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Chosen One: Rebecca Foon

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“It is wild looking back at songs like that with a certain sense of bewilderment of how it came out of me, almost like they were created from some transcendental state – a space where the conscious and subconscious meet.” —Rebecca Foon

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The renowned Canadian-born composer Rebecca Foon released “Waxing Moon” this February via Constellation Records, her first eponymous album, after a string of widely acclaimed albums under her Saltland guise. Best known as a cellist and frequent contributor to many of the most influential and celebrated groups in the thriving Canadian independent scene (Montreal, to be precise, where Foon is based), Foon has been a founding member of Esmerine, and a key contributor to the world-renowned Set Fire To Flames and A Silver Mt. Zion. Foon is also the co-founder of Pathway To Paris, a nonprofit organization set up in 2014, dedicated to turning the Paris Agreement into reality through finding and offering innovative and ambitious solutions for combating global climate change.

What’s immediately apparent on listening to “Waxing Moon” is the predominant use of the piano here, and when combined with Foon’s hauntingly beautiful and soul-stirring lyrics, the startling effect is akin to listening to the works of Liz Harris’s Grouper, Cécile Schott’s Colleen or Alicia Merz’s Birds Of Passage, such is the divine spell it can’t fail but impress deep into the heart’s core. It’s what music is truly made for, as it feels like a communion-like dialogue occurs between composer and listener alone, both sharing that same intangible, indefinable timeline, that sensory-heightened, shared and sacred space.

While the album most predominantly features piano, Foon still performs cello across the album, often layered over the piano and vocal lines. Indeed, this slow, time-honoured practice of layering tracks one-by-one certainly feeds into establishing the tone and mood for the album: there isn’t a single note that isn’t anything but perfect and yet the album never feels as though it’s overly polished or bathed in too strong a light; rather, it feels as though it could have been struck in one rapid, inspiration-fueled take such is the sense of the present moment distilled throughout. They are songs from a room which have been suspended in time indefinitely.

“Waxing Moon” is framed beautifully by a pair of instrumental piano compositions – “New World” and it’s “Reprise” counterpart – the former introducing us to Foon’s truly singular realm of divine, immersive artistry (much like Lubomyr Melnyk’s “Pockets Of Light”, as the piano keys pulsate and reverberate like a true force of nature) while the latter is all about the spaces between notes, as they intertwine with the memory of each and every other distant note of Waxing Moon’s ten staggering compositions, as they endlessly permeate, weave, and navigate the stratosphere of Foon’s unique realm.

“Pour” has the direct immediacy that hits the marrow of the bone as Foon sings, mantra-like:

“I want to dive
Into your heart
And feel it pulse
To the depths of my core
Expanding like wings
Into something greater”

The repetitive, hypnotic electric guitar lines echo Set Fire To Flames or “Moon Pix”-era Cat Power, while the vocal delivery (like all of Foon’s songbook) could be sung a cappella and the effect would be no less earth-shattering or dripping with poignancy and urgency. How the lyrics slowly reveal themselves across bars, lines and verses (think Bill Callahan’s “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle”) is a thing of real beauty, it feels like one’s heartbeat is slowing to the particular beat of Waxing Moon’s own sonic universe, for we are suspended in a new timeline now as we continue to orbit the sun of Foon’s universe.
Later, electric guitars are also used to hypnotic effect on the glorious, PJ Harvey-infused track “Wide Open Eyes”, an acute sense of yearning to be free is offset against the backdrop of frenzied guitar and cello lines as they enter a cathartic dialogue with one another. “Wanting so much / To be free / From the heartbreak / Of this world” sings Foon on the outro as the deepest of one’s most innermost realisations rise to the surface, all the while an unrelenting guitar strum and drumbeat pulsate and reverberate as though from some distant, faraway shore.

“Give me your hand / And I’ll take you / To the ocean of love” sings Foon on the majestic “Ocean Song”, a song dripping in so much soul-baring honesty and poetic lyricism, it could score only the most touching of moments in fiction, think Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” or Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood”. It’s hauntingly beautiful lyrics (“The child between us / Melted me / Helping me believe / In almost anything”) could be penned by the folk greats such as Vashti Bunyan or Shirley Collins, while, once more, the sense of both the finite and the infinite lie side by side here, creating (and holding) an unrelenting tension throughout.

Elsewhere, both the album’s title-track and “Vessels” (the latter finds Foon sharing vocal duties with Patrick Watson) effortlessly journey to even greater depths of emotion, as they reflect our own deepest regrets and innermost fears in the process. Waxing Moon’s title-track is predominantly piano and voice (while ghostly traces of reverberating notes hang in the air magnificently) which once more only serves to highlight the sheer power and mastery Foon possesses as both a songwriter and composer. As Foon sings: “This beautiful waxing moon” repeatedly on the song’s outro one feels a celestial, godlike light being emitted far and wide, slowly lightening the most far-reaching bands of darkness and pain.

