FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Posts Tagged ‘Poppy Ackroyd

Mixtape: Fractured Air – March 2019

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This month’s mix features new music from the magnificent Berlin-based, Cork-raised producer ELLLL with the arrival of her essential “Febreeze” 12” last month, carving out multi-layered, seductive techno cuts. Irish songwriter Maria Somerville’s exceptional debut full length “All My People” we continue to fall for, with the record’s divine song cycles rooted in beautiful 50’s/60’s pop songs that are encapsulated in wondrous post punk/indie spheres of today. A wholly unique labyrinth of astral song cycles.

New music also from the imitable London-based, Australian songwriter and producer Carla dal Forno (and excitingly the first release for her newly established label, Kallista Records); Immix Ensemble’s Daniel Thorne’s magnificent debut solo album on Erased Tapes; Norwegian duo Deaf Center’s highly anticipated return on Sonic Pieces; Forma’s John Also Bennett’s wondrous solo LP (under the JAB psuedonym) on Shelter Press and two formidable new releases on the ever dependable North American label Constellation. Grouper’s sublime new project Nivhek (self-released), Italian composer Caterina Barbieri’s forthcoming Editions Mego-debut and Craig Leon’s forthcoming release on Brooklyn institution RVNG Intl are other highlights.


Fractured Air – March 2019

01. William Basinski – “On Time Out Of Time 1.1” (Temporary Residence)
02. Nivhek“Cloudmouth” (Self-released)
03. ELLLL“Sunrise edit” (First Second Label)
04. Patricia“No One Needs Nothing” (Opal Tapes)
05. JAB“Jacob’s House” (Shelter Press)
06. Maria Somerville“This Way” (Self-released)
07. Houston & Dorsey“Ebb Tide” (Numero Group)
08. The Cryin’ Shames“Please Stay” (Decca)
09. Rupie Edwards“Buckshot Dub” (Spectrum Music)
10. Vivien Goldman“Launderette” (Window)
11. Carla dal Forno“So Much Better” (Kallista Records)
12. Oqbqbo “All This Waiting” (Posh Isolation)
13. Antena“Camino Del Sol” (Les Disques Du Crepuscule / Numero Group)
14. Khotin“Water Soaked In Forever” (Ghostly)
15. Daniel Thorne“From the Other Side of the World” (Erased Tapes)
16. June11“White Bird” (Stroom)
17. Craig Leon“Standing Crosswise In The Square” (RVNG Intl)
18. Don Cherry“Utopia and Visions” (Caprice Records)
19. Talk Talk“New Grass” (Verve Records)
20. Deaf Center“Far Between” (Sonic Pieces)
21. Poppy Ackroyd“The Dream” (Penelope Trappes Remix) (One Little Indian)
22. Efrim Manuel Menuck & Kevin Doria“We Will” (Constellation)
23. Light Conductor“Chapel Of The Snows” (excerpt) (Constellation)
24. Carola Baer“Golden Boy” (Concentric Circles)
25. Aponogeton“Prologue” (Stroom)
26. Caterina Barbieri“Fantas” (excerpt) (Editions Mego)
27. Laraaji“I Can Only Bliss Out (F’Days)” (Numero Group)

Step Right Up: Poppy Ackroyd

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Interview with Poppy Ackroyd.

“The main crossover was thinking and listening to the sound I made on each instrument. Learning to take an interest in the composer and of course the music itself, thinking about the story and why the music was written, and then considering how best to express and perform it.”

—Poppy Ackroyd

Words: Mark Carry

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Poppy Ackroyd is a composer from London, currently based in Brighton. Classically trained on violin and piano, she makes music by manipulating and multi-tracking sounds from just these two instruments. Her debut ‘Escapement’ was released in December 2012 by Denovali Records and a DVD – ‘Escapement Visualised’ – featuring bespoke visuals by Lumen for each track on the album, was released in September 2014.

Feathers’, her second album, was released in November 2014, and builds on the concept behind her debut, with most of the sounds again coming from the violin and the piano, however this time the tracks also feature other keyboard and string instruments. On the sublime sophomore full-length, a larger sonic palette is utilized by the gifted composer; including an array of acoustic keyboard instruments such as harmonium, clavichord, harpsichord and spinet. Furthermore, the immaculately crafted string section is augmented by guest cellist Su-a-Lee.

Similar to the enchanting debut record ‘Escapement’, Poppy’s trusted Blüthner grand piano forms the backbone of the album. A myriad of field recordings (traffic noise on ‘Roads’ and chiming clock walls on ‘Timeless’) are dotted across the album’s sprawling sonic canvas that further heightens the magical sense of discovery rippling through the majestic waves of piano and violin melodies cast by Ackroyd. The infinite beauty distilled in ‘Feathers becomes a wonderful symbol of new beginnings as one catches a glimpse of a bird in full flight; majestically owning the vast blue skies ahead.

