Jefre Cantu-Ledesma

Portals: Music For Mindfulness


Mindfulness, is undoubtedly subjective and situational. But one thing I’ve noticed, is that most of the material you hear on this topic often has a stereotypical sound; normally new-age, and often yoga or meditation focused with buddhist chanting, or crashing waves. Sometimes, you might be lucky enough to find a sweet-spot with Brian Eno, and with it, you draw a sigh of relief. 

I've often wondered how (or why) hotels and spa's choose their music and how this 'background style' has become so mistakenly synonymous with ambient music. Ask anyone who isn't familiar with ambient music is and they’ll likely say "spa music" or "meditation/yoga stuff". No digs on that type of music, I mean some elements even find their way in here - it's the root to many ambient concepts, and I could sit and listen to the sound of the sea and waves crashing for years on end. But as with all of these Portals series, I try to find and explore a different perspective where possible. 

The goal of this feature and accompanying mix was to create a journey of escapism and comfort. Whereas the previous Portals feature, ‘Music For Sleeping’ could be deemed very similar, the approach here focused on keeping an attentive layer/s that ended up being more pure to Brian Eno’s definition of ambient music: “As ignorable as it is interesting”, which aligns very well with the definition of what it means to be mindful; "the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”

There’s a lot of ambient music that fulfills this goal, so what’s different here? As I was curating tracks for this mix, I found common themes that resonated with me personally when it came to mindfulness, which I tried to reflect throughout, and ultimately formed a filter for what should be included. Perhaps you’ll identify with one or more and can descend into a rabbit-hole of exploration, or hopefully you'll enjoy it as a whole. 

Field recordings and the pure sound of the outdoors is undoubtedly calming and reassuring. It’s an escape from our busy lives, and a reminder of what’s good in our world. The mix opens with my favorite field recording from Biosphere that somehow encapsulates the exact sound I used to hear from the field behind my childhood house. Nature sounds are a common theme throughout this mix, whether on purpose or inadvertently as an intro or ending to certain tracks. 

The warm, blanket-like approach to ambient music is a favorite of mine, often created through analog equipment, or layers of undulating synthesizers that build, wrap and immerse. Markus Guentner, Donnacha Costello, Marcus Fischer, Heathered Pearls, bvdub, and Billow Observatory are just some of the many moments in here that keep you warm and comforted. 

Subtle/subliminal layers
The KLF’s ‘Chill-out’ album is one of ambient music’s most pioneering pieces, and on paper, it really shouldn’t be. The sound of trains, sheep and Elvis Presley are not the first ingredients that come to mind for relaxation, but the key here, is how they’re interwoven into a moving piece of musical art - an undercurrent of subtle moments that on their own would be distracting, but together form a story. They provide moments of interest and escapism - enough to keep one foot in the door, and one foot in a world of your own. I’ve tried to replicate this approach in this mix, by lowering volumes of certain tracks into the background, or including something a little unexpected in a few places, so if you see something you like in the track-list, don’t assume it will feature prominently. 

Choral sounds
Beautiful, emotional choir singing is pretty cliche, but who can argue against it when it comes to feeling good? Whether it’s the religious connotations, or just the simple realization that the sound you're hearing is coming from a person, is as stunning as it is comforting. Moments from Hammock and Jonsi & Alex provide the highs in this instance. 

String instruments
Whether it’s a slowly drawn cello, a harp, or a lone guitar pluck, there’s something about string instruments when it comes to reflecting positivity (and in the right context, ultimate sadness!) However, I often associate these sounds with light - I have no idea why - but perhaps thats why they feature in here so heavily. Be it the acoustic version of Aphex Twin’s ‘Rhubarb’, Mary Lattimore’s beautiful harp, or Kit’s portrayal of a walk on the beach as fireworks light the horizon. 

Strong-sounds can also go to the other end of the spectrum too, with reverb-laden guitar-haze forming complex palettes that you’d normally expect to come from synthesizers. Examples in here being Manual and to a simpler extent, Neozaïre. 

We’re creatures of habits, and the beat of the drum is what makes all music so special. When it comes to ambient music, this often comes to life in loops, or slowly evolving textures that do just enough to keep you intrigued, yet are familiar enough to hypnotize and make you feel comfortable. Given its minimal nature, most ambient music is repetitive, but sometimes it can become more evident in its form, for example, a track here Klimek that anticipates each evolution and movement with a similar instrumental pluck of strings. 

Overall, I have tried to avoid anything that can be seen as daunting, intriguing or so vividly different that you switch into new worlds with every track. You may notice some distinct phases throughout the mix, where similar sounds are tied together, and you may prefer certain phases to others, but eventually I hope you finish on an extremely positive note. Just sat here listening back and writing this, I’m feeling better than I was a few hours back...

