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expressing a strong fascination for nature through music with r beny

Our next mood talk takes us all the way to San Jose in California. We spoke with Austin Cairns who releases music under the pseudonym r beny. After his first encounter with a synthesizer a few years ago, he started a YouTube channel focused on gear tutorials. That gave him the platform to share the music he makes and loves, which is greatly inspired by the surrounding forests and the nearby ocean. We talk about the profound ability of music to express and the sound of elks in rutting season among others.

What’s your relationship with music?

I think everything comes from loving music and being obsessed with music. That’s the main driving force. The other thing is that I also love being able to express myself through art. I can’t express myself through painting or poetry. Music is the art form I connect the most with and in which I can express myself in the most meaningful way. 

What inspires you to make music?

I have been creating music basically my whole life. 

I grew up playing the guitar and I’ve played in a lot of bands until my mid-20s.  I would be the guy sitting in my room with a looper making ambient loops. Though, I never really felt like I was creating anything at the level of the stuff I was listening to and was inspired by. I just really liked to be in a band, rather than making meaningful music.

When I discovered synthesizers, that was a really big deal for me. That’s when I started doing the albums I am doing now. A lot of it has to do with my love for instrumental music. With instrumental music, an artist can make it sound in a certain mood, but in the end the listener has to fill in the blanks of how they are feeling when they are listening to it. 

Do you still integrate the guitar into your work?

Yeah. Every once in a while I will break out the guitar. I used to have 5 or 6 of them but I sold them all. I just kept one, which I still use.

When you make music, do you have to be in a specific state of mind or does it mostly stem from experimentation?

My process is always changing. Sometimes the process starts on a technical level where I am just trying to learn an instrument and finding sounds that I like. Other times, it starts off with feeling the emotion that I want to express in music and I’ll try to find the sound that fits with it. I make music mostly to express feelings that are not expressed through words very easily.

“I make music mostly to express feelings that are not expressed through words very easily.”

Does the mood you are in affect the music you make?

I definitely have to be in the mood to create. But the temperament of the music I create can be different from the temperament I am actually in. I could be happy or sad and wanting to make music, but I could also be happy or sad and not wanting to make music. 

When I want to make music in a certain mood, I’ll definitely try to get in that headspace a little bit and try to channel a different feeling than what I am actually feeling. It’s almost like acting in a way.

What does the name r beny mean?

When I started my YouTube channel, I couldn’t think of a name. At that time, I was really into this photographer, Roloff Beny. That’s why I decided to go for r beny. It doesn’t have any meaning besides me liking Roloff Beny as a photographer. People came to know my work under that name and eventually it became too late to change it.

Photo’s taken from the 1967 book ‘To Every Thing There is a Season: Roloff Beny in Canada’.

You released quite some works on the Belgian label Dauw. How did that collaboration come about?

At the start, I was mostly focused on self-releasing and wasn’t working with any labels. It came to a point where I had a bigger reach than most of the labels contacting me, so it didn’t really make sense to me to put something out on a label.

Pieter of Dauw got hold of me and we started emailing back and forth. Eventually, he convinced me to do a release with them. I know Dauw released music from Benoît Pioulard as well. As I am such a big fan of Benoît, I took that as a good sign that I should be releasing with this label. 

We agreed to do something together and my third album Saudade was released on Dauw as a tape. A little bit later, we even re-issued the earlier albums I did as a complete vinyl box set.

How did the reissue go switching from tape to vinyl?

I was a little bit worried about how it would sound honestly. It’s very lo-fi music, so I wasn’t quite sure how it would sound on a higher medium. But I think it worked out pretty well. Our mastering engineer Ian Hawgood did a really good job on prepping the music for vinyl.

How did you manage to grow your following that eventually reached Belgium?

A lot of my following came through my YouTube channel. I wasn’t actually planning on releasing any albums. I was just doing tutorials of instruments. The thing with having an online community is that it’s very global. It exists out of people from everywhere. My local following came afterwards once I started playing shows. I didn’t actually start playing shows until I was already a couple of years into it.


An improvised piece by r beny

Do you have a specific preference for vinyl or tape?

I like both experiences but I mostly have tapes in my own collection. There’s something about the sound I really like. It’s quite nostalgic and it does color the sound. That’s not always the best for high-quality audio, but I appreciate both for their own qualities. 

Tape is just more convenient because I can take it with me and listen to it portably on a walk. It’s a fine medium between streaming on your phone or being tethered wherever your turntable is.  Vinyl is just a whole different experience. You put something on and you are really focused on it. You have to engage physically with it. You have to get the album out of the cover, put the needle on, flip sides and so on.

And what do you think is the best way to listen to your music?

I think it’s best enjoyed on a walk out in nature. Simply because of the big influence nature plays in my music. I also had people telling me that the music I make is ideal for working, probably because there are no vocals to latch on to and there are not a lot of rhythmic elements to dictate how you should be feeling.

How involved are you with the artwork of the covers of your albums on Dauw? Did you indicate certain directions for the artwork or is this mostly an interpretation from the designer’s end?

I just trust Pieter completely and I’m not involved with it at all. It’s actually quite flattering to see what the visual artist comes up with based on the music. It’s almost like their own interpretation of the art in some way. The covers really do match the music, and sometimes they even reveal things that I didn’t know were there.

Especially with Dauw, the artwork is very abstract and I think that it is similar to the music I make, where it’s kind of loose and not in some sort of grid. It’s rather floating and you can make your own interpretation of it. So it does fit with the music very well.

What music are you listening yourself to at the moment?

Lately, I have been getting into more rhythmic electronic stuff that’s still kind of minimal. I really like the latest record of Vladislav Delay. I’m also into the work of Hania Rani. Her new album is just incredible. I have been listening to it on repeat. 

What would be your favourite sounds in the world?

Difficult question. I don’t know if I could pick one. I definitely like the sounds of water. Waterfalls, rain, rivers, lakes, the ocean, waves crashing. Anything water, really.

I also really love the sound of harps. As far as instruments go, the harp is probably one of my favorite instruments. I’ll listen to anything with the harp. Sometimes I try to fake the sound of the instrument with the synthesizer by making patches that sound like harps.

Another rather uncommon sound I love is the sound of elk in the rutting season. The male elks make high-pitched flute-like sounds. After that, they fight each other with their antlers. I was camping once in the middle of a forest and I could just hear these whistling sounds with the elk running all night long and their antlers crashing. That was definitely one of my favourite sound experiences.


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