MOON OVER MOUNTAIN
Champagne And Brass
(Moon Over Mountain Music)

 

With its stunning mix of New Age Pop and electronic instrumental music, The Colors Of Life, the 2019 debut album by Denver, Colorado based Moon Over Mountain, impressed music fans and turned heads around. Now, in 2020, group founders Kenneth Lee Roberts and Megan Buness return with their second album called Champagne And Brass. With this second Moon Over Mountain album, Ken and Megan continue onwards with their subtle and sublime approach to both vocal and instrumental music. In the spirit of The Colors Of Life, the 12-track, 2020 album release of Champagne And Brass offers another memorable blend of instrumental keyboard-based electronica and experimental, yet accessible songs with vocals—some with lyrics and some with synthesized wordless vocals that serve to entertain and even startle the listener (in a good way). Some of the vocal tracks, such as Megan’s vocals on “Snowfall” border on impressionistic jazz, while others present a rare blend of New Age with touches of progressive rock. I could see fans of progressive jazz singer Annette Peacock enjoying Megan’s earthy vocals on some tracks here. The instrumental tracks, such as “Close To My Heart”—composed by Megan and featuring multi-tracked, synthesized, Gregorian-sounding wordless vocals—are arranged with Ken’s electronic keyboards in mind. Sounding like the perfect segue to “Close To My Heart”, “The Man Who Spoke 10,000 Truths”—a Ken Roberts composition—is another fascinating meld of Ken’s accessible keys and glorious wordless electronic vocals highlighted by a unique arrangement. Bringing the sound and vision into the 2020’s there’s even a track here called “AOC”—a paean to the congresswoman from New York City—with lyrics that speak up about a green new deal and the one percent economy. Closing out the Champagne And Brass album, that same “AOC” track is filled with drum fills that are quite startling, no doubt inspired by the startling nature of American politics of century 21. With the 2020 release of the 12-track Champagne And Brass, it’s just amazing what these two very creative musicians have created with hardly any outside intervention. Implementing a vast array of impressive studio sounds coupled with Ken and Megan’s expanding compositional skills, Moon Over Mountain breathes new life into the New Age Electronica genre, as the music world evolves into the roaring 20’s. www.moonovermountainmusic.com




mwe3.com presents an interview with
MOON OVER MOUNTAIN



mwe3
: What’s doing in Denver? So sad to watch the world melt down with this virus. Is it time for something in the air? I’ve been smelling some toxic like substance in the air. Someone said it’s related to 5G which is even more scary. Anyway what I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh rocky mountain way air.

Ken Roberts: Reactions to the virus haven’t been much different here than anywhere else but there are no other cities of any size nearby, so as major cities go, we may be hit a little more lightly than elsewhere. The air quality in the city is a little better than when I first arrived but you’ve still got to get outside of it to get a breath of really fresh air.

With global supply chains affected for the indefinite future, I suspect that 5G implementation will be greatly slowed, or not happen at all. That may be a good thing.

Megan Buness: I taught a year in China in Hangzhou, a city near Wuhan where the outbreak originated. When Denver started becoming precautious this last week I emailed with my friend, a teacher at the school. She said within this week that it's been 22 days since a new case. So as shaken as we are by this uncertainty, we can see the other side of this is coming.

mwe3: How did you decide on the title of the Champagne And Brass album? It makes a great album opener even though it catches you a bit unaware. When and where was the music on the album written and recorded? Is Megan on that track anywhere? She’s there in spirit for sure...

Ken Roberts: Well, the album title follows the track title, of course. Glad you thought it made a great opener. The track is a bit “fizzy” and, of course, features a lot of brass, so the title more or less suggested itself. The material was entirely written and recorded here in Denver. Some of the tracks were very challenging technically – “First Snowfall” and “Have Our Dreams Come to This?” in particular, the latter because of the many instruments and the extreme dynamics of the track. The former because analog is far more difficult than digital to do well. No, Megan isn’t on that track, but you’re right, she’s there in spirit on all of the pieces.

