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Posts Tagged ‘Dustin O’ Halloran

Chosen One: Hauschka

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It’s always a wonderful and fun process to create new music where you actually find yourself unfolding something new and I think that for me is always inspiring and refreshing.”

Volker Bertelmann

Words: Mark Carry

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A wealth of magic emanates from the scintillating piano works of Germany’s Volker Bertelmann. Under the guise of Hauschka, the gifted composer has released his most ambitious, radical and enthralling works thus far. ‘What If’ feels like a culmination where the dynamics of Hauschka’s incendiary live performances – particularly post-‘Abandoned City’ with his shows often built around one single, three-dimensional long piece that continually weaves in and out, unfolding into an infinite array of possibilities – becomes etched across the record’s deeply fulfilling journey.

I recall fondly an interview with The Necks’ pianist Chris Abrahams and some of his words echoes powerfully throughout ‘What If’s otherworldly sound-world: “Sometimes, through the combination of a strange instrument and weird acoustics, I have heard the piano speak words.” As the fragile piano melodies of ‘My Kids Live On Mars’ morph into reverb-laden tones amidst deep bass techno flourishes, the piano speaks words so absolute and true. It feels as if Bertelmann’s piano-based odysseys are navigating the deepest parts of our inner selves, a cosmic exploration of immense magnitude.

A circularity resides in these nine sublime texturally rich compositions where certain piano motifs (the rhythmic pulses of the player pianos masterfully employed in several places, for instance) and far-reaching, dense textures (deep techno bass and analogue synthesizers depicting a dystopian universe) circulate the divine minimalism of Hauschka’s singular soundscapes. The record’s penultimate track ‘Trees Only Exist In Books’ transports you to another realm with the suite of synthesizers and piano patterns forming an ethereal bliss of faded dreams. This piece somehow feels inter-connected to Mica Levi’s ‘Under The Skin’ score, such is the intoxicatingly bewitching sounds that are masterfully sculpted.

What If’ is the sound of a producer as much as a pianist. Hauschka’s piano-based tracks of earlier works still remain, albeit as sacred artifacts buried beneath a sea of beautiful noise and electronic elements. New patterns and shapes are forged at every turn, sharing parallels with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark studio of miraculous sound creation and immaculate hip-hop production. ‘What If’ asks for reflection of the deepest kind.

‘What If’ is out today on City Slang (Europe) and Temporary Residence Ltd. (USA).

https://www.facebook.com/HauschkaMusic/
https://www.hauschka-music.com/

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Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).

From your live shows, you have focused more so on creating one long piece – and obviously that’s something you’ve been developing a lot since ‘Abandoned City’ – how the different ideas and motifs from these performances must go into the new album’s recordings?

Volker Bertelmann: I actually recorded a lot of the music in Berlin with Francesco Donadello and we were setting up the studio like in the way I am doing a concert so we had the two pianos. So, I was performing in the way I was performing live and that was the foundation for at least six tracks of the album and the other three tracks were tracks with player pianos.

The player piano is something new for you, is it?

VB: I have played it at the Brighton festival two years ago and I also played a release show of the ‘Abandoned City’ album in Berlin. I’ve wanted to find a way of playing multi-track things with an acoustic instrument. So I figured out it would be nice to have two pianos to be my band and that was the first thought of it and then I felt very good about preparing one piano as a drum kit and preparing the other piano differently so I was very happy about that.

It feels as if the record goes further and deeper than even the previous releases and particularly the electronic element is very important and where all the many elements come together so well?

VB: Yeah I agree totally. It was challenging because when you work with the player pianos, you have your hands free to actually prepare the pianos with all sorts of stuff while the piano is playing. It was very interesting to work with. I really feel attracted to the precision when working with the player piano because you cannot force create a very electronic and precise score using the prepared piano and that’s very nice.

Did the more analogue equipment like the synthesizers you’re using, would these have been the same equipment used on tour and on previous releases?

VB: No, actually this time I’ve used different equipment. I mean I was always a synthesizer man already when I was young and I collected a lot of synthesizers  but I had the feeling on previous records that I didn’t want to use them. I’m not a big fan of this Jean-Michel Jarre kind of repetitive sequence for using the synthesizer in a particular way. So, I was using an old Roland Jupiter 4 synthesizer and using a Minimoog , which is one of my favourite ever synthesizers and that’s mainly it.

I think the pinnacle of the record for me comes on the penultimate – and longest track – ‘Trees Only Exist In Books’ it feels like these mesmerising strings arrive in halfway through , it really sums up how far-reaching the entire album is.

VB: I was thinking as well about my hip-hop times because there is also a lot of songs that have a little lower tempo but they’re still clubby in a way and there’s some neatness to them. And they’re at the same time not only house or techno tempo but they’re a little bit more in the middle like 100 BPM or 90. I felt like some of the tracks would be nice to get into that channel again – when I was twenty to twenty-five – where I was listening mainly to hip-hop artists and I’m always a big fan of that. Some of the tracks are a little bit oriented on that time as well.

Listening to ‘What If’ you can really hear the sound of a producer as much so as a pianist. For instance, the production of ‘Familiar Things Disappear’ with the transforming sounds throughout.

VB: Yeah totally, I mean it’s something that I’ve always done. I think it was never a part of my previous records because I mainly just played one track and that was it or a little laptop overdubs. But I have the feeling that I want to go more into a direction where I can go more extreme and I felt like this is maybe the way to go.

The album – just like all your previous records – there’s always very much a narrative or a particular chapter with a beginning, middle and end and the pieces on ‘What If’ certainly all feel closely connected with each other.

VB: This time I recorded twenty tracks with this kind of style and at the same time I was recording more piano pieces that I haven’t released yet, about forty that have nothing prepared and no electronics, just one take with me and the grand piano. I have the feeling that I have to switch between my work having all these sounds and my work that has the clearness of the piano; I love both of them so I’m trying to switch between those two styles.

