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Chosen One: Lucrecia Dalt

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I wanted to explore edges and boundaries in any form; abstract, fictional, material, and by doing so I started to find metaphors I could use from concepts coming from geology like the anticline or the antiform which are ultimately disrupted or distorted hierarchical bodies.”

—Lucrecia Dalt 

Words: Mark Carry

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On the striking, near-prophetic album opener ‘Edge’, Colombian-born artist Lucrecia Dalt asks “How long does a body last without organs to fill it?” Dalt’s hushed spoken word passages beautifully float beneath foreboding synthesizer patterns, which conjures up a world that is both alien and uncanny. Lyrically, ‘Edge’ is centered on an ominous Amazonian mythological creature (El Boraro) under the surface of the earth. The breath, shape, pressure and pulse of this utterly transcendent journey of the self encapsulates the utterly hypnotic and visionary sound world masterfully captured in Dalt’s vital sixth studio album ‘Anticlines’ (released on Brooklyn-based imprint RVNG Intl).

Pulsating bass lines interwoven with altering frequencies of ‘Altra’ emit an otherworldly, trance-like state whose origins could be traced from some distant planet shores. Transmissions from unknown horizons. The lead single ‘Tar’ represents one of ‘Anticlines’s defining moments which combines Dalt’s unique rhythmic structures and bewitching avant pop melodies. The intimate vocal phrasing is one of the alluring aspects of the latest record’s far-reaching quality. ‘Tar’ ponders human dependence  on earth at the boundary of the heliopause. The sonic backdrop of the Berlin-based artist’s newly acquired Clavia Nord Modular creates mesmerizing, shape shifting sound worlds that orbit around Dalt’s poetic prose. A futuristic vision steeped in uncertainty somehow flickers into focus as Dalt laments “we touched only as atmospheres touch.”

Anticlines’ marvels upon the electrifying intimacy that permeates throughout the compelling song cycles. The meditative ambient gem ‘Atmospheres Touch’ infiltrates the pores of the human heart with each luminous electronic pulse. Reference points could be the modular synthesizer pioneers like Laurie Spiegel or Suzanne Ciani (or indeed Colleen’s latest synthesizer-based opus ‘A Flame my love, a frequency’).

Dark, menacing tones amass on ‘Errors of Skin’, a foreboding tour-de-force which sees Dalt’s further investigation “to explore edges and boundaries in any form”. Various manipulations of the visionary composer’s vocals further heightens the sheer intensity and uncertainty of what is unfolding before our very eyes. Dalt asks towards the song’s close: “Is it edge? Is it consciousness? Is it matter?”

The placing of instrumental excursions between the lyrical pieces sees the Colombian artist’s innate ability to fuse poetic theory and sound. Enchanting dubstep sounds are dotted across ‘Indifferent Universe’ whilst the gradual bliss of ‘Concentric Nothings’ creates a magical, hypnotic spell as Dalt’s mantra-like lyrics return like that of a faded, half-forgotten dream.

Liminalidad’s contemporary pop sphere feels like a distant companion to Julia Holter’s cherished songbook, with exhilarating choral motifs layered beneath dazzling synthesizer components. Elsewhere, the vocoder-based electronic gem ‘Eclipsed Subject’ permeates the liminal space, floating amidst the point of not knowing. ‘Anticlines’ is an utterly gripping and fascinating sonic exploration into the heart of human existence and the boundaries that lie therein.

‘Anticlines’ is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://lucreciadalt.bandcamp.com/

https://igetrvng.com/

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Interview with Lucrecia Dalt.

Congratulations Lucrecia on the incredible latest full-length ‘Anticlines’. Firstly, please take me back to the music-making process of ‘Anticlines’ and the recording sessions of this new collection of songs?

Lucrecia Dalt: For this album I worked rather differently than my previous ones. I started exploring a new synth, the Clavia Nord Modular. I designed and reworked patches for it, for processing and vocoding. While I was doing that, I was also making a document that I initially called “SUPER-EARTH” full of ideas, keywords, thoughts, pieces of text, images, transcripts from conferences. With that document I met my friend and collaborator Henry Andersen with whom I wrote the lyrics.  After having done that, I started to make the music with the previously made Clavia patches and the Moogerfooger. My first impulses or ideas are usually rhythmical ones, with very basic melodies, and having the lyrics I started to see how to incorporate them. Then, I arranged it all and mixed it.

In terms of the sonic palette utilized on ‘Anticlines’, the Clavia Nord Modular provided the perfect backdrop for these otherworldly, compelling electronic song cycles. Can you discuss this particular modular synthesizer and the new patches you created? What did your set-up consist of, in addition to the Clavia Nord?

LD: The set up now is a clavia Nord modular, my long-standing partner: the moogerfooger murf, an old siemens mic from 1930, computer, a revox tape recorder. There are different sound sources coming from the Clavia, the op-1 and my voice that feedback to other processes in the Clavia, the murf, the computer.  I wanted to work with effective gestures, one gestures is able to generate multiple sounds, rhythm and/or texture.


The poetic prose of the lyric-driven songs creates an utterly beguiling and shape-shifting sonic universe. I feel that your background as a geotechnical engineer has shaped much of this record. For instance, the absorbing lead single ‘Tar’ details human dependence on this planet and opener ‘Edge’ feels like a study of the self. Can you talk me through the writing process for you, and indeed the methodologies you have favoured when it comes to writing songs such as ‘Edge’ and ‘Tar’ (and vocal phrasing as a whole)?

LD: I went to visit Henry in Brussels, we spent a couple of days brainstorming ideas, sharing interests, playing adjective games, analyzing and destroying poems and lyrics by other artists, and then we started writing.

I wanted to explore edges and boundaries in any form; abstract, fictional, material, and by doing so I started to find metaphors I could use from concepts coming from geology like the anticline or the antiform which are ultimately disrupted or distorted hierarchal bodies. The piece “Edge,” explores skin as a possible trespassing medium of inter subjectivity; an obsessed lover wants to possess the view of the loved one, from within. In “Tar,” I was thinking about how far outward does our inner life could reach by bringing ideas directly associated to human existence to a place where they have no significance. Very similar to the rather pointless gesture of bringing the golden records outer space.

The intimacy of these sonic creations is immediately apparent and how intricately interwoven the electronic instrumental odysseys in counterpoint to the avant pop spheres. Can you discuss the sequencing of the record and indeed, the importance of atmosphere in your works? I have always felt this gripping tension and vital pulse of the human condition lies at the heart of some of your incredible records.

LD: Pulses, atmospheres, blurry boundaries were abstract ideas I wanted to explore sonically. Each piece explores something specific depending on what the composition asks for.  For example “Edge,” it started with a basic pulse, then the pulse suggested a confrontative monologue. Or “Atmospheres Touch,” I was trying to haunt the idea of an Italian song composed by someone like Alessandroni by using four vocoders or in “Concentric Nothings” I wanted to work with clusters of words that are sustained in the air that open to meaningful sentences depending on how you encounter them.

Were there certain reference points or particular sources of inspiration when it came to the inception of ‘Anticlines’? As a listener, it feels as if you are continually evolving and delving deeper into new terrain with each new release.

LD: The poetry of Alice Fulton in particular the poem “Shy one” which I discovered because of Karen Barad. I was also reading The thing by Dylan Trigg while making the album and that gave me a lot to think about, but specially lots to relate to as an engineer, or Hito Steyerl essays about the horizon.

Can you recount your earliest musical memories? At what point in your life did you realize the importance of music in your life, Lucrecia?

LD: Always, my mother was a record collector and was hiding speakers around the house, so we could hear music everywhere. I was growing up listening to Spanish ballads, boleros, folk music from Colombia, salsa. I was also very used to listening members of my family sing, play guitar, tiple, maracas.

Do you feel you have a guiding musical philosophy that lies at the heart of all the artistic works you create?

LD: I wouldn’t say so, as I’m very susceptible to changing ideas and positions and allowing for contradiction, I like to think of a bubble in which I throw ideas, possibilities, concepts that probably only make sense while they are inside of it. And I would try to work only with that encased material but bearing in mind that its material is skin-like, with pores, so still interconnected and somewhat open to the outside.

Lastly, what records have you been heavily immersed in of late?

LD: While thinking a moment about this, I just realized my listening habits have fractured since I’ve making my monthly radio show Pli, which is theme-based, so I’m searching, discovering and grouping music in this particular way… two records that I have been very much into lately are Laurent Fairon – Musique Isotype, Don the tiger – Matanzas (not out yet!), Franceso Cavaliere – Xylo-mania.

‘Anticlines’ is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://lucreciadalt.bandcamp.com/

https://igetrvng.com/

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May 4, 2018 at 12:02 pm

Chosen One: Goldmund

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I want to find that midpoint between composition and experimental forms.”

—Keith Kenniff 

Words: Mark Carry

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This month saw the eagerly awaited new Goldmund opus, entitled ‘Occasus’ (released via the ever-dependable Western Vinyl imprint). Keith Kenniff’s sublime piano compositions continue to explore new sonic terrain as the sonic palette of ‘Occasus’ has expanded to contain synthesizer and analog bliss. Just like the Pennsylvanian native’s other musical projects (whether it’s under his Helios guise or as one half of Mint Julep), a timeless beauty is forever embedded inside the gifted composer’s sonic explorations.

The gorgeous album opener ‘Before’ begins with delicate piano tones, before an achingly beautiful swell of violin drones meld effortlessly, forming a captivating sound world. The resulting crescendo of these masterfully sculpted elements feels like a sea of age-old memories coming flooding to the surface. As the title suggests, the fragile piano lament belongs to some other time or place; perhaps adrift in the ether of faded dreams.

The hushed piano notes of ‘Above’ are a joy to savour. The stillness of night. Inner reflections. The repeating piano patterns gradually rise, as a swell of heavenly noise seeps into the slipstream. The lead single ‘Circle’ unfolds a divine modern classical oeuvre of enchanting sounds.

The slow, mournful piano lament ‘Radiant’ is another stunning and raw musical excursion. A hypnotic spell is unfolded before your very ears. The album’s centrepiece is the bewitching ‘Terrarium’ whose wall of analog bliss is interwoven with cinematic piano motifs, creating a striking catharsis with each intense ripple flow of sound. Similarly, the contrast of soaring drone soundscapes and sustained piano chords distilled in ‘Moderate’ unleashes a deeply affecting journey into lost horizons.

The works of Goldmund always captures something pure: it is as if all of life’s fleeting moments are committed to tape and effortlessly translated to sound. ‘Occasus’ is another vital chapter in Kenniff’s long storied career.

‘Occasus’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

https://www.facebook.com/goldmundmusic/

https://soundcloud.com/keithkenniff

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Interview with Keith Kenniff.

 

Congratulations on the latest divine Goldmund opus ‘Occasus’. Can you take me back to the recording sessions of this newest sonic exploration and your primary objectives and concerns with the musical trajectory you wanted to obtain? 

KK: Thank you! I purposely never have a specific thing in mind during recording an album, I feel as though if I think about it too hard I will over-intellectualize things and for me that produces stale output. I try to keep my mind clear of distraction, it’s like a meditation.

Thinking of some of the earlier Goldmund records like ‘Corduroy Road’ or ‘The Malady of Elegance’, your signature hand-print is forever forged in these sublime piano recordings but also feels like new sonic terrain is navigated here. For instance, the incorporation of synthesizers and analog treatments further heightens the listening experience. Can you talk me through these new elements and how you melded these worlds together?

KK: I feel like there are elements of that throughout most of the recordings, but specifically on ‘Sometimes’ (the previous album) and this one, it’s more about sonic texture and less about focusing on the piano itself. I just like things to sound beat-up, found. A lot of music I hear is super-polished these days, auto-tuned and mixed using the “best” gear finely tuned. There’s a place for that but I like when things are just left as-is or mangled sonically in a way that’s quick and intuitive, not planned out with presets and sample packs.

‘Moderate’ is one of the rapturous moments of ‘Occasus’, particularly the heavy drone washes beneath the achingly beautiful piano melody. Can you recount your memories of composing a piece such as this and indeed the layering of the various interwoven components?

KK: I record most of these pieces late at night, after everyone in the house is asleep, there’s this feeling of being exhausted but harnessing the last bit of yourself before bed that can be intriguing. For that one I just laid down a simple violin drone that I pitched down to sound more like a cello or viola, then put a bunch of distortion and hiss on it, and recording the piano chords over it, then putting various synths layered subtly over top. It sounds a bit like a sinking ship, wavering but thoughtful with the low piano chords giving it some harmonic foundation. At the end that ambience breaks through and takes over the piano and those textures are able to expand, but there’s no discernible build, or resolution, it just stops.

Looking back over your compelling Goldmund and Helios releases, how do you find your compositional approach has changed over the years (whether it’s between albums or between the different musical guises)? For instance, would these new fifteen Goldmund compositions have been circulating the ether for a considerable period of time (perhaps sketches or ideas from previous recordings) or would these have originated from new ideas of yours (from the last couple of years)? 

KK: These songs are all from the last couple of years. Typically I don’t let the Goldmund compositions sit too long, they either work or don’t work and if they don’t work I don’t come back to them or I like to take the first idea and just believe in it. Helios material is different, sometimes it takes a week, and sometimes I’ll work on a song for years to get it right. I think I purposely approach the projects differently, help to not get stuck in a rut and they feed each other.

