FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Paul de Jong

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I have to somehow be able to put the door ajar for the listener to step into that world and if it’s impenetrable that would never happen.”

—Paul de Jong 

Words: Mark Carry

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This week marks the eagerly awaited release of Dutch composer – and co-founder of the beloved collage pop duo The Books – Paul de Jong’s sophomore solo full-length “You Fucken Sucker” (via U.S. independent label Temporary Residence). As ever, a myriad of ideas, inventive pop structures, electronic instrumental excursions, and poetic prose are masterfully etched across a sprawling canvas of genre-bending sounds.

A mantra of “almost doomed” is repeated beneath a meditative acoustic guitar line on the short interlude of ‘Almost Doomed’, reflecting the darkness that envelops the sound world of the Dutch artist’s latest solo work. The deeply personal songs envelop the rawest of emotions. The soft guitar tapestries fade into ‘Doomed’, with echoes of guitar noise and a garage drumbeat before a hypnotic guitar line ascends beneath a poignant vocal refrain: “I can do anything I want/It’s up to me”. The song develops into frenzied rhythms amidst a fury of rage, highlighting the entire spectrum of moods that engulfs the music’s headspace. These songs become more like coping mechanisms – the source of survival and hope – as the outro of gospel-like voices rejoice “you can be anything you want to be”.

The album’s title-track reveals the frustration inherent throughout the record’s striking narrative. A nursery rhyme turned inside out, sung beneath soft electronic beats and angelic guitar notes. The gorgeous electronic instrumental voyage of ‘Wavehoven’ exudes a soothing, healing force as the ambient swells drift into the ether. It is as if the light of hope is shone on the depths of despair throughout these unfolding electronic passages.

The frantic screams that ascend on album opener ‘Embowelment’ reflects the anger and confusion that permeates within “You Fucken Sucker”s rich tapestry. More lyric-based songs are masterfully created: the soul-stirring americana lament ‘Johnny No Cash’ sings of lonesome blues and the empowering psychedelic pop sphere of ‘Dimples’ is yet another crowning jewel. “I think that all you have to do is do whatever you can do” is spoken beneath a haze of psych pop harmonies and jazz piano inflections.

One of the album’s lead singles ‘It’s Only About Sex’ shares vintage Books-esque pop collage spheres as gorgeous pop motifs, electronica and celestial harmonies blend with divine spoken word passages. Timeless pop music for the 21st century. “You Fucken Sucker” is the latest master work from the peerless Dutch composer.

‘You Fucken Sucker’ is out on Friday 6th April 2018 via Temporary Residence.

https://pauldejong.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/temporaryresidence/

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Interview with Paul de Jong.

Congratulations on your new solo full length. I’d love for you to take me back to the making of ‘You Fucken Sucker’? One aspect I found very interesting is how the tracklist itself is laid out as it was conceived; I wonder was there a starting point that sewed the seeds for the album and its ultimate creation? In terms of assembling the tracks, you always have this magical ability to combine the various found sounds, instrumentation and the voices you hear throughout the album.

Paul de Jong:  It’s mostly true that the record is presented in the order that the tracks were conceived. The final track [‘Breaking Up’] I put together from takes that I actually recorded for the opening track [‘Embowelment’]. It didn’t become the capstone of the record until indeed the last moment where it is almost the uncut take which I decided to use in its entirety, adding two instrumental parts which are absolutely unrelated to each other or to the original vocal take. Although the instrumental takes are also two raw takes that I did for the first song on the record, I just used a few elements from those recordings. Other than that really the record pretty much came together in the sequence you’re hearing. There is no artistic concept behind that particular decision: I presented the tracks as such to my record label and gave as usual the director of my record label Jeremy deVine full liberty to put an effective sequence together (with his experience as someone who is putting out records). We traded several sequences back and forth and it really turned out that the original sequence was the only one that made much sense, a somewhat rocky but plausible emotional trip.

In retrospect it all makes sense to me since the record came together while I was dealing with several unforeseeable circumstances in my life somewhat radically interfering with an otherwise very steady musical productivity. These were things that could happen to any human being at any time throughout their lives. We bought a house and in the second week that we had it, I was sound proofing my studio, fell off a ladder and I broke my heel which was a long and painful recovery from  extensive surgery to my foot, so I was in bed for three months. And then as soon as I was more or less back on my feet, my wife fell ill with lymphoma for the second time in eight years, which made my fracture look like a mosquito bite in comparison. During this period, my mother fell ill across the Atlantic and it was very frustrating and aggravating not to be able to go and care for  her (luckily I have a dear brother and a sister who could, and did). All this made my daily existence and all the practicalities of life – we have three young children – rather complicated yet my composing (when I broke my heel I was almost halfway through this record) proved to be the thing that kept my course steady. It was a refuge and an intellectual and emotional anchor that proved to be very valuable to me in unexpected ways. The individual tracks on the record were influenced by these circumstances in that I often only had time to spend working in the studio in a fragmented schedule, five minutes here, an hour there, odd times of day, lots of hiatus in between and so forth. I constantly had to adjust my approaches, goals and methods of composing and recording of individual tracks according to that schedule. I learned to adapt in beneficial ways, conceptualizing the compositional structures and manual work to far greater detail that I used to before I found the time to sit down and actually execute the piece. Not really that much time for sketching, improvising or ‘stream of consciousness’ composing, although I managed to still build in plenty of opportunity for unrestricted exploration within the framework of developed form and method. In retrospect it seems like a marvelous mental exercise borne out of necessity.

It’s funny to realize that the style of the Books and even where I found myself starting out in my post-Books solo work seems already quite vintage; it’s an approach to collage music that we developed in the early 2000’s which seems somewhat of a historic practice by now. Actually, putting it in that perspective I doubt if there was much of anything new to it at all… maybe it just happened to successfully connect with a fresh generation of listeners. So as always feel the need to surge forward and chart new territory which generally seems to happen through a combination of slow crystallization of development in style and ideas combined with radical changes that come after the realization that you can’t repeat yourself. And this is all guided by intuition which is quite an important ingredient in composing: you don’t know where you’re going to end up but you’ve got to trust what you can’t always intellectualize. I find it hard to explain how a new piece gets started. It has to do with a vague emotional response which I sense should be what the effect of the yet unwritten music should generate. I will try to identify that response by running sonic experiments, electronic and instrumental, until some sound, some element no matter how seemingly insignificant relates to that feeling. It’s as if I try to identify where this universal background noise comes from by sending out signals and waiting for a positive response. How’s that for vague. And then every piece from there follows its own path of development: it writes its own laws, there is no overarching concept to it like a method of composing, it charts its own universe so to speak. I’m unconcerned with looking for a particular signature or a style – that’s not for me to identify in the first place. Sometimes a piece will start sounding like an established genre, and then I am humoured by it because it’s mostly unintentional, like inventing country & western by complete chance… on the moon.  As long as I’ve created it I’m sure that I am in there somewhere, no style necessary.

I started out as a cellist and more of a writer, a poet. These were the things I was already dedicated to before my tenth year. So, as a creative artist I started out rather in composing language than in music. As I moved to the United States in ‘91 or ‘92, I still mostly wrote in Dutch (I never really wrote in English until I moved to the US) but I lost my touch with writing poetry because I was no longer surrounded by Dutch language day in day out . Music composing started to substitute for poetry and writing in English actually came about because I started my recorded sample library in earnest when I moved to the United States. I was attending the University of Illinois back then as a cellist and I had access to this wonderful bottomless library and I started recording all these spoken word LP’s and editing and  recombining whatever attractive words and phrases I found and creating poetry out of those elements. And this is really how I came to writing lyrics and writing in English, through this circumstantial method. This wasn’t at all a preconceived idea of how to go about something, I just found a plausible way to have an outlet for that literary desire.

Until my twenty-fifth year I was primarily a writer involved in theatre, I wrote poetry, I wrote plays and I can’t say I was very good at it, I mean there are only very few things that I wish to keep from that period. But language was in my creative life much more central than composing music. I frankly didn’t have really much of a clue about composing music until much later in my life.
Ever since my twenties I have been attempting to master a meaningful and effective way to reconcile cello playing, music composing, language, movement, film, theatre…: all those things always had my deep interest rooted in my a cultural and intellectual wealthy upbringing, but they existed as mostly separate entities in my life at first. My cello playing was very much classical and contemporary classical with some free improvisation thrown in but it didn’t really have all that much to do with my formal composing attempts and sampling attempts. Those things really started coming together right around the time that I met Nick Zammuto and we started the Books. Video entered the mix when we started translating our albums to the stage. I think, or at least I hope my latest album pulls in my theatrical background and my social interests in an effective way…

The rawness in the album is really quite hard-hitting and particularly the elements of the female voice and the screams that you hear throughout the record. Did you find these vocal segments as a trigger to compose the rest of the pieces because the album centers very much on these particular moments?

PdJ: Those voices are not found sound. In this album I really sourced some old roots in my life, and I made use of my theatrical past in writing for and directing others. And that is really how these tracks that you’re talking about came about: I wrote – well I can’t say lyrics, I call them really texts because there are also lyrics in the record which are more song poetry as one might expect them; what I’m talking about are texts that have a theatrical quality, written to be not musically interpreted but re-enacted, to be lived. So what I would do is I wrote these fragments or texts, often derived from transcribed recorded samples and I’m very lucky to have a pool of young people who are very multi-talented around me, who can sing and act and they can play music. I would from time to time ask them to come over and run texts by them in the studio and not so much give them musical directions but give them acting directions. It’s a way of creating sample material in a much more controlled environment. It’s almost like creating a libretto, but it would make a miserable operetta. Well maybe it did.

There is this theatrical world  your music seems to be steeped in. In one way, you never know what’s going to happen next.

PdJ: But at the same time, I surely would hope that it doesn’t only give you a feeling of unsettlement but also there is something reassuring in exactly that: that you can live your life expecting the unexpected without fear.

I love how some of these short tracks (like for example ‘Doings’) so much happens in a short moment and for instance how ‘Doings’ fades into ‘Dimples’ with the piano, there is always this flow to the music and a narrative that ties everything together?

PdJ: Well that worked out well for me then [laughs]. That of course is exactly what I hope: no matter what the effort or struggle that goes into it, the work should be able to, for the listener, to give an impression of effortlessness which is of course about the only thing that can open the door for the listener. I have to somehow be able to put the door ajar for the listener to step into that world and if it’s impenetrable that would never happen.

Looking back over The Books – who are truly one of those most cherished bands – and the band’s discography, you must have a real sense of pride of these artistic works but also the solo works that you’ve both been undertaking since then? I suppose you must feel that the Books material and your solo works are all inter-connected in some way?