‘Feathers’ is out now on Denovali Records.

http://poppyackroyd.com/
http://denovali.com/

Interview with Poppy Ackroyd.

Congratulations on the stunningly beautiful and mesmerizing new record, ʻFeathersʼ; you must feel deeply proud of this divine work of art.  Firstly, can you please discuss the sonic palette at your disposal this time around? On ʻFeathersʼ, the sonic terrain is expanded to include various other acoustic keyboard instruments and guest-cellist Su-A-Lee. I would love to gain an insight into these new branches to your distinctive piano/violin-based compositions?

Poppy Ackroyd: Thank you! On ‘Feathers’ I decided to expand on the sound world of my debut album ‘Escapement’, and bring some other keyboard and string instruments into the mix. On the new album you can hear clavichord, harpsichord, spinet and harmonium, as well as old pianos – my favourite being a Broadwood piano with a wooden frame, from the late 18th century. These other instruments are all more delicate and intimate than the modern grand. They were designed for smaller spaces, and were instruments that people would have in their homes, they were not designed to project, so are all very quiet and this gives them a more intimate feel. I like that they all have different mechanisms for producing sound, so there are a variety of timbres – for example, the clavichord uses a tangent to hit the string, the harpsichord has feather quills (or other materials such as soft leathers) that pluck the string, and the piano uses felt hammers to strike the strings. In a similar way to how I treated both the violin and piano on ‘Escapement’, I also played with these other instruments, using their frames, pedals, sound boards, strings, tuning pins and mechanisms. Because of the low volumes they produce when played, I had to record very closely and this created a more intimate world – you can hear more of the imperfections…the creaks, clicks and there are also very slight irregularities in tuning. Su-a Lee performed cello on almost all of the tracks on the album, except ‘Taskin’ – which is all keyboard instruments and almost exclusively just made from recordings of the Taskin harpsichord in the museum. She makes such a gorgeous sound on the cello, it really transformed all the string sections on the album to have that extra depth from the bass notes.

Similar to the debut ʻEscapementʼ, your beloved Blüthner grand piano serves the vital pulse to the recordʼs sprawling canvas of sound. Similar to pianists such as Nils Frahm, Hauschka et al, I am always amazed by the new sounds and endless possibilities you generate from the instrument. Can you please describe this particular instrument and indeed the approaches and processes you have utilized on ʻFeathersʼ?

PA: It is a Blüthner boudoir grand, and it is my favourite possession. The day I decided to buy a grand piano it was put online for sale, and it was exactly what I was looking for. It was in a terrible state when I bought it though – most of the keys were stuck together, as the lead weights in them had expanded from being kept near a fire, and so it was kind of unplayable, apart from about two octaves near the top of the keyboard. I immediately fixed the problems with the action and keys, and since then have gradually been doing it up. It has Aliquot stringing which means that the upper register has sympathetic strings that resonate with the main strings when they are played, so the melodies really sing. It is beautiful… I use every part of the instrument when I am writing – the wooden frame, the cast iron frame, the strings, the pedals – and play with my hands, plectrums, ebows and various percussive beaters and instruments. I record and then edit, chop and piece the sounds together, to create different beats and textures. Often I use various effects to alter and manipulate the sounds. After starting with a melody or chord sequence, a lot of the composition is done after recording. I record, and then start to sculpt something. Once there is a loose structure, the melodies and harmonies start to change, and I then record again. The end result is often very different from where I started.

The use of field recordings adds a further dimension to the deeply personal and affecting musical compositions. I am curious whether some of these field recordings provided the starting point to compose a piece of music, Poppy? For example, ʻTimelessʼ begins with chiming wall clocks. In a way, these field recordings – the percussive effect of chiming clocks; traffic noise from a vibrant city on ʻRoadsʼ – become central characters to the albumʼs gripping narrative. Please discuss some of these field recordings and the sources of these found sounds, so to speak?

PA: I use field recordings when I feel they can add to the story of the track. The traffic on ‘Roads’ is recorded in the centre of Brighton, I like the way the sounds of the passing cars create a feeling of movement and journey. The sounds of the waves and the sea on ‘Birdwoman’ is also recorded in Brighton, walking along the beach and then right down to the shore. For ‘Timeless’, I was playing with the idea of time – the track is in 120bpm, the main beats falling 60 in a minute, therefore every second like a clock. The field recordings came later. I came across an old clock in my cousin’s shop – she sells vintage furniture and other things. The chimes and mechanism start quite freely but from quite early on each sound is positioned and chopped, gradually becoming a beat, that continues for the rest of the track.

