Sound Traveler ft. Ambient Guitarist, Matt Borghi – Live at The Robin Theatre, Lansing, Michigan – February 24, 2024

Sound Traveler ft. Ambient Guitarist, Matt Borghi – Live at The Robin Theatre, Lansing, Michigan – February 24, 2024 – As part of Ambient Annotations

matt borghi ambient guitarist with Sound Traveler Lansing Michigan

New Longform Ambient Journey Out Today – Embrace of Familiarity

‘Embrace of Familiarity’ A longform ambient journey with two variations is out today. This is part of my ongoing bi-weekly longform series exclusive to Bandcamp. Give it a listen.

Matt Borghi Ambient Guitar Longform Tracks

Ambient Soundbath Redux

Crossposting from original story here; audio of story available here.

I was listening to Altus’ Sleep Theory, Volume 1 and I felt like I was floating. This isn’t an uncommon experience when listening to the best of what the drone ambient genre has to offer; when the artist has resolved to focus on artistry and experience, letting the compositions be rather than shoe-horning knob twiddling and strange incompatible dissonances into a work to just to showcase some antique synthesizer or obscure vintage noisemaker. Why did Jackson Pollack add a faint white smudge to Lavender Mist? Was he in the rapture of the muse, or felt that it needed that just to shift the focus a bit or perhaps it was just an errant paint drop left for time immemorial. Who can know why an artist does what they do? Often, we ourselves don’t know but when we run the creative gauntlet and come out the other side with a work that endures, well the heavens part and universe becomes a bit brighter than it was moments before.

I feel like this gets to the mission of the Ambient Soundbath Podcast. This thing was never meant to be a money-making endeavor, like some would-be silicon valley entrepreneur, at best or some myopic tech bro, at worst, trying to build the next big something or other. No, this was always supposed to be more like a public service, freely available for those who needed it, subsidized by a handful of generous souls who believed in it, too. I ran things as lean and as efficiently as I could to ensure availability and accessibility, but at the same time I was still an artist, working, living and being buffeted by the muse to and fro.

At the same time, when I started the Ambient Soundbath, podcasts were novel and fringe, so too was streaming as a mechanism for delivering music; two fringe areas that have now become front line earning channels for artists such as myself and Bruce Springsteen, alike, to say nothing of billion dollar pay days to podcast producers; an idea that seemed preposterous only a few years before and now was making podcasting a bit of a gold rush.

One name has come to truly dominate music streaming and podcasting – Spotify.

Ahh, Spotify and their insidious approach to being available everywhere, being dead-easy to use and having a veritable monopoly on the streaming market. Sure, there are others, just like there are alternatives to Google (wink,wink, nod, nod) but their market share is so vast that, well…why bother going anywhere else. Spotify’s availability, free or premium, on your phone, desktop, smart TV or in your car has absolutely changed listening habits, first with music and then more recently with podcasts. Things aren’t going well for them on that front, but having a monopoly gives them some latitude to play around with things, throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

Spotify, initially, was great for the Ambient Soundbath – It acted as an aggregator getting the podcast episodes in the Spotify app, where folks were already listening to music, but then they changed their policies and music-only podcasts started getting kicked out; that’s what happened with the Ambient Soundbath. This wasn’t great for the podcast or the listener’s on that platform, but another change that was occurring simultaneously, albeit quietly, was the glut of new Spotify-created editorial playlists for sleep, meditation, relaxation, study, reading etc. that started showing up and even being featured on non-customizable frontpage of Spotify. These thinking/being-related playlists became an immediate threat to the podcast since pods like ours had been kicked off/excluded from the platform, those users intent on sticking with the ease of Spotify just did a quick search and found some other playlist that fit the bill. To be fair, Spotify is killing it and giving folks what they want, but, and this is probably why I’m drafting this long screed. Spotify is marginalizing artists and podcasts like the Ambient Soundbath out of existence by pulling listeners in en masse, altering the service offerings and then changing things up just enough, almost imperceptibly, to keep listeners engaging with the platform.

It’s this last bit that’s the kind of evil genius that Henry Ford, J.D. Rockefeller or Thomas Edison would have been pleased with because it wasn’t enough to marginalize and significantly undermine and under pay these artists and players, but then seeing the issue of scale they decided to create their own music that sounded like popular ambient, downtempo, jazz, you name it. Spotify then used these ‘works for hire’, a copyright term for a music composition or recording that’s purchased outright vs. licensing, which is pay per use. The producers who created this music have become colloquially known as ‘fake artists’ and Spotify uses these ‘fake artist’ created tracks to populate their big exclusive editorial playlists with these ‘wholly owned ‘works for hire’ so that they didn’t have to pay royalties for the streams. These ‘fake artist’ tracks were then just slid into a playlist (no surprise Spotify often suggests using shuffle mode) next to your favorite Moby or Brian Eno track. Even the best of us were none the wiser to this and many of these tracks are great, such is the case with the sometimes generic nature of the Ambient genre.

