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Posts Tagged ‘Few Traces

Time Has Told Me: Mark Renner

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I think that as an overall survey, it’s always been more interesting to me to see an artist’s sketchbook than the actual finished work.”

—Mark Renner 

Words: Mark Carry

RERVNG11 - Mark Renner - Press Photo - Web - 05 - Photo Credit - Charles Freeman

Dream like ambient odysseys traverse the human space on the utterly compelling RVNG Intl compilation “Few Traces”, which effectively surveys a near decade of Maryland native Mark Renner’s solo material from 1982 to 1990. Delicate reverb, lo-fi warmth and immaculate instrumentation of synthesizer and electric guitar are beautifully captured to tape, feeling at once immediately familiar yet steeped in depths of the unknown. Several of the vocal-based recordings recall the timeless spirit of The Durutti Column, Felt and Cocteau Twins with Renner’s highly emotive vocal delivery and gorgeous haze of blissful guitar chords.

The poignant, melancholic pop gem ‘More Or Less’ begins with charged guitars and drum machine, which an array of the current Captured Tracks roster could be found floating in the song’s slipstream. “There’s too much to reveal this time” are the opening words, sung with pain and heartache; a torch-lit ballad you have known your entire life. The song’s glorious rise emits an undeniable catharsis as the seductive groove is a truly immense force.

Many guitar-based instrumentals are dotted throughout this captivating 21-track compilation. The lyrical quality of the reverb-laden guitar instrumental ‘Autumn Calls You By Name’ is a joy to behold, recalling early New Order and Felt’s pristine indie pop gems. The range of sounds is quite staggering. Album opener ‘Riverside’ is a scintillating ambient excursion with a sumptuous ebb and flow of soothing synthesizers. Glorious shades and textures are carved out on the deeply reflective ambient gem ‘Few Traces’ while the electronic wizardry of ‘The Dyer’s Hand’ orbits the sonic trajectory of Antena’s ‘Camino Del Sol’ or Carla Dal Forno’s compelling songbook.

Some of the vocal-based songs serve perhaps the record’s defining moments. The poetic expression of ‘Saints and Sages’ hits you deeply with its hypnotic undercurrent of guitar drone. ‘Half A Heart’ is a crystalline pop gem as Renner’s heartfelt lament transcends both space and time. The charged immediacy of these songs makes you fully realize the endless possibilities that the sacred art of music truly possesses.

The closing swathes of synthesizer captured on ‘Wounds’ reflects the otherworldly nature of the American musician’s solo works. The origins of these recordings may have come to the surface several decades ago but ‘Few Traces’ most certainly belongs to the here and now. Another essential document from the peerless Brooklyn-based imprint RVNG Intl.

‘Few Traces’ is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://www.markrenner.net/

https://igetrvng.com/

RERVNG11 - Mark Renner - Press Photo - Web - 07 - Photo Credit - William Flayhart

Interview with Mark Renner.

The recently released “Few Traces” compilation on RVNG was a wonderful discovery of your music for me. Can you take me back to the lovely process it must have been in going back through these recordings and deciding what tracks to compile and assembling it all together?

Mark Renner: Well, it’s been a great experience. I think that one of the things I like the best is that it’s a warts-and-all package; they didn’t just do this like a greatest hits record. They weren’t only interested in some of the newer material but some of the more skeletal structures of early songs, and one of the songs was actually done on a hand-held cassette recorder during practice in my apartment many years ago. I think that as an overall survey, it’s always been more interesting to me to see an artist’s sketchbook than the actual finished work. They were patient with me because it took a while to pull it together; it took a while to gather all these recordings from old cassette tapes and old masters and old tape reels. I’m sure you are familiar for the old tape, the reels needed to be baked before we extracted music from them. I think that it’s interesting in terms of just being a footprint from that era, and obviously there are things here that I didn’t hear for years and I hadn’t thought about for years and it’s nice having them contained in one package like that.

I love the aesthetic flow that effortlessly runs throughout ‘Few Traces’ and also the wonderful instrumental tracks that are dotted throughout.

MR: I think I may have once aspired to do film soundtracks and of course I started small but that was an aspiration that I think I may have had back then.  Some of those pieces might lend themselves to an atmospheric backing that may have been suitable for it. It was also – and probably to my advantage – an extremely impoverished situation so I don’t think I could have afforded to record a vocal song back then anyway, so a lot of the material was recorded on a home 4-track cassette player so the songs would invariably remain without words. Once I obtained a 4-track cassette player it became a musical sketchbook and some of those songs would be put together in sketch stages.  I think, by then I had a small sequencer and did the programming in step time, so I suppose there is a certain charm in the lo-fidelity quality of these recordings as well.

As a painter, you must find that painting and music almost goes hand in hand with each other because I saw your documentary and it showed a lot of your beautiful linocuts?