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One of my current favourites is the gorgeous ʻTimelessʼ and the utterly captivating dialogue between violin and piano inherent in the piece. Can you talk me through the layering of this particular composition?

PA: This track started out as a solo violin piece and I wrote the initial ideas using just a violin and loop pedal. The pizzicato came first and then the main ‘Tick tock’ sound which is actually fingers on muted violin strings. Gradually the bowed strings come in and the track builds. The meandering piano line came later, in order to contrast with the rigidity of the violin pizzicato, and the beat. The reverse notes, (these are reversed plucked inside piano strings) are also there to pull the track away from its strict time keeping. When everything falls away in the middle, the slightly freer quality of the plucked inside piano notes, and the lyrical piano melody intend to create a feeling of space and free time. I think this is my favourite part of the album. The beats are made mostly of violin sounds and there are quite a few layers, and these are also combined with the beats made from the mechanism of the clock.

I was very interested to read how the album-title was inspired by the line “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson. For me, itʼs a wonderful symbol of new beginnings as one catches a glimpse of a bird in full-flight; majestically owning the vast blue skies ahead. Please discuss the albumʼs narrative for me, Poppy and what central themes you feel connect these eight sublime sonic creations?

PA: The line of the poem is actually only partly responsible for the album title. This quote was lying around in my flat when I was starting to write and it really resonated with me, and the title track ‘Feathers’ definitely owes its name to this line. Over the months I was writing, other factors started to come into play. A feeling of lightness and delicacy was present in all the tracks, my moving house and general travelling lifestyle created a theme of flight and migration. The fact that some of the instruments in the museum used quills from crow feathers in their mechanisms (like those pictured on the album cover) to pluck the string, made it seem like ‘Feathers’ was the obvious title.

Can you reminisce for me your earliest musical memories? You are classically trained on the violin and piano from a very young age; I would love to know what common ground you must have discovered as you developed on both instruments? It must be quite liberating to have this dichotomy of worlds, so to speak where both these worlds flow nicely into one another.

PA: I have so many early musical memories, it has always been a big part of my life. I think I owe a lot of my interest in music to my father, however it was my mother who pushed me to practice and made me work at it when I was little. My father is an artist and always listens to music while he works, I grew up with Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Chopin, Mozart and Schubert amongst others. By studying both these instruments from a young age, obviously one informed the other, but my experience due to my various teachers and the different environments in which I studied each one was quite different. The main crossover was thinking and listening to the sound I made on each instrument. Learning to take an interest in the composer and of course the music itself, thinking about the story and why the music was written, and then considering how best to express and perform it.

As ever, you are involved in various other projects, most notably the wonderful Hidden Orchestra, in addition to composing scores for dance, film, theatre and radio. I would love to gain an insight into the collaborative aspect of these ventures, particularly your involvement with Hidden Orchestra which has been (and continues to be) an awe-inspiring musical collective?

PA: My role in Hidden Orchestra is as a session musician. It is actually just Joe Acheson who composes all of the music, it is really his solo project. We record for him during the writing process, then after the album is finished we come together to tour the tracks live. There are four of us who have been there since the beginning, and often now we feature guests on trumpet, clarinet, cello, harp, visuals etc.

What records have you been listening to the most lately? I wonder do you have plans and works in the pipeline? 

PA: When I am writing I can get really involved in what I am doing and after 12 hours of making music I just want silence, or I listen to the radio or a podcast. However, in the morning I usually listen to something new while I wake up, and I try to listen to something different most days. I am currently working on some new material and also a few collaborations, including music for a short animation.

 


 

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‘Feathers’ is out now on Denovali Records.

http://poppyackroyd.com/
http://denovali.com/

 

Written by markcarry

June 16, 2015 at 11:33 am

Chosen One: Carlos Cipa

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Interview with Carlos Cipa.

“The examination of musical form, harmony or mostly rhythm is an ongoing stimulation for my thinking about writing music and expressing yourself through music.”

—Carlos Cipa

Words: Mark Carry

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Last November marked the highly anticipated sophomore full-length release from the gifted Munich-based composer and multi-instrumentalist, Carlos Cipa. ‘All Your Life You Walk’ is a collection of stunningly beautiful piano-based compositions; representing an artist at the height of his powers. The latest offering – and follow-up to Cipa’s mesmerising debut ‘The Monarch and the Viceroy’ (both albums released on the prestigious German-based Denovali imprint) – features an array of rare instruments, found sounds, atmospheric touches and gentle beats that evokes an utterly timeless and deeply affecting experience.

