Interview: Bridge To Imla & “The Radiant Sea” (dark ambient/drone)

Bridge to Imla is the duo of veteran German ambient artists Michael Brueckner and Hans-Dieter Schmidt.  The Radiant Sea is their new and debut release as a duo – releasing on December 1.  The Radiant Sea is one of those cases in which we felt that an interview was more appropriate due to the uniqueness and magical nature of this recording.  The Radiant Sea will grasp both new and old ambient fans alike.  It is a shape-shifting, gate-opening and sometimes whimsical view into a cinematic ambient, fantastic album.  Mr. Brueckner and Mr. Schmidt were kind to devote some time to providing such rich answers to our questions.  We are very grateful to them and to Winter-Light Records for providing us with the opportunity to hear such quality work.

Could you talk about the meaning behind the name Bridge to Imla and how you came up with it?

Hans-Dieter: The question of which name our project should have, only came up after we had recorded everything. First of all, it was only “Brückner/Schmidt” but then Michael suggested a few names and we liked „Bridge to Imla“ best.

Michael: Technically speaking, it’s a compositum of – or a word game with – my family name (“Brücke” is the German word for “bridge”) and the name of Hans-Dieter’s solo project “Imaginary Landscape”. Frankly speaking, it was about the first thing that came to my mind when thinking about some name for our duo. Which is probably because it sounded like the title of a fantasy tale to me. Actually, “Imla” reminded me of “Imlardis” (the Elvish name of Rivendell in “The Lord of the Rings”). Also, bridges are often crossing a river, and a river protects Imlardis, so the mental image of water wasn’t far from the project name, which seemed to be in line with the topic of our album…

Did you guys create the album in the studio or was it by sharing files over the net?

Hans-Dieter: We had already successfully used the exchange of files over the net, whilst working on Michael’s CD “100 Million Miles Under The Stars”. So we decided to keep this way of cooperative working.

 Michael: We both recorded it in our respective home studios. Actually, in 2013 I recorded several hours of ambient drones and more abstract soundscapes when I worked on a submission for a compilation. This was for a charitable project in reaction to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima (“Fukushima Drones”, curated by Jack Hertz and released on his label, Aural Films). I had already recorded much more material than needed for the actual track. When the idea came up to do an album together, I reworked some of it, added in a few new parts and handed the result over to Hans-Dieter.

Then for a number of different reasons, the project came to a halt for rather a long time. We finally returned to it last year, and HaDi started to record his parts and send me his ideas, which I liked so much that all I had to say was – go on please!

It’s my understanding that the album was created also with natural instruments in addition to synths.  Is that correct?

Michael: Well, to be honest, I think in the end the only traditional instrument we used was the flute on one track. We also used different recordings of household objects like paper, keys, bottles and other stuff that went through a lot of computer processing to generate non-pitched atmospheres etc. There is also piano on the album, and string sounds too, which are sample based and/or synthesized.

Hans-Dieter: Indeed, I recorded the transverse flute only for one track. All the other instruments like the piano, violin and orchestral sounds are either computer generated or synthesized sounds.

You two initially met (according to what I’ve read) around 2010 at some ambient music group improvisations called EK-Lounge in Frankfurt, right? What projects have you done together since before Bridge to Imla?

Michael: That’s correct, except for one detail that these improvisations didn’t all take place directly in Frankfurt, but in different locations in the wider area around that urban center. I live in Mainz, where two or three of those sessions took place, and I also remember joining one in Darmstadt. Others were from my perspective, on the opposite (Eastern) side of Frankfurt, and they were too far away for me to join…

Michael: I had my first ever label release back in 2012 with “100 Million Miles Under The Stars” on SynGate. I invited Hans-Dieter to play flute on one of the tracks; a Shakuhachi actually, which is a Japanese bamboo flute.  Apart from that, we actually only met for one session at HaDi’s place, later in 2012, and recorded that. The next thing that happened was the project that evolved into our current album.

We remained in touch all the time though and in 2014, we both performed solo sets in a series of ambient concerts in a former church in Frankfurt. The concerts were an opportunity to accompany the performances of light artists and VJ during the annual “light fair” Luminale and also in context with the EK-Lounge.

Hans-Dieter: As mentioned before we had already cooperated for a piece on Michael’s CD. Before the album we did record a session, excerpts of which can be heard on our ‘Bridge To Imla’ SoundCloud page.

Could you talk about some of the other projects you guys do as individuals other than Bridge to Imla?

