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Posts Tagged ‘Ari Aster

Chosen One: Colin Stetson

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And I don’t imagine that there is ever a time when you simply say: “Ok, that’s it, this is the end of the hole that I’m digging and this mine is all bored out”; I don’t imagine that life and art works that way. So, I just continue to search and enjoy it.”

 Colin Stetson

Words: Mark Carry

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Colin Stetson’s utterly captivating score to Ari Aster’s debut horror film ‘Hereditary’ marks the latest instalment to the Montreal composer’s groundbreaking songbook and storied career. The gripping intensity of Stetson’s intricately-layered compositions serves an integral character to the film’s depiction of self-destruction and (spiralling) depths of the human condition.

The vivid textures and beautifully crafted soundscapes interject a pulsating energy and tension to the looming darkness that gradually takes hold of the Graham family. But as ever Stetson’s sound explorations maps the full spectrum: from the deepest of fears, anguish and loss to fragile beauty, hope and undying love. The soaring pieces encompass melancholic ambient excursions; genre-defying, cathartic sound worlds that unleash raw emotion akin to infinite swells of ocean waves.

A parallel could be drawn between ‘Hereditary’ and the artist’s latest solo work (last year’s incredible ‘All This I Do For Glory’). Across the album’s six exploratory compositions, Stetson examines the concepts of the afterlife; similar to the aftermath of destruction that crazes the skies in Aster’s film. The striking narrative of the world-renowned  composer’s musical endeavours forever take you in deep and far with a force and intensity that rarely is captured to tape to such masterful effect.

Tom Waits once described the creative process being like translation. “Anything that has to travel all the way down from your cerebellum to your fingertips, there’s a lot of things that can happen on the journey”. I imagine Stetson – a kindred spirit – and the vitality of the resonating sound waves travelling down the bell of the ancient saxophone, in turn, capturing the soul of all natural things. This fascintaing journey of Stetson’s continues to uncover new ground with each and every fork in the road ahead. Onwards. Always, onwards.

‘Hereditary’ OST is out now on Milan Records.

Colin Stetson’s forthcoming Autumn European TOUR.

http://www.colinstetson.com/
https://colinstetson.bandcamp.com/

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Interview with Colin Stetson.

 

First of all I’d love for you to discuss the making of the incredible ‘Hereditary’ score. Something that strikes you immediately is just how good a match it is for your music in the horror genre and indeed the plot itself? It must have been a very interesting process for you?

Colin Stetson: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been talking to Ari [Aster] for actually a couple of years about this project. He first contacted me two or three years ago and we started talking about the prospect of me scoring. When he contacted me, he was just in the finishing stages of the first draft of the script and so had reached out and told me that he’d been inspired by some of my solo work in the writing of the script and was asking if I’d be interested in scoring. So he sent me the script and as soon as I read it and I realized if he had got the thing made and pulled it off it was going to be a really unique and fantastic picture. And just from the get-go Ari and I had a really good rapport and so I felt comfortable about it from back then.

It’s been a few years and because of that – because we had so much lead time and I was in the loop as things came closer to fruition in terms of getting distribution, getting funding and getting casting and everything and when pre-production started – I was able to actually start scoring well before filming even started. So we were able to get to jettison some of the normal protocol: in the film-scoring world where you have to be scoring off temp music primarily and for this (since I had written a lot of material beforehand and before there had been even shots made or any edits made to picture), they could use a lot of what I had written specifically before the movie as a temp which was great. So, to some capacity I’ve been working on this film since January of last year and finally finished on January 12th of this year.

It’s not surprising in one way that your music was created in response to reading the script itself from the director so it’s interesting how it’s more your reaction to getting inside this story. And there’s a lovely parallel also – thematically and the particular world the film exists in – between your solo works and the themes of ‘Hereditary’?

CS: I think that because we were of such a like-mind and because he knows my solo music so intimately and at the same time understood that we weren’t going to approach this as though it was a solo record and we were able to seamlessly find a continuity and well agreement as to what the character of this score should be early on so there really weren’t any major disagreements or anything which is rare and the working relationship had been throughout the whole process just completely positive – not saying that it wasn’t collaborative because certainly there were things to go back and forth on from time to time – but in terms of the major theme ideas, sonic ideas and the general arc of the whole film, I was very pleased to find we were on the same page throughout in our inspirations and our ideas.

You typify this incredible sphere of contemporary music that’s happening this past decade or so. I’d love for you to go back to your last solo record which was another incredible feat, ‘All I Do This For Glory’. As a listener, it’s always fascinating to realize there’s never any overdubs where it’s all very much in the moment and live.

