Pound for Pound 001 — Sean Conrad

This has been a long time in coming, but I am proud to present the first volume of the Pound for Pound Mix Series. I can't think of anyone I would rather have had kick things off than Sean Conrad, whose work has been a catalyst for this site in so many ways. For those that don't know, Sean is the Oakland-based musician and photographer behind a variety of musical projects we love—Channelers, AshanOrragkfoes vjgoaf, Nearone, River Spirit Dragon—and the current head of our favorite label, Inner Islands. We have written quite a bit about both his work and the label's, which you can look back at here here here and here. While he has been at the forefront of the recent development of the New New Age, he far exceeds that lazy classification; his work is not retro or nostalgic, but a vital rethinking of our relationships to nature, landscape, time, space and spirituality through the exploration of both quiet and ecstatic music. 

I can't think of a better mix to kick things off and help define what this series will become. For our inaugural mix, Sean, under his Mist Connections moniker, brings together nearly 43 minutes of music that create a wonderful space where beauty, relaxation, presence, melancholy and hope emerge and interact. It builds this space from many of the sounds that we feature here, from blissful New Age to pulsing drones, from heartbreaking strings to gaseous ambient. It is a journey that spans the globe and decades and I think will evoke images of both peaceful and serene physical and mental spaces.

The mix's title, Approaching Stillness, suggests the direction this blog has been striving for from its first post. Stillness is defined as "quiet; absence of noise or disturbance, release, relaxation; silence, abstention from speech; absence of disturbance or molestation, tranquility, peace, security; that which appeases.” What I think resonates most for me is that modifying gerund that captures the simultaneous feelings of desire and impossibility. It harkens to Eduardo Galeano's brilliant definition of utopia: "Utopia lies at the horizon. / When I draw nearer by two steps, / it retreats two steps. / If I proceed ten steps forward, it / swiftly slips ten steps ahead. / No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. / What, then, is the purpose of utopia? / It is to cause us to advance." We still need to make the case for why these concepts are important, but I think that this mix is a great opening statement.

Ok, enough of my blabbing. I want to thank Sean for his patience, his kindness, his commitment to this project and the sheer brilliance of the end result. Scroll below to stream/download the mix, get the tracklist and read a short interview with Sean. I hope that you love it as much as I do. There's much more to come my friends, onward to stillness.

Mist Connections, Pound for Pound 001: Approaching Stillness

*~Approaching Stillness~*
1. Inner Travels - "Phase 3"
2. Hiroshi Yoshimura - "Green"
3. Aphex Twin - "Lichen"
4. Satoshi Ashikawa - "Still Sky"
5. Mark Deutsch - "Kundalini Rising"
6. Laraaji - "In Continuum"
7. lavender - "hands sifting through the"

Pound for Pound: Tell us about the mix you made. What was the inspiration or idea behind it? 

Sean Conrad: The mix is a collection of pieces that inspire grounding and centering for me. I’ve had a pretty regular morning routine going for the last little while: wake up, meditate, eat breakfast, then either get to school or work. So this mix has been a nice accompaniment for after meditation to inspire some extra, or continued, grounding. Meditation is for sure not always grounding. I made the mix last fall as the leaves were changing and it was getting colder and the morning light was coming in at a different angle. So these pieces also reflect that atmosphere for me. All of these pieces only have a few elements, at most, going on at a time. That gives them all a real sense of space and clarity that I think inspires a reciprocal lucidity for me.

How and where did you make it? Can you take us through the process of making a mix? Do you come up with a concept or theme first? Or do you begin with tracks in mind and find a conceptual thread? Do you go into knowing exactly what you are going to play or is there an improvisatory aspect to a mix? Do you complete it in one-take? Or is it an iterative process that involves lots of trial and error?

I assembled the mix in Ableton Live. I just made a playlist of potential pieces that evoked the aforementioned “atmosphere” and then worked with them in different sequences until I found transitions and a flow that worked for me. That process mostly involves messing with juxtapositions and crossfades between pieces until the sequence feels satisfying to me. I often try to juxtapose pieces that have similar instrumentation, timbre, key, or mood. Sometimes that goes out the window.

Is the music we hear on the mix other people’s music or is this essentially an extended take on your own work, pieced together from your own recordings? 

It is entirely other folks’ work.

Do you have any guidance for listeners on how to approach this mix? Is it best listened to in a particular space? At a particular time? 

It may have a chance at reducing road rage..? I dunno. Wherever you want is fine with me.

One of the adjectives I would use to describe your music across projects is meditative. From gkfoes vjgoaf to Ashan to Channelers to this mix, there is a sense of peace and calm that comes through at all times. Is this something that you strive for? Are there any particular aspects of music that you think lend itself to this goal? Do you see any connection between music and the practice of meditation?

I can’t say I strive for peace or calm while making music, nor do I consider making music a meditation. I’ve noticed that other people try to get into a certain mindset before making “peaceful” or calming sounds, but I can’t really speak to that. I think I often make and gravitate towards more serene music just because that’s what I want to hear.

Have you DJed before? If so, what sort of events have you been a part of?

I’ve only DJed a few times. A couple house shows and once on the radio. I’m gonna be DJing again on KCHUNG on the 15th at 11am. Definitely going to be more of an upbeat vibe.

Do you like DJing, creating by working with other people’s material? Does it give you a chance to explore any ideas or avenues that you aren’t able to with your own music? Do you find that people are open to a DJ not strictly aiming to get people dancing?

Yeah, I definitely like DJing and making mixes. It’s certainly a lot easier to express something or create an atmosphere with pre-made sound through sequencing, effects, speed, etc than making new work. There’s so much music already out there to work with. So many zones that I could never get to myself that I have so much appreciation for. I could never do what Grimes does or what Merzbow does, for example. But sometimes I just want to conjure that. I think people are open to a DJ not providing dance tunes in certain atmospheres, sure. Probably one of my favorite things about DJing is having an avenue to play slowed down versions of 90s pop music haha.

When you are not making music yourself, what sorts of stuff are you listening to at home? Any particular favorite albums or artists that you find yourself wanting to play for other people?

Lately I’ve been listening to Matthew Barlow’s Sound Relaxations I on repeat while doing homework. I’ve also been digging stuff from Recycle Culture, Y E V R S, Holly Waxwing, Balam Acab, NV, Brightblack Morning Light, Laraaji, and Joanna Brouk.

What do you have coming up in the future? A tour to support the new album? Any additional releases coming up? The press release mentions your expansion into visual art and video work. Anything you want to people to check out on that front? 

The future contains a lot of stuff at the moment: one new Ashan album through Heavy Mess in October and another one hopefully sometime in the near future, a new Channelers album later this fall, and hopefully a release with Skyminds (my project with Michael Henning of Selaroda) sometime soon. Inner Islands will also be doing a couple more Stag Hare this October and early next year.

How can my readers get in touch and find out what you are up to these days?

thegentleways.com to follow my work

and innerislands.com to follow the label

all of my Ashan albums from the last 4 years are up for free on my bandcamp page into the indefinite future too.