Megan Buness: I started my undergraduate music degree as a French Horn major, so it was a pleasure recording live horn potentially, we eventually let it go, to be blended with Ken's orchestration as an Easter Egg allusion in our first track on the album.

mwe3: The Brass element of the title must allude to the brass like way the Ken’s keyboards build upon the music. Also the word-less synths sound remarkably like Megan being sampled. I know you tried to explain that it was different. How did you get such realistic voice-like keyboard sounds on for example, “Close To My Heart” and also “The Man Who Spoke 10,000 Truths” as well?

Ken Roberts: Brass instruments have ended up being a nicely unifying element in what is otherwise a quite diverse set of recordings. A number of the world’s leading chorale groups have been sampled now, so sound quality is primarily a matter of how much money an artist is willing to spend. This is quite enabling, as it makes it possible to do things that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive. It’s also far better from a composer’s standpoint, because it’s quite difficult to truly “hear” the voices you’re writing for apart from this approach. Although these sampled voices can indeed be “played” like any instrument, they’re quite different in nature from traditional digital keyboard sounds, as they really are actual voices. However, I do also use digital voices as well – they have a slightly eerie, otherworldly quality that can nicely complement the sampled voices.

Megan Buness: Some of our tracks combine my voice with the sampled voices. When teaching computer music, I've mused to my classes that with our current technology the composer now has the luxury of hearing these sampled sounds immediately and working in real time with orchestration choices.

mwe3: Tell us how you recorded the new album, what was the studio set up like and can you contrast recording Champagne And Brass with the way you recorded the Colors Of Life album? Were there any refinements in the recording process for the Champagne And Brass album?

Ken Roberts: The vocal tracks were recorded separately by Megan after the instrumental tracks were laid down, and then integrated in my home studio. The overall process was much the same for both albums, but I’ve been trying to learn more about sound engineering, which is a complex universe unto itself, and made some progress in that direction between the two albums. Also, Champagne And Brass is derived from AIF-format masters, which are lossless. This makes for a far more authentic sound than what we had been doing.

Megan Buness: As Ken says, I am listening to the instrumental track when I add the vocal tracks. Sometimes I'm involved in the process earlier when I send him MIDI compositions, which he then orchestrates - on our first album: “Yes, I Am Here”, “The Face In The Moon” and “Heart Of The Song” and on this album: “Close To My Heart” and “Passing Sacred Ground”. When you listen back to these albums, some were accompanied by my singing lyrics that were sent at the same time as the MIDI, others are just the compositions orchestrated. If you are hearing refinements in the recording process, we're happy about that! We're excited that Ken provided many of our lyrics for this album. This is really a fun process that we have developed...

mwe3: “First Snowfall” is very jazzy sounding. I think this is the first snow-related song I’ve heard in a while. I’ve been in South Florida so long I forgot what slush is as it was 95 again with a soaring UV index! Ken was telling me about the slush in and around Denver and I got jealous! Lol...

Ken Roberts: Yes, “First Snowfall” is, more or less, a straight-up jazz track, though not very conventionally so. Some of the other pieces also have more of a jazz quality than The Colors Of Life, which only has one track, “Dry Your Eyes”, with a similar feel. In general, it seems to me that we now live in a post-genre era in which artists can utilize the approaches developed by various genres in much the same way that they make use of instruments or lyrics to communicate what it is that they’re trying to say.

Not only that, but there are also an enormous number of interesting ideas that can arise from asking yourself questions like: what would this piece sound like if it made use of elements from both jazz and classical? Today, something may be going wrong creatively or imaginatively if a composer is forever working in the same genre. It’s probably true that it’s a little dangerous to challenge your listeners as much as you challenge yourself, but in the long run I suspect they’ll find that more rewarding, provided that the composer is still writing consistently good music.

Yes, I remember my own Florida years of perpetual heat and humidity, and don’t much regret leaving that behind. Slush can be interesting for about five minutes, but after that it loses its appeal, particularly when you have to drive in it. So, maybe nothing to be too envious of, and definitely more of the down side of the Colorado climate.

