Keith Kenniff is a composer based in Pennsylvania. His output as Goldmund has established him as one of the preeminent composers of minimal piano-based ambient music alongside peers like Hauschka, Dustin O’Halloran, and even Ryuichi Sakamoto, who himself once described Kenniff’s work as “so, so, so beautiful.” Don't miss our conversation with Goldmund, covering topics such as his journey into music, composition, technology, upcoming projects, and life.

Can you share with us your journey into music, and what initially sparked your interest in becoming a composer?

My dad played and recorded music when I was growing up. He exposed me to instruments, recording and tons of great music from the get-go. My brother and I learned music together and were in bands, went to music school together and we pushed each other to do more from a young age. 

Can you discuss any rituals or routines you follow to maintain a consistent creative practice? Can you share any insights into your process of self-critique and refinement when composing new pieces?

Unless I'm being hired to do so, I tend to not place any restrictions on what kind of direction a piece, or album, will take. I definitely fall into patterns, and want to maintain some sense of consistency or voice, but I try to be very aware of why I'm writing something and not just going through the motions. I think it's important to try and push oneself in new directions, but also realize where strengths lie and build on those strengths as much as possible. I think there's a certain pressure these days on composers to do something that is unique or groundbreaking, which maybe speaks to trying to come to the surface of the overwhelming amount of content that is being thrust our way; however, when I look back at something I've done, I ask "Was this the best you could do at that moment?", and if the answer is yes, then I consider it a success and move on. 

How do you balance your various musical projects, such as Helios, Goldmund, and others? Can you share any insights into your collaborative process with your wife Hollie in Mint Julep?

Each project has a different stylistic approach and a different functional approach to composing. Helios material is done almost entirely on the computer, so a lot of it is sound design, getting to play with a large tapestry of instruments and textural techniques. It's very intuitive and utilizes a lot of different instruments that I play (guitar, drums, piano etc...). Goldmund was a project for exploring what could be done with piano-led compositions; it still lives in the ambient world, so there's some textural things that happen, but the focus is on one instrument. That project is very minimal, both in how the sound is treated but also compositionally, melody and harmony tend to be stripped as far as can go without losing the idea. Mint Julep explores more indie rock/synth pop/shoegaze, is more extroverted and has singing at the forefront, so it's a lot different. I also get to collaborate so there's bouncing of ideas, talking things over, compromise and it all nets an entirely different result than if it were just me. I get to rock out on guitar and drums, so that's always fun.

Can you share any insights into how you choose titles for your compositions or albums?

I find titles very difficult, especially for albums. I take a lot of care in choosing album titles that carry a certain vague weight or concept; something that may mean a variety of different things to different people. Not entirely on purpose, I got into only restricting Helios album titles to one esoteric word, which is a fun challenge. Song titles are easier with lyrics in regard to the Mint Julep material, but with instrumental work it's difficult, so I tend to try and come up with a phrase or word that seems to encapsulate what I think the song feels like. Hollie is also really good at titles, so every now and then I get to pull from her archive.

How do you balance the demands of your musical career with your personal life and other interests?

Having children sometimes means that a level of uncertainty or anarchy in one's schedule is unavoidable. I am able to balance that well at times and other times not. It's a constant push and pull. I get obsessive and hyper focused about music, which can be a good thing, but sometimes I need to really remind myself to pick up a book or go for a walk instead of always giving into the compulsion to sit behind the piano or have a guitar in my hand. 

How do you feel technology has influenced the way you compose and produce music?

It has always been a huge part of how I write music. I began writing electronic music on 90s computers with very minimal gear/software, so I had to learn to squeeze humanity out of a small set of tools. Before I taught myself to play piano, I used my qwerty keyboard to input notes and chords. I wrote my first two Helios albums that way. As much as I rely on technology, I keep the tools that I have simple because I am always more interested in ideas rather than gear, so if a set of sounds works to achieve what I need aesthetically, then I don't feel the need to constantly search for sounds or fiddle with things and I can prioritize the composition.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or releases that you're particularly excited about?

I have just completed a new album under my Goldmund moniker that I'm hoping to get out this year. It'll be a bit of a change from usual as I will be featuring strings on every song, but still exists in the same world as previous work. Hollie and I have a new Mint Julep in the pipeline and we are also working on an ambient project together which will be out sometime this year that I'm excited about. There are various film/ad projects in the works as well. 

Finally, from your perspective, what is the meaning of life?

Impact. We will be forgotten, but the impact we have on others and what we did when we were here is all that we seem to have in our power to control. That impact that we have can have exponential influence on what comes after. One thing that I feel certain of is that art, in its various forms, is a clearer indication and communicator of the human condition than language will ever be. I consider myself very lucky to have found the kind of solace and purpose that creating and sharing with others offers.