As the creator of meditative ambient music built from acoustic instrument samples, minimalist electronics and lulling wordless vocals, it makes perfect sense that Mark Templeton’s personality would be similarly laid-back. However, after reaching the Edmontonian on his cell phone as he peruses a grocery store for blackberries, it’s surprising just how quiet and unassuming he comes across, conjuring images of Bilbo Baggins with a shelf full of Brian Eno records.
By day, Templeton is a teacher of film and media studies, which also makes sense giving the sweeping, cinematic quality of his sonic creations. However, while he considers his music to be no more than a part-time pursuit, he’s released two full--length albums via New York-based label Anticipate Recordings, collaborations with a variety of like-minded artists from around the globe, and performed everywhere from Krakow to Utrecht to Montreal’s MUTEK and Suoni Per Il Popolo festivals, all in the last five years. Strangely, all of this stems from a background in bluegrass.
“My grandfather on my dad’s side was a really good fiddle and five-string banjo player, so when I turned 18, my parents bought me a banjo,” Templeton explains. “Then, there was a three- or four-year stint when all I did was listen to bluegrass and hone my skills on banjo and guitar. Eventually I realized that I didn’t want to imitate what people like Earl Scruggs could do, but would rather take elements of those instruments and make my own style of music with a similar tonality and warmth.”
As anyone who listens to ambient, drone or instrumental music can attest, epic-length pieces and sidelong psychedelic workouts are often the order of the day. Refreshingly, Templeton stands apart from the pack with his brief tracks, fitting some artists’ entire album-worth of ideas into the two or three minutes typically associated with a pop song. As he explains, this approach is inspired by his own attention deficit and altruistic intentions for the audience.
“That’s been a conscious effort going back to my first EP,” he says. “I’ve always felt that if I’m finding something difficult to listen to, it might be even harder for someone else. If I can’t sit through X amount of minutes, what about someone who’s less experienced with the music? Many of the artists I like make shorter songs or extended pieces with enough movement that you forget how long you’ve been listening, which I really appreciate.”
Until returning to his native E-town for a teaching job this September, Templeton called Montreal home for the last few years. As such, his upcoming Calgary show will only be his second in Alberta in the past 12 months, before setting off to Europe for a tour this July with stops in Italy and the U.K. Yet, while he hasn’t exactly found a large number of artists in his home province working on similar sounds, he does consider Alberta to be a continuing source of inspiration, with more and more interesting work sprouting up over each passing year.
“When my wife and I moved to Montreal, it wasn’t actually music-related,” he says. “Of course, when you make music and come to Montreal from a place like Calgary, Edmonton or Winnipeg, it’ll definitely find a way into your life. Back here in E-town, I have a really great community of friends, both artists and non-artists, though they don’t necessarily come from the same approach that I do. Still, somehow we can always find something to connect with.”