Posts Tagged ‘Erased Tapes’
Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.
“I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.”
—Dustin O’ Halloran
The highly anticipated arrival of A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s third full-length, ‘Iris’ marked the commencement of the New Year. The awe-inspiring duo of Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’ Halloran have carved out some of the most vital and captivating modern-classical-infused-ambient explorations, in the shape of the band’s eponymous debut record and sophomore full-length ‘Atomos’: each record represents a beautiful time capsule, steeped in divine beauty.
On the ‘Iris’ film score, the band masterfully expand their sonic palette with use of analogue equipment. The results are nothing short of staggering as the otherworldly sound world of Mica Levi’s ‘Under The Skin’ is navigated amidst a beguiling atmosphere and forever-building wall of intense emotion. The opening ‘Prologue Iris’ is built on an achingly beautiful piano melody (similar to Wiltzie’s gorgeous ‘Salero’ debut solo score). A vast sea of symphonic sounds is combined with pulsating synthesizers on ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’. One of the album’s defining moments arrives on the scintillating ‘Gare Du Nord, Part 1’ where organic and synthetic worlds fuse together.
The recording sessions began with their long time sound collaborator Francesco Donadello in the form of some modular synth sessions in Berlin. The final sessions to what is now the score of Iris were recorded with a 40-piece string orchestra at Magyar Radio in Budapest. ‘Iris’ also features the duo’s trusted string quartet, Echo Collective.
‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.
Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.
Congratulations Dustin on the new Winged Victory record; the ‘Iris’ score is really amazing. I’d love for you to discuss the making of this record? One aspect I love is – in contrast to the previous two records – the addition of all the beautiful synthesizer elements and seamless mix of analog with the strings in these new pieces.
DO’H: That was a bit of a collaboration. When Jalil Lespert – the director – he heard ‘Atomos’ and he really thought that was the sound for his film and he wanted us to explore a more electronic side for his film. At the same time, Adam [Wiltzie] and I have been getting into working with modular synth, working with our long-time collaborator Francesco Donadello. It was something we wanted to explore as well so we ended up doing some sessions with modular synth and we liked the idea of this very organic electronic element. The thing we love with the modular synth is that you can’t ever repeat it: it’s a real instrument and there’s no settings to save so you have to capture performances. It was an element that we were just exploring but we were really pleased with how it works with our sound. And it was a nice, new element to bring in and explore.
As you mentioned those sessions with Francesco, would that have been in isolation or before you ever got to writing for the string parts and so on?
DO’H: When we started work on the film – around the time he gave us the script and he hadn’t shot anything yet – so there was a lot of time to just do some experiments. So, the first experiments happened just with modular and some of the pieces are really built from those first sessions. The film has a thriller element to it so we needed also to create tension. We were bringing in this idea of pulses and things to give us movement that would move us along but still have a tonal identity and a sound identity. So, some of the pieces were really built from those first sessions.
The beauty of ‘Iris’ – and indeed all the many scores you have created – is how it’s very much a new studio album as it is an actual score for a movie as it works so well on its own.
DO’H: Yeah, you never know what you’re going to have at the end of a commission or collaboration like this. I think we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to start in the way we make our own records and we had a lot of time. Then we took the pieces and what we released is more our vision for a stand-alone record so we’re able to go back into the tracks and rework them a bit and make more of a studio record out of it. We were happy with what we got, I think it feels connected to our sound but it’s an evolution as well.
And as you say, the atmosphere, there’s a collection of the more electronic pieces work so powerfully, such as ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’ and ‘Gare du Nord Pt. 1’, there’s something quite breath-taking when the synths come in: there’s the space for it and you’re waiting for them to appear.
DO’H: We’re happy with how the modular and the orchestra work well together. We tended to use the modular for the lower end sounds and working with space and rhythm and then having the orchestra. It’s like light and dark is a big subject of the film; it’s a love story but there’s also a lot of deceit and treachery and so the film is always like light and dark fighting against each other in this way. The modular has this more aggressive, synthetic, cold feeling and the strings are definitely this warmer love story that ultimately both elements are in the story.
I wonder for those final sessions in Budapest – for you and Adam as the composers of the music – it must be quite something when you’re all in this room and you hear this big ensemble perform the music at the final end of it all?
DO’H: Oh yeah, I mean it’s definitely a satisfying moment when it all comes alive. I love recording with real instruments and it’s always something very important to me. I think with Winged Victory too, we’re always trying to put as much care sonically into everything that we do and record it in the best way. I’m a big fan of records that are great sounding records and those are the records that usually stay in my collection so it’s something we try to put a lot of care into.
For those final sessions, is there still room for accidents to happen or surprising things happen in the sense of the music altering in any way?
DO’H: Yeah, I mean up until the point of doing the strings everything is always flexible and changing and we’re exploring different things and obviously, we hear different things. And when you’re recording the modular stuff, it’s a lot of experimenting and sometimes you find something and you’re not even too sure how you got there. By the time we got to the strings everything had to be pretty much worked out but there’s a lot of extended techniques used in the strings – a lot of harmonics and glissando effects – that we did that were really fun to do in the studio. And to get the orchestra make a lot of noise [laughs] and do less traditional sounds and that was fun so we got to explore that a little bit in the studio and then that was the last phase before we mixed.
I was interested to read how it was edited down – well everything is edited for a final mix of the album – was it difficult to see it as both a film score as well as a studio album in the sense that you needed to remove parts to reduce it down?
DO’H: There was always like a push and pull of what we were leaving in and we were pulling back. For some of the studio record we took out some elements that we needed for the film to help push the picture a bit and then there’s other elements that we decided to bring back in that didn’t work so well with the picture. We definitely approached the record because we wanted it to work on its own. I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.
It’s fascinating to see how you have the three studio albums (with Winged Victory) in terms of the speed in which they’re coming out, it feels that there’s a sort of flow between you and Adam where you must always be learning from this partnership?
DO’H: Well I think we’ve been lucky to work on some really great projects and each time we’re definitely learning more about our own process. I think that maybe we’re getting better at working a little bit quicker although there’s a beauty to taking your time and that’s something we just haven’t had the luxury of for a while. So, when we start working on another record, we’re hoping that we will give ourselves a little bit of time and let things percolate, you know that’s something that’s also important to me. With these projects, you have a finite amount of time to work on it but hopefully we’ll be able to take our time again soon but it’s good to know that we can do it and we can be happy with the results.
I must congratulate you also on the amazing ‘Lion’ score and collaboration with Hauschka. It’s wonderful seeing all these musicians and composers and realizing it’s this small community that you’re all releasing amazing albums in your own right whilst collaborating so much with others too. I wonder when did you begin working on this particular project?
DO’H: Yeah, as I was finishing ‘Lion’, Adam and I were starting ‘Iris’ so it was kind of a cross-fade [laughs] But it’s been great, I feel super lucky to be working with people that I love to work with and there’s been so much care. Robert [Raths] has put a lot of love into the releases and we’re grateful to work on some good projects. I mean it’s busy times, the hard part about it is the amount of music you have to produce when there’s a lot of requests, it’s the most demanding aspect but those are good problems to have, you just have to be more diligent and have more time in the studio [laughs].
For ‘Lion’, were you and Volker in the same room together for these sessions?
DO’H: With Volker, we started in our own studios for about a month working on the film and then he came to Los Angeles to work in my studio here and we finished everything here and we worked for about another month. We didn’t have as much time and we came in after the film was already edited so we were in pretty deep pretty quickly.
The same thing happened with you and Adam in the way you spend quite a bit of time in your own respective studios?
DO’H: We try to get together as much as possible (Adam and I) because part of the Winged Victory sound is really both him and I working on stuff together, there’s just something that happens when we’re doing it together, it feels different than when we’re just sending files back and forth because I think we both let go a little bit more when we’re together and we’re able to follow instinctual things quicker and we write quicker as well so it’s always good when we get together.
A very important part of A Winged Victory is the Echo Collective string quartet. I just remember witnessing your live show – and also with Stars of The Lid – and feel the hypnotic effect of the strings, it’s something out of this world when you’re at the live show in one big space.
DO’H: I mean without us finding them, it would be so hard for us to perform live and to translate what we want. We’ve been really lucky. We went through a lot of different string players and we had a lot of bad shows and a lot of shows that didn’t really work out. We’ve been really fortunate to find a bunch of string players that have been so dedicated to helping us find what we need. Our music is very slow-moving and it takes a lot of patience and a lot of string players can look at the sheet music and be really dismissive; it’s actually much harder to get a good sound than it appears on paper. We’ve been really, really lucky, they’re great players, they’re so dedicated to us and I think a lot of other people are starting to work with them because of that dedication that they have. But we definitely couldn’t do it without them, they’re a huge part of our sound.
I loved your solo EP ‘3 Movements’ that came out towards the end of the year.
DO’H: It’s the first time I haven’t collaborated in a while. I’ve been slowly working on different pieces and I’m working on my own solo record but it’s definitely nice to finally get some solo work out [laughs].
And lastly, have there been any live shows that you’ve seen in the last few months that struck a chord with you and have been blown away by?
DO’H: There was a festival that happened in Berlin that the Michelberger Hotel put on, it was at the Funkhaus. There was a twenty-piece choir who performed with Bon Iver who did this acapella piece and it was really beautiful. It was in the old East German recording studios and I forgot how beautiful just the sound of voices is, you know I’ve been listening to so much amplified music and to hear just a choir of voices, it just gave me goosebumps, that was my last moment.
‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.
“Don’t Look Back” is our look back on the year from the perspective of both musicians as well as various members of the music community at large, who — despite varying geographical locations and backgrounds — all share the following in common: a deep passion and love for music. We’re both honored and delighted to be able to share the words of these special people through their personal accounts of the year that was: 2016.
André de Ridder (Berlin, Germany)
Co-founded by German conductor André de Ridder, s t a r g a z e is the the world-renowned Berlin-based contemporary classical music collective. Established in 2013, s t a r g a z e comprise a network of classically trained European musicians who have performed and collaborated extensively in a wide variety of contexts to date. s t a r g a z e have worked with some of the most accomplished and inspiring musicians working today, including: Boards Of Canada, Nils Frahm, Deerhoof, Julia Holter, A Hawk And A Hacksaw, Poliça and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and have performed at some of the most renowned festivals and venues in the world (BBC Proms at The Royal Albert Hall; The Barbican, London; Rewire Festival and Motel Mozaïque, Netherlands). André de Ridder is also Artistic Director of the 2017 edition of Musical Nova Helsinki (1-12 February 2017) and will curate next year’s East London-based Spitalfields Music Winter Festival 2017.
by André de Ridder
“Whenever we hear sounds we are changed and this is the more the case when we hear organised sounds, organised by another human being. Music.” —Karlheinz Stockhausen
How many tributes can you take… well… make?
As Amanda Palmer, whose joint EP in memory of David Bowie (arr. Jherek Bischoff) ‘Strung Out In Heaven’ started the ball rolling in February, said later this year: “HELLO! You know, I write songs, too”.
Mind you it’s not only about songs of recently deceased iconic artists, the Rolling Stones just released an album of old Blues classics, and Amanda Palmer herself, again, an album of songs her dad used to teach her as a child. The musicians in The National put together a massive and magnificent 11-vinyl tribute album to The Grateful Dead earlier in 2016, inviting a whole army of friends and bands and singers and ensembles to contribute, including stargaze, the orchestral collective I co-founded in 2013.
We revisit Bob Dylan’s catalogue and oeuvre all the time but especially lately via the hassle around his nobel prize, awarded to a songwriter for the first time. And last but not least maybe the greatest of all poet-songwriters of the last half-century, Leonard Cohen, also disappears from the face of the earth. The appreciation of the art of song, and the life-affirming, life-accompanying and -experiencing power of this form of human expression, seems to undergo an intense iteration, and has certainly pervaded my musical 2016.
From a classical musician’s point of view, we of course deal with and revisit and interpret songs of ‘other’ people, and long deceased composers all the time. It’s inherently ‘lit’ to indulge singing and playing other people’s music. The principle of ‘classical music’ reception and performance practice is in fact entirely built on that situation.
Whereas in pop/folk/rock the auteur’s personality is mostly just so connected to the song and it’s subject, most people cannot deal with the abstraction a so-called cover by another artist brings with it. The identification process is fuelled almost more through the artist’s personality than the song itself.
Mind you, in Jazz and Folk music it is also very common to express facets of the material picking traditional or classic songs and tunes, celebrating what riches lay in a given musical text. They therefore build starting points for many a journey beyond one singular manifestation.
The question in how far the written song can transcend and surpass it’s origin and it’s author is one that I asked myself often this year when faced with certain choices.
Why shouldn’t we sing/use/interpret songs of Bowie’s or Prince, in the way we do with a gorgeous and utterly moving Schumann song? What needs to happen in order to justify it? Or do Bowie’s songs lend themselves to this ‘treatment’ more than Prince’s? Whose songs are possibly more timeless or transcend the question of authorship and personality, will either songs survive in books/notation just as much as through original recordings? I will zoom into two occasions this last year, where I found myself in the midst of such situations and experienced certain answers, for that moment anyway, to those questions. One that came with a fair amount of planning/curation, deliberation and even agony (in the case of stargaze’s Bowie tribute concert at the BBC Proms this last July) and one of spontaneous, unexpected and intuitive beauty, performed with Poliça in Minneapolis in November, the city of Prince.
s t a r g a z e rehearsing with John Cale for the 2016 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 July 2016.
When we prepared the Bowie concert, and Prince had just died as well, I already anticipated people saying: “Oh are you gonna do Prince next?”. Actually somebody around the Prom asked couldn’t we do a Prince song as an encore. No we couldn’t and wouldn’t. Everyone agreed. I heard myself saying in interviews that the same thing (that we attempted with Bowie) wouldn’t work with Prince (a few reasons, mainly that Prince was kind of always ‘Prince’ whereas Bowie throughout his career was a chameleon himself always slipping from one role into another, himself not being always ‘Bowie’ when writing and performing songs).
This sentiment was crushed to a good extent when I took s t a r g a z e to Minneapolis this November, shortly after the American elections, for a project initiated by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series. It had been planned for more than a year, independent of any current circumstances. It involved creating and playing new music with Poliça, who also stem from the Twin Cities. Their member and producer/composer Ryan Olson had been suggesting the idea of taking on a Prince song from his ‘1999’ album, called ‘Something In The Water’, after I brought up the ultra-short, but beautifully orchestrated ‘I Wonder U’ from my favourite Prince album ‘Parade’, as a possible mini-tribute to playing in their city. The transcription of ‘I Wonder U’ was fairly straightforward, and our dear friend Greg Saunier of Deerhoof helped us with it, once again (and still I wasn’t sure if it made ‘sense’ to play it).