Over the last two years, the German composer amassed a treasure of musical instruments that were no longer in use: a very rare instrument built by Hohner in the 1960’s, primarily played by musicians like Warren Ellis, Leo Abraham and Mum; an old radio receiver that belonged to Cipa’s grandparents (serving the magical opening tones of ‘All Your Life You Walk’); an old Framus bass guitar from the 60’s among several others. Above all, the Cipa’s deft touch of hand and resolutely unique sounds generated from the piano instrument becomes the vital pulse to the record’s rich sonic tapestry. A series of fragments are wonderfully embedded in the album’s striking narrative that further adds to the ethereal dimension the music effortlessly taps into. The album was self-recorded, performed and produced by the German composer in his very own “Beatschappen Studio.”

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‘All Your Life You Walk’ is available now on Denovali.

http://www.carloscipa.com/
http://denovali.com/

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Interview with Carlos Cipa.

Congratulations Carlos on the incredible new album, ‘All Your Life You Walk’. It’s a real pleasure to talk to you again and discuss this very special record. Firstly, I love how the musical compositions are deeply embedded in this entirely other space and dimension. For example, the inclusion of several fragment pieces – dotted throughout the record – adds to this sense of journey and how ‘All Your Life You Walk’ is a captivating and cohesive whole. Please discuss the making of this new record, Carlos and please shed some light on the album-title and the ideas you wanted to explore on ‘All Your Life You Walk’?

Carlos Cipa: Thanks a lot for all your interest in my work and these kind words, it’s a pleasure to speak with you again and talk about my new album with you. I’ve been working on the compositions, musical ideas and the whole concept of “All Your Life You Walk” over the last two years but the main part of the work has been done in the summer from June to September (2014). First, I finished composing all the piano parts and piano solo songs and then recorded everything on piano only. After that I continued working on writing and recording the fragments and the different colours I wanted to add to the certain songs. Every sound and instrument is carefully chosen. It’s just the exact amount of instrumental facets I wanted to add to the songs.

The title is a reference to a favourite poem of mine by Kurt Tucholsky called “Augen in der Großstadt” (engl. “Eyes in the Big City”). One of the lines has been translated in English; also all the song titles are references to different things that inspire me, films, song lyrics, poems, etc.

My current favourite is the sublime ‘Hang On To Your Lights’, I particularly love the rhythmic and percussive elements to your piano playing. Are there certain techniques or processes you have expanded on this record? In terms of writing, I wonder is a piece like ‘Hang On To Your Lights’ quite a gradual unfolding before the music is given its wings, and in full-bloom, so to speak?

CC: That’s great, it might also be my favourite. For this piece I really took long time to develop the composition. I worked strictly with scores for the piano part, so everything was written down before recording. The pattern in the right hand is developing throughout the whole piece, but the bar is always changing so you never get a feeling of rest (the piece has nearly 80 bar changes and several different tempi). The rhythmic elements are sounds from the inside of the piano; I created the beat with felt beaters on the cast iron frame and then processed it a bit with the computer. The drone/ambient sounds are piano strings plucked, bowed, picked recorded and cut, processed and layered in the computer. For a piece of that length, that’s based on a little loop pattern, I believe it’s really important to be absolutely precise with every bar in the piece and to create a million little details so it never gets boring and you’re always able to explore something new in every second of the piece.

You collected a wide array of fabulous instruments that have found their way on ‘All Your Life You Walk’, further heightening the deeply personal sound of the creations. I would love for you to discuss these instruments and the beautiful stories that are behind each and every one of these special instruments. For example, are the first notes heard on the album the sound of the radio receiver belonging to your grandparents? Also, the very rare instrument built by Hohner in the 60’s must have been a miracle of a discovery for you?

CC: I’d love to talk you through them. Let’s start with the “Hohner Guitaret”; it’s been built in the 60’s only for a very short period of time. It was meant for use in a Jazz combo but never really found its place there. It’s a “kalimba-phone” instrument but with electroacoustic pick-ups, so it can be used similar to a guitar, but has a totally different, very unique sound. You can hear it on tracks 3, 4, 9 and 11. I processed it with a variety of effects.

Then there’s the “Marimba” (heard on songs 3, 4, 5, 9, 11), it belonged to a childhood friend, and he stopped playing at a certain age and the instrument was getting all dusty in their attic until I asked him if can use it for recording and now it has it’s own space in my studio. The same goes for the “Hackbrett” (heard at the beginning and throughout song 11) but this was actually the instrument of his brother, another childhood friend of mine.

The radio receiver is as you say the beginning and ending of the album. I’ve the great luck to live and work in the house my grandparents built by them in the 50s after the war and I wanted to make a connection to them and to the space. This radio receiver was in their possession for a very long time and even if it doesn’t sound “perfect”, I am very happy that it has found its way on the record. The E-bass (also on tracks 3,4,9 and 11) is a very rare jazz bass built by Framus in the 60s, I discovered in a vintage music store here in Munich. I just love the wooden sound and how it melts with the piano and all the other instruments.

