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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

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‘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

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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

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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

Chosen One: Sophie Hutchings

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Interview with Sophie Hutchings.

“…repetition engenders a freeing effect without expectations or obligations in what you the listener feels or thinks. That’s all I ever want from music.”

—Sophie Hutchings.

Words: Mark Carry

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Sophie Hutchings is a pianist and composer from Sydney. Since 2010’s debut ‘Becalmed’ LP, the gifted Australian composer has developed her unique style of textured ambience and neo-classical bliss. Hutchings has released three instrumental works to date, ‘Becalmed’, ‘Night Sky’ and ‘White Light’, receiving fine recognition internationally for elegant and beautiful music compared to the likes of Nils Frahm, Max Richter, Peter Broderick and Dustin O’Hallloran.

Wide Asleep’ begins with a gentle pulsating drone amidst a soft whisper uttering “I think I can see.” ‘Dream Gate’ serves the fitting opening piece to Hutchings’ deeply moving and revelatory latest work: the repeated mantra heralds the vivid sense of discovery that beautifully infiltrates the human space. The achingly beautiful piano melody feels at once familiar and mysteriously unknown: a towering modern-classical exploration ascends into one’s subconscious and inner-most self. A searching quality permeates throughout the record as larger realms of sound and feeling is masterfully attained by the gifted Sydney-based composer.

The added instrumentation of opera vocal samples further heightens the blissful transcendence that shares the cosmic spirit of Alice Coltrane and Laraaji’s empowering, celestial works. The graceful, fleeting waves of harmonies and piano motifs of ‘Falling’ holds a gentle resonance upon the listener akin to the infinite ocean waves. During the final section, the slowed-down tempo of strings blends effortlessly with Hutchings’ deeply poignant piano motifs, forming one cohesive whole of stunning beauty. Towards the low sun.

One of ‘Wide Asleep’s great hallmarks is the sheer multitude of sublime moments distilled within one single piece. For example, the companion pieces of ‘Memory I’ and ‘Memory II’ unfolds a vast haven of soul-stirring rapture: the mesmeric choral harmonies of ‘Memory II’ continually build, serving the record’s life-affirming crescendo. Like a river finding its sea, the musical undercurrent of embracing patterns, warm textures of ‘Wide Asleep runs deep and ventures further into the cosmos than ever before.

‘Wide Asleep’ is out now on Preservation.

http://www.sophiehutchings.com/

https://www.facebook.com/SophieHutchingsMusic/

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Interview with Sophie Hutchings.

 

Congratulations Sophie on your formidable new body of work, ‘Wide Asleep’. Following on from your rich tapestry of recorded output, ‘Wide Asleep’ feels like the crowning jewel of your storied career thus far.  As ever, a deep musical undercurrent permeates throughout these particular recordings that drags the listener deep into the musical patterns, textures and shapes like ripples cast by the ocean. Please discuss the making of the new record – and more particularly the writing of these compositions – and indeed the particular space or moment(s) in time these piano compositions flickered into glittering life?

Sophie Hutchings: I love your beautiful description of ‘Wide Asleep’. Thank you so much. There is quite a lot of undercurrents that permeate throughout. True!

Writing for me is always a very vague and unconscious process. So, actual visible moments I find more a challenge to reflect on or recall. I usually connect with my pieces in retrospect.

Wide Asleep was a volcano waiting to happen so the writing process was a bit of a musical purge and happened quite quickly. I had a definite vision of how I wanted this album to be from beginning to end. The previous albums unfolded as I went along whereas with “Wide Asleep” I had an overall vision from the start and I worked on achieving getting to that end point. I wrote the bare bones of the pieces in a sort of hasty fashion and then basically worked on structuring the other musical layers thereafter.

The process was a little like being seasick; once the tidal wave settled, I felt a sense of reprieve. (As in I got all the piano pieces written and demoed). I then wrote out the string, vocal and soundscapes in small waves. There was a lot of melodies circulating around in my head throughout the journey of Wide Asleep. Sometimes it would be whilst in bed so I’d get up and record the melody so as not to let it slip away, which happens. Other times it was just through focused playing and composing over many cups of tea by day, red wine by night allowing itself to form.

We recorded a lot of the piano and strings live. I added the textural soundscape elements and vocal harmonies after that at one my favourite local studios (Oceanic studios). It has a very warm and homey atmosphere. One of its unique aspects is a huge window that looks out onto a typically Australian bush setting. I love that. So, I just faced upwards looking out to the scenery and practiced my vocals and we hit the record button…

The added elements of divine opera vocal samples further heighten the ambient dimension of ‘Wide Asleep”s sonic landscape. For example, the opener ‘Dream Gate’ and hypnotic pulses of ‘Falling’ contains such sublime vocal passages that meld so effortlessly with the piano instrumentation. Can you talk me through the various instrumentation you have utilized on the new record, Sophie and indeed any challenges or difficulties posed by the layering of new elements to a particular composition?

SH: I’ve always enjoyed the dreamy ethereal side of music. One that you can’t quite pinpoint yet evokes a certain feeling. I wanted to take that element a little further with the use of harmonies and implement older sounding instruments like the Harpsichord and bells. A little bit of drone. I also utilised an opera vocal sound from one of my keyboards to create a repetitive hypnotic pulse in “Falling”. I felt those sort of subtleties lifted the pieces just slightly and have them waiver or hover for a moment in time. I really liked the idea of using vocal harmonies more so as a form of instrumentation and felt it would suit the theme of the album so I wrote some voicings out on piano and worked on transposing that into my vocal harmonies.

The vocal harmonies were looming from the onset so it felt right, without them unduly taking over. They are an added essence. It’s almost a way of coming up for air before plunging into the unknown again.

I must say the closing section of ‘Falling’ in which the vocal harmony motif returns for the last time, signals one of the record’s most captivating moments…I would love for you to discuss the importance of repetition in your music, and in turn, how you ‘see’ or visualize music? I always feel that a certain gravitational pull or hold on the listener occurs through repetition inside music.

SH: I am a massive fan of repetition in music. Repetition fastens the mind into a gentle trance where you can let go and not feel affected by your surroundings or time itself. In a society where time demands so much of us, repetition engenders a freeing effect without expectations or obligations in what you the listener feels or thinks. That’s all I ever want from music.

I don’t visualise music as such. In a way with the early stages of writing, I think my mind goes into shut down mode which is why I find it difficult to remember exact moments of writing. If I do see music, it always comes in a very hazy dimension and will slowly evolve into its own likeness from there which is what happened with Wide Asleep. It started to take on a theme of its own as the album grew, evoking those intangible gateways between sleep and wakefulness.  Those moments where what actually feels real isn’t…. Perhaps sneaking in that other worldly element.

