Interview with Félicia Atkinson & Peter Broderick (La Nuit).
“The words appeared to me like this, I don’t know, I like to improvise lyrics, it’s like day dreaming, you dig in your own soul and see what you can fish there.”
— Félicia Atkinson
Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Félicia Atkinson
The music of Félicia Atkinson and Peter Broderick both surfaced to my attention around the same space in time, during 2008. John Xela’s Type imprint served the most trusted sources for independent music discoveries and two composers from the label’s roster particularly forged an indelible imprint, namely Peter Broderick and Sylvain Chauveau. ‘Float’s utterly captivating neo-classical-based compositions served a gateway into Broderick’s soaring songbook – that soon would follow with the gifted Portland musician’s ‘Home’ and ‘4-Track Songs’ full-lengths – and across the years, any project conceived by Broderick (or shares his involvement in any way) has become a trusted musical companion; one which only heightens with the passing of time.
Similarly, the works of French composer Sylvain Chauveau casts a magical spell upon the listener. The sublime cinematic works of ‘Nuage’ (a glorious collection of film soundtrack work) and ‘The Black Book of Capitalism’ (a remastered reissue of Chauveau’s incredible debut) were huge musical discoveries and it was through Chauveau’s work that French artist Félicia Atkinson’s unique voice would come into full-focus. ‘Roman Anglais’ was a collaborative album crafted by Atkinson and Chauveau in which Atkinson’s mesmerising spoken word passages melded effortlessly with Chauveau’s beautiful instrumental backdrop. A track like ‘Aberdeen’ I found myself happily immersed in for hours on end. Forward to 2015 and the collaborative project of Peter Broderick and Félicia Atkinson, appropriately titled La Nuit feels a lovely parallel to those special works unleashed in 2008.
‘Desert Television’s divine sound world of drone-infused ambient soundscapes, dub echoes, mesmeric spoken word passages, and compelling instrumentation (rhodes, violin, voice, found sounds, percussion) unfolds a beguiling atmosphere and ethereal dimension from the opening ambient pulses of ‘Feu Pale’ to the gorgeous string arrangements of epic closing track, ‘The Sun Is Folded in Eight’. ‘Feu Pale’s drifting tones of rhodes, guitar, harmonies and soft percussion meld wonderfully with the captivating spoken word passages of Atkinson evoking a seascape of forgotten dreams.
The utterly transcendent ‘Road Snakes’ contains a Lynchian utopia (‘Lost Highway’ comes to mind) and sense of euphoria and nostalgia. Certain words and phrases uttered by Atkinson are embellished within the neon-lit musical backdrop of synths and luminescent beats. Atkinson asks “What’s the weather today?/What’s the time?/Where are we going?” on a later verse that feels like a stream of consciousness, somewhere between Kerouac’s beat poetry and Kafka’s visionary novels. This tour-de-force feels as if Serge Gainsbourg is transplanted onto a sprawling canvas of contemporary electronic sounds (a la Nils Frahm, Greg Gives Peter Space and Rival Consoles). A timeless feel permeates every inch of ‘Road Snake’s towering road-trip, comprising “one road and many cars”.
The celestial harmonies and blissful ambient pulses of ‘Blind Sights Of The Diamond’ conjures up the timeless sound of Efterklang circa ‘Parades’. Psychedelic flourishes ascend into the forefront of the mix as the song’s elements become more pronounced as the sonic creation lengthens and expands. The album’s penultimate track, ‘The Blue Path’ sees Broderick’s backdrop of strings coalesce with Atkinson’s spoken word (taken from her book of poetry ‘The Twenties Are Gone’). ‘The Sun Is Folded In Eight’ is ‘Desert Television’s epic (over thirteen minutes in duration) drone-infused psych folk lament of stunning beauty and eerie, searching moods. La Nuit represents a deeply meaningful and utterly enthralling musical voyage from two unique and formidable artists.
‘Desert Television’ (edition of 300 on red vinyl) is now on Beacon Sound.
Interview with Félicia Atkinson & Peter Broderick (La Nuit).
Congratulations on the stunning collaborative project, La Nuit and the enthralling sonic voyage of ‘Desert Television’. Firstly before discussing the record, please recount for me your memories of first crossing paths with one another and indeed first discovering each other’s marvellous artistic works?
Félicia Atkinson: I discovered Peter’s music through is record ‘Home’ that was released on the label Type at that time, and remember that I found it really inspiring and moving.
Then I guess we met in Montreuil at Instant Chavires: he was playing there, touring with Nils Frahm and I was playing with a band I was involved in at the time (2008? 2009?) called Louisville. Then we became penpals and friends.
Peter Broderick: I first learned about Félicia through her collaborative album with Sylvain Chauveau in 2008 or so. I was already a big fan of Sylvain’s work, and on this album he made the music and Félicia spoke over the top. I fell in love with the album and not too long after that Félicia began to release a steady stream of solo material, which I followed very closely. We met in 2009 when we played a concert together in Paris. She was performing with a band she played in at the time called Louisville (I recently learned this was the only show that band ever played!), and I have vivid memories of her sitting on the floor of the stage with pages of writing scattered around her, speaking into the microphone while a band of guys played music around her. I loved it. Félicia was very warm and open towards me from the moment we met, and this only enhanced my love for her work.
Please take me back to the recording sessions at The Sparkle for the La Nuit project? What sort of routine or work practices did the pair of you utilize during this period of time? I love the fact that some of the lyrics come from Felicia’s book of poetry, ‘Twenties Are Gone’ so in this regard, there is this gorgeous spark of spontaneity radiating from the beguiling soundscapes and musical backdrop.
FA: Well, this record was I must say completely improvised from the beginning until the end, which is often the way I am used to work. Improvising is my thing! I just finished touring in Canada with Sun Araw and me and my boyfriend (Bartolomé, whith whom I run Shelter Press) decided to relax for a couple of weeks in Portland, Oregon. We had a wonderful time with Peter and Andy in Portland and other friends (Andy who runs Beacon Sound) and Peter invited us to visit him at Woods, near Pacific City in the Oregon Coast.
The place is great, has a wonderful energy. One day Peter asked me if we could record something and we recorded the DESERT TELEVISION in a day! I guess I was filled with the energy of the tour in Canada, the music I heard, the people I’ve met, the roads, the landscapes I’ve seen from the Lake Louise along the Oregon Coast, and the studio session was the just the best way to share all this energy.
‘Twenties are Gone’ is a book I wrote when Bartolomé and I were doing an artist residency in Finland, in the middle of the woods in 2012. During that time a lot of memories from Oregon appeared melt with Finnish forest and lands. So somehow it made sense to bring back the reading of the book to Oregon!
PB: We only spent one day in the studio together, and it was quite possibly the most fun and freedom I’ve ever felt in the studio. We didn’t ever really pause to think about what to do next . . . We just kept playing and creating sounds in a very intuitive way. Actually, only the short piece “The Blue Path” uses text from Twenties Are Gone . . . All the other songs are just Félicia freestyling into the microphone, completely unedited, and always in just one take.
The cinematic opener ‘Feu Pale’ serves the fitting introductory hymn to ‘Desert Television’s sprawling canvas and striking narrative. An ethereal dimension is effortlessly tapped into here and the drifting tones of rhodes, guitar and harmonies meld wonderfully with the captivating spoken word passages. Please talk me through this particular song and your memories of the song blossoming into glittering life? It feels this served the gateway into the rest of the record.