Witnessing “Vessels” for the first time is – like everything across Waxing Moon’s orbit – a soul-stirring experience: how lines of cello and voice (alternating between Foon and Watson as if in private dialogue through dreamlike reverie) beat in unison is a thing of such true beauty, it recalls Arthur Russell or Robert Wyatt at their most poignant and beautiful. “The future seems / So half written” sings Watson as Foon continues: “Can we Foresee / Vessels of love / Boundless love”. The alternating chorus lines between Foon and Watson (as cello lines fill the same sacred spaces) is one of the countless moments of epiphany found on “Waxing Moon”.

Lyrically, the magnificent “Waxing Moon” powerfully (and quietly) reveals its central themes to be that of the dual co-existence of both the temporary and the permanent, the finite and the infinite. One can’t help feel one’s own very small, limited place in a world so vast, unrelenting and unforgiving. And yet, importantly, a sense of true hope co-exists here: there is the (real not imagined) hope that this very place one occupies (as finite or temporary as it is) is indeed one to be valued, one to be truly appreciated and cherished closed to heart always. It’s the true testament of Waxing Moon’s staggering beauty that such an affirming feeling can be arrived upon, through mere notes or chords of sheet music, words on a piece of paper. But such is the true artistry and divine spirit of the composer, by entering other realms of Foon’s making we can set foot to earth once more with hopes revived, faded dreams rekindled and spirits reawakened. “Waxing Moon” is an album which continues to profoundly touch and inspire long after the last tides of the moon have ebbed and flowed.

“Waxing Moon” by Rebecca Foon is out now on Constellation Records.

https://www.rebeccafoon.com/
http://cstrecords.com/

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Interview with Rebecca Foon.

Congratulations, Rebecca, on the magnificent “Waxing Moon”, it’s such a singularly unique and truly moving listening experience, with so much fragile beauty throughout. Even from your two previous Saltland albums, this new album seems more intimate and personal, with more of a focus on the piano with your vocals too. I’d love to know what the starting points were for you in the making and genesis of “Waxing Moon”?

Rebecca Foon: Oh thank you so much, I am so happy to hear it speaks to you. This definitely is the most raw and intimate album I have ever made. I wanted to challenge my foundation of composing, and decided to write most of the songs from the piano, which I have never done before. This carved out a different type of space for me to sing and write lyrics to. The lyrics are definitely the most personal words I have ever put to music, and touch on intimate moments in my life, while linking them to the current state of our world, the sadness and heartbreak around us, while also trying to offer a sense of hope.

I love how the instrumental piano piece “New World” guides us into the universe of “Waxing Moon” (while it’s reprise is the fitting farewell to the journey), the compositions are reminiscent of Peter Broderick or Lubomyr Melnyk in their beauty and timelessness. It must be really liberating to have piano-based compositions such as this, especially when you’re principally known as a composer with regards to the cello instrument?

RF: Aw thank you, yes I truly fell in love with playing the piano while making this album, and it has been so deeply fulfilling to immerse myself in this new approach to creating, as well as being able to add cello to my own piano compositions. This has been a whole new way of composing for me, truly taking me out of my comfort zone.

Would you have been taught the cello or piano first, when growing up? Which piano composers and cellists would you mostly admire or influenced you the most in your formative years I wonder?

RF: I grew up studying classical cello, and only recently started playing the piano, however have always loved improvising on the piano ever since I was young. Philip Glass, Eric Satie, Arvo Pärt, Pablo Casals, Yo-Yo Ma, Mstislav Rostropovich are all composers and musicians that have deeply inspired me over the years.

I love how there’s always that sense of dichotomy at the heart of your music, a sense of both the micro and macro, permanent and temporal, the self and the universe… The really breathtaking part of “Waxing Moon” is the quiet realisation that one feels on listening to it is arriving at that sense of feeling our own place in the universe around us.
I guess it must stem not only from your technical skills, lyricism and sensitivities with arrangements and collaboration and so on but also your love and passion for nature and the natural world too?

RF: I am so glad you feel this from the album, this truly is what the heart of the album is all about. Over the last few years I have been doing a lot of climate change and conservation work, and the environmental reality we find ourselves in is always on my mind. The waxing moon is when the illumination of the moon expands over time. I chose this title because it seems more than ever humanity needs to become more enlightened and recognize how deeply interconnected we are in order to carve out a sustainable path for ourselves. So in essence the album speaks to some of my own personal heartbreak over the last few years as well as my sense of wonder from being alive together and connects these emotions to the current state of our world, while also offering a sense of hope for our collective future.

The lyrics and songwriting in your music is always so transcendental, there’s that sense of dreamlike reverie and heightened atmosphere there. Even if the recordings were done with just voice alone the affect would be no less moving. I’d love to know how you approach songwriting, for instance with songs such as “Ocean Song” and “Dreams to be Born”, would you have the piece of music written first, prior to adding voice or can it be the other way round? Is it difficult to “let go” once songs like these are finished?

RF: I usually write the lyrics to my songs separately from the music and then put them together in a second phase – one I have a foundation of the chords and some lyrics on paper. But sometimes I am blessed with songs just pouring out of me, and I have no control over it. “Ocean Song” and “Dreams to be Born” are examples of this. It also happened with “Light of Mercy” on the last Saltland album. It feels almost like it just comes from an open channel. “Ocean Song” is the most intimate and deeply personal song I have ever written. It is wild looking back at songs like that with a certain sense of bewilderment of how it came out of me, almost like they were created from some transcendental state – a space where the conscious and subconscious meet.

