The phases of sunrise and sunset constantly remind us of the sacredness of life, where the daytime’s steady precision of the path of the sun contrasts with the nighttime’s waxing and waning of the wandering moon. Life is both as simple and as beautiful as every sunset while also being as delicate and as sacred; perhaps it is impossible to watch a sunset and not dream. Perhaps the true goal of imaginative music is to give face to form, and provide identity and character to the process and proceedings of existence, for comfort as well as for stimulation.
Consider the music of Rudy Adrian. “For me, the big pleasure is making electronic music, with more or less the same tools as I had available in 1990 – an Apple Macintosh and a multi-channel synthesizer. It’s a pursuit of nostalgia, where I get to feel like I did thirty years ago…”
Rudy Adrian is an electronic musician with a history in the study of botany and forestry, who lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, on Otago Harbor. The name Dunedin is of Scottish Gaelic origin, derived from Dùn Èideann, the ancient capital of Scotland now known as Edinburgh in the contemporary tongue.
Surrounding Otago Harbor there are hills and an extinct volcano. The land was originally inhabited by the Maori people before the Europeans came and established a whaling station in the 1830s. The settlement grew into the surrounding valleys and hills to become the principal city in the region.
As Dusk Becomes Night is Rudy Adrian’s seventh album on the Spotted Peccary Music label, which includes the smaller sub-labels Lotuspike and Brain Laughter. Altogether he has created over a dozen albums including his work on Groove Unlimited Records, White Cloud, and Quantum Records. Working in styles ranging from beatless atmospheric music to heavily sequenced electronica, as well as producing sound tracks for television in his profession as a sound engineer for Taylormade Media, he has also been one of the hosts of a radio programme specialising in ambient music on the Dunedin campus radio station, Radio One.
Rudy has a complex career, blending his love for spending time outdoors, with his profession as a sound engineer. His musical accomplishments include being a successful planetarium soundtrack composer, which brings an unusual dimension to appreciating his studiocraft. I had the opportunity to ask Rudy to share some details about his work. He told me that one of the most important rules for atmospheric music is to have things slowly evolving. Also, “visualising your intended audience and trying to please them is important. Another thing is to make sure you have a gradual build up in a piece of music. Don’t do all your tricks in the first minute of the piece! A third thing to consider is ‘musical suspensions,’ where things aren’t settled, but wanting to go somewhere for musical resolution. It’s really important to look into having the bass notes at time not as the root of your chord, but slightly at odds with the chord’s root.”
The sounds on As Dusk Becomes Night evoke a purely nocturnal atmosphere, the listener is drifting in space, imagining the sensations of walking along a dark path and experiencing the bliss of deep listening, under a star-filled sky, perhaps in a contemplative forest of mystical moods, and all of this is expressed using textural electronics.
RUDY ADRIAN: It’s a celebration of, for instance, evenings while on holiday, or in lockdown, when you find yourself reading a really good book and stay up all night to read it. It’s also about strolling through open parkland at night, with trees silhouetting a star-speckled sky. And it’s also pulling over the car at night to stop and look at a vista below, be it a desolate moonlit beach or the twinkling lights of a city.
As Dusk Becomes Night was pretty much entirely created during New Zealand’s lockdown in late March 2020, so the album was put together very much in the confines of my own home. Luckily there are some nice views to enjoy from the deck at the rear of my house and watching the sunsets and stars slowly appearing, plus checking online to see if the International Space Station was to soar overhead were some of the inspirations.
The result seems like the sleepiest album from me yet, which makes sense as I wanted to make something soothing for my listeners during these tumultuous times. The album also suggests to me the idea of relaxing at home with a good book that is keeping one up beyond their bedtime.
As the photographs show, my house is not a huge one by North American standards, but that is how much of the rest of the world lives, in smaller and older houses, one bathroom per house, no double vanities, no double oven ovens, no over-size fridges. My house was built just after what my parents used to refer to as “the war” (World War Two) and the original plans show the location of an air-cooled meat safe. The framing timber was a single native rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) tree felled from a farm south of here.
