There’s the idea of creating music. As musicians, we work to create sounds and songs. It’s the end to our creative means. But what about the idea of using music as a tool for creativity and focus? As musicians and artists, how can we utilize sounds as a means to our creative ends?
Sounds have long been used as tools for relaxation, inspiration, focus, and creativity. Consider the ancient practices of chanting, singing bowls, and gong baths. Current therapeutic techniques such as binaural beats, bilateral stimulation music, and other musical therapies utilize the power of sound to promote healing. Musical meditations, classical music, white noise, and birdsong are accessible self-help mainstays.
Here at Of Music and Mind, we’re very interested in how music and the mind connect. How can music promote health and healing? How can we develop our minds and our crafts to create better music? We seek answers to these questions and many more – for ourselves and to share. So when Trevor Richards finished a new drone / soundscape album for meditation, relaxation, creativity, and visualization I knew it was something I wanted to discuss with him and share with our readers.
Trevor Richards is a multi-instrumentalist, recording and performing musician, sound engineer, photographer, videographer, graphic designer, and artist based in Pittsburgh, PA. He’s also the co-creator and Art Director (and my main inspiration) for Of Music and Mind. His primary musical project is our instrumental psych / drone / doom band The Long Hunt, for which he is the guitarist and primary composer. He just released his debut album for his new project Temple Bloc.
About Temple Bloc
Temple Bloc is the name of Trevor Richards’ new ambient / minimalist / drone project. The debut full-length album Signals released 5/29/2020 on most popular music services.
The individual song titles for Signals come together to create one long message: “Within Sunlit Words All Shall Be Revealed From the Mouths of the Divine.” Signals was recorded exclusively on an Arturia Microbrute Analog Synthesizer. One of the songs was written a few years ago, while the other two songs were written over the last month.
Trevor describes the album as a “sonic focusing agent” more so than as music. The undulating and ever-evolving drones support relaxation, creativity, and focus and are great for use as background listening during creative and focus-heavy activities.
As someone who has listened to the songs throughout creation and post-production (and hey! I’m listening as I write this!), I can attest to their centering quality. When Trevor shared his plans for Temple Bloc and the release of Signals, I was intrigued and excited about the potential applications of this project’s music for myself, us, and all of our readers.
I asked Trevor some questions about the project, the album, its writing and production, its meaning and significance, its applications, and much more. We hope you find this information interesting and useful!
While you’re reading the interview, listen to “Within Sunlit Words” and experience for yourself how this kind of sonic focusing agent works. Learn more about Temple Bloc by following the project on Facebook and Bandcamp.
Of Music and Mind Interview: Trevor Richards on New Project Temple Bloc and the Art of Focus
The project name Temple Bloc is interesting. Temple blocks are a type of percussive instrument, and a bloc is a combination of people or groups sharing a common purpose. What’s the significance or meaning of this project name for your? How – if at all – does a project name influence the music and artwork produced?
Temple Bloc is a name that’s been in my head for several years without a home. I believe I came up with it around the time that I recorded the song “Within Sunlit Words,” that is to say, maybe two or three years ago. First off, I just like how it sounds. It is a play on words, to an extent, is easy to remember, and is unique enough to not be already taken as a band name. If you want to put some meaning behind it, as far as the “temple” portion goes, I like the idea of music eliciting an almost spiritual (and I use that term liberally) experience in the listener. The “bloc” portion of the name could just be seen as a signifier that this is music made for people who are maybe looking for that kind of experience.
Having a good project/band name is critical for many of the reasons outlined above, and it also serves to make a good first impression on someone who is just coming across the music for the first time. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but if you’ve got a book with a good cover, people might be more inclined to open the book and actually read it.
The track titles – particularly when strewn together as one long song title – seem hopeful to me. Two of the songs were written and the album is being released during a pandemic (albeit as we’re coming through it), though. Do the track titles seem hopeful to you? Are they meant to imbue any particular emotion or message?
I’m not sure I would use the word “hopeful” specifically, though I will say the song titles and the music itself have an air of levity that is intentional. As I mentioned, “Within Sunlit Words” was recorded several years ago. The other two tracks were recorded more recently and they reflect the mood laid out in the older song. I think that is more of a reflection of my desire towards consistency in the mood of the album as a whole rather than any reaction to world events. That said, I did feel it was a good idea to release music with a more positive vibe, during a time where negativity seems to be the prevailing emotion.
As for any deeper meaning to the song titles, I’ll have to leave that up to the listener to interpret. I will say the intent behind the names folds back into that sense of levity that I am trying to achieve as well as helping to illicit that “spiritual experience” I mentioned earlier.
You’re a multi-instrumentalist, sound engineer, producer, composer. Your main instrument is guitar. Why did you choose to write, play, and record exclusively on an Arturia Microbrute Analog Synthesizer? How did it affect the writing process?
I feel it’s a lot easier to achieve the long sustained drones that I was going for on this release using a synth as compared to what I could do with a guitar. In a lot of ways, it’s a reason of convenience as it is anything else. I chose the Microbrute specifically for similar reasons.
First off, it’s what I have access to. Second, it’s an analog synth, meaning all its features that affect its sound all exist in the physical world in the form of knobs, keys, buttons, switches, and patch bays. No annoying menu diving that comes with virtual instruments and most digital synths. Turn a knob, it does a thing. Usually one very specific thing. Super easy to create sounds and get down to the business of making music. There’s also a limited set of parameters to work with, so one has to get creative to get the sounds they want. As far as I am concerned, analog synths just seem easier to work with.
