Posts Tagged ‘Minna Choi’
Interview with Christina Vantzou.
“ I think about images a lot while working on sound, but in a very simplified way at first. I collect images and slowly individual scenes starts to form in mind. The feeling or level of tension the images would hold against the music is what I think about, rather than narrative.”
Words: Mark & Craig Carry
October 2015 saw the Kansas-born and Brussels-based artist and composer Christina Vantzou release her third solo album – ‘N°3’ – via Chicago-based independent Kranky. Vantzou – whose formidable body of work also spans the mediums of both visual art and film-making – began her own music career as one half (alongside Adam Wiltzie) of the duo The Dead Texan as the hybrid role of keyboardist/animator/video artist. The pair released their debut self-titled album in 2004 (Vantzou’s distinctive artwork graces the sleeve) and still ranks as one of the finest records released on Kranky’s esteemed back catalogue.
In the decade since The Dead Texan, Vantzou has quietly amassed a formidable body of solo composition work comprising: ‘N°1’ (2011), ‘N°2’ (2014) and this year’s ‘N°3’. Tracing Vantzou’s journey across these albums is a fascinating one and the sheer scope and scale of its achievements ranks Vantzou – alongside the likes of Jóhannsson or Richter – as one of the finest contemporary composers making music in the modern classical realm today.
Much like Vantzou’s soul-stirring and visually-arresting films (the act of making films as accompaniments to each of her songs has become an increasingly important part of her work practice), a distinct sense of both space and time is always apparent. This stems through all stages of the music – from composing in her laptop/midi keyboard setup to the editing stage and making selections from this sprawling raw material; to the time-honored process of writing and developing notation and arrangements to the laborious pre-mixing and final mixing stages of the final album. When working over such necessarily long spells (‘N°2’ developed over a four-year period while ‘N°3’ stemmed from a two-year period), its fascinating to think of all the myriad decisions, impulses and choices that must – both consciously and unconsciously – feed into such an organic and fluid process. The traces of time can indeed be closely felt on the final recordings.
The spirit of collaboration is another vital factor in the art of Vantzou. Close collaborators over the years have included Adam Wiltzie (Stars Of The Lid, AWVFTS) and Minna Choi (of San Francisco’s Magik*Magik Orchestra). A keen development for ‘N°3’ is the contribution by John Also Bennett (who composes music as Seabat and plays synthesizers with Forma) on synthesizers across the album. How the synth lines merge and interact with the classical instruments and arrangements (‘N°3’ was recorded in Belgium with a 15-piece ensemble of strings, horns, woodwinds and micro-choir) is a pure joy to savor. Moments of both quiet beauty on one extreme to moments of dense and tightly layered passages co-exist. Much like the collaborative work (and indeed solo work) of Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld, there is always a certain sense of dichotomy at play: an interplay of both light and shadow; good and evil seem to permeate the recordings.
From the gradual rise and slow build of opener ‘Valley Drone’ (the addition of a soft drumbeat is reminiscent of Grouper’s ‘Made Of Metal’) the listener is slowly and irrevocably entangled into the heart of Vantzou’s glorious maze. World of both synthetic and analogue sounds merge to hypnotic and mesmerizing effect. An homage to the pioneering American composer Laurie Spiegel (‘The Expanding Universe’ marked an influence on Vantzou for both its author’s conceptual approach as well as the music’s own resonance) is beautifully made in the form of the album’s second track (it’s tempting to make parallels to Vantzou’s own background as a Maths teacher and how it influences her own approach to music-making). Interestingly, the series of tracks entitled ‘Pillars’ point to this direction (the compositions adhere to a solid mathematical scheme) and comprise more drone-orientated and ambient, texture-heavy passages. These ‘Pillars’ act as beautiful counterpoint to the more symphonic parts to ‘N°3’ (‘CV’, ‘Entanglements’), while elsewhere Kranky labelmate Loscil (Canada’s Scott Morgan) collaborates on the delightful ‘Stereoscope’. Reminiscent of the recordings of The Dead Texan, an increasing use of vocal samples marks another glorious shift in direction on ‘N°3’, moments of pure epiphany (recalling the likes of Julianna Barwick’s ‘The Magic Place’ or Eno’s ‘Music For Airports’) are arrived upon on the likes of ‘Pillar 5’ and ‘Robert Earl’.