Fake artists have created a lot of ethical issues, but more concerning still is the major investments Spotify has made in AI and machine learning. A time will come when a  $.0001 royalty per stream is too much and they’d like to get it closer to $.0000001, or maybe why are we even bothering with humans? We can pay zero $$$’. Spotify has worked to kick some AI-generated music off, but they’re heavily invested in AI and I believe it’s only a matter of time before they begin investing in the fledgling AI music generation industry, investing in and purchasing companies that could generate tracks to fill these exclusive editorial playlists, something I’ve heard rumors that they’re actively experimenting with and I believe, they’re close to beginning to implement.

The philosopher in me says none of this matters and this race to the bottom will continue until user listeners get fed up or more likely move on to some other option that builds on what Spotify has created. At the same time, who could’ve imagined vinyl would make a comeback? In this period of late stage capitalism, nobody could have anticipated that so I believe Spotify and maybe even podcasts will run their course and be outmoded, that’s just the natural process.

For me, however, I feel like there’s still something to do here. Do I act as a human arbiter and curator separating the wheat from the chaff, a lone citadel on the edge of a dying frontier being consumed by The Nothing? Perhaps. I won’t lie, I was ready to pack it in, sell the podcast off or just dump and run, but after so many thoughtful notes, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was throwing something away that didn’t make the world a little brighter, something that folks valued in their own individual ways. Maybe.

I need community, something I’ve talked about before, as working alone in a dark cellar, looking at stats and imagining somebody in Bulgaria enjoying the soothing tones of the most recent episode of the podcast isn’t nearly enough to keep me going. I need the exchange of energy that occurs in a positive interaction, hell, any critical interaction.

At the same time: Where have all the music journalist’s gone? Why did I give up a moderately successful music journalism foothold? A question I’ve asked myself over and over. In a world with music journalists acting as way finders, ‘fake artists’ and AI-generated music doesn’t stand a chance. So, where are they? Here and there, but mostly lost in a sea of tweets, social media posts and so-called micro reviews. More and more is being said about how social media killed the Internet; this seemed an unlikely perspective, as social media is of the Internet, right? It was until stand-alone apps became exclusive channels unto themselves as apps on your phone, outside of the browser, divorced from the rest of the World Wide Web. Sadly, I think folks are right – Social media did kill the Internet. And with the death of the Internet came the death of the last stronghold of music journalism.

Well, as a long time music journalist, it might just be time to pick up the pen again and get to work. I stopped because the ephemeral nature of my writing felt unimportant, lost to the winds of time and culture change, but anymore: What isn’t ephemeral and what doesn’t change? Hell, even much of Mark Twain’s writing has been lost to time… and cultural change. If his work can be lost to the ages then I guess I’m Ok with mine being lost too. The important thing is what we do now, in our particular place in time. So with that said, there will be more reviews and commentary popping up on the Ambient Soundbath Podcast and/or website, both the written word and audio voice posts that Spotify might even even let into their black box, but either way, as T.S. Elliott said: You are the music while the music lasts.

If the Ambient Soundbath is going to keep going, like anything, it needs to change, it needs to evolve. As artists, we’re always looking for someone or something that will showcase our work and put it in the best possible light? We want attention and we want recognition. I want those things. I don’t know an artist who doesn’t want those things, otherwise, why bother creating anything and putting it in the world.

I’m going to stop short of saying the Ambient Soundbath is back, because every time I make such a declaration life interrupts the plan and I do something else; such is the mystery of unseen forces, what Alan Watts called the law of reversed effort, sometimes called the ‘backwards law’.. I can say, however, that I see the value in what has been built here and even if I work on it inconsistently that’s still a net positive that might make the world a little brighter.

Thanks for reading and/or listening to all this.

Ambient Guitar is Dead. Long Live Ambient Guitar!!

I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what I was trying to achieve. It was one of a hundred experiments at the time and one of hundreds of thousands since. It was 1998; 25 years ago. Then, like now, I had an economy of musical gear. At that time, I hadn’t even moved to recording music with a computer yet, so armed with my old Fender Gemini acoustic guitar, a Woody Seymour Duncan pickup and a brand new Alesis Nanoverb I plugged it all into my Tascam four track recorder and began to experiment with a variety of noisy and hissy experiments. 

At some point, after a couple hours of fruitless experimentation, I set it to plate reverb and turned the effect and the mix all the way up. In seconds, I found what I was looking for.

