FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Actress & London Contemporary Orchestra

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“…but I do love the meshing of beautiful sound ideas, textures and tones. I like the idea of running them through a computerised process without it seeming as if it’s been touched.”

 Darren Cunningham (Actress)

Words: Mark Carry

Actress-x-LCO-Press-Shot-v2

‘LAGEOS’ is the utterly compelling, shape shifting debut full length release from renowned electronic producer Darren Cunningham (aka Actress) and the London Contemporary Orchestra. At the heart of this captivating record is both artists’ ceaseless fascination with sound wherein new pathways of discovery are forever attained.

The first traces – committed to tape at least – was last year’s beguiling ‘Audio Track 5’ EP. The divine title-track (which is also found halfway through the record’s second half) comprises of beautifully drifting strings that float amidst crunching percussive rhythms and piano patterns. The splicing of the various components creates a shimmering odyssey of rapturous, luminous soundscapes, where the abstract techno sphere is masterfully blended with modern classical elements. Importantly, lines become blurred throughout ‘LAGEOS’, one cannot pinpoint to any one musical landscape, for it is a far-reaching kaleidoscope of timbres, textures and tones.

LCO’s Hugh Brunt has described the collaboration as being “about exploring an ambiguity of sound that sits between electronic and acoustic spaces.” The new co-write ‘Galya Beat’ embodies just that as majestic violin lines are blended with rippling percussion and intense electronic passages: a rich new musical language is formed before your very eyes.

The gorgeous opener – and title-track – ‘LAGEOS’ opens with a gentle crackle of electronics which feels akin to a magical fireworks display dancing across a night’s skyline. Chaotic string patterns ascend into the mix like shooting stars with glorious illuminations of mind bending sounds. The near-choral bliss of ‘Momentum’ follows next with dazzling pulses of achingly beautiful sound waves (precisely orbiting the ether of unknown dimensions).

It is a joy to discover new contexts and insights into the cherished Actress discography as classics such as ‘Hubble’, ‘N.E.W’ and ‘Voodoo Posse, Chronic Illusion’ become a deep stream of consciousness and energy flow. The meditative bliss of ‘N.E.W’ with an endless array of enchanting instrumentation, supplied by the LCO, flows deep into your veins. The irresistible cosmic groove of ‘Voodoo Posse’ serves the record’s fitting penultimate track before the joyously empowering ‘Hubble’s techno fuelled odyssey maps one’s innermost fears and dreams.

Alice Coltrane once said “I just go within” and this echoes powerfully throughout this incredibly inspiring collaboration between Actress and LCO, the sumptuously layered tracks come from deep within one’s soul, heart and spirit.

‘LAGEOS’ is out now on Ninja Tune.

https://ninjatune.net/artist/actress

 

Actress2013_PiotrNiepsuj

Interview with Darren Cunningham (Actress).

 

Congratulations Darren on the utterly captivating new full length ‘LAGEOS’; a glorious collaboration with LCO. Please take me back to the process by which you received the individual LCO recorded instrumental parts and, in turn, your manipulation of these sounds? It feels like such a fascinating sound experiment, and I wonder how your approach varied depending on the nature of the music you got hold of?

Darren Cunningham: Tar thanks 🙂 It was a split process of sorts really. The process of recording the instrumental parts were organised separately in a different acoustical sound environment in the UK. This process layer was then moved to another sound environment in Berlin. It was at this point that I started to receive stems from the first process, and from that point created a demo of what the album could soon like based on what id heard from outside of the recording process, so at each point there’s a flow of information that can be reorganised and captured in the studio.

At the final point I receive the stems created for each instrument and begin the electronics process in my studio. Dipping sounds through chromdioxid super II at different frequencies and layering sound oscillations via subtle modular relays. Some were layered chaotically within the framework of orchestration, or in some cases specifically mapped to expression.

The classical world combined with the electronic sphere conjures up such a shape shifting, mind bending experience. Can you discuss your desires and hopes for this project (from the outset) and your love of classical music (I believe your first musical instrument was the clarinet, so ‘LAGEOS’ is almost like the completion of a full circle for you)?

DC: Hmmm “love of classical music” I  wouldn’t technically describe myself as someone who “loves” classical music, but I do love the meshing of beautiful sound ideas, textures and tones. I like the idea of running them through a computerised process without it seeming as if its been touched.

I came across and begun to appreciate classical music by chance, having heard Gabriel Faure’s – Requiem, but I was exposed to a classical instrument when i was about 10 and that was the clarinet. I committed to the ritual of practice for a reasonable amount of time (2)years. Brief stint in orchestra (2hrs), and that was it. So definitely the clarinet forms some sort of symbolic reference, but ultimately for me this was just an exercise to learn more about music.

