Remanence, based in the USA, is an act that makes impressive ambient/neoclassical music. In 1999 the fine album “Apparitions” was released by the English Cold Spring label. Now Remance is back, with the “Lamkhyer” EP. Brian Williams and John Phipps, the two members of Remance, gave me lenghty and interesting comments about their music. Nice to know: the two gave their answers separately from each other…

Can you introduce yourself, and describe what your role in the band is?

Brian: My name is Brian McWilliams and I’m one half of the ambient, experimental music making entity known as Remanence.
I twiddle knobs, sample and manipulate sounds, create drum loops, suggest experiments, and handle pre-production duties for our releases.
John: I’m John, and I think my most important role is to test Brian’s patience. We do similar things in creating /writing music, but Brian’s definitely the studio wizard, and has by far the better head for percussion (it makes a great sound when you hit it with a stick!). It should be noted that neither Brian or I have seen each other’s answers to these questions yet, so please excuse any duplication. And in the event that we give different answers to a question, you should ignore what Brian says and listen only to me!

remanence at the board

When and how did Remanence come into existence? Where you active in music before Remanence?

Brian: John and I were both in bands before Remanence. I was writing and playing bass in a local alternative band and John was playing guitar and keyboards in an obscure basement band. John and I first met in 1990, ’91, while he was working at Boogies, the coolest record store in town. We first struck up a conversation at the counter about David Sylvian and discovered that we liked a lot of other similar artists such as Dead Can Dance, In The Nursery, This Mortal Coil, Clan of Xymox, Bill Nelson, and Brian Eno.
So, John and I gradually developed a friendship. By 1992, the band that I was in was coming to an end and I found that I was drawn more and more to composing instrumental music. I wasn’t aware of it, but John was also writing instrumental music and it wasn’t until we compared notes one day that we realized our individual styles might work well together. By 1993, we began working together under the name Arcana. Our goals were modest. We thought it might be fun to release a series of limited edition cassettes through local record stores and that was about it.

John: Brian had been a musician/songwriter with a 80’s influenced pop band called In Autumn (which was pretty good, by the way), while I had just noodled around with friends in basements mostly. We wound up meeting in a record store in our hometown, where I used to work – to hear him tell it, my first words to him were to ridicule a purchase he was making. I can’t imagine that, can you?

The band used to be called Arcana. Did you get a lot of problems with lawyers? And why did you choose the name ‘Remanence’?

Brian: No problems with lawyers, no… By 1994, we released our first EP, “”premonition”” and followed that a couple of years later with the first issue of “”Apparitions””, both under the name Arcana. Some time later, an Arcana surfaced out of Europe, then Violet Arcana in America, and then Arcanta from I don’t where… I think Arkane Device may have already been around by the time we got our start. So, by the time “”Apparitions”” was picked up by Cold Spring for re-release, it seemed wise for us to change our name to avoid confusion with these other artists.
Initially, it was difficult for us to part ways with our old name because we were very attached to it. For months, we searched for a new name and compiled a list of possibilities but nothing really clicked. Then one day we stumbled across the word “”Remanence””, liked the feel of it, and now we prefer it to the old name.

Your music seems to have influences from dark and ethnic ambient and neo-classical music. How would you describe your music yourself? And can you name some artists you like personally?

Brian: Our music has gone through a number of distinct phases so far. Premonition and Apparitions could more or less be described as gothic, neo-classical, ambient while Lamkhyer represents our experimental, tribal, ambient phase.
Ultimately though, we’re not interested in working within one certain sub-genre. Part of the enjoyment of making music is exploring your own limitations and boundaries and trying to push further into new territory.
Some of my favorite ambient artists in no particular order are Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana, Robert Rich, Alio Die, Oophoi, James Johnson, Biosphere, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian, Jansen/Barbieri, Bill Nelson, Harold Budd, Lustmord, and Jeff Pearce.
John: I think dark is a fair description, but not dark in the sense of negative or angst-ridden. Rather, I’d say we try to create music which inhabits a space of internal quietness or a blank-slate that permits meaning to bubble up from the vast area of our minds of which we are not immediately aware. It is then dark in the sense of being resistant to probing with our rational mind, and exists in the more intangible, intuitive spaces – the same mindscapes dreams inhabit, for example.

You ask about artists; while there are many musicians who explore this space (Robert Rich, Steve Roach, James Johnson, Lustmord, Meredith Monk, Univers Zero, to name only a few), I think this space is the ground substance of human consciousness, and is the common thread uniting human artists of all cultures, and in my estimation is one of the few parts of our experience that is beyond (or rather more fundamental than) our particular cultural indoctrination. So if you go around looking for this transcendent or ‘unifying’ artistic expression, you’ll find it in every sphere of art, not just music.

