The popular ambient music of Jeff Pearce evokes nature, and accompanies birth and death.
It was back in 1985, when Pearce visited his college’s radio station’s music library, that he discovered the kind of music that would become his life’s work. There that he found the music of ambient musicians such as Brian Eno and Harold Budd.
“I knew immediately, ‘This is great,’” says Pearce. “‘There are people who are doing what I want to do with music.’ And it made me feel a whole lot less alone.” As a testament to its power, today Pearce has nine CDs to his credit. His music is a staple of the meditative music program Hearts of Space (which can be heard on WFIU Sundays at 10 pm).
Open To Interpretation
Pearce was drawn to ambient music for the simple fact that it’s instrumental. Since there were no lyrics, “it wasn’t a matter of someone suggesting what I should think about the song. There wasn’t anyone filling in the blanks, saying, ‘This is a song about a boy or girl.’ It was completely up to the listener to impart their own meaning on the music.”
Pearce strives not to give away much about what the song means to him. To that end, he avoids overly descriptive titles. There’s a danger to that, though: “On the other hand, I don’t want to call everything ‘Song #1,’ ‘Song #2,’ or ‘Song #3.’”
The Instrument Advantage
His main instrument is the Chapman Stick, which is basically an electric guitar, the body of which has been removed. The ten-stringed instrument is held like a cello. Pearce explains some of the instrument’s advantages over a more traditional guitar: “The Chapman Stick allows me to have a more piano-type approach on the guitar. I can set up patterns with the left hand in the bass register, then improvise in the melody register with the right hand.”
Evoking The Ephemeral
Pearce lives in West Point, Indiana. The dramatic changes of season in that area inspire him. “I’d be completely bored, personally and probably artistically too, if I lived in a place that had the same season all year round — whether it be cold all year round or warm all year round. I like the four, completely distinct seasons here.”
Considering Pearce’s love of seasonal change, it’s not surprising that, when asked to name a piece of his that has special significance for him, he chooses “The Last Warm Day in October.” “I wrote it literally on the last warm day in October of 2007. It captured that moment where you were in the midst of experiencing something that you knew you weren’t going to experience again for awhile.”
Whereas “The Last Warm Day in October” evokes a specific moment, another of Pearce’s pieces, “Deluge,” is about a certain recurring phenomenon that happens often during the spring in Indiana: “Good old fashioned rain, that comes out of nowhere, builds up, and fades away.”
Comfort to a Dying Man
Pearce appreciates the correspondence he gets from fans who tell him how much they enjoy his music. In particular, he treasures the letters he gets in the mail – like the the one from a couple who told him they played his music in the delivery room while she was giving birth, or the one from a man who played Pearce’s music for his father as he lay dying.
“The father was in a hospice. He was getting worse and worse. The hospice care had some music and this guy didn’t like any of it. His son had heard some of my music (I think it was on Hearts of Space) and his dad was like, ‘This is OK. You can keep this playing.’ It played right up to the moment he died.”
A Tense Yoga Class
Most people find ambient music relaxing, but for Pearce it was more uncomfortable than anything else when he was in a yoga class and the teacher unwittingly played one of his CDs. With his own music in the background, he couldn’t concentrate on the poses.
“I’m one of those musicians who, when they listen to their music, hear the mistakes and the things they don’t like. So I’m supposed to relaxing into the poses and all I’m thinking is, ‘I should’ve played an A minor there instead of an E minor. That would’ve sounded so much better.’”
Pearce he has no specific plans for his next CD, though he’s continually writing. As to what he calls his type of music, he’s OK with the labels “ambient” or “new age,” but he draws the line at “easy listening.”