FA: Well, I love the Rhodes keyboard, it always have been one of my favourite instrument. I used it already for another record I recorded in one day, O-RE-GON (Home Normal) in Portland in 2010 at Type Foundry’s studio after actually Peter’s advice. So when I saw Peter has a Rhodes in his lovely studio, The Sparkle, I knew right away I wanted to improvise with it. Also, the place felt magical at first sight. I wanted to play music there with Peter!
The words appeared to me like this, I don’t know, I like to improvise lyrics, it’s like day dreaming, you dig in your own soul and see what you can fish there. I pictured the desert (for example a trip in Joshua Tree I did the winter before) and the mental landscape helped me to build my parts.
Peter understood right away the spirit of the song so we build the song like we were painting a kind of desert wall painting or something.
PB: This was the first song we recorded. The song has a fade-in, and that’s because Félicia was already playing when I hit record. I’m not even sure she was aware that I started recording. So the first track on the album literally begins at the first moment I pressed record when we were in the studio. Félicia was playing the fender rhodes, and I was running it through a tape delay, effecting the sound as she played, and also singing along and playing percussion from the other side of the room. You can hear me singing quietly in the background and playing percussion, and this was just me playing along far away from the microphone.
The monumental tour-de-force of ‘Road Snakes’ contains this Lynchian utopia and sense of euphoria and nostalgia. I just love how certain words and phrases are embellished within the neon-lit musical backdrop and take on a life of their own. (For example, “Where do we go?”) A road trip. A travelogue. Did the music come after the spoken word passages or was it created at the same moment in time?
FA: I think Peter did the keyboard while I was doing the voice and then we added layers of instruments. We wanted to something a bit dubby, and the image of the car race in the Sahara appeared to me. I just finished that recent book also, ‘The Flame Throwers’ by Rachel Kushner about a young artist who is also a biker in the 60-70’s in Italy and the USA and I thought about her while improvising the words, as well as the film ‘Two Lane Black Top’ (1971) by Monte Hellman.
For the voice I thought also about Serge Gainsbourg, and his way of pronouncing the “T“ in ‘Melody Nelson’ for example. That was what I had in mind at this time. It just popped up like this while I was improvising. I love the keyboard dryness Peter uses for this song, it gives an 80’s feeling that is very special I think.
PB: For this song (and for most of them actually), we created the music first and then added Félicia’s voice at the very end. And once again, Félicia just freestyled the vocals in one take. Upon listening back later, it really sounds to me like she’s kind of rapping! I love it so much. And as she was recording the vocals, I was effecting them live through tape delays. In this way, there was very little sitting around and waiting from either of us. If one person was recording an instrument, the other was always free to play along or add effects. Also, I’d like to add that the synthesizer stab sound in “Road Snakes” comes from a little toy casio keyboard! I love how huge and almost aggressive it sounds for being a toy.
The eclectic sound and dynamic range contained on ‘Desert Television’ is another aspect particularly significant to La Nuit’s compelling journey. I think this echoes in each of your own solo (and collaborative) work over the years so this really comes as no surprise. After the recording was complete, I wonder was there a challenge to retain (or embellish) these special moments that were captured during the recording sessions? I would love to know the processes utilized during the production and mixing stages?
FA: Well, we didn’t changed that much. Peter did the mixing and the mastering and I feel like the record sounds incredible. Peter added also those beautiful strings for ‘The Blue Path’. The post production didn’t radically change the record, we wanted to keep it fresh. It was more like making some parts a bit more glossy, or dense, or eerie or with more perspective in it.
PB: For the most part, the core of all the songs was completed in that one day. I did add some other instrumentation and mixing effects after Félicia left, but I was only embellishing what was already there, rather than trying to add new elements. I used a lot of tape delays in a ‘dub’ style, adding echoes and tape saturation to the recordings.
The epic closer ‘The Sun Is Folded in Eight’ unfolds a cosmic and magical odyssey that feels like a gradual sunrise or sunset across the desert floor’s vast plains. Was this melody written from a different space in time or was it formed from a spontaneous reaction to Felicia’s words? I just love this symbiosis that exists between words and music, the poetic prose and accompanying canvas of colour and textures. It must have felt very special to witness this chemistry become translated into the music?
FA: Again, it was completely improvised. Peter was playing the guitar and I just said the words that came to my mind. I was thinking of Areski’s voice in the early Brigitte Fontaine and Areski’s records, Peter’s voice reminded me a bit of this.
PB: My nylon string guitar and vocal were the first seed of this song, and after composing a small theme with Félicia sitting write there, I recorded a long stretched out take, improvising upon the small idea I had, with Félicia sitting silently just a few feet away from me. This was the last piece we recorded, and we knew we wanted to make something longer and more patient. Félicia then added her voice with a single improvised take, and after she left, I added strings and synthesizers, but only doubling melodies that were already within my guitar and vocal parts.
Lastly, please shed some light on your forthcoming plans and projects?
FA: Well, we are very happy to release DESERT TELEVISION on August 28th on Beacon Sound!
Also, I am taking part to the Copenhagen Art Festival by the end of August, showing an installation in the Overgarden Museum. I’ll be Playing in Prague at the Film Centre with wonderful films by Man Ray in October. I have a collaboration with Jefre Cantu coming up for 2016 and as well as my new solo album for the end of 2016 on Shelter Press. And of course, with Shelter Press, my music label and publishing house, we are having new exciting releases on their way for September and after!
PB: Lately I’ve been keeping most busy recorded lots of different artists at The Sparkle. There are a lot of records by other musicians which I’ve been recording lately, and I’m looking forward to share a lot more info about all of this very soon! I’ve also been organizing a choir in Portland, and I hope to make an album with them at some point.
‘Desert Television’ (edition of 300 on red vinyl) is out now on Beacon Sound.
Andrea Belfi is a drummer, electroacoustic musician and composer. His extensive output to date encompass diverse sonic terrain from rock to electroacoustic experimentation, from avant-folk to radical improvisation, from audio-visual performance to sound installation. Belfi is also a member of the Miasmah related trio B/B/S/. The Italian composer’s latest full-length ‘Natura Morta’ (translated as “dead nature” or “still life”) is a sublime exploration in the electroacoustic realm of sound, combining drums, percussion and waves of synthesizers, in turn, creating a wholly unique and mesmerising world of atmospheric soundscapes and ambient pulses.
Fractured Air 41: Notturno Italiano (A Mixtape by Andrea Belfi)
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Chico Buarque & Ennio Morricone ‘Funerale Di Un Contadino’ [RCA Victor]
02. Starfuckers ‘Da Zero’ [Drunken Fish / Lessness]
03. Stefano Pilia ‘Flux in A Box’ [Brigadisco / Escape From Today]
04. Der Maurer & Sebastiano De Gennaro ‘Dance Music for Elfrid Ide 1st movement’ [Trovarobato]
05. Attila Faravelli ‘Untitled 1’ [Die Schachtel]
06. Belows (Giuseppe Ielasi + Nicola Ratti) ‘Untitled 2’ [Kning Disk]
07. Hobocombo ‘Single Foot’ [Stoned To Death]
08. Valerio Tricoli ‘Le Qoheleth’ [Pan]
09. Francesco Francesco Cavaliere ‘Gancio Cielo’ (Introduction) [Hundebiss]
10. Stromboli ‘Program 2’ [Maple Death]
11. Luciano Maggiore & Enrico Malatesta ‘Talabalacco’ [Consumer Waste]
12. Claudio Rocchetti ‘Pointless Vanishing Point’ [Holidays]
13. Alessandro Alessandroni ‘Personale’ [SR]
Compiled by Andrea Belfi. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
‘Natura Morta’ is available now on Miasmah.
