Jon Hopkins’ Top 5 New Age Tracks
ELECTRONIC music composer Jon Hopkins recently sat down with Sophie Miles for the second instalment of her podcast, The Witching Hour.
It was just before the release of fifth album,
Jon revealed his daily meditation regime (“I wake up and I do transcendental meditation straight away because I don’t always sleep that well”), his way of coping with creative block (“I just do something physical”), and the five new age tracks that centre his day.
Brian Eno & Harold Budd
This is without question my favourite ambient piano piece really of all time. It’s so magic. I think it’s from 1985 or something like that. I discovered it maybe when I was 19 or 20. As soon as I put that record on, all of it’s like this. All of it’s incredible. They’re like 12 different moods or 12 different colours. Actually, I can’t remember if there are 12 tracks or not, but each one feels like a different shade or a different side of the same diamond or something. They’re all so connected and they’re just essentially improvisations on the piano, which Harold Bugg did, and then Brian Eno had some sort of context chain processing going on, I think, with the help of Daniel Lanois.
The piano has this kind of glow around it. It has this sort of halo of sound around it. I had no idea how he’d done this … I thought that they recorded the piano and then they doubled it with synths somehow to get all that magical resonance around the piano. But, yes, it’s all just done with processing. It made me think very differently about the idea of using reverbs and echoes of any sort as instruments in their own right – that you can have independently mixed alongside the original signal, to get a bit technical.
In terms of a piece of music, it all really is like you’re kind of suspended blissfully in this humming air. If you imagine the perfect late summer’s day or something, like a meadow, and I can always picture this perfect meadow scene with all the insects a bit lazy, kind of drowsily floating about. It’s very evocative. I’ve been listening to this album ever since I was 19 … Every day at some point I put one or two tracks on just in the background because it just centres me a lot.
This is from an album called Field Rituals, which is another very hypnotic, beautiful record that I just discovered randomly. It seems to be lively acoustic instruments, and then with some processing, which is always a great starting point I think. With this album [Singularity] for the first time I really felt … like there were no barriers really. It’s more like I was translating it through the technology, translating a beautiful feeling that I’ve had or that I got from much more universal ideas through this technology into music.
The next one is a track called ‘Cathedral, Pt.2’ by Christopher Tignor on this album called Core Memory Unwound, which is a beautiful title. It’s a very, very highly spiritual sounding piece to me, very celestial, I guess. It’s just been a part of a lot of psychedelic experiences. You can hear these little violins in there and piano, but it just sounds much more mysterious than that because they’re all playing very strange harmonics. You really have to listen to that one. You can’t describe it that well.
All of their stuff is amazing. It’s very hard to pick one. It’s kind of drone-based guitar music, I guess. In particular, this one just modulates very softly between two chords for 11 minutes. I’ve always been into things that do that. It’s very subtly vibrating. It’s very hypnotic. In my music, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing in terms of frequencies. I’m just on an unconscious level just searching for ones that resonate for whatever reason. There’s sections on this record [Singularity], the end of
With the track
To finally get the opportunity to get all these voices in the room, there is definitely some magic going on there. It’s the way all these things, all their voices go together. As well, it had to be done in one take. There’s no overdubs on there. It’s all actually being sung. I think they all feed off each other.
Humans, whether we know it or not, are incredibly sensitive and we perform very differently in a room full of people. Some people who’ve heard that track think it was done with overdubs or one person thought it was my voice. To me, there’s no technology that could replace just 15 people singing together. It’s not yet been invented. It will be at some point, I’m sure. But for me, it’s a real untouched and beautiful thing.
This guy’s criminally unknown. He’s actually one of the best ambient composers I’ve ever come across. He’s released tonnes and tonnes of albums and they’re not all amazing, but the ones that are are some of the best. When I get asked about this kind of music, I always recommend him, and point people towards particular records. This one, Summer Light, it’s just a four part ambient record that I think explores translating that title really into vibration. It’s again, very mysterious.
I don’t really know how he makes his music. There’s this combination of electronic and organic sounds. He uses a lot of nature sounds, which I don’t always like in ambient music, but he gets away with it because he somehow makes the synths as organic as the nature sounds that are in there, so it all sounds like one. That’s what you can experience in a psychedelic state where that kind of oneness of everything, the way the music blends so perfectly into a natural setting. I really highly recommend checking out of all that kind of stuff.