FRACTURED AIR

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Posts Tagged ‘múm

Chosen One: Örvar Smárason

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A lot of it depends on letting myself get into the situation where I can let things happen on their own, if that makes any sense.”

Örvar Smárason

Words: Mark Carry

4.by Birgisdóttir Ingibjörg

Light Is Liquid’ is the gorgeous debut solo album from one of the key musical figures in Iceland’s music community over the past two decades (with his bands múm, FM Belfast among others).

The lead single ‘Photoelectric’ begins with irresistible electronic pop hooks before guest vocalist Sillus further heightens the transcendental pop dimension. “Tell me a story” are the first words uttered; Örvar Smárason’s debut solo album feels like eight scintillating folk pop songs for the modern world. The myriad of warm textures and luminous beats evokes a dichotomy of worlds wherein radiant light and shimmering darkness become effortlessly fused across the record’s sublime sonic tapestry. Later, hypnotic vocoder processing ascends onto the infectious chorus (with the gorgeous refrain of “I’m not in love”) that conjures up the timeless ambient pop creations of French duo Air in all its glory.

Tiny Moon’ serves part A’s defining moments with elements of Italo, 80’s synth pop and minimal wave to masterful effect. The luminous ballad – and duet with JFDR – seeps into your veins and very being. The meditative chorus refrain of “light is liquid/ when you are young” serves the record’s fitting prologue, in many ways,as the listener is transported to astral planes of new horizons.

The duo of ‘The Duality Paradox’ and ‘Flesh & Dreams’ offers ‘Light Is Liquid’s pulsing heart. A hypnotic vocoder line flows throughout the electronic pop flow of enchanting soundscapes; belonging to some otherworldly, mysterious android music. ‘Flesh & Dreams’ (featuring Sillus) is an utterly bewitching, precious pop gem, reminiscent of Smárason’s FM Belfast project and the leading lights of the Icelandic community as a whole. An achingly beautiful soulful dimension lies in the foundations of the synth pop lattice. Joyously uplifting.

The epic closer ‘Cthulhu Regio’ chronicles the exploration through the depths of darkness to find the eternal light of hope. The deeply affecting chorus refrain of “There will be light in the end” – which drifts majestically amidst the shimmering darkness of synthesizer oscillations and computerized vocals – enables oneself to find your way once more in this world.

‘Light Is Liquid’ is out on 18th May 2018 via Morr Music ( available to pre-order HERE).

https://www.facebook.com/OrvarSmarason/

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by Birgisdóttir Ingibjörg

Interview with Örvar Smárason.

 

If ever a title reflects the music captured on it, it is this one; this collection of beautiful electronic pop songs feel like shimmering rays of light: an array of particles that navigate the human heart and mind. Can you please take me back to the album’s inception and indeed the writing process of these songs? I wonder did you approach this record in a new light in the sense that it was to be your debut solo record?

Örvar Smárason: The title actually came before the album, I had been walking around with it for a while. I was originally going to use it for something else, but when I started gathering my ideas for this album I instantly felt that it fitted perfectly. I wrote and produced the album in a few intense bursts I guess, but I honestly can’t even remember anymore. I was working on a  lot of different projects at the same time, so I kind of had to keep this one on the sidelines for a bit.

In terms of the album production, these eight sonic creations float magnificently into your consciousness. The songs are at once timeless and almost belong to some future world, not quite yet arrived upon. I’d love to gain an insight into your processes and methodologies as a producer (and creating these contemporary pop spheres must almost be second nature to you at this point)?

OS: Like with the múm tracks, the process here isn’t very controlled or pre-planned. A lot of it depends on letting myself get into the situation where I can let things happen on their own, if that makes any sense. And after that it’s just about putting the work in.

Can you talk me through your studio set-up and the recording sessions themselves for ‘Light Is Liquid’? You have a stellar cast of close musical collaborators from the Iceland music community. Did you envision all these musical guests and voices would make such a vital part to these sound worlds? 

OS: I was actually in the middle of changing studios while I was making this record, but that’s actually fine with me because I think I work better when my set-up isn’t too rigid or nailed down. I use a a lot of smaller electronic instruments, samplers and synths on this record, so a lot of it was made by just playing around with them. And while making the record I didn’t really think about which singers I was going to collaborate with or if I was even going to have vocals on the album at all. And outside of the vocals and drums on one of the tracks, there aren’t really any collaborations on the album. It’s pretty much only electronic stuff I programmed myself. In fact, I think I have never worked on an album with so little collaboration with other musicians.

The magical centerpiece of the record I feel arrives with the formidable duo of ‘The Duality Paradox’ and ‘Flesh & Dreams’. The warped voice captured on ‘The Duality Paradox’ emits such a soulful, heartfelt and cathartic release; almost belonging to some Utopian world. Can you recount your memories of writing this and indeed how you must see a song such as this gradually form – with each carefully sculpted layer – before your eyes?

OS: The computerized vocals on these two tracks (as well as on ‘Photoelectric’), the ones that sound like a vocoder…. weren’t really planned. To begin with I was just trying to devise a way to write vocal melodies and lyrics in my songs without having to sing them in myself. I have a very difficult relationship with my voice and I have a difficulty listening to it too much, so I was just trying to find a way so I wouldn’t have to. But when I started hearing these songs again and again with these haunting computer vocals, I knew I couldn’t ever have these songs come out without them.

