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Robin B. James
April 04/13/21, 2021
The road to Ultima Thule has many hazards and traverses infinite colorful sights. Space travel requires a certain sense of wonder, attracting a certain type of kindred person that is passionate enough to keep on going in the face of the endless void. Truly the most valuable trait for surviving in deep space is probably persistence. One of independent composer Keith Richie's favorite authors, Octavia E. Butler, was famously attracted to science fiction because it was so wide open. She was able to do anything in her imagination, there were no walls to hem her in, and there was no human condition that she was stopped from examining. That kindred spirit can also be sensed in the cinematic dark ambient electronic soundscape tracks of his album Ambient Highways.

Richie was born in Dallas, Texas and grew up in a town called Pleasant Grove. He has lived for the last 30 years in a small town named Mesquite, where the official town motto is “Real. Texas. Flavor.” I asked him about the famous harsh and expansive Texan landscape and how that might influence his musical composition and style, he told me, "I don’t think the overall landscape influenced me, it’s not that much to look at."

He gets his inspiration from reading science fiction, watching movies and listening to music, from Alice Cooper, Mötley Crüe, AC/DC to Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, John Williams and John Carpenter… to Vangelis and Van Halen. He says that’s why a lot of the music he creates can be so varied from time to time. One day it can be this long droning ambient piece, and the next it’s some hard thrashy techno piece that just doesn’t fit in with what he was working on 5 minutes prior, but it gives him a broad pallet to work with.

"One of my ultimate goals in life is to produce film scores, particularly Sci-Fi and Horror," reveals Richie. "I always hear music in my head as I read. If I could only jot down every single note I hear from every single page I read. In fact, my new company (Other Worlds Than These Music) is heavily influenced by Stephen King and his Dark Tower series."

I had the opportunity to talk to Keith about his album Ambient Highways, and that led to a variety of topics, some of which I will share here with you, Constant Listener.

ROBIN JAMES: What is it about the electronic sound that attracts you to that technology?

KEITH RICHIE: Just how unique it can be, but honestly these days it’s so easy to create a hybrid (Orchestral + Electronic) sound that allows me to express what’s in my head.

RJ: Your styles appear to include ambient-electronic, cinematic (specifically science fiction and horror) and you even have some cowboy-type influences going on in the game imagery department too, how would you characterize the styles or genres of your interests?

KR: I like to think that if you were to take John Williams, John Carpenter, and Vangelis and put them all in the same room… what would the outcome be like. It’s probably those three individuals who have had the most influence on me and I think that I pull the most inspiration from.

RJ: What is your most cherished accomplishment?

KR: Putting Ambient Highways out on vinyl. Even if it doesn’t sell, it’s just something I’ve long wanted to do.


RJ: We who came from the time when vinyl was all that mattered have strong feelings about flat spinning circles of sound and steady tone-arms. The once lost artform of vinyl has made a come-back lately, and one of the things I like about that format is the size of the album cover, because you can look at bigger pictures. You know a band is successful when they have vinyl.

What bands have you played in?

KR: I have a couple of side projects going on. VR (Varosky and Richie) which is a pure Drone/Ambient project I’ve been working on with a buddy of mine from my technical field, Geoff Varosky. There are another couple of projects I’m doing with a friend of mine by the name of Ray Clay. We go way back to high school. Those projects are CTFO, which is like a soft electronic rock or a chill out type of music and binarywaste which is an industrial/heavy techno rock. Being involved in these other side projects allows me to be able to express myself in various ways and not lock myself into one specific style of music.

RJ: I salute your ability to traverse so many divergent worlds. You have the ability to use your synthesizer to convey listeners to many strange worlds, for example, at times boldly going where heavy electronic rock meets the darkness, with your project binarywaste. I just had a listen to “cipher” and “token thief” and appreciate your courage to fuse industrial, synth-wave and techno metal to push the sonic tsunami into new places. This is in stark contrast to your project VR, which uses computer technology to generate long flowing soundscapes and ambient chill-out music that immerses listeners within a virtual world of the mind, places that create a backdrop for the imagination to inhabit. What you are doing this time, with Ambient Highways, is all about visionary cinematic soundtracks and actively exploring deep space.

