A Relaxed And Melancholic Aesthetic: Speaking With Tim Arndt of “Near The Parenthesis” (from 2011)
Like a multitude of composers before him, Tim Arndt employs an 88 note keyboard as the starting point for his musical writing activities.That’s where the similarities end. Under the project name “Near The Parenthesis,” Arndt uses that keyboard, and a Mac computer loaded with software, to create music that features spare piano melodies and glitchy electronics in tunes that are a clear departure from the sentimental songs of standard classical and popular music.
His latest project, “Japanese For Beginners” on the n5MD label is loaded with tons of digital piano tonalities in tranquil, artistically-engineered musical creations. “I obviously lean towards a relaxed and melancholic aesthetic,” Arndt says. Much of his inspiration comes from a love of the piano. “I think there’s obviously been a theme lately of electronic artists moving to piano or other acoustic instruments,” Arndt says. “I think the reasons are varied, but for me, I think it’s in an effort to be decidedly moving against DSP (digital sound processing) focused and heavy electronic sound design and bring the focus of the song to the melody and structure. The piano offers a timeless way to do so.” On his recent discs, Arndt records the piano sounds using Absynth software controlled by his Yamaha S08, laid down by way of a hybrid live/sequenced recording process.
Arndt’s /hybrid recording approach provides just the right amount of spontaneity; his Mac-based studio offers plenty of opportunity to tweak the results later if needed. “I play the pieces live,” Arndt says, “put into a sequencer for playback and arranging. I will do some cleanup with quantization a bit, but on instruments like piano, I do so sparingly and try to keep it a little looser.”The results are sonically stunning. “Japanese For Beginners” is a gorgeous nine song disc that’s beautifully understated, complex, and difficult to categorize, though to my ears it is both ambient and experimental.
Electronica, Ambient, Nu Jazz, Or?
Despite the experimental leanings of the sounds coming from the project (or perhaps because of them)“Japanese For Beginners” and “Near The Parenthesis’” previous disc “Music For The Forest Concourse” meet the requirements of music as a useful art; their mellow, atmospheric tones and piano-based sonorities are suitable for a variety of environments — really anywhere tranquility and contemplation are valued. “Music for the Forest Concourse” was actually written specifically with a location in mind and that is the Music Concourse at Golden Gate park here in San Francisco,” Arndt says, “there is an amazing outdoor bandstand that goes back to the early 1900’s and a beautiful concourse area between it and two museums. Whenever there, it is the one place I would absolutely love to play live. I tried to write an album of exactly what I would want that evening to sound like. Uplifting, organic, inspirational…at least trying to do this.”
“Music For the Forest Concourse” accomplish these goals quite well, while “Japanese For Beginners” tends towards more contemplative, moodier sonorities. The music most certainly could be placed into the ambient music category that became popular with Brian Eno’s genre defining 1978 release “Music For Airports.” Like other forms of electronic music, the ambient and experimental genres have benefited from and evolved with the advent of the personal computer, sequencing software, software synths, and recording applications like Pro Tools and Propellerhead’s Record. “Near The Parenthesis” is no exception: only one instrument in Arndt’s arsenal is recorded using a microphone; the rest is purely digital. “The only instrument I record live is a Glockenspiel that I have, and to do it I just have a very basic Sennheiser,” he says. “You can do so much within the software these days, you really don’t need a room full of equipment at all.”
There seems to be a gray area when it comes to pinning down musical styles for consumers. A quick browse of web retailers reveals an array of labels applied to music that falls under the wide electronica category. “I see a lot of IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) tags out there too,” Arndt says of the labels applied to his project. “I guess it is if I sit and think about it, given all of the electronic color, but it’s really not what I am setting out to do. The categories I suppose I’d like to be most associated with would be ‘Home Listening’ which I think is both strange and absolutely perfect and ‘Modern Classical.’ Somewhere in the middle of all that, I hope is what NTP is all about.”
The Gear Rundown
Arndt’s setup includes a Mac computer equipped with Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Absynth and Native Instruments software and plug ins, and a Yamaha S08 (valued for it’s realistic weighted keyboard). Using his software studio as an instrument liberates the composing process for Arndt, who began sending out demos in the early 2000s and was soon picked up by the MMBP label in Toronto. Like other ambient composers, Arndt limits his sonic palette as part of the composing process, based on the atmosphere he seeks to infuse the tunes with.
“I create banks of sounds that have some similarity and structure that I am trying to keep throughout a new project. Inspiration may come from that process. Most often, songs do begin with me playing a software piano, and maybe recording the MIDI as I just play or riff some new ideas.” Yet ever the self critic, Arndt finds that only “only 50%” of his original concepts meet his standards and end up on a disc. “But if I like it on that first listen, I’ll keep exploring,” he says.
Future projects may find Arndt once again using piano tonalities heavily. “I am currently planning to release a free BandCamp EP titled “The Near Pairing Thesis” which features 6 reworkings of old NTP songs, all as solo piano compositions. I guess maybe I’ll see how that’s received and choose some path forward.”