PdJ: Most certainly, I could not ever have made these solo albums without the experiences that I’ve had with Nick in creating our albums together. I think we were both lucky and privileged to have met and to have created all this music for such a long time and find an appreciative audience. I think that we created a substantial catalog, and I’m definitely proud of it. And I feel also very confident in my solo work because I do have that behind me and it’s not like I’m composing into an unknown world, I know there are listeners out there who have grown with me in this context of all this other music which makes me feel reassured to say the least. However, I still honestly feel that I have to earn my stripes with every artistic decision I take, no matter how tiny. Keeps me sharp.

How do you set about trying to translate an album like ‘You Fucken Sucker’ into the live setting as a performance?

PdJ: It’s pretty challenging. There are a good few pieces that I can’t really quite wrap my brain around yet how to translate them onstage. I’m at a point where I’m starting to bring in much more improvised elements into my shows to widen and maybe break a little the concept of  how I used to perform with the Books for years and also how I performed ‘If’ for a good while. Nick and I used to joke we were really doing glorified karaoke. I’d  strip the songs off whatever I could perform live onstage and whatever was left remained pre-recorded and the whole thing was accompanied by a synchronized video. The instrumentation in my solo work becomes a little bit more complex and especially since I work more with vocalists now. I am playing mostly solo but I will also have one of my vocalists Jennifer Cavanaugh guesting wherever I can.  The more traditional song forms (‘Dimples’, ‘Johnny No Cash’ and the title track of the album) can actually be performed with either solo keyboard or  bass guitar accompanying and also I’m learning to perform those all by myself. Terrifying, but I think it really can gain enormously in impact onstage to treat them as just simple performable songs, not the more lavish electronic studio pieces which they really were in the first place. Then there are the more ambient electronic tracks that are purely instrumental which  treat in a much more loose and broad way: I’m taking elements from different tracks, create ambient moods by mixing them up and play them along live instrumental improvisations. So I will be playing my cello with samplers and there will be more improvised pieces in the show that will be interspersed with quite meticulously executed songs from either of my two records. Something that I have always been dealing with is the question of how to represent a studio piece without its original sonic environment ans find a musical way that is as effective and relevant in a concert setting, which circumstances are much more uncontrollable. Back to the uncontrollable circumstances. Story of my life.

 

‘You Fucken Sucker’ is out on Friday 6th April 2018 via Temporary Residence.

https://pauldejong.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/temporaryresidence/

 

 

Written by admin

April 5, 2018 at 2:49 pm

Mixtape: Fractured Air – March 2018 Mix

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This April marks the beloved U.S. band Mercury Rev’s 20th Anniversary tour of their classic “Deserter’s Songs” album (including an extensive Irish tour, UK and Belgium shows). We had the honour to recently interview Mercury Rev frontman Jonathan Donahue (soon-to-be-published) and an excerpt of this interview is featured in this month’s mix.

Our March mix contains two exclusive tracks from the compelling German independent label Denovali Records.

New Zealand’s Alicia Merz (under her Birds Of Passage moniker) unveils her fourth full-length “The Death of Our Invention” with a beguiling collection of dark pop song cycles embedded deep within a lattice of mimimal ambient soundscapes (released on 6th April 2018). The prestigious Rotterdam-based electronic producer Nadia Struiwigh has carved out a shape shifting ambient techno voyage with her Denovali debut full-length “WHRRu” (Where are you) which will be released on 27th April 2018.

Also featured on our latest mix is new music from the peerless Belgian re-issue label Stroom; Jonny Greenwood’s “You Were Never Really Here” score; Grouper’s Liz Harris; A Winged Victory For The Sullen and Paul de Jong (The Books).

 

Fractured Air – March 2018 Mix

01. Birds Of Passage“Wake to the Dream” (Denovali)
02. A.A.L.“This Old House Is All I Have” (Other People)
03. Sudan Archives“Come Meh Way” (Stones Throw)
04. Dabrye“Culture Shuffle” (feat. Kadence Intricate Dialect & Silas Green) (Ghostly)
05. Tomaga“Greetings From The Bitter End” (Kaya Kaya)
06. Aphex Twin“We Are the Music Makers” (Warp)
07. Nils Frahm“All Melody” (Erased Tapes)
08. Nadia Struiwigh“WHRRu” (Denovali)
09. Pablo’s Eye“Double Language” (Stroom)
10. Dorothy Ashby“Soul Vibrations” (Soul Jazz)
11. Maximum Joy“Silent Street/Silent Dub” (Y)
12. Ben Morris“Gissningsleken” (Original Mix) (Music For Dreams)
13. Sonoko“Danse Avec La Tristesse” (Stroom)
14. B. Fleischmann “Here Comes the a Train” (Morr Music)
15. The Fall“Lost In Music” (Cherry Red)
16. Shinichi Atobe“Regret” (excerpt) (DDS)
17. DJ Koze (feat. Róisín Murphy)“Illumination” (Pampa)
18. U.S. Girls“Rosebud” (4AD)
19. Balmorhea“Sky Could Undress” (Western Vinyl)
20. Normil Hawaiians“Yellow Rain” (Upset The Rhythm)
21. The Gentleman Losers“Wintergreen” (Grainy)
22. Beautify Junkyards“Ghost Dance” (Ghost Box)
23. Paul de Jong“It’s Only About Sex” (Temporary Residence)
24. Hatis Noit“Illogical Lullaby” (excerpt) (Erased Tapes)
25. Valiska“Forever” (Trouble In Utopia)
26. Grouper“Parking Lot” (Kranky)
27. A Winged Victory For The Sullen“Long May It Sustain” (Erased Tapes)
28. Jonny Greenwood – “Tree Synthesisers” (“You Were Never Really Here” OST) (Invada)
29. Jonathan Donahue – [interview excerpt] (Fractured Air)
30. Mercury Rev“Holes” (V2)

Chosen One: Balmorhea

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We make the music that comes to us based on the unique and pooled amalgam of memories, experiences, dreams, lands and people that surround us.”

—Michael Muller

Words: Mark Carry

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Last year’s gorgeous ‘Clear Language’ full length marked the eagerly awaited return of the beloved instrumental/post-classical Texas duo Balmorhea. As a follow-up to 2012’s ‘Stranger’, the gifted duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller have carved out a richly poignant set of stunningly beautiful compositions: spacious, exquisite and immaculate sonic explorations for the heart and mind.

As the title suggests, ‘Clear  Language’s musical landscape is built upon simplicity and returning to one’s roots (bringing it all back home, if you will). It is precisely the crystalline immediacy of these ten otherworldly odysseys that forever reveal more insights and unraveling truths from deep within. Co-produced and engineered by David Boyle in Austin’s Church House Studios, the instrumentation consists of analog synthesizers, piano, vibraphone, electric and bass guitar, violin, viola, field recordings and –for the first time – trumpet (played by Tedeschi Trucks’ Ephraim Owens).

The ethereal trumpet lines on ‘Slow  Stone’ creates a jazz infused neo-classical exploration (as the gradual piano ripples forges a Necks-esque dreamscape). The joyously uplifting Americana lament ‘Sky Could  Undress’ (later reworked by ambient luminaries Christina Vantzou and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma on this year’s ‘Clear Language: Reworked’) with the highly emotive strings serving one of the record’s pinnacles. The infectious guitar groove could have originated from a jam in Woodstock’s Big Pink house from another time and place.

If ever a piece embodies the soulful, immersive nature of the duo’s shape shifting works it is the glorious album-title – and opening track – with empowering piano lines and crescendo of soul-stirring strings, unfolding a pavilion of dreams.

‘Clear Language’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

For Balmorhea’s European and U.S. tour dates, visit HERE

https://balmorheamusic.com/

http://westernvinyl.com/

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Interview with Michael Muller (Balmorhea).

 

Please take me back to Clear Language’s inception; what were the concerns and primary aims you both shared for this latest record? I just love how – at once – there is a warmth of familiarity and shimmering depths of the unknown also. I can imagine the process of creating this latest record must have felt like a liberating experience, and one you may have felt you were starting afresh (considering the gap from the previous LP)?

Michael Muller: The beginning processes of Clear Language started in the spring of 2016. We would meet everyday in our studio and experiment on a single idea, each day. Sometimes it was based on a loop, a sample or just a few loose chords. Over the span of a couple months we whittled down many ideas into about 12 “songs” that we recorded as demos. We didn’t have any touring during this process, nor in the forecast until after this album would eventually release, so we took our good time in the recording and mixing process. This happened in October and November of 2016 at Church House Studios in Austin, Texas with co-producer and engineer David Boyle. We didn’t rule out any idea or instrument choice until it was clearly not right for whatever track we were working on. We were assisted on all the string parts throughout the record by our amazing and long-time companion and collaborator Aisha Burns. Overall, our goal at this point in our sonic trajectory, was to take a step back, complexity-wise, and focus on space, breath and to lasso the best tones we could. Contrasting to our earlier releases, where a precise narrative was drawn from, between night sky, vast seas or the expansive nature of western America, Clear Language seemed to require a more solemn and inner peering; one that loosely harnessed perhaps the liquidity of a dream-like state or of vague memories half-forgotten. It was really enjoyable throughout the making of the record to not be shuffled along too hurriedly by the constraints of time. We are really please with how it all ended up.

I’d love to gain an insight into the studio set-up and this deep connection between you as a duo? This collaborative partnership must be built on such a powerful force of intuition and the resulting sound worlds captured on Clear Language emit such sublime beauty and timeless radiance. I get the impression that some of these compositions feel almost like happy accidents, so to speak?

MM: Happy accidents is a fitting way to phrase it. Several of the tracks on the record literally sort of appeared, really. Rob would sit at the Rhodes or I at a guitar and the tones and melody would slowly spill out. We usually realized something great was occurring so we were sure to always have the mics on and recording while we wrote and recorded the demos. The more fully-realized songs were usually stemmed from a specific loop or progression that was added to and then eventually subtracted from until the right balance presented itself. There were, though, certain instruments and techniques that we knew we were interested in trying, as well. The track ‘Ecco’, for instance, employs a Rhodes organ going through a series of fuzz pedals and a Space Echo tape delay. This recipe coupled nicely, we thought, with the more crystalline guitar tones and skeletal piano pieces bordering the rest of the album. In other pieces, like ‘All Flowers’, we experimented with recording guitar into a cassette deck and re-amping through a PA.

The title-track and gorgeous album opener feels like a gateway into the rest of the record. Can you talk me through the construction and layering of this uplifting piece? The title too conveys the clarity and directness of the music captured on this latest batch of songs.