I’d love for you to discuss your earliest musical memories, Keith. How soon did you realize the importance music would have on your own life? At what point did you begin to compose? 

KK: I started playing music at 9 (guitar and drums, I didn’t begin piano until I was about 19) and quickly realized it was not just a hobby but something I’d pursue as a life-goal. I trained as a percussionist, piano just sort of happened but I never studied formally. I started writing my own music when I was about 18. I actually started off as part of this website where people could submit unofficial Bjork remixes. This was pre-social media but it was kind of like a message board-based site where people could upload tracks, rate them, comment on them and share ideas. It was a really healthy atmosphere and I learned a lot about electronic music production that way.

Please describe for me your studio set up and how your piano is set up (and added analog equipment)? 

KK: My setup is simple, a midi keyboard, 3 guitars, upright piano and speakers. The only analog equipment I use is a small mini-cassette recorder I’ve been using on recordings since 2000-ish. I keep it simple so I don’t get distracted, I feel like having a variety of synths and knobs and buttons and “cool” gear would just take me out of creating, not inspire it to happen. I learned how to make music on a computer and it just feels right to keep most of what I do inside of one still.

I love the series of inner dialogue that is inherent in many of the pieces contained on ‘Occassus’; like the multi-layered tapestry that unfolds throughout ‘Bounded’ and ‘What Lasts’ carves out a richly poignant narrative. I get the impression there is a deeply intuitive nature to your exploratory compositions. 

KK: I try not to intellectualize this material too much, I do feel the compulsion to do it and I find the framework of the simplicity of this project compelling to my overall beliefs in aesthetic and outlook but it’s all done very quickly and once something is recorded I don’t go back and fine tune or give thought to what it means.

The gradual ambient bliss of ‘Terrarium’ epitomizes the far-reaching nature of ‘Occasus’s beguiling sound worlds. What do you feel is the precise narrative that ties these piano compositions together? I’d love to gain an insight into the album title and the central album theme that combines these sonic pieces together?

KK: I chose to name the album “Occasus”, which means “End, Ruin, Destruction” etc…as I feel like a lot of these pieces, when I listened to them as a whole, had a need to become unwound. Sounds would enter but then wouldn’t be treated carefully, I felt like they needed to fall apart or not to develop fully or not be polished or purposely recorded haphazardly. I want to find that midpoint between composition and experimental forms, where there’s no discernible beginning/middle/end but that it’s also not just an exercise or purely sonically-based, so I wanted to rail against my inclination toward one or the other and see if there was a new way to treat the piano in context of whatever that halfway point is.

Lastly, what albums have you been enjoying of late?

KK: Otto Totland’s “The Lost”, Novo Line’s “Movements”, Blouse’s self titled album, and “Scenes Surfaces and Threshold” by Cathaya & Grøn.

‘Occasus’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

https://www.facebook.com/goldmundmusic/

https://soundcloud.com/keithkenniff

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April 26, 2018 at 6:49 pm

Chosen One: Mercury Rev

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“… but actually it was one of the lowest; one of the darkest points because when you are at the bottom you can’t even see which way is up; all you feel is this silt beneath your feet and it’s almost like landing on the moon: everything is silent, there is no sound…”

—Jonathan Donahue 

Words: Mark Carry

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On the opening line of ‘Tonite It Shows’, Jonathan Donahue sings “Into a dream, I took a turn and promised to return” beneath slowly plucked guitar strings and an ethereal classical backdrop. Somehow this lyric encapsulates the magical and highly emotive sound world of ‘Deserter’s Songs’ – Mercury Rev’s cherished classic record from precisely twenty years ago – where the listener gets beautifully lost in the tear-stained remnants of faded dreams and a sea of anguish and pain. A cosmic ballad such as this seeps “into your soul” and from this journey into the heart of darkness, shimmering light of hope ultimately floats to the surface. We all have cherished records, ones that come along in your life and unknowingly becomes a part of you – or more specifically, your own self – ‘Deserter’s Songs’ is one of those transcendental artistic works whose significance only heightens with the tides of the moon.

The fragile, near-whisper voice of Jonathan Donahue on  album opener ‘Holes’ immediately casts a hypnotic spell. The orchestral arrangements capture an unfathomable beauty. As Donahue asks “How does that old song go?” on the closing refrain, feelings of doubt and uncertainty comes flooding in. The prayer-like lament ‘Endlessly’ is steeped in child-like wonder: the gorgeous sonic tapestries somehow weave our innermost dreams into formidable shapes and patterns akin to constellations across star-lit skies. ‘Goddess On A Hiway’ remains as a truly anthemic tour-de-force whose striking immediacy forever stops you in your tracks.

The band’s current 20th Anniversary ‘Deserter’s Songs’ tour offers beautiful insight into the making of what at the time they considered the last Mercury Rev record. The fragile “whisper and strum” of these songs during (their recently played) Dolan’s show – led by frontman Donahue and guitarist Grasshopper – unfolded a truly unique experience (just like those eleven tracks captured on tape). The choice of cover songs such as Pavement’s ‘Here’ resonated powerfully, with Malkumus’ lyric of “I was dressed for success/But success it never comes” reflecting the period of time circa ‘See You On The Other Side’ in 1995. Also, their touching rendition of The Flaming Lips cosmic piano ballad ‘Love Yer Brain’ (the band whose early albums of course Donahue played a significant part in) nestled perfectly among the drifting planes of ‘Opus 40’ and ‘Hudson Line’s psychedelic pop sphere.

For remaining dates of the band’s current 20th Anniversary ‘Deserter’s Songs’ European tour (and October U.S. dates) visit HERE.

http://www.mercuryrev.com/

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Interview with Jonathan Donahue.

 

Firstly, I’d love for you to go back to the time of making ‘Deserter’s Songs’, I know it was a dark period in your life but particularly to the writing of these songs?

Jonathan Donahue: It’s hard to unwind one thread of history without unravelling the entire sweater itself. But I suppose the period before ‘Deserter’s Songs’ for the most part it had actually more roots than actually in the album itself, it had its roots much earlier; probably on the album before, ‘See You On The Other Side’, an album that we were really so happy with – myself, Grasshopper and Dave Fridmann. I thought we had a lot of wonderful orchestral ideas and things that weren’t popular at the time and you have to remember back in ‘95 what came in with such a heavy cloud was Britpop and everything went automatically to a three-minute pop song, jangly guitars, boisterous choruses and very little ornamentation. And here we were putting out an album that had flutes, strings, horn sections and very emotive material in it and we were so happy with ‘See You On The Other Side’ when it was released. And then no one bought it. And that wonderful sound that we had imagined and worked so hard for; it just disappeared into the mist right before our eyes and we were left basically in the darkness for three years. And there was no one to blame, it wasn’t the record company’s fault, it wasn’t our fans’ fault or anything, it was just the music itself had gotten lost in the thunder-cloud of Britpop and the idea of a sensationalized music industry where all of a sudden it wasn’t about music; it became about the celebrity of music and we were lost.

We went into the early writings of ‘Deserter’s Songs’, we didn’t think of it as we were writing ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and it’s going to be this masterpiece and all these things are going to finally come together for us, it was actually the opposite: the fact that we were writing thinking very much that it was going to be our last record. We didn’t have a record deal at the time, we didn’t have a manager, and we just didn’t have anything. And so myself and Grasshopper and Dave Fridmann went into it by and large under the idea that this is our last album as Mercury Rev. And that was basically the fundamental tone to the resonating frequencies that would later become the album that we’re talking about.

Like any special album, it’s amazing just how timeless ‘Deserter’s Songs’ is and how out of the place it is but in a beautiful way; it has its own unique world.

JD: I mean for us it does but at the time we weren’t actually thinking timeless to be bluntly honest, we were just thinking that it was the last thing we were ever going to do. And with that, we went into it thinking well if we are so out-of-place with the music and we are so out of fashion that all we can do is what’s really inside of us at this point because there was no chance we were going to be able to compete with the sensationalism of Britpop and the celebrity of musicians that became that din of noise during that period of time. And so we went to the only place that we knew and that was that fairytale-children’s record-golden sound. You can actually hear it on a song like ‘The Funny Bird’ there’s a lyric in there – I’m going through lyrics because we’ll be playing some of these songs again on tour – “Farewell golden sound/No one wants to hear you now” and that was me I guess saying out loud what was going on inside of me – that no one wanted to hear that sound anymore, it seemed that it was just so out of phase. And from that we simply went deeper into a place that was the only safe place that we had, almost like a child: you run and hide into this place that no one can find you for a period of time just to collect what little wits you have about you. For us, that was that fairytale children’s record, what people later would call the Disney sound.

You’re able to combine that so beautifully in the songs themselves. Even just to think of the opening song ‘Holes’ it really leads you in. I wonder if you have strong memories of seeing this song develop from a sketch on guitar or piano and then with all the intricate arrangements that go over it with the gorgeous strings?

JD: That would only come later, when it hit people and when it was released and when they were sent around in physical form to journalists and people at the label and stuff. But at the time when we were done with ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and the recording with it, I don’t think we thought that it was going to be released. We had no reason to – it’s not just a figment of my imagination; I had no reason; if you looked at the track record of ‘See You On The Other Side’, it sold zero and there wasn’t anybody waiting for a Mercury Rev record in 1998. Most people had thought that we had broken up because back then waiting three years to do a record seemed like an eternity and of course now bands take longer the older you get but back then it was an eternity.

We didn’t have a label, we left Columbia, we didn’t have a manager; we just didn’t have anything at all. And still there was nothing attracting or to be in some sort of pose to be ready to listen to a new Mercury Rev record. And some of the very first interviews I remember doing about ‘Deserter’s Songs’ people just couldn’t believe that we were still a band given all the stories that went on during the first parts of our career I suppose and a lot of the sensational things that were written that weren’t true: people thought I was dead, people thought Grasshopper had disappeared off the face of the earth and all of these things had happened. So there was no giant anticipation that some masterpiece was coming – there was no anticipation at all, not even the record company.

There is a funny story to go with that is around the time that ‘Deserter’s Songs’ was finally being done at the mastering stage, we found a label at the time called V2 that would put it out in England and they had a giant label opening party with all the bands that they had signed and the president went up there and everyone was seated around and people were drinking and lounging in champagne and saying this was going to be a great label and he listed off all the bands on the label and he didn’t even mention us, and Grasshopper and I were just sitting there embarrassed. And I thought well, it’s going to come out in some cassette form or something but even the label that we were just signed to – a new small label – they don’t know we’re on the label itself so we thought well that’s it, here we go, it goes right into the lost and unwelcomed albums of the year.

It must have really surprised you, needless to say when you found there was such a reaction to the album over time?

JD: One of the first places was Ireland because it was one of the first places we played and it wasn’t until then that we saw that not only had people heard it but that there was a deep connection to it. And it wasn’t just one or two people saying ‘Hey that’s a great record, congratulations’, Ireland was one of the first countries where we noticed that something different was happening. It’s funny because even the label at the time was so surprised because they had put all this money in all these other bands but I remember when ‘Deserter’s Songs’ finally started kicking in, in terms of journalistic acclaim and the people coming out of the woodwork to buy the album and when it went into the charts, the label was mystified and even the president of the label didn’t even know who we were. We’d be brought into meetings like ‘Hey this is Mercury Rev’ and it would be like ‘Which one is Mercury Rev?’ It was almost like that quote from Pink Floyd – ‘Which one of them is Pink?’ because the label itself were caught so off guard at this band that had this chequered history all of a sudden was being asked for and not these other bands that they had been cultivating in a pop way.

As a listener, I’d love to gain an insight into the songs being written and as you say, you and Grasshopper were together. It must have been a case that you both felt alone and you were just making this music together?

JD: Well even he and I weren’t together for a lot of the time. We were coming off of a very turbulent time after ‘See You On The Other Side’ tours and I was coming off of heroine but it wasn’t the drug itself it was just more the darkness that came: I don’t know where the darkness came from any more than I know where the light came from that would become the lighthouse that would lead us out of it. And it was a very alone time for me: Grasshopper had disappeared completely off of the face of the earth and the other guys and girl in the band (who is Anne from that time of ‘See You On The Other Side’) they had all gone into very deep retreats, some of them couldn’t even function in the band anymore, they had just had enough. And so I didn’t have a master plan like OK I’m bringing in ten or eleven songs; the songs weren’t like that at all; they were just these tiny, half-remembered lyrical phrases or a moment of a chord in almost the way that you would wake up and remember a dream where there isn’t really a time to it, it’s just a feeling you have and I would do what I could to preserve that feeling for as long as I could to get to a piano or a guitar and scribble something down.

Even in the way that the album itself became material out of the immaterial was much more just me describing using emotional phrases and metaphors than it was any concrete musical notion. And I think that’s what people hear – especially on the first side of ‘Deserter’s Songs’ – you’re hearing possibly something like a dream and maybe some of that timeless state was not to do with something conscious, it has to do with something much more unconscious; the way dreams are timeless in that way – the way the fourth astral dimension has to reverse time and space that our own three-dimensional space and time has. So what you hear on the first side especially and what you are describing in ‘Holes’ was very much the way it came to be; it wasn’t a giant sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors.