‘N°3’ confirms – not that confirmation was ever needed – Vantzou as one of the most consistently intriguing artists and highly imaginative minds making music today. While we quietly await ‘N°4’ we can rest assured knowing that we already have enough in Vantzou’s treasured music presently to last a lifetime.
‘N°3’ is available now on Kranky.
Interview with Christina Vantzou.
Congratulations on the truly stunning new record, Christina. If ‘Nº1’ and ‘Nº2’ felt like sister records, it feels that ‘Nº3’ marks a significant advancement in this compelling series of ambient infused drone creations. In terms of scope, ambition, the prominence of synthesizers, and overall the intensity and sense of oblivion that ‘Nº3’ takes you on, this record is formidable in every sense. Please take me back to the two-year process of making the album and recount your memories of assembling the layers; composing; arranging and the overall experimentation process? I am sure having two solo records under your belt, your mindset or approach to ‘Nº3’ also changed?
Christina Vantzou: I initially composed ‘Nº3’ in my apartment in Brussels on a laptop, midi keyboard and headphones. This is my preferred composing set up. I like everything to be portable so I can move easily from room to room.
I was listening to a lot of early synthesized film score music and female composers while working on ‘Nº3’. I got to see Eliane Radigue perform in Brussels, I was exposed to the music of Eduard Artemyev, and I listened to current film scores like Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ‘Prisoners’ soundtrack and Mica Levi’s score for ‘Under the Skin’. Early 2014 I went on a trip to London and visited the Natural History museum. There was incredible music pumping through the gem room, which I made a crappy recording of on my phone. I found a YouTube video of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra performing video game music. All of this was inspiration for ‘Nº3’…
From the beginning I knew I wanted to work with an orchestra, and if not an orchestra a sizable ensemble performing together. For ‘Nº3’ I worked in collaboration with The Chamber Players and their director/conductor David Anne. We’re all based in Belgium so the material could be discussed, planned and arranged in person. David Anne clued me in early on that recording with an orchestra would require a structure. I’d never thought about a global structure before when writing music and I never compose to a click track. Based on the material I gave him, he suggested that I think of the structure as an intro followed by “landscapes” alternating with “pillars” and an epilogue at the end. The image of landscapes and pillars worked for me so for the first time I worked with a structure in mind.
Focusing on the synthesizer instrument, please talk me through the various synthesizer instruments utilized on these recording sessions? This must have been quite a liberating and fun part of the creation of ‘Nº3’ in the sense that the strings would have been recorded to tape at this point in the process? In what way(s) did you approach the process of melding these two worlds: the synths and strings? It’s a real testament to the sonic journey of ‘Nº3’ of how these elements are so beautifully not only captured but so effortlessly fused together. For example, ‘Entanglements’ epitomises this, where the brooding strings are masterfully coalesced with some luminous synths. It’s just a joy to behold for the listener.
CV: Around the time ‘Nº2’ came out I heard the album ‘Scattered Disc’ from Seabat and became an instant fan. John Also Bennett, one half of Seabat, did the synth work on ‘Nº3’. We worked together over about a week using synths from John’s collection; A Roland Juno 6, a Yamaha DX7, CS20 and several Eurorack modules. I had MIDI files for each of the parts recorded by the orchestra so we fed a lot of this MIDI information through the synths, which basically means the synths could play back any part from the ‘Nº3’ score. John also played parts freely, like the descending melody on Laurie Spiegel. He recorded everything on the fly in one take for the most part. We recorded tons and tons of material. ‘Nº3’ became a very big project in terms of recordings at that point so it took several months to mix it all.
