‘My Time’ is a mixtape compiled by the world renowned Japanese composers Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa (Wong was born in the US while spent his childhood in Japan). The vibrant and diverse selection (spanning scores for motion pictures to video game scores and featuring musicians from their native Japan as well as Western influences such as German New Wave, Punk and Synth Pop) mirrors the pair’s eclectic influences and a constant willingness to expand and broaden their sound palettes while infusing their own music with a delightful sense of inventiveness and imagination. The duo released their debut collaborative full length, ‘Toropical Circle’, in 2013 via Thrill Jockey; while this September sees its much anticipated follow-up, ‘Savage Imagination’, to be released by Chicago-based independent label Thrill Jockey this Autumn.
Fractured Air 22: My Time (A Mixtape by Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa)
Best known as guitarist to Baltimore, USA-based rock band Ponytail (who released three albums in the mid 2000’s), Dustin Wong has also released solo albums to international acclaim; most recently 2013’s ‘Mediation of Ecstatic Energy’ which saw Wong continue his pursuit of deeply personal and highly charged works composed of looped solo electric guitar to spellbinding effect. Takako Minekawa first rose to international prominence as a Shibuya-kei singer in the mid-90s with the song ‘Fantastic Cat‘ and her albums ‘Roomic Cube‘ and ‘Cloudy Cloud Calculator‘. She has collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cornelius, Buffalo Daughter, Dymaxion, and others. Dustin and Takako will tour Asia and North America this fall as a duo. ‘Savage Imagination’ by Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa will be available on 22nd September via Thrill Jockey Records.
01. Yasuaki Shimizu ‘Tachikawa’ [Crammed Discs]
02. Mariah ‘Shonen’ [Shan-Shan]
03. Stewart Copeland ‘Music Box’ [IRS]
04. Pyrolator ‘Im Zoo’ [Wave (Japan) / Ata Tak]
05. Malcolm Mclaren ‘Aria on Air’ [Virgin]
06. Ann Steel ‘My Time’ [Barclay / WEA International Inc.]
07. Hannah Diamond ‘Pink and Blue’ [PC Music]
08. Ja Ja Ja ‘I am an Animal’ [Ata Tak]
09. Steve Vai ‘Little Green Men’ [Urantia / Food For Thought]
10. Kazumi Totaka ‘Yoshi’s Story’ [Pony Canyon Inc.]
11. Jean Michel Jarre ‘Zoolookologie’ [Polydor]
12. Miharu Koshi ‘Yube no Inori’ [Non-Standard / Pick Up]
13. Eiichi Ohtaki ‘Peppermint Blue’ [CBS/Sony]
‘Savage Imagination’ by Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa will be available via Thrill Jockey on 22nd September 2014.
Interview with Erik K. Skodvin.
“One thing I always want to achieve is that we end up with something timeless, that you can pick up in 20 or 50 years from now and hopefully enjoy equally as much.”
—Erik K. Skodvin
Words: Mark Carry
August 2014 marks the eagerly awaited return of modern-classical/ambient duo, Deaf Center (which comprises the gifted talents of Erik Skodvin (Svarte Greiner) and Otto Totland (Nest)) with two extended, beautifully solemn pieces, new on Sonic Pieces, entitled ‘Recount’. After a string of indispensable releases on the Type imprint – including 2004’s ‘Neon City’ EP 2005’s ‘Pale Ravine’, and 2011’s ‘Owl Splinters’ – the Norwegian collaborators have forged their own unique and visionary blend of beguiling sonic soundscapes, containing a ceaseless array of pristine instrumentation and sonic detail.
‘Recount’s opening track, ‘Follow Still’ was recorded in Berlin in 2012. The thirteen minute tour-de-force features intricate layers of organ and piano – motifs that return throughout like a distant fog that gradually seeps into the circulating atmosphere – and brooding guitar effects are masterfully interwoven that feels like artifacts from a distant past. The mood captured and cinematic atmosphere thus formed has proved a constant for the pair’s scintillating works thus far. The following track, ‘Oblivion’ was recorded in Oslo in 2008. If ‘Follow Still’ could be seen as post ‘Owl Splinters’, ‘Oblivion’ was created during the post ‘Pale Ravine’ era, where thudding bass, soaring strings and orchestral haze envelops the head-space. The limited vinyl edition is presented in a gorgeous die-cut jacket.
The end of June saw the highly anticipated release of Erik K. Skodvin’s solo work, entitled ‘Flame’ which was the follow-up to 2010’s ‘Flare’, both released on Sonic Pieces. The nocturnal, Americana-inspired duo of albums conveys the Norwegian artist’s timeless and evocative composition and ability to evoke a striking atmosphere through sound. ‘Flame’ was made at Vox Ton, NK and Miasmah studios in Berlin. Guest collaborators include Anne Müller and Mika Posen (on strings) and Gareth Davis (clarinet).
‘Flame’ by Erik K. Skodvin and ‘Recount’ by Deaf Center are available now on Sonic Pieces.
Interview with Erik K Skodvin.
Congratulations Erik on the incredible album ‘Flame’, the follow-up to the equally evocative ‘Flare’. You have said previously this marks the second and final chapter of your Americana inspired duo of albums. I would love for you to discuss this project as a whole and indeed your love of Americana and the reason(s) behind this beautifully designed concept?
Erik Skodvin: Thank you! ‘Flare’ came to be because of the right things coming together for it. Moving to Berlin, meeting Monique, whom asked me to do an album for Sonic Pieces, which I ended up doing under my own name instead of as Svarte Greiner. The whole Americana and blues sound from the records is very vaguely a way of incorporating my idea of this sound into my own world, to say it like that. I know very little about Americana as a musical style. I just love the cinematic quality of it. This is rather based on me seeing movies and series than listening to any Americana or Blues. ‘Flame’ is me trying to take this sound further, as well as it’s a homage to my dad’s love for old Western films. Probably anyone who has any knowledge of these styles would think my albums has nothing in common with it. I think this is similar to how previous albums like ‘Knive’ or ‘Pale Ravine’ came to be also. They’re based on an idea of a sound rather than having direct influences from a certain style.
I thought that two albums inspired by this was enough for now and I leave the chapter half-closed until I see what the future will bring. Also of course it helps that they are packaged in a beautiful Sonic Pieces style 2LP sleeve, which makes for a nice final statement.
In terms of the narrative, how do you visualize ‘Flame’ in respect to its predecessor? I feel there is a resolution sought on ‘Flare’ whereas on the follow-up, this resolution is resolved. There is a certain feeling of closure to this record.
ES: That might be. I don’t want to delve too much on the narrative aspect, as the best way to listen to anything is to immerse yourself into it and give your own purpose. I work mostly in an instinctive way and feel myself through the way. Probably I had about 50 different tracklistings for ‘Flame’ before I ended up on how it was now. One thing I can mention though, is that f.ex the track ‘Flames’ was made entirely to glue together the tracks before and after and to make the flow work better. Also I think ‘Drowning, Whistling’ has a good closure feel to it, making the ending to the duo albums fitting.
Please discuss the instrumentation used on the record, Erik and what techniques or processes were used differently this time out? The recording took place at Vox Ton, NK and Miasmah studios in Berlin. In terms of sound design, what are these studios like for making music?
ES: This was actually quite different in a way that I had even more access to instrumentation than during making of ‘Flare’. While ‘Flare’ initially came to be after spending a week in Durton Studio without Nils (just using the instruments he had). The sources of ‘Flame’ comes from 3 different locations over several years. My old studio at NK in Berlin I was sharing had a drum set set-up there, meaning I had to explore this, which led to me trying this more even after I left the studio. Then since getting to know Fransesco Donadello and their newly set up studio VOX-Ton after we recorded our first B/B/S/ album there, I decided to book a day to just improvise with the instruments they have there, which is a lot! I ended up using everything from an old 1920s tube synth (heard on ‘Drowning, Whistling’), a type of Japanese Koto (heard on ‘Red Box Curves’) to plain pianos, percussion and more. I also had Mika Posen and Anne Müller in for that day to improvise over some sketches, which ended up being great.
I took the recordings for this and built parts of ‘Flame’, though there is a lot of cutting and pasting going on. All the actual mixing is done in my home studio (Miasmah). I’m still at heart a lo-fi home studio musician who don’t know much about big productions but having such great studios to record things, for sure helps the sound quality.
You are also part of the mesmerizing modern-classical duo of Deaf Center. I would love to gain an insight into the creative process between you and Otto Totland? The forthcoming EP is entitled ‘Recount’ which like any of Deaf Center’s output, is highly anticipated. Can you shed some light please on the new direction you both venture on this new project? A constant for any of your musical ventures is the innate ability to capture atmosphere through sound. Please talk me through this whole area and how you set out to capture mood through your meticulous song-craft?
