You are known best for your techno productions, such as the eFunk EP, Tower of Light is quite different, why did you choose to write downtempo music too?
Actually, I have been writing downtempo music since 2002, when I started my music production journey. Moby is one of my early influences and I loved how he created music in a variety of genres, his album “Everything is Wrong” touched me deeply.
I love techno, I love a good strong beat, but I also love the depth of emotion and feeling possible in downtempo. There is something so special about the power of an album to captivate a listener. I remember many times in my younger years lying in bed listening to albums, Orbital is another name that comes to mind.
To just confine myself to making 4/4 techno would be soul destroying. I love, love, love 4/4 techno and deep house too and I have many more releases in this style to come but my creative energy must also find expression in other styles too.
Actually my first ever album was downtempo, it is called The Chrysalis Project, I released it under the name DJ Ross The Red. There were some techno remixes I did of that album too.
Then came my Homecoming shoegaze techno album, the track Pink Boots got a lot of attention because Martin L Gore played it as part of his warm up DJ set for the Delta Machine World Tour.
But then, after that, I really went inward, I stopped buying other people’s music, I stopped DJing completely, I made a commitment to dedicate myself 100% to exploring my own production work. In my teenage years I was very much an extrovert, putting on parties, then in my 20s and 30s I became very introverted ending with a complete dedication and focus on exploring my music production.
I created my own systems of working, alternating between downtempo, experimental and more up beat productions. I have been very obsessed with God and religion and have a whole collection of works based on the gospel of John.
The artwork for Tower of Light is very special, where did it come from?
Tower of Light is based on a story I wrote. The artwork is a custom collaboration with international award winning contemporary classical artist Iva Troj. Iva has this incredible talent of portraying the feminine, which is one of the overriding themes in the Ambient Girl and Tower of Light series. These are actual oil paintings, prints are available via my bandcamp. There is talk of taking the original paintings on some kind of tour, so they can be shared in galleries, where people can actually get close to them. There is something very powerful about being in the physical presence of these paintings. You can read both the Tower of Light and Ambient Girl stories at www.toweroflight.me
We noticed the track names in Tower of Light have religious and spiritual undertones, tell us more about that…
In many ways I associate with the character the Ambient Girl on a soul level. Like she is a representation of my soul. And she is on a journey, in which she connects with other characters, actually they are also part of me and they are part of her. Together these characters make up who I am, but they also reflect God, and the universe, and actually I would go as far as to say that if anyone reflects on these stories, meditates on them, connects with these characters, I think they will find something profound.
A meditation teacher recently said to me that these stories are like representations of ancient Tantric philosophy, where the male and the female connect within and in doing so, the Kundalini spirit is released. I see and have experienced this, it is wonderful. I also personally reflect on them as representations of the sacred act of Holy Communion, whereby the Ambient Girl represents the feminine aspect, the perfect divine feminine energy, and the male character, the Boatman or the Man of Light, represents a Christ aspect, a perfect masculine energy. Then in this ultimate act of submission, which is love, trust and surrender, the feminine and the masculine become one and the most orgasmic and beautiful power is released.
So this is the “space” within which I wrote the music in Tower of Light. It’s funny, people have said to me, “this isn’t chillout music, there is a kind of tension in it”, which is correct, I would still call it chillout, but this “tension” is super important. Like the tension between masculinity and femininity, tension is very important in life, every good drama has “tension”, life is boring without it, so if you just want generic chillout music, this isn’t for you.
There is also a very important vein of the tremendous importance of the rise of feminism in the stories. This is so, so important. A massive part of my work. Patriarchal society, an absent father figure and God being misrepresented by a male dominated church have personally given me a lot to think about. Recognising the pain this has caused me and learning to live with this pain has been life changing for me. Reading feminist literature, including feminist theology about myths and legends has helped me so much, men have made a big mess of society and God has been so badly misrepresented by the established church.
Recognising that the divine feminine power is rising and that dark patriarchal masculine forces have held society in a grip for so long is part of what Ambient Girl is about. I view this like the scene from Lord of the Rings at Helm’s Deep, where the situation appears useless, darkness has won, and then Galdolf arrives “from the East” and a great light dawns. I view the dark forces as this patriarchal society founded on and bolstered by an incorrect view of God. However, in the last 100 years in particular we have seen the rise of feminine, we are seeing this dark masculinity being unpicked. In my mind there seem to be two very important influences here, 1) a natural feminine wisdom that things are wrong, 2) a spiritual light “from the east” that accepts the divine feminine, that accepts God as a feminine as well as masculine.
