Perennial Saint John musician Clinton Charlton momentarily steps away from collaboration and songwriting to share Sydney, Can You Hear Me?, his debut release as The Low Light of Winter.
At a time when solo instrumental projects seem to be hitting Bandcamp at a rate far greater than new recordings from bands, established or otherwise, it can be difficult to wade through the many new releases to find those that standout from the crowd. Especially if you are not versed in the world of drone, soundscape, lo-fi beats, or any other number of instrumental subgenres flooding streaming services these days. Suggestions are always helpful. Recommendations, even moreso.
With the first release from his new project The Low Light of Winter, Saint John musician Clinton Charlton delves into the world of ambient music for the first time, revisiting a few ideas from the cutting room floor and drawing inspiration from his surroundings to create his debut, Sydney, Can You Hear Me?
The album establishes its collage-like identity from the very beginning revealing hidden details with each new track. Somewhere Outside Sussex, the opening track, begins with a disjointed loop that holds no obvious tempo. But as a sonic texture, it works as a template to support the addition of acoustic guitar chords and delayed notes that hold and evolve to introduce a series of tonal contrasts which continue to take shape throughout the recording, eventually becoming one of Sydney, Can You Hear Me?’s defining elements.
Charlton is a regular performer and collaborator with several Saint John artists including Penny Blacks, Jessica Rhaye & the Ramshackle Parade, Catherine Kennedy, Rebecca Dobblestyn, and others. The Low Light of Winter is Charlton’s first solo release since 2018’s January Through December and marks his first time releasing instrumental music of any kind.
GCM: Tell us about the inspiration behind this project.
CC: I began messing around with the idea of ambient music when I was doing the 2018 version of my songwriting project January Through December. I had begun a song, which eventually became Where The Lines Bend, They Break, that just didn’t work when I would try to add a vocal melody to it. So after I wrapped up that project, I started messing around with the idea of doing some instrumental pieces. Mostly, I was just exploring making sounds in my little home studio. I would go out and about with a portable recorder and look for interesting sounds and then tried manipulating those at home and laying those onto some of the sounds I was making. I would put this stuff on my iPod and just listen to them on walks. Eventually I started to hear how some songs complimented each other and this led to the idea of putting them together as an album. I showed some stuff to some friends and got some decent feedback, so eventually I sat down with my friend Bill Preeper and picked from a handful of the collages I made and then decided to focus on mixing and sequencing those songs. That’s what I ended up releasing.
GCM: Are you the kind of person who listens to their surroundings (cars, boats, trains, wind, etc…) and are always looking for rhythms or textures in those sounds?
CC: I love the idea of saying yes to that question, but I’m not sure I can say that I am. I certainly have tried to pay more attention to it though, especially since I became interested in ambient music and field recording a few years back. I got into photography last year from my friend Dan Culberson and it changed the way I see my surroundings. Ambient music did the same thing for the way I hear my surroundings if that makes sense.
GCM: Would you consider that change in how you see your surroundings to be the biggest takeaway for you in creating The Low Light of Winter?
CC: Certainly. I really struggled with the thought of releasing this since it’s a completely new world for me, but ultimately it has given me so much joy that I felt like that alone made it worthy of sharing. I enjoy listening to it, which is not something I can always say of music where I’m singing or using words to convey a thought. It’s liberating in a way.
GCM: What is it about using your voice that makes you second guess something you have created? Is it just the usual, “Do I really sound like that?” or is it something else?
CC: I think it’s a pretty common thing for anyone who sings that they struggle with hearing their own voice recorded. I also don’t sing nearly as much as I used to since I have filled my calendar with playing in other’s bands, making their music. That also presents challenges when I find time to focus on my own music. Especially with being an unrehearsed singer. With that being said, I love to sing and certainly have no intention of stopping.
Sydney, Can You Hear Me? releases November 18 on Bandcamp. Limited copies on CD will be available at Backstreet Records and Second Spin.
Cover photo by Dan Culberson.