I've reviewed Ariel Kalma's music and blogged about him here on SoT so it seemed like the only thing natural thing left to do was to arrange an interview with him to learn even more about the man and his music.
Born and raised in Paris Ariel's introduction to music began as a young boy when he first took up the flute and then the saxophone. As he grew older the gates to his musical universe expanded in dramatic fashion as he traveled the world extensively in the late 60's and early 70's, touring with various musicians and soaking up a multitude of different cultures and influences in the process.
In the mid 70's Ariel found himself on the cutting edge of what eventually went on to become known as ambient music. His first album Le Temps des Moissons (1975) was a trance inducing fusion of electronic ragas and blistering saxophone sounds, while his 1978 release Osmose combined the natural sounds of the rainforest with minimalist, electronic textures.
Ariel currently resides in Australia where he keeps himself busy creating new music and shifting through his archived recordings. In addition to this he also runs his own record label with his wife called Music Mosaic. Through Music Mosaic Ariel creates fabulous compilation albums that help him to continue to spread his philosophy that we can bring the world a little closer together through music that helps embrace cultural diversity and promotes global harmony.
I caught up with Ariel to get the low down on some of his current projects which includes a fantastic Didgeridoo compilation as well as his long awaited sequel to Osmose entitled appropriately enough Osmose2. We also discussed his career at length and how those early travels across the globe shaped the course of both his music and his life. Read on to find out more about this fascinating artist.
SoT: First of all tell me about these two new releases that you have out now on your label.
Ariel: Osmose 2 is on my 'personal' website. It is a continuation of the original LP Osmose which I produced in 1978. I love nature's sounds; it inspires me endlessly as I find space between music and silence, which is a fascinating subject for me.
I created Didgeridoo Drum Dance for our label Music Mosaic. After the good response from our previous didgeridoo compilations I wanted a more acoustic didgeridoo album based mainly on 'natural trance' rhythms, which is a growing trend for young people around the world. I chose tracks that went in that direction. Didgeridoo music develops nicely and there are a number of fantastic bands that incorporate this great instrument into their sounds.
SoT: It isn't an instrument you hear every day at least here in the West.
Ariel: It is much less common but its gaining popularity.
SoT: It's amazing how the sound of the instrument blends so well with the electronic and acoustic percussion.
Ariel: Yes for two reasons, one it is rhythmic therefore it goes well with grooves and drums. Two, it is limited in range so it has a drone effect which can be used for trance-like tracks. The didgeridoo has a raw sound and to me, in our modern life we have a need for something rawer, primal and tribal to compensate for all the complex situations of the brain/mind in which we navigate each day. When I was a music director during therapy groups I saw that clearly.
SoT: You mean in how people responded to the instrument?
Ariel: In ancient tribes there was always a way for people to trance their way out of trivial daily activities and enter a place of pure dance, relaxing and healing. Because of its primordial sound the didgeridoo favors the creation of trance inducing music. Take the band Wild Marmalade for example; they are two musicians - one didge, one drummer. They go around the world and their public goes nuts, sometimes hundreds of people dance to their rhythms. Or the band Hilight Tribe, it's the same thing only they are six or seven musicians. Andy Graham, whose contribution is a song called "Seven" does it alone, playing didge, a drum kit and a djembe hand drum at the same time.
SoT: That's amazing. Was his track cut live then?
Ariel: Some of his tracks yes, but for "Seven" I think Andy recorded a jaw harp on top of his drum-djembe-didge-at-once. I guess what I wanted to express with this album is the link between the raw sounds of the didge and the need for an outlet to let go in natural trance music.
SoT: Ok so tell me about Osmose2.
Ariel: Osmose 2 is kind of the opposite to Didgeridoo Drum Dance, maybe that's because I had the need to work on it immediately following Didgeridoo Drum Dance.
SoT: Osmose 2 can almost be seen as an extension of the first Osmose album which you recorded over thirty years ago. It's interesting that you decided to revisit this project after so long. So I guess my question is why did you do it and did you have any reservations about taking a bit of a step back in revisiting this album?
Ariel: Not at all. When I worked on the first Osmose album I learned to listen to the subtleties of the sounds of the forest, bird songs, waves of crickets, the calling of toucans, cracklings of branches, a fly etc..This has always stayed with me. Maybe this is why I've chosen to live in places where there was nature sounds instead of city sounds. So over the years I gathered more bird sounds, the waves on the beach, a bubbling brook etc…
SoT: Natural sounds as opposed to manmade sounds.
Ariel: Yes, someone said that at the first degree art is an imitation of nature, which is ok
but we shouldn't forget the real thing. I guess many people have experienced the peace and quiet we feel when we're in a forest with just the wind, a distant call and some cricket's maybe, but I did not want to only make another new-age album illustrating the forest. I wanted the forest to really be involved in the music and be an integral part of it. So those tracks are not the run of the mill ambient or new age music, they are more connected, dramatic, osmotic.
SoT: I think you achieved that because the sounds are definitely more up front in the mix this time as opposed to the original album, where they were more in the background. It makes for a better balance.