MM: The title track, in our minds, was meant to serve as an intro, of sorts, to the record; a palette-cleanser, if you will. This track began with the opening piano line and was lightly built-upon from there. It’s restrained in a way, as it never fully gets too demonstrative or bombastic as it hints at grandiosity that may be forthcoming that never perhaps fully arrives. The track and record title, Clear Language, seemed the only logical choice. It’s instrumental music that is there to score whatever reality each listener applies it to.

The shimmering ambient odyssey ‘Slow Stone’ forms the vital core to the record’s first half. As ever, this sense of a journey unfolds before your very ears. The added trumpet instrumentation (which I believe is a first for Balmorhea, on record at least?) further heightens the textured sound world that breathes deeply throughout. For a piece like this, would the piano melody have provided you the starting point for all else to form?

MM: ‘Slow Stone’ was a track that in the writing process was truly developed out of nothing. The intro is a sample we recorded of the Australian avant-minimalist composer Lawrence English walking through tall grass in cowboy boots during a field recording workshop he gave in Austin. The tandem of the track is a pure collaboration between the guitars and undulating over a soft bed of Rhodes organ. After that initial bedrock was laid we knew another and a different voice needed to pull it all together. We agreed it couldn’t be a string part, which we didn’t want to overplay and we both liked the idea of brass. In the end, the thing we all wanted to hear was a muffled trumpet. We called Ephraim Owens, a local Austin jazz trumpeter and touring member of Tedeschi Trucks, to step in and add his magic. I think he only took three, short takes before nailing it after only hearing the song a few times in the control room. The track eventually flows out into a delta and ends with an interplay between the sparse piano and hazy waves of a fuzzed-out guitar. If you listen closely at the crescendo, you’ll hear a subtle sputtering under the surface. This is a blast beat from our friend and Belgian black metal drummer Wim Coppers.

Balmorhea’s pop sensibility is a trait that remains at the heart of the band’s special records. Needless to say, the lyrical quality of these instrumentals is quite staggering. For instance, ‘Behind The World’ orbits the avant pop sphere with the irresistible bass groove and crystallized guitar/piano patterns. What do you feel may be the defining records for you that you find inspirational for the musical path you find yourselves on? 

MM: During the creation of Clear Language it was a wild smattering of records from all over the musical map. Rob was listening to a lot of jazz, classical and world music whereas I was listening to a see-saw of minimal, avant and ambient music. One record that was on heavy rotation during the process was Daniel Lanois’ ‘Belladonna’ (2006, Anti). This record marries a strange blend of ambient americana throughout its reverberous pedal steel guitar next to deep synth and avant-jazz drumming. It really opens a total unique, sonic world unto itself. Highly recommended if you haven’t heard.

It must be a thrill to translate ‘Clear Language’ to the live setting when touring? As a larger ensemble onstage, do the songs further change or mutate as they are emitted into the atmosphere each night, in different places, different time zones, different moments?

MM: The songs of Clear Language were written and largely recored as a duo but the live iteration is a full, 6-piece ensemble. Every player has a role for each song, which rotates based on the arrangement. It was a fun but long process to comb through these songs and arrange them for the live stage. The songs are mostly compatible with the original instrumentation and played live, save the programmed beats on ‘Sky Could Undress’ and ‘Behind the World’, respectfully. It’s really enjoyable to play live and our current set has over 1/2 of the new album mixed throughout.

‘First Light’ is that perfect meditative closing gem. A haven of celestial sounds unfold. Can you recount your memories of writing, composing and arranging this song? The added vocals makes for such a vital moment. Do you find the arranging and blending of the various instrumentation a challenge? Or this sense of keeping restraint in the music and having the minimal framework as your guide? Is there a musical philosophy that you feel has guided you through your songbook thus far?

MM: ‘First Light’ was actually the first song we wrote in the demoing process. But in the end, it fit most squarely as the album’s closer. We titled it ‘First Light’ as a way to invoke or invite a return or a cycle, of sorts. The record as a whole (to us, anyway) seems to slide from one track to the next and can play in some way as a singular, weaving journey. There isn’t a specific doctrine or credo we are adhering to, really. And we’ve never set out to specifically not have lyrics. On some tracks we’ll sort of agree that a different voice is needed. Sometimes it ends up that a human voice being used as an instrument rather than communicating a direct language is the most apt choice. We make the music that comes to us based on the unique and pooled amalgam of memories, experiences, dreams, lands and people that surround us. We are so lucky to make music; to record it and to play it around the world. It means everything that people spend time listening to it and even more-so if they are moved in some way by it. It’s a dream come true.

‘Clear Language’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

For Balmorhea’s European and U.S. tour dates, visit HERE

https://balmorheamusic.com/

http://westernvinyl.com/

Written by admin

March 27, 2018 at 6:20 pm

Step Right Up: Martyn Heyne

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“…recording doesn’t capture music; recording creates a recording.”

—Martyn Heyne

Words: Mark Carry

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Transcendence fills the space of Hamburg-born Martyn Heyne’s singular guitar-based compositions. The remarkable debut solo album ‘Electric Intervals’ – and follow-up to 2016’s achingly beautiful mini-album ‘Shady & Light’ – gently unleashes a hypnotic spell with each swirling ambient pulse and divine tones of piano and guitar.

Glorious album opener – and lead single – ‘Carry’ orbits the ether of faded dreams as sublime electric guitar soundscapes reverberate the human heart. Only mere moments into the German composer’s full-length, it is as if we are plunged into an ‘in between’ state, somehow capturing the quiet bliss of this universe that surrounds us. As the title suggests, Heyne’s echo drenched guitar tones transport you to the furthest reaches of one’s inner self, feeling beautifully lost in the pools of your mind.

Dawn light gradually fades in throughout the windswept beauty of sparse piano lament ‘Luxury’. The reflective piano notes unfolds a deeply immersive experience. The striking intimacy of ‘Patina’ with its magical tapestry of electric guitar tones radiates a shimmering warmth, particularly on the piece’s heavenly rise. ‘Faro’s soft beat and drifting guitar patterns serves one of the album’s defining moments. Magical guitar lines that belong at once to age-old folk song cycles or future post- classical overtures. The lyrical quality of a guitar melody such as this illustrates just how unique the sound world captured on ‘Electric Intervals’ truly is.

A Piano Day highlight from last year, ‘2400’ is built upon joyously uplifting piano motifs that meld together effortlessly, emitting a catharsis within the ambient swells. The album’s mystical centrepiece. The dynamics change on the luminescent beats of ‘Come On’ with a seductive guitar groove that inhabits a minimal wave sphere of enchanting sounds. Heavenly sustained piano chords of ‘Wilde Wide’ navigates the human space before the epic album closer ‘Curium’ dazzles with a flurry of delay, drum machines and invigorating guitar lines. The horizon is upon us.

Electric Intervals’ is a truly remarkable debut album from a gifted composer whose musical path is only just beginning.

‘Electric Intervals’ is out now on 7K! Records.

https://www.facebook.com/everynoteisapillow/

https://www.facebook.com/7Klassik/

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Interview with Martyn Heyne.

 

Congratulations on your debut solo album ‘Electric Intervals’; it’s a very special experience. I’d love for you to go back to the making of the album itself? In line with the gorgeous debut ‘Shady & Light’, some of these songs were probably in your head for a long time?

Martyn Heyne: It is true that the ‘Shady & Light’ material and this material overlap a little bit in time, like some of the pieces on this one like ‘Faro’ and ‘Afar’ I’ve been playing them in concerts for a very long time and some are totally new like ‘Carry’ and ‘Come On’. And it’s just a mix of what I’ve gotten around to producing or what I wanted to make fresh. So in a way, I always have a big bucket of stuff that’s either an idea or it’s composed or I have some recordings and when I wanted to make the record I just started producing some things and making recordings of things I had. At the end, you look at the lot and think well, I love this composition but I don’t think it came out right so I don’t use that one or other stuff where you feel like I always thought this was never going to make it but now when it’s compared to everything, it fits just right in so I’ll pick that one.

And it’s quite surprising what takes and what compositions eventually I thought fitting for the record. Like for example this piece ‘Wilde Wide’ is one where I got up one morning – like often when I have the time after I get up I just play the piano for a little bit, just to have the first thing in the day to put you on track for the day – and that’s one of those things, I never really thought anything about it because there’s barely any musical content or anything in that piece but somehow it always remained something that I can relate to and that fits the narrative of the album very well (like at a certain position where it is now). I just watch myself from the outside a little bit when I decide what goes on the album and what I sequence so there’s a mix of stuff that’s maybe eight years old compositionally and stuff that was brand new at the time (like just made for this album).

I love how the piano pieces are interspersed among the guitar instrumentals. It works very well and as you say, the placing of certain pieces really compliment each other too or the contrasts to one another too.

MH: Well thank you. I guess I don’t really make any distinction between the piano or the guitar pieces, it’s just going from vibes, like the track ‘Carry’ is very long and then it’s nice to have something short afterwards and so forth. I think it’s easy to simplify why you do things when you try to explain the length or the instrument (or whatever), I just look at it and see and try to find a narrative so that it feels nice to listen through the whole thing as an album. It’s very much sequenced just as an album rather than a collection of pieces.

With the whole production element and your home studio and being involved with so many great records, would you have certain philosophies or your approach to sound as a whole?

MH: What I thought was interesting with this album, looking back is I didn’t really set out to make an album and then thought I’m going to write some pieces for it and then I’m going to produce them in such and such a way and so forth; I didn’t really have a master plan for it from that perspective at all. But rather, like I said I looked a little bit into the bucket of music that was there and developed some things and then saw what came out of it. And surprisingly to me, a lot of these pieces that end up on the album are recorded to cassette tape – most of them – and in a pretty lo-fi sound almost which is really OK for electric guitar and drum machines because they are not particularly fussy instruments to start with (they’re not very pristine, an electric guitar is not a harp). I’m surprised when I read reviews like it’s this pristine sound and very much figured out and people have different ideas about what eventually comes out of the sound but it rather just happens. Like the second song ‘Luxury’ I just read that it has beats or something but it’s just a piano take and it’s one microphone and that’s all there is and it’s just recorded to a really lousy mono joop recorder, you know that made it sound that way and I liked it and I kept it that way. Like I said, I probably tried to re-record it in a pristine and nice way but then eventually somehow this take was the one that I liked best. And a lot of the pieces are like that.