Then there are a variety of percussion instruments I collected over the years, a glockenspiel, a sansula, an ocean harp and some African instruments. I also added a second piano sound to my music; it’s coming from an upright piano, played with the felt pedal. I bought this beautiful instrument from an old lady who stopped playing and I really love how the mellow sound melts with my grand piano. All other sounds are piano inside sounds, plucked strings, bowed strings, e-bowed strings, muted notes, harmonics, layered and processed in the computer.

I would love to gain an insight please onto the space of your very own “Beatschuppen Studio”? What is the set-up in the studio itself, Carlos?

CC: As said before, I am living and working in the house of my grandparents, it’s an old house from the 50s and I built my little studio in the basement over the last few years. I work in two rooms and my grand piano is upstairs in the living room, so most of the time recording means running up and down stairs… it keeps you fit, though. At the moment I am working with RME interfaces and pre-amps and mostly Neumann microphones, I prefer to keep it simple and this setup is working out just fine for the moment.

I can also shed some light on the name of the studio; one of the basement rooms was the child room of my mother when she was growing up in this house and she used to be a big fan of the Beatles (like me) and so she used to call her room like that (in English kind of like “beat music shed”). I thought it’s a funny name for a studio.

I love the cinematic feel that permeates the cathartic ‘Step Out From Time’. Can you talk me through this piece of music please?

CC: I think you get this feeling because this piece might be the one that has the least solo-piano feel to it. This might originate mostly in the instrumentation/production. I divided left and right hand into two different instruments (the right hand plays the melody on the clear and brilliant grand piano, the left hand plays accompanying figures on the mellow and soft felt muted upright). All the other sounds (bowed Hackbrett, Guitaret, bass guitar, marimba) are interwoven with both these piano elements to create a levitating atmosphere around it. The whole piece is based on the little fifth-based melody that spins around throughout the whole piece, until the piece finds rest in those choral-like upright chords in the end. In November, I rearranged the piece for a dance performance for a little ensemble, piano, flute, violin and cello and it worked out really great. I hope I can upload a proper recording in the near future.

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You are currently studying contemporary classical composition. I would love to know more about this area of study and indeed what contemporary classical compositions have served (and continue to serve) the biggest influence on you? You are involved in every aspect of the music-making process, from recording to producing; I wonder do you see these various stages as same thing?

CC: Even though I am studying classical composition at the moment, I think my work for the records is something totally different. To include the aspect of recording and producing (which means I indeed totally equate these two things with the process of composing, which opens yourself doors that otherwise would be shut), the aspect of sound in the compositions (and also even the aspect of writing music for an audience), means distancing yourself from existing methods in the contemporary classical scene. Also, of course, my musical language draws equally from popular music and classical music, which also separates me from that particular scene.

But despite that, I learned so much from contemporary music, not only from the usual suspects (like Reich or the minimalists) but also from a lot of other totally different composers. The examination of musical form, harmony or mostly rhythm is an ongoing stimulation for my thinking about writing music and expressing yourself through music. I included most of these recent influences in the mixtape I compiled for your site a while ago. Of course all those wonderful composers wrote a hell lot more amazing pieces that are equally worth checking out. Contemporary classical music is a very difficult field of music to get into, especially in Germany, but once you start discovering some of the rare diamonds, you are able to comb through the jungle of terrible stuff that seems to be everywhere you look.

You must be very excited to play shows across Europe this December. Forgive the generalization (in advance) but discuss the magical moments and emotions that you, as a composer must experience when performing these piano compositions live to an audience?

CC: The tour has been amazing. It’s always great to be on the road with my fellow label friend Poppy Ackroyd, but this tour was even more fun then before. I am very happy with my live set at the moment, playing the new pieces is really special and I got great responses from all the audiences about the concerts and the new album. I am also doing a little more improvisation than before, which makes it also more interesting and joy for me to play, because you never know what will happen and you get a chance to explore the different pianos and the different responses from audiences every night in a better way than if you’re just performing the songs. That’s something I really love about touring.

What records have you been enjoying the most these past few months, Carlos?

CC: The new Björk album. I can’t wait for the vinyl. This album is just so beautiful and amazing, I can’t stop listening and loving it. From the wonderful production to the amazing string arrangements, of course her always fascinating voice and the incredible beautiful and challenging songs/compositions. It’s just perfect.

Brian Reitzell’s score for TV series “Hannibal”, very recently released on vinyl. I adored the score in the series, but this collection for the records is even more rewarding!!

Alfred Schnittke – Concerto grosso No. I, a wonderful piece by one of the best composers of the 20th century. Even if it is a famous piece, it’s still totally underrated in contemporary classical music.