Megan Buness: While snow seems distant to you, we had a typical winter week here in Denver: the week started with a high near 70 degrees and by midweek we experienced snow all day, piling to 8 inches. Some background on the song: I was looking out the window between two buildings the moment the first snowflake floated down at the beginning of a snowfall. The lyrics unfolded from that moment. Ken’s instrumentation fit perfectly with these lyrics.

mwe3: How about “Alone In The City”. Sounds like trying to date in the online world. Anyway it sounds serious. The tambourine gives it a good timing, sort of like the sound of a ticking clock. Interesting that Ken wrote the lyrics and the song, yet Megan sings it quite perfectly. You guys are really on the same page.

Ken Roberts: Thematically “Alone” goes back to my first years in Denver, after leaving Florida and all of my friends and family there behind. I’d occasionally wander around downtown Denver feeling miserable, and looking at everyone else that was hooked up like they were inhabitants of a different world I had no place in. Curious how completely alone you can feel while surrounded by thousands of people. And the effect is further compounded when nothing that you see on a daily basis is familiar.

Megan did a truly fabulous job of taking this track on board, and making it into something of her own. She has a remarkable capacity for doing that – as I suspect listeners will soon be discovering.

Megan Buness: Thank you both. I find I communicate best through music. And I agree, Ken's lyrics are spot-on at expressing the feeling.

mwe3: “Have Our Dreams Come To This” has a very uplifting spirit. It has a vintage sound but a modern beat and the brass-like keyboards have a great sound. Again this track features sampled voices. I call them “Angel Voices”. Sounds like angels watching us.

Ken Roberts: It’s been quite interesting to discover how people are reacting to this piece. It’s one of two compositions that were written shortly after concluding a failed love affair with a Thai woman. Both were composed while in a very fraught state indeed, and at the time served much more as psychotherapy than music. There are something like 25 different instruments on the track, which made getting good sound quality quite difficult, particularly as there are also quite unusual sound dynamics – for example, going from very soft passages to much louder ones, with various stabs along the way. Certainly, it would be wonderful if there were angels watching over us, but I’m afraid I have to file that idea away in the “unknowable” folder. On the other hand, though, when listening to them while composing it almost does seem at times as though they belong to beings who well-understand the many vicissitudes of human life, and would help if they could.

Megan Buness: I had lyrics that didn't exactly fit what Ken was feeling for this one. We are playing with releasing the one with vocals at a later date.

mwe3: Tell us about “Close To My Heart”. Those sampled voices sound very much like Megan… Either way it’s excellent. How did Megan go about composing this track?

Ken Roberts: Thanks so much. It’s among my favorites, too. It’s essentially a waltz, a form which hasn’t usually had any sort of vocal accompaniment – so, of course, I thought it might be interesting to supply one. I also tried to bring forward the sense of joy that seemed to be quietly lurking there.

Megan Buness: "Close To My Heart" is about pleasures experienced and wanting to hold them close to my heart. I gave Ken the MIDI track of the composition. He did wonders with the orchestration.

mwe3: “The Man Who Spoke 10,000 Truths” is another high point of Champagne And Brass with its mix of synth voices and brass. Sounds like a sax! Lol How did Ken get the brass sound and the mellotron like voices from his synths? With a voice as wonderful as Megan…

Ken Roberts: Well, as most composers do these days, I’ve spent endless hours auditing various synths, samples, and other instruments, trying to work out what goes well with what, and sometimes tweaking them in different ways. It’s not a very rewarding process while I’m engaged in it, but when things finally do come together, if they do, there’s quite considerable satisfaction in that.

Though it is possible to wring out some expressiveness from synths, Megan’s voice is far and away more expressive. Karl Jenkins of Adiemus has suggested that composers think of the human voice as being just one more instrument – true in a sense, but it’s always much more than that, with nuanced capabilities that go far beyond those of any instrument. What’s fun to explore, as we do with Champagne & Brass, is what each can best contribute. I might mention that the piece is concerned with an idea that may seem to be something of an oxymoron: sincerity in politics. I read recently that Trump has uttered something on the order of 15,000 documented lies since taking office. So the challenge here was to communicate a sense of sincerity and verity.