The dreamy female vocals of the irresistible pop gem ‘Flesh & Dreams’ is another defining moment. For the guest vocalists, how much of the songs were known to you prior to their arrival on the album? For instance, did you find that the guests brought their own ideas and helped shape the songs or did you have a certain vision for what you wanted to create?

OS: Sillus and JFDR kind of ended up on the album by chance, which is amazing. I had already pretty much finished all the tracks before we added any vocals on them, but they just added a whole new dimension to them. And then Sóley did some of the backing vocals and it’s amazing to have someone you can trust so well for something as delicate as singing. I’m not sure I would have trusted my own voice there without her backing vocals.

Sin Fang mixed the album. Can you describe in what way did the album change as a result of this mixing stage? Also, in terms of the various takes of songs (and studio sessions in general), do you find yourself continually revisiting songs where you end up with large library of tracks and moments to choose from, so to speak? 

OS: Me and Sindri have been friends and worked together for a long time, so it makes things very effortless and easy. And he really helped me through the difficult phases like the vocals. We were working on out Team Dreams project with Sóley at pretty much the same time so there was definitely a feeling of the projects spilling a bit into each other. But in the end there is not that much similar between the two albums. And mixing the album with him was great. Sindri is very methodical and focused on details in his work and hears stuff my mind doesn’t compute. So Light is Liquid would probably just be a bag of unfinished chaos if it wasn’t for him.

The album closer is another very powerful moment of ‘Light Is Liquid’, illustrating the more ambient and textured dimensions. I’d love for you to recount your memories of writing and composing ‘Cthulhu Regio’? Please shed some light on the song-title and lyrical content of the song. As a listener, it feels that hope and survival have been arrived upon at the end of this musical journey. How do you see the album’s gripping journey resolve itself?

OS: Cthulhu Regio is a dark area on the planet Pluto in a shape that looks something like a whale. It was first identified just a few years ago and having been very much into HP Lovecraft and his mythos as a teenager, the name really spoke to me. But since then they have actually changed the name to Cthulhu Macula. The song in itself is about working your way through some dark areas, but in a detached agnostic kind of a way. If that makes any sense.  It was an accumulation of a few different things I was going through.

As a writer and poet (alongside your musical creations), is there a particular technique to your writing that you feel is almost constant (or relatively similar) across your different bodies of written work? 

OS: Maybe. I think a lot of creative ideas come when I think I am completely switched off, either when I’m out running, cooking food or half-asleep. But actually sculpting something out of these ideas requires very conscious work. That might not be a technique, but it’s a way of living.

Lastly, looking back over the cherished discography of Múm, can you share with me some of your most cherished moments or memories that you feel very strongly?

OS: A few days ago I was thinking about the very first trip we went abroad playing as múm in ’97 or ´98 and we were playing in Cambridge of all places. There were only the two of us in the band back then and we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing. And neither did the promoters of the show, because when we came to the venue we saw they had written „drum & bass” under múm on all the flyers for the concert. We spent the next half hour crossing out all the d’s and b’s and thinking we were pretty funny.

‘Light Is Liquid’ is out on 18th May 2018 via Morr Music (available to pre-order HERE).

https://www.facebook.com/OrvarSmarason/

https://www.facebook.com/morrmusicberlin/

Written by admin

May 15, 2018 at 7:01 pm

Chosen One: Hauschka

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Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).

“…you have to reset your mind at some point to create something different.”

—Volker Bertelmann

Words: Mark and Craig Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

hauschka_abandonedcity

A wealth of magic emanates from the scintillating piano works of Germany’s Volker Bertelmann. Under the guise of Hauschka, the gifted composer has carved out a string of phenomenal neo-classical masterpieces from spontaneous improvisations (‘The Prepared Piano’); ‘Ferendorf’’s ode to his childhood home in Germany (which features intricate arrangements of strings and brass); the ‘acoustic techno’ of ‘Salon des Amateurs’ featuring drummers Samuli Kosminen (Múm) and Calexico’s John Convertino and Joey Burns; and ‘Silfra’’s gorgeous collaborative effort with violinist Hilary Hahn. This year marked the highly anticipated maser-work of ‘Abandoned City’; a captivating record of illuminating soundscapes that marks Hauschka’s crowning jewel and most staggering work to date.

Witnessing Hauschka’s Volker Bertelmann — whether in live setting during his renowned concert performances or in recorded contexts — a certain sense of magic fills the air. Sylvain Chomet’s 2010 animated marvel ‘The Illusionist’ comes to mind, as we are left in wonderment to observe the artist’s vast collection of skills and unlimited wells of talent. Known worldwide as one of the most recognizable 21st Century proponents of what is known as Prepared Piano, Bertelmann has amassed a considerable body of work over the last decade, ceaselessly weaving his own singular path — and on his own terms — to wondrous effect (much like fellow modern composers and restless souls Nils Frahm and Max Richter or such Twentieth Century masters as Eric Satie, John Cage and Steve Reich). Importantly, the album itself draws from research Bertelmann made (after the discovery of a series of photographic prints depicting the subject of abandoned cities) on the number of actual vacated cities in existence (each track title references a particular city). As Bertelmann has said: “I was interested in finding a metaphor for the inner tension I feel when I’m composing music, a state of mind where I’m lonely and happy at the same time.”