This project began with the live show in the Barbican back in 2016. I’d love for you to discuss the source of inspiration that this space and its architecture has had on the music making process and the resultant recorded output?

DC: I’d say the Barbican is a great space for capturing a sort of introspective analysis.

Amped up isolation

An exchange of communication

Like a friendly council estate for the arts

Enriching lives

community

and waterfalls

‘LAGEOS’ gives beautiful new insights into several classic cuts from the cherished Actress back catalog. In what ways do you feel these tracks (such as N.E.W. or ‘Voodoo Posse, Chronic Illusion’) have metamorphosed given this new classical context?

DC: They’re just so weirdly inverted its endlessly fascinating to me.

Lastly, the immense detail and intricate layers – forever colliding particles that feel a distillation of endless moments within moments – of the vastly compelling Actress sound unleashes such a timeless, far-reaching state. Please shed some light into your compositional approach and your fascination with sound? Are there certain musical philosophies that you feel have been central to your artistic creations

DC: DISCOVERY

 

Photography by Tom D Morgan - www.tomdmorgan.com

 

Interview with Robert Ames (co-Artistic Director of LCO).

 

The forthcoming Actress & London Contemporary Orchestra ‘LAGEOS’ record is really quite special. Firstly, I’d be very curious to learn how this particular collaboration was conceived and to bring me back to the original live Barbican show in 2016?

Robert Ames: So about a year before we did that show at the Barbican, we sat down to have a think about who in that world we’d really love to work with (it came out of the meetings that we had with Boiler Room; there was a bunch of us there) and we all agreed that Actress would be amazing for it because he’s got such an incredible ear for the detail in the music and there’s so many layers of interest as well. So it would be really interesting to give him orchestral instruments as a palette to play with – just like he works when he’s creating his tracks with a load of found sounds to create his music before; it would be interesting for him to treat out orchestral instruments in the same way. So, that was about a year before the Barbican show. We had a long process of introducing instruments to him; we were all hitting ideas off each other and then we got the Barbican show.

The classical world and the techno/electronic world really complement each other, it just combines so well.

RA: Yeah, it’s a really interesting time at the moment where – I’m trying not to use the label contemporary classical music because it doesn’t make so much sense – there seems to be a really interesting natural cross-over that’s happening quite a lot between genres and particularly electronic music producers and composers in the world we work in more it seems to be a lot more fluid now and ideas seem to be flowing between each other and it’s hard to pigeon-hole the music in a specific genre so much. And I think that’s something that really exciting about the LCO is finding those ambiguous spaces where it’s really exciting in to make it happen and try to facilitate that and facilitate recording and the live shows. Actress is one of the most exciting examples doing that and we’re really looking forward to the Barbican show that’s coming up and for everybody to hear that album.

I was very curious to hear how much a source of inspiration the Barbican itself was in terms of the space and the architecture?

RA: That’s right, the architecture – especially for Darren more than anybody else – was a big influence in his thought process for the initial show: that brutalist, concrete architecture I think you can definitely hear that in some of the music.

‘Audio Track 5’ was the first taste of this collaboration when it came out last year. Again, it’s the organic feel to it and very distinctive timbres happening like these found sounds etched in the detail somewhere. You presumably had good fun putting a track like this together?

RA: It’s an interesting one that one (I’m just trying to remember off the top of my head). Of the specific instrument or sounds you hear on that; you hear that kind of low crunching sound and that’s a prepared piano and  stuff that is going on high up, you get a lot of plucked harp sounds that have obviously been treated by Darren as well as violin lines (which are played by our lead violinist Galya Bisengalieva).

For these live shows, is it a case of rehearsing a lot in advance or is it an intense short burst of a period?

RA: It’s a fairly intense process. The really nice thing about these shows – we’ve played a couple now and have more planned and obviously they’re all happening in different places but they happen in very different atmospheres as well. So for example we played the Barbican in London last year, we did a show in Moscow that was more of a club venue and it was a standing capacity. We haven’t had a set-list (like bands would have a set-list): we go into the space, we see how we all feel and how the musicians feel and think what audience we’re going to get and we chop and change the set-list depending on that so it’s got a nice programming behind it depending on the space, the atmosphere, the audience and the musicians.

Thinking about your other collaborations, Mica Levi is another person who really typifies this sort of uncategorizable sound and someone who is so unique in the current music world.