What was I looking for? Hell if I knew, but I could try to explain it in my vocabulary of the time. I wanted to be able make music like Claude Debussy’s solo piano work, utilizing an almost chromatic dream-lime lack of a tonal center that’s just awash, ebbing and flowing, without an attack; like a piano key struck with the sustain pedal down all the way and the stroke of the key removed, or imagining the strings rising and falling as in Ralph Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. The guitar, acoustic, especially, is/was effectively a percussion instrument. What I was imagining simply wasn’t a thing; physics precluded it…  at least I thought so until this experiment.

For me, musically and artistically, this was a defining moment. My creative life is divided between before and after this discovery. I called it space guitar, then ambient guitar, but really it was a drone style of playing; a pedal note sustained while other harmonic goodies occur all from the sound hole of my acoustic guitar and into the spaciousness of the reverb. Anything was now possible. A couple years later live looping via Ableton and reliable looping pedals made whole soundworlds possible with just a guitar, imagination and a couple doodads. I went in this new direction hard. I explored sound with many guitars, effects, players, ensembles and pretty much any scenario I could imagine. 25 years later, dozens of recordings and hundreds of gigs all over the continental US came to be and I explored anything and everything that caught my fancy. 

In the last few years things have dissipated for me creatively where the guitar is concerned. At a time when there are hundreds, maybe thousands of ambient guitarists with music on Spotify and videos on YouTube there’s a lot of droney, textural and ambient music out there. To be fair, a lot of this stuff sounds the same and “ambient guitar” has gone the way of a million vaporous piano recordings that may or may not be informed by the work of Harold Budd. I have ambient drone music on nearly 24/7, in my various spaces and while I couldn’t name most of the artists I hear from the derivative lack of variance and the ephemeral nature of new music showing up, I’m glad that new voices are putting new spins on guitar and reverb. The more music that comes out, the more likely that future greats will be revealed.

For me, though, it’s becoming harder to put original, thoughtful sound into the perpetual motion machine of streaming and social media. I don’t want to release garbage just to keep momentum, to keep something out there feeding the machine. 

With all of this said in what is possibly the longest preface ever, I’m afraid I’ve reached the end of my period of exploring the ambient guitar. I’ve made this pronouncement before and like all pronouncements, no sooner do I make one and inspiration strikes. Honestly, I hope that happens. It’s really hard to look at my guitars and feel nothing but frustration at the lack of ideas for new work; the same objects that I’ve looked at for decades, played all day/night and could barely bring myself to sleep out of an anticipation of what new sounds might come the following morning. To be fair, I’ve been extremely lucky and prolific; I count those blessings. I’m reminded of an interview where Doc Watson talked about getting his first guitar and his father told him “…so that life might be a little better with it.” My life has been better having picked up the guitar and better still when I connected it to an old Alesia Nanoverb all those many years ago.

There are so many situations and aspects of sound that I want to explore and I will, just sans the guitar. The guitar is the instrument I’m most proficient on so it will be my primary instrument in any band or ensemble situations, maybe even some ambient artists will reach out with ideas and ask me to contribute (something that rarely happens) but as for ambient guitar, by myself, that will only show up on droney periods in the various ensembles I play with when I kick on one of the several reverb pedals I have on my effects board.

Ambient guitar has been really good to me.Ambient guitar is dead! Long live ambient guitar!!! 

Please enjoy my final ambient guitar longform work: Castles, originally titled “Castles Made of Sand”, an allusion to the beautiful Jimi Hendrix song of the same name that aptly reflected my feelings as I created this final work.

“And so castles made of sand
“Melts into the sea eventually”
– Jimi Hendrix

New Release – Low Sun Equinox – A Longform Ambient Journey

Low Sun Equinox is a celebration of the spiritually-rich winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Dark has taken over the land with only a few hours of daylight and very little in the way of sunlight for days, weeks at a time. It’s a time for reflection, contemplation and the moving forward into renewal or departure. The low sun, if it emerges, casts beautifully icy hues of orange, yellow and every shade in-between against a dark gray sky and a disappearing horizon. I wrote this poem to try and capture its essence, however impossible that might be:

The emerging light
falls against the dark
dreams of yesterday
holding to tomorrow
the faith
in the hope
and the hope
for faith as the cascading light
dissipates
absorbed into the darkness.
The longest night
upon us,
we look into ourselves,
conscious of breath
and the power
of an unfolding
eternal now.

New Release – Fire Mother Descends on Galant Pass – A Longform Ambient Journey

The longform ambient tracks that I create serve a couple purposes for me. For one, once these pieces are complete, I use them for my own meditation and yoga practices as well as for sleep. However, when I’m working on them I’m focused on creating the sounds of imaginary worlds. These imaginary worlds take many forms from fantastical landscapes to elusive horizons on the open sea and space journeys where the listener is invited into a world of interstellar travel and discovery. I’m inspired by fiction I’ve read, but also I just like to imagine these worlds and the feeling of what it would be like to inhabit these worlds.

