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Interview with: THE CIRCULAR RUINS
Date: Jan 28 2009


The Reflective Relief of Sonic Spaces: an interview with Anthony Paul Kerby, aka The Circular Ruins, Lammergeyer & Nunc Stans

So who is Anthony Paul Kerby (APK)?
I was born and raised in southern England a long time ago, and moved to Canada in my mid-20s. Back then I played guitar, mainly classical. I studied fine art at college in Canada, and philosophy at university.
My last full-time job was teaching philosophy at a Canadian university. But my wife now supports me! Which gives me lots of free time for composing and running the little DataObscura label.
I still have a passion for philosophy, visual art, and especially poetic literature, and they are an important influence on my music.

How long have you been around in electronic music? And how did your passion for it start?
I started composing electronic music back in the mid 90s on the more affordable synths and then adding software emulations (ReBirth, Reality). Prior to that I was feeding guitars through multiple effects, which was itself a form of electronic music. It was with the rise of the web and the original that I put some material out in the public arena as "The Circular Ruins" and "ReFraction" (beat-driven electronica, with a friend). That was around 2000.
My passion for electronic music started at a young age with the early Tangerine Dream releases and other psychedelic and experimental underground stuff of the late 60s early 70s. (yes, I'm older than you might think.) Terry Riley's "A Rainbow In Curved Air" has always been an inspirational favourite from that period. My interest died down a bit until Eno started releasing those great solo albums of the later 70s.
But it was with the explosion of independent and highly creative electro-experimental music available on the early web that I finally put aside my guitar and settled almost exclusively on keyboards and electronic-digital processing. I now consider myself a keyboard player rather than a guitarist.

Can you tell about your first recordings?
My first solo releases on the early site were three or four albums by The Circular Ruins. They had some very good moments but were more experimental and unsophisticated than my more recent label releases. I was still working out the possibilities of the equipment and finding a natural style for myself. But it was then that I was contacted by Dennis Knopper, …….

You indeed got in touch with Dennis Knopper (aka Spielerei) who started the Dutch Databloem label. How did that happen?
Dennis contacted me after hearing my material, and said he was going to start a label and would I be interested in creating a new Circular Ruins track for the first Databloem compilation release. I said yes, and told him that I was also thinking of starting a web label and that maybe we should get together on the project.
Things took off from there and Databloem began as a joint enterprise. I created the web site, and we split things between Europe (Dennis) and North America (myself). We got on very well together, and very soon added the DataObscura label for cd-r releases.

My first solo label release was The Circular Ruins’ album "Realm of Possibility" on Databloem, which I composed in 2001. Since then there has been a few more releases on Databloem, and a lot of releases on DataObscura, including albums under my alternate personas: Lammergeyer and Nunc Stans.

A few years back, your collaboration with Databloem was put to an end for the most part. What happened, and how did you continue?
It was some time in 2007 that Dennis told me he would like to expand to a more general web store that also sold albums from other labels. In our current arrangement we could easily stock all albums both at his home in Holland and at mine in Canada, but this would not be possible for a general music store.
And besides, I was always primarily interested in a smaller label where I could choose what artists to release and on which I could release my own work. I had no interest in a larger retail web store. So we decided the best thing was to part company. Dennis kept the Databloem name and releases for his new store, and I kept the DataObscura name and its releases. This was all very friendly.

Dennis now sells my new DataObscura releases at his excellent Databloem store and is still very supportive of my music. I'm happy running DataObscura and concentrating on my own music composition. I have since added the Blue Oasis label, for a few pressed releases.

Over the years you initiated several projects and collaborations under different aliases. Please tell some more about them, and the ideas you had in mind for them

My initial releases were under the name The Circular Ruins, which is the title of a short story by the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. He is a master of short metaphysical and enigmatic stories and essays. This very much suited the feel and intent of the music I wanted to create.

Then in 2003 I released the first album under the name Lammergeyer. This was created for a more gentle, connected, and cinematic style of music. The lammergeyer is a large eagle-like bird, and I was more inspired by the idea of soaring across rocky valleys and lakes than with the aggressive side of this powerful bird of prey. The music is primarily composed using additive synthesis, which gave it a particular feel.

