Matthew Barlow
Interview with Matthew Barlow (July 2016)
1. What are some recent inspirations?
For “Hatha”, the primary inspirations included my yoga practice, nature, and new age music.
2. What are some of your favorite “non-musical” sounds that you hear on a daily basis?
Most of my favorites are featured on “Hatha” and were recorded in my yard. I love the sound of birds in the morning (the Woodthrush being my favorite birdsong), crickets in the evening. I also enjoy the sound of flowing water and ocean waves.
3. When you put on music are you more likely to go for something new or something familiar, or a pretty even mix of the two?
I would say it’s a pretty even mix of the two. If I notice that some music has come out from some of my favorite artists or labels then I’ll always jump on that. Steve Targo (aka Inner Travels) is always posting links to killer stuff on his FB, so I usually check that stuff out as well. I can’t go wrong with Sounds of the Dawn either - especially his mixes for NTS radio. Otherwise, I’ve got a few Pandora stations that I listen to quite frequently, especially during yoga. One station is all Native American Flute music, and the others are a mix of New Age and Ambient genres. Perfect for those yoga flow vibes.
4. How has running a label affected the way that you approach others about your own music?
Having experienced firsthand just how many submissions a label can receive, I sympathize with anyone running a label and the workload that they have in that regard. It was rare that I ever selected an unsolicited submission to release on Twin Springs Tapes (TST), but I always appreciated when the artist at least took the time to tell me about themselves and their music. I could usually tell when a particular submission was sent intentionally to TST as opposed to just being one label out of several that the artists sent their submission to in the hopes of getting a bite. So yeah, I just try to carry that intention and respect when I’m contacting a label. For example, when I got in touch with you about a possible release on Inner Islands, my motivation wasn’t so much driven by what the label was putting out, but WHY Inner Islands puts out the music it does. And to me, that’s a big distinction: the “why” is huge. I felt like my “why” really harmonized with Inner Island’s “why” and that gave me the inspiration to reach out.
5. At what point in your creative process are you most critical?
I’d say I’m my most critical when it comes to the tone/sound design of the soft synth patches that I use and the overall mix. Recording the tracks and laying in the pieces are often fairly easy - pretty much everything I do is improvised anyways, so that kind of all just comes in at once. It’s the tone and texture of the synths that take me the most time to dial in. I will often spend up 85-90% of my time working with the textures, and even then I may not be completely happy with where I wind up! I can drive myself pretty crazy during those sessions, so sometimes I just have to let it go and move on.
6. When you are doing a sound healing or sound bath how do you notice the energy of the other people (or person) on the receiving end change the way that you play?
That’s a great question. I’m still developing my connection with the practice as it is a fairly new experience for me. This kind of sound work is as communal as it is personal, and I really respect and value that. I’m still learning. In the meantime, I’m just trying to get out of the way as much as possible, trusting and allowing the sound to do it’s work despite whatever personal experience I may be having at the time.
7. How do you decide the duration of a piece? A lot of your pieces seem to tap into something that could go indefinitely.
Yeah, there is definitely something about doing long-form pieces that I just can’t seem to let go of! Ha! I wouldn’t say that I decide before hand what the duration of a particular piece is going to be (unless it’s a cassette or physical release), I just sit down and start playing. It goes back to what I talked about in the previous question: I’m trying to drop in to the flow, get out of the way, and let the sound take over. When I’m in that space, the last thing I’m thinking about is time - in fact, I’m not trying to “think” at all - I’m just trying to experience, to witness, to just BE in that moment with the sound. It will sort itself out in the end.
8. How long have you been making and recording sound in this gentle and atmospheric vein? What lead you to this area of work?
I’ve been making music for over 20 years, but the main switch happened several years ago when I started working with Ableton Live. Using that program opened up so many possibilities on how I could make music. Up to that point, I was accustomed to making music with the guitar, so switching over to making music primarily on the computer was challenging as it took me quite a while to connect with that kind of work and develop my own style. And I by no means feel like I’ve arrived yet. I’m still exploring, still learning. I feel led to this kind of work because there is a very strong connection it has to my family, my home, my childhood. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and I remember how active my imagination was. I remember listening to a lot of classical music and movie scores, visualizing my own stories. My mom also was really into Enya and Hilary Stagg and other atmospheric world music, so that was a pretty direct influence on me. There were so many other experiences that I don’t have the time to get into, but there is just something about ambient music and the work that I do now that takes me back to those times of exploring the woods, stargazing on warm summer nights, camping with the family - it’s all intertwined and it all evokes for me a very special connection with who and where I was then with who I am now.
9. Would you say your work is less focused on self-expression?
I would agree with that for the most part, but I feel like expression is rooted in intention, and there is a lot of intention that goes into the music that I make. I’m much more interested in the kind and quality of an experience that one may have with my music as opposed to how much it may “entertain” them. Music can provide such a positive experience for both the mind and the body - it can help us relax, it can stimulate our imaginations, it can help us to better connect with ourselves and the world around us - there are just so many wonderful and very real benefits that are attached to sound and music, and my intention springs from all of that. While I certainly cannot dictate what kind of experience you may have, at the very least, I hope that the music I create will bless you in some form, however big or small it may be.
10. Words of wisdom you like to recall in times of need?
Everything arises, everything falls away. Nothing lasts forever, good or bad. That’s just the nature of things. Take time for now.
Matthew Barlow is based in Asheville, North Carolina. He does sound baths around the area and runs the label Twin Springs Tapes. In May he released Hatha with Inner Islands.