Michael: Since 1992, I have recorded quite a lot of solo albums. It wasn’t before 2006 though, when I came out of the shell of my little bedroom studio and entered the stage that is the Internet. From 2012 onwards some other label releases have happened, but most of my stuff is self-released via Bandcamp. I’m a rather eclectic guy, loving all kinds of music, and so what I do musically is very varied and not easy to pigeonhole, I guess. However, during the past 10 years or so, an emphasis on often drone-based ambient, as well as retro space music, or “neo Berlin school” crystallized. I have also dabbled in progressive rock, new age, dance, drum and bass, experimental music etc.

In addition to my solo projects, I have also collaborated with several other artists over the years.  For example, Wolfgang Barkowski aka “Alien Nature”, classical horn player and synthesist Detelv Everling, Brazilian electronic composer Gustavo Jobim, and drone ambient pioneer Mathias Grassow.

There were, and still are, some long-term collaborations. B4 SUNRISE was an art rock trio from around 2000 to 2010, and La Mansarde Hérmetique is an electronic improvisation duo with Mathias Brüssel.

There is also Betzler & Brückner, an electronic rock project with former Klaus Schulze and P’Cock drummer Tommy Betzler. That project will soon be renamed to P’Faun though, because guitarist Sammy David joined us a while ago as a permanent member, so we want a proper band name here…

Hans-Dieter: By the end of the 1970s I was playing keyboards and flute in different local rock bands. As a member of AME (study- group electronic musical instruments) I was involved in 3 compilations. In 2001, I joined Elektro-Kartell and then co-founded the ambient improvisation project EK-Lounge in 2006. Up till now we have done about 70 live performances not only in Germany but also for example in Austria.

Winter-Light is one of the best labels right now for dark ambient.  How did they become involved with you?

Michael: I’m happy to hear that they enjoy such a good reputation! 😀

Well, in January 2017 Winter-Light released a wonderful double compilation entitled “… That First Season” and I was very happy that a track by Mathias Grassow and myself was included on the album. So, that’s when I first learned about the label.

Later that year, when HaDi started to work on the album, I immediately felt that it would be one of the best albums that I was ever involved in. So, I wanted it to be presented in the best way possible. Especially, I wanted it to be professionally mastered, and immediately thought of Robert Rich doing this. However, to be able to afford this luxury, it was obvious that we needed a label. But even without that idea, or simultaneously or whatever, I also thought; this is finally something one of my favorite labels might be interested in! 😀 Or, that this is strong enough material that it might make sense to submit it.

Anyway, I made a list of great independent labels that put out some of my favorite ambient music – which, of course included Winter-Light. They very much liked the album and confirmed that they were interested in a possible release. After some initial communication via e-mail, a telephone conversation between the label and myself and some further communication, Winter-Light confirmed that they wanted to release the album. So, we all agreed to move forward with the project and we’re very happy to be releasing “The Radiant Sea” with them!

How did Robert Rich become involved as the producer?

Michael: First of all: he didn’t! 😀 – become involved as *the producer*, that is – but as the mastering engineer instead. It was actually a rather simple process. I knew that Robert is offering mastering services – that’s just one thing he does professionally in addition to his own music – so I offered him this job, and he accepted.

I discovered Robert’s astonishing music rather late, maybe only five or six years ago, but he immediately became one of my favorite ambient artists. Well, I guess he needs no introduction here; he’s one of the pioneers, and still simply one of the best in this field of creativity. I also had the joy to conduct an interview with him in late 2015, so we were already in contact a while before “The Radiant Sea” finally took shape. I can hardly imagine anyone more ideally suited to master an ambient album. We are very happy to have him! 🙂

Hans-Dieter: Michael was the one who established contact with Robert.

It seems that the album is more or less about opening a door and presenting a dynamic environment, not just sending the listener on a trip.  Is that accurate?

Michael: Ummmm. Tough question, actually – because I’m not so sure about the difference… 😉

My personal idea – or ideal – of this kind of music maybe is to create a world, or a sonic environment, which provides a space for the listener to discover and experience it whilst journeying through it. So, the idea of both, the environment AND the trip (in the sense of a journey) are included. At the same time, we certainly also strive to achieve, or make possible, that deep listening effect that maybe even can put the listener in something like a meditative state, or trance. We make use of psychedelic elements as well, so also the “mind-altering” or “mind-expanding” aspect of “trip” is to some degree included.

Then, of course “environment” is also a key word on the conceptual level. As I mentioned earlier, what ignited this whole project was a compilation album about the Fukushima disaster. We actually just continued, or expanded upon, this impulse of ecological concern. “The Radiant Sea” is actually about the beauty and majesty of the Pacific Ocean, but also about it’s pollution and the danger in which human activities put this whole eco system.