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“Vessels” is another sonic gem on “Waxing Moon”. That repeated “Vessels of love / Boundless love” in the chorus is so beautiful. I wonder did you write the song with the knowledge that it would be sung in a collaborative way? It must have been a great experience having Patrick Watson sing and add his voice to “Vessels”? It must have been very special hearing the finished recording back for the first time?

RF: It is funny I actually had no idea Patrick was going to sing on “Vessels”. Patrick is a very dear friend, and he came by the studio to hang out and listen. I played him that track just after I had added the vocals, and he asked Jace and I (Jace was recording and co-produced the album) if he could go into the vocal booth and try something. And so Jace set up a mic, I showed him the lyrics, and he just started playing around with vocal melodies in the vocal booth. I had no idea what was going to come of the takes, but in the mix it organically fit so incredibly together, and then we had the idea to mix it so we each sang certain lyrics separately – and the repeated “Vessels of love / Boundless love” together. Patrick truly has an incredible ability to create stunning melodies, and his falsetto voice works so beautifully in the song, it truly was a magical experience creating this together.

I also love the more guitar-based tracks, such as “Pour” and “Wide Open Eyes”, they both add another dimension to the album in their immediacy and directness, and are powerful parts to “Waxing Moon” and its trajectory, I love how they almost act as counterpoints to the piano-based compositions. I’d love for you to talk about how these songs were born?

RF: I wrote “Pour” on the piano, but it just didn’t seem to work, I couldn’t get a good take of the vocals, and it wasn’t capturing the emotions I was trying to convey. So I asked Jace if he could try the piano part on electric guitar, and it totally solved the problem, and I could finally sing on it. After writing and recording “Pour”, I wanted to have one other song on the album that was driving with electric guitar and drums. So Jace and I worked on ideas together in the studio and Richard Reed Parry (another close friend who would come by and hang out during the sessions) came in and wrote a bass line, which became “Wide Open Eyes”. I think this song might actually be my favorite song on the album, it was so fun for me to sing on this song, and record all the counter vocal melodies.

Collaboration is of course something that naturally you’ve done so much over the years, whether when having other musicians on your own albums (and indeed to the many groups you’ve been closely associated with or founding members of). I love how such musicians add their own fingerprint to your albums, for instance Warren Ellis on “A Common Truth” or Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld on “I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us”, or here with Richard Reed Parry, for example. It must be a really rewarding part of the making of an album having such musicians and composers contribute to your albums?

RF: Yes absolutely, I feel so blessed to have such incredible friends who are also incredibly inspiring musicians. The Saltland records and “Waxing Moon” are such personal records for me, and everyone that has played on them have been an enormous part of my life in different ways, and I am so grateful. I absolutely loved playing cello to Warren’s violin on the song “Magnolia” on “A Common Truth” and also writing those instrumental songs on that album together. I absolutely love playing with Colin and adore his epic swirling circular saxophone tonalities on the first Saltland Album. Sarah and I have known each other since I was a teenager, and we are involved in multiple projects together, at this point she feels like a sister, and playing with her feels like an extension of myself. It was also so wonderful to have Sophie Trudeau play on “Waxing Moon”, as we hadn’t played together since our time in Mt. Zion.

It must be incredibly enriching and a source of much pride to be part of Esmerine and also having contributed so much to so many other groups, such as A Silver Mt. Zion and Set Fire To Flames also, especially as their songbooks and discographies are such treasured and revered music for so many independent music fans, they’re very much up their with the likes of Rachel’s, Dirty Three and Godspeed You! Black Emperor in terms of their influence and importance.
I’d love to gain an insight into what the writing process was like for Set Fire To Flames? Listening to both “Sings Reign Rebuilder” and “Telegraphs In Negative / Mouths Trapped In Static” over the years, the mystery and wonder only grows as time goes by. It feels like it’s the entire ensemble improvising and finding their path organically while sharing the same room, in that magical, timeless way. Would pieces have been rehearsed beforehand or did you all have separate ideas prior to recording them? I’m sure you have treasured memories of live shows together in Montreal around this time too?

RF: Yes those albums truly shaped me as a musician, I was so young then when we recorded them, and it is how I met so many incredible musicians in Montreal that then led me to playing in A Silver Mt. Zion and forming Esmerine with Bruce. Those Set Fire to Flames albums came from a deep desire to improvise together in spaces that deeply moved us, only to discover what could come out of our time together, delirious from fatigue from hours and hours of recording and committed to a love to create together. Some of us were just getting to know each other through that time, and so many musical projects evolved from those new found relationships. Set Fire to Flames holds a very special place in my heart and I am so grateful to Dave for his vision in it all and asking me to be a part of it as it truly shaped the trajectory of my music life to date.

Being in Montreal and part of such a thriving independent music scene (as well as being part of the Constellation Records family, of course) where there’s such always such an amazing spirit of community there must be a constant source for much inspiration?

