On a Friday night in July on the south side of Bloomington, dozens of listeners sat cross-legged on the concrete floors of the collective event space called the Void.
Among piles of kick drums, mic stands and guitar cases, Ethan Helfrich stood alone on the stage. He slowly dragged a violin bow across his guitar while a single candle burned at his feet. A black and white video of hazy tree lines and creek beds played in the background. His ambient, meditative solo project, Rest You Sleeping Giant, had his audience transfixed.
After uploading six of his projects to Bandcamp, Helfrich’s latest album, “Spirits”, was released on cassette and vinyl Dec.16. He performed some of the tracks from “Spirits” at release shows Dec. 14 in Indianapolis and Dec. 16 in Kokomo, Indiana.
Recorded at his home on cassette tapes, the six tracks of “Spirits” navigate soft and blissful landscapes that Helfrich described in contrast as “marked by a long and cold journey through a series of hardships.”
“I refer to it not necessarily as the album I wanted to put out but the one that came out of what was going on in my life at that time,” Helfrich said.
Helfrich has been making ambient music as Rest You Sleeping Giant for more than two years now. He has released a variety of demos, including a split album with the ambient band Ky== and a creative commons release called “Coldharvest I,” and soundtracks online.
To create his sleepy sounds, Helfrich said he used a variety of effects pedals and loops on his guitar. Some tracks, like the nearly 12-minute-long “Left to Decay,” contain upwards of 30 different loops to create the specific wall of sound often associated with ambient and shoegaze music.
“‘Shoegaze’ can be such a subjective term, but my definition for it is really anything using a lot of effects pedals,” Helfrich said. “You can listen to a lot of popular albums now and hear lots of shoegaze elements.”
A self-proclaimed pedal nut, Helfrich said he owns upwards of 40 effects pedals. With his variety of reverb, delay and looper pedals, he can manipulate his guitar to create the ethereal sound of Rest You Sleeping Giant.
In addition to effects pedals, Helfrich said he has taken to using more unorthodox objects to help him create the right sound. He’s used a violin bow, a paintbrush and a screwdriver against his guitar to create a glissando effect.
“I love doing stuff like that, because it’s very creepy,” Helfrich said. “It just creates this wonderful atmosphere. Other times I’ve just smashed my guitars against things — sometimes my shows get kind of weird.”
Although he said he doesn’t like to label himself as a visual artist, Helfrich also designs and creates the visuals for his shows.
His short film “Frost” was originally an interactive project assignment from one of his classes at IU. The 30-minute film contains a compilation of 15-second clips that Helfrich set to a score of his own airy rhythms.
A current graduate student in human computer interaction design at IU , Helfrich said he likes to incorporate the element of interaction into his performances. He finds new ways to integrate lighting and visuals to make his music more engaging.
“Whatever I can make that creates this trip, something where you can sit and feel, see or smell, that’s what I want,” Helfrich said. “I want to be an interactive experience.”
His unique sound has found a home in the alternative music scene of Bloomington. From playing among emo bands in basements to open mic nights at the Players Pub, he has found a wide audience of listeners ready to space out with him.
“There are so many different types of music here,” he said. “And people are open to lots of different types of music even if you’re weird and way out there, and I love Bloomington for that.”
He said his main goal with Rest You Sleeping Giant is to create a feeling that will resonate with his listeners.
“I like things you can just drop out to,” he said. “I want people to kind of space out and be consumed by what is going on. Some people don’t really get it, but I don’t want it to seem like a concert or for my music to seem like a song. You just have to be in a different head space.”
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