Every once in awhile an album comes along and sort of rewires your brain. Something or someone in the universe sees fit to gift your head and heart with a little aural magic; a tickle to your psyche that ignites something in the head and heart. For me that came in the form of Paul Riedl’s Ambient Mixtape Vol. 3, which dropped late in the year on SFI Recordings.
Andrew Crawshaw of Somafree Institute, Meridian Arc, and New Frontiers, as well as being label dude at SFI Recordings, is trying to bring the world of 70s and 80s Private Press synth music back into the fold. Shed some light on this fascinating and heady sound world. He started with New Frontiers’ (of)New Dimensions in early 2021. With the label’s next foray into the world of Private Press and ambient synth they released Riedl’s Ambient Mixtape Vol. 3, and man what a trip it is.
I listened to the album pretty much nonstop thru November and December, finding this circuital pocket of peace and light. Hitting Rudiger Lorenz, Lisa Bella Donna, and Steve Roach vibes, but with this sort of late night quality to it. Not lo-fi, but not studio sheen either. There’s a low key, improvisational spirit to Riedl’s work that gives it all the feeling of walking in on someone letting the cosmos guide them on an electric and eclectic journey.
Paul Riedl has a whole other musical existence as the guitarist and vocalist for the cosmic death metal band Blood Incantation. While Blood Incantation are no strangers to deep-diving into big questions and looking the cosmos square in the eye, Paul Riedl takes a quieter, more introspective route when recording late night ambient synth sessions.
I was so taken by Riedl’s album that I reached out to him to see if he’d want to talk about his music. He was more than willing to have a chat, so enjoy.
J Hubner: Hey Paul. Thanks for taking the time to talk. So where did you grow up?
Paul Riedl: I was born in Salem, Oregon in 1987. My family moved to Twin Falls, Idaho in 1991 and would regularly travel between the two for work and relatives. It was a very small town at the time. In 2002 we moved back to Salem, where I lived until moving to Boulder, Colorado in 2011, and I’ve been in Denver since 2016.
J Hubner: Were you into music at a young age? For me, I went from Star Wars action figures right to Ratt, W.A.S.P., and Twisted Sister cassettes. There may have been a little overlap, but music became an obsession early on for me.
Paul Riedl: Music has always been a big part of my life; my father played guitar, my mother sang and played piano, and my sister briefly played violin. Growing up there was always music playing around the house, in particular classical music and new age (Mozart and NPR’s “Echoes” program being some of my dad’s favorites), but also rock & roll or just guitar-oriented music in general, the combination of which is still essentially the framework I gravitate towards most. As a kid I liked action figures and alien toys, those 3D puzzles like pyramids or a bust of Beethoven, and video games, but when I started getting into skating in the late 90s, I started discovering soft countercultural ideas like punk music, black clothes, spiked hair, heavy metal and the like. Just one of those things in life where you spontaneously recognize an aspect of yourself in something, so you start searching for more information in any way you can. I think there were maybe two or three other kids in my school who cared about anything remotely dark or heavy, and none of them were particularly interested in being musicians, so I just kept to myself and tried to find new bands in magazines, skate videos, mailorder catalogs or whatever.
J Hubner: Who were some early influences on you growing up? Either bands, books, movies, or someone in your life that exposed you to the arts?
Paul Riedl: Everyone in my family has a bit of an artist in them, really, or at least an appreciation for and understanding of things like aesthetic and taste, so museum trips, music and art classes were very normal activities for me. My sister was a Gen X’er and I would always steal her tapes and CDs to listen to bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins – both of whom had searing, heavy, melodic guitars and the occasional maniacal screaming, which clearly made a permanent impact on me. My mom loved all things Star Trek, and my dad loved the X-Files, so an interest in and appreciation for outer space and the unknown, mysterious side of life has been with me for as long as I can remember.
J Hubner: Was there much religion in your house growing up?
Paul Riedl: My mom is not religious, but would sing in the church choirs and imprinted a sort of spiritual sensitivity on me. My dad was a pragmatic rationalist who would watch things like Cosmos or NOVA with me after school. He collected a massive library of books, music and movies (a habit I inherited), and being home alone a lot gave me plenty of time to search through them to find interesting sounds and images. I was particularly drawn to subjects like astronomy, paleontology, anthropology, ancient history and anything that expanded my perspective of time, space or my place in history or the universe. I spent a lot of time in the desert just building rock forts, climbing trees or swimming in rivers I probably shouldn’t have. Nature, the cosmos, music, art… these are still the things that motivate and please me the most as an adult.
