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Time Has Told Me: Jan Van den Broeke

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Life passes, and the heart is beating, determined and free. And this heart is bringing us to many different places. Until it falls silent.”

 Jan Van den Broeke

Words: Mark Carry

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Last year’s treasured re-issue ‘11000 Dreams’ by Belgium’s Jan Van den Broeke documents 80’s DIY, lo-fi wave outfits Absent Music, June 11 and The Misz. The essential tracks encompass sublime ambient, synth and minimal wave sonic creations: ‘11000 Dreams’ feels like opening a vast treasure chest of scintillating sounds from an entirely forgotten space in time.

Covering over thirty years of music, the ever-dependable Ghent-based Stroom label delivers yet another essential musical document, or moreover a lost relic of hidden depths and magnitude. Van den Broeke effectively bridged the gap between ambient and song; feeling at once beautifully familiar and yet mysteriously unknown.

The Belgian artist’s music is assembled in intricate layers, utilizing electronic and acoustic instrumentation and samples from radio, TV, field recordings, old tapes and movies. ‘11000 Dreams’ is just that, a truly transporting, ethereal sound world of immense soundscapes, spoken word passages, intricate harmonies and synth elements.

“Art can emerge from scratch” echoes powerfully throughout the gorgeous spoken word ambient song cycle ‘A Peaceful Vale’ by June11 (a project which began in the 2000s). A heartfelt lament rises gradually into the atmosphere: “Happiness comes unexpectedly when your name is unveiled”. Somehow the worlds of 60’S French chanson and fourth world ambient are merged together.

Some of the most groundbreaking moments captured on ‘11000 Dreams’ are dotted throughout Van den Broeke’s June 11 project. ‘Memories’ is a heavenly, soul-stirring composition built upon an elderly lady recounting her most cherished memories, drifting beneath illuminating synth soundscapes and beautiful reverb. Elsewhere, ‘White Bird’ contains cinematic spoken word passages that drift majestically beneath ethereal soundscapes, encompassing new age and ambient spheres. “I began to float,up and away from my body / A snowflake, weightless” are the opening words softly uttered; the listener is drawn into a wholly other dimension. A white bird sailing with no plan.

Who Is Still Dreaming’ is one of the album’s most captivating moments, which contains the gradual bliss of cinematic strings and 80’s minimal wave components, masterfully embedded beneath layers of deeply affecting spoken word.

The earlier recorded output is equally illuminating. Absent Music’s DIY, lo-fi wave creations remain as timeless as ever. ‘Akahito’ is a glorious post-punk odyssey with intricate harmonies and seductive bass groove. ‘My Lesbian Girlfriends’ is a shimmering synth pop gem with compelling drum machines and warm pop hooks aplenty.

The Misz reveals more artistic brilliance and another chapter in Van den Broeke’s immense songbook. “11000 Dreams” is a divine record that hits you hard and pulls you in deeply: through the act of listening, Van den Broeke’s deeply personal and unique sound world permits an “escaping from darkness”. Timeless.

‘11000 Dreams’ is available now on Stroom.

https://stroomtv.bandcamp.com/album/11000-dreams

a - free at last-the misz

 

Interview with Jan Van den Broeke.

 

It’s such an honour to ask you some questions about your incredibly inspiring and stunningly beautiful music. The “11000 Dreams” vinyl – a timeless treasure released by Ghent label Stroom – is one of those rare jewels in music, a unique, shape shifting and mesmeric world unfolds before your very ears. Being part of this re-issue must have been a very rewarding and enjoyable process for you. What were your feelings and impressions of this (timeless) music as you revisit these important chapters in your life?

Jan Van den Broeke: I was of course honoured and delighted when the people from STROOM came up with the idea of a compilation album – capturing more than 30 years…. At the same time I was rather sceptical, having doubts, it seemed like an impossible blend to me. I must admit it’s not easy for me to listen to some pieces I made 30 years ago. I was young then, I didn’t think then, I never thought of a career, I just did something…

For me it was important that the June11 project would be presented on the album. After all Ziggy Devriendt has done a wonderful job, by bringing the right tracks together. There were so many tracks to choose from… Ziggy made a quirky selection and it seems to work.

Please take me back to the early 80’s in Ghent, Belgium. As a teenager, I presume you began your fascination with sound and music? I wonder at what point did you begin to record your own music and begin on your music path?

JVB: In 1980 I had moved from the countryside to Ghent. I became an art school student by then, and a whole new world opened up for me. I discovered how different art forms can influence each other: painting, poetry, film and video, architecture, theatre, performance… It’s all one piece.

In the evening I used to listen to a local alternative radio (Radio Toestel), and I heard all those new records from Crammed and Les Disques du Crépuscule…. That was the point where music became more than just songs for me. Music appeared to be also sounds, and awe and experiments and wonder….

In 1980 I bought the cassette From Brussels With Love, and a few months later the eclectic double lp The fruit of the original sin, both appearing on Les Disques du Crépuscule. These were really of huge significance. I played them to death….

Spoken Word, Modern Classical, New Wave, Art Rock, Interview, Acoustic, Experimental, Leftfield, Abstract, Ambient…… Harold Budd, Brian Eno, Jeanne Moreau, The Names, Richard Jobson, Peter Gordon, Wim Mertens, Claude Debussy, Arthur Russel, William Burroughs…. So many significant names, all on one album…, this was so new to me, it was incredible but true, and some kind of relieve also…. I discovered Holger Czukay, Eno, Steve Reich and the American minimalists, I even listened to John Cage, I became a great admirer of Tuxedomoon, I went to see Laurie Anderson in Amsterdam….

My all-time favourite album – Benjamin Lew & Steven Brown ‎– Douzième Journée: Le Verbe, La Parure, L’Amour – was released in 1982.

In 1983, I started to record my own music.

The minimal wave and post punk music of this time must have served huge inspiration. What were the records, for instance that would have been present when growing up back home (or perhaps older siblings or friends had playing on their stereos)?

JVB: I didn’t start listening to the radio before I was 12, from then on I enjoyed discovering all kinds of music: folk, rock, soul…, I liked soul music, strange but true. Minimal wave wasn’t born yet.

These were the 70s. I was lying on the carpet with my headphones on, while my parents were asleep. They didn’t have any records themselves, they were always working and always very serious. I was the only music lover in my family.

I bought my first guitar when I was 15 years old, wanting to become a new Bob Dylan (the idea of becoming “a protest-singer” must have attracted me…) I learned his songs, before I got to know Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen … from some friends older siblings.

Their music was more complicated, bluer, darker… Gloom has always attracted me.

While in cities, and in other people’s heads, punk was around in the late 70s, I kept on listening to these mesmerizing and blue voices. I must admit, I saw a Pink Floyd concert also with some friends, after all this might have had a bigger influence then I thought then.

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The wonderful aspect with “11000 Dreams” is the multitude of ideas, artistic creation and sense of transcendence that fills these seamless tracks. A hugely organic and DIY ethos forever permeates these recordings. Can you talk me through the equipment and recording equipment (which I presume was a 4-track of some kind) and those early days of self-discovery through the art of sound?

JVB: I started to record music in 1983 with Dries Decoker, we really had little money in those days.

I owned a cheap Aria acoustic guitar, Dries owned an Ibanez electric Guitar and a bass guitar, and that was it. We tried to beg and borrow all the rest: a drum machine, a cheap microphone…. After a while I bought myself a 2nd hand Fostex 250 4-track cassette recorder. From that day, the Fostex was always at the center of the circle.

The music was made while recording, no need to rehearse for days… We could use a Roland TR 606 and a Bass Line for a few weeks, we used toys, we used whatever we could find. In the beginning we didn’t have any synths. We had just enough money to buy a Casio PT20.  We mangled the sound trough various third-hand guitar effects and we loved it.

My first synthesizer was an old monophonic one. There was a rusty stain where the brand of the synth was supposed to be, so I never knew what kind of synth it was….One or two years later, I bought a Roland TR-909 drum machine (that was soon replaced by a TR-505), and a KORG Poly-800 II with a simple sequencer onboard. I remember I liked to experiment with the Fostex 250, using it as an instrument – turning buttons while recording, adjusting the recording speed, playing tapes in reverse, cutting and splicing them….

You formed The Misz with your friend Dries Dekocker in Gent around 1983. This must have been an incredibly exciting period in your life, where prior to this, you were making music alone (I presume?) in your room and to suddenly share and collaborate with someone else, the possibilities must have felt endless? Listening back to the tapes of The Misz, you must still get that feeling of awe and surprise hearing your younger self express emotion through this special music?

JVB: The Misz was a strange symbiosis of 2 different characters. Dries and I both lived in the same street in Gent. The music that we made came naturally into each other’s doors and brought us together. For me it was exciting, because I had never played with 2 or more different instruments.

Dries was more the rock musician type, while I liked less noise, and less notes…

I felt like a musical director, a producer for the first time. I liked experimenting. Friends who came by were dragged behind the mic. Listening back to the tapes, I hear that I was very young and immature – but we had good intentions… we were bold and fearless, which is good.

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You described your Absent Music project (which you began almost like a solo side project in the mid-80’s) as “my private minimal-wave-and-other-experiment-like-project”. Please talk me through the beguiling minimal wave track “Akahito” which is included on “11000 Dreams” and your memories of witnessing the song bloom? I just love how a tapestry of Japanese poetry is masterfully interwoven inside this post punk creation. Lyrically, the song must have painted the sense of despair being felt during the 80’s?

JVB: I guess you know “Akahito” is the name of a Japanese poet, who lived in the 8th century in Japan (700-736). I learned to know him from my teacher in English when I was 17. I was blown away by this short poem:

I wish I were close

To you as the wet skirt of

A salt girl to her body.

I think of you always.

From the first time I had heard his name, Yamabe no Akahito walked with me as a guardian angel through an evil world. He stood for everything that was good, that was love, that was longing, that was inexpressible…I called his name so many times. Some might think I am nostalgic about the 80s, but I remember these years especially as cold-hearted and depressed. Young people were singing: No Future…, there was not very much hope.

We had little money, we lived in Belgium, we had difficult girlfriends, we didn’t like working, we had to deal with our catholic education and the world was filled with disasters. The time coloured black….

Little by little there appeared to be some kind of future, be it a dark one and not for everyone. Out of despair comes the will to create they say – but at the same time I have always realized that we, westerners have always lived in “the first world” – the richer one. I will never forget that.

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‘Chez Renee’ (1988) was one of two cassettes released by Absent Music, which was a soundtrack for a video, exhibition and performance by Renee Lodewijckx. Tell me about how Renee and how her artistic work helped to shape the music you, in turn, captured on tape? I can imagine this must have been quite a liberating and fun process and to be channeling your music through these different art mediums?

JVB: ‘Chez Renee – ik en erotiek’ was a project with drawings, paintings, video and performance. It premiered on the 19th of March, 1988. In the video, you can see Renee’s version of a make up ritual.

No cheap eroticism, but going past the temptation, past the attraction, with a direct pose, intensely physical, even intrusive. Overwhelming, disarming. Renee showed me her work, explained about the project, and gave me some fragments of a text by Nancy Friday to read.

The first thing I did then was to collect some “primitive” sounds, like from animals in the forest, rain and thunder… I also recorded Renee’s voice. These were the basics. Musically, I worked a lot on “contrast”, soft and loud, sweet and threatening, voices and instruments, beat and flow…I think that was the right thing to do, to interpret the eroticism and contrasting colours in this peculiar art project.

Has there been moments in your life that you feel were pivotal moments for you, when it came to your own musical path, Jan? In terms of the music-making process, I love how imaginative and deeply personal these recordings captured on “11000 Dreams” (incidentally a title which serves a perfect embodiment to the music) it feels like you never had any rules or boundaries, you simply followed your heart? In this regard, can you share with me some of your favourite sonic sources when it came to incorporating samples from television, radio, old tapes and field recordings?