Interview with María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Amiina.
“…I think we all felt that we wanted to broaden out to other things and playing with Sigur Rós was key to that: to realize that even dealing with string instruments we can do whatever we can and to evoke your own musicality in your own way is a wonderful thing.”
— María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir
Words: Mark Carry, Artwork: Craig Carry
“The lighthouse stands alone off the beaten path, transmitting a message out across the ocean. Sometimes, musicians seem to play a similar role: a message is being projected out into the environment, without any guarantee that it will reach its destination. It is impossible to say who will receive it, or to which uses it will be put.
Still, the only option is to keep on transmitting the message.”
— taken from the sleevenotes to Amiina’s “The Lighthouse Project”.
Ever since their debut EP ‘AnimaminA’ was released in 2004, a plethora of transmissions have graced the earth’s atmosphere, direct from their homeland base of Reykjavík, Iceland. The magic of music-making and live performance is inherent in all of Amiina’s body of work, and with each new project and musical venture – scoring the works for Lotte Reiniger’s fairy tale films is one of the more recent artistic explorations – showcasing (as ever) the band at the peak of their powers, projecting divine music to the world outside.
At present the band comprises six members – Edda Rún Ólafsdóttir, Hildur Ársælsdóttir, Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir, Magnús Trygvason Eliassen and Guðmundur Vignir Karlsson (aka Kippi Kaninus). The bands origins go back to the late 1990s when four girls studying string instruments at the Reykjavík College of Music formed a string quartet, playing classical music, but increasingly moving on to playing all sorts of music with various bands in Reykjavík.
In 1999 the quartet joined Icelandic band Sigur Rós on stage. The collaboration has continued ever since with amiina contributing strings to Sigur Rós music on tours and in the recording studio on the albums ( ) , Takk and Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. I first crossed paths with Ammina’s unique blend of music at Sigur Rós’ spellbinding concert in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, in support of their album ( ). I gladly recall the power unleashed by their intimate performance, and just how quiet a space can become. Several years later, the band have returned numerous times to this island of ours, and particularly my hometown of Cork.
In much the same way as Lotte Reiniger’s utterly timeless fairy tale films, inspired by Chinese silhouette puppetry, the resolutely unique music of Amiina occupies its own wonderful and visionary world of sound whose trajectory points to where the land meets the sea, forever reaching new horizons.
Interview with María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Amiina.
I’m really excited about your upcoming live show in Cork this September. It looks very special in the way that it will be a live score to animated films by Lotte Reiniger. I’d love for you to discuss your love for this director and your reason for going with this idea?
María Sigfúsdóttir: Initially it was a commission or an idea from a theatre festival called the Branchage Film Festival asked us to look into scoring one of Lotte Reiniger’s films. And because we didn’t know Reiniger’s films before, as soon as we saw her work and her style and the whole setting we thought it was a perfect match. So after composing the first film we thought we might continue and throughout the years we have revisited that to add one more because these films are quite short; each of them is like ten or fifteen minutes. So we added throughout the years a number of scores so this time in Ireland we will be doing one new score – a brand new score – so in total we have made scores for five films so we’ll be performing three scores, among them will be one new one. So we are slowly building up a collection of scores to selected short films and we hope eventually we will be able to release with all the visuals because it is a kind of two-part thing because it is a fairy-tale, some of them are well-known and some are less well-known to us today. Since they were not silent in their original version so we need to narrate them through the music so it’s a kind of two-part thing. We always feel like we’re collaborating with Lotte Reiniger even though she has passed away.
For creating the music itself the process must be quite different from making your own Amiina albums or in a way it may not be all that dissimilar?
MS: It is different in a way that we totally follow the story-line and to be able to make it really clear even though it’s not exactly theatrical we try to take the meaning and atmosphere of each scene in the film and reproduce them in the music what we feel like. When you have a narrator, the story tells you what is coming up, if it’s a scary part for example and because we are skipping the narrator –we just have it on mute – we need to emphasize the story-lines in order for the whole thing to be understood. It usually comes really naturally to us, what feel or sound or instrumentation is suitable each time and also since that the stories are quite varied, some of them are from The Brothers Grimm which are more Nordic tales and some is from ‘One Thousand And One Arabian Nights’ which is a totally different world and sound world and heritage so it’s also fun to switch between those atmospheres in there. Usually we let the films tell us the music: we don’t try to compose it, we try to find the music within the films and extract it out without interfering too much.
It’s a wonderful match because even the music of Amiina across the different albums possess this sort of fairy-tale and magical realm in the music so it’s very fitting that this collaboration has come about.
MS: Well I feel it is a good match because fairy-tales in general, they are timeless even though they originate in a certain time they have traveled across centuries and over and over when you tell the same story it becomes timeless where you have a feel of something ancient but because it is in the now it’s kind of timeless. Lotte Reiniger’s technique of the silhouette animation was also timeless, it’s something that was done in Indonesia like the shadow puppetry have been in Indonesia for centuries and it’s something that is global and also her language of imagery is timeless – it’s not set in time like when you see 80’s cartoons they look like 80’s cartoons and they don’t look like anything else – and with Amiina’s sound quality it’s kind of the same. We don’t rely on technique or a style that has tied us with a certain bracket in music so all of these things; the storylines of the fairy-tales and Lotte Reiniger’s technique and Amiina’s sound world, they are all referring to past and present so it is open and it’s not referring to anything else in itself which is nice, we don’t have an electric guitar that is in a way an 18th century painting from a tale set in Germany or whatever. So I think it’s made it fairly easy for us to access the work in that way.
Even the instrumentation that you have, there is so many possibilities between the wide array of instruments you use, for example the saw. There’s always so many wonderful elements in the music.
I’d love for you to go back to when you and the other three members originally met at the College of Music and first formed Amiina?
MS: Basically we – the four girls – started out as a string quartet and in music college we were probably all open to searching for new energy even though we didn’t realize back then. So after having worked together, we found that it was really important who you work with and what energy and the energy was so relaxed that we didn’t need to decide on or speak about actively on things, it just happened so we decided on working further and taking things further. After playing with Sigur Rós as a string section, I think we found out that it’s probably the energy that we liked within the string quartet was similar to what people feel like when they are in a band, you know things happen easily without too much discussion and you get that musical flow.
So we decided on trying to make our own music and trying making music on other instruments than the strings because our focal point and point of view and all the music we had done before that had been through the strings. And with the work with Sigur Rós, we discovered that there are so many ways of making music even if you have this one instrument: the sound quality and sound production and the whole context of it; it matters. So basically we had been in classical music trained like the classical music trains you – you are specifically dealing with very specified kind of music and your focus is really specified. There is nothing wrong with that but I think we all felt that we wanted to broaden out to other things and playing with Sigur Rós was key to that: to realize that even dealing with string instruments we can do whatever we can and to evoke your own musicality in your own way is a wonderful thing.
So we just decided to start by playing around with whatever we had and in the beginning it was weird because we decided not to make songs on a guitar, bass and drums because we didn’t know how to play those instruments. We thought that there are so many bands in the world who play those instruments and know how to play them, it’s kind of a waste of time for us to do that because we are probably stronger in other things. We decided to take up things that were not particularly used on as instruments and that’s where all this started with the glass spoon and the saw and bells and all of these things that are not typical in a band but is more just out of curiosity and the fact that we didn’t know how to play the guitar and drums. We found out since we started that it was really free also to approach another instrument or something that produced sound we were not experts on because we had been training quite hard with the strings and with so much knowledge of what is good and bad on an instrument it can be limiting.
