The current crop of New Age and ambient projects emerging from the Bandcamp ether are mostly background noise, filler music for empty workdays or zone-out sessions at home. Tripp, ephemeral, forgettable…
One project I initially lumped into that category, but quickly found much more beneath the surface, is Wave Temples. This anonymous Floridian journeyman takes the tired trope of field recordings littered over hazy keyboard riffs and turns it on its head, offering a loaded back catalogue that’s immersive, compelling, and puzzling. His most recent voyage, Isle Enchanted, was released via Not Not Fun at the close of 2016 (and now available in a limited second edition), and it’s as good a starting point as any for those ready to dive deep into the Wave Temples vibe (see also the vast and varied releases on his Rainbow Pyramid imprint).
Tiny Mix Tapes caught up with WT over email, and, in keeping with the mysterious and anonymous nature of the project, I didn’t know what to expect until my inbox buzzed with responses touching on everything from a breakdown of his discography, swimming with sharks, and the influence of dreams on his work.
Can you tell me about the formation of Wave Temples? How long have you been playing music, and what led to you start this project?
Well, it’s complicated. This project has been growing from seed for almost 10 years now and the longer it’s gone on, the harder it is to tell where one things ends and another begins.
I’d like to say it all comes from drugs, like maybe just some kind of old lazy new age indica, or a post-nostalgic opioid bliss floating up from some insta-vapor cloud in this seemingly never-ending digital culture loop, but that wouldn’t be totally accurate.
I wish I could say more exotic, maybe a dark rich jungle sativa, mystic in epiphyte blooming succulent heart, feeding a dense foggy soul tattooed with shimmering crystalline waves, the dancing flicker of Maori effigies burning from a time long past, or the beckoning call of Easter Island. Oh, what a treasure that would be?! But that wouldn’t be the whole truth either.
The truth is probably more ordinary, as it goes. I’d say it’s been far closer to star-charting moments of perfect coincidence in an otherwise chaotic sea of randomness; making the best of difficult situations and striving for a more harmonious existence. At some point I had become disillusioned by a lot of music culture and there seemed to be a line crossed for me when so many forms of music and art stopped being about any kind of idealized catharsis or post-tribal vestige and all just hollow ethereal fad, image, and celebrity. This is the way of things; I get it. I just couldn’t be a part of that kind of world anymore.
A lot of this path has also been tied to deep self-analysis of how my own behavior and belief systems directly effect my own reality and how base energy through intention lead to certain outcomes. It’s in this regard that I feel it’s weird to just talk solely about music or aesthetic when the evolution of this project has so directly been symbiotic with a long path of serious growth and change in my own life.
Maybe Desert Islands by Gilles Deleuze is a key for philosophy, but that came much later. An inevitable outcome of already set sails or a discovered lost treasure, perhaps. Or, maybe, just a byproduct of subtle homage to the Fourth Way spoken of by Ouspensky and flowering up from some post-Theosophical Gurdjieff-esque styled garden of allegory, maybe; or just willfully being as uncomfortably boring as possible as a contrarian middle finger to noise and punk kids, a peaceful rebellion to the attention deficit-disordered modern world. That would definitely explain some of the past live shows. All would apply.
To speak of the Wave Temples project distinctly… It’s been deeply personal by design. It’s been influenced and furthered onward by unique and intense hallucinations and dreams. This statement may seem a little cliché these days but interesting to note because I’ve never been a person to invest too much in dreams. Maybe I’ve never dreamed this intense or had such a systematic interpretation as I do today, but I doubt it. I am a skeptic at heart and I don’t think I’ve had dreams quite like this prior to 2013. I have plenty of ordinary dreams and long periods without any dreams at all, but on the rare occasion there are these dreams that inspire and further the Wave Temples narrative that have been richly enchanting and rewarding.
My original intentions leading to this project were just to follow a childhood love to create narratives and play around freely on a voyage of self-discovery. To this realm, Atlantis and islands of mystery, the alluring quest of the old tropics, and all the sacred mysticism that still lie in secret exotic portal locales across the world. “To be true to thy self” apart.
What are some pieces of music, film, art, literature, and cultural ephemera that shaped the sounds you pursue with Wave Temples?