Has your compositional approach changed or altered in any way from previous records such as ‘Night Sky’ or ‘Becalmed’? ‘Wide Asleep’ was produced by yourself, solely. I am very interested in this stage of the music-making process and what transitions or developments these compositions undertook during this stage?

SH: The early concepts or ideas always seem to have a similar pattern of approach. With the previous albums, I tended to write more as I went along. Wide Asleep was determined from the beginning. The full vision was in the forefront of my mind and I trusted myself to attain that end goal. With Wide Asleep I had this inward sense of urgency…  I found that sense of urgency a challenge to contend with as the production took a little longer however you always learn and gain new experiences each time.

Collaboration is another vital part to the process, and your close friends Tim Whitten (engineer), Peter Hollo (cello) and Jay Kong (violin) bring so much to the table, as always. I just love how such a deep communication – almost innate – exists between these different voices that forms one cohesive whole of utter transcendence. Can you recount your memories of recording with these guests and the headspace you all must inhabit when these parts all come together?

SH: Having worked with Peter and Jay for a while now is a real asset. It has become very instinctive. The musical chemistry between us is something that is very easily communicated. Jay and Peter have a very sensitive approach to understanding the way I write music and make it very easy for me when we all sit down together to map out the process and contemplate their parts. Occasionally I have a weird way of putting my melodies together but they’ve become accustomed to it! I love them so much for that.

Tim being a long-standing family friend has observed my pattern of composing from a young age and has watched it grow and wholeheartedly supported my style and process. I can have a tendency to be quite timid with my approach. This time around I had tunnel vision which took Tim a while to get his head around but once he did he knew and understood where I wanted to be and we worked as a team to get there. He’s very intuitive when mixing instrumental music which I guess is why bands like The Necks continually go back to him as do I.

The euphoric crescendo of ‘Memory II’ with its gorgeous choral refrain and mesmerising piano lines serves one of many defining moments. These two compositions, ‘Memory I’ and ‘Memory II’ are obviously very significant and are the heart to part B. The sequencing of the record I feel works wonderfully and the layering and aesthetics of the two parts – A & B – creates such a moving and powerful journey.  I wonder are any of these pieces borne from old melodies you have had in the vaults, so to speak?  

SH: I always have unfinished pieces sitting in vaults! Sometimes I randomly revisit them. There’s quite a few demos waiting to be woken from their slumber sitting on hard drives…

In this case Memory I was half written and I ran into a wall with it so to speak. It didn’t move for a little while so I left it alone, then one night I sat down with it and it germinated and took off so it was either going to be one really long piece or could be consumed in two parts which I think works with the astral vocals taking over from the darkish coloured middle eastern tonality of the strings. It picks it up and sweeps it into another dream state territory though still in the same key so the journey has a connection to its former memory and goes back to that in the outro of Memory I..  It’s like a Memory that expands and travels, then gets revisited ….

Can you shed some light on the influences or inspirations you feel found their way into the ‘Wide Asleep’ sound world, Sophie?

SH: I was listening to a lot of old Gamelan music, Indian Classical Raga and Jazz which is nothing like Wide Asleep but subconsciously things can infiltrate the subconscious. It’s the way our being then formulates that expression.  Different music can still relate to each other. It can be like the sentiments of Indie Rock vs the music of Opera. They can evoke a similar feeling. Perhaps it works the same? I grew up listening to extreme polar opposites in styles of music. One side of the house was Jazz and the other Indie rock. It was a war of the worlds between my Dad and my older Brothers. From a young age though I was writing the kind of music I write now. I’m still not sure where that comes from. At times it frustrated me that I attempted changing it when I was younger but it’s something I’ve recognised comes from within me and I should enjoy embracing it. It’s just another way of me articulating without having to phrase them into words.

Lastly, I must ask you about the beautiful solo piano full-length ‘Drift’. This forms such a perfect sister companion to ‘Wide Asleep’ with its marked intimacy and ethereal quality, a magical spell is cast with each delicate piano note. It feels as if this was created in one sitting, and effectively feels like one large piece. Can you discuss these compositions and how much of a role improvisation played in the inception of ‘Drift’?

SH: These were all layered late night recordings that were half improvised / half composed.  It was a very organic relaxed unpressured approach between the walls of my lounge room using the damper pedal out of convenience but also for its tonally soft tranquil effect… It’s the sleepy sister of Wide Asleep indeed.

‘Wide Asleep’ is out now on Preservation.

http://www.sophiehutchings.com/

https://www.facebook.com/SophieHutchingsMusic/

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November 8, 2016 at 9:37 pm

Chosen One: Benoît Pioulard

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Interview with Thomas Meluch (Benoît Pioulard).

“…making music has always been a selfish thing that’s rooted in examination of the self, of questioning of the universe and reconciling the two.”

—Thomas Meluch (Benoît Pioulard).

Words: Mark Carry

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This year marks the tenth anniversary of Benoît Pioulard’s prized debut ‘Précis’. Released on the awe-inspiring Chicago label Kranky, the album won the hearts of many with its fragile beauty, heartfelt vocals, shimmering guitar textures, lo-fi production and sincere, beating heart. In truth, Seattle-based sound sculptor Thomas Meluch has continually pushed the sonic envelop and illuminate inner-most feelings through his poignant folk explorations and drone-infused ambient soundscapes over the intervening years. Across records such as ‘Lasted’, ‘Hymnal’ and ‘Sonnet’, the master producer and songwriter has further developed his trademark style: field recordings and ambient bliss become interwoven and buried deep in one’s mind, awash with life’s fleeting moments and faded dreams.

In many ways, this year’s eagerly-awaited ‘The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter’ moves closer to the sonic trajectory of ‘Précis’, which sees Meluch return to the core foundation of voice and guitar. Furthermore, what reveals after many revisits is a distillation of the treasured Benoît Pioulard songbook thus far, where cathartic ballads such as ‘I Walked Into The Blackness And Built A Fire’ (one of the record’s defining moments), endearing pop laments (‘Layette’ with its heavenly harmonies and pristine production), utterly transcendent drone soundscapes (as captured on the cinematic album closer ‘Ruth’) and empowering torch-lit ballads (‘A Mantle For Charon’). Immediately, the rich tapestry and gorgeous melody of ‘A Mantle For Charon’ triggers back to the rich poignancy of ‘Sous La Plage’ or ‘Ash Into The Sky’ (taken from the closing section of ‘Précis’). ‘The Listening Matter’ unfolds like a tapestry of illusions and dreams that awaken a resonance of related feelings and moods: a veil to comfort and protect.

