July 2016 opened with world-renowned German composer Nils Frahm’s magnificent “Possibly Colliding” weekend of music at the Barbican Centre, London. Curated by Frahm, the special lineup featured live performance, conversation and film screenings where the headline act was Frahm’s monumental sold-out Barbican show, comprising his “most ambitious concert to date.”
Possibly Colliding felt not only like a celebration of the visionary artist’s cherished songbook (thus far) but rather a distillation of the most ground-breaking moments of today’s contemporary music scene. The angelic, hushed solo piano pieces were interwoven with the sprawling and sublime synthesizer-led pieces and many live collaborations – cellist Anne Müller, Nonkeen (with the addition of gifted drummer Andrea Belfi), London-based vocal ensemble Shards, and the André de Ridder-led stargaze ensemble – rendered new versions of Frahm’s towering body of work and offered new insights into the gifted composer’s sonic sphere.
During July we were delighted to be invited to participate in Irish actor Cillian Murphy’s curated IMMA Summer Party happening at the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin. Murphy’s music lineup featured performances by celebrated German composer and pianist Hauschka, gifted Irish fiddle player and composer Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Irish-based indie band Meltybrains? Some selections from our DJ set appear in this month’s mixtape.
Limerick-born and London-based composer Áine O’Dwyer has long been one of our most cherished and favourite contemporary musicians. O’Dwyer has released records on such independent labels as: Mie Music, Second language and Fort Evil Fruit, while her versatile talents are evident in her rich and varied recorded output to date, which have featured: live recordings for pipe organ, music for harp and voice and music for solo piano.
This year’s Le Guess Who? festival features special guest curators – including the inimitable L.A. songwriter Julia Holter – who has invited Áine O’Dwyer to this year’s lineup in Utrecht which takes place on 10–13 November 2016.
Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S1E7 | July mix
To Read/listen on La Blogothèque:
01. Woodkid & Nils Frahm – “Winter Morning II” (with Robert De Niro) (excerpt) (Ellis OST, Erased Tapes)
02. Peter Broderick – “Carried” (Erased Tapes)
03. Nonkeen – “Diving Platform” (R&S)
04. Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler – “A Road” (Thrill Jockey)
05. Áine O’Dwyer – “Falcon” (Second Language)
06. Jherek Bischoff – “Headless” (The Leaf Label)
07. Agnes Obel – “Familiar” (Play It Again Sam)
08. Jonny Greenwood (Copenhagen Phil, André de Ridder) – “Future Markets” (There Will Be Blood OST, Deutsche Grammophon)
09. Radiohead – “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” (XL Recordings)
10. Kedr Livanskiy – “Razrushitelniy Krug (Destructive Cycle)” (2MR)
11. Lil Silva – “Jimi” (Good Years)
12. DJ Shadow – “The Sideshow” (feat. Ernie Fresh) (Mass Appeal)
13. Underworld – “I Exhale” (Universal Music Group)
14. Floorplan – “Music” (M-Plant)
15. Róisín Murphy – “Simulation” (Permanent Vacation)
16. Hot Chip – “Night and Day” (Daphni Mix) (Domino)
17. Junior Boys – “Big Black Coat” (Robert Hood Remix) (Jiaolong / City Slang)
18. Peder Mannerfelt – “Perspectives” (Peder Mannerfelt Produktion)
19. Aphex Twin – “CHEETAHT2 [Ld spectrum]” (Warp)
20. Ólafur Arnalds – “RGB” (LateNightTales)
21. Julianna Barwick – “Someway” (Dead Oceans)
22. Julia Holter – “Finale” (Leaving / Domino)
Compiled by Fractured Air, July 2016. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
Interview with Frederic Gmeiner & Sepp Singwald (Nonkeen).
“I think these are the moments which we are searching for where you dissolve in the music with the others.”
Words: Mark Carry
In the liner notes of 2011’s ‘Felt’ full-length, Nils Frahm describes how “the music becomes a contingence, a chance, an accident within all this rustling.” It is precisely this important factor – the role of chance – that lies at the heart of the many monumental works of the Berlin-based composer, not least the latest awe-inspiring project, dubbed Nonkeen – unveiled at the beginning of 2016 – with his childhood friends, Frederic Gmeiner and Sepp Singwald.
The trio’s shared fascination with the powerful possibilities of sound would mean their childhood days were spent experimenting with tape machines, whose inception was the birth of a playground radio show in the suburbs of Hamburg. The utterly beguiling debut full length release, ‘The Gamble’ – released on the prestigious R&S label – unfolds a divine pathway to notions of space and the cosmos. The hypnotic lead single ’Chasing God Through Palmyra’’s looped electronic beat offered the first glimpses into the other-worldly sound world of Nonkeen. The dazzling cut could have been taken from Scottish duo Boards of Canada’s ‘Geogaddi’ LP such is its eternal magical bliss.
A parallel that bridges Nonkeen and the renowned electronic producers is their (shared) compulsion to “uncover the past inside the present”. An entire spectrum of sounds – jazz improvisation, pop hooks, electronic mastery, ambient flourishes and post-rock euphoria – awakens from the very compositions captured on ‘The Gamble’ and its eagerly awaited (and appropriately titled) follow-up, ‘The Oddments of the Gamble’.
The shimmering seas of summer are somehow transplanted across the sprawling canvas of ‘Diving Platform’, one of the band’s crowning jewels (taken from ‘The Oddments of the Gamble’). A gorgeous haze of reverb-soaked Rhodes and pristine electric guitar tones (supplied by special guest guitarist Martyn Heyne) dissolves into a myriad of fleeting moments as waves of transcendence washes over you. The pulsating ‘Glow’ contains a deep groove and shape-shifting rhythms that feel like remnants of a faded dream. Elsewhere on the record, trusted friends & collaborators, Andrea Belfi, Peter Broderick and Martyn Heyne each add their distinctive musical hand-print to the trio’s scintillating odysseys.
Nils Frahm’s sold-out Barbican show earlier this month – as part of the captivating ‘Possibly Colliding’ marathon weekend, curated by Frahm – felt not only like a celebration of the visionary artist’s cherished songbook (thus far) but rather a distillation of the most ground-breaking moments of today’s contemporary music scene. The angelic, hushed solo piano pieces were interwoven with the sprawling and sublime synthesizer-led pieces and many live collaborations – cellist Anne Müller, Nonkeen with the addition of gifted drummer Andrea Belfi, London-based vocal ensemble Shards, and the André de Ridder-led stargaze ensemble – rendered new versions of Frahm’s towering body of work and offered new insights into the gifted composer’s sonic sphere. Nonkeen is one vital part to this sphere wherein Frahm and his close friends continue to blur the boundaries of what is attainable. Perfecting sound forever.
‘The Oddments of the Gamble’ is out on 15th July 2016 via R&S Records.
Interview with Frederic Gmeiner & Sepp Singwald (Nonkeen).
I’d love for you to discuss the wonderful story behind Nonkeen – and how you’re all childhood friends – and your experiments with sound using tape recorders and your shared fascination with sound?
Frederic Gmeiner: From the material on ‘Oddments of the Gamble’ and ‘The Gamble’, the oldest tape is maybe eight years old that we used for the albums now. But before we were also playing together but very loose – just in the rehearsal space when we had time to play together. So in the evening somebody would call, ‘do you have time tomorrow? So let’s meet. Is the room available? Yes, it is, so let’s go there and play’. So, over the years the rehearsal spaces changed because we had to leave one in a hurry because the owner wanted to do something in the building and stuff like that. So you might call it also accidents that happens which you have to deal with but we always kept on being inspired by this band. But we didn’t even call it a band because it wasn’t such a thing; we never organized a concert for example – friends were inviting us and I don’t know how old we were, we were very young – when we were playing together from time to time and people knew you were playing in a band so they asked ‘do you want to play here and there?’ and so it happened.
