Ambient music composer Chris MacDonald creates electronic space music in an ethereal style under the name Telomere. With the release of his newest album, The Stellar Sea, he agreed to answer some questions for LoveToKnow. In addition, he is making a free ambient music download (in MP3 format) of one of his newest songs, Radiance available to LoveToKnow readers.
In 1998, the first Telomere album, Astral Currents debuted, sending listeners floating into ambient space. Met with critical acclaim in the Space Music niche, it garnered airplay on the popular "Hearts of Space" radio program and found a devoted international following. It was followed by 2001's Zoetosis and most recently by The Stellar Sea. This trio of albums with its consistently other-worldly and fantastic layers has made MacDonald a big name in ambient music according to many reviewers.
All of the Telomere compositions are performed on electronic synths, with heavy reliance on the Serge modular analog synthesizer.
Many people differentiate between "Space Music" and "Ambient Music." Do you consider your CDs to be one or both of those genres? How important do you think these genres are to electronic music today?
I'd say that the Telomere CDs are space music. I consider them Ambient as well, but it seems like that term has evolved to mean different things to different people. This kind of music can be pretty abstract, with more emphasis on texture, atmosphere and change than on beat and melody. So I think it represents an important form of electronic music in that it's trying to do and say something a little different than what one might typically hear today with electronic instruments.
Who are your inspirations for ambient music? Do you have a favorite CD or artist?
Well, I grew up listening to rock, blues, and jazz, and I think the first ambient and electronic music I heard was in the early 80's, from people like Brian Eno, Michael Stearns, Vangelis, Klaus Schulze, Jean Michel Jarre. They were definitely early influences. Hearing this kind of stuff helped me to see that music could be made in ways that were unusual and a bit different from the styles I had been exposed to before then.
What appeals to you about creating this style of music? Do you write any other types of music?
I think it's partly the impressionistic nature of the music that is appealing. It's often about creating imagery and mood without strong melody, rhythm, lyrics, etc. There is melody and rhythm of course, but overall the focus is a bit different. So I think it's the challenge of composing well within that kind of form. I have written rock music too, I've been in a lot of rock bands over the years, but lately it's mostly been space.
You predominantly use the Serge synthesizer in creating your music. Why is it your instrument of choice?
The Serge is a modular synth, which basically means that it's a bunch of boxes stacked next to each other that either make their own sound or change a sound that is put through them. You have to plug wires in to the boxes to connect them together before you get any sound out. To get a different sound you usually unplug all the wires and start over, so then the previous sound is gone for good. So you're basically breaking the mold each time. I like this a lot because it means each time I approach the instrument I'm going to get something different, and sometimes I end up in a completely different place musically than where I intended to be at the start.
Is there a piece of equipment you would like to acquire and use for your music? What gear are you coveting?
That's a great question, I think most musicians would smile at that one because I haven't met one yet that wasn't coveting something musical! Hmm, for me I guess it would be a Korg PS-3100, which is an old synth from the late '70s that has a great sound and an unusual modular-like layout. Recently I tracked down an old synthesizer called a Roland Jupiter 8 to get some different sounds going for "The Stellar Sea". They're all around 25 years old and only about 2000 of them were made so it took a while. It has a wonderfully smooth, liquidy sound though so it was worth hunting for.
How do you compose one of your songs? Do you know how a song should sound before you start working on it?
Often I hear the texture of the music in my head and I will try to chase that down with the synth. Sometimes it's more of a theory thing, "what about these chords together" or "what if I patch these modules together in this way". Sometimes I have a very well defined idea of the tonality and progression of a song, and I will stick to that. If not then I will let the piece go where it wants to. In any case I do a lot of overdubbing, building the song up over time in layers. On "The Stellar Sea" I also wanted the songs to flow together from one to the next, which meant either trying to match the end of one song to the beginning of the next or finding some other way to stitch them together. So I also had to try to keep that in mind as I went along
Do you have plans for another CD?
Sure I would love to make another Telomere CD. I may not start on it right away though, I have an audio software project that needs some attention and then a synthesizer construction project to work on after that. But I'll probably start composing again for the next CD somewhere during those.
Where are your CDs available?
I currently sell all three of my CDs thru CDbaby. They are available on CD and also for download through them. They also have samples of several of the songs so you can listen…
Tell us a little about yourself - the personal side
I live in California and I'm a software engineer by day. I am married and have a daughter. Music is one of my passions and I spend a lot of my free time composing as well as creating music tools. I have built synthesizers, written audio software in my spare time as well as playing music.
Free Ambient Music Download
To experience Telomere, download a free MP3 of the song Radiance from The Stellar Sea. Chris MacDonald has made this song download available for LoveToKnow visitors to experience his unique music.
To preview the song, left click the link (Radiance). To download the MP3, simply right click and "save link as."
Thank you to Chris MacDonald for giving us a peek into his unique offerings in ambient music. You can learn more about Telomere music at the evenfall label website.