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Chosen One: Hauschka

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It’s always a wonderful and fun process to create new music where you actually find yourself unfolding something new and I think that for me is always inspiring and refreshing.”

Volker Bertelmann

Words: Mark Carry

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A wealth of magic emanates from the scintillating piano works of Germany’s Volker Bertelmann. Under the guise of Hauschka, the gifted composer has released his most ambitious, radical and enthralling works thus far. ‘What If’ feels like a culmination where the dynamics of Hauschka’s incendiary live performances – particularly post-‘Abandoned City’ with his shows often built around one single, three-dimensional long piece that continually weaves in and out, unfolding into an infinite array of possibilities – becomes etched across the record’s deeply fulfilling journey.

I recall fondly an interview with The Necks’ pianist Chris Abrahams and some of his words echoes powerfully throughout ‘What If’s otherworldly sound-world: “Sometimes, through the combination of a strange instrument and weird acoustics, I have heard the piano speak words.” As the fragile piano melodies of ‘My Kids Live On Mars’ morph into reverb-laden tones amidst deep bass techno flourishes, the piano speaks words so absolute and true. It feels as if Bertelmann’s piano-based odysseys are navigating the deepest parts of our inner selves, a cosmic exploration of immense magnitude.

A circularity resides in these nine sublime texturally rich compositions where certain piano motifs (the rhythmic pulses of the player pianos masterfully employed in several places, for instance) and far-reaching, dense textures (deep techno bass and analogue synthesizers depicting a dystopian universe) circulate the divine minimalism of Hauschka’s singular soundscapes. The record’s penultimate track ‘Trees Only Exist In Books’ transports you to another realm with the suite of synthesizers and piano patterns forming an ethereal bliss of faded dreams. This piece somehow feels inter-connected to Mica Levi’s ‘Under The Skin’ score, such is the intoxicatingly bewitching sounds that are masterfully sculpted.

What If’ is the sound of a producer as much as a pianist. Hauschka’s piano-based tracks of earlier works still remain, albeit as sacred artifacts buried beneath a sea of beautiful noise and electronic elements. New patterns and shapes are forged at every turn, sharing parallels with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark studio of miraculous sound creation and immaculate hip-hop production. ‘What If’ asks for reflection of the deepest kind.

‘What If’ is out today on City Slang (Europe) and Temporary Residence Ltd. (USA).

https://www.facebook.com/HauschkaMusic/
https://www.hauschka-music.com/

hauschka

Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).

From your live shows, you have focused more so on creating one long piece – and obviously that’s something you’ve been developing a lot since ‘Abandoned City’ – how the different ideas and motifs from these performances must go into the new album’s recordings?

Volker Bertelmann: I actually recorded a lot of the music in Berlin with Francesco Donadello and we were setting up the studio like in the way I am doing a concert so we had the two pianos. So, I was performing in the way I was performing live and that was the foundation for at least six tracks of the album and the other three tracks were tracks with player pianos.

The player piano is something new for you, is it?

VB: I have played it at the Brighton festival two years ago and I also played a release show of the ‘Abandoned City’ album in Berlin. I’ve wanted to find a way of playing multi-track things with an acoustic instrument. So I figured out it would be nice to have two pianos to be my band and that was the first thought of it and then I felt very good about preparing one piano as a drum kit and preparing the other piano differently so I was very happy about that.

It feels as if the record goes further and deeper than even the previous releases and particularly the electronic element is very important and where all the many elements come together so well?

VB: Yeah I agree totally. It was challenging because when you work with the player pianos, you have your hands free to actually prepare the pianos with all sorts of stuff while the piano is playing. It was very interesting to work with. I really feel attracted to the precision when working with the player piano because you cannot force create a very electronic and precise score using the prepared piano and that’s very nice.

Did the more analogue equipment like the synthesizers you’re using, would these have been the same equipment used on tour and on previous releases?

VB: No, actually this time I’ve used different equipment. I mean I was always a synthesizer man already when I was young and I collected a lot of synthesizers  but I had the feeling on previous records that I didn’t want to use them. I’m not a big fan of this Jean-Michel Jarre kind of repetitive sequence for using the synthesizer in a particular way. So, I was using an old Roland Jupiter 4 synthesizer and using a Minimoog , which is one of my favourite ever synthesizers and that’s mainly it.

I think the pinnacle of the record for me comes on the penultimate – and longest track – ‘Trees Only Exist In Books’ it feels like these mesmerising strings arrive in halfway through , it really sums up how far-reaching the entire album is.

VB: I was thinking as well about my hip-hop times because there is also a lot of songs that have a little lower tempo but they’re still clubby in a way and there’s some neatness to them. And they’re at the same time not only house or techno tempo but they’re a little bit more in the middle like 100 BPM or 90. I felt like some of the tracks would be nice to get into that channel again – when I was twenty to twenty-five – where I was listening mainly to hip-hop artists and I’m always a big fan of that. Some of the tracks are a little bit oriented on that time as well.

Listening to ‘What If’ you can really hear the sound of a producer as much so as a pianist. For instance, the production of ‘Familiar Things Disappear’ with the transforming sounds throughout.

VB: Yeah totally, I mean it’s something that I’ve always done. I think it was never a part of my previous records because I mainly just played one track and that was it or a little laptop overdubs. But I have the feeling that I want to go more into a direction where I can go more extreme and I felt like this is maybe the way to go.

The album – just like all your previous records – there’s always very much a narrative or a particular chapter with a beginning, middle and end and the pieces on ‘What If’ certainly all feel closely connected with each other.

VB: This time I recorded twenty tracks with this kind of style and at the same time I was recording more piano pieces that I haven’t released yet, about forty that have nothing prepared and no electronics, just one take with me and the grand piano. I have the feeling that I have to switch between my work having all these sounds and my work that has the clearness of the piano; I love both of them so I’m trying to switch between those two styles.

Throughout ‘What If’, there’s like a series of contrasts and wide range of sounds and I love how ‘I Can’t Express My Deep Love’ fits so nicely in the middle, the more bare piano compared to the rest.

VB: This one song ‘I Can’t Express My Deep Love’ is actually from one of those takes that were pure piano recordings and I used this specific track on that album in the middle because I wanted to cut the tracks a little bit in half. This is the only piece that does not belong to the session I did altogether – this was a completely different session – from that session I have many more but I want to focus right now on the more textural  and more electronic and darker side of the music. At the same time, I’m doing a lot of film scores, there’s a lot of music out from my workflow that is very melodic and beautiful and so I felt my own music wanted to be a bit more edgy.

A track that just turned out amazingly is ‘My Kids Live On Mars’ and how there’s this fragile piano and that deep bass sound that floats in the mix.

VB: I really tried to find the balance between my melodic and my rhythm sides but at the same time I also feel like maybe the pieces are not only getting more diverse but they’re a little bit more like a composition, for example more pattern oriented music, which maybe in the beginning it was much more repetitive and I slowly feel like I can give the music more the sense of a journey and let it feel more like a composition that goes in and out and that has more different themes involved.

It brings you to your live shows as well, especially after ‘Abandoned City’ where some of the shows had this feeling like it’s this blank canvas and you start at one point and you don’t know where you’re going to go from that point on.

VB:  Yeah absolutely, that’s what my intention was to actually connect those two worlds with each other.

VB: I remember how you mentioned before how much an inspiration Nicolas Jaar was for you and it’s actually his first album ‘Space Is Only Noise’ that shares that atmosphere and dimension when revisiting your new album.

VB: Totally, I think above inspiration, music that you listen to where maybe a part of your world is incorporated where you feel like this is something that where the mixture is different from where you normally would mix everything up. But I think especially with Nicolas Jaar’s way of combining real instruments with a DJ approach is very nice and I have a feeling there are elements in there that I would say a musician would do differently in a way when you just come from the instrumentalist point of view. And I really like how he’s dealing with samples and how he’s like weaving it into each other, I really love that.

In terms of your own studio – you mentioned how one part was made in your own studio and also in Francesco Donadello’s studio– is this set up where you create most of your work in general?

VB: Francesco works a lot with Johann Johannsson and Dustin O’ Halloran and he mainly mixes a lot of their albums. He went on a couple of tours with me, doing my sound and I know him from back in the early days when he was in the band Giardini di Mirò. He also mixed the album and he had a different view on my music, which helped as well because I wanted to find somebody that I feel very close with in a way but at the same time I wanted a viewpoint of looking into the mix and finding maybe weaknesses or strengths. In his studio [Vox-ton] they have a Steinway D grand piano and I was very inspired by that piano so I think I will get one pretty soon. But at that time when I recorded the album, I had no grand piano and I wanted to have this full-bodied sound. All the albums beforehand were made with an upright.

And once the mixing stage is completed then, is it a case of doing overdubs and other final tweaking by yourself?

VB: Yeah, I mean mostly I’m trying to go in different places. In previous albums I was mostly recording the albums in my studio so the whole workflow was already clear, I just started it and recorded something and then I finished it in a way. With my workflow this time, it was forcing me into a different field, make an appointment and just go in by yourself and start recording as much material as possible and then go back with that material to my studio and mix that with stuff I already had. There were a lot of tracks of mine that were very, very rich in how I worked with them because there was already an option of live recordings and rich textures that I had collected.

So, this time I said I’m working much more like in the live situation as you mentioned but in a very good surrounding with great microphones and all sort of stuff. So, I am very pleased that it turned out so well especially as I was doing two films at the same time, back to back. And I was not sure I would be able to do it but I’m very happy in the way – like the flip-side in what I was doing with the moog in a way.

In the moment that you have laid down all your tracks – and you know there’s obviously a pool or a well of material to choose from – I wonder is that a fun process or is it challenging to select the right parts, considering the wealth of material that has gathered?

VB: I mean you know yourself, you have for example the opportunity to find out when you work best and a lot of times I have the feeling that I need some pressure when I’m working best and not pressure that is stressful but it’s more like I’d rather wait longer to the point where now I have to start otherwise it’s taking too long. So, that’s how I work and so a lot of times I’m trying to force myself into the situation where I have to move. It’s always a wonderful and fun process to create new music where you actually find yourself unfolding something new and I think that for me is always inspiring and refreshing. I’ve never failed so far making a record and having the feeling like it’s painful or I won’t get this done, so far I’ve been lucky [laughs].

I must congratulate you on the ‘Lion’ score you did with Dustin O’ Halloran and the many nominations you received for this music. Like you said about Francesco Donadello, it must have been a real pleasure to create music together with Dustin?