What equipment do you favor?

KR: Lately I’ve invested in a Native Instruments S88 controller and mostly virtual instruments, but I’m not picky. My thoughts have always been to pick the right tool for the job. I would like to invest in more hardware based modules in the future though.

RJ: What have been your most important discoveries?

KR: That you can actually be successful at failing. You learn from what doesn’t work. You learn how to adjust your path from what doesn’t always work.

RJ: What is your advice to artists who are starting their careers?

KR: Just because you can easily put something out there, doesn’t mean you should rush to do it. Work on your craft. Work on generating the best sound you can get. Ask for outside reviews (not just family and friends), and when you have enough of those people giving you positive feedback, then start releasing music. And don’t short change yourself. Invest in yourself to do it right.

RJ: Which comes first, the big idea, the cover art or the album title (or something else)?

KR: There is almost never one thing that comes first. However, many times I’ve had an idea just sitting for years before I can put it all together. Mostly things
seem to just have a life of their own.

RJ: How do you find your album covers?

KR: Most of the time I have something in mind, and I do some research on the backing of it online, and then composite things I like. I really enjoy having my wife conceptualize things for me. She’ll come up with an idea, and then I’ll bring in the elements into an image editor and see what I can come up with.

My wife will come up with a concept and we work together to flesh them out. She is the true visionary. She’ll listen to a piece of music and formulate what that would look like in her mind, and we work together to bring that to its fruition.

RJ: You are blessed to have that kind of synergy and such an important creative connection in your life.

What are you listening to right now?

KR: The Birthday Massacre. We love them. My wife introduced me to them and we have seen them 5 times in concert. I listen to that when I’m writing code and need to get something done.

I’m also going back and listening through some of my favorite Tangerine Dream material from the early years. Depending on what I’m doing at the moment though, it could literally be anything.

RJ: Who new (or neglected) should we all be listening to?

KR: 20six Hundred. I discovered his music from a Halloween fan film that he wrote and scored the music to. If you’re someone like me that enjoys John Carpenter-styled music and Synthwave, 20six Hundred mixes the two very well.

RJ: What would be the albums that you would take to that proverbial desert island?

KR: This is a no brainer: Pacific Coast Highway by Christopher Franke, Logos by Tangerine Dream and Refuge by Carbon Based Lifeforms.

(RJ) AT THIS point I just have to take a break to listen to these albums, and the time spent was well worth it. I have been listening all my life, but I readily acknowledge that I have only heard a fraction of the wealth of music that is waiting out there to be heard, and some of these groups, or some of these specific albums, are new to me. Here is what I discovered:

The Birthday Massacre: Birthday, and massacre. Light, and dark. Cute, and evil, featuring lead vocalist Sara "Chibi" Taylor, rhythm guitarist Michael Rainbow, lead guitarist Michael Falcore, keyboardist Owen Mackinder, drummer Philip Elliot, and bassist Brett Carruthers. They were formed in 1999 as Imagica and changed their name to protect the innocent. They have a sound dynamic that mixes contrasting elements, tragic comedy, fantasy and melancholy, new wave revival, electronic rock, gothic rock, and dark wave.

20SIX Hundred is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and was founded in 2013. Dark Retro Sounds for an Uncertain Future. Think John Carpenter meets Pink Floyd. Goblin meets Vangelis. Dark Synthwave. Synth heavy and action oriented ambience drenched in the neon glow of late-seventies/early-eighties electronica. 20SIX Hundred is an award-winning electronic composer for film.