Also, for example the last track ‘Curium’ – the very long one – is always recorded on cassette tape, all running live through a mixing desk so I had the drum machine set up and I play them next to playing the guitar (so every once in a while I would just reach over and like add a snare drum or change the beat a little or put a delay with it or something) and play the guitar next to it. And all the beats, it had six tape echoes running and amplifiers for the guitar and drum machines and just everything went to a board and the reverb’s running and the whole thing of balancing and juggling it live, it just goes into a cassette tape recorder [laughs]. And then this two-track cassette tape (that’s what I used for the whole production) so then I put that into the computer and I edited it down a little bit because it was even longer when I made it. And then I took this down edit into a church and played it back there to record more reverb and make it more pristine and I overdubbed the rhodes on it. It’s almost anti-production in a way. I certainly wasn’t looking for the pristine sound or for the best way to do it but somehow these versions are the ones that were to me the most convincing. I know for example from ‘Curium’ doing like a proper studio production where everything sounds proper and it just couldn’t beat this one somehow and that’s how it goes sometimes.

And maybe also interestingly with the first track ‘Carry’ that’s also just one electric guitar so it’s just a guitar and there’s an echo (and that’s all that’s playing). But I think I must have recorded about a hundred takes of it over a period of about half a year and I just recorded it over and over again, mostly to a quarter-inch tape machine with the reverb and everything going. At the end of that time, I just picked my favourite version so the arrangement changed and the sound changed and it was different every time. So, instead of recording it once or three times and then just working on that sound, I just recorded it over and over again – they were all different – and then I just took one at the end that I liked the best. It’s not my philosophy but that’s how this album happened.

I love how ‘Curium’ has that live performance feel where you feel like you’re in the room as you listen to it.

MH: There is just a bunch of delay pedals that run after the drum machine and this electro part in the middle is just playing with delay machines and making it crazy. And again, I think the original version must have been something like twenty-five minutes so I cut out a huge guitar solo and probably some of the delay dubbing but it’s all from that one performance (it’s not from several takes). The craziness and the distortion and the congruence of it somehow at the end won over [laughs] the technical perfections that are clearly there.

I’m always fascinated when a musician has so many takes – and as you say how each one is different – would you feel a certain fear or anxiety that you are going to pick the right one in the sense that you have so many moments to choose from?

MH: That’s an interesting point that you mention because that is actually something that is part of my recording philosophy or maybe something that I learned about recording that is always very difficult to pass onto the people who I work with especially when they are working on like their first or second album when they have little experience is that people tend to finish a record and after they are done, there’s a few aspects of it that they don’t really like or they wish that they could change. And this is inevitable in a way, this is one of the things that is inherent in recording because I think this is one of the things that many people don’t understand about recording: recording doesn’t capture music, recording creates a recording. If I had a piece of music (like a composition) and I play it for you now ; it’s sunshine and it’s the afternoon and I’ll play it in a certain way. And if I played it to you at one o’ clock in the night chances are I’ll play it in a slower tempo, maybe with a different timbre and if I played it to you at seven in the morning it would again be different. If it’s the summertime I would play it different and if it’s the wintertime I would play it different, you know what I mean. So, things make sense differently in different circumstances. If you play it in front of fifty people you’ll play it in a more intimate fashion than if you play it in front of five thousand and so forth.

Therefore, when you listen to music or when you perform music or when music is just music, this stuff always just falls into place by itself because it is part of how the performer feels and part of how the audience feels just by itself so they don’t really recognize that they are making these choices. But then in a recording these things are trapped, the microphone is the point where this stuff gets lost. So, it’s simply impossible to pick the right tempo for a recording or to pick the right mood for a recording, rather I advise people to say to find a moment in your life when you’re not too drunk or you’re not too tired and not too angry – or maybe completely tired, drunk and angry – and then you make a decision of the moment that you are convinced that it is a good decision and that is your recording, regardless of what you record later on, in a different day time, in a different mindset, you will want to change things, always forever (that’s just how it is). That doesn’t mean that in the later stage you’re smarter than before or more musical or you have a better view on it, it simply doesn’t mean that, it’s just one of the shortcomings of recording. Recording is not a recording of music; it is a recording. It’s a different animal and therefore this feeling of not having captured everything that the song means to a listener or a performer is inevitable and everybody with every production has to live with this. But this is very difficult to tell people and it’s often the reason why once a mix or a master is done people will call you up every day and want minute changes, hoping to chase this little thing that they want to get perfect, which is simply not possible. So, I love the take that is the take, I play it different now but that’s what it is.

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One of my favourite pieces is ‘Faro’ with its beautiful melody but also how the rise comes in, and the way it’s melded with a soft beat as well.

MH: Again with that one, this is a take that I recorded I think in 2013 really shortly between Efterklang tours so I was just home for a few days and I had this piece that I’ve been already performing in 2012 when I was touring with Nils Frahm I played this piece. And then for the first time in between these tour breaks I played it on electric guitar and I thought this sounds crazy, this is cool so I just quickly recorded a demo take of it to remember what it sounds like on an electric guitar so then I would remember that is an option with this piece. And then later for this record I tried to produce it and make a ton of recordings of it and none of them sounded like this one (so I kept this one). It’s the same story basically. So, this is the original demo of it.

What are your memories of music as you were growing up or even at point did you start recording like that first moment when you discovered recording sounds yourself?I presume you started playing the guitar and piano from a young age?

MH: To be honest I played for much longer than I started to record. I only started to record like for fun when I was fourteen or something (I didn’t really do that before). By that time I had already played for much much longer so that came as a second idea and maybe that’s also what shapes my views so much on it that a recording is not a recording of what happens when you play but it is the production of something else entirely. And when you start out with cassette tape – and as I did also by the way with the Atari computer – then it’s much more obvious that what you capture is something very different and you start to play with that. You see like if I put this in this is what comes out so if I change what I put in, regardless of how that sounds, what comes out? What is it that then comes out? I think I was always very aware that they are different animals.

The guitar itself and the sounds you create it has a whole world of sound that you are able to create with this instrument. I can imagine there’s been different sorts of experiments that are ongoing with you and the guitar?

MH: Absolutely, I think that the guitar is in an unusual position among instruments in that it came very late. I’m talking about electric and electric sounds now although it’s not much difficult with classical because that’s not much older and it has a similar problem (but slightly different). The electric guitar came about in the 50’s and then there’s 60’s and 70’s rock and it kind of stops. Even today, a lot of people when they play the guitar they learn that music that’s been played in that time and try to recreate that sound that’s been done in that time. And similarly on classical guitar people play Villa_Lobos or Bach and try to do it in the sound of these handful – and really a handful – of guitarists that popularised the original classical guitar sound. I don’t know, I feel like the attempt to move it away from that are not too many or not too successful in comparison to I find much broader scope of other instruments. I don’t know if that’s the reason but I could imagine the reason is that it’s simply a pretty recent, pretty young thing, you know and it just doesn’t have the same kind of history as orchestral music or keyboard-based music or vocal music. For me it’s always been a very odd aspect of composing and playing and find sounds that are really exciting and it’s great to crank up a loud amplifier and play a Led Zeppelin riff but it doesn’t provide any of the electricity to me that I get when I find a sound that I feel a personal connection with becauseit’s coming from my own world.

Your voice is heard in so many great records of so many people’s music. You have worked with many musicians on different albums, I wonder how does the collaborative process work for you?

MH: I work with many people but I wouldn’t say I collaborate. I have to say there’s barely any collaboration going on. Most of the time I work to facilitate their music. When I work in my studio with other people it’s mostly about seeing what they want to achieve and hearing what they want to achieve and seeing what they have done and helping them to move that further to a more finished place basically. In that capacity, that’s different from a collaboration where I would at some point say no but I want it like this, let’s go there and that’s sometimes not so clear for people to see maybe where the cut-off is between what I do as a studio job with my studio and my own music. For my own stuff basically so far you can only get these two albums. Of course in Efterklang I was also pretty much left to my own devices as to what I do with the music and stuff but that’s different. Studio work for me is really studio work. I am very honoured and happy that many people come to the studio because they like sounds of what they’ve heard or stuff that I have made and they say like ‘oh can you make it sound a little bit like that?’ or ‘how did you get that sound?’ or we come with such and such with certain reference. That’s the only reason why people come I guess, I only get requests based on other work that I’ve done before basically. But still I don’t  interfere with what they’re trying to do, I just try to give them some of what they’re looking for if I can. And for that reason also sometimes I get requests for studio stuff where people ask for something and I don’t think I can give them or I just have no clue what they’re on about [laughs] and I just say sorry I can’t help you there.

You have a big European tour coming up. This must be exciting to see how the songs change and mutate depending on location and time and different things like that? And also how these songs off the latest album are translated to the live setting?

MH: Absolutely, I’m curious to find out about that too. I’m very happy on this tour that Balmorhea are taking me with them and I’m opening for them every night and they are a great band, I’m sure you know that because I think that they play for an audience who could be interested in the general field of music that I’m also involved with and their last record ‘Clear Language’ is really fantastic so I’m looking very much forward to that tour. It’s four weeks of shows. Playing shows for me is one of the best things of the whole job you know. I think it’s almost a bit underrated how important concerts are for this kind of music and I’m very happy to be able to do some. I will play some from ‘Electric Intervals’ of course and also from ‘Shady & Light’ and also some new things and so I think it will be a good mix and we’ll see how some of them will change over the course of the tour.The last concert fortunately is in Berlin so at the moment that it is most mixed up it is nice to do a home show at the very end.

In contrast to playing as a duo or in groups, playing solo must be like a completely different beast?

MH: Performing solo is very different from playing with a group, it has advantages and disadvantages. The great thing is that you can change direction on the go whenever you feel like it and you can switch the set-list around, you can play songs longer and shorter, you can change the mood and the vibe and take a turn at any point. And it’s also not too complicated a set-up so that is all great. Sometimes it’s a little less fun because if you go onstage with a band you have these moments where you can just sit back and watch what people are doing; what the other people in the band are doing and the audience and you can take a little bit of a break whereas as a solo performer you are always the thing, the entire time, you have to stay on the ball much more. From that perspective it can be a lot of fun to play with a band too and you share a bit more but luckily in this case I am also touring with Balmorhea the whole time so they are six people and then we’ll have a great team for technical side of things so I think it will be much more fun altogether than if I was actually on my own (which I will be only on the stage).

Are there certain albums you’ve been listening to a lot lately?

MH: The Bill Callahan ‘Apocalypse’ record. I started listening to it when it came out maybe four years ago and it just gets better, I really like that one. And also recently I very much enjoyed listening – maybe because it’s winter – to Wagner opera overtures. I’m not so into the singing bits but the orchestral beginnings I think it’s really worthwhile to give that a spin as well.

‘Electric Intervals’ is out now on 7K! Records.

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March 20, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Chosen One: Nils Frahm

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“It is something of a knowing that I should not ask more from the universe than this, it’s a little bit of a humbleness to see when something was really good and you shouldn’t ask for more.”

