Sculpted Silence #4: A Column By James Turrell

April is the cruelest of months, to paraphrase a popular Bangles song. This month’s Sculpted Silence is a little bit different. Rather than an old-fashioned run down of the best ambient albums of the month, I decided to get in contact with fantastic Amsterdam-based Shimmering Moods. Since its first release in 2015, Shimmering Moods has become one of the most interesting ambient labels in the world, producing a wide variety of ever excellent record, from big-hitters like Warmth to future stars like Luna Monk. Shimmering Moods produces music that spans the full gauntlet of human experience and its interaction with environment; from tragedy to joy, salvation to destruction.

I interviewed founder of Shimmering Moods, Paul (no second name, like Adele or Moses) to discuss some of Shimmering Moods’ best releases, how he came up with the best name for an ambient label ever and what he looks for before having artists sign on the dotted line.

How did the label get started?
Collecting music and always searching for new, exciting sounds basically got the label started from one day to another. It was in my head for a long time, and during a certain period I realised that this was really one of the things I wanted to do. It was obvious that a label would be introduced. If you are so involved with music in terms of collecting and experiencing it – as well as the need to keep exploring musical boundaries – then starting a label is a logical consequence.

Had you worked in music before?
I was a DJ since primary school, and this got more serious in my teenage years when I got the chance to play in clubs and at events.

Shimmering Moods is a dream name for an ambient label! Where did it come from?
Ha! It’s true that ambient music in general forms an important basis for the label, but for me it’s all about the diversity, environment and state of mind. There are so many interpretations of ambient music, it almost feels like it needs another definition. It’s about moods, and “shimmering moods” exist in every type of music. Environment and state of mind have a major influence on the musical experience. People who are open to new sounds start to create a certain state of mind through the different layers of music. It is an escape from the everyday world, like a film that takes place in your head with many shimmering moods. It is actually quite difficult to explain, because it’s a feeling and a certain state of mind that evokes certain music. For me those are the shimmering moods in music.

What are you looking for when you sign an artist?
The music has to be good, and most of the time I can hear this in a few seconds. Sometimes it needs to digest a bit before I know if it’s something for the label, though. The label goes through different phases, and so diversity is important to keep the tension going. I will listen to all incoming demos, regardless of the genre. There will be months of drone, noise, experimental, conceptual, or minimal ambient music but it can also be more electronic, left field techno, house, or just field recordings, jazz, acoustic, pop, and dub influenced music. They must not be bite-sized chunks, and certainly appeal to the imagination. It must be stimulating, beautiful or sad, light or dark and not too polished; imperfection can be beautiful, and sometimes simplicity can work very well if it is brought the right way. I often hear “overproduced” music, or precisely those cliché sounds that are extremely boring and suffer for nothing, and unfortunately I often hear this within the “ambient” genre. I try to guarantee a certain quality, which is certainly what I pay attention to when I talk to artists about a possible release on the label. I also like to give starting artists a stage for their music.

You’ve released loads of records, just this year alone, so it can be hard to say there is a Shimmering Moods sound, but I do think there are definitely recurring sounds or tones. You seem to release lots of drone based ambient, which often heavily feature field recordings. Is this a conscious decision? I think something like Between Two Worlds by Cynthia would be a good example of this.
No, this is not a conscious decision. I do like the combination of field recordings and drone-based ambient music, especially when it has acoustic elements or something more unexpected happens. I think there is no particular Shimmering Moods sound. Whereas other labels often choose a certain sound or genre, I still have the opportunity to present various sounds and moods. This keeps it exciting and hopefully people will discover a fantastic album or artist through that one release. My experience is that listening to music is an infinite journey where new things always come your way; it really is a journey of discovery, a learning process where you will also appreciate other sounds and moods.

A lot of your artists are predominately men, and this is in no way a criticism of Shimmering Moods because most ambient labels release records by male artists – this is a problem of music industry as a whole, and of course the wider society. You have released some great albums by female artists (Puppy Seed, An on Blast to name a couple), but is this something you think about when deciding to sign someone? Are you conscious of trying to get more female artists on your roster?
No, I never think about that in advance. And it isn’t important for me. I have already worked with lots of great female artists like Maiya Hershey, Gipsi, Puppy Seeds, An On Blast, Irena from Bad News Of Cosmos, user_ambiguous, Delilah Gutman, Laura Beatriz Rosenkranz, Elsa Hasselgärde and Genoveva Kachurkova to name a few. And this year there will be more from female artists but for me sex isn’t important.

A particular favourite album of mine you have released is Nature in its Forms by Kris Dubinksy and Warmth, that’s a gorgeous record. How did that album come about?
Yeah, it is. That’s a nice example of a release that has diversity. It has ambient, but also more ambient dub techno. It was released in the summer period, a very good moment for that kind of release. It’s now very nice to hear how Agust (Warmth) has developed his sound. It’s been some years since this was released but I still remember we talked about doing a release on Shimmering Moods for a while. Warmth contributed a track on the Meditations series and did a mix for the podcast series, and after that he contacted me about a collaboration project with Kris Dubinsky he was working on in that time.

The cover art for Shimmering Moods releases is very distinctive, often a focus on ecological and natural imagery. Lutalica by Autumna is a lovely example. Are you heavily involved choosing the album covers?
Yes, I do lots of the artwork myself, but I always ask the artists about preferences or ideas. Some artists like to do the artwork themselves and some will leave that to me. It’s a part of the creative and collaborative process which I very much like to do. Communication in general is something I love, talking about music, talking with artists about their music. I sometimes talk with people from Japan, Australia, Germany, Italy and the US in one day. Speaking with people from all over the world is a great thing.

You have your own radio show on Resonance Extra, which is an offset of Resonance FM, the arts radio station based in London. That must be fun! And there aren’t many ambient based radio shows around. How did that come about?
Milo Thesiger-Meacham (aka Viewfound) did a release on Shimmering Moods and works at Resonance Extra. He asked me if I was interested to do a series of shows. Radio is a great thing and I love to do it and invite others to join me. I also have a monthly show in Amsterdam at Red Light Radio, a great station with a great group of people behind it.

Unless you are one of the major ambient musicians like Julianna Barwick, Grouper, or Sarah Davachi, it can be really difficult for artists to get much press beyond niche, specialist websites. Why do you think that is?
There’s so much music out there that it’s getting harder to get reviews but still I’m not complaining, there seems to be enough interest from several journalists, bloggers, and sites to write about Shimmering Moods releases. And with the little promotion I do I’m still very satisfied when people take the effort to write something. I don’t use any promotion agencies whatsoever. I have the radio shows where I play music from the label and I have a small list of contacts at review sites, bloggers and journalists who receive promos. With every release there are also people who contact me with the request for a promo so they can review a release. I think in general that there are so many labels, artists and releases coming out that it’s hard to get on the radar. Smaller labels and lesser known artists also have little to no budget for promotion, so that makes it harder too.

I guess this might a bit like asking you to choose between your children, although my parents were never shy about doing that. Do you have a release you are most proud of?
It’s just like you say, being a father of three children I can never answer that question and I guess it’s the same for the releases on the label. Of course there are releases I’m very proud of, but I don’t think it’s fair and also very difficult to choose one. 

Next month I will be returning to the usual format of me using words to form sentences about the month’s best releases. So, join me at the end of May, coming soon to a reality near you.