[ANTIQUE AMBIENCE] It's noon, and Ethan Rose is nursing a mug of coffee on an unseasonably cool September day. He sets the mug down and tugs on the sleeves of his button-up brown sweater. Rose is talking, in his understated tenor, about instruments: old ones, weird ones, forgotten ones. "A lot of instruments I'm using are ones not in the popular realm," he says. "I'm sure people aren't at home jamming out to the music box."
With Rose as an inspiration, they soon may be. An electronic innovator on the ascendant, the 29-year-old is fast becoming one of Portland's most talked about soundscape artists. Last year he inked a deal with Chicago's pathbreaking Locust Music; his Ceiling Songs got an enthusiastic plug in the New York Times ; and Portland's own Gus van Sant used selections from Ceiling Songs in his latest film, Paranoid Park ?a nod Rose describes as "really humbling." Now, he's on the cusp of releasing sophomore effort Spinning Pieces , a collection of three experimental, 10-plus-minute tracks.
Just over a decade ago, Rose was banging out sounds in his Chicago home on a Casio and mixing beats with a four-track tape recorder. But a move to Portland in the late '90s for electronic music studies at Lewis&Clark College opened his ears considerably—so did tuning into what Rose calls the "emotional presence" in electronic heavy-hitters like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin.
But the slight-framed, bearded musician with swimming hazel eyes isn't nearly as outrageous or space-cadety as his sound-altering cohorts: He digs life in Portland, he's got a visual-artist girlfriend and he works part-time teaching music production at Self-Enhancement Inc., a Portland nonprofit for under-served youth. And when he talks about the kids he works with (fans of hip-hop, rap and pop; some are MCs in the making), his eyes shine. "At some point," he considers, "I should make an album with some of those kids."
He also talks about an upcoming tour to Japan for some gigs with Small Sails, his well-loved ambient pop band, as well as solo performances. "It's a time for change around me right now," Rose says, referencing the new album and a few collaborations on the horizon. "A lot of friends are moving away—some people feel like Portland is a little small for what they want to do." For now at least, Portland suits Rose just fine.