—Nils Frahm 

Words: Mark Carry

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The first day in July 2016 marked a significant moment in Nils Frahm’s storied career. Accurately billed as “a most ambitious concert”, the peerless German composer performed an enthralling three-hour set in London’s Barbican (as part of Frahm’s curated festival “Possibly Colliding”). Not only was this a celebration of the Berlin-based musician’s cherished songbook – and the boundless, magical force of music as a whole – but a beautiful glimpse into the slipstream of music that would soon surface. Forward eighteen months to the eagerly awaited seventh studio album “All Melody”, which undoubtedly marks Frahm’s most ambitious and captivating work to date. A further evolution of “Spaces” (its predecessor) whose twelve sublime compositions – meticulously crafted by this singular sound sculptor – unfolds a musical experience of remarkable depth and magnitude.

The immense beauty – and immensity – of the far-reaching soundscapes dotted across “All Melody”s musical landscape is a joy to savour. A myriad of sacred tones are effortlessly spliced together like that of the double helix pattern of each DNA molecule found inside our cells. It is as if a towering composition like “Sunson” unfolds, mutates, and transforms before your very eyes: the soaring juno synthesizer is melded gorgeously with the otherworldly sounds of the handmade pipe organ. The seamless array of colours and textures creates an empowering ripple flow of emotions. Choral odysseys dissolve into this vast sea of forgotten dreams. As the piece continually builds, the interlinked rhythms are forever over-lapping; magical moments within moments are captured at each and every pulse.

Modern-classical, dub and avant pop spheres are masterfully blended together on “A Place”. The inner dialogue between the components (choir, strings, percussion, synthesizer, and rhodes) creates a deeply bewitching symphony of celestial sounds. How the female voice is mixed with the luminescent juno synthesizer provides a significant milestone in “All Melody’s mind-bending oeuvre. Gripping dub beats awash with soul-stirring strings. The sonic terrain has expanded, almost exponentially. It feels as if a deep symbiosis exists between all of its vital elements; each one inter-dependent of one another, reacting, breathing and growing as the loop drifts forever into the ether of unknown dimensions.

More breathtaking synthesizer loops fills the human space of “All Melody”, not least the album’s glorious title-track. Thinking back to “Spaces” and the timeless voyage of “Says” felt a vital – almost ground-breaking – moment in Frahm’s ever searching mind. In similar fashion to “Says”, the synthesizer loop of “All Melody” feels as if it could go on forever: letting it live and breathe as long as it needs to. A windswept beauty and total radiance is somehow enclosed within the series of oscillations and hypnotic pulses. The concept of infinity becomes embedded deep within the composition’s framework as the bass marimba and piano swirls into the stratosphere.

The possibilities are endless. “#2” fades in – almost subliminally – as the embers of “All Melody” gradually dissolve. Techno bliss is masterfully etched across the sprawling canvas of synthesizer arrangements, creating, in turn, psychedelic dreams orbiting the furthest reaches of one’s inner consciousness. The seductive techno pattern serves the rhythmic pulse – or vital heart beat – supplying the flow of ambient-embedded rapture to the precious energy flow.

The album’s penultimate track “Kaleidoscope” conveys the visionary nature of Frahm’s music: the pattern of the interwoven elements (choir, organ and synthesizer) is constantly changing; forever in motion and altering in sequence (in turn, generating endless possibilities). The immaculate exploration feels at once ancient and utterly contemporary; a joyously uplifting creation with its dazzling ebb and flow akin to a river finding its sea.

Fundamental Values” shares the rich musical timbre of Frahm’s stunning “Victoria” soundtrack, mapping Victoria’s next steps, as she walks down the Berlin streets to freedom. The pristine instrumentation of cello and trumpet melts alongside Frahm’s angelic piano tones. How the introspective moments of “Human Range” continually blossoms – with ethereal jazz inflections – and continually evolves demonstrates once again the transformative power of the German musician’s divine soundscapes.

All Melody” is a defining record for the ages. This is a journey into sound.

‘All Melody’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

For Nils Frahm’s upcoming shows visit HERE.

http://www.nilsfrahm.com/
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Interview with Nils Frahm.

Congratulations Nils on the latest album ‘All Melody’, which is an utter masterpiece. One of my first thoughts of the album was how it reflects that special “Possibly Colliding” festival in London last year and the album almost epitomizes that entire night with the endless magical moments captured during that particular live performance. And just how the live energy and performances captured in these new recordings too, so it feels like an evolution of ‘Spaces’?

Nils Frahm: Basically yeah, it is a little bit of a more controlled version of the live take and the idea was to just make the music together in a live setting and not just record everything one after the other. In my other studio at home, I was recording more like piano (and next thing, next thing) so it was like all the other records that I’ve done: they were pretty limited in the possibilities of doing it at once. And now with the Funkhaus I had the space to set everything up and just do it (like you’ve seen tonight) and basically just record that and do it every day and just try out things and that was the process: hands on, all the equipment ready basically and then just go with whatever is fun. That was important to me because I knew I would not only like get material for an album out of this but I knew I would also already know my workstation for the shows, which would come later. So, I was basically spending two years within the two U-shaped keyboard towers, practicing; that was the aim behind it.

As a listener, it’s fascinating to think of the sum of the hours and the vast sea of ideas that must have been circulating in your mind over these years. The fact that you’re continually almost going back and refining your ideas where you very much had time on your side, was it a sense that you felt you were re-discovering elements of ideas and then gradually over time it’s almost like a metamorphosis in the sense it’s still ongoing in your head, almost like an infinite process?

NF: Well, the songs I don’t play live: they are done but the songs that I play live will keep on developing and the songs I decide to not play live they are left alone; they’re like what they are. When I bring my studio on tour, I’m doing it on purpose; I have to make it happen every night again as if it was the recording session for the album. So you have the chance to re-do it, re-think it and change it every day and so it does happen: this metamorphosis, it’s mutating basically over every single gig, it’s fun. And after one or two years, the song turns into something finished yet again. This happened with the ‘Spaces’ versions of the songs I had on old albums and they turned into other versions and so on. So, I think I’m not really a composer, I’m more like a musical landscaper and it’s a little bit like a gardener: you just set up a garden and then after one year it looks completely different and then you can just do something else with it. it’s not really the point to finish a song; the point is to show that the song needs the heart and the soul and that it usually the same for the person playing and I think this is what I want to transport in a song, is exactly that essence, it needs a host – every song needs a host, otherwise it’s not a human transmission.

I love the idea that you suddenly have all these new colours you’re working with, it’s immediately apparent – even on the first listen of the album – it’s almost like you have found your voice in one way. For example, the addition of the voices and choral element in particular but in general, it’s more the extremes of the album: the intensity and noise and electronics and like a deafening pitch in contrast to the really quiet, sparse and beautiful piano; you’ve got this spectrum fully there on this record.

NF: Everything I was trying in the last ten years I could do in a much easier and better way in that new building and that new environment and obviously I was basically waiting for that moment to do it just right. I knew that before I didn’t have the possibilities to do that record so I never tried it but I was not able to hide from it any longer because I was at the position where I could afford a studio, where I could afford all these things and so basically it felt like I had no excuse to sit in my bedroom anymore – I’m not playing in front of thirty people, I’m having a thing going here – and now when I don’t go into the studio and make it like really, really good (as good as you can) then I’m hiding from the challenge so I felt like I have to do it, I have to go into the perfect studio and do the perfect sounding album somehow; that’s what I felt like, I have to do it now. That’s the only way I thought about it was just to get all the dynamics in there, get all the ideas recorded in the right way so the sounds and timbres really come out and all of the things I really feel like it’s important for the music also to appear in the music and so that was the idea behind it.

A piece that epitomizes just that is ‘Sunson’. It is these elements of the female voice, electronics, pipe organ and the woodwind and just how such a hypnotic spell is created but it’s more a feeling that the piece could go on forever; it might be eight or nine minutes long but you want it to go on and on as there is so much detail embedded deep within the piece itself.

NF: Thank you, I like that piece a lot because there is so many rhythms inter-linking and depending on each other that all sound weird and funny if they don’t come together and that makes it so interesting. The interplay between the funny sounding little objects flying around just in its combination; they form a whole, they find ground and the chaos forms into a steady flow. I think that it’s not boring to listen to because there’s always something that’s changing because the pieces are like my live shows, I use the filters so there is no loops and there is no chopped parts of anything: everything is a performance. The repetitions don’t feel like staggering repetitions but it feels like an ongoing flow. The first thing that I look out for is like: Is it boring after thirty minutes? Is it boring after one hour? Or can I just go on and on and on? And I’m looking for the things which never go out of juice, like ‘All Melody’ and ‘Says’, these are all basically loops which feel like they could just be there forever and then so not every loop can do that, certain loops don’t have that potential. So, I’m a little bit like a detective for these repetitions which don’t really feel like it’s repeating in a bad way.

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That’s exactly as a listener you feel listening to ‘All Melody’ it’s like everything rests on your deft hands and everything is happening in real-time or in the moment. So, you’re waiting for all these moments to come in but I love just how all these many elements dissolve or melt together. And in your head, I can imagine it’s like a symphony and that you’re almost like the conductor in the sense that you have all these different sounds and elements but you have to know when to add, when to leave out, and so on. For instance, the electronics and when some of those low bass registers come in – during a piece – it’s that feeling when it suddenly comes in. In a way, it’s more like the work of an electronic producer that it’s the art of sound is like the bottom line of everything really?

NF: Basically for me I feel like that’s what drives my boat, it’s just to make my speakers in the studio dense with whatever I’m trying there to just get a beautiful sound. I mean I don’t like too pretty and too sweet things, it just needs to have the right balance so I just feel like it’s something that makes you feel addicted. I think music for me has a very animalistic and almost like a tribal spell on me. When I’m deeply in the concert and in the music, I am turning into something that is not exactly civilized; I’m not that polite, well-risen gent who is just like behaving or anything, I’m just going for my tribal instincts basically. I think this is where my ideas come from: it’s from a very non-intellectual route, something which is very ancient which I like to get in touch with. And then afterwards, I think intellectually about what I’m doing and out of the process of reflecting upon it, I also get ideas but what is really important for me is to get into the trance of making music and it happens when I play piano, it happens when I play synthesizers. It’s all the same thing for me because it creates the same family of emotions but obviously it’s a different essential experience for me to play a quiet piano piece and then banging with toilet brushes on the piano, it’s exactly the spectrum between the two which makes it tactile.