Throughout ‘What If’, there’s like a series of contrasts and wide range of sounds and I love how ‘I Can’t Express My Deep Love’ fits so nicely in the middle, the more bare piano compared to the rest.

VB: This one song ‘I Can’t Express My Deep Love’ is actually from one of those takes that were pure piano recordings and I used this specific track on that album in the middle because I wanted to cut the tracks a little bit in half. This is the only piece that does not belong to the session I did altogether – this was a completely different session – from that session I have many more but I want to focus right now on the more textural  and more electronic and darker side of the music. At the same time, I’m doing a lot of film scores, there’s a lot of music out from my workflow that is very melodic and beautiful and so I felt my own music wanted to be a bit more edgy.

A track that just turned out amazingly is ‘My Kids Live On Mars’ and how there’s this fragile piano and that deep bass sound that floats in the mix.

VB: I really tried to find the balance between my melodic and my rhythm sides but at the same time I also feel like maybe the pieces are not only getting more diverse but they’re a little bit more like a composition, for example more pattern oriented music, which maybe in the beginning it was much more repetitive and I slowly feel like I can give the music more the sense of a journey and let it feel more like a composition that goes in and out and that has more different themes involved.

It brings you to your live shows as well, especially after ‘Abandoned City’ where some of the shows had this feeling like it’s this blank canvas and you start at one point and you don’t know where you’re going to go from that point on.

VB:  Yeah absolutely, that’s what my intention was to actually connect those two worlds with each other.

VB: I remember how you mentioned before how much an inspiration Nicolas Jaar was for you and it’s actually his first album ‘Space Is Only Noise’ that shares that atmosphere and dimension when revisiting your new album.

VB: Totally, I think above inspiration, music that you listen to where maybe a part of your world is incorporated where you feel like this is something that where the mixture is different from where you normally would mix everything up. But I think especially with Nicolas Jaar’s way of combining real instruments with a DJ approach is very nice and I have a feeling there are elements in there that I would say a musician would do differently in a way when you just come from the instrumentalist point of view. And I really like how he’s dealing with samples and how he’s like weaving it into each other, I really love that.

In terms of your own studio – you mentioned how one part was made in your own studio and also in Francesco Donadello’s studio– is this set up where you create most of your work in general?

VB: Francesco works a lot with Johann Johannsson and Dustin O’ Halloran and he mainly mixes a lot of their albums. He went on a couple of tours with me, doing my sound and I know him from back in the early days when he was in the band Giardini di Mirò. He also mixed the album and he had a different view on my music, which helped as well because I wanted to find somebody that I feel very close with in a way but at the same time I wanted a viewpoint of looking into the mix and finding maybe weaknesses or strengths. In his studio [Vox-ton] they have a Steinway D grand piano and I was very inspired by that piano so I think I will get one pretty soon. But at that time when I recorded the album, I had no grand piano and I wanted to have this full-bodied sound. All the albums beforehand were made with an upright.

And once the mixing stage is completed then, is it a case of doing overdubs and other final tweaking by yourself?

VB: Yeah, I mean mostly I’m trying to go in different places. In previous albums I was mostly recording the albums in my studio so the whole workflow was already clear, I just started it and recorded something and then I finished it in a way. With my workflow this time, it was forcing me into a different field, make an appointment and just go in by yourself and start recording as much material as possible and then go back with that material to my studio and mix that with stuff I already had. There were a lot of tracks of mine that were very, very rich in how I worked with them because there was already an option of live recordings and rich textures that I had collected.

So, this time I said I’m working much more like in the live situation as you mentioned but in a very good surrounding with great microphones and all sort of stuff. So, I am very pleased that it turned out so well especially as I was doing two films at the same time, back to back. And I was not sure I would be able to do it but I’m very happy in the way – like the flip-side in what I was doing with the moog in a way.

In the moment that you have laid down all your tracks – and you know there’s obviously a pool or a well of material to choose from – I wonder is that a fun process or is it challenging to select the right parts, considering the wealth of material that has gathered?

VB: I mean you know yourself, you have for example the opportunity to find out when you work best and a lot of times I have the feeling that I need some pressure when I’m working best and not pressure that is stressful but it’s more like I’d rather wait longer to the point where now I have to start otherwise it’s taking too long. So, that’s how I work and so a lot of times I’m trying to force myself into the situation where I have to move. It’s always a wonderful and fun process to create new music where you actually find yourself unfolding something new and I think that for me is always inspiring and refreshing. I’ve never failed so far making a record and having the feeling like it’s painful or I won’t get this done, so far I’ve been lucky [laughs].

I must congratulate you on the ‘Lion’ score you did with Dustin O’ Halloran and the many nominations you received for this music. Like you said about Francesco Donadello, it must have been a real pleasure to create music together with Dustin?

VB: I mean he’s the most humble, non-egotistic person in the world and that makes it totally nice to work with somebody who you can actually work on the creative side but you never have to battle the human element. But you know with musicians it’s not always easy because musicians of course want to express themselves and they want to be seen in the right way and at the same time when you have to make a movie it’s also a service and it’s also collaboration with the director who has certain ideas. So you have to decide what’s best for the film rather than for your own artistic expression. And finding that balance was so easy with Dustin and we are already long-time good friends so that was a pleasure to experience this whole journey with him.

As you mentioned previously, you obviously had a big starting point with hip-hop and a love for rap music, I’m curious to know would there be defining artists and records for you from this world of hip-hop that was very important for you?

VB: I was always a big fan of Timbaland as a producer and I love his way of approaching rhythms. I was a fan of N.E.R.D and all their records, it had the minimalism, which was the most interesting thing for me: how they work with beats and so I would say these two. And also, of course all the work that Timbaland did with all the collaborators. There’s also one collaboration with 2Pac and Dr Dre that I really love. This kind of hip-hop production for me was very inspiring I have to say.

