Love All Day follows up last year’s Planetary Peace reissue with Warren Sampson’s little-known ambient masterpiece Traveller. Hailing from Minnesota and inspired by the early work of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell, Sampson infused their compositional modes with a self-effacing and distinctly Upper Midwest approach that is equal parts isolated and expansive. Traveller was recorded in a bedroom closet studio on a four-track TEAC reel-to-reel between the late 1970s through the mid 1980s. Not long after its release in 1987, almost all of the copies of the LP ended up in a landfill.
The music of Traveller was inspired by a Chinese ink painting I saw sometime around 1980. Looking for it online now I find I had the title wrong and it probably wasn’t hanging in the gallery I thought it was. Oh well. How much new art is created by trying to copy something and getting it completely wrong?
In 1980, I had the good fortune to spend a year in London studying the History & Philosophy of Science. I was a terrible student but a very large part of who I am came out of that single year. I saw the second night performance by the original cast of Cats. I heard Segovia and saw Nureyev. I saw a concert in a church with legendary avant guitarist Derek Bailey roaming the sanctuary while King Crimson percussionist Jamie Muir dragged saucepan lids across the floor creating moaning pitches. I watched a soprano sax player improvise for half an hour while wrapped in tin foil.
Whenever I went to the National Theatre I got off at Embankment Station and walked across what was then a dark, dingy and isolated Hungerford railroad bridge. There was usually a sax or trumpet player busking on one end. Imagine that sound ringing over the Thames with the night lights of London shimmering on the water. Wiki tells me that the bridge became more dangerous over the years and was the scene of a murder in 1999. Indeed, when I took my wife there in 2015 it was rebuilt as an photoready international tourist destination. I was disappointed but we crossed it and lived. I’m middle aged. Safety over atmosphere.
All art galleries in London are free. The bus ride from my room to the college was essentially all the way across town from southwest to northeast. The number 14 bus route from South Kensington to Warren Street gave me plenty of places to jump off. The beauty of free entry is that you can duck in to see just a few things. Art frequently overloads my brain so small doses are perfect. One day – somewhere – I saw a Chinese ink painting I thought was called “Travellers on a Mountain Road”. Chinese ink painting in particular is something I have to restrict to those small doses.
It absolutely, completely overwhelms me.
I mean holy shit. The power and depth and atmosphere of simple black ink – the stuff they sign checks with – applied to take the maximum effect of the swirling, cloudy texture of silk. Those Chinese painters invented “negative space.” With a bit of ink here, the silk becomes clouds. Another bit of ink over there and the silk is a waterfall. I stand in front of those paintings and I hyperventilate. My heart palpitates. My brain fries.
I will always be sure I saw “Travellers on a Mountain Road” in the Victoria & Albert Museum but an online search doesn’t show it in their collection. I did find “Travelers Among Mountains and Streams” by Fan Kuan. That painting is apparently in the National Palace Museum in Taipei which was never at any time on the number 14 London bus route. Maybe it was on display in 1980 as part of a travelling exhibition. That would be fitting: A traveling painting of travelers.
So that mystery painting is at the root of many things. In college I was obsessed with country blues guitar and usually opened my coffee house set with “Big Road Blues” by Tommy Johnson. I started to think about music existing in either Big Rooms or out on the Big Road. Jazz and Classical music to me were enclosed in Big Rooms: packed to the ceiling, rich and engaging but essentially limited by finite walls.
Big Road Music could take me anywhere. Very particularly, Big Road Music allowed a Midwestern American Caucasian to be inspired by country Blues and Chinese paintings that had no connection at all to my experience. I have always worried about stealing somebody else’s stuff. I love blues but haven’t lived it. I love Irish music but wasn’t raised with it. I love Chinese ink painting but … it literally comes from the other side of the world I know.
Confining and defining music to Rooms and Roads sounds like something an obnoxious guy in his early 20’s would do right? Can you forgive me? I paid for my arrogance by worrying myself sick I was stealing stuff. I called that battle over and done with just a little while ago.
Brian Eno and Jon Hassell are the other two pieces to the creation of this album. I think Eno’s “Ambient 4: On Land” is as important to the history of recorded music as Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” “On Land” does precisely the same thing to me as Chinese ink painting. It radiates atmosphere, depth, memory, nostalgia, mystery, a little fear and uncertainty. Palpitations.
Jon Hassell created what he called Fourth World music; music that wasn’t limited to the old world of Western Classical or the Third World. It sounded like Big Road Music to me! But it is tough listening for most. I played one of Eno and Hassel’s albums at a party and a guy asked “Is this Music from Turkish Prisons?” But our ears are more tolerant that we give them credit for. Those gnarly textures have become common in video games and even in mainstream advertising. I saw an anti-freeze ad on TV I swear ripped off a track from Eno!
In college, I bought a four track Teac reel to reel with Simul-Sync and stuck it in a clothes closet to do the best isolated multi-track I could manage. Wherever that machine was or whatever recording rig I was using at the time became Big Road Studios. The compositions on Traveller stretch from the late ‘70s for Drifts (which was recorded for the soundtrack of a black & white 8mm film my friend Sue was working on) to 1987 when the album was made.
I don’t remember when I recorded “Embankment” but now you know what it is about. When I hear it, I remember getting off at Embankment station and walking across that creepy bridge with the sound of a horn floating above the delicate wash of the Thames and the night lights of London all around. An illuminated river of music.
Tunes come out whenever I pick up a guitar or sit at a keyboard. They aren’t all the kind of tunes I am seeking. The ones that stick are like familiar faces in a crowd; the feeling you get by spotting the face of a friend in a crowded station. I used to worry about capturing all of them before they got away. And then I relaxed and realized I live next to a river of music. Every day I ask myself, “What does the river look like today?
-Warren Sampson June 2017