When Mike Met Michael for an Interview…

For those of you who may be interested, the editor of the excellent Ambient Visions website, Michael Foster, very kindly asked me to do an interview about my latest album release, and here it is…

Heading West by Mike Howe

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About Mike Howe

I am an ecologist and a composer of guitar based instrumental melodies signed to the Real Music label in California. I like to write about my work, music and nature conservation and how it all comes together. I try not to write about things I don't know much about.
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18 Responses to When Mike Met Michael for an Interview…

  1. Jo Woolf says:

    This was very interesting, Mike! You are obviously such an instinctive musician – I’m sure I read somewhere that Paul McCartney couldn’t read or write music either, at least when he started out. In my mind, it kind of goes with the ecology, in a way – you seem to have a feeling for the ‘soul’ of landscapes and nature, from what I’ve read of your blog. And I also admire the fact that you’ve taught yourself not only to play different instruments, but also to record and mix the music in the studio. Quite a lot of challenges! I hope your latest album is coming along well. I like the designs of your album covers, by the way.

    • Mike Howe says:

      Hi Jo, that’s a really nice comment, thank you. I remember Paul McCartney talking about not being able to read or write music too, although obviously that’s where the comparison ends πŸ˜‰ I think most musicians can play and compose without having to read or write the notes, it’s not about memorising them. It’s the same as just knowing your way when you’re going somewhere familiar I think. Thanks for the lovely posts on Scottish places that I miss – I haven’t been up to Applecross for a couple of years now but I’m itching to return, and your lovely posts just make that all the more inevitable πŸ™‚

      • Jo Woolf says:

        You’re too modest, I think! πŸ™‚ Thank you, I’m glad you enjoy my posts. We have visited the Applecross area but it was so long ago – more years than I’d care to admit! So we’re long overdue for another visit. Meanwhile, your posts about Wales bring back very nice memories for me, so it’s a fair exchange! πŸ™‚

  2. Ash says:

    Great interview Mike. It is always good to know that you don’t have to be an “expert” to be good at something.

    • Mike Howe says:

      Thanks Ash, I know what you mean, all it takes sometimes is to just give something a go and as long as you don’t nose dive people think you know what you’re doing πŸ˜‰

  3. elkement says:

    This was really interesting – I am particularly baffled that you create this music without being able to read or write it. But I guess you have some mental picture in mind? What is it? Do you have invented some “code” of your own?
    I am asking as I (as you might expect) have a rather “technical” approach playing an instrument – I can’t imaging doing it without having mastered the “theory” so to speak. But you prove that there are obviously totally different ways …

    • Mike Howe says:

      I just play totally by ear Elke, I know loads of people who do that, it’s not very unusual. I compose the music the same way – I imagine a tune, I pick up the guitar and play it (eventually after a bit of working out), then I might change it, then I might add other melodies or rhythms on top, then I might add others or take some away, until it’s done πŸ™‚ That’s how most musicians operate as far as I know. The great thing is an imagined tune can turn out utterly differently when I’ve finished this process, and often the result is way better than I’d imagined, which is rather nice πŸ™‚

  4. Elina says:

    A really lovely interview, always great to hear your thoughts Mike. πŸ™‚ I must say now knowing that you haven’t studied music I am even more amazed by your work… so incredible that out of passion for music you’ve figured it all out on your own and found your own way to create such lovely and very enjoyable music. You mentioned in the interview that you can’t read or write music. May I ask what is your process when composing… how do you write it down? Or do you just memorise it?

    • Mike Howe says:

      Thanks for your kind comment Elina and for reading the interview, I often find them a bit boring so well done for sticking with it πŸ™‚ In answer to your question, I am often accused of having a poor memory by my friends and family (for good reason), and it may be because I’ve used so much of it up storing all of the musical notes for each of my songs! When I’m composing I have to commit all of it, the bass line, the rhythm guitar, the lead melody, the drum pattern to memory because as I’ve said I can’t write it down. It may sound unusual but many people do this, and it it isn’t at all difficult if that’s the way your brain happens to work. The biggest difficulty I have because of my musical illiteracy is explaining to anyone else how the music goes, which is probably why I do it all myself. If I’m worried that I’ll forget the melody I often rush to the nearest recording device and quickly play the melody so I won’t forget it. But usually I can just remember it just like we remember anything else I suppose. Thanks for asking I really appreciate it πŸ™‚

      • Elina says:

        Having learned music myself and being able to read notes… I find your way of doing it so amazingly cool! It somehow adds a unique touch to your work and explains even more how into it you are. Although you say many people do it this way I still find it really amazing. πŸ™‚

  5. Gallivanta says:

    A great interview Mike. Lovely to have more background to your music and how you create it. I was also a Peter and the Wolf fan πŸ™‚

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience and perspectives in spite of your natural shyness Mike!
    For me this is a very inspiring and insightful interview in so many regards.

    My husband studied music at university and I know a few “trained” musicians as well as “self taught” ones. (Actually I had a tiny bit of voice training myself.) From my lay observations I personally would not necessarily say that the advantage is only on the side of the ones who had a professional training as a training can hold limitations of a different kind, regarding the creative process. It feels more like two different starting points aiming at the same centre.

    By the way, I also loved listening to Peter and the Wolf (and Mozart) as a child. πŸ˜€

    • Mike Howe says:

      I agree Steffi, it’s all about expression at the end of the day and it doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as you have the tools you think that you need πŸ™‚ Peter and the Wolf is so cool, all children should hear it πŸ™‚

  7. That’s good exposure. Never hurts!

  8. drawandshoot says:

    Nice to read a little more about your process and music, Mike.
    : )

Comments very welcome

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