When I moved in there were just two bedrooms, the south wall of the kitchen had opaque windows and there was a lot of space used up with a rear passageway and huge laundry room. After thinking about the issue of wasted space for a number of years I recall leaping out of bed and realising that the laundry could be tucked into a cupboard in the kitchen, the wasted space could become a third bedroom, opening up to an outside deck, also accessible through the south wall of the kitchen.
It didn’t cost much to make these changes and I now have an almost reverential response to being out “on the deck” (as New Zealanders say) enjoying the sunsets, or waking up to an early morning view of fog in the valley below. It was such a stupid design originally, and it didn’t take much to improve on it – and that’s what I’d like others to consider for their circumstances. That is also some of the sentiment of As Dusk Becomes Night – the ability to find a simple and economical solution to enjoying life and scenery around us.
RJ: One of the things I love about conducting interviews with musicians is exploring their motivations, perspectives and passions. One of my favorite questions to put to creative souls is, “What is music?”
RA: I’m afraid I have a very negative view of our place in the universe and its preservation. Look up at the sky and you might go: “Look there goes a supernova!”. That explosion is destroying a whole solar system and possibly having a detrimental effect on nearby ones. Are living beings killed in that process? Possibly, but will we ever know, ever care? We don’t care about those living in abject misery in the camps of Palestine, Yemen, Ethiopia, Syria, Greece, let alone those intelligent creatures farmed for their flesh in feedlots and factories across the world. Similarly many of us don’t care about stamping out a wasp nest or wondering about the destruction and homeless jungle creatures that went into the hardwood decking outside their house (at least MY deck is made out of “sustainably grown” pine!).
In my lifetime the world’s population has doubled, at huge environmental cost. The best solution for the environment is the sterilisation of humanity, but I don’t see that being touted as a solution by many.
But it is nice to realise that temples in Central America as well as Cambodia, were TOTALLY encrusted with jungle within several hundred years of abandonment. And these temples were not surrounded by jungle but by rich farmland when they were built, so if we were to abandon our cities, within a few thousand years they’d surely be just mounds of densely vegetated rubble?
RJ: Where do you dream of going? (vacation, tour, exploration, by time machine, etc.)
RA: As for holidays, I was lucky to have a week off from working for the local newspaper and visiting places I explored as a boy with my father – places such as Apple Tree Bay and Mutton Cove.
I do dream of exploring more thoroughly an area called Kahurangi National Park, it’s full of low mountains and lots of lakes, and (at the moment) hardly any tourists. I was going to do so this year, but felt I wasn’t fit enough – maybe next summer before the borders open!
New Zealand’s had a total of 26 deaths from Covid-19! – in part by having an early, intensive lockdown and in part by having oceans as borders. Here, everyone is out enjoying mass gathering with no deaths (and considerably less influenza and colds this year!). OK, people running tourist ventures are suffering, but many of us are enjoying the absence for once of all those overseas tourists clogging our beaches and walking tracks and (I regret to say it) killing us by driving on the wrong side of the road…?
RJ: What would you like to try that you have not tried yet?
RA: The one thing I’d love to try is the right to self-euthanasia. It’s not legal in this country, so both my parents died drawn-out deaths from cancer – a disease which seems to run in my family. My aunt was lucky enough to be living in the Netherlands, where she could receive the lethal injection while surrounded by her family. When I die, the only solution seems to be to purchase (illegally) a lethal dose of morphine and die alone on my much-loved deck, hoping that someone might find my body before the bird have pecked the eyes out. Surely as a grown adult, I’m entitled to die when I chose, before being wracked with pain and disability?
RJ: What are the most beautiful places you have performed or experienced music?
RA: When I performed music, some twenty years ago, I’d try to have a relatively dark environment with slide (and later video) images on a screen. What I was doing on my keyboard was pretty unimportant. I noticed a number of people simply shut their eyes and just listened, so perhaps that’s the best way to enjoy atmospheric music – in your mind, irrespective of the surroundings.
RJ: Do you have any stories to share about the Moa Caves, about the legends of the extinct birds, and any stories about the process of recording the cave sounds? The dripping sound of the water is magically melodic. The notion of the possibility of sensing the ghosts of these exotic birds is intriguing.