Actually, also the track titles, or sub titles, as the whole album in fact is one long composition or suite, refer to this. It literally starts at Fukushima and then moves towards the Western American Coast.

If we want to open any door, it probably would be a spiritual one, if we can and the door to ecological awareness. And to our listeners own imagination, of course.

Hans-Dieter: You can find both in our album, as you like. As the dark parts merge into the more melodic aspects, you can see the album as a journey through either the destroyed or the unspoiled parts of the Pacific Ocean. The contrast between these two elements helps you to realize the vulnerability of our planet.

Speaking of ambient/drone music in general…. What territories or room for creative advancement do you think have yet to be explored?  What I mean is this; what boundaries do you think this music still needs to push?

Michael: To me, that’s another tough question, to be honest. I don’t feel that I know enough drone music to be able to tell. There is so much drone ambient around and it has already been explored so much. However, of course the concept of pure drones is conceptually a rather simple one, isn’t it? So, maybe there are only so many different kinds of drone that artists can come up with.

Therefore, I think any expansion of the concept can only be the inclusion of other elements. But how many other elements can you add to a drone and it’s still just the drone that remains the center of interest? Actually, I can think of endless variations on the basic theme, but probably pure drones as such are more likely to sound similar to one another than melodic / rhythmic compositions are. But I’m not one of those people who ask for innovation, only for innovations sake. As long as the new drone based compositions are beautiful, or deep, or interesting in any way, I don’t mind much if they push boundaries, or that they are just great within the given boundaries…

Hans-Dieter: I can only comment on ambient. I think ambient music should be given more expression rather than being looked at as a pure and easy to listen background music. Experimental ideas like granular synthesis could be able to explore new worlds of sound.

Do you guys have future plans for collaboration or live shows?

Michael: Definitely! We see “Bridge To Imla” as a long-term project. We hope to release further albums, and also hope that opportunities for live shows will occur. Actually, on January 27th we will play a concert in a location near Frankfurt, to present the album, ‘The Radiant Sea’.

Hans-Dieter: We both intend to keep on working on our project.

Situation:  The two of you receive a HUGE commission payment to do a single performance.  Here are the conditions: 1. It will be heard only once, not recorded – 2.  It is to be performed near the great Black Forest of Germany – 3. The theme must be a tribute to the Black Forest, so be mindful of what sounds/instruments you may use.

Consider some of these questions… What studio equipment do you bring?  Will you need to do some field recordings or just play in a more vibrant part of the forest?  Otherwise, what do you do to make this music sound like the soundtrack to the Black Forest?

Michael: Oh wow! A huge commission – well, I guess I’ll grab the advance and will be off to Honolulu! 😉

Equipment: well, obviously an excellent PA would be the most important thing. While I’m personally quite happy with my current (rather humble) equipment, of course a few fancy synthesizers like one or two by Radikal Technologies, or Moog etc. wouldn’t hurt… 😉

I don’t think we would necessarily need field recordings. But if I had a really big budget, I would probably spend it on extra musicians with acoustic instruments, like a cello player, or a clarinet player – or even a string section, a small orchestra and a choir! And a percussionist. And, of course, a real grand piano! And tubular bells! LOl!!! 😀 Plus the equipment and personnel to stage all that.

But I think the most important thing is, after all, the overall composition. The music itself must tell the story in the end, however grand, or humble, the production, or presentation…

Hans-Dieter: I’m a real fan of Murray Schafer’s world soundscape project. Therefore I would use field recordings, which should be processed as well as being used naturally. Here I could imagine sounds of rustling trees and singing birds that could be processed by granular synthesis. In any case, a big modular system and my Roli Seaboard should be used.

Situation:  Many, many years from now, a very distant relative locates a box in the attic of an old house.  Inside the box they find a copy of “The Radiant Sea.”  What would you like this person to know about this album or the legacy left by it… just by listening?

 Michael: Well, actually the same things that I have already said earlier; that the music can open both a door to ecological awareness, as well as to contemplative inner awareness. But sending this listener on a trip in his own imagination already would be a great achievement…

I wish that there would still be someone around to listen to this music at all. I hope that there will still be living, growing, thriving eco-systems on the planet. In the end, I wish that more than the thought that anyone in the far future would just hear this music, as nice an idea as that is.

Hans-Dieter: There is nothing to add to Michael’s statements.              😉

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