There are few musical terrorists from prog-rock’s golden ’70s who took that era’s bombast into subtler realms. Electronicist Kit Watkins (formerly of Happy The Man and Camel) is one of them, having forged a long solo career of quietly-humming subversive soundscapes.
“I’m still a fan of odd time signatures and interesting chord progressions,” says Watkins from his Virginia home studio where he’s recorded 14 electronic works in the past 20 years. “Now I prefer reading between the lines. I have a new relationship with melody as a result. It’s less concrete—more abstract and sparse—than before.”
Though he has recorded music that touches upon the busy whimsy of his previous incarnations, it’s the ambient feedback of his 1990 release Thought Tones that set the tone for the haunting minimalist drone that has fed everything in its wake, including two new works on DAM/mp3.com: The Unseen (“more about improvisation and composition”) and Rolling Curve (“for creating an environment for the drifting mind”).
“That’s what I like about ambient music—it really has less to do about thought and control and composition, and much more to do with mood and feeling and intuition,” he muses. “It can be very liberating to the ego as well, because creating ambient music is often done in cahoots with forces from beyond. In other words, I was probably out of my mind.”
In the present tense, Watkins feels his sounds are richer and more expressive due to sampling, virtual acoustic synthesis and hard-disk recording. “My main performing instrument now is not a keyboard, but an electronic wind instrument—with both traditional and hybrid sounds.”
His other-worldly sensibilities (“I’m not a storyteller; I’m a mood-maker”) and improvisational largesse are now more important than the compositions, an ideal that places his ambient noise in what he feels is a jazz setting; he calls this vibrant new style “ambient jazz.”
“I’ve evolved into a completely different animal,” he says of not having played live for the past 20 years. “I have a whole new feeling through the music I perform as a solo artist. It’s a much more personal and intimate music as compared to the rock band hero thing.”