The Beautifully Strange Music of Ambientsketchbook

Lee Gorman, aka Ambientsketchbook and Aphobic

Lee Gorman, aka Ambientsketchbook and Aphobic

Some time in 2015 I came upon the music of Ambientsketchbook on Bandcamp.  I was searching for ambient music and it seems to help including that word in the name of your project.  I gave some of Lee Gorman’s tracks a listen and quickly bought up a few.  I then found him also on the Ambient Online page compilations.  He’s worked with Syllix, a Canadian ambient producer and also goes by Aphobic for his more band/post-rock music.  I subscribed to his page which enabled me to get all his past releases and new music for a year.  Much of Gorman’s compositions are guitar-based, though I didn’t realize that, he also plays piano and sings.  So I was intrigued at the large amount of music Gorman has released as AsB and Aphobic and he was kind enough to answer some questions and make a primer called Spotlight on Soundcloud of some of his favorite tracks.

Who are you? (This is a philosophical question)
In my heart, a DIY punk guitarist. No matter how good a producer I become, I’ll always first and foremost regard myself as a musician.

Where are you from?
I’m from Larne, a small town in Northern Ireland. It’s about 20 miles north of the capital, Belfast.

How long have you been a musician?
I’ve played guitar since my late teens. I dabbled in 4-track recording right from the start.

What or who inspired you to be a musician?
My main initial musical inspiration came not from ambient, but from classic post-hardcore, emocore and post-rock. So bands like Fugazi, Mineral, Mogwai, Godspeed, Explosions in the Sky, Tortoise. The ambient that does capture my imagination tends to have guitar influences; stuff like Eluvium, Stars of the Lid, Loscil, Labradford and Hammock. Eluvium’s Copia is my favourite ambient record.

What instruments do you mainly play? Favorites?
The only instrument I can properly play is the guitar, but I can muddle through on the piano by transposing guitar fingerings on to the keys.

What recording gear do you mainly use? Favorites?
These days I mainly record straight to my laptop via an inexpensive, entry-level Magix DAW, but I also still use my old analogue 4-track, which is very useful for monitoring vocal and live guitar levels. I also capture field recordings (and sometimes vocals) using an old tape recorder and my phone. I always use my ancient zoom player pedal board for guitar parts.

When and why did you start Ambientsketchbook? Same for Aphobic.
I hadn’t really picked up my guitar in several years until one day in summer 2012 when, completely on a whim, I got it out and wrote a song that sounded a bit like Mineral. I wrote about a dozen tracks in this vein, and listening back to them, I realized that some parts of the music had the potential to work really well as post-rock/ambient instrumentals. These became the backbone of the first ASb album, Swell, which I released on Bandcamp that October alongside a compilation of some of my old 4-track recordings.
Aphobic came about when I found myself coming out with more material that was just a little too intense and band-orientated to fit under even the broad umbrella that I consider ambient to be. A couple of my earlier releases, the Rust and Extinct albums, were sprawling, experimental post-rock epics that first put the seed of a separate project in my head, but they still felt close enough to ambient to be ASb. This Used to Matter was the first album that really felt like it needed a different name.

How are AsB and Aphobic different?
Aphobic is rock music with ambient influences, ASb is vice versa. There are of course areas where the two overlap, but Aphobic focuses on rhythmic complexity and dynamics while ASb is more concerned with texture, melody and emotional resonance.

I’d love to give listeners a primer on your music. Can you please give us 5-10 songs that define AsB and Aphobic or songs you really like?
While the Oceans Rose We Drank, Oblivious (Glacial EP). My favourite, and also most popular track.
Footprints (Their Voices Like the Ocean). I’ve toyed with vocals, electronics and ASMR samples before, but everything came together perfectly on this track. It’s haunting and genuinely emotional.
Magick (Magick). One of my best-realized electro/post-rock crossovers. I love the rhythmic switch halfway through.
Our Future In Past Tense (Their Voices Like the Ocean). One of the few tracks to come out exactly how it sounded in my head.
Andromeda (Celestial: Volume I). One of my top ASb guitar compositions.
And I Realized the Trees Were Singing (Lost Songs). Strangely beautiful and beautifully strange.
To Find Heaven (The Space Between Strings). Simple and devastating.
Timing Is Everything (Rust). A prototype for what would become Aphobic. I love the odd timings and guitar sound.
ASb & Syllix — Happiness (Harmony). The best track from my collaboration with Syllix. I’d had the idea for the track structure for some time, but couldn’t pull it together until I had a eureka moment with one of his stems.
The Best Days (Vapour Trails). My favourite early ASb track. It was played at my wedding.

