Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.
“I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.”
—Dustin O’ Halloran
The highly anticipated arrival of A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s third full-length, ‘Iris’ marked the commencement of the New Year. The awe-inspiring duo of Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’ Halloran have carved out some of the most vital and captivating modern-classical-infused-ambient explorations, in the shape of the band’s eponymous debut record and sophomore full-length ‘Atomos’: each record represents a beautiful time capsule, steeped in divine beauty.
On the ‘Iris’ film score, the band masterfully expand their sonic palette with use of analogue equipment. The results are nothing short of staggering as the otherworldly sound world of Mica Levi’s ‘Under The Skin’ is navigated amidst a beguiling atmosphere and forever-building wall of intense emotion. The opening ‘Prologue Iris’ is built on an achingly beautiful piano melody (similar to Wiltzie’s gorgeous ‘Salero’ debut solo score). A vast sea of symphonic sounds is combined with pulsating synthesizers on ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’. One of the album’s defining moments arrives on the scintillating ‘Gare Du Nord, Part 1’ where organic and synthetic worlds fuse together.
The recording sessions began with their long time sound collaborator Francesco Donadello in the form of some modular synth sessions in Berlin. The final sessions to what is now the score of Iris were recorded with a 40-piece string orchestra at Magyar Radio in Budapest. ‘Iris’ also features the duo’s trusted string quartet, Echo Collective.
‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.
Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.
Congratulations Dustin on the new Winged Victory record; the ‘Iris’ score is really amazing. I’d love for you to discuss the making of this record? One aspect I love is – in contrast to the previous two records – the addition of all the beautiful synthesizer elements and seamless mix of analog with the strings in these new pieces.
DO’H: That was a bit of a collaboration. When Jalil Lespert – the director – he heard ‘Atomos’ and he really thought that was the sound for his film and he wanted us to explore a more electronic side for his film. At the same time, Adam [Wiltzie] and I have been getting into working with modular synth, working with our long-time collaborator Francesco Donadello. It was something we wanted to explore as well so we ended up doing some sessions with modular synth and we liked the idea of this very organic electronic element. The thing we love with the modular synth is that you can’t ever repeat it: it’s a real instrument and there’s no settings to save so you have to capture performances. It was an element that we were just exploring but we were really pleased with how it works with our sound. And it was a nice, new element to bring in and explore.
As you mentioned those sessions with Francesco, would that have been in isolation or before you ever got to writing for the string parts and so on?
DO’H: When we started work on the film – around the time he gave us the script and he hadn’t shot anything yet – so there was a lot of time to just do some experiments. So, the first experiments happened just with modular and some of the pieces are really built from those first sessions. The film has a thriller element to it so we needed also to create tension. We were bringing in this idea of pulses and things to give us movement that would move us along but still have a tonal identity and a sound identity. So, some of the pieces were really built from those first sessions.
The beauty of ‘Iris’ – and indeed all the many scores you have created – is how it’s very much a new studio album as it is an actual score for a movie as it works so well on its own.
DO’H: Yeah, you never know what you’re going to have at the end of a commission or collaboration like this. I think we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to start in the way we make our own records and we had a lot of time. Then we took the pieces and what we released is more our vision for a stand-alone record so we’re able to go back into the tracks and rework them a bit and make more of a studio record out of it. We were happy with what we got, I think it feels connected to our sound but it’s an evolution as well.
And as you say, the atmosphere, there’s a collection of the more electronic pieces work so powerfully, such as ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’ and ‘Gare du Nord Pt. 1’, there’s something quite breath-taking when the synths come in: there’s the space for it and you’re waiting for them to appear.
DO’H: We’re happy with how the modular and the orchestra work well together. We tended to use the modular for the lower end sounds and working with space and rhythm and then having the orchestra. It’s like light and dark is a big subject of the film; it’s a love story but there’s also a lot of deceit and treachery and so the film is always like light and dark fighting against each other in this way. The modular has this more aggressive, synthetic, cold feeling and the strings are definitely this warmer love story that ultimately both elements are in the story.
I wonder for those final sessions in Budapest – for you and Adam as the composers of the music – it must be quite something when you’re all in this room and you hear this big ensemble perform the music at the final end of it all?
DO’H: Oh yeah, I mean it’s definitely a satisfying moment when it all comes alive. I love recording with real instruments and it’s always something very important to me. I think with Winged Victory too, we’re always trying to put as much care sonically into everything that we do and record it in the best way. I’m a big fan of records that are great sounding records and those are the records that usually stay in my collection so it’s something we try to put a lot of care into.
For those final sessions, is there still room for accidents to happen or surprising things happen in the sense of the music altering in any way?
