San Francisco musician Joshua Maremont, aka “Thermal” takes center stage in this article, exposing the wires and giving our readers a glimpse into his musical process. Thermal is one of several musical projects and/or collaborations that this polymorphic musician contributes to, including Ambient Temple of Imagination (ATOI), which will be a familiar name for our fellow Oddeo Netwerx listeners who picked up the Empathy Circuit LP.
I chose to write about Thermal because of the enigmatic feeling he captures in his music like few other artists I’ve encountered. I wanted to learn more about his artistic rituals and inspirations to compare them to my own and also share them with you.
It would be easy to categorize Thermal’s efforts as Ambient Music or Drone (the music genre, not the unmanned aerial vehicle); however, that’s a bit generic, like calling Chess a board game. While that’s technically correct, Thermal’s music is a bit more complex than the typical run of the mill synths and atmospheres that share the same top level genre.
Thermal categorizes some of his music as “kosmische”, which is a music genre that dates back to the 1970’s, and was first coined by the epic sound pioneers “Tangerine Dream”. Kosmische Music, like Thermal’s music, is a journey into the cosmos, replacing the standard guitars and drums with synthesizers and sequencers. You can find more examples of Thermal’s music on Soundcloud or Bandcamp, but in this article I wanted to hone in on “Turing Bombe”, a piece of musical bacon that highlights Thermal’s uncompromising, and unpredictable sound.
If you are a Computer Science enthusiast, or a fan of the movie “The Imitation Game” like me, you might expect the next few paragraphs to digress into a diatribe about the life and tragedy of the late Alan Turing; however, defining a theme up front is not how Thermal typically sculpts his musical compositions, so that story isn’t relevant in this context.
According to Maremont, many of his musical collaborations “tended to be improvised” such as the case with Turing Bombe, while “other pieces have been experiments with new equipment, and still others have been attempts to take something in [his] head and bring it into the world.” I took that to mean the music, the environment, and the mood of the present moment dictates the outcome, while the theme is coined in retrospect of what was created.
So why did he pick the name Turing Bombe? Joshua told me “my flatmate at the time had a glossy magazine on the coffee table from the makers of Flame and Smoke and other (at the time) high-end video workstations, and in it was an article about the Turing Bombe, which you probably know as the early analog computer [Alan Turing] built to decrypt the German Enigma code.”
Aphex Twin is another artist that comes to mind when I think of this approach to naming tracks. With titles like “The Waxen Pith”, “Mookid”, and “Cow Cud is a Twin” I would imagine Mr. Richard D. James probably has a similar method - let the music flow, and give it a tag on it’s way out of the shipyard. Simple, uncomplicated, and brilliant. We might be on to something here.
In his own words, Maremont stated
“All of these pieces represent a means of understanding the music I happen to be hearing at a given time, as I take it apart and then reassemble it without the picture on the box for reference.”
That’s something worth pondering for a minute. If the art we’re creating right this moment isn’t up to snuff with what you or I want to capture, maybe it’s time to look for new inspiration. For Joshua, he is influenced by the music he happens to be listening to at the time, so strolling down to a local show might be what works for him. For others maybe that’s a trip through the car wash to hear the strange sound combinations produced by the blue spinning brush as it washes rainbow colored bubbles over the windshield. In either case, opening yourself up to let something new in might be just what you need to overcome the last three days of staring blankly at your midi controller keys.
I often ask myself this question when I am writing experimental music: What would you say to someone who suggests that this style of music is not music at all? In my discussion with Joshua he wrote the following, which helped me put the answer to that question in context:
“I tend to think that the best records are failed copies - Led Zeppelin failed to do American blues, Cabaret Voltaire failed, at least at first, to do funk, but both came up with something far more original and influential.”
As you listen to Turing Bombe remember those words. Remove your own bias about what you think music is supposed to sound like, let it influence you and be exactly what it is. Our creations may not fit perfectly, or even nicely into the self-created boxes we sometimes try to stuff them into, but consider what we might be capable of if we let ourselves embrace the present moment like Thermal.