Posts Tagged ‘Christina Vantzou’
Interview with Neil Leiter (Echo Collective co-founder).
“I love playing this music and feeling my heart slow down in the pulseless moments, and then the opposite, getting carried away by the wall of sound and transported to the next realm.”
Words: Mark Carry
Photograph: Jesse Overman
Echo Collective is a collective of classically trained and professionally active musicians based in Brussels Belgium. Past and ongoing collaborations include A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Stars of the Lid, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Laniakea, Adam Wiltzie, Dustin O’Halloran, and Christina Vantzou.
The live experience is one of those rare occurrences where a multitude of emotions can engulf your every thought, like a whirlpool of forgotten dreams that suddenly resurface to the pools of your mind. Of course, an experience such as this is impossible to quantify but the feelings and profound impact caused by these sonic transmissions is absolute and true.
When I think of some of these live experiences, the Echo Collective string quartet lies at the heart of several otherworldly live shows: Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson; A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s ‘Atomos’ tour (several years later) and Stars Of The Lid’s 2016 European tour. Undoubtedly, the gifted quartet have developed a common musical language with these awe-inspiring modern composers and the wall of intense sound unleashed by these live strings – blended with electronics, drone noise, ripples of piano notes or otherwise – navigates the depths of the human heart and (unknowingly) transported to another realm.
As part of the Echo Collective’s concert residency at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels during the 2016-2017 season, the Echo Collective will re-adapt and reinterpret Radiohead’s Amnesiac album. In a similar way to André de Ridder’s exceptional Stargaze modern classical ensemble – their reinvention of Boards Of Canada’s ‘HI Scores’ EP or the divine ‘Deerhoof Chamber Variations’ record are just two examples – Echo Collective are continually searching to redefine the boundaries of music (and in turn, these boundaries become beautifully blurred).
As part of the Echo Collective’s concert residency at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels during the 2016-2017 season, the Echo Collective will re-adapt and reinterpret Radiohead’s Amnesiac album. For details of the first edition of the BRDCST Festival and Echo Collective’s show (as a double-bill with Germany’s Hauschka), please visit HERE.
Echo Collective performing with A Winged Victory For The Sullen at the BBC Proms, 5 Aug 2015, Royal Albert Hall, London.
Interview with Neil Leiter (Echo Collective co-founder).
It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about your awe-inspiring musical project of Echo Collective. Firstly, can you please take me back to the founding of Echo Collective and the particular space and time in which this collective began on their music path? I’d love to gain an insight into your musical background and classical training. Also, please introduce to me the current personnel who comprise of Echo Collective.
Neil Leiter: First Mark, thank you for your interest in Echo Collective. It is a true honour to be part of your inspiring blog.
Echo Collective began five years ago. I was introduced to Adam Wiltzie by a childhood friend Caroline Shaw. She plays violin as part of ACME in New York and is a fantastic and renowned composer. As part of ACME, she had played with Adam as part of A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Stars of the Lid. Adam was looking for European based musicians to play with, and she put us in touch. I will be forever grateful for that introduction.
Margaret Hermant and I put a team together to collaborate with AWVFTS and Echo Collective grew out of that initial relationship. All of our musicians come from a classical background. For example I studied viola performance at Indiana University Bloomington, and had been an active professional in Brussels for ten years before Echo. Margaret our violinist and harpist, studied in Brussels and has also been an active professional for many years before Echo. The list goes on, but the background is the same. Classically trained musicians, searching to redefine the boundaries of music and what it means to be a classical musician.
Echo was and still is primarily a collaborative group. Though we have started to branch into our own projects, our roots remain collaborating with modern composers on their new projects, recordings, and tours. Though we tour mostly as a string group, normally between three and five musicians, our team in residence at the AB in Brussels this year, is seven strong: Margaret on violin and harp, myself on viola, Harm Garreyn on cello, Gary De Cart on piano, Hélène Elst on bassoon/contrabassoon,Yan Lecollaire on clarinet/bass clarinet/baritone sax, and Antoine Dandoy on orchestral percussion. The upcoming albums that we plan to release also are in this formation.
You have formed an integral part with many of the finest modern composers of today, including Stars of the Lid, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Christina Vantzou and more. Please discuss how the process of collaboration has developed between Echo Collective and these array of composers? It is clear that there is a dedication, trust and openness between you and these collaborating musicians. Each of these projects must take you on some deeply rewarding and fulfilling experiences. How have you developed as a string quartet in light of these wonderful projects and collaborations?
NL: You are completely right that collaborating with the aforementioned composers is deeply rewarding and fulfilling. Part of what makes it so special is that there is a real dialogue between us and the composers. Because we come from such different backgrounds, part of working with each of them is developing our own common language for musical communication. And as we develop this language together, there is a deep bond that develops. All of these people are like family now. I think that these strong relationships come from learning how to communicate in our own special way, in an individualised way. In a way that only relates to their music.
I know that these composers appreciate that dedication. And all the people that take part in Echo have that innate ability to live the music live. In fact my wife jokes that I am probably the biggest Winged Victory fan. And I might be, I listen to their music and the music of all these amazing people all the time. And I truly do love it. All the people of Echo do. And that love is felt by our collaborators and hopefully the audience.
It is hard to say how we have developed over these years. I think that probably, we are faster in understanding what the composers want. Often times anticipating ideas before they are brought up. After playing so many concerts together, mostly it just takes a few words or a certain look between us to know where we are going and how we are going to get there.
The live experience of playing cities around the world with these incredible artists must be another truly inspiring avenue and path to be on. I was fortunate to witness Echo Collective onstage with Stars of the Lid last year and Jóhann Jóhannsson a few years previously. Can you shed some light on the preparation and rehearsals that are involved with these tours? I wonder what particular stage in the live context would be your favourite? The energy and depths of emotion that fill the atmosphere during these shows of yours create such a deeply profound impact on the listener. Can you somehow reflect on the live performance of music and the effect of strings (and the live string quartet) has on the live setting?
NL: For me personally, music is at its best live. I think that is where the greatest range of emotion is communicated by the performer and felt by the audience. And this is where the live strings really add the most. Because we are naturally acoustic, we can give the soft moments the transparency of un-amplified sound. And because we are amplified, as the music reaches those mind bending peaks in volume, we can help give it that extra oomph. In those forte moments, often times I feel that even in three we sound like one hundred.
We have worked over the years with Tom Lezaire (our long time sound engineer with AWVFTS and SOTL) as well as other sound engineers to keep the natural sound of the string instruments. Even in the loud moments, the audience should feel the direction of the sound from the strings, the bow moving across the strings, the hiss of the contact point. Though the audience only sees the musicians on stage, the relationship that we have with Tom and the other sound engineers is imperative to a strong live performance.
As we play these great compositions, we try to feel the emotion that we want to convey. As a result, if we are doing our job correctly, the depth of emotion that we feel, should be the feeling that the audience gets swept away by. I love playing this music and feeling my heart slow down in the pulseless moments, and then the opposite, getting carried away by the wall of sound and transported to the next realm. That is by far my favorite part of the live context, being transported by the music.
As Margaret always says, and she is so right, having a stable team that is able to communicate and feel in these common ways is essential to being swept away and sharing that feeling with the audience. It is not by accident that we convey these feelings, it comes from years of playing together.
Echo Collective plays ‘Amnesiac’ is an ongoing residency at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, which culminates in April 7ths Brdcst Festival performance. Firstly, please discuss your reasons for choosing Radiohead’s Amnesiac album and indeed your love and fascination with this band? This of course was a special time, when ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ were unleashed into the world at the turn of the millennium. What are your memories of first hearing ‘Amnesiac’ and the impressions it left on you?
