BB: First of all, I have to ask the obvious – where does the name “Soundician” come from?
KJ: It came about when we were discussing music one day, long before we began creating pieces. I said, if we ever started a band I reckoned that Soundician would be a good name. Then I closed the door of the spaceship and headed off to Mars. About a year later, after having listened to Odette composing, we started to think seriously about using the internet, to let people hear these pieces, so we decided to give it a go. A band name was required and Soundician seemed right on a couple of counts. First, the pieces in essence use sound to create the ambience and feel of what we are trying to say. Second, we have no formal musical background and we thought because of this, that we really could not call ourselves musicians. But we liked the idea of being ‘ icians ‘ of some description. So we married ‘ sound ‘ and ‘ ician ‘ together and set off on our journey.
BB: Your division of duties is, I think, rather unique. Odette writes the music and plays all the instruments while Kit produces and mixes the recording. How did this arrangement come about and how well does it work? Is there ever tension or do you each say “You know your part of the job best?”
KJ: It happened quite naturally really, Odette said that I had to do it. (ha-ha). To be serious. Odette, I think, has a natural talent for being able to know which sounds work with one another and I leave her to work on the pieces in peace and quiet. I occasionally hear them as ‘ work in progress ‘ and comment on them if something does not seem to be working too well. I never comment on first hearing, as they usually take a couple of listenings to understand what she is trying to create.
OJ: As Kit says, it just evolved this way. I began by playing simple compositions on an old Yamaha keyboard and Kit, I think was suprised that I could play and compose. (So was I !). We initially tried to work together on pieces from beginning to end but it didn’t really work out and there was a tension in how we worked, especially in the creative arena. We both had such strong ideas and different views on what to write and which sounds to use, etc. Pretty quickly, I began writing and recording on my own but production doesn’t really turn me on. So Kit turned his attention to that side of things and we found that ‘peace’ came with this set up and a recognition of each others abilities developed, with both of us relying on one another. Kit has a very good ear for knowing what tracks work with each other and also whether a composition is the finnished article or not. He’s like my soundingboard and makes me consider further, what, if any, changes or improvements I need to make to the piece. This set up has evolved over the years. In the beginning it was difficult to accept any criticism of my music but as our working relationship grew then so did the trust and confidence in each others ability. Kits’ work complements the music and I have always said that his skill is the other important half of Soundician. It is not just the music that is Soundician, it is the overall sound, ambience and feel that Kits’ production brings. Anyway, I’m only interested in and comfortable with my keyboards and machines. I just love writing music and sitting listening intently a thousand times to a track for faults or making minor EQ changes, etc, is not me at all. I haven’t the patience and I trust Kit in his decisions. I hand him the final finnished song and the rest is up to him. It’s better this way, drawing on each others strengths and there are less arguments. It has developed into “you know each others roles” and you acknowledge each others skills.
BB: The aesthetics of your CDs’ graphics is minimalist, to say the least? Is this intentional, i.e. do you want the listener to not be guided into some preconceived notion what the music is about?
OJ: In the beginning we did release the original ” Soundician ” CD with full colour graphics. However, since we do all the graphics and printing ourselves and fund it on a very tight budget, we quickly realised that we could not compete with the art work of other artists in the genre. It was Kit who suggested a white CD cover with just basic information in colour. This has become the basis of our CD graphics and has I think become a bit of a ” trademark ” for us.
KJ: Yes, I think that your reading of our use of graphics is correct. We have consciously adopted a policy of not giving any clues as to what is contained on the CD and this is linked with other areas of what we do and how we feel about the music industry. It comes down to judging books by their covers, how many good books have you not read because of their covers?
BB: You’ve mentioned to me your apprehension at the whole aspect of which genre your music will be slotted into, e.g. new age, ambient, EM. Can you address this in more detail and if you think your music is too varied to reach a large audience?
KJ: We have apprehensions about this, mainly because of our creative processess. We tend to move in the direction which seems appropriate for the piece. Sometimes it can be more Ambient than New Age or Space Music. On other occasions it could be more New Age than Space music and so on. So we’re never quite sure about where to place ourselves in the EM spectrum. We have unreleased pieces that are part of our soundscape that are quite removed from our output to date. But to us they are part of Soundician and are as valid as say ‘ Adrift ‘ or ‘ Aegean Blue ‘. These pieces will eventually be released one day but they need their own space and time. Is our music too varied to reach a large audience? I think that most people who share our our style of writing find it difficult to attract and hold large audiences. Simply because that audience possibly comes to expect more of the same, for whatever reason. Since each day brings new experiences for us, then so our pieces reflect these experiences. We can’t expect an audience to move with us in any random direction, so I think we are the authors of our own fate in this respect, in being too varied for a large audience.