Ariel: I hope people will like it and judging by some of the responses from my fans it seems they do.
SoT: The first Osmose record was a collaborative effort between yourself and Richard Tinti in that he provided the field recordings and you added various amounts of different instrumentation to come up with this very unique album. For Osmose 2 did you use any leftover music from that time and rework it or was it all completely new recordings?
Ariel: I used few of Richard Tinti's field recordings. Some music tracks were originally from that time and I reworked them over the years such as "Voyage au Dessus des Terres" and "Rainforest Mystery". "Harmony of Light" also uses some of his stuff. However, I also used several of my own field recordings of birds from my garden, a pretty intense storm recording and a bubbling brook.
SoT: Back then did you think you would one day make another companion record like this or did the idea just develop over time?
Ariel: I had gathered some mixes over the years in view of doing Osmose 2 at one point.
I wanted to do another one but those tracks were in all kinds of formats, cassettes, 1/4 inch tapes, DAT etc…In 2008 I archived a lot of my music to digital and in May 2009 I gathered together what I already had. I have archived all my music digitally and will publish all kinds of music that I've kept over the years. I'm just waiting until I have time to remaster it and make these albums.
SoT: How much material are you talking about, is it hours and hours of stuff and is most of it previously unreleased?
Ariel: Oh yes hours and hours, in styles ranging from minimalist to tropical to experimental. So between Music Mosaic, my archives, the new music that floats in my head and all the unfinished projects, I am keeping really busy and I love it!
SoT: Which kind of leads me to my next question because it's funny you've never really made the same record twice, but with Osmose 2 this is about as close as you've gotten. All of your records have a unique feel and style to them. Have you always made a conscious effort to do something different with each album or is each record simply just a reflection of where you are at that time?
Ariel: Yes, a reflection is a good word for this as each record is different in content and feel. Each record is a piece of time and space; it is where I am here and now, and looking back it's who I was then and there. Le Temps des Moissons was recorded in my small studio under the roof in Paris after I came back from India in 1975. Osmose took me into the Kalimantan rainforests. Music for Dream and love reflects a time when I was meditating a lot on space (call it Space Music if you wish). For Chansons d'Esprit I became a singer/songwriter and poet. In Flowing Dreams and Endless Breath I created sound environments for group sessions such as massage, guided meditations, tantra and breath therapy). Serenity was born after I became a father and I even used some of my baby son's toys and music box on that one. My sax, My Love shows the love I have for saxophone, etc…so yes, reflection is a good word…
The compilations I do for Music Mosaic are different in that I choose a theme and build a playlist around that. So the title says it all: Drum Trance, Tribal Groove, Didgeridoo Drum Dance, Urban Mantra., etc…
Ryan: Can you take me back to where your head was at that time and the things that were influencing your music in and around the time of Le Temps des Moissons and Osmose?
Ariel: Le Temps des Moissons was conceived in the summer of 1975 as I came back from an eleven month journey through India, Kashmir, and returning overland via Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, and landed in South of France. There was so much music in my head! In Paris, a friend of mine showed me how to transform my 1/4 inch tapes into a self published LP. I borrowed money but it was not enough for a print job on the sleeves, so I bought 1000 white sleeves and drew my hand on each, then had friends come over to write a number on each and to slip a printed, hand turned, color sheet with text into each LP sleeve. Then I went with my petrol powered bike 'Solex' to music stores and radio stations. They did not know what to do with this music. They would ask me "In which box should I put your LPs?" I sold them one by one or ten by ten, then had another 1500 vinyl LPs done, this time with printed sleeves.
I was invited to play live on some radio stations so I gathered a fusion band of musicians from Morocco, India, the US and France. This was world music before it's time as we were already crossing borders and surprising audiences.
Three years later I had gathered tracks for a new album when I got a phone call from a guy wanting to have me hear the field recordings he made in the Kalimantan rainforest of Borneo. He had hours of the ambient rainforest in high quality recordings. To our amazement, birds and keyboards, flutes and crickets, saxophones and frogs, war drums and (vintage) drum machines had much in common in terms of pitch, melodies, rhythms and effects. I decided to blend my compositions with the rainforest atmospheres and thus Osmose was created. It was a magical time working to match nature and music recordings. I sometimes was so entranced that I would lose all sense of reality and literally fall 'asleep' on the mixing board. When the album was manufactured we realized the record company would not make any effort for Osmose as they only wanted to increase their catalog. I bought part of the stock and we sold it ourselves. We had to wait till 2006 for Blur Records in the US to publish Osmose again in the States.
Ryan: Did touring in Belgian singer Salvatore Adamo's group in the early 70's offer you your first real opportunity to see other parts of the globe and experience firsthand the cultural diversities of the world?
Ariel: Yes, indeed. We toured all over Europe, to Japan, Canada, Madagascar and La Reunion. We had stopovers in Djibouti, Karachi, Anchorage and Kuwait. I was hungry to discover, smell and hear different sounds. One day we refueled in Bombay and the five hours in a shabby hangar under the monsoon opened my heart to India and I knew I had to come back. Which I did three years later!
