BRATTLEBORO — Composer and digital Mellotronist Ross Goldstein fashions himself an amateur.
This might seem odd, as Goldstein has been an active musician for more than 20 years and Birdwatcher Records has produced four albums of his music, including his most recent, Timoka, a new cinematic instrumental work that will be released on Jan. 31.
In addition, on Saturday, Feb. 8, at Epsilon Spires, Goldstein will play his Mellotron as he joins in concert Brian Dewan on the historic building's 115-year-old Estey pipe organ in a live improvisational composition.
Even so, Goldstein still clings to the designation of “amateur” as a way to characterize his lifestyle and approach to his art.
“Many people consider 'amateur' a negative word,” he explains. “On the contrary - I consider it an exciting place to be.”
Goldstein does not want to imply that he has a casual or inept relation to the music he makes, or even that he has never worked professionally as a musician.
“Yet I shy away from the label of 'professional,' because of all it connotes,” he adds. “As an amateur, I can experiment with musicmaking without worrying if I fail.”
“Since I purposely avoid many of the obligations that a professional musician is forced to take on, I need not always work to keep in step with the bottom line: making money,” he adds.
That's because he avoids involving “others, like managers, fellow musicians and corporations, relying on my insistence to succeed or be commercial, at whatever the cost to the kind of music I am trying to produce.”
Goldstein believes that in this context he has the space to create without being a slave to monetary goals.
“There have been many times people have paid me to make music,” he says. “But frankly, I am too lazy to take on the full responsibilities of being professional, such as getting my music everywhere.”
“I could be writing scores for movies just to get by, but I believe [that because of] the way I work, that would take too much time and, in fact, drain me of the real ideas to make my important work develop as it needs to,” he adds.
Collaborators in a café
Located in a repurposed church, Epsilon Spires draws musicians to the venue because of the church's sanctuary, which was built in a similar fashion as a European opera house, allowing for high-quality acoustics and sonic resonance.
Dewan, who will be accompanying Goldstein on the organ, is an esteemed musician in his own right. He has previously collaborated with such artists as They Might Be Giants and David Byrne of Talking Heads.
“I am lucky to play with Brian in the Brattleboro concert,” says Goldstein. “He is a wonderful artist and musician, and I suspect many people coming to hear us will be familiar with his work.”
This concert is hardly the first time Goldstein has collaborated with Dewan. The two improvise music together every Monday morning in a café in Catskill Village, where both musicians live, says Goldstein.
Goldstein says that he and Dewan suggested jokingly to the owner of the cafe - which he describes as “virtually the only place to get coffee in town” - that it might be fun to have music in the space early in the morning.
“To our surprise, he gave us the thumbs up,” he says. And the two have been playing there for years: Dewan on piano and Goldstein on Mellotron.
“Sometimes we are even joined by other musicians to become an ensemble, up to 10 players, which sort of takes the music making a bit over the top,” Goldstein says. “But it is all so informal that it doesn't matter.”
Album a one-of-a-kind creation
Although the concert at Epsilon Spires is to celebrate the release of Goldstein's new album, Goldstein and Dewan will not be performing any music from Timoka.
“Timoka was an electronically made studio creation that would not be recreated in concert,” explains Goldstein. “Brian and I will be performing a new improvisation in Brattleboro. Nonetheless, Timoka will be on sale there, and I may play selections from it.”
Jamie Mohr, creative director for Epsilon Spires, writes that Timoka “scores a journey taken to discover a unique Shangri La, one that stretches out over both imagined desert planets and more organic, personally drawn territory. Through samples of string flourishes, slowly unfurling gong and cymbal sounds, and slightly dissonant chimes, the album sustains a suspenseful air, even in its loveliest moments.”
Goldstein's publicist, Gabriel Birnbaum, adds, “To me, the experience of listening to Timoka is like exploring a once-great mansion that has been neglected for a long time, opening a series of doors to find a mixture of beautiful old furniture and dark, cobwebbed spaces.”
All this music, Birnbaum writes, is original and created on Timoka with one instrument.
“Using a Mellotron only, [Goldstein] has recorded an instrumental suite which could easily be arranged for a full orchestra and used as a soundtrack to a particularly haunting movie... [T]here's lots of slow-moving, suspenseful strings, ominous pizzicato notes, and dramatically paced timpani and cymbal rolls.”
In his pre-Mellotron days, Goldstein primarily played the guitar, and he still composes his music on that instrument.
He describes the music on Timoka as “non-academic classical,” but he also writes in a more popular vein. About half of his last album, Inverted Jenny, which also employed the Mellotron, included songs with his vocals.
“But I think Timoka will show that I am getting better and better at exploring and using that strange electronic instrument, the Mellotron.”
Not bad for an amateur.