You wrote, performed, and recorded all of these songs on your own. How does creating on your own differ from creating with a band?
Working by myself means that I have ultimate control over all aspects of the end product. This can be a good or a bad thing. Often both. A lot of the times it depends on the kind of music I’m trying to make and how skilled I am at making that kind of music. Making a drone / ambient record by myself is a lot different than me trying to make a rock record. The fact that I stuck to a single instrument and kept my playing extremely basic certainly helped keep things at a certain level quality-wise, that’s for sure.
What’s your history with synthesizers and this type of drone / soundscape work?
I’ve been messing with synthesizers as a compositional aid as far back as 2000 or 2001. Mostly just writing melody lines and things like that. Pretty basic stuff. At some point over the years that evolved into occasionally putting synth parts int my recorded music and eventually in writing and recording songs that were 100% synth sounds with the occasional sparse drum machine thrown in. Personally I am more of a fan of sustained synth pads and drones versus chordal or melodic synths, of which I often find to be cheesy or even dated sounding.
As far as drones and soundscapes, I’ve been into that stuff probably as long as I’ve been into playing music. Some of my very first recordings from ’98 or ’99 have soundscape elements in the form of field recordings and stuff like that. It seems I’ve always been interested in drone and modal music in the form of Indian Classical, Celtic / World music and things like that. It’s just how I approach music.
What do you like most and least about working with synthesizers?
I like working with synths because of the variety of sounds you can get out of them. I like analog synths specifically because they seem easier to use compared to digital and virtual synths and there’s kind of a sense of adventure and immediacy that comes from twisting knobs to create sounds.
I dislike the fact that they feel (at least to me) as less of a physically involved instrument when compared to something like guitar or drums. I like to put my entire body into playing, especially in front of an audience, and something about just pressing little buttons to get sound feels less physical and more technically and logically driven. Just my opinion.
The music of Temple Bloc has similarities and differences with your music in The Long Hunt. As a composer and musician, how do you balance creativity and creative work of two or more musical projects (let alone other creative endeavors like photography, videography, etc.)? Is working on one project helpful in your work on the other, or vice versa?
For me it’s about setting priorities and allocating time. The Long Hunt is a bigger priority for me than Temple Bloc. Something that falls lower as a priority needs to be worked on during the down time of a higher priority project. The pandemic nuttiness going on has given me the additional time to work on other music.
I can see different projects influencing each other in the sense they are forcing my brain to think in different ways, which in turn might influence how I solve artistic and musical problems as a whole. I only like to add additional projects to my overall project load if they are serving a unique purpose. I don’t need to have two projects that sound like The Long Hunt. I feel it would end up watering down the quality of the output for both. Temple Bloc (or photography / videography / graphic design work) is unique enough to justify spreading my limited creative energies on.
You’ve said that the music on this album is less “music” and more of a “focusing agent” of sorts for relaxation, visualization, focus, and creativity. What do you mean by that?
Yeah, I’d argue that Temple Bloc isn’t music in any traditional sense. I’d imagine to some people it just sounds like noise, like the humming of a refrigerator that happens to be in the key of C major or something. It’s kind of like the background drone in Indian Classical music, but without all the melodic and rhythmic aspects. This is all intentional, as I’m kind of leaving it up to the listener to develop their own melodies in their head as they listen in.
How can people – musicians or otherwise – use focusing agents like this productively? Do you use focusing agents in your creative process or for relaxation and visualization?
I’m a big fan of listening to white noise, or what you could call white noise (like ocean sounds, waterfalls, and birdsong) when I’m trying to relax or focus on some sort of creative process – such as editing photos or working on artwork. I suppose musicians could potentially play along to the songs on Signals as well, though I am mostly thinking the album would be more useful for people in other creative fields, such as writers and artists.
What do you do to enhance your focus, creativity, and productivity – including or in addition to focusing agents like this?
As I mentioned, I like to listen to ocean sounds or birdsong whenever I am doing something creative that’s non-music related. Sometimes I’ll accompany those sounds with additional binaural beats layered in the background. Depending on what I am working on, music in general can help me focus, though if the music is too involved, it tends to be a distraction for me as I just want to pay attention to what the music is doing and not on whatever it is I am working on.
Does the artwork – described by you as very ’90s – hold any particular significance or meaning that you’d like to share?
I called the artwork for Signals very “’90s looking” mainly as a joke, though I think the argument could still be made that it is. Something about the colors and the layout. Not that it’s a bad thing by any means. A lot of my favorite bands and albums came out of that era, so the influence runs deep and I’m not sure it’s something I should necessarily fight against. As far as meaning behind the artwork … I don’t know. I took the picture and thought it looked cool and the image of a transmitting tower fit the album name.
What can we expect going forward from Temple Bloc?
I’d like to experiment with field recordings at some point and I might like to dip my toe into binaural beats at some point as well. This is by no means a “synth only” project, so I might like to eventually fold in additional instruments… all while keeping the drone / soundscape aesthetic. We’ll see.
What do you hope people get out of Signals and other work by Temple Bloc?
I don’t know, something useful they can call their own?
Thank you to Trevor for sharing his thoughts and experiences around music, focus, and so much more! Do you use focusing agents to aid in your creativity? What works best for you? Let us know by contacting us. Be well!
Friendly reminder: Of Music and Mind content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the assistance of qualified providers (such as some of those found on the Resources page) with any questions you may have regarding any medical conditions.