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That’s precisely the feeling you get Jonathan; you find yourself asking how is this created. The album certainly has this otherworldly dimension to it. The album  feels like one canvas with all these beautifully interludes where it’s like one flow of a feeling nearly?

JD: Yeah and that’s why it’s so hard to describe the process or the writing because it has nothing to do with mentally constructing a record. And sometimes every band has a record or two that is very much constructed: we know what we want to do, we know how we’ll do it and here we go. And there are ones like that where  it was very emotional and unfortunately the emotions at the time were quite melancholy; there was loss and rejection and abandonment and dislocation and none of those are very promising words when you are arriving into a studio. And even at the time we didn’t have money to pay for a studio so much of it was done in my attic with just an eight track Tascam reel to reel and at times we would gather together some money and we would do some recording in a more proper studio but for the most part it’s exactly like the people say, it’s a very late night record and that’s when it was recorded – it was recorded very late at night and I didn’t want to wake up my girlfriend at the time so I wouldn’t put any drums on it, I couldn’t stamp my feet because I would wake her up so I had to do everything very quietly and that’s why there’s very little drums on it (especially the first side).

It’s very fragile this journey the music takes you on. The fact that the music was borne from a very dark time I wonder even as you were playing these songs in the attic did you find that you were improving in any way or feeling better as you were making the music in a way?

JD: I wish I could tell you that there was a healing quality to the writing but there wasn’t at the time – maybe that came later at some point. But at the time you’re not thinking ‘Hey I’m at the bottom of the ocean of despair and a masterpiece is on its way’, all you’re thinking is that I’m on the bottom of the ocean of despair and everything is dark and everything is highly pressurized just like being at the bottom of a real sea: it’s dark and the creatures around you don’t look like shiny dolphins that live on the top surface, they are all these prehistoric looking creatures with very strange and otherworldly features. And that’s what I remember of that period. It gets confusing to fans sometimes because they want to ask you ‘what was it like? It must have been magical? Writing this masterpiece must have been the best time in your life?’ but actually it was one of the lowest; one of the darkest because when you are at the bottom you can’t even see which way is up; all you feel is this silt beneath your feet and it’s almost like landing on the moon: everything is silent, there is no sound, you get the impression of these footsteps that are going [making thudding noise], there is no air around you to make a sound, there is no oxygen to breathe in, everything is internal at that point. Everything is within your own space helmet.

So the environment you are walking around in from day-to-day – and this is the same for anyone who has been through depression certainly – is everything is internal whether you are in a crowd or in a room by yourself; everything is inside you and everything on the outside just sounds like it’s being muffled – underwater or in a space trying to break through a helmet on the moon. I wish I could be more upbeat but that’s what was there at the time. Of course I try to look back on it with a much more upbeat feeling but at the time it wasn’t. Even when the album was done, Dave and I and Grasshopper looked at each other and said ‘Well that’s it’ we might as well put it on cassette because that’s the only way it’s coming out and give it to our friends (on cassette). And even – I think Dave told me this – on the master 2” tapes (the giant multi-track tapes that you record on) it never said Mercury Rev, it said Harmony Rockets which was a side project so we weren’t even calling what would become ‘Deserter’s Songs’ Mercury Rev, it was under the name Harmony Rockets because we thought that it wasn’t going to come out. So all the 2” tapes until they were lost in the flood that I had here in the Catskills seven years ago or so, they all said Harmony Rockets on the master tapes.

Do you remember the times when the members of The Band who were neighbours in the area, when they would join you for some of the recordings (and all the added players)?

JD: Strangely enough when we had asked Levon Helm to play on the song ‘Opus 40’, looking back it was actually – and even for Garth [Hudson] as well – quite dark times for them too here in the Catskills. It was before Levon’s Midnight Rambles took off and so in the mid 90’s when we had asked them to play, strangely enough they were in a very dark space themselves just as we were. I don’t know all the specifics of their lives but I know that in a way there were parallels between what Levon and Garth were going through and with what we were: no one was waiting for a new record from The Band, people thought they were lost in the ether and even they themselves were going through some very dark times individually. So there we both were in the studio recording but neither band nor individuals were at a high point. This was before the Midnight Rambles and before Levon started doing records again and gaining a renewed accolade for not only The Band but Levon Helm himself and so from my own recollection there were a number of wounded animals playing together.

Levon didn’t come in with some great go and walked everybody around – he carried himself just like a man should: very subtlety, very silently. And we were quite at the same temperature as well; fragile like you say, almost like a trout – too much sunlight in the stream, you’re just looking for shade, the slightest flash and you scurry somewhere. In that way there wasn’t any great fanfare; we were over the moon to play with Levon and Garth but even the label had to recall ‘Who is Levon Helm? Who is Garth Hudson? Oh yeah, we kind of remember them, they played Woodstock’. But it wasn’t like some saviours coming in and all of a sudden everyone is saying like ‘Oh my gosh you have some famous musicians, this is going to be fantastic’. At the time we were all on the very strange dark feed that didn’t have a wind to it, we were just floating there, windless. Fortunately years to come, Levon started the Midnight Rambles and things just went in such a great direction for him but at the time it wasn’t like that at all.

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You already mentioned the Disney records and how it was coming from your childhood sounds and records that you grew up with?

JD: Looking back it was us going back – using that crazy little Guns N’ Roses phrase – to the one safe place as a child you would hide. And for us that was children’s records, I didn’t grow up with rock on the tip of my tongue; I grew up in the mountains far away from it. I didn’t grow up thinking that I would be in the Ramones and wanting to reject society and walk around and spit into older people’s faces, I didn’t grow up like that; I grew up in the woods and I grew up with children’s records and Disney on every Sunday night at 7 o’ clock and that was the place we went back to. It’s one of the forms of music that myself and Grasshopper and Dave Fridmann actually all do feel quite close to: we don’t bond over Sex Pistols records or some heavy rock band. We bond with this subtle, silent, fairytale swimming around and I think that’s why we’ve worked so well together in the past is we didn’t have to do a lot of explaining about that sound. And again it would come into vogue later, after ‘Deserter’s Songs’ but at the time it wasn’t in the collective conscience.

It was actually the wrong thing to do; ‘Deserters’ was the commercially wrong record to make at the time, everything was three-and-a-half minutes with jangly rickenbackers and anthemic choruses and big drums. And here we are releasing ‘Opus 40’ as a single and the drums are very slow and very quiet in a way. Fortunately we had ‘Goddess On A Hiway’ on the record which was a much older song that Grasshopper had found that I had long since forgotten about. And we were running out of material to even make a full album and he said ‘Well there is this one I remember we did back in the 80’s as a demo’ and I said ‘I don’t know’ and he pushed for it. And fortunately that was a song that would find its way into some of the waiting hands of pop and radio at that point. Other than that there is nothing on the album that is that way. Commercially it was not the album that even the record company felt they could do anything with. If it wasn’t for the fans buying it, if it wasn’t for the journalists at the time saying ‘Hey give this a listen from a band we all thought was dead’ it never would have made it out of the gates according to the record company (they would have never put anything behind it at all).

Touching on the Disney sound, a song that really so magically comes together is ‘Pick Up If You’re There’, I love the spoken word that comes in towards the end and just how it’s all interwoven together.

JD: It’s another of the dream states with Garth Hudson talking at the end. It’s funny you mention it because probably if I’m honest with myself that song is closest to the way that time was swimming around inside me. I love ‘Holes’ and the other songs very much but if there is one overarching sympathetic drone through the emotional content in me for that album it’s ‘Pick Up If You’re There’ which was really just a phrase that was on an answering machine that I remember leaving for a friend, ‘Hey if you’re there, pick up’ and of course they didn’t but it stuck with me because I think I said it like four or five times on this person’s answering machine. And it seemed to sum up the entire sky from that period of time, it seemed to have all the constellations and of the emotional star twinklings.

On the following album ‘All Is Dream’ did you find this was a happier time and that it was easier for you to create (especially after playing so many well received shows)?

JD: I won’t say ‘All Is Dream’ was a happier place but it was a place of healing in a way. But the time surrounding ‘Deserters’ and before it left such an emotional cavity in me – and for Grasshopper as well – that anything was healing after ‘Deserter’s Songs’ by and large, you know just any amount of light on the band, on our music was healing compared to the bottom of the sea and just the lack of direction in any sense. It’s still with me and at times I wish it wasn’t: I would like to be ‘Oh Deserter’s was the best time of my life’ and like ‘Oh my God I’d love to go back there’ but I wouldn’t. As much as fans would like to hear ‘Holes’ #2 or ‘Goddess On A Hiway’ #14 I wouldn’t go back there willingly. It was dark, devoid of light and sound.

For the shows coming up, you wrote beautifully about your thoughts of these particular shows around Europe and these versions of the songs are how they really began?

JD: In a way it’s almost going to be the attic where they were written. And of course there are differences but in a way it might be a way to find some sense of closure perhaps and maybe to open up to people a bit of the ways the songs really came about. There wasn’t a confidence in the songs and in the song-writing back in ‘96/’97, I can’t pretend or I can’t whitewash it into saying that I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I was always sure of it – I wasn’t. So these songs will have a very whisper and strum because that was what it was like at two in the morning in my attic not wanting to wake someone up so I was humming into a little cassette tape recorder and I’m hoping that people will come with open ears towards that element of these songs.

It will be such a special experience because it’s one of those albums that’s such a defining moment in the musical landscape as a whole.

JD: We’re looking forward too, myself and Grasshopper. In a way we get to perform the songs where it’s not in a festival in front of 25,000 people and you don’t have to play through loud amplifiers with the drummer smashing away just to keep people’s attention. We can perform the songs in the way that they first were revealed to us, these were the way they emerged in my consciousness. So I’ll do what I can throughout the evening to let the listener in on the sort of inner dialogue that was going on. And for your own reference, we’re not playing the album front-to-back, what we’re doing is trying to lead the listener along the journey that created the album (not the final album sequence itself). And so there will not only be a lot of ‘Deserter’s Songs’ but there will be a few very special songs that led to some of the ‘Deserters’ period of time or reflected where we were at that time of time because no one lives in a bubble, ‘Deserters’ wasn’t created in some biosphere that was not in contact with anything else.

These Irish shows will be very special indeed.

JD: It’s funny because we’re doing a lot of these shows in Ireland and again it was one of the very first countries that gave us a shot in the arm, it brought us back to life because it was one of the very first places we played where all of a sudden we could see it in people’s eyes – and it wasn’t just journalists or some A&R guy, this was actually fans and we could see it in their eyes. I remember some of the first places we played in Dublin, larger places than we had ever played before, it was the Red Box: you could just feel it and in a way that was more electrifying to us psychologically than any ticket buyer at the time had an inkling.

For remaining dates of the band’s current 20th Anniversary ‘Deserter’s Songs’ European tour (and October U.S. dates) visit HERE.

http://www.mercuryrev.com/

Written by admin

April 23, 2018 at 7:56 pm

Chosen One: Paul de Jong

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I have to somehow be able to put the door ajar for the listener to step into that world and if it’s impenetrable that would never happen.”

—Paul de Jong 

Words: Mark Carry

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This week marks the eagerly awaited release of Dutch composer – and co-founder of the beloved collage pop duo The Books – Paul de Jong’s sophomore solo full-length “You Fucken Sucker” (via U.S. independent label Temporary Residence). As ever, a myriad of ideas, inventive pop structures, electronic instrumental excursions, and poetic prose are masterfully etched across a sprawling canvas of genre-bending sounds.

A mantra of “almost doomed” is repeated beneath a meditative acoustic guitar line on the short interlude of ‘Almost Doomed’, reflecting the darkness that envelops the sound world of the Dutch artist’s latest solo work. The deeply personal songs envelop the rawest of emotions. The soft guitar tapestries fade into ‘Doomed’, with echoes of guitar noise and a garage drumbeat before a hypnotic guitar line ascends beneath a poignant vocal refrain: “I can do anything I want/It’s up to me”. The song develops into frenzied rhythms amidst a fury of rage, highlighting the entire spectrum of moods that engulfs the music’s headspace. These songs become more like coping mechanisms – the source of survival and hope – as the outro of gospel-like voices rejoice “you can be anything you want to be”.

The album’s title-track reveals the frustration inherent throughout the record’s striking narrative. A nursery rhyme turned inside out, sung beneath soft electronic beats and angelic guitar notes. The gorgeous electronic instrumental voyage of ‘Wavehoven’ exudes a soothing, healing force as the ambient swells drift into the ether. It is as if the light of hope is shone on the depths of despair throughout these unfolding electronic passages.

The frantic screams that ascend on album opener ‘Embowelment’ reflects the anger and confusion that permeates within “You Fucken Sucker”s rich tapestry. More lyric-based songs are masterfully created: the soul-stirring americana lament ‘Johnny No Cash’ sings of lonesome blues and the empowering psychedelic pop sphere of ‘Dimples’ is yet another crowning jewel. “I think that all you have to do is do whatever you can do” is spoken beneath a haze of psych pop harmonies and jazz piano inflections.

One of the album’s lead singles ‘It’s Only About Sex’ shares vintage Books-esque pop collage spheres as gorgeous pop motifs, electronica and celestial harmonies blend with divine spoken word passages. Timeless pop music for the 21st century. “You Fucken Sucker” is the latest master work from the peerless Dutch composer.