I could see also how when we were younger, we were maybe not fearless but we didn’t think much about it. We were playing the stuff that we were inspired by or listening to anyhow and since it was a Fender Rhodes, 70’s amp and electric bass and 90’s drums with the 70’s sound – drum set drums [laughs] – and we were playing music that when we were listening to it, you could pretty much tell what the influence was straight away like this sounds like Soft Cell for example. We found it like crazy music and automatically we were eager trying this out and topping each other you know and trying to show off in a way. But over time by listening to the stuff that we recorded – I mean at the beginning we never recorded rehearsals we were just recording when we were playing live – and then listening back to it, it was always nice but you could always tell like “oh, this sounds like this, for example” and so over the years we got more and more defined in finding your own sound.
We were curious about these moments that we kept on tape where we were saying like “I don’t remember us playing that actually” and “I don’t know, when was it? Five years ago?What instrument is it? Who’s playing that?” And also the music and these moments, somehow I can’t get it out of my head and you’re listening to it back and back. We never took it out with us home, we always just listening all three of us together when we were meeting. I mean sometimes there might have been a month in between when we were listening to the stuff but we were then picking again these passages up when we were all saying “From the last session I remember this” and “Yes me too, and it was somehow stuck in my head” so it all came together somehow.
It’s cool how it was almost like a listening exercise where you build a library and subconsciously in a way, you’re agreeing on a certain direction or type of sound. I can imagine that was either the most difficult part of perhaps most exciting? Also, I wonder would you be adding counterpoint sections present-day to recordings that you had made previously?
FG: It is hard in a way to come to a mutual agreement, it is true but we had time and there was no target; none of us were even thinking of making an album while doing that. It was just out of curiosity so that was easy in a way. But of course if you’re going to have a record contract back then which would say ‘next year you have to do an album’ that would be problematic of course. It would be much more like ‘OK guys, I know you don’t like this but let’s go for it, you know’ but it wasn’t like that.
Sepp Singwald: We didn’t analyse it so far that we’d have to find a counterpoint to this or to that. We always played what we wanted to play and in the very, very end after eight years we combined it.
‘Chasing God Through Palmyra’ is a very special recording of yours [from ‘The Gamble’]. Deconstructing it, is that a sample that is looped continually throughout?
FG: Yes, it’s all from the rehearsal space and from the tapes. We were playing around with the material in a way that we were more sequencing stuff. There was a drum machine running in the rehearsal space, it was just there and so we were plugging it in and trying it out.
SS: So we had a Gretsch and made it loud.
FG: Then putting it on a big tape machine to basically use it as just a compressor but we pitched it down so it became this wobbling, moogy, tribal-ish, techno-ish thing which we were inspired by. But all of these things coming together was a real coincidence and we could never re-do this. That’s also why on tour it was problematic to play this. For us we were really confronted with a decision, shall we play it or not.
SS: Should we try best to be as a computer?
FG: Exactly because without the drum track – without the electronic drums – it would lose its preciseness and none of us are playing like a machine so we had to compete with a machine basically. It was very frustrating for us to put on a beat and just play synthesizers so we said ‘we’re not playing it’. But we were thinking it’s a nice track, people know it so we should somehow play it. So then we came up with the idea to put it on a record onstage so in the middle of the set in the front of the stage there was a record player and we were setting up the record and serving drinks to the audience and making maybe a few foolish jokes but then we would continue to play the songs [afterwards]. I mean it’s unconventional – you might also say why are you doing this? – but it’s exactly the reason why we did it because we wanted to play it but we didn’t want to compete with a machine onstage and lose [laughs]. And being so over-concentrated on following it and being precise because it is the preciseness that makes electronic music is just one example.
It must have been a totally new perspective for you when it came to touring and playing live shows? And also how the trio was joined by Andrea Belfi on drums, it must have added new elements and perspectives when the group were now a four-piece?
FG: I mean for the first time in playing together, we were confronted with a situation that we had to practice, that we had to prepare something for playing and not just for a single evening but for twenty evenings in a row. So we couldn’t use our method that we used before saying like OK let’s maybe define a little bit and go onstage and play together because it would be way too intense to – and way too long also – to come up every night with this uncertainty and play with it. Maybe it’s also possible, I don’t know. On the other hand, if we were to completely streamline it and plan it until the last sound and note and moment, maybe it would become boring for us and also for the audience, it’s always like that.
So we were looking at it because we knew the songs also so well after working with them for such a long time – not playing them but just listening to them, editing them and making overdubs – they were inside us already, we could just make interpretations of them. That worked very well I think and it also helped us as a band to deal with more diverse situations because every night is different, every room is different, the spirit, the mood of the audience: are they sitting or are they standing, are they more reserved, it makes something with you. Also does it feel like in a rehearsal space on a small stage or is it a huge hall where you have big reverb and you don’t hear each other very well. Things like that and all these situations helped us a lot I think. Now I am very curious to go back to the rehearsal space after that experience and that learning process.
I love also with these two albums is the wide range of sounds and influences, there’s jazz, post-rock, electronic, ambient, krautrock that all really effortlessly ebbs and flows into one another. The sequencing of the albums was also an important factor I imagine?
FG: Also what I think developed from the live set was exactly these counterpoints and to sometimes let loose and have moments where you don’t know really yourself where you are and you just have to let yourself fall down and trust that all will turn out good in the end. And there are more parts that are more defined and precisely arranged. But I think it is right – I see it as well – I think a single track doesn’t make much sense but it’s always the combination of them and how you put them together which makes it interesting.
I love how the new album represents an entirely new chapter too. It doesn’t feel like a sister album but rather it feels like a new point in time. For example, the lead track ‘Diving Platform’ with the gorgeous guitar parts, it feels more direct and immediate.
FG: It’s more easy-going I would say. We always have this vision of a perfect summer day, driving a nice car or a bicycle in the countryside and the wind is coming and you just want to dive.
SS: It was with the first bass drum you see someone jumping from a diving platform into a lake.
FG: I think most of the sessions we had because when we went into the rehearsal space we didn’t know what would happen and often I mean you have other things in life and sometimes you have a good day and sometimes there are bad days, sometimes you are more energetic and sometimes you are a bit more tired, sometimes you’re patient to listen to something, sometimes you’re not. It was like a meditation thing and often sessions were sounding more like the music I think on ‘The Gamble’ but there were some sessions that were more like on ‘Diving Platform’ for example. This is like an excerpt; we were playing it for like thirty to forty minutes and there was this thing developing. And it always starts like that; someone is playing a beat or on the Rhodes or on the synthesizer or the bass and you all just start.
SS: It came up by fooling around and just make some fun but then OK we’re really playing this kind of track so let’s go for that and I had a big moustache in my mind and we are all smiling.
Do you think it was a difficult decision to release the second album so quickly after the first one and to decide on what goes onto it?
FG: As I said, we didn’t plan to release an album for such a long time – we didn’t even have a name – and then this all happened and we were all wowed by this warm reception and the feedback and now with this live tour that we thought let’s also share this other album basically and not to wait. And of course strategically or marketing-wise, I don’t know maybe you should wait or whatever and no one told us that so it was more like it’s great, I might like it even a bit more than ‘The Gamble’ [laughs] so let’s release it and so that’s basically how it was, nothing more or less. But I think that’s also good not having something in the drawer to hold back and you’re always waiting until this gets out. You put it out and then you have no cards left, you have to make new cards that you can play.
SS: And even to wait another seventeen days feels long. Actually because it is there, it’s got a cover, I want everybody to listen to it and get the feedback.