JVB: I can’t think of extremely pivotal moments – life is just a long walk.

“You’re walking. And you don’t always realize it. But you’re always falling. With each step, you fall forward slightly. And then catch yourself from falling”(Laurie Anderson said that).

Musically I just followed my heart – and many things arise by chance. From the moment I was thinking about recording music, it was obvious that I would use samples and sounds I came across.

In the 80s, I guess I was more politically interested – I followed the news, the cold war, all the disasters that took place, …. – I recorded the news right from the radio or TV, and used some fragments. I also bought used tapes on the flea market, and sometimes found strange sounds on them. I wrote songs about religion, Lech Walesa, the Bhopal tragedy, the sinking of The Mont Louis, the Chernobyl disaster….

Later, I had less fear and was more interested in letting ideas and voices in from people from all over the world. To broaden my world, to give other people a voice. I was never really into what is sometimes called “world music” – but nevertheless exotic and mysterious voices and sounds have always intrigued me.

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Take me back to 2003-2004 when you resumed your work under the JUNE11 pseudonym. You write in the liner notes, “one of my dreams was (and still is) to try fill the gap between ambient and song”. It’s clear that this dream of yours is fully realized on tracks like “White Bird”, “Who Is Still Dreaming?” and “Memories” (for example). I get the impression your production skills and musical language had developed and evolved when it came to making music as JUNE11? How did you change as an artist – and perhaps as a person – during this creative time?

JVB: In 2003-2004 I resumed my work, with new skills, new tools, new friends.

In the 90s, I had sold almost all the gear I used in the 80s. In a way this  was very sad of course. In another way, I was forced to go and look for new tools – and these turned out to be even more interesting…I started working with Cubase, midi, vst softsynths… the possibilities were endless.

I was older and wiser then, and for the first time I was able to take some kind of distance. I pursued my own musical and personal path, letting intuition more and more dictate my music, helping me to find aerial calm and dissolve in the moment. The 80s had long gone, angst and fear had more or less disappeared, I finally allowed some sunlight to come pouring in….

I can imagine that the source material (sample of 93-year-old Olga reminiscing about her youth, for instance) must have served huge inspiration for you that in turn, triggered music deep within you, to come to the surface? You must have such strong memories of first hearing Olga’s voice (from a cassette?) and your desire to then paint her words to music? It’s such a divine, momentous piece of music that moves me in such a profound way.

JVB: I am also very happy with this piece. I had the idea then to release an album titled “7 pulses”, I don’t know why.

I came across Olga’s voice on freesound.org – a collaborative database of sound for musicians and sound lovers. I owe a debt of gratitude to “acclivity”, who uploaded 8 minutes of Olga’s voice. I don’t know really who recorded it, and I don’t have to know either….

I think I was attracted by the title “Olga’s India Memories”, making me think of Richard Jobson’s track “India Song” – that owes debt of gratitude to the 1975 film by Marguerite Duras and its soundtrack by Carlos d’Alesso…I thought it would be a good idea to combine Olga’s old but vivid voice, with a pulse, like it was her musical heart rate.

Life passes, and the heart is beating, determined and free. And this heart is bringing us to many different places. Until it falls silent. That was the basic idea.

Memories ended up on a compilation of the seriously underrated EE Tapes label, in the CD series Table for Six, all quiet. A large amount of thanks owed to Eriek Van Havere from EE Tapes (www.eetapes.be). He was the first one to give me chances, when I wanted to release new music in 2006. Eriek has become a friend of mine since then.

Some of the never-released-before recordings contained on “1100 Dreams” are some of the finest moments of the record: “White Bird” (the perfect opening line) and “Who Is Still Dreaming?” with its text-to-speech application. I wonder did you hear these particular tracks in a very long time (when it came to compiling tracks for this special compilation)? These tracks must surprise you – to this day – and where you may ask yourself, how exactly did I create this?

JVB: I think I started working on “Who Is Still Dreaming?” in 2006. Musically, it was inspired by “Åses død” – from Peer Gynt suite by Edvard Grieg, 1875. It’s a sad and sweeping piece that I have always loved. Textually, I try to “digest” 9/11, by asking who, despite all strain, is strong enough to keep dreaming, to keep living without fear. There are special moments in life when things come together. I think the most interesting things happen when 2 or 3 ideas, thoughts come together.

“Who Is Still Dreaming?” should have been on the first JUNE11 album (Matter is Alive – 2008), but we never found the right place on the album for it, so it was left unpublished, but I never forgot about the track…

“White Bird” I started to work on in 2011. I remember I wanted to create a piece of music, without using any instruments. 95% of what you hear here are samples of monks singing, I had to pitch and edit them to make them singing in the same key, and to make them singing in some kind of endless sky….

The track was left unfinished for about 5 years, until I finished it in 2016 – to be the opening track of the 11000 Dreams album. I was surprised to hear when “White Bird” was also used by HUNEE as the opening track of his “Essential Mix” radioshow on BBC on April 29th 2017.

As you still make music today and also looking back over your work thus far, what do you feel have been the guiding principles for you and your own artistic creations? Do you see a common thread that connects all these recordings captured on “11000 Dreams”?

JVB: I watched Daniel Lanois ‘Here Is What Is’ documentary again recently, and I would like to answer this question with a Brian Eno quote from this film, expressing best what I have always done, what I have always believed in: DIY, experiment, don’t be afraid, be authentic, start something….

Beautiful things grow out of shit. Nobody ever believes that.

Things evolve out of nothing. You know, the tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest. And then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing. I think this would be important for people to understand, because it gives people confidence in their own lives to know that’s how things work.

If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted—they have these wonderful things in their head but and you’re not one of them, you’re just sort of a normal person, you could never do anything like that—then you live a different kind of life. You could have another kind of life where you could say, well, I know that things come from nothing very much, start from unpromising beginnings, and I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something.’

‘11000 Dreams’ is available now on Stroom.

https://stroomtv.bandcamp.com/album/11000-dreams

 

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June 12, 2018 at 4:14 pm

Time Has Told Me: Mark Renner

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I think that as an overall survey, it’s always been more interesting to me to see an artist’s sketchbook than the actual finished work.”

—Mark Renner 

Words: Mark Carry

RERVNG11 - Mark Renner - Press Photo - Web - 05 - Photo Credit - Charles Freeman

Dream like ambient odysseys traverse the human space on the utterly compelling RVNG Intl compilation “Few Traces”, which effectively surveys a near decade of Maryland native Mark Renner’s solo material from 1982 to 1990. Delicate reverb, lo-fi warmth and immaculate instrumentation of synthesizer and electric guitar are beautifully captured to tape, feeling at once immediately familiar yet steeped in depths of the unknown. Several of the vocal-based recordings recall the timeless spirit of The Durutti Column, Felt and Cocteau Twins with Renner’s highly emotive vocal delivery and gorgeous haze of blissful guitar chords.

The poignant, melancholic pop gem ‘More Or Less’ begins with charged guitars and drum machine, which an array of the current Captured Tracks roster could be found floating in the song’s slipstream. “There’s too much to reveal this time” are the opening words, sung with pain and heartache; a torch-lit ballad you have known your entire life. The song’s glorious rise emits an undeniable catharsis as the seductive groove is a truly immense force.

Many guitar-based instrumentals are dotted throughout this captivating 21-track compilation. The lyrical quality of the reverb-laden guitar instrumental ‘Autumn Calls You By Name’ is a joy to behold, recalling early New Order and Felt’s pristine indie pop gems. The range of sounds is quite staggering. Album opener ‘Riverside’ is a scintillating ambient excursion with a sumptuous ebb and flow of soothing synthesizers. Glorious shades and textures are carved out on the deeply reflective ambient gem ‘Few Traces’ while the electronic wizardry of ‘The Dyer’s Hand’ orbits the sonic trajectory of Antena’s ‘Camino Del Sol’ or Carla Dal Forno’s compelling songbook.

Some of the vocal-based songs serve perhaps the record’s defining moments. The poetic expression of ‘Saints and Sages’ hits you deeply with its hypnotic undercurrent of guitar drone. ‘Half A Heart’ is a crystalline pop gem as Renner’s heartfelt lament transcends both space and time. The charged immediacy of these songs makes you fully realize the endless possibilities that the sacred art of music truly possesses.

The closing swathes of synthesizer captured on ‘Wounds’ reflects the otherworldly nature of the American musician’s solo works. The origins of these recordings may have come to the surface several decades ago but ‘Few Traces’ most certainly belongs to the here and now. Another essential document from the peerless Brooklyn-based imprint RVNG Intl.

‘Few Traces’ is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://www.markrenner.net/

https://igetrvng.com/

RERVNG11 - Mark Renner - Press Photo - Web - 07 - Photo Credit - William Flayhart

Interview with Mark Renner.

The recently released “Few Traces” compilation on RVNG was a wonderful discovery of your music for me. Can you take me back to the lovely process it must have been in going back through these recordings and deciding what tracks to compile and assembling it all together?

Mark Renner: Well, it’s been a great experience. I think that one of the things I like the best is that it’s a warts-and-all package; they didn’t just do this like a greatest hits record. They weren’t only interested in some of the newer material but some of the more skeletal structures of early songs, and one of the songs was actually done on a hand-held cassette recorder during practice in my apartment many years ago. I think that as an overall survey, it’s always been more interesting to me to see an artist’s sketchbook than the actual finished work. They were patient with me because it took a while to pull it together; it took a while to gather all these recordings from old cassette tapes and old masters and old tape reels. I’m sure you are familiar for the old tape, the reels needed to be baked before we extracted music from them. I think that it’s interesting in terms of just being a footprint from that era, and obviously there are things here that I didn’t hear for years and I hadn’t thought about for years and it’s nice having them contained in one package like that.

I love the aesthetic flow that effortlessly runs throughout ‘Few Traces’ and also the wonderful instrumental tracks that are dotted throughout.

MR: I think I may have once aspired to do film soundtracks and of course I started small but that was an aspiration that I think I may have had back then.  Some of those pieces might lend themselves to an atmospheric backing that may have been suitable for it. It was also – and probably to my advantage – an extremely impoverished situation so I don’t think I could have afforded to record a vocal song back then anyway, so a lot of the material was recorded on a home 4-track cassette player so the songs would invariably remain without words. Once I obtained a 4-track cassette player it became a musical sketchbook and some of those songs would be put together in sketch stages.  I think, by then I had a small sequencer and did the programming in step time, so I suppose there is a certain charm in the lo-fidelity quality of these recordings as well.

As a painter, you must find that painting and music almost goes hand in hand with each other because I saw your documentary and it showed a lot of your beautiful linocuts?

MR: Yes, I’ve had the chance over the years to integrate both in exhibitions and have always enjoy that opportunity. I think there are similarities to the approach to both of them. I can’t speak for others, but I sense that a lot of times approaching music in terms of sound and texture is comparable to developing a painting, where you bring out colours and shade and light and perhaps emotion  in the same way. At times it feels difficult to decide where I want to concentrate my energy, but I’m fortunate in this period of my life where I have the freedom to stop one and start on the other as I will. I have some deadlines at the moment: I’m finishing a recording that I’m hoping to have completed by April; it’s based almost entirely on vocal songs. Then early in the summer I have a visual exhibition. So I do have some time constraints, but by and large I currently have the freedom to stop one discipline and to put my energy and efforts into another.

RERVNG11 - Mark Renner - Press Photo - Web - 08 - Photo Credit - James Matis

I’d love for you to go back to when you were growing up and at what point in your life did you realize the importance of music and when you started playing music and the different bands and movements that were going on during that time (that made you want to pursue it yourself)?