‘You Fucken Sucker’ is out on Friday 6th April 2018 via Temporary Residence.

https://pauldejong.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/temporaryresidence/

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Interview with Paul de Jong.

Congratulations on your new solo full length. I’d love for you to take me back to the making of ‘You Fucken Sucker’? One aspect I found very interesting is how the tracklist itself is laid out as it was conceived; I wonder was there a starting point that sewed the seeds for the album and its ultimate creation? In terms of assembling the tracks, you always have this magical ability to combine the various found sounds, instrumentation and the voices you hear throughout the album.

Paul de Jong:  It’s mostly true that the record is presented in the order that the tracks were conceived. The final track [‘Breaking Up’] I put together from takes that I actually recorded for the opening track [‘Embowelment’]. It didn’t become the capstone of the record until indeed the last moment where it is almost the uncut take which I decided to use in its entirety, adding two instrumental parts which are absolutely unrelated to each other or to the original vocal take. Although the instrumental takes are also two raw takes that I did for the first song on the record, I just used a few elements from those recordings. Other than that really the record pretty much came together in the sequence you’re hearing. There is no artistic concept behind that particular decision: I presented the tracks as such to my record label and gave as usual the director of my record label Jeremy deVine full liberty to put an effective sequence together (with his experience as someone who is putting out records). We traded several sequences back and forth and it really turned out that the original sequence was the only one that made much sense, a somewhat rocky but plausible emotional trip.

In retrospect it all makes sense to me since the record came together while I was dealing with several unforeseeable circumstances in my life somewhat radically interfering with an otherwise very steady musical productivity. These were things that could happen to any human being at any time throughout their lives. We bought a house and in the second week that we had it, I was sound proofing my studio, fell off a ladder and I broke my heel which was a long and painful recovery from  extensive surgery to my foot, so I was in bed for three months. And then as soon as I was more or less back on my feet, my wife fell ill with lymphoma for the second time in eight years, which made my fracture look like a mosquito bite in comparison. During this period, my mother fell ill across the Atlantic and it was very frustrating and aggravating not to be able to go and care for  her (luckily I have a dear brother and a sister who could, and did). All this made my daily existence and all the practicalities of life – we have three young children – rather complicated yet my composing (when I broke my heel I was almost halfway through this record) proved to be the thing that kept my course steady. It was a refuge and an intellectual and emotional anchor that proved to be very valuable to me in unexpected ways. The individual tracks on the record were influenced by these circumstances in that I often only had time to spend working in the studio in a fragmented schedule, five minutes here, an hour there, odd times of day, lots of hiatus in between and so forth. I constantly had to adjust my approaches, goals and methods of composing and recording of individual tracks according to that schedule. I learned to adapt in beneficial ways, conceptualizing the compositional structures and manual work to far greater detail that I used to before I found the time to sit down and actually execute the piece. Not really that much time for sketching, improvising or ‘stream of consciousness’ composing, although I managed to still build in plenty of opportunity for unrestricted exploration within the framework of developed form and method. In retrospect it seems like a marvelous mental exercise borne out of necessity.

It’s funny to realize that the style of the Books and even where I found myself starting out in my post-Books solo work seems already quite vintage; it’s an approach to collage music that we developed in the early 2000’s which seems somewhat of a historic practice by now. Actually, putting it in that perspective I doubt if there was much of anything new to it at all… maybe it just happened to successfully connect with a fresh generation of listeners. So as always feel the need to surge forward and chart new territory which generally seems to happen through a combination of slow crystallization of development in style and ideas combined with radical changes that come after the realization that you can’t repeat yourself. And this is all guided by intuition which is quite an important ingredient in composing: you don’t know where you’re going to end up but you’ve got to trust what you can’t always intellectualize. I find it hard to explain how a new piece gets started. It has to do with a vague emotional response which I sense should be what the effect of the yet unwritten music should generate. I will try to identify that response by running sonic experiments, electronic and instrumental, until some sound, some element no matter how seemingly insignificant relates to that feeling. It’s as if I try to identify where this universal background noise comes from by sending out signals and waiting for a positive response. How’s that for vague. And then every piece from there follows its own path of development: it writes its own laws, there is no overarching concept to it like a method of composing, it charts its own universe so to speak. I’m unconcerned with looking for a particular signature or a style – that’s not for me to identify in the first place. Sometimes a piece will start sounding like an established genre, and then I am humoured by it because it’s mostly unintentional, like inventing country & western by complete chance… on the moon.  As long as I’ve created it I’m sure that I am in there somewhere, no style necessary.

I started out as a cellist and more of a writer, a poet. These were the things I was already dedicated to before my tenth year. So, as a creative artist I started out rather in composing language than in music. As I moved to the United States in ‘91 or ‘92, I still mostly wrote in Dutch (I never really wrote in English until I moved to the US) but I lost my touch with writing poetry because I was no longer surrounded by Dutch language day in day out . Music composing started to substitute for poetry and writing in English actually came about because I started my recorded sample library in earnest when I moved to the United States. I was attending the University of Illinois back then as a cellist and I had access to this wonderful bottomless library and I started recording all these spoken word LP’s and editing and  recombining whatever attractive words and phrases I found and creating poetry out of those elements. And this is really how I came to writing lyrics and writing in English, through this circumstantial method. This wasn’t at all a preconceived idea of how to go about something, I just found a plausible way to have an outlet for that literary desire.

Until my twenty-fifth year I was primarily a writer involved in theatre, I wrote poetry, I wrote plays and I can’t say I was very good at it, I mean there are only very few things that I wish to keep from that period. But language was in my creative life much more central than composing music. I frankly didn’t have really much of a clue about composing music until much later in my life.
Ever since my twenties I have been attempting to master a meaningful and effective way to reconcile cello playing, music composing, language, movement, film, theatre…: all those things always had my deep interest rooted in my a cultural and intellectual wealthy upbringing, but they existed as mostly separate entities in my life at first. My cello playing was very much classical and contemporary classical with some free improvisation thrown in but it didn’t really have all that much to do with my formal composing attempts and sampling attempts. Those things really started coming together right around the time that I met Nick Zammuto and we started the Books. Video entered the mix when we started translating our albums to the stage. I think, or at least I hope my latest album pulls in my theatrical background and my social interests in an effective way…

The rawness in the album is really quite hard-hitting and particularly the elements of the female voice and the screams that you hear throughout the record. Did you find these vocal segments as a trigger to compose the rest of the pieces because the album centers very much on these particular moments?

PdJ: Those voices are not found sound. In this album I really sourced some old roots in my life, and I made use of my theatrical past in writing for and directing others. And that is really how these tracks that you’re talking about came about: I wrote – well I can’t say lyrics, I call them really texts because there are also lyrics in the record which are more song poetry as one might expect them; what I’m talking about are texts that have a theatrical quality, written to be not musically interpreted but re-enacted, to be lived. So what I would do is I wrote these fragments or texts, often derived from transcribed recorded samples and I’m very lucky to have a pool of young people who are very multi-talented around me, who can sing and act and they can play music. I would from time to time ask them to come over and run texts by them in the studio and not so much give them musical directions but give them acting directions. It’s a way of creating sample material in a much more controlled environment. It’s almost like creating a libretto, but it would make a miserable operetta. Well maybe it did.

There is this theatrical world  your music seems to be steeped in. In one way, you never know what’s going to happen next.

PdJ: But at the same time, I surely would hope that it doesn’t only give you a feeling of unsettlement but also there is something reassuring in exactly that: that you can live your life expecting the unexpected without fear.

I love how some of these short tracks (like for example ‘Doings’) so much happens in a short moment and for instance how ‘Doings’ fades into ‘Dimples’ with the piano, there is always this flow to the music and a narrative that ties everything together?

PdJ: Well that worked out well for me then [laughs]. That of course is exactly what I hope: no matter what the effort or struggle that goes into it, the work should be able to, for the listener, to give an impression of effortlessness which is of course about the only thing that can open the door for the listener. I have to somehow be able to put the door ajar for the listener to step into that world and if it’s impenetrable that would never happen.

Looking back over The Books – who are truly one of those most cherished bands – and the band’s discography, you must have a real sense of pride of these artistic works but also the solo works that you’ve both been undertaking since then? I suppose you must feel that the Books material and your solo works are all inter-connected in some way?

PdJ: Most certainly, I could not ever have made these solo albums without the experiences that I’ve had with Nick in creating our albums together. I think we were both lucky and privileged to have met and to have created all this music for such a long time and find an appreciative audience. I think that we created a substantial catalog, and I’m definitely proud of it. And I feel also very confident in my solo work because I do have that behind me and it’s not like I’m composing into an unknown world, I know there are listeners out there who have grown with me in this context of all this other music which makes me feel reassured to say the least. However, I still honestly feel that I have to earn my stripes with every artistic decision I take, no matter how tiny. Keeps me sharp.

How do you set about trying to translate an album like ‘You Fucken Sucker’ into the live setting as a performance?

PdJ: It’s pretty challenging. There are a good few pieces that I can’t really quite wrap my brain around yet how to translate them onstage. I’m at a point where I’m starting to bring in much more improvised elements into my shows to widen and maybe break a little the concept of  how I used to perform with the Books for years and also how I performed ‘If’ for a good while. Nick and I used to joke we were really doing glorified karaoke. I’d  strip the songs off whatever I could perform live onstage and whatever was left remained pre-recorded and the whole thing was accompanied by a synchronized video. The instrumentation in my solo work becomes a little bit more complex and especially since I work more with vocalists now. I am playing mostly solo but I will also have one of my vocalists Jennifer Cavanaugh guesting wherever I can.  The more traditional song forms (‘Dimples’, ‘Johnny No Cash’ and the title track of the album) can actually be performed with either solo keyboard or  bass guitar accompanying and also I’m learning to perform those all by myself. Terrifying, but I think it really can gain enormously in impact onstage to treat them as just simple performable songs, not the more lavish electronic studio pieces which they really were in the first place. Then there are the more ambient electronic tracks that are purely instrumental which  treat in a much more loose and broad way: I’m taking elements from different tracks, create ambient moods by mixing them up and play them along live instrumental improvisations. So I will be playing my cello with samplers and there will be more improvised pieces in the show that will be interspersed with quite meticulously executed songs from either of my two records. Something that I have always been dealing with is the question of how to represent a studio piece without its original sonic environment ans find a musical way that is as effective and relevant in a concert setting, which circumstances are much more uncontrollable. Back to the uncontrollable circumstances. Story of my life.

 

‘You Fucken Sucker’ is out on Friday 6th April 2018 via Temporary Residence.

https://pauldejong.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/temporaryresidence/

 

 

Written by admin

April 5, 2018 at 2:49 pm

Chosen One: Balmorhea

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We make the music that comes to us based on the unique and pooled amalgam of memories, experiences, dreams, lands and people that surround us.”

—Michael Muller

Words: Mark Carry

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Last year’s gorgeous ‘Clear Language’ full length marked the eagerly awaited return of the beloved instrumental/post-classical Texas duo Balmorhea. As a follow-up to 2012’s ‘Stranger’, the gifted duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller have carved out a richly poignant set of stunningly beautiful compositions: spacious, exquisite and immaculate sonic explorations for the heart and mind.

As the title suggests, ‘Clear  Language’s musical landscape is built upon simplicity and returning to one’s roots (bringing it all back home, if you will). It is precisely the crystalline immediacy of these ten otherworldly odysseys that forever reveal more insights and unraveling truths from deep within. Co-produced and engineered by David Boyle in Austin’s Church House Studios, the instrumentation consists of analog synthesizers, piano, vibraphone, electric and bass guitar, violin, viola, field recordings and –for the first time – trumpet (played by Tedeschi Trucks’ Ephraim Owens).

The ethereal trumpet lines on ‘Slow  Stone’ creates a jazz infused neo-classical exploration (as the gradual piano ripples forges a Necks-esque dreamscape). The joyously uplifting Americana lament ‘Sky Could  Undress’ (later reworked by ambient luminaries Christina Vantzou and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma on this year’s ‘Clear Language: Reworked’) with the highly emotive strings serving one of the record’s pinnacles. The infectious guitar groove could have originated from a jam in Woodstock’s Big Pink house from another time and place.

If ever a piece embodies the soulful, immersive nature of the duo’s shape shifting works it is the glorious album-title – and opening track – with empowering piano lines and crescendo of soul-stirring strings, unfolding a pavilion of dreams.

‘Clear Language’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

For Balmorhea’s European and U.S. tour dates, visit HERE

https://balmorheamusic.com/

http://westernvinyl.com/

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Interview with Michael Muller (Balmorhea).

 

Please take me back to Clear Language’s inception; what were the concerns and primary aims you both shared for this latest record? I just love how – at once – there is a warmth of familiarity and shimmering depths of the unknown also. I can imagine the process of creating this latest record must have felt like a liberating experience, and one you may have felt you were starting afresh (considering the gap from the previous LP)?

Michael Muller: The beginning processes of Clear Language started in the spring of 2016. We would meet everyday in our studio and experiment on a single idea, each day. Sometimes it was based on a loop, a sample or just a few loose chords. Over the span of a couple months we whittled down many ideas into about 12 “songs” that we recorded as demos. We didn’t have any touring during this process, nor in the forecast until after this album would eventually release, so we took our good time in the recording and mixing process. This happened in October and November of 2016 at Church House Studios in Austin, Texas with co-producer and engineer David Boyle. We didn’t rule out any idea or instrument choice until it was clearly not right for whatever track we were working on. We were assisted on all the string parts throughout the record by our amazing and long-time companion and collaborator Aisha Burns. Overall, our goal at this point in our sonic trajectory, was to take a step back, complexity-wise, and focus on space, breath and to lasso the best tones we could. Contrasting to our earlier releases, where a precise narrative was drawn from, between night sky, vast seas or the expansive nature of western America, Clear Language seemed to require a more solemn and inner peering; one that loosely harnessed perhaps the liquidity of a dream-like state or of vague memories half-forgotten. It was really enjoyable throughout the making of the record to not be shuffled along too hurriedly by the constraints of time. We are really please with how it all ended up.

I’d love to gain an insight into the studio set-up and this deep connection between you as a duo? This collaborative partnership must be built on such a powerful force of intuition and the resulting sound worlds captured on Clear Language emit such sublime beauty and timeless radiance. I get the impression that some of these compositions feel almost like happy accidents, so to speak?

MM: Happy accidents is a fitting way to phrase it. Several of the tracks on the record literally sort of appeared, really. Rob would sit at the Rhodes or I at a guitar and the tones and melody would slowly spill out. We usually realized something great was occurring so we were sure to always have the mics on and recording while we wrote and recorded the demos. The more fully-realized songs were usually stemmed from a specific loop or progression that was added to and then eventually subtracted from until the right balance presented itself. There were, though, certain instruments and techniques that we knew we were interested in trying, as well. The track ‘Ecco’, for instance, employs a Rhodes organ going through a series of fuzz pedals and a Space Echo tape delay. This recipe coupled nicely, we thought, with the more crystalline guitar tones and skeletal piano pieces bordering the rest of the album. In other pieces, like ‘All Flowers’, we experimented with recording guitar into a cassette deck and re-amping through a PA.

The title-track and gorgeous album opener feels like a gateway into the rest of the record. Can you talk me through the construction and layering of this uplifting piece? The title too conveys the clarity and directness of the music captured on this latest batch of songs.

MM: The title track, in our minds, was meant to serve as an intro, of sorts, to the record; a palette-cleanser, if you will. This track began with the opening piano line and was lightly built-upon from there. It’s restrained in a way, as it never fully gets too demonstrative or bombastic as it hints at grandiosity that may be forthcoming that never perhaps fully arrives. The track and record title, Clear Language, seemed the only logical choice. It’s instrumental music that is there to score whatever reality each listener applies it to.

The shimmering ambient odyssey ‘Slow Stone’ forms the vital core to the record’s first half. As ever, this sense of a journey unfolds before your very ears. The added trumpet instrumentation (which I believe is a first for Balmorhea, on record at least?) further heightens the textured sound world that breathes deeply throughout. For a piece like this, would the piano melody have provided you the starting point for all else to form?

MM: ‘Slow Stone’ was a track that in the writing process was truly developed out of nothing. The intro is a sample we recorded of the Australian avant-minimalist composer Lawrence English walking through tall grass in cowboy boots during a field recording workshop he gave in Austin. The tandem of the track is a pure collaboration between the guitars and undulating over a soft bed of Rhodes organ. After that initial bedrock was laid we knew another and a different voice needed to pull it all together. We agreed it couldn’t be a string part, which we didn’t want to overplay and we both liked the idea of brass. In the end, the thing we all wanted to hear was a muffled trumpet. We called Ephraim Owens, a local Austin jazz trumpeter and touring member of Tedeschi Trucks, to step in and add his magic. I think he only took three, short takes before nailing it after only hearing the song a few times in the control room. The track eventually flows out into a delta and ends with an interplay between the sparse piano and hazy waves of a fuzzed-out guitar. If you listen closely at the crescendo, you’ll hear a subtle sputtering under the surface. This is a blast beat from our friend and Belgian black metal drummer Wim Coppers.

Balmorhea’s pop sensibility is a trait that remains at the heart of the band’s special records. Needless to say, the lyrical quality of these instrumentals is quite staggering. For instance, ‘Behind The World’ orbits the avant pop sphere with the irresistible bass groove and crystallized guitar/piano patterns. What do you feel may be the defining records for you that you find inspirational for the musical path you find yourselves on? 

MM: During the creation of Clear Language it was a wild smattering of records from all over the musical map. Rob was listening to a lot of jazz, classical and world music whereas I was listening to a see-saw of minimal, avant and ambient music. One record that was on heavy rotation during the process was Daniel Lanois’ ‘Belladonna’ (2006, Anti). This record marries a strange blend of ambient americana throughout its reverberous pedal steel guitar next to deep synth and avant-jazz drumming. It really opens a total unique, sonic world unto itself. Highly recommended if you haven’t heard.

It must be a thrill to translate ‘Clear Language’ to the live setting when touring? As a larger ensemble onstage, do the songs further change or mutate as they are emitted into the atmosphere each night, in different places, different time zones, different moments?

MM: The songs of Clear Language were written and largely recored as a duo but the live iteration is a full, 6-piece ensemble. Every player has a role for each song, which rotates based on the arrangement. It was a fun but long process to comb through these songs and arrange them for the live stage. The songs are mostly compatible with the original instrumentation and played live, save the programmed beats on ‘Sky Could Undress’ and ‘Behind the World’, respectfully. It’s really enjoyable to play live and our current set has over 1/2 of the new album mixed throughout.

‘First Light’ is that perfect meditative closing gem. A haven of celestial sounds unfold. Can you recount your memories of writing, composing and arranging this song? The added vocals makes for such a vital moment. Do you find the arranging and blending of the various instrumentation a challenge? Or this sense of keeping restraint in the music and having the minimal framework as your guide? Is there a musical philosophy that you feel has guided you through your songbook thus far?

MM: ‘First Light’ was actually the first song we wrote in the demoing process. But in the end, it fit most squarely as the album’s closer. We titled it ‘First Light’ as a way to invoke or invite a return or a cycle, of sorts. The record as a whole (to us, anyway) seems to slide from one track to the next and can play in some way as a singular, weaving journey. There isn’t a specific doctrine or credo we are adhering to, really. And we’ve never set out to specifically not have lyrics. On some tracks we’ll sort of agree that a different voice is needed. Sometimes it ends up that a human voice being used as an instrument rather than communicating a direct language is the most apt choice. We make the music that comes to us based on the unique and pooled amalgam of memories, experiences, dreams, lands and people that surround us. We are so lucky to make music; to record it and to play it around the world. It means everything that people spend time listening to it and even more-so if they are moved in some way by it. It’s a dream come true.

‘Clear Language’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

For Balmorhea’s European and U.S. tour dates, visit HERE

https://balmorheamusic.com/

http://westernvinyl.com/

Written by admin

March 27, 2018 at 6:20 pm

Chosen One: Nils Frahm

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“It is something of a knowing that I should not ask more from the universe than this, it’s a little bit of a humbleness to see when something was really good and you shouldn’t ask for more.”

—Nils Frahm 

Words: Mark Carry

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The first day in July 2016 marked a significant moment in Nils Frahm’s storied career. Accurately billed as “a most ambitious concert”, the peerless German composer performed an enthralling three-hour set in London’s Barbican (as part of Frahm’s curated festival “Possibly Colliding”). Not only was this a celebration of the Berlin-based musician’s cherished songbook – and the boundless, magical force of music as a whole – but a beautiful glimpse into the slipstream of music that would soon surface. Forward eighteen months to the eagerly awaited seventh studio album “All Melody”, which undoubtedly marks Frahm’s most ambitious and captivating work to date. A further evolution of “Spaces” (its predecessor) whose twelve sublime compositions – meticulously crafted by this singular sound sculptor – unfolds a musical experience of remarkable depth and magnitude.

The immense beauty – and immensity – of the far-reaching soundscapes dotted across “All Melody”s musical landscape is a joy to savour. A myriad of sacred tones are effortlessly spliced together like that of the double helix pattern of each DNA molecule found inside our cells. It is as if a towering composition like “Sunson” unfolds, mutates, and transforms before your very eyes: the soaring juno synthesizer is melded gorgeously with the otherworldly sounds of the handmade pipe organ. The seamless array of colours and textures creates an empowering ripple flow of emotions. Choral odysseys dissolve into this vast sea of forgotten dreams. As the piece continually builds, the interlinked rhythms are forever over-lapping; magical moments within moments are captured at each and every pulse.

Modern-classical, dub and avant pop spheres are masterfully blended together on “A Place”. The inner dialogue between the components (choir, strings, percussion, synthesizer, and rhodes) creates a deeply bewitching symphony of celestial sounds. How the female voice is mixed with the luminescent juno synthesizer provides a significant milestone in “All Melody’s mind-bending oeuvre. Gripping dub beats awash with soul-stirring strings. The sonic terrain has expanded, almost exponentially. It feels as if a deep symbiosis exists between all of its vital elements; each one inter-dependent of one another, reacting, breathing and growing as the loop drifts forever into the ether of unknown dimensions.

More breathtaking synthesizer loops fills the human space of “All Melody”, not least the album’s glorious title-track. Thinking back to “Spaces” and the timeless voyage of “Says” felt a vital – almost ground-breaking – moment in Frahm’s ever searching mind. In similar fashion to “Says”, the synthesizer loop of “All Melody” feels as if it could go on forever: letting it live and breathe as long as it needs to. A windswept beauty and total radiance is somehow enclosed within the series of oscillations and hypnotic pulses. The concept of infinity becomes embedded deep within the composition’s framework as the bass marimba and piano swirls into the stratosphere.

The possibilities are endless. “#2” fades in – almost subliminally – as the embers of “All Melody” gradually dissolve. Techno bliss is masterfully etched across the sprawling canvas of synthesizer arrangements, creating, in turn, psychedelic dreams orbiting the furthest reaches of one’s inner consciousness. The seductive techno pattern serves the rhythmic pulse – or vital heart beat – supplying the flow of ambient-embedded rapture to the precious energy flow.

The album’s penultimate track “Kaleidoscope” conveys the visionary nature of Frahm’s music: the pattern of the interwoven elements (choir, organ and synthesizer) is constantly changing; forever in motion and altering in sequence (in turn, generating endless possibilities). The immaculate exploration feels at once ancient and utterly contemporary; a joyously uplifting creation with its dazzling ebb and flow akin to a river finding its sea.

Fundamental Values” shares the rich musical timbre of Frahm’s stunning “Victoria” soundtrack, mapping Victoria’s next steps, as she walks down the Berlin streets to freedom. The pristine instrumentation of cello and trumpet melts alongside Frahm’s angelic piano tones. How the introspective moments of “Human Range” continually blossoms – with ethereal jazz inflections – and continually evolves demonstrates once again the transformative power of the German musician’s divine soundscapes.

All Melody” is a defining record for the ages. This is a journey into sound.

‘All Melody’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

For Nils Frahm’s upcoming shows visit HERE.

http://www.nilsfrahm.com/
https://www.erasedtapes.com/

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Interview with Nils Frahm.

Congratulations Nils on the latest album ‘All Melody’, which is an utter masterpiece. One of my first thoughts of the album was how it reflects that special “Possibly Colliding” festival in London last year and the album almost epitomizes that entire night with the endless magical moments captured during that particular live performance. And just how the live energy and performances captured in these new recordings too, so it feels like an evolution of ‘Spaces’?

Nils Frahm: Basically yeah, it is a little bit of a more controlled version of the live take and the idea was to just make the music together in a live setting and not just record everything one after the other. In my other studio at home, I was recording more like piano (and next thing, next thing) so it was like all the other records that I’ve done: they were pretty limited in the possibilities of doing it at once. And now with the Funkhaus I had the space to set everything up and just do it (like you’ve seen tonight) and basically just record that and do it every day and just try out things and that was the process: hands on, all the equipment ready basically and then just go with whatever is fun. That was important to me because I knew I would not only like get material for an album out of this but I knew I would also already know my workstation for the shows, which would come later. So, I was basically spending two years within the two U-shaped keyboard towers, practicing; that was the aim behind it.

As a listener, it’s fascinating to think of the sum of the hours and the vast sea of ideas that must have been circulating in your mind over these years. The fact that you’re continually almost going back and refining your ideas where you very much had time on your side, was it a sense that you felt you were re-discovering elements of ideas and then gradually over time it’s almost like a metamorphosis in the sense it’s still ongoing in your head, almost like an infinite process?

NF: Well, the songs I don’t play live: they are done but the songs that I play live will keep on developing and the songs I decide to not play live they are left alone; they’re like what they are. When I bring my studio on tour, I’m doing it on purpose; I have to make it happen every night again as if it was the recording session for the album. So you have the chance to re-do it, re-think it and change it every day and so it does happen: this metamorphosis, it’s mutating basically over every single gig, it’s fun. And after one or two years, the song turns into something finished yet again. This happened with the ‘Spaces’ versions of the songs I had on old albums and they turned into other versions and so on. So, I think I’m not really a composer, I’m more like a musical landscaper and it’s a little bit like a gardener: you just set up a garden and then after one year it looks completely different and then you can just do something else with it. it’s not really the point to finish a song; the point is to show that the song needs the heart and the soul and that it usually the same for the person playing and I think this is what I want to transport in a song, is exactly that essence, it needs a host – every song needs a host, otherwise it’s not a human transmission.

