Last updated 11/26/05
Regular visitors to the ping things site will no doubt be familiar with the work of Sylken. Eric Hopper's revolving collaborative ensemble have released four discs to date and with the release of a new CD "Terraforms", I thought it would be a good idea to find out a little more about the project. To that end Eric was kind enough to submit to my barrage of questions (though he skipped over the more difficult ones about Buffy and comic books).
ping things : For those who aren't as familiar with your work, give us a little bio of Sylken, when you started making music, particular themes or visions you have with the project, that sort of thing...
Eric Hopper : Sylken is a collaborative based ambient music persona that continues to evolve as a vehicle to perform and share musical moments, sound spaces and creative experiences among friends and fellow artists. Sylken was launched in 2002 with the release of the debut 'Illusions Of Light' CD.
My experience with synthesizers and sound discovery began in the early 1980's when the instruments we used were non-programmable and demanded a lot of manipulation and tweaking to evoke the cool sounds of those days. Creating electronic music has been a long-time hobby for me and it's only in recent times that I have taken e-music to the next phase of 'serious' recording. Though I've been archiving jams for many years, it was during 2001 that I started to consider producing a CD as a musical statement. With the advent of the internet and ongoing personal effort, getting some exposure for Sylken music seemed achievable. My earlier experiences of music collaboration for fun and enjoyment were shared with a handful of long-time friends, including Jamie Todd (URM) and Scott M2 (dreamSTATE). In those times we collaborated under the name of Radio Silence and I still have many hours of cassette recordings we made. I could likely generate a handful of CDs with the material from back then, but time moves on and new collaborations and projects have taken my attention.
"Sylken music is realized during those magical moments when the creative flow inspires compelling music"
The spirit of spontaneous performance and improvisation are very much at the heart of Sylken, very much a part of your sound. How much influence do your surroundings, the people you're playing with, the state of your mood, of the world, have on the outcome?
Sylken music is realized during those magical moments when the creative flow inspires compelling music and it's from these performances and recordings that I craft what ends up as Sylken music tracks. When performing, it's wherever the musicians are at creatively and emotionally that dictates the overall tone of the recordings. During the production phase I conjure up each new piece as a unique sound painting, to attract and hopefully captivate the listener's imaginations.
In keeping with the questions above, do you think that the same can be said of the studio experience versus the live one? How does Sylken in the studio differ from the live Sylken experience?
There is definite crossover in terms of crafting Sylken music tracks. The studio is the more controllable environment, the stage less so. The performances in both these environments have evolved in a similar manner. A musical framework, tempos and keys are agreed on. From that point on the creative juices flow, with the studio typically offering more and varied recording options and increased quality as well. The live venue can be very dynamic due to its larger sound space where we are able to generate considerably more energy out to the audience. I typically work with one, sometimes two artists on any given piece of music or live performance.
I've noticed that you have a tendency to try and blend both electronic and organic sounds when playing live ie, the introduction of live cello, trumpet, guitar, more "natural" instrumentation than would normally be associated with the largely synth and keyboard driven space music genre. Is this a conscious decision or just a happy circumstance that comes about as a result of wanting to work with particular individuals? Do you think that there is a particular dominance of one sound over the other when you play out, that the form of the group is influenced by one or the other or do you think that the music itself comes first and that the players respond to it?
This blending is certainly not an original concept, but I am intrigued with the potentials for melding the acoustic and electronic elements together and to hear what emerges. The particular individuals that collaborate with this method are musicians I enjoy and respect for their desire to experiment in this mode. Specific acoustic instruments such as the cello, sax or trumpet do not tend to dominate the process but they do enhance and expand the sound palette, particularly the spacey atmosphere these artists can create through their adeptness and experimentation with acoustic instrument sounds and processing. The musical ideas often come initially but the performer's spontaneity increases as the original ideas evolve into new sound territories over time.
I generally try to blend the acoustics into the sound tapestry such that its voice doesn't always jump out at you. It becomes more a part of the overall sound weave. I often do this with guitar, as well as using ambient guitar voices in a more 'up front' mode when playing lead melodies.
There's a recurring spatial theme to your work throughout your output. Do you see your work as Sylken as a study in inner- or outer-space?
Well, we're all afloat in outer space and move around in our inner space so I find myself attracted to and experiencing both domains … I do feel very comfortable traveling the sound waves of these two realms and it's inevitable that the ripples would appear in Sylken's music soundscapes.
"I have always been drawn to the collaborative approach when making music"
Given your involvement with the PiNG AMBiENCE collections, I wanted to discuss those as well. I think there's an interesting paradox in the idea of PiNG compilations in that the idea of the AMBiENT PiNG is based around a sense of community, shared experience, the idea that a whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. But if this is the case, how well do you think that an individual can really tap into the zeitgeist of the PiNG? Can one person really represent that ideal accurately to others?
As we know, the word community implies more than one individual, so it may seem somewhat difficult as an individual to represent the PiNG community. However I feel that a solo performer can in fact tap into the zeitgeist of the PiNG by just contributing his or her musical vision and support to the community as a whole. A fundamental to PiNG music and musicians is the spirit of a shared experience of creating / performing unique ambient music, in a rare and consistent venue, attended by an ongoing contribution from the individual artists to the PiNG concept, community interaction and resources. We encourage all 'PiNGers' to come out routinely to hear some terrific original e-music and to interact and share the sound experiences with each other.