RF: It definitely has profoundly shaped me as a musician, and has allowed me to collaborate with so many incredible musicians over the years, that has also led me to working with musicians from around the world and co-founding the Non-profit Pathway to Paris with Jesse Paris Smith.

I could not be more grateful to be part of the music scene here and all the touring I have been fortunate to be a part of (especially now thinking back during these wild times).

Your taste of music is always so special and wide-reaching. I wonder what albums have you been listening to the most lately?

RF: I have been listening to a lot of quiet, introspective music lately like Nils Frahm, Nick Drake, Arthur Russell, Lhasa de Sela as well as Simon Diaz and Alice Coltrane.


“Waxing Moon” by Rebecca Foon is out now on Constellation Records.

https://www.rebeccafoon.com/
http://cstrecords.com/

Written by admin

July 14, 2020 at 2:02 pm

Guest Mixtape: Rebecca Foon (Constellation)

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We are thrilled to present a special guest mix compiled by the world-renowned Montreal-based composer and cellist Rebecca Foon (Esmerine/Saltland). Last February marked her first eponymous release (on the legendary Constellation imprint) with a heightened emphasis on piano and vocals. ‘Waxing Moon’ casts an eternal light of staggering beauty and heralds a new chapter in Foon’s storied career.

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An emotional resonance emanates deeply in the heart of Rebecca Foon’s staggering works. It is why there has always been a deep connection – akin to the gravitational pull of the earth – to each and every record the Montreal-based composer has created. The Constellation alumnus has been responsible for a wide array of vital musical forces these past two decades: co-founder of modern chamber post-rock ensemble Esmerine; member of Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra (2001-2008); Set Fire To Flames (2001-2004) and her songwriting project Saltland. This year’s enthralling solo full-length ‘Waxing Moon’ marks the first album under her own name (which in itself is quite telling) that heralds a significant new chapter in Foon’s cherished songbook.

The soul-stirring piano lament ‘Ocean Song’ hits you deeply with its ceaseless waves of yearning and desperate prayer for hope. “Give me your hand and I’ll take you/ To the ocean of love and give you everything” is softly ushered beneath beautiful sustained piano chords. This opening verse, in just mere moments plunges the listener into the depths of a long lost world of faded dreams. ‘Ocean Song’ channels the darkest of fears for our planet: the swirling notes of piano and cello coalesce with Foon’s achingly beautiful vocal delivery; embedded inside “a thousand tears”.

The closing section encapsulates the spiritual dimension of ‘Waxing Moon’s sonic expedition. The staggering beauty of ‘New World’ begins with poignant piano arpeggios reminiscent of Arvo Part or the score-work of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. An introspective moment of fragile beauty. The piece builds into a crescendo of soaring strings and ripple of piano notes that shares the DNA of Lubomyr Melnyk’s continuous music such is its divine spell.

Waves of sweeping strings serve the vital pulse of the album’s penultimate track ‘This Is Our Lives’. The charged immediacy of this otherworldly creation mirrors the desperation depicted by the song’s narrative. Foon pleas “I wish to hold you” on a later verse: channeling radiance from the depths of darkness. Just like the expanding waxing moon depicted on the scintillating title-track, the gifted composer’s newest work casts an eternal beauty and unfathomable power.

‘Waxing Moon’ is out now on Constellation.

https://www.rebeccafoon.com/

http://cstrecords.com/

“This mix includes songs that have moved me deeply, some of which I have been going back to recently and some over the course of my adult life. Much of this playlist has inspired the creation of my last album, waxing moon. I find great solace in the moving piano and strings of arvo part, satie, philip glass, the heightened awakened vibrations of alice coltrane and the outpouring of profound lyrics and powerful transformative energy in these songs. It is a 3 hour playlist for you during these times of stillness, reflection, heartbreak and so many unknowns. If anything, we can embrace and find hope in our interconnectedness, which feels truer than ever. I hope you enjoy it.”

Rebecca Foon

‘Waxing Moon’ is out now on Constellation.

https://www.rebeccafoon.com/

http://cstrecords.com/

Written by admin

May 12, 2020 at 3:36 pm

Chosen One: Saltland

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And that’s what I love about music is trying to transcend or get out of this reality and move yourself and channel something deeper and find emotional depth within it.”

Rebecca Foon

Words: Mark Carry

Rebecca playing cello

Rebecca Foon’s second album as Saltland unfolds a deeply moving and intense journey, which forges an indelible imprint on one’s heart and mind. ‘A Common Truth’ centers on climate change and the state of the world (issues which Foon has worked tirelessly on over the years as an activist, organizer and co-founder of Pathway To Paris and several other environmental groups). The message of ‘A Common Truth’ resonates powerfully: Humanity needs to act urgently in order to save our planet Earth.

Employing the Montreal composer’s looped layers of cello and voice, stunningly beautiful cello soundscapes furl into the atmosphere as a transcendent flow of captivating strings is channelled from deep within the cosmos. An undeniable force is formed when Foon’s beguiling vocals blend with her layered cello instrumentation. On the achingly beautiful lament ‘Light Of Mercy’, Foon asks “How did we get ourselves here?” beneath mesmeric passages of brooding strings, akin to a late night vigil or desperate prayer to mother Earth. A deeply moving, meditative quality permeates throughout Foon’s otherworldly song cycles, capturing a rich intensity and raw emotion at every turn.