Nietzsche’s writings from 1878’s ‘Human, All Too Human’ I feel shares a fitting parallel with the themes explored on the sound sculptor’s latest masterwork. “Resonance. All intense moods bring with them a resonance of related feelings and moods; they seem to stir up memory. Something in us remembers and becomes aware of similar states and their origin. Thus habitual, rapid associations of feelings and thoughts are formed, which, when they follow with lightning speed upon one another, are eventually no longer felt as complexes, but rather as unities”. The glittering thirteen tracks beautifully captured on ‘The Listening Matter’ are similarly felt as “unities”, with which a river of intense emotion become engrained deep in the rich embers of Meluch’s sonic tapestry. An image that perfectly depicts this illuminating record is also one of the album’s song-titles: “I Walked Into The Blackness And Built A Fire’. The radiant light of hope and strength lifts from the embers of the flames.

‘The Benoît  Pioulard Listening Matter’ is available now on Kranky.

https://www.facebook.com/pioulard/

https://www.facebook.com/Kranky-279206347288/

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Interview with Thomas Meluch (Benoît Pioulard).

 

Congratulations on the stunningly beautiful new full-length, ‘Listening Matter’. I love how on one hand, it’s a full-circle back to the debut record ‘Precis’ with its introspective lo-fi folk-infused ambient soundscapes and beautifully realized (& vocal-based) pop structures. But on so many other levels, there’s very much a continuation of the luminous guitar-based loops of found sounds and field recordings explored on the previous ‘Sonnet’ LP for instance, so ‘Listening Matter’ really does feel like a crystallization of the many elements that have been captured in the Benoît Pioulard songbook thus far. Please talk me through the making of ‘Listening Matter’, which has been two years in the making?

Thomas Meluch: A few of the songs were written & recorded in 2014 with a view to making a 7” that would have come out with ‘Sonnet’ as a kind of pop-antidote to the instrumental nature of that album… But that plan was abandoned for various reasons outside my control, and after a while I drafted songs until I had a half-dozen more, which were recorded in a dedicated stretch back in February of this year – some of the instrumental pieces came from other phases in between, but most of the record was done in one very brief stretch after the reservoir couldn’t hold any more…

Your set-up of voice, guitar, loops and some effect pedals has been a trusted constant for you this past decade and on the latest record, it feels as if the results have never been so exceptional and rewarding. The pacing of the record with the carefully interspersed instrumental ambient voyages, makes for such a fulfilling journey. Can you talk me through your studio set-up and layers of sonic detail that seeps into these new tracks of yours and how the minimal framework from which you work from informs this singular, unique sound you have developed?

TM: The website Headphone Commute kindly posted a thing about my ‘studio’ last year, which covers a lot of that. It’s fairly basic but very familiar, and I still use GarageBand and tape recorders for everything, which creates a lot of the lo-fi qualities I enjoy weaving in. I’ve been very glad to maintain, over the years, an ability to listen back to a basic recording and hear what’s missing, so that allows me to get creative in filling in those gaps and attaining the little specific sounds and melodies that buttress the main parts of a given tune.

One of the hallmarks of Listening Matter is indeed the healing quality of the music, and a spirit of defiance resides throughout. I was saddened to learn of your brother’s passing during the late stages of the album itself, and the deeply heartfelt laments such as ‘A Mantle For Charon’ (which I feel is one of your most beautiful songs recorded to tape) feel like an incredible tribute to someone so close and special to you. As a listener, there is a real sense of catharsis throughout these songs, a release if you will, and I can imagine that this sort of effect was occurring for you during the writing and recording stages (as it must always do for the music-making process)? 

TM: Most definitely, and I often wonder how anyone can get along without some kind of creative outlet, as making music has always been a selfish thing that’s rooted in examination of the self, of questioning of the universe and reconciling the two; especially when there’s discord or melancholy in my day-to-day. Most of the lyrics here have to do with self-medication, epiphanies, and all my attempts to smirk at the infinite.

There is a beautiful simplicity to the gorgeous ‘Layette’ with the warm percussion and heavenly harmonies. Was is it a case that some of these songs were conceived and put to tape in quite an effortless and quick fashion? Please recount your memories of the writing of ‘Layette’ and the inspiration in which is draws from?

TM: Yeah, that song in particular was recorded front-to-back in about 2 hours, including dubbing and re-dubbing to mono cassette over old IDM tracks. I wrote it back in 2014, though, and the first version only had one verse so the whole song was about 45 seconds long. This one by comparison is an epic.

I recall you describing several bicycle journeys each week during the making of ‘Sonnet’, which formed the backdrop to many of the resultant tracks and sonic make-up. I wonder did you have such rituals or habits during the making of ‘Listening Matter’ and how soon did you realize that this album would see you return to the more vocal-based song structures?

TM: As mentioned before, a lot of this album was written over a long time and recorded in a very short span, so when I surveyed all the songs I wanted to include I found a way to prioritize and order them – I can never work on more than one song at one time – and worked during every free minute for about three and a half weeks… Before and after work, often late into the night, etc. I just had to clear out the attic, you know. At this point I haven’t written a song with lyrics in over a year, so I wonder if I ever will again. It’s completely possible that I won’t, but I get a lot of peace from that thought as I remain satisfied with everything I’ve made up to this point. What a trip to think that it’s been 10 years since the first one!

Outside of the six Kranky full-lengths, you have been releasing a plethora of equally enthralling musical explorations via your bandcamp page. I always love the DIY aesthetic and handmade feel to all the releases you put out. Looking over your impressive output to date, so many tributaries and streams flow from the many varied projects and indeed each feels connected to one on another also, on a very deep level. The gradual bliss of ‘Seize/Marre’ from last year is a wonderful document in its own right but which also pointed to the musical trajectory of what would come next. Can you discuss the space in time in which this sublime 7″ was brought to life? Also, where do you feel the sonic terrain is heading towards? The possibilities as ever feel (in a word) endless.

TM: A fair number of people have asked me over the years if I would ever widely release any of the things I made on my 4-track as a teenager; given that I’m reticent to do that for various reasons, I thought it’d be nice to revisit those recordings myself, skim off the ideas I like best and use them for something more concise. Hence the lyrics for ‘Seize’ (French for ‘sixteen’, my age at the time) are taken from a few different early songs, as are most of the background elements. ‘Marre’ is a processed collage of a few early ambient experiments from around the same period.

I get the impression that a lot of your work – not least on ‘Listening Matter’ – are based on ideas and sketches of songs from many years previously, where remnants of past memories are re-collected and relinquished on the particular recording. I’d love for you to shed some light on this (if possible!) and maybe the library of sounds you have amassed from a young age? I can imagine there is a close symmetry between music and memory, and how your life in music – and musical life is synonymous with life’s memory.