I just want to experience physics in all its ways, like from the very tiny wave to the very big wave and everything in between. I think exposing yourself to that for me is where all my next ideas for the next note is coming from. I have to resonate with my instruments, I must have a certain quality of sound, I need a certain tone to get inspired; otherwise I cannot fall into the music. When I’m making music I’m just finding the jump of point from the sound to start my real ideas. It’s a little bit like I cannot work when there is not a certain set of tools is there and then I’m just like no, this is not for me. When a certain thing works (like an instrument is nicely tuned or prepared or sounds really nice) then I get all these ideas but I cannot start with a digital piano and somebody tells me “now compose” then nothing inspires me. So everything that inspires me is purely tone and they almost numb my intellect and activate the animal in me almost.

A beautiful story within this narrative of ‘All Melody’ is how you discovered this little Danish piano. Like you say, I’m sure it must have spoken to you so strongly that you suddenly found inspiration from this instrument, almost like a gateway or a doorway that it suddenly launches all of these ideas and sounds?

NF: It is very important for me to have it with me, to play the sounds exactly on the same instrument I played it for the record. I tried it on other pianos which were a little bit easier to travel with and more stable (and this is a little complicated to tune or they are really hard to tune). But in the end we went for the Danish one because the sounds didn’t sound right on any other instrument, it didn’t feel like I should play these songs on another instrument – on another instrument I should play other songs; songs I write for that instrument. So I think this is the complicated side of my work is that I really dedicate my ideas to a physical set of things (which can be an instrument), I try to understand it, I try to build a relationship and I try to have so much empathy with it (which not always works) but when it works I just get under the skin of the instrument and get inside it and tickle it in a way, which is the only way and I strongly think like that and then I just make that piece and then I decide this is it. Of course there’s many other things I could have done but for me, then playing the piece on another instrument is not always working because I fine-tuned my interaction with it almost to a fair balance that the instrument does a lot of things by itself – I just activate it and I try to open the instrument basically.

And that usually is a different approach to other composers; they basically think of a melody, they write the melody down and somebody has to play the melody. It would be really difficult for me to write a melody and then somebody just plays it in their way because how you play the melody and exactly how is the only thing I care about. It needs to fit the melody, otherwise I don’t care about the melody itself; it just needs to harmonize with how the melody is played and it’s all about how it is played. And so composing for other musicians is a little bit of a bad process for me because I will always try to explain to other musicians how they should play it and I will always feel like, if I could only do it myself. And so you are right, I am a little bit like a conductor and I try to work with sounds I get into and once I feel like I activated the sounds, I am inside the instrument basically; this is the moment where I hit record. And with the other musicians in the session it was interesting because a lot of the things they played was not what I felt I wanted to hear but they played much, much more than I used. So I let them play, I let them play, I let them play and then out of sixty minutes these thirty seconds are just pure magic. I feel like it was still my process to decide for that thing and use it and then to put it there and then so I still had the feeling to get into the skin even of what the other people play. For me it is very important to have control over the sounds otherwise I’m lost basically.

All these elements that are contributed by your friends and this idea that it’s this thirty seconds of magic, I just love this minimal aspect to the music and how it’s almost spliced together. But the subtle detail  inside it all; it’s never like A, B, C but it’s more after repeated listening, there are gorgeous shades of all these different colours (like the bass marimba for example) it feels like a ripple.

NF: The sequencing was very important and I feel only if that is flawless. I’ll give you an image: only if all the ripples on top of the lake disappear you can see the surface of the lake and even if the tiniest ripples are there you can see only the surface of the water. And so for me it needed to come to a point of perfection, otherwise these compositions would not work, they would fall apart: they are only tied together by the marriage of vision of tone, timbre, how it’s played and everything in a wishful way which I cannot explain. But I can only intuitively get there and then I can say, oh this is it, this is what I wanted to do; I had no idea before – I never know what I want to do next – but I get naturally attracted just by accident, by the framework of my tools I set around me basically. Everything which is annoying me like synthesizers which make sounds that are horrible for me, I never use them. I only use instruments which always sound charming no matter what you do with them, anything which can sound like a pain in the ass flies out. And so I have some very funny rules to set up the framework for myself so I know what to do next because I never think of it.

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Ancient is a word that epitomizes the song ‘Kaleidoscope’. Again, the sequencing and how it’s there as the penultimate track. It’s the multitude of feelings and this sense of a journey that the listener goes on. The harmony aspect of ‘Kaleidoscope’ creates that hypnotic spell again, there’s almost a symbiosis between all your instruments and the rest of the instrumentation. You feel like there is an energy reacting off all these different layers of sounds and elements.

NF: I know what you mean, I just feel like it is all of these lucky moments and I’m just pretty relaxed when it comes to choosing the right moments. I’m messy basically because I record everything: I record every single show, I have terabytes of music flying around and listening through all of that again and just keeping your head clear and deciding out of forty takes, which take is the right one is the real challenge to be honest. So I basically keep recording and the most of the stuff that I am doing is not right and then all of a sudden – maybe by chance – something really works out well and then just being awake and seeing it happening and like ‘oh this is what I want’. I was trying eight hours and then in twelve minutes; I can use all these twelve minutes, that’s the core of my composition. I could have never planned it but I feel like this is the nice thing you can rely on having the feeling for the right moment in that sense and so I can delete everything else and you will never hear it again, this is it. And this was for ‘Spaces’ already, with Nonkeen and all these projects I had to go through hours and hours of music and deciding to delete all the rest takes a little bit of courage so to say. And I know a lot of musicians who really have a hard time deciding and they just rather keep three, four, five versions and until the end they go back and forth. And for me it’s very easy to know OK, this was a moment, it will be impossible for me to make a better version now that I have this version.

It is something of a knowing that I should not ask more from the universe than this, it’s a little bit of a humbleness to see when something was really good and you shouldn’t ask for more. This is where I have to say that I am not a perfectionist because a perfectionism is only about creating the framework. But when I see like by accident that something just magically worked out and then I try to be humble and be like OK don’t fight with the gods up there and try to do it better because when too perfect lieber Gott böse or the god is angry. So, this is my philosophy. ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a jam – completely a jam – and I felt like ‘Ahh what if I do it again?’ but I knew I could never create that energy or that sound again so I mixed just that improvisation basically. I never tried to recreate the patch because it was a complete, complicated, one-in-a-lifetime situation where all the things were doing something crazy. And then you should not waste your time by trying to do it again, it would just be an unpleasant experience. I feel like I know how to keep my workflow joyful that way, I just don’t go down these roads where there’s like sweat and fight and fight and fight. I try to keep myself in a happy place because this is only where I can worship the gods when I am happy with myself or when I am at peace with myself or I make an acceptance at least, I make the better work as if I’m trying to be better, you know that is not a good emotion.

It is that intuitive quality to the music that’s so apparent. I just love how there is this flow of energy within the songs, like the first notes of choir and the silence and sound of people almost coming together. And how ‘All Melody’ and ‘#2’ is like the beginning of the second half, it’s almost like the ultimate DJ mix in some ways.

NF: It’s like this legendary mixtape that somebody put together and found all these moments somewhere and blended them in this magical way and it’s like this tape that somebody has made and you’re just wondering ‘how cool is that?’ And I feel like I have a lot of these tapes at home, made by friends which became legendary mixtapes which I distributed and got an mp3 and all of my friends know them. It’s like these random cassettes, some of them were in my father’s car; just weird mixes, blend of jazz tunes and I just like that idea of hearing many different things interconnecting basically. Or seeing that everything is context when you just put a track after that track, the tracks change basically their identity only because they are next to each other. And when you think that further and think about the playlists on spotify and all the algorithms that are creating music, I mean exactly what is happening there is changing the identity and the core of each track which is inside that playlist. And I think all these things are so important to me and I want to have more control over music. This is why I am just saying this is the album and everyone talks about the album now and I love this because no one talks about one track; it is the album experience and we can look into a pretty deep landscape of music and just get all these ideas from.

This is exactly my point to do something which is in a broader sense inspiring and this is ‘All Melody’ for me, trying to encourage whatever is out there to be original or make the impossible blend. And to showcase that only because it’s different it doesn’t need to hurt your ears; that is also important, it can sound tactile and interesting and delightful even if the music is pretty abstract somehow. And I feel like this is also a challenge for me to make that work, just to make it so attractive even if what I’m making musically there is thinking around the corner a little bit rather than just make it attractive enough so you always want to know it more or something. This is what I associate with my favourite albums of all time: Radiohead, Portishead, Massive Attack; when these albums came out they didn’t only sound like weird, abstract hard to get stuff, it was different, completely new and in some way what they did there was – and also Air – it was different and like ‘I know it somehow but I don’t know it’, it was familiar in a weird way but totally new and it sounds great. These are the records that I will never forget and there are loads of other great and interesting music and charming music – and I’m like a geek like you of course – not only because a record is recorded bad I dismiss it, that’s totally bullshit, when a performance is great you just deal with whatever recording and so on. When you choose whatever you want to do I felt like let’s try to just get everything a little better on this record, let everything be a tiny bit better, that was my dream.

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Another special moment on the album is ‘Human Range’. Again as a listener, it’s full of that surprise element in the best possible way, this idea that you never know exactly what is coming at you (and that’s what defines all these great records). Suddenly there is a jazz and ethereal dimension like an ECM catalogue, but it all makes complete sense. How this track rises and is always building throughout.

NF: That was not a complicated composition because that was a track where I started basically with a piano and I had these chords [mimicking the piano line] and I liked the two chords. And on the piano I didn’t feel like I could make that piece, it felt like it was not necessarily a piano piece. So I thought I would programme a bass – and I programmed it very low and short  [mimicing bassline] – and I liked that, I was sitting in my room and I could hear the reverb of these short bass notes and I felt like, oh this is much more interesting. So basically I sequenced a little bit with the organ and the bass and I only recorded the little percussive sounds of the bass and kept it like that. And then whenever another musician came, I said ‘Let’s improvise something on that’ and so when the choir came, I just composed these chords (like start really quiet and then go loud and so I kept that) and the percussion player and the cello came and the trumpet player came and so on. We talked about the progression each time again and then the last forty seconds I just let them play improvised basically and it all creates this funny little ending.

And every musician played at least twenty/thirty takes before I felt like ‘now I feel it’ because they all played too much, I left these little drops and then somebody leaves a drop here and there but no one should really be in the forefront. So in the end it is all evenly dropping and so everybody felt they should finish the song with their part and they were trying to finish it off. And the last overdub that I have done was trumpet player and I told the trumpet player, ‘Look, you have to finish it off’ it was like we left this carpet, this fluffy nice little sound carpet for you and now tie this red thread in there. And he went into the recording room and played the first take of the day – I may have cut out twenty/thirty percent and moved one or two bits but that was it – and I was so impressed because I had no idea how I should have made that melody with my instruments, I didn’t hear it but he, with his trumpet, could find that spot where he was really leading the whole ensemble and all of a sudden it was like yeah, this is what I was waiting for. So it was one of those happy-go-lucky things that you can’t plan.