A striking intimacy prevails throughout ‘A Common Truth’. The hypnotic wordless vocals of album opener ‘To Allow Us All To Breathe’ flickers like stars dotted across a night sky. ‘I Only Wish This For You’ is a deeply affecting exploration that navigates the depths of human darkness where a vivid colours of hopelessness and despair engulf the utterly transporting sonic layers (bringing to mind the likes of Dirty Three, Rachel’s and Sarah Neufeld’s solo works).

A Common Truth’ features multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis (Dirty Three, The Bad Seeds) on several tracks, further heightening Foon’s divine tapestry of enchanting sounds. The renowned Australian composer’s instrumentation of violin, pump organ and loops supplies rich textures for Foon’s voice and cello; the record shares the gripping intensity of the scores penned by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, creating, in turn, a timeless journey that forever orbits an ethereal realm.

‘A Common Truth’ is out now on Constellation.

http://www.saltland.ca/

http://cstrecords.com/

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Interview with Rebecca Foon (Saltland).

 

Congratulations on the new Saltland album ‘A Common Truth’, it’s such a gripping and moving journey. Please discuss for me the making of the new record, Rebecca?

Rebecca Foon: Well basically, I was writing this album mostly in 2015 and at the same time I was working quite heavily on organizing with my partner Jessica Smith a concert in Paris at the lead-up to the UN climate change. I do a lot of work in Climate and Change as well so I had that on my mind a lot so it was pieces of creative expression on what was heavy on my mind at that time, and still to this day. And also, it’s a wonderful way for me to challenge myself in different musical ways with singing and writing lyrics and trying to sing on top of my cello playing with loops. And then four songs were co-written by a friend Warren Ellis and that was really a project I worked with him on those four songs and we would send files back and forth. I just really admire his playing and it was such a wonderful opportunity.

I love how the album itself the mix between the voice and instrumentals – it works so wonderfully – and how  you’re able to blend your voice with the cello instrument is amazing and how it comes back and forth throughout the record at different points.

RF: That’s so nice, thank you. It’s definitely been a fun process. It’s challenging for sure because it’s new territory for me but also really exciting and fun.

In terms of the lyrical content – you’ve already mentioned – is stemmed from the world as it is present and climate change, and the effect of these lyrics they really hit you. And more so, the message of the album is very hard-hitting, which is a good thing obviously.

RF: I’m so glad to hear that and your feedback, thank you.

Your approach to writing these pieces, how challenging must it have been to write the different layers to these compositions? It’s a process you must be getting more and more used to?

RF: Yeah it’s interesting because I wrote the lyrics before the music except for that song ‘Light Of Mercy’ which I wrote at the same time. But that song – unlike any of the other songs on the album – just came out, which was very interesting, that was probably the easiest song to write like it truly just came out of me. The other songs, the lyrics I wrote first and then wrote the music and then I would sing on top. I was writing the layers – like a cello groove happening, like a world of cello sounds – that I could then try and sing on top of and then I would flesh them out in the studio.

But because with music – like the melodies and chords –there are no words so it can take you into this trip, playing this. And that’s what I love about music is trying to transcend or get out of this reality and move yourself and channel something deeper and find emotional depth within it. And for the lyrics, writing the lyrics for me there was that poetic element but also because I was tapping into this really real, raw feeling around climate change and the state of the world with a sense of urgency. I think that’s what’s different about this album is like for me and where I’m at I really feel a strong sense of urgency, for humanity to act and I feel very compelled to channel that within my music. And so within that there is definitely a bit of a cerebral element to the lyrics like I’d find my own creativity within it and poetic feeling within that, there is almost an intellectual component to it. But then the music is quite a different experiment and then trying to bring them together was a fun challenge because it’s using two different parts of the brain in a way.

With the input of Warren Ellis as well, I wonder did you have him in mind or particular parts in mind for him before the songs were completed or was it towards the end of the process?

RF:  It was quite organic. Before writing the album, I always wanted to invite him to be part of it but I wanted this album to be very stripped down like on my first album, quite  few friends of mine play on it but this album I wanted to be much more intimate and much more of a cello vocal record. But I always had the intention of inviting Warren to be part of it and then the organic part of it is this concert I organized in Paris with my partner Jesse, Warren ended up performing at it – which was also spontaneous – and that concert was like a unique concert because it was during the UN Climate Change conference and it was really to highlight the importance of establishing the Paris Agreement. So, we had that connection then and so from there, it all came together organically.

The intimacy and just how raw the journey is really is striking. The album has a similar feel to scores by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis as the intensity really hits you.

RF:  I mean I’m really inspired by them and the emotional depth that they can convey in their music is very powerful. I think with the first record, it was my first time doing that world of cello and voice and writing songs from that foundation. I brought in a lot of friends for that record [‘I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us’] because I really wanted to try to not hide away from anything and try to really get to the essence of what I’m trying to channel without trying to vary it in any way and not being scared of that being raw or naked or whatever it is you know. I’m glad that you find that come through; it’s rewarding to hear that.