OJ: Yes, I can only underline what Kit says in that I don’t sit down and think today I’m going to write about a certain subject and it’s going to be an Ambient track. I have always written eclectically and in an organic way. Songs just develop naturally and hence, can be a mixture of all EM genres and lots of styles not necessarily associated with EM. I’ve never been afraid to look beyond the genre and use sounds/rhythms that are not often heard in EM. Of course, variety can be positive in that our albums are, I think, intruiging and may sometimes catch the listener off guard. Nevertheless, I have to agree with Kit that eclecticism can have it’s drawbacks when it comes to placing us in the EM spectrum. We do not write music which is easy to listen to and is simply “ear candy”, however as we write melodic EM, serious afficianados have tended to consider us as frivolous. In the end we produce what we like and if people also like what we do, then it’s a bonus. Some people have been pleasantly surprised from all sections of the community, once they’ve given us time to grow on them.
BB: As a follow-up to the last part of the previous question, is finding an audience really your goal, or is it more about just making the music that’s inside you, i.e. giving voice to your muse and if the seeds find fertile ground, more’s the better?
KJ: It is and it isn’t really. Yes we would like to think that people find some shared emotion with our pieces. But we started out, and continue, to write from inside, if people find us then that’s more than wonderful.
OJ: When I began writing there was never a thought that anyone would be interested in listening to my work, it was a past- time that was a conduit for my thoughts and emotions. When, Kit suggested that the tracks I eventually recorded should be heard by other people, I must admit that I was sceptical to say the least. Being a very introverted individual with not much confidence initially, I was very nervous about sharing my inner thoughts with the rest of the world. You see, as I am not very eloquent verbally then music expresses my thoughts. It is my voice. It is the expression of how I feel about my place in the world. Hence, I never dreamed that anyone would give me their time to listen. Without sounding too much like a nerd but it really is that important to me. So finding an audience wasn’t top of my list. However, when we began getting positive reactions to the first Soundician CD then I thought, maybe Kit was right all along and the songs deserved to be heard, not shut away on a hard drive. It’s not about fame but there is an element of sharing your music and if people like what we produce, then it’s a genuine shock for me and a fantastic side effect of ‘going public’.
BB: It seems that most ambient musicians avoid the whole image thing (i.e. putting their pictures on their websites or on their albums) whereas many new age and adult contemporary musicians feel the opposite. Are you purposely trying to stay at least somewhat anonymous (as some artists tell me they strive for), so that your music alone defines you, as opposed to your appearance or any background info?
OJ: Well we’re not that ugly that we need to hide (ha-ha). Seriously, for me the whole Soundician ethos is enough. What is more important to me is that the music is given the chance to be heard without any preconceptions.
KJ: Yes, we like our anonynimity, although some would say that doing this interview is at odds with this stance. It’s our pieces that define us, it’s not the way that we look or the clothes that we wear that’s important. Apart from family relatives and a few individuals who live locally, no one knows about us or Soundician. We have not played live and at present have no plans to do so. Apart from ‘conversations’ with net dj’s and reviewers, our only medium of contact is via our music. We are very private people and are not looking for fame or fortune. Yes, we have sent our music around the world but only in an effort to share our work with others. I think that supplying background information to our work would detract people from listening to the music, rather than compliment the piece. We don’t cite our sources but there is always a story behind all of our work.
BB: Your music is unique in how it blends new age melodicism with ambient or EM sensibilities, but the majority of it is “warm” music, i.e. not cold, dark or sterile. Do you consider yourselves “happy” people or does your music just happen to be, well, friendly?
OJ: It is interesting that you think that our music is “warm” and friendly or happy because I believe that EM can be warm and emit emotion. If that comes across then it really pleases me. I think that sometimes the ‘friendliness’ of our music can be misconstrued as being easy or not too complicated. I do write pieces which are very happy, some are about the places we have visited or people in our lives but there is also a darker undercurrent to some of our work. In fact, there is a darker side to Soundician and we are not afraid to write and release more ‘serious’ or melancholic subjects if we feel that they should be included as part of a CD.
KJ: Yes, we do consider ourselves as happy people. We may not be very happy about what’s taking place on this planet at the moment but inside our home and in our relationships with each other, (daughter included), it’s as insane as a ‘Night at The Opera’.
BB: Your first attempt at releasing music was not on CD but via Liquid Audio. How well was that received and what led to the decision to release The Beauty is knowing… on traditional CD?
KJ: It was purely the way to go at the time, if this had been a decade earlier we would not be doing this interview. We felt that the internet was our only medium and in terms of exposure – still do. We had the technology to record in our studio and decided to find out how we could get our music on the internet. We approached a local business to start up our website but discovered that the costs to load and stream all of our music would be prohibitive, so we searched around and came across Liquid Audio and uploaded our tracks. This was before we discovered the EM community which existed in the real world. The first CD would have been released initially as a traditional CD, if we had known where to send it. There was also an option with Liquid to download for sale single tracks which seemed to be a good idea at the time.
