I was listening to a discussion on the nature of Art and it was said that artists reflect the times around them. I think creators of note do, while others repeat the past under the guise of authenticity. I want to listen to music that informs emotionally, sonically and politically – the personal is political, or is that the other way round. R. Cleveland Aaron’s latest collection of sounds and ideas do all three by enhancing the blue in the sky outside, just as much as they compress space to be viewed through the lens of an inner soul. The concept began by Volume one is now furthered on the location of this second release, guided by a series of intermissions before each setting is explored via the breadth of detail. Perhaps most intriguing of all is Stella Marina which remodels the flair of drums into another world of music. Followed by the free flow of improvisational [Outro – The Beginning and the End] which is likewise uniquely precise and supremely captivating.
Following hot on the heels of R. Cleveland Aaron’s astute debut is this expansion of terrain moving through time and motion in brisk, provocative fashion. As with the former collection of music these soundscapes charge your mind with a series of images creating imaginary solutions to electric situations. And again this can be equally unsettling, equally serene. Likewise you still feel that what you are experiencing has an innately unique quality like these sounds exist only here. The compositions are deliciously intense such as on the drone infused, yet warm embrace of [Intermission 2] while the final collective tones of Theory of Change Pt 1 propose a probing fiction of science. Otherworldly qualities remain yet fractures and the spaces in-between suggest an infinity of musical wealth which Cleveland has opened up, and will continue to do so for some time to come.
Welcome to Magazine Sixty, Cleveland. Can we begin by asking what attracted you to creating more ambient sounds rather than the conventional structures of drums and song? Do you feel that you can say more about something without the use of words?
I have always been into sound as an inspiration for the way I viewed my world with the camera. I realised that it influenced how I used the light in my compositions. The KaleidoSound Project was simple, work with two of my greatest passions, Visuals and Audio. My intention was to create simple video installations based around the four elements, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. I felt the addition of drums would turn these short stories into music videos, and that was far from the plan.
Your brilliant debut album – KaleidoSound: An Introduction is out now on See Blue Audio. How did your relationship with the label come about? And why did they feel like the right fit?
Well, my relationship with See Blue Audio goes way back before it was even founded. One of the owners, Matthew Duffield, has been a good friend and colleague of mine for around 20 years. We met back in the days when I was working for K Mag, formally Knowledge Magazine. He was a great journalist and I took photos of the artists. I met up with Matthew in Barcelona, February gone and we were catching up or attempting to, on the last 10 years since we’d seen each other. I mentioned that I’d been working on the KaleidoSound Project and he was interested in seeing one, so I showed him ‘Flow’ and he was kinda impressed. Couple of weeks Iater I sent him a stack of audio I’d produced for the videos I have to create and it was then he suggested I put together an EP.
What does your artist’s name f5point6 signify?
f5point6 was the name I gave to my freelance photography business. In the early days of my exploration with photography I had an Art teacher who happened to be a freelance photographer. He tried in vain to explain the purpose of the aperture and it’s numerical values, but I never quite understood how we got f5.6. Many years later when I started freelancing I couldn’t think of a better name. I think f5point6 is quite relevant to what I do, I feel light as opposed to see it and I prefer to feel sound as opposed to hearing it. I want to create cinematic or visual sounds, hiding meanings amongst the frequencies.
You are also a professional photographer (and mentor with Olympus Digital UK). Do you see the music you create as an extension of photographing images? And how does one feed into the other? Is there a track from the album which best highlights this?
I think they’re are all part of the same philosophy as I feel the sounds I create shape my images but sometimes this can also work in reverse and a strong image will inspire sounds. The philosophy of Light, Shapes and Space is not only synonymous with visual creativity as I’m working on interpreting sound in the same way.
If I consider the 3rd track, Altocumulus, I think if you listen carefully you’ll feel the Light and the Shapes of the clouds and be immersed into that environment. The arrangement is simple with Space so that you hear the subtle changes. The impulses, keys and bass, represented the delicate wisps and bold lines that are attributed to these kind of clouds. There are also the airy synth pads which evolve and expand to interpret their movement.
What is your favourite camera? Do you own one?