Christopher Franke was born in 1953, in Berlin. Initially a drummer with The Agitation, later renamed Agitation Free, from 1971 to 1987 he was a member of the electronic group Tangerine Dream. His focus has always been on the beat, he was not the first musician to use an analog sequencer, but he was probably the first to turn it into a live performance instrument, thus laying the rhythmic foundation for classic Tangerine Dream pieces and indeed for the whole Berlin school sound.

Tangerine Dream pretty much invented the whole electronic space music and Berlin School genre in 1967. If you haven't heard of them already, just stop everything right now, go and immediately start listening to them, they have a huge catalog. I had not yet heard the 1982 album Logo and I am glad to now have experienced it.

Carbon Based Lifeforms is the name of a Swedish electronic music duo that was formed in 1996 in Gothenburg by Johannes Hedberg and Daniel Segerstad (né Ringström). Usually, Johannes works on the sounds of the tracks, and Daniel works on the rhythms and creates the tracks from the ideas of the group, they have always been open for collaboration with other composers and musicians. They started to explore electronic dance music and then have gravitated towards ambient music, focusing their attention towards drones, chill-out, and electronica.

There are links to all of these discoveries in the FOOTLINKS FOR A DEEPER DIVE section at the end of this article. Now I should be getting back to work. Keith has been very patient while I went off to educate my ears some more.

RJ: Are you able to bring ideas back from your nocturnal dreams?

KR: Sometimes, if I can get enough coffee in my system to wake up enough. There have been times when I’ve literally started an audio recorder on my phone and started humming a melody I had in my head while I was sleeping just so I don’t lose it.

RJ: Speaking of coffee, I was looking at your channel on YouTube, and I saw a few items, something like "Early Morning Coffee and Music."

KR: I actually have a main show called “Monday Musings with Maestoso,” that I do every Monday evening. I have multiple guests come on where I play selections of my music as well as theirs if they have any to contribute. We also discuss things about the music industry and anything else in general. We took a small hiatus during 2020 but have recently started broadcasting once again. It’s quite fun.

The Early Morning Coffee and Music streams are just that. Me waking up, drinking coffee, working on new material, and sharing small bits with the world as I stitch and piece small previews of material together. I find that there is great interest from people in seeing my creative process and I’m happy to share.

RJ: That sounds cool. Noodlin' before the day really starts.

Uh-oh, it is probably time to start wrapping up our conversation today. How about this, I have a favorite question I try to remember to ask when I talk to mysterious music folks, I get a lot of interesting variations. Here I go.

So... what the heck is music anyway?

KR: It is a way to express myself. It is something anyone can understand no matter the language.

RJ: Arthur Schopenhauer also said that "music a timeless, universal language comprehended everywhere," but I think you just said it better. Thank you for your time, I have enjoyed our conversation and I enjoy listening to your music, thank you for creating it.

Life for your music.

KR: Thank you Robin.

Percolating from darkness, slow mysterious signals are dancing like snowflakes seen from an extremely long distance. Neutrinos typically pass through normal matter unimpeded and undetected. For each neutrino, there also exists a corresponding antiparticle, called an antineutrino, the mass of the neutrino is much smaller than that of the other known elementary particles. "Neutrino" (7:36) asserts our awareness that we are already in space. We will be in space. We are building from the smallest particles to create our infinity.

Beginning as a tone poem parable, dreamy and slowly finding its way, building gradually, staying calm and serene all throughout. Thus unfolds the second track, "V Feeling" (5:45). Thinkers may be seen as cold and heartless by Feelers. Feelers may be seen as unreliable and emotional by Thinkers. Octavia E. Butler, in her Parable of the Sower, reminds us that “All that you touch You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth Is Change.” 

Sometimes the mystery has no explanation, such as when the offspring does not resemble its parents. Could there have been a foreign origin or source? That is the mystery, and each life creates endless ripples. "Xenogenesis" (6:25) begins with the electronic sound of veils or layers, each of which slowly fade to reveal new details, cycling through patterns which had their beginnings in ancient times. 