RA: That’s really interesting; we’ve just been working on something new with her at the moment. So, Mica Levi and another musician called Koby Sey and a visual artist called Hannah Perry and some musicians from LCO. And so far that’s been four days: very open, work shopping and improvisation and throwing ideas out. So the work we do with her ranges from that all the way to a very specific commission to write a string quartet and we just performed that at the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, we performed it at the Roundhouse as part of Ron Arad’s Curtain Call. And we’re just about to fly off to Salzburg to perform that and that’s a much more standard process where she writes a piece of music, she comes and she presents it to us; we work on it a bit with her, share some thoughts and then we enjoy performing her work.

Does the LCO change or alter in size depending on the nature of the project or time and other constraints?

RA: Yeah it does. I started the orchestra with co-founder Hugh Brunt in 2008 and it started off being large orchestral but we’d like to think of the orchestra as a collective of musicians as opposed to something that’s really inflexible. So, in one concert we could have like a solo piece of music all the way up to a ninety piece orchestra all the way down to a string quartet; so we do a massive array of different types of concerts and different line-ups of ensembles. We record a lot of stuff as well, so something like ‘Alien: Covenant’ which we recorded with Jed Kurzel (and that was a 90-piece orchestra) and we just did a string quartet concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and we’re going to be doing a massive orchestral show in October at the Barbican called Other World which is the amazing batch of shows, eight of our core musicians that we work with a lot. So it’s really changing all the time and it’s nice to be able to do that; it means instead of going to a composer and saying ‘this is what we’ve got, you’ve got to write this’, we can say ‘this is what we’ve got, enjoy it and we can be flexible to what you want.’

There is a wide range of found sounds on ‘LAGEOS’. So, as a listener you’d be asking ‘what is this sound?’ and I just love how all these elements are spliced together so brilliantly.

RA: Yeah, that’s right. A lot of the sounds on there are devised by the musicians themselves so instead of being standard classical sounds, there is a lot of extended techniques on there you especially hear that on the violin, viola and cello. Then you hear a lot of great, interesting percussion techniques like the Marimba’s with blankets thrown over them; plastic bags being used; the clarinet being used more of a percussive instrument. So it’s these very well-known instruments that are being explored throughout their whole sound world. So that’s coming from Darren first or wanting to find out exactly what more instruments can do, the musician having the technical ability to create all these sounds and show them to him.

The studio itself that you record in, is this a space that you all would be familiar with?

RA: This was a slightly different recording process to what we’d usually do. So, although we perform and rehearse together, we actually recorded the stem – the stem being we recorded every single instrument independently and built them up so we could give Darren control over the individual lines and so Hugh and I would have control as well. And the mixing stage we did with our friends at Spitfire Audio Studio: they are a really amazing company; they make sound library store for composers so we recorded in their studio which we recorded our sound library we did with them and we had a great engineer called Harry Wilson.

Was the process itself a short intense period or more lengthy, gradual stages?

RA: It was quite intense, it happened over two very, very long days of each musician independently and obviously each track has a different amount of musicians; some of them have scores and some of them don’t so some were quicker to record than others. So I think safely to say by far my favourite track on the album is a track called ‘Galya Beat’ and that’s not scored at all and that’s written by Galya (the violinist), Sam Wilson (the percussionist) and Darren, so that’s a pure co-write between those three guys and for me is what the collaboration is al about. And there’s elements of improvisation in the writing of that, so something like that was really quick and fresh to record because they performed it so much. The other ones which are a little bit more notated took a bit more time.

One of my favourites at the moment – and it’s where it’s placed as well – is ‘Voodoo Posse, Chronic Illusion’and that groove that goes on throughout.

RA: Yeah it’s a great one, I mean it’s one of his classic tunes, it’s really amazing. It’s fun exploring that groove and it’s fun exploring the darker sound worlds of that piece. And the nice thing about that is the way we perform and the way the music is notated it doesn’t have a set duration, so if we see the audience is enjoying the groove we’ll keep it going for longer.

I gather it’s these live performances would be the most fulfilling or rewarding parts of it all? You’re so deeply involved with everything from composing and writing to arranging, recording and so on, is the live performance the ultimate part of it?

RA: Yeah, the live performance is the really, really fun bit. But it’s actually just being in a room with Darren and just working through sounds has been an incredibly rewarding experience because we’ve learned so much from him and his process; the way he works so it’s been really fulfilling the whole thing.

‘LAGEOS’ is out now on Ninja Tune.

https://ninjatune.net/artist/actress

 

 

 

 

Written by admin

June 5, 2018 at 1:58 pm

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