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The Versatile Electronic Music of Rudy Adrian

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After dabbling in forestry and completing a degree in botany, New Zealander Rudy Adrian embarked on his musical career doing freelance music and sound design for television programs, advertisements and short films, eventually culminating in full-time sound design work for a television production company and occasional freelance music composition. In 2000 he was commissioned to create the soundtrack for New Zealand's longest-touring exhibition, "Art in the SubAntarctic".

Adrian has gained extreme renown for his CDs (privately released and later for several international record labels), displaying talent that bridges the genre of ambient with contemporary electronics.

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Interview with Rudy Adrian

Q: You recently did a small tour of the United States, performing selected electronic concerts. What was your impression of the differences between American audiences and the ones you've encountered in your homeland?

ADRIAN: The audiences I encountered were pretty much universally wonderful, generous people. This was borne out with the barbeque Chuck van Zyl and I attended the day following The Gathering Concert--we were invited out by some of the audience to an island on the Delaware River with all food and entertainment laid on!

On a more cerebral level, the audiences in the US seem, to have a much deeper understanding of electronic music than their New Zealand cousins, but despite their wealth of musical knowledge, they lack the highly critical approach of what I understand Dutch audiences to exhibit (something I can look forward to in 2004!). In short, they're great (and a lot nicer than the impression of Americans that CNN gives to New Zealanders).

Q: Your music seems focused on open spaces, like sunsets and interstellar vistas. Considering your background in botany, do you plan to investigate the sonic potential of Earth's greenery?

ADRIAN: You mean like the cry of the Mandrake as it's pulled from the ground? Heh heh. It does depress me sometimes that the equipment I use is so electronic and sterile. I have a number of flutes, but even those are not satisfying until played through a reverb (echo) effect. So the ideal of backpacking with a flute doesn't hold much charm for me unless I were to take along a battery powered reverb pedal, a microphone and a set of headphones--back to square one! I occasionally go into the woods to film scenery for my video backdrops or to take still transparencies (slides) for albums covers, etc. But it's a lot more fun in the outdoors to leave the film gear at home and not worry about having to find my quota of vistas in the right light. Sometimes I will put an album-in-progress to tape so that I can listen to it from a walkman on some lonely hilltop. A nice ideal, but spoiled by all the mistakes in the music that I notice and realise that I have to fix!

Q: Whose music currently excites you?

ADRIAN: There's a lot of talented young artists out there. Sean Washburn has enormous talent in the area of atmospheric/tribal music but not much recognition yet, and Paul Ellis is capable of some sublime sequencer material. Red Shift are enjoyable merely for their highly detailed homage of Tangerine Dream's music. But I still enjoy a lot of Michael Stearn's early music and Deuter's "Ecstasy" will always be a favourite.

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

ADRIAN: I was reading about the end of the world in "Sky and Telescope". I had never realised that the death knell for life on Earth is not when the sun grows into a gas giant and absorbs the Earth, but much sooner when weathering of rock material will eventually soak up all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus starving the plants which will in turn kill off animal life dependent of oxygen. So the burning of fossil fuels is a very good thing! Of course the side effects are rising seas levels, but for heaven's sake, sea levels have fluctuated enormously in the last tens of thousands of years. The first people in Britain walked to there across what is now the English Channel, and the harbour towns of Grecian days are in some cases miles from the coastline or (like Alexandria) underwater. So irrespective of whether we do it or we allow nature to do it, the Earth is pretty much destined to be unhabitable in the long run (i.e.: a billion years).

So what is the point in bothering to continue living? Well, my answer is the pleasure one can experience in life, watching a sunset or being curled up with a good book or enjoying the company of a good friend. That is what keeps me going in the face of the destruction of this tiny planet in an insignificant little galaxy in the corner of the universe.

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RUDY ADRIAN: Twilight (Atmospheric Works Volume 2) (CD on Rudy Adrian Music)

This 1999 CD offers 46 minutes of ambient electronics.

There is such drama in a simple sunset, and Adrian snares this sense of wonder and generates lush tapestries of placid sonics to convey this phenomenal experience. Electronic tonalities rise, sparkling with vibrant jubilation. Drifting textures encircle the audience, cocooning everything in a fine mist of sound that tickles the ears without aggravating the mind. Calming chords slowly swell and recede, stirring the air with mildly stimulating melodies. Minimalism coexists with intricate structure, melded into an even temperament that defies both state and results in a holistic unification of these auditory contrasts. Environmental subtleties provide terrestrial reminders, grounding the ethereal mood to common soil.

