(Real Music)


Among the leading labels of the New Age music scene, Real Music keeps their sonic vision strong with the 2013 CD release of Aqua Essence by Amberfern. Inspired in part by England’s New Forest National Park, Clive Brooks chose the name Amberfern, in praise of the forest woodlands which turn amber colors in the autumn. An organic mix of healing, instrumental music, AquaEssence is built around what Amberfern calls “electronic ecology”, featuring a cross section of piano, synth keyboards, light percussion and guitars, which combines for a veritable garden of sonic delights. Throughout this CD, you can really feel and hear how influenced Amberfern is by the coastline landscape and oceanic environment in which he these days lives and works. Although Amberfern plays Martin D-28 guitars and even a Fender Strat, the guitar sounds never intrude as they are perfectly intertwined into the fabric of sounds that also mixes in Shakuhachi flute, nylon string guitar, Fender Rhodes, fretless bass guitars, synthesizers and what Amberfern calls “ocean waves”. Recorded and mixed along the Southwest coastline of England, Amberfern’s AquaEssence is truly an ocean of serenity and overall, is time well spent when you want to calm down and chill out from the turbulence of the often crazy times we live in. presents an interview with
Clive Brooks, known in the New Age world as AMBERFERN

mwe3: Can you give the readers the background on the new Amberfern CD, AquaEssence, for instance when and where the music was written and recorded and what was the inspiration and motivation behind the album concept and how does the album compare to your earlier musical works?

AMBERFERN: My wife and I recently bought a property on England’s Dorset coast, literally a stone’s throw from the beach. It’s not until you spend a lot of time next to the ocean that you begin to notice and appreciate its many moods. I became fascinated by, for instance, the way that the color of the water changes from a deep blue, through a whole range of turquoises depending on the way the sunlight plays upon it. I love the sparkling sun on the ocean in the early mornings when the beach is quiet and deserted, and in the evenings as the sun goes down there’s a particular few fleeting moments when the water is fired by what I can only describe as a luminous silvery-blue as if it is being lit from below. These days, my wonderful wife and I often fall asleep at night and awake in the morning to the gentle hiss of the waves breaking on the sandy beach. It’s like a living thing. It sounds just like the ocean is gently breathing in and out.

So, it’s things like that which have inspired me to develop AquaEssence. My intention was to make an attempt to capture some of these beautiful occurrences in sound. I like to integrate real found sounds into my music, and there are a number of tracks on the album where my expeditions along the beach with a portable recorder collecting sounds, have become sewn into the fabric of the album. One example of this is the track “Avon Beach”. I was up very early one morning on the beach recording the gentle sound of the waves as they came frothing in across the sands. I tend not to be content with just chucking these sounds onto tracks for the sake of it, but prefer to carefully weave them in to the fabric of the music, and so I took the recordings back to my studio and triggered them from a sampler and then arranged for them to roll into the track in time with the gentle beat of the composition so that they became an intrinsic and integral part of it. On the album sleeve where it talks about what instruments I played, I couldn’t resist adding ocean waves! To me, they really are an instrument.

With regard to your question about how AquaEssence compares with my earlier albums, that’s an interesting one. I’m currently working on two different series of albums for Real Music. One series is called “Distant Horizons” and each of these albums focuses on a specific geographic location. The first one was influenced by the Mediterranean region, where I’ve spent a lot of time. The music reflects that, and gentle Spanish guitars weave through it, together with ethnic flutes and again, some found sounds. My other series revolves around earth elements...essences of them. The first release in the series was Quiescence - A World at Peace. It was designed as a sampler for the forthcoming series, so there are a number of musical flavors on the album that reference things that I will expand on with later releases. For example, Quiescence sets the scene for for the oceanic vibe of AquaEssence through tracks such as “Misty Harbor”, “Lights on Water” and “Undercurrents”. It also offers elements of pastoral calm, which I shall be exploring in later releases.

mwe3: Can you say something about your working in England’s New Forest National Park? Where is the park and what is your job there? How has that park helped shape your music compositions and overall musical vibe and can you also say something about your early career work in the music business? I read that you founded a music organization and actually have a Ph.D. Is the park near where you born and what are some key stages in your musical evolution and overall career development?

AMBERFERN: I’m always looking for peaceful settings to compose in. I’ve never been a city person, preferring quiet and contemplative places. The New Forest which is in the South of England, was created a thousand years ago, still new by English standards, by William the Conqueror as a Royal hunting forest for the pursuit of deer, and offered just the right vibe for my early compositions. It’s an ancient enclave away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Although I spend a lot of my time on the beach these days, I still visit the forest often. The two extremes provide a perfect contrast. On the one hand is the green cosiness of the old forest with its agrarian traditions, wandering ponies, deer, cattle and ancient and ornamental woodlands. One the other is the widescreen blue beach scene with big skies, pretty boats, color and sparkling brightness.