VB: I mean he’s the most humble, non-egotistic person in the world and that makes it totally nice to work with somebody who you can actually work on the creative side but you never have to battle the human element. But you know with musicians it’s not always easy because musicians of course want to express themselves and they want to be seen in the right way and at the same time when you have to make a movie it’s also a service and it’s also collaboration with the director who has certain ideas. So you have to decide what’s best for the film rather than for your own artistic expression. And finding that balance was so easy with Dustin and we are already long-time good friends so that was a pleasure to experience this whole journey with him.

As you mentioned previously, you obviously had a big starting point with hip-hop and a love for rap music, I’m curious to know would there be defining artists and records for you from this world of hip-hop that was very important for you?

VB: I was always a big fan of Timbaland as a producer and I love his way of approaching rhythms. I was a fan of N.E.R.D and all their records, it had the minimalism, which was the most interesting thing for me: how they work with beats and so I would say these two. And also, of course all the work that Timbaland did with all the collaborators. There’s also one collaboration with 2Pac and Dr Dre that I really love. This kind of hip-hop production for me was very inspiring I have to say.

With your tour coming up, it must be exciting to have this new music that’s so fresh, it must make the experience of the live show different and new again for you?

VB: Totally. I’m trying to prepare right now. Touring and finding the right sounds and the right lights and I am working again with Michael Buchholz who is doing the sound and we’re travelling with a light guy. But you know what I don’t want to do is like I’m not going towards the stadium show – I’m not a big fan of that – I rather smaller and more intimate spaces, I have to feel the audience, so that’s what I’m aiming for on this tour.

‘What If’ is out today on City Slang (Europe) and Temporary Residence Ltd. (USA).

https://www.facebook.com/HauschkaMusic/
https://www.hauschka-music.com/

 

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March 31, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Chosen One: Echo Collective

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Interview with Neil Leiter (Echo Collective co-founder).

I love playing this music and feeling my heart slow down in the pulseless moments, and then the opposite, getting carried away by the wall of sound and transported to the next realm.”

Neil Leiter

Words: Mark Carry

Photograph: Jesse Overman

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Echo Collective is a collective of classically trained and professionally active musicians based in Brussels Belgium. Past and ongoing collaborations include A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Stars of the Lid, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Laniakea, Adam Wiltzie, Dustin O’Halloran, and Christina Vantzou.

The live experience is one of those rare occurrences where a multitude of emotions can engulf your every thought, like a whirlpool of forgotten dreams that suddenly resurface to the pools of your mind. Of course, an experience such as this is impossible to quantify but the feelings and profound impact caused by these sonic transmissions is absolute and true.

When I think of some of these live experiences, the Echo Collective string quartet lies at the heart of several otherworldly live shows: Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson; A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s ‘Atomos’ tour (several years later) and Stars Of The Lid’s 2016 European tour. Undoubtedly, the gifted quartet have developed a common musical language with these awe-inspiring modern composers and the wall of intense sound unleashed by these live strings – blended with electronics, drone noise, ripples of piano notes or otherwise – navigates the depths of the human heart and (unknowingly) transported to another realm.

As part of the Echo Collective’s concert residency at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels during the 2016-2017 season, the Echo Collective will re-adapt and reinterpret Radiohead’s Amnesiac album. In a similar way to André de Ridder’s exceptional Stargaze modern classical ensemble – their reinvention of Boards Of Canada’s ‘HI Scores’ EP or the divine ‘Deerhoof Chamber Variations’ record are just two examples – Echo Collective are continually searching to redefine the boundaries of music (and in turn, these boundaries become beautifully blurred).

www.echocollective.be

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As part of the Echo Collective’s concert residency at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels during the 2016-2017 season, the Echo Collective will re-adapt and reinterpret Radiohead’s Amnesiac album. For details of the first edition of the BRDCST Festival and Echo Collective’s show (as a double-bill with Germany’s Hauschka), please visit HERE.

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Echo Collective performing with A Winged Victory For The Sullen at the BBC Proms, 5 Aug 2015, Royal Albert Hall, London.

 

Interview with Neil Leiter (Echo Collective co-founder).

It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about your awe-inspiring musical project of Echo Collective. Firstly, can you please take me back to the founding of Echo Collective and the particular space and time in which this collective began on their music path? I’d love to gain an insight into your musical background and classical training. Also, please introduce to me the current personnel who comprise of Echo Collective.

Neil Leiter: First Mark, thank you for your interest in Echo Collective. It is a true honour to be part of your inspiring blog.

Echo Collective began five years ago. I was introduced to Adam Wiltzie by a childhood friend Caroline Shaw. She plays violin as part of ACME in New York and is a fantastic and renowned composer. As part of ACME, she had played with Adam as part of A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Stars of the Lid. Adam was looking for European based musicians to play with, and she put us in touch. I will be forever grateful for that introduction.

Margaret Hermant and I put a team together to collaborate with AWVFTS and Echo Collective grew out of that initial relationship. All of our musicians come from a classical background. For example I studied viola performance at Indiana University Bloomington, and had been an active professional in Brussels for ten years before Echo. Margaret our violinist and harpist, studied in Brussels and has also been an active professional for many years before Echo. The list goes on, but the background is the same. Classically trained musicians, searching to redefine the boundaries of music and what it means to be a classical musician.

Echo was and still is primarily a collaborative group. Though we have started to branch into our own projects, our roots remain collaborating with modern composers on their new projects, recordings, and tours. Though we tour mostly as a string group, normally between three and five musicians, our team in residence at the AB in Brussels this year, is seven strong: Margaret on violin and harp, myself on viola, Harm Garreyn on cello, Gary De Cart on piano, Hélène Elst on bassoon/contrabassoon,Yan Lecollaire on clarinet/bass clarinet/baritone sax, and Antoine Dandoy on orchestral percussion. The upcoming albums that we plan to release also are in this formation.

You have formed an integral part with many of the finest modern composers of today, including Stars of the Lid, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Christina Vantzou and more. Please discuss how the process of collaboration has developed between Echo Collective and these array of composers? It is clear that there is a dedication, trust and openness between you and these collaborating musicians. Each of these projects must take you on some deeply rewarding and fulfilling experiences. How have you developed as a string quartet in light of these wonderful projects and collaborations?

NL: You are completely right that collaborating with the aforementioned composers is deeply rewarding and fulfilling. Part of what makes it so special is that there is a real dialogue between us and the composers. Because we come from such different backgrounds, part of working with each of them is developing our own common language for musical communication. And as we develop this language together, there is a deep bond that develops. All of these people are like family now.  I think that these strong relationships come from learning how to communicate in our own special way, in an individualised way. In a way that only relates to their music.

I know that these composers appreciate that dedication. And all the people that take part in Echo have that innate ability to live the music live. In fact my wife jokes that I am probably the biggest Winged Victory fan. And I might be, I listen to their music and the music of all these amazing people all the time. And I truly do love it. All the people of Echo do. And that love is felt by our collaborators and hopefully the audience.

It is hard to say how we have developed over these years. I think that probably, we are faster in understanding what the composers want. Often times anticipating ideas before they are brought up. After playing so many concerts together, mostly it just takes a few words or a certain look between us to know where we are going and how we are going to get there.

The live experience of playing cities around the world with these incredible artists must be another truly inspiring avenue and path to be on. I was fortunate to witness Echo Collective onstage with Stars of the Lid last year and Jóhann Jóhannsson a few years previously. Can you shed some light on the preparation and rehearsals that are involved with these tours? I wonder what particular stage in the live context would be your favourite? The energy and depths of emotion that fill the atmosphere during these shows of yours create such a deeply profound impact on the listener. Can you somehow reflect on the live performance of music and the effect of strings (and the live string quartet) has on the live setting?

NL: For me personally, music is at its best live. I think that is where the greatest range of emotion is communicated by the performer and felt by the audience. And this is where the live strings really add the most. Because we are naturally acoustic, we can give the soft moments the transparency of un-amplified sound. And because we are amplified, as the music reaches those mind bending peaks in volume, we can help give it that extra oomph. In those forte moments, often times I feel that even in three we sound like one hundred.

We have worked over the years with Tom Lezaire (our long time sound engineer with AWVFTS and SOTL) as well as other sound engineers to keep the natural sound of the string instruments.  Even in the loud moments, the audience should feel the direction of the sound from the strings, the bow moving across the strings, the hiss of the contact point. Though the audience only sees the musicians on stage, the relationship that we have with Tom and the other sound engineers is imperative to a strong live performance.

As we play these great compositions, we try to feel the emotion that we want to convey. As a result, if we are doing our job correctly, the depth of emotion that we feel, should be the feeling that the audience gets swept away by. I love playing this music and feeling my heart slow down in the pulseless moments, and then the opposite, getting carried away by the wall of sound and transported to the next realm. That is by far my favorite part of the live context, being transported by the music.

As Margaret always says, and she is so right, having a stable team that is able to communicate and feel in these common ways is essential to being swept away and sharing that feeling with the audience. It is not by accident that we convey these feelings, it comes from years of playing together.

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Echo Collective plays ‘Amnesiac’ is an ongoing residency at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, which culminates in April 7ths Brdcst Festival performance. Firstly, please discuss your reasons for choosing Radiohead’s Amnesiac album and indeed your love and fascination with this band? This of course was a special time, when ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ were unleashed into the world at the turn of the millennium. What are your memories of first hearing ‘Amnesiac’ and the impressions it left on you?

NL: This might surprise you, but I had never listened to the Amnesiac album before Kurt from the AB proposed it as the focal point of our residency. I grew up singularly focused to a fault on classical music. In fact it is a kind of running inside joke how little popular culture I actually have.  That being said, other members of Echo are huge Radiohead fans.

Kurt Overbergh, the artistic director of the AB in Brussels, initially proposed a choice between Kid A and Amnesiac as the focal point of our residency. At that point, I asked for a week, and immersed myself in these great records. We decided to work on Amnesiac because it is more complex, more built on layers, in my opinion more based of classical construction and colours, and in many ways more of a challenge.

The live recordings of ‘Amnesiac’ from AB Brussels, are quite extraordinary and the intricate arrangements are a joy to savour. Can you talk me through the process of notating, arranging and fleshing out these songs, so to speak? What I love is how you add many colours, textures and new perspectives to the sound world of ‘Amnesiac’. What have been the most challenging aspects of this project?