MR: Well I think that the area where I was raised – in an isolated manner, although I had brothers and sisters,  I was left alone to myself and  lived many of those years from inside the imagination. I was very fortunate to have the room to roam. My father had a large farm and on the surrounding properties close to his were streams and hills and woods and hundreds and hundreds of acres to traverse and to explore and enjoy. I think that the isolation of the area contributed to, from the time I was old enough to remember, an inward desire to express myself in some manner. My mother had a guitar in the house and so I picked it up and put it down and picked it up again. I always enjoyed opportunities in Sunday school and Church where I could mess around on a piano. I did love music and I did love sounds in that sense. It’s hard to say how much of that was integral to the development of my history, but it certainly was inspirational. And I still to this day, feel that both my visual work and some of the musical work is nourished by the area where I grew up.

I’m working on a visual exhibition called ‘The Arcadians’; which is a small town in the middle of the sprawling area where my Dad’s farm remains, and the paintings have a lot to do with the characters of growing up in an arcadian world, there are the farmers and the people who I either worked for or knew as a kid. So it is a place that still affects much of what I do and I think that as far as my work and my initiation into the world of music and self-expression and imagination  that this  freedom that I enjoyed, and as I said, having the room to roam, contributed a great deal to expanding the mind and sensibilities .

And it’s this space that is in all these recordings and not just the instrumental work. I love the lyric-based songs too, I wonder for reference points or inspiration as a songwriter, do you have a certain technique when it comes to writing words and matching this to music?

MR: I think it’s always a difficult task to marry music and song: a lot of times you actually come up with an interesting tune and trying to adapt words to the meter and the rhythm of words which is challenging.  I’m in a dilemma on the album I’m working on right now in that I wrote the music first to one important piece and I’ve been trying to adapt some lyrics to it, but rhythmically, I’m almost at the point where I’m ready to abandon words and keep it as an instrumental. I’m not sure how many writers do this, I’ve often read  of those who keep notebooks, and I remember when I was younger I used to (before the proliferation of cellular phones and having it all at your fingertips)  call home and leave a melodic idea on my answering machine at home. If I was at out working and a melody came to mind or a musical or lyrical idea, the micro cassette players which were really small and portable, I used those for a while. I am a listener, I enjoy hearing bits of conversation without context and am fortunate enough to have frequent exposure to that. In the airport or in a bookstore or public places, it may just be a very simple phrase or depending on where you are, it might be the manner in which things are spoken, it might have some future relevance. I do collect a lot of phrases and more often than not I have an idea for a song and it may be useful for the one line that I need to articulate. I know there are people like Paddy McAloon  or Jimmy Webb that are essentially craftsmen with the big melody, the obscure chord structures  – I am unable to work that way. I think that the very unorthodox approach to music somehow works for some, and I sense that my current work will show growth, and I will be excited to finish the album that I’m working on. It may be the best work that I’ve done in terms of the lyrical songs on the record.

And this new album is out soon?

MR: Well, it must be completed first. I began last spring in Baltimore and then I moved on to Texas, where I’m currently living. Last summer I was recording a lot in a studio housed in a horse trailer out in a field with. And then I moved on to Glasgow in November working with Malcolm Lindsay, a film composer who has written for opera, classical, jazz and chamber works. He’s a gifted musician and I felt fortunate to have been able to work with him. I took him some material and he completely deconstructed my arrangements and put an entirely new spin on some pieces that had confounded me, truly a great experience.  He brought an orchestral approach to one of the songs that I had done and on another he played some piano and steel guitar, so it will be really exciting for others to hear this new material. I am finishing the final recording here in Texas at my home studio. I have two more pieces that I would like to include and then I’ll be finished and hopefully release it later in the year, or early 2019.

‘Few Traces’ is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://www.markrenner.net/

https://igetrvng.com/

 

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May 9, 2018 at 1:50 pm

Time Has Told Me: Syrinx

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Interview with John Mills-Cockell (Syrinx).

I’m reorchestrating, reinstrumentating for string quintet and symphonic percussion… it’s going to be Syrinx brought into the 21st Century.”

John Mills-Cockell

Words: Mark Carry

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A collection of experimental synth music culled from the early 70’s Toronto music scene is beautifully celebrated by the ever-indispensable Brooklyn-based RVNG Intl label on the shape-shifting, genre defying musical document, ‘Tumblers From The Vault (1970-1972)’.

 The band in question are the avant-garde three-piece Syrinx whose wholly unique hybrid of chamber pop and electronic experimentation crafts an utterly timeless journey into the limitless possibilities of music. The dreamy, lo-fi gem ‘Hollywood Dream Trip’ remains as vital and fresh as the day it was recorded. The sprawling epic ‘December Angel’ dumbfounds the listener in its sheer beauty and compelling sound: a piece of music from some future age, unknown and mysterious all at once. Psychedelic flourishes are etched across the more electronic-oriented ‘Ibistix’; the amalgamation of distorted voices and cosmic strings creates a symphony of rapture and transcendence.

Syrinx consisted of composer and keyboardist John Mills-Cockell, saxophonist Doug Pringle, and percussionist Alan Wells. Syrinx’s self-titled debut arrived in 1970, followed in 1971 by ‘Long Lost Relatives’, which is highlighted as the first album on Tumblers From The Vault

A treasure of relics and rarities are beautifully compiled on ‘Long Lost Relics’ featuring several alternative versions (gorgeous solo synthesizer version of ‘Melina’s Torch’ and sparse electric piano demo version of ‘December Angel’). Also featured is the band’s legendary live performance of ‘Stringspace’: a symphonic voyage of complete transcendence as waves of synthesizers, saxophone, congas and strings all meld together forming some of the most resolutely unique and truly enchanting music to have ever ascended into the earth’s atmosphere.

“Tumblers From The Vault (1970-1972)” is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://igetrvng.com/syrinx-tumblers-vault/

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Interview with John Mills-Cockell (Syrinx).

 

First of all, it was such a magical discovery to hear Syrinx for the very first time last year from the exceptional RVNG Intl release ‘Tumblers From The Vault’.

John Mills-Cockell: Yes, everybody seems to be greeting it very well. I mean it’s amazing that given the music is forty-five years old, people are saying ‘Why didn’t we ever know this existed before?’

I’d love for you to take me back to Toronto in the early 70’s and the period when you were making the music? It sounded like it was very natural how you formed together as a trio in the sense that you started as a solo performer before coming cross the other two members?

JMC: I don’t know how much you know about the beginnings of Syrinx but I’d like to tell you about it. Where would I start? I’d been involved in doing electronic music, in fact I gave a class in electronic music at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and that’s going back to 1967 I guess when my Composition teacher said that he would like me to take care of his class. It was the first time that electronic music had ever been offered to people who weren’t academics, just people off the street as it were and it was a breakthrough moment for the Royal Conservatory of Music. So, that’s where I was coming from and 1967 going into 1968 I formed up with a group called Intersystems. If you look online you’ll see that Intersystems brought out a compilation recording on the Alga Marghen label exactly a year ago. It was an amazing job that the label did; a 135-page book, three 12” discs, it was more or less a record of what we did with Intersystems. I mean it tells a lot of the story of what we were doing at that time; we were like a mixed media group if you like, formed up with Michael Hayden (sculptor), Blake Parker (poet) and Dick Zander (architect) and myself (electronic music composer). During that time we did a number of concerts in the States and in Canada and that gathered us some sort of notoriety I would say because – for want of a better word [laughs] – it was experimental and I think Dadaistic tendency that we had. So Intersytems launched us into the public eye a little bit, we were somehow able to attract a fair amount of press for the things that we did.

And so when Intersystems broke up I was invited to join up with a fairly well-known rock band in Toronto and in Canada called Kensington Market that was being produced by Felix Pappalardi (he was producing Cream and later went on to be in Mountain) and so I formed an alliance with popularity while I was with Kensington Market. So, Kensington Market put out two records – I was on the second one which was produced by Felix – and unfortunately the band broke up shortly after that but it was enough time for me to tour with them and we saw a lot of audiences – mostly in Canada – so when the band broke up I was looking for something to do and that was when I went, as you put it, solo. Up until that point I was never really a solo performer except for when I was presenting little bits of electronic music concerts in and around Toronto. And I went to Ottawa; I worked at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa to compose a score for a play there and hung around there for a couple of months doing that. Then I drove across the country in this Econoline van that I had with a woman and her daughter that I was connected with and we landed in Vancouver and no sooner that when we landed in Vancouver, I went up the coast – to very close to where I live now actually, I’m on Vancouver Island – to a place called Sechelt; I can almost see it from here across the water, it’s very close.

And now, this is where it starts to become the Syrinx story. Alan Wells was one of my students at the Electronic Music class I was telling you about at the Royal Conservatory of Music along with Michael Hayden (who became a member of Intersystems) and Blake Parker (who was a poet in Intersystems). So, Alan [Wells] – who was also in that class – was living in Sechelt living with a small commune of other artists and playing drums [laughs] with them like congas in the park style drumming. And so we worked together for a while and he came back to Vancouver with me after a few weeks of being up in the Eastern Sechelt and I joined up with a band in Vancouver called Hydro-Electric Streetcar and they put me in a rehearsal spot – which was a recording studio also – and Felix Pappalardi (when I was with him in New York), he said “I want you to make a record”.

So here we are, maybe nine months later and I was in a position where I actually could use that resource that Felix had offered to me and so I started recording. And so while I was playing with Hydro-Electric Streetcar we were touring around the province of British Columbia and that was really a lot of fun. I think you have to see to know what that means, it’s an amazing culture here and it’s quite different from the rest of Canada I think and it’s got its own flavour. So I began recording and Alan Wells came in to join me in the studio with his conga drums and as I was recording, he would play along with me and eventually it became like a part of the sound of what I was doing and we recorded all of the tracks for the first Syrinx album there. So this was before Doug Pringle was actually part of the band.

At that point I went back to Toronto – I took the train to Toronto which is a long trip [laughs] – when I arrived in Toronto somebody met me at the train and said “Look I’ve got a gig for you at the Meat and Potatoes Restaurant. Would you like to start playing there tonight?” So we went up to Meat and Potatoes restaurant which is on the fringes of University of Toronto campus and we set up. Bob put us in the front window of this lovely little restaurant that he had – kind of the gathering place for academics, graduate students; ordinary students couldn’t afford to go there – and so here I am wondering what am I ‘gonna do here? [laughs] because I never had any plans of doing any show, as it were. And Doug Pringle shows up – Doug is an old friend of mine from two years back we did a couple of concerts together before Intersystems formed and we went to the same high school and so forth – so there he was and he had his saxophone under his arm and I said “Sure, well why not” and so we did that. After the evening was over it was all pretty much improvised, I mean I had tunes in my head from the things that I did for the Syrinx album and Doug said “So you mind if I come back tomorrow night and sit in and do it again?”

I had the sense you know of what are we doing; I am one of these people who likes to be organized about what I am doing as an artist and we did and it continued like that. We played for a week and by the end of the week we were starting to make arrangements of a couple of the songs of which would become the first Syrinx record (‘Journey Tree’ and ‘AppaloosaPegasus’) and a lot of improvising and we got asked to stay in the restaurant a while longer – we ended up there for a couple of months – and by that time Doug had established a recording studio loft-come residence down on King Street; that became our sort of hangout where I’d set up my gear and we started rehearsing like a real band. In the meantime, I’d taken the recordings that I made in Vancouver and took them to Bernie Finkelstein (who is the manager of Kensington Market). And Bernie as it turned out – I had no idea – he had just started his record label called True North and he put out one record and in fact I don’t think that it was even out when we started, it was just about to be released, by Bruce Cockburn (and so that was True North #1) and he said ‘Let’s put out your recording’ – and we did – and it became True North #2.