But until the day before the show at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, we didn’t touch (and I maybe didn’t quite believe in, for reasons mentioned above) the other, i.e. another Prince song. However, that morning, before leaving for our last rehearsal I did have a go at penning down a simple orchestration of ‘Something In The Water’, which is originally synth heavy, though maybe suggests a strings-based treatment. The idea was that there was only the drum beat plus stargaze’s harmonies and sparsely orchestrated lines, no electronics or anything else, plus Channy Lenneagh picking up the vocals obviously. We played it through, not especially hopeful as it was so late in the process, literally in the last 5 minutes of our practise and realized we were onto something. Ryan more so than anyone else and he added another, genius tweak: he asked us to play it again, but by about 20bpm slower… It made for an overwhelming poignancy, in which the lonely drum intro sounded even more spacious, the slow drifting harmonies even darker in a viol-consort kind of renaissance-style with our two violas and two violins present, and Channy pitched and harmonized her vocals in an otherwordly effect and manner that made the song into something quite new, but one that Prince seemed to quite literally speak thru from a far away, solitary but soulful place.
Transformed. After we finished that run-through Ryan stumbled backwards a little behind his mute laptop and made a hand gesture that signaled something like: “no words…” and nobody said anything but packed up their instruments letting the hairs stand on no end.
Of course this was all heightened by what just happened, a few days prior to that joint concert, at the polls. When we arrived, the band members and curators of Liquid Music, our hosts, were very visibly and moodily affected by the outcome and the outlook of Trump’s presidential election.
Months ago we had christened the project ‘Music For The Long Emergency’ and we had discussed something of the power of music (and the act making music together) that can unite people, provide hope and respite, but also a certain energy for a way forward, survival, and finding strength in and amongst ourselves.
s t a r g a z e performing at the 2016 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 July 2016.
The word ‘People’ had come into focus at another memorable gathering and event in the run-up to the elections, a special, one-of-a-kind (maybe once-in-a-lifetime) music festival facilitated in Berlin by the Michelberger Hotel and it’s community, and which we co-curated at the end of September with stargaze, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Justin Vernon, Ryan Olson and Vincent Moon on the premises of the former central GDR radio station, the ‘Funkhaus Nalepastrasse’, a heritage-listed building loaded with cold-war history. A non-profit, sponsor-less festival bringing together 80+ artists to create new music and collaborate without borders, programmatically mixed and presented in the end without any notions of rankings, standing and rid of ego-centred behaviour that is common in the non-classical scene just as much as it is in classical music. This place had provided us with the opportunity to develop our project with Poliça also, and when looking for a festival name, no name came about or rang true, no ‘branding’ required, but a motto emerged thru the artist Eric Carlson that would just read, inclusive and embracing, ‘People’, displayed on a huge banner/mural in the main hall of the location.
I think most musicians and supporters who have taken part in this felt that it was central to their musical and human experience in 2016, and felt empowered and recharged artistically from it, in that it reclaimed a certain space of a festival as a gathering, back to the roots of this quintessential idea, a kind of 21st century version of “around the campfire” but in lieu of the campfire a certain spirit and special place.
Music made in the moment and created for the ONE moment.
Nevertheless, it was and will be documented bit by bit on a newly created website and also radio station that one can keep up-to-date with on Michelbergermusic.com soon, if anyone is interested.
It seemed app therefore that we came back to a song by Bowie there and then, which we performed once again, this time on the stage of the newly created ‘shed-hall’ in the Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, on the last night of the festival which meanwhile we had dubbed ‘endless, nameless’, and the song was ‘Heroes’. Indeed in Berlin David Bowie had sung this song in front of the Reichstag in 1987, and by the Berlin Wall, where people gathered on both sides, and clearly he addressed ‘the people’ as equal (potential) heroes, and the ones on the other side of the Wall, most and foremost, in his moving rendition. It was a concert I had attended, actually my first open-air rock concert proper as a music-obsessed teen, not having the slightest inkling about what was going to unfurl two years later, a peaceful revolution that was set to overturn the regime and break through that wall, thanks to which we and folks from all over the place were able to be in that place on October 2nd 2016 and reclaim that space.
Brings me back to the 29th of July 2016, the day we performed the Bowie Prom at The Royal Albert Hall in London. Over a period of 3 months I had wondered, and we had wondered, who are we to be in this position, playing Bowie’s music, even attempting to re-imagine some songs in a different format/style, what right, justification etc. etc. was there.
But really, I felt it on that night, by having immersed ourselves so completely in his work, and by sharing this with many artists who had long-lived with his songs and celebrating this passion by putting so much effort in showing what these songs meant to all of us, made us connect with the man and his spirit, it became humblingly palpable on the night, as the ensemble was poised and focusing, breathing in out on stage for a good two minutes while waiting for the green light from the tv people, in the midst of the general anticipation, before launching into Bowie’s Brian Eno collaboration ‘Warszawa’, with a field recording of a train pulling out of Berlin-Schöneberg station which we had recorded two weeks prior. Our ‘audience’ with David Bowie had finally started. And at the end of the show, almost by accident another magic thing happened: Until the very end of rehearsals we had toyed with the idea of after all giving the crowd his arguably biggest hit, ‘Let’s Dance’. To the point where we had no time to ask anyone to sing it, which meant we had rehearsed it instrumentally only and at the end of the show, as all the singers paraded off stage, we launched into it as an encore, and gave it back to the people who roar-sang it back at us thousand-fold from beginning to end, not missing a word or a note.
Other favourite moments of that concert include classical counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky singing David Lang’s recomposition of ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’, epic arrangements of Blackstar and Lady Grinning Soul by Jherek Bischoff, presented with fierce intensity by Amanda Palmer and Anna Calvi, and Laura Mvula’s rendering of ‘Fame’ via Greg Saunier’s orchestration. Last not least rocking out with John Cale on his utterly idiosyncratic rendition of ‘Space Odyssey’, transformed together with the inimitable House Gospel Choir. I think these were all moments where another piece of art had been made, through collaboration, inspired by Bowie’s original song. And there you have it, the ‘justification’, the ‘why did we do it’, if it needed it.
The Flaming Lips performing “The Soft Bulletin” w/ The Colorado Symphony & Chorus, conducted by André de Ridder. Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 26 May 2016.
I don’t want to close the ‘musical year 2016’ lookback without mentioning another highlight, a project that may not have been noticed in Europe so much but I hope will make it here soon.
Something I had worked on and dreamed up for a while: persuading the Flaming Lips to perform their album ‘The Soft Bulletin’ with a symphony orchestra (and choir). This became reality last May with the help of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, at the legendary Red Rocks Theatre.
It had struck me, ever since watching an intriguing Pitchfork documentary about the making of the album, since it had been created with so many orchestral, albeit sampled, layers originally, that it would make so much sense to try and recreate it with an actual orchestra. Which had not been done until now. It came together on a rather stormy night in the most spectacular open-air venue I have ever seen in my life, Red Rocks, the sense of being there in the first place almost overwhelming the occasion. It was also a pleasure and honour working with the band, the Flaming Lips being a wonderful and enthusiastic group of musicians lapping up the opportunity with gusto and passion themselves. Over the years they had perfected playing songs from the Soft Bulletin with keyboards and synths, and during rehearsals they gradually, like archeologists, removed those plasters to reveal the original orchestral sounds behind it.
Amongst the festivals and concerts I attended I need to mention, once again, is Iceland Airwaves, which took place at the beginning of November. In a way, it is another ‘people’ event, where the town of Reykjavík transforms itself into one large venue for 5 days, bands playing literally every other café, barber, petshop, you name it, along it’s main drags up and down town during the day before relocating to the ‘official’ theatres and halls. On those days, you’ll never see more people around with guitars on their backs, instrument cases in one hand and trolleys drawn behind them with the other.
I was conducting part of a sprawling Bedroom Community 10-year anniversary night at Harpa (another already iconic, if very new, concert space) which included great orchestral music by Daníel Bjarnasson, Nico Muhly, Ben Frost and Valgeir Sigurðsson but I caught a wonderful series of gigs when accidentally meeting and hearing the Barr Brothers (just Andrew and Brad, filling in for stranded label colleagues at the 12-Tónar record store), catching Kate Tempest close-up at a hostel, then Warpaint playing much of their new album back at Harpa, first time I saw them live after being a fan for a while. Three acts who couldn’t be more different, and every single one of them so brilliant and original. Which is why going to festivals is such a gratifying experience, and it seems to be an age where new festivals are still being created all the time, other ones going stronger than ever, and with imaginative and inventive features in no short supply. They are worlds created unto themselves, and I cannot wait to discover new ones next year, or return to familiar places which we trust and feel welcomed as both audience and artists. And people.
André de Ridder’s orchestral collective, s t a r g a z e, perform at the Musica Nova Festival Helsinki in February 2017, where they will perform Boards Of Canada’s “HI Scores” EP as well as new compostions written by Dawn Of Midi (Erased Tapes)’s drummer Qasim Naqvi (all info HERE).
Oliver Coates (London, UK)
Several ground-breaking records from 2016 can be attributed to the gifted talents of British cellist and composer Oliver Coates. The London-based composer’s sophomore full-length release ‘Upstepping’ is undoubtedly one of the year’s most accomplished, innovative and compelling musical journeys with its meticulously crafted and sumptuously layered cello-based compositions that carves out techno-fueled waves of pure bliss and transcendence. ‘Upstepping’ is indeed (in the words of Coates) “pumped-up body music”. In addition to ‘Upstepping’, Coates performed on Radiohead’s latest ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ LP and most recently, released a collaborative work with UK’s Mica Levi (Micachu & The Shapes) in the form of ‘Remain Calm’, another crowning jewel of 2016.
Oliver Coates – ‘Don’t Look Back’
In 2016 I came off social media and felt better for it. More time and space for music, love and colouring in. Got a cat, moved into our formerly flooded flat. Got a fresh perspective on London, my birth-town, now living in SE1. Through music I do feel connected to being a Londoner and being from the UK. I went deeper into Autechre’s music, new and old, Aphex’s Cheetah which took me back into the Analord Series and the Caustic Window music.
I met for the first time and made music with these artists: Actress, Elysia Crampton, Catherine Lamb, Dean Blunt, and lastly Pauline Oliveros. I programmed a festival in Westminster in June where Pauline was our featured guest and we heard her acoustic, electronic, instrumental and choral music across three days, alongside music by Ed Finnis, Éliane Radigue, Laurie Spiegel and others. Oliveros spoke to people about a need for unity – it was the weekend after a political vote and there was shell-shock amongst some of the large audience, who had infinite reservoirs for listening to microtonal music. The 15-minute mass tuning meditation took us away. I saw Pauline again in the week before she died – she gave a cleansing coruscating digital accordion set at Le Guess Who and afterwards she was spritely and said to me in the corridor “Let’s do more.”
She had enjoyed our reconstruction of Daphne Oram’s orchestral piece Still Point from the 1940s (by Shiva Feshareki and James Bulley). It sounded like opulent pastoral music and a symphonic tone poem with a smearing of warped electronic sound laid over the top. Oddly English though indebted to Stockhausen’s sounds. Yet Daphne conceived of them first – this was the 1940s. The future in reverse.
“Upstepping” is out now on PRAH Recordings & “Remain Calm” by Mica Levi & Oliver Coates is out now on Slip Discs.
Peter Broderick (Galway, IRE / Portland, Oregon, USA)
Born in Portland, Oregon, Peter Broderick’s name has been firmly established as one of the most singular voices and prolific musicians in the independent music scene for well over a decade now. The multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer has released a plethora of records since his first self-released 4-track recordings from 2005/6, for such labels as Erased Tapes, Bella Union, Type, Kning Disk, Digitalis and Beacon Sound. Collaboration has always been a vital component of Broderick’s artistic output, having performed in both Horse Feathers and Efterklang, and making records (whether as producer or composer) with such artists as: Nils Frahm, Lubomyr Melnyk, Greg Haines, Felicia Atkinson, Laura Gibson, Brigid Mae Power and Corrina Repp. 2016 saw the release of Broderick’s seventh solo LP, the majestic piano-based full-length “Partners” and the EP “Grunewald” (comprising 5 tracks of live piano recordings made at Berlin’s Grunewald Church while Broderick resided in the German capital) via Erased Tapes.
2016 was a wild ride. For starters, I got married! And I moved to Ireland! So now I’m a husband and step-dad living in the beautiful countryside of County Galway. Our address doesn’t even contain any numbers . . . just the name of the house, the name of the area, and the name of the county. And there’s a stray cat whom I’ve named Yin-Yang, who loves to eat the food I put out and even comes into the house for a nap, but still won’t let me pet him. And there’s a couple white horses who roam freely outside our door, and they like eating apples and carrots out of my hand, but also won’t let me pet them. And sometimes there are some cows that graze in nearby field, and once I did manage to pet one of them for a minute, but for the most part they don’t like to come too close.
According to google I am a musician . . . but this year I turned into a full-time plant lover. I have spent so much time reading books about plants and taking walks in the nature, trying to befriend as many green wonders as I can. One of my personal highlights of the year (aside from getting married!) was attending a workshop up in County Leitrim in which we spent the whole day outside learning to identify wild edible and medicinal plants. And though I’m still a complete novice, I can’t deny how fulfilled my soul feels when I spend the day outside gathering plants, honoring them as best I can in the process (which often involves singing them a little song), and later preparing them as food or drying them to make herbal teas.
Of course, I did make plenty of music this year. In February I recorded my first piano-based album in quite some time, which was released in August under the title Partners. And in early December Erased Tapes (lovely record label!) also reissued some older recordings on an EP called Grunewald. This Autumn I played 23 concerts in 8 different countries (including my first trip to Taiwan!) with just my voice and a piano, which was quite refreshing after all the years I’ve spent carrying around heaps of gear, albeit a bit challenging and naked feeling at the start.
We spent the Summer in Oregon, and whilst there for a couple months I got the chance to work on a wonderful project with David Allred, in which he just plays upright bass and sings, and I just play violin and sing. I am looking forward to releasing our duo album in Spring 2017 and playing some concerts together around that time.