Megan Buness: Thank you both... I like this interview!

mwe3: “Evening Falls” is another somber sounding track. What inspired that track and is it a love song? What about the line ‘Won’t you help us’? Sounds like a universal plea to a higher God.

Ken Roberts: “Evening Falls” is concerned with mortality. It is indeed a love song, in the sense that there are passages where the singer is speaking to her husband or lover, knowing that she is dying, but dying very much beloved. That line, however, is being spoken to “time” – which is the greater enabler of all of life, and yet also the great destroyer. Somebody said we live poised between two eternity's. Very true, and a statement that points up a reality that places us in an ever-precarious and extraordinarily bittersweet position as we live our lives.

Megan Buness: It's a beautiful message. Time can't help us but love can. We give each other meaning.

mwe3: What can you tell us about “Kyoto 21”? It’s the shortest track on the album?

Ken Roberts: Well, I’m a tremendous Japanophile and last year I spent some time in Kyoto, the cultural hub and ancient capital of the country. While there I stayed in a “machiya”, a wooden town home hundreds of years old, with shoji, a hot tub, a tokonoma and other wonderful, traditional appurtenances. Yet I could walk out the door, and within forty yards find a 7-Eleven and an ATM machine. Close by was a meticulously maintained ancient castle, and a little further away were revered Zen gardens, as well as the geisha quarter where women dressed in kimonos still perfect arts that originated long ago. It’s as though a time machine went back and hoovered up samples of the past so as to deposit them in the midst of a modern city. One also encounters high-speed bullet trains and startling, high-tech toilets that have no equivalent in the states. So the track is about these astounding temporal anomalies the traveler there meets with everywhere, and how they contribute to an incredible cultural richness.

Yes, all that in the shortest track – which, by the way, is another of the jazz pieces. Incidentally, anyone who wants to really appreciate what Megan has done with the vocal here should try to sing along. They’ll encounter a super-tricky passage along the way.

Megan Buness: Kyoto in the 21st Century! My time in Kyoto was in the last millennium, focused on Shinto Shrines. A Japanese college art student became a fast friend while we were in China and she took me home to her family over our vacation. I got to experience dressing in a Kimono, Tea Ceremony and yes, future toilets and bullet trains.

mwe3: Comparatively “Colorado Dreaming” is the longest track on the new album. Is that a kind of Colorado inspired New Age type track? It’s almost all instrumental except for the two lines that make up the lyrics. It’s almost like an electro-pop haiku.

Ken Roberts: That’s an interesting description. I might mention that I’m a great admirer of the Japanese aptitude for constructing those little meaningfully-dense verbal bundles. To the west of Denver lies Guanella Pass, a destination many Coloradans depart for in the early fall as the Aspen leaves explode there in golden magnificence. Every lungful of the crisp air is like champagne, and the mountain roads wind from one breath-taking view to another, and still another, and yet another, mile after mile. The whole experience is like one long, extravagant celebration of color itself – or even of existence itself. It’s a very, very heady, joy-evoking experience. The Mammas & the Pappas should have dropped by. They’d have had a lot more to sing about.

Megan Buness: This song is so happy. I love the sunlight. I remember seeing marketing in recent years that Colorado has more sunny days than Hawaii. It's sunny here, yet one gets to enjoy all the seasons as well.

mwe3: “Passing Sacred Ground” , lost my way… it’s kind of a protest song during the cyber era… is it futuristic?

Megan Buness: It was created in a futuristic environment: our writing group, which was largely science fiction writers. “Passing Sacred Ground” was a challenge that Ken brought to our writing group. He showed us “Passing Sacred Ground” by Bev Doolittle and asked each of us to come up with a story related to this scene. Dappled horses are passing through dense aspen trees against a rock laced snowy ground. As I looked at the artwork, I had solve "Is this horse?" Does this have meaning? Or is it background. The lyrics unfolded from there.

mwe3: Who is “Welcome To Life” inspired by?

Ken Roberts: This composition was inspired by and is dedicated to my grand-daughter, Alice. I could almost groan aloud whenever I hear that wretched musical catastrophe we know as “Happy Birthday to You”. I plan to play this track for her every year as an act of self-preservation. Megan’s wonderful, tender lyric for it must have been prescient, as she’s now expecting her first.