With your tour coming up, it must be exciting to have this new music that’s so fresh, it must make the experience of the live show different and new again for you?

VB: Totally. I’m trying to prepare right now. Touring and finding the right sounds and the right lights and I am working again with Michael Buchholz who is doing the sound and we’re travelling with a light guy. But you know what I don’t want to do is like I’m not going towards the stadium show – I’m not a big fan of that – I rather smaller and more intimate spaces, I have to feel the audience, so that’s what I’m aiming for on this tour.

‘What If’ is out today on City Slang (Europe) and Temporary Residence Ltd. (USA).

https://www.facebook.com/HauschkaMusic/
https://www.hauschka-music.com/

 

Written by admin

March 31, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Chosen One: A Winged Victory For The Sullen

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Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.

I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.”

Dustin O’ Halloran

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The highly anticipated arrival of A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s third full-length, ‘Iris’ marked the commencement of the New Year. The awe-inspiring duo of Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’ Halloran have carved out some of the most vital and captivating modern-classical-infused-ambient explorations, in the shape of the band’s eponymous debut record and sophomore full-length ‘Atomos’: each record represents a beautiful time capsule, steeped in divine beauty.

On the ‘Iris’ film score, the band masterfully expand their sonic palette with use of analogue equipment. The results are nothing short of staggering as the otherworldly sound world of Mica Levi’s ‘Under The Skin’ is navigated amidst a beguiling atmosphere and forever-building wall of intense emotion. The opening ‘Prologue Iris’ is built on an achingly beautiful piano melody (similar to Wiltzie’s gorgeous ‘Salero’ debut solo score). A vast sea of symphonic sounds is combined with pulsating synthesizers on ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’. One of the album’s defining moments arrives on the scintillating ‘Gare Du Nord, Part 1’ where organic and synthetic worlds fuse together.

The recording sessions began with their long time sound collaborator Francesco Donadello in the form of some modular synth sessions in Berlin. The final sessions to what is now the score of Iris were recorded with a 40-piece string orchestra at Magyar Radio in Budapest. ‘Iris’ also features the duo’s trusted string quartet, Echo Collective.

‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.

http://awvfts.com/

http://www.erasedtapes.com/

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Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.

Congratulations Dustin on the new Winged Victory record; the ‘Iris’ score is really amazing. I’d love for you to discuss the making of this record? One aspect I love is – in contrast to the previous two records – the addition of all the beautiful synthesizer elements and seamless mix of analog with the strings in these new pieces.

DO’H: That was a bit of a collaboration. When Jalil Lespert – the director – he heard ‘Atomos’ and he really thought that was the sound for his film and he wanted us to explore a more electronic side for his film. At the same time, Adam [Wiltzie] and I have been getting into working with modular synth, working with our long-time collaborator Francesco Donadello. It was something we wanted to explore as well so we ended up doing some sessions with modular synth and we liked the idea of this very organic electronic element. The thing we love with the modular synth is that you can’t ever repeat it: it’s a real instrument and there’s no settings to save so you have to capture performances. It was an element that we were just exploring but we were really pleased with how it works with our sound. And it was a nice, new element to bring in and explore.

As you mentioned those sessions with Francesco, would that have been in isolation or before you ever got to writing for the string parts and so on?

DO’H: When we started work on the film – around the time he gave us the script and he hadn’t shot anything yet – so there was a lot of time to just do some experiments. So, the first experiments happened just with modular and some of the pieces are really built from those first sessions. The film has a thriller element to it so we needed also to create tension. We were bringing in this idea of pulses and things to give us movement that would move us along but still have a tonal identity and a sound identity. So, some of the pieces were really built from those first sessions.

The beauty of ‘Iris’ – and indeed all the many scores you have created – is how it’s very much a new studio album as it is an actual score for a movie as it works so well on its own.

DO’H: Yeah, you never know what you’re going to have at the end of a commission or collaboration like this. I think we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to start in the way we make our own records and we had a lot of time. Then we took the pieces and what we released is more our vision for a stand-alone record so we’re able to go back into the tracks and rework them a bit and make more of a studio record out of it. We were happy with what we got, I think it feels connected to our sound but it’s an evolution as well.

And as you say, the atmosphere, there’s a collection of the more electronic pieces work so powerfully, such as ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’ and ‘Gare du Nord Pt. 1’, there’s something quite breath-taking when the synths come in: there’s the space for it and you’re waiting for them to appear.

DO’H: We’re happy with how the modular and the orchestra work well together. We tended to use the modular for the lower end sounds and working with space and rhythm and then having the orchestra. It’s like light and dark is a big subject of the film; it’s a love story but there’s also a lot of deceit and treachery and so the film is always like light and dark fighting against each other in this way. The modular has this more aggressive, synthetic, cold feeling and the strings are definitely this warmer love story that ultimately both elements are in the story.

I wonder for those final sessions in Budapest – for you and Adam as the composers of the music – it must be quite something when you’re all in this room and you hear this big ensemble perform the music at the final end of it all?

DO’H: Oh yeah, I mean it’s definitely a satisfying moment when it all comes alive. I love recording with real instruments and it’s always something very important to me. I think with Winged Victory too, we’re always trying to put as much care sonically into everything that we do and record it in the best way. I’m a big fan of records that are great sounding records and those are the records that usually stay in my collection so it’s something we try to put a lot of care into.

For those final sessions, is there still room for accidents to happen or surprising things happen in the sense of the music altering in any way?

