Published Sep 19, 2019For many people, Spotify is a sleep-aid. The streaming platform curates dozens of playlists aimed to help listeners fall asleep, the most popular of which, "Peaceful Piano," boasts over five million followers.
For contemporary composers and ambient artists like Brady Kendall (better known as Alaskan Tapes), whose latest recording Views From Sixteen Stories is due out this week, having songs selected for sleep playlists has a huge impact on their career. At one point, Kendall tells Exclaim! in an interview over the phone from his home in Stouffville, Ontario, because of these playlists, he had over 800,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
"It was a weird thing when [Alaskan Tapes] started blowing up on Spotify. The majority of my income comes from Spotify, which I'm very thankful for, but I have mixed feelings about — because if Spotify ever goes under then I'm kind of screwed," Kendall admits.
"I understand that some other people have mixed feelings about [Spotify], because there's gatekeepers running the whole thing and they don't always have the best interests in mind, especially for ambient music. Ambient music always gets lumped in with sleep music and music to be licensed which is definitely not a good thing for the genre. It makes people ignore the music. At the same time, there's a huge reach for that type of stuff so if anybody can get onto any of those playlists, it's like a dream come true."
Kendall doesn't promote his music as a sleep-aid, but says that as long as listeners connect with it, he doesn't care how it's enjoyed. But if you sleep through Kendall's music, you miss the nuances that make his compositions so special. In his mostly improvised ambient works, Kendall arranges soft layers of sounds like you would sheets on a bed: with delicate care and precision.
Kendall didn't know much about ambient music until he began making it. He played drums in middle school, and a few years later, he taught himself music production software. In high school, he made dubstep and electronic music, but by the time he graduated he slowed down the pace of his compositions. About three years ago, he began making field recordings and, enthralled by nature's sonic textures, incorporating them into his pieces.
Views From Sixteen Stories is Kendall's fourth full-length album and second release of 2019 following the EP Millions, which he released in April. When describing his creative process, Kendall says that he sculpts sounds in order to build a piece's mood. The majority of Views From Sixteen Stories feels optimistic and moves with simple instrumental melodies performed by Kendall and guests musicians Owen Vaga (piano), Jay Austin (french horn) and Raphael Weinroth-Browne (cello).
Initially, Kendall planned to make a four-track EP rather than a full-length record, but was inspired to create more pieces after reading Chuck Palahniuk's novel Survivor. Kendall explains that he often finds inspiration in other art forms like novels, poetry, films, and visual arts.
"I like very minimal art, like two-tone paintings, and films and short films that go nowhere and don't really have too much of an actual plot. I bring that to the music. I don't add too many instruments and I don't let it go too far and evolve too much. I just let it play itself," Kendall says.
Looking to the future, Kendall has mapped out how he wants his project to evolve. Lately, he's been listening to a lot of math-rock and softer, drum-heavy music, and sees Alaskan Tapes eventually putting out a release of faster and more intricate music. But for now, he's content with getting lost in simplicity.
"It is really fun when you can sit for eight hours working on one drone, and the only thing that you're changing is noise in it — which doesn't really happen in any other genre that I've found. Sometimes you can sit down and just play three notes and that's a whole song. You can experiment with it when something is that simple. You can go deep into the different sounds. It's simple, yet it's intricate."
View From Sixteen Stories is out now.