ES: Me and Otto live in different countries, though even when I lived in Norway we didn’t meet and work together in person much. ‘Recount’ was made based on two shorter meetings. Once back in 2008 after Otto visited me in Oslo and we just played around based on upcoming live shows. ‘Oblivion’ which was recorded then was just a piece left in the vault that I recently found again last year. This was made with me playing stringed, heavily delayed guitar over loops, while Otto was shredding out sounds over it on the a keyboard run through Reason, which was the program we used back then. This piece I think sounds very much Deaf Center, especially in post ‘Pale Ravine’ period.
‘Follow Still’ the second track on ‘Recount’ is pretty much a whole other story, as this was made more in style with our more recent live style, where we improvise together on guitar (this time, with mostly organ effects) and plain unaffected piano to see where it leads us. Otto actually hates improvising, but I’m forcing him to, as I can’t really recreate any pieces live. He’s getting better and better at it though. Again we were in my studio (this time in Berlin at NK) and “rehearsing” for a live gig. I set up two mics in the middle of the room so we could listen back to our playing and see if we found a direction for live use. It ended up being a really strong improvisation that we both really liked, but I again put it in the vault as the quality was not that great, being just two room mics. Listening back to this some years later with Monique present, she every time asked me what this is when I put it on. Then when we decided to start the PATTERN series for Sonic Pieces, these two tracks was a perfect way to get out, as they wouldn’t really fit on a new proper album. And now we’re actually trying to recreate some of this for our live shows.
Capturing Mood is something Deaf Center is all about (though I guess in general all my projects is about this somehow). Also I think Otto is the best possible piano player out there when he’s in the right mood. (The piano in ‘Follow Still’ from ‘Recount’ being a good example!). And for myself, I just try to find my way through the guitar (or other instruments) through trying and failing. When recording/producing Deaf Center material I tend to try think a bit more melodic and less abstract than as Svarte Greiner, though this can sometimes go both ways. One thing I always want to achieve is that we end up with something timeless, that you can pick up in 20 or 50 years from now and hopefully enjoy equally as much.
You also run the wonderful Miasmah record label. Can you please talk through some of your most cherished records and personal favourites from the Miasmah home and what forthcoming releases you have instore for us?
ES: I guess like most record label owners (of a certain size at least) it’s hard to pick out certain records. Having only about 3 releases a year, it’s very important to me that each release is unique and special to me and that this is something I believe the world could need. There’s so much music out there, it can drive you crazy if you want to listen to it all. If I really have to point out some favorites, one which is very special to me is Gultskra Artikler’s massive ‘Kasha iz Topora’ which I find to be one of the most unique records I’ve ever heard and I’m very proud over having released. I was stalking Gultskra’s releases since I heard his first recordings released on the net label Autoplate back in the mid-2000s. I hope to once do this on double vinyl also, though right now, Alexey (Gultskra) is focusing 100% on his more available Pixelord alias, so I think it can wait.
More recently I have to point out the Kreng box, as this is a kind of madness project me and Kreng were joking about, as he had all this scores for Abattoir Férme laying around, which he always said was unreleasable. Then little under a year from we first talked about it, we had the finished copies ready and pretty much sold out instantly. It was quite insane, and it makes me glad to think that these crazy things are possible.
For forthcoming Miasmah, I can mention that I have a new record from one of my favorite musicians out there, Andrea Belfi, coming in late fall. I’m also in a band with Andrea (B/B/S/) and find his percussion experimentations really fantastic. He’s one of these people whom can do any kind of music – which when listening back to his back catalogue you really understand.
Otherwise, I can say that next year is extremely exciting and I have a new crazy project already under way. Can’t talk more about it just yet though.
Growing up in Norway, can you recount for me your earliest musical memories? What were the first instruments you learned to play? Can you recall what was the first defining record for you?
ES: As very young I guess I listened to more or less pop music and didn’t know much else. I was a Michael Jackson fan and remember seeing him live during the ‘Dangerous’ tour, which was great. I doubt that had much influence on my musical career though. Rather forward to my early teens and I came into contact with the more underground demoscene through too much computer use, and discovered ambient, jungle and drum&bass. Something I think was essential for the shaping of my musical path up to know. An early defining record for me is without doubt Future Sound of London’s ‘Dead Cities’, though there might have been some defining ones before (such as Leftfield ‘Leftism’ or Prodigy’s ‘Fat of the Land’). ‘Dead Cities’ had lasting effect on me. This record has so much different influences and merges rave culture, ambient, idm, soundtracks, classical (Max Richter is actually participating on the record). It really made me experiment more with music and made me understand that I need to bend the rules more to get closer to something personal and unique. This is probably one of the most played records in my collection.
As for instruments, I had piano lessons for some years when I was young, but didn’t really like it much. Other than that, the first time I pretty much touched an instrument was when making of ‘Knive’, where I used guitar and cello amongst others. I had no idea how to play them though, and still don’t. But with a looper, effects and an editing software to cut and paste, anything is possible!
Photographs (top: “Oslo Studio”, bottom: “Berlin Studio”) by Erik K. Skodvin.
‘Flame’ by Erik K Skodvin and ‘Recount’ by Deaf Center are available now on Sonic Pieces.
Interview with Klara Lewis.
“I didn’t know what ‘Ett’ – the debut album – would sound like. It just feels like there is an ongoing mood that you can sense throughout and I mean that was really exciting for me to notice as well that my own sound was taking shape at the same time that I was working.”
Words: Mark Carry
Last Spring marked the release of one of 2014’s most formidable (and unique) electronic creations, in the shape of debut full-length, ‘Ett’ from Swedish electronic artist Klara Lewis. The debut release on Editions Mego is Lewis’ highly anticipated follow-up to the stunning three track E.P. (released in 2012) that is also present on ‘Ett’ in re-worked forms. The masterfully assembled sonic textures (the album’s ten tracks feels more like a sound collage consisting of a seamless array of fleeting moments, beautifully suspended in time and space) unfold new possibilities and meaning upon each re-visit. ‘Ett’s mixture of found sounds, field recordings and electronic layers is a haven for the senses that forges an entire universe of enchanting and bewildering sounds.
One of the most striking aspects of the debut record is the resultant mood captured through sound that permeates throughout ‘Ett’s sprawling canvas of sound. The ambient opus ‘Shine’ – part B’s tour de force – drifts magnificently by a myriad of subtle electronic beats, field recordings and a central synth-led melody. A deeply immersive and reflective feel unfolds as the soothing synths conjures up the timeless sound of Harold Budd (particularly the pedal steel-based L.P. ‘The Serpent (In Quicksilver)’ ) or Daniel Lopitan’s Oneohtrix Point Never. Layers upon layers of stunningly beautiful textures are masterfully interwoven here that reflects the organic quality and deeply affecting nature of the gifted artist’s electronic works.
The album was recorded, sampled, edited, manipulated, mixed, produced and arranged by Lewis. As described previously by Editions Mego, ‘Ett’ is “an electronically charged reconstruction of organic sound matter.” A wholly unique landscape is thus created that inhabits a similarly magical realm as the New York-native Ezekiel Honig and his warmly emotive music. Undoubtedly, ‘Ett’ can be seen as a lovely parallel alongside Honig or indeed the Editions Mego roster of talented sound sculptures.
A plethora of samples, found sounds and field recordings are dotted across the ten towering creations; most notably, a prayer call is beautifully placed in the forefront of ‘Muezzin’s mix of techno beats and hypnotic choral voices. The stunning track could be the sound of Modern Love’s Andy Stott remixing U.S. songwriter Julia Holter such is its illuminating brilliance. ‘Ett’ represents the arrival of an immense new talent in electronic music.
‘Ett’ is available now on Editions Mego.
Interview with Klara Lewis.
Congratulations on your amazing debut album, I’ve been listening to it a lot these past few weeks. One aspect I love about the album is how you combine so many different elements; there’s lovely found sounds and field recordings interwoven in the mix. I imagine it took a long time for each piece of music to fully form?
Klara Lewis: Well it does vary quite a lot. There are tons of layers on every song, absolutely, but I mean some of the songs were relatively quick. It’s difficult to know when it’s like, what could you compare it to. But I think most of the time I just start by collecting sounds and then I just open up a new project and add the sounds I would like to look at and then manipulate them and start building. So it can vary quite a lot with how much time it takes.
My favourite song at the moment is ‘Shine’. I love the organic feel that runs throughout and how it’s more ambient. In terms of the album itself, Klara, was it recorded at home and what material did you have at your disposal?
