We’re delighted to present the first in a new series of monthly mixes made for Paris-based music website La Blogothèque. Over the last six years, La Blogothèque has been a source of much inspiration, not least in how they showcase (and share) their true passion for music. While each mix will be published on La Blogothèque’s website, we will also post the mixes on our own Mixcloud Page. While we had made the decision to stop Fractured Air last November, the opportunity that presented itself with contributing for La Blogothèque gave us reason to resume – in the capacity of contributing mixes – for the coming months. We hope you enjoy them.
Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S1E1| January mix
To Read/listen on La Blogothèque:
01. fLako ‘The Opening / Purple Trees’ [Five Easy Pieces]
02. Ennio Morricone ‘La Musica Prima del Massacro’ [The Hateful Eight OST, Decca/Third Man]
03. Mogwai ‘Hungry Face’ [Les Revenants OST, Rock Action]
04. David Bowie ‘Warszawa’ [RCA Victor]
05. Eduard Artemiev ‘Listen to Bach (The Earth)’ [Solaris OST, Superior Viaduct]
06. Brian Eno ‘Some of Them Are Old’ [Island]
07. Lucrecia Dalt ‘FLOTO’ [Care Of Editions]
08. WRY MYRRH ‘TWO’ [Soundcloud]
09. Nicolas Jaar ‘Fight’ [R&S]
10. Mick Jenkins ‘Alchemy’ [Cinematic Music Group]
11. Four Tet ‘Evening Side’ (excerpt) [Text]
12. Rocketnumbernine ‘Two Ways’ [Border Community]
13. Animal Collective ‘FloriDada’ [Domino]
14. Tortoise ‘Gesceap’ [Thrill Jockey]
15. The Space Lady ‘Major Tom’ [NightSchool]
16. Molly Nilsson ‘Tomorrow’ [Dark Skies Association, NightSchool]
17. Charlie Cocksedge ‘Corrour’ (excerpt) [Soundcloud]
18. Linda Scott ‘I’ve Told Every Little Star’ [Mulholland Drive OST, Milan]
19. Jonny Greenwood ‘The Golden Fang’ [Inherent Vice OST, Nonesuch]
20. Scott Walker ‘Duchess’ [Philips]
21. Tindersticks ‘Hey Lucinda’ [City Slang, Lucky Dog Recordings]
Compiled by Fractured Air, January 2016. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
When Time Flies [A Fractured Air Mix]
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. David Allred ‘When Time Flies’ [Oscarson]
02. Beach House ‘Levitation’ [Bella Union/Sub Pop]
03. Air ‘Empty House’ [‘The Virgin Suicides’ OST / Virgin]
04. Laurel Halo ‘Focus I’ [Honest Jon’s]
05. Arthur Russell ‘This Is How We Walk On The Moon’ [Audika]
06. Dawn of Midi ‘Algol’ [Erased Tapes]
07. The Bad Plus ‘Never Stop’ [EmArcy]
08. Sun Ra ‘Plutonian Nights’ [Strut]
09. Cheech & Chong ‘Basketball Jones’ [‘Being There’ OST]
10. Peter Broderick + Gabriel Saloman ‘Lament For Philip Seymour Hoffman’ [Beacon Sound]
11. Guillaume Roussel ‘Meurtre du fou’ [‘La Connection’ OST / Gaumont, Légende Films]
12. Symmetry ‘Streets Of Fire’ [Italians Do It Better]
13. Max Richter ‘Lullaby’ (feat. Robert Wyatt) 
14. Julia Kent ‘Heavy Eyes’ [The Leaf Label]
15. Julia Holter ‘Have You In My Wilderness’ [Domino]
16. Harold Budd & John Foxx ‘Adult’ [All Saints]
17. The Band ‘I Shall Be Released’ [Capitol]
18. Georges Delerue ‘Camille’ [‘Le Mépris’ OST / EmArcy]
This mixtape will be our final post on Fractured Air. We’d both like to take this opportunity to thank each and every person who has helped or supported us in one way or another over the last 3½ years. It has been a real pleasure for us to have found ourselves in a position to be able to do our small part in helping promote the true wonder that is independent music. Most of all, we’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of our readers who helped us keep going as long as we did. Thank you.
Interview with Julia Kent.
“At this point, I am just trying to express the emotions I’m feeling, whether positive or negative, in whatever way I can.”
Words: Craig & Mark Carry
‘Asperities’ is the fourth full-length solo work by the Vancouver-born and New York-based cellist Julia Kent. Released earlier this year by English independent The Leaf Label (and follow-up to 2013’s glorious ‘Character’), ‘Asperities’ sees a significant shift and development in Kent’s unique sound, with an increased focus being placed on the treatment of sound. While Kent’s work practice has always consisted of a looping pedal station with her beloved cello, ‘Asperities’ displays a heightened focus on how far this processed sound can be manipulated and pushed while maintaining the emotion distilled at the moment of initial playing. It is the manner in which both worlds of analogue and digital – acoustic cello plus processed electronic sound (which can also incorporate field recordings) – that strikes such an irresistible chord throughout the spine of ‘Asperities’. Significantly, the album was also recorded, produced and mixed in its entirety by Kent (who formerly performed as cellist to Antony & The Johnsons and Rasputina) in her New York studio while mastering duties were done by American composer and sound artist Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below, Orcas).
A distillation of emotion has always been at the fore for Kent’s recordings thus far – from her 2007 debut ‘Delay’ (released via Swiss label Shayo) to its 2011 follow-up ‘Green And Grey’ (Important Records) and her most recent album ‘Character’ (her first for the UK-based Leaf Label). Tracks such as ‘Missed’ (‘Green And Grey’), ‘Tourbillon’ or ‘Nina and Oscar’ (both from ‘Character’) are testament to this: the careful looping of cello lines interweave forcefully and gracefully all at once, creating moments of raw power and pure emotion in the process. The fact that the Canadian composer can conjure moments of both earth-shattering force and a fragile lightness of being (sometimes all at once) is both testament to Kent’s immense playing prowess but also her own very specific outlook and vision as an artist. Like similarly minded souls such as Iceland’s Hildur Guðnadóttir or Germany’s Hauschka, Kent is less concerned with mere technique or surface detail as she is with where such surfaces can take her.
On talking about the album’s title Kent has previously stated: “I was thinking about the concept of difficulty. Whether in life or in nature – of conflict, of being troubled. The idea of friction. Also in geology, an asperity is some part of a faultline that doesn’t move which can create an earthquake, which is quite an evocative concept.”
