In keeping with last week’s trend of featuring genres too often overlooked, this week we bring out the softer side of Linescratchers. Oscar Aguayo was born in Peru, but currently resides in Layton, Utah, and his complex sonic textures and ethnic melodies and percussion make his music difficult to categorize simply. However, one thing is for sure, his music transports the listener elsewhere. Oscar is unique in his synthesis of many styles, and brings quite a bit of life experience to the table. For everyone interested in modern New Age, World, and Ambient styles, Australis is the place to look.
First of all, your music is quite different than the other music featured on Linescratchers. How would you describe it?
A: Very carefully! Thing is every person understands music in their own terms. There are plenty of names and words to define musical genres and separate styles within those genres; but in the end every person will perceive music in a unique manner according to their own emotional and psychological structures. So even when in the most generic level, my music falls within what is currently known as New Age / Ambient, I still want to avoid sub-categorizing it.
I would probably start by describing its intentions instead: to challenge the imagination, to captivate the heart; to invite the listener to explore their own emotions, to provoke their imagination.
After that, I would probably add a brief description of its acoustic components: a mixture of spacious evolving backgrounds, evocative rhythms and aromatic melodies. And I would finish adding that my music is composed as the outcome from my own emotions, so behind every piece there is a mental and emotional state. That would probably be the best description I could venture because I know every listener would describe it their own way and I wouldn’t want to influence their perceptions.
Tell us about where you were born, and how this influenced the music you write.
A: I was born in Peru, South America. Although politically and economically more unstable than the United States, and despite a few political hiccups in past decades, it is a country that has managed to keep democracy as its form of government. But beyond politics, it is also a country of many contrasts on many different levels.
As you know, Peru was the cradle of the Inca empire before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. Also, after its independence in 1821 it became one of the many countries of the world that accepted slavery. Finally, well into the 19th century, Peru was one of the countries that imported labor from Asia to build its basic infrastructure. As a result of all this, Peru’s population is comprised of a variety of nationalities and intermixed ethnic groups. This diversity has also translated into a very rich and varied culture.
Curiously, I’ve come to see Peruvian influence in my music only after I left Peru in the ’90s. For example, unlike many Ambient and New Age composers, my music is essentially melodic which is a characteristic of the native Peruvian music. But beyond that, once in a while I am struck with the desire to compose music using the same instruments and the same styles as the native music from Peru. You can see examples of those influences in the track “Sacred Earth” from Lifegiving (2005) and in “Paqta Kutemunqa” from The Gates of Reality (2008).
Are there any musicians that influenced you as you got older?
A: Oh, there are too many to mention them all. The first musical influence I can recognize is my mother however. When I was a three or four year old child, she would grab her guitar and sing while playing it on the living room; and I would be mesmerized at her feet.
I could mention a few dozens of other musicians that influenced me musically during the years. But among those, I would have to mention Abba when I was a young kid. Their music was so… rich, so well structured, so musically engaging. As I kept growing, other influences came from less elegant sources (bands like AC/DC and Def Leppard), I have to admit it. Keep in mind however, that at the time I didn’t speak or understand any English, so I was immune to any lyric offenses and was able to take the vocals as acoustic elements. Later, as I developed my own musical styles I gather much influence from New Age composer Vangelis and from the electronic project Enigma. Out of those two, I have to say that I developed my love for New Age from Vangelis.
When did you start writing music?
A: At the age of twelve. But it has to be said that it was a spontaneous, almost involuntary process. I had been taught the piano by my mother since the age of six, and by the time I was twelve I had started introducing my own variations to known pieces just for fun.
You see, since very early in my life I started to perceive moods and emotions from music. I mean, there were happy sequences, there were sad progressions, there were dramatic passages, etc. So, a few years later there I was at the piano, playing the pieces I had learned, repeating over and over the emotions they contained. As I approached the age of twelve it became an interesting pastime to change some of those emotions by changing the chord progressions or the melodies. The results where always surprising. Soon I started to become familiar with the relationship between chords and the emotions they convey, and started changing the meaning of whole pieces by replacing some of their parts with my own sequences. Eventually the obvious happened: I ended up putting together a piece made of my own chord progressions and melodies.
Everything changed from that day on. I never went back to play known musical pieces. It didn’t make sense to me to repeat emotions already experienced by other authors. I wanted to use my own emotions as the foundation of the music I would play; and this is how, without knowing it at the time, I became a composer.
When did you start Australis?
A: I officially created Australis as my own artistic identity on 2004. I had been the composer and singer for a popular Spanish rock band in Utah but as time kept passing I had been experiencing a growing dissatisfaction. It took me several months to identify what was causing it: I felt musically confined by the predetermined styles of popular music, and by the expectations of the public. I needed to be free and to go back to compose what I wanted to express, instead of composing what the audience wanted to hear.
When the band finally dissolved on 2004, I had already been composing New Age music. So I decided to formalize the project and adopted “Australis” as its name.
Tell us about the albums Australis has released.
A: I independently released my first album as Australis in May 2005. It is called Lifegiving and it contains ten tracks that move between New Age, Ambient, Electronic and even Orchestral styles. Its production was completed in record time and I was able to release it only nine months after starting as Australis. Now that I think about it, I believe it was some sort of reaction because I found myself finally able to compose in absolute freedom. After its release, its tracks have been included in several New Age compilations in the US and in Europe; and the album was also licensed to be re-released in Asia by an Asian record label.