The challenge of inter-connecting each piece on the album and piecing together the many sections within a piece, was it a case that a lot was unlocked by improvisation?

NF: I think that’s the more composing part is to leave out what you don’t want to use and what comes before is just some way of improvising or meditating over an idea. It’s a little bit like fishing for the right moment, my philosophy is that a lot of things could come together in a positive way and that is they’re interlinked and then I see it as like these clay with four leaves and you see a lot with three leaves and there’s one with four. And basically I try to realize that in my music is that I just feel like it was the right sound, it was the right moment, the right touch, the right whatever and then maybe there was even a creak in the right moment. Sometimes you have these moments where you feel like ‘Aah! This is it’ and then I can feel like it’s a little bit like a false belief obviously but I feel like these birds are with me, I got a message, I like this and then I feel like I am having a relationship with that idea and with that moment. And then I treasure it and it’s like what I said before, I’m pretty stubborn believing like this is the moment, this is my big fortune just to have that decisiveness. It means that I have to numb myself and to blind myself over other possibilities but on the other hand the essence of why I am so progressive – like always doing, doing, doing – because if I would be hesitant and indecisive about if I should use this or not then I think nothing would get ready and nothing would ever come out. It is fortunately not leaving me and it didn’t leave me on this record like the intuition that I have that material and I’ve worked a long time on it and now it’s time to just go with the best you’ve done. And not thinking like ‘No, I wanted something else, throw everything away’ I think that would have done the material injustice.

Of course, I can say now that the record is completely something else than I expected and on the other hand what did I expect? I expected to hear some tracks that I couldn’t have planned, I expected to hear some tracks that I wanted to record (‘All Melody’ and ‘#2’) and I expected to hear some choir on there because I planned to record choir and so on. So basically it is the record I wanted to make and now in many ways when I play the tracks live, I play them all the time, they become a little bit of a closed body, all of a sudden you really make memories with that song and then the song develops an even broader identity because you feel like you are on the road with it and it’s always there and it’s always a little different (like everybody) and the song becomes a person and even the listeners – after a couple of years when you play the song a lot of times – you play a song and then they clap; it became something, the song has character and so what I really like is just to see how ‘All Melody’ out of this, I really enjoy like knowing when it’s released, it’s there now and then seeing OK it’s two hours ago, by now people have heard it once, let’s see what they say. And already people after thirty minutes are like posting things saying it’s great and I feel like I have listened to it for one and a half years basically and I’m pretty tired of it to be honest and now people hear it for the first time and it’s interesting to see people’s opinions after hearing it one time and how the opinion in maybe five, six, seven, fifteen or twenty years might be completely different. It’s basically like modelling a wine and putting it somewhere and seeing what happens to it. On that level I have a very good feeling with the record because I feel it is absolutely my identity; I can find myself in there. It’s almost like no other record that I have put out, I’m pretty strongly behind this one because I also think that it has humour and it is in a way also sad and melancholic. And in other ways it is exactly these little moments where people walk in and somebody is late and then the choir starts, like all these things I love.

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‘A Place’ has a playful and inventive quality to it where there’s a real bright pop element shining throughout and especially how the female voice is blended so masterfully with the electronic elements. Even if you isolated just that…

NF: I love this. This is what I was hoping for, I wanted to mix natural vocalists with juno sounds basically for that record and this was my moment where I felt like I can only hear synthesizer and them and it was just a beautiful and joyful experience. It feels like the synthesizer changes the voice and the voices changes the synthesizer to a strange degree where it becomes this phenomenon almost. And that was the core of the song and the rest was woven around numberless overdubs and compositional ideas. I had the kick drum in there, I had this going on, I had that going on. That was the song that always got re-shaped and in the end it magically fell into place in its most complex form as it is in the record now because as a composition and as a second song, it has a weird ending and this and that happening and exotic moments with exotic instruments playing exotic things. But I felt like this is something that has to be exactly like that and then it works.

And I tried to play it for the live show but it doesn’t work, it just easily falls apart. It’s not a stable song. Certain musical experiences can be pretty stable and they even sound good from a little radio in a distance and other musical experiences are more unstable and just need to be experienced in a certain way and it plays with something which has to be experienced in the right way then it only reveals something, which I like a lot. If it’s not exactly experienced like it is on the record then it falls easily apart. It’s an unstable, exotic piece which I feel like would stay exactly like that because any other version wouldn’t work. And then there’s other pieces of mine where I feel like yeah this is a good version but I think I could even play a better one someday but I don’t know why and then I keep on playing it. So I basically have two sets of ideas: certain things are basically more constructed and then they are just conserved in this one documented version and that is the piece and other ideas are transformative ideas which I basically meditate over and I feel like I grow on them when I keep playing them.

That must be the joy of playing the live shows when you suddenly have these new songs but also how you incorporate the older songs with the new ones. It must give you a new perspective even on the older songs you play?

NF: You heard ‘Familiar’ tonight, I changed ‘Familiar’ a bit; it was a different sound, I can’t even play it like on ‘Spaces’. I also don’t try, I always feel like I should play it in that moment and don’t try to play it as I remember as I played it.

‘Fundamental Values’ feels like it blossoms gradually as you listen to it. The piano melody feels like it’s a continuation from the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack, almost mapping her next footsteps as she walks outside the hotel and starting her new life. It definitely feels like this piece is related in some way?

NF: It was funny because it was basically this one solo piano recording I had from the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack and I kept it as an idea because we didn’t use it for the film and I kept it as an idea for the album process. And so I tried to replay it and I felt like no I can’t get that thing in there so I’d rather play a different piano on top and I played all the other instruments on top. The core of it is exactly the recording session of the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack and so very well heard.

Something that struck me from the liner notes of ‘All Melody’ was regarding the mixing of the album and how you described the need to preserve the essence of the music. I can imagine when you have spent all this time and with the knowledge you have all these magical moments captured, is there almost like a fear that you’re almost going to lose it in the sense that you grasped it one moment and will it be there again?

NF: Exactly. Certain pieces fall apart over time. Certain pieces feel great that night and the next day they already don’t feel that great anymore and you wonder like what did I do yesterday that it sounded different and so on. Other pieces stay only stable over a couple of weeks and then they start to annoy you in a certain way. So, giving me like a long time process was giving me enough time to listen to my own ideas and when I make an album I only listen to that (for that time) and not get confused. I don’t want to enjoy good music (which is other music) because I feel like I only deserve to enjoy when I do great music myself, just to fast basically. And when you lose the sketch or whatever you are working on there is also time to make it better, to mix it or to finish it or to change it and then sometimes you rescue it, you drag it back into a better direction and you make a better take and then you basically wrestle it or you just make it worse with whatever you try to change and you realize when you try it again and when you make it worse again then you know the song wins basically, it destroys you. And sometimes you just get the song in the right direction again and at some point it stabilizes again in a very good situation. When I listen to the album now I feel like I’m happy with everything. It changes for me you know, I’m still having more ideas and that I would like to change things but I know that everything is OK. And this is not always the case when I release an album. Sometimes, only two, three, four weeks later I regret certain things but now I’m really happy.

‘Harm Hymn’ is the perfect closing line for the album. Again, I love how there are these very sparse, introspective moments dotted across ‘All Melody’. Did you envision this harmonium piece to always close the album?

NF: I feel that it is a typical “Nils Frahm song” and I would have missed it if it wasn’t on the album. And if you can put it anywhere then it’s after ‘Kaleidoscope’ because it washes that high tension away and it connects with the last notes of ‘Kaleidoscope’, it has the same pace and breath and then it falls into that in a very good way. This is why I kept the piece, I have other good harmonium pieces I have recorded but it didn’t connect like that and so often when I have so many different songs I’ve done for an album, I still choose the ones that strengthen the neighbouring song, in a way which ends up then being more symphonic or a planned album listening experience. For me it’s very important to see an album as a continuous thing and it is OK to listen to certain songs just by themselves but if you listen to the whole thing it needs to make sense.

‘All Melody’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

For Nils Frahm’s upcoming shows visit HERE.

http://www.nilsfrahm.com/
https://www.erasedtapes.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Written by admin

March 7, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Mixtape: Fractured Air – February 2018 Mix

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This month’s mix is dedicated in loving memory of Jóhann Jóhannsson. The gifted Icelandic composer was responsible for some of the most vital and captivating musical works of the 21st Century (across his rich body of solo albums and seminal scorework).

My first introduction to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music was his sublime masterwork “IBM 1401, A User’s Manual”. An entire new world unfolded before my very ears – “I hear a new world calling me”, to coin a Joe Meek creation – as the modern classical sphere became beautifully merged with utterly compelling electronic elements. In many ways, the Icelandic composer represented the visionary luminary figures of Steve Reich, Philip Glass or Gavin Bryars (from a previous generation) but importantly, Jóhann’s music belonged to my generation. His music is an eternal gift that forever shines light upon your path.

I fondly recall witnessing the Icelandic composer’s live show circa 2012 (during the “Miners’ Hymns” tour). His gentle presence on stage right, oftentimes at the piano. The sea of raw emotion that ascended into the night’s atmosphere: the sheer force of which penetrated the pores of the human heart. How an immense beauty filled the air; magic floated throughout the venue like a kaleidoscope of beautiful butterflies. I remember how Georges Delerue’s “Camille” came on the speakers just before the show. Thinking back on it now, how fitting this choice of music was, for Jóhann’s breathtaking creations (for instance, think of the immense beauty captured in a composition like “A Song For Europe”) shared the visionary spirit of Delerue’s most celebrated works. In a word: timeless.

Indeed, the sun’s gone dim and the sky’s turned black in your departure from this world. Rest in peace.

