Landon S. Caldwell Invites You to Calm Down with “Bicycle Day I”
“Bicycle Day” is an invitation. A chance for you to take a deep breath…
The white noise in our information-driven society has risen to deafening levels. Scrolling through social media sites now reveals mostly advertisements, or influencers attempting to sell products in a casual, friendly way. What has become essential in the 21st century is mastering the art of slowing-down; the art of returning to a pace of life that is not relentlessly driven by profit and the bottom line. In essence, 21st century adults need to return to the field of play.
Indianapolis artist Landon S. Caldwell’s work is primarily concerned with tranquility. He hosts several meditation radio shows on local station WQRT, and is heavily involved in offering recording services in his community. His newest soundscape work, Bicycle Day I, offers listeners a chance to escape the mundane and contemplate the cosmic.
Bicycle Day is an invitation. A chance for you to take a deep breath, with the guidance of Caldwell’s superb knack for writing open-ended melodies. Right at the beginning of the album, a warm and hopeful melody emerges from the silence. The “song” moves in and out of melodic themes, but maintains a firm feeling of wonder and awe. Even as the themes move to minor keys and present possible danger and alarm, Caldwell manages to imbue each moment with possibility and wonder.
What I really love in this soundscape is the use of negative space. Caldwell provides listeners with swirling synths and arpeggios to occupy our mind while a gentle, slow, soothing melody lingers over top. As I listened to Bicycle Day I, I found my mind wandering. I imagined scenes from an underwater documentary, and looked out the window at trees bending in the strong breeze. But, before I could let my mind slip too far away, a new sound or a chord change would bring Caldwell’s music back into focus. For that reason alone, it’s one of the most engaging pieces of music I have listened to in a long time. Caldwell manages to hold the attention of the listener, even while allowing their brain to roam. Artist and listener both achieve freedom.
As the soundscape descends into its final minutes, Caldwell plays a simple piano melody over a backdrop of pulsing, reverb-laden synth pads. This final movement of the piece might be its most profound. In my nearly twenty years of playing music, I’ve found that simple melodies are perhaps braver than complicated, fast-moving parts. You can’t hide behind a six note, slow-moving melody. Though I don’t know Caldwell, I can’t help but feel that the creation of this piece was extremely intimate and important for him. At the end, I feel like I’ve just had an engaging conversation or went on a walk in the wilderness. Simple melodies allow our minds to play. And we could all use a little bit of that, these days.
In a 60-second, 150 character soundbyte world, Caldwell is doing something dangerous. Through Bicycle Day I, he’s asking listeners to focus their attention on sounds and melodies for 20 entire minutes. No words. No “hooks.” Just good melodies, spaced out over soothing, calm keyboard tones. As simple as it may seem, the result is a challenge for the brain of the modern individual. I encourage anyone reading this to engage with Caldwell’s work. You just might find a little solace there, as we head into the unpredictable, ever-changing future.
Below is our exclusive interview with Landon S. Caldwell, you can also pre-order the album through Mock Records:
What excites you about making soundscapes?
I don’t necessarily think of my music as soundscapes. I am just exploring ideas that interest me. In the case of this piece, it was long drawn out tones, permutations of melody over long durations, slowly shifting waveforms that require lots of space.
Often music is defined in comparison to the pop/rock format. There is a lot of nuance that takes time to reveal itself. That goes against our culture of instant gratification. That said, I just think of it as music.
You have been doing a lot of work surrounding quarantine and the COVID crisis. How has that impacted your creative process?
Over the last few years, I was lucky enough to have participated in a handful of multi-day sessions with Crazy Doberman, as an engineer and player. The ensemble was huge. Upwards of 16 players in a 1000 sq ft room with everything from brass, modular synths, vibraphone, rhodes, drums, etc. I really do miss playing in the same room as other people. But on the flip side, I have a kid, a job, etc. It’s hard for me to carve out that time. So adjusting to the isolation hasn’t been all that hard. I’ve been collaborating online with friends from all over the country, exploring different methods of collaboration and modes of creating. I’ve got two albums coming out this year that reflect this process. As much as I find digital connection to be insufficient, it is better than nothing.
Bicycle Day I feels very pastoral. Were you inspired by nature at all?
At this point, I am probably as inspired by nature as I am other art. I’m studying permaculture and have been excited by the idea of designing sustainable systems that mimic natural processes. I am also fascinated by the interplay of music with environment, man-made or natural.
It all kind of started with exploring ideas that were antagonistic with the sterilized studio environment. I was making music and I had a toddler and a dog running through the house and I’d just leave that “contamination” on the track. This is my life. It’s messy. Then I’d start to open the windows while I was recording, or just record outside. I got a mobile recording rig and have been recording in parks.
I’ll never forget the time I was performing at a park. I was playing flute, among other things, and started a musical call-and-response with a bird in a tree I was performing under.
Many will laugh at this, but I love the midwest and see it as a place ripe for ecological utopia.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got a number of releases coming out over the next few months (Trouble In Mind, Astral Spirits, Moon Glyph). They are all duo or ensemble pieces.
I have also been working on a few generative music engines/pieces that will hopefully be part of installations whenever we can go to galleries again.