Can you tell us a little about the creative process? Do you start with a mood or a theme? Or does the music come first? There are quite a few (electronic and acoustic) instruments and sound sources used in your music. Is it difficult to combine them all?

Brian: We’ve found that each song has a life of its own and it’s usually when we’re not trying to force a certain result that some of the best ideas are born. Sometimes John and I start with an experiment, a premise we can explore, or an unusual approach – using randomness as a compositional tool in K’an for example – in the hopes that we uncover something new or unusual. Maybe it’s the use of unfamiliar sounds or instrumentation which stimulates an idea. A field recording may suggest a theme or mood. We might find inspiration in art, music, a conversation, or nature. Either way, we try to remain open to many possibilities without worrying where they may lead.
No, it’s not difficult combining multiple sound sources together, but it is difficult committing to one final version of a song when so many possible pathways exist.

John: Our music tends to evolve over time rather than being written in a straightforward sense. As ideas move between the two of us, they begin to be shaped by whatever topics we are currently discussing, and adapt to carry or express some of the meaning.
Not so much in the literal sense of “”this song is about that time when…””. It’s more ephemeral than that, and harder pin down with a mechanistic description. But even though our music is instrumental, it is most definitely intended to carry content, it’s just that the content generally does not submit easily to the tyranny of the spoken word.

We do search for sounds of all kinds to carry these feelings/ideas, and yes sometimes we run into mundane technical issues (neither one of us plays the cello, for example), but I think we have been learning as we go, and are less and less buried in the need to get a sound ‘technically perfect’ and are more able to see ways to use the sounds we have to do what we want. On the current ep, we stuck a giant piece of pipe out my window, and recorded the sounds of nighttime (wind, crickets, etc) as processed by passing through the tube. I think in years past, we would have spent long hours tweaking that sound to force it into a particular shape or timbre, but now we are better able to find a place within all the rest of the sounds in that song where the sound fits without such deconstruction.

Are there important non-musical matters that influence your music, like art, literature, travelling, science?

Brian: Yes, all of the above. Life in all its many facets influences creativity. The trick is learning to open to your own curiosity and seeing creative opportunity no matter where you are or what you’re doing. You just never know when inspiration may strike. Life itself is a constant, ongoing creative process.
John: All of the above. While I could easily put you to sleep with a list of our influences I’ll just mention a few that have meant a great deal to me personally. In film, the timeless work of the Brothers Quay, has been very stimulating, as well as the Reggio and Fricke’s “”qatsi”” trilogy and Fricke’s colossal achievement Baraka. I have no idea how many times I’ve watched these films, and yet literally every time I watch them, I come away with something new. Sentimental favorites also include Tarkovsky Bergman and Kurosawa.

In the visual arts, I’ve been fond of the evasiveness of Rothko’s colors, and Khalo’s iconography, both of which in my mind occupy that dark-intuitive ‘mindscape’ I described earlier. Just lately, I’ve been getting into C?zanne, who I’ve found richly rewards closer study. There have been so many influential books, but I’ll discipline myself and say that lately it’s Emerson and Dickinson that I’ve been drawn into.

Although I don’t travel as much as I’d like, I think it’s one of the best things you can do to jar yourself out of the limited perspective that tends to crop up after seeing the same place for a long time. And one of the beauties of travel is that if done with the right mindset, one is changed in subtle ways that persist forever. To be fair, I should also acknowledge the great effect semiotics has had on my outlook and approach to creativity, although I have not studied it formally.
You can wake up now.

Some time passed between your debut album “”Apparitions”” and your new EP “”Lamkhyer””. What happened in the meantime, and do you think the sound of Remanence has changed when you compare these two releases?

Brian: Yes, I think our sound has evolved and I hope it continues to do so over time. I remember when we first began working on material after Apparitions and my first inclination was to approach writing in the same meticulous, controlled manner as before. I wanted to open the step editor and check every note’s volume and duration and perfect every element. That WAS the neo-classical experience of Apparitions. In certain ways, that album demanded that kind of over-analytical scrutiny. But, it didn’t take long for us to realize that working in the same manner was no longer satisfying. It was time to find a new approach. We wanted try something “”loose””, have more fun, and not perfect every note.
But I think our underlying impulses remained the same. Both John and I strive to create “”songs”” and environments within a meaningful context. We’re not all that interested in churning out “”product”” for the sole purpose of becoming prolific artists. We strive to create music with a melodic and emotional content, while paying special attention to detail. We create music because it has meaning for us, and we enjoy the process of discovery, even though it’s sometimes maddening. This translates into a lot of hard work, trial and error, numerous writing sessions, and hours at the mixing board — did I mention that this was fun?