So if you have no idea of what you are doing sometimes you just let go of all those things so I love when people who are musicians approach an instrument that they don’t know how to play I think that is the most natural sound that are produced is when people are not so self-aware of themselves and that’s where we started. Then when we had collected a bunch of weird instruments we started forming more into the direction where we are today and we still do have a lot of other instruments – when travelling we can’t travel with all of them because of the airline business [laughs] – so we bring half of the instruments and it always compromises what we can bring with us.
It’s always lovely looking back over a band’s discography and particularly with Amiina where each album tells its own unique story. For example, the Lighthouse Project must have been a very interesting experience?
MS: Yeah that was really interesting. I think for us with a point in time when we took a couple of steps back from complicated sounds and production into less is more through the fact that we happened to have this series of lighthouse concerts. I guess it’s similar in Ireland, our lighthouses are really small and there are many so if you want to play a lighthouse sometimes you might be fitted in a tall building that has many floors but with a really tiny ground floor. Some of them might be acoustically brilliant and reverberating and some of them are a boxed shape and you might be playing within the machinery – these places don’t all have electricity so they need to have old oil machines – so you might be seated in a totally different setting but all of them are quite small. So, the audience is crammed really close and the feeling of the end of the edge of the land where the land meets the sea and the feeling of this intimacy and the feeling of the purpose of this building – a lighthouse which is to produce light to guide the ships – so we got really surprised how strong that feeling is and I do know that a lot of people fantasize this about lighthouses since it’s also something from the past when people used to live in them and run them so a lot of them are automatic but these places there is nothing really like it because they are buildings in a place where people wouldn’t choose to live because they need to be there because of the navigation of it. So they are quite amazing I think.
I love how in more recent years with the added elements of drums and electronics there are new dimensions to your own music and sound world.
MS: Yeah it’s quite a few layers now that we can travel between. I think we would love to be able to keep hold of the various forms of Amiina so we can switch between the intimate into the larger settings as well.
I wonder actually María what are your thoughts or would you have ideas for the next Amiina record?
MS: Well it’s an interesting question because Amiina has been on a really slow pace in the past three years because we’re all having kids and we’re at the stage where family life takes more time so really we can do whatever we like, there is no channel for it. We have been wondering and we are quite excited actually to see what happens next. I guess we will just try to let it happen naturally, we’ve never taken a conscious step before and it’s been really good for us not to push things because if it’s too calculated – in a way we’ve tried this to be like, OK we have done this and that and it was really cool to do more of this – and when you force things into a direction it hasn’t been working really well with us. So I think we’re just really looking forward to seeing what we create – because now we’re obviously older and everyone has experienced different things and that will all probably affect how we make and what music we make – so it’s just interesting to see.
It must have been a nice sense of nostalgia when a few weeks ago there was the anniversary of those very special shows with Sigur Rós. It must be very nice to think back on those particular moments?
MS: It was both nice and scary and weird because first of all, I do not feel like it’s been fifteen years and I think that’s really scary [laughs] and it brought back really good memories of this time where I and we all – both for the band Sigur Rós, Amiina and all personally – were discovering and experiencing a lot of things for the first time like entering a venue where there is a thousand people cheering. The feelings like that you forget just how thrilling it was and bonding with the audience and bonding with each other, with Amiina and also Amiina with Sigur Rós which was a really strong life-changing experience to feel that strong musical bond, it was just amazing. Also what I found was weird was my memories of how we played the music was totally different because this release concert – the first concert was the very, very first time we played with the guys – and then we toured with them for eight years and obviously everyone had changed their style of performance – so I found it really funny to hear Jónsi’s voice being not as trained and finding the string playing I found it much more classical than I remembered because we all matured throughout the years. So I found it actually quite funny to hear [laughs], it was just cute, I found it interesting to hear how beautifully humanised it sounded. There is also going to be a release of the concert later this year.
Well I didn’t see those very first shows but I remember seeing you and Sigur Rós in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin during the untitled album tour. And I remember how special it was seeing Amiina first and then how you obviously stay onstage and Sigur Rós come on. It was so powerful to witness the whole journey the music takes you on.
MS: I guess it must have been special because I didn’t think of it at the time. A lot of the times it is odd to have a supporting act that has a totally different style and then there is a break and the main act comes and it’s kind of schizophrenic and into the next chapter. We didn’t think of it at the time but it must have made it a bit more completed as a whole or something. It was quite special and for us it was amazing, I mean we were performing music for three hours each night for years, you know it kept us in shape.
One last thing María, in terms of books or film or music are there certain things you’re a big fan of lately?
MS: There has been some new things. For example an artist that I am always fond of is Marissa Nadler, she is this American singer who has this timeless style of singer-songwriting that I really love. As for books – I’m thinking of what’s on my bedside table now – I have a little collection of short stories by Alice Munroe called ‘Family Furnishings’. Also a book about the birth of the modern world as in the modern science, I find it quite interesting because the first scientists were thinking a lot like philosophers or artists whereas in science if you look at it now it’s almost like the opposite of art. In the beginning they needed to be so creative about their thinking that you can almost feel like they were trying to create a song or music so that’s interesting. As for film, I’m really looking forward to seeing a recent Icelandic film called ‘Rams’ which got some prize in Cannes recently and I think it will be travelling internationally quite a lot so I think you will be able to catch it somewhere in Ireland.
For all information on upcoming tour dates, discography & news updates for Amiina:
Interview with Moon Ate the Dark.
“..there is always a surprise and it keeps the music alive, which is what I think we both strive for whilst playing together.”
— Anna Rose Carter
Words: Mark Carry
Moon Ate the Dark is the neo-classical-infused-drone collaborative project between Welsh pianist Anna Rose Carter and Canadian producer Christopher Brett Bailey. The London-based transplants’ two full-length releases – 2012’s self-titled debut and this year’s highly-anticipated follow-up, both released on the prestigious Berlin-based imprint Sonic Pieces – forges a deeply affecting experience for the heart and mind: the rich, dense textures of Bailey’s production is masterfully inter-woven with Carter’s stunningly beautiful piano-based compositions.
Delicate and hushed tones of Anna Carter’s piano serve the opening notes to Moon Ate the Dark’s latest sonic journey –the mesmerising sophomore record, ‘Moon Ate the Dark II’ – whose fragile beauty radiates like the first rays of sunlight amidst the gradual dawn of day. ‘If Vanishing’ contains an entire spectrum of colours and textures as the piano transitions between playful, joyous melodic patterns to burning embers of hushed, resonant tones that drifts in the ether whilst the electronic treatment of gorgeous reverb (supplied by Bailey) evokes an ethereal sound world. The pop ambient gem ‘Little Girl Liquid’ is reminiscent of Germany’s Hauschka with its dream-like ambient flourishes and gorgeous flickers of hope and optimism.
