I’ve had the enormous pleasure of being introduced to the delightful electronic music of Brian Dickson, a.k.a. Colony Three. I was asked to review a collection of 10 tracks titled Ergosphere. Wikipedia defines the word ergosphere as “…a region located outside a rotating black hole’s outer event horizon. Its name was proposed by Remo Ruffini and John Archibald Wheeler during the Les Houches lectures in 1971 and is derived from the Greek word ergon, which means ‘work.’”
This listening experience allowed me to take a remarkable journey that I look forward to revisiting time and time again; I know that I will hear more and experience different sensations with each opportunity.
The first five tracks lull us as listeners into a sense of peace and well-being—a journey that is both pleasant and without a hint of danger. Suddenly, with the opening strains of “Bad Gram,” the mood changes and we are thrust into a metropolis of sights and sounds that are both confusing and terrifying. As the music gathers steam, we are subjected to the aural awakening of the “fight or flight” instinct.
“Random Sparks” brings us back to a safe haven, giving us hope that there will be no other dangerous interludes until we reach the conclusion of our travels. But, just as suddenly as we feel that sense of calm, we are reminded by the dire melodies in “Collider” that the dangers we face are still all too real.
In the end, the pace of the excursion slows down, the dangers melt away, and again we begin to feel that perhaps this odyssey will have a positive completion after all. “Winds of Elysium Planitia” puts me in mind of The Man Who Fell To Earth when we are given glimpses of Thomas Jerome Newton’s suffering family back on his native planet. The final track, similar in scope by looking back on the previous tracks, evoke feelings of both relief and sadness—relief that the trip is over and we are still breathing, and sadness, because of a nagging feeling that the world will somehow be forever different.
I am so pleased to have had a chance to interview Brian Dickson to provide some first-hand insight into the origins of this lush collection’s creation. I hope you will enjoy reading what I learned about this man and what he has to say about his exquisite music.
MissParker: I can sit here and list all of the influences that I hear in this brilliant music—from Brian Eno to Gary Numan to Underworld to Jean-Michel Jarre…but my opinions would be irrelevant. Let’s hear it from you–who are you influences and why?
BD: I’d say my biggest influencers are Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre. In the early 80s I lived in a very remote northern town so my exposure to music was mostly through the one local radio station that played top 40 pop and country music. One day, I was digging through my older brother’s stuff and came across a cassette of Force Majeure, and listening to it was a life-changing epiphany. I’d never had an emotional response to music until hearing this. It wasn’t the harsh “bleeps & bloops” synthesizers that I’d heard in so many b-movies and radio shows, but instead an incredible audio landscape that took me on a fantastical journey. I became obsessed with finding more music like this and pretty much anything that pushed boundaries.
Thanks to radio shows like CBC’s “Brave New Waves” with Brent Bambury and CFNY (under the tenure of David Marsden), a whole new world of musical influence was made possible. Listening to bootleg cassette copies of CFNY played a large part in me moving to Toronto.
MissParker: I’m terrified of flying, but I do it out of necessity. Listening to “Approach” made me smile because it actually reminds me of the airplane’s approach to the runway for a landing. What is the true meaning behind that song?
BD: First, I love hearing about how you interpreted this song as it was always a dream of mine to create something that sparks the listeners’ imagination.
Certain sounds or songs create a type of visualization for me. When composing, I often start with a single sound and build on it, twisting and overlaying a few other sounds. At some point a scene forms in my mind and I often end up naming the track whatever was in this imaginary scene. In this case I had come up with the album name “Ergosphere” and thought it fitting that this song would be the approach into the Ergosphere and beyond.
MissParker: “Indifference Waves” has a lovely build-up to the brief spoken word segment. It puts me in mind of Gary Numan when he was
experimenting with techno in the 90s and ended up keeping it as his signature sound. Then it takes off into a fabulous confluence of electronics and raw drumbeat. I love that combination. What inspired it?
BD: “Indifference Waves” was born of a sample from a 1964 episode of Danger Man in which John Drake (played by the outstanding Patrick McGoohan) finds himself in a surreal village called Colony Three. Many speculate that this episode was the precursor to the iconic science-fiction series The Prisoner which finds McGoohan imprisoned in a mysterious village where everyone is known only as a number.
“Indifference” describes my interpretation of The Prisoner, which is the importance of questioning the status quo. I’m finding that naming the songs is almost as much fun as making them!
MissParker: There seem to be very brief, if any, breaks between most of the tracks. Was this collection meant to flow like a single soundtrack, or are the songs meant to stand on their own?
BD: Some of Ergosphere was composed with no gaps between the tracks, but I’ve found that some streaming platforms or audio playback software inject small breaks between songs. Spotify seems to play the album “gapless” while others are hit and miss. I’ve noted that artists like Jean-Michel Jarre now release large single track “continuous play” version of their albums to avoid this issue. I personally love continuous play albums as they seem keep the listener’s imagination and mood flowing throughout.