FG: It is strange because back then we didn’t have anything on vinyl or cd or to download or to sell, if someone was interested, we would just give them some music for friends, so now there’s a release date and it’s all interesting. But this is also new for us because it makes it more a band of course, this process like doing interviews and preparing for a tour, touring and doing band photos and stuff like that and thinking about music videos. It’s all great and fun but it’s not making music [laughs], it’s something else, you know. It’s new for us in that context, I mean everyone has their other projects. Seeing it also sometimes a bit sceptically, thinking will our innocence be gone afterwards? But I think going back to the rehearsal space and taking time because that is what it is; it’s a gift for all of us, we all have other things in life where we make a living out of it but Nonkeen is not about that. Luckily we have all the time in the world, if it takes ten years now for the next album and to go on the next tour but you don’t know, chance will tell.
I love how there is that DIY ethos at the heart of Nonkeen too where there is nothing pre-conceived or anything like that. And as you said, it’s completely music you’re just making for yourself without ever considering the audience?
FG: I mean it’s really like that. When we had the tracks and we were saying: “Oh this is finished and we don’t have anything to add” but really we had no idea if other people would like it or not. It’s different to say oh it’s OK to like something, it’s really interesting. It took so long like distilling alcohol again and again just to get the essence which was for us because it was so close to our heart always, we were taking our time and working on it as long as it needs without any rush. But you don’t know how others would perceive it and for us I think the most wonderful thing was and is, what people hear in it because I would always love to listen to that music without having heard it before. For the first time if someone played this to me and said, here have you heard this, listen to it but that’s not possible because you know that stuff but that must be great somehow.
SS: It’s like standing onstage and playing, I would often like to ‘snap’ and sit in the audience and see everything and listen.
FG: It’s really, really great and we’re really happy about it that there is so many people listening to it and also come up with so many references and often also very true. And often people say Boards of Canada, it’s a huge influence on us but it’s other instruments and stuff. Of course it’s maybe inherent in the music because we are so inspired by them but if someone had asked us ‘how does your music sound’, we would never say ‘yeah like Boards of Canada’, we would never think about this association. For me of course, it is so far away somehow but it is a great honour and it is what it is, we are all inspired by things.
There’s something special about a trio. I wonder would you ever individually come up with something like a sketch or idea and then come to the rehearsal space where the three-piece would flesh it out?
FG: I think that when we go to the rehearsal space – I mean except now preparing the tour but all the years before – it’s really interesting that we never really talked about music, I mean we didn’t talk about our music. It was never like ‘hey guys, I have this song, let’s play this’ or ‘I think we should sound more like this’. It never happened because I think we would have failed [laughs]. It’s more I think of finding a style in the way of making music together that we all feel comfortable with, technically and emotionally and seeing it as a whole thing basically. I think these are the moments which we are searching for where you dissolve in the music with the others. In that moment you don’t think anymore, it’s just this and you’re completely enjoying it. And then when you listen back to it a year later, you couldn’t even remember that moment where we’re like, is it us playing this?
It’s a very intimate thing but I think these moments you can’t plan, it’s as simple as that and I think we realized that from a very early stage. For all of us it is the most important thing that we will have is continuing these moments, no matter what. No matter if we release any albums or going on tour because this is the most important thing, to play together and Nils has so many other projects and you [Sepp] also, it’s not about not being able to play. But I think what we are always curious about is finding these moments where you dissolve and where it’s not about you, it all has to work as a whole thing, it becomes its own creature somehow.
And that’s the thing too where it’s not the first album in isolation. Suddenly you have a body of work now quite quickly, there’s a narrative now flowing and where you can see down the line nearly. I loved the 12″ vinyl release too where you can pick the desired speed to play the tracks on.
FG: I mean in the end again like with that decision why would you put both tracks on a single but it’s because of that; it happened by playing around with a tape machine and by pitching it and this is something you can also do with a turntable or record player, so why not using the medium and giving it out to everyone to try it out. It is really about always deciding on what makes sense. And now with these two albums we made a trajectory that we have to follow because that is a style that everyone is expecting. I don’t know but maybe the next album will be something completely different. Let’s see.
‘The Oddments of the Gamble’ is out on 15th July 2016 via R&S Records.
We’re delighted to present two exclusive tracks by the world-renowned Berlin-based contemporary classical music collective stargaze. Founded by German conductor André de Ridder, stargaze comprise a network of classically trained European musicians who have performed and collaborated extensively in a wide variety of contexts to date.
The German-based collective have worked with some of the most acclaimed and forward-thinking contemporary music-makers, including: Julia Holter, Nils Frahm, Bryce Dessner, Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Shara Worden, Owen Pallett, These New Puritans and many more; and have appeared at prestigious festivals and venues including: the Holland Festival, Barbican Centre London, Acht-Brücken-Festival at Cologne Philharmonie, Crossing Borders Festival, Wonderfeel Festival, Kaltern Pop Festival, Berlin Pop-Kultur, Rewire Festival (NL).
Another vital element of the stargaze repertoire in recent years has been amassing their considerable collection of instrumental works. These have included: Deerhof Chamber Variations by Greg Saunier; string quartets by Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner as well as David Lang’s composition Death Speaks; Mica Levi’s Under The Skin and Richard Reed Parry’s Music for Heart and Breath.
Presented exclusively for June’s mixtape are stargaze’s analogue arrangements of Boards of Canada’s EP “Hi Scores”, performed live at Motel Mozaïque in Rotterdam during April 2016. Arrangements are by Aart Strootman.
Staying in Berlin, also included in June’s mixtape is the highly acclaimed Hamburg-born and Berlin-based guitarist and composer Martyn Heyne who released his gorgeous debut solo E.P. “Shady & Light” this year (available as a free download from http://martynheyne.com). Heyne has long been associated with countless musicians in the independent music scene as they have recorded at Lichte, Heyne’s Berlin-based home studio (Sarah Neufeld, Nils Frahm, Lubomyr Melnyk, Peter Broderick). Heyne was also a touring member with Danish group Efterklang during their 2013 “Piramida” tour.
Finally, June also saw the release of Irish songwriter Brigid Mae Power’s masterful self-titled album (her first for U.S. independent Tompkins Square). The album was recorded in 2015 with Peter Broderick at The Sparkle, his hometown studio in Portland, Oregon.
Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S1E6 | June mix
To Read/listen on La Blogothèque:
01. Brigid Mae Power – “Watching The Horses” (Tompkins Square)
02. Sarah Neufeld – “Chase the Bright and Burning” (Paper Bag)
03. The Flaming Lips – “The Observer” (Warner Bros.)
04. s t a r g a z e – “Everything You Do Is A Balloon” (live at Motel Mozaïque, Rotterdam, 09/04/16)
05. Arthur Russell – “Instrumentals – 1974 Volume 1” (Rough Trade, Audika)
06. Oliver Coates – “Innocent Love” (PRAH Recordings)
07. Jessy Lanza – “It Means I Love You” (Hyperdub)
08. Moderat – “Finder” (Monkeytown)
09. Jamie xx & Four Tet – “SeeSaw” (feat. Rome) [Club Version] (Young Turks)
10. Kiasmos – “Swayed” (Erased Tapes)
11. Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm – “23:52” (Erased Tapes)
12. Boards Of Canada – “Sunshine Recorder” (Warp)
13. Radiohead – “Full Stop” (XL Recordings)
14. Explosions In The Sky – “The Ecstatics” (Bella Union)
15. MJ Guider – “Lit Negative” (Kranky)
16. Julee Cruise – “Mysteries Of Love” (Warner Bros.)
17. Angel Olsen – “Intern” (Jagjaguwar)
18. Martyn Heyne – “Brandung” (http://martynheyne.com)
19. Roslyn Steer – “Of A Sunday” (Kantcope)
20. Bob Dylan – “Final Theme” (Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid OST, Columbia)
21. s t a r g a z e – “Nlogax / Turquoise Hexagon Sun” (live at Motel Mozaïque, Rotterdam, 09/04/16)
22. Bill Fay – “The Sun Is Bored” (Deram, Decca)
23. Amiina – “Kola” (Lighthouse Version) (Sound Of A Handshake)
Compiled by Fractured Air, June 2016. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
“We often try to make very textured and rich music with minimal means.”
