Time Travel







QCA Quarterly - Volume 2 - Issue 4    Winter 1999

Conversations with Richard Bone
(Interview conducted by Diane Sward Rapaport)

      Richard Bone is arguably one of America's finest and most innovative underground electronic, ambient music composers. Since 1991, he has released 11 recordings on his own label, Quirkworks Laboratory Discs, including Electropica (1998) and Coxa (1999). The music is relaxed, lyrical, evocative and jazzy, with rhythms derived from mambo and bossa nova styles. It's the kind you might play on quiet, sensual evenings.
      Richard Bone's abstract, darker and experimental music, such as Spectral Ships (1998) and
Etherdome (1999), is found on Portland, Oregon's Hypnos Label, owned by Mike Griffin, which specializes in recordings of ambient minimalism, electronica, sound poetry, and sonic experimentalism.

Rapaport: Why do you release your two labels?

Bone: I wanted to delineate my rhythmic compositions from the more floaty, ambient, rhythmless music that the radio program Hearts of Space likes to play. Mike Griffin is a great businessman who loves experimental atmospheric music. It is easier for him to promote a genre that includes more that a dozen artists, than just one individual.

Rapaport: What characterizes ambient music?

Bone: All my music is keyboard controlled. There are no other instruments. And a few years ago, I even cut out my vocals. I also use libraries of sampled instruments and rhythm sections from early 60's jazz recordings. I love piano trios from that era. My album Coxa is dedicated to Cal Tjader, Rudy Van Gelder, Creed Taylor and Dave Pike.

Rapaport: How do you promote your records?

Bone: When I started Quirkworks, I got a copy of New Age Voice magazine, sent for their list of radio stations and mailed a copy of my first record, Quirkwork, to the entire list. A few played it; then people began requesting it; and some small underground mail order houses started carrying it.
      Then I got my hand on every new age magazine I could find and sent out discs to every reasonable promotional or distributional source and stayed open to every possibility. Eventually I got picked up by Backroads Music, a catalog devoted to New Age music.
      Today my mailing list is up to 300 radio stations and dozens of magazines. I just keep blanketing them with my music. If you keep doing what you love long enough and with enough integrity, people will begin to notice.
      When I released my latest album, Coxa, I decided to hire an independent radio promotion marvel, Ed Bonk, to help out. Although many stations that play new age music are already familiar with my name and music, I felt the need for a little extra follow through. Ed helped make
Coxa go to number 6 on the New Age  radio charts and keep it on the top ten for over 6 months.
      When I signed with Hypnos, I asked Mike Griffin to funnel my royalties back into promotion and distribution.

Rapaport: What has your presence on the internet done for your career?

Bone: The Internet is a great word of mouth medium, especially for those of us who have niche followings. It makes it so easy for people to find us. One friend turns on another. The web helps create a buzz for my music. If someone hears a song on the radio or at a fan's house, they can go to my web site and learn about by background and find out I have made music my career.
      When I started getting e-mails from fans in Europe saying, "We're so glad you are still releasing music," I discovered I have a loyal following there. It started when I was signed to Survival Records, a small London label in the eighties that eventually became a subsidiary of Chrysalis. I never would have started connecting with that following if it weren't for my presence on the Web.

Rapaport: Who designed your web site?

Bone: One day I had an e-mail from a fan named Marleen. She had just heard the song Cancion Del Arco -- the first cut off of my album Metaphysic Mambo -- on the radio program Echoes, which specializes in ambient music. We became e-mail friends. One day she wrote that she would like to set up a web site for me so people could find me more easily. (http://mkmk.com/bone/)
[You can also find Bone on www.hypnos.com/bone.]

Rapaport: What is your ambition?

Bone: My goal is to be the best human being I can be and hopefully the music will reflect that. I've learned not to put my focus on the end result, but on creating a piece of music. I don't worry about what it is going to do, I appreciate the creative moment I'm in and try to let everything else take care of itself.
      Being an artist is my dharma. I know in my heart of hearts that that is what I'm here for. Nor is there a question that I will succeed, but I don't worry about how famous I will get. My only concern is to do the best work I can. I won't deny that I want recognition, but I won't feel like a failure if I don't attain it. It's not a goal. My dharma will take me to where I'm suppose to be. I don't mind being a cult artist because my music isn't for everyone. I've always been happy when people genuinely like my music. I try and set my sights realistically. I'm going with the river's flow.

In the great metaphysic hall of
alchemy I close my
mambo eyes. A
beta movement infuses
the spirit.
Rhythms pulse with a
white light. Tap
for a dark beat
everything is echo.
Beta to stay
here to hear from another
world .

Richard Bone, Liner Notes:
Metaphysic Mambo (1996)

Rapaport: How do you find combining being a creative person and a business person...

Bone: I practice mindfulness -- being fully in the moment, whether I'm creating, doing business or meditating, but I think of myself more as an artist, not a business person. I do mail the CDs. I get records to the distributors, I correspond with fans because I believe that these activities mean that I am being responsible to my art and to my dharma. There's no separation.

Rapaport: Do you have a hard time collecting from distributors?

Bone: They have always paid me without my having to beg. I've never been screwed. I don't know what that feels like. If you approach people with honesty and integrity, they will return it. But it is also true that I use my intuition to stay away from people who present negative colors. That's why the universe gave us intuition: to pay attention. It's just so obvious. Why do people have such a hard time listening to their inner voice? Call it karma: you get back what you put out.

Rapaport: Do you have advice for other indie artists?

Bone: Many independent artists (myself included) do not take into account how important graphics are. The old A&M CTI recordings all have a similar look and feel. It's so cool. Every Hypnos recording, no matter by what what artist, has a recognizable graphic style. The last two albums on my label now have a coherent design that will help people identify my more rhythmic, lyrical side. The covers have a similar layout: glossy black background, my name centered in the yellow at top, followed by the album title in red and then a wonderful and colorful rectangular water color by my friend, artist Jim Szarkowicz. They stand out. They make you want to open them up and listen to the music.

Rapaport: How do you make  your recordings?

Bone: My studio is in my home. I use an ENSONIQ 1 for my main controller and I MIDI that up to a floor to ceiling rack of sound modules from Roland, Korg and Proteus. Everything I compose is mixed direct to a TEAC DAT recorder. Then I go to an ear I respect, Anthony, at Reel to Real, a neighborhood studio, and we assemble the tracks in the sequence I want and adjust the level and the time between tracks. Then the recording goes off to QCA for mastering.

Rapaport: Why is mastering important?

Bone: For me, mastering is what happens after you have finished a painting. You have to trust someone to put a good frame around it and provide the finishing touch. Once I'm done with an album, I have no perspective left. I've heard it about 6 gazillion times. I need to turn it over to an objective ear.
Dave Davis, QCA's engineer, is someone I can completely trust. When he got my first record to master, he called up and said, "My god, I'm a fan of yours. I know how this piece is supposed to sound." He gave it the punch it needed, that rumbling low end hum some of the cuts need. He made sure one cut wasn't thin and another bottom heavy. He's a genius at what he does and I'm honored to work with him. He is the reason Coxa was so radio friendly. He just mastered my latest release, Distillation, which is an anthology of older recordings. Yet again, he has given these tracks renewed life.