CS: That’s the major parameter that I set for the solo recordings and which I set many years ago when I first started making them back in 2006 (when I started making Vol. 1). It was just this one simple rule that there wouldn’t be anything added and there wouldn’t be anything extra beyond the relationship between myself and the instrument. And what that does is it challenges you to use to a full extent everything that is there in front of you, to a degree that you wouldn’t have if you could look elsewhere for other avenues sonically – shortcuts and whatnot. But with that, it opens up in the context of something like a film score is that I have a whole host of sounds, approaches and musical aesthetic that I have developed over the years for this solo stuff that I can mime in the context of the film score.

So, for this one I used – although nowhere is there anything stripped down to a single instrument the way that I would do on a solo record – there are moments where the foundation of the cue is completely captured exactly how I would capture a solo piece and then simply embellish upon after the fact with overdubs and more arrangement just to put it in the greater continuity of the score as a whole. So, sometimes a score for me won’t be like that at all and I did some music for a film called ‘Outlaws and Angels’ which was very sax-centric; there wasn’t a whole lot of embellishing and arrangement on top of that so one that was very stripped down. And then other things like a score I did for ‘La Peur’ (a French film ‘The Fear’) where it’s basically a chamber orchestra ensemble with a bit of the flair of the characteristics of my solo pieces as more of an after-thought: an aesthetic and not foundational.

This one [‘Hereditary’] I liked doing to such a degree especially because we got to start so early and really get into the character of the score as an individual; as another member of the cast as it were; we really got to find an overall continuity that I don’t think you always get to find in a score, so I had a lot of fun making this one.

Another aspect to this score I love is how there are the more epic pieces interwoven with the shorter pieces and where – as always – there’s this light versus dark element with dark, foreboding, menacing segments in contrast to the achingly beautiful, fragile moments throughout as well.

CS: Exactly. The main challenge with the score was to – as Ari had put it early on – he simply wanted to avoid sentimentality at all costs and just create from the opening of the film, to create this sense of foreboding and an all-encompassing evil and how to do that without it seeming tongue in cheek or having it melodramatic to a degree where people stop believing you after a little while. So for me it was really just about making sure that everything was done as patiently as possible and being as minimal as possible with each cue in terms of an economy of arrangement and instrumentation but also an economy of motif so that things like you said the subtle moments can really play up and even those big moments there’s still like a central focus in them and the bombast doesn’t become like an intricate cacophony to a degree where it takes your eyes off of the propulsion through the narrative.

Being able to step away from the score as a whole and find a grand continuity throughout the whole thing; it’s hard to talk about this one specifically because there’s so much danger of spoilers because it’s one of those things where it’s hard to even watch a trailer because I feel as though so much of the movie is given away [laughs] by throwing up so many images and from scenes throughout it because basically the first scene happens and then everything is a spoiler [laughs]. There are a great many things that I did throughout all of it that I can’t discuss in their function or in their structure because even to discuss it musically would be to give away some aspects of the narrative.

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As a composer and having  a string of solo albums, scores and the many collaborations you’ve done too, I’d love to gain an insight into your compositional approach if you have certain processes that you feel serves as a constant irrelevant of what the specific album you’re working on? Or if you have certain philosophies in terms of how you score a particular work?

CS: Well, there are a few different levels or layers to the process. I guess the first step is what is the story? What is this narrative? What is the overwhelming and underlining theme or intention that’s imbued? So there is always a bit of an epic tale as it were through each solo record. The last one was probably the first one that I did where I was trying to scale back and make it more in terms of the character of it, it’s more of a character study of a fictional individual in a parable-type story that I had written as a side narrative to the continuity of the trilogy and its opposite and relative character will be coming out with the next record. So that’s the first step: to really abstractly figure out what it is that I’m trying to say; what is the basic emotionality that you’re trying to imbue everything with so that’s carried through to the listener. And that would be the same thing for a score as well: what are the parameters in which we can say it.

The next step is figuring out the overall character and what is the instrumentation. For me, because I do everything myself: I perform all the instruments myself and record everything myself, it’s always a question of do I have the instrumentation already or do I need something that I don’t have ; do I need to learn something new that I don’t yet know how to do in order to make this music the way that I want it to be. So then that can be a brief process of really just identifying what the sound structures and characters of instruments that I’m going to be using the foundation for will be. Or it could be complicated and a little bit longer process where I’m actually buying new instruments and in some cases completely learning new skills in order to accomplish something that I don’t yet know how to do. And then along with that is if I know the general abstract emotional narrative and the character and then I have the nuts and bolts technicality of what are the instruments and what are the machinations of how I can make this happen.

