i AM esper

Nature.  It has nearly become a foreign concept for most of us.  We are separated from the earthly environment by sheetrock walls and synthetic fiber carpets.  The sounds of the outdoors are muffled by the whir of machines which keep our surroundings comfortable and our dishes clean.  Even the little bit of green which pokes through between rows of cement driveways has been planted in a calculated manner.  We have divorced ourselves from the wild and indigenous.

In an age where people are getting back to basics – eating whole foods, employing holistic remedies, minimizing clutter – certain facets of music are getting back to basics as well.  Minimalist ambient music evokes an atmospheric quality relying primarily on soundscapes using drones, gradual transformations, and often the reiteration of musical phrases.

Justin Palmieri, the solo artist behind i AM esper, creates such atmospheres, painting an auditory nature scene, one musical brushstroke at a time.  Working in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Palmieri took time with TST to explain his part in this musical movement.

TST:    Your music is primarily categorized as ambient.  When I think of ambient music, I think of rhythmic ocean waves, relaxing chimes, soothing guitar plucking.  Your music is nothing like that.  It’s filled with soundscapes and drones.  What does “ambient” mean to you?  

JP:       Ambient for me is sometimes taking an atmosphere and re-creating it into a totally different atmosphere. This is usually when I work with field recordings. My heavy drone work like ‘Sunrise over the Atlantic’ is an explosion representing the sun’s power over the sea and earth. Ambient is just music that puts the listener in a different state of mind, and I find it very relaxing and almost spiritual.

 TST:   When I hear your tracks, I hear waves of sound repeating in a hypnotic way, not necessarily drawing attention to the sound itself, but luring the listener through gradual note changes and inflections.  How would you describe your music?

JP:       It’s getting the listener in touch with music at its most primitive state, sometimes even taking us back to a prehistoric time, reminding us all there is more to this earth than just us humans.

TST:    This type of music is not commonly heard.  What have been your primary musical influences?

JP:       Any kind of ambient, drone, noise etc. I like anything from the Jewelled Antler collective: Thuja, Loren Chasse (The Blithe Sons, The Child Readers, and Of.)  Also, a band called Earth – especially their second album – who are getting much more popular over the years.  Stars of the Lid is great drone music.  A band called VCV who do a lot of ambient/drone guitar stuff, I like a lot. A band from Canada called Nadja who play ambient-doom is excellent. And of course, all the artists on a small Australian indie label, Misspelled Records which is kind enough to help get my music out there.  I also like many artists from a great netlabel BFW Recordings.  And lots of black metal. 

TST:    i AM esper.  The name implies that you’re a project embodying a state of being within the supernatural realm – an otherworldly existence.  What led to that name?

JP:       I actually got the name from Zelda 2. There is a character who says “I am error” and I wanted to use that, but it was taken. Also, I saw a movie called Iowa, which has a main character named ‘Esper.’ I thought it sounded cool so I combined the two. I later realized an esper was someone with supernatural powers but that is not the reason for the name, obviously. 

TST:    Some of your tracks like “Sunset over the Atlantic”are rather repetitive and unstructured, even at times lacking the traditional beginning, middle, and end.  What is your response to people who label your tracks as just plain noise?

JP:       I would say to certain people that they need to open their minds a bit more.  Music is more than just ‘classic rock.’ I like to start some tracks off abruptly because when you walk into a new situation the sounds abruptly change around you, and the same happens as you leave. That is my reason for that. But not all of my songs do that. 

 TST:   Your albums appear to be inspired by specific concepts, such as seasons or places.  Describe for me how you turn a concept into an album.  

JP:       I love nature, animals and the ocean, earth etc. I like to run with a theme because I like to have a solid piece with a cohesive mood. Doing this, the trance of my music lasts for the whole record. 

TST:    You’ve put out a few EPs recently.  One was a five track collection called Over the Atlantic.  Tell me how that came together.

JP:       Over the Atlantic is actually full length even though it’s five tracks; I think the runtime is over 42 minutes.  But I had an idea to create a heavy drone album with guitar as the main sound source. I wanted to tell a story of night and day over the ocean and this is how it came to be. My friend Ken Kusama plays drums on the last track, ‘Stars Fell over the Atlantic.’ He is a really good singer/songwriter/guitarist/drummer/over-all talented guy.

TST:    Your latest creation is a three track EP totaling nearly 30 minutes, titled Meditations for Sea Turtles.  It emanates a dark, mysterious, fatalistic sound.  When I hear it, I’m reminded of the scene in Lord of the Rings where the wraiths are riding through the mist, appearing ominous and intimidating.  How do sea turtles fit into that mix?

JP:       Well it is a follow up into the depths of the ocean. Over the Atlantic was more from a bird’s point of view Meditations is the actual ocean life’s point of view. I wanted to do a murky dark muffed soundscape for this one. I picked the title just to say, “Hang in there little guys” to all the poor sea turtles, fish, and wildlife dying because of the oil spill, which breaks my heart.  

TST:    What are you working on currently?

I’m about to release The Slumber of the Grayscale Moths.  I’m really happy with how this one came out. It’s all guitar as the main sound source. But there are field recordings pieced though it and I used a violin bow to bow my ukulele believe it or not, and some tin cans and I used all kinds of rocks and stones I found in the woods.  But yes, this one would be a dark ambient piece.

To me, I listen to so much heavy and ‘dark’ stuff that there really is no ‘dark’ to me.  But out of I think 30 releases I have (mostly unofficial releases) a lot are very light ambient in the true Moby, Eno, electronic synth style which is how ambient started.  I’ve realized I’m more into using my guitar and I like darker drones as far as my own creations.

Grayscale Moths should be released this week via Misspelled Records for free download and eventually CDR whenever it gets pressed, and then in August on BFW recordings.

TST:   What would you like the listener to receive from this audio art?

JP:       Maybe just some relaxation of the mind, or even if my music is a gateway into ambient music, and a more diverse musical taste for one person I would like that. I’m sure Brian Eno most likely takes care of that but we can all dream.

TST:    Where is your music available?

JP:       My latest albums are available via Misspelled Records. Over the Atlantic will be released via BFW Recordings on 7.12.10 as well.  I also have a more calming concept ambient EP called The Summer That Never Happened EP available on iTunes. CDR’s will also be coming soon.  


~Myriah Christine, Indie Contributor

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