RA: Moa were large flightless birds, killed off in an extraordinary short time by early Maori settlers. It’s astonishing how in about 100 years the Maori covered every remote valley in New Zealand and ate every last one. In earlier times, Moa occasionally fell down sink holes into caves and their bones can still be found there today. I think that’s where the inspiration for the track “Moa Caves” came from. The drips are actual cave drips from a sound effects library for a television production house for which I contributed sounds. I am rather pleased with the bottle-blow sound, which is actually a sample on the recent Yamaha Montage synthesizer I purchased second hand. I’ve manipulated the sample with adjusted LFOs, and filters to make each note unique.
RJ: For my little research adventure today, I learned that the word “moa” is from the Maori language, the moa were the largest terrestrial animals and dominant herbivores in New Zealand’s forest, shrubland, and subalpine ecosystems. The bones that are left indicate that some moa appeared as ostriches that were something like twelve feet tall. No records survive of what sounds the moa made, so that gives the imagination plenty to work with.
Would you like to share any thoughts about As Dusk Becomes Night featuring the debut appearance of your new synthesizer – the Yamaha Montage 6?
RA: I wouldn’t say the album “features” this much newer synthesiser, but it’s definitely there on all the tracks, doing what my Kurzweil K2000 did before, namely providing quiet pads and strings and the occasional imitative sample. For instance, the slow marimba pulse on “Moa Caves” is actually a sample from the Yamaha Montage 6. I could have programmed a similar sound using FM synthesis on the Yamaha SY77, but I liked the slightly odd harmonic quality of the sample, so went with that instead.
There’s always some “real” sounds, such as piano, percussion, acoustic guitar and flute that can work well with electronically-made music. On this album, both flute and bottle-blow sounds were used. I recall the use of a haunting bottle blow sound in the soundtrack of the film “La Ardilla Roja” (“The Red Squirrel”) almost thirty years ago, and I’m glad to have finally put the idea to use!
Once I find an interesting way of producing a musical effect, I kinda stick to it. I recall Brian Eno once saying in an interview that he considered himself a bit of an expert in creating insect noises. The clicky noises aren’t necessarily insects, but could be sensed by the listener as a fishing reel or a drawn-out vibra slap. I’d rather that the listener didn’t try and interpret everything they hear as a representation of actuality (eg: thinking that a deep drone is simulating a passing aeroplane, or a soft pitch-bent note being an animal cry) I’d rather they just hear it as part of the music as a whole.
RJ: The imagination is a tricky thing, it is tempting to ask you to explain your secrets for making certain sounds, but it is much more respectful of your craft and even more interesting to leave all that to the listener’s imagination. There are limits that allow for introducing speculative possibilities that are much more powerful than simply saying “here is how I did it.”
RA: I think most people creating things like some limitations – for instance doing illustrations just with pencil. A major restriction I like to impose on myself is using a very old MIDI sequencer. This can record the notes as I play them on the keyboard and then I can overdub and manipulate the data (eg: transpose, change velocity, alter timbre) as I like. Once I’ve built up a nicely layered piece (the SY77 can play 16 different types of sounds at once) I can then record the final result. The software only works on an Apple MacIntosh Plus – so that’s from 1988, with one megabyte of RAM, using 800k floppy discs.
RJ: I see that you have dedicated one of the songs to the memory of Jeff.
RA: “Moonlit Beach – for Jeff” was, in part, thinking of Jeff Kowal, who created music under the name Terra Ambient and passed away a few years ago now. I exchanged some e-mails with Jeff when I he designed the album covers of “MoonWater” and “Desert Realms.” “Moonlit Beach – for Jeff” in part inspired his composite picture of the beach he created for the front and back covers of “MoonWater.”
(RJ: Pittsburgh based artist Jeff Kowal was a trained visual artist and graphic designer, his musical approach had a visceral, painterly quality to it, leaving a deeply unique collection of crossover of electronic, ethnic, acoustic and experimental sounds. “I am still fascinated by the idea of exploring unfamiliar terrain both metaphorically and personally,” confided Kowal concerning his creative vision, on his website for what turned out to be his last album, Wanderlust. “Thematically, I love the idea of stepping through an ancient, covered doorway, or finding an unmarked path in the woods, and discovering some place forgotten by time.” Sadly, Jeff Kowal passed away in 2016 following a battle with cancer.)
RJ: How do you find the music you create?