‘Abandoned City’ proves a certain milestone in Hauschka’s recorded output to date. An intriguing sense of both adventure and discovery seeps through every pore of the album’s ten compositions. Like all of Hauschka’s art, nothing is as it first seems. As we delve further into this abandoned city Hauschka has built for us we begin to lose all sense of what we initially thought was important in the process. We lose all traces of ourselves for that beautiful instant we are under Bertelmann’s sacred spell and that is what Hauschka’s divine art forever manages to do.

‘Abandoned City’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Temporary Residence Ltd (USA).

http://hauschka-net.de/

http://cityslang.com/
http://temporaryresidence.com/

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Interview with Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka).

From your live shows, it’s really inspiring – to not only witness your music live but – to see the process. As a listener, you normally don’t get to obviously physically see how it happens so it’s amazing to catch a glimpse of that when you see your live show.

Volker Bertelmann: It’s something in a way that I was not intentionally in the beginning when I was working on prepared piano but in general the prepared piano is something that is mostly happening on the spot, you know. I mean it’s stuff that where you definitely have to create things while you are at the venue because the instrument is a lot of times different and the sound is different and the room – some pianos sound completely weird and others sound really beautiful – so there’s always a big difference between every evening.

I wonder too, Volker, with the new album ‘Abandoned City’– which I must say is my favourite of all the Hauschka albums – was it a case of using new approaches again on the new album? There is definitely a wonderful dub and electronic feel to the songs as well.

VB: Yes, it’s actually because in a way I was hoping to get back to a little bit to the roots without using any other instruments because I was doing a lot of electronic music beforehand and I was always interested in dance music and music as well like Aphex Twin or stuff like that and that was always music for me that I really love. And in a way when you go to the piano; suddenly it can happen that you miss everything like that because you suddenly have a different approach and the piano sounds so beautiful and clean, in a way. So for me, it was a really important to frame an angle that actually allows me to do as well like quite more experimental stuff and more dance stuff: the whole palette of sounds possible. On this record, all the sounds that are on there; there are no processed sounds by synthesizers and stuff like that; it’s all acoustic sounds used with delay and reverb.

That’s amazing in itself to think that it’s just acoustic sounds. On one level it’s not surprising because it does have that organic and very human feel. In one way, the music is quite sad but after many revisits, I must say I find it very uplifting where the pieces of music are filled with hope.

VB: Yeah, I mean to be quite honest that is something that I am very interested in, not that I am doing this intentionally. I mean maybe I am a person of hope and at the same time, I’m sad and I know that things at some point will be finished and life is just limited in a way and if you work on something all the time, you are always aware of the limitation of your life. And I think that creates a kind of interesting feeling in sadness and hope and you enjoy every day and stuff like that, and I had the impression ‘Abandoned City’ has a similar feel to it.

In a way there was something happening there: life was happening there; then all the life disappeared and then maybe new people are coming in or new animals are going into the village. So in a way, there is always this circle that represents hope – some new creation and at the same time it disappears at some point and there is death and from that something new is rising. So in a way I was hoping to find a circle like that and it’s not finished because I’m still interested in this theme. I mean ‘Abandoned City’ was much more superficial in the way that I just picked out the cities and now I’m working on a cycle of three pieces that are dealing with this circle of loss and death, and the new perspectives in a way.

Oh wow. So in a way, this could be the starting point of a series nearly?

VB: Yeah, and maybe it’s something because of my age. I mean I was always aware of it, even as a kid; you know I was aware that I have to find a way of enjoying every day so you never know when the circle is over [laughs]. I thought it would be a nice theme in the music and in a way it appeared at that time I was writing ‘Abandoned City’ my little son was born; Lucas and at that point I had the impression that I was very touched by that on one side. And on the other side I felt like I’ve experienced so much already myself and there was a lot of tension in myself and it felt like it was a nice expression of that.

When you did your research on each of the abandoned cities for each piece of music; this must have been a lovely process too, in a sense that you had the music but you wanted to put a certain city to a particular piece.

VB: Yes, I mean the music was already written so you know, for some people it may be strange that I have not visited some of those cities. For me it was like, first of all writing the music and then other times, I am trying to find an angle and what I feel when I’m writing the particular music. So I found a picture of an abandoned garage like a parking garage, in Las Vegas in a friend’s house, and I was telling them, “Man, I think this picture is exactly the stuff that fits totally to my music; can I use it as a cover?”. He replied “Yes it’s my picture, I actually took it when I was in Las Vegas” and so that’s actually the cover of the record.

I am very curious about the state of mind when you are performing music on one side but also when you are composing in particular?

VB: Composing is something you know, in a way you have to clear your mind constantly to start from scratch and create something new. This makes it sometimes very difficult because of course you know what you have done before and so you have to reset your mind at some point to create something different. I think this is also a life-circle which is a mental circle and particularly with this record, I was much freer in terms of form and I think I was much closer to the way I performed live than the albums before. On the previous albums, a lot of times it was conceptual albums in terms of I was using albums to create dance music or in a way, I always had songs in mind which I didn’t have with this album. This album was more like an endless stream of music.