TM: Yeah, I consider everything in my possession to be fair game, as far as my bin of notebooks and tapes, old photos and all of that. Many of these things work themselves into newer works as they earn new context in my life or illuminate something that I’m drawing on for current inspiration, if that makes sense. Maybe the best example of that on the new album is the second half of “Like there’s nothing under you”, which rips off a 40-second song I wrote for bass guitar and voice back in 2007, during one of the two times I was ever high on cocaine. Never really thought I’d find a place to use that, come to think of it, but here we are. The main vocal melody of “A mantle for Charon” is based on a little melody that I’ve found myself singing idly from time to time for probably 15 years, and I never found a way to use it before writing that song. Things just have to gestate sometimes, I suppose.

I wonder were there any happy accidents that occurred that wound up on ‘Listening Matter’? Another hallmark of this record too I feel is just how vast the sound-world formed is, in just under 26 minutes. For that reason, was the editing and final sequencing stages a difficult part to the overall process?

TM: I really love the way the bird chirps unintentionally respond to my vocals on the song “Defect”, especially as I just blindly dropped that field recording in when I was arranging it. Also, the cassette deck I bought shortly before recording this album wasn’t originally intended as a production tool but I loved its compression so much when I started toying with it that I ended up finding lots of ways to incorporate it, particularly on “Layette” and “Blackness”. As far as sequencing it didn’t really take a whole lot of effort as I found a sort of narrative across the songs as I was recording them and considering final lyric revisions, so for me it tells its own story from start to finish, and there are a few places where one needs to pause and take a drink of water.

Please discuss any records, books, films you have enjoyed the past few weeks and months, Tom?

TM: I’m currently listening to the new Casino Versus Japan double-cassette Frozen Geometry, which is utterly fantastic… But no surprise there. I’ve also been quite enamoured of my friend Dustin’s work as Skin Lies, as well as the drumming of Elvin Jones and guitar of Grant Green over the last few months. Oh and the new Herzog documentary Lo and Behold was wonderful in its ability to make me feel like an incredibly tiny blip on a very long technological timeline. I often wonder which things I use, learn and say every day will be viewed as quaint in the future.

‘The Benoît  Pioulard Listening Matter’ is available now on Kranky.

https://www.facebook.com/pioulard/

https://www.facebook.com/Kranky-279206347288/

 

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November 1, 2016 at 8:54 pm

Chosen One: Candoco Dance Company

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Interview with Pedro Machado (Candoco’s Artistic Co-Director).

I think Dance has this ability, it breaks barriers when you do it, it allows you to tap into a different state of mind and body but it also creates intriguing and captivating ‘things’ to look at.”

—Pedro Machado (Candoco’s Artistic Co-Director).

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Candoco, the leading company of disabled and non-disabled dancers is celebrating its 25th anniversary in London with two special performances at Sadlers Wells (tonight and tomorrow).

Beheld features music by German composer Nils Frahm reworked by fellow musician Machinefabriek. Set and Reset/Reset features music by Amercian avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson.

Founded in 1991 by Celeste Dandeker-Arnold OBE and Adam Benjamin, Candoco quickly grew into the first professional dance company of disabled and non-disabled artists in the UK. The rich beginnings of Candoco happened out of workshops, where disabled and non-disabled people got together to dance, create and have fun.

Candoco’s current Artistic Co-Directors Stine Nilsen and Pedro Machado were appointed as Celeste’s successors in 2007 having danced with the company for seven and nine years respectively. They have taken Candoco from the Bird’s Nest in Beijing to the Olympic Stadium in London, performing at the handover ceremonies in 2008 and returning, alongside Coldplay, at the Paralympic Closing in 2012 and have commissioned works for the company from leading choreographers Emanuel Gat, Rachid Ouramdane, Wendy Houstoun and Javier de Frutos.

Candoco’s ‘Beheld’ & ‘Set and Reset/Reset’ take place London’s Sadlers Wells on 21-22 October (tonight and tomorrow), performance commences at 7:30PM. For ticket bookings visit HERE.

http://www.candoco.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/candoco/

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Interview with Pedro Machado (Candoco’s Artistic Co-Director).

 

Please discuss the relationship between music and dance, and where you feel both these worlds intersect?

Pedro Machado: They both make us aware of rhythm and form and can be evocative of imagination and emotion. They are also ephemeral, you can reproduce and record it but the experience or listening to music or seeing dance disappears the second it happens. I like that specially as society tend to put some much emphasis on consuming and owning.

The Candoco Dance Company celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year and the forthcoming London production is to reworks of music by Nils Frahm and Laurie Anderson. I would love to gain an insight into the music program itself and your approach (and preparations) to reworking the music of Nils and Laurie Anderson? Also, what are the qualities and particular aspects to the music of Nils Frahm and Laurie Anderson that makes for such a compelling dance performance?

PM: Nils Frahm’s work is atmospheric, cinematographic, evocative… with plenty of space for contemplation, it’s a great match for dance and it’s capable of subtle but powerful emotional responses.  Laurie Anderson score for Set and Reset is full of layers and surprises, with a quirky humour and an engaging beat. Just like the dance.

Please discuss the aura of live performance and the feelings involved when it comes to the dance performance, live onstage and witnessing the production bloom into life?

PM: I love the communion aspect of live work, the fact that is experienced by lots of people at the same time… In one way the music and sounds help us to connect. When we work in the studio the music is a driving force and also guides dancers but sometimes it can take over and we also rehearse without music a lot. One of our performances at Sadler’s has a special aura as it will be audio described on the spot, to support further access to blind people.

As an integral force behind this world-renowned dance company, can you talk me through the rise of dance (in general) and your artistic vision (from the outset) when it comes to the inception of a particular dance piece, and its evolution to the final, end result?

PM: Candoco is an international reference in the field of dance and disability and it’s one of Britain’s most eclectic repertory Company but 25 years ago we didn’t set off to become a company, that happened out of workshops, where disabled and non-disabled people got together to dance, create and have fun.

I think Dance has this ability, it breaks barriers when you do it, it allows you to tap into a different state of mind and body but it also creates intriguing and captivating ‘things’ to look at. It’s like seeing a sportsperson performance where you have to decide for yourself what are the rules… What audiences see on stage is just the tip of the iceberg of months of preparations and hard work, many many hours that culminate in a one-hour event.

Can you describe the dance choreography and sequencing to the ‘Beheld’ movement, which sees a visually striking dance piece performed to the backdrop of Nils Frahms’ score? Please discuss the symmetry between the dance movement itself and movement of Frahms’ music?