‘Ventricles’ is an ambient tour-de-force. A myriad of sonic layers and subtle elements are masterfully woven together, creating in turn, a piece of music so utterly timeless and now. Gorgeous synthesizers and electronic treatments fuse with Carter’s heart-warming piano-led melodies. The dynamic is changed yet again on the following ‘Verse Porous Verse’ with euphoric piano-based melodic patterns that reaches new summits and sunlit horizons. The immediacy of Carter’s piano playing is indeed a joy to savor whose deft touch of hand graces each and every piano note. ‘Sleepy Viper’s gradual ebb and flow of strings and swirling electronics across the heavenly seven transcendent minutes conjures up the sprawling cinematic works of Deaf Center such is its epic scope and divine beauty. The closing soul-stirring piano melodies of ‘Lo’ and closing section of sublime drone soundscapes completes the highly remarkable achievement of Moon Ate the Dark’s latest master-work.
‘Moon Ate the Dark II’ is out now on Sonic Pieces.
Interview with Moon Ate the Dark (Anna Rose Carter & Christopher Brett Bailey).
Please discuss the making of the new self-titled record. I am very curious to learn more about this wonderful musical telepathy that exists between you both that shapes the intuitive quality to your stunning music. What were your primary concerns and aims for the new album that you felt was most important to find its way on the final recordings?
Anna Carter: The first record we released was completely improvised and we didn’t have any set ideas at all before we started recording, so we wanted to try working in a completely different way. For this one we had planned structures and sections and we incorporated new sounds and instruments we hadn’t used before. Some of the tracks on the record are quite a few years old and ideas we had built on from various practices and improv sessions, we would mostly just sit and play together and if something interesting came out we would work on it. It’s often a very rewarding way to play as neither of us can tell what sounds are going to come out whilst trying something new and no matter how much we plan we can never recreate something exactly as before. Even if the general structure and notes are the same there will always be a new sound or even a whole section that is different. We may not always like it but there is always a surprise and it keeps the music alive, which is what I think we both strive for whilst playing together.
One of the great hallmarks of Moon Ate the Dark is the innate ability to create mood and atmosphere through the art of sound. For example, the rich, dense textures of Chris’s production is masterfully inter-woven with Anna’s stunningly beautiful piano-based compositions. Please shed some light into this dichotomy of worlds for me? Also, please discuss the various production techniques utilized or sound treatments & manipulations?
Christopher Bailey: Well, thanks very much! I rarely feel like a master, that’s for sure! I view my work in this project as the framing of what Anna does. Her distinctive voice as a piano player is the focal point of most of our music and my job is to extend and support, providing counterpoint where necessary. As with the first record, I am taking a live feed from the piano mics and manipulating them – echo, eq, reverb, pitch correction etc. – to create drones and soundscapes that support the piano and are built from the same source texture. The hope here is that the two things will fuse together, creating the illusion of an extended piano, rather than supporting the piano with a purely electronic palate that sounds inorganic by comparison. All of the technology I am using is cheapo guitar stuff you might see on the pedalboard of a shoegaze band…cause that’s sorta my background. I am not sure this combo is at all superior to the kind of processing that a macbook would afford, but that limitation helps to ground our music in a different sound world and lends it a rougher, more handmade feel… I guess. It also means that we are a nightmare live band and are constantly driving the mics into feedback by accident! Haha.
On the first record we were very strict about not multi-tracking. At that time we were a 100% improvising band and we needed to capture an accurate live performance, because it was only intended to be a demo tape. This time around we’ve entered into the pandora’s box of multi-tracking, which of course turned out to be a blessing and a shackle. This allowed us to be pickier about which takes to use and to decorate some songs – the synthesisers and organs added to certain tracks lend a fuzzy goo to the low end that’s pretty addictive and it was neat to be able to lace the tracks with violin and vocal noises so low in the mix few people will ever hear them! But it also ended up eating loads of time, and causing a few delays! Now that the record could have whatever extra bells and whistles we wanted, we had to sort of learn discipline on the fly…
‘Ventricles’ is one of the album’s defining moments where a sense of oblivion awakens the listener. Layers of gorgeous sounds gradually fade into the foreground. Also, the aesthetic quality and rich dynamics is a joy to savor. Can you please talk me through the construction of ‘Ventricles’ and your memories of writing and recording?
CB: Well I am sure glad you dig it! It’s the one Monique (sonic pieces) chose for the “lead track” and a lot of people are liking that one… but to be honest with you? It was a minor nightmare! Maybe we were spoiled on our first record – that the whole thing was an easy 2 day process – but this one song took longer than all our other tracks combined! We burned through multiple arrangements, edits and mix drafts. The basic piano sketch had been captured late in the day on the last day of recording (when inspiration often seems to strike!) and the rest of it was assembled at the mix stage one small chunk at a time. It was the longest, most arduous assembly job of any of our tracks and we we’re arguing about it even after the album had gone for mastering. As I say, this album was our first attempt at multi-track recording and I think that change is most noticeable on this track – the electronics and piano parts are quite evidently separate, and many of the layers in the sound were added months after the initial recording. We strongly felt it needed greater structure and feared the composition was missing a section, but without any more money to hire studio time we had to rely on production tricks to give it a more definite shape. The middle section is carved out by pulling back to the room mics before introducing the bass synth and an ending was found by manufacturing an artificial reverb swell before gluing the outro refrain on. To a lot of musicians this kind of frankenstein surgery is par for the course – maybe even the preferred method! But for two technophobes like us, it’s better to get a clean cut of the track start to finish if we can!
What was the studio set-up for the recording sessions? I wonder how long were these particular recording sessions and were any new processes or techniques utilized this time around? I am curious whether improvisations served the foundation to any of the album’s tracks?
AC: We had three days altogether in a studio in Bristol with our friend Joe Garcia as our engineer. We had a piano, a mini brute synth, a violin, Chris’ pedals, we had a Cellist come in and play some parts we had written and we also used my voice. The use of the mini brute wasn’t planned but Joe brought it in for us and we loved the sound so much we had to use it, so although no improvisations appear on this album a couple of the tracks were actually written in the studio as we felt inspired by the new sound palette. The first record was recorded in an old warehouse with a really simple setup, no desk or fancy live room, so this time we did feel slightly out of our depth. However it was exciting to be able to multi-track and hear our ideas come to life whilst each new layer was being added.
I would love to gain an insight into your fascination with sound and its origins? What are your earliest musical memories and how soon did you realize that the duo (aptly named Moon Ate the Dark) would be born?
AC: I remember as a child watching The Secret Garden video tape over and over just to hear the music by Zbigniew Preisner, after a while it became really warped and started to sound more like a horror movie score! I also remember asking my Dad for a Backstreet Boys CD when I was ten but he accidentally got me a Beastie Boys CD which I loved and listened to all the time. I’m thinking now that he probably did it on purpose! But it was only when I got an old upright piano for my 13th birthday that I felt inspired to play and write.
CB: My earliest memory of music was riding shotgun in my Dad’s car, 1992 or 93. The song ‘Foxy Lady’ by a very obscure and credible underground band you probably aren’t aware of called Jimi Hendrix came on the radio and it seemed to crawl out of the speakers. I wasn’t as much taken with the song, as I was the burst of feedback before the song begins… Based on that sole fascination alone I pestered my parents for a plywood Les Paul copy and a Peavey starter amp (with both distortion AND reverb!). As a teenager I amassed a small collection of pedals and noise boxes as a shortcut to sounding good without technique and would record hours of white noise and found sounds – anything from bacon frying to the family cat – on a Tascam cassette recorder around the house… and the Tascam cassette recorder is still the most complicated mixing console I am confident using!
AC: (how we met and started playing?)