Megan Buness: I am delighted by this song. I wrote the lyrics before I was pregnant. It's all the joy of 'here you come!' and welcome to this thing that we are all enjoying: life. Now I sing the lyrics to my abdomen.

mwe3: Of course “AOC”, Ms. Cortez, is a woman most people have heard this past year! What do you like best about her and the whole left / centrist rift going on? Seems like the left has splintered badly these past 20 years, I was a huge Al Gore supporter, and the newcomers like the young kids seem very polarized and this year is shaping up to be very contested. It seems like it’s almost impossible for US to get there. Last about “AOC” one viewer writes in and asks me “why don’t they do more rhythms and beats like this stomper?”

Ken Roberts: Well, she’s much like a rose on a dung heap, isn’t she? I’ve listened to her grilling sour, disgraceful billionaires, and, to switch metaphors, it’s like a breath of fresh air in a morgue – the morgue of American democratic ideals.

The rift between the left as represented by AOC and Bernie Sanders and the party elites strikes me as being something like the rift between the traditional Republican oligarchs and the “Tea Party”. That is, it’s essentially a populist reaction against the political corruption so detested by most of the right and left alike. What’s a little different in this election cycle is that it’s now become painfully clear that the media thinks that it alone should tell the public who to choose by deciding for them who is and isn’t “electable”. The task of presenting the facts seems to have gone as far missing with them as it has with Trump. Consequently, we’re saddled with a fake media and a fake president, too. This is far indeed from what the founding fathers had in mind.

Well, I’m not sure who the “they” is in this question. If it’s bands in general, it may be that a lot of people are in no mood to write anything of this kind in the current climate. It’s also a lot harder to do than one might suppose. Comedy writing is something like that. When it’s good, it seems inevitable, and yet everything has to be carefully set up to deliver the punchlines, and it’s only too easy to try and fail. Think of “The Love Guru” where Myers, who once knew what was funny in some other life, somehow goes completely bottoms-up for an agonizing hour and a half. One critic said something like “I left the film uncertain whether I’d ever laugh again.” Finally, writing high-energy music itself requires high energy. I recently finished composing a somewhat similar piece, and by the time I’d finished I was a little worn. You’ve got to not only enter into the mood of what you’re writing, you’ve got to stay there until you’re done – and keep in mind that even four minutes of music can takes weeks or even months to put together. Sometimes things break your way creatively, and sometimes they stubbornly refuse to.

Megan Buness: I easily can remember when we all took notice of AOC. Her voice came at a time when we most needed it. Ken's music and lyrics communicate the levity of her impact on us.

mwe3: So tell us more about what Moon Over Mountain is up to and what your plans are for 2020. Any hopes and wishes, words of inspiration you can share with the readers?

Ken Roberts: Well, Megan will be busy with a new family member, which may keep her away from the piano for a little while. But we’ve already done most of the work for the next album, so we’ll be fine-tuning that material. I’ve written several longer, semi-symphonic pieces and we’re weighing how best to get those out to people. Possibly they’ll come out as singles. We’ve also discussed doing a “theme” album that would be something like “the bright side of the moon” – that is, instead of writing about quiet desperation we’d be writing about secret joy. I’m afraid that the corona virus news is likely to be bad for quite a while. People may need reminding that there’s more to life than misery.

Overall, this is no time for despair. The dove-tailing pandemic and climate and economic crises will demand that we rise above the politics and rhetoric of greed. If we don’t pull together now, a very dystopian future may well await us. Nobody can save the world alone, but all of us can do whatever it is in our power to do. Despair never facilitates that aim. Rather surprisingly, the happiest people in the world are the Finns, and yet their country has few resources and their climate could hardly be worse. It turns out that their surprising secret is to work together to achieve just outcomes and a high quality of life for everyone. Even in the worst crisis, that should remain our goal. The alternatives are just too awful to contemplate.

Megan Buness: We are continuing the creative process, unearthing our hopes and beliefs which we are sharing with you: one thread in this album is the meaning found in spending time with loved ones.





 

 
   
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