PM: Beheld is beautiful to look at but it’s much more than that. There are great odd harmonies and collective effort and exhilarating dance sequences. Nils’ music creates an intimate still epic atmosphere that supports and extrapolates the action on stage.

What other composers and musicians would you love to collaborate with in the future? What other projects do you have planned, Pedro?

PM: We are working with Yasmeen Godder next year, she is very cool and has great taste, in our early conversations names like PJ Jarvey and Radiohead came up but we are aware these are big artists so we are also looking for other artists who can be political and emotional without being preachy or sentimental.

Candoco’s ‘Beheld’ & ‘Set and Reset/Reset’ take place London’s Sadlers Wells on 21-22 October (tonight and tomorrow), performance commences at 7:30PM. For ticket bookings visit HERE.

http://www.candoco.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/candoco/

 

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October 21, 2016 at 6:26 pm

Chosen One: Xylouris White

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Interview with George Xylouris & Jim White.

All these things forge our sound and make us more who we are and where we are from. Pictures and sounds, deserts and forests and towns and sky and people, and I woke up in the bus in Arizona at 6 in the morning at sunrise and everything was pink, I’d never seen anything like this.”

—George Xylouris

Words: Mark Carry

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Xylouris White is the inspired collaboration between Greek lute player George Xylouris and the Australian, Brooklyn-based drummer Jim White. Both composers are legends in their own right, the former through his Cretan lute-led sounds of the Xylouris Ensemble, the latter through his membership of mythical Australian trio Dirty Three and myriad collaborations over the years (Nina Nastasia, Cat Power, Bill Callahan, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, to name a few). Both have harnessed truly unique and unparalleled playing styles and levels of musicianship in their respective instruments where inspiration seems in endless supply at all times.

A catharsis of energy is unleashed throughout ‘Black Peak’ with an incredible force and unwavering beauty that has become one of the treasured hallmarks of the duo’s incendiary sound (ever since the duo’s 2014 debut full-length ‘Goats’). A wider sonic palette is masterfully explored here with the addition of George Xylouris’s immense baritone vocals (on several tracks) and a myriad of special guests from the extended Xylouris family (George’s father Psarandonis and Will Oldham carve beautiful new textures and colour to the duo’s visionary sound), further heightening the revelatory experience that awakens with each pulsating beat and enriching narrative.

If ever a song embodied the spirit of a record it comes with the closing epic ballad ‘The Feast’. A rich tapestry of otherworldly sounds gloriously ascends amidst a whirlwind of life’s fleeting moments. George’s father Psaradonis takes the lead role: his soaring lyra and voice weaves majestically around his son’s hypnotic lute playing and White’s joyous and sprawling drums. The Last Waltz. The gorgeous, sombre feel could be any one of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s deeply moving records and shares the infinite possibilities and sacred space of Dirty Three’s Ellis, White and Turner.

The sheer expanses covered on ‘Black Peak’ is staggering. The opening rock opus ‘Black Peak’ and ‘Forging’s momentous rock’n’roll rhythms are followed by the poignant parable of ‘Hey, Musicians!’ and divine epic love song, ‘Erotokritos’. Worlds drift in. Ancient traditions are interwoven with contemporary, avant-garde musical structures, forever embedded deep inside a mysterious, enchanting and cosmic space.

Bret Easton Ellis began his introduction to John Williams’s vintage novel ‘Butcher’s Crossing’ by saying: “A novel is about the opening of consciousness, in both the characters who inhabit the fictional narrative as well as that of the reader envisioning the novel in their head as they explore the terrain the author has laid out.” Just like the sweeping, intimate portrait of (central character) Will Andrews’s search for a new way of living, ‘Black Peak’ invites the listener to inhabit the far-reaching plains of life’s mysterious and kaleidoscopic landscape. As depicted on the striking narrative of ‘Hey, Musicians!’, music indeed never ends.

 

‘Black Peak’ is available now on Bella Union.

https://www.facebook.com/XylourisWhiteBand/
http://bellaunion.com/

Fractured Air & Plugd Records present XYLOURIS WHITE w/ KATIE KIM

TDC, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork Friday 28 October 2016 Tickets: €15 (ORDER ONLINE HERE)

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Interview with George Xylouris & Jim White.

Congratulations on the stunning sophomore full length ‘Black Peak’. Firstly, there is new sonic terrain covered on ‘Black Peak’ with the addition of your immense baritone vocals, and a wider sonic palette is masterfully drawn from, with special guests from the extended Xylouris family also deployed. Please take me back to the making and recording of ‘Black Peak’ and please recount for me the recording sessions? What was the studio set-up and how long did the recording take?

George Xylouris: BLACK PEAK is recorded in different studios around the world, New York, Providence, Crete, Iceland, we were on tour at the time we were recording. That’s one of the reasons we call the album Black Peak, not only because of the song about the mountain above where I’m from but also the symbol of linear B (Minoan script) for this mountain and its sister peak which maybe means the horizon (anthropological theory).

The first song recorded for the album was Forging, recorded at Guy’s studio and it also helped us with direction for the record. We recorded Black Peak (the song) in Queens, The Feast was from Guy’s in New York and finished in Crete with my father singing and playing, and Erotokritos was finished in Louisville the day we played a show there, the studio set up is different depending where we were.

In Rethymnon you can hear the birds from the open windows singing with Psarandonis. Hey Musicians! was the first time we played this song, we recorded it in Iceland in a studio that used to be a swimming pool and we played in the bottom of the pool. We recorded many songs like that, but this was the first song we recorded that day. It tells about somebody asking the musicians to tune up their instruments because he wants to sing about his old loves and he wants the air to take the words away where his loves hang out, those ones who loved him and those that lied to him and he’s got a lot to take out of his heart in a love way and then when his fantasy party finishes he says to the musicians to hang up their instruments and put them in their cases because music never ends.

A catharsis of energy is unleashed throughout ‘Black Peak’ with an incredible force and unwavering beauty that becomes one of the trademarks of the Xylouris White sound. For example, the aesthetics of the record is another important aspect, where gripping intensity of the more rock fuelled anthems (‘Forging’ and ‘Black Peak’ at the beginning) is joined with epic ballads such as album closer ‘The Feast’. In what way do you feel your live tour of your debut album help shape the songs off ‘Black Peak’. It is this energy between the pair of you – this resolutely unique duo – that evokes such a shape-shifting, enriching and incomprehensible sound. Please talk me through the creative process and indeed the space you each create that forms the bustling heart of Xylouris White? 

GX: Thanks for your comments.