The objective of this writer is to determine whether electronic sounds and chillout highways significantly influence ambient concentrations of melancholy feelings, ultimately leading to an inspired state, while passively observing the seemingly unaffected hydrogen ions left behind to float around freely. This road is constantly filled with steady lights and throbbing streams of energy. The title track, "Ambient Highways" (6:49) is a story never about the destination, this story is all about the journey itself.

The Weeping Angels are a dangerous race of predatory creatures from the long-running science fiction series Doctor Who. According to the strange Doctor, the Weeping Angels "are as old as the universe (or very nearly), but no one quite knows where they come from." I am hearing dark slow winds and harp patterns with strings, hidden breaths and sighs, and for my own survival I am remembering the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear. "Weeping Angels" (6:53), is the sound of uncoiling sadness through a dark hall of mirrors.

As a dream symbol, the Ptilopteri may represent feelings of being burdened by unwanted emotions, concrete thinking, lethargy, and a need to achieve balance. As an Alternate-Reality Supervillain, the symbolic Ptilopteri presence sometimes is said to indicate that your problems are probably not as serious as you may think them to be. Ptilopteri are highly gregarious, often locating each other by means of their braying cry, and they swim through arctic waters entirely by means of their flipper-like wings, using their webbed feet as rudders as they search for fish, squid, and shrimp. This track has a big screen feeling, imagine the entire Ptilopteri colony assembled in the arctic twilight, with the soundtrack "Faith's Song (Ptilopteri Waltz)" (5:21). As seen from above, they are whirling together in spirals and loops, dancing ceremonially, wholeheartedly lost in the moment, moving in triple time, around and around, while harp patterns and layers of shimmering electronic strings fill the darkness. 

It came from a black hole, and landed somewhere in the Arctic regions. Arctic exploration has motivated some of the most persistent of scientists and speculative dreamers. They often come to their doom, stranded in remote frozen landscapes lost in wind and ice. The track begins with the sounds of waves breaking, "Arctic Shores" (6:34) in the darkness hear frosty synthesizer woodwinds as they hover over the darkest desolation.

Awakening from the darkness, "Dew from the Mourning Star" (5:08) comes offering an uplifting from out of the depths, progressing through changing patterns, expanding to a richer and colorful soundscape, melodic and harmonically pleasing, plucked tones with piano and strings weaving overhead.

"The night is a tunnel ... a hole into tomorrow." These are the words of Frank Herbert from his epic work Dune. "Keeping the Dream Alive" (5:09) brings to my mind the sounds of a harp and piano with an ethereal crown, providing uplifting and sustaining melodies, building and soaring, this is the key track to Ambient Highways, fulfilling the promise held hidden during the darkness of the prologue territories. 

Poseidon is the Greek name, and Neptune is the Roman name for the chthonic god of all waters, presiding over the realms of heaven as well as the underworld, the horseman of the sea. "Neptune's Awakening" (4:32). The beginning brings a distant continuous eternal roar of the surf, followed by a triumphant rolling procesion with powerful beats. A hero takes measure of the forces around, the new empire is emerging from the darkness and taking form, "Distant Visions" (6:51).

The final track, ``Ultima Thule" (8:00) has a rich mixture of textures, bringing to mind travel to the farthest of all, which are known and spoken of. Thule is an ancient word for any distant place located beyond the borders of the known world, a place where they often say that no one has journeyed this far before, the ultimate destination. Polybius in his collection titled Histories (c. 140 BC), Book XXXIV, cites Pytheas,  "Thule, those regions in which there was no longer any proper land nor sea nor air, but a sort of mixture of all three of the consistency of a jellyfish in which one can neither walk nor sail." 

Richie's studio favorites include a Native Instruments S88 controller and mostly Virtual instruments, his philosophy has always been to pick the right tool for the job.  Like so many expanding enthusiasts, he wants to invest in more hardware based modules in the future. His studio is a refuge for the spirits of lonely pioneers in a world of critical doubters who are too often bewildered by the term "science fiction."

