence in 2012 . Tris and I clicked as mates and when he set up PLM I  felt I could trust him to handle a re-release. It was and is very much about making the catalogue re-available and on a personal level about re-claiming some lost power and ground.

Tris has great awareness of the challenges of releasing music independently and he's a team player who is building goodwill and resilience for artists in a radially changing music biz landscape.

AV:  I’ve been enjoying listening to Music for a Busy Head Vol. 1 over the past few days and I wanted you to explain to our readers about the structure of the music and its significance to the listener as they work their way through all 7 pieces on this album.

MC:  Well first of all the album was my own medicine. My head contains a creative machine that will grab hold of anything and turn it into something else, often without invitation! After 4 years of intense trance gigs and the pop industry I needed some inner peace and space. Through informal study of sound  and vibrational healing I realised that there was a history of music as a healing tool that pre-dated all the other ways music is used. I wanted to tap into that heritage.

Each track focuses on each of the Chakras (energy wheels) of the body. The music is designed to slow down the metabolism and take you into a half-world between waking and sleeping where the body can do its own best healing. Its a way of dis-engaging the fight or flight mechanism. I used specific harmonic intervals and  rhythmic cycles to induce a subtle  kind of hypnosis.

It gets used a lot in massage and other treatments, several people have given birth listening to it and lots of people use it for sleep problems. It gives me huge personal satisfaction when I hear reports of its use and effectiveness.

AV:  Do people realize the potential power that music has to play a healing role of some sort in the lives of those listeners who recognize this power and use it?

MC:  Well gauging from the reactions to MFBH I'd say awareness is growing. When you look at how significant music is in yoga for example you realise that  music has been used as an energetic tool for  thousands of years. It is an astonishing medium and to quote a swami I met this year
"Music is simply the fastest way to bypass the mind". Its healing potential is latent and I say that because like many streams of esoteric knowledge that have been revealed in the last 50 years or so, the wisdom to use music is culturally and genetically imprinted within humanity. It's the bridge to the vibration of the natural world on earth and the direct line to music of the Spheres.

Theres a huge shift in awareness about the corporate matrix the western developed world lives in happening right now! Maybe a part of that shift is realising the potential of music as an energetic tool. Last week I saw a Facebook post about some students who'd invented a fire extinguisher that puts out flames with sound. Now thats a great metaphor for the elemental power of music and sound.

AV:  Are you happy to see your older albums getting back into circulation? Are they going to be available in streaming formats or on the streaming services like Spotify? What are your feelings about streaming music vs. physical CD sales?

MC:  Yes I'm happy - but more for personal reclamation reasons. It's not about the money for sure. All formats are being explored.

You should probably talk to Tris about this - streaming vs. sales is front-line chat right now. In $ terms we're (artists) all worse off from Streaming but  in terms of exposure it great.

Where we are at seems to be a symptom of the proliferation of platforms and channels to hear or buy content. The world of manufacturing is about to experience what music experienced a few years back  courtesy of the 3d printer. Ultimately the tension lines are being decided by the battle to "own" the internet as if it's High Street real estate.

I'd be called a luddite if I said things were better before CD's (vinyl)  or before MP3's- but  the culture has changed. We live in a multimedia reality now and music is but a component in an increasingly low attention span, visually oriented world.

AV:  We were talking earlier about other properties of music that people don’t always recognize. Tell me about the devotional aspects of music that you are exploring along with Aarti Jadu?

MC:  Well Im going to use the s-word now. Spirituality is unavoidable in music. It's inherent, historically and in the moment of listening or playing. What I experience with Aarti when we play is a paradoxical combination of total presence and total letting go. All the songs evolved from spontaneous jams on traditional Bhajans.

The power of the melody and words is true to the (mostly) Sanskrit origins where words are energetic stimuli. It's coming from a very different mind set. We are trying to create an experience not a million miles away from the intention behind MFBH but it's live and not necessarily a "healing" …perhaps more a meditation.

I love to see how different people look and feel after a gig.

As a guitarist it tested my bad habits of working to a click track. When we play it's one voice and one guitar. I love the risk that entails. I remember my friend and Colleague Neil Cowley deciding to give up making computer oriented music and forming a  now very successful Jazz trio. That was brave. He took away the handrails and paid homage to the core values of musical improvisation and disciplined dynamics…..LIVE !

The idea of music being devotional is ancient and predates music for entertainment. I don't get hooked up on the meaning of the songs- the devotion is to creating an energetic moment and stepping outside of the limitations of mind-ego awareness. Not bloody easy I can tell you !

AV:  Music has been associated with devotions and rituals throughout history. What is it that you find compelling about writing and performing this type of music?

MC:  Good and hard question! In simple terms its a kind of maturity. You start to see beyond the less subtle production of and uses of music as you get older. Its easy to get cynical but I'm trying to replace that cynicism by offering out something that feels more pure or perhaps coming from a place of greater integrity. Like I said before its a heritage.

AV:  Do you find this type of music to have as much effect on you as a performer as it does on the listener?

MC:  When I moved to Melbourne I went a little deeper into my Yoga practice and at a time when I had no stomach for music ( post ™ battle) Kirtan and yogic chanting gave me a low risk low impact bridge back into performing. I had to go through a huge adjustment and I still have to work hard to not let the little child performer in me seek attention through an audience response - but I do like it when people experience a
shift….and then clap afterwards! :).

When you perform a devotional or sacred music gig, be it Kirtan, Bhajan or whatever you do a very different deal with the audience. You also have the responsibility to hold space. You are a leader of sorts and that requires ego. I have to experience it differently for that reason but the aim is a unified experience where the boundaries between audience and performer are lowered as much as possible. David Byrne once described his best experience in gigs as when everybody in the building loses their ego for a moment and experiences some sense of collective liberation.I get that.

AV:  How far along are you on this project and when might it be available to the public?

MC:  75% done- Hoping to release in March/spring 2016 - it's interesting exploring how much to add to the original takes (or not). We only played each piece 2 or 3 times before recording and the unknowing-ness is a huge part of its potency. In the word of the amazing BJ Cole ( UK pedal steel player) "there's always got to be something to be discovered when you play". Not locking down an idea is part of the pain and pleasure of creating this kind of music.

AV:  It's been an enlightening talk and I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me and giving the readers of Ambient Visions some insights into your music. Wishing you great success with your next project due out in 2016 and anything you set your mind and heart to beyond that.