Forgive a momentary foray into geographic generalizations. There is plenty of ambient music made in large coastal cities, and much as well in what is called, in the United States, the Midwest. Mark Rushton lives in Iowa City, Iowa, which falls in the latter, and his ambience has, arguably, a unique cast. It is neither urban nor rural, neither digital nor folkie. It is not an expression of dense grids of technologically mediated culture, nor of an agrarian environment — and neither is it an expression of aspiration to either of those states. It is its own sound, and audiences keeping abreast of it — he publishes through various services, primarily soundcloud.com — welcome the steady arrival of sonic postcards from a special zone. A recent such release (if that word, “release,” has much meaning any longer) is “Pre-Show Music.” It takes field recordings from Rushton’s daily life and ushers them into a new sonic space, given a mix of lushness and aridity that is his signature.
The track comes, on its soundcloud.com page, with a small amount of background information:
Sound collage based on audience recording prior to a school band concert, processed washing machine sounds, Ableton Live-created rolling fog, and numerous other loops
The voices heard early on are drawn from that pre-concert chatter. They’re heard buried deep in a dirge-like haze, perhaps the “fog” of Rushton’s description. There’s a beauty to the irony of Rushton’s undertaking, turning the moments before music into a music unto itself. Part of the mark of his success is how despite the fact that the sounds that subsume the voices feel composed — certainly no one would mistake them for having been part of the world at that moment — they still carry with them an intent that is more dramatic or mood-oriented than melodic. The end result is like a soundtrack for a small film with no narrative intent — all setting, all place.