Aquarelle is the brainchild of Madiscon, Wisconsin's Ryan Potts, a musical endeavor that covers a wide breadth of instrumental sound, packed so tightly with layers and nuance that entering his latest output, August Undone, is like walking into a plush-padded room with no doors or windows. The five-track LP is expressive while remaining blissfully understated—and as you sit down to let it unravel, it provides occasional but perfectly-placed swaths of beauty that make your heart catch in your throat. After learning that the LP reaches up to 64 overdubbed tracks at once in some places, the balance between low and lush becomes immediately more obvious, and gives the record expertly executed depth. We have the full album stream of August Undone for you below, but make sure that you listen to it through high-quality headphones and with a light breakfast. It is best enjoyed when you are willing to give yourself over to the impact of it all—distractions should be pushed out. We caught up with Ryan Potts over email about the record, the answers for which are below, and you can pick up August Undone through San Diego's Students of Decay at this link.
Walk us through the process of what it's like to write an ambient track. Does it all happen in one sitting or do you go back and reassess? How do you know when a track is truly done?
There are seemingly endless sessions of revising, editing, adding and subtracting. In general I think there is a misconception that “ambient” or “experimental” music is tossed off, improvised and not crafted. I can only speak for myself, but I spend a long time with each track, putting in small details and extra layers to give each piece the desired effect. For example, it took me almost two years, on and off, to fully form “Clockless Hours.” It was the first piece I started for the album and the last finished.
With this album, some of the tracks use up to 64 tracks overdubbed. How do you know when there might be too many? Do you ever find yourself pairing back?
That’s a struggle with any art form: when is something complete? Is something extraneous? Does it say what I want it to? For those reasons, and many others, I spend much more time listening to the music I’m creating than actually playing it. Flow, continuity and structure are actually very important to me and those things only arise after many listens and many revisions. Even though the tracks are labored over, that first moment when all the pieces lock into place and it makes intuitive sense are amongst the most rewarding.
What inspired this release? Do you try to accomplish a certain tone or feeling or expression consistently throughout? Or do you let the songs occur naturally?
Very often specific intent for a song gets skewed and altered by the sounds themselves. I always try to put that at the forefront of everything I do: listen to the sounds and make sure they dictate the structure, not vice versa. Typically I’m trying to explore a feeling or sound that words or coherent thought can’t quite grasp.
What other ambient or experimental musicians are you listening to? What sounds are you trying to find or accomplish yourself?
I’m aiming for sounds, feelings and atmospheres I want to experience. It’s a selfish endeavor, but I think it has to be that way. In the experimental area, some of the best releases of 2013 are Kassel Jaeger’s “Fernweh,” Tilth’s “Angular Music” and Daniel Menche’s “Marriage of Metals.” All three are rich, imaginative and incredibly rewarding albums. Seek them out.
Your collaboration with Alex Cobb was phenomenal. What is it like doing a collaborative project? Do you prefer it to working alone? Will you continue to work alone or are there more collaborations in the future?
It was actually a split with Alex on the Low Point LP, he had one side and I had the other. Though I think there is an obvious kinship between the two sides and we were operating on the same wavelength. Even though I’ve spent the last several years honing a solo technique, I am open to future collaborations. It would be refreshing.
Is there an Aquarelle live show? If so, what is it like? Do you improvise?
I am just starting to get a set together after not playing live for a couple years. Because I can’t bring all my equipment with me, it’s generally much more guitar and distortion focused. Each set is quite composed and not much improvising is involved.
Can you speak to the title/cover of the record? Why August Undone and why such a stark/winterish landscape on the cover? Does this album represent a certain season for you?
As for inspiration, I moved to Toronto for two years, from August 2010 to August 2012, and nearly the whole album was recorded in that time frame. As I was sequencing and doing final edits it struck me how indelible the city, and location itself, was to the album, which is why the album title includes that month.
I took the cover photo shortly after my return to Wisconsin from Toronto as I was finalizing the album. I feel that the album is very warm in tone, but I actually like that the album cover is incongruous with that fact. I try to explore dualities in many different facets – abrasive and tender, abstract and immediate, and in this case, warm and cold.