A Quiet Light: AV Talks with Meg Bowles
A Quiet Light
AV: Tell me about when it was that music became something
more to you than just something you put on your stereo and passively listened
to. What did you do to actively bring music into your life as a form of
artistic expression for yourself?
MB: Music has felt like my primary language ever since I can remember. It has always linked me with vivid worlds full of feeling. I was immersed in classical and early music as a child, from infancy. My active listening skills began to be honed via education at home, where my father taught me how to differentiate between the various instruments of a symphony orchestra by ear by age four or so. Private music lessons began several years later, and eventually I began playing flute with local youth orchestras when I was around eleven years old or so. I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t a form of artistic expression for me.
AV: You went to university at both Northwestern and Boston and completed formal studies in classical music performance and immediately upon graduation you set out on your career in music...no wait a career in investment banking. Seems like a contradiction. Why investment banking and not something to do with music?
MB: The reality of what a classical musician - even a superb one - needed to do in order to make a living at it was pretty staggering back then, and even more so today. Not only was I having trouble juggling hours of daily practice with my other interests (like psychology, which I studied a good deal of as an undergrad), I was also struggling with the demand in the field for technical perfection, where if you missed even one note during an audition, you didn’t get the gig! So it gradually dawned upon me that a career as an orchestral flutist was not in the cards. Although I seriously considered going for a Masters degree in psychology at that point, I just wanted to get out into the real world for a bit and support myself financially. Waiting tables was not going to cut it. So I found my way into an entry-level trading position at a Boston bank, and worked my way up from there. The decision was purely a pragmatic one, a financial means to a creative end. I went where the jobs were, instead of where they
AV: Did music remain a part of you during the time you spent in investment banking and how did that find expression as you worked as a derivatives trader?
MB: Although I was no longer playing flute, I did a fair amount of choral singing with a semi-professional group in Boston, Chorus Pro Musica. Then active music-making went underground for a bit while I attended Columbia to get my MBA, and for a few years afterwards, until my husband (who was a freelance French horn player, and arranger at that time) decided to buy his first synthesizer, a Kurzweil K-1000. I began playing around with the synth and loved it, and the rest is history. At last I had a vehicle for realizing some of the “other” music that I often heard inside my head.
AV: So when you left investment banking you finally started
on your musical path...no wait that would be advanced studies in shamanism,
Jungian psychology and psychoanalysis and to produce electronic space music.
You are a very well rounded musician to say the least and I'm glad to see that
electronic music made it into this group of things you were going to pursue.
What kinds of ambient/electronic space music had you absorbed to this point and
what were you hoping to create yourself in regards to electronic music?
MB: My interests in the psyche and music have always been intertwined. I began reading about Jung and his work with dreams, as well as Carlos Castaneda (his book A Separate Reality) during my senior year of high school. I was always a vivid dreamer, and also experienced music very visually, sometimes intensely enough so that I felt transported to other dimensions of reality, although always with a residual connection with this one. When I discovered Michael Harner’s work in “core” shamanic techniques such as the shamanic journey process, I realized that I had already been doing something very similar via music! And of course Jung also wrote extensively about the numinous realm of experience which links directly with shamanism. Getting back to ambient/electronic music, one watershed experience occurred when I heard Steve Roach’s Dreamtime Return during a break at a shamanic workshop I was attending. I got hooked! I mentioned the album to a musician friend of mine, who then introduced me to stuff that he had taped from episodes of Music from the Hearts of Space. New worlds opened up from that point on. So you see, my diverse interests really are connected, and there really has been a method to my madness.
AV: What was it about electronic music that drew you to it and motivated you to use that form to communicate your musical ideas?
MB: What drew me to electronic music then, and what continues to draw me now, are the otherworldly-sounding palettes one can create to evoke deep and resonant spaces. There’s something expansive and so mysterious about these sounds, as they draw us into more of a non-ordinary dimension of reality which is part of a greater Cosmos.
AV: I've always felt that electronic music has some roots in classical music. Could you compare for me the similarities that are shared by both electronic and classical music. Given your past studies with classical music performance was this also part of the appeal that electronic music held for you?