J Hubner: When did you first start to play music? Did you start out on the guitar? Were you in any high school bands?
Paul Riedl: From 4th to 5th grade I played the violin at school, but was kicked out of orchestra when they saw I had just been playing by ear and could not actually read any of the music. In middle school I tried playing the clarinet, eventually switching to bass clarinet for a few years in high school, before guitar took over. At home I would dabble on the piano, sometimes trying to play along with whatever was playing on the radio, but I really have no idea about chords or theory. Even though my dad had guitars all over the house, I was not really allowed to play them – but you know how kids are. So, I would just play what and when I could. For a few months I played his old bass, even playing a show in a barn with a cover band, before he broke down and bought me my first guitar when I was 15, right when we moved back to Oregon. From that point on it was guitar, guitar, and guitar – all day, every day!
J Hubner: So music has been a constant pretty much your whole life.
Paul Riedl: All I’ve ever wanted to do in life is play music, so I would carry my guitar and a little amp around, trying to find kids to jam with, but everyone my age just wanted to play classic rock, emo or ska. There was a local music section in the only record shop in town, and I would buy every 7”, demo CD or whatever else they put in there that looked sort of tough or extreme. One day, while I was looking for a venue that had advertised a punk show, I came across a kid with a green mohawk and a leather jacket – I asked if he knew where the show was and he gave me his best Billy Idol sneer while nodding apathetically toward a building down the street. Eventually we found out we went to the same school, and have now been friends for twenty years, haha. We were some of only a handful of young punks in Salem in 2002, and we started a bunch of bands that all sucked, but managed to cut our teeth playing in garages, warehouses, skate parks and basements. We helped each other get into heavier stuff like crust, grindcore and some death and thrash metal, always trying to convert people to our cause and fill lineups for our many imaginary bands. It was through that environment that I was first exposed to genuinely underground music in the flesh, not just on record covers or ‘zines. Until then I had thought punk was a cool bygone era, but had no concept of a contemporary band being able to tour via an independent network, press their own vinyl or screenprint their own shirts. The DIY lifestyle appealed to me instantly and was truly a revelation to witness! Eventually, when I was 16-turning-17, I cut my devillock and shaved my head in order grow out my hair and be metal. I was resolute about being able to be in a band that could really get something done and make an impact – though most of my bands have accomplished far less than that. I wanted to tour everywhere, run our own labels, print the shirts, just the whole thing, man. We did lots of demo tapes and CD-Rs throughout high school, and one band even managed to record a split 7”, though it came out after I’d graduated. From around 2008 and on, the trail is much easier to follow, as the tapes, tours and records all began to increase in quantity.
J Hubner: Since 2011 you’ve been making music in Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice, deconstructing and reconstructing what extreme metal can be. But on the other side of that musical coin you’ve been releasing ambient synth music. Your most recent release on SFI Recordings called ‘Ambient Mixtape Vol.3’. That album blew me away. Big Rudiger Lorenz and Klaus Schulze vibes and I couldn’t get enough of it.
When did your fascination with analog synth and ambient music begin? Who were some influences on your work? Have you always been a closet synth wizard just waiting for the right time to share your circuital wisdom?
Paul Riedl: Thanks! I think growing up with atmospheric music playing on the radio when I got home just set me on that path from the start, really. I’m sure many parents would play similar things, but I’d imagine most kids would maybe find it boring and just turn it off. Enya in particular made such beautiful, melodic and ethereal music, I really couldn’t believe it. So, I would just leave it playing and go on with my puzzles or books until everyone got home later.