Thanks to everyone who commented on the original Facebook post with their own suggestions, a few of which made it into the final journey. 


Tracklist + links to buy/download:

01. Biosphere - As The Sun Kissed The Horizon [Biophon]
02. Ourson - Mountain, Calm Day, Birds, Saw [Self]
03. Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Daniel Lanois - Deep Blue Day [EG / Polydor]
04. Parks - Forest [Self]
05. Kit - Girl Walking on The Beach Wearing A Skirt [A Strangely Isolated Place]
06. Sage Taylor - Raintime Ten [Cold Fiction Music]
07. Bjorn Rohde - Intentionally Gone [Self]
08. Billow Observatory - Calumet [Felte]
09. Hammock - Now And Not Yet [Hammock Music]
10. Heathered Pearls - Glass Routine [Self]
11. Donnacha Costello - This Way [Ursa/Self]
12. James Devane - Rhubarb (Acoustic) [na]
13. Aphex Twin - Rhubarb [Warp]
14. Marcus Fischer - Arctic 2 [Luxus-Arctica records International]
15. Helios - Halving The Compass [Type/Unseen]
16. Yeter - Dart 2 [A Strangely Isolated Place]
17. bvdub - 10 [Self]
18. Markus Guentner - Express Yourself [Kompakt]
19. Leyland Kirby - Polaroid [Ghostly]
20. Martin Glass - Welcome To The Four Seasons [Kit Records]
21. David Bowie & Brian Eno - Moss Garden [RCA]
22. Klimek - Sun Rise [Kompakt]
23. Mary Lattimore & Jefre Cantu Ledesma - Borrego Springs [Soap Library]
24. Brian Eno - Music For Airports 1/1 [Polydor]
25. Jonsi & Alex - Boy 1904 [XL/Parlophone]
26. Neozaïre - Blue Bell Treasure [Fauxpas]
27. Manual - Azure Vista [Darla]
28. Peter Broderick & Nils Frahm - Sketch 24 [Fugues]

If you enjoyed this, dive deeper into ambient music with our in-depth introduction 'Neither Scene Nor Heard: An Introduction to Ambient Music', or some of the other Portals series, below. 


Spotlight on Substrata 1.5 - the final edition

This years ambient pilgrimage to Seattle will thankfully happen after festival curator Rafael Anton Irisarri pulled out all of the stops from the other side of the country. 

After a painful year in which his entire studio was stolen prior to his move to New York, the annual intimate sound and visual art weekend was at risk of never seeing a fifth edition. But after months of hard-work, Rafael has managed to pull together one of the best line-ups yet, all for what seems to be the final Substrata.

The curatorial once again sees Rafael mix-up the bigger names of ambient and experimental music alongside local artists and well-respected yet perhaps lesser-known musicians. Out of the five editions, I'm yet to be familiar with every-single artist on the lineup, so once again I'm going to take a dive into what's in-store for what's set to be a very special fifth and final edition to the Pacific North West's (and probably one of the world's best) small festivals dedicated to this type of music. 

A very limited amount of tickets are available for the weekend at


With ASIPV003 set to be released in a few months time, Uwe's release alongside Hior Chronik titled In-between, will mark a very special occasion for ASIP. It will be our first dedicated artist release, and it will also see Uwe move away from his more recognised IDM style, into ambient music. Perfect timing, as Uwe is set to play a rare and exclusive ambient set for Substrata, hopefully echoing some of the approaches we'll witness on the album, alongside "entirely new material based on field recordings, treated with granular synthesis and electroacoustic/computeracoustic sounds".

Uwe has been releasing snippets of his studio work on his Soundcloud over the past few weeks, which might be the workings of what we can expect on the night. You can also listen to a couple of tracks from his upcoming ASIP release  here.


Taylor Deupree

Taylor Deupree runs the infamous 12k record label (home to Marcus Fischer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Marsen Jules and Simon Scott (of Slowdive fame) to name just a few. A producer in his own right, Taylor's responsible for a plethora of experimental and ambient albums over the years, and this intro could be a pretty massive rabbit-hole for anyone new to the name. 

Below, I've decided to showcase Taylor's Shoals, an album which might closely mimic the type of performance or sound we're likely to hear at Substrata. "After the first day in the studio, Deupree quickly realized that he was less interested in the traditional ways these instruments were played and more fascinated by the sounds of the surfaces of the 
instruments. And so he began to utilize their edges and undersides and find their flaws, such as broken strings. These instruments, played by scraping, tapping, or with an eBow, became the basis for long and meditative looping beds of sound".


Rachel Grimes

A pianist, composer and arranger, Rachel Grimes is someone I've come across regularly, but unforgivably failed to look further into. She has a wealth of experience working on film scores, commissions, and collaborations and has played at some of the worlds most diverse music festivals. 