NL: This might surprise you, but I had never listened to the Amnesiac album before Kurt from the AB proposed it as the focal point of our residency. I grew up singularly focused to a fault on classical music. In fact it is a kind of running inside joke how little popular culture I actually have. That being said, other members of Echo are huge Radiohead fans.
Kurt Overbergh, the artistic director of the AB in Brussels, initially proposed a choice between Kid A and Amnesiac as the focal point of our residency. At that point, I asked for a week, and immersed myself in these great records. We decided to work on Amnesiac because it is more complex, more built on layers, in my opinion more based of classical construction and colours, and in many ways more of a challenge.
The live recordings of ‘Amnesiac’ from AB Brussels, are quite extraordinary and the intricate arrangements are a joy to savour. Can you talk me through the process of notating, arranging and fleshing out these songs, so to speak? What I love is how you add many colours, textures and new perspectives to the sound world of ‘Amnesiac’. What have been the most challenging aspects of this project?
NL: Gary, our pianist, and I have been working this year to arrange these songs. Of course the process involves notating all the parts from the original songs (Gary is a real pro at this) and then imagining how to apply it to our ensemble. In a lot of ways, reworking the songs without voice has been freeing. Where a traditional rock song has to leave lots of room for the vocal line, we have allowed the secondary lines to be more equal with the vocal melody. This results in more interaction between the lines, and as a result hopefully lots of colours and variation in sound and form.
The hardest part has been finding our voice within, while still remaining ‘true’ to the original. We want the audience to feel like they are meeting an old friend for the first time. To feel comfort in hearing a song that they love, but to be challenged to listen and interact with it like it is the first time. That is a real fine line to balance.
After our initial arrangements, all the fleshing out and balancing happens collectively in rehearsal. We try things, see if they work, play a concert, reimagine, and repeat. We are constantly searching to take the sound to the limit, to appropriate each line as our own. In this way, the pieces are not just interpretations but reinventions. Our residency at the AB has really allowed us the time to work through all these processes, and to assimilate the music for ourselves. It has been a fantastic opportunity that we are very thankful for, and I think that we are finding that illusive balance.
The opening ‘Pyramid Song’ is magnificently re-arranged. The woodwind instrumentation replaces Thom Yorke’s voice but retains that sombre, brooding, dense feeling and atmosphere. Can you talk me through the instrumental make-up of ‘Pyramid Song’ and what new layers were composed for some of these parts?
NL: Like almost all of the songs, there is very little composition added to these amazing pieces, the lines from the original are kept, but readapted in our colours and techniques. In Pyramid Song the intro and outro are wind like color effects that we added to help set the mood. We achieved this through extended techniques in the strings and winds. And the baritone sax replaces Thom Yorke’s voice, later doubled by the contrabassoon. We chose those instruments to try and capture the amazing timbre he is able to achieve. It was one of the first arrangements we did, and still one of our favorites.
‘Hunting Bears/Like Spinning Plates’ epitomises the dynamic range of your ‘Amnesiac’ performances and just how aesthetically rich these compositions are. One of the defining moments arrives with the gradual awakening of ‘Like Spinning Plates’, coming after the sparse ‘Hunting Bears’. So much colour is added to the latter, it’s a piece I’m sure you particularly enjoyed arranging and performing? The strings on top of the piano and percussion – arriving on the rise of the song – is one of the defining moments of this live set.
NL: Hunting Bears is originally a big guitar solo, but for us was very reminiscent of a recitative from opera. Very free and in a way spoken. Margaret plays both the harp part and then the violin part which replace the guitar, and we follow her seemingly free form improvisation like an orchestra would accompany a singer in a recitative. We chose to use it more as an introduction to Spinning Plates than as a standalone piece.
And our version of Spinning Plates is based on Radiohead’s live version of this song. Their live version spoke to us directly, almost like something that we would have composed ourselves. It is probably my favorite, and also the most classical of all the songs. Like in many of the arrangements the vibraphone and glockenspiel are integral in creating the resonate atmosphere. Everything just fits together like a clock. The contrabassoon line, which is not really the melody in the original, is a great solo line in our version. Put all together it gives the sensation of flying.
‘I Might Be Wrong’ and ‘You and Who’s Army’ remain as vital and affecting on these live recordings. I feel listening to these arrangements of yours, it not only reminds us how incredible Radiohead’s works are but how you are able to channel new energy and perspectives into these songs. ‘You And Who’s Army’ was always one of my favourite songs from the original and to see how this instrumental version slowly bloom and continually build is certainly the record’s crescendo.
NL: Part of the work that went into these arrangements was imagining the dynamics in a classical way. That means creating long crescendos, or dynamic contrasts that might not be evident in the original. ‘You and Who’s Army‘ was in fact reimagined as one long crescendo. The soft color of the bassoon solo accompanied by harp and soft viola and cello, that transitions into a raucous jazz inspired baritone sax and violin solo. This version really shows our full dynamic range both in terms of volume and color. As the layers pile up, so does the emotion. This is an extremely classical construction, and is part of what helps us reclaim the song as our own.
What are the kinds of conversations you’ll be discussing about honing in on your sound as you’re working together for the next number of weeks before the Brdcst festival? It must also be quite liberating to be undergoing a project such as this where there is vast possibilities as to how to bring ‘Amnesiac’ to life with your artistic vision?
NL: At this point we are fine tuning. Everything is basically set, and we are working towards esoteric things like flow, how to connect the pieces, in which order, communication, balance etc. This is the part of the work where it really becomes chamber music.
How ‘Dollars and Cents’ is transformed into a sweeping orchestral jazz work out is another important part of Echo Collective’s ‘Amnesiac’ and how it serves a wonderful prelude to ‘Knives Out’. What have you learned about this body of work by Radiohead and what new insights and feelings/impressions you may have now after being immersed deeply in this project for the past few months?
NL: As we have worked through this large undertaking, we have been confronted with many things that we are not often confronted with as classical musicians. For example, non-classical musicians often talk about the groove, whereas classical musicians talk about pulse. This immersive process has really helped us to find that alternative perspective and abandon many of our preprogrammed classical clichés. By working through these arrangements we have in many ways transformed into a band. And that is exciting. But I am continuously struck by how classical and jazz oriented Radiohead is. It is ironic, but as we move away from what we know best, we continuously come full circle and are confronted with our origins. I feel that these songs are as much classical as they are not. And that paradox also gives the energy to reimagine what is already a great piece of art.
What other plans for Echo Collective lie on the horizon? I hope there will be (physical) releases made available in the near future.
NL: Thankfully there are many things on the horizon for Echo Collective.
We plan on releasing three albums in the near future, though where is still a great mystery. Of course we want to release the Amnesiac rework which we will record in August. We also want to release a reworking of Burzum’s ‘Daodi Baldrs‘ that was commissioned by the AB two years ago, which is already recorded, and we continue to play live. And we would like to release an album of our own original material that we have been working on in parallel to the Radiohead as part of our residency.
And then of course we will continue to work with AWVFTS as well as other artists in collaboration. For example, we are in the beginning of collaboration with Daniel O’Sullivan. And of course we are always looking for new collaborations with artists.
We are doing more and more film work these days. As well as teaching graphic scores in collaboration with Christina Vantzou. All in all we are very excited as our activities continue to diversify.
As part of the Echo Collective’s concert residency at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels during the 2016-2017 season, the Echo Collective will re-adapt and reinterpret Radiohead’s Amnesiac album. For details of the first edition of the BRDCST Festival and Echo Collective’s show (as a double-bill with Germany’s Hauschka), please visit HERE.
We’re proud to present an exclusive unreleased track by Christina Vantzou for August’s mixtape.The Kansas City-born and Brussels-based composer has released three solo full-length LP’s to date (‘N°1’, ‘N°2’ and ‘N°3’) via illustrious Chicago-based independent label Kranky.