NL: Gary, our pianist, and I have been working this year to arrange these songs. Of course the process involves notating all the parts from the original songs (Gary is a real pro at this) and then imagining how to apply it to our ensemble. In a lot of ways, reworking the songs without voice has been freeing. Where a traditional rock song has to leave lots of room for the vocal line, we have allowed the secondary lines to be more equal with the vocal melody. This results in more interaction between the lines, and as a result hopefully lots of colours and variation in sound and form.

The hardest part has been finding our voice within, while still remaining ‘true’ to the original.  We want the audience to feel like they are meeting an old friend for the first time. To feel comfort in hearing a song that they love, but to be challenged to listen and interact with it like it is the first time. That is a real fine line to balance.

After our initial arrangements, all the fleshing out and balancing happens collectively in rehearsal.  We try things, see if they work, play a concert, reimagine, and repeat. We are constantly searching to take the sound to the limit, to appropriate each line as our own. In this way, the pieces are not just interpretations but reinventions. Our residency at the AB has really allowed us the time to work through all these processes, and to assimilate the music for ourselves. It has been a fantastic opportunity that we are very thankful for, and I think that we are finding that illusive balance.

The opening ‘Pyramid Song’ is magnificently re-arranged. The woodwind instrumentation replaces Thom Yorke’s voice but retains that sombre, brooding, dense feeling and atmosphere. Can you talk me through the instrumental make-up of ‘Pyramid Song’ and what new layers were composed for some of these parts?

NL: Like almost all of the songs, there is very little composition added to these amazing pieces, the lines from the original are kept, but readapted in our colours and techniques. In Pyramid Song the intro and outro are wind like color effects that we added to help set the mood. We achieved this through extended techniques in the strings and winds. And the baritone sax replaces Thom Yorke’s voice, later doubled by the contrabassoon. We chose those instruments to try and capture the amazing timbre he is able to achieve. It was one of the first arrangements we did, and still one of our favorites.

‘Hunting Bears/Like Spinning Plates’ epitomises the dynamic range of your ‘Amnesiac’ performances and just how aesthetically rich these compositions are. One of the defining moments arrives with the gradual awakening of ‘Like Spinning Plates’, coming after the sparse ‘Hunting Bears’. So much colour is added to the latter, it’s a piece I’m sure you particularly enjoyed arranging and performing? The strings on top of the piano and percussion – arriving on the rise of the song – is one of the defining moments of this live set.

NL: Hunting Bears is originally a big guitar solo, but for us was very reminiscent of a recitative from opera. Very free and in a way spoken. Margaret plays both the harp part and then the violin part which replace the guitar, and we follow her seemingly free form improvisation like an orchestra would accompany a singer in a recitative. We chose to use it more as an introduction to Spinning Plates than as a standalone piece.

And our version of Spinning Plates is based on Radiohead’s live version of this song. Their live version spoke to us directly, almost like something that we would have composed ourselves. It is probably my favorite, and also the most classical of all the songs. Like in many of the arrangements the vibraphone and glockenspiel are integral in creating the resonate atmosphere.  Everything just fits together like a clock. The contrabassoon line, which is not really the melody in the original, is a great solo line in our version. Put all together it gives the sensation of flying.

‘I Might Be Wrong’ and ‘You and Who’s Army’ remain as vital and affecting on these live recordings. I feel listening to these arrangements of yours, it not only reminds us how incredible Radiohead’s works are but how you are able to channel new energy and perspectives into these songs. ‘You And Who’s Army’ was always one of my favourite songs from the original and to see how this instrumental version slowly bloom and continually build is certainly the record’s crescendo.

NL: Part of the work that went into these arrangements was imagining the dynamics in a classical way.  That means creating long crescendos, or dynamic contrasts that might not be evident in the original.  ‘You and Who’s Army‘ was in fact reimagined as one long crescendo. The soft color of the bassoon solo accompanied by harp and soft viola and cello, that transitions into a raucous jazz inspired baritone sax and violin solo. This version really shows our full dynamic range both in terms of volume and color. As the layers pile up, so does the emotion. This is an extremely classical construction, and is part of what helps us reclaim the song as our own.

What are the kinds of conversations you’ll be discussing about honing in on your sound as you’re working together for the next number of weeks before the Brdcst festival? It must also be quite liberating to be undergoing a project such as this where there is vast possibilities as to how to bring ‘Amnesiac’ to life with your artistic vision?

NL: At this point we are fine tuning. Everything is basically set, and we are working towards esoteric things like flow, how to connect the pieces, in which order, communication, balance etc.  This is the part of the work where it really becomes chamber music.

How ‘Dollars and Cents’ is transformed into a sweeping orchestral jazz work out is another important part of Echo Collective’s ‘Amnesiac’ and how it serves a wonderful prelude to ‘Knives Out’. What have you learned about this body of work by Radiohead and what new insights and feelings/impressions you may have now after being immersed deeply in this project for the past few months?

NL: As we have worked through this large undertaking, we have been confronted with many things that we are not often confronted with as classical musicians. For example, non-classical musicians often talk about the groove, whereas classical musicians talk about pulse. This immersive process has really helped us to find that alternative perspective and abandon many of our preprogrammed classical clichés. By working through these arrangements we have in many ways transformed into a band. And that is exciting. But I am continuously struck by how classical and jazz oriented Radiohead is. It is ironic, but as we move away from what we know best, we continuously come full circle and are confronted with our origins. I feel that these songs are as much classical as they are not. And that paradox also gives the energy to reimagine what is already a great piece of art.

What other plans for Echo Collective lie on the horizon? I hope there will be (physical) releases made available in the near future.

NL: Thankfully there are many things on the horizon for Echo Collective.

We plan on releasing three albums in the near future, though where is still a great mystery. Of course we want to release the Amnesiac rework which we will record in August. We also want to release a reworking of Burzum’s ‘Daodi Baldrs‘ that was commissioned by the AB two years ago, which is already recorded, and we continue to play live. And we would like to release an album of our own original material that we have been working on in parallel to the Radiohead as part of our residency.

And then of course we will continue to work with AWVFTS as well as other artists in collaboration.  For example, we are in the beginning of collaboration with Daniel O’Sullivan. And of course we are always looking for new collaborations with artists.

We are doing more and more film work these days. As well as teaching graphic scores in collaboration with Christina Vantzou. All in all we are very excited as our activities continue to diversify.

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www.echocollective.be

https://www.facebook.com/collectiveecho/?ref=bookmarks

As part of the Echo Collective’s concert residency at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels during the 2016-2017 season, the Echo Collective will re-adapt and reinterpret Radiohead’s Amnesiac album. For details of the first edition of the BRDCST Festival and Echo Collective’s show (as a double-bill with Germany’s Hauschka), please visit HERE.

 

Chosen One: Gareth Dickson

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Interview with Gareth Dickson.

For me recording is almost a necessary evil, writing is where the fun is but once a song is written I am always quite anxious about how I will manage to capture it on a recording.”

Gareth Dickson

Words: Mark Carry

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Windswept beauty is immediately forged across ‘Orwell Court’ on the achingly beautiful folk lament ‘Two Halfs’. Scotland’s Gareth Dickson continues to explore deeper into mystical realms and otherworldly dimensions on his latest crowning jewel of timeless folk gems steeped in ethereal sound worlds of ambient and drone flourishes. These seven sumptuously crafted song cycles drift majestically into one’s heart and mind like the unfolding of dawn’s vast skies.

Delicate guitar tones coalesce with Dickson’s hush-like whisper on ‘Two Halfs’, casting a hypnotic spell. The returning guitar motif feels like an age-old melody unearthed from the depths of an ocean, before Vashti Bunyan’s ethereal voice – and carefully placed synths – further heightens the celestial and sublime human experience. The Glasgow-based musician has collaborated closely with folk luminary Vashti Bunyan – touring the world with Bunyan adding his distinctive guitar sound – and it’s her 2005 FatCat album ‘Lookaftering’ album that could form some reference point to Dickson’s latest sonic trajectory. For it’s not only the immense songcraft on display across ‘Orwell Court’s striking narrative but the rich textures, luminous tones and vast space in which these deeply moving songs – or closer to dense sound collages – forever inhabit.

The album’s vital pulse arrives with the duo of ‘Snag With The Language’ and ‘The Hinge of the Year’. Dream-like tapestries are weaved across the former, as gorgeous guitar patterns flicker like midnight stars before Nick Drake-esque vocals creates a brooding, cinematic atmosphere. Later, warm percussion is wonderfully added on the song’s middle section, displaying a kind of meticulous detail that feels all-too-rare in these modern times. Gradual ambient flourishes of acoustic guitar passages begins ‘The Hinge of the Year’ that belongs to the world of Brian Eno, Sweden’s Tape, Finnish duo The Gentleman Losers, Berlin’s Martyn Heyne as it does Bert Jansch, Jackson C. Frank and Nick Drake. Towards the final section, the tempo slows amidst Dickson’s singing of “snowfall” wherein the guitar instrumentation transforms into a viola de gamba (whose rhythmic pulses share the cosmic spirit of French artist Colleen).

The brooding tour-de-force ‘Red Road’ takes you down dusty roads and ghosts of memories as immaculate guitar tones and harmonica lingers in the pools of your mind. The dense, atmospheric instrumental ‘This Solid World’ serves the fitting prelude to the closing Joy Division cover ‘Atmosphere’. At every corner of ‘Orwell Court’ sublime reverie abounds. “Don’t walk away, in silence”.

‘Orwell Court’ is out now on 12K (and available in Europe via Discolexique).

http://garethdickson.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/garethdicksonmusic

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Interview with Gareth Dickson.

Congratulations Gareth on your sublime new record, ‘Orwell Court’. The seven sonic creations captured here inhabit an otherworldly dimension, in which the songs – more like sumptuously crafted sound collages – drift majestically into one’s heart and mind. I have always felt this way with your music and ‘Orwell Court’ prevails with that mystical, far-reaching quality that renders the songs utterly timeless. Please take me back to the recording sessions themselves and your memories of writing ‘Orwell Court’? I would love to gain an insight into the place of ‘Orwell Court’, its resonance with you and whether there was a certain moment, mood, lyric, melody that perhaps served the trigger to the inception of this batch of songs?

