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thom brennan soundworks: Press

Interview - E/I Magazine

Misty Mountain Hop
Thom Brennan Interviewed by Ben Fleury Steiner

Trudging across a forest floor covered in rain-damp ferns and slippery mosses, Thom Brennan makes his way past a cluster of towering conifers that fill the Olympic rainforest. The blindingly green landscape of this temperate oasis just happens to be one of Brennan’s favorite places to take in the beauty of the region he calls home, just outside of Seattle in the pastoral Pacific Northwest. The natural wonders of Washington state has, for more than a decade provided Brennan with endless inspiration for his beautiful, often spine-tingling ambient soundscapes.

Brennan’s delicately unfolding compositions are best thought of as the Northwest region’s sonic corollary to John Luther Adams’s mountainous Alaskan chamber music. Both Brennan and Adams’s compositions closely identify with their geography. Yet like the hidden gem that is the rainforest, Thom Brennan’s consistently mesmerizing music—in contrast to the decent amount of attention Adams’s oeuvre has received in the press—remains in relative obscurity. RainGarden, his elegantly presented CDR-on-demand label, should raise his awareness level up more than a notch or two. In his earliest exposure to music,

Brennan like countless others bumbled and stumbled in piano lessons.
“I was always a terrible student; having to study sheet music bored the living daylights out of me.”
But even at a very early age his desire to sit and create sounds on the piano was strong. While the lessons soured his taste for formal training, Brennan still believed in his ability to realize music, though it was not until high school that he really started to take an interest in sonic experimentation.

The otherworldly din of pathbreaking noise-smith Morton Subotnik first pricked up Brennan’s ears; from there it was a short jump to and eventual obsession with Terry Riley and Klaus Schulze. By the mid-1970s, Tangerine Dream’s two-part electronic symphony Rubycon grabbed Brennan’s attention and simply would not let go...
“I was utterly captivated by that record and its sonic power.”

A brief stint in film school further sparked Brennan’s sonic ambitions. He discovered that the process of using images as storytelling fascinated him; listening to film scores compelled him to constructs narratives using sound. At this time, Brennan began to play with the harmonic tabs of an old organ he had purchased.

“It was a process of first creating the sounds and then seeing where they would lead. I could create these long drones. The stream of consciousness aspect of sound was what caused me to lose interest in making films.”

However, it was at film school that Brennan found himself engrossed in foreign films, an experience that would leave an especially lasting and important impression on him. One film in particular, Werner Hertzog’s epic Aguirre, The Wrath of God, with its Moog Modular-laden soundtrack, helped him realize the subtle yet vitally important role of a film score.

“Both the music and images were very flowing and linear. For me, it was like watching and feeling a landscape change. And I began to believe that you could devise long pieces of music that would sustain interest, but you couldn’t do it with just film alone.”

It is no coincidence that Brennan refers to the “changing landscape” when he recounts this formative moment in his artistic development. His deep love of nature was then and continues to be a vital part of his life and approach to music.

“The way I feel about landscapes—the Olympic rainforest—is that each of these places has a personality. I physically feel my heart slow time. In the old growth forests, there is a sense of being. The biomass is out there. All of these incredible visuals suggest something deeper, beyond words.”

Ben Fleury-Steiner - E/I Magazine (Feb 7, 2006)