We’ve played a lot of concerts in a lot of places since the release of Goats and we like to do that, a lot of time together a lot of sound checks, traveling, concerts, talking, listening, and traveling to the horizon all the time, ahead. All these things forge our sound and make us more who we are and where we are from. Pictures and sounds, deserts and forests and towns and sky and people, and I woke up in the bus in Arizona at 6 in the morning at sunrise and everything was pink, I’d never seen anything like this.

Are any of the new tracks actual traditional songs?

GX: The lyrics of Erotokritos is from the 14th century. There are different melodies – different ways to sing the words depending on the area in Crete; it’s a love epic song 10,000 couplets, we cover around 15.

Pretty Kondilies is a traditional dance and that type of melodies are traditional, there are many choices and you choose and put them in a row and often people and musicians improvise the words on the spot. it depends the situation and their feelings, the arrangement is ours.

Please discuss the rich musical lineage of the Xylouris family and indeed the players – past and present – that comprise the Xylouris Ensemble. Also, there is a beautifully vivid sense of place in your music, something that resonates powerfully with The Dirty Three and how a sense of journey always finds a way into the music, and Xylouris White is certainly no exception. Can you explain the importance of travel and the act of travelling must have on the music you create? I always feel it could be music to an epic road-trip through many journeys past.

GX: I grew up in a musical family, my uncles, father, brother and sisters, my villagers who were also feel like my family and many of my friends, we grew up together playing music and soccer in the village, and hung around in the sides of the village and cut wood and would pretend it’s a lute, and play, singing the sounds and that’s one of our fun and enjoyable games, and we also mimic dancers and musicians from our village. So I grew up playing mandolin and serenading around the village many, many times, and hung out with older people, who wanted me to play for them, to sing and have all the sounds of the wedding and parties in the square and later on when I was thirteen I left school and I went with my father to play all around the island as a full-time musician and soon I understood what I wanted do with my life.

Later on I had the opportunity to travel with my father and met many other musicians and singers and dancers and kept in touch with them through the years, exchange ideas and hear other music, keep in touch and play music all these years, unstoppable, and when I was 27 we went to Australia to play with my father and I stayed there for 8 years. A few friends and family there happened to be musicians from different traditions and background and that’s how we started Xylouris Ensemble, and that’s also when Jim and I met in the late 80s and later on Dirty Three started and they invited me to play as a guest etc.

What are your earliest musical memories?

GX: Listening to my Dad rehearsing at my grandfather’s house, a couple of my Dad’s friends were there and one is a really beautiful and unique dancer and I remember that and I never forget that I heard the melodies I already knew and I saw my Dad try to play those melodies in a different way, put more or less in, different bows and try in that way to cover the dance, talking with the dancer and tried to drive them connected to the dance and that was a huge experience and I discovered that you could play the same thing in different ways and I noticed it was for them the most important thing that was happening in the whole world , like a meeting of the big countries having a summit to save the world.

Jim White: My parents playing Bob Dylan records at parties at my house.

As masters of your chosen instruments, I would love for you to discuss your first encounter with the drums and lute?

GX: In the square at a wedding listening to my uncle Yiannis play the lute. 

JW: Listening to records and loving it but having no understanding of it at all, and then making a band with my friends which never even got together once but I decided to choose drums.

What musical philosophy you feel has remained true to you throughout these years? 

GX: To quote my Dad, – he doesn’t play with meters he plays with kilometres.

JW: Trying to understand the drums from the basics.

Can you recount for me your memories of first meeting one another? It’s amazing to think this occurred even before the beginnings of Dirty Three, another factor to what makes this duo so special and unique. 

GX: I met Jim through friends at a party, and then again when I saw Venom P. Stinger play.

JW: At a party through friends when George couldn’t speak any English, and then playing by himself at a bar in the city and then later Xylouris Ensemble by the river. 

What is your compositional approach? I wonder has the process changed or developed in any way from the debut ‘Goats’? 

GX: Everything changes. Nothing stays stable. Next year will be different again! We don’t know what we are exactly looking for but we face our direction.

The closing ballad ‘The Feast’ represents the finest moment of ‘Black Peak’s rich tapestry of otherworldly sound. The music of Xylouris White feels at once steeped in an age-old tradition of folk music and the wide expanses of experimental nuances. Can you talk me through the construction of this song and the addition of lyra & voice? It must be exciting to be playing some of these songs more stripped down as a duo (minus the added instrumentation of the guests), I wonder do the songs mutate or evolve in any way over the course of a long tour?

JW: This song is an improvisation on a melody we recorded at Guy’s house in New York, we had that and liked it very much and later on in Rethymnon at Aristotelis’ studio with the windows open on a hot day the birds came and started singing with Psarandonis (George’s dad) and George.

The words are about someone, he’s going to marry the moon and because he loves that moment he writes the lyrics and the moon is in and out of the clouds and he calls to the mountains because he is so happy “hello friends, how heavy you are, as much as I love you” and he calls earth his mum and the sky his dad and he asks them to come to his wedding with the moon because that’s what he feels is so beautiful that he loses his mind and wants marry the moon.

 

‘Black Peak’ is available now on Bella Union.

https://www.facebook.com/XylourisWhiteBand/
http://bellaunion.com/

Fractured Air & Plugd Records present XYLOURIS WHITE w/ KATIE KIM

TDC, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork Friday 28 October 2016 Tickets: €15 (ORDER ONLINE HERE)

Written by admin

October 18, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Chosen One: Stars of the Lid

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Interview with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie.

“…when it works, it’s a feeling not even of contentment, it’s a sort of cross between accomplishment, contentment, satisfaction and just where you can sit there for a moment and it feels as if the whole world is OK for a few minutes even though the rest of the time it feels as if it’s about to explode.”

—Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie

Words: Mark Carry

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Since releasing their debut record ‘Music For Nitrous Oxide’ in the mid-nineties, Stars of the Lid have been responsible for creating some of the most ground-breaking, singular and innovative ambient music to have graced the earth’s atmosphere. The innate ability of the gifted duo Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride to stretch out space that in turn, creates vast, limitless drones steeped in unimaginable beauty. Each Stars of the Lid record remains a vital musical document whose meaning and significance has only deepened with time.

Brian Eno once said “A studio is an absolute labyrinth of possibilities — this is why records take so long to make because there are millions of permutations of things you can do.” It is abundantly clear across the storied career of Wiltzie and McBride’s sacred works that a labyrinth of possibilities permeate the drone soundscapes and intricately arranged symphonic works of monumental works such as 2007’s ‘And Their Refinement of the Decline’ (the band’s last studio album); ‘The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid’ (using strings, horns and piano to captivating effect) and ‘The Ballasted Orchestra’s utterly compelling ambient explorations. These albums were painstakingly recorded, processed and assembled over long periods of time (for instance, the band’s last studio album was five years in the making). I feel this has become the essence of Stars of the Lid’s resolutely unique musical oeuvre: the listener feels the creator’s sheer devotion to their chosen art being poured through every divine note and aching pulse.

