If you follow astrology, you may be aware of all the cosmic chaos this past month. If that’s not your thing, you can just pick up a copy of Throne of Blood’s newest release “Moon Rock Volume I” and go on an out-of-body auditory voyage without even leaving your room. The 12-track compilation, which its label describes as, “exploring the outer reaches of electronic ambience, Kosmische vibrations, and crystalline acoustics,” drops today. I had a chance to catch up with label co-founder and renowned DJ James Friedman to talk New Age, the universe, and just how one goes about making a project that’s equal parts Ambient, Sci Fi Soundtrack, and analogue dance music.
S: According to the press surrounding its release, the compilation was a year in the making. That’s a long time. Then again, it’s an ambitious endeavor. How did the concept emerge? Were there any albums or artists that served as inspirations?
J: Moon Rock came about after myself, the Cosmic Kids, and our buddy, Oli Isaacs, all started talking about our love of ambient music. This was probably close to two years ago. I had been listening to loads of stuff like Klaus Schultz, Tangerine Dream, and Brian Eno, as well as newer artists like Tim Hecker, Emeralds, and Oneohtrix Point Never, and I kept discovering that musician-friends shared a love for this kind of cosmic instrumental stuff. Though I had already begun working on gathering tracks by the time it came out, Gerd Janson's Music For Autobahns compilation was a big inspiration, both for the quality of the music and for pushing Moon Rock towards a much more “druggy” and contemplative sound.
S: How did you go about selecting artists to contribute to the compilation? And how did you describe the project to them? I imagine it would be difficult to approach someone to create “chakra-stimulating spacemusic.” Or maybe that was the selling point…?
J: I basically got in touch with friends and collaborators and said, "I'm doing an ambient compilation. Do you have any drones or weird beatless things I could hear?" The response was overwhelming. Loads of folks had great stuff or told me they wanted to make something special for Moon Rock. A few also started making intros to other artists to contribute.
S: When I first heard the tracks, a New Age feel definitely came to mind. New Age had a somewhat of a resurgence this year with the release of I Am The Center. Did you have that reference in mind when assembling the album? If so, was there any irony involved or sincere interest?
J: Honestly, I have pretty low awareness of where New Age begins and ends as a genre. I love I Am The Center but some of it is a little flute-y for me. I kind of have a similar reaction to stuff like Laraaji. When it's synth heavy, I love New Age. That's why things like Steve Haushildt's Tragedy and Geometry album was so exciting to me. It feels meditative and transcendent but it doesn't feel particularly “hippied" out to me.
S: “Ambient” is a very ambiguous umbrella term. For you, is it more about structural qualities within the music of the feeling it evokes?
J: The term "ambient" is basically meaningless to me. I used it as shorthand to evoke the kind of circular, undulating music I wanted to gather together for Moon Rock. Some really fits the bill and a few tracks have beats—albeit pretty low key ones. The whole idea for me was to capture a range of moods and vibes all expressed using a musical vocabulary encompassing kraut rock, kosmische, balearic, new age, contemporary composition, chill out, IDM, drone and experimental.
S: There’s a track on the compilation by RL/VL. Aside from his 2008 release Chagrin at the tender age of 18, that project has been off the radar. Did you reach out to him to perform as under specific moniker for this project?
J: Jack is better known by his more recent (and prolific) aliases: Space Dimension Controller and SDC. He and I met back in 2010 when we played Secretsundaze NYE in London together. We had kept in touch quite poorly though. Luckily Ron from Cosmic Kids reached out when we first got the idea for Moon Rock. Jack sent about 30 old ambient things he'd done as RL/VL back in his teens. I loved a couple things I heard and we got the nod to include one. The masters are long gone so we ended up mastering the mp3 he shared with us.
S: Even though you were asking artists and producers to step outside their regular comfort zones, were you at all surprised by what the contributors created in the end? For instance, listening to “Ganzfeld”I could easily mistake it for a long-lost Plaid track. I was stunned to find out it LA-based producer and DJ Evan Stalker.
J: I was blown away by the quality and quantity of stuff that came in for Moon Rock. I have at least 26 more tunes that basically ready go for future editions and more keep coming as word spreads. One of the best things from my perspective has been hearing how my request for "drones" or "ambient" have been interpreted. I really love Evan's piece as well. He's a relatively young dude I met through the Cosmic Kids and Jacques Renault, who's my business partner in Let's Play House Records. I've heard loads of great dance floor stuff from Evan, but his contribution to Moon Rock really floored me. It's got a lot of feeling.
S: While we’re on the cosmic theme, it’s been an tumultuous month in the universe: The Blood Moon, Mars, Earth and the sun aligning…do you believe in any of that stuff? Do you have any personal rituals or superstitions?
J: Honestly I'm much more interested in Astronomy than Astrology. I'm not a yogi or up to date on horoscopes and shit. I'm pretty curious about meditation though. I recently had a soundbath at the Integratron, which is a pretty amazing wooden dome with incredible acoustics out in the desert near Joshua Tree in California. I went with my wife and some close friends including Bicep after the first weekend of Coachella. It was pretty much life-changingly awesome.
S:Moon Rock has been described as “come-down” music as well as a“psychonaut odyssey.” Imagining you were asked to listen to the entire compilation from start to finish,with fresh ears, describe the ideal setting and situation.
J: I really got interested in ambient while I was in graduate school. It was great music to read to, or to listen to when I needed to clear my head or manage stress. But I wanted to do more than make background music with Moon Rock. To me, it seems like the ideal soundtrack to a late night (or is it early morning) comedown. Post party, still basking in the afterglow and that fuzzed out sensation of genuine exhaustion. Played loud—but not too loud—on a great soundsystem.
S: What can we expect for the next intergalactic electronic voyage from Throne of Blood? What does Volume II have in store?
J: I think at this point there will be at least two more Moon Rock collections. Expect more amazing music from a super eclectic range of artists, from Cosmi Vitelli to Kisses, Popnoname, Loose Control Band, Bicep and plenty of other buds.
Moon Rock Volume 1 is out next week on Throne of Blood Records