I think the biggest musical discovery for me this year was getting into Joni Mitchell. For years whenever I heard that name and even when I heard her music, it would go in one ear and out the other. But something happened this year and I felt something inside go click! It started with her album Clouds, which we listened to countless times on cassette in the car. That record is perhaps the most similar to other music that I already appreciated . . . but then, from there I moved on to her other records, and sometimes I admit it’s a challenge at first, but oh so rewarding if you just take the time to soak it in. What a beautiful and courageous soul!
I can’t say I picked up much new music this year, but I did find four records on the shelf which were released this year and have a special meaning to me:
David Allred – Woods (Oscarson)
– Not only has David been a good friend and frequent collaborator of mine over the last few years, but he’s also been one of my favorite artists to follow. For me his music and creativity feel very unique. Sometimes when you get to know someone well, the mystique of their creativity disappears a bit . . . but with David I have had the complete opposite. My heart is continually warmed by his earnest efforts. He plays a large variety of instruments very beautifully, and his own lyrics have an almost unbelievably honest quality to them, as if he has direct access to some strange and deep thoughts that most of us are only dimly aware of.
Félicia Atkinson + Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Comme Un Seul Narcisse (Shelter Press)
– This is a peculiar and oddly beautiful record by two of my favorite weirdos. I’ve followed Jefre’s work since I was a teenager and he played in the band Tarentel, and Félicia is another artist who continually opens my eyes to the wonders of the Universe. When I heard the two of them had made an album together, I knew immediately that it would be an interesting listen.
Michael Hurley – Bad Mr. Mike (Mississippi Records)
– Seeing that Michael Hurley is well into his 70’s now, I was thrilled when I found out he had released a new album this year. And with a title like Bad Mr. Mike, how could it not be wonderful? His records are always adorned with his unmistakable artwork and made up characters, and his records (especially the later ones) have a way of making you feel like you’re sitting in his living room while he plays to no one in particular in the corner. And what an honor it was for me to go to his home and meet him early in the year! I had heard he was a collector of vintage radios, and I had a beautiful old radio from the 1920’s just sitting in the garage, collecting dust. So I reached out to him and asked if he might like to have it, and sure enough, a few weeks later there I was driving out to his countryside home and delivering the thing. Turns out he’s a member of vintage radio society, consisting most of “old geezers” as he put it. When he first saw the old radio he said, “This is going to cause a wave of excitement!”
Richard Proffitt – Pathways Written In Smoke (Stadt Moers)
I was very fortunate to have an ongoing artist residency at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, Ireland, throughout 2016. I went there on three separate occasions to stay and work on music (and did some painting too!). And during one of those stays there was an exhibition in one of the gallery rooms by a guy from Liverpool (who now lives in Dublin) called Richard Proffitt. This collection of artwork/sculpture/installation made quite an impression on me, with it’s ritualistic, not-afraid-of-the-dark kind of feeling, and I really enjoyed meeting Richard himself as well. This record was available as a part of the exhibition in a limited edition of 30 (!), and I’m very happy to say that I have one of those 30 copies. I highly recommend experiencing one of his exhibitions, or even just finding his recordings of music and spoken word on bandcamp.
In addition, there are a number of records released in 2016 which I either recorded at my old studio The Sparkle or had a decent part in the making of in one way or another. These records I am honored to be a part of:
Brigid Mae Power – S/T (Tompkins Square)
MayMay – Mountains Hills Plateaus And Plains (Oscarson)
The Beacon Sound Choir – Sunday Morning Drones (Infinite Greyscale)
Laura Gibson – Empire Builder (Barsuk)
Rauelsson – Ekõ (Beacon Sound)
V/A – Oscarsongs (Oscarson)
“Partners” (LP) and “Grunewald” (EP) by Peter Broderick are available now on Erased Tapes.
Josh Rosenthal (San Francisco, USA)
The Tompkins Square label founder and Grammy-nominated producer Josh Rosenthal published his first book “The Record Store of the Mind” during 2016, a personal musical odyssey documenting Rosenthal’s lifelong passion for music, as both an avid collector and obsessive listener. During 2015, Rosenthal’s world-renowned label Tompkins Square (based in San Francisco, USA) celebrated it’s ten year anniversary, having released records for such artists as William Tyler, Michael Chapman, Ryley Walker, Hiss Golden Messenger and James Blackshaw over the years, as well as re-issuing an extensive range of folk, old-time, gospel and American Primitive Guitar albums, including its ongoing “Imaginational Anthem” records, the acclaimed series focusing on acoustic guitar, particularly in the American Primitive vein.
by Josh Rosenthal – Tompkins Square label
The people in my small universe – musical artists and creatives around them – seem to have values 180 degrees from where our Nation appears headed. What will creative people do in the face of this instability ? If anything, the election energized me. I feel emboldened to do more, put out more records that Drumpf and his kind would hate, or at least not get. And maybe give folks some small respite from the endless barrage of awful news. Kind of an extension of Leonard Bernstein’s quote : “This will be our response to violence : To make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly, than ever before.” Which isn’t to say we can just stop there. I am writing checks to the Anti-Defamation League, Southern Poverty Law Center, Marine Mammal Center, the Sierra Club, Doctors Without Borders.
2016 saw the loss of David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Ralph Stanley, Mose Allison and Merle Haggard. The outpouring of grief for Prince and Bowie was huge, but I didn’t partake viscerally because I never identified with their music that much. Leonard Cohen’s death was heavier for me, as he was the most overtly Jewish rock star we’ve ever had in terms of reflecting the faith in his music, and his first two records are holy texts unto themselves. Leonard felt like extended family. With these musical losses, and inevitably, so many more to come, I reflected on rock star death. It’s irksome when people react to rock death on social media with “Fuck You 2016 !” There must be a more graceful way to express grief. The difference between us mortals and our musical heroes is that they get to live forever. That’s something to celebrate – not something to go cursing the whole Year about…
I spent all of March and April on the road promoting my book, “The Record Store of the Mind”. I did about 40 readings around the USA, with help from some musical guests, at the kind invitation of many independent book and record dealers. I never really expected anything to happen with the book, but folks reacted to it, and as I like to say, if I knew people were gonna care, I would’ve written a better book. But it was good enough to get Robert Plant to offer an effusive endorsement, and UNCUT named it one of the 10 Best Music Books of 2016. My first reading was in Jersey City in October 2015, and I learned a valuable lesson : Never schedule a reading before your book is actually out, because no one will show up. Writer Amanda Petrusich agreed to Q&A me there, and she was such a good sport in front of my four friends who showed up, plus the store manager. A very strange thing happened earlier that day — I walked into a local vinyl store with WFMU’s Joe McGasko and they were playing Ron Davies’ rare LP ‘UFO’. Ron Davies is the subject of Chapter 1 in my book ! I’d never heard Ron Davies in any record store, and I’ve never seen his albums in the wild. How weird is that ? Things got a lot better on the book trail in March and April, highlighted by ace stops in Richmond, VA at Steady Sounds (w/ Mark Fosson & Diane Cluck), Rocket 99 in Kingston, NY (w/Peter Walker), and many others.
v2016 was a crazy year for acquiring records. I was driving up 6th Street in SF and my vinyl radar spotted a box on the sidewalk. I pulled over and started flipping – John Coltrane on Impulse, Wire ‘154’, Indian classical records, rare Contemporary Classical LPs. “OK, take the box and get out of here.” Threw it in the car. Took me about a month to get through that box, it was so deep. Then a friend who was moving house had me over for first dibs on a life-long collection of ambient, prog, Krautrock, experimental, K. Leimer, La Monte Young, Robert Wyatt, Roedelius, Eno, Cluster. Then my friend in LA let me have at her grandfather’s jazz collection. OG Mingus, Coltrane, Ornette, Miles. It was nuts. I found a Baby Huey LP at the flea market for $3 – but it had no record inside. So I went on discogs and sure enough, someone was selling the record without the jacket for $15 ! Not bad.
It was fun to watch my older (15 yo) daughter’s musical horizons expand this year, as she discovered her own favorites on Spotify like Andy Schauf, Joywave and High Highs while happily adding Dad’s suggestions to her playlists ; The Clean, The Smiths, Tia Blake. I took my girls on a wild musical road trip all over the South in June, which I wrote about here.
On the Tompkins Square label front, it was hugely gratifying to reissue two Richie Havens-produced early 70’s solo albums by singer/songwriter Bob Brown; bring out Brigid Mae Power (thanks to Mark Carry and Fractured Air who tipped me to her !) ; ‘Imaginational Anthem vol 8: The Private Press’, compiled by Brooks Rice and former Other Music LP buyer Michael Klausman, turned me on to some fantastic solo guitar I’d never heard ; Harvey Mandel, whose music I have loved for years, holed up in Fantasy Studios with Ryley Walker’s band and made magic. Just some of the highlights and more to come in 2017, when I’m slated to release a record a month, starting in January with Robbie Basho protegé Richard Osborn’s LP, ‘Endless’. Stay up on what I do !
Some of my favorite records from 2016 :
The most important record for me this year was by Daniel Schmidt and the Berkeley Gamelan, “In My Arms, Many Flowers”, on Recital. An American Gamelan composer who teaches at Mills College these days, these recordings are from 1978-1982. A stunning discovery from Sean McCann’s label.
Australians Andras Fox (aka Andrew Wilson) and Eleventeen Eston (aka John Tanner) are Wilson Tanner, and their album ‘69’ came out on the promising Growing Bin label out of Germany.
Another label doing great work is RVNG. I mentioned the dude whose record collection I raided – he had a K. Leimer record, ‘Land of Look Behind’, and I really got into that. I had already purchased RVNG’s Syrinx reissue, ‘Tumblers From The Vault’, and then looked on the RVNG site, only to find that they had released a 2-disc K. Leimer set too ! These are both worth seeking out. Syrinx were a Canadian collective on the True North label run by Bernie Finkelstein, who has managed Bruce Cockburn forever. I know him, so he gave me some great Syrinx insights. Had to go and seek out the original Syrinx vinyl LPs of course.
I dig what Dying For Bad Music has done with their limited-run CDRs, especially the Abraham Chapman solo guitar release, ‘Nothing To Leave Behind’. The reel-to-reel tapes, recorded in 1978, were found at a flea market. No one knows anything about Abraham Chapman. DFBM made a limited run of 82 CDRs and it looks like there are some left :
I really enjoyed Charlie Hilton’s January 2016 release, Palana, via Captured Tracks. I missed her when she played the Warfield in SF. I like her somnambulant, Francoise Hardy vibe. I don’t see a single media outlet picking this record as one of the years’ best. Maybe cuz it came out in January ?
“The Record Store Of The Mind” by Josh Rosenthal, published by Tompkins Square Books is available now.
Benoît Pioulard (Seattle, Washington, USA)
2016 marked the tenth anniversary of Benoît Pioulard’s prized debut LP ‘Précis’, an album that is synonymous with the spirit and wonder of independent music at its very finest. Currently based in Seattle, Washington, Thomas Meluch has quietly amassed a considerable body of work in the intervening years: solo works for the prestigious Chicago-based Kranky label as well as numerous self-released works, music with Canadian composer Kyle Bobby Dunn under the alias PERILS (Desire Path Recordings), Meluch’s collaboration with Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) as ORCAS (Morr Music) and “Praveen and Benoît”, the collaborative work with Praveen Sharma (Music Related). October 2016 marked the release of “The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter”, the sixth album by Benoît Pioulard for Kranky.
This year, more than any other in my life, was predicated on a contrast between life and death ; mostly trying to live with fulfillment and peace as a slap to the face of the infinite, something like that. Culturally we lost so many great voices and heroes (John Glenn, Buchla, Pauline Oliveros, Bowie and the other obvious ones) and one could say a lot about the end of truth & reason politically, but on a personal level I was gut-punched by the sudden death of my only brother back in March, three days before I was set to head out on a 5-week North American tour.
My first thought was, “I have to cancel everything and go home,” but after talking with some very close friends & family it occurred to me that the best way to deal with the shock, sadness and confusion might be to push forward in doing the only thing that truly matters to me in this world, and play some dumb songs for people. Surely enough, the ensuing month (minus the weekend of my brother’s memorial service) was just what I had hoped — an escape from familiarity and routine, an extended meditation on the American landscape, and a chance to make some noise for a lot of lovely strangers as a means of catharsis.
My brother had always said he wanted to tag along for a week on the road with me, so I was pleased to get a small parcel of his ashes, which rode the rest of the way from Michigan out to New York, down through the southwest and back to Seattle with me. Now he stays on my desk, near to where I do all my rehearsing and recording, and sometimes I talk to him but so far he hasn’t said anything back. Our mother has been feeling his presence a lot lately though I can’t claim the same ; being from the same parents, though, I reckon that’s because we are each other in so many ways, and there is no difference between us, no “other” to be sensed. I dedicated my new record to him, because it’s about getting over bad habits (we have both had our share) and I finished it the day before he died, the fact of which seems like some kind of cosmic exclamation point to me.
I have typically been pretty down about changing the calendar to a new year, even though I understand entropy, that time is an arrow and we merely impose these measurements — but at least symbolically I have never been more excited to say “farewell” to a year as I am right now. Learn and grow and fight the good fight and so on…
“The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter” is available now on Kranky.
Eluvium (Portland, Oregon, USA)
Eluvium is the alias for the Portland, Oregon-based artist and renowned experimental composer Matthew Cooper. Born in Tennessee and raised in Louisville, KY, Matthew Cooper relocated to Portland, OR several years back and has since been amassing a soul-stirring body of work under his “Eluvium” guise. 2016 saw the release of his latest opus “False Readings On” (released via the Temporary Residence label), the album’s genesis was originally inspired by themes of cognitive dissonance in modern society. Cooper also makes music as Inventions, a collaborative project which features Cooper and Mark T. Smith of Texas-based post-rock band Explosions In The Sky.
I did not like this year. I had a great many issues with this year, quite honestly. BUT ! – there were a surprising number of wonderful musics and books that happened… more than i am able to remember at this moment of making this list. I’m probably forgetting many of them because of how distracted I am by how much I otherwise did not like this year.
Aside from finding constant salvation in the arts, I also enjoyed a lot of hikes and walks with my wife and dogs and those days were probably my favourite. I’ve also found myself composing a LOT more work than usual. So there were, indeed, good things,..and there are more good things to come.