What inspires you now?
Making music to me is one big learning process. It gives me the chance to explore different genres, structures, textures and ideas – I could never pick ‘a sound’ and stick to it. The day I run out of new pathways will be the day I stop.

celestial vol 1Do your releases have a theme? Like Flow, Celestials and Their Voices Like the Oceans all seem to have themes, at least in the titles.
Some were written with a specific concept in mind – for example, the Glacial EP is loosely themed around global warning, Extinct imagines a meteor strike – while others had tenuously-linked titles assigned arbitrarily after the music was already written. There is generally some larger idea at work, even if it’s clear only to me.

After hearing you on Bandcamp, I quickly subscribed. Are you able to pay the bills as a musician, especially as you don’t charge a minimum price on most works? Has Bandcamp helped? Is this how you make so much music or is it a hobby? Is there a business model where you can see bands and artists gather a following and make music full time?
Making music is not my occupation. All I expect financially of ASb is to support itself; if I can cover website fees and equipment maintenance through sales, I am happy. Believe it or not, I spend very little time making music. I have a full-time day job, also write for a music website and magazine and have a young family, so making music is something I squeeze in when I can. Luckily I write and record very quickly and intuitively. I constantly write music in my head, so while I am known as something of a prolific artist I don’t especially feel like one, as only a fraction of what I think up ever gets recorded.
I’m not sure being a full-time musician is viable for virtually anyone these days, unless you’re an artist who strikes it lucky straight away. People expect music for free and value it far less than at any point in the past – it’s become disposable to many, a backing soundtrack for their daily lives rather than something to be focused on for its own sake.

Are there other avenues to purchase your tunes?
I rereleased some of my mid-period albums via a netlabel called Galileo Dreams. These are available across a number of online music platforms, including Beatport and Spotify. All this material is on my Bandcamp site too.

Have you or will you ever play live with Aphobic or as AsB? Maybe a DJ set? I’ve paid to see Ulrich Schnauss stand at his laptop.
I’d love to play live at some stage. I have no interest in a static, button-pressing performance though so it would require investment in new equipment, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

You sing on a few tracks, Like on Questions from Contact. Is there or will there be an entire release of songs with you singing? I’d love to hear more. You seem to be able to do it all.
I certainly plan to do more vocal work in the future. Their Voices Like the Ocean has vocals on most tracks, which fits with its kind of shoegaze/dreampop vibe. One of my ideas in the long term is to release something made only with my voice; whether that is a track, an EP or an album remains to be seen.

HarmonyYou’ve collaborated with Syllix on a full-length that I enjoyed. How was that put together?
Ryan (Jobson, Syllix) and I initially connected via Soundcloud. He asked if I would like to collaborate on a track, which quickly resulted in Suspended Animation. It worked so well that he asked me to collaborate on a full album, so we exchanged files repeatedly over the next few months. It all came together remarkably quickly. Ryan was a much better producer than me at this point, so I learned a lot during the process about how to maximise the sonic potential of my work.

Who would you like to work with next?
I don’t have any specific targets, but I’m always open to the idea. I’ve done the occasional track with other artists for compilations, so that’s the most likely avenue for future collaborations.

Music is therapeutic for most people. What does making music do for you? Any examples of artists that moved you or helped you through tough times, including your own music?
I have lived and breathed music since my early teens, amassing a ludicrously large and diverse collection. It has been a constant companion through all the best and worst times of my life, entwining with and enhancing every experience. Making music myself just seemed a natural extension of this process. The most personally important record I own is Clarity by Jimmy Eat World. Unlike the effervescent pop-rock they are best known for, it’s a sprawling, multi-layered odyssey through numerous styles and moods, within an ostensibly post-hardcore framework; one of those special recordings that rewards repeated listening. I’ve owned it since its release in the late nineties and still listen to it at least once every week, and it’s the album I always return to when life gets hard. My wife bought me the vinyl version a while back so I got to discover it all over again, which was wonderful.

Who else on Bandcamp and elsewhere should we be listening to?
My favourite recent ASb-type releases are Paths From Home by Inward Oceans (stunning piano-led post-rock), Aethereal Code by Ascendant (ultra-chilled electronic ambient), One Big Sky by Celestial Teapot (heavier post-rock) and Maze of Woods by Inventions, an ambient/electro collaboration between Eluvium and Explosions in the Sky. People should also check out – it’s a vibrant community of ambient artists with a very active and welcoming forum and a tradition of releasing astonishing compilation albums featuring its members, myself included.

Will there ever be a physical release for AsB or Aphobic? Maybe a unique or fun thumbdrive?
I’m an ardent fan of vinyl so I’d love to do even a 7” release at some point. A CD release would be great too.

I highly recommend the music of Ambientsketchbook for a true listening experience.  While much of his music is beautiful and soothing, its also very thoughtful and well composed.  Gorman’s output as Aphobic is a bit more roudy and rollicking.  If you’re at all interested in strange and wonderful music you can get Gorman’s music plus several hundred tracks from the Ambient Online compilations for around $10 each comp.

(by Bret Miller)

Ambient Online
Soundcloud “Spotlight”


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