Following the release of their debut single, “Hitchhiker (For Ida),” just less than a month ago, Will Moor officially release their full self-titled album today. Comprised of singer-songwriters Shawn William Clarke and David Gluck, this collaboration was born out of their mutual love of ambient music; a shared musical passion that brought both artists together as co-writers and creators a few years ago. Originally written and recorded almost four years ago at Curries Music Studio in Gravenhurst, ON, both individuals feel that this is now the appropriate time to share their creativity with their audiences.
I must confess that I was a little unsure of what to expect when Shawn first approached me to discuss this album. With our primary focus on folk-roots music, my own knowledge of ambient music was pretty much non-existent, perceived as a sort of highly energetic thumping trance sound popular with ‘the youngsters in those trendy big city night clubs.’ But after hearing, and sharing “Hitchhiker (For Ida)” last year, I was very much surprised; this was somber, reflective, Zen-like at times, and certainly not the perceived pounding drum and bass I had originally envisioned. With my curiosity piqued, I was ready to discover exactly what Will Moor’s debut is all about.
The first question I had to ask myself was how does one approach listening to ambient-instrumental music? Fortunately, the online music community reaches far and wide; ask Google or Alexa such a question, and thou shalt soon learn. I stumbled upon an article titled “The Discreet Charm of Ambient Music,” penned by Joshua Rothman from TheNewYorker.com, who offers that “ambient music isn’t like pop music. It doesn’t want the spotlight, or to conscript your body and mind. Instead, it aims to transform and divide your attention in more subtle ways.” So should one crank it up like a regular vocal album, or go one-on-one with some good headphones and dimmed lights? Once more, I entrust myself to Joshua’s guidance. “Turning it up loud actually ruins the experience. At the ideal, low volume, you’re aware of the music,” he states. “Each key change, and each new instrument, with its new timbre, is an opportunity to measure the difference between the feeling of the music and your state of mind.”
While there are only five tracks on this debut album, with a total run time of 44:40, it is clear that some of these tracks are incredibly drawn out and creative pieces. Indeed, the tracks “Jeanne Barre” and “Poor Faulkner” combine for almost 28 minutes, and thus requires the full attention of the listener. Heeding Rothman’s valuable advice, I went with the ‘low volume and headphones’ option, and soon discovered that you don’t simply absorb ambient music, you have to let it absorb and become one with you. Suggestively meditative, the trance-like instrumentation peels away my defensive layers, rendering my resistance futile whilst bringing me possibly as close to a hypnotic state that I’m ever likely to experience.
Will Moor have created instrumental music that is both relaxing and refreshing, yet contemplative and multi-textured. Music that has carved deep into my inner psyche, yet leaves this ambient-music novice struggling to articulate such surreal sensations encountered during repeat listening. Fortunately, both Shawn and David were kind enough to take time to offer insights and discuss their Will Moor project with us.
GDW: The Will Moor project is so far removed from your traditional folk musical leanings. What is it about this collaboration, and specifically, this itch that you had to scratch?
Shawn William Clarke: I have personally been a fan of ambient music for a long time, and thanks to the Light In The Attic compilation, “I Am The Center,” I found myself interested in the history of New Age music. Both David and I have a jazz music background, so the idea of instrumental music wasn’t particularly foreign. Actually, I find writing lyrics to be the hardest part about releasing an album, so it was very freeing to not have to worry about that.
David Gluck: I have never thought of myself as an artist of one style, so have never given much consideration to sticking to a given style. Rather, I’ve allowed things to surface a bit more organically, and what comes out, comes out. That being said, I feel that I have a few different main threads that I am always somehow wrestling with, and ambient music was one of those threads that I fell in love with a long while back. I have always wanted to explore this avenue of myself as a musician and composer, but up until this project I had never gotten the chance in a serious way. When Shawn and I realized we were serious, I was thrilled.
GDW: You recorded these ambient tracks almost four years ago at Currie’s Music Studio. How planned (or random) was the recording session, and how do you feel about the album today versus your thoughts when wrapping up that original session in 2016?
SWC: The recordings were both planned and random in a way. We didn’t rehearse, and were more interested in creating in the studio, although we talked a lot beforehand about what we wanted to achieve and what our influences were.
DG: We talked through various ideas that we had wanted to try, but we had no concrete pieces. We just went up and started writing, playing, and recording. One thing we did have in place, however, was the rule that we would use no electronic instruments or computers to make the music. We wanted all of the ambient sounds and such to come from acoustic instruments.
SWC: The great thing about Curries is that they have so many wonderful and interesting instruments laying around. We could make unique choices on the fly, such as the use of a Moog theremin on “Poor Faulkner,” for example.
DG: Both Shawn and I are acoustic musicians at heart, meaning that neither of us really have investigated electronics as an instrument. I play an electric bass, but I don’t use effects. All of the weirdness I get is by somehow manipulating the instrument. That was the idea, which we stayed true to. I think we have only two electric instruments on it, the old Echoplex used on “Jeanne Barre” and the Moog theremin.