In order to finish it, all I had was an eight multi-track one inch tape and said ‘we have to do a down mix’, ‘Ok so since I’m down mixing it and since we’re putting it out on your label Bernie, why don’t we say that we’re forming a band and we’ll get Doug to play with Alan and me? (who we recorded with already in Vancouver) and we’ll make it like a band effort’ and he said ‘It sounds great’. And we found a recording studio – a low-budget recording studio up in North Toronto – and we added Doug to some tracks, you know whatever we had the budget for like one session or whatever. Then I did the down mix and Bernie put it out as the first Syrinx record. The whole thing was done on almost no budget. Felix paid the studio in Vancouver and Bernie paid for Doug to go into the studio in Toronto. And the record came out and amazingly people really took to it, mostly artists at that point. The guy who was the big music retailer in Toronto – his name was Sam Schneiderman – he put it in the front window of his store because it has an amazing cover (if you have seen the cover of the original Syrinx album but it’s a painting of like these weird-looking animals) and it’s just a lovely piece of work from a friend of Intersystems actually called Gerald Zeldin and beautifully designed by Bart Schoales. And so he was proud to put it in the front window and it gave us a little bit of an edge in terms of people becoming familiar with the band. The Toronto artistic community just really took to it: dancers, painters, writers, film-makers; they realized this is something that no one has really ever done before and it gave us just enough of a leg up and we were given the encouragement again from Felix’s company in New York to record a second album.

At the same time we were being asked to do little commissions for the National Ballet we did a couple of pieces for them and this fledgling TV production company came to us who said “Listen we’re doing a public affairs TV series called ‘Here Come the Seventies’ and we’d really like it if you’d do the theme song for it” and so we did. It took a couple of tries; they knew what they wanted and we weren’t quite sure what we were doing [laughs] and so forth, so we went twice into the studio to get what they wanted. And there’s a whole story connected to that; we came back from the first recording – we thought we did pretty good – they said “Well instead of a minor key, maybe it should be something that’s happier and what would you think about doing it faster?” We were like “Oh do we have to?” so we went back into the studio and Doug brought a bottle of wine with him to make it go better because it’s nine o’ clock in the morning in the recording studio which wasn’t quite our style. I said Ok ,so we’re going to take the song; same song as we played before but this time we’ll make the chords all major chords and we’ll play as fast as we can” and that’s what we did. And so that was fine, they were much happier with that. Time went on, a month or two later in our rehearsal studio on King street we were right across the street from a taxi dispatch unit so there’s always cabs sitting outside our rehearsal studio – we are on the third floor, you look down and you see the cabs and you can hear the radios and street cars going by, it was really urban – one day, we hear this song playing [laughs] over the dispatches’ PA, we were like Wow, that’s our song; that’s the theme we recorded for the TV show. And Bernie had gone ahead and put it out as a single and it just got snatched up by radio programmers, they never heard anything like it before so that’s really what got us going. By the time we went in to record the second album we had a single that got behind us and it made things a lot easier. So that was really like the beginning of Syrinx and how we started out.

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The first track I heard of yours – sometime last year – was ‘Hollywood Dream Trip’ and I just couldn’t believe when listening to the compilation how unique and singular the sound of Syrinx are; you really can’t put a time or place on the music.

JMC: Especially with ‘Hollywood Dream Trip’, I can’t tell you like how many people have taken to that song. If you heard the original recordings before we had come out with the first compilation the sound on the first album was not very good and it was pretty lo-fi. We didn’t have any master tapes to work with or anything like that and Matt [Werth], my guy at RVNG Intl in Brooklyn and I worked really hard and also my producer in Toronto whose name is William Blakeney; he did the original restoration of the recordings, particularly for the first Syrinx record, which was really a challenge. We went back and did it probably about eight times and we sent it off. At one point for example, we sent the masters off to a company in the UK to have him work on it and so forth. Gradually it all started sounding clean and you could hear what was actually on the grooves. I mean the wonderful things that you can do with technology that’s been developed for cleaning up sound and just making it sound better.

It was a year ago last October, I visited Matt in New York, we thought we were all ready to release the record – he thought we were ready and I thought we were ready – and it went off to a mastering engineer in Chicago, Bob Weston who is just a magician himself and it came back. So we had a release date like a year earlier than it actually came out and we thought we were ready to go. Nick Storring, the guy who wrote our liner notes for us, phoned Matt and said “You know there’s something that doesn’t sound right about the Long Lost Relatives album” (in other words what is the first album in the compilation) and Matt said “No, no it sounds great!” and Nick said “Just listen to it some more”. And we sent it back to Weston; I thought Nick is crazy [laughs] and Bob Weston goes “Yeah I think he’s right”. And it was like that so Bob did it again and he did a masterful mastering job that’s all I can say and we’re really happy with the sound that we got, particularly for the Long Lost Relics album like the one that has ‘Tillicum’ and ‘Stringspace’ and what have you on it, it’s amazing what they did, really. But it took us another year of working on it to get it all ready after that, a lot of work went into it. I was really impressed I have to say with the way the great care that Matt Werth at RVNG put into it and the same for the art design, which is just like meticulous with what he wanted to put out for people.

As you say, it’s a beautiful document and everything about it is pristine, from the layout and the lovely dicut vinyl package; it has such a special feel to it.

JMC: There is a lot of care that everybody put into it but particularly Matt, the people at the label are fabulous to work with. We were all thrilled with it and I think that there’s someone like you and other people who have heard the record; the response has just been amazing so it’s really been worth it I think.

I’m curious about the second album, which was made very quickly it seems after the first album?

JMC: It’s interesting about that. Time is very elastic [laughs]. You’re reminding me of what happened when we were telling the story of Intersystems (the Alga Marghen release). Hayden and I worked very closely with Emanuele Carcano who is the guy who runs the show there and at one point Emanuele said to me – while we’re halfway through the process – “How on earth did you manage to get so much done in the time that you guys were together?” and it is a mystery to me. And we’ve gone over and over the dates and we thought maybe there is another year in there that we haven’t taken into account in the story and it’s incredible and that’s the elasticity of time.

And so the story with the second Syrinx record… So the first Syrinx record comes out and it’s basically solo synthesizer with some conga drums and a little bit of sax that added a nice dimension if you will, particularly the drumming at that point. We went out, we were rehearsing, we were playing gigs, we played across Canada at that point, the single had come out so it did very well – actually in Western Canada it was number one in the various hit charts in Calgary and Edmonton – we did a tour through the East coast and we started recording the second album; all of this was happening at once. The thing that is amazing I think in the story was so I get a phone call one morning and this would be late 1971 and the person says “John, the recording studio where you’ve been working in had a fire.” We were working in this little recording studio in downtown Toronto called Magic Tracks and everything was destroyed, all our equipment was destroyed in the fire; the master tapes were destroyed [laughs] and it was like “Oh man what are we going to do?” It was just like a disaster. But I don’t know it got us down. The musicians in Toronto got together and put together a benefit for the band and all the bands and all the solo acts got together that were part of the scene and we did a concert down along the waterfront. And this concert went on for like twelve hours or something; everybody played at it and we raised some money, we got enough money that when I got back to my manager (Felix’s partner in New York) and we had $5,000 dollars from the benefit. He said “Don’t worry about it John, we’ll get you new equipment, come down to New York and I’ll set you up.”

I went down to the big record store at the time there, it’s called Manny’s Music and we bought the hot new synthesizer that just came out, the Arp 2500 (what seemed fabulously expensive then to us) and a couple of other keyboards, saxophones, drums and all the things that make up the instrumentation for our band. I had at that time been commissioned by this guy Milton Barnes who is a composer and conductor in Toronto, he said “I want you to write a piece for Syrinx and my orchestra (the Toronto Repertory Ensemble)” which is essentially a string orchestra with percussion that you hear on ‘Stringspace’ on the ‘Long Lost Relatives’ album. And so I was working on that when I went to New York to get new equipment for the band. My father went with me, I think it was the only trip we ever made in our time together; he wanted to come down to see New York and show me around and stuff like that because he did work there sometimes. So he was with me when we got our equipment and he said “So why don’t we just go down to North Carolina and take in some of the weather there?” (because this was March, it was still winter in Toronto) and I said “Well OK, as long as I can work on my score for Milton for Stringspace”, I had all the stuff with me, I had all my manuscripts  and everything I needed and we did. We went down there and we set up [laughs] in a holiday inn on the beach and that’s where I wrote most of the score. We were there for a week and I was just like scribbling like mad. I mean it was only twenty-eight pages of score – it’snot humungus right – and a lot of the music for Stringspace is improvised. Have you seen the video that goes with it with the CBC tape? It’s just a live performance of Stringspace and it’s quite wonderful and that’s what it is, you can tell. The reason I bring it up is that you can tell a lot of the music is improvised. It’s similar to say a Duke Ellington arrangement where parts of it are written and then the soloists will play their bit. You can actually see Milton conducting it and waiting for us to finish [laughs] and he brings the string players back in and we play the next bit, so you understand what I’m trying to say. It was pretty loose.

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And just to jump to the present, we’re going down to play this Moogfest in May. I’m totally delighted, Syrinx has not performed since 1972 and so obviously this is kind of a recreation and I’ve got all different instruments now and I’ve done a lot of different things before coming back to this; different kinds of music and what have you. Again, Matt has set this up for us to play the Moogfest and the other two members of the band; Doug is still living in Toronto – he’s quite successful as a producer of events involving video and music – and Alan passed away seven or eight years ago; I would have loved to have him play with us again. Doug has said that he doesn’t feel physically he can do it as he’s got health issues and so forth. So, basically I want to do this Syrinx material because people have responded so well  to it.

Matt and I have actually been talking about it for almost two years now and Matt was saying “I would like to get an ensemble of musicians together to do ‘Stringspace’. What do you think you can do?” And I said “We’ll do something for the orchestra but it’s going to cost a lot of money, right?” so I can do it for a string quintet plus the percussion so that as we speak is what I’m doing now; I’m reorchestrating , reinstrumentating for string quintet and symphonic percussion. I have a drummer from Montreal who is going to work with us (who is a specialist in hand drums) and somebody to do Doug’s sax work, he’s from Waterloo Ontario and we’re going to meet in Hamilton (which is part of the greater Toronto area) and a recording studio there that I’ve been working in called Grand Avenue Studio so we’re going to rehearse in there and go down to Moogfest with these people.  Doug Pringle’s sound is highly individual – it’s just amazing what he did with the band – so I’ve got all different instruments now and we’ve got different members in Syrinx and we’re going to do Syrinx material and particularly I think with the sax – with me too I’m going to have different instruments – it’s going to be Syrinx brought into the 21st Century.

I’m just so keen to know what it is that we actually come up with because the sax player that we have now, Willem (a Dutch name) and Matt from Montreal (on the drums); we’re not trying to recreate what we did with the Syrinx recordings. I think that would be a mistake and I as a composer and musician now, I’m a different person, you know I’ve gone on forty-five years of musical evolution so I can’t just go back and do what we were doing then and the drummer feels the same way, he’s got a vast vocabulary in terms of the instruments and the styles that he plays. And Willem is a classical player who plays classical style saxophone and he contacted me at one point – even before I knew I was doing this – and said “I’d love to play with you sometime” and so when I knew we were doing Moogfest I just called him up and I said “I’d like to work with you too Willem, I mean we’re not doing classical saxophone, right?” And he said “Well I can do anything, I’ve always been improvising”. So I said if I was to take my primary influence as Albert Ayler; to me his music still sounds like totally contemporary today and the incredible amount of emotion and feeling in Ayler’s music is just a model for me. And so I can’t say to him ‘I want you to copy what Albert Ayler was doing’, it’s like impossible as it’s so highly personal just like how Doug’s playing was highly personal. So it’s going to be a lot of fun and we’re getting a lot of support from both the people at Moogfest and the record label and off we go [laughs]. But I think that the fact we’re doing the same compositions is important. I’m not going to re-arrange everything and we’ll have the string quintet with us as well. I think it’s inevitable because it’s with different individuals now. I can’t improve on some of the things that we did before. There is an essence to that; that all we can do is to respect that and not try to do anything that’s so different that it is not in the spirit of Syrinx.

