In attending Ampient Night at Old City Java last Wednesday I was fortunate enough to actually know what it was beforehand. As previously mentioned in our interview with Todd Steed, Ampient Night is a monthly experiment by a myriad of musicians in which they explore soundscapes, and how they mix with one another. To the casual person-working-on-the-next-great-American-novel-on-their-Apple™-laptop-in-public-at-Old-City-Java, this may be a wee bit odd. To anyone there for the show, it was just another night of thoughtful experimentation.
Before the night’s excursion into tunage, I sat down with three members of the Ampient collective: George Middlebrooks, Scott Heiskell and Jesse Wagner. Middlebrooks added to Steed‘s initial offers on Ampient stating that Old City Java was very welcoming from the onset. He also described the music they perform as “sonic wallpaper.” Then came the tale of his inclusion into the proverbial Ampient fold. The originally grouping of musicians was Steed, John T. Baker, Bob Deck and Ed Richardson. Todd, in want of a beverage, handed George his guitar, and went for a cup o’ tea.
Scott Heiskell, formerly of Beeknees, was a bit menacing in describing is lap steel prowess as “ugly,” which was accompanied by a hearty laugh. Heiskell’s lap steel is not an odd-man-out in the realm of Ampient Night. Musicians bring such varied “instruments” as guitars with a board chock full of pedals, drum machines, iPhones, a suitcase of toys and homemade instruments. Jesse Wagner says, of playing at Ampient Night, “…we’ve all played in bands. This is us getting to explore. Kinda like going to school.” To which Heiskell added, “yeah, like an art school for the mad.”
First pairing of the night was Brett Winston, on the keyboards / soundboard / Apple™ computer, and Kukuly Uriarte, on the guitar. Winston, being a man-of-the-moment, interwove snippets from Charlie Sheen‘s recent breakdown / explosion into the set. Whilst Uriarte used her classically-trained skills to knock out some amazing aural wonderment, using simply an amped guitar.
Next up was George Middlebrooks and Scott Heiskell. Their performance, through Middlebrooks’ combo usage to amplify his guitar with pedalboard and E-bow, and Heiskell’s light textures on lap steel, provided a bit of beautiful noise. The music sounded as if it would accompany one of Christopher Nolan‘s dreams.
There’s not a whole lot to say about the gig without just peppering paragraphs full of hip adjectives to explain the odd wonderfulness that is Ampient Night. Some things one just has to see for themselves.