DO’H: Yeah, I mean up until the point of doing the strings everything is always flexible and changing and we’re exploring different things and obviously, we hear different things. And when you’re recording the modular stuff, it’s a lot of experimenting and sometimes you find something and you’re not even too sure how you got there. By the time we got to the strings everything had to be pretty much worked out but there’s a lot of extended techniques used in the strings – a lot of harmonics and glissando effects – that we did that were really fun to do in the studio. And to get the orchestra make a lot of noise [laughs] and do less traditional sounds and that was fun so we got to explore that a little bit in the studio and then that was the last phase before we mixed.
I was interested to read how it was edited down – well everything is edited for a final mix of the album – was it difficult to see it as both a film score as well as a studio album in the sense that you needed to remove parts to reduce it down?
DO’H: There was always like a push and pull of what we were leaving in and we were pulling back. For some of the studio record we took out some elements that we needed for the film to help push the picture a bit and then there’s other elements that we decided to bring back in that didn’t work so well with the picture. We definitely approached the record because we wanted it to work on its own. I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.
It’s fascinating to see how you have the three studio albums (with Winged Victory) in terms of the speed in which they’re coming out, it feels that there’s a sort of flow between you and Adam where you must always be learning from this partnership?
DO’H: Well I think we’ve been lucky to work on some really great projects and each time we’re definitely learning more about our own process. I think that maybe we’re getting better at working a little bit quicker although there’s a beauty to taking your time and that’s something we just haven’t had the luxury of for a while. So, when we start working on another record, we’re hoping that we will give ourselves a little bit of time and let things percolate, you know that’s something that’s also important to me. With these projects, you have a finite amount of time to work on it but hopefully we’ll be able to take our time again soon but it’s good to know that we can do it and we can be happy with the results.
I must congratulate you also on the amazing ‘Lion’ score and collaboration with Hauschka. It’s wonderful seeing all these musicians and composers and realizing it’s this small community that you’re all releasing amazing albums in your own right whilst collaborating so much with others too. I wonder when did you begin working on this particular project?
DO’H: Yeah, as I was finishing ‘Lion’, Adam and I were starting ‘Iris’ so it was kind of a cross-fade [laughs] But it’s been great, I feel super lucky to be working with people that I love to work with and there’s been so much care. Robert [Raths] has put a lot of love into the releases and we’re grateful to work on some good projects. I mean it’s busy times, the hard part about it is the amount of music you have to produce when there’s a lot of requests, it’s the most demanding aspect but those are good problems to have, you just have to be more diligent and have more time in the studio [laughs].
For ‘Lion’, were you and Volker in the same room together for these sessions?
DO’H: With Volker, we started in our own studios for about a month working on the film and then he came to Los Angeles to work in my studio here and we finished everything here and we worked for about another month. We didn’t have as much time and we came in after the film was already edited so we were in pretty deep pretty quickly.
The same thing happened with you and Adam in the way you spend quite a bit of time in your own respective studios?
DO’H: We try to get together as much as possible (Adam and I) because part of the Winged Victory sound is really both him and I working on stuff together, there’s just something that happens when we’re doing it together, it feels different than when we’re just sending files back and forth because I think we both let go a little bit more when we’re together and we’re able to follow instinctual things quicker and we write quicker as well so it’s always good when we get together.
A very important part of A Winged Victory is the Echo Collective string quartet. I just remember witnessing your live show – and also with Stars of The Lid – and feel the hypnotic effect of the strings, it’s something out of this world when you’re at the live show in one big space.
DO’H: I mean without us finding them, it would be so hard for us to perform live and to translate what we want. We’ve been really lucky. We went through a lot of different string players and we had a lot of bad shows and a lot of shows that didn’t really work out. We’ve been really fortunate to find a bunch of string players that have been so dedicated to helping us find what we need. Our music is very slow-moving and it takes a lot of patience and a lot of string players can look at the sheet music and be really dismissive; it’s actually much harder to get a good sound than it appears on paper. We’ve been really, really lucky, they’re great players, they’re so dedicated to us and I think a lot of other people are starting to work with them because of that dedication that they have. But we definitely couldn’t do it without them, they’re a huge part of our sound.
I loved your solo EP ‘3 Movements’ that came out towards the end of the year.
DO’H: It’s the first time I haven’t collaborated in a while. I’ve been slowly working on different pieces and I’m working on my own solo record but it’s definitely nice to finally get some solo work out [laughs].
And lastly, have there been any live shows that you’ve seen in the last few months that struck a chord with you and have been blown away by?
DO’H: There was a festival that happened in Berlin that the Michelberger Hotel put on, it was at the Funkhaus. There was a twenty-piece choir who performed with Bon Iver who did this acapella piece and it was really beautiful. It was in the old East German recording studios and I forgot how beautiful just the sound of voices is, you know I’ve been listening to so much amplified music and to hear just a choir of voices, it just gave me goosebumps, that was my last moment.
‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.
