Brendan Paxton, of Man Watching the Stars creates resounding reed-like textures which explore new ideas and is anything but a rehash of other artists work. Using almost solely the use of violin Dusk brings to life passages that consume the psyche, projecting images of a setting sun, or an aging star. Using many different techniques to change the harmonic quality Brendan progresses the songs subtly but without ever becoming unimaginative.
The biggest juxtaposition between fair ambient music and excellent ambient is when you can tell the composer is secure in his writing and shows restraint; never tainting the piece with supererogation of unnecessary layers. Brendan gives just enough for understanding without adding additional instrumentation over the pieces just for the sake of having it there. This to me sets his music apart and allows one to listen undistracted.
In Dusk, Brendan puts together his additional compositions left out of previous releases and coalesces them into one album.
Merigold Independent: When did you first become interested in composing music?
Brendan Paxton: Probably 1998. I just started playing violin, I was around 9 years old, and Martyn Bennett released a new album called Bothy Culture. He was a Scottish musician that I listened to almost nonstop throughout my childhood. I wanted to be just like him, he was absolutely amazing. He opened my world up in ways no one else has. When I was 12, I sent him an e-mail with all kinds of questions, and he actually got back to me with a reply! I was floored! We sent e-mails back and forth for about 4 years before he died from Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2005. The experience still has a profound effect on my life, I’ll never forget it. He pushed me towards music in such a powerful way. Around the summer of 2007, I discovered Alexandre Navarro and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and I adored their music so much that I attempted to make something similar with my violin. It was pretty horrible, but I asked them to critique it and they did. They convinced me to start making music.
MI: How long have you been playing violin?
BP: I’ve been playing violin for 17 years.
MI: Dusk, the passing of the day, is a very simple yet thought provoking title. Is there a story behind Dusk?
BP: Absolutely. “Dusk is the beginning of the night.” For me, this collection is the beginning of Man Watching the Stars. These songs were written at different moments throughout the last three years. They’re not exactly related to one another and they don’t tell a story—just as stars are far from one another and rarely interact directly. At dusk, stars are difficult to see with full clarity, there’s still some interference in the atmosphere. To be honest, this music is pretty rough, the feelings and ideas are there even if the mastering and processing isn’t perfect. So, it’s not as clean as I’d like it to be. I’m still learning how to make music, but I’d like to step it up and “venture into the night,” so to speak.
MI: Do you have any rituals that provide inspiration? Does the muse visit en masse or is it a more labouring process?
BP: No, inspiration rarely comes when I’d like it to, and when it does, I sometimes feel like the inspiration dies once I jump into the technical process of constructing a song.
MI: Using mostly the violin, you create a wide variety of colours and timbre. Do you manipulate the sounds post-recording or do you achieve most of the textures organically?
BP: Both are important! Organically, all of the sounds on this album come from the violin, except for a field recording on Fields. I use two different recording techniques and three different violins. I’m doing a lot of harmonics, scratching, muting, and other play methods for texture. Post-recording, the sounds are all layered and woven together. My best friend is the equalizer, I also use some reverb, delay, pitch-shifting, and erosion.
MI: Dusk is very patient yet sometimes foreboding (such as the tension in The Earth Awoke.) Are there any past events or experiences that have affected you that you feel is drawn out by your music?
BP: Sure, we’re molded by our experiences. My music probably reflects mine, but I don’t feel like there are any direct connections to specific events in my life. More or less I’d say the music is drawn from different feelings— feelings of reverence, abandonment, love, anxiety, desire.
MI: A majority of ambient music has an underlying melancholy, I’m not sure if it’s the listeners who are drawn to it, or the composers are in touch with a similar ether, but would you say this holds true for your compositions as well?
BP: Melancholy can be comforting.
MI: Have you performed live before, is this something you aspire to do? Or do you prefer the listener to experience your music in their own time?
BP: My music isn’t for show, it’s more for personal reflection, but I’ve performed live a few times in more intimate, one-on-one settings. My album Qoheleth features some examples of that.
MI: Can you take us through your writing process?
BP: I begin writing by finding the basic melody or idea for the song—I’ll call it the concept. Normally I can do this in one session. First, I’ll get a feel for my instrument by warming up with some traditional Irish and Scottish tunes. Once I feel connected to the instrument, I’ll improvise with a loop pedal to find a sequence of notes and layers that amplifies the feelings that I’m having. When I feel like the concept communicates what I want it to, I’ll record it raw. Days later, I’ll record different embellishments, textures, harmonies, and pluck patterns. The bulk of the writing is hours of experimentation, deciding on different song possibilities, and perfecting the presentation of that original concept.
MI: Do you have any plans on future releases already, or are you sitting on Dusk for a bit?
BP: Right now, I’m working on 3 albums that should be released in the next year or two, but I don’t think any of them will be under the Man Watching the Stars moniker. I’ve been collaborating with some incredible musicians in Europe, but I can’t say much else at this time.