Irish contemporary traditional seven-piece Ensemble Ériu release their second album “Imbas” via Ensemble Music and Raelach Records this month. The much-anticipated follow-up to the group’s much-celebrated 2013 debut self-titled album, “Imbas” (an Irish word connected with inspiration and creativity) draws from a diverse source of inspiration and source material, for example old Clare-based jigs and reels performed by musicians such as John Kelly, Bobby Casey and Willie Clancy, a song collected in Connemara by Seamus Ennis and a contemporary composition written by Peadar Ó Riada. Ensemble Ériu’s distinctive sound constantly express the band’s deep-rooted appreciation and love for both traditional music while the band simultaneously seek to furrow new and intriguing paths in contemporary music circles.
Ensemble Ériu consist of the following seven musicians: Matthew Berrill (clarinet and bass clarinet), Patrick Groenland (guitar), Matthew Jacobson (drums), Maeve O’Hara (marimba), Neil O’Loghlen (double bass and flute), Jeremy Spencer (fiddle) and Jack Talty (concertina).
‘Imbas’ is out now on Ensemble Music/Raelach Records (Order HERE).
Interview with Neil O’Loghlen & Jack Talty (Ensemble Ériu)
Congratulations on the stunning new album ‘Imbas’; a work of staggering beauty. On one hand the music is certainly steeped in tradition – and the plains of County Clare – but also a contemporary twist is forever inherent in these splendid compositions. Please recount for me the making of ‘Imbas’ and indeed the six compelling pieces that comprise this sophomore full-length?
Neil O’Loghlen: It started with the release of our last album in September 2013. I began writing new arrangements for the band to play live before our launch gigs for that album so some of the pieces on Imbas like ‘The Tempest’ we played for those launch gigs back in 2013. It was around then that we settled on the septet line up that we have now so the pieces on this album were written specifically for this ensemble of players. This gives it a different feel to the first album. Over the last 2 years or so either I alone or Jack and I together have written new arrangements for the live set, adding to it piece by piece, which brings us right up to before the recording session for Imbas with the arrangement for Micho Russell’s written a couple of weeks before hand.
After the release of the first album we were lucky enough to get many opportunities to play live so we had time to play and develop the arrangements and for everyone to get comfortable with them. By the time it came to record we found a room that had a nice sound and recorded live. We were just off a tour so everyone was very loose and easy with the music. The recording has a live feel to it which is what we wanted, a representation of what our gigs sound like. We were lucky enough to have Adrian Hart on board to engineer, he understands the music and knew exactly what we were looking for so it was pretty straight forward.
In much the same way as the band’s universally acclaimed debut full-length, it’s the rich instrumentation – and wide range of sounds dotted across the record – that evokes such a timeless sound. There is such a close dialogue with all the instrument parts, and aesthetically such a triumph too. Please discuss the space inside the music you create and the starting point(s) to arranging and performing these wonderfully varied traditional pieces?
Neil O’Loghlen: The starting point is always the melody we select to arrange, which can take time to find. It usually involves going through a lot of recordings of musicians that inspire us and have inspired the concepts of the band – John Kelly, Bobby Casey, Willie Clancy, Micho Russell to name a few.
As far as the arrangements go the starting point for each piece has taken a different course, for example with the West Clare Reel, Jack had a very clear idea of where he wanted the arrangement to go and the type of feel to be created so we just pieced it together and worked back from there. Some of the other arrangements like Micho Russell’s I used a simple phrase from the tune to build other material, variations on this phrase and tried to develop this over the whole piece. The Humours of Drinagh/Kilclogher and Goideadh do Ghe track was based on a rhythmic pattern which all the accompanying parts are built from. The basis of the Yellow Wattle arrangement is similar, a melodic motif drawn from the tune is the basis for variations which are then arranged for the instrumentation and developed throughout the piece.
Most of these arrangements take time to develop and the approach is quite involved, you’re really trying to get inside the tune and build from there. Obviously there is a lot of composition involved, writing melodic parts for the instruments and also coming up with an over arcing idea that is developed throughout. Creating a link between the tune, the combination of instruments and the written material is something I find exciting and challenging.
Jack Talty: Neil and I have been very much influenced by electroacoustic music, Minimalism, contemporary classical music and jazz but we certainly don’t see Ensemble Éiru as a fusion band. We simply came together to explore new ways of playing Irish Traditional music in a group context, equipped with training and ideas from other genres of music.
The opening section to the album opener, ‘The Tempest’ really is the perfect introductory note for such an eagerly awaited album. The marimba and concertina opening melody conjures up the sound of Steve Reich and Philip Glass and again re-enforces how adventurous your unique blend of traditional music is. What are your memories of this particular tune and indeed how you have developed playing this standard over the years?
Jack Talty: The tune was a favourite of Bobby Casey, a great Clare fiddler, and his music is a great source of inspiration for us. I think our blend of traditional music sounds unique because it is informed and inspired by very unique people. I think that people who may not be familiar with Irish traditional music may be surprised to learn that so much of what they may like about the Irish traditional music they hear today, is in fact also inherent to great straight-ahead interpretations of Irish traditional music. ‘The Tempest’ is one of our most straight-forward arrangements in that it is constructed with a number of relatively simple patterns that weave around the reel called ‘The Tempest’ that Jeremy and I play. For us, it’s the collective results that are important. Each person contributes to an overall soundworld and I guess that’s where we are drawing on the world of Minimalism. We often try to make very textured and rich music with minimal means.
Neil O’Loghlen: I came across this tune on a Bobby Casey recording. It’s quite well-known although when I heard this recording i was struck by the version of the melody he had. I thought immediately it would lend itself well to an arrangement. The tune pointed the way for the arrangement really, the way it has unexpected turns and a sort of undefined root or grounding. To me it floats along with no expected phrases or cadences so I explored that in the arrangement with certain harmonic ideas and repetitive phrases. Harmony, for me, or the harmony we are used to hearing in the western world, doesn’t sit comfortably in Irish traditional music, actually to me it has no place in it really. Instead of chord progressions placed underneath the melody of the tune i used a intervallic structure (stacked fifth’s) dispersed out between the double bass, marimba and clarinet which can’t really be used in a functional setting with the tune and in turn has a more coloristic effect on it. I often reference a quote of John Cage when thinking about this – ‘Freed from structural responsibility, harmony becomes a formal element (serves expression).
The original arrangement was written for more instruments, this was before we settled on the septet, so there was a bass clarinet part and some string parts too. Then when we started playing the arrangement as a septet without these additional parts it gave everyone a little more space, gradually as we played it more and more it became more embellished by the musicians and the result is quite an interactive setting of the tune between all the instruments. The open, free element to the arrangement ties in with the spirit of jazz music and that tradition. Steve Reich’s music certainly had an effect on me when I was first exposed to it, in particular ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ and ‘Music for mallet instruments, voices and organ’. Some of his other compositions haven’t spoken to me much really and Philip Glass is a composer I’m not very familiar with.