‘Entanglement’ was a one take/5 minute recording of the entire orchestra responding to a graphic score. The score lays out simple parameters: the bassier instruments drone in A and the instruments of the higher registers can enter when they want with notes in the key of E, D and sometimes C. Synths were recorded in response to the same score and the whole thing was mixed together. I got to perform this one in Belgium at an outdoor concert in August with synths and orchestra and it turned out pretty great. It’s different every time.
Please discuss (and explain for me) the structured tracks that comprise ‘Nº3’ and this specialized technique you have dubbed as “pillars”. Furthermore, can you perhaps shine some light on the relationship (or direct correlation) you feel exists between musical structure and mathematics?
CV: Musical scores are essentially all math; they rely on a counting system and regularity of counts. It’s a way to structure time and coordinate a group of people playing together. It’s very practical for ensembles which is why it’s the basis of classical music. But listening to music that’s 100% on a fixed tempo, particularly classical music, dulls my brain a bit.
Because I teach math part-time it would make sense that I would get into the math part of musical notation, but it’s not the case. Working without any click track, there’s been a dilemma on each record over whether to re-shape the pieces into a mapped tempo or not, for the purposes of recording. On ‘Nº3’ we decided to do a bit of both. The ambient pieces have no time structure whatsoever and the more melodic pieces were scored out traditionally — these are the pillars.
The score for ‘pillar 3’ was slowed down 4 times for the recording of ‘Robert Earl’. ‘Pillar 3’ and ‘Robert Earl’ are essentially the same score with entirely different arrangements; ‘pillar 3’ is all synths and ‘Robert Earl’ is all orchestra. Because of the slowing down business, I named the track ‘Robert Earl’ after DJ Screw.
My current favourite is ‘CV’, a gorgeous ambient gem of soaring strings, voices and harmonies. Worlds of Reich, Part, Loscil & Jóhannsson seem to seep wonderfully into the mix. Can you recount your memories of writing, composing and recording this particular track, Christina?
CV: ‘CV’ is very much a collaboration between myself, Minna Choi, The Chamber Players, and John Also Bennett. Minna did the arrangements on ‘CV’, (she did all the arrangements on ‘Nº1’ and ‘Nº2’) and I meddled heavily with these arrangements after recording. It was completely deconstructed and reconstructed. Parts that were assigned to winds and voices became synth parts and effects were piled onto to the voice of Els Wollaert; one of three vocalists on ‘Nº3’. I also time stretched some parts. I was thinking a lot about Talk Talk while working on this track.
The second track is named after Laurie Spiegel. Her cosmic spirit seems to be floating in the ether amidst the beautiful sound waves of ‘Nº3’. Can you discuss the importance of Spiegel’s work and the impact her musical philosophy and recorded work has had on your own music?
CV: In the early stages of composing ‘Nº2’, I listened to Laurie Spiegel’s ‘The Expanding Universe’ for the first time while reading her interview / liner notes printed on the back of the original 1980 vinyl. I related to her use of time, which sort of feels like structure without structure, because of some time-varying going on, and also the minimalistic qualities of her movements. She said in that interview: “I suppose the rates of change within and between my pieces are about halfway between the atonalists and the minimalists. I’ve tried to find a balance between predetermination and spontaneity, and to compose simple materials into complex relationships.”
On ‘Nº3’ I wanted to try a spontaneous recording with the orchestra without scores and make a nod to Laurie. So I had the orchestra listen to a 5-minute modulated sample of Laurie Spiegel’s ‘The Expanding Universe’ through headphones and asked them to play what they were hearing. Each section of the orchestra did a take, synths were overdubbed on top, and these became the raw materials for that track. It was an experiment and ‘The Expanding Universe’ sample is the artifact, in honor of Laurie.