Gareth Dickson: Thanks Mark, very good of you to take the time to engage with the record, and I’m glad you like it! ‘The Big Lie’ was the starting point for the whole album and very much set the theme for this record. In a sense ‘Orwell Court‘ could be described loosely as a concept album, it has a constant theme which applies in some way to all of the songs – it deals with concepts such as power, the state, myth, war, mass surveillance, manipulation of language etc. These are all topics which interest me at the moment and ‘The Big Lie’ was the first musical outlet for these thoughts. The rest of the album followed from there. ‘Orwell Court’, the place, is a street near where I grew up, George Orwell recovered from TB in the hospital near my house and they named the street after him. The similar themes he deals with in ‘1984’ made the name an obvious choice for me. It’s not, however, an album of ‘protest songs’, this album is as personal as any of my previous ones, it’s a personal reaction to what I see going on around me in the world whereas previous work was a personal reaction to what was going on in my own life.

The album was written and recorded at my home in Glasgow. Initially I spent a lot of long nights drinking coffee, improvising with the guitar (usually in altered tunings and through some effects pedals), and slowly allowing ideas to form. When I’m working like this I can spend weeks and months playing every night and hoping to find something new, but only very rarely will something excite me enough that I want to keep it and build on it. When that happens it’s just a case of trying to expand upon that initial idea, or combining it with other existing ideas which are in the same tuning. I recorded the songs myself in my living room after experimenting a great deal with microphone placements and effects set ups etc.

For me recording is almost a necessary evil, writing is where the fun is but once a song is written I am always quite anxious about how I will manage to capture it on a recording. It’s kind of a question of practicing the songs enough that you can play them well but not so much that they lose feeling. It’s a tricky balance and one which you don’t always feel has gone right. And recording itself is full of trade offs, a vocal mic placement which is good for voice may not be ideal for the guitar or whatever (I always record guitar and voice at the same time). So the whole process of home recording can be a difficult one, but one which has the advantage of having more control over exactly when you record, and therefore what mood you can achieve etc.

‘Two Halfs’ is the perfect opening line; I feel the gradual light of dawn appear across the horizon as the bright, joyous melody unfolds. Vashti Bunyan’s added harmonies heighten the song even further, a gorgeous match and haven of celestial sound. Please talk me through the construction of ‘Two Halfs’ and your memories of hearing the final recorded version? The echo and reverb from the instrumentation – and vast space created as a result – is a joy to behold.

GD: ‘Two Halfs’ is essentially built on two different riffs, the opening one for the verses and the interlude in the middle where the tempo drops. Some of the various pitched drones which you can hear in the background are from the delay pedal, and there is also some synth in there which Vashti added afterwards. I sent her the track and asked if she could add something to it, I was really blown away when I first heard what she had done. Her vocals are beautiful as always and the synth part she added is great. After this there was a long process of mixing, editing and eq-ing so the track emerged slowly from there and there was no one point where I heard it for the first time.

What were the challenges or biggest difficulties posed during the making of ‘Orwell Court’? I am curious whether the words appear for you first, prior to the musical framework or is it a case of painting words on a canvas of sound? For instance, has the creative process itself changed in any significant way from previous works like ‘Quite A Way Away’ and ‘The Dance’?

GD: Initially I would say that this album came together a little more easily than any of my previous albums, because I am now used to the process and have developed certain practical skills along the way in my guitar playing and recording (even though recording still remains a difficulty, it’s maybe less so now than previously). Later on the mixing process took a lot longer than I expected, I struggled with eq and reverb levels etc as it’s such a subjective process. What sounds like a good mix one day can the next day sound muddy and unclear, this part drove me mad for a good few weeks or more. Lyrics always take a certain amount of effort for me, I feel like guitar playing is a very natural thing to do but writing lyrics definitely takes more thought. They are always added after I have written a melody on the guitar, usually the guitar melody will suggest a certain mood and I will start the lyrics from there. In the past I have written entire songs in a night (Two Trains, Like a Clock were written this way), but now I would say they are more crafted and tend to take longer. Other than this my creative process hasn’t changed at all really since I started writing.

Please take me back to your musical upbringing and your earliest musical memories? What were the first defining moments for you that made a big impression in you and soon did you realize just how significant music would play in your life? Also, what particular records and musicians made you want to develop your own unique guitar playing?

GD: My parents were both big music lovers who grew up in the 50s and 60s so mostly around the house I would have heard things like The Beatles and Elvis when I was very young. I loved listening to the charts on the radio and watching Top of the Pops just like everyone else of my generation. In my early teens I played in punk and metal bands and listened to things like Metallica, Slayer, Fugazi, Snuff, Minor Threat. I think the first time I really realised how significant music would be to me though was when I was around 19 or 20 and started listening to acoustic stuff like Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, Incredible String Band.

These people were a revelation for me in terms of the depth of emotion they reached. This is when I really started playing guitar properly, practicing a lot and learning whatever I liked the sound of at that time. Not long after this I discovered electronic and ambient music – Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno. I think really what drove me to form my style initially was the desire to merge these two worlds – to have the discipline and direct connection with music that playing an instrument brings, but with the abstract and ethereal sound-world of electro. Since then I feel I have tried to incorporate many other types of music in to my own but this was the starting point. Other people who have had a big impact but not always in an obvious way would be Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett, Robert Johnson, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner…..

I love how there are meticulously crafted layers of instrumentation dotted across the record, which serves as a lovely complement to your voice & guitar. ‘Snag With The Language’ has some beautifully warm percussion added in the closing section and harmonica flows beneath ‘Red Road’. I can imagine the later stages in making ‘Orwell Court’ was a very enjoyable part of the process, when the songs are fully formed but you have the opportunity to add certain shades and textures to the songs? I personally feel the duo of ‘Snag With The Language’ and ‘The Hinge of the Year’ forms the vital pulse to ‘Orwell Court’s rich narrative (particularly the poetic prose of the latter).

GD: I also imagined that this would be the enjoyable part but it wasn’t always the case unfortunately! This was uncharted territory for me as I have never added extra instrumentation to my music before so there was a lot to learn. The main thing I learned, after a lot of experimenting, was that the overdubbed parts had to be kept extremely simple in order for them to work. I am used to being able to write what I like when I’m writing songs, but adding parts afterwards is quite a different thing. In the end I realised that anything added afterwards had to be simplified to the bare bones in order for it to work, so that took some time. But hearing these things back once I had honed them as much as I could really brought the album to life and that definitely was fun. I agree also that the two tracks you mentioned form the heart of the record in a sense, without choosing those over the rest of the album they are definitely important for the record.

The closing cover of Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ somehow fits so perfectly with the rest of the album, a song that embodies the record in many ways. I wonder did you envision this (utterly transcendent) cover version to be part of ‘Orwell Court’ from the very beginning or did this just happen in the midst of it all? I’d love to hear your memories of this particular song and the importance of Joy Division’s music in your own life?

GD: I am not actually so knowledgeable about Joy Division’s music to be honest but I have always loved this song, and of course ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. A few years ago Taylor Deupree (who runs 12k Records) asked me to record a cover version of this and the plan was for him to add some extra instrumentation and release it as a collaboration. When he heard it he decided that it worked well as a solo piece however, so we left it at that. During the recording of Orwell Court I thought that it would fit well with the rest of the album so I re-recorded it when I was recording the other songs.

You have played guitar alongside Vashti Bunyan on many tours across the world and have closely collaborated with this special soul. I would love to gain an insight into this collaboration and the experiences and deep learning you must have obtained as a result of this wonderful musical partnership?

GD: It’s been one of the defining experiences of my life, not just as a musician, and I have loved every minute of us playing together. We met in 2006 after FatCat let Vashti hear my music when she was looking for a guitarist to accompany her live. We’ve had some pretty memorable shows, from concert halls to little clubs and everything in between. We both learned a lot on the road together because we were both pretty new to touring and working with sound engineers etc, it took us a while to find our feet initially I think. Recently we’ve been playing often as a duo which is something I’ve really loved, playing with a band was great but a band has its own rhythm which is hard to break out of. With just the two of us it’s possible for Vashti to speed up or slow down or whatever and I can try to follow. Rehearsing together has always been great fun, a lot of cups of tea and catching up, and playing together without amplification, just a couple of guitars and Vashti’s voice, those for me are maybe the most special moments. I feel very lucky to have been involved with this, hard to put in to words what I’ve learned but I know that our playing together has had a deep impact on me.

Finally, in terms of the guitar set-up and the many delicate intricacies embedded deep in these guitar tapestries, can you outline your approaches to making these soundscapes and how you feel you ‘see’ music from a compositional approach point of view? There must be endless experimentations with various tunings and technical set-ups in order to generate such rich and lyrical layers of sound?

GD: On a technical level the guitar sound itself can be achieved fairly simply, I run my guitar through two effects pedals – an analogue delay (Electro Harmonix Memory Man) and a reverb (Electro Harmonix Holy Grail). There is definitely a fair bit of experimenting with altered tunings, sometimes I use existing tunings and sometimes I look for new ones myself. The Memory Man delay pedal has a really great warm and deep sound, especially the older ones, the new ones have changed and are a lot more clinical sounding. The older ones are like a musical instrument, with a lot of character. That’s all I use for the guitar sound, just these two pedals, there are no overdubbed synths or anything like that, the pedals provide any extra sound that you hear on the recording.

When I’m improvising though I’m on the look out for interesting things happening with the effects almost as much as for melodies that I like. In ‘Two Halfs’ for example, which you mentioned earlier, the effects pedals create drones of various pitches that enhance the original melody. In ‘The Solid World’ it’s the same again but with a lot more effects rolled in, the delay and reverb settings are turned up and I pick the guitar quite fast and very quietly so that almost all of the sound you hear is from the delay and reverb and not much from the guitar strings themselves. This gives the piece a kind of electronic feel but there are no synths or anything used there.

Another technique I use often is playing directly on the fret rather than just behind it as would normally be the case. This allows me to mute certain notes which gives a very different and maybe harp-like sound to the guitar, especially when combined with reverb. The main guitar part during the singing in ‘Snag With The Language’ is an example of this, and also the intro to ‘The Hinge of The Year’ which sounds quite different but is the same technique.

‘Orwell Court’ is out now on 12K (and available in Europe via Discolexique).

http://garethdickson.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/garethdicksonmusic

Written by admin

March 1, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Chosen One: A Winged Victory For The Sullen

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Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.

I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.”

Dustin O’ Halloran

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The highly anticipated arrival of A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s third full-length, ‘Iris’ marked the commencement of the New Year. The awe-inspiring duo of Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’ Halloran have carved out some of the most vital and captivating modern-classical-infused-ambient explorations, in the shape of the band’s eponymous debut record and sophomore full-length ‘Atomos’: each record represents a beautiful time capsule, steeped in divine beauty.

On the ‘Iris’ film score, the band masterfully expand their sonic palette with use of analogue equipment. The results are nothing short of staggering as the otherworldly sound world of Mica Levi’s ‘Under The Skin’ is navigated amidst a beguiling atmosphere and forever-building wall of intense emotion. The opening ‘Prologue Iris’ is built on an achingly beautiful piano melody (similar to Wiltzie’s gorgeous ‘Salero’ debut solo score). A vast sea of symphonic sounds is combined with pulsating synthesizers on ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’. One of the album’s defining moments arrives on the scintillating ‘Gare Du Nord, Part 1’ where organic and synthetic worlds fuse together.

The recording sessions began with their long time sound collaborator Francesco Donadello in the form of some modular synth sessions in Berlin. The final sessions to what is now the score of Iris were recorded with a 40-piece string orchestra at Magyar Radio in Budapest. ‘Iris’ also features the duo’s trusted string quartet, Echo Collective.

‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.

http://awvfts.com/

http://www.erasedtapes.com/

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Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.

Congratulations Dustin on the new Winged Victory record; the ‘Iris’ score is really amazing. I’d love for you to discuss the making of this record? One aspect I love is – in contrast to the previous two records – the addition of all the beautiful synthesizer elements and seamless mix of analog with the strings in these new pieces.

DO’H: That was a bit of a collaboration. When Jalil Lespert – the director – he heard ‘Atomos’ and he really thought that was the sound for his film and he wanted us to explore a more electronic side for his film. At the same time, Adam [Wiltzie] and I have been getting into working with modular synth, working with our long-time collaborator Francesco Donadello. It was something we wanted to explore as well so we ended up doing some sessions with modular synth and we liked the idea of this very organic electronic element. The thing we love with the modular synth is that you can’t ever repeat it: it’s a real instrument and there’s no settings to save so you have to capture performances. It was an element that we were just exploring but we were really pleased with how it works with our sound. And it was a nice, new element to bring in and explore.

As you mentioned those sessions with Francesco, would that have been in isolation or before you ever got to writing for the string parts and so on?

DO’H: When we started work on the film – around the time he gave us the script and he hadn’t shot anything yet – so there was a lot of time to just do some experiments. So, the first experiments happened just with modular and some of the pieces are really built from those first sessions. The film has a thriller element to it so we needed also to create tension. We were bringing in this idea of pulses and things to give us movement that would move us along but still have a tonal identity and a sound identity. So, some of the pieces were really built from those first sessions.

The beauty of ‘Iris’ – and indeed all the many scores you have created – is how it’s very much a new studio album as it is an actual score for a movie as it works so well on its own.

DO’H: Yeah, you never know what you’re going to have at the end of a commission or collaboration like this. I think we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to start in the way we make our own records and we had a lot of time. Then we took the pieces and what we released is more our vision for a stand-alone record so we’re able to go back into the tracks and rework them a bit and make more of a studio record out of it. We were happy with what we got, I think it feels connected to our sound but it’s an evolution as well.

And as you say, the atmosphere, there’s a collection of the more electronic pieces work so powerfully, such as ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’ and ‘Gare du Nord Pt. 1’, there’s something quite breath-taking when the synths come in: there’s the space for it and you’re waiting for them to appear.

DO’H: We’re happy with how the modular and the orchestra work well together. We tended to use the modular for the lower end sounds and working with space and rhythm and then having the orchestra. It’s like light and dark is a big subject of the film; it’s a love story but there’s also a lot of deceit and treachery and so the film is always like light and dark fighting against each other in this way. The modular has this more aggressive, synthetic, cold feeling and the strings are definitely this warmer love story that ultimately both elements are in the story.

I wonder for those final sessions in Budapest – for you and Adam as the composers of the music – it must be quite something when you’re all in this room and you hear this big ensemble perform the music at the final end of it all?

DO’H: Oh yeah, I mean it’s definitely a satisfying moment when it all comes alive. I love recording with real instruments and it’s always something very important to me. I think with Winged Victory too, we’re always trying to put as much care sonically into everything that we do and record it in the best way. I’m a big fan of records that are great sounding records and those are the records that usually stay in my collection so it’s something we try to put a lot of care into.

For those final sessions, is there still room for accidents to happen or surprising things happen in the sense of the music altering in any way?

DO’H: Yeah, I mean up until the point of doing the strings everything is always flexible and changing and we’re exploring different things and obviously, we hear different things. And when you’re recording the modular stuff, it’s a lot of experimenting and sometimes you find something and you’re not even too sure how you got there. By the time we got to the strings everything had to be pretty much worked out but there’s a lot of extended techniques used in the strings – a lot of harmonics and glissando effects – that we did that were really fun to do in the studio. And to get the orchestra make a lot of noise [laughs] and do less traditional sounds and that was fun so we got to explore that a little bit in the studio and then that was the last phase before we mixed.

I was interested to read how it was edited down – well everything is edited for a final mix of the album – was it difficult to see it as both a film score as well as a studio album in the sense that you needed to remove parts to reduce it down?

DO’H: There was always like a push and pull of what we were leaving in and we were pulling back. For some of the studio record we took out some elements that we needed for the film to help push the picture a bit and then there’s other elements that we decided to bring back in that didn’t work so well with the picture. We definitely approached the record because we wanted it to work on its own. I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.

It’s fascinating to see how you have the three studio albums (with Winged Victory) in terms of the speed in which they’re coming out, it feels that there’s a sort of flow between you and Adam where you must always be learning from this partnership?

DO’H: Well I think we’ve been lucky to work on some really great projects and each time we’re definitely learning more about our own process. I think that maybe we’re getting better at working a little bit quicker although there’s a beauty to taking your time and that’s something we just haven’t had the luxury of for a while. So, when we start working on another record, we’re hoping that we will give ourselves a little bit of time and let things percolate, you know that’s something that’s also important to me. With these projects, you have a finite amount of time to work on it but hopefully we’ll be able to take our time again soon but it’s good to know that we can do it and we can be happy with the results.

I must congratulate you also on the amazing ‘Lion’ score and collaboration with Hauschka. It’s wonderful seeing all these musicians and composers and realizing it’s this small community that you’re all releasing amazing albums in your own right whilst collaborating so much with others too. I wonder when did you begin working on this particular project?

DO’H: Yeah, as I was finishing ‘Lion’, Adam and I were starting ‘Iris’ so it was kind of a cross-fade [laughs] But it’s been great, I feel super lucky to be working with people that I love to work with and there’s been so much care. Robert [Raths] has put a lot of love into the releases and we’re grateful to work on some good projects. I mean it’s busy times, the hard part about it is the amount of music you have to produce when there’s a lot of requests, it’s the most demanding aspect but those are good problems to have, you just have to be more diligent and have more time in the studio [laughs].

For ‘Lion’, were you and Volker in the same room together for these sessions?

DO’H: With Volker, we started in our own studios for about a month working on the film and then he came to Los Angeles to work in my studio here and we finished everything here and we worked for about another month. We didn’t have as much time and we came in after the film was already edited so we were in pretty deep pretty quickly.

The same thing happened with you and Adam in the way you spend quite a bit of time in your own respective studios?

DO’H: We try to get together as much as possible (Adam and I) because part of the Winged Victory sound is really both him and I working on stuff together, there’s just something that happens when we’re doing it together, it feels different than when we’re just sending files back and forth because I think we both let go a little bit more when we’re together and we’re able to follow instinctual things quicker and we write quicker as well so it’s always good when we get together.

A very important part of A Winged Victory is the Echo Collective string quartet. I just remember witnessing your live show – and also with Stars of The Lid – and feel the hypnotic effect of the strings, it’s something out of this world when you’re at the live show in one big space.

DO’H: I mean without us finding them, it would be so hard for us to perform live and to translate what we want. We’ve been really lucky. We went through a lot of different string players and we had a lot of bad shows and a lot of shows that didn’t really work out. We’ve been really fortunate to find a bunch of string players that have been so dedicated to helping us find what we need. Our music is very slow-moving and it takes a lot of patience and a lot of string players can look at the sheet music and be really dismissive; it’s actually much harder to get a good sound than it appears on paper. We’ve been really, really lucky, they’re great players, they’re so dedicated to us and I think a lot of other people are starting to work with them because of that dedication that they have. But we definitely couldn’t do it without them, they’re a huge part of our sound.

I loved your solo EP ‘3 Movements’ that came out towards the end of the year.

DO’H: It’s the first time I haven’t collaborated in a while. I’ve been slowly working on different pieces and I’m working on my own solo record but it’s definitely nice to finally get some solo work out [laughs].

And lastly, have there been any live shows that you’ve seen in the last few months that struck a chord with you and have been blown away by?

DO’H: There was a festival that happened in Berlin that the Michelberger Hotel put on, it was at the Funkhaus. There was a twenty-piece choir who performed with Bon Iver who did this acapella piece and it was really beautiful. It was in the old East German recording studios and I forgot how beautiful just the sound of voices is, you know I’ve been listening to so much amplified music and to hear just a choir of voices, it just gave me goosebumps, that was my last moment.

‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.

http://awvfts.com/

http://www.erasedtapes.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by admin

February 13, 2017 at 8:25 pm

Chosen One: Mario Batkovic

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Interview with Mario Batkovic.

“Being an Accordionist is something very natural to me, just like my origin or my skin colour. It’s a pure coincidence.”

—Mario Batkovic.

Words: Mark Carry

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The forthcoming debut solo full-length from gifted composer and accordionist Mario Batkovic – released on Geoff Barlow’s prestigious Invada Records later this March – is already destined to be 2017’s crowning sonic treasure. The Bosnian-born and Swiss-based musician has forged an utterly captivating and resolutely unique solo album, which, in turn, ceaselessly expands the possibilities of the accordion instrument.

One of the great hallmarks of Batkovic’s solo accordion music is the sheer intensity that is not only attained but held magnificently across an ocean of shape-shifting pulsating notes, engrossing melodies and deeply affecting human emotion subsequently emitted. Previously, the Bern-based musician has described his underlying creative process as “absolute submission to the sound.” It is precisely this – an artist‘s undying devotion – that lies at the heart of these nine groundbreaking compositions.

