Good morning, folks! Today I’m bringing you the first of a few interviews with some of the folks behind the scenes at Moonbase Theta, Out. Today, we’re finding out more about Irfon-Kim Ahmad, the musician behind Ramp – who created the track “Star” which is used as the outro music for the podcast!
(Basically, short version of how that happened is that I’ve known If for a long time, and I knew of his music, and I really enjoyed this track in particular. When I was putting together MTO and needed a bit of music over the end titles, this came immediately to mind!)
1. Did you know anything about the project when you said we could use your music? Did that matter?
I did not, although I’m familiar with other Monkeyman Productions works, which gave me some sense of the scope of the territory broadly, I suppose. In the end, I’m not sure that being very familiar with the project itself mattered that much.
[Boring legal digression: On the one hand, the last time I posted licensing information about my music, I chose the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license, which allows anybody to use the material for works, including commercial works, but their own work has to be released under a compatible license. That doesn’t cover the podcast, which isn’t covered by a compatible license, but it does indicate a certain level of willingness to allow the things I make to have a life of their own. I haven’t decided what to do with updated licensing information, but I’m considering the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, which drops the requirement for “derivative works” (which seems a funny term for something that itself is much larger than audio used, but still) to be released under a
compatible license, and thus would have made the use completely sanctioned even without my direct say-so.]
All of that said, I know that our politics align well enough that I wouldn’t be upset by being associated with a Monkeyman project, and I feel that the important elements of meaning and usage are more yours than mine. If you found that the track said something to you that turned out to be completely different than what I had in mind when I made it, that would be cool and fantastic. And, of course, that gets passed along; your listeners are going to experience it differently again, and perhaps the meaning or vibe that they get from it will be different from what either of us had in mind and that’s also cool. I think in the great artistic debate, I fall on the side of meaning happening in the mind of those experiencing the work, and I’ve never felt that there’s a right or wrong take-away from a work, whether it’s what the artist hoped you’d experience or not.
Then again, I consider what I do to be more craft than art anyway, and that’s a whole other idiosyncratic can of definitions.
2. Can you tell us a little about the track – how it came about, what your original thoughts were when making it, any background? Why “Star” as a title?
This is pretty much going to process, and I’m not sure my process is as meaningful or exciting as people might expect. :) So, initially, I call all of my tracks 2018-11-21 or whatever date I opened the file on. Sometimes I’ll go in with an intent to try some sort of idea or challenge myself in a different way, or even just to try out a particular piece of software or a plugin, but usually I actually don’t have any intent at all. I typically start by just throwing sound at the canvas until something seems interesting. Most files I open don’t end up going anywhere, and often don’t even get saved. When I see something interesting, I just follow the path. The hardest part is deciding when it’s done, and whether it amounted to anything I actually like.
Titles come last. Again, there are exceptions, usually if I sampled something that has some kind of fairly direct semantic import on the overall track, but most of the time what I do is that I close my eyes, put the track on loop and free-associate random words. I’m looking more for sound and shape than meaning, which is why a good chunk of my titles wind up not being words at all — Sinnt, Kajka, etc. I try for words if they feel right, but sometimes I just wind up in some kind of local maxima situation where even if there’s a better sound shape out there that’s an actual word, I can’t get to it from here, so I pick wherever I wound up. When it feels right, I write out the mp3 file with the title and the meta data, and that’s how it happens!
I will say that in the case of Star, I’ve often felt that the track feels like tiny pinpricks of brightness in a deep, rich tapestry, but whether that came before or after I decided to call it that, I can’t say.
3. Are you a big sci-fi fan? A big podcast fan?
I’m a huge sci-fi and speculative fiction fan! I’ve often said that existential literature is my favourite genre, but I also don’t live in a vacuum, and I need to get recommendations from somewhere. A lot of my friends are wild sci-fi and fantasy fans, and I find that the intersection of science fiction and things that are at least a little philosophically challenging is where I enjoy spending my time best. I attend WisCon (a feminist science fiction and fantasy convention) about every other year love it. It feels like my people.