The vibe of actual places are intrinsic to all of my compositions. I like to try to immerse myself in them. I rarely feel inspired within the confines of the four walls of a studio environment, so I go out. I take with me a little portable studio which comprises of either a laptop and a tiny MIDI keyboard or sometimes an iPad, or even a portable Akai MPC sampler. I will sit with headphones on, looking at the scene in front of me and try to capture the essence of what is presented to me in sound. In effect it’s similar to the way that a painter would work in the open air, capturing a view. It’s just that I try to do it with sound in an impressionistic way. I call it my soundsketching. I take these ideas back with me to my studio, where I develop the ideas into the finished soundpaintings that eventually make their way onto my albums. My artist page on the Real Music record company website features a video of me doing soundsketching on a mountaintop in Deya, Majorca for the Distant Horizons Mediterranean album. Here’s a link to the video:

To answer your question about my early career, I’ve always been interested in music and it’s all I’ve ever done. I used to teach a range of instruments... guitar, bass, drums and keyboards and I ended up developing an international network of about 80 rock schools. I retired from all that a couple of years ago to concentrate on my Amberfern music career. On the way I gained a PhD. in the use of emerging online communications technology in business and I’ve written a few books here and there.

mwe3: Can you recall for the readers your first musical inspirations and exposure to different types of music? What was your early musical training like and what instruments were key to your musical progress? Are you primarily a guitarist and what instruments do you play mostly and do you spend time practicing music or do you mostly write and record?

AMBERFERN: Since a very early age I’ve always been drawn to music. I think my earliest memories come from messing around with my cousin’s old record player in the early 1960’s and playing some of his old 78’s that were stacked in a neat rack underneath it. They were old rock and roll records. I remember one was Little Richard doing “Lucille”. I loved those saxophones all blaring out the riff. I remember being excited somehow by the whole thing. Something clicked in me right then. A bit later my dad brought home an old guitar for me that someone at work had given him, and I started messing with that, and then at school I started to form bands with friends. We would practice round at our place, and mum would have to to put up with complaints from the neighbors all the time. I wound up touring Europe with a band.

Quite early on, I found myself getting bored with playing just one instrument, and so I taught myself the bass guitar, then drums and finally keyboards. What drove that was an interest in sound recording. I can remember sitting in class at school absent-mindedly watching the spools of an old reel-to-reel tape recorder spinning round, they were using it to play back something or other in the lesson, and thinking how exciting it would be to have one of those, and be able to actually capture my own sounds on it. I soon left behind my early desire to stand on stages with a band, and began to explore music making through recording. My parents eventually bought me a beat-up old Fidelity reel-to-reel machine and I would record ideas for songs on it, but it was when I got an Akai 4000DS which had a facility on it called “sound on sound” that everything changed for me. Sound on Sound enabled me to record, say, a drum track, then rewind and add a guitar, then rewind again and add bass and so on. You could do this process multiple times, but each time, the quality of the recording would degrade until the whole thing was veiled in a thick mist of tape hiss, but I loved it, and gradually progressed onto a four channel multitrack and then to eight track. In fact, I saved up all the money from my early private music teaching work and built a complete recording studio in the back of my parents garden, where I would record, not only my own efforts, but also those of other bands. I learned a tremendous amount about recording and production that way. It was all very hands-on. A sort of apprenticeship really.

Anyway, to rewind a bit... By 1972, I was buying albums and gradually collected all the Beatles’ releases. I remember that the first one I saved up for and bought was called A Collection Of Beatles Oldies and it had songs like “She Loves You” on it. The next record I bought was Abbey Road. I remember clearly finding it really hard to come to terms with the fact that it was the same group. It sounded so different, so sophisticated and I became quite fascinated at how a group could develop and change so much. I experienced exactly the same thing with The Beach Boys. Their early surf and car releases being a world away from the experimentation of Pet Sounds. From then on, my own music making was influenced by that sort of artistic fluidity and the desire for change and experimentation. It ultimately led me to explore playing a wide range of instruments from around the world, and ultimately to risk attempting to create quite diverse thematic albums.

