Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Many Hats of Peter Hamer

Welcome once again to the Concert Closet fellow progheads!  Two weeks in New England was nothing short of incredible, and wrapping up with Bent Knee was the perfect digestif to a fortnight of prog indulgence...but alas, the time has come for the Concert Closet to log some serious travel miles...

Setting the GPS for Turin, Italy, I am making a return visit to a land where the prog is plentiful and quite ornate...where a previous visit unearthed an absolute gem; Mohai Experiment.  My loyal followers will remember this remarkable band from a December post where I lamented Mohai Experiment's demise.  Well, as the old saying goes, nothing is as it seems.  I (correctly) assumed Peter Hamer was the master mind behind the curtain for Mohai Experiment, and apparently he wears many hats in the prog world.

Peter Hamer is a composer, guitarist, audio engineer, and the driving force behind several progressive rock projects currently in full swing.  With that in mind, I thought it would be a great time and a lot of fun to visit Peter for an interview and check out some of his different projects...and to simply find out more about the "man with many hats."

Closet Concert Arena: Peter, while you are the driving force behind Mohai Experiment, you also have other irons in the prog fire.  Can you elaborate a bit for those who might not be familiar with  your extensive resume?

Peter Hamer: Hi Vinny; first of all I would like to thank you for this opportunity.  It is a pleasure to talk and share my work with you. At the moment I am involved in many different projects--all born of an unstable mind (laughs).  In each I am either the composer or the guitarist...

The first project is "Victim Of Illusion," a prog band a la Porcupine Tree.  In 2010 I was searching for a singer through an ad on a website; thus I met Paolo, with whom I share the pleasure of making music.  Very quickly--in just a matter of weeks--we had written tons of material and realized our work needed to become more "consistent."  I reached out to another friend, Luca (our bass player), and invited him to join the band.

We released our first digital EP, "What Senses Blow Away" in 2011.  We played a few gigs touring around northern Italy for a while, then began cooking the second album, "Oxideyes," which was released in March 2014.  Currently working on album #3, scheduled for release in early 2016.

My second prog rock project is still...behind the curtain.  During the Victim Of Illusion experience, I found myself searching for more "aggressive" sounds and riffs, along with more intricate song structures; my writing began to lean in that direction.  I contacted a (female) friend who is a great singer--in a different genre.  I played some raw tracks for her, and she was sold!  As we speak she is writing new material and we are scheduling the recording sessions for the very near future...so stay tuned!  This project is called, "Boundary Exception."

CCA: I believe this is a perfect time to inject Victim Of Illusion into your headphones.  I chose "The Day That Never Comes" because the darkness that seems to envelope the music is but one color on a canvas filled with audio and video explosions.  Notice the multi-layers of sound that leap at you--yet no one specific instrument--or vocal--hogs the stage...everything is working together, folding into deeper layers of an incredibly cavernous masterpiece.


CCA: Mohai Experiment and Victim Of Illusion share some qualities, but are different at their core.  What is the driving force/motivation to work in these different atmospheres?

PH: Actually, they are different concepts and live in different eras.  Victim Of Illusion (VOI) is a recent project and came to be after years of experience; more of a "mature" beast if you will.  VOI has a lead voice, so more "space" remains on the instrumental side.  The vocal and instrumental lines tend to complement each other, so we have a "team working agreement" (another loud laugh).  Other than that sounds emerge in the current age with a more modern timbre.

Juxtapose that with Mohai Experiment (ME), a "dead" band...my job being to resurrect them with modern audio technology.  My involvement with ME was as a guitarist--15 years ago--so the archives are filled with recordings from all stages of the band's life.  Don't ask why, but I feel as though I remember exactly the feelings, emotions, and mood of that era; I believe I hold the keys necessary to translate those sounds to the present day.  Mohai Experiment is part of the post-rock/experimental arena--more so than the prog genre.  The members of this band were/are completely open minded in terms of music composition...leaving space for those "big jumps" between musical territories.

This seems like the right time to announce the release of Mohai Experiment's second album, due in the next few months.  I would encourage people to listen objectively with an open mind; this is a great cross-section taken from the ME archives, exposing different "flavors" and emotions in relation to the first album.  I am also focusing more attention on the mastering stage, working with the reel tapes so as to capture every emotion, feeling, and reminiscence from the past...