MB: The sounds themselves have always held an appeal for me, perhaps in part due to my love of science fiction and fantasy as a child. As a six-year-old I loved the original TV sci-fi series The Outer Limits, where electronic sounds were used (theremin) in the opening theme and score. This was my main introduction to electronic music - through its use in television and film, not as a performer. My dad also had LPs of some of the pioneers of electronic music for tape - Otto Luening (also a flutist) and Vladimir Ussachevsky. I found all of that stuff very cool because it really got my imagination going. As for similarities with classical music, there are various forms they can have in common, such as the use of repetitive rhythmic/harmonic riffs and loops which are basically ostinatos - as in Ravel’s Bolero for example. In addition to using that and other classical techniques (melodic development, counterpoint, etc.), I work with electronic sounds as if I were scoring for an orchestra, only with a wider, deeper soundstage. So I’m always listening for orchestration, and to the brilliant work of composers really good at it, like Copeland and Ravel among others, in order to learn more.
AV: Once you started to seriously consider releasing your music on CD back in the early 1990's did you have enough material already in hand to release those CDs or did you start work on composing new material at that point?
MB: As composing gathered steam I just kept going until it dawned on me that I had almost enough material for a CD. That’s how Inner Space evolved. Typically the material on my CDs has been worked with over a period of several years, usually two to three years prior to release. Well, with one notable exception! At some point in the process, pieces tend to organize themselves into albums with some sort of overarching theme, often hard to describe in words - so I turn to the images that tend to arise as I work to come up with track titles and such.
AV: Reading your bio makes me think that you were a very busy person back then. How did you find time to squeeze in composing, recording and releasing a couple of CDs? How were Inner Space and Solstice Dreams (1st two CD titles) received by the electronic music community when you released them?
MB: I just made the time to work creatively, instead of trying to squeeze it in somewhere. Action followed intention, and it was a bit less complicated back then because, while I was already taking seminars in depth psychology and shamanism, I had not yet begun formal psychoanalytic training.
AV: Has all of your music been self-released on your Kumatone records label? What are the advantages and disadvantages of releasing your music on your own independent label?
MB: I chose to self-release because that was the most efficient way to bring my work into the world with the greatest amount of artistic freedom while retaining control over the final product. And, I happened to have access to a fabulous mastering engineer and producer who has some of the finest ears in the business! The disadvantage of having my own private label is that I’m the marketing department, the accounting department, the graphic design department, and the operations department - which can take up a lot of time when I’d rather just be writing music!
AV: I've noticed that you have received airplay on Echoes and Music from the Hearts of Space along with being featured on a couple of compilation albums over the years. How did that help you in regards to getting your music out there and has it helped you gain some recognition for the music that you compose and release that you would not otherwise have gotten?
MB: I think there’s absolutely no question that having my music aired on shows like Hearts of Space and Echoes, as well as on many other fine independent radio shows such as Star’s End, Secret Music, and Galactic Travels (to name a few) has helped to give my music exposure it would never have had otherwise. I’m very grateful for it. And the compilations I contributed to, especially the one with Hypnos (arguably one of the best independent labels out there in the ambient genre), have helped as well.
AV: From the Dark which came out in 1999 was your last new material release until just recently. Why the large gap between releases? Were you still involved in your music during this sabbatical? In what ways?
MB: Not surprisingly, that has been the most popular question I have been asked recently! The short answer is that I had a child. My daughter Hannah was born in January 2000. I actually was in the very early stages of my pregnancy when From the Dark Earth was released. At that point I was already in the early stage of psychoanalytic training as well, so I had a very full plate - and not all that much energy to put towards creating music. I did manage to get back into choral singing during that time, something I had also done earlier in my life during my years living and studying in Boston.
AV: In February you released your fifth CD called A Quiet Light. After having been off for quite a number of years did you have any expectations for A Quiet Light as your reintroduction to the music scene?
MB: I think it is pretty wise not to get too attached to expectations. The only control I have is over the quality of my work. I hope that listeners will enjoy and become engaged with the music, but there are no guarantees.
AV: Has A Quiet Light been percolating in your mind for a number of years or was this something that you composed just since you decided to come back to your musical career?
MB: Musically, A Quiet Light began (excruciatingly slowly) to become a reality about five years ago when I chose to jump off a cliff back into composing, and had to reconfigure my studio and basically start from scratch except for my keyboard which I retained. However, as a percolating theme throughout my life, I have always been keenly interested in experiences of the numinous, mystic that I am. I think the sense of a “quiet light” that emanates from, and connects all things, is an experience I have touched upon in shamanic work, in psychoanalytic work, and in my work as a musician. Often that vision comes through while out in nature - in those pockets of wild places that still exist, and during those still times where the light is shifting into another time, like twilight. How these experiences inform the music is not at all direct, or clear. I simply write what I hear; the sounds and musical elements evoke feelings and images as they coalesce into a piece, and then this mysterious dialog seems to arise in the creative process between music and feeling and image where I’ll be out walking the dogs (doing my nature ostinato) and suddenly I’m hearing a new element in the music, or seeing something, as if a mysterious “other” were responding. So that’s what I pay attention to, and that’s what I make use of as an artist.