Ryan: You know I live in Montreal, a city I know you visited for a short time in the 70's. Can you tell me a bit about your experiences in and around Quebec, the musical projects you were involved in as well as your red ginseng 'encounter' at the border?
Ariel: How do you know all this? I must talk too much [laughing]. I first visited Montreal, Quebec City and Chicoutimi while touring with Salvatore Adamo. I loved the feeling, the people and the pancakes. During a concert I met Raoul Dugay and we had a lovely time. Then Raoul came to Paris and I met him there. In the early 80's I stayed in Montreal for a winter touring with Margot Anand and her Tantra workshops. The work was great as I was creating sound environments for meditation, bodywork and workshop energy music. My joke during that whole winter was that sometimes when I spoke outside, it was so cold that my words would freeze out of my mouth and break on the floor.
In the mid 80's I went again to Quebec to visit Raoul Dugay in the summertime. Upon entering the Canadian border we were detained for four hours because of a "suspicious powder" which was only red ginseng root, which I tried to explain without success to the customs officer. We had to wait for an analysis. We would still be there if it were not for my German girlfriend who caused a commotion and demanded to call her consulate.
Ryan : In my review of Le Temps I made a reference that the afro-funk of "Backafrica" sounded like something Miles Davis was doing on his On The Corner album (1972). Miles was definitely a musical pioneer, fusing different styles and cultures together. This is something you've been doing for a long time as well. Would you say this is one of the most important things you've learned from someone like Miles?
Ariel: Ahhh….Miles, what a musical genius! He showed me how to trust my musical intuition and to dare to venture beyond borders; to play what is NOT 'there' in the music, to dig deeper into the meaning of each note. He showed me the fusion possibilities and soon I was doing it myself. Although he had the means to carry it around and I was just a rookie. I experimented with all kinds of sound production and alternative ways of composing. "Le Temps Des Moissons" was a ditty which I explored with echoes and saxophone. "Reternelle" was composed as a linear variation on a rhythmic syncopated phrase. When we sat down to record "Bakafrica" my only guideline to the musicians was to tell them what key the music was in and that "We're going on a camels back, crossing the desert". We must have met Miles somewhere in the dunes!
Ryan: I especially love the fact that you have obviously spent your entire career working without any musical boundaries and allowing various different musical cultures to 'melt' as you say, into your music. If only more musicians saw things with a broader, global view, imagine the infinite possibilities. Some musicians have told me that in certain genres of music there are certain cliques where narrow minded musicians don't appreciate it when you play other styles of music that don't mesh with each other. In the course of your extensive travels over the years have you ever experienced this first hand?
Ariel: You know the common thread between people is communication. Some communicate more, some less. Some learn other languages and some don't. I've met musicians who are prisoners of their own style, where others are open and willing to share a moment and are able to meet another's sensitivity, another's melody or rhythm. I've had great jams with classical pianists, South Indian drummers, Irish fiddlers, a great Brazilian Bossa Nova guitar player, a "Musique Concrete" composer, a Madagascar valiha player, African singers, a Mongolian throat singer, the list goes on. The more people are concerned about their ego, the less communication there is. But for people who think with their hearts there are no boundaries, so we can play!
Ryan: So can you tell me what you're working on currently as well as how the year is shaping up for you as far as future projects and archived releases etc…
Ariel: For myself I've released Lazy Lizard where I've remixed unpublished works of the last several years. I call it 'relaxed music for a Sunday afternoon (and any other day). You can hear that here
As for my label Music Mosaic, I've just finished a fun compilation album entitled Dance Africa
In between all this I practice my didgeridoo and wind instruments and I am also learning software called Ableton Live. When I have mastered this a bit I will remix more stuff from my archives with fresh ideas and modern technology. I really like to do this, take mature ideas and mix them with new rhythms. I also started a new project which is to archive all my writings in terms of song lyrics, and poetry. It's a big job to scan and rewrite a lot of it. I want to record some of the texts and remix them too. So you see the Lazy Lizard is keeping busy.
Ryan: Thank you for taking the time to do this Ariel, I really appreciate it. Any final thoughts or words of wisdom you'd like to leave us with?
Ariel: Thank you, Ryan for letting me ponder my journey's in music and life. I am so much in the present that I rarely think about my progression in life. Ok, if you want wisdom [laughing] here is some lyrics that have really inspired me for months. Originally written in French I had to wait some years until I could translate it into English. The song was originally recorded in French.
High above all the Clouds
When the Daylight fades away
Gaze in the horizon,
See the sun, feel the light
'High above all the clouds
Sky is forever Blue'
Yes you the seeker of silence
For you the morning dew
Light is its transparency
'High above all the clouds
Sky is forever Blue'
Far beyond all struggles
Happiness is for you'
You who cherish your liberty
If you just look deep in within
You'll discover immensity
'High above all the clouds
Sky is forever Blue'
Listen the voices resonate
Singing love is always the way
Today is a new other day
'High above all the clouds
Sky is forever Blue'
Far beyond all struggles
Happiness is for you'