Indeed, such a concept beautifully encapsulates the album’s arc as a whole as well as its nine divine tracks. From the gradual build of album opener ‘Hellebore’ – where hard-edged cello lines cut through the foreground to stunning effect halfway through – a whole world of both impossibly intricate and fluid-like abstract textures awash the sonic palette. Its clear from second track ‘Lac des Arcs’ that an increasing focus is now placed on both the distance between notes as the precise notes themselves. Like a network of branches offset a winter sky, we lose ourselves in the infinite patterns of both positive and negative shapes in our midst. The ever-expanding well of emotions is palpable throughout – reminiscent of a prolonged mood-piece motion picture or an epic piece of fictional prose where we nervously await the outcome of our ill-fated protagonist – and brings to mind the other special souls making music in the modern classical realm today such as Jóhann Jóhannsson or William Basinski.
‘The Leopard’ begins with plucked cello lines which are looped throughout the piece (the longest cut on the album at six-minutes) and recalls vivid memories of witnessing Kent live in concert. For it’s in live situations one can readily appreciate (and effectively visualize) the construction (and simultaneously the deconstruction) of Kent’s majestic oeuvre. The impact of tracks such as ‘The Leopard’ leaves one loose complete sense of the present and existing moment; we are floating to some distant shore underneath the moon and stars above. In fact, the piece embodies no less an impact than as if played by a string quartet or full-scale orchestra where a seemingly endless gamut of mood, emotion and scale emerge from the horizon. ‘Flag Of No Country’ contains an alluring melodic line (akin to a piece of musical saw performed by Amiina), and precisely how these acoustic sounds merge with its processed electronic counterpoint (recalling both electronic and dub-influenced traditions) is a pure joy to behold. There is a meticulousness felt here and yet – crucially – what emerges most obviously throughout is a palpable sense of the present, the here-and-now (it’s as if we are a silent witness hearing the songs for the first time being performed in Kent’s New York studio). Fittingly, ‘Terrain’ sits at the center point to Asperities’ vast landscape where a synthetic drum line further accentuate the electronic arc of the album. Whereas on a previous track – for example, 2013’s ‘Tourbillon’ – such an addition may have functioned more as a backdrop to the main cello line narrative; here, each and every electronic element lives, breathes and seeps into every pore of Kent’s cello playing. Indeed, such a brooding atmosphere only heightens and intensifies as we continue to navigate side b’s precarious waters, where processed and found sounds (for example, the buzzing static on ‘Empty States’) merge and fuze to startling effect, recalling Murcof or Fennesz in the process.
There is so much evidence here that ‘Asperities’ is Kent’s most remarkable and life-affirming tour-de-force to date and – taking into account the exceptional output that has already been made by the hand (and mind) of Kent – this is a truly remarkable achievement all on its own.
‘Asperities’ is available now on The Leaf Label.
Interview with Julia Kent.
Congratulations Julia on the truly breathtaking and exceptionally beautiful new record, ‘Asperities’. It’s such a pleasure to speak with you again and ask you some questions about this latest chapter in your beautifully storied career thus far. Please take me back to the making of ‘Asperities’ and the time and place these songs came to life? It really feels that this collection of music echoes the darkness of our times and the world as a whole of late. But nevertheless, in the darkness a deep sense of hope and strive for a better life prevails. The new music I feel captures this emotional depth and really feels (as all your records do) a special and emotional experience for the listener. I also love the many meanings of the album-title which in many ways filters into the album’s nine sonic creations.
Julia Kent: Thank you so much, Mark! Indeed, ‘Asperities’ was made under the influence of the stresses that I think we’re all feeling right now as humans: we seem to have lost empathy for one another as mutual inhabitants of this planet. And the title of course references the sense of harshness that echoes that sensation, as well as a sense of forces, whether tectonic or social, that are in conflict. But, as you say, there is still a sense of hope: there is still so much individual kindness that one encounters in life.
Please discuss the various stages of the album-making process: you recorded, produced and mixed the album in your own New York studio. This solitary process must really help shape the music that is eventually created. Also, I am very curious about the mindset and this concept of a musician’s mind when it comes to the creating/composing of music, and your instance, these heart-rendering cello-based compositions steeped in such unfathomable beauty. How do you feel your approach (and indeed the work of your mind) has developed across your solo works and in turn which has led to the creation of the latest masterpiece?
JK: The process of making ‘Asperities’ was actually fairly rapid, compared to my previous records. I’ve been playing some of the pieces live over the past year or so, so once I had some time in the studio, recording went quickly. And I tried to keep a sense of immediacy, and let the pieces go, rather than letting things percolate too long and getting stuck in an endless cycle of tweaking, as can sometimes happen when I’m working on my own. It’s great to have the objectivity that having someone else mix can provide, but I decided to mix myself, though I was lucky enough to be able to ask Rafael Anton Irisarri to master: I love his music and his sensibility so much, so it was really amazing to have the opportunity to have him do the mastering. I do think this record represents an evolution in my solo work: I’ve definitely become more comfortable with the idea of harshness and noise and sounds that aren’t inherently trying to be beautiful. At this point, I am just trying to express the emotions I’m feeling, whether positive or negative, in whatever way I can.
‘The Leopard’ is one of the record’s most captivating moments, and serves the centrepiece to the record’s Side A. In terms of the layering and meticulous crafting of the various sounds & textures, can you talk me through the construction of ‘The Leopard’? Also, I love how these intricate layers forever feels as if it’s one swarming ocean of sound (rather than many different isolated parts), something that has proved a great hallmark to your sonic creations. I love the reverb and heavy bass sounds that serve the pulse to this track, and creates a foreboding, menacing atmosphere whereas the counterpoint of strings forms a sea of sadness and pain. It’s such a moving, transporting piece of music.
JK: Thank you! It’s so interesting that you would point to ‘The Leopard’, because it had a particularly interesting genesis. It began as something I developed playing live for a dance piece: a very dark and powerful piece dealing with bearing witness to war and the inevitable repetition of conflict. I called it ‘The Leopard’ because there was a visual reference to the animal in the piece, but then I started thinking about the Lampedusa book, which also references conflict and social change, and has such a strong and evocative atmosphere. We ended up not using the piece in the dance performance, but I kept developing it, and eventually it evolved into what you hear on the record. I hope it conveys a sense of foreboding: that’s definitely what I feel when I play it. And I feel as though there is a tension within it between repetition and things that are trying to break free.
I am very curious to learn more about the electronic aspect of the music, Julia? Certain pieces like ‘Terrain’ contains sublime electronic textures that coalesce so effortlessly with the strings. What signals in you to incorporate more electronic-oriented sounds to be added to the cello-based compositions. A beautiful sense of motion and journey is inherent on tracks such as ‘Terrain’ and elsewhere dotted across ‘Asperities’.
JK: On this record, some of the pieces actually began first with electronics rather than cello, which I think made for a different point of departure, and created an interesting synthesis. And, in some cases, I was trying to see if I could erase the boundaries between the electronic and the organic textures, through processing and through blending the sounds.