DO’H: Yeah, I mean up until the point of doing the strings everything is always flexible and changing and we’re exploring different things and obviously, we hear different things. And when you’re recording the modular stuff, it’s a lot of experimenting and sometimes you find something and you’re not even too sure how you got there. By the time we got to the strings everything had to be pretty much worked out but there’s a lot of extended techniques used in the strings – a lot of harmonics and glissando effects – that we did that were really fun to do in the studio. And to get the orchestra make a lot of noise [laughs] and do less traditional sounds and that was fun so we got to explore that a little bit in the studio and then that was the last phase before we mixed.

I was interested to read how it was edited down – well everything is edited for a final mix of the album – was it difficult to see it as both a film score as well as a studio album in the sense that you needed to remove parts to reduce it down?

DO’H: There was always like a push and pull of what we were leaving in and we were pulling back. For some of the studio record we took out some elements that we needed for the film to help push the picture a bit and then there’s other elements that we decided to bring back in that didn’t work so well with the picture. We definitely approached the record because we wanted it to work on its own. I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.

It’s fascinating to see how you have the three studio albums (with Winged Victory) in terms of the speed in which they’re coming out, it feels that there’s a sort of flow between you and Adam where you must always be learning from this partnership?

DO’H: Well I think we’ve been lucky to work on some really great projects and each time we’re definitely learning more about our own process. I think that maybe we’re getting better at working a little bit quicker although there’s a beauty to taking your time and that’s something we just haven’t had the luxury of for a while. So, when we start working on another record, we’re hoping that we will give ourselves a little bit of time and let things percolate, you know that’s something that’s also important to me. With these projects, you have a finite amount of time to work on it but hopefully we’ll be able to take our time again soon but it’s good to know that we can do it and we can be happy with the results.

I must congratulate you also on the amazing ‘Lion’ score and collaboration with Hauschka. It’s wonderful seeing all these musicians and composers and realizing it’s this small community that you’re all releasing amazing albums in your own right whilst collaborating so much with others too. I wonder when did you begin working on this particular project?

DO’H: Yeah, as I was finishing ‘Lion’, Adam and I were starting ‘Iris’ so it was kind of a cross-fade [laughs] But it’s been great, I feel super lucky to be working with people that I love to work with and there’s been so much care. Robert [Raths] has put a lot of love into the releases and we’re grateful to work on some good projects. I mean it’s busy times, the hard part about it is the amount of music you have to produce when there’s a lot of requests, it’s the most demanding aspect but those are good problems to have, you just have to be more diligent and have more time in the studio [laughs].

For ‘Lion’, were you and Volker in the same room together for these sessions?

DO’H: With Volker, we started in our own studios for about a month working on the film and then he came to Los Angeles to work in my studio here and we finished everything here and we worked for about another month. We didn’t have as much time and we came in after the film was already edited so we were in pretty deep pretty quickly.

The same thing happened with you and Adam in the way you spend quite a bit of time in your own respective studios?

DO’H: We try to get together as much as possible (Adam and I) because part of the Winged Victory sound is really both him and I working on stuff together, there’s just something that happens when we’re doing it together, it feels different than when we’re just sending files back and forth because I think we both let go a little bit more when we’re together and we’re able to follow instinctual things quicker and we write quicker as well so it’s always good when we get together.

A very important part of A Winged Victory is the Echo Collective string quartet. I just remember witnessing your live show – and also with Stars of The Lid – and feel the hypnotic effect of the strings, it’s something out of this world when you’re at the live show in one big space.

DO’H: I mean without us finding them, it would be so hard for us to perform live and to translate what we want. We’ve been really lucky. We went through a lot of different string players and we had a lot of bad shows and a lot of shows that didn’t really work out. We’ve been really fortunate to find a bunch of string players that have been so dedicated to helping us find what we need. Our music is very slow-moving and it takes a lot of patience and a lot of string players can look at the sheet music and be really dismissive; it’s actually much harder to get a good sound than it appears on paper. We’ve been really, really lucky, they’re great players, they’re so dedicated to us and I think a lot of other people are starting to work with them because of that dedication that they have. But we definitely couldn’t do it without them, they’re a huge part of our sound.

I loved your solo EP ‘3 Movements’ that came out towards the end of the year.

DO’H: It’s the first time I haven’t collaborated in a while. I’ve been slowly working on different pieces and I’m working on my own solo record but it’s definitely nice to finally get some solo work out [laughs].

And lastly, have there been any live shows that you’ve seen in the last few months that struck a chord with you and have been blown away by?

DO’H: There was a festival that happened in Berlin that the Michelberger Hotel put on, it was at the Funkhaus. There was a twenty-piece choir who performed with Bon Iver who did this acapella piece and it was really beautiful. It was in the old East German recording studios and I forgot how beautiful just the sound of voices is, you know I’ve been listening to so much amplified music and to hear just a choir of voices, it just gave me goosebumps, that was my last moment.

‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.

http://awvfts.com/

http://www.erasedtapes.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by admin

February 13, 2017 at 8:25 pm

Chosen One: A Winged Victory For The Sullen

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Interview with Adam Wiltzie & Dustin O’Halloran.

“I think that a big element in our music is stretching time and using the element of space.”

—Dustin O’Halloran

Words: Mark Carry

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A Winged Victory For The Sullen is the collaborative project of like-minded artists and musical luminaries, Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie (Stars Of The Lid) and composer Dustin O’Halloran. Last year marked the highly anticipated return of A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s stunningly beautiful and deeply affecting neo-classical based compositions in the form of the duo’s sophomore effort, ‘Atomos’. First glimpses of the pair’s new material – and follow-up to the mesmerizing eponymous debut, released in 2011 – was beautifully captured in ‘Atomos VII’ EP; comprising two original compositions recorded in the summer of 2013 in Brussels, Berlin and Reykjavik. This stunning release also featured Icelandic composer Ben Frost’s rework – appropriately dubbed ‘Greenhouse Re-Interpretation’ – of ‘Atomos VI’. What remains vividly present on the pair’s newest masterwork of ‘Atomos’ is the infinite beauty and unlimited emotion that pours from the intricately layered compositions of piano, strings, drone sounds and modular synthesizers. A haven of celestial sounds and heart-wrenching emotion unfolds with each and every beguiling piano tone and ambient pulse of heart-wrenching strings. As ever, the gifted duo explore new possibilities through sound with results nothing short of staggering.