How significant is the act/art of improvisation in your playing? In terms of the recording sessions for ‘Imba’, would all the phrases have been mapped out completely prior to recording to tape? I can imagine playing live shows over the last three or so years also helped shape the album itself?
Neil O’Loghlen: Yes, all the parts for all of the arrangements are written except in two cases – the concertina solo during the bridge or middle section in the Yellow Wattle and the clarinet solo during the section which links the Humours of Kilclogher with Goideadh do Ghe. In both cases Jack and Matthew were free to improvise using the language of the melody and accompanying parts. i think in both cases the results are quite beautiful.
The accompanying parts and the arrangements as a whole are written and conceptualised beforehand. Then we workshop the arrangement, try it out on gigs and as the musicians become familiar with their parts and the piece as a whole their input becomes more personal. It’s the same way Jack and Jeremy approach the playing of the tune, its internalised first and then their own personality is applied. I feel very fortunate we have such sympathetic musicians in the band who are able to balance playing the written music with embellishing and interacting with the space that is created inside the tune.
Please discuss for me your musical upbringing and the traditional musicians that inspired you the most?
Neil O’Loghlen: Although my father was quite musical and could sing well, he didn’t play an instrument so we didn’t have much music going on in our house. It wasn’t until around 2nd class in primary school and my teacher Denis Liddy, who was a fiddle player, made everyone learn the tin whistle (I can still remember the first lesson and impression it made on me) He was my first inspiration musically, over the years after that I learnt a lot from him, he always recommended music and players to check out and I learnt about the tradition from him. He taught/managed a band which competed at competitions, toured and played together. This is where i met Jack and we began playing together, sharing music and ideas, i think we were about 15. It’s where the first seeds of Ensemble Ériu were sown, we were very interested in ensemble playing in the tradition and always listening to different bands and the approaches that were being used. At a certain stage later I became more and more interested in solo and duet playing. Bobby Casey’s solo fiddle album Taking Flight and Tony Mac Mahon’s first solo recording ‘Traditional Irish Accordion’ made a huge impression on me and still do. Also, Noel Hill and Tony MacMahon’s duet recordings are very important to me. To me their music has such feeling, a deep, poetic and spiritual feeling for the music but without the emotional content – this is truly inspiring to me.
It’s a truly wonderful time for Irish music and also traditional Irish music with the likes of The Gloaming and many others receiving deserved recognition from all corners of the globe. It must be a lovely feeling to be releasing music in this moment in time and knowing there is such a cross-over of audiences out there, particularly today?
Jack Talty: Absolutely. Irish Traditional is pretty popular globally, but I guess that we will remember this period in our Arts history as a time when Irish traditional music has resonated with people who thought they didn’t like it. The Gloaming have been instrumental in this. Irish Traditional music has been mediated in completely new ways as a result of The Gloaming. I’m also glad that straight-ahead traditional music is opening new ears all over the globe too. It’s bizarre to travel to give a workshop in Germany or wherever and speak about Elizabeth Crotty to an audience who know exactly what you are talking about.
‘Imbas’ is out now on Ensemble Music/Raelach Records (Order HERE).
Interview with Brigid Mae Power.
“What generally happens with me is that I seem to live life, soak everything in like a sponge and then after a few months everything comes pouring out.”
—Brigid Mae Power
Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Peter Broderick
In the liner notes of Sibylle Baier’s treasured folk opus, ‘Colour Green’, the German songwriter’s son Robby Baier writes: “My mother’s music is simply amazing in its intimacy and closeness.” I feel these precise words perfectly describe the similarly magical and empowering music of Irish singer-songwriter, Brigid Mae Power and particularly reflected on Power’s (self-titled) masterpiece recently released on the prestigious U.S. label Tompkins Square.
A quality always vividly present in Power’s songbook has been how her personality shines through in the music whereby an honesty and purity simmers beautifully in her fragile folk explorations. In much the same way as Sibyl Baier’s ‘Colour Green’ LP, Power’s deeply moving body of work portray intimate portraits of life’s sad and fragile beauty.
Brigid Mae Power’s stunningly beautiful new solo full-length – and Tompkins Square debut – is an album drenched in reverb-soaked emotion and lament. Enchantingly performed and produced, the record showcases a songwriter of immense talent in a soundscape that naturally merges itself to Brigid Power’s engulfing sound. The magic lies in the songwriter’s expression of raw emotion, in all its delicate beauty. Themes include transformation, change, motherhood, acceptance, strength, courage and trust. In the words of Power, the album is about “trusting if you lose yourself or your way — you can come back.”
The seeds were sewn for the album after playing a string of UK & Irish shows with esteemed American songwriter and musician Peter Broderick during May 2015. Peter invited Brigid to record a batch of new songs in his Portland home studio, The Sparkle, along the Oregon coast. The Irish musician finished writing this collection of songs in June ’15 just before the recording sessions would take place in the early summer. The new record boasts an impeccable sound quality in which Power’s mesmerizing voice lies in the forefront of the mix. “I craved having my voice sound larger but more intimate,” Brigid explains. It is abundantly clear upon encountering Power’s newest work that there is a newfound confidence permeating throughout the songs, augmented by Broderick’s intuitive musical direction, which in turn helped the songs evolve. All songs were written by Brigid Mae Power, performed by Brigid and Peter Broderick and recorded, mixed and mastered by Peter Broderick at the Sparkle.
The album’s epic opener ‘It’s Clearing Now’ serves the ideal prologue to the record’s intensely powerful and moving journey. Initially recorded live with Brigid on guitar and Peter Broderick on drums, new layers of violin and meticulously crafted sonic elements were added by the American producer. Some of the songs such as ‘Is It My Low or Yours’, ‘Let Me Hold You Through This’ and ‘How You Feel’ were written very quickly, during the month before Brigid embarked on the transatlantic trip to The Sparkle. The others, mostly the deeply-affecting piano-based ballads (‘Sometimes’, ‘Lookin At You In A Photo’, ‘Watching The Horses’) – are comprised of old melodies the Irish musician had been playing for years but had never put lyrics to.
A wave of inspiration abounds the sprawling canvas of sound, mapping the rawest of emotion and deepest of fears. A mystical spell is cast by the meeting of these two kindred spirits: Brigid Mae Power’s songwriting prowess and Peter Broderick’s deep musical understanding. Asked about the creative process, Brigid explains, “It’s a mystical thing for me, I don’t usually remember when or where I write something or when I finish a song. It just appears.”
If ever the spirit of a record is distilled in one single song it is ‘Watching the Horses’, the album’s scintillating penultimate track. As Power’s achingly beautiful vocal refrain of “I am free” ascends into one’s heart and mind, the Irish songwriter’s masterwork chronicles brave new beginnings amidst a rejuvenated spirit. The changing of your whole outlook on life. Transformation.
As reflected in the lyrics of closing heartfelt lament of ‘How You Feel’, this deeply personal and intimate set of songs become a place of hope and solace where the path laid out in front you is filled with the light of day and sea of love.
‘Brigid Mae Power’ is out now on Tompkins Square.
Interview with Brigid Mae Power.
Please discuss these batch of new & delicately beautiful new songs, Brigid and indeed the space and time in which these songs blossomed from? Also, I wonder were the majority of the songs initial sketches prior to the Sparkle sessions or was it a mix where some were very much fully formed whereas others took on this life of their own upon the recording sessions?
Brigid Mae Power: I finished writing these songs in June ’15, just before I was to fly out to Portland, Oregon to go and record with Peter. Some of them, such as ‘Is it my low or yours’, ‘let me hold you through this’, and ‘how you feel’, were written very quickly and in the month before I went out. The others, mostly the piano ones, were old melodies I had been playing for years but had never put lyrics to them. I had been procrastinating for years with them and then in May I really buckled down and forced myself to finish writing them so that I would have them ready to record out at The Sparkle. So I had them all ready and written before I went out.