That’s very interesting because the album does feel more like a performance in the way that you can imagine you are playing the piano in your living room when listening to it.

VB: Yes, I mean that is how I was working on it. I was creating music while I was in my studio I just pressed record and then I recorded it. I go into my living room and just start performing; that’s what I mostly do, I press record and what’s coming out of my hands will be recorded and I make the decision whether I like it or not.

And this is the Bechstein, the grand upright piano?

VB: Yes, it’s a grand upright. I mean for the last four records I recorded with this. Actually it’s my first piano that is like a real concert piano and the older records I recorded with quite old pianos that I was given by people as a gift because I had no money for affording the piano. The next step might be that I’m looking for a grand piano; you know in a way there is always developments [laughs].

It’s really interesting too, you know with yourself and other pianists/composers like Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick and so on, it’s amazing how each of you; you all have your own sound but there is also this thing that you are searching for new ways of generating new sounds.

VB: In a way I have the impression that each of those guys you mention are experimenting their way very much; they are not interested in borders even though I would say there’s always a difference in terms of the accessibility. For example, I think Nils’ music is quite accessible for a lot of people while Peter and I, we might be much more at the edge sometimes which I think in a way for me it’s very interesting because you can stay at the edge you can always create stuff that is at the edge for your whole life.

But if you start getting into accessible mode, it’s very hard to get back. I had this experience when I was younger; I was in this hip-hop band and I realized that once you are forced on making hits it makes you very vulnerable in terms of the next step you have to do. So, I’m very glad I’m not forced to make the next record a big-selling album because the places I play are so huge they have to fill them. There’s also some tension in there, of course you are always aiming for making a career but at the same time you can be a kind of bargain, you know. I’m very glad where I am right now because everything is big enough where I can travel all the time and on the other side, I don’t have to go into stadiums [laughs].

You must also be influenced by John Cage and all his theories and the whole prepared piano process?

VB: To be quite honest, I mean in some interviews I mentioned him already. But in the beginning when you are connected with hip-hop or pop music you never come across people like that you know, so I was completely disconnected from that guy. By working with prepared piano sounds, I was getting much closer to John Cage and I love actually the humour and the way he thinks about sound in general. It’s so liberating and he was doing that already like twenty, thirty years ago and so I’m such a big fan of his theory as well of his music. It’s for me a very uplifting artist.

I wonder for you growing up and stuff, what was the first kind of music you got into? Were you in bands first before you ended up on your piano path?

VB: Well the first thing is that I learned classical piano as a kid from nine years old. Then I was in my first band at the age of twelve where we played Rolling Stones covers and a lot of rock music. It was at the beginning of the eighties because I was born in ’66 so in 1978 I was twelve and so maybe it was the end of the Beatles era and I was totally influenced by this kind of music at the time and still think that the music and songs created at the time is incredible. So in a way I was trying to write songs at that time with my band.

From there, I went into all sorts of rock bands like keyboards and synthesizers and I wrote music for singer-songwriters and all sorts of stuff. Then suddenly after the hip-hop group and the whole hits discussion – it was a major record label – I had the feeling that I had to change something because it was not really me. You know, I’m not a really big fan of the show to be quite honest. If I want to perform, I want to perform aesthetically nice and I want to do every now and then something with video or more like an installation where people watch but in general I’m not interested in having a big live show with me being the focus of the set of the show; like I’m coming with smoke out of ground of the stage, you know that’s not my thing. But if you go into a poppy area, you have to do that because the stage size is so huge and you have to get more and more into light and big laser shows and you have to be the focus and all the fans are cheering even before you get onstage without playing a bloody note.

So I’m interested in creating music where it’s more about an experience with both of us like when the audience gives you something and I give the audience something. So we are both in a room and we share. That’s what my feeling is and then I made the decision at some point that maybe the only way to do it is by playing the instrument that I can really play good and that I have to find a way of experiencing me as a solo performer without any nets under me by performing improvisation. I think that’s the best decision that I have made for myself and I am very thankful that people give me the feedback that I should continue. Sometimes you can imagine that you are doing this and people are saying ‘Please, don’t come back’ [laughs] but they don’t and they’re really forcing me to do my next thing and I’m very happy about that.

Even looking ahead, Volker do you have other projects in mind?

VB: Right now, I have a one year residency with MDR Symphonic Orchestra in Leipzig which is the hometown of Bach and I’m working there with the symphonic orchestra now for a year and a conductor called Kristjan Järvi who is a very well-known classical conductor but also having a great experimental ensemble called the Absolute Ensemble so he is a guy with a real connection with more modern music and classical music. He invited me and asked me if I would be interested in writing music for the symphonic orchestra. I wrote my first two pieces in September and recorded them already. And the next three pieces – which is the cycle of three pieces I told you about – this will be a composition for orchestra without me, there’s no prepared piano by me in there, just the orchestra. I want to figure out now what does the orchestra sound like without me and then I can incorporate myself at some point and I can perform both; I’m expanding.

And do you hear the pieces performed by the orchestra along the way?