 

Fractured Air – February 2018 Mix

01. Jóhann Jóhannsson with Hildur Guðnadóttir & Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe“End of Summer Part 2” (Sonic Pieces)
02. Björk“Unravel” (One Little Indian)
03. Greg Fox“Earth Center Possessing Stream” (RVNG Intl)
04. Nightmares On Wax“Back To Nature” (Warp)
05. Deutsche Wertarbeit “Deutscher Wald” (Soul Jazz)
06. Paper Dollhouse“4 Moons” (Moondome)
07. Silvia Kastel“Target” (Blackest Ever Black)
08. The Gentleman Losers“Swimming After Dark” (Grainy)
09. CosBV“Night Drifting” (100% Silk)
10. Mark Renner“Autumn Calls You By Name” (RVNG Intl)
11. Amen Dunes“Blue Rose” (Sacred Bones)
12. Khruangbin“Cómo Me Quieres” (Night Time Stories)
13. Moon Duo“Jukebox Babe” (Sacred Bones)
14. James Holden & The Animal Spirits“The Animal Spirits” (Border Community)
15. Nina Simone“Freedom” (excerpt) (YouTube)
16. Nils Frahm“Sunson” (Erased Tapes)
17. Dedekind Cut“Equity” (Kranky)
18. Jóhann Jóhannsson“Flight From The City” (Deutsche Gramophone)
19. June 11“Who Is Still Dreaming?” (STROOM)
20. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis“Symphony of the Dead” (Mars OST, Milan)
21. Xylouris White“In Media Res” (Bella Union)
22. Baba Zula“Cecom” (Glitterbeat)
23. Colleen“Summer night (Bat song)” (Thrill Jockey)
24. Jóhann Jóhannsson“Part 5/The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black” (4AD)
25. Georges Delerue“Camille” (Le Mepris OST) (EmArcy)

Step Right Up: Spirit Fest

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Interview with Markus Acher.

It was one of the best personal and musical experiences for me.”

—Markus Acher

Words: Mark Carry

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Warm percussion and soft strum of acoustic guitar opens the irresistible torch-lit folk pop gem ‘Deja Vu’. Welcome to the bewitching world of Spirit Fest: the newly formed supergroup built around acclaimed Japanese duo, Tenniscoats, and featuring members of Notwist, Jam Money and Joasihno. The intricately woven vocals – swapped between Notwist’s Markus Acher and Tenniscoats – reels you in deep, creating a haven of celestial sounds that swirl majestically in the ether.

The pair of Acher-penned tracks ‘Rain Rain’ and ‘River River’ are sublime avant pop gems that form the vital pulse of the debut album’s opening half. A journey unfolds as the immaculate guitar tones simmer beneath Acher’s achingly beautiful lyrics. The hypnotic quality is not unlike a ripple of raindrops falling onto the surface of water: the meditative refrain of “rain on me” rises beneath the ebb and flow of Tenniscoats’ ‘River River’ invites reflection, of the deepest kind as a healing force prevails throughout this gorgeous pop lament. The sumptuous layers of blissful tones offers solace and hope.

Spirit Fest is a vital musical document from some of independent music’s most treasured artists. This divine pop odyssey represents one of their most accomplished works thus far (in terms of Tenniscoats or Notwist studio albums and the many marvelous collaborations all of these musicians have undertaken). A journey to awaken and enlighten.

‘Spirit Fest’ is out now on Morr Music.

https://www.facebook.com/spiritfestmusic/
https://www.facebook.com/morrmusicberlin/

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Interview with Markus Acher.

Congratulations on the irresistible pop opus of Spirit Fest, a collection of stunningly beautiful pop songs, for the here and now. Please recount your memories of first discovering the music of Tenniscoats and what paths led to the inception of this inspired new collaboration?

Markus Acher: Thank you very much! I’m very happy you like it.

When we visited Tokyo for the first time in 2005 with Lali Puna, I was looking for independent-underground-music from japan apart from the pop- and noise-bands, I knew. A friendly lady at tower-records recommended the CD “Songs for Nao” on chapter-music, a compilation with bands mainly centered around tenniscoats and their label majikick. This CD to this day is one of my favourite albums, as it opened up a whole new world to me. The music is intimate, folky, experimental, strange and familiar at the same time, and incredibly touching… wonderful songwriting and singing.

So, from that point, I tried to find tenniscoats-CDs, where-ever I could, which is difficult in Europe. They became one of my favourite, or maybe my favourite band.
As our friends from the Tokyo-based label afterhours are friends with Saya and Ueno, I had the chance to meet them, and we also talked about a collaboration. When we had the chance to invite bands for our festival Alien Disko in Munich last December, they were the first band, I invited.

It is a joy to witness these songs unfold and the rich musical language that is shared and communicated between its members. There is certainly a fluency and clarity to these avant pop gems. Can you please take me back to the recording sessions of Spirit Fest and your impressions of these particular days, making music together? I can imagine as Alien Disko festival was happening around the same time, this energy and atmosphere channeled into the music in some way?

MA: We recorded all together in the small apartment-studio of our friend Nico. It’s only two rooms, one of them his bedroom, and a small kitchen, with a beautiful view on a playground and the river Isar. It was very narrow and intimate, but that worked very well. It was a great time, between jetlag and sleepwalking, somehow. Also, I was the only person, who knew everybody… it was a gathering of fine people, who didn’t know each other: greek ( Tad klimp), english ( Mat Fowler ), japanese ( Saya + Ueno ) and german ( Cico + me ). We played each other songs, and recorded, without much trying. Mostly everything you hear was recorded live, with some overdubs, and editing afterwards.

In terms of the songs themselves, it’s clear that different members brought songs to the table; where some recordings are tonged with the signature Tenniscoats sound whilst others are more Acher/Notwist oriented creations. I get the impression that the starting point of these songs were perhaps just rough sketches and you must have seen many of these songs undergo a blossom and transformation as the various members put their touches on the recordings? Were there many happy accidents, so to speak that happened during the recording sessions?

MA: The songs were all composed as far as chords and melodies and most of the words go. We played them to each other and everybody found their part. We added new words and parts sometimes. It was so easy, as every one of them has such a clear voice and idea. It was one of the best personal and musical experiences for me personally.

The beating heart of the album (for me) arrives with the sister songs of ‘River River’ and ‘Rain Rain’, both achingly beautiful and meditative laments from the pores of the heart. I’d love for you to discuss the construction of these songs and I wonder were these songs written around the time of the album sessions or were they in your conscience for quite some time? The heavenly harmonies and intricate layers of sonic detail beneath the poetic prose flows like a majestic river, and those clean, warm guitar tones melt into the mix.

MA: These ( and ‘to the moon’ ) were two songs, I wrote with the tenniscoats and the possible collaboration in mind. As their lyrics so beautifully take pictures from nature to tell stories, I wrote about rain and rivers. Also, these songs were composed in not so good times for me, so they are just plain sad, to be honest… that wasn’t a time to be clever…they are just what they are. But what everybody added to the songs, was incredible… and Saya added these new vocal-melodies and arrangement, which made them whole new songs.

I fondly recall the Notwist ‘On/Off’ documentary (circa the making of the classic ‘Neon Golden’ LP) and I was struck by how you were writing some of these songs while in the studio. I wonder would this be the case for many of your sonic ventures, Markus? Spontaneity must be a key factor for you (and this may serve a constant factor in Spirit Fest and your other compelling musical projects)?

MA: As far as singing goes, sometimes, the pressure of having to compose or write something very fast can have very good results, as you write more subconsciously. But actually, I’m not good in it, and try to avoid it 😉 That’s different with playing instruments. I can find parts more easily.

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As you and Tenniscoats have such a wealth of music made thus far, these must also provide good reference points for you when it came to beginning Spirit Fest? I wonder what aims and concerns did you have (and conversations did you share) from the outset prior to making the album? I also get the impression that this project was always going to happen, it was just a matter of time. For instance, the art of collaboration is something integral to you and Tenniscoats (and continues to be) so it must have been such a natural and fun process to undertake Spirit Fest. Can you shed some light on the band name too, it’s a perfect title!

MA: Saya and Ueno made many wonderful collaboration-albums. Their collaborations with tape , and also the wonderful “two sunsets” with the Pastels, another favourite band. So when they suggested to make a collaboration, I couldn’t be happier. I thought, it would be important to capture the intimacy and intensity of them playing their songs, and that’s why I asked our good friend Tad klimp to record and produce it. I know, that he understands, what we do, and can capture every little detail. Mat and Cico, I asked, because they are very good friends, too, and very individual musicians, who have an experimental approach to making music, but also like songs and pop-music. In the end, that was a very good combination of people.

‘Spirit Fest’ was Saya’s english title for the song ‘Hitori Matsuri’, a song about a spirit / ghost wandering around at night. When she suggested it to be the band-name, we all liked it very much.

‘Take Me Home’ is such a gorgeous and bewitching pop lament. Again, the rich instrumentation and the vocal harmonies shared by you and Tenniscoats is one of the infinite sparks of the record. When it comes to the stages of beginning and ultimately completing a song, are there perhaps similar happenings or moments that occur during this process? For ‘Take Me Home’, how the song builds and the myriad of immaculate sounds (child-like sounds, piano notes, percussion, bass) and the celestial harmonies continually build, producing such a heartfelt and contemporary pop song. What is a perfect pop song for you (ingredients and so on)?

MA: ‘Take me home’ is an older song by the tenniscoats from their CD “We are everyone”, that I already had covered once. We thought, it could be good to play together. It’s mainly recorded, as we played it, with only a few small overdubs.

Everything is a good song, that you find yourself in and get lost…that tells a story, even when it’s an instrumental. Saya and Ueno have written so many incredible songs over the years. Even, when they are sung in Japanese, I understand them, although I don’t understand the words.

The second edition of the wonderful Alien Disko festival in Munich takes place this December. Can you discuss the lineup for this edition (such an inspired choice of incredible artists) and your vision for this special festival?

MA: The vision is to bring bands to Munich, that normally don’t come here. Many bands skip Munich on their international tours, that’s sad…although there is a really great scene of artists and bands here. We try to invite bands, that do something special, ignore genres or borders, and are somehow uncategorizable. This year, we invited the Congolese family-band Konono N.1, Shabazz Palaces, Amiina from Iceland, Colleen from France, Michaela Melian from Munich, Sam Amidon, Sauna Youth from London, MS John Soda with my brother Micha, Vanishing Twin, and many more.
Spirit Fest will also play again… a sort of release-show and return to the beginning of the record 😉

Lastly, what records do you feel were defining albums for you, Markus? In terms of pre-Notwist, growing up and the vital sounds that led you on the music path in the very beginning?

MA: Oh, there are so many actually… after many Hardcore-records, like Rites of Spring, Jerry’s Kids, Bad Brains, etc… Talk Talk “Laughing stock” was very important, This Heat, too. I took a lot of the guitar-playing from the Wipers, and Dinosaur Jr was a revelation for us, when “You’re living alover me” was released. Pitchfork, the Clean, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Yo la Tengo, Stereolab…they were and are very influential.
In recent years, I would say the Pastels, Broadcast and the tenniscoats are bands, I return to very often. Friends.

 

‘Spirit Fest’ is out now on Morr Music.

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Written by admin

December 12, 2017 at 2:58 pm