You’re part of so many groups and bands and being part of the wonderful music scene in Montreal, I suppose all these different projects must feed into one another; as you’re finishing one thing, you’re beginning something else almost at the same time?

RF: Yeah, definitely and that’s quite beautiful because it’s all inter-connected like all the music is connected and everyone’s stories are woven together like my solo record, I would never would have created what I created if it wasn’t for everything; all the experiences that I’ve had leading up to it, which is a beautiful thing about life and the scripts of our lives, it’s so magical in a way.

Would you have memories of first learning music or discovering music in the first place?

RF: Well I started when I was eight. I had a funny story where I don’t come from a musical family. So I started playing cello because I went to a school that had a string programme and so I saw the cello and I totally fell in love with it and then I told my family that I wanted to play that instrument and they were like ‘What’s that? It’s so big’ [laughs] So, because of that experience, I really believe in public education because I never would have had the experience of playing music if I hadn’t had access to that as a kid. And playing a string instrument, it’s hard to start it when you’re older, even when I was eight that was quite old to start playing a stringed instrument so I always felt like I started way too old.

Just thinking of today and the last few years, it’s amazing too with just the cello instrument alone, how much wonderful music is being made with the cello.

RF: Totally because when I was growing up, there was not like the language of cello – it wasn’t violin even – it felt like classical was the way and anything else didn’t exist. There was no musical language outside of classical music like when I was growing up. I decided to not pursue classical music and so that was hard for me because I didn’t have a lot of reference points in the cello community but now that’s changing. It’s still not huge but there’s definitely more out there that I’m inspired by, for sure.

You’re probably touring the album ‘A Common Truth’ quite soon as well?

RF:  Yeah, I’m doing one-off shows and I’ll probably open up for Esmerine on tour. I’ll do my album launch in North America, in Montreal and New York.

Do you have favourite albums at the moment that you’re listening to?

RF: Yeah I guess for me within the Constellation/Montreal world, I’m really inspired by Matana Roberts and Colin Stetson. I love the new Bad Seeds record ‘The Skeleton Tree’, I love some other stuff on Constellation like Jerusalem In My Heart and I love listening to old albums like Mary Margaret O’ Hara ‘Miss America’, I love Marvin Gaye, Neil Young [laughs], I always go back to classic records that inspire me. But you know I have to say something about Marvin Gaye because there is this one album when you listen to his lyrics – it’s super-trippy – he references environmental degradation a lot on some of the songs. It’s interesting that you can go back to some albums from way back and it’s fixed like where we are now as a society. I love Sarah Neufeld and there’s some very interesting female solo albums put out now that makes me feel happy, who are doing things untraditionally like going for it.

There’s a lovely parallel between you and Sarah Neufeld and it shows just how much wonderful female solo artists there are making such important music.

RF: I think we inspire each other too and it keeps us engaged like seeing each other do it, inspires us to keep doing what we’re doing and it’s helpful to have friends in the community, it’s like a nice and supportive environment.

Lastly, you work so hard and well with all these issues concerning climate change, where do you see the state of the world as we are now and what do you hope for the next decade?

RF: Because I feel the urgency so strongly and because of the world right now with politics all over, I really believe – and part of me is because I am an optimist by nature – we can make it through but we can only make it through with really powerful collaboration and that needs to happen on a city level. And because federal politics are so murky right now and will probably continue to be murky for a while and we don’t have much time in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. I think what needs to happen – and this is what I’m working on with this organization that I’ve started Pathway to Paris – is really focusing on at a city level and I think that if cities can come together around the world and make commitments and action plans and implementation strategies to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by 80-100% by 2050, I think that we will be OK.

If that can happen and it’s going to take flagship cities from all around the world to really start moving on that and for governments to support cities that don’t have funds to do it and have creative funding and creative mechanisms to help cities around the world to join in that effort because it’s much harder for cities like New York for example to make those kind of commitments and implement strategies and movement forward to move towards those kinds of reductions. But I really do think that if we can do that we’ll be OK but it needs to happen fast and it needs to happen very collaboratively. It’s exciting if it does because imagining cities that are not dependent on fossil fuels like that’s a pretty cool world, you can conquer a lot of problems at the same time reinventing those cities. So, for me that’s what excites me, to work towards that goal.

But I do think it requires a global effort and a global effort at this point. It’s unfortunate because with the state of the world right now with federal politics going more and more within federal boundaries and creating stronger and real walls to protect those boundaries but really the world needs to break away from all of that and think of us as a planet and think of it like a global picture to conquer this issue. And this issue is just a reflection of how we see the world, it’s showing us so strongly how we need to perceive the world but unfortunately the reaction is going in the opposite direction. But I do think there is hope there if we take another route, like the city route.

‘A Common Truth’ is out now on Constellation.

http://www.saltland.ca/

http://cstrecords.com/

Written by admin

April 4, 2017 at 6:38 pm

Chosen One: Sarah Neufeld

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Interview with Sarah Neufeld.

“Hero Brother is a character that emerged during the writing. I like the universality of it; we have someone in our lives that’s stoic and fights for us or we are that person, or we need someone, or we lost someone like that.”