Listening ( no particular order ):
– The Caretaker – Everywhere at the End of Time
– Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness
– Biosphere – Departed Glories
– Daniel Lanois – Goodbye to Language
– Roberto Musci – Tower of Silence
– Kjartan Sveinsson – Der Klang der Offenbarung Des Gottlichen
– Bethan Kellough – Aven
– Christopher Tignor – Along a Vanishing Plane
– Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – In Summer
– Benoit Pioulard – The Benoit Pioulard Listening Matter
– Odd Nosdam – Music for Raising / Sisters
– Tangents – Stateless
– Fernando Sor / Narciso Yepes – 24 Etudes — ( a late discovery but worth mentioning )
– Hildur Gudnadottir – Saman — (another late discovery but also worth mentioning)
– Rachel’s – Systems/Layers vinyl reissue
Reading ( no particular order / no particular year release ):
– John Wray – The Lost Time Accidents
– Patrick Dewitt – Undermajordomo Minor
– Jonathan Lethem – Gambler’s Anatomy
– John Muir – Wilderness Essays (reissue)
– Ethan Canin – A Doubter’s Almanac
– Haruki Murakami – Hear the Wind Sing/Pinball 1973 (reissue)
“False Readings On” is available now on Temporary Residence.
Brigid Mae Power (Galway, Ireland)
Having been a firmly established and longtime admired songwriter in her native Irish shores, the breathtaking Irish songwriter Brigid Mae Power released her extraordinary self-titled LP “Brigid Mae Power” via US label Tompkins Square earlier this year to widespread critical acclaim. The album was recorded with U.S. composer and producer Peter Broderick at his hometown studio “The Sparkle” in Portland, Oregon and features eight tracks of fragile beauty in her own inimitable and wholly unique approach as a songwriter (as anyone who has witnessed Power’s incendiary live shows will testify). Such is the album’s timeless brilliance, the nearest parallels that can be drawn to Power’s quietly unassuming, divine artistry are those blessed folk spirits of bygone times such as Sibylle Baier, Tia Blake or Margaret Barry.
I’m sitting on a Ryanair plane right now on my way back from Glasgow, where last night I played my final gig of the year. I played at The Glad Café with Mike Heron and The Trembling Bells.
I’m not great at doing my research or homework with who I am playing with, partly because I just seem to be in a scattered daze a lot of the time, but mostly because I can’t find much time to listen to new and old music. But I don’t mind because it means I can be really surprised out of the blue as I have no expectations. Mike Heron and the Trembling Bells were so warm, odd, brilliant and heartfelt. I wanted to hug them all while they were playing. The lyrics were so bizarre also. Mike Heron was in The Incredible String band who I know virtually nothing about, but will now try and get some of their records.
2016 was a great year for me. I released my self-titled album with Tompkins Square Records and I also got to experience playing shows in countries I had never previously visited. I went to Japan in September, played in an old school, a Buddhist temple and an old jazz club. I got to eat the most amazing food I had ever tasted. I came home feeling sick at the sight of cheese and bread and made myself noodle soups for the first few weeks when I got home.
I played at Le Guess Who Festival in Utrecht and got to see how pretty that place is and play my favourite bill ever with my husband and my sister-in-law..
I got to spend most of the summer in Portland, Oregon, and also by the coast in Oregon. I got to spend time around beautiful tall trees, see vultures circling around my head and lie down in the sun for days and days. I literally just let my body warm up as much as it could and dry up all that Irish damp that had been in my bones for years. Whilst lying down I drew a lot, I did read too but I can’t really remember what I was reading.
Right now I am reading ‘M Train’ by Patti Smith, which I love. I love her daily routine of sitting in cafés drinking coffee and writing. I used to do the same except with drawing mostly instead of writing, when I was in my early twenties. But when I returned to Galway I no longer felt anonymous in cafés, everyone would ask “ooh what are ya drawing?” or “Oh right, that looks a little strange!” and it just made me too self-conscious so I would draw at home instead. But there’s something about working in an atmosphere where life is going on around you, but not paying attention to you, that I love.
Musically 2016 saw a bit of a Joni Mitchell binge for me. Especially in most recent months. ‘Clouds’, ‘Miles of Aisles’, ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’, ‘Court and Spark’, ‘For the Roses’ and ‘Night Ride Home’. I devoured all of them! And I still am. I knew bits of all of them before but I had never listened to them in such depth. I also listened a lot to Andy Irvine and Paul Brady’s album.. I started running a few weeks ago and started to listening to some old jazz albums to get me to moving…Art Blakey’s ‘Witch Doctor’ to be exact.
I finished Elena Ferrante’s fourth Neapolitan novel in 2016 I think…or it might’ve still been 2015. Oh! Twin Peaks! I was first introduced to Twin Peaks just this year.. I loved everything about the first season, the second season creeped me out and scared me too much but I still managed to watch it and love it.
Anyway 2016 has been an exciting year and I think I have missed out on a lot of things and events etc. but maybe it’s because I’m still experiencing them and haven’t had time to reflect..
Ok I have to go now as I am juggling writing this and watching a 6-year-old run crazy around an indoor play place, which really does sum up what I’ve done mostly this year. Crazy-mother-music-juggle.
—Brigid Mae Power
“Brigid Mae Power” is available now on Tompkins Square.
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (Dublin, Ireland)
2016 was another busy year for the ever-prolific Irish composer and fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. As well as releasing the second album by The Gloaming (“2” via Real World Records), the world-renowned quintet also toured extensively throughout 2016 to sell-out audiences at both home and abroad. Ó Raghallaigh also toured and performed across Ireland with the Dingle-based concertina player Cormac Begley (bass, baritone, treble and piccolo concertinas). As well as performing with The Gloaming (alongside Iarla Ó Lionáird, Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill and Thomas Bartlett), Ó Raghallaigh also performs with This Is How We Fly, another inspired contemporary supergroup, consisting of Ó Raghallaigh on hardanger fiddle, Seán Mac Erlaine on clarinets and electronics, Nic Gareiss on percussive dance and Petter Berndalen on drums. This Is How We Fly’s second album is due to be recorded in January 2017.
I didn’t buy many records in 2016, hardly read a book, and barely set foot in a cinema all year. But it was a great year of making things for me. It started out with DIY, actually, putting in a new kitchen, tiling, plumbing and the whole lot. Thanks, Google, you saved my life!
We had a great writing week at the Tyrone Guthrie with This is How we Fly early in the year. What a magical place that is, a retreat centre beside a lake in Monaghan, dedicated to giving space to artists for them to do their thing. Then there was The Gloaming run at the NCH, and the release of the new album. I came to see a lot of the NCH over the first half of the year – I was artist-in-residence in their new Kevin Barry Recital Room, which was a lovely opportunity to work with some remarkable musicians.
In terms of listening to music, Seán Mac Erlaine’s Duo Series of concerts was immensely enjoyable – two of them stood out for me: his duo with Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset in which they created glorious landscapes of sound; and his duo with Norwegian musician Jan Bang, a properly marvellous live-sampling dance that stands out as my favourite gig of the year.
Watched some amazing stuff on Netflix this year: Black Mirror and Stranger Things were two of my favourites. Future Islands. Found an amazing new tuning for the 10-string fiddle that is deeply satisfying!
For 2017, I think I’d like to focus on some solo stuff a bit more, especially with the live-processing coding up and running now. Do a few more courses, continue to learn and expand. And maybe think about making a solo record of it all.
We’ll be recording the new This is How we Fly album in January, thanks to our recently completed and successful FundIt campaign. Plus there are a few more albums already up the sleeve, so it could be a busy year for the releases!
—Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh
“2” by The Gloaming is available now on Real World Records.
George Xylouris (Crete, Greece)
Legendary lute player George Xylouris released his second album with duo Xylouris White this year – the inspired, earth-shattering collaboration with world-renowned Brooklyn-based drummer Jim White of Melbourne’s mythical trio Dirty Three – entitled “Black Peak” (Bella Union), the follow-up to the duo’s equally sublime 2014 debut “Goats” (Other Music Recording Co.). Xylouris hails from Anogeia, a mountain shepherding village set into the hills of Crete, down the hill from the Cave of Zeus (“Black Peak” itself is named after a mountaintop in Crete). George Xylouris, a true master of the Cretan lute, also performs with The Xylouris Ensemble (which also features his three Greek-Australian children). Xylouris White toured extensively throughout the globe this year, with extensive shows throughout Europe, USA and Australia.
I don’t know how to start this but to me the highlight of this what I’m doing now with Xylouris White is exactly that: to be with Jim White and play around the world.
I’m playing wonderful places and venues with beautiful audiences and that’s the most enjoyable stuff which I had all this time. I play my instrument almost 40 years now.
Highlight is to meet all these nice people. Musicians or not musicians and work with these people.
Here are some photos from our 2016 tours:
Xylouris White at Fox Theatre Oakland, San Francisco a few hours before the show with Godspeed you! Black Emperor. One of the most beautiful theatres I ever played. February 4th 2016.
A Beautiful Day in LA.
The Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian. Hung out in the little cafes around the venue and the tour bus waiting for show time.
The Cathedral in LA. Beautiful sound.
From California, Arizona Colorado, by bus, what a journey….
Union Pool, Brooklyn. “Sweet Home Stage” Launch of second album “Black Peak”.
Melbourne, March 11 2016. On the way to National Gallery to play at exhibition of Ai Weiwei and Andy Warhol.
Big Ears Festival in Knoxville TN April ’16. I met the big master Marshall Allen, great honour.
Car broke down, the band kept going. Pennsylvania, see you in Boston.
west coast, Portland Oregon, after show at Mississippi Studios, cold night, warm team, w Emmett Kelly, Sabrina Rush, west coast team.
Back to Europe from west coast USA: Krakow, Poland. Unsound Festival.
Changing trains, heading to Birmingham.
4-day break back home. Crete. Before Tawain.
Taipei. Dumplings. Delicious. Love Love Rock Festival. On an old tea farm in the woods up in the hills, you see the villages around the hills. Magic.
Back in the USA east coast team: marisa anderson, eliot, george, jim. Break on the road. Enjoyable to spend time with these people.
Portsmouth NH. Breakfast time and singing after last night’s show together with Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkins, one of my favorite shows ever.
thank you guys and see you soon again.
‘Black Peak’ in Crete.
“Black Peak” by Xylouris White is available now on Bella Union.
Loscil (Vancouver, Canada)
Loscil’s Scott Morgan has been responsible for some of the most captivating and stunningly beautiful ambient creations over the past fifteen years. Across a compelling body of work (beginning with the 2001 classic ‘Triple Point’) – the majority of which has been released on the immense Chicago-based imprint Kranky – Vancouver-based Morgan has developed his own unique style of textural rhythms that ceaselessly blur the lines of ambient, techno, drone and modern-classical. The recently released ‘Monument Builders’ – one of 2016’s finest gems – marks the latest chapter in Loscil’s explorations through sound that lies at the intersect between nature and humanity. Next March will see the release of Loscil’s highly anticipated debut collaboration with American cellist Mark Bridges under the name High Plains.
rugged Wyoming mountaintops
frostbitten and sprawling
frozen streams, lingering cello and chopped piano notes
a winter journey, listening on the precipice in a snowstorm
dotted with horses, High Plains
to the suns
horns After Life
dancer inked and scratched on film
pretty good homecoming
square improvisation with Red
Paul at St Paul’s
french horn rehearsals
Barbican Wild Birds
a humble face
filled with fear
but a survivor
a true Victor
the other London
borders after elections, nightmares
Chicago is too warm
travelling companion Benoît
Detroit storms of many kinds
New York Cuban cigars
flurries through the Adirondacks
Cohen shrines in a second home
Toronto warmth despite the cold
a quiet end
despite near Terror
so many farewells
“Monument Builders” is available now on Kranky.
With special thanks to all our readers and listeners for their support over the last twelve months. Wishing everyone a very happy and peaceful new year & best wishes for 2017.
Presented here is a list of our favourite albums from 2016. As difficult a task as this proved, we decided ultimately to choose the albums that we found ourselves turning back to time and again over the last twelve months. The exercise also reminded me of memories when growing up of reading interviews featuring our favourite musicians, what used to strike me so much was the number of times they would describe their favourite albums as being like “friends” to them. These albums were anything but material possessions, these wax and cardboard sculptures were simply part of their lives: their very identity, even. The following is a selection of sixteen albums released during 2016 which we feel fortunate to now call friends of our own.
Artwork: Craig Carry
Words: Mark Carry
(i). Oliver Coates – “Upstepping” (PRAH Recordings)
Several ground-breaking records from 2016 can be attributed to the gifted talents of British cellist and composer Oliver Coates. The London-based composer’s sophomore full-length release ‘Upstepping’ is undoubtedly the year’s most accomplished, innovative and compelling musical journeys with its meticulously crafted and sumptuously layered cello-based compositions that carves out techno-fueled waves of pure bliss and transcendence. ‘Upstepping’ is indeed (in the words of Coates) “pumped-up body music”. From album opener ‘Innocent Love’, which immediately evokes the sound of Four Tet’s ‘There Is Love In You’ with its hypnotic female vocal line to the deep house groove of ‘Perfect Love’ (think Autechre, Aphex Twin), a world of shimmering cello-based sound-worlds are being channeled from the cosmos. Coates’s current activity of “distorted cello play over sequenced dance music” (Coates wrote for his exclusive Guest Mixtape) remains the most ground-breaking and original sounds to have surfaced in 2016.
“Upstepping” is out now on PRAH Recordings.
(ii). Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “EARS” (Western Vinyl)
Last Spring during a conversation with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, she described her primary objective for her latest full-length ‘EARS’: “I wanted to create a sense that the listener was on a 3-D motion ride through a futuristic jungle and I had to create an arc from start to finish that took the listener on a journey”. These eight otherworldly compositions created by the L.A. based composer and producer were immediately noted for their extraordinary colours, textures and striking multi-dimensional forms. The rich instrumentation encompasses a myriad of organic and synthesized sounds as Smith’s utterly hypnotic voice melds with her trusted Buchla synthesizer and an intricate array of woodwind and brass arrangements. Cosmic bliss appears at each and every turn: the dazzling mantra of ‘Rare Things Grow’ is steeped in African music traditions; ‘Envelop’s meditative melodic pulses and the epic closing transcendence of ‘Existence In The Unfurling’. Later in 2016 came the equally exceptional ‘Sunergy’ LP – a collaboration between Smith and electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani – as part of the RVNG Intl label’s FRKWYS series.