The cello instrument is an extension of your own self and indeed your true voice, something that rings true when thinking of you and kindred spirits such as Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (fiddle), Lubomyr Melnyk (piano), Arthur Russell (cello) and so on. I also love how you bend the possibilities of the instrument to your own needs, for example a plethora of treatments to the cello is at work throughout ‘Asperities’. Please discuss the cello instrument, your first discovery of this beloved instrument, and indeed the voyage you began with this instrument back with debut solo LP, ‘Delay’ and even much before? Being so fortunate to witness your live performance, it was very special to visualize your cello-based compositions unfold and emit its magical spell.
JK: Oh, that is more than kind of you to mention me with Caoimhín and Lubomyr! They are great artists and I’ve been really fortunate to encounter both of them. And Arthur Russell is of course my hero: he really expanded the boundaries of the cello in such a personal way. The cello is, and always will be, my voice: it has such expressive possibilities. I’ve had a slightly troubled relationship to the instrument: I stopped playing for a couple of years after music school, because I was really disheartened by the whole process. But then I discovered another musical world, one that was freeing and creative, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to continue on that path. The cello at this point feels really like an extension of myself.
You have been heavily involved with score work for dance and film in the last couple of years, Julia. I wonder how does the music-making process vary depending on the particular medium? I can imagine some of this score work must have filtered into the overall makeup of ‘Asperities’?
JK: Yes, definitely the work I’ve been doing with dance and theatre and film has influenced this record a lot. I’ve found the process of making music for dance and theatre particularly interesting, because, in certain cases, I’m creating music live in reaction to movement or text or image, and that can be so inspiring and so immediate. I especially like working with dance: there is a sort of nonverbal communication that can happen with dancers on the stage that is really powerful.
The immense power of instrumental music – and your music typifies this simple truth – is the expression of emotion without words. I would love for you to share your thoughts on this whole idea and the journey you feel that has unearthed as a result of your musical path? Have there been other musicians, artists and records you feel that have truly moved and inspired you and has helped shape your own musical landscape?
JK: I do listen primarily to instrumental music – a lot of it electronic – and I find so much of it moving and inspiring. I think artists like Stars of the Lid or Kyle Bobby Dunn or William Basinski or Rafael Anton Irisarri or Markus Guettner are so conceptually and sonically powerful, and convey so much emotion in a relatively abstract way. And Oneohtrix Point Never and Tim Hecker and Haxan Cloak and Blanck Mass: it’s really an endless list of amazing music. But I think my own musical landscape is a fairly personal one: I really feel as though I’ve found my own way over the years, as one does.
Lastly, Julia, the penultimate track ‘Invitation To The Voyage’ feels like a very important piece of music on the new record, somehow akin to the approaching sun-lit horizon, reflecting hope and redemption. Please talk me through the various stages of this song’s inception and gradual development?
JK: ‘Invitation to the Voyage’ of course shares a title with the Baudelaire poem, but I also was thinking about the Watteau painting ‘Embarkation for Cythera’. I’m not particularly a huge fan of Watteau, but I’ve always been slightly haunted by that painting: it’s almost like a vanitas, with a sense of the ephemerality of life and of pleasure. You wonder if all those beautiful, frivolous people in fact made it back from Cythera? Or knew where they were heading in the first place? An invitation to a voyage conveys a sense of adventure and possibility, but there are some voyages from which one does not return. So I feel as though the piece is balanced between a sense of hope and a sense of elegiacness, and that it’s bittersweet in the way life is.
As a p.s.: I wrote all of the above before the most recent awful events in Beirut and in Paris and in Syria and elsewhere and who knows what else will have happened before you read this?… I don’t have any words other than: be kind and take care…
‘Asperities’ is available now on The Leaf Label.
Interview with Ah! Kosmos.
“I work on a song like a meditation, I’m trying to get to a state where my mind stops talking so that I can reflect transparently what’s going on inside.”
Words: Craig & Mark Carry
Ah! Kosmos is the music alias for the Istanbul-born artist Başak Günak. Thus far, Günak has released the EP-length ‘Flesh’ (released via Istanbul-based independent Müzik Hayvanı in 2013) and this year’s debut full-length ‘Bastards’ (released via German independent Denovali). Currently, Ah! Kosmos is embarking on a European tour in support of her debut LP ‘Bastards’, support from these show come from French composer and Denovali labelmate The Eye of Time (Normandy-based artist Marc Euvrie) which includes shows in Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Netherlands, France and Turkey. Interestingly, extensive studies into sound (Günak has pursued an MA in both Sound Design & Engineering and Cultural Studies, the latter also with a keen focus on sound) is also evidently pushing Günak to push the sonic envelope while constantly challenging her own sound and music. Much like such contemporary musicians as California-based Holly Herndon (RVNG Intl, 4AD) or Stockholm-based Klara Lewis (Editions Mego), a constant soul-deep desire to push the sonic boundaries while defying any expectations in the process is a cause for much acclaim and celebration.
Listening to ‘Bastards’ proves an intriguing listening experience while it’s also increasingly evident how live performance continues to evolve Ah! Kosmos’ own distinctive sound palette and Günak’s individuality as an artist. One can continually marvel at Günak’s innate ability to conjure such hugely immersive, highly imaginative and utterly compelling soundscapes as they seem to ebb and flow in their own independent timeline in complex, ever-changing and evolving patterns over the course of the album’s sprawling canvas. Crucially, such densely arranged compositions never strive to inhibit the listening experience: the challenge for Ah! Kosmos lies evidently in the pursuit of capturing – and holding – onto emotion above all else. A wide array of emotions are always brimming at the surface as if quietly awaiting a listener’s response to begin a chain of reaction – to somehow “contain” such emotion, to stem the blood flow of Ah! Kosmos’ ever-beating heart.
‘Bastards’ is available now on Denovali.
Interview with Başak Günak.
Congratulations on the sublime debut full-length, ‘Bastards’. It is a remarkable album whose intricate layers and masterful use (and cross-over) of organic and electronic worlds of sound reveals new significance upon each revisit. Please discuss the musical canvas utilized on ‘Bastards’? In terms of the layers of sound, would the live instrumentation such as voice, guitar comes first (and in turn, form the song) or do the electronic elements form the initial spark?
Başak Günak: Thank you so much. For me the musical canvas is changing in each song. Initial layers of them keeps its mystery for me. Each time I try to approach with another perspective to not build-up a solid tendency. When you get out of your comfort zone, you experience an open space where you can experience a new landscape. I believe this is what keeps the excitement for me. To talk specifically about some songs, for instances in “Always in Parenthesis” the initial layer is my voice sounding like a synth. I recorded myself and modify it until I feel it is transparent. I like improvising with the relation between organic and electronic sounds.
In terms of the studio set-up, how much did the recording of ‘Bastards’ differ from your debut ‘Flesh’ EP? I can imagine the subsequent live performances and shows since 2013 has affected the tone and shape of the debut record?