For this release, Fire Mother Descends on Galant Pass, I was imagining a soundscape of a sun-worshiping society that lived in the mountains, somewhere deep in the northern hemisphere, maybe the pacific-northwest meets the Aztec culture. With the second longform work, ‘Seasonal Rains’ I was imaging seasonal rains and the cave dwellers carving pictographs into the cave walls awaiting the Fire Mother’s seasonal return.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include that I had just binge-watched Graham Hancock’s Ancient Apocalypse series when I worked on this recording. I spent time with Graham Hancock in Sedona, Arizona several years ago so I was quite familiar with his work, but the Ancient Apocalypse program brought things to life in a way that I hadn’t envisioned them in his writings or presentations.

New Release – Aurora Tidewater at Felwood Rock – A Longform Ambient Journey

Aurora Tidewater at Felwood Rock is a longform ambient music journey that takes the listener deep into the heart of being. There are two mixes for this recording, the Horizon Mix is more open and spacious as if you’re looking to the horizon, the other, the Ice Caves Mix, with more of a deeper and cavernous resonance, a mix that fans of Steve Roach’s longform works would likely enjoy, particularly his recording A Deeper Silence, a frequent touchstone for me.

When I created Aurora Tidewater at Felwood Rock I was trying to recreate the still space that exists around large bodies of water, majestic mountainscapes and the otherworldly experience of watching Aurora Borealis. All of these things are natural elements that so few of us get to experience in the natural world in their natural states, instead our experience is relegated to one of simply ‘watching’ on a screen. Having an experience through a screen is something that almost any of us can do now; with Aurora Tidewater at Felwood Rock – A longform ambient journey, my hope is to bring the listener closer to realizing that space as they meditate, do yoga, drift to sleep or simply listen. Each of these activities require a peaceful and relaxed state of mind; my hope is that Aurora Tidewater at Felwood Rock brings you closer to that inner calm that we all carry with us but sometimes struggle to access.

In peace,

Matt

#mindfulness #meditation #sleep #yoga #relax #relaxation #stressreduction #anxiety #study #concentration #focus #ambientmusic #dronemusic #ambient #innerpeace #calm

Just F*cking Relax – Season 1

“Just F*cking Relax” – Somebody said this to me recently and it kind of hit me like a Buddhist Koan, which is a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.

The Just F*cking Relax series is a companion to the Ambient Soundbath Podcast where for years, I tried to do a kinder, gentler type of new age-oriented musical thing. Imagery of sitting in yoga or meditation positions, lotus flowers, candles and all the holistic health tropes and those things are great, still bringing me a sense of serenity when I see that kind of imagery, but the reality is that life is much more abrupt, in your face and we have to take respite when and where we can; it also doesn’t hurt to add a bit of a sense of humor to the churn of daily living. You might not be able to afford a trip to Esalen or the Omega Institute to center yourself, but you can put music on, take a few breaths in your car, on the subway or in a booth at Applebee’s and get in touch with yourself. In all instances, there needs to be time for YOU. Self-actualization shouldn’t require a plane trip to an exotic retreat and these are some of the many reasons that I created the Just F*cking Relax series.

Anyway, it’s a bit irreverent, but it’s also just that simple, isn’t it: Just F*cking Relax!

Here’s a listing of all the tracks for the first season of Just F*cking Relax:

Just F*cking Relax 1 – Calm Sounds for Tired Minds
Just F*cking Relax 2 – Music for Anxiety and Exhaustion
Just F*cking Relax 3 – Music for Anxiety and Self-Soothing
Just F*cking Relax 4 – Music for Dealing with Energy Vampires
Just F*cking Relax 5 – Music for Insomnia
Just F*cking Relax 6 – Music for Social Anxiety
Just F*cking Relax 7 – Music for Reproductive Rights and Bodily Autonomy
Just F*cking Relax 8 – Don’t Wish Your Life Away
Just F*cking Relax 9 – Embrace the Suck
Just F*cking Relax 10 – Music for Deep Sleep on Hot Nights

Matt Borghi – Ambient Guitar – NEW RELEASE

mattborghi_ambient-guitar

Ambient Guitar is Matt Borghi’s first solo recording capturing the style of performance that he’s usually only done with saxophonist, Michael Teager, as part of their Borghi | Teager duo. With Ambient Guitar, Matt Borghi’s influences are on full display, from a resonant acknowledgement of Brian Eno, in the manner of production and texture to melodic elements that fuse in Harold Budd, Robert Fripp and the late Jerry Garcia that’s particularly reminiscent of his work on the Zabriskie Point soundtrack.

Matt Borghi’s Ambient Guitar is a texturally rich, unassuming and restrained recording that highlights Matt Borghi at his musical best.

Ambient Guitar is available in a variety of formats at the links below, including: