FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Jim White and Marisa Anderson

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Let’s say we are improvising a piece of music, is it the moment when your mind is still (calm) that is the best, does stillness relate to transparency of what’s behind it?”

—Jim White

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The resolutely unique sound of Jim White’s drumming has long been one of the most beguiling, breath-taking sounds to ever come across: whether it’s from the mythical Dirty Three songbook, or his (more recent) collaboration with George Xylouris (as the legendary duo Xylouris White) or the endless songwriters and musicians he has collaborated with over the years (Cat Power, Bill Callahan, Nina Nastasia, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey). The Australian drummer’s fluid, expansive drumming – whether it’s heard on record or witnessed during a live performance – creates a timeless and utterly shape-shifting experience. The artist’s fingerprint is forever forged inside these recordings; which reflects the unique artistry at hand. The drum also waltzes.

This year sees the arrival of the legendary drummer’s latest collaboration, alongside his close friend and esteemed guitarist Marisa Anderson. ‘The Quickening’ (released earlier this month on the prestigious Chicago-based Thrill Jockey label) documents the coming together of two wholly unique musical voices, which in turn, creates a rich, poignant and highly emotive sonic voyage of boundless horizons.

The rolling thunder of White’s drums serves the perfect opening lines of ‘Gathering’, before Anderson’s cathartic electric blues merges in perfect unison. The guitar and drums as the shared lead instruments. Immediately one feels the electricity and sheer intensity come flooding from the studio’s walls.

The dynamic range of this album is one of its rare feats. How the soft spun of acoustic guitar on the heartfelt lament ‘The Lucky’ is followed later by the psych rock rhythms of ‘Last Days’ is a joy to savor. In between, reverb guitar hangs in the air amidst White’s call-and-response drum patterns of ‘Unwritten’.

The lyrical folk gem ‘Diver’ feels like a long lost parable from ancient times. The album’s title-track highlights the vast riches of this sumptuous collaboration. Introspective moments steeped in beauty, showcasing the deep telepathy between these two remarkable musicians.

As sublime percussive flourishes of ‘November’ are interwoven with crystalline guitar bliss, ‘The Quickening’s rich musical journey comes to a fitting close.

‘The Quickening’ is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.

 –

https://marisaanderson.bandcamp.com/album/the-quickening

https://thrilljockey.com/

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Interview with Marisa Anderson & Jim White.

 

As a duo, I feel the deep musical telepathic connection between you both throughout these utterly hypnotic and compelling recordings. Firstly, can you recount your memories of first crossing paths? It is obvious from the stellar musical paths you have individually embarked on thus far, how natural and logical this collaboration would become. What were your primary concerns and objectives from the outset?

MA: We first crossed paths in 2014 when Xylouris White and I shared a bill in Portland.  Then in 2015 we went on tour together for 3 weeks. Jim was usually the DJ during the long rides between shows and my early impressions of getting to know him are based on his musical selections in the van.

From the outset of the collaboration, one of my primary goals was that the drums and the guitar have equal roles and voices; that there be no foreground / background instrument. My other main concern was dynamics. I want dynamic range in everything I do. For these recordings I was thinking in terms of fast/slow, loud/soft and the different combinations you get from mixing and matching those four elements between the two instruments.

JW: Xylouris White and Marisa Anderson shared a bill together in Portland in the early days of Xylouris White – around the time of our first album Goats. A friend loaned me a kit with calf skins on it that was so fun and warm sounding, the bounce of the stick is less and the sound much warmer than the synthetic heads. My first impression was Marisa was self-sufficient, her and her guitar and amp. My impression was that Marisa was self-possessed and interested which has been borne out. A year or two later we, Xylouris White and Marisa Anderson shared a tour and vehicle. It was a good trip and I listened to her set often. Before playing two traditional songs she talked about them from a different perspective than that of the obvious protagonist. Marisa and I share a lot of points of view but often have come from a different perspective to get to them, and I like that. We listened to a lot of country music in the car.

Somewhere along the way this idea of playing together came about, for me it was important to not have to make a product out of the attempt to play together. When I was on the west coast of USA I went up to Portland and we played in Marisa’s house once and then in Type Foundry studio. A couple of the songs on the record are from there, and it was enough of a start that later we decided to try to make a record. Marisa spends time in Mexico regularly and I was happy to go and be there. It was a good location because there were no disturbing distractions, we’d get a taxi to the studio, play, listen back, work on sounds at the start and as we went along, have a break, do some more. We listened back and checked and marked some pieces as we went along.

We didn’t want to make up pieces by taking an idea and consciously constructing it, we wanted to take the pieces as they happened. Intentions matter but the music wasn’t belaboured. I think we both had our eye on the overall picture. We didn’t enter into any arrangements where we were committed to a product in anyway, it was no one’s business but our own what we were doing. I didn’t have any externally driven dialogues in my mind. Everything about the record has happened with intention but not stress. As it happens we have what feels like a record. After the session we took the files away. I think I went on tour and Marisa went through the files and sent me more selections and some back and forth and we ended up with this record. Sometimes a record is so besieged by overwork you can’t listen to it for many years without feeling the struggle it was and all its associated memories. This record doesn’t have a lot of peripheral stress in it, not in the action of recording it, no struggle of taking a preconceived idea and trying to realize it in the studio, even though that is, hopefully, one of our skills as musicians – to get into that moment of translation. I can listen to the record without baggage and I’ve noticed that coming back to it now later, in the corona virus isolating period, that its taking on more emotional qualities as time goes past, that’s a good thing. To me.