SWC: When we wrapped the sessions back in 2016, we didn’t really have a post-recording plan. David moved back to the States for school, and I made a solo album in 2017. There were plenty of distractions, but my love for the music never faltered. We would email each other every few months to say, “I just listened to Will Moor again … it’s really good, we should release it.” Haha.
GDW: I confess that I have pretty much no familiarity with ambient or New Age instrumental music. How do you describe this music, and the best ways that casual listeners can interact?
SWC: I’m sure that David will have a really interesting answer for this question. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the genre, but of course, there are good and bad examples. Brian Eno is of course the father of what we now call ambient music, so his “Ambient Music For Airports” is a perfect place to start. I think people should listen however they feel most comfortable. I love being enveloped by it, let it play loud and really sit with the music.
DG: Headphones. Ha! Ambient music is music that moves you into a feeling. It creates an atmosphere. The music should work as both a background atmosphere and also when paid close attention to. Listen to it both ways, but patience is key.
GDW: All five tracks feature a name or character in the title. Can you share anything about one or two of these, and the significance of their inclusion?
SWC: There was no real plan to naming things in the beginning, but they sort of stemmed from the talks that we had. We both love cinema, and thought of “Hitchhiker (For Ida)” as the sort of score you’d find in a movie. So that’s why it’s dedicated to Hitchhiker director Ida Lupino.
DG: We talked about using people as inspiration on what to ‘paint’ musically. To make a portrait of the person via music. All people’s were originally intended to be Canadian, just like Will Moor, but I think we started to stray from that formula when Shawn introduced the Hemingway quote about William Faulkner.
SWC: “Poor Faulkner” comes from one of my favourite slanders between William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. Will Moor was actually a Canadian explorer, although not necessarily a very good one, by accounts. So was Jeanne Barre, and Lawren Harris was sort of an explorer as an artist.
GDW: You mentioned cinema and movie scores, which leads nicely into this next question. I must confess that I could sense and visualize a little Eastern Bloc flavor in the sounds of “Lawren Harris,” painting images of a cold, dark espionage thriller. Of course, all instrumental music is subject to interpretation, but I am curious to learn of your influences for this particular piece.
SWC: Interesting! And I’d be happy if anyone wanted to use this piece in a film like that! Personally, I also felt the coldness of the piece, and it reminded me of some of the wonderful paintings Lawren Harris did of icebergs (a few of which you can see at the AGO here in Toronto).
DG: The ice paintings are concrete and representational, and yet completely abstract and gorgeous. For me, those iceberg paintings are completely obsessed with form and texture – that becomes the detail, the abstraction, if you will. Or rather, he moves from representational further and further into abstraction. Whatever, for me that is what I was visualizing. But I also just wanted to see if we could create synth-like swells with acoustic instruments, so…..
SWC: It is one of our more experimental pieces, as the only two instruments used on this piece are saxophone and an old out-of-tune piano. We must commend the editing and mixing skills of Rob Currie and James Bunton for this one.
GDW: Let’s wrap up this conversation with the track “Jeanne Barre.” I just love the harsh, industrial nature and intensity that eventually succumbs to soothing guitar riffs. The play between guitar and keys paint images of raindrops for me – free falling rain tumbling to the surface, and destined for their inevitable clash with concrete. From your perspectives, what is Jeanne truly aching to tell us, and how did you find such a great variety of unique sounds?
DG: Much of this music, for me, is about negative space. Much of the grandeur of the opening is the dirt inside of that old echoplex, and everyone’s ability to leave it alone as it cracked and cricked. My memory of this is of Shawn on the floor with the electric guitar, maybe turning knobs, but I also remember Rob (Currie) in there turning some knobs too. All three of us were really focusing on letting that echo speak for itself. The lack of something is what gives it the depth it has, I think.
SWC: The first half is meant to feel like the journey. Yes, looking for land. This half was a real treat to record and probably the first time we veered away from acoustic instruments in the recording process. I think we are both playing Danelectro baritone guitars. David was playing with a bow, and I was mostly controlling a delay pedal. I was playing through a very old amp, and the cable jack was finicky, which made for a really perfect sound.
DG: As for the second half, I can’t remember why we chose to write such a contradictory piece of music when linked to the first half. But that was intentional – that shift from one world to another. I like the contradiction. I remember the focus on getting both sections of the music to work, and one of the many moments where mixing engineer James Bunton couldn’t help but put some of his magic touches on it. He really draws out some special moments, like the removal of the instruments on the diminished chord. Splendid.
SWC: The second half represents an arrival, albeit with some trepidation. We had recorded all of the piano parts at Curries on an old Casio, but decided later that we needed to stay true to our original idea of using acoustic instruments. We re-recorded it with Graydon James (The Young Novelists) in Toronto, and I love the piano medley. When David began playing it, it was such as surprise to me. I would have never considered using such a great melody like that.
Photos courtesy of Shawn William Clarke.