I love the idea that you suddenly have all these new colours you’re working with, it’s immediately apparent – even on the first listen of the album – it’s almost like you have found your voice in one way. For example, the addition of the voices and choral element in particular but in general, it’s more the extremes of the album: the intensity and noise and electronics and like a deafening pitch in contrast to the really quiet, sparse and beautiful piano; you’ve got this spectrum fully there on this record.

NF: Everything I was trying in the last ten years I could do in a much easier and better way in that new building and that new environment and obviously I was basically waiting for that moment to do it just right. I knew that before I didn’t have the possibilities to do that record so I never tried it but I was not able to hide from it any longer because I was at the position where I could afford a studio, where I could afford all these things and so basically it felt like I had no excuse to sit in my bedroom anymore – I’m not playing in front of thirty people, I’m having a thing going here – and now when I don’t go into the studio and make it like really, really good (as good as you can) then I’m hiding from the challenge so I felt like I have to do it, I have to go into the perfect studio and do the perfect sounding album somehow; that’s what I felt like, I have to do it now. That’s the only way I thought about it was just to get all the dynamics in there, get all the ideas recorded in the right way so the sounds and timbres really come out and all of the things I really feel like it’s important for the music also to appear in the music and so that was the idea behind it.

A piece that epitomizes just that is ‘Sunson’. It is these elements of the female voice, electronics, pipe organ and the woodwind and just how such a hypnotic spell is created but it’s more a feeling that the piece could go on forever; it might be eight or nine minutes long but you want it to go on and on as there is so much detail embedded deep within the piece itself.

NF: Thank you, I like that piece a lot because there is so many rhythms inter-linking and depending on each other that all sound weird and funny if they don’t come together and that makes it so interesting. The interplay between the funny sounding little objects flying around just in its combination; they form a whole, they find ground and the chaos forms into a steady flow. I think that it’s not boring to listen to because there’s always something that’s changing because the pieces are like my live shows, I use the filters so there is no loops and there is no chopped parts of anything: everything is a performance. The repetitions don’t feel like staggering repetitions but it feels like an ongoing flow. The first thing that I look out for is like: Is it boring after thirty minutes? Is it boring after one hour? Or can I just go on and on and on? And I’m looking for the things which never go out of juice, like ‘All Melody’ and ‘Says’, these are all basically loops which feel like they could just be there forever and then so not every loop can do that, certain loops don’t have that potential. So, I’m a little bit like a detective for these repetitions which don’t really feel like it’s repeating in a bad way.

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That’s exactly as a listener you feel listening to ‘All Melody’ it’s like everything rests on your deft hands and everything is happening in real-time or in the moment. So, you’re waiting for all these moments to come in but I love just how all these many elements dissolve or melt together. And in your head, I can imagine it’s like a symphony and that you’re almost like the conductor in the sense that you have all these different sounds and elements but you have to know when to add, when to leave out, and so on. For instance, the electronics and when some of those low bass registers come in – during a piece – it’s that feeling when it suddenly comes in. In a way, it’s more like the work of an electronic producer that it’s the art of sound is like the bottom line of everything really?

NF: Basically for me I feel like that’s what drives my boat, it’s just to make my speakers in the studio dense with whatever I’m trying there to just get a beautiful sound. I mean I don’t like too pretty and too sweet things, it just needs to have the right balance so I just feel like it’s something that makes you feel addicted. I think music for me has a very animalistic and almost like a tribal spell on me. When I’m deeply in the concert and in the music, I am turning into something that is not exactly civilized; I’m not that polite, well-risen gent who is just like behaving or anything, I’m just going for my tribal instincts basically. I think this is where my ideas come from: it’s from a very non-intellectual route, something which is very ancient which I like to get in touch with. And then afterwards, I think intellectually about what I’m doing and out of the process of reflecting upon it, I also get ideas but what is really important for me is to get into the trance of making music and it happens when I play piano, it happens when I play synthesizers. It’s all the same thing for me because it creates the same family of emotions but obviously it’s a different essential experience for me to play a quiet piano piece and then banging with toilet brushes on the piano, it’s exactly the spectrum between the two which makes it tactile.

I just want to experience physics in all its ways, like from the very tiny wave to the very big wave and everything in between. I think exposing yourself to that for me is where all my next ideas for the next note is coming from. I have to resonate with my instruments, I must have a certain quality of sound, I need a certain tone to get inspired; otherwise I cannot fall into the music. When I’m making music I’m just finding the jump of point from the sound to start my real ideas. It’s a little bit like I cannot work when there is not a certain set of tools is there and then I’m just like no, this is not for me. When a certain thing works (like an instrument is nicely tuned or prepared or sounds really nice) then I get all these ideas but I cannot start with a digital piano and somebody tells me “now compose” then nothing inspires me. So everything that inspires me is purely tone and they almost numb my intellect and activate the animal in me almost.

A beautiful story within this narrative of ‘All Melody’ is how you discovered this little Danish piano. Like you say, I’m sure it must have spoken to you so strongly that you suddenly found inspiration from this instrument, almost like a gateway or a doorway that it suddenly launches all of these ideas and sounds?

NF: It is very important for me to have it with me, to play the sounds exactly on the same instrument I played it for the record. I tried it on other pianos which were a little bit easier to travel with and more stable (and this is a little complicated to tune or they are really hard to tune). But in the end we went for the Danish one because the sounds didn’t sound right on any other instrument, it didn’t feel like I should play these songs on another instrument – on another instrument I should play other songs; songs I write for that instrument. So I think this is the complicated side of my work is that I really dedicate my ideas to a physical set of things (which can be an instrument), I try to understand it, I try to build a relationship and I try to have so much empathy with it (which not always works) but when it works I just get under the skin of the instrument and get inside it and tickle it in a way, which is the only way and I strongly think like that and then I just make that piece and then I decide this is it. Of course there’s many other things I could have done but for me, then playing the piece on another instrument is not always working because I fine-tuned my interaction with it almost to a fair balance that the instrument does a lot of things by itself – I just activate it and I try to open the instrument basically.

And that usually is a different approach to other composers; they basically think of a melody, they write the melody down and somebody has to play the melody. It would be really difficult for me to write a melody and then somebody just plays it in their way because how you play the melody and exactly how is the only thing I care about. It needs to fit the melody, otherwise I don’t care about the melody itself; it just needs to harmonize with how the melody is played and it’s all about how it is played. And so composing for other musicians is a little bit of a bad process for me because I will always try to explain to other musicians how they should play it and I will always feel like, if I could only do it myself. And so you are right, I am a little bit like a conductor and I try to work with sounds I get into and once I feel like I activated the sounds, I am inside the instrument basically; this is the moment where I hit record. And with the other musicians in the session it was interesting because a lot of the things they played was not what I felt I wanted to hear but they played much, much more than I used. So I let them play, I let them play, I let them play and then out of sixty minutes these thirty seconds are just pure magic. I feel like it was still my process to decide for that thing and use it and then to put it there and then so I still had the feeling to get into the skin even of what the other people play. For me it is very important to have control over the sounds otherwise I’m lost basically.

All these elements that are contributed by your friends and this idea that it’s this thirty seconds of magic, I just love this minimal aspect to the music and how it’s almost spliced together. But the subtle detail  inside it all; it’s never like A, B, C but it’s more after repeated listening, there are gorgeous shades of all these different colours (like the bass marimba for example) it feels like a ripple.

NF: The sequencing was very important and I feel only if that is flawless. I’ll give you an image: only if all the ripples on top of the lake disappear you can see the surface of the lake and even if the tiniest ripples are there you can see only the surface of the water. And so for me it needed to come to a point of perfection, otherwise these compositions would not work, they would fall apart: they are only tied together by the marriage of vision of tone, timbre, how it’s played and everything in a wishful way which I cannot explain. But I can only intuitively get there and then I can say, oh this is it, this is what I wanted to do; I had no idea before – I never know what I want to do next – but I get naturally attracted just by accident, by the framework of my tools I set around me basically. Everything which is annoying me like synthesizers which make sounds that are horrible for me, I never use them. I only use instruments which always sound charming no matter what you do with them, anything which can sound like a pain in the ass flies out. And so I have some very funny rules to set up the framework for myself so I know what to do next because I never think of it.

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Ancient is a word that epitomizes the song ‘Kaleidoscope’. Again, the sequencing and how it’s there as the penultimate track. It’s the multitude of feelings and this sense of a journey that the listener goes on. The harmony aspect of ‘Kaleidoscope’ creates that hypnotic spell again, there’s almost a symbiosis between all your instruments and the rest of the instrumentation. You feel like there is an energy reacting off all these different layers of sounds and elements.

NF: I know what you mean, I just feel like it is all of these lucky moments and I’m just pretty relaxed when it comes to choosing the right moments. I’m messy basically because I record everything: I record every single show, I have terabytes of music flying around and listening through all of that again and just keeping your head clear and deciding out of forty takes, which take is the right one is the real challenge to be honest. So I basically keep recording and the most of the stuff that I am doing is not right and then all of a sudden – maybe by chance – something really works out well and then just being awake and seeing it happening and like ‘oh this is what I want’. I was trying eight hours and then in twelve minutes; I can use all these twelve minutes, that’s the core of my composition. I could have never planned it but I feel like this is the nice thing you can rely on having the feeling for the right moment in that sense and so I can delete everything else and you will never hear it again, this is it. And this was for ‘Spaces’ already, with Nonkeen and all these projects I had to go through hours and hours of music and deciding to delete all the rest takes a little bit of courage so to say. And I know a lot of musicians who really have a hard time deciding and they just rather keep three, four, five versions and until the end they go back and forth. And for me it’s very easy to know OK, this was a moment, it will be impossible for me to make a better version now that I have this version.

It is something of a knowing that I should not ask more from the universe than this, it’s a little bit of a humbleness to see when something was really good and you shouldn’t ask for more. This is where I have to say that I am not a perfectionist because a perfectionism is only about creating the framework. But when I see like by accident that something just magically worked out and then I try to be humble and be like OK don’t fight with the gods up there and try to do it better because when too perfect lieber Gott böse or the god is angry. So, this is my philosophy. ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a jam – completely a jam – and I felt like ‘Ahh what if I do it again?’ but I knew I could never create that energy or that sound again so I mixed just that improvisation basically. I never tried to recreate the patch because it was a complete, complicated, one-in-a-lifetime situation where all the things were doing something crazy. And then you should not waste your time by trying to do it again, it would just be an unpleasant experience. I feel like I know how to keep my workflow joyful that way, I just don’t go down these roads where there’s like sweat and fight and fight and fight. I try to keep myself in a happy place because this is only where I can worship the gods when I am happy with myself or when I am at peace with myself or I make an acceptance at least, I make the better work as if I’m trying to be better, you know that is not a good emotion.

It is that intuitive quality to the music that’s so apparent. I just love how there is this flow of energy within the songs, like the first notes of choir and the silence and sound of people almost coming together. And how ‘All Melody’ and ‘#2’ is like the beginning of the second half, it’s almost like the ultimate DJ mix in some ways.

NF: It’s like this legendary mixtape that somebody put together and found all these moments somewhere and blended them in this magical way and it’s like this tape that somebody has made and you’re just wondering ‘how cool is that?’ And I feel like I have a lot of these tapes at home, made by friends which became legendary mixtapes which I distributed and got an mp3 and all of my friends know them. It’s like these random cassettes, some of them were in my father’s car; just weird mixes, blend of jazz tunes and I just like that idea of hearing many different things interconnecting basically. Or seeing that everything is context when you just put a track after that track, the tracks change basically their identity only because they are next to each other. And when you think that further and think about the playlists on spotify and all the algorithms that are creating music, I mean exactly what is happening there is changing the identity and the core of each track which is inside that playlist. And I think all these things are so important to me and I want to have more control over music. This is why I am just saying this is the album and everyone talks about the album now and I love this because no one talks about one track; it is the album experience and we can look into a pretty deep landscape of music and just get all these ideas from.

This is exactly my point to do something which is in a broader sense inspiring and this is ‘All Melody’ for me, trying to encourage whatever is out there to be original or make the impossible blend. And to showcase that only because it’s different it doesn’t need to hurt your ears; that is also important, it can sound tactile and interesting and delightful even if the music is pretty abstract somehow. And I feel like this is also a challenge for me to make that work, just to make it so attractive even if what I’m making musically there is thinking around the corner a little bit rather than just make it attractive enough so you always want to know it more or something. This is what I associate with my favourite albums of all time: Radiohead, Portishead, Massive Attack; when these albums came out they didn’t only sound like weird, abstract hard to get stuff, it was different, completely new and in some way what they did there was – and also Air – it was different and like ‘I know it somehow but I don’t know it’, it was familiar in a weird way but totally new and it sounds great. These are the records that I will never forget and there are loads of other great and interesting music and charming music – and I’m like a geek like you of course – not only because a record is recorded bad I dismiss it, that’s totally bullshit, when a performance is great you just deal with whatever recording and so on. When you choose whatever you want to do I felt like let’s try to just get everything a little better on this record, let everything be a tiny bit better, that was my dream.

