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Thomas Ronkin: Cosmically Classical Music

Swiss-born, Thomas Ronkin has resided in California since 1976. Trained as a classical pianist, he became fascinated with electronic music in the late Seventies. Armed with a Master's Degree from UCLA Film School. Ronkin has produced numerous experimental films and videos which have been broadcast internationally, winning several awards.

But his true love is music: ambient electronics possessing a tasty presence of languid liveliness.

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Q: Your music is such a fusion of classical and modern persuasions. Care to examine the interplay of these influences?

THOMAS RONKIN: For close to 30 years now, my musical life has consisted of an almost exclusive immersion in classical music and electronic/space music. In classical composers such as Bruckner and Shostakovich, I was attracted to the obsessive, motoric and repetitive patterns and cosmic ambitions that are the hallmark of electronic music and, conversely, in the electronic music of the Klaus Schulze, Michael Hoenig, and Tangerine Dream of the “heroic” period, I was fascinated by the symphonic development and the orchestral and organic features resembling classical music. These two types of music have therefore dominated my experiences. I love the ability to reconcile the narrative, melody-as-sentence structure of classical music with the mechanical perfection of electronic music.

Q: Both of your releases feature tracks inspired by the writings of Jorge Luis Borges. Who is he, and why does his fiction influence your music?

THOMAS RONKIN: Jorge Luis Borges is an Argentine writer who lived from 1899 to 1986. He is most famous for his pseudo-scholarly, speculative essays and very short stories that play tricks with notions of time, space, history and individuality. The reading of his highly chiseled and rarefied texts had an overwhelming effect on me when I was in my mid-twenties. Just like electronic/space music, his books were intoxicating, allowing me to simulate space and time travel in my mind and to develop my visionary “third eye”. I have remained faithful to his art, I was also born on a street in Geneva, Switzerland where he lived as a teenager almost half a century before, and so, I chose to give the name of two of his stories to two tracks on my CDs, mostly out of a sense of tribute and love for intriguing titles than a desire to provide a musical rendition of the texts themselves.

Q: Considering how "space" had effected your music, do you perceive any inspiration flowing in the other direction?

THOMAS RONKIN: If you mean that I attempt to simulate or represent the vastness of space in my music, clearly yes. For me, the choice of composing music is a response, a reply to the effect of space on me. Filling space with sound is a way of validating one's experience, of saying “I exist in this universe, I inhabit it, I am coating it with sound.”

Q: What was the last scientific discovery that made you go "Wow!"?

THOMAS RONKIN: Believe it or not, I am not one of those people who think that the universe is brimming with inhabited planets and intelligent life forms. So I was rather pleasantly surprised to hear that there are serious scientists who are reviewing many assumptions about life in the universe, demonstrating how extremely rare the stars may be that have the mass and planets that would allow life. I follow science very closely and believe the scientific method, based on questioning of assumptions and sharing of information among practitioners, has benefited mankind greatly. The irony of it all, is that neither science nor religion can provide definitive answers to the three basic questions that may never be answered: 1) Is there a God? 2) Is there life after death? 3) Are we alone in the Universe?

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THOMAS RONKIN: Within; Distance (CD on Tristissima Records)

This 1997 release features 58 minutes of exciting electronic music that combines the elements of German electronic pioneers and American minimalists.

Of this release's five tracks, a pair of more energetic pieces book-end three dreamier compositions.

With subliminal basslines, the first track (“Distance”) generates a mild tempo foundation for pleasant variations on this celestial melody. Repetitive keyboard cycles expand and unfurl into delicate expressions punctuated by chitterings and undercurrent harmonics.

The second piece (“Reconcile”) is considerably more ambient, evoking a tender melancholy with sad tonalities and muted piano notes.

The third piece (“The Circular Ruins”) derives its title from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. Here, Ronkin applies his cosmic sense of ambience to generating a mood of archeological discovery, unearthing and investigating a longlost imaginary jungle civilization. The atmospheric textures are spiced with distant impacts and introspective piano strains.

With the fourth track (“Open”) continues this foreboding mood, moving the soundscape into quite enigmatic territory. The impression of limitless vistas is masterful with its tentative introduction of sedate drama to the minimalist structure.

By far the most ambitious track is the final one (“Alla Tedesca”, which means In the German Style in Italian), clocking in at nearly 23 minutes. Here, Ronkin allows his Berlin School influences to overcome his normally passive temperament. The introduction of E-perc and more demonstrative riffs elevate the ambience to denser realms. The structure of repetitious cycles is enhanced with divergent harmonies and a slowburn accretion of textures, resulting in an escalation of momentous emotions. The music builds with each new element, gaining velocity and complex tension en route to its climactic coda.

For those interested in hidden secrets, this CD's catalog number (AM 931-914) is a tribute to Alberic Magnard, an obscure French composer who tragically died during the early days of World War I, specifically on September 3, 1914.

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THOMAS RONKIN: Symmetric (double CD on Tristissima Records)

This 2001 double CD delivers 133 minutes of edgy ambience. With this release, Ronkin's style evolves into a lusher fusion of reflective minimalism and dynamic electronics.

The delicate sequencer-driven passages are enhanced with E-perc and dramatic modulations that capture the imagination with their uplifting soundscapes and emotionally-rich passages. Complex riffs of crystalline quality produce lively variations on each theme, plunging the ambience into more accessible tuneage.

Some pieces retain Ronkin's atmospheric predilections. These conventional drone tactics are invigorated by his ability to enhance the openness of such soundscapes with otherworldliness. Such airs attribute these nebulous structures with a thought-provoking quality.

One track (“The Gates of Sleep”) is a remastered version of a track by Ronkin that was originally featured on the Hypnos label's “The Other World” compilation release from 1998.

Disc two features 58 minutes that were recorded live at a pair of concerts performed high above the Malibu coastline at Cyberstock, an annual outdoor festival organized by Dean DeBenedictus (aka Surface 10) and Pat Murphy. The music from this pair of concerts (from 1998 and 1999) are mixed together into a seamless sonic excursion that reaches heavenly heights with their cosmic soundscapes.

On one track (“Undercurrents”), Ronkin is joined by dark ambient composer A Produce, whose bass pulsations and guitar loops give Ronkin's floating chords an earthier nature.

Ronkin also enlisted the expertise of internationally renowned ambient maestro Robert Rich to handle the final mastering of the music on this superb double CD.

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