Writing at the moment, but maybe that might change, is quite a private process for me, so I wanted to have them ready to record for when I was out there. So yes they were all fully formed, lyrics and melodies etc. But Peter added a lot to them after I had left and helped them evolve.
What is the common theme or narrative that you feel bridges all these songs together on this record?
BMP: Hmm a theme or narrative. I guess I will just throw some words out here – Transformation. Change. Acceptance. Transcending. Healing. Healing from trauma. Not letting past incidences and feelings/ideas/judgements others and yourself have about you define you. Moving on. Strength. Courage. Trust. Moving past negativity and hard times. Trusting if you lose yourself or your way you can come back. Sensitivity. Getting rid of guilt. Being a single mother. Clearing out old things/habits/patterns before you start a new with someone else. Feeling connection with life. Appreciating being alive.
Following on from ‘I Told You the Truth’ ep, it’s abundantly clear the new music comes from a different place: new perspectives and a different outlook on all matter of life’s happenings seem to flicker across the horizon as a confidence and striking immediacy comes very much to the fore. What were your main concerns for this new record in terms of the sound and feel you wanted to create?
BMP: I guess my first and foremost intention was to have a good sound quality. I used to just record myself with a handheld recorder in a reverberant room. Which I do like the sound of but I craved having my voice sound larger but more intimate. My ears are sensitive to how I like a recording to sound, and sometimes I preferred it almost to sound of lesser quality than too squeaky clean. But when I heard Peter’s voice on his recordings I knew that he would instinctively know what sounded good for me and how to have my voice sound. I didn’t need to explain at all to him, he just knew, but even when I was trying to explain to him, sometimes through just a feeling, he knew what I meant, it was like he spoke my language. It’s hard for me to describe things in words a lot of the time, but especially creatively so I was really lucky to have Peter speak my language!
The epic opener is the ideal prologue to the album’s intensely powerful and moving journey. I recall Peter describing the many listens/playbacks of this track in order to get the layering right. Discuss the construction and gradual formation of this stunning torch-lit ballad?
BMP: Well, I can’t remember exactly when I finished that song but I remember I wrote it when I was sitting in my car staring at the sea and just had a strong feeling of leaving behind a feeling of being stuck. I had gone on tour with Peter in May and came back, and I felt hugely inspired from meeting him. It opened my mind to possibility, so much, and I saw how I had been limiting myself previously in my thinking.
When we recorded it, we just recorded it live me on guitar and Peter on drums. It felt really special when we were playing that song. But what he did after to it was just so incredible and how I had envisioned it to sound without expressing it to him at all. He worked on it when I had gone home. So I don’t know the in’s and out’s of what he added, but I think a lot of violins and a lot of tiny sounds that you wouldn’t notice but have a big impact.
The sparse piano ballads are some of the most poignant moments. ‘Sometimes’ is vintage Joni Mitchell or Marissa Nadler for example. The piano is an instrument I always wanted to hear more in your recordings so it was such a delight to witness the beauty unfold as the delicate piano notes meld with your voice. What are your feelings on these piano laments Brigid? Were there challenges as to how you wanted each song to sound e.g. the arrangements and how full or conversely how bare a recording should be?
BMP: These songs are the first I have written for piano and voice, I love playing it and singing. I guess I gravitated towards writing with guitar for a long time because it’s easier to play live!
I had those songs ready when I went out there… we recorded them in a guy named Corey’s studio in Portland. I made the guys stand out of the room because those songs were very intense for me to sing! I just wanted them to sound how they did live really; I didn’t necessarily want anything added but I was open to suggestion. Peter added a lot to ‘Watching the Horses’ after.
How bare a recording should be – I’m generally a less is more kinda person, and I prefer the feeling that is captured. But there is a place for everything and I like a balance of having some things bare, some things not so bare, some things with a minimal thing added. In ‘Sometimes’ Peter adds the tiniest sound in it that gives the song so much! So much that when I play it on my own now I’m missing that tiny little beepy sound whatever it is…
Can you recount for me the experience of working closely with Peter and the daily routines at the Sparkle & Portland itself? What are the memories you cherish and the proudest aspect to this stunning body of work you feel personally?
BMP: Well working closely with Peter never felt like work. It just felt very natural and easy. We actually got so much recording, we couldn’t believe how much we had gotten done as the whole time we were there we kept lazing around. So we only recorded a few hours a day for maybe 2 or 3 days. The whole time was such a special time for me for so many reasons. I kept kind of pinching myself to see if it all was real, I just loved Portland. I’ve always felt very at home in the states musically and just generally anyway. There’s this kind of openness that I love. And I hadn’t been back there since I had my son, so I was just soaking so much in.
The Sparkle was near the ocean and near forest. There were deer and racoons. Me and Peter sat out on the porch and a raccoon came right up near us. We drank a lot of coffee. Sat in parks. Swam in the river. It was really a pivotal moment for me. The last six years or so for me had been so hard and I felt just like all my trust and hoping that things would change had paid off and I was enjoying this great opportunity.
I’m most proud of just doing it. I think if it had been the year previous and that opportunity to go out and record there had come up that I probably wouldn’t have taken it up. I was way too shy and anxious.
Can you shed some light on the song-writing process? I get the impression that patience and allowing a song to slowly bloom is important to the process itself? Would you have any trusted techniques or rituals you feel important to the creative process?
BMP: For me yes it really is to do with patience. What generally happens with me is that I seem to live life, soak everything in like a sponge and then after a few months everything comes pouring out. I never try to create. And when I do its usually bad news. It’s the same with painting for me, I have to come across things accidently, if I am asked to draw something in particular I really struggle to do it because there is an idea about it. I see artists that can really work like that with ideas first and make really amazing work, but for me it’s like the opposite way or something. It’s also a mystical thing for me, I don’t usually remember when or where I write something or when I finish a song. It’s like that exact when I finish something doesn’t really exist. It just appears.
Discuss the singers and musicians that lie rooted in your own sonic canvas and musical landscape? I fondly recall you singing (acappela) several Irish traditional standards back in Galway and Cork in the past, which leaves such a hypnotic spell on the audience. Discuss (if you can!) the techniques and voicings you have developed when it comes to delivering this sort of cathartic vocal performance?
BMP: I think that I heard a lot of different types of music growing up and I sponged it up. So I heard a lot of Planxty, Dolores Keane, De Dannan as far as traditional music is concerned. And also in my family gatherings singing was a big thing. Then in my own development with singing – I always got a lot of inspiration from certain singers that went that extra bit further, and to be honest I don’t think it was the technique that grabbed me, it was the depth they went. So I drew a lot of inspiration from singers like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and of course Tim Buckley. But also I always found John Fahey’s guitar playing a vocal inspiration too because I felt like he played the guitar like someone singing. But basically I don’t think I developed much technically or in a “learning how to do something way” it was more like I allowed myself to touch on something that feels quite outside of myself and maybe ancient sometimes.
Lastly, the cover painting (of your own creation) that adorns the record’s sleeve evokes the delicacy of this remarkable album and batch of songs. There is a nice backstory to this particular artwork I recall you telling me previously?
BMP: Ah yes, my friend the artist Vicky Langan has this really sweet daughter called Sionnach which as you know is “fox” in Irish. I think she was four or five at the time and she made such an impression on me, she was so imaginative and funny. So then a few weeks later I found myself subconsciously drawing a fox so I named it “A Fox for Sionnach” and gave it to her!
‘Brigid Mae Power’ is out now on Tompkins Square.