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Another special moment on the album is ‘Human Range’. Again as a listener, it’s full of that surprise element in the best possible way, this idea that you never know exactly what is coming at you (and that’s what defines all these great records). Suddenly there is a jazz and ethereal dimension like an ECM catalogue, but it all makes complete sense. How this track rises and is always building throughout.

NF: That was not a complicated composition because that was a track where I started basically with a piano and I had these chords [mimicking the piano line] and I liked the two chords. And on the piano I didn’t feel like I could make that piece, it felt like it was not necessarily a piano piece. So I thought I would programme a bass – and I programmed it very low and short  [mimicing bassline] – and I liked that, I was sitting in my room and I could hear the reverb of these short bass notes and I felt like, oh this is much more interesting. So basically I sequenced a little bit with the organ and the bass and I only recorded the little percussive sounds of the bass and kept it like that. And then whenever another musician came, I said ‘Let’s improvise something on that’ and so when the choir came, I just composed these chords (like start really quiet and then go loud and so I kept that) and the percussion player and the cello came and the trumpet player came and so on. We talked about the progression each time again and then the last forty seconds I just let them play improvised basically and it all creates this funny little ending.

And every musician played at least twenty/thirty takes before I felt like ‘now I feel it’ because they all played too much, I left these little drops and then somebody leaves a drop here and there but no one should really be in the forefront. So in the end it is all evenly dropping and so everybody felt they should finish the song with their part and they were trying to finish it off. And the last overdub that I have done was trumpet player and I told the trumpet player, ‘Look, you have to finish it off’ it was like we left this carpet, this fluffy nice little sound carpet for you and now tie this red thread in there. And he went into the recording room and played the first take of the day – I may have cut out twenty/thirty percent and moved one or two bits but that was it – and I was so impressed because I had no idea how I should have made that melody with my instruments, I didn’t hear it but he, with his trumpet, could find that spot where he was really leading the whole ensemble and all of a sudden it was like yeah, this is what I was waiting for. So it was one of those happy-go-lucky things that you can’t plan.

The challenge of inter-connecting each piece on the album and piecing together the many sections within a piece, was it a case that a lot was unlocked by improvisation?

NF: I think that’s the more composing part is to leave out what you don’t want to use and what comes before is just some way of improvising or meditating over an idea. It’s a little bit like fishing for the right moment, my philosophy is that a lot of things could come together in a positive way and that is they’re interlinked and then I see it as like these clay with four leaves and you see a lot with three leaves and there’s one with four. And basically I try to realize that in my music is that I just feel like it was the right sound, it was the right moment, the right touch, the right whatever and then maybe there was even a creak in the right moment. Sometimes you have these moments where you feel like ‘Aah! This is it’ and then I can feel like it’s a little bit like a false belief obviously but I feel like these birds are with me, I got a message, I like this and then I feel like I am having a relationship with that idea and with that moment. And then I treasure it and it’s like what I said before, I’m pretty stubborn believing like this is the moment, this is my big fortune just to have that decisiveness. It means that I have to numb myself and to blind myself over other possibilities but on the other hand the essence of why I am so progressive – like always doing, doing, doing – because if I would be hesitant and indecisive about if I should use this or not then I think nothing would get ready and nothing would ever come out. It is fortunately not leaving me and it didn’t leave me on this record like the intuition that I have that material and I’ve worked a long time on it and now it’s time to just go with the best you’ve done. And not thinking like ‘No, I wanted something else, throw everything away’ I think that would have done the material injustice.

Of course, I can say now that the record is completely something else than I expected and on the other hand what did I expect? I expected to hear some tracks that I couldn’t have planned, I expected to hear some tracks that I wanted to record (‘All Melody’ and ‘#2’) and I expected to hear some choir on there because I planned to record choir and so on. So basically it is the record I wanted to make and now in many ways when I play the tracks live, I play them all the time, they become a little bit of a closed body, all of a sudden you really make memories with that song and then the song develops an even broader identity because you feel like you are on the road with it and it’s always there and it’s always a little different (like everybody) and the song becomes a person and even the listeners – after a couple of years when you play the song a lot of times – you play a song and then they clap; it became something, the song has character and so what I really like is just to see how ‘All Melody’ out of this, I really enjoy like knowing when it’s released, it’s there now and then seeing OK it’s two hours ago, by now people have heard it once, let’s see what they say. And already people after thirty minutes are like posting things saying it’s great and I feel like I have listened to it for one and a half years basically and I’m pretty tired of it to be honest and now people hear it for the first time and it’s interesting to see people’s opinions after hearing it one time and how the opinion in maybe five, six, seven, fifteen or twenty years might be completely different. It’s basically like modelling a wine and putting it somewhere and seeing what happens to it. On that level I have a very good feeling with the record because I feel it is absolutely my identity; I can find myself in there. It’s almost like no other record that I have put out, I’m pretty strongly behind this one because I also think that it has humour and it is in a way also sad and melancholic. And in other ways it is exactly these little moments where people walk in and somebody is late and then the choir starts, like all these things I love.

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‘A Place’ has a playful and inventive quality to it where there’s a real bright pop element shining throughout and especially how the female voice is blended so masterfully with the electronic elements. Even if you isolated just that…

NF: I love this. This is what I was hoping for, I wanted to mix natural vocalists with juno sounds basically for that record and this was my moment where I felt like I can only hear synthesizer and them and it was just a beautiful and joyful experience. It feels like the synthesizer changes the voice and the voices changes the synthesizer to a strange degree where it becomes this phenomenon almost. And that was the core of the song and the rest was woven around numberless overdubs and compositional ideas. I had the kick drum in there, I had this going on, I had that going on. That was the song that always got re-shaped and in the end it magically fell into place in its most complex form as it is in the record now because as a composition and as a second song, it has a weird ending and this and that happening and exotic moments with exotic instruments playing exotic things. But I felt like this is something that has to be exactly like that and then it works.

And I tried to play it for the live show but it doesn’t work, it just easily falls apart. It’s not a stable song. Certain musical experiences can be pretty stable and they even sound good from a little radio in a distance and other musical experiences are more unstable and just need to be experienced in a certain way and it plays with something which has to be experienced in the right way then it only reveals something, which I like a lot. If it’s not exactly experienced like it is on the record then it falls easily apart. It’s an unstable, exotic piece which I feel like would stay exactly like that because any other version wouldn’t work. And then there’s other pieces of mine where I feel like yeah this is a good version but I think I could even play a better one someday but I don’t know why and then I keep on playing it. So I basically have two sets of ideas: certain things are basically more constructed and then they are just conserved in this one documented version and that is the piece and other ideas are transformative ideas which I basically meditate over and I feel like I grow on them when I keep playing them.

That must be the joy of playing the live shows when you suddenly have these new songs but also how you incorporate the older songs with the new ones. It must give you a new perspective even on the older songs you play?

NF: You heard ‘Familiar’ tonight, I changed ‘Familiar’ a bit; it was a different sound, I can’t even play it like on ‘Spaces’. I also don’t try, I always feel like I should play it in that moment and don’t try to play it as I remember as I played it.

‘Fundamental Values’ feels like it blossoms gradually as you listen to it. The piano melody feels like it’s a continuation from the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack, almost mapping her next footsteps as she walks outside the hotel and starting her new life. It definitely feels like this piece is related in some way?

NF: It was funny because it was basically this one solo piano recording I had from the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack and I kept it as an idea because we didn’t use it for the film and I kept it as an idea for the album process. And so I tried to replay it and I felt like no I can’t get that thing in there so I’d rather play a different piano on top and I played all the other instruments on top. The core of it is exactly the recording session of the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack and so very well heard.

Something that struck me from the liner notes of ‘All Melody’ was regarding the mixing of the album and how you described the need to preserve the essence of the music. I can imagine when you have spent all this time and with the knowledge you have all these magical moments captured, is there almost like a fear that you’re almost going to lose it in the sense that you grasped it one moment and will it be there again?

NF: Exactly. Certain pieces fall apart over time. Certain pieces feel great that night and the next day they already don’t feel that great anymore and you wonder like what did I do yesterday that it sounded different and so on. Other pieces stay only stable over a couple of weeks and then they start to annoy you in a certain way. So, giving me like a long time process was giving me enough time to listen to my own ideas and when I make an album I only listen to that (for that time) and not get confused. I don’t want to enjoy good music (which is other music) because I feel like I only deserve to enjoy when I do great music myself, just to fast basically. And when you lose the sketch or whatever you are working on there is also time to make it better, to mix it or to finish it or to change it and then sometimes you rescue it, you drag it back into a better direction and you make a better take and then you basically wrestle it or you just make it worse with whatever you try to change and you realize when you try it again and when you make it worse again then you know the song wins basically, it destroys you. And sometimes you just get the song in the right direction again and at some point it stabilizes again in a very good situation. When I listen to the album now I feel like I’m happy with everything. It changes for me you know, I’m still having more ideas and that I would like to change things but I know that everything is OK. And this is not always the case when I release an album. Sometimes, only two, three, four weeks later I regret certain things but now I’m really happy.

‘Harm Hymn’ is the perfect closing line for the album. Again, I love how there are these very sparse, introspective moments dotted across ‘All Melody’. Did you envision this harmonium piece to always close the album?

NF: I feel that it is a typical “Nils Frahm song” and I would have missed it if it wasn’t on the album. And if you can put it anywhere then it’s after ‘Kaleidoscope’ because it washes that high tension away and it connects with the last notes of ‘Kaleidoscope’, it has the same pace and breath and then it falls into that in a very good way. This is why I kept the piece, I have other good harmonium pieces I have recorded but it didn’t connect like that and so often when I have so many different songs I’ve done for an album, I still choose the ones that strengthen the neighbouring song, in a way which ends up then being more symphonic or a planned album listening experience. For me it’s very important to see an album as a continuous thing and it is OK to listen to certain songs just by themselves but if you listen to the whole thing it needs to make sense.

‘All Melody’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

For Nils Frahm’s upcoming shows visit HERE.

http://www.nilsfrahm.com/
https://www.erasedtapes.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Written by admin

March 7, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Chosen One: Colleen

with one comment

Interview with Cécile Schott.

This decision actually made me feel a bit more confident that a fully electronic album was the way to go, since it would introduce a human element of non-exactness, something I value in music. ”

—Cécile Schott 

Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Isabel Dublang

Colleen by Isabel Dublang ii

The world-renowned French artist Colleen has crafted one of her most captivating, absorbing and empowering works to date in the form of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’. The latest record marks Colleen’s first fully electronic-based album, having departed from the viola da gamba instrument (which was integral to the last two sonic treasures ‘Captain Of None’ and ‘Weighing Of The Heart’). The results are nothing short of staggering whereby Schott’s singular melodies shimmer across the radiant warmth of shimmering electronics and textured rhythms, creating, in turn, eight resolutely unique and stunningly beautiful sound worlds.

The delicate synth tones of ‘November’ immediately transports you to an ethereal dimension that serves the perfect prelude to the album’s lead single ‘Separating’. The gorgeously rich polyrhythms of Schott’s trusted Pocket Piano and Moogerfoogers creates mesmerising soundscapes that encapsulate the French artist’s achingly beautiful vocals. A charged immediacy and striking intimacy exudes from ‘Separating’s  masterfully interwoven sonic tapestries. As Schott sings on the opening verse: “Separating from the world /Is like a drop of rain/Falling to the ocean floor”, it reflects the artist’s emotional response to the inevitability of death and life’s impermanence. The hypnotic refrain of ‘Separating’ emits a healing force as a myriad of utterly transcendent moments continually fill the human space like stars dotted across the night sky.

The stand-out instrumental  cut ‘Another World’ forges a deeply moving journey into the depths of the human heart.  A piece of music such as this truly reflects the singularity of this remarkable musician, forever pushing the sonic envelope and exploring new avenues at each and every turn. The production’s richness and warmth is a joy to savor, which continually evolves and mutates into various shape-shifting patterns (a cross somewhere between Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark studio productions and Nils Frahm’s synthesizer works). The ambient bliss of ‘Another World’ feels just like that: co-existing in some far-reaching stratosphere of unknown dimensions.

Winter Dawn’ is steeped in the darkness of anguish and pain: “The world had nearly ended and the sky was blue” is sung beneath rhythmic pulses of synthesizers. The glorious rise in the song forms one of the utterly transcendent moments of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’ as Schott laments “O dear soul, flesh and bones/Love alone is your home” beneath intricately layered and sumptuously crafted electronic passages. The dichotomy of light and dark permeates throughout as Schott pleads “Deep and warm, golden dawn/Shine some more of that light of yours”. An intensely beautiful and soul-stirring tour-de-force.

The gripping heart of the latest full-length comes with the achingly beautiful duo of ‘Summer night (Bat song)’ and ‘The stars vs creatures’. ‘Summer night (bat song)’ is an intimate, heartfelt lament that conveys Schott’s deep love for nature. Lyrically, I feel there’s a closeness with the timeless songbook of Sibylle Baier or Townes Van Zandt in the innate ability to create an entire world – with such striking emotional depth – within a song. A deep sadness is etched across the “descending milky night” of Schott’s masterful poetic prose wherein the metaphor of the bat’s mystical movement conveys the necessity of change. A masterful song-craft.