Season 1 episode 10 of In Search Of… with Leonard Nimoy was totally a way back starting point for the aesthetic of this project. Not so much the scientific need to explain the unexplained or discover the undiscovered, but just the flirtation with the wonder of wild enchanted ancient mysteries set to that backing raw lo-fi mystical synth music. It does make for the start of a really great narrative. It’s a shame they never issued just the soundtrack. The ability to craft a unique atmosphere through sound has been a long time fascination for me. Lots of the original music from the first season of In Search Of… was really interesting. I’ve always liked that kind of electromagnetic dirty lo-dub weird and raw.
The new age phase by Kitaro was a huge unconscious influence on me from a very young age. At the time I had no concept of New Age as a genre, I just thought of it like a film score to a film that didn’t exist and I really loved that idea. I spent a lot of my teens listening to my dad’s cassettes and letting my imagination roam. In retrospect, as much of a sad teenager as I was, I was really happiest during that time. My only critique was that it was just too clean. I wished that this kind of music existed with the same raw lo-fi DIY passion that I found in early punk cassettes, but this was before the internet, so it’s all I had. That’s definitely a vivid experience that originally inspired me towards this project. Had I known of stuff like Iasos’s early work or J.D. Emmanuel at the time, who knows…
There are however, many other later influences or experiences both musical and otherwise that have either inspired or justified this project to continue. Ana from the blog Microphones in the Trees was vital support that turned me on to a lot of like-minded people through her massive compilations and reviews. The Laboratory in Gainesville and all the improvisational experimental shows that used to happen there had a very strong impact on me at a critical point in time. Seeing Moemlien on tour with Unicorn Hard-On and Container at Action Research Halloween in 2011 was really important to me, but there have been several really excellent musical and aesthetic intersections made over the years that are also totally worth the research for the internet adventurous.
The more hidden side of Florida and her associations with the old Atlantean tropics have been a huge point of inspiration. Hermeticism, anonymity, individualism, isolation, adventure! Florida in general holds some interesting mystery portals all her own. A very weird place for the attuned initiate willing to keep her secrets.
Your Bandcamp page links to this video. How does this influence the sound and aesthetic of Wave Temples?
That is definitely, probably, a measured byproduct of seriously taking “not taking it serious” very seriously, or not? I’d like to think it has a lot to do with Bermuda ley lines, or Malta. Her mysterious allure is very much within the spirit of this project. I think that video sums it up perfectly.
Reading Britt Brown’s recent RBMA interview, the term “vibe sessions” stuck out for how he described his earliest experiences with new age and ambient shows. That phrase seems apt for what I hear when listening to Wave Temples’ back catalog on Bandcamp. With Isle Enchanted, were you going for a specific mood or feel?
I don’t think I was aiming for any mood or vibe directly, other than maybe just good natured and peaceful. The desired outcome with this project tends to be more like room music or maybe an organic form of atmospheric wallpaper music would be a better term, where it works best when put at low volume on speakers and just allowed to fill the environment with ebb and flow. My main goal is always to make something that pleases my own environment: nature, cats, plants, bugs, birds, and now a fierce young lady dog. Low key plays a big part of it. I like soundtracking environments.
The process however, always starts by returning to the narrative and often continues in intervals with notes taken periodically, experimenting with different methods, loops, and timbres, arranging technique or approach, then decoding it all together in post. It’s always cerebral first and foremost. I do have places that I’d like to go with albums like this one, but often the process defines itself as it goes along and ends up being new and uncharted. That is the most fun for me. The process is sort of like my journal, observing, documenting, and codifying the cross sections in the physical and metaphysical currents of my life and translating them into works of sound adventure. Up until this year, the voyage had evolved into a search for home and all the interesting human distractions along the way; pursuit of a lusting life and forgoing its destroyer.
With Isle Enchanted specifically, it was coming out of the Cymatic Abyss, where stillness and patience dominate all vibration, discovering the teleporting island and now arriving at new destinations. Hearing rumors, stories, and mysteries. Reading up, daydreams, night dreams, hallucinations, investigations, just for a whole designated period dedicated to producing something. Once fully absorbed, clear the slate and just experiment. On the inside of the cassette cover of Isle Enchanted there is a non-linear track listing that kind of explains the narrative of this specific adventure. Reading back through it some 6+ months later, it sounds eerily similar to a sudden and chance adventure I had right about the time of this albums release… but was originally inspired at the crest of spring 2016 by tales of the adventurers employed by the Roman emperor Augustus in discovery of the yet to be tamed Isle of Capri, places like the labyrinthian Medici gardens of Florence, and the story of the discovery of Margate Shell Grotto in England… and how that all kind of related to the experience and possibilities of weird discovery of our own old hidden tropical-post-memphis styled estate that we’ve come to call home this year.