Then it’s the process of doing it: I start to listen or read or I’ll start to really curtail my intake and consumption of media be it music or books so that it’s emphasizing the things that I want to emphasize and making sure that I’m not distracted by things that I don’t want to be distracted by. So in the case of ‘Hereditary’ I specifically and forcibly didn’t listen to any horror film scores or try to really watch any horror in anticipation of this because I didn’t want to be influenced by it. But at the same time I did specifically go towards other things to get at the resultant emotional qualities that I wanted to obtain through different means because I think trying to implement different tropes but not in conventional ways and not in a way that mapped onto the regular world of horror scores (so that will be the case with every record). Something like ‘Judges’ I think that I listened to almost exclusively gospel music for like a year as I was preparing and writing music for that record. And something like the last record I was just consuming so much of a cross of 90’s electronica and metal; it was like a practice of nostalgia for me of that era of my early adulthood so that being a very specific motives for me wanting to take music from my life experience in that particular era of my life but also the particular music that I mimed from that era were intentional; so I would be imbuing this record with the spirit of that background I guess.

As you say that too Colin, the last solo record certainly had the textures and colours of the techno producers of that time throughout that record.

CS: Great. I feel like it always comes through. I think I probably consciously micro-manage everything to a degree that most people aren’t used to but it really just worked for me.

Thinking about your solo records or works in general, do you find yourself for an intense period during the recording stage in particular because as you do it all live, do you find yourself rehearsing for extended periods and going through things before you step into the recording studio?

CS: It would be impossible for me to even sum up how much time. So, by the time that I get to the studio: I’ll take the example of the last record which is definitely the record that I spent the most time making because I recorded it myself in my studio, I was able to take the kind of time that I always wanted to be able to take. So, sometimes you spend years writing songs, getting them to a place where you can physically play the things that you have imagined because sometimes you imagine a piece but I can’t actually physically pull it off until I do x amount of work and sometimes it’s years of practice to get to a place that I’ve envisioned.

So then you have it to a place where it’s adequate: you can see capturing the piece of music as it is finally whole but then the process of getting it into the studio is sometimes long and drawn out because I use an array of microphones; choosing where those microphones are going to go sometimes is a bit of trial and error; choosing what sort of gear – which microphones, which pre-amps, which compression. How I’m capturing the sounds is entirely paramount to the mix at the end and then just hearing how the songs themselves are being captured so there are certain things that I need to be played over and over again and listen to over and over again for me to see how the mics are responding to certain dynamic changes.

Sometimes a whole piece will have to be recorded massively quieter overall than I would normally perform it live or sometimes the dynamics have to be exaggerated to a degree that I would never have been inspired to do in a live context but in the recording it is really necessary. So this process could be just days in the studio going over and playing it like half a dozen times every day or more to get there and that’s just the last stretch (like the last week of recording) and not to mention all of the hours on end throughout the years of writing stuff. It all comes from a place of just an enormous amount of rigour.

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All your releases have this essence that your life’s work is contained within these songs; there’s so much borne inside the music. When ‘Sorrow’ came out, it’s such a special record and your reimagining of Gorecki’s third symphony. This is something you had in your head for many years and with the Sorrow Ensemble, it feels like this close family of musicians. I gather this must have been an amazing experience to fully realize a dream of yours and seeing it come to fruition?

CS: Absolutely. That one in particular because as you know I don’t tend to do too much in the company of others at this stage in my career – it’s not because I don’t ever want to; there’s just limited time to get everything done. But that group, as you said it’s put together first and foremost by who the people are in my life and our relationships together. And then it also is a fact of my close relationships in that they are with people who have this astounding talent and facility on their instruments and very specific sounds and characters. So something like the ‘Sorrow’ thing I’ve been imagining it for a couple of decades really almost, how it would change, what I would change, why I would change the things that I would. And then it really was just a confluence of this particular set of people that was the final piece of the puzzle: this takes it from being something conceptual and makes it into something concrete.

Now we have performed this fifteen or sixteen times at this point over the course of the past couple of years and we continue to book more and it’s such a lovely thing to know that all of us just inhabit this music – we have it, it’s a thing that exists at all times and all we need is a call to get everyone in one place and this big beautiful and terrible thing can happen [laughs].

The live performance must be such a thrill especially as you say just to get everyone in the one room, it must be a special moment in itself to actually perform it live as a group?

CS: Oh absolutely. Again it’s one of those things where the majority of what I do has been – especially for this past decade – is solo performance so just having the pleasure and privilege of the company of all of those players. It is some of the most joyous backstage hangs ever is with that group of people [laughs], it is a beautiful band and I’m hoping to find the time and the circumstance so that I can have that group do something that lives on past the Gorecki reimagining and into other original work.

