Ambient lovers rejoice. In the spirit of deep-listenership, here’s a recent interview with Brisbane-based Mike G. (aka Mike Watson, or the other way around) of Ambient Music Guide. You can check him out on Mixcloud, Twitter and also on his podcast. Even within the somewhat niche field and sub-genres of ambient music, AMG and Toneshift.net thrive, locating various aural treasures, rarely overlapping. He had the idea to get to know each other a bit better by asking a handful of questions, and in kind we both did….
TJ: When did you first discover the genre of ambient? Can you describe the time, moment in your life with some detail?
Mike: It was early Pink Floyd, which is essentially ambient rock. I was about 15 or 16 when I first heard it. The music had a sense of otherness that didn’t exist in the music I knew up to that point, because my brothers and sisters listened to stuff like The Eagles and AC/DC. I loved AC/DC actually but none of the music I was exposed to in my childhood was psychedelic. So hearing Meddle and Wish You Were Here and Ummagumma was a revelation, especially if I’d been smoking joints, which was another thrill I discovered around then. I left the weed behind years ago but the music stayed.
TJ: They were original, I have all the early records too, and it was Interstellar Overdrive from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn that wrapt me. But Meddle can’t be beat for a ‘lose yourself’ type of record. What do you do to pay for the roof over your head?
Mike: I started as a copywriter in the ad business and spent years in radio and then creative agencies. I left the industry about 4 years ago and moved into the public sector. These days I work in the broader area you might call communications, more in an advisory and editing roll but I still do a fair bit of writing. My current job is for an environmental and sustainability body. We educate people about living more lightly on the planet and help businesses and governments who want to do work in those areas.
TJ: Right on. Now, if you had a free shopping spree at a well stocked record shop where you were allotted to choose five recordings to take home what would they be?
Mike: Okay, I’ll take that as a desert island disc question. I’ll stick to ambient, chillout and downtempo and even then it’s incredibly hard to choose. But here are five I would be very happy to listen to forever.
- Speedy J‘s Ginger (1994) is my idea of ambient techno perfection: forward-thinking, melodic and smooth.
- David Parsons Himalaya (1989) captures a profound sense of awe that other drone music has occasionally equalled but never surpassed.
- Western Spaces (1987 original version) by Roach, Braheny and Burmer is desert ambience from a moment in time when America’s West Coast ambient scene was at its peak.
- Science of Ecstasy (2004) by Galaxy aka Boris Blenn is everything that’s great about luscious psychedelic downtempo from the psytrance scene.
- Poland (1984) by Tangerine Dream is my favourite record from their final classic lineup of Franke, Froese and Schmoelling, an ambient trance classic.
Can I add one more? That would be:
- Budd & Eno‘s The Plateaux of Mirror (1980) because it’s full of wide-eyed wonder in its own very subtle way.
TJ: Those are interesting choices – I’m actually unfamiliar with 2 through 4, so will look them up promptly, the others, oh yes, yes. So, do you think that in some way, where you live encourages/inspires what you listen to?
Mike: Not really. I live in Brisbane, a mid-sized city in a subtropical climate. I love it as my home base but it’s dull by comparison to places like London or San Francisco or Berlin. And most of the music I’m into is not by Australian artists, even though some of those are among my faves. We’re a small population, even though our land mass is huge. Instrumental music is a global thing to me anyway. Some of the nearby landscapes are very beautiful but living here has little effect on what I listen to. Having visited incredibly majestic places like Yosemite and the Italian Alps puts it in stark perspective.
TJ: Sounds like the perspective of place is there, in the mind’s eye, so to speak.
When did you get into writing? Were there a chain of events that led up to constructing Ambient Music Guide?
Mike: I started writing a guide in the early 90’s when I finished college but I couldn’t find a publisher. No publisher really understood the music from a broad perspective, which was ironic because that’s why I wrote it in the first place. I continued to do radio shows and write for a few magazines and then in 2001 I turned what started out as a manuscript into the Ambient Music Guide website. It’s had a few re-designs since then but my aim remains the same: to turn people onto good music.
TJ: An enviable pov, for sure. Can you describe a memorable encounter with a musician, composer or artist we may have heard of?
Mike: Meeting and hanging out with Tim Story at Ambicon in 2013 was fun. You might know his music, which is dark-edged and personal, so I had this image of him as pretty sombre chap. He’s quite the opposite.
TJ: I’ve had some memorable moments like that – but I’ll save it for the other side of this interview, where we turn the tables and continue this conversation here.