Keith Hanlon lets the rhythm in on 'An Eternity of This'

Joel Oliphint
Keith Hanlon

On previous ambient releases, musician and recording engineer Keith Hanlon would avoid using beats in his music, even though he’s a drummer. In fact, when submitting music to ambient playlists, Hanlon said there was often a “no beats” rule. But on An Eternity of This, Hanlon’s new five-song ambient release, he embraced his inner drummer.

“I made the decision to have more rhythm, whether it's a guitar or drums or beats. There's a lot of artists that I listen to that have a mood, but they're not ambient music, like Bjork or Can or Talk Talk,” Hanlon said. “I think [beats] can coexist, and have coexisted, in other people's music. … I wanted to try to find a way to do that.”

As a kid, Hanlon’s brother introduced him to Brian Eno, seen by many as the godfather of ambient music. Eno became a foundational influence for Hanlon, who, over the years, has released ambient and electronic music under various names (Dot, Zapruder Red), now collected under his own name on Bandcamp. Lately, Hanlon, who works as a recording engineer at Musicol and his own Secret Studio, has also been using Bandcamp as a discovery tool, following various ambient hashtags down musical rabbit holes.

“I tend to go for darker things in my ambient music. I like sounds that take you out of the place you're in, and I like to disrupt that a bit and maybe change expectations,” Hanlon said.

Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter

On Eternity track “The Sound is Deep and Dark,” Hanlon used field recordings as a bedrock, incorporating the processed sound of a helicopter flying low over his neighborhood to elicit an eerie, subtly rhythmic drone, then pitch-shifting cymbals to create strange blasts of sound. “I was thinking a lot of the sound design that David Lynch does,” said Hanlon, pointing specifically to the work of Dean Hurley on the “Twin Peaks” Showtime series.

The EP’s final track, “Rushed to Reach the End,” is also the idea that has been around the longest. “It was an experiment with the stuff that Brian Eno and Harold Budd did, where there were these piano melodies, but Eno would also create this very long loop, and then, as more piano was added, they create these new melodies and new harmonies,” said Hanlon, who also incorporated the sound of sirens near his home into the track. “I live just over by the fire department here in the Glen Echo area, and that's a daily sound. I had set up a live loop of piano with some open mics, and that's exactly when the siren came through. There's a lot of accidents, even some things that happened with faulty analog outboard gear that I didn't correct. I just left it in and let that be part of the piece.”

An Eternity of This is out digitally now, and Hanlon is in the process of dubbing the release onto cassettes (with artwork by local musician Randall Douglas Matson), which will be available on Friday, Nov. 13. It’s one of four in-the-works projects for Hanlon, though they may not all see the light of day.

“One project I'm working on is inspired by the band This Mortal Coil, which wasn't really a band. They were producers on a project for the 4AD record label out of England. … They would be collaborating on certain things, and they would also be doing really interesting covers,” Hanlon said of the 1980s project. “I thought that might be really fun to collaborate with other people. I already have a couple pieces down for that. One is a collaboration with Lesley Ann Fogle from After-Death Plan.”

As for song titles on Hanlon’s ambient releases, those always come last. Originally, the tracks are merely computer files with dates. Once release time comes, Hanlon comes up with a titling conceit, though he’s not divulging Eternity’s origins. “I got very inspired by a certain artist,” he said. “I don't want to give it away, but somebody might figure it out. … It’s kind of a musical puzzle.”