Sarah Neufeld

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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‘Hero Brother’ is the solo debut album from violinist and composer Sarah Neufeld, released towards the end of the summer on Constellation Records. Best known as a member of the indie-rock giants, Arcade Fire, the Montreal-based composer is one of the founding members of innovative instrumental group, Bell Orchestre, in addition to collaborative work with The Luyas, Esmerine and Little Scream. ‘Hero Brother’ is the sum of all these parts: forming a wholly fulfilling and deeply meaningful experience through the sonic radiance of Neufeld’s beloved violin instrument. Certainly, the collaborative nature of the composer’s artistic output to date lies at the heart of ‘Hero Brother’s sublime violin compositions, honing into one very distinct energy that inhabits a deep, special and otherworldly space.

The solo pieces contained on ‘Hero Brother’ originated from 2011, where Neufeld began to write the songs during ‘The Suburbs’ tour, as Arcade Fire traversed the world’s vast plains and seas. What is immediately most striking is the sheer scale of captivating emotion that pours from these sublime compositions. An intimacy radiates from the embers of the recordings, and remains there: lingering in the air’s atmosphere for the listener to quietly absorb and savour in. The primary influences of Bela Bartok, Steve Reich, Iva Bittova and Arthur Russell is adorned across ‘Hero Brother’s remarkable sonic canvas, yet Neufeld – like all good artists – soaks in these disparate influences, creating in turn, something truly unique and transcendent. The songs are born out of Neufeld’s undying love of minimalism, pop music and improvisation. In the words of Neufeld, the violin instrument is “a natural extension of my voice”, resulting in music as natural and vital as the air you breathe.

In addition to Neufeld’s violin, small touches of harmonies, harmonium and piano are effortlessly woven throughout ‘Hero Brother’. The effect is nothing short of magical. For example, ‘Forcelessness’ – the album’s breathtaking penultimate track – can be seen as a duet between Neufeld (violin) and Nils Frahm (piano). The ambient space is beautifully arrived upon here. Elsewhere, Frahm’s harmonium is added on the album’s centerpiece – and longest cut on the record – ‘Breathing Black Ground’, creating the ideal counterpoint to Neufeld’s brooding violin melodies. Several movements are present in this spellbinding piece of music: opening with slow, meditative solo-violin, before a nervous tension encapsulates the sonic terrain. Neufeld’s voice is drenched in reverb, and feels as though a longing for survival becomes unearthed from the depths of despair. The song in question was in fact captured in a dark dome during the raging storms inflicted by Hurricane Sandy. It is these very depths of despair and sense of the abyss that emanates from ‘Breathing Black Ground’, that in turn creates something deeply cathartic.

‘Hero Brother’ was recorded in Berlin by pianist and composer Nils Frahm. The tracks were recorded in an old orchestral recording hall. Later, Frahm and Neufeld spent a couple of days driving around Berlin with a portable set-up, capturing random happenings in locations with site-specific acoustics. Some of the locations included an abandoned geodesic dome, an underground parking garage, and the legendary Studio P4 orchestral recording hall at the broadcast complex of the former GDR. The sound of the rushing wind – that raged around the dome – became the noise floor throughout the record. The variations of Neufeld’s violin-based compositions is staggering. At times, the mood is calm and reflective, and moments later, cascading violin notes evoke a foreboding atmosphere of a looming darkness.

Similarly, the range of musical styles, rhythm and emotion conjured up by Neufeld’s solo violin is nothing short of staggering. Title-track ‘Hero Brother’ contains layers of soaring violin coupled with Neufeld’s stomping feet as percussion. This breathtaking piece taps into a distinct energy, like that of an approaching storm. In contrast, ‘They Live On’ is a bright folk lament that conjures up the sound of Andrew Bird. Like Bird, an openness and honesty exudes from this gorgeously delicate composition. The wordless harmonies of Neufeld brings forth limitless rays of hope, as a brightness ascends onto the record. Album closer ‘Below’ is a Neoclassical gem that inhabits a hidden realm of sound. Cinematic brilliance. The ebb and flow of Neufeld’s hypnotic harmonies maps the rushing wind that is present as field recordings throughout. The majestic violin sways, like that of the wind, and serves a compass to your heart’s core.

In the words of Neufeld: “Hero Brother is a gathering of characters in our collective mythology – the strong and weak; the secret buried underground, played by one instrument, echoed by my own voice as a plaintive companion.” ‘Hero Brother’ becomes just that: an unfailing, trusted companion.

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‘Hero Brother’ is out now on Constellation Records.

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Interview with Sarah Neufeld.

It is a real pleasure to ask you some questions about your incredible music. Congratulations on the exceptional solo album, ‘Hero Brother’. There is a wonderful variation within your solo violin recordings, from Reichesque movements and pop sensibilities, to avant-folk and modern-classical infused ambient realms of sound. The pieces of music feel as if they were floating in your head for quite some time, that inhabits a deep, special and other-worldly space.
Please discuss the music of ‘Hero Brother’, and the space and time these pieces of music were given its wings, and where the seeds were sewn for these breathtaking sonic creations?

