Saturday 4 May 2019

DARK AMBIENT: Mount Shrine Interview

Mount Shrine Interview

Interview by Casey Douglass

Mount Shrine

In recent months, I’ve been listening to Rio De Janeiro-based dark ambient artist Mount Shrine’s fantastic Ghosts on Broken Pavement, reveling in the moods it creates. During the last few weeks, I was lucky enough to have an email chat with Cesar, and I was able find out a bit more about what makes him tick.

Laced throughout this interview are photos taken by Cesar, of the view that he often stares at when creating his music.

CASEY: How did your interest in creating music first form, and what drew you towards the dark ambient genre?

CESAR: I actually don't really know. I've always been an avid music fan, even when I was a child. I was always listening to my family's old records, watching video clips on local TV channels (back when this was still a popular thing), stealing my mom's pans and "playing drums" with them until my neighbors would scream at me and silly things like that.

There were some records that truly stood out to me at the time, but nothing ambient related. When I was around 11-12, I started being interested in how people I listened to made music, by doing silly Google searches like "how to make music Aphex Twin" or something like that. It was just for pure curiosity on knowing their process. Then I got some freeware stuff and started playing with them, making noises and having fun. I believe I could say it was simply a natural progression for me then, I guess, since I was never serious about making music before I was 13-14 years old. Of course, the lack of having a musical family and the lack of supportive people around me would be a huge factor on that, since no one ever gave me an option of living a life by making any form of art.

I think the first ambient record I actually ever heard was probably any of Brian Eno's ambient albums (my best guess would be the first one), but the album that really got my attention towards the genre was Akira Yamaoka's score for Silent Hill 2. I know it might be a bit cliche to say this, but it really was! The first thing that caught my attention was how diverse his soundtrack work was: within the same game, you had musical cues that ranged from ambient, downtempo, industrial/noise to, even, tracks that resembled a bit of early 90s alternative rock. But when I really delved by listening it in the album format, I can't even put into words of what I felt. All the playful joy of making noises with plug-ins disappeared and I decided to dive more seriously into this thing. I've already spent more than 6-7 years listening to this soundtrack, but I still get shivers when I listen to The Day of Night or White Noiz.

Most of the stuff he did for Silent Hill were made with sample libraries, especially with the ones Spectrasonics released in late 90s, but his sample choices were just perfect because it fits completely with the whole scenario of each game. Some might try to diminish his work today as just "lazy", due to its extensive use of sample libraries, but I don't think like that. I don't think any other artist might have used the same samples in more evocative ways like he did. You know, there's SO many people who hear any slow chords playing beneath a song and think "Oh, it sounds like Silent Hill!" even if it's something from a drum and bass track, and that's mainly due to his perfect sample choices. If it was a different composer working with Team Silent, it would be something completely different and that's so interesting.

Mount Shrine

CASEY: Which other musicians would you say have influenced you in the music that you create?

CESAR: On the ambient side of things, I simply love Akira Yamaoka and Tim Hecker. They're basically my two favorite ambient artists and I could listen to them forever. If I had to choose my "desert island" album by each of them, they would be the soundtrack for Silent Hill 2 and Radio Amor, respectively. Of course, I have other favorites in the genre, like Tor Lundvall, Leyland Kirby, William Basinski, Stars of the Lid, Rod Modell and Burial, if you consider him as, mainly, an "ambient" artist. I'm also very fond of late 90s so-called "IDM", like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Amon Tobin, Christoph de Babalon, Boards of Canada, and Autechre. I've recently came across this little nice Luke Slater album, The 4 Cornered Room and I've been listening to it a lot. Basic Channel and Echospace [Detroit] labels have their own place in my heart too and they're a big part of my "weekend chill" playlist.

Ambient unrelated, I must say I have a healthy obsession with two artists: John Frusciante and Jorge Ben (now going under the "Jorge Ben Jor" name). I just love everything they've made so far and I can't really go a week without listening to, at least, one song from them. I think you can pick some bits and pieces of them in some of my artistic stylishing. For example, I started getting addicted on minor 7th chords right after I got into Ben's work. I'm also addicted to early oldskool hardcore/jungle stuff. Back when I was producing Ghosts on Broken Pavement, I was mainly listening to mixtapes cassette rips of these styles on Youtube 24/7, which was the cataclysm of giving my last album its sound. If I had to point one out as a favorite, it would be Dieselboy's Witness The Strength mix. Simply, a masterpiece.