The physicality of the sound has long been one of the great hallmarks of your music and seeing you play live the listener can physically witness it. Your relationship and engagement with the saxophone instrument; I wonder looking over your discography you must find that you’re continually finding new ways and insights into your instrument because it feels like you are always covering new ground?

CS: Yeah I mean I’m surely trying; that was the purpose of the setting behind those basic rules in the beginning of the solo music was that if you just set up a few very simple parameters then you still have freedom – and music can be anything – but you have to find it in a certain source. And so then if you narrow down the relationship and the source of all sounds to particular instruments and your physicality then the challenge is what can you imagine and what you can think up and then figure out ways to implement with your body is the key. It all stems from that.

Some things will be immediately accessible and will just happen because already you have the ability to do it and some things will be more imagined and it will take sometimes years to get to the place where you can actually pull off the performance of a piece through a very specific and pointed practice regimen to get there. And I’ve just always really thrived on that structure and the thing that is thrilling is that I continue to find more: sometimes subtly and sometimes decidedly not so with the instruments, with the process of capturing sounds; sometimes there was a pretty massive evolution to the capturing of sounds between Vol. 3 and this last record where I’m given so much more time and experimentation with different mics and different placements and different mixing processes that I get it that those things have completely evolved from earlier renditions.

And I don’t imagine that there is ever a time when you simply say: “Ok, that’s it, this is the end of the hole that I’m digging and this mine is all bored out”; I don’t imagine that life and art works that way. So, I just continue to search and enjoy it.

In terms of your chosen musical path and the development of your own musical voice, did you have certain eureka or significant moments during your upbringing or even as you were a bit older where you really felt that you wanted to pursue your own solo music?

CS: Well, the earliest and biggest influence in my life was Hendrix, my dad used to listen to a ton of Hendrix so I defaulted and I just grew up listening and appreciating it. I had a huge infatuation with the music of Tom Waits and then continued to. And through that discovering Marc Ribot and really just becoming enamoured with his career and the way that he had not only been able to be such a  prominent figure as a sideman in different people’s careers but also as a soloist and bandleader for himself was very inspirational.

And Tom Waits, for that matter, learning how to play – in some part – through listening and playing along to his records. Working with him: that experience was pretty integral to me stepping outside the normal way of how things are done or in the way that I had been doing things compositionally or improvisationally and I started to look at things more narratively and more theatrically, more from a storyteller’s perspective. And so I wouldn’t have gotten to the kind of place as a composer or as a storyteller without that relationship for sure.

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It must have been a dream scenario working with Tom Waits? What records were you working on?

CS: That was in 2002 and 2003/2004. Most of what I did with him was the horns on two albums, ‘Alice’ and ‘Blood Money’ and then I did a few tracks that ended up on the ‘Orphans’ album box-set. Yes it literally was that dream come true situation because quite specifically I moved to the San Francisco Bay area in order to be near to where I knew he lived, so that I could – totally in a non-stalker kind of way – perhaps get onto his radar at some point in life and make some music for and with him. So it was one of those things that really seemingly comes out of nowhere but where it comes out of is entirely traceable and it’s really just having an intention, putting yourself in a certain position and being as prolific in the scene as you possibly can and ensuring that every time that you step up to playing with people you not only represent yourself as best as can as a player but also as a person and friend with them because it’s through those friendships and the performances that all the other relationships are going to come out of.

The EX-EYE record was another amazing release of yours. Again like what you were touching on before, it’s you with your close musical friends; I love the sheer wall of sound that you are able to conjure up and how it’s captured then on the album itself.

CS: For sure. The whole point of EX-EYE was to make a very specifically and intentionally virtuosic music – a friend just described it as “transcendent virtuosity”. I wanted to get this group together; Greg [Fox] and I were talking more and more about this idea of ‘maximalism’ (which I think is a misuse of how the term was initially quoted for), but the way we tend to think about it really is like a hyper-saturated virtuosic minimalism where you’re overfilling limited space with enormous amounts of melodic and rhythmic information but doing so in a way that unfolds in the same sense that minimalist music would melodically, harmonically and thematically. So the end result is this really heavy, very, very dense [sound] and through that, much bigger strokes are formed. It’s incredible to have music written with them and to perform with them and we’re starting to work on some new stuff.

‘Hereditary’ OST is out now on Milan Records.

Colin Stetson’s forthcoming Autumn European TOUR.

http://www.colinstetson.com/
https://colinstetson.bandcamp.com/

Written by admin

August 21, 2018 at 2:00 pm