Announcement: Benoît Pioulard (Kranky) + Wry Myrrh @ Gupld, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork SAT 4th March 2017
We are very pleased to announce the following concert:
Fractured Air & Plugd Records present:
Benoît Pioulard (Kranky) + Wry Myrrh @ Gupld, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork SAT 4th March 2017
Tickets: €12.50 (excluding booking fee)
Purchase tickets HERE
Benoît Pioulard (USA/Kranky)
‘Listening Matter’ is the sixth Kranky album by Thomas Meluch under his musical alias Benoît Pioulard, following the 2006 debut full-length ‘Précis’, ‘Temper’ (2008), ‘Lasted’ (2010), 2013’s ‘Hymnal’ and ‘Sonnet’ (2015). The American sound sculptor – in a similar fashion to his label-mates Loscil, Grouper and Pan American – has amassed a rich body of empowering work, seamlessly creating some of the most affecting and captivating ambient-based compositions of the past decade.
In addition to Meluch’s universally praised solo work, collaborative projects include Perils-duo with Kyle Bobby Dunn (whose debut LP was issued by Desire Path Recordings) and Orcas- alongside The Sight Below’s Rafael Anton Irisarri released on Morr Music.
The Seattle-based composer and songwriter has continually forged utterly captivating folk-infused-ambient song cycles that are rooted in the examination of the self, of questioning of the universe and reconciling the two.
Praise for ‘The Benoit Pioulard Listening Matter’:
“Utterly perfect warmhearted lo-fi pop.”
“8/10 — A baker’s dozen of future-past pop songs etched onto water-warped tape… Euphoric.”
“Imbued with a sense of how fleeting life can be… Meluch’s words are sharp as ever,
evoking worlds of meaning in quick turns of phrase.”
Benoit Pioulard ‘Layette’:
Benoit Pioulard ‘The Sun Is Going To Explode But Whatever It’s Ok’:
WRY MYRRH (IRE)
WRY MYRRH is a recently formed duo comprising composer/GASH Collective organiser Ellen King [ELLLL], and composer/ Crevice member Irene Buckley, WRY MYRRH offers a sparse take on improv electronics, with sinister, brooding drone and noise inflections. As exploratory as it is unsettling, WRY MYRRH’s minimalist improv proves a wholly unique listening experience, heightened to wondrous effect when immersed in a live situation.
Fractured Air & Plugd Records present:
Benoît Pioulard (Kranky) + Wry Myrrh @ Gupld, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork SAT 4th March 2017
Tickets: €12.50 (excluding booking fee)
Purchase tickets HERE
Welcome to the first mixtape for 2017.
January’s edition opens with the welcome return of Oklahoma’s finest The Flaming Lips with their latest studio album “Oczy Mlody”, released this month on Bella Union. Fellow indie greats Dirty Projectors also return, with Dave Longstreth’s soul-stirring lament “Little Bubble” – the follow-up to last September’s “Keep Your Name” – which makes the Dirty Projectors’ forthcoming full-length one of the most eagerly anticipated albums for 2017.
“Elwan” (translates to “The Elephants”), the new album by Malis’s beloved Tinariwen is sure to be found on many end-of-year lists come this December. The music again draws from Tinariwen’s homeland, a Saharan mountain range between north-eastern Mali and southern Algeria, which has been transformed into a conflict zone. “Elwan” was recorded at Rancho de la Luna studios in the desert of California’s Joshua Tree National Park during 2014, and again in 2016, in M’Hamid El Ghizlane, an oasis in southern Morocco, near the Algerian frontier.
Other intriguing new releases come from the Montreal-based group Avec le Soleil Sortant De Sa Bouche who release their exceptional second album “Pas Pire Pop, I Love You So Much” via Constellation, the follow-up to the band’s 2014 debut “Zubberdust!”. Having formed in 2011 in Montreal, Avec le Soleil Sortant De Sa Bouche features singer/songwriter Jean-Sebastien Truchy (of Fly Pan Am) as well as members of numerous other groups including: Panopticon Eyelids, Pas Chic Chic, Red Mass, Set Fire to Flames.
Of course, new releases only always paints one tiny portion of the wider picture, with so many exceptional re-issues always being repressed and made anew. This month sees Light In The Attic begin an exhaustive re-issue campaign for the music of Brazilian icon Erasmo Carlos, the first three albums showing an unparalleled appetite for fusing countless styles of music into his own unique, singular sound, heralding Carlos’ place as one of the most gifted songwriters from the seventies.
“Tumblers from the Vault (1970–1972)” by Syrinx (re-issues last year on RVNG Intl) was our favourite re-issue from 2016. 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.
Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S02E01 | January mix
To listen on La Blogothèque:
01. The Flaming Lips – “There Should Be Unicorns” (Bella Union)
02. Syrinx – “Syren” (RVNG Intl)
03. Erasmo Carlos – “26 Anos de Vida Normal” (Light In The Attic)
04. Mr. Tophat & Robyn – “Disco Devato” (excerpt) (Smalltown Supersound)
05. Tinariwen – “Sastanàqqàm” (Anti-)
06. Avec le Soleil Sortant De Sa Bouche – “Alizé et Margaret D. Midi moins le quart. Sur la plage, un palmier ensanglanté II” (Constellation)
07. Awa Poulo – “Dimo Yaou Tata” (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
08. Roberto Musci – “Water Music” (Music From Memory)
09. MJ Guider – “White Alsatian” (Kranky)
10. Gareth Dickson – “Atmosphere” (Discolexique)
11. Steve Hauschildt – “Same River Twice” (Kranky)
12. Run The Jewels – “Thursday in the Danger Room” (feat. Kamasi Washington) (Self-Released)
13. Plankton vs. Defcon – “Jealousy” (Karaoke Kalk)
14. Lee Hazlewood – “For One Moment” (Light In The Attic)
15. Duane Eddy – “This Town” (Ace)
16. Molly Burch – “Try” (Captured Tracks)
17. Patience – “Wait For You” (Night School)
18. Bézier – “Widows Tears” (Cin Cin)
19. Copeland & Gast – “Sisters of Control” (All Bone)
20. Tangents – “Jindabyne” (Four Tet Remix) (Temporary Residence)
21. Ólafur Arnalds – “Árbakkinn” (ft. Einar Georg) (Mercury Classics)
22. Dirty Projectors – “Little Bubble” (Edit) (Domino)
23. Odd Nosdam – “Daliman OG” (Glue Moon)
24. April Stevens – “End Of Desire” (Cherry Red)
25. Mica Levi – “Children” (Jackie OST, Milan)
26. Daniel Lanois & Rocco DeLuca – “Low Sudden” (Anti-)
27. Allred & Broderick – “The Ways” (Erased Tapes)
Compiled by Fractured Air, January 2017. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
We’re very pleased to premiere the live studio version of ‘Temperature Drop’ from UK ambient collective Marconi Union, taken from the recently released double album ‘Tokyo+’ (via London-based imprint Just Music).
‘Tokyo +’ by Marconi Union, the original ‘Tokyo’ album together with a new accompanying EP ‘+’ of Live Studio Remixes was released last week by London-based imprint Just Music for the first time as a double album.
Originally released as the single album ‘Tokyo’ by the German record label Bine in 2009, ‘Tokyo’ was only made available as a CD in Germany and then only in a very limited number of copies.
The Manchester-based group create introspective ambient soundscapes that evokes the far-reaching ambient works of Brian Eno, Harold Budd and Biosphere. The hypnotic synthesizers and soothing warmth of guitars radiates throughout ‘Temperature Drop’, recalling the early 70’s Krautrock movement as well as legendary Chicago ensemble Tortoise and the experimental German label Denovali Records’ output.
“The original idea (and title) for Tokyo stemmed from a chance comment. We had just finished recording a track and after playing it back one of us (we can’t remember who) said that it reminded them of Tokyo. Neither of of us had ever been to Tokyo and we realised that our entire conception of the city originated from films, TV and books. We liked this idea of creating music for a place that only existed in our minds. We weren’t interested in faithfully representing the reality of Tokyo and had no wish to make “authentic” Japanese music, we really just liked the images of Tokyo we’re regularly exposed to. We thought of this music as a form of Hi-Tech Ambience.”
‘Tokyo +’ by Marconi Union is available now on Just Music.
Interview with Matt Robertson.
“There’s just something about the way analogue sounds can develop over time that really fascinates me.”
Words: Mark Carry
Matt Robertson is a composer, synthesist, and producer, working with a collection of vintage, modern and DIY synths, and combining electronic music production with classical composition and cinematic soundscapes.
My first introduction to Robertson’s synth-based explorations came in the form of Cillian Murphy’s guest mix, which featured the gradual bliss of synthesizers in the ambient tour-de-force ‘Urdu’ (appropriately) sandwiched between Brian Eno and Holly Herndon.
The studio album ‘In Echelon’ showcases a gifted producer at the peak of his powers, effortlessly encompassing techno, ambient and modern classical realms of sound (think Nils Frahm, Jon Hopkins and Kiasmos). In addition to his body of solo work, the UK composer has been the Musical Director for Bjork, Cinematic Orchestra and Antony Hegarty as well as working with Lamb, Emiliana Torrini and Bat For Lashes.
‘In Echelon’ is out now on Tape Club Records.
Interview with Matt Robertson.
Congratulations on the incredible solo record ‘In Echelon’. One of the great hallmarks of ‘In Echelon’ is the masterful fusion of organic and synthetic elements and what forms is this stunningly beautiful and expansive envelope of divine soundscapes. Please take me back to the making of your latest solo venture and the recording itself of these nine glorious compositions? I wonder did you have some primary aims or concerns from the outset as to what sonic terrain you wanted to venture down?
Matt Robertson: Thanks a lot for your kind words! From the outset, the idea was that this was a record that I could ‘perform’. What that actually means in terms of electronic music in 2016 is a bit of a grey area, but that was a general goal. The side effects of that meant that a lot of the ideas I was coming up with were things that could happen “real time” and not rely too much on playback systems when I did live shows. Ultimately, I ended up with a fusion of some things being triggered for playback on my live shows, but at least that was a creative direction when I started out!