BG: Exactly, live performances played really important role in transformation of my sound. They open up an inspiring space for the production. I love to perform as much as I can. I don’t think I can release a song before performing it live.
In terms of studio set-up and time, I focus on ‘Bastards’ a lot. In that time period, I experienced a difference between making a LP and an EP. I think really carefully for ‘Bastards’ as a whole. I would like it to have a flow and landscape. Finally I’m happy that I break the connection between the songs and me and release them to make new bonds, new connections.
Please talk me through the spoken word elements embedded in many of these songs, from the outro to ‘Always In Parentheses’ to the album opener, ‘Out/Ro/In/Growth’? These segments further heightens the cinematic feel to the record and pulsing human connection.
BG: These spoken words are read by Selen Ansen which are fragments from Deleuze & Guattari.
The reason for these spoken words is coming from the title of this album “Bastards”. Selen Ansen is an art philosopher and I was attending to her lectures. In one of them she spoke about pharesia and she said how glorious is to embrace being a Bastard. After that lecture, I though a lot about it. Bastards means for me a ground for challenging the sovereign in the every realm of life. I like the idea of embracing the negative attributions to “Bastards” in my heart and in my art. Because with this embracement you are taking the power of the sovereign for the categorization homogenization towards Bastardy; “not having power to patronize”. Then I asked Selen to read some fragments for me. I’m really glad that we collaborated.
‘Trace of Waterfalls’ is such a tour-de-force and represents the album’s towering centerpiece. The ambient pulses and the beautiful fusion of the voice, guitar, and electronic wizardry evokes a timeless and searching sound and emotion. Can you trace back to your memories of writing this particular song and indeed, the construction of ‘Trace of Waterfalls’? The song-title is also incredibly powerful.
BG: Thank you so much for those beautiful words. I focus a lot my time on making music. I work a lot on songs, however when there is something special that touches me, I seize it. So the same thing happened with ‘Trace of Waterfalls’, I had a very inspiring conversation with a person, more about life and connections. And in the minute I left alone, I concentrated deep down on sound to release this waterfall feeling that is flowing in me. And at one point I felt that I was finally able to express the feelings as lucid as possible.
In terms of the production – ‘Bastards’ is self-produced – what process lies at the heart of this stage of the music-making process?
BG: I’m doing music every day like keeping a diary. I’m trying to transform and release how encounters and events affect me. And to do this, I play and record some instruments, start improvising or just try to manipulate a sample. I work on a song like a meditation, I’m trying to get to a state where my mind stops talking so that I can reflect transparently what’s going on inside.
Please take me back to your musical upbringing? At which point did you begin your fascination with sound and indeed began your musical experiments?
BG: Since many years, I have already been engaged in music. I was performing in bands as bass player, I performed with many people from different musical background. After I finished my BA, I started doing MA degree on Sound Design & Engineering. During these years I have had a chance to deal with electronic possibilities for sound. I also had experience with the analog ones as well. In these years, I started to focus more on improvisation and composition. After I started to make music on computer alone, it turn into another experience which is more powerful and introverted. Then, my ongoing researches on sound and composition encouraged me to decide to compose and perform solo under name “Ah! Kosmos”. And now I’m doing another MA in Cultural Studies with the focus on sound.
You have also composed and created sound design for contemporary dance and plays, short films and installations. How do these varied mediums affect the resultant sound you create/compose?
BG: It is enriching to work with artists from other disciplines. I find it really exciting to approach ideas with different perspectives. Especially working with choreography inspires me a lot.
‘Bastards’ is available now on Denovali.
The internationally renowned Scottish composer Bill Wells compiles a mixtape to coincide with the release of Bill Wells & Friends’ ‘Nursery Rhymes’ – available via Karaoke Kalk. Wells picks a selection of artists and longtime friends and collaborators who feature on ‘Nursery Rhymes’ including: Yo La Tengo, Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Isobel Campbell and Bridget St. John. This year, the ever-prolific Wells has also resumed the award-winning collaboration with former Arab Strap vocalist Aidan Moffat with the release of ‘The Most Important Place In The World’ via Scottish label Chemikal Underground (and follow-up to 2011’s ‘Everythings Getting Older’). Bill Wells has collaborated with a myriad of artists over the years resulting in some of independent music’s finest treasures in recent times. These include ‘Fugue’ (the 2010 Immune release with Sweden’s Tape); works with Maher Shalal Hash Baz (‘Osaka Bridge’ and ‘Gok’) and the gorgeous jazz-infused ‘Lemondale’ (Double Six Recordings, 2011).
Fractured Air 47: Bill Wells ‘Nursery Rhymes Participants’
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Amy Allison ‘Sheffield Streets’ [Urban Myth]
02. Syd Straw ‘Future 40’s (String Of Pearls)’ [Virgin]
03. Bridget St. John ‘Love Minus Zero, No Limit’ [Dandelion]
04. The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland ‘This Is What You Could Have Won’ [Karaoke Kalk]
05. Teenage Fanclub ‘Some People Try (To Fuck With You)’ [Creation]
06. Yo La Tengo ‘Tom Courtenay’ (Acoustic) [Matador]
07. Deerhoof ‘Last Fad’ [Upset! The Rhythm]
08. Hospitality ‘I Miss Your Bones’ [Merge/Fire]
09. Annette Peacock ‘Too Much In The Skies’ [Aura]
10. Michael Cerveris ‘Edges of the World’ [Fun Home OST, PS Classics]
11. Karen Mantler ‘People Die’ [Watt Works, ECM Records]
12. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan ‘To Hell & Back Again’ [V2]
Compiled by Bill Wells. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
‘Nursery Rhymes’ is available now on Karaoke Kalk.
Interview with Slow Moving Clouds.
“It was tricky to bridge the gap between the Irish and Finnish music traditions, which have a lot more differences than similarities. To effectively combine the two we had to come up with an approach and way of playing which was independent of both traditions…”
—Danny Diamond, Slow Moving Clouds
Words: Mark & Craig Carry
Slow Moving Clouds are an Irish-based three-piece who have recently released their debut full-length, ‘Os’ which beautifully draws inspiration from both Irish and Nordic music traditions. Slow Moving Clouds’ comprise the vastly experienced and critically acclaimed trio of Danny Diamond (fiddle), Aki (nyckelharpa, vocals) and Kevin Murphy (cello). Interestingly, the trio have worked extensively together in the past and have known each other for many years. Both Aki and Diamond have recored and performed as a duo (nyckelharpa and fiddle) under the moniker Danny & Aki while Murphy and Aki have performed together in the special cello-based outfit Seti The First (their debut LP ‘Melting Calvary’ is one of the finest albums to be made form Irish shores in recent years). Much like the Irish/U.S. ensemble of The Gloaming, both the personal and musical bond that exists between members is of paramount importance in both the genesis and results in forming such a collective, it is the basis for all the magic at work which shines forth clearly from each recording where each one seems to innately know and appreciate what each other can create.