‘Stereoscope’ sees you collaborate with label-mate Scott Morgan (aka Loscil). I would love for you to talk me through the contribution Scott made to this track and indeed if this was a track where both artists worked on creating together, from beginning to end or was it more a case of gradually sculpting something together by exchanging tracks & different ideas, back & forth?
CV: I asked Scott early on if he could send me some “sub bass-y pulse-y” sounds to compose on top of. He asked what key and what BPM. I said F, and BPM was up to him. So he sent me the pulse that you hear in ‘Stereoscope’. It was great to compose from, I made a bunch of sketches with it but I often listened to his file on its own and thought it might not need much on top after all. So I abandoned all the sketches and left it alone for a while. At some point in the latter stages of the mixing I came across something I’d made, a collage of different samples, possibly when working on ‘Nº1’, and layered it on top of Scott’s pulses. And at the bottom of the mix I added ambient engine noise from Star Trek with lots of reverb added in. There’s a 24-hour video clip of that sound on YouTube. People like to relax to it.
In terms of themes, primary concerns and the sonic world you envisioned for the new record, do you feel what you strived towards from the outset had changed in any way during the course of the two-year period? I feel you must have had a very clear focus on delving much deeper into the incorporation of synths and having a dichotomy of worlds inherent in the record, between modern-classical and ambient/electronic worlds.
CV: I intentionally wanted to explore sub bass and deep bass territory. It made sense to spend time on the synths to reach those lower frequencies. Bass was also given special attention while working with Francesco Donadello at Voxton studios on the final mixes in Berlin. In general, my ears tend to prefer when classical strings are doubled with synth sounds. Raw, unmixed orchestra can be very harsh on the ears. Drown it all in reverb I say.
Talk me through the slow motion videos that accompanies the new music, a trait which has gladly continued from the first two records. One of the great hallmarks of your music is the hugely immersive nature of your music. In terms of the films you make (which in turn, embodies the music & vice versa), are these perhaps the scenes and visions you internalize when it comes to composing the music?
CV: I think about images a lot while working on sound, but in a very simplified way at first. I collect images and slowly individual scenes starts to form in mind. The feeling or level of tension the images would hold against the music is what I think about, rather than narrative. So I end up filming several things, that are seemingly quite disconnected, and I’m not really sure what will come of these scenes while I’m working away, filming and recording. It’s a nerve-racking way to work because often times I feel like there’s a good chance it will end up all wrong, with me drowning in a huge pile of shit and not knowing what to do with it all. But it turns out a lot of artists amass a great deal of material and are heavy editors. I’m one of those people.
What music, art, film, books, travel, and overall sources of inspiration do you feel filtered into the creation of ‘Nº3’, Christina? It must feel very magical to witness the music translated to the live context when touring ‘Nº3’? What other plans and projects do you feel lies on the horizon?
CV: I was in Greece twice during the process of making ‘Nº3’ and also Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. Being on an island and taking long walks really clears the head. On Tenerife I listened to rough mixes on day-long walks and made a lot of decisions about the final mixes. I call it walk-editing. I was also inspired by a book that a good friend lent me in the summer of 2014, an intense occult read: ‘Liber Null and Psychonaut’. It made me think a lot about the act of making things and brain function.
‘N°3’ is available now on Kranky.
2014 marked the hugely anticipated release of Kansas-born composer Christina Vantzou’s breathtaking second album ‘N°2’, featuring, once again, Minna Choi of the San Francisco-based Magik*Magik Orchestra and Adam Wiltzie (Stars Of The Lid, A Winged Victory For The Sullen). Since its February 2014 album release on the Chicago-based Kranky label, Vantzou has also filmed and directed a film for each of the eleven pieces from ‘N°2’, as well as inviting a host of artists to remix and re-interpret the material from ‘N°2’.