 


 

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‘All Your Life You Walk’ is available now on Denovali.

http://www.carloscipa.com/
http://denovali.com/

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Written by markcarry

March 3, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Chosen One: John Lemke

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Interview with John Lemke.

“I’m really excited by the tension between the acoustic and electronic, especially those places where the lines start to blur. Again, I think it’s where the idea of the acousmatic comes into play as well. Then it’s just about getting the balance right.”

—John Lemke

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Denovali Records is a Germany based independent music label founded in 2005. Recent releases include the mesmerizing jazz noir of ‘Quatorze Pieces De Menace’ by Dale Cooper Quartet (featuring guest vocalists Alicia Merz of Birds of Passage, Zalie Bellacicco, Ronan Mac Erlaine and Gaelle Kerrien); the latest electro-acoustic treasure by Argentina-born Sebastian Plano, entitled ‘Impetus’, and the melancholic bliss of the latest ‘Gone’ EP by Floex. Denovali has also been responsible for the incredible dub-infused electronic opus ‘Where We Were’ by British composer Greg Haines and the debut album by Glasgow-based composer John Lemke. The album is entitled ‘People Do’ and was released earlier this summer representing yet another milestone in the treasured Denovali artistic output.

‘People Do’ is one of those records that defies categorization as a seamless array of styles simmer beautifully throughout: modern-classical and ambient touchstones are immersed on a sprawling canvas of fluid dance beats. A gorgeous space is forever inherent across Lemke’s sonic creations that in turn conjures up a beguiling atmosphere and the hallmarks of a fulfilling journey. Originally from Berlin, the Glasgow-based composer and sound designer works across a wide variety of media (his extensive work as a documentary composer for the BBC and Channel 4) that effortlessly seeps into Lemke’s explorations with sound on the highly impressive debut, ‘People Do’.

The seeds of ‘People Do’ were sewn with Lemke’s desire to ultimately create an album that would exist entirely in its own sound world. The resulting works offers a deeply immersive and compelling voyage that encompasses a multitude of sweeping soundscapes (warm guitar textures, cinematic piano notes, looped field recordings) etched across a sprawling, vast sonic terrain.

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Congratulations John on the stunning debut album ‘People Do’. What is most impressive is the seamless array of genres and textures embedded in the sonic creations. There is very much a dance-oriented sound, combined gorgeously with modern-classical, ambient and electronica. The album results in a truly innovative voyage. Please discuss for me your aims from the outset for this record, and the creative process involved, that is inherent in your work?

Thanks Mark, I’m really glad you’ve been enjoying the record. Describing the process and aims is a tall order, but I’ll give it a try!

I guess at the very beginning there was simply a desire in me to make music that was danceable, or failing that somehow at least rhythmical – both traits that are largely absent from my compositions for film & TV. Secondly and probably even more importantly I wanted to create music that was independent of any visual input, that stood on its own feet. Ultimately an album that would exist entirely in its own sound world seemed like the best vessel for these ideas. The plan had been around for a very long time but I think it was only about two years ago I felt comfortable enough creating the kind of music I had been imagining for years.

When it came to starting the process I first chose some main sound elements and treatment methods I wanted to use, plus some rather orthodox limitations which I considered useful – of course only through a lot of trial and error. Slowly but surely I realised that I really wanted to move away from traditional and obvious instrumentation, mainly as a way of avoiding the same compositional patterns which I often fall into with film music. First I experimented with abstracted guitar textures (my first single ‘Traveller’ was the result of this) and then decided to apply similar techniques to the piano. Another theme that I wanted to explore from the outset was that of travel more broadly. I was lucky enough to work on the album in various places around Europe that were all inspirational in very different ways. Many field recordings from those places ended up on the album to add depth and dimension. To reflect this sense of voyage sonically I wanted to send a lot of the individual sounds ‘traveling’ as well – whether by running them through guitar amps, tapes, effects or simply re-recording them through room to capture the characteristics and impurities of the spaces. This may all sound a bit intellectualized to start with, but it actually happened fairly organically, mainly because creating a body of music with only myself in charge was completely new to me. Limitations and loose concepts helped me keep things clearer, although I didn’t end up sticking to my much more orthodox, initial plan. Maybe I should try that on the next record…

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I was interested to read the piano on some of the album – possibly on the two ambient solo piano pieces ‘Dorothea I’ and Dorothea II’? – is in fact from your Grandmother’s piano instrument. I’ve memories also of my Grandmother and her special piano sitting in the living room of her home. Tell me how this provided a source of inspiration for ‘People Do’?

