Taking advantage of a period of free-time in-between composing for film and theatre and being part of various ensembles, multi-instrumentalist and composer Mike Sheridan has got in-touch with his younger-self. His upcoming album Atmospherics is partly inspired by a hypnosis session in which Sheridan met his teenage self. His last solo LP titled Ved Første Øjekast was one created around a youthful fascination with music.
In our conversation, Sheridan stated he was not entirely happy with the record, but other projects have taken up his time since then. It is perhaps through this hypnosis which he was able to start the project off from a place of familiarity, in conversation with a different version of himself. We talk to Mike Sheridan about the new project, composing and performing for the stage, as well as a rare and unique instrument which he plays, called the Cristal Baschet. Atmospherics is released today, on November 17th.
Hello Mike, it’s great to be speaking with you. Congratulations on your upcoming album Atmospherics. Can you tell us a bit about the project, and what we can expect?
Thank you! Atmospherics is very much a passion project that began about three and a half years ago. For the first time in years I had a blank calendar and time on my hands. Just a regular weekday, I got this rhythm going in the studio that had this particular feeling; when March comes and the air is dry and cold but you also feel the warmth of the sun and the sky is clear and blue and quiet. I remember growing up in Copenhagen suburbia, and how I loved that time of year. On days like that I’d go sit on a bench outside during recess and close my eyes. Atmospherics takes its title from a phenomenon in the atmosphere, where say thunder disrupts wireless signals, but it can be optical as well like aurora, different kinds of rays, glories and so on. I found that it encapsulates a sensation that I felt growing up, that there were more worlds around me than what I saw. Like I co-existed in this protective bubble or sphere that I wanted to burst so badly.
You have said that the inspiration for this album came from meeting your younger self during a hypnosis session. Would you say this album is connected to the idea of getting in touch with a kind of youthful creative energy?
It was a visualisation exercise that I did with myself. Shortly after I had put myself in a trance, I found myself floating in the air above my chair. As I looked down, expecting to see my body below, the person sitting in the chair below, was me but as a teenager.
Almost immediately I felt that something needed to be put right. I felt that I could be something to him and I became interested in seeing if, through music, we could unfold what this situation was about.
I found out later that this is what’s called an inner child experience - I didn’t know that at the time, but it can be used to heal various kinds of trauma and experiences in the past. My experience didn’t feel like a trauma, but I must admit that I, very early in my life, had to navigate both the music business and growing up, and there wasn’t that much time to process everything. A part of me got stuck along the lines - so I’m very grateful that I got the chance to make amends. We did Atmospherics together which completely unlocked my childhood fascination with making music. Just as much as I helped him, he also helped me
It’s interesting that you have not released a full-length solo LP since Ved Første Øjekast in 2012. What made you return to making solo music now?
Ved Første Øjekast brought me into completely uncharted territories. It was an album that I didn’t feel satisfied with on a technical level, but in terms of touring I was playing concert halls and moved on to do some incredible projects with both classical ensembles and perform with some of the most explorative jazz music personalities like Palle Mikkelborg, Marilyn Mazur, Jakob Bro, August Rosenbaum and Lars Greve. Especially my relationship with Palle that turned into a mentor, and friendship which has lasted for many years. In my life I’ve always done a lot of exploration in the studio. The past decade has just been happening mostly elsewhere; in film, in theatre, on stage and so on.
Most recently, you have been quite involved in composition for film and theatre. What do you think you’ve gained from these experiences, and do you think aspects of this work has carried over into Atmospherics?
Scoring films for me is about emotional precision. Here I am unfolding a character's emotional journey and serving a sensory grand narrative. Theatre is very very similar but the stage allows you to dramatise the music element even more. Of course it overlaps; you see this in a film like Casablanca with the character Sam, in Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War or in the films of Theo Angelopoulos - here music is essential in the film's worlds as it is performed. Tarkovsky’s and Cocteau’s films also have their distinct languages where music and sound overlaps and becomes very sensory.
I have seen a lot of classical and modern ballet - Balanchine, Robbins, Cunningham and Pina Bausch have laid a foundation for me, and especially how choreography is done and rehearsed has played a large part in my understanding of music.
Atmospherics takes a little bit from everywhere and it doesn’t venture into the contemporary avant garde at all. I think of it more as all these things that I like, outside of darkness and howling metal plates, that is also able to come together as a grand invention.
You seem to also take inspiration from certain areas of culture. Cinema, for example, has played a role in influencing the ways you think about things. Could you give us an example of a cinematic moment, and how it has affected you musically and perhaps personally?