KL: I basically tried to have my portable recording device with me at all times and I mean there’s a real mix of stuff. Some tracks are based on what the dishwasher sounds like or when I’ve been traveling, I’ve brought it along some train sounds and waves and things, or prayer calls in Istanbul, birdsong: It’s very mixed. But I use small pieces from the field recordings so I mean most of the time you can’t tell, you know, what the original field recording was. So they do change quite a bit after I’ve been at them.
Is it the track ‘49th Hour’ that might have the prayer call, I love how there is a vocal/choral element to it?
KL: No, I think it’s ‘Muezzin’ that has the prayer call and then ‘49th Hour’ has a lot of train sounds. But sometimes I might have a field recording that I really, really like that has so much potential but it may not be that field recording that makes it onto the album. It could be one that seems it has to be less special and can seem boring at first. Then it’s all about how the sounds are processed and how it completely changes into new sounds.
In a way Klara, is it the field recording itself that almost forms the song or gives you the spark to create one?
KL: I think it’s more that it gives the spark to create one, not so much that the field recording will create the track. It’s more like they inspire me to start working and I never know where a track will end up. So I just basically start working on the sounds and then you know, see where it goes. I just try and listen to the sounds and see what kind of moods I think this sound could create. And it’s all about how I combine different small pieces. It’s mostly a mood and atmosphere kind of thing.
That’s certainly true, you certainly create a certain mood on the album. Also, the ten tracks feel like one large cohesive whole where it works so well.
KL: That’s great that you think so because I mean it’s difficult to know how it will end up when it’s your first release. I started off by making an E.P when I was still at school and those three tracks ended up on the album, reworked. I mean I didn’t have a clue what music I would be making but I did want to work with found sounds because I started doing that at a very early age. When I got my first digital camera and I started filming things – I started filming things because of how they sounded. So then I took these sounds from the digital films that I shot and started making tracks. And my first track, I made it when I was thirteen and then I made the E.P when I was seventeen. I didn’t know what ‘Ett’ – the debut album – would sound like. It just feels like there is an ongoing mood that you can sense throughout and I mean that was really exciting for me to notice as well that my own sound was taking shape at the same time that I was working. All of the tracks that I have ever made are out there – I mean I don’t have any tracks that are on the shelf – so the tracks that are on ‘Ett’ are the tracks that I have made.
As you say Klara too, in the sense that there are so many layers and you can obviously forget what started it and things like that, I can imagine is it a challenge too of adding or removing layers to capture that spark you wanted from the start?
KL: Yeah absolutely, it’s always about adding and subtracting. I mean it’s easy just to build things up and they’re too complicated and you now try to work backwards for to capture the mood that you wanted to capture from the very beginning.
I’m interested with the digital camera area, were you immersed in music beforehand when you were a child and growing up?
KL: Yes, I started playing bass when I was twelve because I really liked James Brown so I wanted to play funk on the bass, and I liked Joy Division and that kind of stuff. And then when I was thirteen or fourteen, I was really into film but I wanted to make my own film as a school project. But the stuff I enjoyed filming, it was difficult to create a narrative. So I thought I should make music that you know, binds all of this material together so I had to make my own soundtrack. But then I thought, well why don’t I use the sounds from the film clips to make it more united. So that’s where it started.
My first biggest interest was in film when I was very young but it’s now developed into the music thing and now I’m studying Audio Visual Production so I’m studying both film and music. I mean those possibilities are so exciting; what happens when you combine the two, I mean you can do anything it feels like.
Well the album itself sounds like it could be a soundtrack to a certain film, as well.
KL: Well, I listen to a lot of film music, I’ve done since I was very young. So I think that has affected how I make things. A lot of people do think that the tracks are very cinematic and that they have an inner-movie going on when they listen to the music. I think that’s really interesting and it’s an aspect that I really like and enjoy in a lot of music. I don’t have that thing where images appear when you listen to music. That doesn’t happen to me but I think maybe because that doesn’t happen to me when I listen to music means that I can focus more on the mood thing. It doesn’t have to be connected to a narrative, you know in a more conventional way, and more about moods and that kind of thing.
I would be curious to know what would be the films, directors and composers that you’d have most fascination with?
KL: Well, I think David Lynch has been a very important influence. Since I was thirteen, that’s when I saw “Twin Peaks” for the first time. It was interesting because I read an interview with The Knife – you know the Swedish duo because I really got into their stuff – and they mentioned David Lynch and Aphex Twin in this interview and that really kicked things off. There was a description of the scene in ‘Blue Velvet’ where they find the ear in the field, and I was like: “Oh yeah, yeah mom and dad have talked about that, I recognize that” – I started checking it out and I came home one day and asked my Dad: “Oh do you know about this Aphex Twin?” and he was like, “Oh sure, Richard”, and pointed to the record shelf. And so at home I could just pick stuff up and get going, basically.
It’s amazing with ‘Twin Peaks’ how the music creates such an atmosphere with the characters.
KL: Oh absolutely. I love the way they use the soundtrack and the music in almost all of Lynch’s films and ‘Twin Peaks’ too, of course. But I also think it’s how he uses mood and how he can let things be unsolved and there doesn’t always have to be an obvious answer to things. I mean people can have their own versions of what the films are about; I think that’s something I really appreciate and not a lot of film-makers dare to do that. I really appreciate that and how they try to work in that way with the music as well. I mean I don’t feel the need to overstate things and I really like it that different people can interpret things in different ways and that’s something that should be appreciated.
You are based in Sweden. I wonder is it a rural part?
KL: It is more urban, I mean it’s only forty-five minutes on the train from Stockholm. So it’s pretty urban.
Did the landscape around Sweden, well needless to say, did it shape the music in some way?
KL: Well I think it could have. I think maybe the biggest influence would be at home because my Dad being a musician, artist and my mother being really interested in film and music. So I’ve always had strange sounds around me since I was born, so being born into it, basically. And understanding that anything can be music. When you learn that from a very young age that does change how you listen to things and you start listening to your surroundings and tones that you like in everyday sounds and stuff.
There are quite a lot of everyday sounds that I make use of but I also think it’s easier to be more active in the recording part when you are on a trip somewhere because you are more aware of your surroundings when you’re travelling and stuff. I think you appreciate new inputs more so I think I’d like to be better at recording actively at home but it seems to be easier for me to actually do that when I am travelling.
And the act of travelling too Klara, I wonder would this be mainly around Europe?
KL: Yeah, Europe mostly. I think on the album there are sounds from different parts of Sweden, and Istanbul, and Germany. I mean it’s a mix. And I guess ‘Muezzin’ is perhaps the most obvious one, it’s almost like the theme track because of the prayer-call and that kind of thing, whilst others are less obvious, perhaps what place they’re set in.
I love that too how it’s so abstract and all the detail is very much open to your own interpretation. And away from the found sounds, I love the electronic manipulation or addition to the songs too. There’s a lovely variation too because some are more ambient pulses and others more techno. Was this a case again of layering different tracks?
KL: Yeah, I think that’s always the way I work and it doesn’t really matter if I am working with found sounds or sampling or synthetic sounds, it’s always the same process. I think I often treat the synthetic sounds and the sampling exactly the same way as I treat the field recording; I listen to them in the same way. And I think a lot of the sounds that sound more electronic or more synthetic on the album are in fact found sounds just that have been changed to that kind of realm. I mean they have a clearer function perhaps to build the beat and kind of synthy thing. A lot of that is also built on field recording that I put into a sampler and play it off a keyboard or a launch pad or whatever.
And looking back on the album recording, I wonder what aspect of the music-making process did you find the most challenging?
KL: Well, I think I found a process that I really enjoy because it is so organic and you cannot foresee how things will go. I guess that’s a risk because I never know where something is going to end up so I guess sometimes in the middle of the process of a track, it’s like will this become anything because you don’t know what’s going on, really. But I think most of the time there is one period where this is a big threshold and it might be you know, a couple of different layers that I have looped with and how do I take this to the next step. And I think one of the key parts for me is the transition within tracks when one part turns into another part of the track. That’s something that I really find fascinating how people work about that area because it’s easy to have the main focus on the big beats or the verse or the refrain but it’s getting over between the different parts, I find that really fascinating.
That’s exactly what happens on the album too, you know as you say in the middle of a song it evolves very much so or crosses over, maybe many times.
Is there a live tour coming up for you?
KL: There are a couple of concerts coming up. I’m also collaborating with Simon Fischer Turner right now and we’re working towards some live shows at the end of this year and the beginning of next year.
Are there particular albums you’ve been listening to a lot in the last while?