MissParker: I played a lot of Jean-Michel Jarre in the late 90s early 00s when I was a corporate trainer. I used his music specifically to soothe my classes while they were testing on the stuff that I’d taught them. I hear some of his influence in “Flight to Tadoule.” What is your take on Jarre’s music? Did he inspire you to create your own version of electronica and how?
BD: Jean Michel-Jarre is influential on almost everything I produce. In my opinion, Jarre has found the precise balance of classical composure and technology. His bold approach to musical and performance experimentation is inspirational. I was fortunate enough to go to Jarre’s amazing 2017 performance in Toronto and it was better than I could’ve ever imagined.
Jarre inspired me to start simple and build on it. If I ever got the chance to speak with Jarre, I always imagine that his advice would be “There’s no wrong way to do it.” Sometimes when working on a track I will literally ask myself, “What would Jarre do at this point?” which always seems to get me past the block.
MissParker: “Clearwater” has a remarkable intro that flows seamlessly from the close of “Flight to Tadoule.” It reminds me of a DJ making the perfect segue between songs during a radio broadcast. Were the two songs created in tandem purposely?
BD: Unbeknownst to everyone (until now) “Clearwater” and “Flight to Tadoule” were composed in memory of my mother and father. My mother lived her final years in Clearwater, a scenic town in the interior of British Columbia, Canada. Her last years there were the happiest of her life and it was always a pleasure to see her so happy there. One of my fondest memories of my father was when he took me on a flight in a Cessna to a very remote northern community called Tadoule Lake. I felt it fitting to have these songs sound very different on their own but also be somewhat connected.
MissParker: Up until “Bad Gram,” the songs seem to have a laid back and dreamy quality to them. Then all of a sudden we’re thrown into a random foot chase with pursuers hot on our heels. The urgency carries over into “Influence,” although not as intense. What brings on this change of mood?
BD: I really enjoy your interpretation of “Bad Gram,” and I think I hit the mark on this one! As the song was being composed, I started imagining a scene from a Michael Mann movie, like some of the amazing instrumentals that Jan Hammer had done for Miami Vice. After the lulling jazz-bar sounds of “Daydream on Pacific Avenue” I wanted to create an unexpected spike of adrenaline for the listener to snap them back to the rest of the album.
MissParker: I mentioned in the introduction how some of this collection reminded me of David Bowie in “The Man Who Fell To Earth.” My only complaint about the film is that 45 years later, the soundtrack (which Bowie did NOT compose) presents as a bit “cheesy.” Your music on Ergosphere, however, is as timeless as space itself. That said, did you have a “movie” playing in your head when you created these tracks?
BD: That is another really big compliment on many levels! I didn’t set out with a movie in mind for the overall album, and I think the timeless aspect is a result of a personal preference I have for simplicity in both the composure and instruments being used. My good friend Rob Stuart (of SLAVE to the SQUAREwave) and I discuss this philosophy at length, that so many of the timeless classics were created using equipment that was greatly limited by today’s standards. I believe these limits are what ultimately demanded the most creativity and best performances from the artists at the time. I used to think that because I had a 16-track recorder, I needed to make use of them all. (Maybe to get my money’s worth?) Now, my studio has the ability to mix and record over 1,000 tracks, but I generally use 10 tracks for most songs, which encourages me to focus on melody and dynamics.
MissParker: Is all of the writing and production solely yours, or do you have people that you collaborate with?
BD: For my first album, I made a conscious decision to go it alone as I ultimately wanted to own the outcome and find my own groove, so to speak. I did the writing and recording over the course of a few months. While the composing and recording was the fun and easy part, I was really struggling when it came time to master the album. Mastering is the final step in the process where the entire album is stitched-together and balanced for harmonics and volume levels. I’m thankful for being able to lean on Rob Stuart for advice during this journey as he has decades of experience in music composure and production. These great conversations turned have led to Rob and I collaborating on some new tracks.
It’s early days but we are both really excited about the outcomes and are looking forward to sharing them.
MissParker: Do you perform live? If so, where can people have the pleasure of being enveloped by your music in a live performance?
BD: I haven’t spent the time yet to research live performance in this genre…I’ve simply been having too much fun creating the music! I think my gateway into live performance would be through that previously mentioned collaboration. It would be the experience of a lifetime no matter what the venue.
Missparker: Where can people sample and ultimately purchase your music?
BD: For the latest information about Colony Three and to sample new music in the making, visit:
Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ColonyThree/ )
Colony Three music is available on all of the major streaming and download services including Amazon, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, and YouTube:
Missparker: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your music and your thoughts with us.
BD: Thank you for your support and for such a thought-provoking and fun interview experience!
I love your site and what you’re doing for all artists both new and established!