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On the second Syrinx album, I absolutely love the string arrangements and how they come in and how each musician has their own musical language embedded within it, it all comes together so effortlessly.

JMC: It’s interesting, I mean at that time I’d only done a certain amount of arranging for that kind of instrumentation, it was pretty new to me too. If I were doing it now I know that I would do it differently but I agree with you I think it works really well. If you’re interested, if you compare the two versions of Stringspace that are on the album package, the one that is taken from the TV taping (on the third disc) is I think quite a better performance merely because it is the same musicians but they already played it. So they had done a couple of rehearsals, recorded with us in the studio to do the version that went out on the album and then we went into the CBC studio and did it again. By that time everybody knew the music and had a more complete understanding and feeling for it and there’s amazing things in the performance of that.

You can hear strings sometimes better and sometimes not better, sometimes the keyboard and synthesizer parts get kind of lost – the engineer didn’t know what was coming at him [laughs] – the audio guy (who was recording us) had a score with him but he couldn’t tell which instruments he was hearing sometimes because Doug was all wired up with devices playing and his sax with phasing and wah-wah and I was using slightly different instruments than I was using before. So particularly some of the synth parts got lost and I have to say recording engineers love drums and so Alan did very well – I’m glad – because I had a tendency to  under mix the drums and Alan was just like on fire for the CBC performance and so it worked really well.

So the music of Syrinx was not entirely based on improvization?

JMC: It’s interesting, I mean when we started  and after we did Meat and Potatoes and we got accustomed to each other like how he comes from free jazz and I come from rock and the Conservatory. It’s a pretty rare combination in those days, you couldn’t get rock ‘n’ roll musicians who were conservatory trained very much. And so it gave me a particular kind of feeling for what we were doing. So by the time we were together as Syrinx all of the compositions for the first album were composed. ‘Melina’s Torch’ was actually composed for that theatre piece I mentioned that I did at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. ‘Journey Tree’ was composed as I was travelling across the country to BC in my Econoline van and so forth. ‘Field Hymn’ was composed while I was in Ottawa as well, in fact ‘Field Hymn’ – that simple little tune – really cemented the relationship between Felix Pappalardi and myself because I was in his apartment over in New York City (he lived just over Central Park) and he said “So show me something”, he had a piano in his apartment there and I played ‘Field Hymn’ for him. It’s just simple major chords and he said “That is amazing. Let’s make a record” and so that’s really where it started, I mean Felix was with me all the way on that. And he helped set up and make the arrangements for the second album because of that, he’s like the guy behind the scenes as it were that really gave me confidence that we were doing something.

And so to go back to the compositions, you’ll notice on the set that there are two versions of ‘Melina’s Torch’: there’s one for the first album and then there is another version that is a solo synthesizer version that I recorded just after the break-up of Syrinx. I moved to London at that point to do some TV and film work there and while I was there my manager – my road manager and equipment guy, Jim Bungard who is now living in the States – one day he just said “Why don’t you play ‘Melina’s Torch’?” and he recorded it and it was just like that. But there is a real clarity, you can tell if you listen to those two songs, they’re both the same composition but the jam in the middle of it is different but it’s clearly the same melody.

When we got working as Syrinx by the time that Doug came into the studio with me in Toronto to get the first album completed, I said to him “OK Doug, you can hear that these are specific melodies that you’re working with here and I want you to learn them” and he said “That’s not what I do!” and I said “Well for this you have to do that” and he did and I have to say what he did I think is phenomenal. I can’t say that he is not a school trained musician, he did his journeyman work learning the basics of music and so forth and he learned a lot in the street just as I did. But he settled down, he said this is the tune for ‘Melina’s Torch’ and this is what I have to play for it and we did all the way through to the second record. When he plays on ‘Aurora Spinray’ (which is the last song on the ‘Long Lost Relatives’ album), his sounds are just phenomenal and his playing has become so precise and at the same time his improvisation, for example in ‘Stringspace’ his solo in ‘Ibistix’ I listen to it today in wonder. And so now I am supposed to be playing this again for Moogfest and I say to Willem, “You better come up with something that has that kind of fire and energy to it” so it’s very interesting what we are doing now.

The second piece on the second album ‘December Angel’ could be my favourite, it’s just amazing how the song develops and it really feels as if it could go on forever.

JMC: Sometimes it did go on forever [laughs]. There is another version of ‘December Angel’ on the 3-record set as well that is just basically electric piano and a little bit of sax and a little bit of drums and it’s really slow and it seems it is going on forever [laughs]. We wanted to put it on the album to show that it really is – just to address your question – a specific composition, you can clearly tell it’s the same piece; it’s in 9/8 time, it has that ostinato in the lower keyboard and that very simple tonal melody on top that holds it all together.But it doesn’t have those eerie kind of loon sound – which is a Canadian bird with a distinctive noise – so Doug and I are trying to imitate the sound of a loon with our instruments [laughs] and I don’t think that is on the demo version that is on the 3 record set. The one song that is closest to being almost made up on the spot is ‘Tillicum’, the theme for ‘Here Come the Seventies’ and I actually wrote something, I had a chord sequence and I gave it to Doug and he just really had fun with it, I mean we barely had a chance to play it like two or three times. We did one rehearsal in the recording studio and then we went back to the recording studio because they said we wanted it faster and then we had to start playing it at concerts, like ‘Oh my God well what did we do?’ [laughs] But I think ‘Ibistix’ is a good example where you couldn’t play that song were it not composed and particularly the string arrangements, I mean they’re very specific, also for ‘December Angel’ and they’re clearly not improvised. With ‘Ibistix’ you go this really simple modal melody and raga-like and we were all really fascinated with south Asian music at that time as well as African music and Alan and Doug were studying Haitian drumming and so forth. So ‘Ibistix’ is clearly in this south Asian raga-like tonality and that is what I was working with. I mean you get into this interesting place for example with understanding music , when is it composed and when is it traditional and when is it improvised? And if you just get musicians who are just jamming – what do they end up doing? – they end up playing 12-bar blues or if they’re jazz musicians, there’s a canon of not that many songs, the same with blues. So you must have specific compositions that you’re working with in order to give it some kind of identity.

“Tumblers From The Vault (1970-1972)” is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://igetrvng.com/syrinx-tumblers-vault/

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April 26, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Time Has Told Me: The Necks

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“I often visualise music in terms of light. When I play with the Necks, I always play with my eyes closed. I like to face the stage lights with my eyes closed. I can sense this light through my eyelids, I can also I feel its energy. It seems a perfect analogue to the music, especially when things seem to be really building somewhere.”

—Chris Abrahams, The Necks

Words: Mark Carry

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Described by Financial Times (UK) as “absolutely riveting” and “entirely new and entirely now” by The Guardian, it’s one of life’s great fortunes to have been blessed by such an extraordinary, innovative and richly compelling band, namely Australia’s The Necks. Releasing their debut record, ‘Sex’ back in 1989, the trio of Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums) and Lloyd Swanton (bass) have unleashed a plethora of shape-shifting records – the other-worldly mid-90’s double-album ‘Silent Night’, the band’s string of colossal live records (including 2007’s ‘Townsville’), and the band’s latest crowning jewel of ‘Open’ containing 68 minutes of raw, intense beauty, is to just name a few – whereupon a revelatory experience lies at the pulsing heart of each artistic treasure.

The gradual music of The Necks is borne from improvisation, where a deep musical telepathy is forever forged between each member of the spell-binding trio as a sacred space is ceaselessly explored. Featuring lengthy pieces which slowly unravel in the most mesmerizing fashion, frequently underpinned by an insistent deep groove, the sixteen albums by The Necks stand up to re-listening time and time again. In short, the music of the Australian trio is utterly timeless.

I recall first hearing The Necks in my local record-store one morning in early Spring where a mesmerizing sound of piano notes, drums and hypnotic bass-line flooded the surrounding space. In a short period of time – moments after the stylus hit this unknown (and deeply mysterious) vinyl – returning motifs of piano patterns forged an imprint on the forefront of my mind. Like ocean waves, the crescendo of piano notes formed ripples in the sea.

With each and every subsequent release of The Necks, this magical sense of discovery and awe has always remained.  An intense beauty, tenderness, solace, hope, pain, and longing is carved out on a canvas of enlightening soundscapes. Not entirely avant-garde, nor minimalist, nor ambient, nor jazz, the music of The Necks defies boundaries and constantly pushes the sonic envelope.

http://www.thenecks.com/

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Interview with Chris Abrahams.

[The following are excerpts taken from an interview with Chris Abrahams, the resulting interview here is unedited from the initial interview and is reproduced here all in the words of Chris Abrahams.]

I can really only speak for myself when it comes to the Necks as I think we each have differing opinions as to what the whole thing means. For me, the idea that best describes the Necks’ music and approach to being a band is pretty simple: one thing leads to another.

I met Tony when I was sixteen, at a jam session in the suburb where we both grew up. I met Lloyd about a year later. We all three of us played together a lot, in different combinations, before we formed the Necks. What it was we wanted to do with the group, apart from playing music, was never really overtly considered. For the first ten years of its existence the band played maybe three or four shows a year. Nevertheless, it was incredibly important to us.

The reasons I played music are embedded quite far back in my childhood. My father was very passionate about Jazz – Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman especially. He’d spent time, in the late forties, in the USA and I think the music brought back to him powerful memories of his time there. One pianist whose records he played a lot was Jimmy Yancey. There’s a bar in Berlin called Miss Hecker and they often put Jimmy Yancey on the sound system. The music is very evocative of childhood memories. I remember being about seven and trying to play a simplified version of Five O’clock Blues on the piano.

My teenage years were fairly unexceptional in terms of what I listened to – the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Hendrix. I tried to play bass guitar in a rock band I formed with some school friends. I had an upright piano in my bedroom,which I played regularly and on which I tried to write songs. The reason why I became a musician as a career choice came about through listening to modern jazz records, which began when I was sixteen or so.

Up until my early twenties, Afro-American modern jazz, mainly from the sixties, was chiefly what I listened to and tried to emulate – particularly the piano players Mal Waldron and McCoy Tyner.

As a young person, apart from African-American modern jazz, I listened to rock music. I think John Cale was quite an influence on my piano playing, particularly in the Velvet Underground. I was a big fan of the Modern Lovers and Nico albums he produced as well. I also listened to a lot of African music –Fela Kuti, Tabu Ley, King Sunny Ade, Salif Keita. Reggae was also big thing – Lee Perry, Gregory Isaacs, Bob Marley, Yellowman, King Tubby. In fact, Tony and I spent an extraordinary week in Jamaica in 1987 where we met Gregory Isaacs and got to see Yellowman and Pinchers performing live at a drive in cinema in downtown Kingston. I also listened to a lot of soul music and played Hammond organ in a soul group led by the great Jackie Orszaczky. I listened to classical music; the Beethoven Sonata cycle played by Alfred Brendel was much listened to as was Pascal Devoyon playing Ravel; John Ogden and Brenda Lucas playing “Visions of the Amen” by Messiaen was also on high rotation.

In my early twenties I became involved with an Indie record label, Hot Records, in Sydney. Through this association I got to meet and play with many young musicians that were in bands. I ended up playing on Laughing Clowns’, Triffids’ and Peter Walsh albums. I lived in Newtown, an inner city suburb which at the time was a bit of a music area and I consequently socialized and played on quite a few other records – records by Crow, Big Heavy Stuff and Love Me amongst others. I also wrote songs with a singer called Melanie Oxley.

I was also involved in the improvised music scene in Sydney. Although not huge in number, there are some incredible improvisers in Australia. In the eighties I played with such people as Jim Denley, Rick Rue, Sherre Deleys, Jamie Fielding and Amanda Stewart. I had the honour of guesting with such groups as Mind Body Split and Machine for Making Sense. There was also the towering figure of Jon Rose, who was very active in the early eighties in Sydney before relocating, for a number of years, to Europe.