It was in 2005 that I first released under the name Nunc Stans. I had been developing a more drone-based style that I was very pleased with, and thought it would be neat to release some new material that people would not have pre-conceived views about, so I released it anonymously. The Nunc Stans-style developed in the next couple of releases into a more grainy, desolate, drone style that I especially associate with Canada's far northern landscapes. Isolated, solitary, and majestic. Not quite the minimalism of Thomas Köner, but definitely in that direction.

Invariably, I guess, the 3 personae began to meld together with more recent releases. I eventually put my name to the Nunc Stans releases when people started asking me if I was the composer. I continue to release under the 3 different names. I do plan to reserve The Circular Ruins-albums for a more analogue sounding, darker, and rhythmic electro-ambient style.
Nunc Stans is reserved for my extended drone-noise soundscape experiments. And Lammergeyer for the more delicate, intimate, and cinematic compositions. We shall see how this continues.

Can you provide an overview of your music and albums and the different goals you set for them?
I'm first going to quote a paragraph from my personal web site:
"I don't adopt trends or fall into any fixed style. Of course, I am influenced by what I hear around me in contemporary music and also in nature, and will incorporate elements that serve my ultimate purpose. But I seek only to create beautiful and fascinating instrumental music in a broad electro-ambient vein ... music that has quality, depth, and a subtle sonic richness. You might call my music soundscapes, this word captures something of their visually-inspired nature."

I play keyboards, and I like to bring together a traditional musical style alongside contemporary innovation. So you will still hear lots of pads, atmospheres, subtle drawn-out leads, and occasional rhythm. But I am very much an explorer and will incorporate into my compositions whatever I find aesthetically attractive in contemporary electronica. I love quirky little details, whispered voices, gentle rain, field recordings, noise, and curious synth sounds of all kinds. Also magical little melodies. But I am always, in the end, seeking a certain mystery and beauty in my music. All my albums serve that one purpose. And I want it to be complex enough that it rewards repeat listens.

Soundscapes, soundworlds ... whatever you call them, I do believe these are sonic spaces where a listener can experience something fascinating, different, absorbing and, in its own way, psychologically enlightening and somehow refreshing, liberating, and thought-provoking. A reflective relief from their daily lives ... a step out of time. It really doesn't matter if you are listening to The Circular Ruins, Lammergeyer or Nunc Stans, the goal is the same.

Much of my music I think of as analogous to short stories or poems. The others are landscape paintings. These two aspects can appear in any given piece.

How do you start composing, what instruments do you use?
When I start composing, it is always for a particular album. I don't create single tracks and then put a bunch of them on an album when I have enough. I also limit myself to a particular synth setup so that the sound remains consistent throughout the album.
I will usually begin by laying down either a delicate rhythm or a drone bed that I find particularly interesting. Both serve as a beginning point for me to improvise over. (I will often silence the rhythmic part later.)
Almost all of my music is pure improvised keyboard playing, even the rhythms tend to be played arpeggiations. I record into a computer DAW (Reaper), and once I've started a piece I simply keep playing along to myself again and again while switching knobs/presets until I know I have enough material to mould the final track out of. Later I do some serious editing. But I will usually continue to compose more of the album first by laying down more bed tracks or by taking something I like from the previous track's material and use that as the bed track. Sometimes I will record all the basic material for an album in one extended, many hour sitting in one huge project in my DAW.

I should mention that I almost never use midi or sample loops in my music. I don't like to be locked into any particular tempo, and I find loops to be too predictable and mechanical for my style (plus, I simply enjoy playing keyboards). But I will use loop-effects while playing. The Korg Kaoss Pad is great for this.

Editing all that recorded material into polished tracks takes MUCH longer. I will remove takes that don't work, or keep just pieces of them. I will move takes from one track to a track farther along in the project, and once I have a track in its basic shape I will record any other synth bits it still needs or add field recording samples (I do a lot of field recording). It's a very organic process of adding, subtracting, moving things around, and adding effects until I get the tracks into a shape I like. I'm simply guided by my ears.