Not satisfied to enunciate entirely on the atmospheric qualities of twilight, Adrian's sonic impressions delve into numerous peripheral aspects of sunset: the majesty of nearby mountains, the sparkle of waning sunlight on lapping waters, rising fog and diminishing illumination as it filters through familiar woodlands. He has excellently captured the whole experience, segregating each observation into separate soundscapes.

Assisting Adrian on three of this CD's ten tracks is Nick Prosser, whose baroque flute stylings enhance the soundscapes with additional ethereal qualities.

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RUDY ADRIAN: Starfields (Sequencer Sketches Volume 3) (CD on Groove Unlimited)

This 2002 release features 65 minutes of spacier electronic music. (Do not be misled by the word "sketches" in the title. There's nothing unfinished about this music.)

With this music, Adrian leaves behind the atmosphere of Earth to explore interplanetary regions. The electronics are livelier, more frolicsome and brimming with cosmic evocations. Nimble sequencers unfurl pleasant melodies that entwine with the background ambience to produce lush soundscapes of glorious promise. Deeper tones appear, attributing substance to the puzzles lurking in the void.

"Space Border Patrol" embarks on a circumnavigation of our solar system, policing for unwanted intruders and hunting for undiscovered mysteries. The tone here is uplifting and positive, for no villains are found and all strangeitudes will be answered in time.

"Mars--the Rusted World" is a sobering piece, reminding the audience that entropy will inevitably claim all material things whether they be terrestrial or otherworldly. Adrian's heavenly strains follow the Martian oceans as they surge then gradually evaporate, leaving behind parched yet impressive landscapes of coarsely crimson hues.

"Venus--the Clouded Sphere" immerses the listener in opaque mists that conceal all surroundings. Movement through these constant clouds is deceptive, despite the track's urgent tempo. While near-hyperactive riffs cavort and soar, outer perceptions are limited to products of the audience's own imagination.

"Starfields" is a delicate composition (and at 23 minutes, the CD's longest piece). The music is unhurried and sedate, languishing with meticulous calm over its survey of each vector of the heavens. After a period of sonic star gazing, the temperament of the track grows more energized, infusing the listener with a sense of dramatic awe at the view and its infinite ramifications. This grandeur persists, actually increasing to reach a breathless crescendo far out in space. Then the intensity fades, returning everything to grounded normality.

"Kuiper Belt" is a brief snippet that drifts like a subtle reminder of the vastness of the universe.

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RUDY ADRIAN & NICK PROSSER: Concerts in New Zealand (CD on Quantum Records)

This 2002 release features 66 minutes of live electronic music, culled from performances in October 2000 and November 2001. Nick Prosser contributes baroque flute on three of the CD's eleven tracks.

The rest is all Adrian, pure and quite unsimple, actually. Atmospheric passages lead to remarkably energetic melodies, full of sweeping riffs and cyclic chords and imperative peaks of ecstatic delight. Soothing realms are defined and then enhanced by further electronic harmonies winding like a troupe of ballet serpents through the heavens. Those cyclic chords begin to lose their repetitious nature, pursuing variations that serve to embroider the flowing mix with subtle expansion. The concept of expansion is rather prevalent in this music, exploring that which remains outside, always striving to shed light on the next layer of darkness surrounding human experience. Prosser's arid flute provides an excellent sense of mystery to this sonic pursuit of knowledge.

While the music on this CD alternates between ambient soundscapes and compelling melodies, the predominant mood is one of pleasant relaxation. There is drama to the atmospheric music, but never a trace of troublesome tension. The ambience maintains itself through dreamy expression, refusing to dip below a threshold of minimalism and become a passive aspect. The music's energized portions are lively, but never overt, never squealing. The gestalt of contrasting paces conspire to hold the audience's attention without forcing the issue.

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Rudy Adrian has done a CD in collbaoration with electronic maven Ron Boots, and a review of that release can be read here.

Meanwhile, for reviews of an older Rudy Adrian release, go here.

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