Much like Murphy’s Seti The First project, Slow Moving Clouds in truth draws as much from the traditional as it does from modern classical aspects of music, in turn a vast spectrum of soundscapes are created which are at times expressively lush and orchestral while elsewhere drone and ambient-influenced works come into sharper focus. All the while, a breathtaking sense of emotion is held (and builds gradually layer by gorgeous layer) for the duration of the album’s eleven tracks. Like The Gloaming’s Iarla Ó Lionáird, a tangible sense of both history and time can be discerned from both the vocal delivery and use of very specific, time-honored traditional texts (the Finnish-inspired pieces here such as ‘Hiljainen Suru’ and ‘Os’ break all limitations and borders posed by both language and place, creating in turn moments of pure, blissful reverie). The beautiful strokes and tones created by the cello/fiddle/nyckelharpa axis is a joy to savor (the simple joy of witnessing such music where feeling overrides everything else recalls such special musical souls as Iceland’s Amiina or Sweden’s Tape).
This is an album – and band – who deserve the recognition for their extraordinary achievements.
‘Os’ is available now on Bandcamp HERE.
Interview with Slow Moving Clouds [Aki, Danny Diamond & Kevin Murphy].
Congratulations on the stunningly beautiful debut record, ‘Os’. It’s really quite incredible & contains such a world of sounds and traditions that crafts such a timeless, beautiful sound. Please discuss the inception of this trio (I know Kevin and Aki from Seti The First and certain fingerprints from this wonderful ensemble seep into the music here) and how the sound developed and blossomed over time? Also, both the title of the debut record as well as the band name are both intriguing before ever hearing a single note…
Aki: Thank you. Danny and I have been playing traditional music as a duo for awhile, and we released a duo album in 2012. I played with the live incarnation of Kevin’s band Seti the First, and had a duo project in development with Kevin. Instead of having two separate duo projects, we decided to try something with three of us. Most of our early dance music stuff (polskas) are complete rearrangements of material we had with Danny & Aki.
In terms of the aesthetics and flow of the record, the combination of instrumental and vocal tracks works so wonderfully. The diverse range of styles, from more polska/dance rhythms to achingly beautiful ballads and soaring modern-classical pieces creates a very enriching experience. Can you take me back to these particular recording sessions and indeed the challenges you may have faced during this stage? There is a real sense of this joy of making music together as a group of musicians that really radiates and shines brightly throughout ‘Os’. It feels that the recordings themselves were quite effortless? Also, I can imagine the arrangement aspect of the music-making process would have been the most intensive period?
Aki: We did a fair amount of rehearsing before going in to record. The arrangements were developed organically over time. Some of the arrangements changed during the recording process, even at the mixing phase. The songs were the newest material on the album. In fact, we had only played one of the songs (Hiljainen Suru) live before recording them.
Danny Diamond: We dealt with a lot of the aesthetic questions and challenges in the months before recording so that, as Aki said, most of the basic arrangements were solid before going into studio. It was tricky to bridge the gap between the Irish and Finnish music traditions, which have a lot more differences than similarities. To effectively combine the two we had to come up with an approach and way of playing which was independent of both traditions and then treat all the material material in that ‘third way’.
Irish music tends to often focus on the performer’s interpretation of traditional material, what the individual does with a tune. In the Finnish tradition the melodies, phrasing and ornamentation are much more defined, and are taught through a formal classical-based music education system. We didn’t buy into either of these very different mindsets, instead we took an approach that focused on arrangement, structure and atmosphere. Our way of working is (despite the difference in material and instrumentation) closer to a pop/rock band than anything else, writing intros, bridges, outros and defined parts for each instrument to play.
We thought a lot, talked it out, and tried different approaches to the material before settling on this approach. We were very conscious that the results would have to make musical sense and not end up an awkward or superficial exercise in cultural fusion. We’re quite happy with the results of the recording, which has achieved the result of not sounding directly like either Irish or Finnish music but like something completely new, albeit with both traditions still audible as important influences.
Kevin Murphy: While echoing what the lads have said I think that a key difference between what we did and what the traditions tend to dictate is that we simply chose to mix and arrange in a way which gave us the most pleasure. Frequently we were presented with dilemmas such as: do we need to find another tune to run in from the previous one or can we simply drop in an abstract instrumental part which tend to musically work better? Or should the instrument playing the lead melody always be the loudest in the mix? Etc. The answer to all these questions was what ever feels the best stays. Therefore hedonism often trumped tradition. Therefore odd musical bits appear where straight ahead tunes might be expected while in the mix the instruments tend to blend together in a layered and interconnected way rather than always having a loud lead part. In this we probably unashamedly borrow from My Bloody Valentine in trying to create a melodic mush from which barely discernable patterns occasionally emerge. It is however, unlikely that you will be left with any major hearing loss after going to one of our gigs.
Please talk me through some of the traditional material contained on ‘Os’ and discuss why you chose these particular songs and indeed your memories of first discovering the songs? I would love to gain an insight into the approach (and process) you used when deconstructing and reworking these traditional melodies?
Aki: ‘Hiljainen Suru’ (Quiet Sorrow) is a haunting traditional song that I have known for a quite awhile. I learned it from the singing of a friend of mine – Maija Karhinen. ‘Os’ (full title: ‘Os Fera Liluli’) is an unusual traditional song from Finnish tradition. It combines two ancient Nordic languages and Latin. I learned it from a recent recording by Arto and Antti Järvelä. ‘Suru Suuri’ (Great Sorrow) borrows the melody from an old Carelian call-and-response chant. The simple meditative quality of the tune caught my attention in the first place. The polkas on the album are from the Finnish fiddle tradition, mainly from the West coast of Finland.
Danny Diamond: As for the traditional Irish material, we stayed clear of dance music (reels, jigs, etc), as that repertoire didn’t seem to fit so well with the sound and atmosphere we were trying to create. Since the backbone of the contemporary Irish traditional repertoire is dance music, we had to look a little deeper to find material for Slow Moving Clouds. In fact, all four of the traditional Irish tracks on ‘Os’ are based on (obscure and very old) song melodies. For example, ‘The Conquering Hero’ is derived from Handel’s chorus ‘See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes’ from the oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. Aki found a version of it as a march in an old Irish tune collection from the 1800s, so it must have slipped into the Irish tradition at some stage. We took the march as a starting point, simplified and partly re-wrote the melody to fit our sound. So it’s a three-times-removed 18th century classical piece.
