Sounds from the Brink of Mortality
Kevin Keller’s ambient neo-classical music, using a mix of real and virtual instrumentation, has often been heard in films and on television, but his music is of such a high calibre that it bears up brilliantly under endless repeats as a soundtrack for life. His latest album, The Front Porch of Heaven, is set for release September 18.
Recently Keller took the time to answer our questions about his music, his future plans, and the inspiring quality of remembered bliss.
What kind of a childhood did you have, and what elements in it prepared you for a musical career?
I had a very happy childhood and was an inquisitive kid, keenly interested in the natural world. I also had a very vivid imagination. My dad played guitar a lot when I was a kid, and this inspired me to take up guitar (and later, piano).
What was your most mesmerizing musical experience (this could be listening, composing, or performing)?
The first one that comes to mind was seeing Tangerine Dream in concert in 1986. That show was truly incredible – the music, the visuals, everything! Ever since then, I’ve dreamed of putting on a show of that caliber. This is something that I’m working on right now.
Your latest album, The Front Porch of Heaven, was partly inspired by your recent heart surgery. Can you tell us about the specific experiences that led to the compositions?
In the weeks just prior to the surgery, I thought back about my whole life, and remembered those few times when I felt a deep sense of “knowing.” Like the time I looked up in the sky at age 15 and felt a deep sense of joy and gratitude. Or the time that I stood in a grove of trees, marveling at the golden sun streaming through the leaves. Or the time that I ran up a hill to meet a flock of swifts that darted around my head in the afternoon sun. These moments became the inspiration for the album.
How was this experience different from those that inspired your earlier work?
Good question! I would have to say that it really wasn’t that different. My work has always tended to be autobiographical and has often been inspired by memories of past experiences, or by experiences that I was going through at the time. Of c
ourse, open heart surgery is much more intense, so I think that this intensity and depth is woven into the music.
I’ve had your album on repeat for a while. It defies description, but I experience it as profound, real, healing, calming, reassuring, and uplifting. Does it offend you when listeners listen to your music to make themselves feel better?
Thank you so much! It is my hope that people will experience this music in that way, and that it will inspire them, calm them, and reassure them.
Are there any authors, composers, or filmmakers who’ve influenced your development as a musical artist?
Early on, I would say that Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Tangerine Dream, and Claude Debussy were the most influential. That’s the music that first got me interested in making my own music. Lately I’ve become a huge fan of the film scores of Thomas Newman (especially his score for 1917, which is truly awe-inspiring).
How do you personally like to listen to music?
Ideally, I like to lie down or sit down in a comfortable place, like a bed or a couch, and listen to music on a really good stereo system through really good speakers. If that’s not practical I listen through really good headphones. Eyes closed. No distractions. The best way to listen is through speakers so that the sound can interact with your physical space and with your body, not just your ears.
Do you have a spiritual practice that informs your creativity?
My spiritual practice consists simply of walking in the woods and observing silence. It’s basically a walking meditation, and I feel completely alive and at peace in that state.
Did anything weird happen while you were preparing and recording the album?
The one unexpected thing that happened was my decision to put an electric guitar solo in the middle of “The Sky Below.” Even though I’ve been playing guitar since I was six years old, I’ve never played guitar on any of my albums before this one. It just felt like the right thing to do.
What’s next for you?
I’ve begun putting together all of the elements for a live concert and video special that I’ve planned for early 2021. The set list will span my entire career, and I’ll have as many as five other musicians on stage with me. Right now, I’m working on the music and the set list. Once this is ready, I’ll begin working with a producer and a lighting designer to build the show and the visual elements. It’s a huge undertaking, and I’m really excited about it.
Official Website https://www.kevinkeller.com/the-front-porch-of-heaven