Vantzou’s formidable body of work also spans the mediums of both visual art and film-making while her own music career began with duo The Dead Texan (alongside Adam Wiltzie) as the hybrid role of keyboardist/animator/video artist. The pair released their debut self-titled album in 2004 via Kranky. Through her preferred composing set-up of laptop, midi keyboard and headphones and an ever-present curiosity and tireless passion for exploring new sonic territories, Vantzou is among the the finest contemporary composers making music in the modern classical realm today.
Also featured on August’s edition are selections from the awe-inspiring Guerssen Records, a record label based in Catalonia, Spain. Set up in 1996, Guerrsen’s ever-expanding catalogue specialises in the reissuing of rare and obscure psychedelic, progressive, folk and garage albums from the 60s to early 80s.
Featured here are tracks from Paul Martin’s mid-sixties timeless opus “It Happened”; We The People’s fascinating compilation “Visions of Time: Complete Recordings” (a 60s teen band from L.A. who also recorded 45s under the American Zoo alias) and Oberon’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, a classic in the British psych-folk genre (it was originally released in 1971 as a private edition of only 99 copies).
August’s mixtape also features new releases from MJ Guider’s stunning debut album “Precious Systems” (Kranky), hype williams’ “10/10” (Bandcamp); the return of legendary duo Xylouris White (Australia’s Jim White and Greece’s George Xylouris) with “Black Peak” (Bella Union) and Peter Broderick’s latest masterful record, “Partners” (Erased Tapes).
Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S1E8 | August mix
To Read/listen on La Blogothèque:
01. Christina Vantzou – “juno loop 200 BC” (Unreleased)
02. Tomorrow The Rain Will Fall Upwards – “…And I Tried” (Blackest Ever Black)
03. Spiritualized – “Let It Flow” (Dedicated)
04. The Velvet Underground & Nico – “Venus In Furs” (Polydor)
05. Dirty Three – “Furnace Skies” (Anchor And Hope / Bella Union)
06. Xylouris White – “Black Peak” (Bella Union)
07. Trader Horne – “Jenny May” (Earth)
08. Dieterich & Barnes – “Parasol Gigante” (LM Duplication)
09. Kamuran Akkor – “Kabahat Seni Sevende” (Pharaway Sounds)
10. Mulatu Astatke – “Nètsanèt (Liberty)” (Buda Musique)
11. The Avalanches – “Because I’m Me” (XL Recordings)
12. Kamasi Washington – “Change Of The Guard” (excerpt) (Brainfeeder)
13. hype williams – “DIVA” (Bandcamp)
14. Jenny Hval – “Female Vampire” (Sacred Bones)
15. MJ Guider – “Triple Black” (Kranky)
16. Julian Winding – “The Demon Dance” (The Neon Demon OST, Milan)
17. Rival Consoles – “Lone” (Erased Tapes)
18. Bibio – “Wren Tails” (Warp)
19. Benoît Pioulard – “Layette” (Kranky)
20. Roj – “Attaining The Third State” (Ghost Box)
21. Oberon – “Nottamun Town” (Guerssen)
22. Georges Delerue – “Au Revoir Mon Amour!” (Cartouche OST, EmArcy)
23. We The People – “Back Street Thoughts” (Guerssen)
24. Robert Wyatt – “At Last I Am Free” (Rough Trade)
25. Jóhann Jóhannsson – “Flight from the City” (Deutsche Grammophon)
26. Peter Broderick – “Up Niek Mountain” (Erased Tapes)
27. Glenn Jones – “Spokane River Falls” (Thrill Jockey)
28. Brigid Mae Power – “Sometimes” (Tompkins Square)
29. Fiona Brice – “Glastonbury” (Bella Union)
30. Paul Martin – “This Is The End” (Guerssen)
Compiled by Fractured Air, August 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.
Interview with Christina Vantzou.
“ I think about images a lot while working on sound, but in a very simplified way at first. I collect images and slowly individual scenes starts to form in mind. The feeling or level of tension the images would hold against the music is what I think about, rather than narrative.”
Words: Mark & Craig Carry
October 2015 saw the Kansas-born and Brussels-based artist and composer Christina Vantzou release her third solo album – ‘N°3’ – via Chicago-based independent Kranky. Vantzou – whose formidable body of work also spans the mediums of both visual art and film-making – began her own music career as one half (alongside Adam Wiltzie) of the duo The Dead Texan as the hybrid role of keyboardist/animator/video artist. The pair released their debut self-titled album in 2004 (Vantzou’s distinctive artwork graces the sleeve) and still ranks as one of the finest records released on Kranky’s esteemed back catalogue.
In the decade since The Dead Texan, Vantzou has quietly amassed a formidable body of solo composition work comprising: ‘N°1’ (2011), ‘N°2’ (2014) and this year’s ‘N°3’. Tracing Vantzou’s journey across these albums is a fascinating one and the sheer scope and scale of its achievements ranks Vantzou – alongside the likes of Jóhannsson or Richter – as one of the finest contemporary composers making music in the modern classical realm today.
Much like Vantzou’s soul-stirring and visually-arresting films (the act of making films as accompaniments to each of her songs has become an increasingly important part of her work practice), a distinct sense of both space and time is always apparent. This stems through all stages of the music – from composing in her laptop/midi keyboard setup to the editing stage and making selections from this sprawling raw material; to the time-honored process of writing and developing notation and arrangements to the laborious pre-mixing and final mixing stages of the final album. When working over such necessarily long spells (‘N°2’ developed over a four-year period while ‘N°3’ stemmed from a two-year period), its fascinating to think of all the myriad decisions, impulses and choices that must – both consciously and unconsciously – feed into such an organic and fluid process. The traces of time can indeed be closely felt on the final recordings.
The spirit of collaboration is another vital factor in the art of Vantzou. Close collaborators over the years have included Adam Wiltzie (Stars Of The Lid, AWVFTS) and Minna Choi (of San Francisco’s Magik*Magik Orchestra). A keen development for ‘N°3’ is the contribution by John Also Bennett (who composes music as Seabat and plays synthesizers with Forma) on synthesizers across the album. How the synth lines merge and interact with the classical instruments and arrangements (‘N°3’ was recorded in Belgium with a 15-piece ensemble of strings, horns, woodwinds and micro-choir) is a pure joy to savor. Moments of both quiet beauty on one extreme to moments of dense and tightly layered passages co-exist. Much like the collaborative work (and indeed solo work) of Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld, there is always a certain sense of dichotomy at play: an interplay of both light and shadow; good and evil seem to permeate the recordings.
From the gradual rise and slow build of opener ‘Valley Drone’ (the addition of a soft drumbeat is reminiscent of Grouper’s ‘Made Of Metal’) the listener is slowly and irrevocably entangled into the heart of Vantzou’s glorious maze. World of both synthetic and analogue sounds merge to hypnotic and mesmerizing effect. An homage to the pioneering American composer Laurie Spiegel (‘The Expanding Universe’ marked an influence on Vantzou for both its author’s conceptual approach as well as the music’s own resonance) is beautifully made in the form of the album’s second track (it’s tempting to make parallels to Vantzou’s own background as a Maths teacher and how it influences her own approach to music-making). Interestingly, the series of tracks entitled ‘Pillars’ point to this direction (the compositions adhere to a solid mathematical scheme) and comprise more drone-orientated and ambient, texture-heavy passages. These ‘Pillars’ act as beautiful counterpoint to the more symphonic parts to ‘N°3’ (‘CV’, ‘Entanglements’), while elsewhere Kranky labelmate Loscil (Canada’s Scott Morgan) collaborates on the delightful ‘Stereoscope’. Reminiscent of the recordings of The Dead Texan, an increasing use of vocal samples marks another glorious shift in direction on ‘N°3’, moments of pure epiphany (recalling the likes of Julianna Barwick’s ‘The Magic Place’ or Eno’s ‘Music For Airports’) are arrived upon on the likes of ‘Pillar 5’ and ‘Robert Earl’.
‘N°3’ confirms – not that confirmation was ever needed – Vantzou as one of the most consistently intriguing artists and highly imaginative minds making music today. While we quietly await ‘N°4’ we can rest assured knowing that we already have enough in Vantzou’s treasured music presently to last a lifetime.
‘N°3’ is available now on Kranky.
Interview with Christina Vantzou.
Congratulations on the truly stunning new record, Christina. If ‘Nº1’ and ‘Nº2’ felt like sister records, it feels that ‘Nº3’ marks a significant advancement in this compelling series of ambient infused drone creations. In terms of scope, ambition, the prominence of synthesizers, and overall the intensity and sense of oblivion that ‘Nº3’ takes you on, this record is formidable in every sense. Please take me back to the two-year process of making the album and recount your memories of assembling the layers; composing; arranging and the overall experimentation process? I am sure having two solo records under your belt, your mindset or approach to ‘Nº3’ also changed?
Christina Vantzou: I initially composed ‘Nº3’ in my apartment in Brussels on a laptop, midi keyboard and headphones. This is my preferred composing set up. I like everything to be portable so I can move easily from room to room.
I was listening to a lot of early synthesized film score music and female composers while working on ‘Nº3’. I got to see Eliane Radigue perform in Brussels, I was exposed to the music of Eduard Artemyev, and I listened to current film scores like Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ‘Prisoners’ soundtrack and Mica Levi’s score for ‘Under the Skin’. Early 2014 I went on a trip to London and visited the Natural History museum. There was incredible music pumping through the gem room, which I made a crappy recording of on my phone. I found a YouTube video of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra performing video game music. All of this was inspiration for ‘Nº3’…
From the beginning I knew I wanted to work with an orchestra, and if not an orchestra a sizable ensemble performing together. For ‘Nº3’ I worked in collaboration with The Chamber Players and their director/conductor David Anne. We’re all based in Belgium so the material could be discussed, planned and arranged in person. David Anne clued me in early on that recording with an orchestra would require a structure. I’d never thought about a global structure before when writing music and I never compose to a click track. Based on the material I gave him, he suggested that I think of the structure as an intro followed by “landscapes” alternating with “pillars” and an epilogue at the end. The image of landscapes and pillars worked for me so for the first time I worked with a structure in mind.
Focusing on the synthesizer instrument, please talk me through the various synthesizer instruments utilized on these recording sessions? This must have been quite a liberating and fun part of the creation of ‘Nº3’ in the sense that the strings would have been recorded to tape at this point in the process? In what way(s) did you approach the process of melding these two worlds: the synths and strings? It’s a real testament to the sonic journey of ‘Nº3’ of how these elements are so beautifully not only captured but so effortlessly fused together. For example, ‘Entanglements’ epitomises this, where the brooding strings are masterfully coalesced with some luminous synths. It’s just a joy to behold for the listener.
CV: Around the time ‘Nº2’ came out I heard the album ‘Scattered Disc’ from Seabat and became an instant fan. John Also Bennett, one half of Seabat, did the synth work on ‘Nº3’. We worked together over about a week using synths from John’s collection; A Roland Juno 6, a Yamaha DX7, CS20 and several Eurorack modules. I had MIDI files for each of the parts recorded by the orchestra so we fed a lot of this MIDI information through the synths, which basically means the synths could play back any part from the ‘Nº3’ score. John also played parts freely, like the descending melody on Laurie Spiegel. He recorded everything on the fly in one take for the most part. We recorded tons and tons of material. ‘Nº3’ became a very big project in terms of recordings at that point so it took several months to mix it all.
‘Entanglement’ was a one take/5 minute recording of the entire orchestra responding to a graphic score. The score lays out simple parameters: the bassier instruments drone in A and the instruments of the higher registers can enter when they want with notes in the key of E, D and sometimes C. Synths were recorded in response to the same score and the whole thing was mixed together. I got to perform this one in Belgium at an outdoor concert in August with synths and orchestra and it turned out pretty great. It’s different every time.
Please discuss (and explain for me) the structured tracks that comprise ‘Nº3’ and this specialized technique you have dubbed as “pillars”. Furthermore, can you perhaps shine some light on the relationship (or direct correlation) you feel exists between musical structure and mathematics?
CV: Musical scores are essentially all math; they rely on a counting system and regularity of counts. It’s a way to structure time and coordinate a group of people playing together. It’s very practical for ensembles which is why it’s the basis of classical music. But listening to music that’s 100% on a fixed tempo, particularly classical music, dulls my brain a bit.
Because I teach math part-time it would make sense that I would get into the math part of musical notation, but it’s not the case. Working without any click track, there’s been a dilemma on each record over whether to re-shape the pieces into a mapped tempo or not, for the purposes of recording. On ‘Nº3’ we decided to do a bit of both. The ambient pieces have no time structure whatsoever and the more melodic pieces were scored out traditionally — these are the pillars.
The score for ‘pillar 3’ was slowed down 4 times for the recording of ‘Robert Earl’. ‘Pillar 3’ and ‘Robert Earl’ are essentially the same score with entirely different arrangements; ‘pillar 3’ is all synths and ‘Robert Earl’ is all orchestra. Because of the slowing down business, I named the track ‘Robert Earl’ after DJ Screw.
My current favourite is ‘CV’, a gorgeous ambient gem of soaring strings, voices and harmonies. Worlds of Reich, Part, Loscil & Jóhannsson seem to seep wonderfully into the mix. Can you recount your memories of writing, composing and recording this particular track, Christina?
CV: ‘CV’ is very much a collaboration between myself, Minna Choi, The Chamber Players, and John Also Bennett. Minna did the arrangements on ‘CV’, (she did all the arrangements on ‘Nº1’ and ‘Nº2’) and I meddled heavily with these arrangements after recording. It was completely deconstructed and reconstructed. Parts that were assigned to winds and voices became synth parts and effects were piled onto to the voice of Els Wollaert; one of three vocalists on ‘Nº3’. I also time stretched some parts. I was thinking a lot about Talk Talk while working on this track.
The second track is named after Laurie Spiegel. Her cosmic spirit seems to be floating in the ether amidst the beautiful sound waves of ‘Nº3’. Can you discuss the importance of Spiegel’s work and the impact her musical philosophy and recorded work has had on your own music?
CV: In the early stages of composing ‘Nº2’, I listened to Laurie Spiegel’s ‘The Expanding Universe’ for the first time while reading her interview / liner notes printed on the back of the original 1980 vinyl. I related to her use of time, which sort of feels like structure without structure, because of some time-varying going on, and also the minimalistic qualities of her movements. She said in that interview: “I suppose the rates of change within and between my pieces are about halfway between the atonalists and the minimalists. I’ve tried to find a balance between predetermination and spontaneity, and to compose simple materials into complex relationships.”
On ‘Nº3’ I wanted to try a spontaneous recording with the orchestra without scores and make a nod to Laurie. So I had the orchestra listen to a 5-minute modulated sample of Laurie Spiegel’s ‘The Expanding Universe’ through headphones and asked them to play what they were hearing. Each section of the orchestra did a take, synths were overdubbed on top, and these became the raw materials for that track. It was an experiment and ‘The Expanding Universe’ sample is the artifact, in honor of Laurie.
‘Stereoscope’ sees you collaborate with label-mate Scott Morgan (aka Loscil). I would love for you to talk me through the contribution Scott made to this track and indeed if this was a track where both artists worked on creating together, from beginning to end or was it more a case of gradually sculpting something together by exchanging tracks & different ideas, back & forth?
CV: I asked Scott early on if he could send me some “sub bass-y pulse-y” sounds to compose on top of. He asked what key and what BPM. I said F, and BPM was up to him. So he sent me the pulse that you hear in ‘Stereoscope’. It was great to compose from, I made a bunch of sketches with it but I often listened to his file on its own and thought it might not need much on top after all. So I abandoned all the sketches and left it alone for a while. At some point in the latter stages of the mixing I came across something I’d made, a collage of different samples, possibly when working on ‘Nº1’, and layered it on top of Scott’s pulses. And at the bottom of the mix I added ambient engine noise from Star Trek with lots of reverb added in. There’s a 24-hour video clip of that sound on YouTube. People like to relax to it.
In terms of themes, primary concerns and the sonic world you envisioned for the new record, do you feel what you strived towards from the outset had changed in any way during the course of the two-year period? I feel you must have had a very clear focus on delving much deeper into the incorporation of synths and having a dichotomy of worlds inherent in the record, between modern-classical and ambient/electronic worlds.
CV: I intentionally wanted to explore sub bass and deep bass territory. It made sense to spend time on the synths to reach those lower frequencies. Bass was also given special attention while working with Francesco Donadello at Voxton studios on the final mixes in Berlin. In general, my ears tend to prefer when classical strings are doubled with synth sounds. Raw, unmixed orchestra can be very harsh on the ears. Drown it all in reverb I say.
Talk me through the slow motion videos that accompanies the new music, a trait which has gladly continued from the first two records. One of the great hallmarks of your music is the hugely immersive nature of your music. In terms of the films you make (which in turn, embodies the music & vice versa), are these perhaps the scenes and visions you internalize when it comes to composing the music?
CV: I think about images a lot while working on sound, but in a very simplified way at first. I collect images and slowly individual scenes starts to form in mind. The feeling or level of tension the images would hold against the music is what I think about, rather than narrative. So I end up filming several things, that are seemingly quite disconnected, and I’m not really sure what will come of these scenes while I’m working away, filming and recording. It’s a nerve-racking way to work because often times I feel like there’s a good chance it will end up all wrong, with me drowning in a huge pile of shit and not knowing what to do with it all. But it turns out a lot of artists amass a great deal of material and are heavy editors. I’m one of those people.
What music, art, film, books, travel, and overall sources of inspiration do you feel filtered into the creation of ‘Nº3’, Christina? It must feel very magical to witness the music translated to the live context when touring ‘Nº3’? What other plans and projects do you feel lies on the horizon?
CV: I was in Greece twice during the process of making ‘Nº3’ and also Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. Being on an island and taking long walks really clears the head. On Tenerife I listened to rough mixes on day-long walks and made a lot of decisions about the final mixes. I call it walk-editing. I was also inspired by a book that a good friend lent me in the summer of 2014, an intense occult read: ‘Liber Null and Psychonaut’. It made me think a lot about the act of making things and brain function.
‘N°3’ is available now on Kranky.
Nature of Daylight [A Fractured Air Mix]
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Meg Baird ‘Dear Companion’ [Drag City]
02. Max Richter ‘Path 5 (Delta)’ (excerpt) [Deutsche Grammophon]
03. Linda & Irene Buckley ‘Passages’ (excerpt) [Sounds from a Safe Harbour]
04. Christina Vantzou ‘Pillar 3’ [Kranky]
05. Mikael Tariverdiev ‘Boys and the Sea – part one’ [Earth Recordings]
06. Julia Holter ‘Lucette Stranded on the Island’ [Domino]
07. A Hawk And A Hacksaw ‘Lajtha Lassu’ [LM Duplication]
08. Marlene Dietrich ‘Go ‘Way from My Window’ [Columbia]
09. Joe Meek Orchestra ‘Cry My Heart’ [Castle Music]
10. Townes Van Zandt ‘Waitin’ Around To Die’ [Poppy]
11. Micachu & The Shapes ‘Oh Baby’ [Rough Trade]
12. Corrina Repp ‘Woods’ [Caldo Verde, Discolexique]
13. La Nuit ‘Road Snakes’ [Beacon Sound]
14. Rival Consoles ‘Morning Vox’ [Erased Tapes]
15. Cillian Murphy ‘In The Morning’ [Late Night Tales]
16. Brumes ‘I heard you’ [Bandcamp]
17. Dinah Washington & Max Richter ‘This Bitter Earth / On the Nature of Daylight’ [La French OST / Gaumont, Légende Films]
18. Blaze Foley ‘If I Could Only Fly’ [Lost Art]
Linda & Irene Buckley’s ‘Passages’ is taken from an installation piece commissioned by Sounds From a Safe Harbour (more info HERE).
Cillian Murphy’s ‘In The Morning’ is written by Enda Walsh exclusively for Nils Frahm’s Late Night Tales compilation (more info HERE).
The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
The following is a selection of the albums and re-issues that had the greatest impact on us for a wide range of different reasons. As difficult as it proved to settle on a final (and very concise) selection, we both turned to these special albums most often throughout the year. 2014 has been a year which has produced so many absolutely wonderful and truly special albums, here’s our personal selection of some of these (with a selection of ten albums and five re-issues).
Words: Mark & Craig Carry, All artwork: Craig Carry
Albums of the year:
Grouper ‘Ruins’ (Kranky)
‘Ruins’ was made while U.S. musician and artist Liz Harris was on an artist residency (set up by Galeria Zé dos Bois) during 2011 in Portugal’s Aljezur region. The location would provide a striking influence to Harris’s subsequent recordings (recorded in typically minimal fashion: a portable 4-track, Sony stereo mic and an upright piano) while the sense of both departure and a new-found freedom flow throughout ‘Ruins’ and its majestic and dreamlike eight tracks. During her Aljezur residency, Harris would embark on daily hikes to the nearest beach where she would encounter the ruins of several old estates and a small village. As Harris has said: “The album is a document. A nod to that daily walk. Failed structures. Living in the remains of love. I left the songs the way they came (microwave beep from when power went out after a storm); I hope that the album bears some resemblance to the place that I was in.”
‘Ruins’ is a stunning achievement which proves all the more astonishing considering the already extensive (and consistently breathtaking) recorded output of Grouper since the mid 00’s. ‘Clearing’ is arguably Harris’s most singularly beautiful song conceived to date. As Harris sings: “What has been done / Can never be undone” over a gorgeously delicate piano line we embark on yet another wholly unique and deeply personal odyssey under the stewardship of Harris’s very heart. Like a silent witness we hold our breath as we remain under Harris’s spell throughout (from the timeless ballad ‘Holding’ to the closing epic drone-heavy tour-de-force ‘Made of Air’). ‘Ruins’ is a quietly breathtaking force of nature: an album made as much by Harris’s own hands as by the moonlight’s illumination in the night sky or the evening sun’s last rays of faded half-light.
‘Ruins’ is available now on Kranky.
Caribou ‘Our Love’ (City Slang/Merge)
One of my most memorable moments of this past year was undoubtedly witnessing Caribou’s storming live set at 2014’s Body & Soul festival. A euphoric feeling ascended into the summer evening skyline as each transcendent beat and luminous pop-laden hook flooded our senses. The majority of 2010’s glorious LP ‘Swim’ was revisited, from the tropicalia-infused ‘Odessa’ to the hypnotic ‘Sun’ and all points in between. Dan Snaith & co’s set further confirmed the legendary status of Caribou; whose innovative and utterly compelling sonic creations (where elements of krautrock, dance, jazz, soul, hip-hop, and electronic soundscapes form one irresistible, mind-blowing sound spectrum) have long served a trusted companion for the independent music collector.
