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Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Tuesday 5th March, 2013 11:12AM

I.Ryoko is the solo project of Wellington musical busybody Thomas Lambert, who also runs cult independent label Sonorous Circle.  With a couple of releases on the way, including a rarities album out now, we finally pinned Thomas down for a chat about the project, what inspires him and what's going on in the Wellington music scene at the moment....

If you were to describe what the I.Ryoko project is about, what would you say?

Mind, awareness, empowerment, autonomy, empathy, growth, rest, reflection, nature, the dissolution of space & time (meditation), the creation of sacred environments, protest (ie, FREE BRADLEY MANNING! ... etc, etc, etc, etc). Basically I want to communicate some of the ineffable beauty of life and the Universe while not ignoring the fact that we as humans are oftentimes misguided, self-destructive and in serious need of a shift in priorities.

You've just released a new album: tell us about writing and recording this one.

I don't know if I can call this first one a 'new' album exactly; I'm just starting by getting some old tracks out of the way - a collection of unrelated works from around 2007 - 2011. This I am calling 'Rarities' (no need for the "B-Sides" if there aren't any A-Sides!). Some of these I slaved over while doing a Composition degree, others came more effortlessly in the form of inspired guitar and/or synth improvisations which I then refined with editing and overdubs, and some are purely live improvisation.

In a month or so I'll be releasing some newer material that I originally worked on for an art exhibition called 'Calming Deities and Sacred Spaces'. It's a half hour piece designed to accompany the colourful and fantastical art of my good friend Georgette Brown and is somewhat of a musical collage; I have hours & hours of synth jams on various hard drives which I harvested, sculpted and layered together with some additional overdubs and manipulations where necessary.

How would you compare the tracks on this album to your other work and how do you think you've progressed as a musician?

After about eight years of serious tinkering, I feel like I am finally leaving the incubator. I now have a much clearer idea of how I want my music to sound. I still stumble around in the proverbial dark towards vague ideas but I think I have refined my intuition, upped my standards and become far more discerning with my musical decisions. I think the sounds I am using have matured and the pieces are becoming more patient, fluid and better at communicating the intended vibes. With my new new material I'm starting to develop a stronger connection with melody, harmony, rhythm and words - more conventional aspects that I hope to meld seamlessly with sonic explorations.

Was there any particular reference point or inspiration for these tracks?

'The Myth of the Machine/ The Pentagon of Power', a book by Lewis Mumford, inspired the track 'Force the Rusty Hinges'. It advocates the awakening of humankind to the dehumanising effects of certain technologies and outdated power structures that continue to wreak havoc in the world today. The book ends optimistically with "...the gates of the technocratic prison will open automatically, despite their rusty ancient hinges, as soon as we choose to walk out."

'Disturbing the Quiet' was what I imagined Jesu might sound like before I actually heard him, I don't know why. The recording in the background of this track is of a creepy guy in the Christchurch Library trying to pick up a girl while she was trying to read. To her credit he failed miserably.

'Woes Be Gone!' was an attempt to lift a sullen mood I was in at the time of it's creation. It took almost no time to make, worked a treat & I still feel restored whenever I listen to it!

'The Dancing Lights' and 'Transfiguration' were both inspired by and created with the Javanese and Balinese Gamelan orchestras at the New Zealand School of Music.

You're a man of many projects and it gets a bit confusing keeping track! For people who aren't 100% familiar with everything you do and all the artists you play with / help out with, tell us a little bit about those.

Other than I.Ryoko my main projects at the moment are Seth Frightening and Sky Burial (name change on the way). In Seth Frightening I am a band member (guitar and vocals) and co-producer/ engineer of the recordings with Sean Kelly. In Sky Burial I use synth, guitar and vocals alongside Richard Keys and Tristan Brooks on audio manipulation and metallic resonator duties. I have a lazy project with Matt Faisandier (aka The Convoy), called Perpetual Balance. I also play on occasion with my old bud, the film composer and prolific dude, Grayson Gilmour. And I do a bit of mixing/ mastering work for friends like Minnelli, Paperghost, Secret Knives, Snowfield, A Dead Forest Index, Athuzela Brown... I have also done some soundtrack work for a few friends' short films and more recently for a play about the end of the world called Eschaton, with Sean Kelly... And there's another new band on the way too...

You started Sonorous Circle in 2006: tell me a little bit about why you started it and how it's been going?

It became very clear that music and sound were going to be a mainstay of my life, and for many of my friends as well, so it just made sense to bring us together and start a snowball rolling. Considering the scarcity of our temporal and financial resources thus far I think things are going along quite nicely. Our growth has been gradual and organic though maybe now we are reaching the point where it would be good to branch out further and put more into it.

What are your biggest achievements today with Sonorous Circle?

Our most notable achievements seem to come in the form of Seth Frightening support slots - for the likes of Low, Grizzly Bear, The Books, Jonsi - some of my all-time-favourite artists! Though that is more attributable to Sean's talents than anything the label has done. Sonorous Circle itself potters along at a snail's pace, having quietly achieved an excellent catalogue of truly wonderful music that continues to grow.

While the artists on Sonorous Circle don't necessarily sound the same they definitely share a vibe or outlook: tell me about what makes you sign an artist, what attracts you to an artist.

We don't 'sign' anyone but prefer to keep things very casual and open. The artists on Sonorous Circle are all friends we have met on the musical path. The things we all seem to share are an open mind and a genuine, deep love of music and sound.

You're based in Wellington which seems to have a really strong music community at the moment: how are you finding it at the moment? Is there a strong scene? What do you think keeps Wellington's music community so strong?

The strength of the scene fluctuates with people and venues that come and go. I have missed the Frederick Street Sound and Light Exploration Society for it's weekly doses of mind-expanding good times, for instance. It was closed down last year due to earthquake risk, but the seeds it planted are now sprouting up in other places.

I've been lucky to be involved with a new series of events going by the name 'Home Economics' whereby musicians and artists perform and exhibit in home environments with koha-funded craft-homebrew, home-made food, and friends. You just can't go wrong with that combo... we had the second one at my house last Sunday - such good times! Blink's new venue 'Puppies' is also a very welcome addition to the scene.

It's hard to say exactly why but there is definitely no shortage of inspiring, open-minded people here. It is a very friendly community. I wonder how much it has to do with the chilled vibe created by the beautiful forests and beaches within walking distance in almost every direction!

What are your future plans with both the I.Ryoko and Sonorous Circle projects?

I.Ryoko has a couple of releases on the cards - I'm looking forward to releasing the next EP soon and then locking down some new pieces I've been mulling over for awhile. We're recording a new Athuzela Brown EP with Charlotte & Haz this weekend, and I'm mixing some incredible music by the Paperghost producer, Zach Webber, called Eyeholes which will be out some time soon. Then I want to do some film projects... Ideally get some vinyl pressed for a bunch of SC artists... film licensing, international distribution and touring would be nice... as would a surround-sound music venue... there is much to do! Just gotta sort out those pesky aforementioned "temporal and financial resources" and we'll be away! Hah.


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