Overall, messing around with sound in a studio is what I love to do. I’m always more attracted to the vibe and feel of a piece of music than its virtuosity or technical accomplishment. I became interested in ambient music because of the way it tends to champion feel over everything else. People often think it all started with Brian Eno, who I admire very much and who coined the term, but actually there’s a whole century of quite wonderful ambient music waiting to be discovered that goes from Gustav Mahler, through the wonderful impressionistic piano pieces of Erik Satie and encompasses Claude Debussy and then goes ever onwards towards Steve Reich, Brian Eno and the early New Age minimalism of the Windham Hill label in the early 1980’s and on to Real Music, who are the world leaders in New Age nowadays. It’s a long musical journey that led me to where I am now.

So, your question about what instruments I play and whether I’m primarily a guitarist... well, I suppose I personally think of myself as a music producer who primarily plays a sound recorder. I have no particular special affinity with any one specific musical instrument these days. I simply use them as tools to create the recorded music, much the same as a carpenter will have a whole array of tools to build a beautiful piece of furniture. It’s the finished piece of furniture that matters, rather than the chisels, saws, drills and so on that shaped and molded it, and, for me, it’s the same with music. Having said that, I do enjoy playing musical instruments and have amassed quite a collection over the last thirty years or so.

mwe3: Would you describe your music as being New Age music? What role does music play in healing and dealing with psychological stress and trauma? These days, with so much illness created by stress related ailments, it’s not surprising to see people turning to healing or New Age type music but I guess that is nothing new! Can you also say how you became involved with Real Music and what role does Real Music play in the music world of 2013? Do you think people have become psychologically jaded and have given up on things like world peace and global warming solutions and what role can music play in healing the planet?

AMBERFERN: If you define New Age music as being a genre in which the feeling or the effect that a piece produces is more important than the instruments and structure of its creation, then you can count me in. I rather think that increasingly the term New Age is being used as something of a hub to integrate a variety of different types of music. The ambient tradition that we’ve been talking about is merely one spoke of the wheel leading out from this hub. Another is chillout music which here in Europe, is absolutely massive. Another is world music. Another is cool, smooth jazz. What all these sub-genres have in common from the perspective of the New Age ideology is their ability to generate a relaxing, soothing reaction in listeners.

I think that in today’s fast-paced, technologically-driven, money-led world, more and more people are seeking peace, even though they may not perhaps even realize it. I’m not necessarily talking about physical environmental or geographical peace, but rather inner peace... a private space where we can go to and try to still the incessant thinking and mental noise that our minds tend to always want to uncontrollably generate. To reach this nirvana, some people gravitate towards expensive health spas, others take themselves off on long-haul holidays to exotic places, whilst others have found that the simple and low-cost act of listening to appropriate music can function just as successfully as a doorway into that longed-for sanctuary. I always try to make music that at least helps to lead people towards that doorway.

People increasingly talk about music as having the unique ability to mentally heal, and what I’ve just explained I try to do with my own music is my microscopic little contribution to that tradition. However, it goes much deeper than that, and there have been a number of scholarly academic studies that have successfully explored ancient connections between music and healing and the far-reaching philosophical frameworks that underpin it. Music too has, of course, been absolutely central to many religious rituals for centuries and we still use it successfully today in many of those situations. I think in today’s world there are more people than ever seeking personal sanctuary and inner peace. A good book dealing with this subject in an accessible way is “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle. It’s a blueprint for a future in which enjoyment and compassion replace desire and conflict as the core motivating principle for humanity. I enjoy this book and read it often. It makes a lot of sense in these troubled times.

I feel sure that music works on many different levels, although I don’t profess to be an expert on the subject. Terence Yallop, the President of Real Music offers us an interesting way to consider the value of
music as being useful on a deeper level. He points out that “Beyond the teeming activity of our lives on beloved earth lies a great eternal Silence. As we pause and listen, the Silence will speak. One of its wondrous voice is through the language of music.” It’s a sentiment you’ll find printed in the sleeve notes to AquaEssence. Again, it’s about reaching an inner sanctuary that’s always there for us, but rarely experienced due to the endless bustle and noise of life.

Someone who I admire in the music for wellness field is another Real Music artiste called Liquid Mind. He has developed a tremendously successful way of helping people using a compositional recipe he calls “Musical Healthcare”. It’s been used in music therapy situations the world over. Ten groundbreaking healing albums are on worldwide release, many of which are more or less permanent fixtures on the New Age music charts. I recommend checking them out.

Anyway, to return to your question about how I got involved with Real Music... well, I was originally signed to a small US label, but the CEO, one John Rawsthorne who I was working very closely with, suddenly passed away. It was tremendously sad, and without his direction the label unfortunately ceased to exist. John and I had developed most of my Quiescence album, and he helped shape the Amberfern sound in those early days and owe a lot to him. We’d put out a few promos around the New Age circuit in anticipation of the album release that had drawn some encouraging interest. One such interested individual was Suzanne Doucet of Only New Age Music in Hollywood, one of the most established, leading figures in the genre. She took the tracks to Terence Yallop, President of Real Music in Sausalito in the Bay area who, on hearing them, signed me to the label in a ten-album deal. I’ve never looked back since then!