For myself, as founder, core artist and producer of Sylken music I have always been drawn to the collaborative approach when making music and have had the privilege of working with various fine musicians and friends over the recent years. Creating and performing music with fellow artists has always been my preferred experience, as the sum of the parts has always produced those unique and wonderful moments that don't always occur with a solo act. Due to my natural inclination this way I feel the Sylken concept is indeed successful in conveying the PiNG experience of collaborative music and sound creation through mutual experiences.
In 2004 you completed work on the second volume in the PiNG AMBiENCE series (a collection of discs celebrating the talents of artists who have performed at the AMBiENT PiNG in Toronto and share a like minded musical ideal). How much do you think your own influence is reflected in the choice of pieces, in the themes of the disc?
To a certain degree my influence is there in the choice of the artist work, the track sequence for the listening experience, the overall flow and feel through lighter / darker movement and so on. But ultimately the individual track contributions are created by the artists who present their particular musical expressions to the listeners. Overall, I guess you could say that my influence would be in defining the general vibe of the PA CD in terms of my sensibility towards the atmospheres, textures and feel that I would like the music to evoke.
As curator, PiNG AMBiENCE 2 represents for me what I think of as the softer, spacier side of PiNG music. I also enjoy very much the use of dissonance and the morphing and interaction of sweet-to-edgy-to-sweet sound spaces. I've always been drawn to the more ethereal side of e-music but at the same time I do like to incorporate the 'darker' elements when used in a satisfying musical context. This is what I attempted to present with the artists who perform on this collection.
How much impact does the curator of a collection like this have on the finished project?
As much impact as the curator wants, short of altering the artist's finished music piece. There are several different aspects to coming up with a professional CD product, such as the CD's musical concept, gathering up the original artist contributions, selecting tracks when required, determining track flow, the presentation / design and content of the packaging, etc. The curator is directly involved in all of these aspects of the project.
How successful do you think you were in portraying the PiNG experience?
For PA2's particular experience of the PiNG genre, I'd say very successful. All the artist tracks on PA2 are unique and have there own compelling atmosphere. PA2 has a flow that presents a collage of beautiful though somewhat darker spaces - an excellent and varied palette of sound colours.
Given that PiNG AMBiENCE is a series, what would you like to see future curators do with the project? Any particular direction you imagine it will take in upcoming volumes? Where do you see PiNG AMBiENCE in years to come?
A different theme was taken with the newly released PiNG AMBiENCE 3 ~ STRiNG THiNGS CD where the featured voice is the ambient guitar. I have been a guitarist for some time and had a desire to create a compilation of guitar tracks that are based in the ambient genre. I had originally undertaken this CD as a personal project in that I wanted to bring together onto a compilation some of the fine guitarists who I have come to know and admire. It later became apparent that making this an AMBiENT PiNG sponsored CD made a lot of sense and after discussions with some PiNG community members, it was decided to release this as a PiNG THiNG CD. PA3 is a wonderful collection of ambient guitar sound sculptures.
As to other directions PA releases will go - that will of course be the purview of the curators who take on these projects. We'll leave it up to them to surprise and delight us with their visions of the style and vibe of future compilations. I see the PA series continuing, with each project resulting in a unique collection of tracks that continue to represent PiNG music and musicians
So what's coming up? Any particular projects, ideas and aspirations you're working towards? Anything we can look forward to?
Now that PiNG AMBiENCE 3 is completed I can move forward with finalizing and releasing the next Sylken CD. It will be titled 'Terraforms' and for me conceptually it is intended as a tribute to our beleaguered planet. Beyond that I have a CD collaboration project in the works with Terry O'Brien (Anomalous Disturbances) and Jamie Todd (URM). I have a lot of material we have done together, with more of the sound pool to come once we perform again at THE AMBiENT PiNG on November 22nd. There's a possibility of a double CD resulting from our studio sessions and live performances. Terry is an awesome e-bow ambi-guitarist and Jamie is fast becoming a master laptop virtual soundshaper. I'm quite excited with the prospects for this project. If all goes well I look forward to this CD being released in late winter, early spring 2006.
Given an unlimited budget, access to any equipment or collaborators you'd like to work with, the opportunity to do anything you wanted, what would be the Sylken dream project?
A fun project would be to participate in a modest PiNG ARTiSTS tour that could travel in Canada with the support of grant money. Perhaps this can become a reality once THE AMBiENT PiNG establishes itself with a non-profit designation. I'm quite happy to work with the equipment and resources I'm so fortunate to have at my disposal and I feel that I'm already doing the Sylken dream project with my friends and peers. An unlimited budget is highly unlikely so let's just carry on …
The last question always looks to the future, an effort to push away the fog of future memory and see what's in store for you. What would you like to be doing with Sylken in two, five, ten years?
To be perfectly honest, I've never really been much of a planner when it comes to the longer term such as two to ten years ahead. I often hear the Zen-like phrase "living in the moment' and it seems I become a bit more successful at doing this as time moves on, so perhaps I should continue to not plan too much lest I ruin a good thing. I'd say I could measure forward progress by the things shared and made real, with four Sylken CDs having been released to date (Illusions Of Light, PiNG Live, Sculptor and Dreamlife) and a fifth (Terraforms) to arrive soon.
I see Sylken continuing in its present collaborative mode, as it presents a terrific opportunity to share musical experiences and is a constant pool of creativity for the future of Sylken music.
Thanks loads for this opportunity to expound on a few things Sylken
Interested in the new Sylken disc "Terraforms"? Read a review here!
Care to visit our older featured interviews?
read an interview with Tara Vanflower
read an interview with Arms Full of Sound
read an interview with the Blue Man Group
read an interview with Richard Baker, Scott M2 and Jamie Todd
read an interview with Mercurine
read an interview with Numina
read an interview with ambient pioneer Steve Roach