KL: I really like Inga Copeland’s latest, her first solo album, who was in Hype Williams. I like that kind of lo-fi, very simple but strong material, I think. I also got the Oram/Walls and I thought it was a really interesting concept to apply her sounds into a modern context ad it’s a great way to get more people informed about how fantastic her work was and I think a lot of her material sounds very modern when you listen to it now. But it’s such a shame how she hasn’t really been acknowledged enough.
Right now I am listening to a lot of the Editions Mego releases and you know, the other people on the label. I hadn’t listened that much to the other acts or the other releases but now I’ve been getting these fantastic packages with tons of LP’s so I’m discovering tons of new fascinating music on the Editions Mego label so that’s taking up a lot of my time.
‘Ett’ is available now on Editions Mego.
Interview with Lee Fields.
“I look at every day of life like another gift. Every day God gives you another day man, that’s another gift. So I try to get everything that I can from that day, try to be as constructive as I can in that day because there is enough destruction — I try to be as constructive as possible.”
Words: Mark Carry
2014 marks the return of soul great, Lee Fields with the highly anticipated new record “Emma Jean” (named after his mother), recorded with The Expressions whose been his trusted ensemble and collaborators since 2009’s landmark LP “My World”. Today, the North Carolina-native — now 63 years old, having released more than fifteen albums in a career spanning 43 years — is in a highly creative period where the unique blend of emotion-filled soul music pours effortlessly from each and every heart pore of the awe-inspiring artist. “Emma Jean” masterfully combines country, gospel, blues and soul that includes an achingly beautiful interpretation of JJ Cale’s “Magnolia” and a guest appearance by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
The latest trilogy of indispensable records from Lee Fields & The Expressions — 2009’s “My World”, 2011’s “Faithful Man” and this year’s “Emma Jean” — represents a beautiful case of musical evolution as Fields and co. continue to refine a pure and sacred sound of soul music. The Brooklyn-based Truth and Soul producers and co-owners Jeff Silverman and Leon Michels share the desire to interpret and further the formulas of good soul music. In the words of Fields: “They’re like my musical sons”. A deep musical telepathy is forged between the like-minded artists as the latest “Emma Jean” LP showcases the soul veteran on top of his game — singing from the spiritual self.
Album opener (and second single) “Just Can’t Win” is a glorious soulful strut containing Fields’ sincere lyrics, intricate horn arrangements, mesmerizing harmonies and clean guitar tones. A song you feel you’ve always known. The heart-wrenching JJ Cale ballad “Magnolia” is a tower of a song that sees one of Fields’ most striking vocal deliveries ever put to tape. The timeless sound of Nashville country and Memphis gospel is effortlessly combined as a captivating and enthralling performance is captured. A love song so tender and pure radiates from the heart and fragile voice of Fields as Cale’s songbook is joyously celebrated by a fellow-luminary and musical colleague.
“Emma Jean” was mixed by Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) and partially recorded at his Nashville studio. The smoke-filled ballad “Paralyzed” was written by Auerbach that fits nicely alongside his previous collaborative work with legendary New Orleans artist, Dr John. The pristine instrumental cut “All I Need” is a joy to savour as a bustling rhythm and funk groove ascends into the forefront of the mix revealing the peerless musicianship on display throughout “Emma Jean”. In the closing section, some harmonies are supplied by Fields that serves the fitting close. One of the record’s defining moments arrives on the sublime ballad “Still Gets Me Down” with its gorgeous guitar licks and horn arrangements. The album closer “Don’t Leave Me This Way” matches the tenderest moments of Otis Redding’s deeply affecting ballads as Fields’ quivering voice is beautifully suspended in the air.
Since ‘79’s debut full-length “Let’s Talk It Over”, the cherished songbook of Fields has constantly developed and evolved; transforming the lives of all those fortunate to hear each and every achingly beautiful note or immense vocal delivery of the soul veteran’s treasured works.
“Emma Jean” by Lee Fields & the Expressions is available now on Truth & Soul.
Interview with Lee Fields.
Congratulations on the new album, Lee. It’s such a beautiful and amazing record.
Lee Fields: Oh, thank you so much, I really appreciate that.
I would love for you to discuss Lee how this recording differed from your previous album ‘Faithful Man’, because I know the music seems to be flowing out from you in the last couple of years, you know with The Expressions?
LF: Yeah, I think we are in a very creative stage right now, we are in a very creative state of musical intuition right now and actually, I’m very happy with that because everybody in The Expressions seem to have so many great ideas, you know. And that’s a beautiful thing.
The new album has some lovely cover versions, and like your previous albums, there’s a wonderful mix of different styles as always.
LF: Yeah, what makes it so beautiful now — with the group now, The Expressions — everybody is in their creative state of mind like our creative juices are working greater than ever. Thanks to this wonderful public, man for continuing to support us and people like yourselves who take their time to interview me like this, I really appreciate it.
Well, it’s wonderful to hear — it’s like that true soul music, it’s the sheer emotion and the feeling you get from the music is just amazing.
LF: Well, thank you, thank you so much. I am glad that you can feel what we try to convey. What we try to do is we try to sing about life as it is, you know we don’t try to get into the mould of what the — I call it the few programmers in the world who program all the radio stations — what we try to do, we try to remain as true, you know we’re human beings and we can sing about human feelings. We’re human too, other than the two or three radio programmers around the world, programming everywhere you know. So, I appreciate that as well because that came about because of a reason and a purpose but we try to stay as creative as possible.
It’s clear listening to the music how it builds so much on your life — as in life itself and the experiences — I’d love for you to discuss your roots in North Carolina please? It’s obvious your childhood and life, even before the music path began: it must be rooted in your voice, really.
LF: Well yeah you know, I grew up in North Carolina where there were a lot of country and westerns mainly, and then we heard soul music on the weekend. When you think about it, soul and country music have a common denominator, and the common denominator is stories. Country and western music and soul music always have stories detailed you know, and I appreciate growing up in rural North Carolina because I still have a value for those beautiful stories that were told in country and western music back in the day, and I try to embed that in my music today.
That’s very true, I mean the stories, and they are always poignant and hard-hitting lyrics to the songs. In terms of performance, I’m curious too Lee, you know in the studio — I wonder has the process changed in any way over the last few albums or does it just flow out of you, like this thing that you just leave the tape running and you just do what you do?
LF: You know, I think you said it, when we go into the studio we try to have fun. We go into the studio not to make a great record, we go into the studio to make a record that we really like. And most of the time, people like the things that are very real. So we go into the studio and try to do things that we really like so when we finish the song, we’re looking at each other man, and we’re laughing, and I like that man [laughs]. You know, we try to keep that element of happiness in the mix. I think that’s what the thing what we’re doing now is what’s causing it to be as popular as it is. People can sense that we are happy doing what we do, you know it’s not that we’re trying to get a dollar.
Exactly, well it translates from you to the audience because you can feel the love and the depth of it all, it really strikes you.
LF: Well, it sounds so good coming from someone because that’s exactly what we’re trying to get. Thank you very much for just saying that and I feel that we’re definitely on target.
Actually Lee, I must say that the choice of the JJ Cale song, ‘Magnolia’ is wonderful too. Your version is really beautiful.
LF: Thank you, you know I think that JJ Cale is one of the greatest songwriters of his time, you know and I’m quite sure of well-known individuals such as Eric Clapton and a host of others, would agree. But I’m just saddened by the fact that he’s not around to see the outcome of what we’re doing because when Leon suggested we should do a JJ Cale tune I thought it would be absolutely correct thing to do but what I’m saddened about is his demise, that saddens me deeply.
It’s something beautiful as there is a parallel between yourself and JJ Cale because of that spiritual power or strength in the music and that you’re both on a similar path in many ways.
LF: Yeah, yeah, JJ Cale and myself I feel have a lot in common. That’s one of my reasons for my attraction to his work because I can see what he was doing because I can see his life in my life. But I’m so happy to have done that song because I really and truly believe that JJ Cale is one of the greatest song-writers man, of his era and probably even supersedes that.
As you say, when you hear someone in your stature doing a version of a song, that’s a real testament to his art as well as your own.
LF: Oh yeah, no doubt.
I’m amazed you know, when looking over your career, just how you continue to evolve and get better all the time. What really strikes me is your enthusiasm and energy and the obviously the work ethic that never fades away. How do you keep on delivering? It’s quite inspirational.