VB: They perform the pieces onwards and the pieces are also notated now and they are offered to all sorts of orchestras in the world. I don’t know if they want to play it; that’s one thing. And another thing I am working on new solo piano pieces because in a way when I was in Japan two weeks ago, I felt that my style of performing and incorporating electronics has changed. I think it was getting different so I had the impression that I have to record something and there’s also still an open record for that I want to record with my friend Samuli Kosminen, the drummer from the band Múm. The two of us, we have performed so many times that we really would love to work together. All these plans are in the air.

The other thing I want to continue with Hilary Hahn, the violinist, we have plans because we really love working together and we perform live every year maybe three or four times which is awesome that we still work together but I’m not in a rush. There’s so much stuff happening that I’m glad I can stretch this into the next couple of years.

One last thing Volker, I wonder are there certain albums or records you’ve been listening to lately?

VB: To be quite honest for me at the moment it is quite difficult to listen to music. The only thing I am listening to a lot of music on classical radio which is called WDR 3 because at the moment I am extremely interested in all variations of classical music that is written just to get an idea you know, what is the spectrum I have to work with when I’m working with the symphonic orchestra and that is for me at the moment very interesting.

If I could point out one composer that I really adore, it is Schoenberg, I am a big fan of his music. Whenever I have the time I try to listen to music of his.

And do you have a particular favourite?

VB: I mean there is one piece called ‘Verklate Nacht’ which means ‘clearing night’ in a way and it sounds a little serial and I think sometimes the music is for a string sextet. It’s an awesome piece, like really dark but at the same time very romantic. Schoenberg was also a twelve-tone composer where he started at some point to experiment with music by not using melodies and tonal music and I think this is at the edge where he was thinking ‘I have to change because I have done everything that I can do’ which is also an interesting development in everyone’s life, you know, in my opinion I have done everything I can do and now I have to change the city or change the style or change my living, you know all these things.

As you say, it’s that whole thing about circles and how everything comes back and forth really.

VB: Yes, yes absolutely and Schoenberg’s music at that time really encourages.

 


 

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‘Abandoned City’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Temporary Residence Ltd (USA).

http://hauschka-net.de/

http://cityslang.com/
http://temporaryresidence.com/

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Written by markcarry

January 6, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Chosen One: Julianna Barwick

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Interview with Julianna Barwick.

“I remember being like, a really tiny kid, sitting by the window and singing, and making up stuff, and making myself feel all emotional, you know. It’s just like, it’s always been that way. We always had a piano at home and then I was in choirs at school my whole life, basically. I just love music, I love making music.”

—Julianna Barwick

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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The unique and formidable artist, Julianna Barwick, is one of those special souls capable of conjuring up vast oceans of emotion through the art of music, by her distinct blend of life-affirming choral-based symphonies. The American artist – born in Louisianna, and raised in Missouri – has been responsible for some of the most captivating and illuminating music to have graced the earth’s stratosphere. Released in 2011, ‘The Magic Place’ has become one of my most cherished records, where an infinite array of hope and solace ascends into the slipstream of your mind. The eagerly awaited follow-up, ‘Nepenthe’ has been released into the world, merely a few days ago, and already, the album’s vital importance and momentous beauty is markedly apparent, like that of a cloudless sky or a crystal lake. As with all great art, the work bears the artist’s name, and Barwick’s latest opus, ‘Nepenthe’ represents yet another stirring voyage where both space and time stand still.

‘Nepenthe’ was recorded in Reykjavík, Iceland during the cold, dark days of February. In huge contrast to Barwick’s usual recording patterns – looping her voice and instruments alone in her Brooklyn bedroom apartment – the American artist was joined by producer Alex Somers (musician/producer of Sigur Rós, Jónsi, Jónsi & Alex), and some highly gifted local Icelandic musicians (string ensemble Amiina, guitarist Róbert Sturla Reynisson from múm, and a choir of teenage girls), brought in by Somers. A dream collaboration was born, where Barwick would compose and perform her transcendent music there on the spot – spontaneous and direct from the heart – and similarly, the cast of musicians would make their own interpretations of Barwick’s shape-shifting creations. In the words of Barwick: “I had never had anyone play on any record before, so this was a 180 turn.” The inspiration of Iceland – a place long adored by Barwick having been obsessed with Icelandic music for over two decades (the majority of her lifetime), from being blown away by Sigur Rós at a show in 2002 and much earlier, the first time listening to Björk’s debut album, having made the giant discovery in an Oklahoma mall. “I also was inspired just by being there, and the gorgeousness of that place. Your eyes can’t believe what they’re seeing. I walked home one night and got totally lost in Reykjavík. I ended up walking alongside the ocean – and it was glowing blue. It looked like it had a lamp underneath it. This is a completely different experience than recording myself in my Brooklyn bedroom.” Just like the artist’s reaction of disbelief to the gorgeous landscape that surrounded her, I’m utterly dumbfounded by the divine tapestries of windswept beauty that are distilled on ‘Nepenthe’, where the power and glory of music flows seamlessly into your heart and mind.