I’m not sure I’m a ‘favourite’ kind of person. I have quite a huge collection of cameras but my Olympus PENF is almost always on me, not because it’s my favourite but because it’s practical. In the last couple of years I’ve introduce my son to film cameras and remembered how much missed the process of capturing images. At the end of the day, my cameras are just the tools I use to express myself. I have cameras for when I’m on a commercial commission and cameras for everyday moments.
Can you talk us through the process of how you produced one of the tracks from the album, and about any favourite pieces of software / hardware used? Do you generally start with a single note or idea, or something suggested by reading or watching something?
When I sat down to think about Apotica, I guess it started the same as all my projects. I mind map the concept and draft a simple script. So I was thinking, heavy deep sea equipment, submerging and light so minimal and rare that you were fortunate if you ever got to see it. So when it came to finding the sounds I cast them them as you would for a movie. I had some sounds that, when soloed, were better but in the arrangement risked the harmony of the whole project. Most of the sounds where captured with a sound recorder (Olympus LS-P4) and then altered and reworked using Adobe Audition. For the raw analogue bass my goto is the TAL-Noisemaker vintage synth plugin, you can really go in to make the modulations and LFO movements work for you as I was aiming to take the listener into the unknown. The main sound which hits you in the middle to upper frequencies was a layer of 2 synths in unison. For this I used Native Instrument plugins. I sequenced and arranged the whole thing using Ableton (my crack version of Logic stopped when I inadvertently upgraded my Mac OS 2 years ago… grrrr!).
Which speakers do you find best for experiencing sounds?
Wow, now that’s a big question for a non-tech like me! I kind of switch between headphones (AKG K550 MKII) and speakers (Dynaudio Acoustics BM5) at different stages of production. The real people in the know would probably admit these aren’t the greatest but… hey they work for me.
Has the space and time around the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in you discovering any new influences, either within or outside of music – books, films, painters, music etc?
Yeah, I’d say so. All the crazy insignificant things we obsess about have disappeared leaving us to ponder and celebrate the things that are important. I lecture at a six-form college that used to take 16 hours a week off my life, 4 hours travelling a day. Now I’m not squeezing onto 4 trains (one way) trying to get home before our two kids go to bed. I’m now lecturing via Google Hangouts online and having more time to re-engage with the people and things I love. Only this morning I was listening to one of Miles Davis’ masterpieces, ‘In a Silent Way’ on the Panthalassa album. It was probably the first time I’ve listened to this in like, 10 years or more. I’m a huge fan of Miles, even played a trumpet between the ages of 5 and 12, but I couldn’t believe the influenced it obviously had on me. There are parts of ‘Nova’ that are reminiscent of the vibe that Miles creates (mines more of the Primark version)! At the time they labelled it ‘Ambient Jazz’ .Up until 6m 42s you’re weightlessly suspended by the deep dark undertones, occasionally being pulled to one side or the other by the sounds of John McLaughlin’s guitar. My mission is to dust off some of my Jazz albums from the artists who first pushed that early electronic sound and add some real hardware to my production methods.
Do you think life will alter in any way after Covid-19?
The real question is how can it not alter. Not sure how much of the change will be down to the need to survive or to create a more resilient and global economy, but I’m hoping something positive will come out of this experience and we learn from our mistakes.
And finally. Can you tell us about your plans for moving forward?
Moving forward I’m 2 tracks short of my 2nd Project, and hopefully release, and then I’m going to shift my focus back to the video installations and think of ways I could make them interactive. I’m going to involve my son in this process because he’s the kind of creative I wished I had a whole classroom of!
Hit play and R. Cleveland Aaron’s magical notation invigorates what you will hear as worlds collide and gently explode. The ambience at work here is not the breathy, washing over you in the background kind, but is fully engaging in strange and remarkably exciting ways. Otherworldly melodies are played with at times, sometimes beautiful notes are explored too such as on the stunning Altocumulus. At others an almost oriental channelling occurs, or is that the grainy, improvisational echo of freeform jazz in the distance? The treatment of sound twists around the stereo in forward-thinking ways which are never far from emotionally challenging/ rewarding in equal measure. Perhaps the proof is found in the concluding hot crackle of Sun Fire with its undulating keys which are both wholly precise, yet madly expansive: tearing at edges, speaking intelligent language in new forms.