LF: Well you see like, I look at every day of life like another gift. Every day God gives you another day man, that’s another gift. So I try to get everything that I can from that day, try to be as constructive as I can in that day because there is enough destruction — I try to be as constructive as possible. Because when you look on the news and see all the destruction going on in the world, it gives me great pleasure to see myself working as hard as I can — being constructive and coming up with something positive, you know what I mean. I think not only myself but many others are doing the same thing because I think in the final analysis good will prevail, good things you know, trying to make good songs, good buildings, good cars, good everything. It’s all about putting yourself into it and using this valuable gift that God has given us another day of Life as positive as possible. So, I’m trying to be more creative but I know that I am running out of days. [laughs]
Well you’re as youthful as ever. It’s a wonderful thing that your art and your music will always stand the test of time regardless of phases or you know, what’s hip and what’s not.
LF: Yeah but I do believe that fate and the realization that this time is very valuable. So I’m trying to be as constructive, to be as positive, as productive as one can be with this time that we have. And what it does in return it enhances a person’s life, like me in my case, sending me all over the world and meeting so many beautiful and wonderful people and seeing their traditions and just enjoying life man, it’s like a dream, it’s like a dream, man. Sometimes just a conversation with a person to me is more valuable than laying on some beach somewhere, depending on the conversation, you know what I’m trying to say?
Yeah, it’s even the small, minute details can be as significant as anything.
LF: Yeah that’s what I’m saying, so creating music man — looking at life the way I see life, trying to make the best of what we have and God has blessed me with this wonderful band, The Expressions that I really consider these guys as my musical sons, they’re my musical sons man, because I waited forty years for these guys. And they’ve finally arrived. [laughs]
It’s amazing to think too Lee — as you say they’re your musical sons — how you crossed paths with them when they were only teenagers in a previous label.
LF: Yeah they were kids man, they are here and everybody’s on the same page, and they want to make the best music they can, and I’m right with them man. And just having this experience it’s more than words can even describe.
I must say too Lee, I love your story — I suppose like so many people do — of when you turned seventeen and you left for New York.
LF: Oh man you know, my mother had a fit. She didn’t want me to go to New York City because she was so afraid for me, man. She just wanted me to finish school, go to college and do what all parents want for their kids you know, do their best. But New York man, it makes a wonderful feeling, those big buildings. Hey man that was an experience but you know I was naive there, I was so naive.
It seemed with your music that you straight away made an impact on the different club scenes. I can imagine it must have been a wonderful feeling to use your talents and your voice and the soul music and get all these audiences, knowing that you’re making that kind of reaction.
LF: Oh yeah yeah, it indeed was very rewarding and is still very rewarding to see how my music is still impacting the masses. In the beginning it was very difficult to break through because I was under the umbrella of James Brown but it took a while for me to find me. Now, I think now people recognize that me has found who me is, you know. There are so many things that I am so grateful for, man that has transpired throughout this period of time that I could go on and on and on and on, man I am so relieved and so happy.
Another thing Lee is that it’s so amazing to look back over your work and see how your music continues to evolve. Like what you were saying before, over time there has been different periods, like the disco era in the 80’s and then hip hop in the 90’s and what remains a constant is your soul music.
LF: But you know when I think about the 80’s — the 80’s to me — it made me very vigilant, it made me take very much notice to different trends and different things that were emerging. It made me observe all these different musical art forms and take a little bit from this and take a little bit from that because in the 2000’s I did some dance music with Martin Solveig and we had some very successful tracks. But I achieved that through the 80’s because in the 80’s I was listening and still, I learned to — although regardless of whatever artist’s particular style is, they should always be observant in all the sounds because music is integrative parts — you can integrate all kinds of different parts of all kinds of music. And do you know the steel guitar part in ‘Magnolia’? We put steel guitar on the new album to add a country and western flavour.
It’s very true Lee, and I think that’s what makes music so universal and what makes it so interesting, where there is no boundaries or limits.
LF: Yeah and I think we put some steel guitar on ‘Paradise’ as well. As a matter of fact I would like to give a special shout out to Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. He loaned himself out for me and played on my track and put some background vocals on the Leon Russell song on the new album, so a special shout out to Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
It’s a wonderful collaboration because it shows you the impact — like you and Kool and the Gang in a previous decade — it’s obvious you’re making a huge impact on music and people.
LF: But you know what I feel from people such as yourself that really appreciate when an artist has given their best and you recognise that and you take your time out to explore it and show and let other people see what this artist has done, so special thanks to people such as yourself as well.
The title of the new album is named after your mother. There’s something very beautiful about that you know, choosing a title after someone that is so close to you.
LF: Yeah man, you know Leon wanted to know what moved me emotionally. When you think about anything that moves you emotionally as well as something that has been very dramatic in your life. And the most dramatic thing that I could think of is the passing of my mother because every time that I think about that she is no longer here — although she has been gone awhile — I still get that feeling, man, I get that abandoned feeling you know. I can’t think of anything more touching man than my mother.
Another person where this a parallel alongside in recent years is your friend Charles Bradley. Again, it’s just that emotion and that raw power of your voice.
LF: Well as I said, I try to touch people in gentle ways and emotional ways because I think when you hear something that touches you, emotionally it sort of stimulates the senses. Because sometimes we can become so into what we do in life and we become kind of callous-hearted. Sometimes it’s good to listen to something tender; to touch the tender side of a person you know, keep them in touch.
I’d be curious to know when you were growing up in terms of music and songs and maybe the radio, was there a song or a certain record that made you think, oh wow this is something I have to do myself?
LF: Oh yeah, well Otis Redding. Listening to an Otis Redding record to me, and an O.V. Wright record and Solomon Burke, people like that. People like that have always been highly inspirational to touch the tenderest parts of my emotion because I think that people such as Otis Redding and Solomon Burke — people who sing those tender songs that touch people — that’s what triggered me off.
Well it’s obvious you have your own distinct mark in music with your voice too, you know like Lee Fields, you have your own category at this stage.
LF: Oh yeah, absolutely. It took a lot of listening to a lot of other people because we develop, you know, a child is born from a mother and a father. I think we are all being a part like a race, we’re all part of each another, and we learn from each other. As we come into the world coming from two different people, we come into the world and emerge into the world, we sort of integrate thoughts from others and we become a lot of different individuals in a way. So in this way, a person really finds out who they are is the mixture of different human intellect that they deem to be worthy of integrating that particular thought or mood into themselves. I think that Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, O.V. Wright, I could even say John Lee Hooker, people like that, The Beatles … there are so many people that have enforced me and we all were enforced by many a people. So when I think about where I got my ability touch — to connect with people emotionally and tenderly — it’s from those people.
I can imagine too Lee, the “My World” album, you know the fact that it took quite a long time to make or for it to come together.
LF: [laughs] I came in one day man, I thought they would hire me to do some tracks that we were going to try to sell to different people. And one day they said, alright the album is finished. I was shocked, man. It was a beautiful thing, I was so happy that I went over to my wife, “Hey baby, look we’ve got an album!” [laughs] And I’ve been rolling ever since.
Actually, I love the song ‘Love Comes And Goes’ from that album, it’s really amazing.
LF: As a matter of fact, we are incorporating on the tour, we will be doing a great deal of “My World”, a great deal of “Faithful Man”, a great deal of the new album so we’ll be doing a whole lot of tracks at my show because people have become so attached to those tracks.
Yeah that’s true because it’s like a cornerstone to your collection at this stage.
LF: No doubt, no doubt, absolutely.
Well I’m sure the forthcoming tours will be amazing as always just like your previous tours.
LF: Oh yeah well I’m looking forward to touring because I love people, I love meeting people and talking to them and seeing what they think and that gives me energy to write, and to prepare for the next musical collaboration.
While you’re travelling and touring, do you find yourself writing words and writing ideas and putting things together?
LF: Yeah absolutely, absolutely. Like a song, if a person tries to design a song — I don’t think that song is coming naturally. I think that a song should come from different things to spark that off, you know using things that you do in life, people that you talk to, that’s to me what real songs are about because they are things that people really do in life.
Looking over your career so far, Lee would you have a favourite song or a highlight?
LF: All of my songs are like my children. I think that the future is always to me, I look forward to the future. I embrace what I’ve done and I appreciate all of the things that have happened to me, I’m highly appreciative but I think it’s always the future to look forward to. And I think when people put hope into the future it actually inspires hope into all things because it gives a person incentive, oh wow, you know the dream of tomorrow. Because nowadays when you look at television you see a lot of things that make the future seem a very dismal place but the future is gonna be bright for everybody. So I look forward to continuing to record, to meet the future audience that I will be performing for and I’m very much appreciative of what has happened so far.
“Emma Jean” by Lee Fields & the Expressions is available now on Truth & Soul.
Interview with Kat Epple, Emerald Web.