Another musician who had a big influence on me was a saxophonist called Mark Simmonds with whom I played in the group, The Freeboppers.

The form of jazz soloing whereby a melody is played and then various soloists display dexterity by improvising over a set of harmonic changes was something I lost interest more or less by my early twenties, possibly because I wasn’t very good at it. I began to think of music not as a display of individual brilliance. I began to see music’s ability to express things more profound than cleverness or hard work.I began, in fact, to see it as something beyond individual expression. Through the Necks I realised that I could be both performer of and listener to the music that we made – and that was an exciting discovery. Maybe we all made that discovery together when we first started playing in the group.

 

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Our approach to making music is not very intellectual. I think its true to say we just play. We’ve been doing it now for thirty years and what we are as a group is a result of us having played together for so long. We’ve developed an identity, a way of doing things, and when we play, a certain music happens.

When we perform live, we never look at each other. Nor do we discuss beforehand what we’re going to play. Some people find this strange, but to me it feels perfectly natural. Our music can’t rely on rehearsal or signals from a bandleader – it has to rely solely on the playing of music, without a preordained teleology. That’s not to say are music lacks direction – far from it. I think there’s a compelling teleology, it’s just that this seems to be there innately. Scores, words or signals would be distracting from our goal.

I think our music requires stamina and relaxation to make. I love the feel of playing the piano, the sense of my fingers pressing down on the keys. I find this to be expressive in itself. In the early days sometimes I’d find myself barely hanging on and struggling with fatigue. Nowadays that doesn’t happen so much. I like sitting very still when I play, I like the sense of focus and relaxation. I like to think that the things I do in the Necks I could do for hours and hours.

I don’t like to think about where I’m going during a performance. I don’t want people to listen to me making decisions. I often find myself carried along in the excitement of the music – its crescendo, it’s ebb and flow – as if I were part of the audience. Sometimes I don’t know what it is I’m playing; there might be a strange melody I hear and I think it’s me playing it. I stop and it keeps going. Sometimes, through the combination of a strange instrument and weird acoustics, I have heard the piano speak words. The same sonic hallucinations that audience members have told us they’ve heard during a performance, we too have heard.

The Necks are site specific. We play and when we gradually start to interact with the acoustic environment, we begin to intuitively shape the music. Every space is different, every instrument is different, and every PA is different. Our music uses these things as structure defining elements.

I often visualise music in terms of light. When I play with the Necks, I always play with my eyes closed. I like to face the stage lights with my eyes closed. I can sense this light through my eyelids, I can also I feel its energy. It seems a perfect analogue to the music, especially when things seem to be really building somewhere.

 

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I think there’s a narrative dimension to what we do. Seemingly, we are repeating small actions over and over – actions that can be melodic, rhythmical and textural –and this has the effect of being mesmerizing. But these units are all slightly different, largely because they are physically played, and thus, over time, the music changes. A Necks’ piece is normally about fifty minutes long and, by allowing one thing to lead to another, where we end up can be vastly different from where we started. Some sort of abstract narrative is told. I am gripped by the hypnotic sameness of the “repetition” and am being pulled along a slowly but profoundly shifting musical terrain.

I try to express emotion through my playing. I try to express the excitement of the music that I’m playing. There’s a circularity to it.

A very big change happened to my approach to the piano when I bought my first sampler – the Kurzweil K2000. Up until that time, I wouldn’t have known what the term “envelope” meant or what an “LFO” was.

Let me backtrack… I never really had a very good piano when I was young. Neither of my parents was a practising musician. However like many parents, they wanted to give myself and my sister the opportunity of having piano tuition, probably expecting it to be a passing phase after which the behemoth would sit largely unplayed in a corner of the house – a sentimental memento of our childhoods. The instrument I got to learn on was a sixty-year-old Richard Lipp and Son upright – an old warhorse that couldn’t be tuned within a semitone of A440. (In its day it would have been a beautiful instrument) It had an inbuilt chorus effect, which no piano tuner was able to tame. (I discovered that by threading a necktie through the strings, the piano sounded more in tune.)I was in no way a child prodigy and by the age of eleven I had in fact given up on formal lessons. But the piano ended up in my bedroom, so I played it. I think possibly the out of tune-ness of the instrument may have pointed me in the direction of a more textural approach to piano playing, without me actually knowing it.

 

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Let me backtrack even further… I can remember the first time I ever played a piano. I would have been about five years old and we, my family, were visiting another family. They had this strange-looking wardrobe thing in one of the rooms. My sister and I lifted the lid on the keys and began to play with them, with me down one end and her at the other. I remember being amazed that the action of pressing a key down could produce such a loud sound. I recall us both being enthralled by the high notes and low notes. With its simple exploration of lightness and darkness, I’ve often thought there was something about that initial meeting with the piano that’s stayed with me.

When I got into sampling and synthesisers, I found that I had a whole lot of new words and concepts that could be applied to the various sound elements I explored on the piano; I could, for instance, understand the sustain pedal as a form of reverb; I saw the una corda pedal as a form of EQ; I saw that these pedals could be used in such a way so as to produce a Low Frequency Modulation effect; by rapid striking of a single string, I could overload its vibration and cause a distortion effect; and I became aware that as the string struggles towards stasis, the pitch produced gets higher with the concomitant frequency increase. All these ideas were directly a result of my self-guided explorations into the physics of sound production that the sampler opened up for me.

I made two solo piano records in the mid eighties and then didn’t make another one till “Glow” in 2003. My approach to Glow was one of developing pieces over a period of time, booking a studio and then doing take after take of each piece until I got something I liked. My next solo album “Streaming” had different approach. I chose to work with performance techniques that eschewed the idea of “mistakes” or difference in the quality of performances. Here the pieces were longer. I’m quite proud of the track “Christmas Island” on Streaming. It’s a piece that involved placing my hands above the keyboard so that they readily played a tonal “mode” and moving my fingers so as to brush against the keys. Although I had control over the note range, how many of the notes would “sound” was to a large extent unknown. The piece is therefore personally expressive but very much uncontrolled, left to chance – an authorial stance I most prefer.

Since “Streaming” in 2005, I haven’t released a solo piano record. However I’ve finished four solo albums on the Room 40 label – “Thrown”, “Play Scar”, Memory Night”, and soon to be released “Fluid to The Influence”. These have elements of piano solo on them, but are much more electro acoustic in content.

The Necks are two different entities. On the one hand there is the live Necks, which is nearly always acoustic piano, acoustic bass and drums/percussion. On the other hand there’s the “studio” version of the group, which uses anything – guitars, synths, organs, samplers, field recordings, electric bass – even other musicians.

With the live Necks, we don’t really ever discuss what we are about to play. Intuitively our pieces last for around fifty minutes – this was a time frame we hit upon within months of forming the group. I have the feeling it’s a natural human length of time. I feel extremely safe on stage with the Necks, I am never nervous or stressed. Although there is a strong identity to the music we play, I don’t feel I have to consciously force myself to play that way. It’s as if it’s impossible to play any other way; impossible to do something that’s not “the Necks” – even not playing sounds like the Necks. Somehow we all know when the piece is over. I don’t know whether this is telepathy or music, I suspect it’s the latter. I think we’ve been doing this one thing for so long that we can communicate with each other through music. The fact that it’s incredibly enjoyable helps too.

 

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We all met when we were still teenagers. I met Lloyd during my brief attempt at attending the NSW Conservatorium of Music. We shared a similar sense of humour and quickly formed a group – a jazz quartet called The Benders comprising piano, bass, drums and saxophone. The group stayed together for five years and we released three albums. I think playing in this quartet was responsible for me developing technique on the piano. The drummer, Andrew Gander, taught me a lot about time and tempo. It ended in 1986.

Tony and I met while I was still at high school. It was at a jam session in the suburb we grew up in. I played in various groups in the early eighties with him. He had his own group, Sketches, that I played in and he sometimes played with the Benders.

There was also a musical collective called “The Keys Music Association” which organised concerts and festivals. All three of us were a part of this and played in various groupings. I guess, like in most scenes, in Sydney everybody played with everybody else.

In 1986, some months after the Benders finished, Lloyd rang me with the idea of forming a trio. We both thought of Tony. We began “rehearsing” in a room in the compounds of Sydney University and straightaway hit upon something that felt new to us. We actually had no intention of rushing into playing gigs – in fact we enjoyed the idea of performing stress free in front of no audience, well away from the “industry” of music making. We wanted to free ourselves from the desire to play music that we thought people would be impressed by.

Previously I had toyed with the idea of playing music where there was no “soloing” as such; where the ambience remained static and non dynamic. The early Necks’ sessions took these ideas to a far more meditative stage. I felt a relaxation hitherto unexperienced; a contentment in letting things unfold of their own volition. Possibly this is merely the crossing over that every musician/artist has to make in order to become a mature artist – the relinquishing of the self, the using of a skill to create a third-party “thing” that’s not just the representation of individual desires. I think we all discovered this together then, whilst playing music in that room, but I can really only speak for myself.

Silent Night ranks up there with my personal favourite Necks’ recordings. I like the doom quality it exudes and it’s unrelenting feel – Lloyd’s bass playing and Tony’s drumming swing! Conceptually it was a breakthrough for us. We used samples of movie soundtracks – bits of sound design and snippets of half-heard dialog – to create an abstract narrative. It feels like there’s a film there, but what’s being projected is black. It was the album that got us the invitation to write the music for “The Boys” – an Australian film about abject male violence. For a while there our music would crop up regularly behind television reports about horrific crimes.

 

—Chris Abrahams, in conversation November 2015

 


 

http://www.thenecks.com/

 

 

 

 

Written by markcarry

November 21, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Time Has Told Me: One Of You

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Interview with One Of You.

I just realized looking at the Saint Georges ribbon lying on the table that it has exactly the same colours as the picture on the cover of the record. It must mean something, perhaps there is hope which I cannot see yet.”

—One Of You

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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One of the most intriguing re-issues of recent times arrived early last year via the Portland, Oregon-based label Little Axe Records (a label founded when Mississippi Records split into two labels in 2011), with it’s issuing of a self-titled LP by One Of You. The author’s name and identity remains anonymous but we do know this startling collection was made by a Czech immigrant to Canada who set up her own Scarab label in the early ‘80’s, releasing music under the pseudonyms One of You and The Triffids. Having fled her homeland in the late sixties to emigrate to Canada for hopes of a better future and life there, One Of You’s music would be imbued with a prevailing sense of loss, regret and much hardships.

The music itself, written in both Czech and English, and arranged in typically minimal fashion (synthesizer, guitar, organ) touches upon outsider folk, folk-psych, Eastern European folk and minimalist music traditions. One Of You’s deeply affecting, timeless music yields moments of powerful intensity while a whole spectrum of emotions, images and textures are unleashed beautifully upon the listener all at once.

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‘One Of You’ is available now on Little Axe.

http://littleaxerecords.bandcamp.com/album/one-of-you-s-t
http://www.littleaxerecords.com/

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Interview with One Of You.

It is a real pleasure to ask you some questions about your unique and deeply touching music. Can you please take me back first of all to the beginning of One Of You. I would love to gain an insight into the influences and inspiration that found its way into your own music please?

One Of You: Growing up in Eastern Europe under socialist regime I had a false impression (typical to most young people there) that the West must be good, full of good people, everything is nice and honest. Realization of the truth that people are same everywhere, good and bad, mostly bad, there is no perfect place on this planet was what created the feeling of despair reflected in my songs.

There is something very magical about your voice and the added organ instrumentation. Songs such as ‘Faded Flowers’ and ‘When The Sun Comes Up’ cast an everlasting spell. Was this the first instrument you began to play? I wonder were these intimate recordings made at home? I love the purity and sheer emotional depth that permeates throughout.

