© t thaemlitz/comatonse recordings
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In Trip, V14.0, (US: April, 1994). Also appeared in: Mindfood, Issue No. 3, (UK: April 1994 - Telepathic Fish/Mixmaster Morris); and Surreal Sounds, Issue No. 6, (Netherlands: April 1994).
From out of nowhere, New York-based DJ Terre Thaemlitz, to those in the know, has perhaps become the brightest new talent in the blossoming genre of ambient music. "Raw Through A Straw" / "Tranquilizer", Thaemlitz' first single on his own <Comatonse label, was brought to our attention by U.K. ambient DJ Mixmaster Morris who called it 'the best American ambient record out.' Now signed to Instinct Records with two tracks on the label's new Plug In + Turn On compilation and a full-length album release to follow, we turned Terre over to contributor Jay Patrick Ahern for analysis.
TRIP: How did you get involved in music, particularly ambient music?
TT: Well, my first smart move in the music field was crying relentlessly when my parents tried to start me on the Suzuki method of violin playing at the age of 2.
I think you're really asking me about my entry into the current scene, though. I came to New York in 1986, when the fat NY club sound was really coming together, and lived in the Lower East Side, which was the heart of the NY/NJ deep house scene. By '89 I started spinning at benefits for different organizations such as ACT-UP/NY, as well as spinning on the Midtown drag circuit. I like to work a vibe more than a beat, so I ended up being considered a jazz DJ. Then I began working on my own tracks and allowing interests in experimental noise and electronic music to play a larger role. I used to call it atmospheric house, and my tracks started getting play off cassette in ambient rooms. Electric Lounge Machine (now the Departure Lounge), which was NY's first and only ambient club, were playing my tracks and then took me in as a DJ there. it was more about creating "ambience" than spinning contemporary ambient tracks. I had just set up my own label, Comatonse Recordings, when Instinct heard me DJ, checked out my own tracks and signed me to a multiple record deal.
T: Define your 'ambient.'
TT: Conceptually: Non-spiritual realism. If you get an emotional high from it, attribute it to people coming together rather than some alienating concept of contacting a cosmic essence. Formally: I still like the traditional definition of ambient as an all-encompassing sound including the incidental sounds of the environment you play in, etc. I think the role of contemporary ambient within the club scene has revised this definition by turning the listener's focus toward a shared, calming social experience, rather than an overwhelming awareness of one's isolation within a world of chaotic sound.
T: Has Europe been an influence or are you purely and American phenomena?
TT: Both European and Japanese techno-pop had a large impact on me while growing up. But I think my experience with the music was specifically American. In particular, having grown up in more rural areas of the Midwest, the electronic music I listened to was very alienating to those around me - yet it was basically party music. I had a pretty rough time out there socially, so I think I was attracted to techno-pop's promise of the ultimate cyber party... even though I was typically alone and blasting it out of a beat up 1960 Ford, barreling down a dirt road.
T: Do you find that NY ambient artists are more influenced by the deep house scene?
TT: There's a large group of us in NY who have been involved in deep house and came to ambient through an extension of mellow and jazzy vibes. It's almost considered the new 'quiet storm' music. It's a little more soulful and down-to-earth approach, rather than the spiritual-technology outlook that prevails on the rave circuit. I think it's making this a great time to be in NY because it's bringing various scenes together. I think that during times like these, before people have strong preconceptions about a musical genre, that the most interesting tracks are produced.
T: Melody or mesmerization? Explain.
TT: Personally I tend to favor mesmerization over melody because I think melody can be too literal, particularly in ambient.
T: Is California dreaming towards a more commercialized scene?
TT: I think each city and region has a different approach toward sound which has t work locally. Stylistically I think that a lot (but not all) of Californian ambient lacks edge and gets too milky for me, which I associate with commercialism. But that's something I've heard in most club music out of California, so I think there's something in the West Coast experience which is generating a sound I find hard to get into.
T: How do you feel about 'majors' getting involved with the U.S. underground?
TT: Major labels are always dipping into the underground well. I think it can work both ways if the Underground keeps its head, although the multi-billion dollar corporations will always come out on top. We know the major labels operate through formulas. They break the music down into consumable styles and do market research on it, then feed it to the herds, fattening them up for the next purchase. It's beyond Orwellian. Unfortunately, in many places in the U.S., there is little or no access to independently produced tracks. In this way major label visibility is important.
T: Thought for the day?
TT: For today and everyday: Always practice safer sex! And sterilize your needles with bleach and water if you shoot up!