“My music comes from my connection with nature and spirit. In fact, all of the music of Emerald Web was created as a part of our spiritual journey. I continue to create music from that place of magic, wonder, and inspiration. After all, that is what makes it fun to make music.”
Words: Mark Carry, Photographs courtesy Kat Epple.
Emerald Web comprised the duo of Kat Epple and Bob Stohl who created a unique blend of “electronic space music”, fusing early electronic and organic musical hybrids with use of innovative synthesizer orchestration. The band recorded composed on keyboards, digital orchestrations, flutes and Lyricon. Their eleven studio albums include: “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales”, “Whispered Visions”, “Sound Trek”, “Valley Of The Birds”, “Aqua Regia”, “Nocturne”, “Lights Of The Ivory Plains”, “Traces Of Time”, “Catspaw”, “Dreamspun”, and “Manatee Dreams of Neptune”. In addition to self-published albums, the duo were also signed with record labels Fortuna Records, Celestial Harmonies, Passport Audion Records and Scarlett Records. The album “Catspaw” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1986. Other musicians who performed or recorded with Emerald Web include Barry Cleveland, Jon Serrie, Ben Carriel and Steve Weiner. Emerald Web also composed soundtracks for the legendary Carl Sagan.
Named after a laser show formation, and combining influences from science fiction films, fantasy novels and a broad musical spectrum, the husband and wife duo would balance day jobs as synth programmers as well as TV and film soundtrackers under the moniker of BobKat productions with evening synthesizer shows at galleries, spiritual centers and even punk clubs. The near-mythical composers were among the first to DIY blend synthesizers and acoustic instrumentation in a studio equipped with Arp 2600, Mini Moog, EML Synkey, Roland RS202 String Ensemble and Electro-Harmonix Vocoder (audio processor), plus a range of woodwind; both Kat and Bob were trained flautists, making colourful use of Bill Bernardi’s innovative Lyricon, a hybrid flute/synthesizer, with some guitar assists by friend and co-composer, Barry Cleveland.
Ever since their ’79 debut “Dragon Wings And Wizard Tales”, the other-worldly music unleashed by Emerald Web has ceaselessly illuminated the star-lit skies above with each passing note, in its stunning beauty and divine radiance. A band who constantly pushed the sonic envelope and created new age music borne from the ‘70’s prog scene (later to be dubbed “space music”), the band’s final studio recording would be “Manatee Dreams Of Neptune” after Bob’s untimely passing in 1989 at the age of 34.
“The Stargate Tapes” was recently released on Finders Keepers Records, a compilation comprising tracks from Emerald Web’s storied career. Later this year will see more special releases by this treasured group. Let the Lights Of The Ivory Plains accompany your path.
Interview with Kat Epple.
It’s a real pleasure and honour to ask you some questions about your ground-breaking and visionary music. Under the alias of Emerald Web, you and your late husband, Bob Stohl have been responsible for some of the most beautiful and innovative musical explorations to have graced the earth — shifting between ambient, electronic and new age. Firstly, please take me back to the inception of Emerald Web and the musical telepathy that exists between you and Bob. I imagine the creative process behind these works of art must have been a deeply fulfilling time?
Kat Epple: Thank you, Mark, for your appreciation of our music!
We collaborated and co-composed music very spontaneously together, but we each had very different approaches. Sometimes Bob and I would play music together and come up with a theme or texture that we both wanted to develop and further explore. At other times, one or the other of us would play a musical idea that would inspire the other to add his/her melody or timbre. We usually would record the rough idea to tape, to remind ourselves of what we were working on. We never used sheet music unless we were working with another musician who was more comfortable with notes on paper.
When I listen to Emerald Web music, I can tell which of us (Bob or I) created the original music idea. Each of us had a very different compositional approach. For instance, I created the original tracks on “Valley of the Birds” and Bob created the original tracks on “Stepper”. Our styles were a good combination for collaboration because we each added our own unique elements.
One of the many hallmarks of Emerald Web’s otherworldly sound is the innovative synthesizer orchestration utilized on the recordings. Furthermore, you were among the first to DIY blend synthesizers and acoustic instrumentation. Can you please talk me through the electronic elements of Emerald Web’s musical trajectory please?
KE: We both played silver flute, guitar, keyboards, other woodwinds and vocals when we met. Shortly after that, we began to study music synthesis, and our music became very synth based, but also incorporated acoustic instruments. We caught a lot of flak for “bringing a flute into a synthesizer studio” from some electronic music purists, but we always thought the wind instruments added a lot of dimension and air to the otherwise electronic sound.
The first synthesizers on which we composed music were the Moog 10 and a Buchla with a touch-plate keyboard. We also incorporated Musique Concréte, utilizing nature sounds. At the same time, we were experimenting with Flute Electronique which was a flute with a contact microphone patched through octave divider, ring modulators, guitar pedals, and tape manipulation. It certainly didn’t sound like a flute unless we mixed in the acoustic sound with the electronic sound. The Flute Electronique is featured on our first album, “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales”.
As technology advanced, synthesizers incorporated preset programs and additive synthesis. The introduction of digital samplers brought a huge array of new sounds to the mix. Multi-track tape recorders increased the number of tracks available. Our sound grew more complex, and incorporated orchestral elements. We continued to incorporate traditional acoustic instruments along with the high-tech synths. We were both recording engineers, and strived to be on the cutting edge of technology.
Outside of Emerald Web, you were instrumental in assisting synthesizer companies via feedback and consultancy in developing instruments such as the Lyricon wind synth. I would love to gain an insight into developing instruments and the process involved. For example, the enchanting sounds of the Lyricon has shades of guitar strings, oboe and french horn; a sound that is steeped in stunning beauty.
KE: Lyricon inventor Bill Bernardi, was a supporter of Emerald Web, and gave us a Lyricon 1 to experiment with, and to use on our albums. We often met with him at Computone to talk about ideas for improvements, changes and upgrades to the instrument. We were/are huge fans of the Lyricon. It is a unique and innovative instrument, and can be played very expressively.
We also worked extensively with Connecticut-based Electronic Music Laboratories (EML). They created some of the most innovative synths of the time. EML synthesizers are featured on our albums: “Whispered Visions”, and “Sound Trek”. Another interesting instrument that we worked with, was The VAKO Polyphonic Orchestron, which was the brainchild of David Van Koevering. The Orchestron was a keyboard instrument that played orchestral sounds (brass, strings, organ, vocal chorus) from spinning optical discs. It was similar to a Mellotron.
Recording studio of the electronic/acoustic band Emerald Web (Bob Stohl and Kat Epple) 1986. Photograph courtesy Kat Epple.
Your flute playing of course is central to this new age sound that you and Bob so masterfully created. Can you please talk me through your musical upbringing and your reasoning for choosing the flute instrument?
KE: Listening to classical music records as a young child, took me to distant lands and wonderful adventures in my imagination. That is where I first heard the sound of the flute. Although I didn’t know the name of the instrument, upon hearing it, I knew that I wanted to learn to play it. In fact, I wanted to learn to play the sound of the entire orchestra and to create my own musical stories (which is what I am doing now)
I started playing piano at 6 years old, and flute at the age of 7. Even at that time, I wrote my own songs and arrangements. I later played oboe, mandolin, guitar, and ethnic world flutes.
As a young child, I lived in Appalachia. The gospel, folk, Appalachian musicians who played out in the hollows and backroads, and in my Grandma’s country church, were exciting to hear and to watch. Although the style of music was not exactly what I wanted to do, the way they all improvised, and did not rely on sheet music, structure, or formal music training was something that I found inspiring.
I was interested to read how you both began as flute players in a south Florida jam session, which must have been one of the pre-cursors to Emerald Web’s formation. How soon would you begin your fascination with synthesizers and begin to think of combining the organic and synthetic? It must have been a very exciting time when you both began to experiment in this way.
KE: Bob Stohl and I met at the University of South Florida (1972) at a jam session, where we were both playing flutes. Shortly after that, we fell in love, and both studied electronic music and recording engineering at SYCOM (Systems Complex for the Recording and Performing Arts).
My favourite album at the moment is “Valley Of The Birds” and particularly the epic title-track. This piece of music takes you on a wholly uplifting voyage, led by the mesmerising flute-led melody. Can you please take me back to the recording of this record, Kat? Can you discuss the inspiration of Valley of the Birds in Berkley Hills where you resided?
KE: “Valley of the Birds” is still one of my favorite albums and tracks too. It was recorded in our 4 track reel-to-reel studio. The sequencers and synth tracks were recorded as the first 2 tracks, then we added flutes and Lyricon as the other 2 tracks. At the time we recorded this album, we were living in a beautiful ashram in the Berkeley, California hills. The view from our apartment looked over acres of trees, the Bay Bridge, and San Francisco. The trees were filled with birds, and their singing.