We are delighted to present an exclusive video album teaser and track premiere from the eagerly awaited new solo full length release from Sydney-based pianist and composer Sophie Hutchings. “Wide Asleep” will be released on the Preservation label on 22nd July 2016.
The Preservation label presents “Wide Asleep”, the third album from Sydneyʼs Sophie Hutchings, which is due for release on 22nd July 2016. “Wide Asleep” is the much-anticipated follow-up to 2012’s much-loved “Night Sky” album. Watch the official video for “Wide Asleep” below:
Listen to the Sophie Hutchings’ track “Memory I”, taken from “Wide Asleep” via Soundcloud below:
Sophie Hutchings is a pianist and composer from Sydney. She began teaching herself piano at an early age before any tuition, developing her unique style through countless hours of secret practice. Hutchings has released three instrumental works to date, ‘Becalmed’, ‘Night Sky’ and ‘White Light’, receiving fine recognition internationally for elegant and beautiful music compared to the likes of Nils Frahm, Max Richter, Peter Broderick and Dustin O’Hallloran.
With ‘Wide Asleep’, Hutchings has taken her compositional scope into larger realms of sound and feeling. It is her most searching work, based on ideas on consciousness between sleep and wakefulness. In her most dazzling and poignant pieces to date, Hutchingsʼ piano lines extend with both electricity and elegance, winding through strings, textured ambience and choral voices through beauty and vitality.
Reaching further with her music than ever before, Hutchings is in great company, recording Wide Asleep with Tim Whitten, best known for his nuanced and dynamic work with The Necks.
‘Wide Asleep’ will be released via Preservation on 22nd July 2016.
Pre-order the “Wide Asleep” ltd. edition boutique vinyl & CD at the links below:
“How can I make a programmed piano – or basically a piano that I never really touched, that I never saw or that I never recorded myself – how can I make that feel human and interesting?”
—Ben Lukas Boysen
Words: Mark Carry, Photography: Claudia Gödke
The Berlin-based composer, producer and sound designer Ben Lukas Boysen represents the prestigious Erased Tapes label’s newest signing with the scintillating sophomore full-length release of ‘Spells’. The German studio composer masterfully crafts a deeply moving sound world of ambient, electronic and modern-classical textures as programmed piano pieces are fused with live instruments (drums, cello, harp and an intricate array of echoes, delays and compressors), merging sound design and music to become one beguiling stratosphere of mesmerizing sound.
On the sleeve notes of Laurie Spiegel’s seminal work ‘The Expanding Universe’, the American composer discusses the great advantage of computers: “Music consists of patterns of sound. One of the computer’s greatest strengths is the opportunity it presents to integrate direct interaction with an instrument and its sound with the ability to compose musical experiences much more complex and well designed than can be done than can be done live in one take.” Journeying through the infinite beauty and meticulously crafted sound collages captured on ‘Spells’, Boysen has composed complex musical experiences that combines the controllable digital world and the often unpredictable aspects of live improvisation. The remarkable achievement of ‘Spells’ is the hugely humanised sound – and rawest of human emotions – that is emitted from these programmed piano pieces that floats in the ether between the blurred lines of electronic and organic spheres. Undoubtedly, the source or origin of the German composer’s work is secondary to the sprawling emotion and deeply affecting nature of ‘Spells’’ highly innovative and compelling body of work.
One of the record’s most formidable moments arrives during ‘Golden Times 1’ – the album’s longest cut and perhaps centrepiece – which is built upon a delicate piano-led melody that echoes the solo piano works of Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick among others. Later, heart-wrenching strings are melded together before a euphoric cascade of energy and emotion is transmitted amidst electronic walls of sound that forms the towering counterpoint to the aching bliss of ambient pulses (think ‘Looped’ by Kiasmos inter-woven with Nils Frahm’s ‘Says’).
In the same way as two distinct movements are composed for ‘Golden Times’ (‘Golden Times 2’ is a slowed-down neo-classical-infused-electronic tour-de-force recalling the likes of Scottish duo Boards of Canada), ‘Nocturne 3’ and ‘Nocturne 4’ finds the rich narrative of Boysen’s previous LP, ‘Gravity’ developed further. The brooding strings of ‘Keep Watch’ shares gorgeous remnants of A Winged Victory For The Sullen such is the unfathomable beauty that permeates the ebb and flow of neon-lit skylines and the gradual motion of the sea waves encapsulated within the soaring music. Indeed, ‘Spells’ is laden with a beating heart that awaits your every lost thought and faded dream.
‘Spells’ is out this Friday, 10th June on Erased Tapes Records.
Interview with Ben Lukas Boysen.
Congratulations on the sublime new record ‘Spells’. I’m sure it has taken considerable effort and time to program all the piano parts in particular?
Ben Lukas Boysen: Yes, a little, it actually doesn’t take as long as it would take me to play it [laughs], it takes a while but I can’t really play that well. So I needed to find a way to make that work otherwise and the programming is a very comfortable way of doing that. But it’s mostly the other musicians involved – they were a lot faster with everything because they are all very good instrumentalists. Most of the things were done pretty fast – it only took two years to get the piano stuff together and then the rest was faster.
Would the piano parts always come first and then the instrumentation of drums, harp and so on come after?
BLB: It depends actually. The way I record drums, I go into the studio with the drummer and I just hand him an idea and he starts jamming – I mean just like a track idea and he starts improvising. Most of the time (80% of the time), I remove my track afterwards and write something new for the drums and that’s how most of the tracks – with drums at least – come together. There was a certain idea at the beginning and it was all removed and something completely new was written underneath it. Hearing other musicians work normally inspires me a lot and gives me new ideas of what I want to do with it. So most of the time there is nothing really pre-written; it’s very subject to change there.
I must say ‘Golden Times 1’ – and I love also how there are two different movements with the second towards the end -it’s amazing how it morphs into the more electronic and as the piece extends, the piece builds continually. It really is wonderful how it develops.
BLB: Thank you so much. Right now as we speak I’m at a point where it’s very, very hard for me to judge the album. It’s very flattering and nice to hear that it seems to work because right now it’s this hunk of work that’s passed me. Musicians will tell you they need to get a distance from their work before they can actually enjoy it again.
Like ‘Golden Times’, I love how there are also two different movements of ‘Nocturne’ and it’s wonderful to see – and hear – the different variations between those pieces?
BLB: Indeed, that is a fun concept actually. It’s normally only heavy drums and a sad piano theme, like that’s the only restriction and everything else is fine. There’s the first two pieces [‘Nocturne 1’ and ‘Nocturne 2’] from my previous album ‘Gravity’ and it just developed, there was never really a plan. I liked how this worked so I do three more. There will probably be two more on the next one to close the trilogy or something [laughs].
You set up your own studio in Berlin around ten years ago. That sounds fascinating too because you’re obviously involved with so much projects from sound design where your own two studio albums are one part to the overall picture really.
BLB: That is true, the albums are personally at least, the most important one. The sound design and commission work is what pays the bills and what puts the food on the table. For the albums, you could never take that much time with a commercial project than you can with an album. You just sit down and take time and don’t do anything but that for a while. And in that time that it takes to make an album – the way I wanted it to be – I would be completely broke and on the street by the time it finished. I am very happy that I’m allowed to work in a craft that where music pays my bills; I feel incredibly privileged. The sound design was always part of it but I always try to make sound design musical and music more sound design: to find something within there. It’s hard to explain but they should become one eventually and this is very hard to hear on ‘Spells’ at least. But on the previous stuff – all the releases I did under HECQ – this approach is much more obvious there because it’s very electronic. But for my solo stuff it’s the same, ultimately I want to merge sound design and music into one.
I’d love for you to discuss your early memories of growing up with music? I presume you began playing the piano at a young age and progressed from there?