OJ: Yes, in the beginning we were purely net based. This also had to do with initial set up, it was just more cost effective to put our tracks out via the internet, than it was to copy x amount of CD’s that no one wanted to hear. Our time with Liquid Audio was really a test bed to see if anyone would pick up on us. However, we found that we soon had to revert to traditional CD production. As our confidence grew and we were encouraged to contact more radio stations and review sites, we discovered that DJ’s and reviewers still requested ‘hard copy’ CD’s. In many respects this has been a good thing as the quality of sound that is contained on a CD, is far superior when compared to most net based formats. Many of our contacts were just not happy with using net based material, so now we use the net for showcasing our music and giving some information about ourselves to anyone who may want to know about us.
BB: What part does music play in your life as a whole? Do you support yourselves with music or do you have “other lives?”
KJ: We have Soundician and we have an everyday life of earning money, keeping healthy, screaming at the TV, raving at the politicians, etc. Soundician is financed entirely from our everyday life, on a strict budget. If we would seek any financial gains from Soundician, it’s simply that it covers it’s own running costs, hence our search for outlets to make CD’s available to people. We have been nudged towards seeking a record deal by our conscience when things get tough but we have always pulled back. We like the freedom to do what we like, when we like, how we like and be in total control of our output and importantly to us, to retain ownership of our work.
OJ: I can only add that music plays a massive part in our lives. There is always music playing around the home and it covers a wide spectrum. For me, it has become my life as I write or record most days and if I am not in the backroom studio, then I’m doing correspondence or promtion and administration. We don’t and have not made a bean from Soundician. As Kit says, he has a job, so that after all the usual bills are paid and our daughter is catered for, then whatever is left over funds Soundician. Often this means that the list of things we would like to have for the studio or production or promotion, gets longer and CD’s are released when we can fund it.
BB: You seemed surprised at the success (via airplay and reviews) your music has found. You also seem genuinely humbled by the praise people lavish on you. Can you give me some insight into what that’s about?
KJ: We are, very much so. We have a belief in our pieces and a confidence to release them but to be absolutely honest we never expected the response which has been received from people who have taken the time to listen, play and review them. We are genuinely humbled by this response. The whole deal for us is to to produce the best possible work that we can from our backroom studio. The best piece, the best mix and production, etc. We work very hard to produce a professional composition and sound. To find ourselves played along side world renowned artistes on radio, who are backed by massive corporations and their resources, completes the deal for us. But that’s down to the DJ’s and reviewers who think that our music is good enough to be a part of that world.
OJ: For me, I can only agree with Kit’s response. There are no expectations that our music will be liked, we just do what we do and hence the surprise when we find someone out there appreciates what we have written. We are both genuinely thankful to those in the EM community who have picked up on us and given us encouragement. When you reach a certain age you start to think that it’s time to pack away some of the dreams you had when you were young, so to us it’s like being given a second chance to do something you really love, not many people get that chance. In the end, being grateful is just us, we are what we are.
BB: What does the future hold for Kit and Odette Johnson?
KJ: We’ll continue the work that we have started until such time arrives where we can no longer continue or we feel that we have reached the journey’s end. In the short term we’re working on pieces that may or may not form the next release. Odette is currently engaged with new pieces which moves Soundician into the next area of our soundscape and there are some projects that are running around our conversations about suites and concepts and things, of course we could release a pop album and create a new dance :-). Just to keep more busy than we are, I’m currently remixing / mastering the ‘ First ‘ Soundician CD.
BB: Any parting thoughts or comments you want to share with the Wind and Wire readers?
KJ: Yeah, we can’t hear most of the stations that play our music where we live ( England ). The EM community here is non-existent in or on any medium. Even local radio stations do not have any programmes such as Wind & Wire and it’s like, it’s strictly if it don’t sell it don’t play. I know from articles that such programmes in most countries are constantly seeking support and funding to keep on air. All I can say is support your local stations and shows in any way that you can and as best as you can. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, then it’s too late.
OJ: Well, just to say thank you Bill for asking us to do this this interview, it has been a great pleasure. Peace And Respect to all your readers.
BB: Many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I hope Soundician continues to garner positive reactions and that you’ll keep on making the great music for a long time to come.
Bill Binkleman was a DJ on KFAI for many years, where his knowledge of all genres of Electronic, World and New Age was and is highly respected . He originally had the acclaimed Wind and Wire website which is now pared down into the Wind and Wire Blog. He still reviews for his site and Zone Music Reporter.