Fractured Air 31: Australian Double-Triple (A Mixtape by Christina Vantzou)
“I made sure to keep some room for experimentation and failure. Leaving room for failure was very important to the overall process of ‘N°2’.”
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Grouper ‘Made of Metal’ (excerpt) [Kranky]
02. The Dead Texan ‘The Adversary of Evil Budd’ [N°1 DVD & Remixes / Self-Released]
03. Popul Vuh ‘Aguirre I, from ‘Aguirre, the Wrath of God’ (excerpts) [PDU]
04. Daniel Lanois ‘Oaxaca’ [Anti-]
05. Animal Collective (feat. Vashti Bunyan) ‘It’s You’ [FatCat]
06. Grouper ‘6’ [Kranky]
07. This Mortal Coil ‘The Lacemaker’ (excerpt) [4AD]
08. C. Young ‘Shereen’ [Jj funhouse]
09. Earl Sweatshirt (feat. RZA) ‘Molasses’ [Columbia]
10. Grimes ‘Dream Fortress’ [Lo Recordings]
11. The Caretaker ‘False Memory Syndrome’ [History Always Favours The Winners]
12. Arvo Pärt ‘Antifone al Magnificat – 07 – O Immanuel’
13. Eleni Karaindrou ‘Voices’ [ECM]
14. This Mortal Coil ‘Song to the Siren’ [4AD]
15. Eleni Karaindrou ‘The Weeping Meadow I’ [ECM]
16. Jacaszek ‘What Wind – Walks Up Above!’ [Ghostly International]
17. This Mortal Coil ‘Fond Affections’ [4AD]
18. Giacinto Scelsi ‘Anahit’ (excerpt) [CP² Recordings]
19. Moebius ‘Ay Juz Doh No’ [Joseph C Montanaro]
20. C. Young ‘Big Choice’ [Jj funhouse]
21. Animal Collective (feat. Vashti Bunyan) ‘Prospect Hummer’ [FatCat]
The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
“N°2” is available now on Kranky.
Interview with Christina Vantzou.
“Performing and listening to a gradual musical process resembles: pulling back a swing, releasing it, and observing it gradually come to rest; turning over an hour glass and watching the sand slowly run through the bottom; placing your feet in the sand by the ocean’s edge and watching, feeling, and listening to the waves gradually bury them.”
—Steve Reich, “Music as a Gradual Process” (excerpt)
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
‘N° 1’ is one of those special records that holds a resonance and (quiet) power over you – the listener – long after the swirling ambient flourishes fade into the the star-lit sky overhead. The creator of this spellbinding music is Kansas-born artist, musician and composer, Christina Vantzou. Although released back in 2011, the record continues to reveal new hidden depths and meaning, such is ‘N° 1’s infinite beauty and remarkable artistic achievement. Much like the music of Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Arvo Pärt, Vantzou’s music becomes more than mere musical notes, but rather, a symphony of cascading emotion – raw, delicate and powerful – that indeed resembles the slowly sifting sand of an hour glass or the ocean waves’ slow-dance at your feet. The ebb and flow of Vantzou’s divine ambient soundscapes conjures up the spectrum of human emotion that enriches all of life’s surroundings. Very soon, before the year draws to a close, the follow-up – naturally titled, ‘N° 2’ – will see the light of day.
The debut album from Christina Vantzou was released on the Chicago-based independent label, Kranky. A common theme in the discovery of music – new or old – are the paths or desire lines you happily find that introduces you to a new artist. The source to my discovery of Vantzou’s music is indeed a figure integral to both Kranky’s roster of awe inspiring talent and Vantzou’s own musical compositions, namely Adam Wiltzie. The pioneer of ambient and drone music, has been involved in a wide of array of vital musical projects over the years. As one half of drone/ambient specialists, Stars Of The Lid – alongside compatriot Brian McBride – several life-affirming records such as ‘Avec Laudenum’ and the most recent LP, ‘And their Refinement Of The Decline’ were released on the Kranky label. Outside of Stars Of The Lid, more recently Wiltzie has been creating Neoclassical infused ambient soundscapes, under the guise of A Winged Victory For The Sullen (a collaboration with pianist/composer Dutin O’ Halloran, home to the Erased Tapes label). It is yet another project of Wiltzie’s that formed my connection to Vantzou, namely The Dead Texan, which is the collaboration of Adam Wiltzie and Christina Vantzou. The common thread here is the peerless independent label, Kranky, who released these ambient masterpieces into the world.