Album opener ‘Quatere’ is built upon a mesmerizing melodic pattern, which continually builds as a pulsating energy gradually surfaces like pores of Autumnal sunlight. An awe-inspiring and beautifully uplifting sonic exploration. A gripping intensity is attained on ‘Gravis’ where the depths of darkness is navigated: the range of timbres and textures is a joy to behold from the drone-infused world of repeatedly sprawling, sustained notes. Catharsis. A fitting parallel exists between Batkovic’s singular, captivating accordion-based compositions and fellow luminary Colin Stetson (and his similarly powerful saxophone explorations). A wall of immense, stunningly beautiful and empowering sounds.

The utterly timeless ‘Restrictus’ unleashes an unwavering beauty as several movements unfold an entire spectrum of mood, colour and feeling. The epic, tour-de-force ‘Inuente’ conveys the sheer power and glory of the composer’s capabilities to expand the possibilities of his chosen accordion instrument to its very outer limits. The fragile lament ‘Somnium’ brings this exceptional record to a fitting close. The illuminating horizon is soaked in radiant light. We, the listener need only rejoice in its infinite beauty.

‘Mario Batkovic’ is out now on Invada Records.

http://www.batkovic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/batkovic/

 

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Interview with Mario Batkovic.

Congratulations Mario on your utterly captivating and wholly unique debut solo album. Your solo accordion music elicits the rawest of human emotion where a striking narrative (and gripping intensity) is masterfully captured throughout this phenomenal solo record. Can you please talk me through the making of the new record and your memories of writing these compositions? It feels as if many of these accordion pieces were gradually blooming in your head for quite some time? 

Mario Batkovic: Thank you very much for your questions. They are interesting and reflect many of my own reflections. Many of your questions already express a wonderful picture. I will try to answer your questions as good as possible.

You’re right, it’s not just music that recently came into being. It existed not only in my head, but it was just not ripe for the stage. There were a lot of stumbling blocks. I couldn’t play my music but had to let her flow into my projects by the way. Unbelievable, but there was a kind of censorship. Only when all the requirements would conform, I released my music. Which demanded more of an art of Persuasion than the creating of art itself.

When it comes to recording these tracks, I can imagine were there technical difficulties when recording the solo accordion to tape? One of the great hallmarks of the album is just how intimate these recordings are – it’s as if you’re playing alone in the room with its listener – and your spellbinding performance and all the beautiful imperfections and human artefacts form the vital heart of these songs. Were there certain techniques or processes you feel you have developed that were critical processes to the recording of the album itself? 

MB: Beautiful how you put my music into words. Right, there were technical problems to handle. Since the recording of the Accordion is done in a wrong way. That’s why today we see a Musical picture of the Instrument that is only a remnant of how the Accordion really sounds. That’s why this Instrument has been pigeonholed so much it’s hard to take it out of this box. Every sound engineer keeps telling me he knows how the Accordion sounds. But that’s not true. They don’t because they are not Accordionists. My sound engineer and I collaborate in an extremely intense way. It’s a Duet. It took years until him and I realized how the Instrument works and how we can make it sound. Many people may know this but they don’t have the experience. I hope our technique is inspiring other artists and initializing my instrument to new possibilities. I was just not willing to record one single tone until we didn’t solve those technical problems.

The wide range of possibilities you generate from your chosen instrument is staggering, which is reminiscent of Colin Stetson’s saxophone and Lubomyr Melnyk’s piano music, kindred spirits in many ways. I would love for you to discuss your earliest musical memories and your first discovery of the accordion instrument. How soon would you realize just how important your chosen instrument would serve in your life, Mario?

Also, please discuss your musical path thus far – as a virtuoso accordion player – and the ways and approaches to which you have developed your unique, innovative and magnificent solo accordion music? As a debut solo LP, the music represents like a life’s work and so many of your life’s experience and musical journey is dotted all across these glorious nine compositions.

MB: Of course I was influenced by all the moving. That’s how I ended up in the situation of adapting in a new society. At the same time I had to adjust and remain true to myself. That was not always easy. But it finds its way into my music. I love all kinds of music just as I love all kinds of people, no matter which society they belong to. To exclude something would not suit my philosophy of life. Only the music created of greed doesn’t interest me. But after all that’s not true music. This opinion was sometimes hard to get along with.

Every society has its vogue, its trends. So I tried to find a merge of the sweet with the bitter. To listen between the lines and to get an own impression of things. That’s why I don’t like it too much when I’m compared to other musicians. I’m an original, just as you are an original. There’s everyone of us just once on this planet. And my music reflects me. It’s a mix of baroque, contemporary, kitsch, obscure, deep, sweet, sad. Just what life is all made of.

Being an Accordionist is something very natural to me, just like my origin or my skin colour. It’s a pure coincidence. I’m a musician in the first place, and then I am an Accordionist. There could have been a flute or a guitar. Now, for me, there was the Accordion.

‘Gravis’ is one of the album’s defining moments. The range of timbres and textures from the accordion instrument is a joy to behold. Can you talk me through the distinct movements crafted in this stunningly beautiful composition? The rise in this piece forms one of the most heavenly, enchanting sounds; an utterly timeless sound world of vast possibilities. Can you shed some light on your compositional approach, Mario and how it may vary between the various compositions? 

MB: Different from my other projects where I can listen to a composition in my head already like a radio song, the music I interpret myself is developing way different. First I have to take regard to the technical possibilities of playing the instrument, because I record it myself, not like when I compose film music and have other musicians playing the sound. The instrument can do a lot but also has its limits. First of all I have to subtract many components like playing techniques, sound techniques, bellows shake and so on, and then I can get started. Then I can start to thing freely. Then it comes to the philosophical part. Gravis is the picture of a huge ship, an animal, a being that fights for its last breath. It doesn’t give up until the very bitter ending. This fight consists of a high and a low C. That’s all. I try to breathe life into these two tones. And not more.

In terms of the arrangements, how does this particular point in the music-making process work for you? For instance, the cathartic, spellbinding ‘Restrictus’ conveys the sheer beauty of angelic tones and the intricate arrangements of the distinct sections contained within this gorgeous song cycle. What are your memories of writing ‘Restrictus’? Endless moments of sublime beauty ascends into one’s heart and mind here.

MB: Restrictus is a kind of friend to me. It’s a perfect match. I don’t think it’s very virtuosic but you need to have a sporty approach here. I feel very comfortable with this piece on stage. I’d say if I didn’t break it in the middle it was limited to a typical minimal composition. But Restrictus didn’t want this. It literally screamed: “Break me!”

Please bring me back to your formal musical education, Mario. Can you describe for me your learning whilst studying under Professor Elspeth Moser and your musical outlook and what musical voices you feel have shaped your music in the most profound way? 

MB: I have always been opposition. It was a kind of a guarantee to survive. I could and should never be like the others. Never! So my education was, like many things in my life, just a fight. At school I first had to learn the German language when we moved to Switzerland. At University in Germany then I’ve had a lack of scholastic knowledge because of the language barriers. So I had to develop a strategy. And this was to learn but don’t let yourself be bent. In Hannover I studied classical music, so I missed out the Rock ‘n’ Roll. And with my Rock Bands I missed the classical precision. With folk music I missed the seriousness. I always wanted to develop and connect everything. But that was not always easy.

An artist’s sheer devotion to one’s art and the sacrifice therein becomes the essence of your solo accordion music. What do you feel is your one musical philosophy that remains true for you? What are your hopes and ambitions for your next chapter? What are you most proud of about this triumphant debut record?

MB: I don’t feel pride but gratitude. I’m grateful for all the people who support me with all the passion, patience and a lot of work. At the same time I’m very grateful to be a musician. It is something positive, something with much love to put into the world. That’s also what I see when I look at the world today (so much horrible things), and music is the opposition!

Lastly, the epic tour-de-force ‘Inuente’ reflects the hypnotic quality of your playing. At times, the instrument undergoes various transformations, sounding like an organ  and synthesizer at various points. Can you shed some light on your mind – set when it comes to your solo live performance and indeed your mind – set for crafting such a monumental work as ‘Inuente’. I am curious whether improvisation plays a part in the writing/composing stage? I just love how the variations of a theme return throughout ‘Inuente’ and the many places that a single piece of music can take you.

MB: It flatters me that the audience does notice something this beautiful that has it’s origin in an undesirable side noise. With this composition improvisation didn’t matter too much although I have a Master of Arts in improvisation. So to say I’m a professional improvisator. But there also, the improvisation is not awarded so much but is of such an important value for us human beings. Improvisation is getting lost in all our over systemising and structuring. I’m convinced that we should listen more to our intuition and we should act more impulsively. Improvisation can only take place in the actual space and situation I’m in. Every time I play I have to get into it in a new room and a new sound. That’s what my music lives from.

Inuente is a song you can’t play everywhere in the same way, even if the compositional structure stays the same. My magical moment with Ineunte is the break. A precious thing nowadays. There are some long breaks but they are fully packed. Break doesn’t mean relaxation but highest tension! I need to build up for 10 minutes to reach a total break of 5 seconds. I love this magical moment with Ineunte when people can hear themselves or the ventilation or the birds or any other small noises. Ineunte takes them there. It’s a transporter to themselves.

‘Mario Batkovic’ is out now on Invada Records.

http://www.batkovic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/batkovic/

 

Written by admin

January 19, 2017 at 7:12 pm

Chosen One: Naïm Amor & John Convertino

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Interview with John Convertino & Naïm Amor.

I had a few days alone in the house during the dead of winter, quiet snow, and a living room full of all my instruments and a four-track cassette recorder.”

—John Convertino.

Words: Mark Carry

amorc

 

‘The Western Suite and Siesta Songs’ is the debut release by newly formed duo featuring John Convertino (Calexico, Giant Sand) and French film score composer Naïm Amor. The seeds were sewn some years back, having formed ABBC at the turn of the millennium: the Calexico core duo of John Convertino and Joey Burns joined forces with their close friends & Tucson neighbours, Amor Belhom Duo (Naïm Amor and Thomas Belhom). The result was ‘Tete A Tete’, a feast of sprawling sonic terrain (from the Burns-penned heart-wrenching ballad ‘Gilbert’ to Convertino’s stunningly beautiful piano-based compositions and all points in between).