BLB: That is true although I was never really an instrumentalist in that way. I come from a musical family – my mother was an opera singer and vocal coach later on in her life and my father was an actor – so music was always very present and always a very important topic, and always being quite eclectic about it, my parents were and still are.
I started playing guitar and piano but I noticed this is not where I will be good at. It is more the abstract and programming part – the meta level of music – for example like ‘Spells’ and ‘Gravity’ are good examples: how can I make a programmed piano – or basically a piano that I never really touched, that I never saw or that I never recorded myself – how can I make that feel human and interesting? And how well that worked I guess is still to be seen when the album is out [laughs].
Well quite a few people – pianists actually – asked me how did I record the piano and I explained that I did not at all, it all comes from a machine. And their reactions were very interesting from amazed to almost disappointed and every reaction was in there; it was very funny really. There is a certain value system behind it like some people might value the result even less once they know that it’s not recorded as in no live piano. I thought that’s very interesting how you get this value system behind it or why is it that your perception tells you this is better because this is live or not live. That’s what I meant with meta level like it’s not only listening to a record, it’s also as a producer or as a musician questioning what is actually important for you during the production process and also when you listen to an album and why it might be more or less worth to you when it is done.
For example, I never sat down with the musicians in one studio at a time; they are all scattered either in Berlin or elsewhere in the world, and always recorded on their own almost. I mean I was in the studio with the drummer [Achim Farber] but the cellist [Anton Peisakhov] did his own thing and the harpist Lara [Somogyi] she is in LA so we were just bouncing off ideas really and then I merged them together here on my own. That’s also very interesting because there is a lot less life about this album than people might think [laughs] or at least how it sounds and that is done on purpose. It is probably without the listener knowing, a little challenge to question your perception.
As a listener listening to ‘Spells’ for example, overall there is a hugely humanised sound where you feel it’s very much an organic world that you wouldn’t think for a second was manipulated in any way.
BLB: Yeah that’s very interesting because that is how it should sound. It’s not an active act of deception or anything. I mean to make it sound human and very much alive was a goal but especially because everybody who starts to make computer music will have heard the phrase ‘oh so it’s not actual music’ when you work with a computer quite often and I’ve heard that many, many times. I mean computer musicians and electronic composers are absolutely established and are artists and a group of composers in their own right but still most of the people who are not actively involved in it they still have this preconception of this is not actual music and for some reason that I wanted to contribute a bit to that discussion saying that you can combine these things wonderfully. It’s quite tricky to sync a VST piano or any synths that are not improvised or played live to an actually live-played instrument because the moment you put a human being behind an instrument it will have its own very human factor and it will be quite faraway from any quantised digital world. This is very thrilling, I could do that for at least three more albums, it’s really fun.
There is a lot of chance and accidents in the sense that it is not set out too finely that goes inside the process too?
BLB: Indeed, it’s like recording mistakes, I would normally leave them in. I really like that, it’s not only to enhance the live feeling but I just normally really like what live mistakes and outtakes do to a piece of music like don’t over-polish it, that was my motto.
There is a lovely parallel between you and the other Erased Tapes artists like Nils Frahm and Kiasmos particularly where you’re certainly on a similar wavelength.
BLB: I hope so; I mean this is a big comparison so thanks a lot for thinking that way [laughs]. The mastering and mixing was Nils and he obviously added a lot of his input. It was very important for me that he is very free to do his thing and to work these little details and the extra twenty percent that this album would need – I mean twenty percent to say the least. When we were done after the two days, I really re-discovered the album and noticed things that I didn’t notice before and that’s why these sessions are always very helpful. He did that already on ‘Gravity’ and mostly because ‘Gravity’ didn’t sound like I wanted it to sound at all when I went into the mastering session and he really did something amazing there. ‘Spells’ was much closer to what I wanted it to be and he also adapted that fantastically so it’s an amazing job that he did. I mean he is adding a certain feel to it as well that makes it fit in with the rest of the bunch as well.
I wonder for the live performance it must be very exciting too because I presume the live set-up will transform the songs again even further?
BLB: Indeed, but that’s the trickiest part so far [laughs]. I’m really trying to figure out how to do that; well basically set up a band and come up with a concept. I actually never anticipated playing ‘Spells’ live. I mean I’m a studio composer and producer – not even a musician – so I have not much experience playing live other than a couple of DJ gigs back in the day and I’m working on something but it will take a while. It’s going to be a bit tricky – for me at least – I’m very critical with what I present to the outside world and so the live show needs to be very impressive, it needs to be something else. It’s not enough to go there and play on a stage with a laptop, there needs to be a concept behind it otherwise it’s not going to be the experience I want it to be. That’s why it might take a bit of time but you are absolutely right; listening to the layers of the tracks gives me a lot of ideas on how to solve that and how to go about the live idea – it’s very inspiring but it’s also very challenging, especially if you don’t really have a lot of experience in that area. It’s exciting times and I will spend a good portion of this year on figuring out how to do this.
I love how ‘Keep Watch’ is more rooted in the modern classical world but I love how the little layers of percussion are added throughout, especially during the later stages.
BLB: The cellist had to accompany himself. It’s a piece written for three cellos actually and he had to play all the three layers himself, the poor boy and he did an amazing job I think. He told me – and I wasn’t aware of – it’s very hard for a cellist to accompany himself and not in real-time; like you record one layer, then you record the second layer and then you record the third layer. And apparently it’s very hard to accompany yourself because of the re-intonation stuff like musician stuff that I wasn’t aware of [laughs]. He did an amazing job and for the live show it would have to be at least three cellos and this is one of the challenges.
Most of the live stuff is a logistic challenge because it’s easier for me to resolve that in a studio setting, you can basically come up with an entire string ensemble with just one musician in a studio but in a live scenario it has to be actually three musicians at least and so far, for only one track. So I would to need to write a bit more of that so it would make more sense to have three designated musicians there. I really enjoyed ‘Keep Watch’ because it is so focused on the strings and it’s quite a challenge to actually compose that way, it’s interesting.
You have a previous version of ‘Sleepers Beat Theme’ done already am I right to say?
BLB: Absolutely, it was the score for a short movie for at least half of it, the other half was done by Jon Hopkins. He heard the demo version of this track when the movie was done a couple of years ago almost and asked if he could use that for his Late Night Tales album, which was obviously a gigantic honour. It was a demo version because at that time I didn’t have all the tracks recorded and so it’s an alternative version but the album one is maybe my preferred version because it fits in better with the sound of the album. But the Late Night Tales version or the short movie version – I don’t want to say demo version – I just like that on ‘Spells’ it blends in much better with the sound of the album. So that was done two years ago and it really never left me. I don’t remember exactly where the name comes from; it had something to do with the movie but since it’s a completely beat-less track, I’m not exactly sure where the name comes from anymore [laughs].
Would there be very important or defining albums for you, Ben?
BLB: There were a huge amount of wonderful albums absolutely that inspired me drastically through my youth and especially all the techno stuff and all the Boards of Canada stuff. I’m not sure who today in this kind of music did not listen to that or was not inspired by it, it’s really interesting. Over the last seven or eight years, I have noticed that if something has really inspired me it’s ancient: it could be Bach or a lot of blues and jazz records and also a lot of choral works; very basic, almost primitive choral works (it could be from Germany or from Bulgaria).
Here are five albums (in no specific order) I think are utterly important for me (and everyone ;))
01 Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Seven Days Of Falling
02 The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
03 Max Loderbauer – Transparenz
04 Thomas Köner – Teimo
05 Deaf Center – Vintage Well 7″
‘Spells’ is out this Friday, 10th June on Erased Tapes Records.