The Dead Texan’s self-titled record from 2004 is a wonderful document of a special collaboration between like-minded artists, that continued to filter into Vantzou’s solo music. ‘N° 1’ is produced and mixed by Wiltzie, as is the soon-to-be-released sophomore full-length, ‘N° 2’. Vantzou’s main role in The Dead Texan was making videos to accompany the drone-based musical compositions of Wiltzie. Having studied visual art and receiving a bachelor’s degree from the Maryland College of Art, Vantzou’s music can be seen as a natural extension from the medium of visual art. Similar to Stars Of The Lid, the music itself is rooted in minimalism, where melodic patterns – using only a few notes – are intricately layered, forming a rich musical tapestry of divine shades and textures. A parallel can also be drawn to Vancouver’s Loscil or Brooklyn-based duo Mountains, who effortlessly blend drone and ambient spheres of sound, forming a beguiling landscape of treasured sounds.
‘N° 1’ started in 2007. In the words of Vantzou: “I just kind of sunk into the composing.” Much like the frame by frame animations Vantzou worked on for years, ‘N° 1”s sublime sonic tapestry reveals a slow methodical process that lies at the heart of the music’s inception. ‘N° 1’ was made in tiny fragments, where each meticulous detail reveals a snapshot in time, like cherished memories from a distant past. Over the course of three years, the artist assembled together the tracks that would soon become the foundation of ‘N° 1”s final entity. During this time, Vantzou worked in isolation, using synthesizers, samples and her voice, before a long-distance collaboration ensued that would evolve the music into new realms of possibility. Minna Choi, director of Magik*Magik Orchestra, transformed the sprawling 45-minute single track into a score for a seven-piece orchestra. This culminated in a two day recording session with Magik*Magik at Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco. The album of full symphonic movements was finally mixed in Brussels (where Vantzou resides) with production assistance from Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie.
The ten symphonic movements that comprise ‘N° 1’ showcases Vantzou as a powerful voice in contemporary Neoclassical composition. I feel the stunning music belongs to several genres, from drone-based embellishes of sound, where a single tone (of a violin, cello, french horn or clarinet) has a long, slow duration, to ambient flourishes that sees Vantzou tapping into a hidden, sacred dimension. The album ‘N° 1’ is a testament to the seamless array of gorgeous fragments that coalesce together, forming an achingly beautiful and cohesive whole. The instrumentation of strings (violin, cello, viola) and woodwind (flute, clarinet, oboe) performed by the Magik*Magik Orchestra creates an organic and enriching sound that fills the void and awakens your senses.
Much like the music of Brian Eno and Harold Budd, what becomes important is the space around the music. It is through this space that an envelope of sound ascends upon the listener’s headspace, and soaring emotion is filtered through. This sense of oblivion is wonderfully present on ‘N° 1’ from the opening notes of ‘Homemade Mountains’ to the ambient ebb and flow of the closing ‘Joggers’. ‘Super Interlude pt 2’ is my personal highlight that evokes a vivid sense of nostalgia and melancholia. The crescendo of strings that arrives a short time later, is one of the many stunning moments dotted across ‘N° 1’. Gavin Bryar’s symphonic movement ‘The Sinking Of The Titanic’ could be a reference point here. Towards the close, some field recordings depicting audible voices conjures up the sound of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s timeless works ‘Fordlândia’ and ‘IBM A User’s Manual’. ‘N° 1’ belongs immaculately at the interface of contemporary classical and ambient music.