Thank you for the kind words! The music came together during 2011/12. I started writing pieces while touring The Suburbs. I had a lot of creative energy I needed to work with. There was so much going on in life at that time that it seemed necessary to go very internal and make something personal.

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The recording process for ‘Hero Brother’ must have been an enriching experience. The album was recorded by composer/producer Nils Frahm – someone I’ve been obsessed with for several years – and performances captured in various locations with site-specific acoustics. Please recount for me your memories of working with Nils, and the different locations you used for recording? Was there a particular place you feel captured your music the best?

Working with Nils was a treat. We recorded everything in an old orchestral recording hall, and then spent a couple days driving around Berlin with a portable set-up, capturing random happenings in extreme acoustic settings. The most extreme atmospheric space we used was an abandoned geodesic dome on top of a creepy hill. Dark, forbidden, the longest reverb I’ve ever heard- we had to work quickly in there, and it was mad cold. These things really affect how you play and how it comes across. We used the sound of the wind rushing around the dome as a noise floor throughout the record.

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My favourite piece at the moment is ‘Breathing Black Ground’ – the longest cut on the album that seeps slowly into your consciousness. I love the different movements inherent in the spellbinding piece; opening with slow, hypnotic solo-violin, and halfway through the piece evolves into a large canvas of enveloping sound. The addition of harmonium and touches of harmonies creates an utterly beguiling atmosphere. Congratulations! Please discuss for me the construction of ‘Breathing Black Ground’ and memories of writing this piece?

I wrote Breathing Black Ground during hurricane Sandy, holed up in a cabin in the mountains in New England. I had gotten out of NYC as the storm was coming and then got kind of trapped in the mountains waiting for it to pass. The nervous tension in that piece wove itself into the rest of the album and settled, becoming a main character in the whole story, evolving out of the storm and into more of a meditation on burrowing underground, like a mole. I added the vocal line in the dark dome because singing in there felt wonderful, and then while in Nils’ mixing studio, the harmonium line felt like a big fuzzy blanket that needed to be wrapped around the piece.

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What makes ‘Hero Brother’ such a special record – like any great artist’s work – is how personal the music feels; coming from the beating heart of the composer. I would love to gain an insight into the album-title, and indeed the themes of this debut album?

Hero Brother is a character that emerged during the writing. I like the universality of it; we have someone in our lives that’s stoic and fights for us or we are that person, or we need someone, or we lost someone like that.
Some of the themes are characters in a story, others are textures, others are feeling based.

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Can you take me back please to your earliest musical memories? What age were you when you first played the violin? I can only imagine your family were always immersed in music, that seamlessly rubbed off you.

I started playing at age 3, the Suzuki method starts kids young. My family was into a lot of folk music, they played banjo, guitar, fiddle, flute etc. My mom was into Classical minimalism as well. My dad listened to a lot of Bob Dylan and Hendrix. So all that was music to me and I thought learning classical repertoire was one-sided, since there was so much music out there.

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What I love on ‘Hero Brother’ is the gorgeous instrumentation – delicate and subtle – of harmonium, wordless voice and piano, that complements the solo-violin so well. Was this a decision made from the outset, or something that naturally blossomed during the recording? I feel the piece ‘Forcelessness’ epitomises the truly transcendent nature of your music, as Nils’s piano blends so effortlessly with your soaring violin melodies; the instruments are in deep communication – it’s a true joy to witness.

I wrote Forcelessness last summer with a duet in mind, and its evolved many times with different friends. I knew it would be Nils on piano on that song when we agreed to work together. The other minimal instrumentation emerged during the recording process, feeling as natural as salting food, as opposed to a departure from sticking to one instrument.

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Can you please discuss how collaboration has inspired the creation of your own solo music? It is amazing to think you are part of so many vital artists, from Arcade Fire and The Luyas, to Bell Orchestre and Esmerine. I have been deeply immersed in all these projects of yours, and it’s a real privilege to now listen to the solo works of yours. How does your mindset change (if it does) between the art of collaboration and the art of making your own solo music?

Solo writing is such a different animal. I’m naturally a very collaborative person, which is perhaps why it took a while to commit to writing alone. I’m so inspired by playing with other people- collaborative composition through improvisation in particular has always been really satisfying. It’s the way Bell Orchestre has always written. I suppose I took that method and applied it to myself.

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Finally, I love the eclectic nature of sounds distilled on ‘Hero Brother’. It is obvious your love of pop/indie music and improvisation shines throughout. For example, the bright folk lament ‘They Live On’ is reminiscent of Andrew Bird, and several of your pieces belong in the magical realm of divine Neoclassical spheres of sound. Can you please discuss your primary influences, and what records you are listening to most lately?

My formative influences as a violinist would be Bartok, Bach, Hendrix, Arthur Russell, and a hundred more. These days I’ve been listening to a lot of west African Blues, Peter Gabriel, electronic musicians like The Field and Burial. It’s a really mixed bag.

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‘Hero Brother’ is out now on Constellation Records.

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http://sarahneufeldmusic.com
http://cstrecords.com

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Written by admin

October 3, 2013 at 10:24 am