© t thaemlitz/comatonse recordings
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In Retina, Issue No. 3, November/December 1994.
America is quickly becoming a leader in the "ambient" movement. Where Germany, Belgium, and the U.K. have ruled the techno scene, it seems American labels have decided to focus more on releasing ambient material. Silent and Reflective in San Francisco, Moonshine in L.A., Waveform in Arizona, and Smile, Astralwerks, and Instinct in New York; labels which have helped make ambient more accessible than most "dj-oriented" house and techno. As a result, more homegrown talent has emerged.
Among the new school of American ambient artists is New York's TERRE THAEMLITZ. Thaemlitz has gotten international attention since his early Comatonse releases started showing up on MIXMASTER MORRIS' playlist. His new album Tranquilizer (Instinct) is an exercise in electronic wizardry, and should secure Thaemlitz's place as an innovator and creative force.
Calling Tranquilizer and ambient album is not entirely correct. The record is far more challenging than your run of the mill ambient release. Often confrontational, Terre's sound borders on the avant-garde and the experimental.
For example, listen to the controlled chaos of "Raw Through a Straw." The track slowly and quietly builds to a subtle break-beat, but it is complicated with the sound of a clanging piano and a complex underlining melody. Then there is "A City On Springs," a track haunted by a steady creaking noise, as if Terre had recorded the song while rocking back and forth in an old metal chair. As the listener is transfixed on the creaking, lush orchestration emanates, guided by natural sounds and punctuated with metallic dew drops. This is essential Thaemlitz, minimal yet complex - beautiful yet difficult. To listen is to challenge yourself, freeing your mind of borders and limitations.
In talking with Terre Thaemlitz, you will find him quite similar to his musical expression. He is quietly down to earth, but very dedicated, caring deeply about societies [sic.] ills. He does not play New York club politics. Instead he lets the quality of his music speak for itself.
Thaemlitz came to the big city to study art at Cooper Union School of Art, but quickly he lost interest in painting (finding the art world just as political as the club scene). He decided to take up social causes, channeling his energy into women's health issues and HIV/AIDS. While working with ACT UP! as a graphic designer, Terre began djing at benefit parties.
Finding his way into the deep house scene, he became a favorite in the clubs. In 1991 he won "DJ of the Year" honors from the House of Magic. As his popularity grew Terre grew weary of having to play commercial house, and decided it was time to make his own music on his own record label (COMATONSE).
He started producing spacey-house tracks, or as he calls them, "atmospheric house," which later evolved into a more ambient sound. Since releasing his first single on Comatonse in 1993, Thaemlitz has appeared on five major compilations and has his first full length with Tranquilizer. He has become one of New York's premier ambient djs, and is now being sought out for remix work.
Recently Terre worked with the legendary BILL LASWELL to remix MATERIAL'S "Eternal Drift" (Axiom/Island). While working with Laswell at Greenpoint Studios, ANTON FIER heard Terre's remix and asked if he'd retouch two tracks from the new GOLDEN PALOMINO'S album Pure. Those two singles, "Gun/Little Suicides" and "No Skin," can be found on Restless Records.
I was lucky enough to chat with Terre Thaemlitz, as he took time out from his hectic recording schedule and his steady day job.
What is a typical day in the life of Terre Thaemlitz?
How do you approach song writing or composing?
Have you been influenced by 70's electronic and/or experimental industrial?
Who buys your records?
What is the source of your vocal samples?
Who is playing guitar on "Fat Chair"?
Your use of breaks is very unique, are you a fan of break beat and hip hop?
Are there any plans to tour?
What does the term "ambient" mean to you?
Are you comfortable with being mentioned in the same breath as Mixmaster Morris, Dr. Alex, and Peter Namlook?
Have you come to terms with the fact that you are a leader in the US ambient scene?
How do you feel about ambient djs, like myself, using your music in chillout rooms?
What are people, in the privacy of their homes, doing while listening to