This year marks the legendary Chicago-based Kranky label’s twentieth anniversary, amongst its awe-inspiring roster of talent there have been innumerable classic albums that have showcased the label – and therefore independent music’s – best-loved and most revered records. And amidst the infinite sonic treasures that the label has been responsible for over the past couple of decades lies the spectacular achievement of Christina Vantzou’s ‘N° 1’, an album, while surpassing all boundaries, reveals the full possibilities inherent in the art of music-making at its most beautiful.
“While performing and listening to gradual musical processes one can participate in a particular liberating and impersonal kind of ritual. Focusing in on the musical process makes possible that shift of attention away from he and she and you and me outwards towards it.”
—”Music as a Gradual Process” by Steve Reich (excerpt)
‘N° 1’ is out now on Kranky. The follow-up, ‘N° 2’ is a forthcoming release on the Kranky label.
Interview with Christina Vantzou.
Congratulations on the truly stunning album ‘N° 1’. It is such a transcendental ambient journey that forever evolves upon each revisit. Please discuss for me the three year period where you worked in isolation using synthesizers, samples and voice? I would love to gain an insight into the creative process involved during this time?
I started composing N°1 in 2007. I was a closet composer. I didn’t have proper monitors so I worked using headphones. I listened to sample libraries, researched orchestral midi possibilities, and made new samples when I couldn’t find the sounds that matched the ones in my head. I was pretty nerdy about it. I was going through some emotional turmoil and isolation was kind of a byproduct of a decaying relationship. That and also living in Brussels…I just kind of sunk into the composing. I had been doing frame by frame animations for years so a slow methodical process was comfortable to me. Someone had given me a CD of synth-y meditation music from the 70’s that I got obsessed with. I was also listening to a lot of film scores. I worked without a click track, and wrote everything using a midi keyboard. I could only muster playing small bits at a time. I made N°1 in tiny fragments.
Discuss for me please the samples you collected? What found sounds are on ‘N° 1’? I love how the samples seep into the music so effortlessly, and blends gorgeously with synthesizer and voice.
I sampled some Talk Talk (harmonium), I sampled of lot of film soundtracks, nature documentary soundtracks…I sampled synth tutorial videos on youtube and some real synths plus I sampled my own voice.
I remember when I was younger, going to a lot of shows where 2 guitars seemed to produce a 3rd voice. That 3rd voice always sounded like a distant female voice to me. That’s the kind of voice layer I was interested in creating on N°1. I recorded my voice and on top of most of the tracks.
I would love for you to discuss the long distance collaboration that ensued with Minna Choi, director of Magik*Magik Orchestra that transformed your 45-minute sonic journey into a score for a seven-piece orchestra? Did you envision this collaboration – and ultimate transformation – to happen during the time you were alone recording your music?
I had worked on the album for about three years around the time I contacted Minna. I had stitched all the Reason files, mini orchestral parts, and samples together into one long 45 minute track. I had no idea how to notate the music I had created, and I’d never worked with classical musicians before. I was also broke. Somehow I convinced myself to search for an ensemble to collaborate with. Meanwhile, I wrote a grant to see if I could get some financial assistance. I was looking for someone who would get into the feel of the music for the notation part of the job and to finalize arrangements. I also needed an ensemble to record with, and a recording space. I asked Dustin O’Halloran for advice and he recommended Minna Choi and Magik*Magik. I contacted Minna, sent her the 45 minute track, she was into it, and the collaboration began there. Minna worked by ear. I passed along details notes and an instrument list. There were click issues all over the place so she created a moving click with her voice.
As a composer of these gorgeous pieces of music, you must have been enlightened when you heard the full symphonic movements that were finally formed. Please recount for me your memories of first hearing the finished pieces with orchestra, and your thoughts, looking back now on how your music underwent this beautifully organic metamorphosis?