Nature’s peace flows throughout the sublime ‘The stars vs creatures’. The glistening blue of a kingfisher by a river or the rare sight of a terrific red fox in the early night sowed the seeds for this magical song-cycle. Lyrically, the song feels more like a parable – a message of divine wisdom – that reminds us to savor life and appreciate each moment. The blazing light of hope shines forth like a million stars.

The album closer – and sprawling title-track – is yet another defining moment of this monumental work. This meditative lament casts a spell like no other as Schott’s beguiling vocals ascends into the atmosphere with eternal rays of optimism “so stillness now can reign again”. The extended electronic sections (a key part throughout the record) swells like that of the ocean waves as they traverse the vast human space. As the sun-lit horizon looms in the distance, we – the listener – are reminded just how far the journey has taken us: “I will call you when the sun has reached the final hour”.

A flame my love, a frequency’ is a precious and divine work of art. To coin Carl Sagan, music such as this can “break the shackles of time”.

A flame my love, a frequency’ is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.

Colleen’s tour dates (including America and Europe) are listed here.

http://colleenplays.org/
https://www.facebook.com/colleenplays
http://www.thrilljockey.com/

 

Colleen by Isabel Dublang iii

Interview with Cécile Schott.

Congratulations firstly Cécile on your truly moving and groundbreaking new album “A flame my love, a frequency”. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about this latest sonic marvel of yours. This sixth studio album represents something as close to a concept album as you’ve ever done. Rather than having to recount your specific memories of being in Paris – your hometown – during those atrocious terrorist attacks of November 2015, please shed some light on your mindset and outlook when it came to the immediate aftermath of this harrowing experience? For instance, you began to compose and make music again after a (much-needed) silence post these awful attacks, I would love to gain an insight into the feelings, colours, musical language that you soon found yourself heavily immersed in (and what would be the inception of “A flame my love, a frequency”)?

Cécile Schott: In July 2015 I had just finished the Captain of None tour and enthusiastically acquired a Pocket Piano by the brand Critter and Guitari and a Moog filter pedal from the Moogerfooger series called the MIDIMuRF. I experimented throughout the whole summer with the combination of the two and my Moogerfooger MF104M delay pedal (the one I already used on Captain of None), the initial intention being to create rhythms with the Pocket Piano + Moogerfoogers, which would form a kind of basis on which to play my viola. But somehow the two sounds did not seem to “gel” and I couldn’t find the excitement and freshness I had felt when playing the viola on my previous two albums. Instead, I did start to have little kernels of songs born just out of the synth and pedals, and I recorded these initial tests and took notes as I went along. This initial work period was suddenly interrupted by the illness of a close family member whom I had to go and visit immediately in France. I returned to Spain briefly, then went back to France again, and when I had to go back to Spain again, on the way back stopped in Paris on November 13th. So that when I came back, I found myself in the situation where I knew I had to work on a new album, but it felt like both a superficial and impossible task in the light of all the things that were happening on both a personal and more global level. For two weeks our flat stayed completely silent except for the online TV news, even listening to music just felt wrong. However, little by little, I realized that not working was not the solution, and that perhaps working on a new album might be helpful in taking my mind off the things that worried me so much. I felt an intense need for what I could call a joyful sound,and that’s when the basic ideas for the first songs were born: the instrumentals “Another world” and “One warm spark”, and “Separating”. “November” was also created early, as well as the basis  for “A flame my love, a frequency”.

The choice to have “A flame my love, a frequency” as your first fully electronic and keyboard-based album works so wonderfully on so many levels. The stark intimacy of your new song cycles – as your fragile vocals are masterfully embedded in sumptuous layers of electronic tapestries – and the cosmic quality of this latest voyage is further heightened by the minimalist nature of the new music. It’s this sacred space that your songs forever inhabit that makes for such an enriching, empowering and deeply affecting experience for the human heart and mind (which becomes the essence of the new album). Can you trace back to your decision as to remove the viola da gamba from your musical world (for now, at least) and I’d love for you to describe the various electronic instrumentation and studio set-up for the new album?

CS: I think that as a musician who has worked for more than 2 decades now, even if the first 12 years were not professional, I have a pretty fast understanding of when something is working or not. You always have to fully test out your ideas and give them a chance, but there comes a point where if something really feels forced, then you’re just wasting your time and not looking for alternative solutions that might work. I just remember that at one point it dawned on me that perhaps this album would have to exist as a purely electronic album, and because of the gravity of the situation, this drastic musical decision did not actually seem so drastic to me, or at least did not scare me as much as it might have done otherwise. The one thing I knew, from a composition and production point of view, was that if I was going to leave the viola behind for this album, then I needed to make sure I didn’t lose any of the characteristics of my music, which I see as a certain type of asymmetrical song structure, the combination of pop or at the very least melody and experimentation, and a warm sound.

As for the gear, I first saw the Pocket Piano at King Britt’s studio in Philadelphia during the Captain of None tour, and was immediately in love with its small portable size, and I was able to test the MIDIMuRF briefly twice, once again in King Britt’s studio and also at the house of my old friend French musician Dominique Grimaud. The Septavox came later, as I realized I wanted to expand the possibilities already contained in this extremely small but versatile setup. Pretty soon I made the decision that the album would have to be recorded live, because cutting into electronic soundwaves to correct mistakes (something I’ve always practiced in my past albums but always on acoustic sounds) is something that is extremely time-consuming and sometimes bordering on impossible. This decision actually made me feel a bit more confident that a fully electronic album was the way to go, since it would introduce a human element of non-exactness, something I value in music.

Many melancholic shades and textures shimmer across these new recordings, Cécile but I feel there is an undeniable light of hope and strength and beauty that radiates from the depths of darkness. Aesthetically, I just love how you place several instrumental tracks among the vocal tracks (obviously something not new here) but it really feels like one of those dub treasures from the 60s/70s as one hears these beautiful, transporting instrumental tracks alongside the richly poignant ballads. For example, how the ethereal, blissed-out instrumental ‘Another world’ follows precedes the deeply affecting (and latest single) ‘Winter Dawn’ – and the many intricate arrangements and moments within moments that effortlessly occur – creates such a profound listening experience. I’d love if you could discuss more in detail about these intricate transitions that occur between tracks (and within tracks of course) and the aesthetic quality of “A flame my love, a frequency”.

CS: Thanks for your kind words Mark. Because the subject matter could not be anything other than the very large question of life and death and our fear of death and illness, I immediately felt that this would almost be a concept album, and my feeling was reinforced by the limited instrumental palette – something I’d already tested on Captain of None. The idea in the case of a restricted instrumental palette is not that the songs will be similar, but the reverse: *because* theoretically you are limited in terms of the variety of sound, you cannot hide poor compositional ideas behind a lushness of diversity of instrumental timbres. Instead, the song structure itself, melodies and chords, effects used dynamically to truly shape the direction and mood of the song, the choice to include lyrics or not, and the actual lyrics themselves – everything needs to contribute to the diversity of the album. And to make extra sure that I wasn’t using the same sound combinations over and over again, I kept a precise account of what synth settings I was using (which mode and type of wave), what pedals I was using and what for (just the filter pedal / just the delay one / both, was I using preprogrammed filter patterns, LFO, etc). I really became lost in this electronic soundworld and found it immensely enjoyable, and was surprised at how I did not miss the viola da gamba once: it just felt like exploring a different country and thinking that it was worth a visit in its own right, without comparing it to other beautiful places you’ve visited. Exploring the various combinations was endless, time-consuming too, and not always fruitful, but regularly I found a combination that really spoke to my ears and heart and each time they became a new composition for the album, and little by little I started to get a clearer idea of the tracklisting, which follows a rough chronological timeline: November obviously refers to the worst month of that year, Winter dawn to the subsequent period, Summer night (bat song) already leads to a more peaceful period, and The stars vs creatures and the title track are more about the remaining uncertainty that one realizes will always accompany life, this emotional rollercoaster that life will always be: there simply is no way of evacuating death from life, it is part of it, and we have to learn to live with it.

Colleen by Isabel Dublang iv

The gripping heart of the new album comes with the achingly beautiful duo of ‘Summer night (Bat song)’ and ‘The stars vs creatures’ on side B. ‘The stars vs creatures’ is one of the most profound and moving ballads I have ever heard, one that reduces me to tears upon every visit. Please recount your memories of writing these particular songs, Cécile? The natural world and this magical, otherworldly realm that ‘The stars vs creatures’ inhabits exudes this remarkable source of intense healing. The lyric of “a single one of my feathers is worth a million stars or Venus” represents one of the most magical, celestial moments of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’. 

CS: These were part of the 3 songs that were born with the Septavox during the second half of the making of the album: Winter dawn, Summer night (Bat song), and The stars vs creatures. Summer night (Bat song) is one of the darkest sounding songs on the album, and yet it was inspired by a moment of profound peace: in the summer of 2016 I once again visited my parents in France and was lucky enough to find exceptionally good weather, so spent my afternoons either outside in the garden or inside my childhood bedroom with the windows wide open, giving me a great vantage point to watch birds and do birdwatching-related readings or listenings (something I’d planned on doing for a long time). In the evening after dinner I particularly looked forward to watching the house martins flying high in the sky and sometimes flying right above our house, but the moment I loved even better was waiting for the last bird to fly and for the first bat to appear. There are only two or three bats every night, so seeing them always feels quite special, and over the past couple of years I’ve grown more and more fascinated by these incredible animals, and the fact that they appear right after the last bird seen flying, sometimes within seconds, strikes me as an amazing symbol of a passage from the world of the day and light to a world of night and darkness, which in spite of the commonly associated negative themes is actually brimming with life.

One evening, as I sat in my room, one of them literally nearly flew into my room, and turned around at the last millisecond. I marveled at the dexterity and perfection of its flight, and reflected that I wished that I as a human being were able to do the same thing with my thoughts: just stop them when they’re going in the wrong direction. I knew there and then that I would need to make a song out of that experience, and out of the peace that I felt in that room so loaded with memories.

The stars vs creatures is indeed like another chapter in those reflections on the power of nature and its redeeming beauty: I really do see a kingfisher regularly in a river not far from where I live, and I had a chance encounter with a red fox in Switzerland while birdwatching in a low mountain area – a fleeting second in which I saw him and he saw me and then was gone, a second that filled me with an immense joy that lasted for weeks, the sensation of having had a privileged glimpse into the life of a wild animal where he’s really supposed to be.

Were there challenges posed with the electronic instrumentation and particularly when this provided the sole musical backdrop (excluding your vocals of course)? For instance, I presume some the Moog pedals were used on your previous ‘Captain of None’ tour and I presume you acquired some new equipment to be added to the mix for the new record?

CS: The Moog pedals were really crucial in giving width and analog warmth to the synths, and I used my favourite panning, 50% Left 50% Right, on all stereo returns from the pedals, so that the music sounds like it’s kind of dancing between your ears. I also added my favourite plugins which I’d already used on Captain of None, one is a spring reverb emulation and the other a tape delay.

I must ask you about the gorgeous album-title and how you came about choosing this deeply poignant title (which embodies the music so perfectly)? Also, please talk me through the song itself, it’s one of those meditative laments that maps the impending sunlit horizon. I also love how there seems to be a strong correlation between the album’s title-track and the lead single ‘Separating’, feels like they are sister songs. The title-track reminds me of ‘Lighthouse’, with its hypnotic, meditative feel and the everlasting light of hope that shines forth. Also, this organ sound that melds with your voice creates such a heavenly, soul-stirring sound.

CS: I had the core of that title song early in the making of the album, but the words came to me right towards the end, and in general, this album’s lyrics were hard to write given the serious subject matter. I knew I wanted to stay on a “poetic” (for lack of another word) level because that’s really the only way I manage to write lyrics, and the image of the flame seemed to work for me as a symbol of something that we need to keep alive in times of hardship: some people use a physical flame to represent life or the loved one in times of mourning, but in my title I use the flame more as a metaphor for anything that we hold on to make us survive fear and pain. The frequency was obvious because it’s literally what I did when making the album: I got lost in a world of sound to make myself feel better, and I know that music plays that role for so many people. And since I was in love with the filters’ sound on the MIDIMuRF pedal, I knew I wanted to have a song where the ending would be just that, a play on frequencies appearing and disappearing, with a final resurgence at the end, like a sun coming back from behind the clouds, as a musical symbol of hope.

You must feel deeply proud of this magnificent new album, Cécile. Looking back over the making of ‘A flame my love, a frequency’, I wonder did one song (over other ones) form a gateway into the rest of the album, which allowed you to nearly see the path you were navigating, in a way? Or in some ways, did mistakes or happy accidents occur during any of the sessions that found their way on the final album? 

CS: I actually think the whole process of making an album is a combination of disciplined persistent work and loose explorations where you should just let go and let so-called accidents happen, and electronic music-making is actually the ideal playing field for this approach: there are so many parameters that can change a sound, and with analog gear, there is no way of saving settings, so it’s all about capturing the moment. I take notes because I know I’m going to take the album to the stage later on, so that is also a fascinating activity, learning to know how your machines react to try and replicate something that can be very fleeting. I just loved the learning curve to this project, and I really feel that a new door has been opened in my music-making.

A flame my love, a frequency’ is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.

Colleen’s tour dates (including America and Europe) are listed here.

http://colleenplays.org/
https://www.facebook.com/colleenplays
http://www.thrilljockey.com/

Written by admin

November 2, 2017 at 2:59 pm