OOY: I wrote those songs with the help of guitar on which I knew 3 chords. I never mastered any instrument really. Then I arranged these for organ, which I never learned to play, but I somehow had to.

These more organ-based songs were released originally as separate singles on your own Scarab label in the early 80’s. What are your memories of recording these particular songs? I would love to learn more about the Scarab label and indeed what releases did you release during this time?

OOY: It was all recorded in the dining room of our house on 4track reel to reel recorder. The Scarab records was created just to release these records at the time. Scarab released the total of 3 singles, which are all part of this record.

I absolutely adore the instrumental opus, ‘Brainbroom’. This sonic creation feels so current and certainly belongs to the here and now. Please discuss the instrumental music aspect of your output please? How does the creative process change (if so) from the vocal-based songs? In terms of the musical equipment and technology at your disposal, what was your set-up like?

OOY: ‘Brainbroom’ was recorded in the same environment, only with additional bass, guitar and percussion with the help of my husband. Technology was pretty much the same. The creative process can be described as fooling around, accidentally coming up with a motive and then building on it gradually.

The recently released One Of You compilation was my first introduction to your utterly beguiling works of art. It must be a lovely feeling to have a label such as Little Axe to introduce your music to a new generation of music fans worldwide. Please talk me through the album cover artwork? It’s really beautiful and shares a similar aesthetic to your spellbinding music.

OOY: The connection with Little Axe was the work of my daughter. For some reason she adored those songs since the childhood and kept showing them without my knowledge in her circle of friends until she succeeded to make someone interested.

As for the artwork. At one time I had painted my room black and orange and I painted the face on the board with the same colours. The picture somehow survived several moves, until we were making the recordings and we decided to use it not only for the cover of the first single but also as a logo for Scarab records. It is the same as on the cover of the new Little Axe record. The second single’s cover was a picture expressing my desire to protect the planet and all its inhabitants. That is the picture on the brochure.

Several of the tracks on the compilation comprise of instrumental Triffids tracks. I love the wide-ranging sonic terrain you masterfully venture down. Here, there are gorgeous additions of synthesizer and warm percussion. Were you joined by any other musicians or was it very much a solo DIY process? Please take me back to your first introduction to the Triffids and indeed why you chose to interpret their music?

OOY: The Triffids was a creation of me and my husband just for fun, since we already had a studio setup in our dining room. All the tracks were added one by one. So the Triffids was us, so was their music. The fun was that the Triffids was only two of us.

Side B consists of guitar-based demos recorded in the late 70’s. Can you take me back to this period of your life – the late 70’s and where these songs came from? Like your organ-based songs, the combination of your ethereal vocals and rich tapestry of guitar notes forms a heavenly sound.

OOY: These were only meant to be only as a record for me. There were created at the beginning of the 70’s from the deep despair with the state of the World and in the mid 70’s we put them on tape so they do not get lost, not to be released.

The gorgeous ‘Life Is A Puddle’ transports me to Vashti Bunyan’s ‘Waiting For Another Diamond Day’ such is its delicate beauty. I love the added use of flute here. It feels like the beginning of an enriching journey. I would love for you to talk me through this song and the central themes? Also, is there a common theme present across these earlier works of yours?

OOY: In that song I still have a deep conviction that people can be much better that they actually are. It was an expression of a need to wake the people up to reach their potential and be as good as they can be. Now I have less and less hope for this, seems people are getting worse and not better. As for the flute, we wanted to add the flute, so we placed an ad in the Pennysaver and this girl responded and created the track for us. Unfortunately we no longer remember her name.

Do you have particular favourite records or artists that you feel served inspiration in the pursuit of your own art? How much an influence was Eastern European folk music on One Of You? The guitar-based songs seem to be steeped in this otherworldly spectrum of enchanting sounds.

OOY: Not really. I just wanted to express myself. I am not aware of any influence but who knows.

Looking back on the musical output of One Of You, what are your most cherished memories? You must feel deeply proud of the artistic works you have created and released into the world. Do you see this music in a new light as you think about One Of You today?

OOY: Well I said what I wanted to say, what I was feeling deeply at the time. But it is a very nice feeling that people are still interested in it today, so many years later. All I can say that it seems I was more
hopeful for humanity at that time than I am now. I just realized looking at the Saint Georges ribbon lying on the table that it has exactly the same colours as the picture on the cover of the record. It must mean something, perhaps there is hope which I cannot see yet.


 

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‘One Of You’ is available now on Little Axe.

http://littleaxerecords.bandcamp.com/album/one-of-you-s-t
http://www.littleaxerecords.com/

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Written by markcarry

February 3, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Time Has Told Me: K. Leimer

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Interview with Kerry Leimer.

“There was a sense of the many quiet nights spent bewildered by tape recorders and analog synthesizers, stuff just constantly getting away from me and the few moments when ideas and ability met on level ground.”

—Kerry Leimer

Words: Mark Carry

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RVNG Intl. is a Brooklyn-based music institution that operates on few but heavily fortified principles, dealing with forward-reaching artists that ceaselessly push the sonic envelope. From visionary luminaries such as Julia Holter, Holly Herndon, Blondes, Maxmillion Dunbar et al, RVNG Intl. has consistently delivered some of the most adventurous, enthralling and breathtaking records this past decade. One of the label’s cornerstones has become the awe-inspiring archival series which has featured (and celebrated) musical pioneers Craig Leon, Ariel Kalma and K. Leimer. The third installment of the archival series — released last year — was Seattle-based sound sculptor, K. Leimer and a vast treasure of ambient voyages entitled ‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’. I simply cannot think of a more special musical document to have graced my life this past year than Kerry Leimer’s resolutely unique and deeply human canon of pioneering ambient music.

A glimpse into Leimer’s creative process is touched upon on the compilation’s liner notes: “The loop provided an instant structure – a sort of fatalism – the participation of the tape machine in shaping and extending the music was a key to setting self-deterministic systems in motion and held clear relationship to my interests in fine art.”

‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’ offers the perfect entry point (across an exhaustive double-album and thirty spellbinding tracks) into the beautifully enthralling and ever-revolving world inhabited by the special soul of Mr. Kerry Leimer.

Recently released on Leimer’s own imprint Palace of Lights, ‘The Grey Catalog’ encompasses an entire spectrum of enthralling sounds and textures; incorporating percussion, electric guitar, bass as well as found sound, digital and analog synthesis and sampled instruments. Album opener ‘Allegory’ gently fades into focus with gorgeous string passages reminiscent of the likes of Kranky’s Christina Vantzou and Leaf Label’s Murcof. Drifting tones of chimes and soft electronic pulses envelop the electronic balladry of ‘Ritual Thinning’. Elements of analog synths and bass are wonderfully incorporated into ‘Clasp’ before the drone soundscapes of ‘Gesture’ evokes ethereal and surreal dreamscapes of blissed-out sounds.

One of the album’s defining moments arrives with the hypnotic ‘Sung’ built on a returning violin motif that is masterfully melded with piano and bass, in turn, creating an utterly transcendent electro-acoustic exploration. Field recordings and thudding percussion expands the dynamic range on ‘Poesie’, further highlighting the wonderful diversity on display throughout ‘The Grey Catalog’. Neo-classical elements are masterfully embedded in the cinematic cut ‘Europe’, whilst the proceeding ‘Casual Suffering’ – the album’s longest piece – further expands the sonic envelope with dense strings reminiscent of the Touch catalog. The stunning closer ‘At Remove’ feels a distant companion to the opening ‘Allegory’ with its scintillating strings that ebb and flow into the forefront of your heart’s mind.

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‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’  is available now on RVNG Intl.

http://www.palaceoflights.com/
http://igetrvng.com/

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Interview with Kerry Leimer.

Please discuss for me your childhood and your early exposure to music while growing up in Chicago. Was there a strong musical background in your family? What records would your parents have been listening to at home?

Kerry Leimer: There was no musical background to speak of. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from post WWII Austria, via Canada. They gradually adopted American MOR of the time, stuff I refer to as misogynist cocktail pop — repulsive on many levels. As befits a lad of Austrian extraction I was given a few accordion lessons, mostly focused on learning the accompanying dance steps. It strikes me now that I was most probably tone deaf: music made no sense to me whatsoever. Tonality was something I had to learn to recognize, and given the environment, there was no real compulsion to do so. Early rock was completely lost on me — experiencing even a two minute song from that period remains nightmarish. So I came to an interest quite late, and it took some very specific exposure. A von Karajan recording of Mozart’s Requiem; ‘Epitaph’ and ‘Dust be Diamonds’ managed to cement an interest that had begun to make itself known a few years earlier, through some ill-defined attraction to parts of ‘Revolver’ and most of ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’. This interest expanded rapidly but to mostly obscure music. I had a suspicion of and dislike for widely popular forms.

Your family permanently settled in Seattle in 1967. Can you please describe Seattle in the late 60’s/early 70’s? What music of the time resonated powerfully for you that would inspire you to create your own unique blend of music?

KL: Seattle’s effect on me was principally depressive. The town was referred to at the time as The Space Needle and the Box it Came In, the box being the only office tower downtown, headquarters for what was then SeaFirst Bank, no doubt the money laundering arm of Boeing. It was a blue collar town, nice landscape, with an unremarkable manscape bereft even of sea shanties. The only things of immediate interest were learning about the Wobblies and to somehow live in nearly perpetual dark. Most of the people I met and went to school with were actively hostile to the arts, pro-war and, between bullying sessions, deeply involved in various sportsball activities. But my overriding interest was the visual arts, so early days were preoccupied with a study of 20th Century art that isolated me from what I took to be an ignorant and angry social order. In many ways, the ideas I pursue were shaped by the visual arts.

Please take me back to your first experiments with sound. What equipment did you have at your disposal? I believe you collected instruments from the local pawn shop- I am sure you must have some beautiful stories – and magical discoveries – born from these trips. I wonder do you feel the creative process involved, very early on has changed or altered in any way over the subsequent album releases?

KL: That would be tape collage with a little AIWA reel-to-reel. It had a splicing block and some splicing tape and I’d just cut up voice recordings, sometimes shredded to unusable size. It was all there: speed change, direction change, odd juxtaposition. Great fun and instantly rewarding: much less work than drawing or painting and generally neater than collage. Then found sound: mic’d stuff off television, radio, random sounds in- and out- of doors. The equipment was always of greater interest than instruments, if such distinction need be made. I found parts in pawn shops, built a primitive bass guitar, located an echoplex, then acquired a few MXR boxes, a Mu-Tron Bi-Phase. Thanks to an interest I had in piano my parents acquired an electric organ — I still do not comprehend this — so first up were loopy echoed drones between rote instruction of “Beautiful Dreamer” and the like. Multi-tracking was still some years off for me, so things were restricted to a single pass and a very few bounces. The first “albums” were done with an art school friend. John Holt had a Les Paul and we produced two cassettes of these sorts of mash-up titled I’d Rather Cadaver, probably a reference to the Surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse, and Grey Cows which culminates in a sparkling interpretation of Faust’s ‘The Sad Skinhead’.

In terms of ambient music, who do you feel have been pioneers of the genre? I was very interested to read that you felt Cluster’s II record was a key revelation early on. I would love for you to discuss this particular record and its significance on you as an artist and sound sculptor?

KL: All the early work of those artists — Cluster, Harmonia, Neu! –– even to some extent records such as IrrlichtCyborg and Zeit –– seemed in a very particular sense to be simple and within reach. I wouldn’t call them ambient and, given the manner in which the meaning of the term has changed, I wouldn’t really call much of what I do or am interested in to be ambient. The horrors visited upon our understanding by genre definitions remains an issue for some other discussion, but the general attractor for me was a form of simplicity, free of grand gesture, self-regulating and owning to the often overt presence of tape or some recording medium.