Real Music are the world leader in the New Age genre and have signed many tremendous artistes including grammy-award winners. They’re renowned for the excellence of their roster of international musicians who have achieved top positions on Billboard magazine’s New Age Chart and on iTunes, and added to that, they’re the global leader for music in the luxury spa and wellness industries. As such, they play a very important part in the promotion, development and expansion of New Age music and I consider myself very fortunate to be with them.

mwe3: What guitars and keyboards do you prefer? I know you have a Martin guitar and Strat guitar. What other guitars and other instruments are among your favorites and can you say something about your recording studio, which I hear you call The Green Room...

AMBERFERN: I’ve got a good few different instruments tucked away that have grown into quite an extensive collection over the decades. I tend to collect things that work for specific sounds. So, for example, when it comes to electric guitars I like my Rickenbackers (6 and 12 string) for their bright, clean jangly sound especially though my elderly Vox AC30. For a little more edge, I have an Epiphone Casino. If I want to move into a soft jazz vibe, then I pick up an Epiphone Emperor Regent. My music often calls for acoustic sounds and so my Martin D28 is something of a staple, but I also enjoy the soft sounds of my old Alhambra nylon-strung Spanish guitar. Then there’s the good old Fender Strat. If I want something quite different, then I have a rather beautiful nickel silver National Resophonic Tricone slide guitar. As far as bass is concerned, I have a Rickenbacker 4001, a Hofner violin bass, and a very organic-sounding fretless bass, which has been used on quite a few tracks on my albums, as has my WAV 4 electric upright bass.

Turning to keyboards, I use my Nord Stage for a lot of piano and Rhodes work on my albums. I use synths mainly to develop soft, gentle pad sounds and have an Access Virus Polar, an Arturia Origin, a Roland Gaia, a Nord Wave and a Roland V-Synth. The latter two are particularly good for sampling into and messing with sounds, which I like to do.

I collect unusual instruments from around the world and enjoy learning how to play them to a standard
good enough for me to record with. I used an Oud quite extensively on my mediterranean album and have a collection of Native American flutes and also a Japanese Shaku, which I’ve recorded a lot with. I’ve got congas and a variety of percussion and enjoy chilling out with a Caisa drum, a version of the hang drum, which looks like a metal flying saucer. Currently I’m working a lot with a big Japanese koto floor harp which I restored to record with. The list goes on...

I used to house them all in my Green Room studio in the forest, but now most of them are here with me at the beach.

mwe3: Some of your music sounds inspired by Mike Oldfield. What do you think of Oldfield’s music and
can you hear influences from other artists and if so, what artists then and now do you prefer to gain inspirations from, both as a music lover and a multi-instrumentalist / composer?

AMBERFERN: I have always liked Mike Oldfield and thank you for comparing me to him. It’s very kind compliment! I must confess that I don’t specifically seek out inspirations from other artistes, preferring to just let the music evolve naturally, but I am sure that I have absorbed many influences over the years into a sort of melting pot that I subconsciously draw from as I dream up new music. However, as I said earlier, I tend to be influenced a lot more by actual places - landscapes and the feel of somewhere, rather than by other music artistes.

mwe3: What are you hoping listeners will come away with after hearing AquaEssence and musically, what’s coming next from you? Are you writing or recording? What directions in music, all types of music, would you like to explore next?

AMBERFERN: I hope that listeners will gain a sense of calm from AquaEssence and that along the way, the music helps to take them on an inner journey across wide sunlit oceans to warm sandy shores and even deep underwater to visit beautiful coral reefs. If it does open that door to a peaceful summertime ocean sanctuary in people’s minds, then I’d feel I have succeeded.

Next for me is my second “Distant Horizons” series release, where I envelop myself in the delicious, exotic music of the Far East. Then there’s ArborEssence, which will take listeners deep into uncharted tropical rain forests. In between all that, I’m exploring the possibilities and potential of the Ibiza-style chillout vibe, which, as I’ve explained, I consider to be closely connected to New Age, and have been deconstructing a lot of my music and working with Akai MPC’s to completely re-engineer and remix some of my most popular tracks to exist in that related, yet equally relaxing genre. I find it exciting taking my music into new areas and connecting with even wider audiences who want to relax and chill, and who are turning to music for that helping hand.

Thanks to Clive Brooks and Amberfern @


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