Returning to grace the airwaves with another sensational album of ambient, inspired and undeniably unique instrumentals, creative producer Darren J Harris – Ambient Counsel – kindly took part in an interview.
We dig into the new project Passages, releasing August 7th, as well as the process from idea to completion, the researching and themes underneath it all, and plenty more. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi Darren – great to catch up with you, thanks for your time. Let’s jump straight into the new project – what inspired the title and internal moods of Passages?
The original inspiration for the title began in January this year. My dad had passed away 6 weeks earlier and I was in a deep spiritual and emotional place as a result. I wanted to create music that was a cross between meditation music and ambient, to nurture my soul, and I wrote the first three tracks in quick succession.
The idea was passages – a passage of weather, the passage of a mood, a passage of awareness, of spirit, of life. The way internal moods swept slowly over me struck me as similar to looking outside and it is a cloudy overcast day.
The sun is still there illuminating, just temporarily cloud hidden. The same internally, awareness is still there illuminating, just mood hidden.
What sets this apart from your previous work, and do you consciously aim to find new ambient sounds and approaches, or do you simply let the music and creativity guide?
What sets Passages apart from my previous work is intention and effect. I wanted this album to be more representative of a calming ambient approach whilst maintaining an emotional core. I wanted the compositions to make the listener drift and let go and also feel. No matter how ambient the music gets, the arc of life still happens and we have to feel our way through it.
In creating this music, I consciously aimed for new ambient sounds and approaches and I let the new sounds guide what I was creating. Intention and flow are both important to me when creating new music.
“Without the flow of intuition, ambient music can be too ‘new age’, lacking in life or emotion, and without intention, an album can lose cogency and coherency.”
How much of your time is spent researching and/or experimenting with the healing power of ambient music?
I had read Johnathon Goldman’s The Seven Secrets of Sound Healing book in the latter half of 2022. I had also researched 432 Hz and 528 Hz frequencies, binaural beats, and dabbled in meditation music for my counselling clients (I am also a professionally-qualified counsellor), but these types of tracks ended up being too one dimensional for my tastes, my own sense of organic music literacy, if you will. That is, there is no depth, no life in all its full 3Dness.
My researching and experimentation is more to do with finding the boundaries, the edges, of what I intuitively like and what resonates in me. If it doesn’t resonate or intuitively connect, then it is not something I want to create.
For example, the ambient music of Harold Budd, or Brian Eno, or both together, has a wonderful synergy with natural expression, with the environment, with mood. A lot of meditation music doesn’t. It has its purposes, but it is more artificially random within very narrow confines, to my ears.
Prior to Passages I had created an album Drift Music: Music for Calming Spaces, which contained some previously released tracks and some new ones. Its purpose was to help clients who have never meditated to relax in a meditative way, without them getting retraumatised through proper meditation. I haven’t released that album. Passages evolved out of that attempt.
How important does music and audio remain in terms of your own healing journey?
Music, in particular ambient music, is the genre and art form I love. It is easier for me to compose classical music, because using instruments in the orchestra makes it sound ‘classical’ and can sound impressive. But with ambient, if it sounds like ambient but doesn’t have an inherent organic quality to it then it has missed the mark. It is the most challenging genre to me.
In saying that, all of my albums are autobiographical in a sense, and as I get deeper into creating ambient music, I get deeper into illuminating my own conditioned ego, and its resulting triggers, buttons and defences, understanding the effects of trauma I have experienced, so I can witness my own inner pain and hurt with clarity, and begin to nurture and heal it.
What prompted you to switch to the artist AKA Ambient Counsel?
For this album, I wanted to pursue a more ambient approach, with minimal instrumental soloing, with a more coherent focus on sounds that sooth, capture mood, space, that illuminate and breathe and have emotional resonance. Ambient Counsel allows me to continue is this vein, whilst projects in my own name (Darren J Harris) allow me the freedom to experiment with soloing, beats, different styles and instruments.
How does the darker weight and fuzz of something like Setting Sun connect to the lighter warmth and optimism of Clearing Light (Unexcelled Jewel)?
“Life is contrast and mood is contrast. Sometimes we are in a peaceful, meditative mood, sometimes life is darker and fuzzier. Like yin and yang, through one we know and experience the other.”
Underneath these moods, this weather, is the light of eternal aware consciousness that is unchanging and unceasing. Witnessing these inner moods without judgement or self-identification is a spiritual path that I am on and interests me deeply.
Aurora is a personal favourite from the new project. What can you tell me about the inspiration for this multi-layered piece, and the way in which it was composed?
I live in Tasmania and have seen wonderful photographs of Aurora Borealis, but not seen this live myself. I recorded the opening arpeggio based on a sound from my Novation Summit synthesiser. Then another melody starts up with the addition of shimmer reverb, which gives the sound that shimmering, distant, reverberating effect. This effect mirrors the way the light show in an aurora is distant and changing. I wanted this track to have a transcendent quality, and reflect an inner transition into something beyond the ego self.
Do you listen to your own projects from the past still, and if so – do you ever witness or experience anything new, that surprises you, on revisiting?
Not much, once in a blue moon. I am interested in exploration and creation, which is always in the present. What I have done, I have already done.
On the rare occasion I hear a track I created in the past, I am always struck by wonderment, “how did I do that?” Yes the track still resonates, which is satisfying to me, but how I came up with the intention and creation I don’t know, because I like to set an intention, create spontaneously, and explore sound until that intention is realised.
Where else do you turn when you need music for your own enjoyment these days?
I might scour on-line for new ambient music and scour through sound banks on my computer. But generally I don’t find much that speaks to me. This is how it should be.
“I also let my creative instincts lie fallow for a while, so after a period of time, say two months, a compulsion to create rises naturally in me again.”
Do you have any promotional plans or appearances to coincide with this new album?
Passages releases online on most digital music platforms on 7 August 2023. I don’t make appearances or play live, my creation of music is more that of a composer and producer than a live performer.
What would be your biggest hope or aspiration for the release of Passages?
For people to listen to it, in a considered way, to appreciate the music. By considered I mean how we used to listen to a whole album by investing dedicated listening time, before music streaming, to get a full appreciation of an album and the musician who created it.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Buy the album, the investment is only three cups of coffee (laughs), give it a good listen. And thank you for what you do Rebecca, in helping promote decent independent music.
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