The week of the Tiny telephone sessions Minna sent me the first midi versions of the final arrangements. I was in Kansas City at the time. I hadn’t met Minna in person yet, we had only skyped a few times. I listened to every track, and I can’t really explain how I felt. I was really moved, it felt like a breakthrough.
Describe Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco and what makes this setting such a good recording place? It is amazing to think the recording session for ‘N° 1’ only took a mere two days. How was that possible?
Originally, the session was planned for 1 day but Minna strongly recommended a second day. Sometimes broke-ness brings on miracles. Even two days was a super economical, condensed approach but we got it done.
I was really impressed with Minna in the studio. She’s great at what she does. Jay Pellicci engineered the album and everyone worked tirelessly and gracefully.
It must be special to be composing music today, during a time when so much utterly captivating music is being made. You are a powerful voice in contemporary Neoclassical music. What albums for you have inspired you the most?
I listen to a lot of hip hop. I’m a foot soldier in neoclassical music. I admire Jóhann Jóhannsson. His records and live performances have been a big inspiration. I got to see him perform The Miners’ Hymns in Belgium last week.
Please tell me about your wonderful collaborative work with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie of Stars of the Lid? I adore the music of The Dead Texan in which you both work together. Discuss the creative process between the pair of you and how you tap into this remarkable ambient music, when your two minds combine?
The Dead Texan was a special time. Adam and I work very well together. My main role in The Dead Texan was making videos. Adam wrote and recorded the music. He recorded my voice for When I see Scissors I can’t help but think of you and Glen’s goo. While he was working on the tracks I created the animations and videos. After the album was released he taught me the basics of how to use Reason and I played keyboards on tour. When I got the hang of how midi worked I started fumbling around on my own. We still collaborate. Adam mixed N°1 and he’s currently mixing N°2. I made a few tour videos and the cover artwork for A Winged Victory for the Sullen.
Looking back, when and where did your fascination with sound begin? What were the defining moments for you when you realized the pathway of creating art was the path for you to walk on?
My early childhood record collection consisted of The Muppets’ Greatest Hits, Tina Turner’s Greatest Hits, Talking Heads, Eurythmics, and the Annie Soundtrack. My dad snuck me into a 21+ Tina Tuner concert when I was really little. It blew my mind.
My mom is an artist and I grew up in an artist community in Kansas City. Drawing was the only thing thing I’d done all my life that I’d never got tired of so that’s why I applied to art school.
You currently reside in Brussels. It’s a city I’ve been to once and fell in love with the place. It’s clear that the arts and culture is in full bloom in this beautiful city. Please tell me about your love for this city and how the city helps you create art?
Brussels is very laid back. It’s inexpensive to live here, and there’s a lot of support and funding for the arts. I fell in love with Brussels when I first moved here. It’s a bit of a lawless place and there’s a laziness here that’s inviting. It can be slightly annoying sometimes too. There’s a fine line between laid back and lethargy. The city moves in slow motion compared to Berlin or Paris or London or New York.
Can you shed some light on your follow-up to ‘N° 1’? It will be another life-affirming record, for sure.
Mixing’s nearly finished. Mixing this record has been an unusually long, slow process. I spent 3 months premixing. Adam Wiltzie is now doing the final mixes and it’s a mammoth effort. He’s peeling back layers and adding a few special touches. There are so many layers. I’m not exaggerating, it’s a bit of a monster. Sound-wise there are a few new elements—the ensemble on N°2 is a 12-piece—I added oboe and bassoon which add a particular color. The best creative collaborations in my life have come from a generous place. Both Minna and Adam bring this generosity to the record. The overall sound has matured and I’ve been a bit more daring compositionally this time. I’ll spend the summer making videos and it all will be unleashed by the end of the year.
‘N° 1’ is out now on Kranky. The follow-up, ‘N° 2’ is a forthcoming release on the Kranky label.