AV: Did A Quiet Light pick right up where you left off in 1999 as far as style and the kind of music that you had previously created?
MB: The general medium (electronic sound) was the same, although all the sounds were new. This might sound a bit strange, but the music and my ability to work with it continued to evolve during those years away from composing, just underground.
AV: I'm sure that as a licensed psychoanalyst you appreciate that music has some healing and calming properties in regards to the human psyche. Does your training in that field influence your musical compositions at all? In what ways?
MB: Oh, it definitely does! But it works both ways. Music creates a space which allows listeners to experience a bit of soul which is ordinarily not all that accessible in the craziness of daily living, as does the experience of analytic work. Both get right down to a deep place of feeling which can be extraordinarily moving and therefore healing. I use my musical ear with analytic work, and my attention to creative process in my composing. Each informs the other.
AV: With the advent of more sophisticated electronics, music software packages and more powerful computers do you find that you are able to realize your music at home just as much as you would by going into a studio?
MB: Yes. The advances in digital audio software have certainly made it possible for me to do so much more now. When I am ready for final mastering, I now go down two floors into the basement studio, to Candlewood Digital, my husband’s classical music recording company. It is all literally in house!
AV: Was A Quiet Light mostly your own doing or did you have others who helped you to realize the music on this album? (other musicians, engineers, producers etc.)
MB: I composed, edited, and mixed A Quiet Light, and Richard then added just a bit of his own “secret sauce” to the final output before he did the final mastering.
AV: Was there any "getting back into the swing of things" feelings as you started to compose and record A Quiet Light? If so how did you motivate yourself and get back into the familiar routine of creating/recording music?
MB: Oh, was there ever. I had to plow through a mountain of resistance, particularly with regards to having to familiarize myself with new software. I just made it my intention in the very beginning to learn or do just “one small thing” every day, whenever possible. It felt like wading through thick mud to get back into a groove, but gradually it happened. And once I began to get my technology chops back, it felt so exhilarating, I didn’t want to stop!
AV: Overall how do you feel about A Quiet Light now that it is completed? Were you pleased with the end results? How so?
MB: I’m extremely pleased. I think that about says it all!
AV: Tell me about Kumatone Records, why you created it and how it fares as an indie label in the new digital reality of music? Has the increased diversity afforded by the internet made it easier or harder for a label such as Kumatone to gain recognition?
MB: The label was created as a vehicle for self-publishing, and was never intended to operate as a traditional record label which takes other artists. I think that the whole social media phenomenon has given musicians and fans new ways of connecting with each other that are direct and personal. And that can lead to more exposure, and more recognition as well.
AV: Do you ever perform your music live and if so do you enjoy your interactions with a live audience?
MB: I do not perform live. The way I work is probably closest to the image of how a painter paints. What I do and how I do it would not replicate very well in a live venue, because it is not linear.
AV: Have you found a balance for yourself between your music, your practice and your family? Was that something that was easy for your to do? Why or why not?
MB: For the most part, yes, but balance in life, love, and art tends to be a bit wobbly. What I’ve learned is to pay attention to those subtle signs that something is out of whack, and then adjust. Easier said than done!!
AV: Do you have any final thoughts to share with my readers about your music in particular or electronic music in general?
MB: Yes. It is a mystery to me as to why there aren’t more women writing ambient/space music. I am often asked that question and I do not have an answer! I hope that will change with time. As for me, I am looking forward to moving on to the next project, and whatever comes with it.
Thanks so much, Michael - I feel very grateful for the devotion to music shared by all of the radio hosts and reviewers such as yourself, who work so hard to provide artists like myself with opportunities to share our thoughts, and our music, with the world.
AV: You are quite welcome Meg. It is very much a symbiotic relationship between those who create and those of us who enjoy those creations. I am more than happy to further your art so that others might find what I have found enjoyable in your music. I wish you a long journey along your musical path and I'll always keep an ear out for new albums that you put out. Thanks for talking to me.