We arranged it in a verse-chorus fashion and set it in a simple but effective drone-based arrangement, hoping that the track would evoke a unique atmosphere. This approach, although straightforward, is very different to the typical Irish traditional approach of my background, where the individual voice of the performer(s) playing melody tends to takes precedence over almost all other factors in an arrangement. I personally found it very interesting to have to recalibrate my approach – gaining a greater appreciation for tone and texture, contributing to the overall arrangement and mood, rather than ‘playing the tune’ in the traditional fashion.
‘Suru Suuri’ is a heavenly Nordic folk lament. The arrangements are impeccable and the voice is beautifully melded with the string instruments. Can you talk me through this song? The strings evoke the magical spell of a Sigur Ros creation such is its brilliance.
Aki: This song really came together in the studio, although we had a basic arrangement in mind when going in. We wanted to keep the chant-like quality of the song, but also add a new layer of texture to add variety and a build up.
Please discuss your chosen instrument – nyckelharpa, fiddle and cello) and how your playing has developed over the years, inspired perhaps by the various collaborations and projects each of you have been immersed in these past few years? Certainly, SMC sees a perfect meeting point for these three unique voices in contemporary music.
Aki: Nyckelharpa is an interesting unusual instrument. I have developed my own style of playing that uses a lot of chords rather than single notes. The combination of the three instruments covers a wide pitch and tonal range. On one side we have a folk fiddle sound and on the other side we have a very organic experimental string trio.
Danny Diamond: My fundamental grounding is very deep in the Irish tradition, coming from a family of traditional musicians, working for nearly a decade in the Irish Traditional Music Archive, studying and performing traditional music since my early teens. Listening to solo fiddle players on archival recordings has hugely informed my style and approach to Irish music, a habit which has grown so extreme that the traditional material which excites me most these days are wax cylinder recordings from the very early 20th century.
In my solo playing and in the melodies I write I’m trying to connect to the roots of the Irish tradition, to the very free, expressive music you can hear in iconoclastic fiddle players such as Bobby Casey, Tommy Potts, The Rainey brothers, Johnny Henry and Máirtín Byrnes. I’m fascinated by a particular approach to intonation which is common to the players mentioned above, and heard a lot in the sean-nós singing and piping traditions as well. Non-standard and very expressive, it allows the musician to imbue their music with a huge range of emotion by bending notes, playing intentionally slightly sharp or flat at just the right moment. This expressiveness stands in refreshing contrast to the more codified/structured modes of playing that have grown in the traditional scene over the intervening generations.
In parallel to looking back into the Irish tradition I’ve been working on integrating influences from Nordic & American folk music into my playing- this mostly takes the form of alternate open tunings and rhythmic / phrasing patterns, I haven’t delved really deeply into the other traditions, just enough to pick up a couple of exotic techniques & accents here and there. This exploration was really kick-started back when Aki and I started working together as a duo in 2009 or 2010.
Another influence is the broad genre of music spanning avant-garde pop and minimalist music, running from John Cale to Eno to Gavin Bryars and Philip Glass. Music I’d been listening to since my teens without ever considering that there could be a way to combine it with the traditional fiddle music I was playing. Now with SMC there’s a perfect place to explore that combination.
Slow Moving Clouds is an exciting project to work on, for me it continually pushes and tests my musical boundaries. I’m looking forward to exploring further with Aki and Kevin as the project progresses, and I’m also conscious that the experience of working with them will come through on any future projects from here on. It has broadened my perspective and my capabilities hugely.
Kevin Murphy: Although the cello is certainly not associated with traditional music (Finnish or Irish) I have been involved with different trad bands for years. However, the expectation generally tended to be that the cello would hold down the root notes which were already pre-dictated by the guitar or bouzouki. I found this pretty limiting. Also the cello tends to be low in the mix on such recordings. I always felt this was an extremely limiting use of an instrument which could have a much more intense impact on Irish traditional music. With SMC there is scope for the cello to provide much more chordal colouring while we tend to have it much higher in the mix than would be normal giving the music a lot of aggressive intensity.
The title-track (reflected also by its placing in the record) feels like the glorious centrepiece: how it slowly builds, like leaves swaying slowly by the autumn wind. Did this song perhaps form the gateway into the rest of the record?
Danny Diamond: Actually the opposite was the case! ‘Os’ (the song) was very much constructed in the studio. We had only started working on it a few weeks beforehand, and didn’t have time to refine the arrangement before recording commenced. We tackled it relatively late in the recording sessions and it ended up coming together very naturally.
What do you feel is the essence of Irish and Nordic music traditions for you? What aspect of these musical worlds resonates most powerfully with you that in turn, gravitates you towards these spheres of sound?
Aki: Interestingly enough, the traditional music I like is the solo playing where you can really hear all the nuances and stylistic variations. What we are doing is clearly not traditional music. I’m interested in soundscapes and textures that can augment simple beautiful melodies. Danny comes from a traditional music background and I have a long history in traditional music as well, so those influences are naturally present in the music we make. Kevin and I have been playing both experimental and popular music for years. Slow Moving Clouds’ sound seems to combine all those elements seamlessly. Although the Nordic and Irish traditional music has been a strong starting point for our sound, I have a feeling that as our sound develops we will start introducing a lot more of original material.
‘Os’ by Slow Moving Clouds is available now on Bandcamp HERE.
“I often visualise music in terms of light. When I play with the Necks, I always play with my eyes closed. I like to face the stage lights with my eyes closed. I can sense this light through my eyelids, I can also I feel its energy. It seems a perfect analogue to the music, especially when things seem to be really building somewhere.”
—Chris Abrahams, The Necks
Words: Mark Carry
Described by Financial Times (UK) as “absolutely riveting” and “entirely new and entirely now” by The Guardian, it’s one of life’s great fortunes to have been blessed by such an extraordinary, innovative and richly compelling band, namely Australia’s The Necks. Releasing their debut record, ‘Sex’ back in 1989, the trio of Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums) and Lloyd Swanton (bass) have unleashed a plethora of shape-shifting records – the other-worldly mid-90’s double-album ‘Silent Night’, the band’s string of colossal live records (including 2007’s ‘Townsville’), and the band’s latest crowning jewel of ‘Open’ containing 68 minutes of raw, intense beauty, is to just name a few – whereupon a revelatory experience lies at the pulsing heart of each artistic treasure.
The gradual music of The Necks is borne from improvisation, where a deep musical telepathy is forever forged between each member of the spell-binding trio as a sacred space is ceaselessly explored. Featuring lengthy pieces which slowly unravel in the most mesmerizing fashion, frequently underpinned by an insistent deep groove, the sixteen albums by The Necks stand up to re-listening time and time again. In short, the music of the Australian trio is utterly timeless.
I recall first hearing The Necks in my local record-store one morning in early Spring where a mesmerizing sound of piano notes, drums and hypnotic bass-line flooded the surrounding space. In a short period of time – moments after the stylus hit this unknown (and deeply mysterious) vinyl – returning motifs of piano patterns forged an imprint on the forefront of my mind. Like ocean waves, the crescendo of piano notes formed ripples in the sea.
