FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Bourne

Chosen One: Matthew Bourne

leave a comment »

So all these pieces have come about doing things for other people because for me, music is an extension of human relationships; I don’t think I’d make any music otherwise.”

—Matthew Bourne

Words: Mark Carry

matthew-bourne-855

The element of surprise comes with each and every new release from the gifted talents of UK composer and pianist Matthew Bourne. On the back of numerous diverse and ground-breaking musical projects – from last year’s utterly compelling moogmemory album to revisiting Kraftwerk’s seminal ‘Radioactivity’ album in the collaborative voyage of ‘Radioland’ – this month sees Bourne return to the piano instrument with the stunningly beautiful ‘Isotach’ full-length, released on the ever-dependable Leaf Label.

Like the roll of a dice, chance is key to the sonic creations captured on ‘Isotach’. The title-track is a heart-rending, delicate piano piece that forms gentle ripples in the pools of your heart and mind. Later, ethereal cello strings gradually melds with the contemplative piano tapestries; recalling the likes of Sylvain Chauveau or Erik Satie. The following ‘Isothere’ is a deeply immersive experience whose gorgeously sustained piano tones encapsulates one’s inner-most thoughts or faded dreams.

The minimal nature of these quite bare compositions is a joy to savour. A timeless voyage unfolds throughout the skeletal piano motifs and ghostly cello strings, like long-lost artefacts resurfacing from deep beneath the ground. Divine strings ebb and flow amidst delicate piano flourishes on the utterly hypnotic ‘Valentine’ before enchanting piano melodies grace the atmosphere on ‘Duncan’.

Heavenly rapture ascends on ‘Wedding Mala’ with glorious shimmering patterns of cello and piano reflecting the summer light in all its beautiful glory. The piece only lasts barely ninety seconds and yet it’s as if all life’s fleeting moments have been captured. ‘Candela’ is yet another shape-shifting tour-de-force. The depth of human emotion that dispels from Bourne’s minimal framework of piano (with masterful addition of cello) becomes the essence of ‘Isotach’s timeless journey.

‘Candela (for Sascha Heeney)’ is taken from the Isotach album.

LP+CD/CD/download: https://matthewbourne.bandcamp.com/album/isotach

 

‘Isotach’ is out on Friday 18th August via The Leaf Label.

 

 

mat_web

Interview with Matthew Bourne.

Congratulations on yet another exceptional record – on the back of so many diverse and wonderful releases – it’s lovely how ‘Isotach’ sees you return to the piano instrument. Can you recount your memories of making the new album and the moment you realized you’d come back to the piano again and recording these new pieces at home?

Matthew Bourne: I’m not very good at doing two of the same thing [laughs]. I think I do one thing and think ‘Right OK, I think I’ve done that and I don’t want to do the same thing again’. It’s a bit of a running theme, I’ve done a piano record; I did ‘Montauk Variations’ which is the first thing I released with Leaf in 2012: it was very deliberate like a fresh direction if you like. Before that, for my solo piano playing, I used to use a lot of samples (sampled media like clips from television and film, other classical music) and I used to improvise around those. It was a very mixed bag of stuff and I burned out and I thought, right I need to strip back to some sort of essence so I did that record and then I spent a lot of time working in France with a really great saxophonist Laurent Dehors and I just journeyed between that and Radioland, which was the Kraftwerk revisiting that I did with Franck Vigroux and Antoine Schmitt and then the Moog record came in between all those things really.

Working on the Kraftwerk stuff with Franck, it was just synthesizers and I’d already started to do new pieces for the Moog record so really I think I was slowly just doing more synthesizers – and very unconsciously – and it was around last year that I thought I’ve hardly played the piano and so when I was playing the piano, I was very conscious of it and I think I did go through a period where the pieces that are on the record because of other people asking me to do sessions for them – could you record some piano for this track or for this pitch we’re doing and I’d record with just one mic set up and I thought I’d mess around with some stuff and then forget about it [laughs]. And there was one day when I went back into one of the sessions (for Sascha) and I saw all these other pieces at the end and I thought ’wow, what are those?’ and I listened to them and I thought I’ve done this quite a few times over the course of a year or so. And so I went back into all the job sessions that I had done and sure enough I had found a number of pieces which were just sitting there so I gathered them all up and thought there might be something that hangs them all together. The thing that binds them all together is that they were often recorded in windy or rainy conditions up here in the house (which is quite exposed to the elements) so I thought, well that’s a good enough excuse to try and tie them all together [laughs]. I wasn’t conscious of them if you know what I mean; it’s quite a hard one to explain.