Yes, apart from an added field recording, these are the only two pieces that feature solely the piano, which was indeed my grandmother’s. It’s an instrument with an incredible history as it initially belonged to her dad, who accompanied silent films on it back in 1920’s Berlin. Of course I only remember it through her though, playing upstairs in her room on weekends – its sound was so familiar to me in all its imperfections, let alone its strange micro-tuning (it’s about one and a half semitones above standard tuning, making it near impossible to play along to). My grandmother was probably not the greatest player, but deeply passionate, performing even the slightest of pieces with a lot of gusto and feeling. After she died I starting teaching myself to play on it – very badly it must be said – but the sound of her piano has always remained very special and dear to me, plus I’ve always imagined that the spirit of the golden twenties is somehow trapped inside its wood and wires. Therefore it seemed a really natural choice for a starting point of the record. Even though most of the sounds ended up being abstracted to some extent, I think the essence somehow shines through.

In the beginning I started writing tracks directly on the piano, but then ended up mainly preparing it with kitchen instruments, sampling drum & percussion hits, muted strings and other unusual sounds from it. These became the backbone of most of the tracks on ‘People Do’, especially the drums and percussion elements. Working in this way re-kindled my love for acousmatic sounds – sounds that give no definitive information about their source. So I started applying similar methods to electric guitar and other instruments to establish a sort of vocabulary for the record.

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The recording process involved many techniques, from playing back and re-recording sound through a room, and the use of homemade field recordings from all around Europe. I would love to gain an insight into the recording techniques you used to capture the sounds of ‘People Do’? I am intrigued by the vast collection of field recordings you must have collected to date. Can you shed some light on some of these, and what ones have particular resonance for you?

Field recordings have a certain magic to me and I guess they are my way of keeping a diary. I rarely travel without my trusted recorder, as you never know where the next interesting sound event is going to take place. When I look back on the library I’ve been gathering over the last few years, the recordings that particularly resonate with me are actually the most quiet ones. I suppose I’m with John Cage on this one, as in that silences are completely different everywhere, whereas noises and concrete sounds tend to be more similar wherever you go.

One of my favourite silences I ever recorded was last year in Spain, in a place called Salvatierra de Tormes. The recording is from a lakeside at night-time. This particular lake was once a small river which got flooded when a dam was erected nearby, burying half of the nearby village underneath. Now, when the tide is low, you can still see the top of the church tower poking out of the still waters. The nighttime silence of this place had something deeply eerie, yet calming at the same time, which is why I ended up using it on the ‘Dorothea’ pieces – it just adds some depth, despite its subtlety. I enjoy the notion of these two very different spaces coming together as one in a piece of music.

With regards to recording techniques, I’m fascinated by the idea of sounds going on their own journeys. All different methods used on the album represent aspects of traveling sound: whether it is worldising (playing and re-recording a sound through a room), running high fidelity sounds through extremely lo-fi equipment, passing sounds through tape or synthesizing them. I’d say most listeners won’t care too much where the sounds come from or how they are produced, but for me it’s a really important part of the process, as it introduces a very exciting element of unpredictability, keeping me on my toes – I suppose it’s a bit like having a second band member to bounce ideas around with.

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My current favourite (it does change a lot) is the album closer ‘When We Could’. I love the feeling of motion and depth that exists in the piece. There is a beautiful guitar melody that runs throughout, conjuring up the sound of Keith Kenniff’s Helios project. Can you talk me through this piece of music please? I love how the layers of sound – electronics, piano – effortlessly floats onto the surface.

I’m glad you’ve picked out this one – it’s also very special to me and a really personal piece. It’s one of the few tracks where I actually achieved exactly what I intended to produce initially, which doesn’t happen often for me as tracks tend to build up a life and personality of their own and I follow their lead. But ‘When We Could’ from the beginning was all about that naive, very beautiful sense of possibility & wonder, from a perspective of nostalgic remembrance.

Fittingly there is a field recording of an old wind chime in my mother’s garden in the breakdown section, which was my starting point for the piece. It then grew from me playing an old Casio organ, which has a lovely, warm tone to it and a very rudimentary but adorable drum machine too. The melody came up very early on and it then occurred to me that the track needed a strong helping of live piano, in a less abstracted way than on the other tracks. It really is a very simple piece of music that somehow comes alive through the layering, sonic details and small, interlocking melodies I think. There is of course a hint of electronica throughout it, but, as with so many of the album tracks, it was important to me that all the root sounds were as organic as possible.

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johnlemke_poster

Your album is home to the truly awe-inspiring independent label, Denovali. This in itself must be a wonderful feeling to be part of. I am a huge fan of your label-mate, Greg Haines and funnily enough I see a lovely parallel between ‘People Do’ and Greg’s latest record ‘Where We Were’. You’re drawn to a dance-oriented sound, whereas Greg’s is rooted in a dub terrain, but fusing all these plethora of elements together so immaculately. Were there records and specific composers and artists that provided inspiration for the making of ‘People Do’?