With each and every subsequent release of The Necks, this magical sense of discovery and awe has always remained. An intense beauty, tenderness, solace, hope, pain, and longing is carved out on a canvas of enlightening soundscapes. Not entirely avant-garde, nor minimalist, nor ambient, nor jazz, the music of The Necks defies boundaries and constantly pushes the sonic envelope.
Interview with Chris Abrahams.
[The following are excerpts taken from an interview with Chris Abrahams, the resulting interview here is unedited from the initial interview and is reproduced here all in the words of Chris Abrahams.]
I can really only speak for myself when it comes to the Necks as I think we each have differing opinions as to what the whole thing means. For me, the idea that best describes the Necks’ music and approach to being a band is pretty simple: one thing leads to another.
I met Tony when I was sixteen, at a jam session in the suburb where we both grew up. I met Lloyd about a year later. We all three of us played together a lot, in different combinations, before we formed the Necks. What it was we wanted to do with the group, apart from playing music, was never really overtly considered. For the first ten years of its existence the band played maybe three or four shows a year. Nevertheless, it was incredibly important to us.
The reasons I played music are embedded quite far back in my childhood. My father was very passionate about Jazz – Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman especially. He’d spent time, in the late forties, in the USA and I think the music brought back to him powerful memories of his time there. One pianist whose records he played a lot was Jimmy Yancey. There’s a bar in Berlin called Miss Hecker and they often put Jimmy Yancey on the sound system. The music is very evocative of childhood memories. I remember being about seven and trying to play a simplified version of Five O’clock Blues on the piano.
My teenage years were fairly unexceptional in terms of what I listened to – the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Hendrix. I tried to play bass guitar in a rock band I formed with some school friends. I had an upright piano in my bedroom,which I played regularly and on which I tried to write songs. The reason why I became a musician as a career choice came about through listening to modern jazz records, which began when I was sixteen or so.
Up until my early twenties, Afro-American modern jazz, mainly from the sixties, was chiefly what I listened to and tried to emulate – particularly the piano players Mal Waldron and McCoy Tyner.
As a young person, apart from African-American modern jazz, I listened to rock music. I think John Cale was quite an influence on my piano playing, particularly in the Velvet Underground. I was a big fan of the Modern Lovers and Nico albums he produced as well. I also listened to a lot of African music –Fela Kuti, Tabu Ley, King Sunny Ade, Salif Keita. Reggae was also big thing – Lee Perry, Gregory Isaacs, Bob Marley, Yellowman, King Tubby. In fact, Tony and I spent an extraordinary week in Jamaica in 1987 where we met Gregory Isaacs and got to see Yellowman and Pinchers performing live at a drive in cinema in downtown Kingston. I also listened to a lot of soul music and played Hammond organ in a soul group led by the great Jackie Orszaczky. I listened to classical music; the Beethoven Sonata cycle played by Alfred Brendel was much listened to as was Pascal Devoyon playing Ravel; John Ogden and Brenda Lucas playing “Visions of the Amen” by Messiaen was also on high rotation.
In my early twenties I became involved with an Indie record label, Hot Records, in Sydney. Through this association I got to meet and play with many young musicians that were in bands. I ended up playing on Laughing Clowns’, Triffids’ and Peter Walsh albums. I lived in Newtown, an inner city suburb which at the time was a bit of a music area and I consequently socialized and played on quite a few other records – records by Crow, Big Heavy Stuff and Love Me amongst others. I also wrote songs with a singer called Melanie Oxley.
I was also involved in the improvised music scene in Sydney. Although not huge in number, there are some incredible improvisers in Australia. In the eighties I played with such people as Jim Denley, Rick Rue, Sherre Deleys, Jamie Fielding and Amanda Stewart. I had the honour of guesting with such groups as Mind Body Split and Machine for Making Sense. There was also the towering figure of Jon Rose, who was very active in the early eighties in Sydney before relocating, for a number of years, to Europe.
Another musician who had a big influence on me was a saxophonist called Mark Simmonds with whom I played in the group, The Freeboppers.
The form of jazz soloing whereby a melody is played and then various soloists display dexterity by improvising over a set of harmonic changes was something I lost interest more or less by my early twenties, possibly because I wasn’t very good at it. I began to think of music not as a display of individual brilliance. I began to see music’s ability to express things more profound than cleverness or hard work.I began, in fact, to see it as something beyond individual expression. Through the Necks I realised that I could be both performer of and listener to the music that we made – and that was an exciting discovery. Maybe we all made that discovery together when we first started playing in the group.
Our approach to making music is not very intellectual. I think its true to say we just play. We’ve been doing it now for thirty years and what we are as a group is a result of us having played together for so long. We’ve developed an identity, a way of doing things, and when we play, a certain music happens.
When we perform live, we never look at each other. Nor do we discuss beforehand what we’re going to play. Some people find this strange, but to me it feels perfectly natural. Our music can’t rely on rehearsal or signals from a bandleader – it has to rely solely on the playing of music, without a preordained teleology. That’s not to say are music lacks direction – far from it. I think there’s a compelling teleology, it’s just that this seems to be there innately. Scores, words or signals would be distracting from our goal.
I think our music requires stamina and relaxation to make. I love the feel of playing the piano, the sense of my fingers pressing down on the keys. I find this to be expressive in itself. In the early days sometimes I’d find myself barely hanging on and struggling with fatigue. Nowadays that doesn’t happen so much. I like sitting very still when I play, I like the sense of focus and relaxation. I like to think that the things I do in the Necks I could do for hours and hours.
I don’t like to think about where I’m going during a performance. I don’t want people to listen to me making decisions. I often find myself carried along in the excitement of the music – its crescendo, it’s ebb and flow – as if I were part of the audience. Sometimes I don’t know what it is I’m playing; there might be a strange melody I hear and I think it’s me playing it. I stop and it keeps going. Sometimes, through the combination of a strange instrument and weird acoustics, I have heard the piano speak words. The same sonic hallucinations that audience members have told us they’ve heard during a performance, we too have heard.
The Necks are site specific. We play and when we gradually start to interact with the acoustic environment, we begin to intuitively shape the music. Every space is different, every instrument is different, and every PA is different. Our music uses these things as structure defining elements.
I often visualise music in terms of light. When I play with the Necks, I always play with my eyes closed. I like to face the stage lights with my eyes closed. I can sense this light through my eyelids, I can also I feel its energy. It seems a perfect analogue to the music, especially when things seem to be really building somewhere.