I was also trying to have a constant sense of some kind of instability with the compositions, sometimes in terms of the individual sounds, but more so in the harmonic progressions. I have this goal of making things that could be totally happy or totally sad at the same time, depending on how the listener wants to frame it. I try and make the harmony a little ambiguous.
I am a fan of analogue synths, and some of the inherent instability of those instruments seems to lend itself well to the sounds I was trying to make. I was also really trying to focus of the theme of Surveillance. This idea that we are under scrutiny all of time, but somehow, we are either unaware of it, or apathetic to it. For me this creates a sense of ambiguity about everything. Who we should trust, what news sites we should read, what we choose to send in an email or not. That was the general theme of all of these tracks – that sense of uncertainty and ambiguity.
A dichotomy of mood, atmosphere and colour all flicker across the record. A dark undercurrent underpins ‘In Echelon’ yet a serene beauty beautifully hangs in the ether. Do you have particular processes or recording techniques when it comes to firstly creating the electronic components of the music and secondly, the organic and classical composition side to the musical oeuvre, so to speak? I’m intrigued to learn at what point do both these worlds collide and blend together? For these tracks, what would often form the starting point?
MR: For a track like ‘In Echelon’ I started with the piano elements and worked backwards. The slightly instable mood of the piano inspired a lot of the other sounds on that track, basically I mess with stuff until I come across a combination of parts that I hope always pushes the track in the direction it needs to go. The long drone note throughout the piece was a kind of accident, I think it was stuck notes on my Oberheim Xpander, but happily when I left it in there all the way through it ties together the first and second halves of the track.
Strangely, the whole intro section was also inspired by some visuals I was putting together for a show. A friend of mine found these great high speed images of colours dispersing in water, and the way he cut them together meant that I reworked the intro and made it much more sparse to make more sense with the visuals!
As the track develops it lands in its root key and just does a bit of a wig out to the end – which was an excuse to use a really old VCS3 that was lent to me for a short while. So, all in all, a combination of lots of approaches and ideas, lots of elements inspiring other elements. Definitely not a linear process!
The title-track feels like an integral part to the record, and I just love how the electronic layers continually build momentum and there are all these immaculate analogue synthesizer elements soaring across the atmosphere. Can you talk me through the construction of this particular track? Also, I assume the layering of tracks can also be big challenge whilst retaining to the vital components you need for a track to fully evolve, on its own terms? For instance, I feel there is a beautiful minimalism and sort of restraint at work throughout that creates such a compelling voyage.
MR: This track in particular came about from a perspective of live performance. I put it together on an Elektron Analog Keys synth, which has a 4-track sequencer. So, there are 4 main elements, and a lot of the time, they do the same thing over and over, but by constantly tweaking the elements of the sounds on those four tracks, you can get a good build happening. So, it’s not so much about layering more and more stuff, but more about leaving the parts the same and changing the sounds of those parts to get the build. The iPad app Animoog was key to this one as well, quite late in the day I was messing around on Animoog and came up with this air raid siren melody which became key to the whole track.
So, I can keep the bass line going with my left hand, play the iPad with my right hand, and bring in some other parts like the drums and apreggiators on the sequencer. 90% of the album version was taken from a live recording I did of this track, and then I tweaked the mix a little and made it a bit shorter! There’s also a little piano on this track. I have a really old piano that I love – it has this really mellow tone that gels really nicely with some of the analogue synths, and adds a more organic flavour I hope.
Can you discuss your love of analogue gear and the synthesizer(s) at your disposal for ‘In Echelon’? Please discuss your love and fascination with the older synths and the range of possibilities you see with analogue? I’m sure you have been slowly amassing quite a collection of gear and parts over time?
MR: Yeah for me, there’s a lot of magic in the old synths! Although I also have been getting really into the new side of analogue with the Eurorack modular explosion in the last 5 years or so. For me its two-fold. Firstly, there’s the sound. But secondly and for me I think more importantly, it’s how you make and perform with that sound. For the most part, there are no presets, so you are starting pretty much from scratch each time, and also the infinite control and tiny degrees of tweakability over the sounds means that for me analogue is still king! (having said that, the Elektron stuff does have presets, and that’s a huge bonus for live stuff).
I have always been able to lose hours of my life listening to two oscillators with varying detune amounts from unison. It’s a sad fact… but there it is. There’s just something about the way analogue sounds can develop over time that really fascinates me. I try to have elements of that in most of my tracks. The tiniest amount of pitch change of one element of a big patch can make a huge difference to the sound, and given the opportunity to listen, I think we are really sensitive to tiny changes in sound. There’s something intriguing about things changing really slowly.