Wayne McGregor, founder of Random Dance Company and resident choreographer at the Royal Ballet, approached Adam and Dustin to see if they could write the score for his new oeuvre as part of the Random Dance Company. The duo were given complete artistic freedom and would record more than sixty minutes of music over a four-month period during the summer of 2013 with the assistance of their long-term sound engineer Francesco Donadello. In contrast to the group’s debut full-length, ‘Atomos’ was sculpted in a very short time-period, resulting in a broadened sonic palette containing elements of electronics, harp and synthesizers. In the words of Adam Wiltzie: “We tried to balance the discordance between being creative, and fulfilling our duties for a commissioned soundtrack with a very strict deadline, and all the while staying true to our collective melancholy.”

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For upcoming European/US tour dates click HERE.

‘Atomos’ is out now on Erased Tapes (Europe) and Kranky (USA).

http://www.awvfts.com/
https://www.facebook.com/awvfts

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Interview with Adam Wiltzie & Dustin O’Halloran.

It’s lovely to speak to you about your incredible and very special music. Congratulations on the latest album ‘Atomos’, it’s such an amazing album. The one thing that really striked me initially is the broadened sonic palette where there is new textures and nuances in the music itself. I’d love for you to discuss the different ideas and elements you had envisioned for the album from the outset?

Adam Wiltzie: Yeah I mean I don’t know if there was a really grand scheme because we had such a limited time. I mean the process leading up to it was a little bit slow but once we got everything agreed contractually, we really had four months to do the whole score which is not a lot of time to do anything. So we weren’t consciously thinking this to be totally different from our first record because Wayne [McGregor] approached us because he loved the first record, that’s what brought him to us. But we had a limited amount of time so we were just coming up with ideas and writing so we went into some new keyboard sounds and I think if anything it wasn’t so conscious, it just happened very naturally and in a really quick way. We didn’t have time to second guess ourselves either: we would throw a palette of sound up and start writing and go with it. And you know, it was really as simple as that.

Dustin O’Halloran: Also, I think because Adam and I have our own projects -we’ve only had one record – we were really happy with that first record and you know, we don’t want to repeat ourselves; it was good timing that we had this sort of third influence in the group because I think it helped us understand what are the limits of our sound and where can we grow. The first record in some ways came really easily to us because it was very natural to what we both do so I think that it was nice to see where we can expand in our own palettes.

As you just mentioned there, it must be a lovely feeling to be thinking back on the making of the music in the sense that it took relatively so quickly. It must be this inspiration that you get so easily and quickly when you are both together.

AW: It’s definitely satisfying: satisfying in different ways for each record. I think the satisfaction was different with ‘Atomos‘ – and maybe for Dustin it’s the same – we were working on it and didn’t have much time so it wasn’t until we actually performed live that we realized, oh this actually is a really nice record. We were just trying to finish this score that would work for this dance piece where we were thinking more about Wayne and what he needed, obviously we didn’t want it to sound bad. It wasn’t until we were there, really playing it live where we realized, oh this sounds like a record and now it’s even more satisfying for me that the record really sits on its own completely separate from it: it can sit completely separate from the dance because I think most people that listen to it have never seen the dance and maybe never will see the dance. So it’s satisfying because it’s a beautiful thing that exists on its own.

Exactly and I think that’s a true testament to the music, you know with the different contexts. I would love to see the dance but I haven’t but with the music itself there is such a visual element of movement as you’re listening it feels like you are witnessing it even though on a physical level you’re not.

DO’H: I think the one nice thing about working with dance is that music really comes first so you have a lot of space and time to work with where other collaborations are not as free in the sense of the time-lines. But I think that a big element in our music is stretching time and using the element of space. In film it’s much harder because you’re dealing with stories and edits. It was nice because we were really able to draw out passages and Wayne really gave us a lot of freedom in that sense; he didn’t really try to constrict that way we work.

I love too how the album itself really feels like a number of movements but there is so much variation- there is so many different elements happening and different layers – so you can always hear something new from the music.

AW: Oh, thank you. That’s what we were hoping.

I remember Christina Vantzou saying how the process of composing was both a maddening and meditative experience. What would you feel?

DO’H: I think it depends on how you work but I think the moments that were difficult were more just based on the time. Our first record when we had all time that we needed and we took all the time we needed, it never felt stressful in any way and was really a great pleasure. Punching all that in a much shorter period of time had its challenges but I think if you let it come it comes to you at some point.

I’d be curious to know if you’re influenced particularly by Steve Reich and his gradual music philosophy?

AW: Not really. We were asked this question I think by a woman in Australia – someone recently asked us – I mean obviously I’ve known about Steve Reich but I never really listened to him; he was never much of an influence me; I was always much more into Eno- that was more of my influences for minimalism when I was young but he makes beautiful music, he’s a super-friendly guy but I never really had a signature emotional moment with Steve’s music. But saying that, art is strangely subjective in ways that I’m telling you this and you’re probably saying ‘this guy is totally fooled, he must have listened to Reich‘ you know, it seems so obvious but that’s the funny thing, at this point in history maybe I’m influenced by someone else who was influenced by him maybe; it’s all so cross-pollinating at this point it’s hard to tell where your musical history comes from.