Similarly, a sprawling sonic canvas is masterfully drawn from Convertino and Amor on ‘The Western Suite and Siesta Songs’. Part A comprises of sun-drenched, awe-inspiring compositions, which traces the South West’s desert plains and vast beauty contained therein. Reference points could be Calexico’s ‘Hot Rail’ or ‘Black Light’ and Ennio Morricone’s singular score-work.  The sweeping, cathartic ‘Of Dust and Wind’ is a sonic marvel of blossoming themes and variations, traversing a vast space of possibilities and wonder. Clean electric guitar tones and marimba flourishes are dotted across ‘Black Boot Shuffle’ with cumbia piano pulses and Convertino’s awe-inspiring drums. The crossroads between vintage New Orleans and 50’s Jazz.

A more inward, introspective feeling descends on part B, which represent some of the record’s most defining and breath-taking moments. The rich poignancy of nylon guitar-led instrumental ‘Santa Cruz River’ magnificently captures a tender beauty akin to a meandering river finding its sea. The piano-based ‘Snow Falls on the Desert Plain’ is wrapped in a cinematic bliss and timeless rapture. ‘The Western Suite and Siesta Songs’ marks a timeless, enriching journey from two gifted musicians who have been carving out some of the most singular, genre-defying works for over two decades.

‘The Western Suite and Siesta Songs’ is out now on LM Duplication.

http://lmduplication.com/lm10.html

western

Interview with John Convertino & Naïm Amor.

 

Congratulations on the wonderful full-length release ‘The Western Suite and Siesta Songs’, a collection of poignant instrumentals wrapped in windswept beauty. Please take me back to the period of time in which the recording took place? I am sure the fact that you have collaborated and worked closely with one another in the past (ABBC’s ‘Tete A Tete’ and ‘Sanguine’ solo LP), it must have made this project quite a refreshing and rewarding experience?

John Convertino: Thanks so much, well for me, the recordings of my songs happened almost 3 years ago now when we were living in Ohio, I had a few days alone in the house during the dead of winter, quiet snow, and a living room full of all my instruments and a four track cassette recorder. we have since then, moved to El Paso Texas, my how time flies…. Naim is a dear friend, and I admire his work so much, when he sent me his ‘Western Suite’ I knew I wanted to play drums on it, and in turn I sent him this batch of songs recorded up in Ohio ‘The Siesta Songs’ to play guitar on them. Yes, it was a lot of fun doing this project, and turning out to be very rewarding.

Naim Amor: I was working on a documentary film about a man called Ed Keeylocko, a black cowboy living in Arizona in his own town Keeylocko. The director wanted a “western” type music but didn’t want it to be corny or cliché. He thought I would treat the subject with some distance due to my original culture (Paris France) but also an understanding of it because I have been living in Tucson for nearly two decades.. . I did the score, and immediately thought that I would use the takes later on and work on them to make a record. At some point , I needed some feedback and I sent the tracks to a few friends. John answered me a said he loved them but thought they could use some drums. Days later he came back to me sending recordings he had done. He felt that they all could work together if I worked on his tracks. I worked on them with great pleasure, he came and recorded his drums on mines. And we got the album.

As with records from Calexico and Amor Belhom duo in the past, you have crafted music as a duo many times over. I would love for you to shed some light on the creative process involved and the space you give each other when it comes to creating these soul-stirring musical compositions?

JC: In this case, we had all the space, of living in completely different states, but coming together through a spiritual love for the desert, and the west. I think the trust was there from knowing each other for so many years, we have a similar aesthetic when it comes to what we love in music.

NA: For me it a constant thinking and feeling from micro to macro, detail to global. A proposition is received and by some sort of filter, it “narrows “my responses to a few options… For example, a song, a melody, a tone can in my reality trigger on my end, ideas, solutions that I would find by stepping back and try to imagine, guess, what is the whole album about. Then, a tone imposes itself to my mind, a melody of a feel in the expression. A conversation has its logic, its frame, its mood, you just need to read your interlocutor and read where this conversation is going.

Can you talk me through the themes of the record? As a listener, one feels the sprawling plains of the south west and beyond. As much as it feels embedded in a certain space, for me the music feels more character-driven where a striking narrative unfolds throughout. For example, the more heart-wrenching ballads fade in towards the closing section, feeling as if the sun-lit horizon is approaching, whilst the opening tracks have a certain momentum, feel and rhythm akin to the beginning of a journey or opening chapter.

JC: Yes, I agree, I feel like the second half of the record introverts, I think because we worked on these songs alone initially, there is a very inward feeling, and yet the inspiration is coming so much from nature, the expanse, the weather…. when we put the songs together a beautiful contrast was born through the combining of the songs and what we added to each of them.

NA: I think the process itself and its boundaries, created a space of experimentation, exploration and freedom. If analysed, this record has more influences coming from other areas than “just Far West, Cowboy, Country culture. I believe the wandering in “foreign “areas give the listener a freedom of interpretation, windows that allow to unleash the listener’s imagination.

What are the collection of instruments and recording equipment used for these recording sessions? It feels as if the music-making process was quite an effortless one where the music ceaselessly poured out? In a way, the music belongs as a sister companion to some of the Calexico tour records (such as ‘Toolbox’ or the scorework such as ‘Circo’) and also I hear the spirit of those Amor Belhom duo LPs, and the Giant Sand-European incarnation of later years. World drifts in.

JC: I think what you are hearing there is a freedom that comes with experimentation, no expectations and really just having some fun with the instruments we have collected over the years. So much inspiration comes from the tone. This house we had there in Ohio had hardwood floors and was in the shape of a perfect rectangle, windows all around I could see the snow, the sun sets, the trees and even deer walking across the lawn. I know the setting of the music is in the west, and I wrote my songs in the east, I was still in my head and heart thinking of our old home in the southwest. I worked off the pure sound of the piano, vibes, marimba, my 50’s gretsch kit and accordion I have had and used on all the Calexico records and many others.

NA: I love instruments, they are dependable and are in my case life companions. I don’t buy things I don’t love, I buy things I keep (a reason why I do not like computers). Also, practicing is a hygiene for me, a way to produce something with your hand, a totally different relation to time than working with virtual, softwares, computers…

The more piano-based instrumentals depict such vivid colour, texture and emotion. ‘Snow Falls On The Desert Plain’ is one of the record’s defining moments, I just love the melding of the rippling piano notes and electric guitar tones. Did any happy accidents happen during these sessions? I wonder did the piano-based compositions begin with a piano melody and evolve from there? Also, I would be very curious to know if some of these pieces of music exist (in different incarnations) long before the recording took place?

JC: I really think the whole thing is a happy accident! I loved that old piano, it’s the one I used for ‘Ragland’ its tuned down a half step, unfortunately I had to sell it when we moved to Texas. I was amazed at what Naim did with those songs, not only the guitar, but the whistles and voice which tie in with what he did on his own songs. Again it’s really the tones that inspired me to work out the melodies.

Perhaps my favourite piece is ‘Black Boot Shuffle’ with the gorgeous drifting feel, akin to a perfect late night jazz record. Is there a particular song on the record you feel most proud of?

JC: I really love the ‘Santa Cruz River’. the actual river in Tucson means a lot to me. For over 25 years I have run along its banks, with my children in strollers, then on bikes, and so many times just alone, running, seeing the coyotes, the javalina and hawk, the water flowing, then the mud, and then the cracks, and then the sand. I think Naim has written a beautiful melody that captures my love for that place.

NA: I love all the tracks individually really. May I’m from an older generation, I am really attached to the album format. I like a collection of tunes to dance with each other’s in defined space, time, sequence. 

In the years that have passed since the very special ABBC record, and I’m sure the other collaborative projects you’ve both been involved together with, I wonder has your compositional approach and writing process changed or altered in any way on ‘The Western Suite and Siesta Songs’?

JC: Not really, when I work with Joey or other song writers I feel I am more of a support, someone to bounce ideas off of, this is why I think drums and drummers are such a great song writing partners, we don’t get in the way of chord or melody structure, we get to where the heart of the song is as it is being played or thought out. when I work alone. sometimes I will be inspired by a beat that I start playing behind the kit, that’s how ‘Black Boot Shuffle’ came about, I loved that beat with the hi hat marking the time off on the up beats, then I added the piano, vibes and marimba.

NA: For me, this album and collaboration was really an exercise to manipulate “American” codes, trying to capture something “authentic”. Found out that you’re never more authentic than when you explore, twist the roots… very different than trying to Make America Great Again.

Can you discuss your favourite film scores and also, the recordings of instrumental music that speaks to you like no other?

JC: One of my favourites is Stewart Copland’s ‘Rumblefish’ the film means a lot to me because it was made in Tulsa, Oklahoma where I grew up, and started playing drums. The Police were such a great band, and his drumming really was so important in the group, when I found out that he wrote songs and played other instruments, it really made me want to up my own game, made me realize how great it could be to compose instrumentals. I love Nina Rota’s ‘The Godfather’ as well, the simple melody played on the accordion, and then builds with the strings, and how he used that theme in so many different emotional contexts throughout the film. I love Carter Burwell as well, with the Cohen Brothers ‘No Country For Old Men’ this is more an example where the music relies on tone more than melody, the sounds stay open, unresolved, leaving you on edge, and in suspense over and over again. Ennio Morricone continues to inspire, he did the soundtrack to the remake of ‘Lolita’ I loved it and it inspired to sit at the piano and work on chord structures, chords that have dissonance yet still sound pretty in a way.

NA: So many film scores I love!! They have all their own logic. For example, Last Tango In Paris is a strange one for me. The choice of having this “Tango” music in a story that takes place in Paris whose main character is a lost American man. Everything here contributes to weave the complexity of the story, the characters. Analysed, it could seem so artificial, weird, odd even, but in the alchemy, and that is the art, it makes the story Real, we relate to it. This one score is really moving for me.

Lastly, the harmonies that ascend on the joyously uplifting ‘Santa Cruz River’ conjures up a timeless, enchanting sound. The record feels as if there is a river flowing throughout and eventually meeting its sea. One of the great hallmarks of the record is the lyrical quality to these compositions, owing as much to Bill Cllahan or Bob Dylan & The Band as much as it does to the scorework of Ennio Morricone. 

JC: The Santa Cruz river rarely flows anymore, as with many of the rivers in the southwest. It is sad. I love the fragility of the desert, and how rain is such a delicate balance to all that lives. I hope that our music and what we advocate for in solar and wind energy, will help curb the ever-growing negative effects of fossil fuelled energy. Thank you so much for your kind words and inspiration.

 

‘The Western Suite and Siesta Songs’ is out now on LM Duplication.

http://lmduplication.com/lm10.html

 

 

Written by admin

December 19, 2016 at 9:19 pm

Chosen One: Loscil

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Interview with Scott Morgan.