This year marked the highly anticipated fifth Caribou studio album, ‘Our Love’, which, in many ways, nestles beautifully between its predecessor ‘Swim’ and Snaith’s more techno-oriented project of Daphni. Lead single ‘Can’t Do Without You’ is an instant classic with a seamless array of melodic patterns and soulful vocals that evokes the soul-stirring songbook of Al Green as much as it spans the history of the dance floor. Several of the songs were co-written by gifted Canadian composer/violinist Owen Pallett (whose own solo record ‘In Conflict’ has been one of the most original, daring and innovative records of 2014) and Pallett’s distinctive violin-led melodies coalesce effortlessly with Snaith’s visionary dance structures.
Numerous remixes have since seen the light of day (where new perspectives and insights are drawn and re-configured) with the latest example being Carl Craig’s techno mix of ‘Your Love Will Set You Free’. Much in the same way as ‘Swim’, I know (and firmly believe) ‘Our Love’ will remain as vital and significant for many more years and decades to come.
‘Our Love’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Merge (USA).
Sharon Van Etten ‘Are We There’ (Jagjaguwar)
When Jersey-native and New York-based songwriter Sharon Van Etten first announced the arrival of ‘Are We There’, Van Etten’s fourth full-length and follow-up to her 2011 seminal work ‘Tramp’, she had these words to share: “I really hope that when someone puts my record on that they hear me.” Of course, Van Etten’s wishes have clearly been fulfilled. If there’s one thing we can firmly establish by now it is this: Van Etten makes music from the real world; a world of real events and real people with real feelings. Subsequently, steeped in a sometimes harsh reality, Van Etten’s songs are imbued with fears, struggles and (often) much pain. Much like Chan Marshall’s pre ‘The Greatest’ recorded output, Van Etten bravely examines her own life’s immediate surroundings and relationships to share her most innermost confessions and feelings for us all to bear witness. Through Van Etten’s songs we too can find our own deepest feelings long hidden in the shadows of some forgotten, distant dream.
‘Are We There’ is Van Etten’s first self-produced album (The National’s Aaron Dessner produced its predecessor ‘Tramp’) and features a host of wonderful musicians, including: Torres’s Mackenzie Scott on vocals (who toured extensively supporting Van Etten); Heather Woods-Broderick (on strings and vocals); Mary Lattimore (harp) as well as Van Etten’s trusted and formidable rhythm section (Zeke Hutchins on drums and David Hartley on bass). The use of vocal harmonies (Van Etten, Scott and Woods-Broderick) is a pure joy to witness. The resultant musical arrangements are stunningly cohesive and yet genuinely innovative, providing for many moments of challenging and divine musicianship — at times wonderfully dense and strikingly tactile (‘Our Love’ or ‘Every Time The Sun Coms Up’) — other times remain starkly sparse (‘I Know’) but, importantly, such intricacies of musicianship and arrangements only ever serve the song.
“Everybody needs to feel” sings Van Etten on ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’. It’s a sentiment that best serves the phenomenal and beloved artist that is Sharon Van Etten and ‘Are We There’. It’s another step to becoming your own true self. It’s a destination no one is ever likely to realistically reach but striving for it is proving to be Van Etten (and her sacred songbook)’s true towering achievement.
‘Are We There’ is available now on Jagjaguwar.
Clark ‘Clark’ (Warp)
‘I Dream Of Wires’ is a documentary based on the phenomenal resurgence of the modular synthesizer; exploring the passions and dreams of people who have dedicated part of their lives to this electronic music machine. The splendid documentary — released earlier this year — features interviews with Ghostly’s Solvent (who co-wrote the film in addition to composing the film score), Carl Craig, Jeremy Greenspan (Junior Boys) and Warp’s Clark. Reflecting on this particular film now, I feel it is precisely this exploration of passions and dreams that filters into the dazzling music of UK’s Chris Clark. The unique blend of utterly transcendent electronic creations is forever steeped in a rare beauty, filled with endless moments of divine transcendence.
This year marked the eagerly awaited release of new self-titled full-length (and seventh for Warp), following up 2012’s magical ‘Iradelphic’. The gifted producer’s meticulous touch can be felt throughout, from the cold-cut classic ‘Unfurla’ to the blissful synth-laden ‘The Grit In The Pearl’. Dance music for the here-and-now that breathes life and meaning into music’s endless possibilities.
As Clark has said: “Music is like sculpture. It’s like trying to capture a moment of ultimate momentum, and distill it forever”.
‘Clark’ is available now on Warp.
Hauschka ‘Abandoned City’ (City Slang/Temporary Residence Ltd)
Witnessing Hauschka’s Volker Bertelmann — whether in live setting during his renowned concert performances or in recorded contexts — a certain sense of magic fills the air. Sylvain Chomet’s 2010 animated marvel ‘The Illusionist’ comes to mind, as we are left in wonderment to observe the artist’s vast collection of skills and unlimited wells of talent. Known worldwide as one of the most recognizable 21st Century proponents of what is known as Prepared Piano, Bertelmann has amassed a considerable body of work over the last decade, ceaselessly weaving his own singular path — and on his own terms — to wondrous effect (much like fellow modern composers and restless souls Nils Frahm and Max Richter or such Twentieth Century masters as Eric Satie, John Cage and Steve Reich). Importantly, the album itself draws from research Bertelmann made (after the discovery of a series of photographic prints depicting the subject of abandoned cities) on the number of actual vacated cities in existence (each track title references a particular city). As Bertelmann has said: “I was interested in finding a metaphor for the inner tension I feel when I’m composing music, a state of mind where I’m lonely and happy at the same time.”
‘Abandoned City’ proves a certain milestone in Hauschka’s recorded output to date. An intriguing sense of both adventure and discovery seeps through every pore of the album’s ten compositions. Like all of Hauschka’s art, nothing is as it first seems. As we delve further into this abandoned city Hauschka has built for us we begin to lose all sense of what we initially thought was important in the process. We lose all traces of ourselves for that beautiful instant we are under Bertelmann’s sacred spell and that is what Hauschka’s divine art forever manages to do.
‘Abandoned City’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Temporary Residence Ltd (USA).
Steve Gunn ‘Way Out Weather’ (Paradise Of Bachelors)
The flawless North Carolina-based independent label Paradise of Bachelors has yet again been responsible for a string of modern-day Americana masterpieces, not least the latest tour-de-force from the ever-prolific, Brooklyn-based guitar prodigy and songsmith, Steve Gunn. This year’s ‘Way Out Weather’ feels like a natural culmination where every aspect of Gunn’s deeply-affecting songs — poignant story-telling quality, immaculate instrumentation and intricate musical arrangements — is heightened as the towering eight creations hits you profoundly and stirs your soul. 2013’s ‘Time Off’ was the starting point of Gunn’s song-writing path, having collaborated closely with Kurt Vile, Michael Chapman, Mike Cooper, The Black Twig Pickers and a host of others in recent times.
A timeless feel permeates every corner of the record. The recording sessions took place at Black Dirt Studio in Westtown, New York, featuring a formidable cast of musicians (and Gunn’s long-term collaborators) further adding to the widescreen, cinematic sound to ‘Way Out Weather’s sprawling sonic canvas. Longtime musical brothers and kindred spirits Jason Meagher (bass, drones, engineering), Justin Tripp (bass, guitar, keys, production), and John Truscinski (drums), in addition to newcomers Nathan Bowles (drums, banjo, keys: Black Twig Pickers, Pelt); James Elkington (guitar, lap steel, dobro: Freakwater, Jeff Tweedy); Mary Lattimore (harp, keys: Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile); and Jimy SeiTang (synths, electronics: Stygian Stride, Rhyton.)