“EARS” is out now on Western Vinyl.
(iii). Jóhann Jóhannsson – “Orphée” (Deutsche Grammophon)
This year saw the eagerly awaited new studio album – and first in six years – from the renowned Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Incorporating music for solo cello, organ, string quartet, string orchestra and unaccompanied voices, ‘Orphée’ represents Jóhannsson’s finest hour, whose fifteen divine compositions captured here feels like a distillation of the master composer’s life’s work. The utterly captivating ‘A Song For Europa’ belongs in the same stratosphere as Gavin Bryars’ ‘Jesus Blood’ such is its cinematic brilliance: a spoken word sample becomes embedded deep in the music, speaking so profoundly. ‘A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder’ is steeped in unwavering beauty as rejoice and hope flicker onto the horizon amidst a soaring string section (performed by Air Lyndhurst String Orchestra). A lost companion to George Delerue’s ‘Camille’.
In the words of Jóhannsson: “Orphée is for me about changes: about moving to a new city, leaving behind an old life in Copenhagen and building a new one in Berlin – about the death of old relationships and the birth of new ones”. As ever, the Icelandic master composer has crafted a challenging, utterly breathtaking and shape-shifting experience. A piece such as ‘Good Night, Day’ (featuring Jóhannsson’s close musical collaborator Hildur Guðnadóttir) paints life’s fleeting, transient nature onto a vast canvas of enchanting sound, before ‘Theatre of Voices’ (conducted by Paul Hillier) brings ‘Orphée’ to an astounding climax.
“Orphée” is out now on Deutsche Grammophon.
(iv). Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Skeleton Tree” (Bad Seed Ltd.)
On lead single – and album opener – ‘Jesus Alone’, a devastating apocalyptic world descends upon us amidst sparse arrangements of piano and brooding synthesizer drones: “You fell from the sky/Crash landed in a field/Near the river Adur.” On Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ sixteenth studio album, a captivating, harrowing and deeply moving experience is forged as Cave’s songs navigates the heart of darkness.
The achingly beautiful gospel lament ‘Rings of Saturn’ exudes a healing power, which could belong on ‘The Boatman’s Call’ alongside ‘Brompton Oratory’. Scenes from John Hillocat’s ‘The Road’ (one of the many breathtaking scores Cave & Ellis have penned) is etched across the heartbreaking, tear-stained canvas of ‘Girl In Amber’. On a later verse, Cave mourns: “I used to think that when you died you kind of wandered the world/In a slumber til your crumble were absorbed into the earth.” A brooding darkness seeps into your bones on ‘Magneto’ – the album’s most gripping and intense moments – where buzzes of electric guitar drifts beneath Cave’s whisper-like pleas. The hypnotic mantra of “In love, in love, I love, you love” shares the cosmic spirit of Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’ ventures in the slipstream. A catharsis permeates the “heaven bound sea” of ‘Anthrocene’ with surreal, near-mythical dimensions somehow attained, which could depict Herzog’s ‘Aguirre, The Wrath of God’s haunting, doomed expedition. The sublime ecstasy of ‘I Need You’ is wrapped in impossible beauty; an empowering ballad that could belong to the ‘Lyre Of Orpheus’ sessions.
‘Skeleton Tree’ is a lament from the depths of darkness and despair: “With my voice, I am calling you.”
“Skeleton Tree” is out now on Bad Seed Ltd.
(v). Jessy Lanza – “Oh No” (Hyperdub)
The Canadian songwriter and producer’s sublime sophomore full-length ‘Oh No’ (Hyperdub) showcases an artist at the peak of her powers, crafting some of the most beguiling synth pop creations of 2016 (and beyond). Made in her hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, with production partner Jeremy Greenspan from Junior Boys, the seductive pop hooks and R&B gems crafts a joyously uplifting haven of euphoric sounds. As Lanza says “I want to make people feel good and I want to make myself feel good”. Infectious energy permeates ‘VV Violence’ and ‘Never Enough’ (reminiscent of classic Junior Boys and Caribou) whilst elsewhere the stunning ballads ‘I Talk BB’ (Lanza’s voice ascends to the forefront of the mix) and ethereal haze of closing cut ‘Could B U’. The infectious groove and affecting vocal delivery of ‘It Means I Love You’ crafts one of the record’s defining moments, soaked in reverb and compelling drum machines. Most recently, ‘Oh No No No’ remix EP has surfaced, with gorgeous reworks by DVA (‘Going Somewhere’), DJ Taye x DJ Spinn’s remix of ‘Could B U’ and Morgan Geist’s rework of ‘I Talk BB’.
“Oh No” is out now on Hyperdub.
(vi). Peter Broderick – “Partners” (Erased Tapes)
The gifted American composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist has crafted his most captivating, emotive and transporting works to date on his latest masterwork ‘Partners’. This collection of solo piano music not only sees the beloved sound sculptor come full-circle in many ways but also delving deeper and further into music’s boundless orbit and life’s great mystery than ever before. In essence, the artist has effectively removed himself from the activities of the sounds he makes, in turn, creating piano music so pure, mysterious and far-reaching, evoking the timeless sounds of older generation masters such as John Cage and Lubomyr Melnyk. Hugely inspired by John Cage’s chance techniques and visionary spirit, Cage’s own composition ‘In A Landscape’ serves the vital pulse to ‘Partners’s aching canvas (having fallen in love with the piano once again during the process of transcribing this seminal piece, note-by-painstaking-note). Compositions such as the utterly transcendent ‘Carried’ unleashes a haven of heart-wrenching emotion as celestial harmonies meld effortlessly with mesmeric piano patterns, and ‘Up Niek Mountain’s drifting cosmic reverb-laden piano tapestries become interwoven deep inside the listener’s thoughts and dreams. The closing ‘Sometimes’ is a cover version of Brigid Mae Power’s divine ballad, the record for which is dedicated to Brigid. A freedom abounds on ‘Partners’ as the sacred piano notes become transcribed from the very composer’s subconscious mind.
“Partners” is out now on Erased Tapes.
(vii). Xylouris White – “Black Peak” (Bella Union)
Xylouris White is the inspired collaboration between Greek lute player George Xylouris and the Australian, Brooklyn-based drummer Jim White. Both composers are legends in their own right, the former through his Cretan lute-led sounds of the Xylouris Ensemble, the latter through his membership of mythical Australian trio Dirty Three and myriad of collaborations over the years. The sheer expanses covered on the band’s sophomore full-length ‘Black Peak’ is staggering. The opening rock opus ‘Black Peak’ and ‘Forging’s momentous rock’n’roll rhythms are followed by the poignant parable of ‘Hey, Musicians!’ and divine epic love song, ‘Erotokritos’. Ancient traditions are interwoven with contemporary, avant-garde musical structures, forever embedded deep inside a mysterious, enchanting and cosmic space. ‘Black Peak’ invites the listener to inhabit the far-reaching plains of life’s mysterious and kaleidoscopic landscape. As depicted on the striking narrative of ‘Hey, Musicians!’, music indeed never ends.
“Black Peak” is out now on Bella Union.
(viii). Loscil – “Monument Builders” (Kranky)
The Canadian ambient artist Scott Morgan’s latest masterwork unleashes a cathartic, hypnotic spell throughout; belonging to a dichotomy of worlds where an engulfing cloud of prevailing darkness prevails in tandem with the radiant light of hope and survival. Delicately beautiful ambient soundscapes drift majestically in the ether alongside the more intense, pulsating sound worlds. Take for example, how the fragile pulses of ‘Deceiver’ flows effortlessly into the glorious crescendo of ‘Straw Dogs’ or how the stunningly beautiful album opener ‘Drained Lake’ is gradually followed with the techno-infused ‘Red Tide’. A wall of intense moods, colour and textures flood these sonic creations, creating one of Morgan’s most accomplished and concise records to date. The addition of horn arrangements (recalling Philip Glass) immediately casts an ethereal quality; harmonies meld beautifully with a collection of old synths, warm textures of drone soundscapes.
“Monument Builders” is out now on Kranky.
(ix). The Avalanches – “Wildflower” (XL)
2016 saw the return of The Avalanches after sixteen years with their long-awaited second album. The pertinent question for the duo was how could a band follow-up a seminal classic like ‘Since I Left You’ but the duo have managed to create a kaleidoscope of rejuvenated, cosmic sounds. An endless array of samples, hip-hop rhymes, lucid beats, celestial harmonies and pop-laden hooks fill ‘Wildflower’s exhilarating voyage where cameo appearances from Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue, Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis, Father John Misty and Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick all stop by. ‘Wildflower’ is one of those perfect summer records: the Laurel Canyon-era sunshine pop of ‘If I Was a Folkstar’ and ‘Because I’m Me’s funky soulful strut and seductive Ariel Pink-esque ‘Subways’ are just some highlights. The heart-stopping ‘Saturday Night Inside Out’s dreamy haze and poignant epicentre serves the perfect closer to ‘Wildflower’s glorious psychedelic pop oeuvre.
“Wildflower” is out now on XL Recordings.
(x). Amiina – “Fantômas” (Mengi)
Icelandic outfit Amiina’s latest adventure, ‘Fantômas’, was originally composed as a live score to a silent masterpiece from 1913 (‘Fantômas’ was a French silent crime film serial directed by Louis Feuillade, based on the novel of the same name). Importantly the music stands on its own, independent of the visual narrative that, in turn, marks a brave new chapter in Amiina’s cherished songbook. The band’s Fantômas score is menacing, dark and brooding as it is steeped in delicate beauty and vivid hope. The cinematic opening title-track begins with a slow rhythmic pulse before haunting strings cast an eerie disquiet. The main theme’s melodic motif is masterfully revisited on the sublime ‘Lady Beltham’ before vivid dappling of light ascend on ‘Crocodile’. The closing electronic-oriented ‘L’Homme Du Noir’ explores adventurous new horizons. As ever, immaculate instrumentation of violin, cello, drums, percussion, metallophone, table harp, ukulele, and electronics graces the listener akin to the gradual fading light at dusk or a bird’s majestic flight across vast skies.
The score Fantômas premiered in Paris in 2013 at the prestigious, Théâtre du Châtelet, where Amiina, together with musicians James Blackshaw, Tim Hecker, Loney Dear, and Yann Tiersen, took part in a special Halloween event (curated by Tiersen), celebrating the centenary of the Fantômas series, directed by the French film director Louis Feuillade in 1913-1914.
“Fantômas” is out now on Mengi.
(xi). Carla dal Forno – “You Know What It’s Like” (Blackest Ever Black)
The Australian singer-songwriter’s masterful debut solo album ‘You Know What It’s Like’ marked undoubtedly the year’s most dazzling and exciting debuts. Released on the prestigious Blackest Ever Black imprint, lead singles ‘Fast Moving Cars’ and ‘What You Gonna Do Now?’ revealed adventurous avant pop song structures to get beautifully lost in. Forno asks “Did you want this to last a long time?” over a gorgeous haze of meditative bassline grooves and drumbeat on the luminous ‘Fast Moving Cars’. Forno’s voice – a truly formidable instrument – melts and dissolves in the other-worldly pop spheres, conjuring up the timeless sound of ‘Tragedy’-era Julia Holter and Brian Eno’s visionary early 70’s pop gems. A striking emotional depth resides throughout, reflecting on failed relationships, love, loss and the impermanence of it all. Loneliness is etched across the canvas of the album’s title-track, sharing the colours and shades of Miles Davis’s ‘Kind Of Blue’ and Nico’s celestial voice with its yearning, searching feel: “What you gonna do now that the night’s come and it’s around you?” Elements of dub, post-punk, psychedelic folk and avant pop sounds shimmer majestically throughout: from the late 60’s psych folk of ‘Drying In The Rain’ to the dub-infused odyssey ‘DB Rip’s wave of synthesizers. The stripped-back closer ‘The Same Reply’ serves the record’s most breath-taking moments; distilled in lost love.
“You Know What It’s Like” is out now on Blackest Ever Black.
(xii). Andy Stott – “Too Many Voices” (Modern Love)
The renowned UK producer Andy Stott delivered his highly anticipated follow-up to 2014 classic ‘Faith In Strangers’ in the form of ‘Too Many Voices’ last Spring via the peerless Manchester-based imprint Modern Love. The gifted producer continued to explore new sonic terrain and tap into new emotional depths with gorgeous dub step, electronic, grime and 80’s synth pop flourishes. On Stott’s fourth studio album, breathtaking synth washes of ‘New Romantic’ (with nods to This Mortal Coil) and soulful seduction of ‘Butterflies’ (the record’s lead single) are interwoven with utterly compelling dubstep techno for the dancefloor (‘First Night’) and crystalline ambient chill-wave bliss (‘On My Mind’). The title-track and album closer perhaps serves the record’s glorious climax with masterfully arranged choral harmonies (supplied by longtime vocal contributor Alison Skidmore who appears on half of the record) and euphoric production (think Holly Herndon crossed with the Yellow Magic Orchestra), providing one of the tracks of 2016 in the process.
“Too Many Voices” is out now on Modern Love.
(xiii). Katie Kim – “Salt” (Art For Blind)
‘Salt’ sees the revered Irish musician explore deeper into the ethereal dimension, for which she has long ago established. The hypnotic guitar drone of ‘Day Is Coming’ envelops the deepest of fears and anguish, culminating in a swirling symphonic haze of heavenly harmonies and brooding strings. ‘Someday’ is a delicately beautiful piano lament and searching prayer for hope. The striking intimacy and hypnotic spell cast by the gifted songwriter throughout ‘Salt’ unleashes the most deeply affecting batch of songs to have been unearthed for quite some time. Sonically, the latest record is a partnership between O’ Sullivan and producer John Murphy, whose expansive, guttural soundscapes of album opener ‘Ghosts’ and centerpiece ‘I Make Sparks’ are masterfully contrasted with the closing fragile piano ballads ‘Thieves’ and ‘Wide Hand’. One of the album’s defining moments arrives with the pulsating ‘Life Or Living’; a euphoric exploration into the depths of darkness. An image depicted on the second verse becomes the engulfing embodiment of ‘Salt’s realm of raw emotion and blissful transcendence: “Holding my hand now the tides incoming/Make us a shield so the light won’t get in.”