‘Flight’ represents the beating heart of this mesmerising record (the closing orchestral section is perhaps the album’s gorgeous crescendo). The soft, angelic piano tones beautifully drift amidst the electronic bleeps and noise, conjuring up the timeless sound of Germany’s Nils Frahm and UK’s Chris Clark. Can you recount for me the writing of ‘Flight’? It feels like some considerable time must be poured into the creation of a compositions such as this. Furthermore, what is the writing process like for you and would your compositional approach vary depending on the context?
MR: Yeah this was a journey! The orchestral element came from a love of string writing and also a desire to wrap that into a more electronic sound-world in a way that made sense to me. I wanted to create a feeling of escaping, or trying to escape, but never quite getting there. The Strings at the end try and resolve that idea, but again never quite get there, which I hope leaves a slightly unsettling feeling, even though there is some beauty as well (?)
The writing process for me is pretty slow. I have to leave something for a while and come back to it to try and have some sense of perspective. I don’t think you really can get any perspective unless you leave it for probably about a year and then come back, but then it would take a really long time to put a record out! I also wanted to create a bit of a journey with this one, so when you get to the end, you’re not quite sure how you got there from the beginning. Maybe….
Collaboration is another important part in your wonderful musical life, having worked in the role as Musical Director for luminaries such as Bjork, Anthony Hegarty and Cinematic Orchestra. Please discuss the art of collaboration and how you work on projects such as these? The sum of these experiences must provide such profound musical developments for you?
MR: Totally yes! I have been lucky and privileged to work with artists that I have admired and respected since I was a kid, and it’s difficult to over-estimate what an impact that has had (and still does have) on how I work on my own projects, and how I work with other people. The people you mention are so far ahead of me in terms of their approach to composition and general artistry. But it’s amazing how much you can learn from being fortunate enough to spend some time in these artist’s aura. One of the main things is how incredibly focused they all are on their own direction, their own statement. I find it so easy to get tied up with comparing my work to that of others – “is this progression as good as x’s” or “is this mix as good as y’s” – but somehow the really great artists I have worked for don’t put emphasis on that because the honesty and integrity of their own thing outweighs any of those concerns. Well – that’s my interpretation anyway!
Lastly, what have you been listening to the most of late? What are your plans for 2017?
MR: Well – I’m writing more stuff – so lots of listening to detuned oscillators!
‘In Echelon’ is out now on Tape Club Records.
Interview with Mario Batkovic.
“Being an Accordionist is something very natural to me, just like my origin or my skin colour. It’s a pure coincidence.”
Words: Mark Carry
The forthcoming debut solo full-length from gifted composer and accordionist Mario Batkovic – released on Geoff Barlow’s prestigious Invada Records later this March – is already destined to be 2017’s crowning sonic treasure. The Bosnian-born and Swiss-based musician has forged an utterly captivating and resolutely unique solo album, which, in turn, ceaselessly expands the possibilities of the accordion instrument.
One of the great hallmarks of Batkovic’s solo accordion music is the sheer intensity that is not only attained but held magnificently across an ocean of shape-shifting pulsating notes, engrossing melodies and deeply affecting human emotion subsequently emitted. Previously, the Bern-based musician has described his underlying creative process as “absolute submission to the sound.” It is precisely this – an artist‘s undying devotion – that lies at the heart of these nine groundbreaking compositions.
Album opener ‘Quatere’ is built upon a mesmerizing melodic pattern, which continually builds as a pulsating energy gradually surfaces like pores of Autumnal sunlight. An awe-inspiring and beautifully uplifting sonic exploration. A gripping intensity is attained on ‘Gravis’ where the depths of darkness is navigated: the range of timbres and textures is a joy to behold from the drone-infused world of repeatedly sprawling, sustained notes. Catharsis. A fitting parallel exists between Batkovic’s singular, captivating accordion-based compositions and fellow luminary Colin Stetson (and his similarly powerful saxophone explorations). A wall of immense, stunningly beautiful and empowering sounds.
The utterly timeless ‘Restrictus’ unleashes an unwavering beauty as several movements unfold an entire spectrum of mood, colour and feeling. The epic, tour-de-force ‘Inuente’ conveys the sheer power and glory of the composer’s capabilities to expand the possibilities of his chosen accordion instrument to its very outer limits. The fragile lament ‘Somnium’ brings this exceptional record to a fitting close. The illuminating horizon is soaked in radiant light. We, the listener need only rejoice in its infinite beauty.
‘Mario Batkovic’ is out now on Invada Records.
Interview with Mario Batkovic.
Congratulations Mario on your utterly captivating and wholly unique debut solo album. Your solo accordion music elicits the rawest of human emotion where a striking narrative (and gripping intensity) is masterfully captured throughout this phenomenal solo record. Can you please talk me through the making of the new record and your memories of writing these compositions? It feels as if many of these accordion pieces were gradually blooming in your head for quite some time?