On the utterly transcendent album closer, ‘Tommy’s Congo’, shades of Sonny Sharrock beautifully surfaces beneath the artefacts of time. The deep groove and rhythm interwoven with this vivid catharsis is nothing short of staggering. The cosmic spirit captured on the closing cut — and each of these sublime recordings — permanently occupies a state of transcendence. As each song-cycle unfolds, the shimmering worlds of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue or the Stones’ ‘Exile On Main St.’ fades into focus. ‘Way Out Weather’ is dotted with captivating moments from the ways of a true master.
‘Way Out Weather’ is available now on Paradise Of Bachelors.
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh & Dan Trueman ‘Laghdú’ (Irishmusic.net)
2014 has been a remarkable year for Ireland-based composer Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. Firstly, January saw the release of contemporary quintet The Gloaming’s stunning self-titled debut album via Real World Records. Subsequent concerts would be performed across the globe (including Sydney’s Opera House) to mass celebration and widespread critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. As well as touring with his other band, the Irish/Swedish quartet This Is How We Fly, across both Ireland and Europe, Ó Raghallaigh also performed a series of truly special solo concerts (entitled “In My Mind”, a solo fiddle and film show) across the length of Ireland for the month of October. Despite the hectic touring schedules, Ó Raghallaigh also released two stunning works: the solo album ‘Music For An Elliptical Orbit’ (via Dublin-based label Diatribe Records) and the mesmerizing ‘Laghdú’, a collaboration with U.S. fiddle player Dan Trueman.
‘Laghdú’ (an Irish word which translates as: a lessening, a decrease, a reduction) is a hugely significant work for many reasons. Most notably, it was Trueman who first introduced Ó Raghallaigh to his beloved ten-string hardanger d’amore fiddle (custom-made in Norway by Salve Håkedal) during September 2000. It is the simple dialogue and deep connection which exists between the pair (both performing identical instruments and identical baroque bows) which is a pure joy to savor. Two traditional pieces are performed by the pair (‘The Jack of Diamonds Three’ and ‘Fead an Iolair’) while the remainder of ‘Laghdú’ comprises original compositions written and arranged by Trueman and Ó Raghallaigh. The dynamic range is nothing short of staggering — from the near-silent to the nigh-on orchestral, at times exploding joyously from their hybrid 10-string fiddles, at times barely there — holding time still in the process. The resultant eleven heavenly tracks occupy both the realms populated by the most ancient forms of traditional music as well as those thrillingly in-between spaces carved out and inhabited in modern neoclassical composition of the most utterly enchanting and truly sacred kind.
‘Laghdú’ is available now via Irishmusic.net HERE.
Christina Vantzou ‘N°2’ (Kranky)
‘N°2’ is the second solo album by the Brussels-based artist and Kansas-born composer Christina Vantzou and, like its predecessor, ‘N°1’, was issued by the formidable Chicago-based independent label Kranky. Written over a period of four years, ‘N°2’ finds Vantzou reunited with Minna Choi — of the San Francisco-based Magik*Magik Orchestra — and regular contributor Adam Wiltzie (A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Stars Of The Lid) who Vantzou effectively began her musical career with when the duo made music as The Dead Texan (Vantzou was keyboardist as well as film-maker, illustrator and animator). A wide sonic palette is used throughout, from the gentle ripple-flow of piano notes on the album’s penultimate track, ‘Vostok’ and prominence of harp on the achingly beautiful ‘VHS’ to the rapturous crescendo of strings of ‘Going Backwards To Recover What Was Left Behind’ where an emotion-filled sadness engulfs every pore. Elsewhere, slowly shifting layers of brass and woodwind drifts majestically in ‘Brain Fog’ before brooding strings come to the fore, resulting in a cathartic release of energy. Layers of angelic voices appear and disappear throughout, forming not only a monumental symphonic movement but also an other-worldly choral work.
Indeed, the most appropriate analogy to imagine while attempting to surmise the sheer magic of ‘N°2’ is the act of making those frame-by-frame animations Vantzou has so patiently and laboriously created in the past: while they are meticulously worked on, over such a long and painfully slow process, the results yielded are both stunningly imperfect and remarkably pure. It’s a characteristic which runs through all of Vantzou’s breathtaking art (from her drawings and sleeve artwork to her dreamlike slow motion film works) which truly heightens all that surrounds you.
‘N°2’ is available now on Kranky.
Birds Of Passage ‘This Kindly Slumber’ (Denovali)
New Zealand-based composer Alicia Merz has been quietly amassing a soul-stirring collection of albums under her Birds Of Passage moniker over the past five years or so. ‘This Kindly Slumber’ — released by German independent label Denovali Records — is Merz’s third solo full-length album and features Merz’s spellbinding lyricism (at times recalling Mark Linkous or Daniel Johnston in their open honesty and raw emotion). Like Grouper’s Liz Harris, Birds Of Passage’s power emanates from minimal musical arrangements (vocal takes are often first takes) where a sense of both purity and intimacy is conjured by Merz throughout, providing for an unforgettable listening experience. As we delve into the innermost caverns of ‘This Kindly Slumber’s mysterious and complex maze of real and imagined landscapes; the sensation one feels is akin to the finest of Murakami’s fictional prose or the most ancient of children’s nursery rhymes and folklore tales. Interestingly, Merz holds a deep fascination with nursery rhymes since a very young age and ‘Ladybird, Ladybird’ is combined with ‘And All Of Your Dreams’ to powerful effect. Elsewhere, the deeply personal ‘Yesterday’s Stains’ contains an openness and honesty rare in music.
‘This Kindly Slumber’ is a life-affirming journey which finds Merz navigating the darkest of nights while facing her gravest of fears. On the other side of this kindly slumber we realize that even the darkest of shadows lie closest to light: through the sacred and secret songs of Birds Of Passage we learn that in every moment of hopelessness exists hope. For that, we can be eternally grateful.
‘This Kindly Slumber’ is available now on Denovali.
Marissa Nadler ‘July’ (Bella Union/Sacred Bones)
‘July’ (which documents Nadler’s life events from one July to the next) is the ever-prolific U.S. songwriter’s latest opus of longing and hope. The album can be read and interpreted autobiographically but, crucially, like all of Nadler’s songbook, songs are masterfully left open to the listener’s interpretation. Interestingly, Randall Dunn (Earth, Sunn O))), is at the helm of production duties on ‘July’; providing a first-time collaboration for the pair. Accompanying Nadler is Eyvind Kang (strings), Steve Moore (synths) and Phil Wandscher (Jesse Sykes, Whiskeytown) on lead guitar. However, as is always the case with such a truly unique songwriter, it is Nadler’s breathtaking voice and impeccable lyricism which quietly dominate proceedings. Like such kindred spirits as Missourri songwriter Angel Olsen or British folk legends Vashti Bunyan and Bridget St. John, Nadler’s music captivates the mind (and heart) of each and every listener fortunate enough to cross paths with her. From album opener ‘Drive’ to the forlorn closing piano ballad ‘Nothing In my Heart’, immediacy and directness prevails throughout ‘July’. Transcendental moments abound, from the poetic lyricism to ‘We Are Coming Back’ (“Still I live many miles away / So I can miss you a little everyday”) to the brooding tour-de-force ‘Dead City Emily’ which combines both gut-wrenching honesty (“I was coming apart those days”) and heart-stopping beauty as, ultimately, the prevailing sense of hope outlasts all struggle and inner-conflict (“Oh I saw the light today / Opened up the door”).
As the lyrics of ‘Drive’ return to my mind: “Still remember all the words to every song you ever heard”; I feel those very words reflect the empowering feeling in which the cherished songbook of Marissa Nadler ceaselessly awakens (and continues to re-awaken) in me.
‘July’ is available now on Bella Union (EU) and Sacred Bones (USA).
