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Brian Bieniowski is the Associate Editor for Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and the owner of ambientreview.com. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Bianca. We talked about the future, about ways of living your life, about ambient music and about the end of the world. My interview questions have been removed.

My visions of the future generally concern my own life; its supreme smallness, the drop-in-the-ocean mentality I try to live my life by. I think only a little about the future of mankind, aside from fanciful daydreams, or the stories and dramas of the future I read. I have goals and hopes for my life, but I do try to take things as slowly and meaningfully, on the daily level, as possible. I am a wholehearted believer in personal responsibility for my choices and actions. I try to live intuitively, but not in a haphazard fashion—spontaneous living, but not frivolous, you might say. I feel no responsibility for things like cities, or the future of humanity, though. These things get along fine without me, and will continue well after I’m gone.

I don’t particularly like cities, and it’s why I don’t live in one. I took responsibility by living near the city, but not within it, though it caused me certain hardships, considering my profession. I don’t regret the decision at all.

I started working from home a few days a week recently. My father-in-law came over today and said, "Do your submitters know you are reading their stories on the living room floor, with a cup of coffee, and no shoes?" Well, now they do. I’m in the city three days a week, which is one train ride both ways, lasting under an hour. I walk to work every morning, both in New Jersey and New York City. The train is my bridge between two pretty walks. The City walk is smellier, though. New York has its beauties, there’s no question, but I do find myself constantly comparing it to less crowded and less developed areas.

I love the artist who works in relative obscurity, despite fickle public tastes/opinions. Harold Budd, John Crowley, R.A. Lafferty, Brian Eno, Robert Rich, Moebius—they pursue (or pursued when alive) avenues that are purely their own. I believe that one must press his or her own way in this life, that one must not become a slave to influences, that a person must make his or her own life an example of how things can be done, even if nobody notices, perhaps especially because nobody notices.

One of my favorite quotes ever is by Peter Christopherson from the groups Throbbing Gristle and Coil: "I reckon it’s probably better not to think about anybody in 'heroic' terms at all, but just be polite and, if possible, interesting to all the people you meet. Just treat everyone with the same generosity of spirit, and chances are they will do likewise."

I look at SF as a visionary literature of potentials. SF says, "If humans can get their mess straight, look at what they can do!" It makes men and women consider their best potentials and attempt to achieve them.

I think people who grew up reading SF, who matured through the reading of SF, and who felt a certain way when they read what they experienced as the classics, also feel the drive to engender that feeling in others. By writing their own stories, they’re making attempts at spreading the virus. Still others want immortality within the small pond of the SF world. It’s like Hollywood, but smaller, nerdier, more socially uncomfortable. Of course, I mean that in the best possible way.

I think SF functions like a muse for would-be scientists. Isaac Asimov wrote about robots, some brainy kid loved the stories and went into robotics. It really seems to be just that simple, sometimes. The science and the fiction influence each other in turn; it’s a two-way street. SF gets credit for presaging scientific advancements, and it certainly has, but I think it’s more from the shotgun approach to futurism. Look at classic SF that featured robots, Scientology, cold-fusion powered cities, and hyper-drives. Three of those four concepts are currently bullshit (though the last two are, at the time of writing, unlikely possibilities). If that SF-gypsy fortune-teller told me I was going to get hit by a milk truck tomorrow, I’d take my chances on the street.

Reviewing ambient music can be hard, especially the more formlessly droning releases. Sometimes I feel myself sinking into flowery, descriptive BS as I’m writing. I write the reviews in such a way that the reader can skip the middle paragraph, which consists of winded, pretentious mumbo-jumbo. Funny thing is, my own non-critical writing is nothing like my reviews—I tend to write quite sparely. I’m not altogether pleased with the reviews; I feel as though writing about the music cheapens it, and the writing itself reflects that cheapening. The music is sometimes so free of connotation that I resort to using the same few words repeatedly to describe what only the music itself can express. And, of course, in reading my own reviews, I see the limits of my own writing. It’s still a learning process for me. I’ll quit reviewing one day, perhaps in the next year or two. I’ll hit a dead end with it, that’s for certain.

I feel ambient is the music you turn to when all else seems too fat and unbearable with connotation.

When I consider the end of everything, my life seems brief, and the urge to make the most of that brevity is at its most severe. Humans tend to put connotations on everything, and I love the idea of a world that simply is, without bothering with why. When we’re gone, all of our vulgar constructs, physical and theoretical, are going with us. Good riddance, perhaps. One of my college professors accused me of being anti-intellectual, and to this day I cannot decide whether it was an insult or a compliment.

My vision of the end of life is not unique. I imagine that we will all die off somehow, whether it be through our own stupidity or climactic/astronomical disaster (provided we find no way to leave Earth and colonize other planets). If we do not wreck the place first, the Earth will continue as a constantly roiling, teeming mass of raw life without us, until the Sun finally decides to die. The Universe will continue to whirl, perhaps aimlessly, and we will have been nothing but a footnote of infinity; a short cry in the dark. I can think of nothing more beautiful.


- Interview by K. Thor Jensen