Interview with Lotuspike

Bert Strolenberg talks with Jeff Kowall, president and co-founder of Lotuspike

Date: Aug 2005


Jeff Kowall, Daniel Pipitone & Ben CoxHow did you meet your label co-founders Daniel Pipitone and Ben Cox in the first place?
It’s kind of serendipitous how we met. A while back, we were all part of a loosely formed group of electronic musicians and hobbyists who would meet at a local coffee house to talk about music and nothing in particular. We realized early on that we three had common about what we thought was important in terms of musical aesthetic. We knew right off that we wanted to do something together.What made you decide to start your own label Lotuspike?
Well, Lotuspike was the culmination of a lot of needs. First of all, I had just completed “The Gate” and was debating what to do with it, whether to pitch it to labels or self-release. Ben had expressed some similar concern with “On Water” which he had started production on at the time. The other thing was that the three of us had been discussing the need for a real venue for this type of work for the locally, as Pittsburgh has a growing audience of listeners and supporters of this genre. Hence, Lotuspike was born.

Can you give a concise overview what the label stands for?
Lotuspike’s mission is very simple: to produce, support and release music that is superior in quality, aesthetic, musicianship and production. Lotuspike is not really concerned with becoming a huge business. We are a small, “hand-crafted” label that wants to be known for the quality of work we put out there, rather than the size of our library, number of artists, or gross annual revenue. All of the founders are music junkies and we want to share our enthusiasm with anyone who cares to listen.

What the label’s view of nowadays electronic/ambient scene?
It’s funny. We talk about this a lot, actually. Since the 90s, the boundaries of musical “genres” have all been massaged into obscurity. There is an awful lot of cross-pollination happening. Ambient music is no exception. The scope of what is considered “ambient” has expanded significantly over the past 20 years and we think this is really healthy. It opens the door for a lot of acceptable exploration within an area of music that was running the risk of becoming predictably formulaic.
I think that this is one of the places where Lotuspike’s format is unique. Rather than focus on a particular style of ambient or electronic music, we encourage exploration of the genre (in all of its forms) to it’s fullest. So we aren’t concerned with catering to a specific style, but we do focus on a common aesthetic in the music we release.

Ok, let’s talk about the albums that have been released until now on Lotuspike. Terra Ambient’s “The Gate” sounds like electronic music, but was made without synths… please tell some more about the music & how it was made.
Well, my first release “The Darker Space” was very electronic. All synths and drum machines. For “The Gate”, I wanted to step back from the machine a bit and focus on a more physical method of music making. I wanted to keep a “dark” quality to it, so it wasn’t a complete departure from the first release, but at the same time I definitely wanted to be different in texture and narrative.
I decided the path would be to get as close to the big, dark sound of the first cd without using synths. I relied heavily on my guitar, voice and didgeridoo to build out the drones and then introduced the flute into my ensemble as a lead instrument. The other component was to record live material and convert things into samples that I could then deconstruct into some really dark, twisted abstractions. All of the rhythms were recorded live with hand percussion and either converted to samples and looped or tracked live. It was a great and exhaustive experience that opened up a lot of possibilities for me artistically on the new cd I am currently working on.

Darshan’s “Autumn’s Apple” is a rather different album than his former, very quiet albums.
It really is. Michael is an exceptionally talented musician and this latest release is a testament to his artistic range. I remember when he told me that he was listening to Peter Gabriel’s “Up” and was really inspired to do something more beat driven and “pop” influenced. I think I said “If you take this material to anyone else, I will kill you.” Seriously though, I was really in love with Michael’s plan and knew the end result was going to be really special.
The cd was inspired by his family and his new son, Tristen. When you listen to the cd, you can really hear the spiritual charge Michael had as he was composing. There is a warm, loving attitude to the recordings that can’t be faked. Personally, I think this is Michael’s best work since “Providence”, and we look forward to anything he brings to the table.

…and there finally was “On Water” by Ben Cox. What is his background & what about the music on the album?
Ben is a very talented musician, a multi-instrumentalist with formal classical and jazz training as a performer and composer. He also has experience working in a pro studio environment, starting out doing classical chamber recording and moving to more “produced” recordings, having spent time in experimental music studios and multitrack session studios. Ben keeps us honest with our mixes and is the “quality control” member of the trio. Lotuspike couldn’t exist without him.
“On Water” is an interesting concept piece. The original title was “Nesting On Water” because all of the tracks are named after water fowl. Ultimately we settled on “On Water”, as it was a little more enigmatic. The music on this cd is lofty, airy, distant and a little sad. I think the use of trumpet on this cd brings a large, bird-like quality to some of the tracks. I thought that this cd captured the concept very well and based on sales, I’d say other people felt the same way.

What’s in the works now at Lotuspike?
There is a lot happening, actually. I am currently working on a new solo cd, for release hopefully by the end of the year. Michael and I are kicking around some collaboration ideas and we will release a date on that as we progress. Michael is getting ready to release a new cd, which is a retrospective collection spanning is career, called “re:karma”. Also, later this year, Craig Padilla and Richard Roberts (aka Zero Ohms) will be releasing a wonderful cd called “Path of least resistance”. We are also really excited to be talking with some other well known artists about releasing upcoming projects with them.

On the event front, we’ve started with “Voices Beyond the Dome” a series of live music performances and pre-recorded listening parties which all take place at the Henry Buhl Jr. Planetarium at Carnegie Science Centre. The concert series was kicked off on June 25 by the band Ministry of Inside Things. Next in this series will be a concert by renowned guitar virtuoso Jeff Pearce, scheduled for October.
And of course, Daniel has been working overtime to make our web site more accessible and rich in content, including a blog page, RSS feed and other useful content.
Lotuspike is also offering the LotusCast, which is our monthly podcast dedicated to music, interviews and relevant information about the label (which you can access from our site), Generally speaking, we’re making a lot of progress in making ourselves known to the public. We are taking small steps, but they are always steps forward.

Website: www.lotuspike.com