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Chosen One: Raven

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Interview with Peter Hollo, Raven.

Raven is the moniker for Sydney-based cellist and composer, Peter Hollo. Armed with a looping pedal and his beloved cello instrument, Hollo is capable of conjuring up sounds to awaken your senses and evoke landscapes of vivid colours and textures. 

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


The debut Raven record is entitled ‘New Resolution’, which showcases a masterful artist at work. Many of the tracks are recorded live in one take; the magic sparks of spontaneity diffuse across the studio’s space and into the atmosphere of the listener’s world. It’s an appropriate title too. ‘New Resolution’ showcases a new world of musical possibilities where boundaries are constantly blurred. This particular solo project crosses many genres and styles, from neo-classical music to electronica, and beyond. One feels the special sense of time and place, where creativity is in full bloom throughout the sonic journey of ‘New Resolution’. I was introduced to Raven through the music of Sydney-based composer Sophie Hutchings. Music, quite often I find is like a network of branches or roots, where one artist leads you to another. It’s a truly beautiful thing.

‘Night Sky’ by Sophie Hutchings is one of my most cherished albums from last year. Peter Hollo plays the cello on this record, as he has done so on Hutchings’s debut album ‘Becalmed’. The instrumentation of piano, harmonium, accordion, percussion, vocals, violin, cello, oboe, flute and saw creates a haven of otherworldly sound. The piano-based compositions of Hutchings are very special indeed. As you listen to these pieces of music unfold, one feels an ocean of emotion pouring from the very heart of the gifted composer. Similar to the work of Peter Hollo, the instrumental work of Sophie Hutchings shares an unspoken connection with the listener. I can only imagine how collaborations like this and others, must seep into the slipstream of inspiration for Peter Hollo’s own projects. Interestingly, Raven is just one of several sonic ventures Hollo is at the heart of, most notably as cellist in FourPlay String Quartet and indietronic trio Haunts. Furthermore, as presenter of Utility Fog on Sydney’s FBi Radio, Hollo explores the crossover between organic & digital, acoustic & electronic, live & studio-constructed. It is clear that innovative music is forever embedded in the consciousness of the floating world between the vast array of collaborations and sonic ventures.

Album opener ‘Faux-Naive Journey of Alrightness’ is sublime. Layers of cello are performed live in one take. The piece begins with a cello bassline, which belongs somewhere between The Balanescu Quartet and Charles Mingus. This piece of music is joyous and uplifting. The hypnotic bassline is soon joined by layers of soaring strings that breathes new textures and depths to the canvas of sound. I sense the arrival of a new day; a slow sunrise forming on the horizon when listening to this opening piece. ‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’ is steeped in cinematic delight, with film score strings casting brooding emotion onto a landscape adrift and long-forgotten. The emotive strings could be the score to a John Hillcoat film or a lost Dirty Three record.

‘The Deafening Clamour Of Distant Cars’ is the longest cut on the album, at over twelve minutes in length. I think this piece is the essence of ‘New Resolution’. The epic piece of music mutates from ambient/classical worlds of drifting piano and heart wrenching strings to avant jazz/electronica of fresh beats and electronic glitches. Think modern classical a la Max Richter, Sophie Hutchings combined with the electronic mastery of Autechre and Aphex Twin. ‘Headache Music #1’ opens with synthesizer and laptop sounds echoing Germany’s Modeselektor, before gorgeously delicate cello rises and falls gently into the mix. A beautiful contrast is created between the futuristic beats and programming and mournful cello strings. A dichotomy of worlds; classical and experimental, are wonderfully fused together here.