Chris and I met at a music college in East London in 2008/09. I was playing the piano one day and Chris came in to the room, shut the door and started fiddling around with cables, mics and amps around me. I didn’t really know who he was at this point so I just carried on playing. Then after a few minutes this sound started filling the room that was magical, soothing and terrifying all at the same time, and that was the birth of Moon Ate the Dark.
‘Sleepy Vipers’ is such a tour-de-force in the divine neo-classical and ambient realm. The sequencing of the record works so well and the final section – ‘Sleepy Viper’s gradual ebb and flow of strings across the heavenly seven transcendent minutes and the closing deeply poignant piano melodies of ‘Lo’ – represents the album’s most compelling and affecting moments. Discuss please the flow to the record and particularly a composition such as ‘lo’ which feels the perfect (and fitting) close?
CB: Back in 2012 Anna and I would alternate whose house we rehearsed at. With us both being the type to turn up 40 minutes late with no good excuse and the journey across London being at least an hour each way, this seemed only fair. The trouble was that my house doesn’t have a piano, so we embraced the challenge and starting building loops and soundscapes with a £20 violin as the source. Our favourite of those experiments provided most of the collage that begins “Sleepy Vipers”, but feeling it wasn’t enough on it’s own Anna worked with her friend Carys to create the awesome cello progression that provides the second half of the track. I’m very pleased with how this piece came out and along with “Verse Porous Verse” it’s my favourite of any music we’ve made yet.
“Lo” dates back to about the time of our first record and was our first composition, as opposed to improv piece. It was also our live opener at most gigs 2012 – 13, because the drone at the beginning could be faded in real slow to bulk out our set time if needed, and because it was a good way of introducing our 2 instruments as separate elements. Because of this I had always imagined it as the opening track on the record. But compared with a lot of the other material we ended up recording it seemed a claustrophobic listen. It also seems closer to the emotional register of the first album, for me. So by placing it last I kind of hope it’d bring the listener full circle, back to world of album number one. Having said that… when I got the test pressing through the post from Germany I put the needle down on the wrong side and ended up listening to side 2 first. And I have to admit… I think that track sequence works at least as good as the one we went for! Seriously, try listening to side B and then side A and see if you don’t agree?
Please discuss your love of film music and your particular favourites? Which films served significant inspiration for you both?
CB: Okay… so… at this point we have a little admission to make. Although on our press releases it has said since the beginning that we were “drawn together by an interest in film music” it isn’t really true. Or rather it isn’t literally true. Neither one of us has ever had a particular interest in film scores, above any other kind of music. Before we had the support of Sonic Pieces we would sometimes struggle to explain to people what our music was like and saying “a bit like something in a film” seemed an economic (albeit lazy) way of saying “instrumental, not jazz, classical but not Classical, emotional but not overly melodic, focused on mood” etc. etc. etc. Since that time a number of artists doing music in neighbouring styles have had some crossover success, so it’s now a lot easier to explain! And perhaps as a parallel the genre of film music seems less homogenous than it once did… or maybe I am seeing different kinds of movies.
Anyhow, so as not to duck the question entirely… here are some of our favourite soundtracks and film related records…
Kronos Quartet – Dracula
Goblin – Suspiria
Sonic Youth – Simon Werner A Disparu
Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind – The Shining
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – The Assisination of Jesse James
Jóhann Jóhannsson – Copenhagen Dreams
This might also be a fortuitous chance to plug our pal Joe’s new record. He is the engineer who worked hard with us on both albums, and a great musician in his own right, albeit in a completely different sound world. Last time I visited him he was telling me about how his band ANTA were working with composer Anton Maiof to produce a soundtrack album to the infamous DUNE adaptation that Jodorowsky never finished. He didn’t spill the release details but some googling should do it!
‘Moon Ate the Dark II’ is out now on Sonic Pieces.
James McVinnie is a highly prolific organist and keyboardist who released ‘Cycles’ – an album comprising organ pieces written by his Bedroom Community labelmate Nico Muhly – and also features Nadia Sirota, Chris Thompson and Simon Wall. McVinnie’s musical career to date has been a fascinating one; he was Assistant Organist of Westminster Abbey between 2008 and 2011 and he previously held Organ Scholarships at St Albans Cathedral, and at Clare College, Cambridge. McVinnie has also collaborated with many contemporary musicians – including Valgeir Sigurðsson, Bryce Dessner, Sufjan Stevens, Sam Amidon, Ben Frost, Oneohtrix Point Never and Beth Orton – demonstrating his immense musicianship and impressive versatility as a composer. ‘Cycles’ is available now on prestigious Icelandic independent label Bedroom Community.
Fractured Air 40: Music for Travel (A Mixtape by James McVinnie)
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Oliver Coates ‘The Room is the Resonator’ [PRAH]
02. Sarah Neufeld ‘Dirt’ [Constellation]
03. Keith Jarrett ‘Spheres (1st Movement)’ [ECM]
04. Peter Phillips & The Tallis Scholars ‘Stabat mater’ (John Browne: Music from the Eton Choirbook) [Gimmel]
05. J.S. Bach ‘Vergnügte Ruh, Beliebte Seelenlust’ (Bernarda Fink, Petra Mullejan & Freiburger Barockorchester) [Harmonia Mundi]
06. Steve Reich ‘The Desert Music: V. Fast’ (Alarm Will Sound, Alan Pierson & Ossia) [Nonesuch]
07. Philip Glass ‘Trial 2 / Prison Ensemble’ [Nonesuch]
08. Pat Metheny ‘Last Train Home’ [Geffen]
09. Jónsi ‘Hengilás’ [Parlophone, XL]
10. John Tavener ‘Eternity’s Sunrise’ [Harmonia Mundi]
11. Clare Wilkinson and Fretwork ‘Michael Nyman: If’ [Bandcamp]
Compiled by James McVinnie. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
‘Cycles’ is available now on Bedroom Community.
Interview with Dawn of Midi.
“Dysnomia is a piece of music in which all three of us are essentially playing drums.”
— Aakaash Israni
Words: Mark Carry
In a previous conversation with Nils Frahm circa the release of the stellar 2013 live document, ‘Spaces’, the German composer explained: “I find my way easily through sound.” In many ways a musician’s innate ability to navigate the heart and mind is perhaps the essence of music’s infinite spell and magnificent hold upon its listener. This simple truth echoes powerfully for Frahm’s labelmates Dawn of Midi whose Erased Tapes debut full-length ‘Dysnomia’ forges a visionary sonic tapestry of revelatory tones, pulsating rhythms and far-reaching emotions.
Dawn of Midi is the Brooklyn-based trio of Qasim Naqvi (drums, Pakistan), Aakaash Israni (bass, India) and Amino Belyamani (piano, Morocco). The group formed in 2007 having met the year previously at California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. The 2010 debut record of fully improvised material, ‘First’ was quickly followed up by the band’s ‘Live EP’ – a collection of live recordings from around the world – encompassing space, sound, texture, feel and effect on the state of mind through the act of improvisation. The deep telepathic connection between Israni, Naqvi and Belyamani serves the vital pulse to Dawn of Midi’s resolutely unique sound world, and this year’s ‘Dysnomia’ further reveals their sonic wizardry and masterful musicianship.