As for instruments. A lot of the early work for an album is created using a virtual synth and effect chain. It's kind of like having a large modular synth made of various virtual synths and effects -- I find this very flexible and it allows a lot of instant creativity. I work quickly and intensely when I start recording, so I need a system I can tweak real fast to get new related sounds. I will then use hardware synths primarily for leads and added sounds later. My favourite hardware synth is probably the Access Virus. It has some sounds I use over and over and has a very broad palette of sounds.

What’s your opinion about nowadays electronic ambient music, what difference is there in the output made in your side of the ocean compared to the stuff made in Europe? Any thoughts about the future of electronic music?
It's certainly a fascinating time for electro-ambient music. There are a lot of good people making it, and there is a lot of very interesting cross-fertilization between various genres. It's in a very healthy state in that regard.

Of course, there is also so much music being released around the world that you simply can't keep up with it. And there are so many inexpensive, or free, avenues for releasing music to the public that invariably there is also a lot of mediocre stuff being released. You have to be your own quality-control expert, and that can take a lot of time. I also feel that this amount of new albums leads many people to always be looking for the next great release ... instead of really getting to know the previous great releases they already have. Music, even ambient music, has become more of a "listen once then move on" commodity. It's a very disturbing trend.

The web has opened up so many new horizons, but it is, as the saying goes, a two-edged sword. I could also go on about the illegal sharing and downloading of albums that has caused many a fine label to close down ... but I'm sure people know all about that already.

I think we will see more and more releases switched over to only digital downloads in the future, and even more free web labels, with just a few boutique labels left catering to collectors by adding extra value in terms of packaging or perhaps extended dvd releases.

On the issue of Europe vs North American ambient, I assume there is less and less difference. The web has brought everything together. Everything is accessible wherever you are. It breaks down boundaries, and mixes national styles. But I'm not a wide listener, so not the best person to judge. I certainly do listen to more artists from Europe than from over here, and I sell more of my own music over there than here. So I think there must be some differences and enduring trends. Of course there is the Berlin/sequencer style still produced in Europe, and also a very personal and intimate style found in Icelandic/Scandinavian music that I personally enjoy but don't find over here.

Ah, the future! One unfortunate future on the near horizon is that electro-ambient music will be largely in the hands of software engineers and audio-sample producers who provide listeners with one-button solutions to creating "their own music". Scary stuff. Great music is the working out of a personal mode of expression. It can't be mass-produced.

What’s in the works for yourself and DataObscura?
I will continue creating and releasing my own music, I enjoy it too much to stop. So expect a few releases in the coming year .. including some more collaborations.
And I will maintain DataObscura as long as there is still an audience for the releases. But I will continue to keep DataObscura small. I'm more interested in working closely with just a few artists I particularly admire, rather than expanding.

I'd like to end by thanking you very much for contacting me about this interview. And I also want to offer my heartfelt thanks to the listeners who have consistently supported DataObscura and my own work through the years.

Discography The Circular Ruins:
* Realm of Possibility (2002)
* Confluence (2002, re-released 2008)
* Empathy Test (2003)
* Conjunction (2003)
* The Alchemy Concert (2004)
* Land of the Blind (2004)
* Degrees of Separation (2005)
* Their Subtle Purpose (2006)
* We All Fall Down (with Off the Sky) (2006)
* Falling into the Sky (2007)
* Before the Colors Deepened (2009)

Discography Lammergeyer:
* Birds of Prey (2003)
* Blue Oasis (2003)
* Borrowed Time (2004)
* Borders and Barrens (2005)
* Beneath the Sky (2006)

Discography Nunc Stans:
* The Cerulean Suite (2005)
* Night Vision (2006)
* The Palm at the end of the Mind (2008)
* Timeless (2008)

Other collaborative projects:
* The Hive Project (APK & Jeremy Rice) - Conversations With The Queen (2006)
* The Winterhouse (Anthony Paul Kerby & Robert Davies) - Slow Promises (2007)
* Jonathan Block & The Circular Ruins - Shadows On Water (2007)
* Description without Place (Anthony Paul Kerby & Entia Non, aka James McDougall) - Filaments (2008)
* The Winterhouse (Anthony Paul Kerby & Robert Davies) - Lost (2008)


© Bert Strolenberg

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