The album-title ‘Nepenthe’ is derived from Greek literature, which was a magic drug of forgetfulness used to wipe out grief and sorrow. The title had particular resonance for Barwick, who experienced a death in her own family in the middle of making the record. Furthermore, I feel the title serves the perfect embodiment of Julianna Barwick’s music, whose songs possess the ability to move you in such a deep and profound way. The healing power inherent in ‘Nepenthe’ – and indeed her previous albums – makes ‘Nepenthe’ an enriching experience. The work of art is both distinctive and immersive, where each sonic creation expresses deep emotion, that forms a curve of the horizon. Every aspect of Barwick’s music is heightened on ‘Nepenthe’, as the illuminating voice and heavenly instrumentation of piano, guitar, and strings are utilized on a grander scale. The result is nothing short of immaculate. The following quote from Claude Debussy resonates powerfully for Barwick’s music, and best describes her stunning artistic achievement, on this, her latest masterpiece:

“To music only is it given to capture all the poetry of night & day & of the earth & of the heavens, to reconstruct the atmosphere, then record the rhythm of the heartbeats.”

—Claude Debussy

Lead single ‘One Half’ is the exception, in that it is the only song on the new record that wasn’t created in Iceland. The song was in the composer’s head for many years, having been in the periphery, not quite yet in existence. The final entity blossomed into an enthralling modern-classical lament built around a repeating lyrical phrase that Barwick would keep with her: “I guess I was/asleep at night/I was waiting for”. The piece builds and builds, as Barwick’s mesmerizing vocals enters a gorgeous sense of oblivion. The delicate strings and notes of piano provides the ideal backdrop for Barwick’s soothing soprano. Album opener ‘Offing’ has the radiant dappling of a choral refrain, looped over a pristine cinematic landscape. The opening notes of Barwick’s voice takes me immediately back to the predecessor, ‘The Magic Place’, as the celestial harmonies bring forth a meditative mood, like watching a slow sun rise and catching the first glimpses of sunlight.

‘The Harbinger’ is the album’s centerpiece that erupts into a momentous climax. The song shares the glacial sonic terrain of Sigur Rós, and particularly the band’s untitled () album from 2002. Across almost six minutes, the piece captures mood perfectly, as pain and despair is dispelled into the soundscapes, yet the instrumentation of looped voice and piano provides the counterpoint of hope and survival. The wide dynamic range evokes such emotive feeling – whereby a cathartic process is ventured down – creating a world of force and beauty. The soaring emotion towards the song’s close is taken to new summits, where the music’s force moves like tectonic plates clashing against one another, deep beneath the ground. ‘Look Into Your Own Mind’ is an ambient gem filled with fragile strings and infinitely beautiful interwoven layers of Barwick’s joyous choral harmonies. The notes swell like the sound of the sea, as a stunning ebb and flow of looped vocals arrive on the shore.

‘Pyrrhic’ distills the Icelandic landscape into one glorious, sweeping movement. The sense of wonderment is etched across the composition’s sonic canvas. Brooding strings breathe powerfully beneath the ocean-floor of Barwick’s majestic harmonies. The large, expansive sound is clearly evident, as the sprawling arrangements – bearing the hallmarks of all great Icelandic music – diffuses into a realm of heavenly creation. ‘Forever’ is another milestone in ‘Nepenthe’. A teenage girl choir joins Barwick here, resulting in a crescendo of towering emotion. The piece begins with ambient flourishes of piano, recalling the likes of Virgina Astley. ‘Forever’ feels a like a dream upon waking. The clouds of sound cast shimmering light onto the land and sea below. Music as cathartic as this, undeniably has the power to heal, and to ultimately wipe out life’s grief and sorrow.

The central and awe-inspiring creative process of Barwick’s looped vocal harmonies lies at the heart of her artistic works. Nepenthe is no exception, despite the addition of the likes of Alex Somers, múm’s Róbert Sturla Reynisson and Amiina, who effortlessly complement new rays of light to Barwick’s array of light-dappled choral patterns. This beautifully natural, and spontaneous collaboration is a joy to witness as the sonic creations of ‘Nepenthe’ unfold before your very ears. As with all of Barwick’s works, a sheer joy of making music radiates from the enthralling soundscapes. Having been in church choirs her whole life, the vital importance of music, and devotion to her art, is the foundation of any work that bears the name of Julianna Barwick. As the voice is looped through delay-effect pedals – recorded in the heart of the moment – a wholly life-affirming sound is conjured up that forms ripples in the sea. This has been the case ever since hearing the opening notes of ‘Envelop’ from ‘The Magic Place’, a sense of enlightenment and enrapture is never far away.

‘Adventures Of The Family’ contains the prominent presence of piano and harmony, that coalesce together forming one organic whole. Barwick’s own mother – who would sing to her from a very young age – guests on ‘Nepenthe’. A beautiful and fitting testament to the special journey that this latest chapter of Barwick sends you on. The choral bliss of ‘Crystal Lake’ and ‘Waving To You’ are the final two songs on ‘Nepenthe’. The gradual ebb and flow of ‘Waving To You’ feels just that, a gentle and meaningful embrace of a close friend. ‘Nepenthe’, a voyage born from grievance and despair, is the life-affirming journey to the center of the heart.

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“Nepenthe” is out now on Dead Oceans.

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Interview with Julianna Barwick.