Remarkably, ‘Dysnomia’ is a live performance sculpted solely from organic sound; piano, bass and drums. The captivating record is effectively one sprawling, pulsating piece of music whereby each of the nine sonic creations are seamlessly woven together with supreme transitions (not only track-by-track morphs but endless moments of sophisticated rhythmic patterns are effortlessly distilled within a single piece). The meditative bassline of album opener ‘Lo’ leads gradually to gentle hypnotic swirls of piano notes and rhythmic pulses, which evolves into a gorgeous rise (four minutes and thirty seconds in) as the piano, drums and bass becomes one glorious and cohesive whole.
The following ‘Sinope’ explores deeper into unknown dimensions as a cathartic feel permeates from the spiritual wall of mesmerizing sound. Like a puzzle, new avenues are ceaselessly attained where one majestic river ends another begins. The tempo slows on the closing section of ‘Sinope’ as repeating single-note piano mutates into ‘Atlas’. West African folk traditions are rooted in the cosmic sphere of sound unleashed here, and after four minutes a crescendo of enlightenment ascends into the mix.
One of ‘Dysnomia’s defining moments arrives in the sequencing of ‘Atlas’ into the trance-inducing groove of ‘Nix’, akin to a DJ set and electronic luminaries from musical institutions such as Warp and Kompakt fade into clear focus. An evolution of sound is occurring as the inherent flow of musical consciousness unfolds. The tender, heart-warming ‘Moon’ forms the perfect counterpoint to ‘Nix’s euphoric haze. I feel the timeless spirit of Mingus, Sanders, Coltrane et al drift in the ether as ‘Dysnomia’s other-worldly journey takes you further and deeper into realms previously thought unimaginable. The closing duo of ‘Algol’ and title-track of ‘Dysnomia’ is the beginning of the end (of the beginning) as the journey comes full circle and sun-lit horizon fades into the distance. Traces of a musical history – elements of jazz, electronica, dance, krautrock, African and classical – are dotted across the momentous utopia of ‘Dysnomia’s compelling journey: an entire world has been navigated upon.
‘Dysnomia’ is out now on Erased Tapes.
Interview with Dawn of Midi (Qasim Naqvi, Aakaash Israni & Amino Belyamani).
Congratulations on the stunning new record, ‘Dysnomia’. It’s such a unique and shape-shifting body of work. The record itself feels just like one live set and very much one large piece.
Aakaash Israni: Thank you, it is one piece, the track markers were put in during mastering; it was recorded live but since it was recorded to tape we had to find a splice point where we could perform it in two big chunks (2 inch tape holds only 30 minutes).
I love how all the pieces flow into one another, and for example how the bassline of ‘Atlas’ goes into ‘Nix’ on part A of the album so seamlessly.
Amino Belyamani: We were really interested in how when DJs perform their set live; the quality of a DJ is that they can master a transition between two different songs and keep the same tempo and all of a sudden it morphs into something else. We wanted to do that live with our instruments with the sections that we were writing and so that’s the example you are talking about, ‘Atlas’ to ‘Nix’ is a specific DJ cross-fade morph that we really wanted to do and we practiced it and we managed to do it.
In terms of the album itself, I’m interested in the writing of the pieces as well. Is it a case that the piano or bass form the piece and the rest naturally follows?
AB: The overall writing process was completely out of order. A lot of the sections like the middle of the piece are those we started with and then the beginning came later. It was all out of order and it wasn’t until the end that we had all the content- our bass, piano and drums – that we started thinking about how it would flow from beginning to end and then we started making the transitions between the sections but it was all out of order during the writing process.
I wonder is your live show pretty much the tracklist of ‘Dysnomia’?
AI: We play the whole album from start to finish note per note every concert.
When you began as a band you were more based on improvisation, I wonder how do you see how you’ve developed since you started making music together?
AI: Well, we made a few records; we made our first studio album and a live EP completely improvised and we used to tour and just make up the show every night from scratch onstage. And I think it was wanting to just keep trying new things and maybe not make a third album of just improvised music, we tried something different you know.
AB: And also the risk of playing something good every night when you improvise is very high. It’s thrilling but at some point it’s better to take the time and write something that we all like and perform it and every night people would be pleased [laughs].
There’s a nice similarity with the Australian band The Necks in the sense of what you are able to generate with those three elements of piano, bass and drums.
AI: I think with those guys, the principal difference is that they are managing to do what they do while still staying in a very improvised context which is a pretty amazing thing and also leads to quite a different kind of music. I think they are really masters of their sound world but beyond the instrumentation I don’t think it has a lot in common with a through composed piece like Dysnomia. Improvising can lead to some really interesting textures, even rhythmic ones, but for it all to lock up like gears in some ethereal machine would be very difficult to accomplish improvising, especially if you want to transition smoothly from one idea to the next.
I would love if you could discuss how the three of you first met?
Qasim Naqvi: We were all students at Cal Arts. I think we met in 2006 and we weren’t actually playing music at all for about a year, we were just hanging out and engaging on the level of friendship and then one day on a whim we just decided to go into a dark room and just improvise and it resulted in the birth of the band I guess.
For your individual musical tastes, I’m sure there was a significant overlap between the three of you?
AI: Yeah I think there was a lot of overlap as well as some differences especially as it’s been seven or eight years since we first met. But when we first met I think there was some overlap, you know listening to some improvised music but also all of us have a background with classical music but maybe we were doing less of that during Cal Arts than before Cal Arts. Qasim and I were in grad school there and Amino was an undergrad so he got to spend four years there whereas Qasim was there for only two years and myself for just one year. I think there was a similar aesthetic though. We liked similar classical composers (Ligeti, Messiaen…), we liked similar electronic artists (Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada) and we also probably had enough things that we didn’t agree on for that to be interesting as well.
What were you studying exactly at Cal Arts?
AB: Everything from jazz to classical to very experimental music to integrated media, I also studied heavily in world music and west African drumming and Arabic music. It was a very amazing faculty and you could really learn a lot there.
I love the last two tracks of the album and how it resolves itself where there is a beautiful climax as ‘Dysnomia’ comes to a close.
AI: We knew we wanted to end up where we started and Amino wrote a very sophisticated transition where each of the parts incrementally reduce to get us back to the beginning, it is one of my favorite transitions as well. What a lot of people don’t know about our pianist is that he is an incredible drummer, and I think it’s one of the reasons he was able to write so well in this context since Dysnomia is a piece of music in which all three of us are essentially playing drums.
‘Dysnomia’ is out now on Erased Tapes.
Interview with Alasdair Roberts.
“It’s always really fascinating to me how different individuals can have such different ideas about the making of music and the making of art and it’s exciting when you bring those different ideas together in the same space and see what happens.”
— Alasdair Roberts
Words: Mark Carry
Earlier this year saw the eagerly awaited return of revered Scottish singer-songwriter Alasdair Roberts with the arrival of the splendid self-titled full-length on Drag City. The Glasgow-based songwriter’s latest collection of folk gems exude a warm, sparse feel with wonderfully minimal arrangements –mainly Roberts’ voice and guitar which is augmented with gorgeous woodwind and percussion in places – that reveals a song-writing master-class with each turn of phrase and aching note. Songs such as the touching ballad ‘Hurricane Brown’, the deeply personal ‘This Uneven Thing’ and gorgeous folk lament ‘The Final Diviner’ represent some of the finest solo works of Roberts’ treasured songbook.