Rachel's upcoming release on Temporary Residence is what may interest most of us. In collaboration with the likes of Loscil, Scott Moore, Kyle Crabtree (Shipping News), Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Jacob Duncan (Liberation Prophecy), and Helen Money, The Clearing represents "a wide spectrum of textures in strings, harp, piano, woodwinds, and percussion".

It'll be interesting to see who, and exactly what turns up on stage for Rachel's performance with such a variation of experience to choose from. 


Lubomyr Melnyk

Known for pioneering 'Continuous Piano Music' (and to some, as one of the worlds fastest pianists) the Ukrainian is a recent addition to the brilliant Erased Tapes label and a match-made in heaven for Substrata. I can't wait to sit back as the evening sun descends on the Chapel, and absorb the never-ending paintings that Lubomyr constructs. The video below should give you the best insight into what to expect. Rumour has it, he'll be leading an advanced piano-class on the Saturday of the festival.


Jefre Cantu-Ledesma

Known by name to me, but not with as much familiarity as I would've hoped, Jefre is another artist which has been floating on my periphery for quite some time. He is known to many for his work in bands such as Tarentel, the co-founder of the Root Strata label and has also partnered with Substrata veteran Grouper as Raum

The below video is taken from his February 2015 release, A Year With 13 Moons. Going by this album and his production roots, it sounds like we'll be treated to a wall of glorious and colorful sound come festival-time.


Tiny Vipers

Bringing it home for Seattle is local acoustic singer Tiny Vipers. Similarly to Jefre above, Jesy Fortino has also partnered up with Liz Harris (Grouper) on one production in the past, but is perhaps better known for her solo acoustic performances, often seen playing live across Seattle on Kexp, or at the infamous Triple Door. For her performance at this Substrata, Jesy is set to play all new music made for analog synthezisers & tapes, in a similar vibe to German music like Tangerine Dream or Popol Vuh.

Below, her 2009 album Life On Earth seems a good place to reflect on what's she's done before, but it sounds like we'll be treated to something completely new at the festival. 


Tara Jane O'Neil

With a release on Mississippi Records dating back to 2006 - an infamous record store and label here in Portland, we could ascertain what kind of sound Tara may have in-store for us. Fast-forward to 2014 and it's Tara's release on Kranky which might have peaked the ears of festival curator Rafael, but similar to the above Tiny Vipers, Substrata will pay witness to a newly commissioned ambient and drone set. 



The beauty of this feature helps me get to grips with the type of music I can expect at Substrata, but as Rauelsson is likely to prove in a few months time, it will probably be the performance, not just music that becomes engrained in my memory.

A multi-instrumentalist, combining modern-classical with subtle electronics, it could be the type of performance I've witnessed from the likes of Nils Frahm and last years Evan Caminiti, judging by the below video and his latest release on Sonic Pieces (home to Otto A Totland).

My most anticipated performance of the festival for sure, we'll no doubt be welcomed with a stage-full of instruments for Rauelsson's return to the Pacific North West. 


Mary Lattimore

We'll be treated to a dedicated Harp performance this year by Mary Lattimore, and just like last year's solo cellist, Julia Kent, I'm hoping for another educational yet encapsulating performance on an instrument I very rarely get to see live. 

Mary has 'performed, collaborated, and recorded with who’s who of the indie rock scene: Jarvis Cocker, Thurston Moore, Sharon Van Etten, Meg Baird, Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn, 
Ed Askew, Fursaxa and many others', 
and this is one of the many reasons I enjoy and respect this festival. I would never choose to go and see a Harp player playing solo, yet I'm pretty sure we'll experience something unforgettable and perhaps, my musical senses will broaden just that little bit further.

Below, Mary playing alongside Jeff Zeigler in a mesmorizing and hypnotic performance.



Another local Seattle musician with a healthy back-catalog. Norm Chambers' latest release Disintegrating Landscape is a 47-minute long journey, beginning with very obvious rattling field recordings and slowly evolving into an intensely varied electronic spectrum - from organic instruments, through to atmoshperic washes into bleeps and synthesizers. This kind of extended, probably improvised set, is perfect for the attentive audience at Substrata. 


The last two artists on the lineup, Paul Clipson and Leo Mayberry are set to provide the visuals to the weekend's performances. With such an intimate space, and an audience looking to exploit such detailed and immersive music, artists such as Paul and Leo play a critical role in the experience and the vision Rafael seeks.

Leo Mayberry's local experience has previously seen him take the role of Decibel Festival's Visual Coordinator alongside gigs in pretty much every local Seattle venue, and San Francisco's Paul Clipson has featured within the New York Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival, and the Rotterdam International Film Festival to name just a few.