Your releases give the impression of being formed from loose jam sessions. Is that the case? Do you put together tracks with an album or release in mind, or do you pick and choose from a lot of material?
Aside from the inherent limitations of arranging within cassette format, I wouldn’t say loose jam sessions in any traditional sense. It became clear a long time ago that there is absolutely no fun for me in overly structured music, and I very much prefer a loose jam session with attuned people over some sort of monotonous rehearsal. Over the past 25 years of playing music, I have had a flirtation and/or chance to evaluate almost every type of music that exists on earth while trying to hone my own filter of influence.
Methodical improvisation I’ve found tends to be the most exciting, especially in a live-show situation. A clean mental slate as far as technique is also helpful to keep it challenging. I often write for this project through live shows. Not only is it about the only fun way for me to perform something like this live, but it is also fun to pick up a show when I can and come out and sketch live for people or, on occasion, just willfully piss people off with being intentionally as boring or as sloppy (or as pretty sounding) as possible is totally fun too; especially opening at harsh noise shows. Most live stuff never makes it to recording as it’s performed either, so that’s great, too. Throughout the year I enjoy collecting sounds and timbres and moments that influence. Returning to the inner island is like a pilgrimage for me; a chance to center and sort things out. Though I am finding that the more I go along this path, the inner island is becoming more of an outer island and that to me has been the most rewarding outcome from persisting with this project.
As stated earlier, each recording has been part of an ongoing narrative. Up until now it usually begins by arriving and ends by departing. Across the Shores of the Barrier Sea is a little different because it was from material created during a few years that I was totally lost, aimless, and in deep despair. It’s a mix of material from two highly orchestrated big gear live projection shows in the summer of 2011 mixed with cassette and battery-operated, reel-to-reel field recording experiments from late night sketchy bike rides in 2011 and 2012. At the time the project didn’t have a name but the process was already beginning to take root. There might also be some material slipped in from a quartet I joined for a show curated by Al Margolis at the Stone in Manhattan in early 2012. It’s never been officially released but I recently made it available to download on bandcamp by request.
Keys to the Inner Islands was monumental for me. It was recorded around an intense journey to the southern-most tip of Key West in spring of 2013 and waking up to deep, middle of the night dopamine overloaded hallucinations while sleeping in my car. This proceeded a sudden chance adventure the next day to the increasingly lost but hidden, wild, and raw old Key West; eventually ending much farther north in hidden treasures near Cedar Key by Summer. That whole adventure sealed the deal for me. The album was released on cassette through Rainbow Pyramid, and later in short handmade run cassettes/digitally as the album Spring Ritual, which also included an extended kind of an ‘open ocean’ EP from the period right after departing the Isle of the Feathered Serpent that was 2013.
In the Shade of the Island was darker days than Keys, definitely moving deeper into darker territory. A limited cassette only release from Mexican imprint Department Tapes that had a track play at the 24-hour guerrilla FM broadcast ‘The Dark Outside’ from deep in the Dark Sky Park of the Galloway Forrest Scotland in October 2013.
Floating Garden/Hidden Temple was and is cassette-only, released through Rainbow Pyramid late 2013. This album joined an ending celebration of the Year of the Feathered Serpent, but started as a commission for a collaborative installation with a fantastic nature stop-motion filmmaker (also botanist and surfer) David C. Montgomery for a zoo’s festival of lights exhibition in December of that year. That album was also right in the wake of a lot of deep personal tragedy that would go on to directly influence the events of my life in 2016.