This is a quote from a review of “Valley of the Birds”:
“Emerald Web never presents a truly ambient music — behind each musical soundscape lies the intertwined melodies of Bob and Kat’s flutes caressing one’s ear and heart.”
(Ramana Das Yoga Journal)
Looking back over the immaculate songbook of Emerald Web’s vast recordings, is there a particular album that holds most resonance with you today? I would love to know if your techniques — be it writing, composing, studio recording, production, engineering — had changed or transformed in any way throughout the years?
KE: I guess “Valley of the Birds” and “Manatee Dreams of Neptune” are my favorite Emerald Web albums. All of those techniques you mentioned have changed immensely, partly because of the changes in technology, but also because I have grown as a musician and as a person.
I still enjoy most of our old music. A couple of years ago, I had the music restored and archived from the old reel-to-reel master tapes. Some of it I had not heard in decades, but as I listen to it now, I think it holds up well.
You combined influences from science fiction films, fantasy novels and a broad musical spectrum. These worlds are forever present in the music of Emerald Web as a vivid sense of mystery, fantasy, nature and sheer beauty is interwoven in the music’s rich tapestry. What were the films, books and music that you and Bob were obsessed with most that served inspiration for your own music?
KE: The first time I remember hearing electronic music was on the soundtrack of the movie “Forbidden Planet”, and I was enchanted by the sounds.
Our first album, “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales” was inspired by Usula LeGuin’s “Earthsea Trilogy”. In fact, when we sent her a copy of the album, she sent us a reply saying that she thought the music was beautiful and powerful.
I would say that JRR Tolkien was a definite influence too.
Bob and I were both studying Silat Kung Fu at that time, and that was an inspiration.
Science Fiction was very important to our sound too. We read Asimov, Heinlein, Vonnegut, Bradbury, etc. Sci Fi movies had a major impact on us and our music too. In fact, we enjoyed performing at Star Trek and Star Wars conventions as the featured “Space Music Band”.
Musically, some of our influences were King Crimson, Gustav Holst, Vangelis, Larry Fast, Walter Carlos, Pink Floyd, John Cage, and Claude Debussy.
The band Emerald Web (Bob Stohl and Kat Epple) in their recording studio in 1979. Photograph by Charles O’Connor; courtesy Kat Epple.
Please discuss for me the soundtracks you composed for Carl Sagan? This really does feel like a match made in heaven, where sight and sound becomes one giant mass of unknown beauty. Please take me back to these special collaborative projects you were involved with Carl, and indeed what the process entailed? Was it a case of being given some visuals/scenes and then composing music to identify a certain mood? I can imagine working on these soundtracks must have been hugely rewarding for you and Bob?
KE: We were huge fans of Carl Sagan and the “Cosmos” television series. It was honestly a thrill to work with him!
We worked with Carl Sagan on several films about the SETI program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The documentary, titled “Is There Anybody Out There?” on PBS, included Steven Spielberg, and featured Lily Tomlin as on-camera host and narrator.
Later, we worked with Carl Sagan and his production team, when the Voyager 2 Spacecraft reached Neptune. Emerald Web worked on films and television specials as Voyager 2 gave our planet its first glimpse of Neptune, as the extraordinary photos began to arrive back on Earth.
In recent years, you have been working closely with the Finders Keepers label as part of the Emerald Web archival project. This has already led to the incredible compilation, “The Stargate Tapes” from last year and Emerald Web’s ‘79 debut “Dragon Wings And Wizard Tales” to be released on CD for the very first time. It must be lovely for you to think there is such a special interest in these recordings that formed such a big part of your life, throughout the 80’s. What more hidden gems do you hope will see the light of day from the archives, Kat?
KE: It has been a great experience working with Andy Votel, and his archival record label, Finders Keepers. It is really good to have the early Emerald Web music restored and available for people to hear again. I appreciate the new fans that are hearing the music for the first time.
Finders Keepers plans to re-issue the album “Whispered Visions” in 2014, and to release other early Emerald Web albums in the future.
There will also be a collector’s limited edition of the album “Catspaw”, on the Anodize Record Label.
Other musicians you performed and recorded with include Barry Cleveland, Jon Serrie, and Steve Weiner. Barry Cleveland co-composed several Emerald Web compositions, as well as adding some gorgeous guitar parts. It must have been special to have friends to contribute to what the core duo of Emerald Web were creating?
KE: We always loved collaborating with other musicians. I recall many late night music sessions with a variety of artists and instrumentalists playing harp, guitar, cello, violin, synths, dance, video, and more. Unfortunately, we either didn’t record those magical experiences, or the tapes have long since been lost.
We played on albums with Barry Cleveland, Carlos Reyes, Michael Masley, Patrick Ball, Steven Halpern and more. Barry Cleveland is a long-time friend, and we are scheduled to play some music together in autumn of 2014.
In terms of live performance, Emerald Web played concerts at galleries, spiritual centres and even punk clubs. Did you tour much during this time? I can imagine it must have been difficult to replicate the Emerald Web sound in the live context? Do you have particular favourite shows from Emerald Web concerts?
KE: It took a lot of musical equipment on stage to re-create the music from our albums, but we did it. My very first synth was an Arp 2600 which consistently drifted out of tune. I developed the technique of manually tuning the oscillators “on the fly” as I performed on stage with it. Our sequencers had “volatile memory”, which meant that we had to program the sequences right before the concert, and as we were performed on stage. It took several hours to set up the equipment for our full show.
Among my favourite concerts were the ones at Morrison Planetarium at The California Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park. We would collaborate with the planetarium’s star show and laser show artists/technicians to create a powerful audio/visual experience. I remember standing on a stage under the planetarium dome, while over our heads, the stars would be moving, planets spinning, and laser beams flashing. Sometimes I had to hold onto the keyboard stand or mic stand to steady myself in this dizzying setting. Argon laser beams flashed just a few feet above our heads to create a criss-crossing matrix of green laser light…….an Emerald Web.
What are your thoughts on the contemporary music scene? Do you have personal favourite records from the past few years?
KE: There is an amazing variety of music that is easily accessible today, in contrast to the early days before digital downloads. Back then, it was more difficult to find new and unusual music. There is also so much more music available since a musician doesn’t have to be signed to a major record label in order to get his/her music heard. But of course, just because your music is on iTunes, etc., doesn’t mean that people will find it or buy it.
I listen to many types of music: World, Electronic, Americana, Jazz, Classical, Electronic Dance Music, Latin, Film Scores, to name a few.
Lastly, I would love to ask you what your philosophy on life is?
KE: My music comes from my connection with nature and spirit. In fact, all of the music of Emerald Web was created as a part of our spiritual journey. I continue to create music from that place of magic, wonder, and inspiration. After all, that is what makes it fun to make music.
Thank you for the truly beautiful music you have created and all the best for both the present and future.
KE: Thank you! Thanks to all of the people who have appreciated the music of Emerald Web over the years, and to those who are hearing it for the first time.
Interview with Tara Jane O’Neil.
“I went into the fire to meet you
And through the fire we walked”
—taken from ‘Elemental Finding’
Words: Mark Carry, Artwork: Tara Jane O’Neil, Photograph: Megan Holmes
“what sunflower”, 2008, Tara Jane O’Neil.
The beginning of 2014 marked the eagerly awaited release of Tara Jane O’Neil’s latest full-length record, entitled ‘Where Shine New Lights’ on the prestigious Chicago-based independent label, Kranky. The Kentucky-born visual artist, song-writer and musician has long been synonymous with independent music, having collaborated with fellow-luminaries Papa M, Ida, Mirah, Michael Hurley, Jackie O’ Motherfucker, and the King Cobra. In addition to the plethora of stunning collaborative projects, O’Neil has scored soundtracks for film and theatre, composing instrumental music under the moniker Strange Clouds. During the 90’s, the Kentucky-native played in the duo Retsin and Sonora Pine. The latest solo work ‘Where Shine New Lights’ is the follow-up to 2009’s ‘A Way’s Away’ that contain choral voicings, and electronic and organic elements masterfully woven together.