In the liner-notes of the RVNG Intl’s compilation ‘A Period Of Review: 1975-1983’, you describe the “instant structure” and “sort of fatalism” the tape loop provided you with. This sense of wonderment and fascination with sound is dotted across the multitude of beguiling tracks contained on this very special compilation. I would love to gain an insight please into the looping process that is inherent in these sonic creations and indeed the layering of the various sounds.

KL: The open loop’s appeal is twofold. If the work is to be additive, the open loop is a very efficient tool for piling up a lot of sound without a lot of instruments or tracks — things that were in very short supply at that time. The other is that it’s somewhat self-deterministic. It doesn’t have to be, but it tends to behave as an automatic way to set limitations and then keep you within them.

There is very much a DIY aesthetic to your unique and revelatory music. I love how there are a myriad of ideas in each and every pristine ambient cut. It must have been a fulfilling project for you to cull together these – many of which are previously unreleased – tracks that offers a wonderful snapshot and retrospective of your work? Which songs in particular do you feel you’re most proud of or in a way surprised you, when you first listened back to the final recordings?

KL: Writing and recording are actually pretty difficult for me. Listening to the work, no matter how far removed in time, becomes a sort of chore. The memories are usually about the particular struggles and consequent shortfalls. There was a sense of the many quiet nights spent bewildered by tape recorders and analog synthesizers, stuff just constantly getting away from me and the few moments when ideas and ability met on level ground. In this instance, at the distance of A Period of Review, there was a bit of nostalgia for other people involved or in proximity. But recall that APOR was curated by individuals other than myself and that at least as many pieces were left out as were included.  There’s simply no point in favourites for me: now that it’s been circulated listeners make their own interpretations and the music assumes its own, independent, life.

You launched the Palace of Lights record label in 1979 with your wife Dorothy Cross. A plethora of innovative albums, on various formats would see the light of day on this pioneering label, including your own solo works. Please take me back to the label’s origins and the year of ’79 when the label was given its wings, so to speak? Can you recount some of your most cherished memories from the Paradise of Lights’ musical venture? 

KL: I need some time to consider this question. It’s Palace of Lights and still exists. It started in 1978, a few years before Dorothy and I met… it was a lot of work and many people wanted us to make them stars, which wasn’t the idea. So the memories oscillate between the great joy of building a studio / label and the utter disillusionment of being confronted with people seeking fame and fortune…


 

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‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’  is available now on RVNG Intl.

http://www.palaceoflights.com/
http://igetrvng.com/

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Written by markcarry

January 29, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Time Has Told Me: The Clean

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Interview with David Kilgour, The Clean.

“Then there are other times people have come up to me and said “your music stopped me from killing myself”….“your music got me thru a very bad time in my life”.. I had that a few times……now that’s special, job done huh?”

—David Kilgour

Words: Mark Carry

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Formed in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1978, The Clean’s unique blend of home-made garage rock, hook-laden melodies and swirling psychedelic gems has proved a trusted constant in a storied career that continues today. The Clean’s distinctive lo-fi indie-pop sound influenced an array of bands, particularly in the U.S. (Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, Pavement, Sonic Youth to name but a few).

The Kilgour brothers of Hamish and David formed The Clean in ’78. Hamish played drums, and David played guitar. After some rotating line-ups of those early years, Robert Scott (who would later form The Bats) joined on bass. The core trio of Hamish, David and Bob all wrote songs and absorbing the music that surrounded them – Richman’s rock ‘n’ roll, punk and dreams of bigger things – the band’s debut single ‘Tally Ho!’ was released by the renowned New Zealand independent label Flying Nun in ’81 (in fact, a fan of The Clean formed the label to release their first single). Second single ‘Getting Older’ followed a short time later. During the early 80’s, the band released two EP’s and two singles. ‘Tally Ho!’, ‘Boodle Boodle Boodle’ and ‘Great Sounds’ all charted in the New Zealand top 20.

Spanning from The Clean, David Kilgour has amassed a reputable solo catalog; Robert Scott later formed The Bats (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards), and Hamish Kilgour would become an enduring fixture in New York playing with assorted combos (forming The Mad Scene in the early 90’s). As part of the U.S. independent label, Merge’s 25th Anniversary, The Clean’s ‘Anthology’ (originally released in 2003) was released in splendid quadruple vinyl earlier this year.

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David-Kilgour

Interview with David Kilgour, The Clean.

It’s a real honour to ask you some questions about The Clean – a band cherished by many the world over – who have released a plethora of indie pop treasures these past few decades. Firstly, please take me back to Dunedin, New Zealand in 1978 where The Clean were formed. What was the music scene like in New Zealand during this time? Leading up to the formation of The Clean, I can imagine the Kilgour brothers were always making music and swapping ideas with one another? Who came up with the name of The Clean?

David Kilgour: Hamish came up with The Clean title. Pinched it from an old surf movie (‘Free Ride’?) that has a character called Mr Clean, a shaven headed biker. Punk kind’ve “hit” here a year or two after it started really. Leading up to the formation of The Clean, the music scene was all over the place really: Disco, kind’ve post glam/70s soft rock and a touch of prog. Not a lot of independent labels. Yeh, Hamish and I started toying with the idea of music in our bedroom in the mid – late 70s.

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As the trio of Hamish (drums), David (guitar) and Robert (bass), you all wrote songs so there was this creative spirit inherent in the group from the very beginning. Can you reminisce for me please when you made your first recordings for the Flying Nun label in 1981?

DK: We wanted to write our own music from the very beginning with Peter Gutteridge. As we couldn’t play anyone else’s music, it was much easier! After our experience recording  we decided to go back to self-recording (we had been recording ourselves on a Revox 2 track previous to making ‘Tally Ho!’) with the Teac and Chris Knox and Doug Hood. We realised after making ‘Tally Ho!’ that we could’ve made a better recording with our 2 track!

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It’s amazing to think the band’s debut single, ‘Tally Ho!’ was recorded for a total sum of $60. Can you remember recording this song to tape? The organ and jangle-sound guitars makes such an utterly perfect pop sound. Was this song recorded in a single take?

DK: I think it was one take, with a vocal overdub and a keyboard overdub recorded in a studio which was a heavy metallers living room! Really disappointed with the pressing when it came out, not realising it was probably the recording! I think the studio had an 8 track tape machine. I rang the guy who recorded it a few years ago to see if he still had the master to ‘Tally Ho!’ (yeh it was a longshot) and he said “oh no, we would’ve wiped over that the next week we were so poor and needed tape!”. I didn’t bother pointing out to him that we owned the master!

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The early EP’s ‘Boodle Boodle Boodle’ and ‘Great Sounds’ have undoubtedly stood the test of time. Can you please discuss the writing and recording process for these songs? I imagine were the songs recorded onto a 4-track? There is such a special, raw and dynamic sound captured on these recordings.

DK: Both EPs were recorded on a Teac 4 track. Usually straight to tape without too much EQing etc. ‘Point That Thing’ dated back to ‘78, as did ‘Anything Could Happen’. We jammed and wrote together but we also brought in songs and ideas. In the early 80’s we would try and get together 3 times a week to play and write.

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During this time, the band’s singles charted in the New Zealand top 20 charts. Did you tour extensively circa the early 80’s?

DK: Yes we toured NZ a lot in this period but no overseas tours.

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I wonder did you play outside of New Zealand at all during those early years? What other bands were you impressed by during those early days?

DK: Punk, post punk, and the history of music in general. Hamish and I had a big hunger for checking it ALL out. We were vinyl junkies before we picked up instruments. All the obvious likes at the time: Ramones, Pistols, Buzzcocks, Wire, New York Dolls, Richman, etc etc

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One of my all-time favourite Clean songs is ‘Slug Song’ with its dreamy feel and deeply affecting chorus refrain of “Don’t ever change your mind”. Who is responsible for writing this gem?

DK: Bob came up with the music/organ riffs I filled in with lyrics and melody. It’s a song directed to the love of my life, Genevieve.

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Can you reminisce for me please recording this particular song and the space and time in which the song was given its wings?

DK: Jammed on the riff in our practice space in Christchurch, where we lived for a while. It all came together straight away from what I can remember. We didn’t bring the keyboards into the line-up (apart from the ‘Tally Ho!’ recording) till just after Boodle I think….the keyboards certainly helped paved our way and inspired a lot of writing.

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One of the greatest possible compliments (and a fitting testament to the legacy of The Clean) must be just how hugely influential the band’s unique indie pop sound have been on a seamless array of bands in later decades. For example, I recall first coming across The Clean in the early 00’s in the form of a Rough Trade compilation in which The Hidden Cameras covered one of your songs. Looking over the band’s career, what were your most cherished memories? It must be a nice feeling to know many bands out there have drawn so much inspiration from your work?

DK: It continues to blow my mind that the interest is still there around the world albeit in that underground way. Cherished memories?….mmmmm, that’s a hard one, there were some magical moments recording, like wow we are quite good and we have caught something magic e.g. ‘Point That Thing’, ‘Getting Older’ etc. Someone asked my partner Genivieve about how great it must’ve been during those early 80s and she kind’ve nailed it by saying the really magic years was when it was all coming together, late 70’s period when we were all trying to get it together and seeing the “scene” grow outta that. Yeh it was a special time.

Then there are other times people have come up to me and said “your music stopped me from killing myself”….“your music got me thru a very bad time in my life”.. I had that a few times……now that’s special, job done huh? The music has given me a life outside of the norm, thank goodness, I’ve also made so many good friends all over the world really thanks to the music. The travel has been fantastic too though most of it has been in the USA, I know the USA pretty well! To write some music 30 years that still seems to resonate round the globe is also mind-blowing for the country kid from the bottom of the world!

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After a brief hiatus, you recorded ‘Vehicle’, the band’s debut album in 1989. A collection of psych pop odysseys and enlightening garage rock gems are dotted all over this special debut record. How was the album received back in New Zealand when ‘Vehicle’ was released originally? The album was amazingly made in three days. What are your memories of these three days? I wonder did you all have the songs fleshed out before arriving to the studio?

DK: The LP was well received here, there was some scepticism about us reforming and recording but the tour we did to promote was really successful and people dug the LP.

I remember running between control room and studio…there’s a good explanation of the recording in the liner notes! I recently discovered it was actually four days recorded and mixed. Geoff and Alan later remixed 2 tracks. Yeh we wrote all the songs before we toured, we realised straight away that we could only reform if we had new material to play. We wrote most of the LP in Dunedin over a week or two.

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In 2009, The Clean’s immaculate pop record, ‘Mister Pop’ was released on Morr Music. Two years previously, your toured New Zealand and celebrating a 50th birthday while playing a show in Auckland. It must have been a very special feeling to come back and make new music together again? Did the creative process change or alter in any way for the making of ‘Mister Pop’ in comparison to the previous LP’s? I love the tight sound that the band has on ‘Mister Pop’ and also the glorious production.

DK: Well we have been regularly getting together to tour over the years and making LPs so it wasn’t super new. But yeh it’s always refreshing to have breaks. We mainly jammed the songs up. Bob and I brought one or two songs in. No big change in the process.

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One of the great hallmarks of The Clean is the wide range of sounds you effortlessly unleashed, lovingly reflected on The Clean’s ‘Anthology’ collection. The piano ballad ‘Franz Kafka At The Zoo’ is incredible. ‘Linger Longer’ is a classic. There are so many new discoveries and rarities present on this career-spanning collection. You must have enjoyed compiling these songs together? I must ask too who is responsible for the band’s beautiful artwork? If you had to pick (just!) one, what song are you most proud of writing? What’s next for The Clean?

DK: The art work on Anthology is Hamsih’s. I think ‘Getting Older’ is one fave. Also ‘Point That Thing’. We actually put the track listing together when making the CD many years ago. I think we sat in Flying Nun’s office and made it up in about 30 minutes!

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https://www.facebook.com/The-Clean
http://www.mergerecords.com/the-clean

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Written by markcarry

November 27, 2014 at 12:00 pm