My second release, titled The Gates of Reality, has been recently released at the end of 2008. It contains fourteen tracks that explore the relationship between reality and imagination within each one of us. Thing is, the release of Lifegiving left me very aware of the role perceptions play in our lives. The fact that our perceptions, which always contain elements of imagination in them, shape our real lives fascinated me to the point where I decided to explore the subject musically. That exploration took me three years to complete!
New Age and Ambient music is often overlooked as an art form due to more popular forms getting radio play and attention, such as rock or hip-hop. Do you still find a market for your music? Is it possible to play live shows or are you mostly a studio musician?
A: You are right, radio stations tend to turn to popular music genres because they need to generate revenue to keep functioning. Radio stations are only businesses after all. There is however a very stable audience for more elaborated, more artistic and innovative kinds of music. It is not as big as the audience for popular music, but is it a significant audience nonetheless. The fact that less and less radio stations are playing New Age music could make it look like there are less and less people interested in it, but what actually happens is that there is a significant audience left behind by the media. Eventually that audience turns to the Internet looking for the music they can’t find on radio anymore.
To answer the second part of your question, it is absolutely possible to play live New Age / Electronic music concerts. My perception though is that they usually have a different connotation about them. I think a concert has to engage the audience not only musically but also visually. Because of its own nature, the visual component in popular music is done by the artists themselves as they perform, sing and dance on the stage. For New Age / Ambient music, where the artists’ performance is usually less visually engaging, the visual component usually entails the use of other resources like video projection, holograms, etc., items that require implementation and budget outside the musical environment. So at this point I am not performing live, although I know I will enjoy it when the time comes.
Are there other LDS artists in the New Age/Ambient market that you know of?
A: I am sure there are several out there, but I am only aware of very few. Ellis Hadlock is one. He composes and produces beautiful New Age music and has a significant number of releases under his belt. Although not specifically in the New Age genres, Kurt Bestor’s styles are so wide and varied that you could also consider him somewhat related to the Instrumental and Ambient genres. Another example in the more electronic side of New Age music is Justin Elswick from Sleepthief.
Have you been involved in any other musical projects?
A: Yes. Five years before creating Australis I created a Spanish rock band called Cabala (which, written with a “c”, means “conjecture”, “interpretation” and even “divination” in Spanish). And before that I was involved in a few popular music projects down in Peru.
I have to say though, that despite the rich experience and the artistic growth obtained from those projects, I’ve never enjoyed more creative freedom than now as Australis. Personally, I think creative freedom is one of the main virtues of the New Age music genres; but I am sure every composer and musician will have their own opinion on this subject.
How do you feel about the current state of LDS music as a whole?
A: That’s a very good question, especially considering that the meaning of the term “LDS music” is very different from one LDS musician to another, and also from one LDS listener to another. First there is the perception that LDS music refers to sacred music. Second it is perceived that LDS music refers to commercial faith-oriented music. And a third perception is that LDS music refers to any kind of music as long as it is produced by an LDS musician. I think the answer to the original question depends on which of the three points of view is asking it.
While for the first group the current state of LDS music is probably the best it has ever been now that the Church has processes in place to allow LDS musicians submit sacred music for consideration; the second group most likely feels the state of LDS music is poor now that the LDS market is, commercially speaking, controlled by one commercial organization alone (Deseret Book), which limits options and reduces exposure to LDS music that doesn’t fall within that commercial organization’s canon. Speaking about this, I often wonder why LDS musicians tend to restrict their efforts to only the LDS market. Why not go out and actively expose their music to the rest of the world? But that would be a topic for another time :)
How can listeners find your music? How can we support you in what you do?
A: I think the best way to support an independent musician is to drop by once in a while and share your impressions. That’s one of the main differences between signed musicians and independent ones: direct contact with listeners is paramount for the independent artist. Knowing what people perceive from my music, what effects it causes (or doesn’t cause) on them, what emotions appear in their hearts while listening, etc., is very important to me. It is the best kind of support I could receive.
The best way to find my music is through the Internet. My two releases can be found on Amazon and on CD Baby. Those are the best ways to get a physical copy of the albums. Just search for “Australis” on either site and my music will be displayed. But just in case, I am providing the direct links below. Digitally, I can be found anywhere from iTunes and Napster, to Emusic and PayPlay.
Another less formal way to hear my music is at Australis’ page on Facebook. I always have five tracks available for play in there, and rotate them weekly; additionally, I include brand new not-yet-released tracks there for brief periods of time for friends and fans to get a sense of what is coming. Finally, there is always Australis’ official web site. There are 40 second clips of every track from my releases; and also anybody who subscribes for the free newsletter, will receive access to download full-length mp3 from all of the tracks.
Australis’ official website: http://www.australiscanticum.com
Australis on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Australis/81237478321
Australis on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/australismusic
Australis on MySpace: www.myspace.com/australiscanticum
Australis on Amazon:
How do you pronounce Australis, by the way?
A: Almost exactly as you would pronounce the name of the country Australia. The only difference is that the last “a” sound is replaced with a “s” sound. Australis means “Southern” or “from the South” in Latin, and it is in fact the word the country Australia used as the foundation for their own name. I adopted Australis not because of any relationship with Australia, but because of its original meaning, being born in the Southern Hemisphere.