Nice Dreams is all ocean exploration and was released on the Space Coast Florida imprint Illuminated Paths. It’s more of an intentional experiment based on research into sleep cycles. I wanted to soundtrack the rhythm and movements of sleep. This release was only part one though. The same outcome can still be achieved with just one part, but to get the full effect in theory, you have to listen to it through room speakers at a low audible level on repeat throughout the night. Every two cycles would approximately complete an average deep-sleep cycle, and it’s all math after that. Part 2 will get done one day. This is really the only album so far that was meant more for digital formats for the auto repeat feature. The cassette release was double repeat 90+ minutes but the tape still needs to be flipped.
Sleeping Tortugas, released on Florida/California imprint Rotifer Cassettes, was more of an orchestrated and track-driven album. Set to a whole summer period in 2014 of intense, fantastical hot night dreams that bled into smooth serene day dreams and vice versa. A truly surreal place of intense feminine energy, sometimes dark, sometimes motherly, surrounded and hidden by fog; where the water shallowed and bubbled to the heartbeat of giant sleeping turtles. From the vast warm bubbling spring between their archipelago-sized bodies, to up under the gaze of high-tiered jungle cities and structures looming down from their massive shells, sometimes peaceful and surreal, and at times a place of dark adult rituals held in tiered fluorescent pools under a black starry sky, emptying down into a deep sparkling cenote lined in waterfalls that housed some ancient marriage ritual. I wasn’t able to stick around but it was intense stuff. A truly fantastical experience for me. A healing experience, but almost dangerous in its seducing allure after a while. It was hard to move on.
After that we entered the Cymatic Abyss, with a brief excerpt Tales from… released as a split with dank ambient tropical sound wizard Heat Surreens via Rainbow Pyramid in January 2015.
Right now there is an out-take from the Isle Enchanted sessions online via Hartzine in France and a track for the massive ‘World Ambient’ comp release at midnight New Years 2017 via Onmyodo imprint from Portland/Seattle.
How did Isle Enchanted come to be released through Not Not Fun? Whose idea was it to write “Masterpiece” on the cover?
I was introduced to Britt through fellow Floridian John Touchton of Severed + Said. He caught up with me very figuratively swimming with the sharks that surrounded our soon-to-be-home Hawaiki. We started talking in email during the voyage over and eventually things slowed down enough to be able to trade some stuff and lay down some material that had been building up. I knew a little of Not Not Fun via Russian Tsarlag and I was really looking forward to a solid excuse to unpack my gear and record something at Hawaiki for the first time. Ultimately it came down to time, chance, and circumstance lining up to afford the right conditions.
As far as the cover art, I left everything up to Britt. I have a very hands off approach to working with aesthetics for labels. I originally sent some photo examples to help flesh out a vision of the narrative the best I could, but often a tight physical product design is what a good imprint does best and a micro-managed affair is not quite in the spirit of this project. I believe the “masterpiece” portion was keeping within the aesthetic of old pulp adventure books which I thought to be a very appropriate concept.
While this interview is going to run in early 2017, these questions were sent right at the tail end of 2016. What are you proud of from this year, and what are you looking forward to, musical or otherwise, in the new year?
To say 2016 has been a monumental year for me would be an understatement. Close friends have said that this was the year I finally grew up but I don’t agree. I don’t believe there really is such a thing as “growing up,” but long since planted seeds did begin to really flower and bloom. Chance and circumstance took me on one long surreal roller coaster of a wave all year long. I swam with sharks, crash landed onto my own little island life, got married, and saw the barriers between make-believe and reality blur in ways I could have never imagined; got to go on most excellent adventures, learned that the most exhilarating experiences come in the face of imminent danger; successfully quit smoking after 23 years, and had the fortunate opportunity to release this album on Not Not Fun, and everything else in between.
It’s going to be hard to top 2016 for me. I’m not so much proud as just thankful because none of this would have been possible just a few years ago. Life is long and certainly a weird mysterious happening sometimes. I imagine 2017 is going to be a very busy year in many realms of existence; maybe too busy at times, probably turbulent considering. I’m still open to far out voyages but I’d also hope to explore more inland territory too. I’m interested to get more into experimenting with composed and/or orchestrated music. I’d love to record live on the Isle of Malta.
I don’t know… I am truly infantile to a whole new life, open to the possibilities, both pleasant and otherwise. I am truly thankful that 2016 was what it was for me and at this point I just try to savor the calm quiet moments between surging tidal currents, keeping my eyes open and focused forward. We shall sea…