The album’s defining moment arrives on part B with the torch-lit ballad ‘Elemental Finding’ that contains O’Neil’s ethereal vocals, warm instrumentation of acoustic guitar and percussion. The elements of water, light and fire are beautifully interspersed in the sprawling sonic canvas. Towards the song’s close, the lyric of “Take a look at yourself in the water” resonates powerfully. The heartfelt lament ‘The Lull The Going’ is an achingly beautiful lament. ‘This Morning Glory’ is built on a gorgeous acoustic guitar-based melody that is taken from folk’s age-old tradition but feels mysteriously new; belonging to the here and now. An intricate arrangement of strings serves the vital pulse to ‘The Signal, Wind’. A post-rock infused ambient web of sound is effortlessly formed on The Necks-esque ‘Glow Now’. One of the record’s empowering crescendos ascends on ‘The Signal, Lift’ where a brooding melancholia seeps into the immaculate instrumentation of banjo, guitars and drums.
“Where Shine New Lights” is available now on Kranky.
“Tara Jane O’Neil”, photograph by Megan Holmes.
Interview with Tara Jane O’Neil.
Congratulations Tara on your latest album, “Where Shine New Lights”. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions in relation to this stunning masterpiece. I love how the layers of instrumentation effortlessly ebb and flow throughout, from the utilization of choral voicings, guitar, percussion and a myriad of other sources that conjures up a haven of enchanting sound. Please talk me through the recording of “Where Shine New Lights” and the aims you set out from the outset? You must feel deeply proud of this record.
Tara Jane O’Neil: Hey thanks. The record was a real odyssey. It was recorded at different times over 3 years. There were hurricanes and Kickstarter campaigns, and it was recorded in Portland, Woodstock, NYC, Los Angeles, Louisville. In some ways it was an exercise in getting out-of-the-way and letting the album take its own time and shape. My first thoughts about what I wanted it to be were not the thoughts that took over two years into it.
Recurring themes throughout the record come from the elements: water, light, fire, air and Earth. As ever, there is a beguiling atmosphere captured on every cut on the album, where an intimacy is formed between the artist and the listener. Furthermore, a vivid sense of solitude emanates from the embers of these works. Can you please discuss the wonderful title, “Where Shines New Lights” and the themes that connect the twelve songs together?
TJON: “Where Shine New Lights” is a question and also its answer. There’s a lot inside this record. I would betray it to break it apart and decipher its prompts. Just like any other music I put in to the world, it changes as soon as I play it for someone, or play the music with someone. Once it’s out of my own head and room, it’s a part of the environment where it is heard.
‘Elemental Finding’ is one of the album’s defining moments, a stunning tour-de-force in minimalism and captivating song-writing. The lyric of “I walked into the fire to meet you / And through the fire we walked” evokes such vivid beauty and raw emotion. Would I be right in thinking that this song opened a gateway for the rest of the album to come into being, Tara? I would love to gain an insight into the construction of ‘Elemental Finding’ and your memories of writing/recording?
TJON: That song was one of the first in the collection, yes. I wrote it in a day in Woodstock, recorded a demo the next, and a proper version with Dan Littleton a year later. It was not included in the in the couple of months where I was in the process constructing the record. In fact, it was the last day of mixing and that it was fit in to the sequence. So, it’s good to trust the first thought, and also the very last thought.
You are an accomplished visual artist with a seamless array of exhibitions and wonderful publications to your name. I would love for you to discuss please the relationship between sound and visual art and how one process must feed into the other? For example, your music — going back to your compelling debut in 2000 — possesses a powerful visual aesthetic and abstract detail. How does both worlds differ for you, if so, and would you work on music simultaneously alongside art?
TJON: Well… sound and vision are just balancing hemispheres here in my person. I don’t often work on them at the same time. On tour I get a lot of time to draw, then I do the show. Usually I have to sink in to a real musical brain, or in to a real visual brain. They activate senses, and the somatic sense that both music and visual art require is the real meeting point for both. Each are very much in the body for me.
You grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and later moved to New York, before living in Portland, Oregon in 2003. I would love for you to discuss your memories of each of these places and how these worlds helped shape your music and art?
TJON: I grew up in many cities. I did go to high school and start my adult life and my musical life in Louisville. It was the very early nineties and our community there in our small mid-south town was inspired and tight. There are a million records and films and other ephemera documenting some of what we did during those few years. Formative groundwork there. Some of us have left this world recently and it’s amazing to have that stuff. Louisville is a bittersweet heavy dose of deep family vibes… my time in New York and Portland are totally different beasts. I learned the next phases of everything in those places. My best friends and my forever collaborators are living in them still…
I am a huge fan of the various collaborations you’ve been part of, particularly Papa M and Michael Hurley. I can imagine that collaborating with other artists must feed into your own solo projects? How does the collaborative process differ from the solo compositions? Is there a particular favourite record you have from these wonderful collaborations, Tara?
TJON: Collaboration totally informs my playing and how I interact with different musical voicings. Collaboration is the best teacher. That communion which happens with other people while playing or doing some kind of performance is really the finest kind. I’ve been working with some dancers for the last couple of years. Improvising within a structure and responding to movement. All the work I’ve done with people on musical projects helps me understand how to invite others into my solo recordings and shows. The process of composing a record on my own with contributions from other players is kind of the inverse of going to play on someone else’s record. Sometimes I feel like a writer, working at their desk while I’m working on a mix that’s full of amazing sounds from different players. The actual playing, whether I’m a guest, or I’m inviting people to play on something I’ve written basically requires the same spirit of listening and getting free within a certain criteria. And my favorite records in the pile? Well I love them all, they were all really special times. But for today… Catherine Irwin “Little Heater”. Papa M “Whatever, Mortal”. Ida “Lovers Prayers”. Danielle Howle “Red Candles”.
What are the most important albums out there that you feel have inspired you to make your own music? Would you have certain records you always come back to? In terms of song-writing, who would provide everlasting illumination? Also, in terms of instrumental music, what bands or particular records do you feel proved pivotal for you?
TJON: Everlasting illumination? Maybe….Joni Mitchell “The Hissing Of Summer Lawns”. Judee Sill “Heart Food”. The Beach Boys “Friends”. Prince “Sign of the Times” side 3. The Velvet Underground. Leonard Cohen. Arthur Russell. Eno. Instrumental stuff recently… Alice Coltrane “Universal Consciousness” and “Eternity”. Harold Budd “Pavillion Of Dreams”.
What is next for you, Tara? Are there new collaborations on the cards?
TJON: I would like to start an R&B soft rock group. There are a few folks interested in this endeavour but nothing to share just yet. I will continue to collaborate with my partner Jmy James Kidd on her ritual modern dance pieces.
“Where Shine New Lights” is available now on Kranky.
The Sydney-based pianist and composer Sophie Hutchings shares with us her feelings on the album which had the greatest impact on her life as a musician. To date, Hutchings has released two solo albums, ‘Becalmed’ and ‘Night Sky’, both available now via Australian independent label Preservation.
The Necks ‘Sex’, by Sophie Hutchings.
From a young age I became fixated with repetition… during practice or mooching around on the piano, even if it were a simple melody I’d made up. I’d enjoy the process of playing it in circular motion. There was a contentment in performing the same thing over and over again — although I’m sure my family didn’t experience the same form of contentment at the time! However, come my energetic teens it was the compelling and emotionally charged power of indie rock music that began to take precedence in my life, and although I continued to improvise at home with the kind of music I generally do now, I wasn’t exactly searching for anything outside of the more aggressive music I was listening to. I was spoilt by the records my two older brothers would bring home, and it was exciting to rummage through their collections and new finds. I felt I was discovering great and interesting music and I was! But when bands like Rachel’s came along, another sense in me awakened.
The first groundbreaking discovery for me was The Necks album ‘Sex’. Tim Whitten — who has been involved with the recording process of both my albums and a long-standing family friend — gave it to me saying: “You will totally dig this album”. I immediately fell in love with the purity, as well as the endlessly repeated motifs of the drums, bass and piano.
Repetition in music for me — be it ambient, instrumental or indie rock when done well — kind of transports you away from what’s going on around you. It holds you in a nice little pocket of time, hypnotic inflections drag you into a musical undercurrent and that’s what The Necks do to me. They manage to calmly hypnotize you without dissecting your emotions. They take you to a pensive place whilst also managing to uplift you at the same time. I chose this record, as it was a huge turning point in my life and it was the foundation of what I was then to build from. To this day I still hold onto it as a very special album. It’s one of those nostalgic numbers in your collection that you put on again, and again, again and again… and again. I never tire of it.
Artist: The Necks
Label: Spiral Scratch
Tracklist: Sex (56:08)
Personell: Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums), and Lloyd Swanton (bass)
Sophie Hutchings is currently recording her third album and follow-up to ‘Night Sky’ (Preservation, 2012) alongside The Necks’ producer Tim Whitten. Both ‘Becalmed’ and ‘Night Sky’ are available now on the Preservation label.