A blurred line between beauty and horror, anxiety and calm.”

—Scott Morgan

Words: Mark Carry

scott_morgan_2

 

Loscil’s Scott Morgan has been responsible for some of the most captivating and stunningly beautiful ambient creations over the past fifteen years. Across a compelling body of work (beginning with the 2001 classic ‘Triple Point’) – the majority of which has been released on the immense Chicago-based imprint Kranky – Vancouver-based Morgan has developed his own unique style of textural rhythms that ceaselessly blur the lines of ambient, techno, drone and modern-classical. The recently released ‘Monument Builders’ marks the latest chapter in Loscil’s explorations through sound that lies at the intersect between nature and humanity.

The Canadian ambient artist’s latest masterwork unleashes a cathartic, hypnotic spell throughout; belonging to a dichotomy of worlds where an engulfing cloud of prevailing darkness prevails in tandem with the radiant light of hope and survival. Delicately beautiful ambient soundscapes drift majestically in the ether alongside the more intense, pulsating sound worlds. Take for example, how the fragile pulses of ‘Deceiver’ flows effortlessly into the glorious crescendo of ‘Straw Dogs’ or how the stunningly beautiful album opener ‘Drained Lake’ is gradually followed with the techno-infused ‘Red Tide’. A wall of intense moods, colour and textures flood these sonic creations, creating one of Morgan’s most accomplished and concise records to date.

A lyrical quality forever lies at the heart of Loscil’s recording output, and ‘Monument Builders’ is of course no exception. A striking narrative permeates throughout, where loss, identity and the relationship between humankind and the environment seeps through the musical framework of Morgan’s masterfully crafted sonic palette. The addition of horn arrangements immediately casts an ethereal quality; harmonies meld beautifully with a collection of old synths, warm textures of drone soundscapes and intricate patterns of divine sonic passages. ‘Monument Builders’ is a hugely fulfilling audio-visual experience, whose effect is utterly profound.

‘Monument Builders’ is out now on Kranky.

 http://www.loscil.ca/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kranky/

Scott Morgan

 

Interview with Scott Morgan.

Congratulations Scott on the sublime new record ‘Monument Builders’: a true tour-de-force, which unleashes such a cathartic, hypnotic spell throughout. Firstly, please talk me through the writing process and recording of ‘Monument Builders’ and your memories of constructing these particular tracks? 

Scott Morgan: The first step for me with most records is building a sound palette. I sampled and built a small collection of playable sample instruments out of resonant sounds like boiling kettles and steam whistles. I find the noisy aspects of these sounds make for interesting textures and include a natural pitch instability which lends them a kind of fragility. I also drew heavily on an old micro-cassette recorder to generate noise and further texture.

Once I had these sounds, I began building some basic harmonic passages and structures. I wanted to try something a little different with the bass and arpeggiated sounds so I spent an evening at my friend Josh Stevenson’s who has a great collection of older synths. We used his EMS Synthi and his Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 to generate some bass stuff. The last addition was the French Horn which was pretty Philip Glass inspired. I wanted something to root the harmonies in and the tone of the horn fit so well with everything adding this strange broken epic feel.

‘Monument Builders’ expresses such deeply-affecting emotion through the seamless layers of embedded ambient soundscapes and gorgeously crafted drone textures. Having seen your live set at London’s Possibly Colliding festival earlier in the year, I just loved how each sonic pulse matched the accompanying visuals (note-per-note) creating a myriad of utterly captivating moments. I feel this is translated here on record where a largely cinematic feel (and gripping tension) permeates throughout. Can you discuss the visual nature of the music you create Scott, and indeed the visuals that is created to accompany your music?  

SM: I’ve long been interested in the concept of visual music. I’ve experimented with visuals for a long time but only in the last few years have I began to treat it seriously again. I’m really interested in a non-narrative but also non-abstract form of visual treatment. Something that is evocative without being too referential to storytelling. Live visuals are extremely challenging for me. Loads of work. But I think I like this aspect of the medium. It’s not easy and the language is not really proven. Experimental moving images go back over a hundred years. It’s actually a really interesting history which arguably starts with painters or visual artists first experimenting with film. Despite the history and its longevity, it doesn’t get treated the same as music or even cinema. The current title of VJ really pushes it towards lighting and visual effects which definitely has its place but is not what I want to do with the medium. I feel like there is room for a truly synergistic experience that is not dominated by eye or ear.

I was very interested to learn that a VHS copy of “Koyaanisqatsi” and Philip Glass’s epic score in many ways proved the genesis of the new record. I’d love for you to recount your memories of first discovering this seminal work (and hearing the Glass score) and what makes this score (& film) so unique and important for you? 

SM: I first saw “Koyaanisqatsi” in a theatre in Vancouver in the early 90’s. I remember being quite moved by it. It was a spectacle and it was the first time I really felt struck in such a raw way by what you might call a non-narrative film. Most of that feeling was driven by the music. I don’t think that film would have a fraction of the impact without the score. Recently, when I viewed a rather beaten copy of the film, I was struck by not only the original, impactful and epic content, but how it appeared as a tarnished piece of history. When you think of where we are now with everything that’s going on, viewing this film more than 20 years later feels very strange. Seeing something that was once so epic, all warbled and torn yet speaking through time with this dire warning. It’s poignant and humbling in its own strange way.

One of the great aspects of ‘Monument Builders’ is the rich organic feel and dense quality to the seven musical odysseys, whilst there always seems to be a sense of a gradual building of atmosphere that forever intensifies as the rich narrative unfolds. I wonder were there challenges posed during the music-making process and more specifically, to ensure the interwoven pieces undergo seamless transitions? In this regard, just like your previous output, I like to visualize the record(s) as one long single piece with several movements or sections carefully embedded within.

SM: I like to work on albums as whole gestures but sometimes the compositional process is much more haphazard and the resulting record is more of an edited construction than a designed one. But I think this is true of any creative process. Truthfully, Monument Builders is the shortest full length I’ve ever composed. I really wanted to confine myself to a 40-minute LP – to see if I could be more precise with the expression and perhaps force myself to cut some pieces that didn’t quite fit. This was actually extremely challenging but also very liberating. Some things had to go or be shortened. I think what you end up with is a much more focused experience.

Themes of the environment (and its destruction) and decay infuses deep beneath the musical trajectory. Can you discuss the inspiration you drew from the anti-humanist writings of photographer John Gray (reflected in the song title of ‘Straw Dogs’) and the aerial photographs of Edward Burtyaskis? 

SM: I’ve struggled before with summing up what it is about Straw Dogs that resonates with me so much. But I think I am drawn to art and ideas that walk a line between positive and negative forces. There is a certain kind of nihilism with John Gray…  a sense of defeat. Humans are over-consuming creatures that, like any other animal – will grow in population and consume until their environment is decimated. But he doesn’t just leave it there. There is still room in his analysis for morality. It’s like knowing about our own individual mortality should not preclude giving up on living. Anyway, like I said, I struggle to sum it up but enjoy his writing a great deal.

Burtynsky occupies a similar space. His works show an ironic beauty largely from an aerial perspective of the earth as affected by humans. It’s ugly when you think about the scale and the context but it is visually stunning. I’m drawn to this sort of dichotomy and think I really was after something like this with Monument Builders. A blurred line between beauty and horror, anxiety and calm.

The dynamic range and series of counterpoints that is contained on ‘Monument Builders’ creates such a timeless, otherworldly sound and dimension to the record. For example, the gradual ambient bliss of ‘Deceiver’ comes in the wake of the pulsating rhythms of ‘Straw Dogs’ (the album’s centrepiece and towering crescendo) with scintillating horn arrangements; whilst the delicately beautiful ‘Drained Lake’ (the glorious opening theme) is followed by the more techno, beat-infused ‘Red Tide’. I wonder did a certain track (or specific section) inform the rest of ‘Monument Builders’? Also, did some of these musical layers existence pre-date the album’s genesis, so in a way older artefacts of songs blended in with new ideas and works? Did any happy accidents occur in the studio that surprised you?

SM: When I got into the studio to commence work on Monument Builders, I started building a new set of sounds and, as per usual, there were a handful of discarded pieces before anything stuck. I believe Deceiver came out first. This isn’t remarkably new territory for me…  though it’s much more harmonic than drone-based. I’m not sure any one piece informs the others, but I do try to take a body of sounds in a few different directions and push them away from anything overly comfortable. I think it’s important to force yourself away from the sound that makes you comfortable even if it’s gravitational pull is strong. I’m very comfortable with my sound, but also enjoy bending it and twisting it a little now and then to see what breaks and what sticks.

I’d love for you to shed some light on the library of sounds in which become the building blocks of this wholly unique (Loscil) sound and the mind-set and creative approach utilised when it comes to joining all these many layers into a record? From a compositional point of view, what musical voices do you feel serve a major influence on you, Scott?

SM: I think I already alluded to this, but I’m very interested in generally noisy spectra. Sounds that derive their fundamental pitch from moving air, whistles, flutes, beer growlers, anything where the fundamental pitch is obscured by the noise of moving air, creates an interesting texture. This approach, applied in different ways, has always been a part of my core working process. I’ve always struggled with synthesis. Although I’ve used it in some form, for bass sounds in particular, synth pads whether they are analog or digital have never really worked for me. I just enjoy the inherent unpredictability of real world samples when they get layered up. Adding to this, I really love the dynamic combination of electronic and acoustic. There is something about adding a live instrument to the palette that adds a new dimension to the sound. It also helps further blur genre lines which I’ve never been content with.

Lastly, the album closer ‘Weeds’ points to new horizons with divine textures of voices ascending into the forefront of the mix. This for me perhaps represents one of the most spellbinding moments of ‘Monument Builders’, particularly when the electronic pulses begin to converge. Can you talk me through the construction of these particular layers and indeed the sources of these sounds?

SM: Weeds started as an improvised part of my Sea Island set. I still perform it this way, as a series of performed phrases that get built up gradually. It really is all about dynamics and I think I really wanted to push away from the floating feel of a lot of my music. Weeds is intended as a slow motion opening up of sound, driven predominantly by the vocal samples. It is probably a little more cathartic a piece that the others. Less of a spot for quiet contemplation than a kind of intense, emotional explosion.

‘Monument Builders’ is out now on Kranky.

 http://www.loscil.ca/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kranky/

Written by admin

December 7, 2016 at 7:16 pm