“Salt” is out now on Art For Blind.
(xiv). Marissa Nadler – “Strangers” (Bella Union, Sacred Bones)
“Strangers” finds Marissa Nadler’s sonic palette expanding (synths and drumbeats are at times added to Nadler’s voice and guitar). But despite the added instrumentation and more intricate arrangements, a purity forever remains in the treasured songbook of Nadler’s forever timeless oeuvre. Beautiful subtleties exist within the sonic tapestries while striking imagery such as disintegrating cliffs, towering skyscrapers, darkening woods and deep rivers are offset with characters often feeling at odds with the world they find themselves in (or more accurately find themselves suspended into, all of a sudden). There’s a tangible sense of contrasting dichotomies lying at the heart of “Strangers” (between the familiar and the unfamiliar; safety and danger; darkness and light; life and death) which makes the journey Nadler takes us on all the more real. Tangible. Life-affirming. And like a silent witness we can quietly navigate that darkness with her. For we are not strangers after all.
“Strangers” is out now on Bella Union (UK) / Sacred Bones (USA).
(xv). Brigid Mae Power – “S/T” (Tompkins Square)
Brigid Mae Power’s stunningly beautiful latest solo full-length – and Tompkins Square debut – is an album drenched in reverb-soaked emotion and lament. Enchantingly performed and produced, the record showcases a songwriter of immense talent in a soundscape that naturally merges itself to Brigid Power’s engulfing sound. The magic lies in the songwriter’s expression of raw emotion, in all its delicate beauty. Themes include transformation, change, motherhood, acceptance, strength, courage and trust. In the words of Power, the album is about “trusting if you lose yourself or your way — you can come back.”
Such is the album’s timeless brilliance, the nearest parallels that can be drawn to Power’s quietly unassuming, divine artistry are those blessed folk spirits of bygone times such as Sibylle Baier, Tia Blake or Margaret Barry. As reflected in the lyrics of closing heartfelt lament of ‘How You Feel’, this deeply personal and intimate set of songs become a place of hope and solace where the path laid out in front you is filled with the light of day and sea of love.
“Brigid Mae Power” is out now on Tompkins Square.
(xvi). Syrinx – “Tumblers from the Vault (1970–1972)” (RVNG Intl)
A collection of experimental synth music culled from the early 70’s Toronto music scene is beautifully celebrated by the ever-indispensable Brooklyn-based RVNG Intl label on the shape-shifting, genre defying musical document, ‘Tumblers From The Vault (1970-1972)’. The band in question are the avant-garde three-piece Syrinx whose wholly unique hybrid of chamber pop and electronic experimentation crafts an utterly timeless journey into the limitless possibilities of music. The dreamy, lo-fi gem ‘Hollywood Dream Trip’ remains as vital and fresh as the day it was recorded. The sprawling epic ‘December Angel’ dumbfounds the listener in its sheer beauty and compelling sound: a piece of music from some future age, unknown and mysterious all at once. Psychedelic flourishes are etched across the more electronic-oriented ‘Ibistix’; the amalgamation of distorted voices and cosmic strings creates a symphony of rapture and transcendence.
Syrinx consisted of composer and keyboardist John Mills-Cockell, saxophonist Doug Pringle, and percussionist Alan Wells. Syrinx’s self-titled debut arrived in 1970, followed in 1971 by ‘Long Lost Relatives’, which is highlighted as the first album on Tumblers From The Vault. Re-issue of the year, hands down.
“Tumblers From The Vault (1970-1972)” is out now on RVNG Intl.
Designs for the first ten albums are by Craig Carry, a limited edition series of screen prints (each edition is limited to 25 copies) have been created to coincide with Fractured Air’s favourite albums of 2016. Prints will be available to purchase online from January 2017.
With very special thanks to each and every one of our readers. Wishing you all a peaceful and happy new year.
Interview with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie.
“…when it works, it’s a feeling not even of contentment, it’s a sort of cross between accomplishment, contentment, satisfaction and just where you can sit there for a moment and it feels as if the whole world is OK for a few minutes even though the rest of the time it feels as if it’s about to explode.”
—Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie
Words: Mark Carry
Since releasing their debut record ‘Music For Nitrous Oxide’ in the mid-nineties, Stars of the Lid have been responsible for creating some of the most ground-breaking, singular and innovative ambient music to have graced the earth’s atmosphere. The innate ability of the gifted duo Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride to stretch out space that in turn, creates vast, limitless drones steeped in unimaginable beauty. Each Stars of the Lid record remains a vital musical document whose meaning and significance has only deepened with time.
Brian Eno once said “A studio is an absolute labyrinth of possibilities — this is why records take so long to make because there are millions of permutations of things you can do.” It is abundantly clear across the storied career of Wiltzie and McBride’s sacred works that a labyrinth of possibilities permeate the drone soundscapes and intricately arranged symphonic works of monumental works such as 2007’s ‘And Their Refinement of the Decline’ (the band’s last studio album); ‘The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid’ (using strings, horns and piano to captivating effect) and ‘The Ballasted Orchestra’s utterly compelling ambient explorations. These albums were painstakingly recorded, processed and assembled over long periods of time (for instance, the band’s last studio album was five years in the making). I feel this has become the essence of Stars of the Lid’s resolutely unique musical oeuvre: the listener feels the creator’s sheer devotion to their chosen art being poured through every divine note and aching pulse.
SOTL’s Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride will be embarking on an extensive tour to debut some new compositions, and some old classics with long time visual collaborator and projectionist Luke Savisky, and German lighting designer MFO. On stage this tour will be featuring a new band. Two new members, Robert Donne from Kranky label mates Labradford, and Adam’s long time studio collaborator Francesco Donadello. Plus Brussels residents and A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s string ensemble, the Echo Collective and a vintage Moog 55 Modular Synthesizer.
2016 has already seen Brussels-based Wiltzie provide original scores for a number of feature films including Jalil Lespert’s ‘Iris’, ‘The Yellow Birds’ by Alexandre Moors and Mike Plunkett’s ‘Salero’ (the latter will be released on 11th November 2016 via Erased Tapes).
For full details of Stars of the Lid’s European tour, which kicks off this Saturday (1st October @ Paradiso, Amsterdam) and includes two Irish dates (Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre and Dublin’s National Concert Hall), see HERE.
Interview with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie.
I’d love for you to discuss the forthcoming Stars of the Lid European tour itself? It must be very special for you and Brian to be re-united again after being involved with other projects in the interim?
Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie: So, technically it’s been ten years since we released a record. In the meantime, I’ve been really busy doing a lot more soundtrack work and working with A Winged Victory For The Sullen but at the same time, pretty much every year Brian and I have at least done a couple of shows here and there. So we were always there but I think initially it was intentional to step away from it for a while and try something different so I think more and more we’re kind of getting back into it and getting closer and hopefully we’re going to find a way to finally finish the record and so it’s connect a little bit to both, you know getting our feet wet again. And like I said, we haven’t been completely gone away from it, there’s also this thing connected with the Moog that brought us to do more than just a couple of shows. Having the ability to use this beautiful piece of analogue furniture was sort of the catalyst to make the tour go longer and go to places we haven’t been in a long time – like Ireland – and yeah it’s good to be back.
I’d love for you to discuss a bit more about the synthesizer itself because as you say that must be a real treat to have in your live set-up because normally that might not be possible?
AW: Yeah absolutely, it’s a hugely famous piece of old gear that’s obviously really expensive and fragile and it’s so huge that it’s not really so easy to normally take on tour. We’re really lucky to have this for a really short period of time. I had it in my studio some months ago to test it out and see how we could make it work. We’re going to be playing some new material plus we’re playing some old songs we’ve played throughout the years so it’s nice to breathe some new life into it with some new sounds and in a new way to approach it.
The Moog is a complicated instrument because this one in particular doesn’t have the ability to save pre-sets, so when you get a sound it’ll go away really quick so we’re kind of meeting it halfway. The Moog can very easily turn into some sound that doesn’t sound like anything that we do but there is some inherent beautiful simplicity within the instrument that really fits to what our sound is. It’s been a nice journey to find a way to make it fit inside our world so we’re looking forward to trying that out every night.
Another component too, Adam, is the wonderful string ensemble that audiences would already be familiar with those very special A Winged Victory For The Sullen shows?
AW: Absolutely. The same string players I have been using for a while now, mostly through A Winged Victory For The Sullen. They’ve started playing with Stars of the Lid a few years ago but they live with me, I’m here in Brussels and they’ve become really good friends and they have become a really big part of my live show no matter where I play so it’ll be a real treat to have them along with me as well.
It was cool to see last year Kranky re-issuing some of the Stars of the Lid albums on vinyl, and just a reminder of what special musical documents they very much are.
AW: Yeah, they went out of print. I don’t know if it was really conscious but it seemed a really good time to re-press them on vinyl. It’s been such a long time it’s funny; I figured out that sometimes the best promotion is to do nothing for as long as possible and for some reason we’ve grown in a strangely beautiful organic sense that I never really imagined. For whatever reason those records resonated with people and people care about them so in a weird way this is almost like we’re going back on tour to support those records we released almost twenty years ago [laughs]. It’s nice and as I always say, I’m pretty lucky that people like anything that I do, it’ll be a real pleasure.
I’m curious with the art of a duo – there’s of course you and Brian as Stars of the Lid and alongside Dustin as A Winged Victory – there’s obviously something very special with working or creating together as a two-piece?
AW: Well there’s something two people can do that one person could never do, that’s always the beautiful thing with collaboration. I guess I’ve always been a big believer and big fan of it. I’m lucky to have two guys that I click with in this world.
You already mentioned scores and different things – even more so in the last few years – it’s a wonderful time seeing all these composers with so many projects and varied releases coming out where you’re one prime example. It must be interesting to have all these different projects in your mind at the same time?
AW: I think it’s nice to do different things because you don’t get bored with it whether it’s the different projects or working on something individually like the score project. And obviously as an artist you want to keep busy and not become stagnant so it’s good to have all these different things you can work on.
In terms of the new Stars of the Lid material, can you shed some light on the new material or direction in which you’re going with it?
AW: I don’t really know. We have a lot of new material but I don’t think we have really sat down and decided on what’s actually going to be on the record. In that sense, it’s almost as if we’ve done nothing but we go out on tour sometimes to test out new songs and see what feels like you want to develop more. As far as telling anyone about our new record, there’s actually nothing to report. Everyone seems to think we’re going on tour because we have a new record but we don’t. And everyone also seems to think – it’s a strange thing – that we still live in Texas, I don’t know why that is but they always say the Texan duo, it seems that in the world of the press we will always be existing in Texas.
You already mentioned living in Brussels, you know the studio itself has it been a place that’s been developing over the last few years? I’d love to learn more about the space itself and your set-up?
AW: Yeah I mean I’ve been there for almost twenty years. So, it’s slowly developing – you get new gear and whatnot – it’s basically a really old apartment with really high ceilings and it’s very sympathetic for recording acoustic instruments. Although I do a lot of recording for bigger projects with an orchestra in a studio in Budapest and sometimes I record some strings at another studio in Brussels but I somehow have been able to make it sound like as if you can’t really tell so you can mix and match different things from different places and it feels connected. I’ve always – from the early days – all my earlier recordings were recorded at home because I didn’t have any money, so I’ve always loved recording at home, it’s something that I think I will always do.
The special thing is too with the range of the different material, you know it always has this sort of DIY aesthetic to it too, which is a big compliment too.
AW: Yeah absolutely, it’s all connected. I mean in the beginning, we were so anonymous and we didn’t have any money so we had to do it yourself. So I think it stems from that even though I have a manager now and people who work for me, it still feels strange if I don’t do most of it myself. I feel as if I’m cheating someone if I don’t. My mom told me the other day, she likes to tell me that I remind her of my father because he always had trouble sitting still and so maybe I have adopted a little bit of that from my father. It’s hard to let someone else do something because you just want to do it yourself.
Looking over the Stars of the Lid discography, there’s obviously a string of really amazing records. The length of time it took to make some of these double or even triple records, it must feel like a gradual process when you’re trying to build one piece with so much going on?
AW: I think in the past; songs would develop over a course of years. A two-hour record – you know like a triple album – could take years to make but as I’ve gotten older it seems things happen a lot quicker. I recorded a score this summer – and I’m going over the soundtrack right now to release it – it’s this French film Dustin and I have just composed and it’s over an hour-long and we did all this in about two months. So I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that it’s a little bit easier to let go and not be so precious about everything. I’m not necessarily saying that one is better than the other and I do still slave over things, there are some other music that I’m working on that will take longer and develop. I guess it really depends on the project, you know when you’re working by yourself – for example a soundtrack, it’s a commissioned piece – you have to please other people so you have to find a way to not be precious and let go quicker because there’s deadlines and people have agendas. When you’re working for yourself, you can take all the time in the world.
I always think about when you’re connected to the first [Stars of the Lid] record ‘Music For Nitrous Oxide’, which came out in the early nineties and you had your whole life building up to that one moment, which I was in my early twenties when that came out so it was essentially twenty-three years of my life to release the first record and after that it’s a series of a lot shorter times. So I can see both sides, I do have to say that since I’m professional and that I make a living out of making music, I am relieved in a sense that I can not spend too much time if I need to. I was talking to Jóhann Jóhannsson the other day and he feels as if it doesn’t matter what he has recorded, it never feels finished to him and that must be really stifling at times you know. I like to let go when I can, I think it’s good for you; they’re like these time capsules so you need to let go, otherwise you’ll never finish anything.
It reminds me of Arthur Russell too who always seemed to struggle in order to finish something.
AW: It’s hard to let go sometimes, which I totally understand. You’re making this piece of art and once something doesn’t feel finished it can be very stifling and suffocating, you know it’s better to put it aside and release something that you aren’t happy with because you don’t want to end up feeling like a prostitute or something. What’s the line from that movie, “a wise man once said there’s always a fine line between clever and stupid”, that’s important to remember.
I’ve been listening a lot to your ‘Salero’ soundtrack recently, it’s really amazing and the pieces are just so beautiful. It feels related to other things you have done but it exists in its own realm as well, there’s a separate identity as well.
AW: Yeah maybe, it’s a commissioned piece so I had to work a lot quicker on it but I mean I still think that it sounds like me even though it’s recorded with an orchestra but I’m biased so I don’t know. I don’t know how to feel about it, I’d like to get out of my body and look at myself but sometimes it’s hard to do that. But I’m pleased with it, I’m glad it’s going to come out. I think it’s a beautiful time capsule.