CCA: Which sets up an injection of Mohai Experiment to bring you back to the beginning..."Part II Tornado's."  Let the entire composition wash over you like a summer thunderstorm.  Notice the blending of guitar with drums and keyboards...everything flows from one source...there is a nostalgic quality to the sound; much like what Peter refers to as "that era."  Mohai Experiment throws top notes of a Transatlantic/Spock's Beard melange on this piece...you can feel your self being pulled through the time warp...


CCA: You have also recorded some solo work...exactly how many hats do you wear?  

PH: Musically, as many as I can; allow me to elaborate.  Music is a universe unto itself and as such is a very big part of my life.  My interests run through so many "music jobs" I had to educate myself to be able to work on all these projects and focus on what brings value to each.  Lately I find that I am attracted to composition and arrangement rather than playing a gig or "living the band life."  Thus I developed these different projects with a personal focus on the "label" or management point-of-view.

Back to your original question; one of my favorites jobs is that of soundtrack composer.  Personally I love cinematic soundtracks.  Over the past year I worked as a solo artist on my first soundtrack album; "Wholes."  Released in December 2015, it is a six-track EP.  "Wholes" contains four action/hybrid tracks and two covers.  I mixed a lot of orchestral and synthesizer lines with "real" instruments, resulting in a "hybrid" ensemble.

There are some epic lines (choirs, percussion, horns, and strings), ambient breaks, guitar driven runs, and a lot of different "momentum" drivers.  To give the listener a taste, I have extrapolated a 1.5 minute "snippet" of everything and published an album teaser on my YouTube channel.

I was also able to cover two of my favorite soundtrack songs of all time.  I rearranged "Escape From New York" (main theme from the US movie soundtrack) and "Profondo Rosso" (theme from the original Italian movie soundtrack).  This was something very special to me and I truly hope the listener enjoys.

CCA: What brought you to the prog genre; specifically what band/album gave you that "I gotta do this" moment?

PH: There were two main drivers; Living Colour and Porcupine Tree.  While Living Colour exist more in the "crossover" section, they were such a heavy influence on me in the 90's that I cannot ignore.  The way they allowed so many influences to have a place on their albums is simply ingenious; funk, jazz, rock, fusion, progressive, and more...their first four albums are works of art in music history.

Porcupine Tree are absolutely the definitive band I consider responsible for the more recent progressive rock "invasion" in my mind... (more hearty laughter).  "In Absentia" is--for me--the North Star.  Simply one of the best prog rock albums ever.  It was conceived, written, recorded, mixed, and mastered in a way that is almost impossible to recreate.

CCA: If you could invite anyone to play a live gig with, who would you choose and why?

PH: It is almost impossible for me to give a simple answer to this question; there are so many people I would want to include.  But I will try to assemble a prog "dream" band to tour with:

     *Marco Minneman from The Aristocrats on drums.  I saw him perform live a few years ago and            was devastated by this "Martian."
     *Conner Green of Haken on bass.  A very great player for an enormous band!
     *Vernon Reid from Living Colour on guitars.  Another milestone in my prog career...so many                 colours in his hands...
     *Rick Wakeman on keyboards.  No explanation needed I believe...right?

CCA: Where do you get the inspiration for the different band names?

 PH: Here and there...no unique or specific source--but my mind is always on alert to catch every good space's fold...

Victim Of Illusion is a more elaborate name; it summarizes the band's spirit and what we talk about in our songs.  The illusion is all around us and in our minds...the illusion we live in our everyday life.  Mohai Experiment is the mixture of a tribe name with the "experiment" label; an ancient clan discovering new territory.  Boundary Exception is derived from my math background and the strange "rule" that when we reach boundaries many exceptions are allowed...

CCA: Currently touring, back in the studio, or taking a breather?

 PH: In the studio with a lot of productions--at least for now.  Victim Of Illusion III, Mohai Experiment II, and Boundary Exception I.  This is just the appetizer course...I also have soundtracks I am working on (I love to not know what to jump in and work on first).  Plenty of time for breathing after death...I'm kidding of course...

CCA: I know you are working on soundtracks for libraries; can you shed some light on this project?

 PH: The world of synchronization is very complex.  Producers, directors, and managers are constantly searching for new sound material that will complement their current projects.  Fitting the right song to the right video is hard work and a huge part of the music industry right now.  This part of the entertainment field has made great strides and developments in the past few years, and new jobs are being created as a result.  Libraries are the most widely known and accessed "brokers" for placing tracks in the music industry; they are the intermediary between composers and video producers.