So the Ambient Girl and the Tower of Light stories recognise both the divine feminine and the divine masculine and that the two are beautifully intertwined. I could talk more about this, how just like the rest of society, the techno scene has been over dominated by male energy, how this is to do with gender bias and the way boys are taught to be boys and girls are taught to be girls, but how this is also now wonderfully changing with the rise of more female DJs and producers. How the way children are taught is also changing, and more girls use technology now, how there is real change happening, how we are on the verge of a feminine energy revolution, we are “on the edge” of something.
Are there any special music production techniques you used in this album?
The main thing you need to know here, is that the whole album was produced on an iPad. I say this with a certain degree of hesitation, because I know how controversial this is. How obsessed many producers are with big studios and analogue devices. But about 8 years ago I made a conscious decision to take all my production to the touchscreen. When it comes to music technology, I have always been an “early adopter”. For example, I was one of the first to move to Native Instruments Traktor DJ software, with a midi controller, over the years I have dispensed with several vinyl collections, when I first saw Beatport in 2004ish, I was like, that’s it, bye bye vinyl.
And when I saw the possibilities with iPhones and iPads, I was so excited, but I disliked Apple as an organisation. It took several years of testing out other manufactures only to realise I would have to surrender and give in to the Apple brand as no other manufacturer was creating touchscreen in the way Apple have, with an operating system geared towards “creatives” and not just “consumers”. But once I was in the Apple ”ecosystem”, I actually really loved it, I now jokingly refer to this as an “arranged marriage”. I love producing music on iPads and iPhones, this allows me the freedom to produce music ANYWHERE.
For example, Tower of Light was put together firstly among the mountain ranges in North Wales and then finished at a retreat centre next to a rushing gorge in western Scotland.
I love it when I get feedback from other producers and DJs they say things like “oh it sounds so organic and analog” and “this is one well produced album”, I smile inwardly, it makes me so happy to know that I can produce music to create this reaction, and it’s all done on an iPad, not some fancy pants studio in a dark room somewhere, in fact, just the thought of being confined to a studio stops my creative energy from flowing. I’m not saying I am against sitting in a studio, it’s not that “black and white”, studio time is cool, I’m just saying, to ONLY produce sitting in a studio is not what I want, I want to produce music EVERYWHERE I go, sitting trains, planes, in waiting rooms, on mountains, in cafes, EVERYWHERE.
The main program I use is called GADGET by KORG. It totally mirrors a classic 90s analogue studio with drum machines and synthesisers, it allows samples to be fed into it via various modules. This space, although “limited” in many ways, allows me to bring together so many ideas in a simple and powerful way. I would say KORG and GADGET are 20 years ahead of all the other software houses, KORG are being daring and bold while others are “playing it safe”.
What’s next for Ross Harper?
I really feel the next part of my journey is to go somewhere remote, away from civilization, there is a place in southern Egypt that I am interested in. So next I go to the desert.
Thanks Ross and all the best for that journey!
Our Wednesday selection:
Ross Harper – Tower of Light [City Wall Records, CW138x]
”Poets were specialists in liminality; they operated at the thresholds, between categories of space, time, or identity, in dangerous, “frontier” conditions, among uncomfortable truths. These they shaped into harmonious knowledge on behalf of the community.” Ireland: A Sacred Journey by Michael Dames
Tower of Light is the second installment in the Ambient Girl journey. A collection of musical works centred on short stories also written by Ross Harper, along with commissioned artwork by award winning contemporary artist Iva Troj.
Find out more about the first album at www.ambientgirl.me
The intention is to create a liminal space where fans can truly immerse themselves, like sinking into a deep warm bath. The story behind the Tower Of Light album is as follows…
”The Ambient Girl reaches a large lake, it is dark. There she meets the boatman, he is wearing a cloak with a large hood covering his face. The Ambient Girl knows she must cross the lake to continue her journey so she bravely asks the boatman for help. He rows her across the lake. As they reach the shore the Ambient Girl gets out of the boat and then she turns to the boatman and asks if he is going to come with her on her journey. He answers in deep tones, “Do you understand what you are asking?”, she replies, “Yes I understand”, and offers him her hand. With this offering the boatman removes his cloak to become a tower of light reaching into the highest heavens, the light is arcing in every direction, streaming every colour of the rainbow, enveloping all things, becoming all things, everything is filled with the light in every way imaginable.”
Ross Harper wrote the album across several locations around the British Isles: a remote farm house amid seven mountain peaks in North Wales, the “Teacher’s Room” of a retreat centre next to a thundering gorge in wild Western Scotland and the finishing touches were completed in North London, while staying at his mum’s place, where he grew up.
Tracklist: Ross Harper – Tower of Light [City Wall Records, CW138x]
01. Midnight Lake
03. Night Stars
04. Ethereal Shores
06. The Offering
08. Tower of Light
09. Perpetual Blossom
10. Spirals of Colour