Mario Batkovic: Thank you very much for your questions. They are interesting and reflect many of my own reflections. Many of your questions already express a wonderful picture. I will try to answer your questions as good as possible.
You’re right, it’s not just music that recently came into being. It existed not only in my head, but it was just not ripe for the stage. There were a lot of stumbling blocks. I couldn’t play my music but had to let her flow into my projects by the way. Unbelievable, but there was a kind of censorship. Only when all the requirements would conform, I released my music. Which demanded more of an art of Persuasion than the creating of art itself.
When it comes to recording these tracks, I can imagine were there technical difficulties when recording the solo accordion to tape? One of the great hallmarks of the album is just how intimate these recordings are – it’s as if you’re playing alone in the room with its listener – and your spellbinding performance and all the beautiful imperfections and human artefacts form the vital heart of these songs. Were there certain techniques or processes you feel you have developed that were critical processes to the recording of the album itself?
MB: Beautiful how you put my music into words. Right, there were technical problems to handle. Since the recording of the Accordion is done in a wrong way. That’s why today we see a Musical picture of the Instrument that is only a remnant of how the Accordion really sounds. That’s why this Instrument has been pigeonholed so much it’s hard to take it out of this box. Every sound engineer keeps telling me he knows how the Accordion sounds. But that’s not true. They don’t because they are not Accordionists. My sound engineer and I collaborate in an extremely intense way. It’s a Duet. It took years until him and I realized how the Instrument works and how we can make it sound. Many people may know this but they don’t have the experience. I hope our technique is inspiring other artists and initializing my instrument to new possibilities. I was just not willing to record one single tone until we didn’t solve those technical problems.
The wide range of possibilities you generate from your chosen instrument is staggering, which is reminiscent of Colin Stetson’s saxophone and Lubomyr Melnyk’s piano music, kindred spirits in many ways. I would love for you to discuss your earliest musical memories and your first discovery of the accordion instrument. How soon would you realize just how important your chosen instrument would serve in your life, Mario?
Also, please discuss your musical path thus far – as a virtuoso accordion player – and the ways and approaches to which you have developed your unique, innovative and magnificent solo accordion music? As a debut solo LP, the music represents like a life’s work and so many of your life’s experience and musical journey is dotted all across these glorious nine compositions.
MB: Of course I was influenced by all the moving. That’s how I ended up in the situation of adapting in a new society. At the same time I had to adjust and remain true to myself. That was not always easy. But it finds its way into my music. I love all kinds of music just as I love all kinds of people, no matter which society they belong to. To exclude something would not suit my philosophy of life. Only the music created of greed doesn’t interest me. But after all that’s not true music. This opinion was sometimes hard to get along with.
Every society has its vogue, its trends. So I tried to find a merge of the sweet with the bitter. To listen between the lines and to get an own impression of things. That’s why I don’t like it too much when I’m compared to other musicians. I’m an original, just as you are an original. There’s everyone of us just once on this planet. And my music reflects me. It’s a mix of baroque, contemporary, kitsch, obscure, deep, sweet, sad. Just what life is all made of.
Being an Accordionist is something very natural to me, just like my origin or my skin colour. It’s a pure coincidence. I’m a musician in the first place, and then I am an Accordionist. There could have been a flute or a guitar. Now, for me, there was the Accordion.
‘Gravis’ is one of the album’s defining moments. The range of timbres and textures from the accordion instrument is a joy to behold. Can you talk me through the distinct movements crafted in this stunningly beautiful composition? The rise in this piece forms one of the most heavenly, enchanting sounds; an utterly timeless sound world of vast possibilities. Can you shed some light on your compositional approach, Mario and how it may vary between the various compositions?
MB: Different from my other projects where I can listen to a composition in my head already like a radio song, the music I interpret myself is developing way different. First I have to take regard to the technical possibilities of playing the instrument, because I record it myself, not like when I compose film music and have other musicians playing the sound. The instrument can do a lot but also has its limits. First of all I have to subtract many components like playing techniques, sound techniques, bellows shake and so on, and then I can get started. Then I can start to thing freely. Then it comes to the philosophical part. Gravis is the picture of a huge ship, an animal, a being that fights for its last breath. It doesn’t give up until the very bitter ending. This fight consists of a high and a low C. That’s all. I try to breathe life into these two tones. And not more.
In terms of the arrangements, how does this particular point in the music-making process work for you? For instance, the cathartic, spellbinding ‘Restrictus’ conveys the sheer beauty of angelic tones and the intricate arrangements of the distinct sections contained within this gorgeous song cycle. What are your memories of writing ‘Restrictus’? Endless moments of sublime beauty ascends into one’s heart and mind here.
MB: Restrictus is a kind of friend to me. It’s a perfect match. I don’t think it’s very virtuosic but you need to have a sporty approach here. I feel very comfortable with this piece on stage. I’d say if I didn’t break it in the middle it was limited to a typical minimal composition. But Restrictus didn’t want this. It literally screamed: “Break me!”