So this explains the long gap between releases. For us, it takes time to create a body of material that hangs together well and suggests a cohesive theme. And in this case, like the last, it took several years before we felt that we had a solid direction and an abundance of good ideas worthy of public consumption.

How did you came into contact with the UK label Cold Spring, who released ‘Apparitions’? And why did you release your new EP on your own label ‘mPathrecords’? Will this label only be used for your own creations?

Brian: Apparitions was already out on our own label when Cold Spring found our website, listened to the audio samples, and then contacted us. We talked back and forth by email and they suggested re-releasing Apparitions. Because we were having difficulty promoting our own material, we eagerly agreed.
But our relationship with Cold Spring has had its ups and downs, and by the time of Lamkhyer we were hoping to find another outlet for our music. Over the past couple of years we’ve been fortunate enough to develop a friendship with James Johnson, a great ambient artist from the States who started his own record label, Zero Music, and then cofounded Atmoworks with Vir Unis. Both labels have earned a great deal of respect and attention because of the artists they represent and the quality of their releases. We felt that a connection with them would lend a certain amount of credibility and legitimacy to our work so we sent James an early copy of Lamkhyer. He responded enthusiastically, so we decided to release it in partnership with the Atmoworks label.

We created mPath Records as a vehicle for releasing our own material but at this point in time it’s not really meant to operate as a full-fledged label. For now it’s just a starting point which allows us to release material on our own terms. Since our goal is to reach a wider audience, we will continue to pursue partnerships and distribution with other, better known labels.

Both “”Apparitions”” and “”Lamkhyer”” seem to be conceptual albums that deal with unusual subjects. Can you comment a little on their themes?

Brian: Apparitions is our paranormal album. We were fascinated with things unseen, hidden truths, secret knowledge, and references to the obscure. We delved into journals of parapsychology, and skeptical writings as well. Most of it was sketchy at best but there were fragments of information here and there that was hard to dismiss. Most surprising and relevant to us were the references to devices used to record paranormal phenomenon and energy fields on audio tape and film. If you’re a true skeptic, you owe it to yourself to check out Ted Serios…
Lamkhyer is a real shift in direction and could probably be best described as tribal, ambient music with an eastern flavor. It wasn’t until we were done with the recording and the artwork that this influence was obvious. The photography and design now look decidedly Japanese to my eyes. The title track’s name and theme were borrowed from Tibetan and John pulled thematic ideas together for K’an from the I’Ching.

Thematically you could say that Apparitions deals with questions of the unknown in a detached, quasi-scientific way while Lamkhyer approaches the unknown forces within ourselves and the world in a more personal and metaphysical way.

John: For me, Apparitions expressed a sense of the past resonating into the present. The paranormal, in the form of ghosts, is a powerful metaphor for those resonances. We pulled together various significance-laden images to construct this album which was intended as a kind of ‘water-color’ – blurry, so that the listener would fill in much of the detail.
I’m assuming Brian will comment on Lamkhyer, but I will just say that it’s also intended to function as a unit – hopefully creating a fertile space where the listener’s own underworld will offer up images and interpretations which can interact with the canvas we’ve tried to create, and thereby create a hybrid co-creation of both listener and music.

When listening to your music I get a nostalgic feeling when listening to your debut, while your new EP seems to make me wander through faraway regions. Could you think of periods and locations that would fit the atmosphere of respectively Apparitions and Lamkhyer the most?

Brian: This is a difficult question to answer. And truthfully, I don’t have an answer! John and I do this because we get a lot out of it. It has meaning to us. If someone else gets something out of it, then there’s a kind of communication taking place.
I find it very intriguing that somehow, through music, it’s possible to arrange sounds and silence in such a way that it creates a feeling or a sense of place. And that’s exactly what’s channeled into it. A sense of emotion and feeling did go into Apparitions. A sense of deeper questioning and place did go into Lamkhyer. If you get something personal out of listening, then I certainly don’t want to intrude on that! Who needs this meandering commentary!

John: When I hear Apparitions material now, it makes me think of the late 19th century, the decline of the age of empire, and the whole sense that evokes, with the beginnings of modern science, and the attempts to animate tissue through the application of the mysterious ‘electricity’, all through some sepia-toned haze.

Especially “”Apparitions”” seems to have classical influences. Have you listened to a lot of classical music?