SOTL’s Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride will be embarking on an extensive tour to debut some new compositions, and some old classics with long time visual collaborator and projectionist Luke Savisky, and German lighting designer MFO.  On stage this tour will be featuring a new band. Two new members, Robert Donne from Kranky label mates Labradford, and Adam’s long time studio collaborator Francesco Donadello. Plus Brussels residents and A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s string ensemble, the Echo Collective and a vintage Moog 55 Modular Synthesizer.

2016 has already seen Brussels-based Wiltzie provide original scores for a number of feature films including Jalil Lespert’s ‘Iris’, ‘The Yellow Birds’ by Alexandre Moors and Mike Plunkett’s ‘Salero’ (the latter will be released on 11th November 2016 via Erased Tapes).

For full details of Stars of the Lid’s European tour, which kicks off this Saturday (1st October @ Paradiso, Amsterdam) and includes two Irish dates (Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre and Dublin’s National Concert Hall), see HERE.

https://www.facebook.com/starsofthelid

adam-wiltzie

Interview with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie.

I’d love for you to discuss the forthcoming Stars of the Lid European tour itself? It must be very special for you and Brian to be re-united again after being involved with other projects in the interim?

Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie: So, technically it’s been ten years since we released a record. In the meantime, I’ve been really busy doing a lot more soundtrack work and working with A Winged Victory For The Sullen but at the same time, pretty much every year Brian and I have at least done a couple of shows here and there. So we were always there but I think initially it was intentional to step away from it for a while and try something different so I think more and more we’re kind of getting back into it and getting closer and hopefully we’re going to find a way to finally finish the record and so it’s connect a little bit to both, you know getting our feet wet again. And like I said, we haven’t been completely gone away from it, there’s also this thing connected with the Moog that brought us to do more than just a couple of shows. Having the ability to use this beautiful piece of analogue furniture was sort of the catalyst to make the tour go longer and go to places we haven’t been in a long time – like Ireland – and yeah it’s good to be back.

I’d love for you to discuss a bit more about the synthesizer itself because as you say that must be a real treat to have in your live set-up because normally that might not be possible?

AW: Yeah absolutely, it’s a hugely famous piece of old gear that’s obviously really expensive and fragile and it’s so huge that it’s not really so easy to normally take on tour. We’re really lucky to have this for a really short period of time. I had it in my studio some months ago to test it out and see how we could make it work. We’re going to be playing some new material plus we’re playing some old songs we’ve played throughout the years so it’s nice to breathe some new life into it with some new sounds and in a new way to approach it.

The Moog is a complicated instrument because this one in particular doesn’t have the ability to save pre-sets, so when you get a sound it’ll go away really quick so we’re kind of meeting it halfway. The Moog can very easily turn into some sound that doesn’t sound like anything that we do but there is some inherent beautiful simplicity within the instrument that really fits to what our sound is. It’s been a nice journey to find a way to make it fit inside our world so we’re looking forward to trying that out every night.

Another component too, Adam, is the wonderful string ensemble that audiences would already be familiar with those very special A Winged Victory For The Sullen shows?

AW: Absolutely. The same string players I have been using for a while now, mostly through A Winged Victory For The Sullen. They’ve started playing with Stars of the Lid a few years ago but they live with me, I’m here in Brussels and they’ve become really good friends and they have become a really big part of my live show no matter where I play so it’ll be a real treat to have them along with me as well.

It was cool to see last year Kranky re-issuing some of the Stars of the Lid albums on vinyl, and just a reminder of what special musical documents they very much are.

AW: Yeah, they went out of print. I don’t know if it was really conscious but it seemed a really good time to re-press them on vinyl. It’s been such a long time it’s funny; I figured out that sometimes the best promotion is to do nothing for as long as possible and for some reason we’ve grown in a strangely beautiful organic sense that I never really imagined. For whatever reason those records resonated with people and people care about them so in a weird way this is almost like we’re going back on tour to support those records we released almost twenty years ago [laughs]. It’s nice and as I always say, I’m pretty lucky that people like anything that I do, it’ll be a real pleasure.

I’m curious with the art of a duo – there’s of course you and Brian as Stars of the Lid and alongside Dustin as A Winged Victory – there’s obviously something very special with working or creating together as a two-piece?

AW: Well there’s something two people can do that one person could never do, that’s always the beautiful thing with collaboration. I guess I’ve always been a big believer and big fan of it. I’m lucky to have two guys that I click with in this world.

You already mentioned scores and different things – even more so in the last few years – it’s a wonderful time seeing all these composers with so many projects and varied releases coming out where you’re one prime example. It must be interesting to have all these different projects in your mind at the same time?

AW: I think it’s nice to do different things because you don’t get bored with it whether it’s the different projects or working on something individually like the score project. And obviously as an artist you want to keep busy and not become stagnant so it’s good to have all these different things you can work on.

In terms of the new Stars of the Lid material, can you shed some light on the new material or direction in which you’re going with it?

AW: I don’t really know. We have a lot of new material but I don’t think we have really sat down and decided on what’s actually going to be on the record. In that sense, it’s almost as if we’ve done nothing but we go out on tour sometimes to test out new songs and see what feels like you want to develop more. As far as telling anyone about our new record, there’s actually nothing to report. Everyone seems to think we’re going on tour because we have a new record but we don’t. And everyone also seems to think – it’s a strange thing – that we still live in Texas, I don’t know why that is but they always say the Texan duo, it seems that in the world of the press we will always be existing in Texas.

You already mentioned living in Brussels, you know the studio itself has it been a place that’s been developing over the last few years? I’d love to learn more about the space itself and your set-up?

AW: Yeah I mean I’ve been there for almost twenty years. So, it’s slowly developing – you get new gear and whatnot – it’s basically a really old apartment with really high ceilings and it’s very sympathetic for recording acoustic instruments. Although I do a lot of recording for bigger projects with an orchestra in a studio in Budapest and sometimes I record some strings at another studio in Brussels but I somehow have been able to make it sound like as if you can’t really tell so you can mix and match different things from different places and it feels connected. I’ve always – from the early days – all my earlier recordings were recorded at home because I didn’t have any money, so I’ve always loved recording at home, it’s something that I think I will always do.

The special thing is too with the range of the different material, you know it always has this sort of DIY aesthetic to it too, which is a big compliment too.