Over time I have recorded a lot of "sparse" material in different genres.  Sometimes I will listen and develop new things from it.  My personal "Golden Rule": NEVER throw anything in the trash! Probably one of my best qualities is my ability to "revive" little pieces of music...writing something else before and after...transforming the embryonic idea into a full track.

I work with some libraries in different ways.  I work "on demand," writing requested songs, and I also submit new new material when it is ready, anticipating new opportunities.  When I write something new I don't always know where that piece of music will go, and quite honestly I don't mind; I am sure the "other me" will take care to do the right thing and find the best place for it.

CCA: I would be remiss to not include a selection from Peter's solo work, and this seems like the perfect place to drop in a slice from the "Wholes" album; a tune called "Caldera."  The sounds pour over you like a California wildfire, and before you realize it, you are swept away.  Try anchoring yourself in place and riding it out--you won't stand a chance.  Peter mentioned the difficulty of matching video images to the sound; watching this you realize he was being self-deprecating at best.  "Caldera" has top notes of Porcupine Tree and Yes...and I sense aromatics of the David Byrne/Brian Eno composition "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" as well...  

CCA: In life it seems you lean toward the light, but musically you definitely paint with darker colors.  Why the stark contrast and how do you adapt one to fit the other?

PH: You read my bio (chuckle)...the quick answer is I am in both darkness and light.  I try to enjoy and appreciate every day as a new opportunity to leave my mark on the universe and complete myself on this "life trip."  I am a huge fan of positive thinking and I stress this with family, friends, and everyone I meet.  I am not a preacher nor am I religious; I simply believe in nature and its infinite power.  

On the other hand, I feel this deep sense of loneliness as I am but a speck in the universe.  Everyday I think about all the unanswered questions/mysteries of life.  This is my main source of inspiration. 99% of my emotions awaken when I write "dark" music; so as you can imagine cheerful music is definitely not for me.  I guess I live in a sort of bipolarism (I prefer to call it "equilibrium) in which light and darkness share the same room and remain good friends...but to answer your question, I don't adapt one with the other; rather I let them co-exist and find their correct place in the every day...I simply leave all the necessary space my feelings need and let them lead me.

CCA: What else does the world need to know about Peter Hamer?

PH: As a composer, I pour my all into my music experiences.  I cannot read or write to a pentagram, but I can "feel" the vibe throughout my entire body, "hear" the melodies in my mind, and then record all of this through a keyboard or guitar.

I keep notes of everything during the composition process (chords/notes used, ideas for future arrangements of the song...) because every "birth" moment is unique and cannot be exactly duplicated in the future.  Sometimes I just turn on my webcam and record myself playing.

I spend a LOT of time searching for just the "right" sound (soundtrack production is likely to have HUGE amounts of tracks with different instruments).  Over time I have honed this skill to where I am now able to focus on a target sound without getting lost in the universe of different patches and parameters.

I spend a LOT of time just listening to raw compositions; they are the go-to compilation of almost every day!  If I can listen to a song (or portion thereof) for months, it will have passed the "bearing" test.  Otherwise it ends up in the song review pile...

This is probably enough for one interview; need to keep some surprises for the future!

Well fellow progheads, this is quite a lot to process, but well worth the investment.  Peter has an impressive resume, and his devotion to his craft is quite remarkable.  Not sure where he finds time to eat, sleep, and do anything outside the prog world...but I do know he manages to squeeze in family time for his wife and children...one more hat the maestro wears...

Tap into the many prog worlds of Peter Hamer at Peter Hamer Productions.  Peter wears several social media hats too; a Facebook page at Peter Hamer Facebook, and three Twitter accounts; one for Mohai Experiment @MohaiExperiment, one for Victim Of Illusion @VictimOfIllusio, and (of course) his solo account @PeterHamerProd.  Peter also maintains a YouTube channel at
Peter Hamer YouTube 

Progressive rock is but a tiny speck in the music universe, yet that speck is filled with inspiration and emotion as yet untapped--which in and of itself is almost unbelievable.  The prog garden is knee deep in fertile soil and awash in a beauty that only progheads can see, feel, and understand.  The best thing--the only thing--to do with this knowledge and inspiration is bring it to the masses...which I do gladly.  So, like I say every Tuesday, the search for all things prog continues...until next week...

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