DO’H: And you know also there is an artist named Hans Otte who was working with a lot of similar ideas that Steve Reich worked with later but he was doing it I think like in the 60’s so I think a lot of people were dealing with similar ideas. I mean it’s the same for me I wouldn’t say that was an obvious influence for me as well.

I’d be curious was there a certain Brian Eno record that triggered your love for his music?

AW: Oh I mean there is so many of them. His pop records, ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’, ‘Another Green World’, ‘Before and After Science’ and his ambient records obviously, I love ‘Discreet Music‘ and ‘Thursday Afternoon’, there are so many. Even some Roxy Music I can get into.

When you find yourself in the live setting and you have the wonderful orchestra and everything with you, it must be a real thrill for you just going on tour and witnessing obviously the music you have made in this live context?

AW: Yeah it’s been great. We have a really great set of string players that worked with us on the record and we’ve been playing with for a while now. We’re still playing the music from the piece but it has developed in a way because we’ve been playing it so much together, we really feel more like a band now so it’s been really rewarding and great to really bond and connect with string players we’ve had so we feel really lucky.

DO’H: Instead of working with them on our first record when we had the new material it was the first time that we were able to bring string players in and that were more invested than just being session players; they really understood how we were working and they recorded all the string parts with us. It was nice because we were able to work with them on how to make it better and usually with string players you get that sort of personal investment so it was really nice to feel like we could all make it better and craft it together and it really helped make these pieces work.

I wonder what kind of plans and ideas you may have for your next projects?

DO’H: Well I think Adam’s going to be working on some of his music and I’m going to be working on some of my own music now.

AW: Yeah we’re going to take a little break and work on our own things for a little while. We’ll be back, we’ll do it again- don’t you worry.

In terms of music or film, was there something you’ve been obsessed with in recent months?

DO’H: Well recently I was in Los Angeles and I saw the composer Mica Levi and she had a twenty-piece ensemble and she performed the score for ‘Under The Skin‘. Actually when I saw the film I thought the music was good but when I saw it live and saw how she was creating her sound live, it was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve seen for a really long time and I really appreciated how she created all of the sounds.

AW: What was she playing?

DO’H: She was conducting and she had the Wordless Orchestra playing and they were great. She’s just dealing with more textures than melodic lines and there was a few melodic parts but the way she creates them and doubles the instruments, it was definitely like one of the most interesting things I have seen in a long time, it was pretty cool.

What about you Adam?

AW: I’m really into gardening at the moment. Although I still love music and film and art, I’ve really just become obsessed with plants lately; they seem to speak to me more loudly than anything else.

That sounds cool because I’m sure you get enough inspiration from the world outside as much as anything else.

DO’H: I think you always have to give yourself a break from music sometimes, it’s always seeking influence within music itself is like a snake eating its own tail and sometimes you just need to step away and you know, spend time in the ocean, garden or just listen to other sounds and just get outside this world of music. And I think that’s what brings fresh ideas too, you need to just step out of it, go to a museum and see art, just read [laughs] and just step away from it.

Especially when you have so much stuff always hapening – even away from A Winged Victory – as your work builds up there’s a sort of challenge to create something new. Actually it reminds me of a recent interview with Hauschka where Volker explained how he needs to “reset his mind” and having a blank canvas to start from.

AW: I mean Volker is so good at that. He’s also really good at improvisation which I struggle with a bit, I don’t trust myself enough, I don’t think. He’s very inspiring especially his tour he’s been doing lately. I don’t know if you’ve seen it? I mean it’s super beautiful where he’s going lately and I love his recent live set. It’s pretty special.

 


 

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For upcoming European/US tour dates click HERE.

‘Atomos’ is out now on Erased Tapes (Europe) and Kranky (USA).

http://www.awvfts.com/
https://www.facebook.com/awvfts

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Written by markcarry

February 13, 2015 at 11:59 am

Chosen One: Christina Vantzou

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Interview with Christina Vantzou.

“Performing and listening to a gradual musical process resembles: pulling back a swing, releasing it, and observing it gradually come to rest; turning over an hour glass and watching the sand slowly run through the bottom; placing your feet in the sand by the ocean’s edge and watching, feeling, and listening to the waves gradually bury them.”

—Steve Reich, “Music as a Gradual Process” (excerpt)

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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‘N° 1’ is one of those special records that holds a resonance and (quiet) power over you – the listener – long after the swirling ambient flourishes fade into the the star-lit sky overhead. The creator of this spellbinding music is Kansas-born artist, musician and composer, Christina Vantzou. Although released back in 2011, the record continues to reveal new hidden depths and meaning, such is ‘N° 1’s infinite beauty and remarkable artistic achievement. Much like the music of Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Arvo Pärt, Vantzou’s music becomes more than mere musical notes, but rather, a symphony of cascading emotion – raw, delicate and powerful – that indeed resembles the slowly sifting sand of an hour glass or the ocean waves’ slow-dance at your feet. The ebb and flow of Vantzou’s divine ambient soundscapes conjures up the spectrum of human emotion that enriches all of life’s surroundings. Very soon, before the year draws to a close, the follow-up – naturally titled, ‘N° 2’ – will see the light of day.

The debut album from Christina Vantzou was released on the Chicago-based independent label, Kranky. A common theme in the discovery of music – new or old – are the paths or desire lines you happily find that introduces you to a new artist. The source to my discovery of Vantzou’s music is indeed a figure integral to both Kranky’s roster of awe inspiring talent and Vantzou’s own musical compositions, namely Adam Wiltzie. The pioneer of ambient and drone music, has been involved in a wide of array of vital musical projects over the years. As one half of drone/ambient specialists, Stars Of The Lid – alongside compatriot Brian McBride – several life-affirming records such as ‘Avec Laudenum’ and the most recent LP, ‘And their Refinement Of The Decline’ were released on the Kranky label. Outside of Stars Of The Lid, more recently Wiltzie has been creating Neoclassical infused ambient soundscapes, under the guise of A Winged Victory For The Sullen (a collaboration with pianist/composer Dutin O’ Halloran, home to the Erased Tapes label). It is yet another project of Wiltzie’s that formed my connection to Vantzou, namely The Dead Texan, which is the collaboration of Adam Wiltzie and Christina Vantzou. The common thread here is the peerless independent label, Kranky, who released these ambient masterpieces into the world.