Congratulations on the new album. It’s really amazing.

Thank you so much. It was fun to make.

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I was a huge fan of your last album, ‘The Magic Place’ and on this album, all the songs are in full-bloom, where everything is on a grander scale and every aspect is heightened. I’d love for you Julianna, to talk about ‘Nepenthe’?

Well, I’ve been talking to Alex Somers, who produced it, for like a year. I went over to Iceland two different times in 2012. We didn’t come prepared with any music and made the music all there in the moment. It was my first time working with someone on one of my own records. The other records were made all by myself.
It was the first time having someone watching and listening and suggesting things and all of that, and I wasn’t exactly sure how that was going to feel. But it worked perfectly with Alex. We just had a great time. Most of the time, we were recording in his own home studio, but we did to get to spend a couple of days in Sunway studio which is like a dream studio. It was glorious and it was my first time in Iceland too. Of course I have been always intrigued by Icelandic music, like everyone else is. It was amazing and it was just a great experience.

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It’s amazing that the songs were born when you were out there in Iceland. I suppose it was a nice change for you to go from your bedroom environment, where you make your music normally, to a bigger setting with Alex Somers, someone you must have been a big fan of anyway, with Sigur Rós and all that?

Yeah, me and Alex and all of that stuff. I mean every association with this project was also very exciting. I was obsessed with Björk for many years, and then I was obsessed with Sigur Rós, so I’ve been really interested and excited in all things Icelandic music for twenty-something years now [laughs]. I remember buying – I never heard of Björk and I was in Oklahoma and just went to the mall and saw her album debut – this cd in a music store. I was like I have no idea what this is but this cover is crazy, the one where she has her eyes in front of her face, and I was like: “what is this?” I was thirteen years old. I took it home and I was like, “this is amazing!” I mean it’s a million different things. I already had a soft spot in my heart for Icelandic musicians for a long time. It’s all a dream come true, who wouldn’t want to do that?

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Even as well Julianna, it’s lovely to see the different musicians who are featured on the album. On paper it’s amazing in itself. Listening to the album, it works so well, it all blends in so beautifully – like the strings from amiina – you hear all the different elements and it’s just a wonderful sound.

I think it worked perfectly because I mean they’re obviously super-pro, amiina and Robbie from múm who plays guitar on the record. They can obviously play on anyone’s record no matter how that person works. But the way I make music and the way they make music is really kind of spontaneous, you know and it works from the heart, at the risk of sounding totally cheesy. We didn’t have parts written for amiina, I mean the girls just came into the studio and they would sit up by the console and they would listen, and start jamming it all and we would record. It was, you know, their interpretation of everything as well, I wasn’t telling them what to do. So, I mean it was really more special. And then Alex was like, I have a friend named Robbie who we should have him come in to do some stuff on his guitar, and I was like, sure. I didn’t know what that meant, I was imagining like, guitar solos. But of course he came in and he had thousands of sounds that he had made himself, so there are all these sounds on the record that he made, same thing, but worked by making some stuff on the spot, that are like shimmery, sounds that are like human breathing and beats and stuff that you’d never know was a guitar. And that’s what he did, and he did it on the spot too. It was just like a really cool process. I feel like we all made it together, even more, because everyone played what they wanted to play.

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That sounds lovely. Like your previous albums, it really has such a special feeling to it. The first song I heard off the new album was the single, ‘One Half’ and that’s amazing. I love how your words are like a haiku, the way it repeats over and over. I’d love to hear if the words themselves were in your head, you know, before the music was made?

Well, that’s actually the one exception for all of I what I just said of everything being made in Iceland. That was like the one song I sort of had in my head for years and I used to perform it, but of course it sounded totally different. It’s a song that would always pop into my head and I was like, I want to make that something for real for real, after five years of it hanging around in the periphery. I’d always said the same words and you know, I don’t often do that. I guess this time when I was making that song, however long ago that was, these were the words that just kind of, popped into my head. The lyrics don’t take much precedent over the sound of the music, which is what occurs to me first. The lyrics aren’t my forte, I guess you could say.

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The song that is my favourite at the moment is ‘The Harbinger’.

That’s my favourite.

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It’s just amazing you know, the dynamic range, and how it builds and the emotion, it really soars. It’s really amazing listening to it.

Oh, thanks. I love that one. That one had some sort of magic of how it came together that I couldn’t even begin to try to explain, you know. It’s all the weird parts from different stuff. I love that one.

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I’d love to hear Julianna about your growing up with music? It’s just listening to your albums, I don’t know how on earth you make the music. It just sounds so other-worldly, you know, your harmonies, the vocals. Music must have been very important for you at a young age?

Absolutely. It always has been for my entire life, and it’s always been something that I love to do. Just absolute joy singing and making stuff up. I remember being like, a really tiny kid, sitting by the window and singing, and making up stuff, and making myself feel all emotional, you know. It’s just like, it’s always been that way. We always had a piano at home and then I was in choirs at school my whole life, basically. I just love music, I love making music. Yeah, I tinkered around with playing guitar with effects pedals and it had a little 4-track and I messed around with that stuff a lot. But it wasn’t until I started looping and layering my voice and making stuff up on the spot, that it just clicked. It was like, this is just so much fun, I love this. So, I love doing it and it’s never like tedious thing, more like a spontaneous, in the moment, really kind of fast thing that happens. That’s why I never did music composition you know, singing in college. I did photography in college. I just didn’t want any part of my love of music to be weighted down by it being a drag to have to compose something or whatever, do you know what I mean. So, yeah it’s wonderful and it’s my favourite thing.