Aesthetically, the richness and intensity of the music is really striking. Can you talk me through the opening half of the record, from the opener ‘Gathering’ into ‘Unwritten’? The latter could be my personal favourite with its subtle flourishes and many nuances that blend so well together. Also, ‘The Other Christmas Song’ could be vintage Dirty Three with its spellbinding ripples.

MA: In ‘Gathering’ I was playing with a technique of trying to fret all the strings in places that could create as many perfect intervals (octaves, fourths  and fifths) as possible in one position. From there I was playing as many strings as rapidly as I could and moving between positions that gave me those intervals. I wanted to find perfect stillness (my left hand/the intervals) inside rapid movement (the fingers of my right hand).

‘Unwritten’ is a more intuitive piece, I was trying to grab a mood and turn it into a melody.

The first recording session took place at Portland’s Type Foundry. I’m surprised by the fact these songs were borne from improvisation, with no rehearsals taking place prior to the sessions. Did you feel progress was made immediately once you were in the room together? Which of the tracks were formed here?

MA: We recorded Unwritten and November at Type Foundry. We made the decision to record everything from the start for a couple of reasons. I find that first takes on  improvisational musical ideas are often very fruitful and it is almost impossible to recreate those moments. Better to catch them as they happen. Also, we did not decide that we were making a record until after the Type Foundry session. We didn’t go into the studio with the pressure of having to make a record; we went into the studio just to document what we might make together, and once we found that it was fun and interesting, and that we enjoyed the process, we decided to keep going.

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Later on, you recorded songs in Mexico city’s Estudios Noviembres. I can imagine the acoustics of this space was special and proved an inspiration? What happy accidents, so to speak happened musically during this period in Mexico City?

MA: I spend a lot of time in Mexico City, and it’s a place I love. In my experience, it is a city of extremes. The apartment where I stay when I’m there is in the center of the city, and during the day it is unbelievably busy, crowded, noisy, constantly in motion, but in the wee hours of the night it is dead quiet, completely still. When I’m awake at that hour I’m aware that I’m in a silence at the center of 20 million people. Like all cities, Mexico City has a pulse; a current that hums through it that I enjoying trying to tap into.
The studio was kind of a time capsule of the late seventies. I don’t know when it was built, but it had been a recording studio throughout the seventies and maybe into the early eighties? Until something unknown happened and it had to close up overnight. It stayed closed until a few years ago when a trio of young engineers found out about it and tracked down the owner, who was in his eighties, and persuaded him to let them open it back up. You definitely go back in time when you walk through the doors.

Can you describe your mindset and headspace as you improvise- and the inner dialogue that ensues?

MA: In the ideal situation there is no inner dialogue while I’m playing. If  I’m aware of myself talking to myself than I’m in the way- I’m not fully in the music. At best I hope to be immersed, operating beyond language. When things are going well I can see/hear a few beats ahead, I know where my fingers should land, I know what the sound should be. But as soon as I become aware of being in that space, it is gone. So it’s best for me not to think too much about it.

JW: I read an article on a scientific experiment involving brain monitoring. It discovered that when you think for example, to stand up, that actually your body has already decided to stand up, the scientists can see the message going from the brain to your leg and it occurs a tiny fraction of a second before you think that you want to get up.

Presumably you have thought about standing up before in your life and if you are going to the fridge for example you are aware what you bought at the shop. You also learnt that you shouldn’t stand up when the ceiling fan is over your head and really low for some reason, you know all these things, maybe later on you will regret that decision to open the fridge and get that beer and that will be taken into account next time, I don’t know but does that answer the question?

All the decisions, intentions, conversations, are in there but they aren’t gonna help you now. Like yeah, tell yourself what you want to do but don’t look at it in your mind directly, sneak a look from the side maybe, perhaps. Ideally, improvising is no different to anything else. Your body is improvising, not your mind – at that moment, but what you talked about at lunch will affect it, how that happens is your question I suppose. Let’s say we are improvising a piece of music, is it the moment when your mind is still (calm) that is the best, does stillness relate to transparency of what’s behind it? Or when you suddenly wake up and you realize you’ve been in the zone or whatever the athletes call it, was that the good stuff? Or was it just before you got to that, or just after or actually when you were in some horrible struggle trying to get somewhere intentionally which I’m not discounting either. No idea.  

The contrast between the quiet bliss of those introspective moments to the intense maximalist roaring and resounding moments is one of the hallmarks of ‘The Quickening’. Did you have a big canvas of songs to cut down to, in terms of the finished album? Once the recordings were completed, how did you find the process of selecting the final recordings?

MA: There were many hours of music to carve the songs out of. Between the two studios we did about 7 days of recording. Much of that was easy to weed out immediately. I had a couple of weeks after Jim left Mexico to comb through the recording files and pull out what I thought were coherent ideas and work within them to find beginnings and endings and dynamic flow. After that initial weeding, I sent Jim my ideas for what might work and we basically figured out the rest going back and forth on email. I haven’t returned to the bank of recorded files since putting the record together. I worked as close to the moment of creation as possible to find the pieces that made it onto the record.

Finally, what is your musical philosophy?

MA: Wow that’s a big question! I don’t think I’ve ever tried to put words to that idea…

Maybe the closest thing I could say is -Try to sound like yourself-.

‘The Quickening’ is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.

 –

https://marisaanderson.bandcamp.com/album/the-quickening

https://thrilljockey.com/

 

 

 

Written by admin

May 27, 2020 at 2:44 pm

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