As far as proper ambient goes, I’ve always loved the atmosphere and interludes of black metal or doom metal bands, and a lot of those guys have had experimental side projects, so it seemed natural to me to be able to make both. Artists like Ulver and Corrupted made a huge impact on me growing up, as I was fascinated by and respected their staunchly non-metal aspects. In the mid-2000s I started getting into weird art music like Swans and Brian Eno, who I would see thanked on records by Napalm Death and Disembowelment, respectively, so it just grew from there, really, coupled with my already relatively cosmic upbringing. When I discovered Krautrock in 2006, I definitely knew I had been born in the wrong generation. Some of my favorite and most inspirational synthesists are Brian Eno, Klaus Schulze, Harold Budd, Manuel Göttsching, Enya, Geoffrey Chandler, Enno Velthuys, Hans-Joachim Roedelius (Cluster and Harmonia in particular being two of the greatest bands of all time, in my opinion), Rüdiger Lorenz, Michael Stearns, Edgar Froese, Sven Grünberg, Vangelis, Steve Roach, Aeoliah, etc. The last few years I have been obsessed with Japanese environmental and ambient artists like Satoshi Ashikawa, Yutaka Hirose and of course Hiroshi Yoshimura. I think the concept of label series like Sound Process’ Wave Notation and Misawa Home’s Soundscape are simply amazing, and their minimalist compositional approach just really hits home for me. A merger between the brooding, sprawling panoramas of the German Kosmische scene, the lofty yet personal and melodic aura of US private press New Age and the delicate, austere beauty of Japanese environmental ambient would be the ultimate form of listening pleasure for me.
Anyway, I have been releasing solo experimental, synth and acoustic music since 2008, but had a lull from around 2014-2020, when Spectral Voice and Blood Incantation started really getting busy. Before that I was putting out a dozen tapes a year sometimes! I got my first Moog (the MG-1 Concertmate) for $100 in 2010, and have used it on nearly every metal recording I’ve made since. Roughly 2008-2012 I would make a new tape anytime I got a new effects pedal or keyboard, and most of them aren’t very interesting. My early tapes were primitive and raw improv, more concerned with the xerox layout than the actual music, but there are some good ones that I still enjoy from back then, like Hoverkraft, the third Kerker album or Körkarlen. I have a YouTube channel with a bunch of my old, obscure tapes uploaded, for anyone interested in hearing those early stepping-stones:
J Hubner: I feel a very spiritual component with your work in the synth realm. As stated in the album’s liner notes this was a totally improvised recording session released as it was, no overdubs or studio tinkering. Is this a kind of “plugging into the universe” thing for you? Ride the circuits into the big hum and see what happens? I definitely get that vibe.
Paul Riedl: I think that’s wonderful, thanks so much! AMV3, like all of my mixtapes, is actually a compilation of many separate sessions, but all captured like you mention, just plugging into the universe and exploring the sounds that come as they may. I love to feel my way through new textures, taking on a passive, observant role rather than actively participating in the soundscapes. Often I will just be sitting there, listening to the separate loops congeal, enjoying the unique environment, and realize I should have hit record a few minutes ago. The mixtape series is simply my way of sharing some moments that I felt were a little more special or interesting, that maybe other people would enjoy. It has been really great to see people enjoy the sounds; especially your great reviews for volume three were very meaningful to me. I think each mixtape gets a little better, and I’m excited for you to hear the next volumes – Number 4 should be out in a few months, again from the great SFI Records.
J Hubner: What are a couple of albums that have been integral for you in the electronic music realm?
Paul Riedl: Oh man, way too many… Enya’s “Watermark” and “Shepherd Moons”, Brian Eno’s whole run from “Discreet Music” up through “Thursday Afternoon” is all just untouchable, in my opinion. While not electronic, Ulver’s “Kveldssanger” and “Shadows of the Sun” are definitely some of my favorite material from them, and greatly inspired me as a teenager. As mentioned, the Cluster/Harmonia microcosm and their extended family tree of collaborators are just profoundly inspiring to me. The atmospheric passages of bands like Pink Floyd, Goblin, every great Krautrock and 70s Prog band, I just love things with that cosmic essence! Since I was young I have always sought to implement similar atmospheric or ethereal components into my metal projects; I have been truly blessed to have many bandmates throughout the years who share this same sentiment. The hardest part of good ambient, in my opinion, is finding that balance between inner stillness and still keeping it interesting. While I do appreciate and listen to drone, I prefer the soundscape to evolve a little bit, so generally everything I’m listening to will inevitably resolve into the more beautiful and cosmic side of things.
J Hubner: What are at least two essential tools when it comes to making your ambient music, hardware wise?