It’s funny, for each of the records I’ve done for Leaf they’ve all been very different in terms of their intention I think. With the Montauk Variations record, I consciously wanted to try and do something different and working with Franck; that was a very conscious thing to rework an existing material. With the Moogmemory pieces, I think again I thought well I’ve got to get down to something but I just want to consciously sit and try to make a record so I had to catch it by surprise. And I think with the ‘Isotach’ record I think it’s even more by surprise [laughs] because the moment I try and sit down and consciously say to myself ‘Right, I’m going to make a record’, nothing happens; nothing comes out really, it’s like I have to catch it without me realizing it’s been caught, if that makes sense. Because the more conscious I am, doing something, that something just escapes somewhere and you end up chasing after some kind of weird concept rather than just sitting and playing something. It’s a funny process I found myself engaging with over the years so this is just the latest outcome of that I suppose.

I love the arrangements and particularly how the cello comes in and out at various points, in such a beautiful and minimalistic way.

MB: I mean that came about because I obviously can’t do both at the same time. So I play something on the piano and record it and I immediately listen back and without really thinking about it, I think where can I add some cello? And I just sit and think OK, maybe there and I pick a note and I start to play something. I mean I played the cello before I really played the piano so I started to learn cello before I was good at the piano. I don’t practice the cello as much anymore and it’s an instrument that’s in need of some routine maintenance so there is a non-virtuosic quality going on in this; you know the bow needs to be repaired so a lot of the notes sound quite wispy and ghostly. I also decided a while ago, what was happening to my cello parts weren’t sounding rich or full-bodied like somebody who is a proper cellist so I thought well maybe that’s my angle (which is that I’m not). So, the cello parts that I do, I make sure to try and not be like a proper cellist and accept the instrument as it is and accept the sounds that are being produced. I think I didn’t want a very rich “proper” cello accompaniment either, I think I wanted this strange and in between and fragile and ghostly almost sound.

I think it’s my intention that it just sits behind the piano; it’s there but it’s not there. Again, I try not to plan it out too much, I just react to what I had heard at first and I build up a few layers and then I sit and listen to that and think ‘Yeah OK, that sounds alright’, and then I save it and close the session and that would be it [laughs]. As I say, it wasn’t until I listened back, sometime after, I thought these are OK actually and I think if I thought of it with the frame of mind to try to make a record I may have erased those things and try to make them better or try to do something else with them. I think I just like to let them breathe, much in the same way as I sit and play the piano (when nothing is recorded), I try to do that with the cello parts as much as possible and the fact that I can’t really play the cello to a virtuosity degree meant that the minimal nature of the cello parts were because I can’t really do anything else. When I look at it that way, I’m quite amazed that any music came out of it at all [laughs].

You were on the back of doing the wonderful moogmemory release only a short time before; you must find that taking a break from one instrument and going back to it with a new perspective almost entirely?

MB: It’s like a seesaw because those pieces on the latest album were recorded during the period that I did all the moogmemory stuff – well some of them were – and as I say they were just left and forgotten about. And it was when I had got them all out, I thought, hang on I have hardly played the piano in years if I really thought about it (in terms of the hours spent at the piano keyboard). So, in a way even though that music was made a little while ago, it has the effect of I guess now thinking right, I am going to go back to this instrument. It’s funny isn’t it, work that’s been done in the past like months and months ago has the effect of giving me a bit of a nudge saying ‘Right, it’s time to get back to that now.’ It’s very funny the way recordings for me have functioned. In my house here I am lucky enough to be able to record and not get on anybody’s nerves or not having anybody banging on the wall next door to me. Once things start to happen I guess I don’t get disturbed which is nice really.

Is that a new set-up for you in terms of recording at home because I presume you didn’t record some of those previous albums in a home setting?