‘Replicant’ has an irresistible slow-tempo groove. In fact, the bassline in places has an infectious dub sound. The electronic pulses and looped cello are effortlessly combined forming perfect late-night headphone listening for the small hours. ‘Replicant’ contains the trademark Ninja Tune sound with a jazz infused dance odyssey created. Raven’s rework of Telefonica track ‘There’s Something About Your Face’ is sublime. Cello strings are the first notes you hear, before a crystalline pop song comes to life. The song’s arrangement is pristine. The refrain of “Can we leave it at that?” sung over a crescendo of strings transports me to the magical world of Owen Pallett. Is there higher possible praise? The song is a study of construction, and the art of a perfect pop song. The symphony of ‘Improv When Doing Something Else’ is yet another glorious live improvisation of cello, where beautiful looped strings bring ‘New Resolution’ to a fitting close.


raven_newresolution_craigcarryInterview with Peter Hollo.

Please can you explain the genesis of Raven, your first solo music venture?

I became obsessed with idm in the mid-’90s, and as an aside from playing cello in my band FourPlay String Quartet, I started to make beats and sample-based messy stuff on my laptop, with limited knowledge of how to do anything. For some years, raven was mainly a vehicle for remixing other people, as I didn’t really have any synths and based everything around chopping up and multi-tracking samples.
At some point I realised that of course I had access to some sound sources of my own – I play cello and piano, after all.
I bought myself a looping pedal when I was asked to make some music for the live accompaniment of some animations by one of my favourite cartoonists, Jim Woodring, when he toured Australia for the first time a few years ago. So the first raven gig in this incarnation was at the Sydney Opera House (when you’re a musician living in Sydney this isn’t really anything to write home about mind you).


Congratulations on your album ‘New Resolution’. What most impressed me on first listening is how many genres are crossed over and in turn, the boundaries are blurred. Please discuss the recording of this album and the use of cello, piano, laptop and loop pedal as choice of instrumentation?

For now, raven has two different lives. Live, it’s almost entirely cello with loop pedal – layers of cello, sometimes rhythmic, sometimes free, with melodic and other sonic elements. The laptop isn’t integrated into this, although that will be the next step in raven’s evolution.
A number of pieces have therefore been written for this setup, or in fact improvised this way live to hard disk over 2012. But when I have the luxury of recording music “in the studio” (or at home), this (useful) structural straitjacket is removed, and sounds can be added or subtracted, looped and processed at will – as well as piano and other instruments being available.

All this aside, the album is a hodge-podge of genres because it is more like a compilation of material recorded during 2012 than a coherent album.


What are the sources for this album?

(I’m not quite sure what you’re asking, but…)
In the sense that it’s a compilation, the pieces have a few different origins; the earliest is a remix of my friends Telafonica, a wonderful indietronica band from Sydney. Two tracks appeared on compilations in 2012, from the amazing Futuresequence and from Sydney’s Feral Media label. One was written for the inaugural Sydney International Animation Festival, and was played live to accompany a short film written by 1st year animation students at the University of Technology, Sydney. And the longest work was written for the radio show Ears Have Ears (on Sydney’s FBi Radio, where I have a show too), who commission Australian artists to write “soundtracks” to imaginary movies for them.
There’s more info the individual track pages found by clicking through from the album itself in Bandcamp 🙂


The album opener is a sublime introduction. There is a very organic and warm percussion and electronics bubbling throughout. The free jazz groove of acoustic cello echoes cosmic sounds of Alice Coltrane. Please talk me through this compelling piece.

This piece was written as a soundtrack for a short animation by 1st year students. I needed to make something quite upbeat, and I’m usually drawn to mopey, dark sounds, so it was enjoyable to let go with this.
Most friends have commented that it sounds the most like FourPlay of my raven music. In FourPlay String Quartet over the last 18 odd years(!) we have developed a style of string playing that’s pretty far from classical, influenced by rock but also gypsy swing, dub, klezmer, Cuban, hip-hop, jazz, you name it. Although I don’t consciously draw on any of these influences necessarily, when writing my solo stuff (or with the band), there’s no doubt all this is bubbling away in the background. The sorts of basslines I play in FourPlay, percussive techniques we’ve developed together, and melodic elements that I’m not often able to introduce in the band, all surface when coming up with a piece like this. It was improvised live, after a couple of exploratory attempts – and all percussion and electronic-sounding elements come from the cello. In the end section I just send the looper into double time, pitching everything up the octave, and continue layering on top of that.
People also tell me it sounds Celtic, which wasn’t the intention, but if that’s how it turned out then so be it.


‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’ could be a soundtrack to a John Hillcoat film. An eerie landscape is etched on a large canvas of sound; from a meditative bassline to a soaring cello melody. With your music, is the cello always the starting point to a piece being born?

This also was a live improv, in the best way possible – when I wasn’t intending to even write anything. I always like to have new material for gigs, so I start playing around as soon as I set up the cello and loop pedal at home. An eerie landscape is indeed what I was starting with, and from there it all flowed without any pre-conceived idea, with cello-percussion, screaming dischords and droney ending. I guess it came from the sleeping dog hidden within. Hopefully I didn’t disturb it too much.
So yes, frequently the cello is the starting point. But that said, any of my pieces with piano usually begin with that instrument, serving as a bed from which the rest develops.


I hear a gorgeous dichotomy of worlds throughout ‘New Resolution’. The experimental side of your use of technology (laptop, looping) and cello, piano instrumentation. Please discuss your use of electronics in the music you make and how this combines with more traditional playing (cello, for example) in creating your sound?

As mentioned, raven actually began years ago as an attempt to make electronic music. In the live context, mostly it’s tended to be about the cello with loop pedal, (mis)using what contemporary musicians call “extended techniques” to generate interesting sounds with the wood of the bow, bow on the bridge, knocks on the body, etc, which are often in recording mistaken for electronic techniques (glitches, sampled percussion, distortion).
But “in the studio” I’ll use whatever I have in my armoury, including my other instrument, the piano, and lots of electronics. I remain a fan of music with beats, and also love the drones and soundscapes of Machinefabriek and Jasper TX, the broader world of postrock, delicate post-classical arrangements, and the last 10-15 years of noise music (Burning Star Core comes to mind).
Sometimes I’ll try and consciously incorporate sounds from this wide spectrum of listening into my productions, but it’s more likely that they’ll just surface through instinctive improvisation.


Tell me please about Raven’s version of Telefonica’s ‘There’s Something About Your Face’ and how it is interpreted here? For me, the indiepop song conjures magically the sound of Owen Pallett.

The vocal here is actually from the original piece. Telafonica are one of those bands who can comfortably write completely electronic music and then turn around and sound like an indie band. I took the original and literally re-recorded every part on the cello, including most of the backing vocals, beats and so on. I’m a big fan of Owen Pallett’s, so that’s a big compliment, thanks!


The longest piece on the album is ‘The Deafening Clamour Of Distant Cars’ and this track epitomizes the album’s compelling sound for me. Half way through, the piece evolves into an infectious groove of electronic glitches and beats. I would love to gain an insight into your love for electronic music and how and when did this originate for you?

I recall when I was at school, especially in the last few years (which takes us up to about 1991), being fascinated with synthesizers and then samplers, with bands like Depeche Mode and then Pop Will Eat Itself. Through the ’90s my biggest musical obsessions were idm and drum’n’bass, and the glitch of Fennesz, Farmers Manual et all as that became a thing. In the 2000s, it was the original folktronica of Four Tet circa Rounds and Tunng’s first couple of albums that was where it was at.
When I started my radio show Utility Fog in 2003, it was clear that hybrids of genres and particularly of organic/acoustic sounds with digital techniques was what I wanted it to be about, and inevitably it’s also one of the main things I want to do with my own music. Other than with remixes, it only rarely finds its way into FourPlay’s music – although they let me glitch up a (full-band) studio improvisation at the end of one of our albums
I do enjoy the way I managed to take this track on a trip from straight piano and acoustic cello, through cello noises and reversed piano into the very ascetic drum machine beats and piano glitches at the end. It does somehow express my philosophy of music in one track. The next album should take things further in this direction.