CASEY: What does your technical setup consist of, which software and equipment are mainstays of your craft?

CESAR: Ableton Live only, with mouse and keyboard. Live was the only DAW that I really felt connected with, when I was trying out demo versions of various DAWs to pick my main one years ago. I tried so much stuff and I hated them all, but I don't know why. If I hadn’t tried Ableton Live, I would probably have given up making music. At least, with a computer. With that said, Live has been my main "friend" for almost 8 years and I'm still learning new things in it! Apart from some third-party plugins, like Fabfilter (their EQ and Limiter are some of the best third-party plugins you could probably have) and some ValhallaDSP reverbs (the "VintageVerb" one is my favorite), I'm completely happy with Ableton's stock stuff.

If someone thinks that Ableton sounds "flat" or "dull", they should go listen to Fanu and notice that they've been probably using Ableton wrong. Honestly, 90% of the sounds from Ghosts on Broken Pavement are just simple sounds made with Analog or sub/reese basses made with Operator. Almost all post-processing, like reverb, delay or filtering, were all from Ableton's own stuff. The remaining 10% are mainly loops I took from recordings I did with PureData or small patches I did with granular samplers/synthesis, like Ableton's Granulator or The Mangle.

Mount Shrine

CASEY: You make great use of field-recordings in your tracks. I particularly like the various ways you utilize the sound of rain. Do you have a favourite “real world” sound to try to capture, and what do you make your field-recordings with?

CESAR: These sounds are all, basically, a collage of sounds I love making, just to keep playing on the background of any song I make. The sounds sources, well, you can find them anywhere: there's some stuff I got by blindly searching on the internet, looped atmospheres I got from my favorite movies, low-quality recordings from my phone, manipulated samples of vinyl and fire crackle and, by keeping them "glued" together, a quiet tape hiss. I like to create this whole "inside world" feel on my tracks.

My music is quite a reflection of my personality; I like to stay in the background, in my little world, without people trying to get my attention and to move like shadow through the streets. The sound collage also reflects my whole neighborhood too. People think that Rio is all about sunny days, beaches and jungles, but where I live all you'll be able see is urban decay, streets with broken pavement, trash everywhere and, as much it can get hot some days, it can get truly cold too. So I think that, by creating this sound collage, it doesn’t just give the nice texture I always wanted to give for my tracks, but it's also a way for giving the listener to glimpse what I observe in my neighborhood.

CASEY: When you aren’t creating music, what else do you enjoy doing creatively, or even just for the simple fun of things?

CESAR: That's tough, because I don't do much, hahaha! I usually keep a daily schedule to myself. When I wake up, I like to watch some stuff on Youtube while I'm sipping a bunch of coffee cups. It's mainly these horror channels, like Nexpo or ScareTheater, or random gaming and tutorial videos. For some years, I've been watching around 1-2 movies every night too as a routine. I'm not a huge cinephile guy, but I like to watch weird and different challenging stuff, just to keep my creative juices flowing. I've recently gone through Pedro Costa's filmography and I watched all his feature films in a week. Just plain darkness and a claustrophobic view on the everyday life of simple people.

CASEY: What are you currently working on now, and what are your plans for the future?

CESAR: Well, I'm actually not working on anything right now. After the release of Ghosts on Broken Pavement, I forced myself to get some months off, to clear my mind a bit and take care of my health. The last 6-7 months have been tough and I haven't stopped a single day since then. While I was on this "forced vacation" for myself, I started learning Japanese and decided to go back and play some of my favorite games again, especially Dark Souls and Playdead's stuff. Only recently, I started to do some silly stuff on Live, but nothing too concrete or making any real "tracks"; it's mainly mindless noodling with synths, recording samples and chopping breakbeats, just to get myself back at the creative mindset.

Future plans? Surely is to keep releasing new stuff. I haven't been too interested in the "album" format lately, because I feel that its format is much better when you need to close a "chapter" of what you're doing creatively, somehow, rather than just a compilation of tracks that sounds nicely together. I started having these thoughts around the early drafts of my last album. With that said, when the right time to release something new comes, it will come naturally and with a personal reason for doing so. It might be something new for Mount Shrine, or any new alias I might feel like giving a try in the future.


Thanks to Cesar for such a detailed and fascinating look into what drives his music, how he does it and what might be coming next. You can find Mount Shrine on Bandcamp and you can read my review of Ghosts on Broken Pavement by clicking the links.