AW: Yeah absolutely, it’s all connected. I mean in the beginning, we were so anonymous and we didn’t have any money so we had to do it yourself. So I think it stems from that even though I have a manager now and people who work for me, it still feels strange if I don’t do most of it myself. I feel as if I’m cheating someone if I don’t. My mom told me the other day, she likes to tell me that I remind her of my father because he always had trouble sitting still and so maybe I have adopted a little bit of that from my father. It’s hard to let someone else do something because you just want to do it yourself.

Looking over the Stars of the Lid discography, there’s obviously a string of really amazing records. The length of time it took to make some of these double or even triple records, it must feel like a gradual process when you’re trying to build one piece with so much going on?

AW: I think in the past; songs would develop over a course of years. A two-hour record – you know like a triple album – could take years to make but as I’ve gotten older it seems things happen a lot quicker. I recorded a score this summer – and I’m going over the soundtrack right now to release it – it’s this French film Dustin and I have just composed and it’s over an hour-long and we did all this in about two months. So I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that it’s a little bit easier to let go and not be so precious about everything. I’m not necessarily saying that one is better than the other and I do still slave over things, there are some other music that I’m working on that will take longer and develop. I guess it really depends on the project, you know when you’re working by yourself – for example a soundtrack, it’s a commissioned piece – you have to please other people so you have to find a way to not be precious and let go quicker because there’s deadlines and people have agendas. When you’re working for yourself, you can take all the time in the world.

I always think about when you’re connected to the first [Stars of the Lid] record ‘Music For Nitrous Oxide’, which came out in the early nineties and you had your whole life building up to that one moment, which I was in my early twenties when that came out so it was essentially twenty-three years of my life to release the first record and after that it’s a series of a lot shorter times. So I can see both sides, I do have to say that since I’m professional and that I make a living out of making music, I am relieved in a sense that I can not spend too much time if I need to. I was talking to Jóhann Jóhannsson the other day and he feels as if it doesn’t matter what he has recorded, it never feels finished to him and that must be really stifling at times you know. I like to let go when I can, I think it’s good for you; they’re like these time capsules so you need to let go, otherwise you’ll never finish anything.

It reminds me of Arthur Russell too who always seemed to struggle in order to finish something.

AW: It’s hard to let go sometimes, which I totally understand. You’re making this piece of art and once something doesn’t feel finished it can be very stifling and suffocating, you know it’s better to put it aside and release something that you aren’t happy with because you don’t want to end up feeling like a prostitute or something. What’s the line from that movie, “a wise man once said there’s always a fine line between clever and stupid”, that’s important to remember.

I’ve been listening a lot to your ‘Salero’ soundtrack recently, it’s really amazing and the pieces are just so beautiful. It feels related to other things you have done but it exists in its own realm as well, there’s a separate identity as well.

AW: Yeah maybe, it’s a commissioned piece so I had to work a lot quicker on it but I mean I still think that it sounds like me even though it’s recorded with an orchestra but I’m biased so I don’t know. I don’t know how to feel about it, I’d like to get out of my body and look at myself but sometimes it’s hard to do that. But I’m pleased with it, I’m glad it’s going to come out. I think it’s a beautiful time capsule.

And composing to actual visuals is the process really but in terms of the film then, it feels like a perfect fit where you’re composing music to a vast salt flat?

AW: The first time I saw the images, they were absolutely overwhelming, they’re so beautiful and it’s also kind of strange to see a part of the world that you’ve never seen before. It could maybe look a bit familiar but just have no concept for it, especially the reflections from the sun it looks as if it’s not part of the earth sometimes. It was just so beautiful.

You already mentioned the string orchestra, you must go to that stage after having the compositions pretty much written I imagine but I wonder it must be nice to end up in the same space as the orchestra?

AW: For me, it’s my favourite part because this is the moment where you have this brain fart in your head and you get to let it come out. And just have these other people interpret, it’s going to pretty much sound like you wrote it down, I just absolutely love it. I found this great orchestra – I can’t say they connect with what I’m doing because they are just playing notes – it’s really my favourite part of the whole process because this is where all the happy accidents happen. It sounds like kind of what I was trying to do and you get these other things out of it that you never imagine in a thousand years, you know when you get thirty people in a room to play a drone, it’s absolutely beautiful.

That must be the same feeling for those Stars of the Lid albums where the sessions at the end, you hear all these strings and horns over those drones?

AW: Yeah, it’s different though because that record I mostly recorded in my home studio, not to say that wasn’t a satisfying recording experience but since I’ve been moving more into larger orchestras for the past number of years now, it’s a different thing. I mean there’s one track on the ‘Salero’ record – most of it is recorded with an orchestra except this one track called ‘Bring This Place To Life’ – it’s recorded in my studio with the people who I play with normally and it’s got a totally different sound so the feeling you get when you get people to play on something that you have written – it doesn’t matter if it’s large or small – when it works, it’s a feeling not even of contentment, it’s a sort of cross between accomplishment, contentment, satisfaction and just where you can sit there for a moment and it feels as if the whole world is OK for a few minutes even though the rest of the time it feels as if it’s about to explode. I guess if I meditated on a regular basis, it would be like this moment you come out of meditation and everything is calm. That’s the only way I can describe it, it’s just a feeling of slight contentment.

You have done so much and there’s been so many accomplishments that you should be very proud of, I wonder looking back – and forward too – has there been one philosophy or belief that you always hold onto when you work on the next album, like a musical philosophy so to speak?

AW: Oh my God I definitely do not have but I did read ‘The Oblique Strategies’ by Eno the other day and he has one called ‘Honour your mistakes as a hidden intention’ [laughs] and that one makes complete sense to me [laughs]. I think that’s about as close as I can get to having a theme song.

There’s been several odes to ‘Twin Peaks’ in some of the Stars of the Lid material in terms of song-titles and whatnot, you must have great memories of watching the various David Lynch films and the TV series?

AW:  The Lynch connection was more with ‘Twin Peaks’ because when Brian and I were starting out that was around the time when ‘Twin Peaks’ was on TV so we used to sit there and watch it every week on a Thursday night when it would come on TV. It was a great moment in television history for America. I don’t know if we were the biggest David Lynch fans but we absolutely loved that TV show so that’s why we dedicated that song to him.

Lastly, Adam, what’s been your favourite records that you’ve been enjoying lately?

AW: Well my favourite record that I’ve been listening to is Jóhann Jóhannsson’s new one called ‘Orphee’, it’s absolutely beautiful. He hasn’t released a record of his own work in a long time, it’s gorgeous and I would highly recommend checking it out.

For full details of Stars of the Lid’s European tour, which kicks off this Saturday (1st October @ Paradiso, Amsterdam) and includes two Irish dates (Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre and Dublin’s National Concert Hall), see HERE.

https://www.facebook.com/starsofthelid