I first heard your music indirectly last year with the absolutely beautiful ‘Night Sky’ album by Sophie Hutchings. You play the cello on this record. I would love to hear your memories of recording this special album and what it is like collaborating and working with such talented composers, like Sophie?

Musical collaboration is something I’ve loved doing since I was very small. Solo music is exciting because it’s 100% your vision, and as long as you can realise your ambitions technically, you can do whatever you like. Playing with other people adds at the very least an element of surprise that can be a wonderful catalyst for stretching your own musical muscles, can lead to co-creating amazing music you’d never make on your own, or can just lead to the satisfaction of playing someone else’s beautiful music. With Sophie, I first played with her after the first album had come out, so it was partially about learning parts. But the new album came about after playing together for a while, and was more of a meeting of minds. Jeremy (Kong, violinist) and I worked out our parts with hints/instructions from Sophie, although Soph had the final say and mixed the album with the wonderful Tim Whitten (The Necks, etc etc).


You are the cellist in Fourplay String Quartet and indietronic trio Haunts. I am new to both these artists and I intend to seek them out very soon! Tell me please a little about these bands and their sound?

I’ve written a little bit about FourPlay above. We are four string players (albeit with two viola players), playing non-classical music. We gained some notoriety in Australia after our first album came out in 1998, because we covered Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” among other things. That album’s pretty primitively-recorded, although scores of fandom ensure that the Doctor Who theme cover remains popular.
We’re all fans of a wide range of music and the idea with FourPlay is to do the music justice – it’s not “classical” arrangements of rock songs; it’s rock, or any genres, that happens to be played by four string players (with amplification and effects).
We continue to do the rock and other unusual covers (“Killing In The Name” recently, as heavy as an electric string quartet can get), but lean far more towards original material these days. We have a great dynamic for writing together, based around group improvisation, semi-agreed-upon structures, and a democratic approach to moulding these into finished pieces.

Haunts is a trio with two members of Sydney band Underlapper, whose postrock/electronic leanings fit nicely with my looped cello. We’ve influenced each other’s music taste a lot through the years, and it’s great to be playing in a real group with them. There’s real vocals in there, along with crunchy beats and processed sounds, and that ol’ hybrid thing with the wood and catgut of the cello…

The other project I have right now is Tangents, an improv quintet (or smaller subsets) that, as is common these days, doesn’t fit in the usual genre boundaries. While piano/rhodes, guitar, drums, cello and electronics are the basics, anyone can be looping their vocals or triggering samples at any time, and you’ll find raw noise coalescing down to cello & piano interplay or beats’n’drums madness. It’s inspiring to play with fantastic musicians, and I feel we’ve achieved a few transcendent moments along the way, which should hopefully be released sometime this year.


You are a presenter of Utility Fog on Sydney’s FBi Radio. Please discuss the mission statement of this program and what music for you provides essential listening at the moment?

As mentioned, the mission statement was always broadly to explore the crossover between organic & digital, acoustic & electronic, live & studio-constructed. But I’m happy to play pure folk or pure electronica.
Recent highlights:
As with their last few releases, the digital release of the new Autechre has landed with a thud, a month before the CD (or vinyl) is out, and I’ve been delving into that. The new Boduf Songs is massively exciting – Matthew Sweet’s whispered/murmered vocals sitting with more electronic processing & beats than before, but still a sort of minimalist, doom-laden grungey folk that appeals strongly to me.
I’ve been listening back through a lot of the Rune Grammofon catalogue, and discovering both Deathprod and Arve Henriksen’s solo music for the first time (both are members of the towering Supersilent). And I’ve been listening to the back catalogue of post-metal heroes ISIS and post-metal/industrial/shoegaze/electronica pioneer Justin K Broadrick in all his incarnations.
There’s lots more, but maybe this will do for now 🙂


For more information on Peter Hollo’s Raven and his other projects, please see here:

For a link to Peter’s wonderful radio show ‘Utility Fog’ see here:

To listen to Sophie Hutchings’ ‘Night Sky’ album out now on Preservation:


Written by admin

February 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm

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