Since 1997, firstly releasing three albums of self-written material under the name Appendix Out and then several albums under his own name. His work mainly consists of two parallel strands: self-written song material (which can be heard on albums such as Farewell Sorrow, The Amber Gatherers, Spoils and A Wonder Working Stone) and interpretations of traditional songs and ballads from Scotland and beyond (which can be heard on albums such as The Crook of My Arm, No Earthly Man and Too Long In This Condition). Other collaborative projects include The Furrow Collective (consisting of UK folk luminaries Rachel Newton, Lucy Farrell, Emily Portman and Alasdair Roberts); the wonderful collaboration between Isle of Lewis native Mairi Morrison and Roberts whose collection of Gaelic songs was released on Drag City and Roberts’ larger musical ensemble of Alasdair Roberts & Friends.
‘Alasdair Roberts’ is out now on Drag City.
For Alasdair’s upcoming UK and European tour dates, please click HERE
Interview with Alasdair Roberts.
I’d love for you to discuss Alasdair the making of the latest self-titled album. I love how there is a more stripped back feel and a departure from some of your previous records from the more recent past.
Alasdair Roberts: Well I suppose what happened was I made this record, ‘A Wonder Working Stone’ a couple of years ago and that was made with a core band of five musicians: me, my friends Stevie, Riff, Shane and Ben so this is like a core group that I’ve been playing with live, so we made a record together. And there was a total of thirteen musicians on that record, it’s quite a big thing with big arrangements and long songs. And with this new one, that group hasn’t been playing much together for various reasons, they’ve been busy with their own projects and I had these two days booked in the studio and I had these songs so I thought I will get some demos of these. I recorded them and it turned out to be the record.
Wow, that’s very fast. So it only took a couple of days to record to tape?
AR: What actually happened was I had this studio booked for another project and then the person I was going to be working with couldn’t do it – they were ill – so I had these two days booked and I couldn’t cancel so I thought I’ll just record these new songs and see how they turn out so that’s what happened.
My favourite song is ‘Hurricane Brown’ and it feels like the centrepiece of the album. I wonder did the songs themselves slowly form over the last year or so or would it be a case that the songs come quite quickly in a concentrated period of time?
AR: Well funnily enough, ‘Hurricane Brown’ is actually the oldest of the songs; that’s like three years old at this point. I’d say about half of the record is maybe two to three years old and the other half is written in the few months just before recording. Some of these songs like ‘Hurricane Brown’ is a song we played live as a band a few times. I mean I’m continually writing and I’m trying to write a new record at the moment as well. The other songs are quite personal I think so this is a thing that’s different about this record. On the previous record, the songs were a bit more universal and sometimes topical, political and those kind of things but these new songs sound more personal. There’s a couple of love songs and I think the ethos for me was simplicity, you know I was trying to make a more simple record than some of the previous ones.
You are always involved in a diverse array of projects. I loved your collaboration with the Gaelic singer Mairi Morrison and the collection of Gaelic songs you released. I can imagine a lot of research and work goes into all these projects before you even begin any recording?
AR: Yeah that is a part of it. I mean the thing with Mairi is that she is a Gaelic singer and I’m not. She was born and raised on the Isle of Lewis and speaking Gaelic was her first language so she was immersed in that musical culture in a way that I am not. So I find it very interesting and very appealing but I’m not in that culture so I had to learn about it. There was a lot of research, a lot of reading, archives and libraries and that kind of thing.
The Furrow Collective too, it was lovely to hear your voice alongside three other wonderful voices, it was a beautiful album.
AR: Thanks. We just got back from a tour in Germany with Emily, Lucy and Rachel and we just did four gigs in Germany so that was good and we’re going to be recording our new album later this year. We started working on some new songs – well new old songs – and so hopefully we’ll record the new album very soon.
And with your solo tour then, I suppose it must be nice to go back to your roots in one way and playing solo must also bring something different again?
AR: I do a lot of solo gigs but I tend to enjoy playing with other musicians more because a lot of my reason for being involved in music is social and to do with community and that sort of thing. It sometimes it feels a bit weird to be touring, playing solo but other people do tend to respond well to the performances. But I think I would tour more with a band if it was more financially viable and also if musicians that I know in Glasgow that I play with regularly were less busy with their own things, our opportunity to get together is rare.
You have done plenty interpretations of traditional songs as well as your own. Would you have personal favourite traditional music, from Scotland particularly that you think were very important for you?
AR: I suppose when I’m working with traditional material, I regard myself primarily as a ballad singer so when it comes to traditional song it’s my main interest; the sonatas, the ballads and so on and there is a lot of great traveller singers – historically a lot of great Scottish traveller singers – I suppose it’s the same in Ireland. A lot of the Scottish traveller singers are some of my favourites, people like Jeannie Robertson, Duncan Williamson, Stanley Robertson and the late Sheila Stewart. Most of these singers are either dead or dying out – these kinds of singers – but these are voices that resonate really strongly with me when it comes to traditional music from Scotland.
On the new album, the added instrumentation of woodwind; I love how those elements add a lot to your guitar-based songs. Did you know from the outset that it would be so pared back?
AR: It was a case of not trying to filling it in so much. I mean I could have spent a lot of time doing quite a bit of overdubs and things but I didn’t. It was in my mind that it would be quite minimal, for example there is some percussion on there and some snare drum rim shots on a couple of songs. My thought was that when those elements happen, they should be very noticeable moments, it should be a major incident even though it’s just the side of a snare drum being hit it should feel like a major incident in the context of this quite sparse record. And with Alex South, the clarinet player – I’ve known Alex for a while – he’s been playing clarinet for most of his life and it’s not an instrument I’m particularly knowledgeable about but it’s the range of sounds and tones the clarinet is capable of might add an interesting dimension to these songs, so that’s why I approached him.
Also, the tin whistle is another beautiful addition that works so well with your voice and guitar.
AR: The tin whistle is by an old friend of mine, Donald who I’ve known since I was sixteen, an old friend.
‘The Final Diviner’ is another gorgeous song on the album.
AR: Yeah it’s a funny one. I think it’s like a pop song; it’s the pop song on the record it feels like to me.
I’m already thinking of what the next record might be and I want to try something different again as I don’t want to make the same record over and over again. The next thing is going to be quite different, I think I want to go back to a bit more full arrangements. I started doing this with earlier records like scoring parts for brass or for strings. Normally just like two players, so I would have a cello and a violin or a couple of violins in mind or a trumpet and a trombone playing together. But I’m interested in the idea of writing for bigger and bigger ensembles, you know maybe bigger string sections or combinations of strings and woodwind and brass and things, trying to get some more compositionally complex with what I’m doing.
What have you been listening to a lot lately, Alasdair?
AR: A couple of Irish things actually. I’ve been listening to this band Lynched from Dublin, a folk band and their album is really great I think. I think this afternoon I’ll go into the record store here in Glasgow and maybe pick some things up. I’ve been listening quite a bit to Jimmy Crowley’s ‘The Boys of Fairhill’ from the early seventies, it was actually in my father’s collection and I’ve been digging it out on the turntable. There’s some great songs on there, most of them seem to be about Cork actually.
One last thing, this idea of community and collaboration that comes across so many of your albums where there is this feeling of sharing and sharing ideas with all these interesting people.
AR: Yeah I mean sharing ideas is a really important thing for me. The only way to really learn is by working with others and taking their ideas on board and learning from them. It’s always really fascinating to me how different individuals can have such different ideas about the making of music and the making of art and it’s exciting when you bring those different ideas together in the same space and see what happens. Often for me making a record is like creating a temporary community: you bring together this group of people for a period and it’s like creating this community for a while.
‘Alasdair Roberts’ is available now on Drag City.
For Alasdair’s upcoming UK and European tour dates, please click HERE