Paul Riedl: Speaking purely for equipment, as opposed to the synths themselves, I definitely have to say the Roland RE-301 Chorus Echo and Electro-Harmonix 2880 multi-track looper. The tonal quality of tape echoes is incredible, but the RE-301’s feature I use the most is called sound-on-sound, where the erase head is disengaged allowing an incoming signal to be played along with the previously recorded loop, which deteriorates a little more each time. This creates interesting and unpredictable spatial effects, especially when all incoming sound has been stopped and the trails of the tape loop are dissolving. The original one-meter tape loop would repeat after 15 seconds, but I had a three-meter loop installed which upped the time to around 43 seconds before the initial recorded sound would repeat. This really opened things up and allowed me to create very long, dynamic loop collages that would seemingly repeat but are actually slightly different each time, due to the random fluctuations of the tape itself. The 2880 has individual volume and panning controls for each of the four tracks, and can detune or even play the loops in reverse. Combined, these two devices become instruments unto themselves; I can let the initial sounds build up the sound-on-sound collage, and when I reverse, detune, or adjust the individual loops, the preceding signal continues to play on top, gradually deteriorating, interacting uniquely each time while I augment the levels playing beneath. This creates some truly amazing textures and I will often listen in disbelief at just how much sound is being generated autonomously by the machines, with minimal input from the synths or myself. On AMV3 the tracks produced in this manner are indicated with an asterisk, but this is the primary method of sound generation used on nearly all tracks for AMV4 and AMV5. I can sit for hours in a river of sound that is never the same twice.
J Hubner: Can you give us an idea of what’s coming next in the ambient music world for you?
Paul Riedl: Volumes 4 and 5 have both been recorded for a few months, and Vol. 4 has just been mastered, again by Arthur Rizk. Both will come out through SFI Records, who I think will be a longstanding collaborator as Andrew really “gets it” as far as what I’m going for and enjoy about obscure synth tapes. Personally I think AMV4 is much more interesting and cohesive than AMV3, and AMV5 is even more chilled than AMV4. I suppose that is the point of the series, just little postcards showing my development or changing ideas at the time. I’m uncertain how many more mixtapes I’ll do, but will stop when I feel I have achieved the sonic qualities I’ve been searching for, and will eventually switch my focus to an actual full length album. I have recorded dozens of raw improv ambient/drone/noise tapes under various monikers over the years that were all mono, but my most recent Hoverkraft album (“Schwebende Musik”/“Floating Music”) was the first time I ever did a written and multi-track recording, which I thought turned out really well. So, I’m looking forward to combining the above-mentioned generative process with multi-tracking for my first proper solo ambient record under my own name, which is tentatively going to be called “Demystification”.
J Hubner: In both your work in metal and ambient music there’s always this component of psychedelia. There’s a depth, spiritually and intellectually, in your music that feels like searching for something bigger. Where does that come from?
Paul Riedl: I think like we were talking about earlier, this is just part of my personality and being a product of my environment growing up around ethereal, atmospheric music as well as interesting guitar music, inner/outer space and a curiosity in the face of the unknown – the merging point of which is often psychedelic and progressive music. I do listen to some straightforward bands and styles, but the vast bulk of my record collection is definitely atmospherically inclined. In the proper psychedelic sense, I spent years tripping in the woods in the mid-late 2000s and even today, though I don’t party like I used to, Blood Incantation will write and rehearse while micro-dosing – sometimes we’ll even eat something on tour before going onstage, haha. One of my old bands, Leech, released a 21-minute atmospheric black metal song that was originally completely improvised on LSD in one sitting. Combined with a lifelong interest in metaphysics and esoteric philosophy, this is just something that comes with the territory that such qualities will be imbued in my various musical outlets.
J Hubner: We’re just now entering a new year, after two years that were pretty heavy and dark. Do you see us coming to some light in 2022? Music has been a life raft for me spiritually and emotionally these last two years. I imagine that won’t change this year. Do you have hope we can turn this existential crisis into something more like existential pondering?
Paul Riedl: Honestly, I have no idea and have just been taking things one day at a time. Everything is so unpredictable; I think that’s really all we can do, unfortunately. In the meantime, I’ve been really happy and motivated to create increasingly beautiful, calming and ultimately healing music, so while my main bands wait out the endless tour postponements I am just going to keep pursuing my goal of creating increasingly chill music – that anyone, like yourself, is able to find a little slice of peace or inner calm while listening to my music is totally inspiring and rewarding to me, and I look forward to bringing as much of that energy into the world as I can.
Paul Riedl’s Ambient Mixtape Vol. 3 is out now and available via SFI Recordings.