This is true – I really couldn’t be more delighted to have found such a home for my music. The Denovali catalogue and artist roster is truly impressive as it is inspiring, but what’s even more important is their dedication to let the music come first and speak for itself. There are absolutely no compromises involved, which is an incredible luxury.

It’s funny you should mention Greg. I met him for the first time when we were touring with Poppy Ackroyd this May and I was very impressed with his live show and then got into his record after, which is also a great piece of work.

With regards to influences and inspirations it’s very difficult to pin down exactly which of those helped shape the record. I guess it really just is a lifelong process of accumulation and taste development through both good and bad examples along the way. There’s a lot of music I deeply admire, but I’m not sure it necessarily shows directly in my own work. When I look at the period of time I worked on the album I would probably say that Krysztof Penderecki had quite an impact. I saw a concert of his at the Barbican (with Jonny Greenwood) a couple of years ago and was completely blown away by it: the innovative use of orchestral instrumentation and the implementation of the graphic score, which both resulted in an incredibly emotive performance. I think this synthesis was a real eye-opener to me. In a more general sense I suppose that I’ve always admired artists with a completely uncompromising work ethic, so in that respect perhaps the likes of Scott Walker, Portishead or Boards Of Canada have had their share of inspiration on me too.

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You have been heavily involved in many projects, TV documentary music, film music, film sound design, production library work and corporate music and sound design. How does the process in terms of composing music, differ from each line of work, and does making your own solo music follow a similar path?

Due to the collaborative nature of most of my other projects there is generally a lot less freedom, musically speaking. In many cases I’m providing a very specific service and have to cater to the needs of a larger body of work. This is by no means a bad thing and I really enjoy the challenge of finding the appropriate tone and method for each project. I think my solo work has somehow emerged as a reaction to this: sometimes because I can’t explore exactly what I want or because I find an interesting starting point within a project that I want to take further. The wonderful thing is that when I get to work on my own music, I’m completely free, because I’m independent of image or questions of appropriateness, catchiness or commercial potential. Of course being left completely to your own devices can be pretty daunting, which is why installing limitations is often a good beginning. And as I described earlier, with my solo work I try to leave conventional instrumentation and work methods out as much as possible, relying entirely on my own sounds and generally making my life difficult with very convoluted recording practices.

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I adore the dance-based ‘Illuminations’. It reminds me of John Talabot’s work. The strings are placed so wonderfully beneath the deep bass groove and rhythmic piano. With which instrument did this begin from? I’d love to learn more about the electronic side of your work, and how you fuse this into the acoustic instrumentation of piano/guitar/strings?

Great to hear that! It’s also a favourite of mine. I actually had the initial idea during a walk in the park. I had leg it back home to put the idea down – first on a very basic synth; then I added the piano percussion, bass and preliminary strings. During my next trip to Berlin (where my grandmother’s piano lives, in an attic) I swapped all the synth parts for real and prepared piano, which is when the track really began to take off. The final touch was replacing the string parts you mentioned with viola, beautifully performed by my friend and very talented musician Kim Moore. Even though those parts sound quite simple, there is a lot of modulation going on and she managed to capture the spirit I had envisaged from the start perfectly.
I’m really excited by the tension between the acoustic and electronic, especially those places where the lines start to blur. Again, I think it’s where the idea of the acousmatic comes into play as well. Then it’s just about getting the balance right. I’d quite happily keep exploring this terrain even further – but ‘Illuminations’ is probably a good first step.

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What’s next for you, John?

At the minute I’m just finishing the score for a documentary series for the BBC and starting a new one for Channel 4. I’m also just back from a residency in Portugal with NUX dance company, exploring the relationship between sound & movement and there’s another score for a dance piece in the works, based on the chaos theory. What I should really be doing though is preparing the live show for my tour together with Poppy Ackroyd and Floex in November. And ideas for the next album are already piling up too – I’m hoping to make a start on this as soon as possible. My fingers are itching…

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What albums have you been listening to most during the year?

It’s been a strange year for me so far – instead of discovering new music I keep mostly being drawn to a lot of old stuff: I can’t seem to get enough of Scott Walker (‘Scott 4’ especially), Can & Harmonia these days. Having said that there’s also been a lot of minimal stuff on the menu recently such as Pole, Porter Ricks, Thomas Köner and the new Boards Of Canada album, which I think is tremendous as well as the latest Grouper record.

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‘People Do’ is out now on Denovali Records.

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http://www.lostinsounds.com
http://www.denovali.com

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October 14, 2013 at 10:37 am