Ancient Ocean's music swells with gravity and delicacy, pummeling with subtlety. His upcoming release, Titan's Island, invokes the sublime vastness of the cosmic across its intimately otherworldly four tracks. It makes for gorgeous listening just as calming in the background as affecting in the foreground. The project's mastermind, J.R. Bohannon, spoke with AdHoc about composition and spaces, both familiar and extraterrestrial.
Let’s talk about your approach to composition. Do you start with a concept and build a sound and atmosphere around it? The opposite? Somewhere in between?
It generally changes. With this record, I actually spent a lot of time taking out layers from the compositions to open up the overall landscape. I spend a lot of time just tracking ideas and, over time, a complete vision starts to reveal itself—and thats what seems to make up a full album.
As someone who's fascinated by the universe, both scientifically and existentially, I love that you built a record around Saturn’s moon, and around the idea of music as it would sound in the vacuum of space. Has the universe always fascinated you? What would you say draws you to it?
It's hard to not be fascinated by the universe, especially in today's climate. It's almost an escape for me, considering the chaos of the direct world around us. It also has to do with my love for minimalism as an art form. Each aspect of the universe serves a sole purpose, and I like to focus and tap in to that when possible.
Titan’s Island, to me, fits in the long lineage of music that aspires to the grandeur of space: the infinitude of the universe, the unknowable nature of its origins. Which musicians have influenced you in that regard?
Tony Conrad is easily the most influential person in that regard. It's funny, you think so many of these "avant-garde" composers are self-serious individuals, but my favorite people within that community have always been the folks with a sense of humor. Tony had an amazing sense of humor, and through that he explored the seriousness of the universe we exist in. I think people that take themselves and their art too seriously lose sight of the presence of humanity in their work, and spending time around Tony my first years in New York helped shaped my idea of musical existence in this vast universe.
How did it feel to have the #1 best-selling ambient album on Bandcamp for a hot minute?
Ha. To be honest, I'm honored anyone spends their hard earned money on something I've created. the term "best-selling ambient album" is really silly to me, but I hope people find some solace in the work.
You’re also a beloved bartender at Baby’s All Right—certainly beloved by us here at AdHoc—and, I’m sure, have seen a lot of people come through Baby’s doors. Any interactions with customers that stand out to you?
I generally don't know what's going on when a celebrity or someone of that sort comes in to the bar, which is maybe why they put me as a front-facing individual there. But one specific situation I remember was during a very busy night, and I had my back to the bar while taking care of a transaction. I turned around and saw Sinbad waiting at the bar. My initial reaction was simply yelling "Sinbad?!" and he gave me a high five that matched my utter excitement
In addition to Ancient Ocean, you also play and record music as a solo guitarist. In what ways do you approach each project differently?
When I do Ancient Ocean sets, I get to hide behind a lot of effects and ideas that I can shape and morph as the set goes on. When I do my solo guitar sets, there's literally no escaping the performance of my experience with the instrument. I use no electronics: simply mic and acoustic guitar. It's a humbling experience, and really has helped shape my experience as a musician.