Ambient drone is so neither, when you step into it … – An interview with Kevin Greenspon

Ambient drone is so neither, when you step into it … – An interview with Kevin Greenspon

July 27, 2011 Off By Billy Thieme
Kevin Greenspon plays with light at the same time. (Photo: Kevin Greenspon)

Kevin Greenspon plays with light at the same time. (Photo: Kevin Greenspon)

So I guess it’s customary to pull a quote from the interview in question for an appropriate headline – but I didn’t. I pulled this headline out of the feeling I got from reading Kevin Greenspon‘s answers to my questions this evening, while being washed with his compositions.

I came across Greenspon’s work as a result of a Facebook post about his tour from my friend Crawford Philleo (of local upstarts Vitamins), which has a stop here tonight at Rhinoceropolis. After sampling a few moments, I was intrigued, to say the least. Greenspon’s ambient constructions, accented often and effectively with miniature bouts of cacophonous noise, immediately led my mind back into the experimental music of Glenn Branca and the NYC No Wave scene of the ’70s, and simultaneously recalled the new feeling of Brian Eno‘s earliest ambient work. But it also sounded improvisational, unintentional, and yet anything but.

See Kevin Greenspon tonight at Rhinoceropolis, with Ancientcrux, Married in Berdichev, Gemini Trajectory and Ideal Living – ALL AGES, $5

I was also reminded of pianist Keith Jarret‘s unforgettable works, spiritual and cathartic as any music I’d ever heard, that I explored in my late teens – and that undoubtedly led later to my deep appreciation for the beauty of incongruous, atonal, arrhythmic and insolent noise – something over which I’ve never gotten, and that I hope I never will.

As I said, there’s nothing improvisational about these pieces. Like a great director or painter, Greenspon is always 100% in control, ahead, and can account for every crest and trough of each sound wave he’s passing along.

I immediately fired off a few questions to Greenspon after hearing some of his work, and he answered quickly. Read on to get a glimpse into the workings of the musician and artist behind this intense music.


Here’s a sample of what you’re in for – to enjoy while you read…

[wpaudio url=”″ text=”Kevin Greenspon – Bloom”]


DenverThread (DT) – I wonder if many critics are quick to put you in the Brian Eno camp of ambient, or Thurston Moore/Beck noise. But I hear a more Philip Glass/John Cage compositional influence (and what I heard today has had me listening to Glenn Branca again). Who do you count as your major influences?

Kevin Greenspon KG – On tours and in emails, I’ve actually received several comparisons to each of the artists you’ve mentioned among many others in the more present canon. Most people find it strange when I explain that while I’m familiar with their work, they’re not actually in my typical listening regimen. For the most part, I try not to repeatedly listen to too much music in those veins with any regularity. Naturally, I am influenced by contemporaries and pioneers in the field of experimental subgenres but focusing on them too much can be limiting to one’s own work.

Truth be told, I derive a lot of ideas from more conventional pop music and the radio. One of the elements of mainstream or accessible music that greatly interests me is pacing: the rhythm of how songs ebb and flow between sections, such as verses, choruses and bridges. A large proportion of ambient and experimental composition music invests heavily in long-form pieces that develop slower than most popular music. For the most part, I’ve found this to be somewhat inhibiting for me. This has led me to develop an interest in assembling songs that capture the glacial feel of music that falls under the ambient umbrella but also to condense them into a succinct pacing that is more akin to something you’d hear on top 40 radio: albums rife with 3 minute pieces in which sections change in patterns and timings quickly, with a familiar rhythm.

DT – I know you’ve said that you put a ton of work into your compositions/performances and that they’re not “just improvisational.” That said, how much weight do you put on the spirit behind them? Do you identify with Keith Jarrett, in that the feeling drives the sound, and if you find one you love you dig into it and explore it?

KG – I put a high value on the spirit or character behind the music. For me, feeling and sound are symbiotic; one cannot simply drive the other. It’s more of a tug-of-war or balance in which the two constantly play off each other. In this sense, writing, recording and performing can not be solely rooted in either feeling or sound. Different blends of the two are what stimulates the process of developing or reworking compositions.

For example, near the start of “Threshold” from my Common Objects LP, there is an arpeggiated guitar part that I fade in while tapping the frets on my guitar. The tones, note sequences and timing on the recorded version are different from when I perform it live. I feel the difference in the situation of listening to the record in a comfortable setting at home beckons a slower and more relaxed delivery. Live, this song is most commonly performed as a crossfade out of and into different songs than on the sequence of the album. Because of this change of feeling that is based in the order of songs (and what moods they convey) when performed live, I opt for a more urgent delivery of those notes as a prelude to the quick progression that follows shortly after in the live suite. There’s even a section where I have a sequence that taps along the lower strings, which is not even on the record, and all this happens in about 45 seconds as the first section of the song comes into it’s own. There are numerous situations like this that help me shape the performance of pieces that are already defined as songs on record, but take on a different character simply out of the feeling that comes from being in a live performance space, so the feeling and music are definitely dependent on each other.

Furthermore, I may arrive at a show and feel that certain songs won’t work in the feeling of a particular venue or situation, and omit them from a set in lieu of something more appropriate to the circumstance, such as when weighing the differences of performing in an art gallery or living room house show. The feeling of the spaces themselves is different and this can also factor into the music.

DT – It’s easy to attach a soundtrack feel to instrumental music, and that’s mostly (I find) unfair. Do you have any literate, cinematic or theatrical themes that you attach to your music, or that you build from?

KG – There is a storytelling nature that I find important in this sort of music. It’s a quality that gives certain albums a relatable feel as opposed to general experimentation or sounds without reason. However, I don’t want to subject audiences to specific ideas like they are hard-and-fast boundaries that define my songs. For example, I’ve seen a lot of albums that are intended as a “soundtrack to a non-existent film” which strikes me as odd. To me, that sort of thing implies there is something you may be missing when listening to it. My idea is to have listeners and live audiences develop their own stories, and for the music to be a vehicle for self-narration and not a defined road I put people on. This is why I opt to not use titles such as “And Then The Rain Fell On Our Weary Backs Like Diamonds From Trees” which is sadly too common in instrumental music. I prefer vaguer titles that fit together on an album as pieces of a conceptual puzzle, pieces whose shape and imagery is developed by listeners. The word associations are general guides along a path that is specific for myself, but offer different routes for audiences.


  • Billy Thieme

    Aging punk rocker with a deep of all things musical and artistic, enough to remain constantly young and perpetually mystified. Billy has journalistic dreams, but of a decidedly pastoral, Scottish nature.