Reissues of the year:
The Moles ‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences: The Story Of The Moles’ (Fire)
Looking back on 2014, the first sounds which come to my mind is Australian band The Moles and the magical first-time discovery of their music in the form of their first retrospective ‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences: The Story Of The Moles’, released via Fire Records. The double-album is packed to the brim with impeccably constructed pop songs, heart-breaking love songs and just about every shade and nuance in between (spanning punk, shoe gaze and indie rock). ‘Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ contains the band’s two studio albums; debut full-length ‘Untune The Sky’ (originally released in 1991) and follow-up ‘Instinct’ (the latter was heralded by The Sea And Cake’s Archer Prewitt as being “as close to perfection as any Beatles or Beach Boys record and it stands on its own as a classic in my book”) and a whole plethora of b-sides and rarities, culled from various EP’s and singles. Led by Richard Davies (who later would join Eric Mathews and form Cardinal), The Moles were formed in Sydney in the late 80’s and unleashed a resolutely unique songbook which would prove hugely influential on a whole host of diverse bands (The Flaming Lips, The Sea And Cake). The original band line-up consisted of Glenn Fredericks, Richard Davies, Warren Armstrong and Carl Zadra, friends from law school who were fans of Flying Nun, The Fall and The Go Betweens, drawing their name from a reference to ‘Wind In The Willows’ and spy novels (John Le Carré and Graham Greene).
What’s most apparent on this defining release is that the truly unique vision (in both Davies’s songwriting and The Moles’ music) deserves to be known — and embraced — the world over. “It’s always an adventure. There’s an element of a well that never runs dry,” Richard Davies told us earlier in the year, on discussing The Moles. It’s a sentiment which could not be more true for The Moles and their utterly visionary and absolutely essential music.
‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences: The Story Of The Moles’ is available now on Fire Records.
Lewis ‘L’Amour’ (Light In The Attic)
When Light In The Attic Records reissued the much-fabled, timeless cult-classic ‘L’Amour’ by Lewis (originally released in 1983 on the unknown label R.A.W.) not much was known about the whereabouts of its esteemed author, not least the actual identity of “Lewis”, for that matter. The sense of mystery only deepened when consulting the album’s liner notes: Was Lewis still alive? What has he been doing in the intervening years? What other musical treasures are lying around only awaiting to be discovered written by this elusive figure? Crucially, without even beginning to dig any further into biographical detail (or absence thereof), it’s clear that, on listening to ‘L’Amour’, Lewis created nothing short of a bona-fide masterpiece. Heartbreak is immediately evident from Lewis’s lonesome, brooding, ghostly baritone from album opener ‘Things Just Happen That Way’ (“I took her hand / She took my heart”) while a sparse set-up of whispered voice together with only piano, synthesizer (or an occasional plucked guitar) remains throughout — recalling Waits or Springsteen at their most hushed and introspective best — creating a defining album of heartbreak — and love — in the process.
And what about the biographical gaps? Indeed Lewis was, as it turned out, a pseudonym. Lewis’s true identity has proved to be that of Randall Wulff (as confirmed by famed L.A. photographer Ed Colver, who had shot the über-cool cover-shoot for L’Amour’s album sleeve). However, for the purposes of the Light In The Attic liner notes, the mystery remained unsolved (after a long two-and-a-half year search). That is, until August 2014, when the real-life Randall Wulff was found (read Light In The Attic’s amazing article HERE) — alive and well and still quietly making his own masterful music — in what must have been the year’s most enchanting and heart-warming of stories.
L’Amour’ is available now on Light In The Attic.
One Of You ‘One Of You’ (Little Axe)
One of the most stunning re-issues of recent times came this 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.
‘One Of You’ is available now on Little Axe.
K. Leimer ‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’ (RVNG Intl)
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 earlier this 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.
‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’ is available now on RVNG Intl.
Fikret Kızılok ‘Anadolu’yum’ (Pharaway Sounds)
Although technically issued at the tail end of 2013, legendary Turkish folk singer Fikret Kızılok (1947-2001)’s exquisite collection of singles from 1971-75 (compiled into a 14-track set entitled ‘Anadolu’yum’ and issued by Pharaway Sounds, a subsidiary label of Light In The Attic Records) proved — like the many equally formidable Pharaway Sounds releases — a true haven for music lovers. Merging genres and fuzing styles almost at will (as evidenced by the immense musical arrangements drawing from such diverse sources as Western influences, India and his own native Turkey), Kızılok’s diverse appetite and deep appreciation for music shines through in every one of this magical compilation’s fourteen tracks. From the heavenly and beautifully forlorn Anatolian folk masterpiece ‘Anadolu’yum (1972&1975)’ to the irresistible sitar-aided ‘Gün Ola Devran Döne’ (1971), Kızılok’s musical path would be dictated by numerous external obstacles of the day (namely, the political unrest of his native Turkey throughout the 1970’s) while a pressure to conform to audience’s expectations (Kızılok was a pop phenomenon in Turkey, regularly charting instant hits) proved immense in the intervening years, while he would become most often associated with his best known love ballads from his considerable 1970’s output.
‘Anadolu’yum’ is available now on Pharaway Sounds.
All designs and artwork by Craig Carry: http://craigcarry.net
With very special thanks to all the wonderful musicians and labels for the true gift of their music. And a special thank you to all our readers for reading during the year.
2014 marked the hugely anticipated release of Kansas-born composer Christina Vantzou’s breathtaking second album ‘N°2’, featuring, once again, Minna Choi of the San Francisco-based Magik*Magik Orchestra and Adam Wiltzie (Stars Of The Lid, A Winged Victory For The Sullen). Since its February 2014 album release on the Chicago-based Kranky label, Vantzou has also filmed and directed a film for each of the eleven pieces from ‘N°2’, as well as inviting a host of artists to remix and re-interpret the material from ‘N°2’.
Fractured Air 31: Australian Double-Triple (A Mixtape by Christina Vantzou)
“I made sure to keep some room for experimentation and failure. Leaving room for failure was very important to the overall process of ‘N°2’.”
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Grouper ‘Made of Metal’ (excerpt) [Kranky]
02. The Dead Texan ‘The Adversary of Evil Budd’ [N°1 DVD & Remixes / Self-Released]
03. Popul Vuh ‘Aguirre I, from ‘Aguirre, the Wrath of God’ (excerpts) [PDU]
04. Daniel Lanois ‘Oaxaca’ [Anti-]
05. Animal Collective (feat. Vashti Bunyan) ‘It’s You’ [FatCat]
06. Grouper ‘6’ [Kranky]
07. This Mortal Coil ‘The Lacemaker’ (excerpt) [4AD]
08. C. Young ‘Shereen’ [Jj funhouse]
09. Earl Sweatshirt (feat. RZA) ‘Molasses’ [Columbia]
10. Grimes ‘Dream Fortress’ [Lo Recordings]
11. The Caretaker ‘False Memory Syndrome’ [History Always Favours The Winners]
12. Arvo Pärt ‘Antifone al Magnificat – 07 – O Immanuel’
13. Eleni Karaindrou ‘Voices’ [ECM]
14. This Mortal Coil ‘Song to the Siren’ [4AD]
15. Eleni Karaindrou ‘The Weeping Meadow I’ [ECM]
16. Jacaszek ‘What Wind – Walks Up Above!’ [Ghostly International]
17. This Mortal Coil ‘Fond Affections’ [4AD]
18. Giacinto Scelsi ‘Anahit’ (excerpt) [CP² Recordings]
19. Moebius ‘Ay Juz Doh No’ [Joseph C Montanaro]
20. C. Young ‘Big Choice’ [Jj funhouse]
21. Animal Collective (feat. Vashti Bunyan) ‘Prospect Hummer’ [FatCat]
The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
“N°2” is available now on Kranky.