And composing to actual visuals is the process really but in terms of the film then, it feels like a perfect fit where you’re composing music to a vast salt flat?
AW: The first time I saw the images, they were absolutely overwhelming, they’re so beautiful and it’s also kind of strange to see a part of the world that you’ve never seen before. It could maybe look a bit familiar but just have no concept for it, especially the reflections from the sun it looks as if it’s not part of the earth sometimes. It was just so beautiful.
You already mentioned the string orchestra, you must go to that stage after having the compositions pretty much written I imagine but I wonder it must be nice to end up in the same space as the orchestra?
AW: For me, it’s my favourite part because this is the moment where you have this brain fart in your head and you get to let it come out. And just have these other people interpret, it’s going to pretty much sound like you wrote it down, I just absolutely love it. I found this great orchestra – I can’t say they connect with what I’m doing because they are just playing notes – it’s really my favourite part of the whole process because this is where all the happy accidents happen. It sounds like kind of what I was trying to do and you get these other things out of it that you never imagine in a thousand years, you know when you get thirty people in a room to play a drone, it’s absolutely beautiful.
That must be the same feeling for those Stars of the Lid albums where the sessions at the end, you hear all these strings and horns over those drones?
AW: Yeah, it’s different though because that record I mostly recorded in my home studio, not to say that wasn’t a satisfying recording experience but since I’ve been moving more into larger orchestras for the past number of years now, it’s a different thing. I mean there’s one track on the ‘Salero’ record – most of it is recorded with an orchestra except this one track called ‘Bring This Place To Life’ – it’s recorded in my studio with the people who I play with normally and it’s got a totally different sound so the feeling you get when you get people to play on something that you have written – it doesn’t matter if it’s large or small – when it works, it’s a feeling not even of contentment, it’s a sort of cross between accomplishment, contentment, satisfaction and just where you can sit there for a moment and it feels as if the whole world is OK for a few minutes even though the rest of the time it feels as if it’s about to explode. I guess if I meditated on a regular basis, it would be like this moment you come out of meditation and everything is calm. That’s the only way I can describe it, it’s just a feeling of slight contentment.
You have done so much and there’s been so many accomplishments that you should be very proud of, I wonder looking back – and forward too – has there been one philosophy or belief that you always hold onto when you work on the next album, like a musical philosophy so to speak?
AW: Oh my God I definitely do not have but I did read ‘The Oblique Strategies’ by Eno the other day and he has one called ‘Honour your mistakes as a hidden intention’ [laughs] and that one makes complete sense to me [laughs]. I think that’s about as close as I can get to having a theme song.
There’s been several odes to ‘Twin Peaks’ in some of the Stars of the Lid material in terms of song-titles and whatnot, you must have great memories of watching the various David Lynch films and the TV series?
AW: The Lynch connection was more with ‘Twin Peaks’ because when Brian and I were starting out that was around the time when ‘Twin Peaks’ was on TV so we used to sit there and watch it every week on a Thursday night when it would come on TV. It was a great moment in television history for America. I don’t know if we were the biggest David Lynch fans but we absolutely loved that TV show so that’s why we dedicated that song to him.
Lastly, Adam, what’s been your favourite records that you’ve been enjoying lately?
AW: Well my favourite record that I’ve been listening to is Jóhann Jóhannsson’s new one called ‘Orphee’, it’s absolutely beautiful. He hasn’t released a record of his own work in a long time, it’s gorgeous and I would highly recommend checking it out.
For full details of Stars of the Lid’s European tour, which kicks off this Saturday (1st October @ Paradiso, Amsterdam) and includes two Irish dates (Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre and Dublin’s National Concert Hall), see HERE.
“How can I make a programmed piano – or basically a piano that I never really touched, that I never saw or that I never recorded myself – how can I make that feel human and interesting?”
—Ben Lukas Boysen
Words: Mark Carry, Photography: Claudia Gödke
The Berlin-based composer, producer and sound designer Ben Lukas Boysen represents the prestigious Erased Tapes label’s newest signing with the scintillating sophomore full-length release of ‘Spells’. The German studio composer masterfully crafts a deeply moving sound world of ambient, electronic and modern-classical textures as programmed piano pieces are fused with live instruments (drums, cello, harp and an intricate array of echoes, delays and compressors), merging sound design and music to become one beguiling stratosphere of mesmerizing sound.
On the sleeve notes of Laurie Spiegel’s seminal work ‘The Expanding Universe’, the American composer discusses the great advantage of computers: “Music consists of patterns of sound. One of the computer’s greatest strengths is the opportunity it presents to integrate direct interaction with an instrument and its sound with the ability to compose musical experiences much more complex and well designed than can be done than can be done live in one take.” Journeying through the infinite beauty and meticulously crafted sound collages captured on ‘Spells’, Boysen has composed complex musical experiences that combines the controllable digital world and the often unpredictable aspects of live improvisation. The remarkable achievement of ‘Spells’ is the hugely humanised sound – and rawest of human emotions – that is emitted from these programmed piano pieces that floats in the ether between the blurred lines of electronic and organic spheres. Undoubtedly, the source or origin of the German composer’s work is secondary to the sprawling emotion and deeply affecting nature of ‘Spells’’ highly innovative and compelling body of work.
One of the record’s most formidable moments arrives during ‘Golden Times 1’ – the album’s longest cut and perhaps centrepiece – which is built upon a delicate piano-led melody that echoes the solo piano works of Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick among others. Later, heart-wrenching strings are melded together before a euphoric cascade of energy and emotion is transmitted amidst electronic walls of sound that forms the towering counterpoint to the aching bliss of ambient pulses (think ‘Looped’ by Kiasmos inter-woven with Nils Frahm’s ‘Says’).
In the same way as two distinct movements are composed for ‘Golden Times’ (‘Golden Times 2’ is a slowed-down neo-classical-infused-electronic tour-de-force recalling the likes of Scottish duo Boards of Canada), ‘Nocturne 3’ and ‘Nocturne 4’ finds the rich narrative of Boysen’s previous LP, ‘Gravity’ developed further. The brooding strings of ‘Keep Watch’ shares gorgeous remnants of A Winged Victory For The Sullen such is the unfathomable beauty that permeates the ebb and flow of neon-lit skylines and the gradual motion of the sea waves encapsulated within the soaring music. Indeed, ‘Spells’ is laden with a beating heart that awaits your every lost thought and faded dream.
‘Spells’ is out this Friday, 10th June on Erased Tapes Records.
Interview with Ben Lukas Boysen.
Congratulations on the sublime new record ‘Spells’. I’m sure it has taken considerable effort and time to program all the piano parts in particular?
Ben Lukas Boysen: Yes, a little, it actually doesn’t take as long as it would take me to play it [laughs], it takes a while but I can’t really play that well. So I needed to find a way to make that work otherwise and the programming is a very comfortable way of doing that. But it’s mostly the other musicians involved – they were a lot faster with everything because they are all very good instrumentalists. Most of the things were done pretty fast – it only took two years to get the piano stuff together and then the rest was faster.
Would the piano parts always come first and then the instrumentation of drums, harp and so on come after?
BLB: It depends actually. The way I record drums, I go into the studio with the drummer and I just hand him an idea and he starts jamming – I mean just like a track idea and he starts improvising. Most of the time (80% of the time), I remove my track afterwards and write something new for the drums and that’s how most of the tracks – with drums at least – come together. There was a certain idea at the beginning and it was all removed and something completely new was written underneath it. Hearing other musicians work normally inspires me a lot and gives me new ideas of what I want to do with it. So most of the time there is nothing really pre-written; it’s very subject to change there.
I must say ‘Golden Times 1’ – and I love also how there are two different movements with the second towards the end -it’s amazing how it morphs into the more electronic and as the piece extends, the piece builds continually. It really is wonderful how it develops.
BLB: Thank you so much. Right now as we speak I’m at a point where it’s very, very hard for me to judge the album. It’s very flattering and nice to hear that it seems to work because right now it’s this hunk of work that’s passed me. Musicians will tell you they need to get a distance from their work before they can actually enjoy it again.
Like ‘Golden Times’, I love how there are also two different movements of ‘Nocturne’ and it’s wonderful to see – and hear – the different variations between those pieces?
BLB: Indeed, that is a fun concept actually. It’s normally only heavy drums and a sad piano theme, like that’s the only restriction and everything else is fine. There’s the first two pieces [‘Nocturne 1’ and ‘Nocturne 2’] from my previous album ‘Gravity’ and it just developed, there was never really a plan. I liked how this worked so I do three more. There will probably be two more on the next one to close the trilogy or something [laughs].
You set up your own studio in Berlin around ten years ago. That sounds fascinating too because you’re obviously involved with so much projects from sound design where your own two studio albums are one part to the overall picture really.
BLB: That is true, the albums are personally at least, the most important one. The sound design and commission work is what pays the bills and what puts the food on the table. For the albums, you could never take that much time with a commercial project than you can with an album. You just sit down and take time and don’t do anything but that for a while. And in that time that it takes to make an album – the way I wanted it to be – I would be completely broke and on the street by the time it finished. I am very happy that I’m allowed to work in a craft that where music pays my bills; I feel incredibly privileged. The sound design was always part of it but I always try to make sound design musical and music more sound design: to find something within there. It’s hard to explain but they should become one eventually and this is very hard to hear on ‘Spells’ at least. But on the previous stuff – all the releases I did under HECQ – this approach is much more obvious there because it’s very electronic. But for my solo stuff it’s the same, ultimately I want to merge sound design and music into one.
I’d love for you to discuss your early memories of growing up with music? I presume you began playing the piano at a young age and progressed from there?
BLB: That is true although I was never really an instrumentalist in that way. I come from a musical family – my mother was an opera singer and vocal coach later on in her life and my father was an actor – so music was always very present and always a very important topic, and always being quite eclectic about it, my parents were and still are.
I started playing guitar and piano but I noticed this is not where I will be good at. It is more the abstract and programming part – the meta level of music – for example like ‘Spells’ and ‘Gravity’ are good examples: how can I make a programmed piano – or basically a piano that I never really touched, that I never saw or that I never recorded myself – how can I make that feel human and interesting? And how well that worked I guess is still to be seen when the album is out [laughs].
Well quite a few people – pianists actually – asked me how did I record the piano and I explained that I did not at all, it all comes from a machine. And their reactions were very interesting from amazed to almost disappointed and every reaction was in there; it was very funny really. There is a certain value system behind it like some people might value the result even less once they know that it’s not recorded as in no live piano. I thought that’s very interesting how you get this value system behind it or why is it that your perception tells you this is better because this is live or not live. That’s what I meant with meta level like it’s not only listening to a record, it’s also as a producer or as a musician questioning what is actually important for you during the production process and also when you listen to an album and why it might be more or less worth to you when it is done.
For example, I never sat down with the musicians in one studio at a time; they are all scattered either in Berlin or elsewhere in the world, and always recorded on their own almost. I mean I was in the studio with the drummer [Achim Farber] but the cellist [Anton Peisakhov] did his own thing and the harpist Lara [Somogyi] she is in LA so we were just bouncing off ideas really and then I merged them together here on my own. That’s also very interesting because there is a lot less life about this album than people might think [laughs] or at least how it sounds and that is done on purpose. It is probably without the listener knowing, a little challenge to question your perception.
As a listener listening to ‘Spells’ for example, overall there is a hugely humanised sound where you feel it’s very much an organic world that you wouldn’t think for a second was manipulated in any way.
BLB: Yeah that’s very interesting because that is how it should sound. It’s not an active act of deception or anything. I mean to make it sound human and very much alive was a goal but especially because everybody who starts to make computer music will have heard the phrase ‘oh so it’s not actual music’ when you work with a computer quite often and I’ve heard that many, many times. I mean computer musicians and electronic composers are absolutely established and are artists and a group of composers in their own right but still most of the people who are not actively involved in it they still have this preconception of this is not actual music and for some reason that I wanted to contribute a bit to that discussion saying that you can combine these things wonderfully. It’s quite tricky to sync a VST piano or any synths that are not improvised or played live to an actually live-played instrument because the moment you put a human being behind an instrument it will have its own very human factor and it will be quite faraway from any quantised digital world. This is very thrilling, I could do that for at least three more albums, it’s really fun.
There is a lot of chance and accidents in the sense that it is not set out too finely that goes inside the process too?
BLB: Indeed, it’s like recording mistakes, I would normally leave them in. I really like that, it’s not only to enhance the live feeling but I just normally really like what live mistakes and outtakes do to a piece of music like don’t over-polish it, that was my motto.
There is a lovely parallel between you and the other Erased Tapes artists like Nils Frahm and Kiasmos particularly where you’re certainly on a similar wavelength.
BLB: I hope so; I mean this is a big comparison so thanks a lot for thinking that way [laughs]. The mastering and mixing was Nils and he obviously added a lot of his input. It was very important for me that he is very free to do his thing and to work these little details and the extra twenty percent that this album would need – I mean twenty percent to say the least. When we were done after the two days, I really re-discovered the album and noticed things that I didn’t notice before and that’s why these sessions are always very helpful. He did that already on ‘Gravity’ and mostly because ‘Gravity’ didn’t sound like I wanted it to sound at all when I went into the mastering session and he really did something amazing there. ‘Spells’ was much closer to what I wanted it to be and he also adapted that fantastically so it’s an amazing job that he did. I mean he is adding a certain feel to it as well that makes it fit in with the rest of the bunch as well.
I wonder for the live performance it must be very exciting too because I presume the live set-up will transform the songs again even further?
BLB: Indeed, but that’s the trickiest part so far [laughs]. I’m really trying to figure out how to do that; well basically set up a band and come up with a concept. I actually never anticipated playing ‘Spells’ live. I mean I’m a studio composer and producer – not even a musician – so I have not much experience playing live other than a couple of DJ gigs back in the day and I’m working on something but it will take a while. It’s going to be a bit tricky – for me at least – I’m very critical with what I present to the outside world and so the live show needs to be very impressive, it needs to be something else. It’s not enough to go there and play on a stage with a laptop, there needs to be a concept behind it otherwise it’s not going to be the experience I want it to be. That’s why it might take a bit of time but you are absolutely right; listening to the layers of the tracks gives me a lot of ideas on how to solve that and how to go about the live idea – it’s very inspiring but it’s also very challenging, especially if you don’t really have a lot of experience in that area. It’s exciting times and I will spend a good portion of this year on figuring out how to do this.