The Dead Texan’s self-titled record from 2004 is a wonderful document of a special collaboration between like-minded artists, that continued to filter into Vantzou’s solo music. ‘N° 1’ is produced and mixed by Wiltzie, as is the soon-to-be-released sophomore full-length, ‘N° 2’. Vantzou’s main role in The Dead Texan was making videos to accompany the drone-based musical compositions of Wiltzie. Having studied visual art and receiving a bachelor’s degree from the Maryland College of Art, Vantzou’s music can be seen as a natural extension from the medium of visual art. Similar to Stars Of The Lid, the music itself is rooted in minimalism, where melodic patterns – using only a few notes – are intricately layered, forming a rich musical tapestry of divine shades and textures. A parallel can also be drawn to Vancouver’s Loscil or Brooklyn-based duo Mountains, who effortlessly blend drone and ambient spheres of sound, forming a beguiling landscape of treasured sounds.

‘N° 1’ started in 2007. In the words of Vantzou: “I just kind of sunk into the composing.” Much like the frame by frame animations Vantzou worked on for years, ‘N° 1”s sublime sonic tapestry reveals a slow methodical process that lies at the heart of the music’s inception. ‘N° 1’ was made in tiny fragments, where each meticulous detail reveals a snapshot in time, like cherished memories from a distant past. Over the course of three years, the artist assembled together the tracks that would soon become the foundation of ‘N° 1”s final entity. During this time, Vantzou worked in isolation, using synthesizers, samples and her voice, before a long-distance collaboration ensued that would evolve the music into new realms of possibility. Minna Choi, director of Magik*Magik Orchestra, transformed the sprawling 45-minute single track into a score for a seven-piece orchestra. This culminated in a two day recording session with Magik*Magik at Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco. The album of full symphonic movements was finally mixed in Brussels (where Vantzou resides) with production assistance from Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie.

The ten symphonic movements that comprise ‘N° 1’ showcases Vantzou as a powerful voice in contemporary Neoclassical composition. I feel the stunning music belongs to several genres, from drone-based embellishes of sound, where a single tone (of a violin, cello, french horn or clarinet) has a long, slow duration, to ambient flourishes that sees Vantzou tapping into a hidden, sacred dimension. The album ‘N° 1’ is a testament to the seamless array of gorgeous fragments that coalesce together, forming an achingly beautiful and cohesive whole. The instrumentation of strings (violin, cello, viola) and woodwind (flute, clarinet, oboe) performed by the Magik*Magik Orchestra creates an organic and enriching sound that fills the void and awakens your senses.

Much like the music of Brian Eno and Harold Budd, what becomes important is the space around the music. It is through this space that an envelope of sound ascends upon the listener’s headspace, and soaring emotion is filtered through. This sense of oblivion is wonderfully present on ‘N° 1’ from the opening notes of ‘Homemade Mountains’ to the ambient ebb and flow of the closing ‘Joggers’. ‘Super Interlude pt 2’ is my personal highlight that evokes a vivid sense of nostalgia and melancholia. The crescendo of strings that arrives a short time later, is one of the many stunning moments dotted across ‘N° 1’. Gavin Bryar’s symphonic movement ‘The Sinking Of The Titanic’ could be a reference point here. Towards the close, some field recordings depicting audible voices conjures up the sound of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s timeless works ‘Fordlândia’ and ‘IBM A User’s Manual’. ‘N° 1’ belongs immaculately at the interface of contemporary classical and ambient music.

This year marks the legendary Chicago-based Kranky label’s twentieth anniversary, amongst its awe-inspiring roster of talent there have been innumerable classic albums that have showcased the label – and therefore independent music’s – best-loved and most revered records. And amidst the infinite sonic treasures that the label has been responsible for over the past couple of decades lies the spectacular achievement of Christina Vantzou’s ‘N° 1’, an album, while surpassing all boundaries, reveals the full possibilities inherent in the art of music-making at its most beautiful.

“While performing and listening to gradual musical processes one can participate in a particular liberating and impersonal kind of ritual. Focusing in on the musical process makes possible that shift of attention away from he and she and you and me outwards towards it.”

—”Music as a Gradual Process” by Steve Reich (excerpt)

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‘N° 1’ is out now on Kranky. The follow-up, ‘N° 2’ is a forthcoming release on the Kranky label.

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Interview with Christina Vantzou.

Congratulations on the truly stunning album ‘N° 1’. It is such a transcendental ambient journey that forever evolves upon each revisit. Please discuss for me the three year period where you worked in isolation using synthesizers, samples and voice? I would love to gain an insight into the creative process involved during this time?

I started composing N°1 in 2007. I was a closet composer. I didn’t have proper monitors so I worked using headphones. I listened to sample libraries, researched orchestral midi possibilities, and made new samples when I couldn’t find the sounds that matched the ones in my head. I was pretty nerdy about it. I was going through some emotional turmoil and isolation was kind of a byproduct of a decaying relationship. That and also living in Brussels…I just kind of sunk into the composing. I had been doing frame by frame animations for years so a slow methodical process was comfortable to me. Someone had given me a CD of synth-y meditation music from the 70’s that I got obsessed with. I was also listening to a lot of film scores. I worked without a click track, and wrote everything using a midi keyboard. I could only muster playing small bits at a time. I made N°1 in tiny fragments.