I’m pretty new to podcasts. I’ve always wanted to be a big podcast fan, but never managed to find the time to follow many. About a year ago, the podcasts of Mac Rogers — The Message, Life/After, and Steal the Stars caught my attention. I also spent a stint listening to Wolf 359, which is great in some ways and trying in some ways, but I have yet to finish it. There are a LOT of episodes. And then I occasionally listen to LeVar Burton’s “LeVar Burton Reads,” podcast if I want a one-off kind of experience. That and now Moonbase Theta, Out, which I quite enjoyed, have been my sum total podcast experience thus far. I’d love to find more!
4. How do you think “Star” works as a theme for the podcast?
Honestly, I was surprised and pleased at how well it worked! I take little to no credit for that. My first reaction when it was suggested was, “How do people think back to these songs and think, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the one that fits!’?” It’s amazing to me that things I make have mindspace in other people’s brains! But I love the chunk that was chosen and how it works with the voiceover, plus the matching of the tone with the tone of the work. I’m really happy about it.
5. Have you had any of your music integrated into other projects before?
Way back before Ramp was even a going concern, a friend called me up one day and said, “Hey, do you want to be in a concert tomorrow night?” I’d written only a couple of songs at the time, some of which were made with equipment I no longer owned and thus would be impossible to perform on such short notice, some of which were made with other people who might or might not also be involved. I also had never played live before, and had never really played with other people as a band beyond a little bit of highschool band class, so of course I said yes. It wound up being a loosely-integrated, 13-person performance art mayhem whirlwind that we paid to an astounding 110-ish people who actually paid money to buy tickets. We wrote one of the songs about an hour before taking the stage. I’ve heard recordings of the night and find them unbearable, but people in the audience said they loved it.
Beyond that, the only use of pre-existing work that I’m aware of is that a friend asked if he could use Loose Junction in a video game that he was making. To my knowledge, that was never released.
In terms of composing new works for use in projects, back in the aforementioned annals of history, my then-collaborator and I wrote a couple of pieces for a fashion show that we were also doing graphic design for, and I did write the opening and closing credit themes and interstitials for a cable-access mockumentary about urban legends in Thunder Bay, Ontario which I don’t think ever actually aired. Additionally, I wrote a 60-second piece for an annual art project called 60×60, which wasn’t initially selected for the audio release, but did get selected for an audio/video installation (which then required making a music video for it).
And, last but not least, the theme music for the fictional film with the Monkeyman play, The Final Flight of the Phoenix, as you know!
Of those, most haven’t been released separately, although the 60×60 piece did wind up being released as “Rotor Fine”.
6. What are you doing with Ramp at the moment? What are your plans moving forward?
You know that image of a bird’s head in a bunch of different sizes and orientations with the text “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” in the background? (I’ll attach it in case you don’t.) Um. Yeah, that.
Okay, but realistically, Ramp has been dormant for a few years now. The website came down for a while because it was possibly compromised by a virus and I simply took it all offline until I could troubleshoot it, which wound up not happening. I also rebuilt my studio completely based on a totally different workflow with the idea that it would help jolt me
out of a rut. That rut wound up being the forward edge of a period of deep struggle with mental illness.
The site (www.ramp-music.net) is now back online, and I’m hoping that will spur me to start spending time in the studio again, but between the hiatus and the fact that I’ve got entirely new gear and a whole new process to learn, it’s going to be a bit like learning to walk again.
I’m hoping to have new material to share sooner rather than later, but it’s anyone’s guess as to when. I’m also very open to collaborative projects, if any more come up!
Thanks to If for taking the time to answer these questions, and for being a part of the podcast! You should all definitely check out his music and keep him in mind for collaborations.
This interview was first shared early this year with our Patreon supporters. If you’d like to help us keep creating geeky content for your ears, please check it out at the link just below!