RA: I spend a fair amount of free time improvising behind the keyboard thinking about sound combinations, and keys and sow gentle melodies which might work in an upcoming piece. It’s actually pretty rare I’ll turn on the computer and try to commit these ideas to a structured piece. And when I do, it often doesn’t come out the way I’d hoped. I use the computer to lay out my music tracks, I like the fact I can adjust individual note values – a bit longer, a bit shorter, a bit brighter, a bit duller, maybe playing a slightly different sound, maybe up an octave. All those tiny adjustments may sound tedious, but can be very satisfying. Because I’m multi-tracking, I often play a musical idea for say 3 or 4 minutes, then I add little overdubs overtop. I do tend to find it gets rather cluttered after a while and I end up muting some tracks to figure out where to go from here. So often I find muting the original track seems to give the best results, so obviously, it’s a mysterious process! What I love about atmospheric music is that there’s a lot of rules you don’t have to follow, because you’re hopefully making a slightly mysterious, evolving soundscape.
RJ: What is new this time around?
RA: Acquiring the Yamaha Montage to augment my Yamaha SY77 from 1990 has been a bit like getting a car with reversing sensors and power steering when all you had previously was a jalopy. However, there’s so many options and arcane devices on the new keyboard, it feels like a step back, when I’ve become very familiar with the workings of the thirty-year-old SY77. The architecture has been designed by different teams, so a function that works with the “enter” button in one menu, requires the “edit” button in another. There are 6347 different sound samples on it, but most are just yet another poorly-engineered variation of the previous and quite useless, with many sustained sounds having noticeable loops that you can hear going “zing-zing-zing” if you hold the keys down. There’s a keypad for typing in values – great, though with some values ranging from 1 – 7, that’s hardly necessary., but you can’t type in the number of one of the 6347 samples you want to try out, nope, you have to scroll to it – scroll 6347samples!
I do like its processing power with totally different reverbs available for each of the 16 sound channels, but mostly they’re all set to the same – a multi-tape delay with feedback to thicken out sustained sounds and a fairly long reverb on everything else.
While the Yamaha SY77 is actually a very frustrating and awkward synthesizer to use, I’m so familiar with it that it seems like an old friend. Similarly, hearing the start-up beep and seeing the small grey screen of an Apple Macintosh – which allows me to overdub an almost limitless number of MIDI tracks of music – transport me right back to the late 1980s again.
RJ: How big is your studio? Do you collect lots of equipment?
RA: I’d rather just use one synthesizer and get really familiar with its quirks, its strengths and its weaknesses. For instance, my trusty Yamaha SY77 synthesizer, which has dominated all my musical output over the last thirty-plus years, can play sixteen different types of sounds at the same time – it’s a bit like having a sixteen-track tape recorder at hand, and it was the very first synthesizer to properly feature that kind of power. It simply needs to be powerful enough and equipped with enough MIDI channels to allow me to create nicely layered and complete compositions using the Apple Macintosh.
RJ: MIDI is something that we hear less about lately, Musical Instrument Digital Interface.
MIDI’s great – it has such low demands on data, because it’s just the computer issuing commands such as: “Play the note Middle C, at such and such a time, hitting it this hard and holding it for this long.” So it’s not unusual to have a track that’s only twenty or thirty kilobytes big saved on a floppy disc. All I need is a synthesizer that can play different sounds at the same time and I’m happy.
RJ: Thank you Rudy for your time participating in this interview, and most of all for your amazing music.
As Dusk Becomes Night is an homage to experiencing the night, suggesting the concept of transformation associated with closure or relaxation, born out of the unusual events which the whole world went through in 2020. “I was trying to make an album which would seem to my listeners to be a logical continuation of what I’ve done before, as a ‘thank you’ to those who’ve liked the music I’ve created thus far.” Rudy wanted to make something peaceful and calm for people to listen to, something to soothe the anxiety and stresses of life in these historic, unusual and uncertain times. The timeless spirit of the hours of darkness will bring you back again and again to an electronic dream of future and ancient nocturnal beauty.
All photographs were created by Rudy Adrian, except for the album covers MoonWater, by Jeff Kowal, and for As Dusk Becomes Night: (Early morning sky over Punta Gorda by Diana Robinson)
Dunedin, New Zealand
The Red Squirrel