I love how ‘Keep Watch’ is more rooted in the modern classical world but I love how the little layers of percussion are added throughout, especially during the later stages.
BLB: The cellist had to accompany himself. It’s a piece written for three cellos actually and he had to play all the three layers himself, the poor boy and he did an amazing job I think. He told me – and I wasn’t aware of – it’s very hard for a cellist to accompany himself and not in real-time; like you record one layer, then you record the second layer and then you record the third layer. And apparently it’s very hard to accompany yourself because of the re-intonation stuff like musician stuff that I wasn’t aware of [laughs]. He did an amazing job and for the live show it would have to be at least three cellos and this is one of the challenges.
Most of the live stuff is a logistic challenge because it’s easier for me to resolve that in a studio setting, you can basically come up with an entire string ensemble with just one musician in a studio but in a live scenario it has to be actually three musicians at least and so far, for only one track. So I would to need to write a bit more of that so it would make more sense to have three designated musicians there. I really enjoyed ‘Keep Watch’ because it is so focused on the strings and it’s quite a challenge to actually compose that way, it’s interesting.
You have a previous version of ‘Sleepers Beat Theme’ done already am I right to say?
BLB: Absolutely, it was the score for a short movie for at least half of it, the other half was done by Jon Hopkins. He heard the demo version of this track when the movie was done a couple of years ago almost and asked if he could use that for his Late Night Tales album, which was obviously a gigantic honour. It was a demo version because at that time I didn’t have all the tracks recorded and so it’s an alternative version but the album one is maybe my preferred version because it fits in better with the sound of the album. But the Late Night Tales version or the short movie version – I don’t want to say demo version – I just like that on ‘Spells’ it blends in much better with the sound of the album. So that was done two years ago and it really never left me. I don’t remember exactly where the name comes from; it had something to do with the movie but since it’s a completely beat-less track, I’m not exactly sure where the name comes from anymore [laughs].
Would there be very important or defining albums for you, Ben?
BLB: There were a huge amount of wonderful albums absolutely that inspired me drastically through my youth and especially all the techno stuff and all the Boards of Canada stuff. I’m not sure who today in this kind of music did not listen to that or was not inspired by it, it’s really interesting. Over the last seven or eight years, I have noticed that if something has really inspired me it’s ancient: it could be Bach or a lot of blues and jazz records and also a lot of choral works; very basic, almost primitive choral works (it could be from Germany or from Bulgaria).
Here are five albums (in no specific order) I think are utterly important for me (and everyone ;))
01 Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Seven Days Of Falling
02 The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
03 Max Loderbauer – Transparenz
04 Thomas Köner – Teimo
05 Deaf Center – Vintage Well 7″
‘Spells’ is out this Friday, 10th June on Erased Tapes Records.
We’re delighted to present an exclusive unreleased track by U.S. composer and songwriter Peter Broderick (Bella Union, Erased Tapes) in April’s mixtape. For well over a decade now, the world-renowned Portland Oregon-born artist has been to the forefront of the thriving independent music scene, amassing a considerable body of work across a multitude of labels and platforms in the process. While originally a member of both Efterklang and Horse Feathers, Broderick’s reputation as a gifted solo composer would be heralded by the release of both folk-based “Home” (Bella Union) and the piano-based “Float” (Type) in 2008. Since then, Broderick has released a plethora of records for labels such as Erased Tapes and Bella Union, highlights including: 2009’s “Music For Falling From Trees”, 2011’s “Music For Confluence”, 2012’s “These Walls Of Mine” and 2015’s “Colours Of The Night” albums. Collaboration has also been of vital importance to Broderick’s artistic output to date. Duos have been formed with U.K.’S Greg Haines (Greg Gives Peter Space) and France’s Félicia Atkinson (La Nuit) while other collaborations have featured: Nils Frahm, Machinefabriek, Gabriel Solomon, Heather Woods Broderick and The Beacon Sound Choir. In recent years, Broderick has produced, recorded, and guested on many musicians’ works from his home-based studio, “The Sparkle” (Corrina Repp, Brumes, David Allred).
Here is how Peter describes his track, “Boom”:
“It’s a thing I call Boom, and it’s basically just some effected casio loops with live drums over the top… I’ve enjoyed listening to it several times and don’t really have any plans to do anything with it.”
Also appearing on April’s mixtape is Irish composer and pianist Conor Walsh. Born in County Mayo, Conor Walsh released his debut E.P. (“The Front”, via Ensemble Music) last year to widespread critical acclaim. Despite it being Walsh’s debut recorded release, Walsh was a firmly established artist who had toured regularly across Ireland and additionally composed for both film and television to date. It was with such great sadness to learn of Conor’s sudden and untimely death in March. We’d both like to take this opportunity to dedicate this month’s mixtape to the memory of Conor Walsh, such an inspiring and beautiful composer and person who has touched many people’s lives with his music.
Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S1E4 | April mix
To Read/listen on La Blogothèque:
01. Days Of Heaven – “You’d give him a flower…” (Paramount Pictures)
02. HKE – “Awake” (Olde English Spelling Bee)
03. Nico Muhly/Sam Amidon – “The Only Tune: I. the Two Sisters” (Bedroom Community)
04. Nonkeen – “The Invention Mother” (R&S)
05. Peter Broderick – “Boom” (Unreleased)
06. Micachu & The Shapes – “Oh Baby” (Rough Trade)
07. Babyfather – “God Hour” (feat. Micachu) (Hyperdub)
08. Samiyam – “Animals Have Feelings” (Stones Throw)
09. Mo Kolours – “A Soul’s Journey” (One-Handed Music)
10. John Forbes, Teach, Earth, Roots & Water – “Awakening” (Summer)
11. Van Dyke Parks – “Occapella” (Warner Bros.)
12. Tindersticks – “How He Entered” (City Slang/Lucky Dog)
13. Ravel – “Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte” (Decca)
14. Pantha du Prince – “The Winter Hymn” (feat. Queens) (Rough Trade)
15. Solar Bears – “Wild Flowers” (Sunday Best Recordings)
16. The Field – “Pink Sun” (Kompakt)
17. DJ Koze – “Marilyn Whirlwind” (Victoria OST, Erased Tapes)
18. Grizzly Bear – “A Simple Answer” (Liars Remix) (Warp)
19. Lindstrøm – “Closing Shot” (Feedelity/Smalltown Supersound)
20. Tropic of Cancer – “Stop Suffering” (Blackest Ever Black)
21. Linda Buckley – “Haunt” (The Wake OST, Soundcloud)
22. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – “When Thy Song Flows Through Me” (Drag City/Domino)
23. Colin Stetson, Megan Stetson & The Sorrow Ensemble – “Sorrow – A Reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony: II” (extract) (52Hz)
24. Conor Walsh – “K Theory” (Ensemble Music)
25. Hauschka – “Stromness” (Eluvium Remix) (City Slang)
26. Peter Broderick – “And Its Alright” (Nils Frahm RMX) (LateNightTales)
27. Ryuichi Sakamoto & Alva Noto – “The Revenant Theme” (Alva Noto Remodel) (The Revenant OST, Milan)
28. Nils Frahm – “Our Own Roof” (Victoria OST, Erased Tapes)
Compiled by Fractured Air, April 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 Ryan Lee West.
“I guess as I get older I’m becoming more aware of what I want from sounds, what I want sounds to achieve and that helps over any plugins/ pro equipment that you could ever buy.”
— Ryan Lee West
Words: Mark Carry
The London-based producer Ryan Lee West, better known under his Rival Consoles moniker has carved out a string of indispensable electronica-infused ambient creations across several EP’s and most recently, this year’s stunning full-length release, ‘Howl’. Released on the ever-inspiring Erased Tapes imprint (in fact, West was the label’s first signing), ‘Howl’ sees the master producer further develop his otherworldly synthesizer-based compositions, fusing organic and electronic sound worlds as live instrumentation of drums, guitar, voice and cello can be found dotted across the record’s divine odyssey of illuminating sounds, warm textures and rhythmic structures. In many ways, ‘Howl’ showcases West’s Rival Consoles project to be that of a sound sculptor more than as a mere producer as a myriad of utterly transcendent moments are magically captured on each of the album’s towering nine creations.
The title-track and album opener, ‘Howl’ is a glorious electronic gem that shares a parallel with Clark’s similarly captivating blend of electronic soundscapes for the Warp label. The track builds on a synthesizer line that continually mutates and transforms through various manipulations and treatments of guitar pedals, creating in turn a wholly meditative and hypnotic experience. The following ‘Ghosting’ contains a gorgeous ebb and flow of spectral beats and electronic wizardry that traces the moonlight across the skies of illuminating tones.
The sublime ‘Afterglow’ evokes the timeless sound of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s enchanting debut ‘Euclid’ (released at the beginning of the year on the Western Vinyl imprint) as a myriad of details is effortlessly distilled into the sprawling sonic canvas. The dark, menacing beats of ‘Walls’ comes crashing in with waves of exhilarating pulses before the live aesthetic of ‘Low’ brings forth a beautifully rendered humanised sound. The slowly drifting synths and live drums fuse together to create a deeply affecting ballad steeped in a fragile beauty reminiscent of British band Seefeel. The closing cut of ‘Looming’ contains remnants of West’s previous ‘Sonne’ EP as a wave of illuminating synthesizers gradually emerge onto the sun-lit horizon.
‘Howl’ is out now on Erased Tapes.
Interview with Ryan Lee West.
Congratulations Ryan on the stunning new record, ‘Howl’. It’s easily your strongest and most formidable work to date, having obsessed over your previous recording output to date. This whole idea of a ‘less is more’ approach is obviously still very much apparent on ‘Howl’ but I love the new dimensions, added organic textures, and largely the sound of an album of recordings (effortlessly capturing those magical moments of beauty and transcendence). Please talk me through the new record and dissect for me the elements and sonic tapestry you found yourself drawn to this time around?
Ryan Lee West: I was recording in things constantly, lots of feedback performances, with delay pedals, chord progressions that explored atmosphere, clicky rhythms, live drums, fans on guitar strings brushes scraping wood etc.
It was really about improvising around ideas, which I felt were strong. I start by experimenting usually, until I have a body of work that has some strong points to it, then I improvise around the stronger points and all the time carefully listening to what is happening. Listening makes up most of my work actually. Listening in different spaces and contexts, is a smart way to negotiate through problems.
In terms of the equipment at your disposal, namely Moog/Prophet/tape delay and guitar, have the approaches or techniques to utilizing these instruments changed or altered in any way on ‘Howl’? For example, one aspect I absolutely love is the huge focus towards percussion, rhythm and from live sounds such as drums/percussion etc. A track such as ‘Low’ epitomises this and its organic warmth is a joy to savour. Again, how you are able to incorporate elements such as the synthesizer into the piece and everything falls so naturally into place.
RLW: I think synths and live instruments are very difficult to put together. It’s taken me many years to do the things I want to with the two worlds.
It’s partly just knowing when to do it at all, and also the notes and the timbre of the synth. I tend to obsess over synth sounds that are subdued, slightly mournful etc, So I think the emotive qualities give space for acoustic instruments, to play around.
‘Low’ actually started with just a ride – 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & …. at a speed that made me instantly think of a long descending melody. This repeats over and over again, because I wanted it to express the feeling of being low without much hope, but a little hope is in there! As for the treatment of sounds, it’s just the prophet through the pedals, all captured performances, the chords, the feedbacks, the drones etc. I guess as I get older I’m becoming more aware of what I want from sounds, what I want sounds to achieve and that helps over any plugins/ pro equipment that you could ever buy.
More so than perhaps on previous EP’s, it feels as if ‘Howl’ is a live performance with a significant emotional depth radiating throughout. In terms of the recording, what studios would become your bases?
RLW: I have recorded odd moments whilst travelling on tour, but in general I make everything in my home studio, I just prefer things this way, I don’t need a big pro studio to express myself, and I think it would get in the way.
My favourite part of the record comes towards the final close, particularly the duo of ‘3 Laments’ and ‘Morning Vox’. The myriad of ideas and sonic wizardry captured on ‘Morning Vox’ crafts a stunning penultimate track and gateway to the record’s shimmering horizon. Please talk me through this particular track and indeed if there were any challenges in the sequencing of the record?
RLW: ‘Morning Vox’ was actually very difficult to finish. I had the first half done with an effortless joy, but the second half was constantly being reworked, trying energetic transformations, lo-fi ambient endings and all manner of structures. But I always want things to feel genuine. In the end I opted for a very simple Organ like chord progression, which ends the piece with an understated resolve.
I also did about 50 versions to the end of ‘Recovery’ and ‘Voyager’! (from previous releases)
The glorious title-track is the perfect opener and captures the intensity and enveloping darkness that looms throughout. Can you please tell me the significance of the album-title? I wonder was ‘Howl’ one of the first recordings you made that would in turn, shape the rest of the record? The various manipulations and use of distortion etc creates a super-charged atmosphere that really signals formidable new horizons. I can imagine having an idea and then morphing and altering this into various forms is something you really cherish and obsess over?
RLW: ‘Howl’ wasn’t the first piece I made for the album, but it was a turning point, because I was amazed how bold it sounded, I like things that have their own momentum, so it was great to work with something that sounded like it had its own story. At the heart of ‘Howl’ is a driving rhythm, which is made up of disruptive rhythms, as a result there is constant tension throughout the piece. On top of this there is lots of dissonance and resolve in the harmony. It took a few months to understand how to structure it, without it overloading itself. And yes I definitely enjoyed recording in feedbacks, haunting tones and clicky textures.
With your forthcoming tour Ryan, what will your set-up consist of? To be touring a record like ‘Howl’ and translating these tracks to a live setting with an audience must be very exciting. Do you envision re-workings or new variations of some of these recordings as you set out on the road?
RLW: I have several pieces which I rework live, ‘Recovery’ from the last EP is massively extended live, in an almost shoegaze/post rock way. ‘Walls’ is extended with live layering of alternative ideas. I like to experiment with what a piece can do, but also have to be careful not to do things for the sake of it.
What records have you been enjoying the most during 2015?
RLW: Battles ‘La Di Da Di’/Joanna Newsom – ‘Divers’/Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – ‘Never Were The Way She Was’
‘Howl’ is out now on Erased Tapes.