Please bring me back to your formal musical education, Mario. Can you describe for me your learning whilst studying under Professor Elspeth Moser and your musical outlook and what musical voices you feel have shaped your music in the most profound way?
MB: I have always been opposition. It was a kind of a guarantee to survive. I could and should never be like the others. Never! So my education was, like many things in my life, just a fight. At school I first had to learn the German language when we moved to Switzerland. At University in Germany then I’ve had a lack of scholastic knowledge because of the language barriers. So I had to develop a strategy. And this was to learn but don’t let yourself be bent. In Hannover I studied classical music, so I missed out the Rock ‘n’ Roll. And with my Rock Bands I missed the classical precision. With folk music I missed the seriousness. I always wanted to develop and connect everything. But that was not always easy.
An artist’s sheer devotion to one’s art and the sacrifice therein becomes the essence of your solo accordion music. What do you feel is your one musical philosophy that remains true for you? What are your hopes and ambitions for your next chapter? What are you most proud of about this triumphant debut record?
MB: I don’t feel pride but gratitude. I’m grateful for all the people who support me with all the passion, patience and a lot of work. At the same time I’m very grateful to be a musician. It is something positive, something with much love to put into the world. That’s also what I see when I look at the world today (so much horrible things), and music is the opposition!
Lastly, the epic tour-de-force ‘Inuente’ reflects the hypnotic quality of your playing. At times, the instrument undergoes various transformations, sounding like an organ and synthesizer at various points. Can you shed some light on your mind – set when it comes to your solo live performance and indeed your mind – set for crafting such a monumental work as ‘Inuente’. I am curious whether improvisation plays a part in the writing/composing stage? I just love how the variations of a theme return throughout ‘Inuente’ and the many places that a single piece of music can take you.
MB: It flatters me that the audience does notice something this beautiful that has it’s origin in an undesirable side noise. With this composition improvisation didn’t matter too much although I have a Master of Arts in improvisation. So to say I’m a professional improvisator. But there also, the improvisation is not awarded so much but is of such an important value for us human beings. Improvisation is getting lost in all our over systemising and structuring. I’m convinced that we should listen more to our intuition and we should act more impulsively. Improvisation can only take place in the actual space and situation I’m in. Every time I play I have to get into it in a new room and a new sound. That’s what my music lives from.
Inuente is a song you can’t play everywhere in the same way, even if the compositional structure stays the same. My magical moment with Ineunte is the break. A precious thing nowadays. There are some long breaks but they are fully packed. Break doesn’t mean relaxation but highest tension! I need to build up for 10 minutes to reach a total break of 5 seconds. I love this magical moment with Ineunte when people can hear themselves or the ventilation or the birds or any other small noises. Ineunte takes them there. It’s a transporter to themselves.
‘Mario Batkovic’ is out now on Invada Records.
We are delighted to present to you a special guest mixtape compiled by the world-renowned Boston Massachusetts-based songwriter Marissa Nadler. 2016 saw the release of Nadler’s latest masterpiece, “Strangers”, released via Bella Union (UK) and Sacred Bones Records (USA). “Strangers” finds Marissa Nadler’s sonic palette expanding (synths and drumbeats are at times added to Nadler’s voice and guitar). But despite the added instrumentation and more intricate arrangements, a purity forever remains in the treasured songbook of Nadler’s forever timeless oeuvre. Beautiful subtleties exist within the sonic tapestries while striking imagery such as disintegrating cliffs, towering skyscrapers, darkening woods and deep rivers are offset with characters often feeling at odds with the world they find themselves in (or more accurately find themselves suspended into, all of a sudden). There’s a tangible sense of contrasting dichotomies lying at the heart of “Strangers” (between the familiar and the unfamiliar; safety and danger; darkness and light; life and death) which makes the journey Nadler takes us on all the more real. Tangible. Life-affirming. And like a silent witness we can quietly navigate that darkness with her. For we are not strangers after all.
Marissa Nadler – Fractured Air Mix – January 2017
01. Gene Clark – “Gypsy Rider” (live) (Firefly Entertainment)
02. Scott Walker – “Duchess” (Philips)
03. Black Mountain – “Cemetery Breeding” (Jagjaguwar)
04. Black Mountain – “Space to Bakersfield” (Jagjaguwar)
05. William Bell – “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” (Stax)
06. Sonny Sharrock – “Who Does She Hope To Be?” (Axiom)
07. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Rings of Saturn” (Bad Seed Ltd.)
08. Funkadelic – “Maggot Brain” (Westbound)
09. Angel Olsen – “Shut Up Kiss Me” (Jagjaguwar)
10. White Lung – “Kiss Me When I Bleed” (Domino)
11. Grouper – “Headache” (Yellow Electric)
12. Grouper – “I’m Clean Now” (Yellow Electric)
‘Strangers’ is out now on Bella Union (UK) & Sacred Bones (USA).
Compiled by Marissa Nadler, 2016. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.