I think there’s a narrative dimension to what we do. Seemingly, we are repeating small actions over and over – actions that can be melodic, rhythmical and textural –and this has the effect of being mesmerizing. But these units are all slightly different, largely because they are physically played, and thus, over time, the music changes. A Necks’ piece is normally about fifty minutes long and, by allowing one thing to lead to another, where we end up can be vastly different from where we started. Some sort of abstract narrative is told. I am gripped by the hypnotic sameness of the “repetition” and am being pulled along a slowly but profoundly shifting musical terrain.
I try to express emotion through my playing. I try to express the excitement of the music that I’m playing. There’s a circularity to it.
A very big change happened to my approach to the piano when I bought my first sampler – the Kurzweil K2000. Up until that time, I wouldn’t have known what the term “envelope” meant or what an “LFO” was.
Let me backtrack… I never really had a very good piano when I was young. Neither of my parents was a practising musician. However like many parents, they wanted to give myself and my sister the opportunity of having piano tuition, probably expecting it to be a passing phase after which the behemoth would sit largely unplayed in a corner of the house – a sentimental memento of our childhoods. The instrument I got to learn on was a sixty-year-old Richard Lipp and Son upright – an old warhorse that couldn’t be tuned within a semitone of A440. (In its day it would have been a beautiful instrument) It had an inbuilt chorus effect, which no piano tuner was able to tame. (I discovered that by threading a necktie through the strings, the piano sounded more in tune.)I was in no way a child prodigy and by the age of eleven I had in fact given up on formal lessons. But the piano ended up in my bedroom, so I played it. I think possibly the out of tune-ness of the instrument may have pointed me in the direction of a more textural approach to piano playing, without me actually knowing it.
Let me backtrack even further… I can remember the first time I ever played a piano. I would have been about five years old and we, my family, were visiting another family. They had this strange-looking wardrobe thing in one of the rooms. My sister and I lifted the lid on the keys and began to play with them, with me down one end and her at the other. I remember being amazed that the action of pressing a key down could produce such a loud sound. I recall us both being enthralled by the high notes and low notes. With its simple exploration of lightness and darkness, I’ve often thought there was something about that initial meeting with the piano that’s stayed with me.
When I got into sampling and synthesisers, I found that I had a whole lot of new words and concepts that could be applied to the various sound elements I explored on the piano; I could, for instance, understand the sustain pedal as a form of reverb; I saw the una corda pedal as a form of EQ; I saw that these pedals could be used in such a way so as to produce a Low Frequency Modulation effect; by rapid striking of a single string, I could overload its vibration and cause a distortion effect; and I became aware that as the string struggles towards stasis, the pitch produced gets higher with the concomitant frequency increase. All these ideas were directly a result of my self-guided explorations into the physics of sound production that the sampler opened up for me.
I made two solo piano records in the mid eighties and then didn’t make another one till “Glow” in 2003. My approach to Glow was one of developing pieces over a period of time, booking a studio and then doing take after take of each piece until I got something I liked. My next solo album “Streaming” had different approach. I chose to work with performance techniques that eschewed the idea of “mistakes” or difference in the quality of performances. Here the pieces were longer. I’m quite proud of the track “Christmas Island” on Streaming. It’s a piece that involved placing my hands above the keyboard so that they readily played a tonal “mode” and moving my fingers so as to brush against the keys. Although I had control over the note range, how many of the notes would “sound” was to a large extent unknown. The piece is therefore personally expressive but very much uncontrolled, left to chance – an authorial stance I most prefer.
Since “Streaming” in 2005, I haven’t released a solo piano record. However I’ve finished four solo albums on the Room 40 label – “Thrown”, “Play Scar”, Memory Night”, and soon to be released “Fluid to The Influence”. These have elements of piano solo on them, but are much more electro acoustic in content.
The Necks are two different entities. On the one hand there is the live Necks, which is nearly always acoustic piano, acoustic bass and drums/percussion. On the other hand there’s the “studio” version of the group, which uses anything – guitars, synths, organs, samplers, field recordings, electric bass – even other musicians.
With the live Necks, we don’t really ever discuss what we are about to play. Intuitively our pieces last for around fifty minutes – this was a time frame we hit upon within months of forming the group. I have the feeling it’s a natural human length of time. I feel extremely safe on stage with the Necks, I am never nervous or stressed. Although there is a strong identity to the music we play, I don’t feel I have to consciously force myself to play that way. It’s as if it’s impossible to play any other way; impossible to do something that’s not “the Necks” – even not playing sounds like the Necks. Somehow we all know when the piece is over. I don’t know whether this is telepathy or music, I suspect it’s the latter. I think we’ve been doing this one thing for so long that we can communicate with each other through music. The fact that it’s incredibly enjoyable helps too.
We all met when we were still teenagers. I met Lloyd during my brief attempt at attending the NSW Conservatorium of Music. We shared a similar sense of humour and quickly formed a group – a jazz quartet called The Benders comprising piano, bass, drums and saxophone. The group stayed together for five years and we released three albums. I think playing in this quartet was responsible for me developing technique on the piano. The drummer, Andrew Gander, taught me a lot about time and tempo. It ended in 1986.
Tony and I met while I was still at high school. It was at a jam session in the suburb we grew up in. I played in various groups in the early eighties with him. He had his own group, Sketches, that I played in and he sometimes played with the Benders.
There was also a musical collective called “The Keys Music Association” which organised concerts and festivals. All three of us were a part of this and played in various groupings. I guess, like in most scenes, in Sydney everybody played with everybody else.
In 1986, some months after the Benders finished, Lloyd rang me with the idea of forming a trio. We both thought of Tony. We began “rehearsing” in a room in the compounds of Sydney University and straightaway hit upon something that felt new to us. We actually had no intention of rushing into playing gigs – in fact we enjoyed the idea of performing stress free in front of no audience, well away from the “industry” of music making. We wanted to free ourselves from the desire to play music that we thought people would be impressed by.
Previously I had toyed with the idea of playing music where there was no “soloing” as such; where the ambience remained static and non dynamic. The early Necks’ sessions took these ideas to a far more meditative stage. I felt a relaxation hitherto unexperienced; a contentment in letting things unfold of their own volition. Possibly this is merely the crossing over that every musician/artist has to make in order to become a mature artist – the relinquishing of the self, the using of a skill to create a third-party “thing” that’s not just the representation of individual desires. I think we all discovered this together then, whilst playing music in that room, but I can really only speak for myself.
Silent Night ranks up there with my personal favourite Necks’ recordings. I like the doom quality it exudes and it’s unrelenting feel – Lloyd’s bass playing and Tony’s drumming swing! Conceptually it was a breakthrough for us. We used samples of movie soundtracks – bits of sound design and snippets of half-heard dialog – to create an abstract narrative. It feels like there’s a film there, but what’s being projected is black. It was the album that got us the invitation to write the music for “The Boys” – an Australian film about abject male violence. For a while there our music would crop up regularly behind television reports about horrific crimes.
—Chris Abrahams, in conversation November 2015