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As you say Julianna, the moment it clicked, and the looping and things. I wonder were there artists when you started creating music in this kind of way that inspired you to make your own music?

Not really. When I started doing this stuff, I didn’t know any kind of music like the music I was making. I think back in 2005 when I started doing this, I was probably listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens and a lot of Joanna Newsom, just you know, stuff that doesn’t sound anything like mine. I can’t really explain it. My friend was like, “Hey Jules, check this out” and voiced myself a couple of times, you know being funny. “Can I borrow that?” I started messing around with it and made my first record, ‘Sanguine’. It just came out of me, naturally. Despite my upbringing and singing in classes and singing in Church and all of that, singing, singing all the time, and my love of sort of sweeping sounds, emotional vibes. I really don’t think there is like, I want to make music like that or where I got that, it just came out of nowhere.

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It’s very true, I mean obviously even just to describe your music, it’s not like there is any obvious reference points, really. It’s very much your own distinct sound, which is obviously a big compliment because listening to any of your songs just bears your name in a lovely way, like any other good artist.

Yeah that’s the main thing. I’m really happy to hear that’s true. I think that’s what I enjoy most about the artists that I love the most is that, you know they’re so unique and formidable, so that’s the music that I find myself drawn to, is the stuff that sounds good and new. The risk is not to sound like anything, the person is making this out of their own brain, obviously, and that’s what’s exciting to me.

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I love, Julianna, the title of the album. I wouldn’t have known, but I read that it was in Greek literature, ‘nepenthe’ was a magic drug to wipe out grief and sorrow. Even that in itself is a fitting title for your music because the songs themselves have that kind of, power to really do that. So, in a way, the title is a nice embodiment of the music, really.

Well, thank you. I feel like it’s the same for me to make it. I mean it’s definitely cathartic to make music, especially in the moment. So when you’re making up something on the spot, and you’re making it with your voice, there’s no way that you’re able, of how you’re feeling or your emotional state kind of, comes through. So it’s cathartic for me as well.

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Is Greek literature something you have an interest in?

Well, not at all, to be honest. I just found the word on a nerdy word blog, you know. It really looks cool too. The definition that it had on the blog was: “a potion used in ancient times to erase grief and sorrow” and I thought that was so cool. I love that and you know, there definitely were some moments in the making of the record, you know, just feelings. I was over there for a really long time. Outside of working with Alex, I felt lonely at times, you know it was dark and dreary on some days and had some different things personally going on, you know. Once I read that definition I just felt like it was a perfect fit. I just liked the idea of it, just drink up some liquid and your sadness goes away.

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It reminds me too of the film, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, you know that concept of erasing your memory.

Yeah, that’s one of my favourite movies. My top 3, one of my favourites. So maybe that’s one reason why it appealed to me. I love that movie, that movie is so great.

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One other thing Julianna, I’m just interested on your previous album, ‘The Magic Place’, it fascinates me how it’s a DIY/bedroom – this sound by yourself – I would love to gain an insight into this sort of world of yours where you’re making your music? It’s amazing how you do it, to loop all these different harmonies and loop it all together.

Well, yeah I don’t know. Like I said, it started really simply, like stuff on the first record was a bit popsical. So, I think I remember I had a mic and you know, a delay guitar pedal, into another pedal that had a loop feature and then record it into a 4-track cassette tape track machine. There were no computers involved at all. It was all like, machines and pedals and stuff. It was like a really personal thing that was really fun to do and that was all, and it never really changed.
Before the second ‘Florine’ EP thing I made, I got the RC-50 loop station where you can set a time and you can double-experiment and configure, and I started making it that way. Most of ‘Sanguine’ and ‘Florine’ and probably most of ‘The Magic Place’ was specifically a bedroom recording so it had its own pedals, and of course mostly everything was made up on the spot, and then pieced together later, and layers added later. So, it’s really fun to make it. It’s what I like to do.

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It’s obvious for me as a listener, you know, that it’s this joy of playing that really comes off the recordings and as you listen to the music, you really feel that – this love of music – that really shines off the album itself.

Well, thanks and it’s totally true. That kind of runs in my family, on my mom’s side. My mom was always singing too, when I was growing up. She has a beautiful voice and that’s why I had her sing on the record, and she’s on there.

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Oh, she’s on there, wow, that’s lovely.

Yeah, it’s pretty cool.

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You’re currently residing in Brooklyn. It must be a nice base for you to be making music?

Absolutely, there’s so much happening there, it’s motivating, definitely.

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Well, congratulations again Julianna on the new album. I can’t think of good enough words to describe how amazing it is.

Well, thank you. I really can’t wait to release it into the world.

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‘Nepenthe’ is out now on Dead Oceans.

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http://www.juliannabarwick.com
http://www.deadoceans.com

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Written by admin

August 20, 2013 at 10:04 am