MR: Yes, I’ve had the chance over the years to integrate both in exhibitions and have always enjoy that opportunity. I think there are similarities to the approach to both of them. I can’t speak for others, but I sense that a lot of times approaching music in terms of sound and texture is comparable to developing a painting, where you bring out colours and shade and light and perhaps emotion  in the same way. At times it feels difficult to decide where I want to concentrate my energy, but I’m fortunate in this period of my life where I have the freedom to stop one and start on the other as I will. I have some deadlines at the moment: I’m finishing a recording that I’m hoping to have completed by April; it’s based almost entirely on vocal songs. Then early in the summer I have a visual exhibition. So I do have some time constraints, but by and large I currently have the freedom to stop one discipline and to put my energy and efforts into another.

RERVNG11 - Mark Renner - Press Photo - Web - 08 - Photo Credit - James Matis

I’d love for you to go back to when you were growing up and at what point in your life did you realize the importance of music and when you started playing music and the different bands and movements that were going on during that time (that made you want to pursue it yourself)?

MR: Well I think that the area where I was raised – in an isolated manner, although I had brothers and sisters,  I was left alone to myself and  lived many of those years from inside the imagination. I was very fortunate to have the room to roam. My father had a large farm and on the surrounding properties close to his were streams and hills and woods and hundreds and hundreds of acres to traverse and to explore and enjoy. I think that the isolation of the area contributed to, from the time I was old enough to remember, an inward desire to express myself in some manner. My mother had a guitar in the house and so I picked it up and put it down and picked it up again. I always enjoyed opportunities in Sunday school and Church where I could mess around on a piano. I did love music and I did love sounds in that sense. It’s hard to say how much of that was integral to the development of my history, but it certainly was inspirational. And I still to this day, feel that both my visual work and some of the musical work is nourished by the area where I grew up.

I’m working on a visual exhibition called ‘The Arcadians’; which is a small town in the middle of the sprawling area where my Dad’s farm remains, and the paintings have a lot to do with the characters of growing up in an arcadian world, there are the farmers and the people who I either worked for or knew as a kid. So it is a place that still affects much of what I do and I think that as far as my work and my initiation into the world of music and self-expression and imagination  that this  freedom that I enjoyed, and as I said, having the room to roam, contributed a great deal to expanding the mind and sensibilities .

And it’s this space that is in all these recordings and not just the instrumental work. I love the lyric-based songs too, I wonder for reference points or inspiration as a songwriter, do you have a certain technique when it comes to writing words and matching this to music?

MR: I think it’s always a difficult task to marry music and song: a lot of times you actually come up with an interesting tune and trying to adapt words to the meter and the rhythm of words which is challenging.  I’m in a dilemma on the album I’m working on right now in that I wrote the music first to one important piece and I’ve been trying to adapt some lyrics to it, but rhythmically, I’m almost at the point where I’m ready to abandon words and keep it as an instrumental. I’m not sure how many writers do this, I’ve often read  of those who keep notebooks, and I remember when I was younger I used to (before the proliferation of cellular phones and having it all at your fingertips)  call home and leave a melodic idea on my answering machine at home. If I was at out working and a melody came to mind or a musical or lyrical idea, the micro cassette players which were really small and portable, I used those for a while. I am a listener, I enjoy hearing bits of conversation without context and am fortunate enough to have frequent exposure to that. In the airport or in a bookstore or public places, it may just be a very simple phrase or depending on where you are, it might be the manner in which things are spoken, it might have some future relevance. I do collect a lot of phrases and more often than not I have an idea for a song and it may be useful for the one line that I need to articulate. I know there are people like Paddy McAloon  or Jimmy Webb that are essentially craftsmen with the big melody, the obscure chord structures  – I am unable to work that way. I think that the very unorthodox approach to music somehow works for some, and I sense that my current work will show growth, and I will be excited to finish the album that I’m working on. It may be the best work that I’ve done in terms of the lyrical songs on the record.

And this new album is out soon?

MR: Well, it must be completed first. I began last spring in Baltimore and then I moved on to Texas, where I’m currently living. Last summer I was recording a lot in a studio housed in a horse trailer out in a field with. And then I moved on to Glasgow in November working with Malcolm Lindsay, a film composer who has written for opera, classical, jazz and chamber works. He’s a gifted musician and I felt fortunate to have been able to work with him. I took him some material and he completely deconstructed my arrangements and put an entirely new spin on some pieces that had confounded me, truly a great experience.  He brought an orchestral approach to one of the songs that I had done and on another he played some piano and steel guitar, so it will be really exciting for others to hear this new material. I am finishing the final recording here in Texas at my home studio. I have two more pieces that I would like to include and then I’ll be finished and hopefully release it later in the year, or early 2019.

‘Few Traces’ is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://www.markrenner.net/

https://igetrvng.com/

 

Written by admin

May 9, 2018 at 1:50 pm