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Discuss for me please the samples you collected? What found sounds are on ‘N° 1’? I love how the samples seep into the music so effortlessly, and blends gorgeously with synthesizer and voice.

I sampled some Talk Talk (harmonium), I sampled of lot of film soundtracks, nature documentary soundtracks…I sampled synth tutorial videos on youtube and some real synths plus I sampled my own voice.
I remember when I was younger, going to a lot of shows where 2 guitars seemed to produce a 3rd voice. That 3rd voice always sounded like a distant female voice to me. That’s the kind of voice layer I was interested in creating on N°1. I recorded my voice and on top of most of the tracks.

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I would love for you to discuss the long distance collaboration that ensued with Minna Choi, director of Magik*Magik Orchestra that transformed your 45-minute sonic journey into a score for a seven-piece orchestra? Did you envision this collaboration – and ultimate transformation – to happen during the time you were alone recording your music?

I had worked on the album for about three years around the time I contacted Minna. I had stitched all the Reason files, mini orchestral parts, and samples together into one long 45 minute track. I had no idea how to notate the music I had created, and I’d never worked with classical musicians before. I was also broke. Somehow I convinced myself to search for an ensemble to collaborate with. Meanwhile, I wrote a grant to see if I could get some financial assistance. I was looking for someone who would get into the feel of the music for the notation part of the job and to finalize arrangements. I also needed an ensemble to record with, and a recording space. I asked Dustin O’Halloran for advice and he recommended Minna Choi and Magik*Magik. I contacted Minna, sent her the 45 minute track, she was into it, and the collaboration began there. Minna worked by ear. I passed along details notes and an instrument list. There were click issues all over the place so she created a moving click with her voice.

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As a composer of these gorgeous pieces of music, you must have been enlightened when you heard the full symphonic movements that were finally formed. Please recount for me your memories of first hearing the finished pieces with orchestra, and your thoughts, looking back now on how your music underwent this beautifully organic metamorphosis?

The week of the Tiny telephone sessions Minna sent me the first midi versions of the final arrangements. I was in Kansas City at the time. I hadn’t met Minna in person yet, we had only skyped a few times. I listened to every track, and I can’t really explain how I felt. I was really moved, it felt like a breakthrough.

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Describe Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco and what makes this setting such a good recording place? It is amazing to think the recording session for ‘N° 1’ only took a mere two days. How was that possible?

Originally, the session was planned for 1 day but Minna strongly recommended a second day. Sometimes broke-ness brings on miracles. Even two days was a super economical, condensed approach but we got it done.
I was really impressed with Minna in the studio. She’s great at what she does. Jay Pellicci engineered the album and everyone worked tirelessly and gracefully.

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It must be special to be composing music today, during a time when so much utterly captivating music is being made. You are a powerful voice in contemporary Neoclassical music. What albums for you have inspired you the most?

I listen to a lot of hip hop. I’m a foot soldier in neoclassical music. I admire Jóhann Jóhannsson. His records and live performances have been a big inspiration. I got to see him perform The Miners’ Hymns in Belgium last week.

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Please tell me about your wonderful collaborative work with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie of Stars of the Lid? I adore the music of The Dead Texan in which you both work together. Discuss the creative process between the pair of you and how you tap into this remarkable ambient music, when your two minds combine?

The Dead Texan was a special time. Adam and I work very well together. My main role in The Dead Texan was making videos. Adam wrote and recorded the music. He recorded my voice for When I see Scissors I can’t help but think of you and Glen’s goo. While he was working on the tracks I created the animations and videos. After the album was released he taught me the basics of how to use Reason and I played keyboards on tour. When I got the hang of how midi worked I started fumbling around on my own. We still collaborate. Adam mixed N°1 and he’s currently mixing N°2. I made a few tour videos and the cover artwork for A Winged Victory for the Sullen.

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Looking back, when and where did your fascination with sound begin? What were the defining moments for you when you realized the pathway of creating art was the path for you to walk on?

My early childhood record collection consisted of The Muppets’ Greatest Hits, Tina Turner’s Greatest Hits, Talking Heads, Eurythmics, and the Annie Soundtrack. My dad snuck me into a 21+ Tina Tuner concert when I was really little. It blew my mind.

My mom is an artist and I grew up in an artist community in Kansas City. Drawing was the only thing thing I’d done all my life that I’d never got tired of so that’s why I applied to art school.

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You currently reside in Brussels. It’s a city I’ve been to once and fell in love with the place. It’s clear that the arts and culture is in full bloom in this beautiful city. Please tell me about your love for this city and how the city helps you create art?

Brussels is very laid back. It’s inexpensive to live here, and there’s a lot of support and funding for the arts. I fell in love with Brussels when I first moved here. It’s a bit of a lawless place and there’s a laziness here that’s inviting. It can be slightly annoying sometimes too. There’s a fine line between laid back and lethargy. The city moves in slow motion compared to Berlin or Paris or London or New York.

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Can you shed some light on your follow-up to ‘N° 1’? It will be another life-affirming record, for sure.

Mixing’s nearly finished. Mixing this record has been an unusually long, slow process. I spent 3 months premixing. Adam Wiltzie is now doing the final mixes and it’s a mammoth effort. He’s peeling back layers and adding a few special touches. There are so many layers. I’m not exaggerating, it’s a bit of a monster. Sound-wise there are a few new elementsthe ensemble on N°2 is a 12-pieceI added oboe and bassoon which add a particular color. The best creative collaborations in my life have come from a generous place. Both Minna and Adam bring this generosity to the record. The overall sound has matured and I’ve been a bit more daring compositionally this time. I’ll spend the summer making videos and it all will be unleashed by the end of the year.

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‘N° 1’ is out now on Kranky. The follow-up, ‘N° 2’ is a forthcoming release on the Kranky label.

http://www.christinavantzou.com
http://www.kranky.net

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