Brian: For me, no, I haven’t listened to a lot of classical music, only indirectly through radio and friends. However, artists such as Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and especially In The Nursery suggested a means for blending classical elements with electronic music in a way that appealed to both of us. At that time – this was the early 90’s – the mixture sounded very fresh and invigorating so we did what a lot of other young bands do – we tried to emulate the work of those we admired while trying to find a voice of our own.
John: I enjoy the old classical pieces from time to time (who doesn’t like pissing off the neighbors with Dvorak’s 9th symphony once in a while?), but I’ll admit that I’m more drawn to composers who attempt to subvert the conventions of the past while still using the powerful traditions as a context. I’m thinking here of people like Arvo Part, John Tavener, and Gorecki (heck, I’d even throw Bartok in there), although the just plain subversive (Meredith Monk, John Cage, Harry Partch) are also a great source of stimulation and sometimes even beauty.

The thing about ‘Classical’ music is that it can be so demanding of orthodoxy (at least that’s how it sometimes seems to the uninitiated like myself) that it threatens to reduce itself to irrelevancy. I don’t care how great they say Wagner is, sword-wielding women on flying horses do no speak to my reality. Call me uncultured if you want.

Your new mcd comes in a wonderful package. Your first album and your website also stand out in terms of design. How important is the visual side for Remanence?

Brian: Thank you! John and I designed the artwork for Apparitions and Lamkhyer ourselves and I created the website based on the design for Lamkhyer. Yes, the visual aspect of what we do is very important to us. It ties back to the notion of creating music within a certain context, with a unifying theme. For us, context and theme extends to the visual presentation as well.
John: I think you can tell that the design is very important to us. It is the only tangible aspect of the music – the one you can touch, grasp, throw across the room. It is another space that can be used to carry and/or obscure meanings, and as such is a valuable part of the whole.

Do you have jobs/studies besides your musical activities? And do you see that as a burden or as an enrichment?

Brian: I wish it were possible to make a living doing what we do – perhaps one day it will… I think everything we experience, even when it seems like a burden, in one way or another ultimately enriches our lives. Work can be another form of creative expression depending on your approach and frame of mind. Finding a way to balance the necessities of life with the energies that fuel creativity seems to be the key. I’ve been fortunate these last few years in that I’ve been able to work less, pursue music, and still live a modest life. But even working less, I still wish there was more time to pursue music!
John: I’ve recently left a laboratory job to pursue my PhD in toxicology. Brian is a nude dancer. As a part of life, having careers takes time and energy, but it is part of that matrix of experiences which gives us context and vocabulary for expression (as well as a home in which to write music). Ok, that part about Brain was a lie – he actually does something with computers that I don’t really understand.

Where do you live? Do you think the environment you live in has an effect on your music?

Brian: I live in Kalamazoo, Michigan, one of the northern-most states bordering the Great Lakes. The terrain here is relatively flat, wooded and not overly populated. Depending on the season, it’s sometimes beautiful and other times not much to look at. When I need something different, I escape to the deserts and cliffs of the Southwest.
Yes, I think the environment has had an increasingly profound affect on the work that I do. Not so much at first with Apparitions. But now, every time I go out into nature and experience that sense of solitude and connection I’m reminded again and again what it is that I’m trying to express through music even if I can’t express it very well with words.

John: Brian lives in a beautiful wooded space by a small river, and I know that it has had a big effect not only on the music, but on his life generally. I’ve moved around quite a bit in the last several years, and yes, the different cities (particularly Iowa City, which is full of writers, and Ann Arbor, which is full of everything) act to provide a diversity of ideas that has been important for me. Everyone ought to move once in a while.

Is it possible to perform the music of Remanence live, or will it always be a studio-only act? How would a Remanence concert look like?

Brian: It is possible and we’ve been talking about it for a couple of years now. We wouldn’t try to recreate the songs exactly, but would use them as sketches to paint moods and impressions. To see this kind of performance would require a great deal of imagination – because this music just isn’t that interesting to watch! We’d probably try to create a meditative mood or a feeling of ritual in a darkened, open space and rely on low lighting or candlelight to create an appropriate atmosphere.
John: Brian would like to do this, and I’m intrigued by the idea, but also intimidated. The recording format provides a bit of isolation that I find comforting. It might happen some day.

Are you also involved in other artistic projects beside Remanence?