I was very inspired by Brian Reitzell’s score for the series Hannibal, as well as Dean Hurley and David Lynch’s sound design for Twin Peaks: The Return around the time when I did the score for Hamlet at Kronborg Castle in 2017. I had so much fun reading Shakespeare for six months and I recorded upwards of 11 hours of multitracks for the play.
In Reitzell’s score for Hannibal, he scored each episode wall to wall, and I could do more or less the same for the stage play. I took some inspiration from Lynch, Hurley and Lynch’s former work with Alan Splet also - especially with regards to the sounds that could be something inside the walls or pipes, something unseen yet present.
I used sound like a kind of lighting design and ended up with an underscore consisting of 180 sound cues specific to lines in the script. Lars Roman-Engell brought me back to score Richard III in 2019 and I got to do it all again.
Those plays together were a year of my life and I could never have done it without the influence of all the mentioned maestros.
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More generally, you have been creating and experimenting with music in some form for most of your life. What do you think it is about music, and specifically electronic music, which has become so deeply part of your creative expression?
I started to make music when I was 8 or 9 years old on the computer, so my best guess is that it’s a language that I got to learn very early on. It’s rather corny, but H.C. Andersen said that when words aren’t enough, the music speaks. So that’s probably what’s been going on with me for a while. I go back and forward between intro- and extroversion. These days I play a lot of music on a daily basis, not to record it, but just for my own sake. Other times almost everything I make is put to use somewhere. Right now I enjoy not letting the sounds settle, just letting them float.
Just from listening to your recent single Minds I, it seems you might be taking quite a direct and immediate route in terms of musical arrangement. Is this somewhat of a return to the type of compositions you made when you were younger?
That’s an interesting observation. Actually it’s because of the way I work and record. Technically I punch in and out on the timeline when recording. It’s a bit inspired from Scott Walker’s later albums, where he and Peter Walsh’s arrangements are so dynamic. They gave an interview once where they talked about creating the songs from blocks of sound. I wanted to give Atmospherics a feeling of being guided by an underlying machine, each part being a container of emotion that’s part of a sequence. It does have a mechanical rhythm in that sense. I thought about this approach resembling cuts in film from one place to another within the same universe. Like I can just cut here and move on when I feel like it.
You have collaborated with a number of international talents previously, as well as for the upcoming project. How important is it for you to collaborate with other artists, and how do you think this influences your work?
Atmospherics totally depends on other people; all the musicians and features that participated were what made this particular record come to life. This type of album is my take on doing something with an ensemble cast.
Collaboration for me is a way to retain openness. Collaboration can happen in many ways, if it happens musically then it’s the loveliest of things. I am very fortunate to have friendships with other artists from different fields than music and my experience is that exchanging between our worlds is an example of collaboration in the highest sense. In understanding, craft and curiosity.
This is perhaps an off-topic question, but I stumbled across the video of you playing the Cristal Baschet. It creates such a beautiful and interesting sound and atmosphere. How did you learn to play such a rare and unique instrument?
I saw a photograph of one in an exhibition in Paris many years ago and later I heard its sound in a different setting. I found it so beautiful. Throughout my entire childhood I had dyscalculia and I still get confused by watches and numbers - so music theory has always been such a black box. I compensate for this in my work which is very intuitive. When I found the Cristal it spoke to me with its keyboard of glass rods placed side by side, instead of the common black-and-white keyboard that has the half notes situated differently. During the course of a year I got in contact with Frederic Bousquet who worked in the workshop of Bernard Baschet in Paris and him and Bernard decided to allow me to become a cristaliste after I sent them my first album as a means to persuade them in 2010 or 2011. I got to know Frederic and Marc-Antoine Millon, who perform as Ensemble Hope, and went to learn techniques in France. We are very few in the world who play these instruments and it is a quite recent invention. One of the greatest gifts with it is that there is not the same conventions as say the piano, so I have got to develop a playing style that I know is unique to me. The Baschet Brothers’ philosophy is that of wonder for everybody, that the instruments should be explored and to, in some sense, democratise a musical eureka moment. I really like that it’s not an elitist thing and find that very liberating.
Currently I know of two other cristals here in Denmark - supposedly our Royal Queen has one that was gifted to her by France many years ago and the artist Barbara Skovmand has recently built her first instrument with the help of Taller Baschet in Barcelona. It’s very exciting to get some company!
Thank you for spending the time to talk with us. We are enchanted listening to Atmospherics! Other than the LP, do you have any other projects or live dates you would like to tell us about?
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you!
I’m getting my head around approaching Atmospherics live, testing out equipment and enjoying the technical aspects. I’m very much looking forward to playing some shows in 2024.
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