MB: Well the Montauk stuff was recorded at Dartington Hall in Devon and well actually all the other stuff was recorded here because electronically I can take a direct audio out from the instrument synthesizers into the digital interface. With the piano on ‘Isotach’ everything was recorded here but yeah it is a very new set-up for me because I’ve never really done, I’ve never had that luxury of being able to keep things set up. And so I moved to where I live now about three years ago and then I think a year or so in I decided right I’m going to buy the piano and owning a few things to record the piano nicely. So, it’s a simple set-up but I guess my issue is that I can’t go and consciously make a record. So a lot of the time I have all this stuff that’s built to capture what I do at any time but I don’t do it at any time [laughs] because otherwise I’d be too conscious of the fact that I’d been recording all of the time so it’s a funny dance that I do with this thing. I have to wait for something to come along really and to catch it by surprise, like something is happening here but that only happens after I’ve done something for a number of times or I’ve amassed a couple of recordings, so actually there is something going on and there is a record; something forming or another project happening but if I consciously go out of my way to do it as I say, it seems false, to me, I mean I wish I didn’t have that. I’ve had this conversation with Nils Frahm about this and he’s the opposite actually, he was saying ‘Well I go into the studio, I turn everything off and I’m not coming out until I’ve got this record’, and to sit and get these pieces together for however much time a week, two weeks and only do that and come out of it and really really craft a record; I wish I had a bit of that but I don’t, I have the opposite; I have to catch it by accident otherwise I feel like I’m cheating or something.

matthew b

It’s cool how the idea of the Piano Day brought about the gorgeous piece of music ‘Isotach’? And other pieces too are dedications to friends and people in your life, it’s lovely how that all worked out.

MB: Yeah, that was interesting because that was the first Piano Day wasn’t it and Nils said it would be cool if you could do a piece and I said ‘Well OK’ and I forgot about it and it was the day before the day itself and I’d been preparing some tiny little loops for a sample CD – of piano loops of all things – and one of the loops was this little motif that the piece is based on. I was just fiddling around with it and I thought ‘Well that might make an actual piece maybe’ and I just found myself musing on it and it was quite late – it was about twelve o’ clock at night and I thought I can’t be bothered actually, I thought I was supposed to do that piece but I don’t know – so then I thought I’d record it really quickly. I threw up one microphone and it was really windy and it was raining outside and at one point in the track you can hear the rain hitting against the window but it sounded louder in the room than on the recording. So that was just the one mic thrown up and then I just played around with it and then as I said before, I listened back and thought maybe I could add some cello to this and so I moved the mic, picked up the cello, added it, synced the parts, listened to it and thought ‘yeah that’s OK’ and then I added a bit of reverb and I made sure that the file was alright and uploaded it to my soundcloud and I tweeted it to the Piano Day thing. All in that entire track took me about half an hour to do so it was really quick.

And that’s kind of how I do most of my work and one of the other tracks ‘Wedding Mala (for Dave & Nichola)’ again, that was their wedding the next day and I thought well I haven’t got them a gift – and I had forgotten that they didn’t want any gift – so I thought maybe I should give them this small musical gesture. So I sat down and again I had to pick a friend up from the train station at about half an hour before he arrived and I thought Oh I’ve got to go drive and get him from town and so I thought I’d just sit down and do something, so I sat down and played this little thing and I thought yeah that’s fine and then I added some cello bits to this and then I thought I’ve got to go, save and close and go to the train station.  Again that was one of those pieces where I didn’t have any time to over think anything and thought I’ve got to do something. And again, I came back and thought actually that’s OK even though it felt really rushed at the time [laughs].

So all these pieces have come about doing things for other people because for me music is an extension of human relationships; I don’t think I’d make any music otherwise. I mean I’m quite content sitting at home playing through classical music and trying to learn pieces and sitting and practicing and figuring things out for my own amusement; I am very happy doing that. But in terms of things that make it out there into the public, they probably wouldn’t make it if it weren’t for Leaf and so I have a very good relationship with Leaf and with Tony and with the guys at the Leaf Label; they’re very kind and patient and then everyone else I get inspiration from. I used to think that I got inspiration from some weird, internal place within me but actually it’s not, it’s all to do with other people. Because the pieces of music aren’t really about anything, it’s just music so I think who can I give this as a gift to; who could I tribute this to; what’s the character of the music?

So that’s why I end up either dedicating them to people or naming them after people because I think well I don’t need it, I could just sit down and make up a piece on the piano but it’s no good to me, I think the more and more I do my music I feel quite comfortable naming them after people. There are a lot of jazz standards that are named after people so I guess there’s nothing new there but I do like the idea of giving the music as a gift where I think there is something being spoken in the music, like I’m going to give that to them. So that’s how that works, usually the dedications happen after the music actually, I don’t sit and think ‘I’m going to compose this piece for a really good friend of mine’ because again, for me that would be over thinking and putting something in the way.

The act of compiling the pieces I suppose must be a fun process in the sense that you’re seeing what matches each one? Because it is true there is very much a narrative running throughout and as a listener you feel they all belong together.

MB: It is quite fun because I think in the way the work has been done and it’s a different process. I think I was concerned because they are all very slow; they all have a kind of rhythm but the pace is very slow so I thought how am I going to find a path through all of these because they’re quite similar? And then what I ended up doing was usually at the end of a piece you can sometimes lead on to the next note of the beginning of the next piece so the start note of piece 2 often is either the same or a step higher or a semitone higher or lower than the other, so it’s as if the end of one piece help lead onto the other or the start of the other can help pick up from where the previous piece has left off, so there seems to be a handing in the baton in a way from the end of one piece to the next. So that’s often my process, I often think well what’s happening at the end of the piece and how does that link up to the start of the next piece?  So it’s often not like this piece is light in character or that’s dark, sometimes it’s just to do with how the end leads on or suggests something. I get them in a rough order, I start looking at those sorts of details in a way to try and glue the tracks together. It’s tricky, I think it’s a very, very hard thing to do. With ‘Montauk Variations’ it was more varied, it got pieces that were quite abstract; inside the piano it’s really percussive and non-tonal and then it’s got pieces that are quite tonal and melodic next to other pieces that are very still and I think there’s like seventeen tracks on that one so that was a lot. This one has ten tracks so it’s a little bit easier but harder in the sense that they’re longer, then slower but it’s a fun challenge nonetheless.

With the moogmemory release and the way there’s no real added manipulation except for the Moog itself, it must have been quite an experience for you to come to that moment where you could actually do that?

MB: That was something that came about quite early. I have a couple of other synthesizers – I don’t have a mass collection by any means – and very early on I tried adding some stuff over the top of it and I didn’t do very much but the sound was different and the feel was different, so I added another layer of something else. And then the more I just sat with the memorymoog and thought well this is an instrument in its own right – a bit like the piano – I decided that I was going to play everything; that everything was going to be played at the keyboard as if I was at a piano. There are a couple of tracks on the record where I do some overdubs, there’s one where I layer up a few things but I try to keep the layering as close to the original pache if you like. So if there was a bassline that I wanted to enhance I would only use the sound that came from that original pache to do it so I wouldn’t try and go off and explore too much and get a whacky or heavy bass sound and so that’s the sound of this pache so can I enhance the bass with that same sound or add something subtle inside the sound?

I try and do that on ‘Horn and Vellum’ where it’s more obviously layered and composed in a sense and again that just came out of me messing around and thought I’m thinking quite big here so I just started fooling around with stuff. But generally everything is played in and I thought well I didn’t know of anyone who had just sat down with an old polyphonic synthesizer and just played it as an instrument rather than program it, it’s quite easy to program things using Midi and things like that and that’s something I’m not that good at or very familiar with so I thought well I’m a piano player really so I should just play this instrument and just play everything in and not to click, just let the instrument generate everything, let the instrument generate arpeggios and rhythms and go with that. It was like a surrender; surrendering to the instrument and surrendering to what it tells you, I think my cello does the same to me; I think because of the way I am and haven’t played it for very long, you’re faced with a situation where you’ve only got what you’ve got to work with so you have to try and be creative with those limitations. If anything I see myself trying to limit myself even more rather than trying to expand what I’m doing.

I think it’s all about finding the right chords or just one chord note and just being happy with that. There is a piece on the record called ‘Valentine’ and that was done on Valentine’s Day. I was doing some work for a friend of mine Dan Berridge who scored an amazing BBC program about Iceland and I was doing the cello parts for that and I was having a break and I started playing this note and I layered up some of these notes and I think the first version of that was just three chords played and that was it and it only lasted for about fifteen seconds [laughs]. And I kept looping it again and again and I thought well actually this works like this but it’s only one chord and I like the idea of being happy with only one chord – even only one note if that ever happens – I’d be very happy to find the right note, in the right way, once or twice.

I know you don’t over think things when it comes to making music but would you have ideas or plans for some future musical projects of yours, especially now when looking back on the string of releases you have under your belt?

MB: I might do something where I combine a bit more; maybe the synthesizers with the piano and a cello. It’s something brewing in my mind that I could combine all of these elements next. Maybe that’s the next thing; it’s not about one instrument or one instrument with a bit of something else, maybe it’s everything in that I have in the house and maybe that’s the next thing that I try and do but I’m not sure.

‘Isotach’ is out on Friday 18th August via The Leaf Label.

https://www.facebook.com/mortbutane/
https://www.facebook.com/theleaflabel/

Written by admin

August 17, 2017 at 12:06 pm