Brian: Yes, I’ve been working on a side project of my own for the last couple of years that I’m very excited about and expect to complete early next year. This project reflects more of the personal connection with nature that I was describing earlier. For me, the private moments in these environments served as a catalyst for transformation and growth and I wanted to create a sense of that musically and also express my deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for that experience.
I’ve also been asked to show some of my photography at a local gallery and would love to be able to do that at some point in the future. It’s just a matter of finding the time and the money. Music has been my top priority. Maybe after the next two releases…

John: Hopefully Brian has mentioned his solo project, which is going to be really good, I think. I’ve got several ideas in development. Realistically, some of them may remain ‘in development’ forever (which might actually be for the better in some cases!), others may become Remanence projects, and probably at least one or two will materialize as some kind of ep or other release.

Which Remanence songs are the most rewarding to yourselves so far? And how has the response of the press been?

Brian: Well, it’s difficult to remain objective. I think you always feel closest to the work you’ve just completed. For me, Apparitions almost seems like another lifetime ago…
I’d say that my favorite track out of all the work thus far has to be Lamkhyer, the title track from our most recent EP. I like so many things about it. There are so many layers – the production is on, the rhythmic aspect was very challenging and rewarding to create, the mood shifts a number of different times – it broke a lot of new ground for us. And now that the EP has been released, the work as a whole has really grown on me and I almost like all of it equally well.

The response from the press has been very positive for both releases. Apparitions received consistently glowing reviews, which kind of caught us by surprise. Lamkhyer seems to appeal to some more than others, but the general consensus has been very positive.

John: I’m particularly fond of K’an, in that the concept and the song co-evolved in a very satisfying way, and Brian and I tried
many new things, which made it more overtly a project of ‘discovery’ than some of the other songs.

Also, there’s a song which will probably be on the next record “”A Strange Constellation of Events””. The song doesn’t have a definite title yet, but came about as a bit of an experiment on an accident. By dropping out several parts of a song we were working on, a new pattern began to emerge, which we explored and augmented to the point where I like it better than then song it came from. Oddly, the whole thing took less than an hour, start to finish, while the original (much shorter) song took days and days.

Does Remanence have any future plans? Are you working on a full-length album?

Brian: Yes. Among other things, we are in the process of mastering our next album, “”A Strange Constellation of Events”” and we’re about half way there!
John: Brian’s got that record I mentioned, which I’m just as anxious as anyone to have a copy of, because I know I’m going to enjoy listening to it. Our next Remanence release is scheduled to be the one I mentioned above “”A Strange Constellation of Events””. I think it will be a logical progression from Apparitions to Lamkhyer to Constellation. While it definitely sounds like Remanence, I’d like to see it as a more ‘mature’ work, if I can say such a thing. We’re both quite exited about it, and wish we could spend more time to production. Most of the songs are done, although much production/mastering work remains. I’d like to see it out sometime in 2003. We’ve also got another ep in the works, which would continue the “”Subtexts”” series started by Lamkhyer, and is about 50% written.

A classic question: if you were stranded on a desert island and you could bring along 5 records, which would that be?

Brian: If it were today, I’d probably take:
Vidna Obmana – The Surreal Sanctuary
Steve Roach – Pure Flow
Biosphere – Substrata
James Johnson – Surrender
Lustmord – Purifying Fire

But, that wouldn’t be enough. Because I’d quickly tire of listening to any five albums, no matter how great, and would have to find a way to create interesting sounds using the resources at hand!

John: You’ve got to understand what torture this is for someone as indecisive as me; if you asked me tomorrow, the answer would probably be different.
1. Robert Rich & Lustmord “”Stalker””. Not enough praise can be heaped on this album.
2. Steve Roach & Byron Metcalf “”The Serpent’s Lair”” Perhaps the pinnacle of tribal ambient.
3. James Johnson & Stephen Philips “”Lost at Dunn’s Lake”” This stands in for the entire class of releases most people associate with Budd/Eno “”the Pearl”” The definition of sweetness, yet not a trace of cloying or saccharine.
4. Rostropovich’s performance of Bach’s cello suites 1-6. Like looking upon the face of god. No… actually better. If you are unmoved by this, you are clinically dead.
5. Meredith Monk “”Dolmen Music”” Originality is a rare commodity in our era, and the title track a masterpiece of

Any final thoughts?

Brian: Thank you for the part you’ve played in connecting us with others in the musical community. The process of sharing these thoughts and ideas within this context has been very rewarding.
For readers interested in finding out more about our work, please visit There you’ll find news, a discography, audio clips, reviews, and interviews. Audio clips can also be found at

John: Everyone’s probably asleep, so maybe I can sneak Lustmord “”Place Where the Black Stars Hang””, Art Zoyd “”Marathonnerie””, and Camel “”Coming of Age”” onto that island under my coat. Thanks for listening. ”