He has been releasing his soundtrack-type listening experiences beginning in 2006 with The Maestoso Interstellar Suite, which contains a continuous piece of space music split across 6 movements. He reprised the album in 2016 as The Maestoso Interstellar Suite 10 Year Anniversary Edition and its’ Sister album Singularities – Music from The Maestoso Interstellar Suite, a space music epic. Other titles include La Famille Du Solénoïde (2008), which is a musical tour through our solar system, inspired by the book The Planets by Dava Sobel. For the Willow Wept…. (2012), a collection of soothing electronic music about those once lost and those found, in 2014 came March of the Inanimate, an homage to the classic horror movie soundtracks produced by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth who co-wrote the music to classics such as Halloween, the Fog, and numerous others. 2016  was a productive time, Skylines, Mister Stichs, and March of the Inanimate: Repossessed, an enhanced and extended version of the original masterpiece. More recently, Gunslinger – A Journey to The Dark Tower in Music: Volume 1., which is his first album of a series based on The Dark Tower books by Stephen King,  Pillars in Time, a SharePoint community dedicated album and Songs from the Wounded Heart, a sad/melancholy sound, a great primer into some of his more ethereal and ambient works.

The composition process was not without its challenges, said Richie, who faced a serious case of writer's block at one point. Perseverance and tinkering built momentum, as did the album's creative design process, aided by his wife, Kayla, whose choice of vivid cover art sparked Richie's imagination.

He shares, "I can still listen to Ambient Highways from start to finish with my eyes closed and visually see this body of music. For me, it leaves a lasting expression of finding beauty within the chaos. Just a moment of clarity. I hope it does the same for you. I am thankful to finally be in a place to share it with you in its full intended form, just as it was meant to be."

Ambient Highways will be released in streaming, CD and limited edition vinyl formats on April 12; the pre-sale is available on Bandcamp and on the official website of Richie's independent label, Other Worlds Than These Music. The first two singles are now on Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming platforms.

Connect with Richie for his live video series, “Monday Musings with Maestoso” which includes guest hosts, musical guests, and inside perspectives along with gear talk, creative noodling, and music. The series streams on Facebook, YouTube and Twitch every Monday at 5 pm CDT.

Ambient Highways Trackslist:
Neutrino (7:36)
V Feeling (5:45)
Xenogenesis (6:25)
Ambient Highways (6:49)
Weeping Angels (6:53)
Faith's Song (Ptilopteri Waltz) (5:21)
Arctic Shores (6:34)
Dew from the Mourning Star (5:08)
Keeping the Dream Alive (5:09)
Neptune's Awakening (4:32)
Distant Visions (6:51)
Ultima Thule (8:00)

LINKS:
Official Artist Website: https://music.krichie.com/
Official Label Shop: https://shop.otherworldsthanthese.com/products/owpid0070-lemcv
Bandcamp: https://bandcamp.krichie.com/album/ambient-highways
SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/keithrichie/sets/ambient-highways
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/musicmaestoso/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/krichie
Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/maestosoprime
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/KeithRichie


FOOTLINKS FOR A DEEPER DIVE

Octavia E. Butler

https://www.octaviabutler.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavia_E._Butler

Stephen King Dark Tower series

https://stephenking.com/DarkTower/

VR (Varosky and Richie)

https://bandcamp.vrambient.net/releases

binarywaste

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChyWQqCpEdiwKONNFtZELdg

Native Instruments

https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/keyboards/komplete-kontrol-s88/

The Birthday Massacre

https://thebirthdaymassacre.bandcamp.com/

20six Hundred

https://20sixhundred.bandcamp.com/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtl7bqt_JJTRVeFjMuKgqlg

Christopher Franke

http://christopherfranke.com/

Tangerine Dream

https://www.tangerinedream-music.com/

Carbon Based Lifeforms

https://www.carbonbasedlifeforms.net/


 

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