Posts Tagged ‘Preservation’
Interview with Sophie Hutchings.
“…repetition engenders a freeing effect without expectations or obligations in what you the listener feels or thinks. That’s all I ever want from music.”
Words: Mark Carry
Sophie Hutchings is a pianist and composer from Sydney. Since 2010’s debut ‘Becalmed’ LP, the gifted Australian composer has developed her unique style of textured ambience and neo-classical bliss. Hutchings has released three instrumental works to date, ‘Becalmed’, ‘Night Sky’ and ‘White Light’, receiving fine recognition internationally for elegant and beautiful music compared to the likes of Nils Frahm, Max Richter, Peter Broderick and Dustin O’Hallloran.
‘Wide Asleep’ begins with a gentle pulsating drone amidst a soft whisper uttering “I think I can see.” ‘Dream Gate’ serves the fitting opening piece to Hutchings’ deeply moving and revelatory latest work: the repeated mantra heralds the vivid sense of discovery that beautifully infiltrates the human space. The achingly beautiful piano melody feels at once familiar and mysteriously unknown: a towering modern-classical exploration ascends into one’s subconscious and inner-most self. A searching quality permeates throughout the record as larger realms of sound and feeling is masterfully attained by the gifted Sydney-based composer.
The added instrumentation of opera vocal samples further heightens the blissful transcendence that shares the cosmic spirit of Alice Coltrane and Laraaji’s empowering, celestial works. The graceful, fleeting waves of harmonies and piano motifs of ‘Falling’ holds a gentle resonance upon the listener akin to the infinite ocean waves. During the final section, the slowed-down tempo of strings blends effortlessly with Hutchings’ deeply poignant piano motifs, forming one cohesive whole of stunning beauty. Towards the low sun.
One of ‘Wide Asleep’s great hallmarks is the sheer multitude of sublime moments distilled within one single piece. For example, the companion pieces of ‘Memory I’ and ‘Memory II’ unfolds a vast haven of soul-stirring rapture: the mesmeric choral harmonies of ‘Memory II’ continually build, serving the record’s life-affirming crescendo. Like a river finding its sea, the musical undercurrent of embracing patterns, warm textures of ‘Wide Asleep’ runs deep and ventures further into the cosmos than ever before.
‘Wide Asleep’ is out now on Preservation.
Interview with Sophie Hutchings.
Congratulations Sophie on your formidable new body of work, ‘Wide Asleep’. Following on from your rich tapestry of recorded output, ‘Wide Asleep’ feels like the crowning jewel of your storied career thus far. As ever, a deep musical undercurrent permeates throughout these particular recordings that drags the listener deep into the musical patterns, textures and shapes like ripples cast by the ocean. Please discuss the making of the new record – and more particularly the writing of these compositions – and indeed the particular space or moment(s) in time these piano compositions flickered into glittering life?
Sophie Hutchings: I love your beautiful description of ‘Wide Asleep’. Thank you so much. There is quite a lot of undercurrents that permeate throughout. True!
Writing for me is always a very vague and unconscious process. So, actual visible moments I find more a challenge to reflect on or recall. I usually connect with my pieces in retrospect.
Wide Asleep was a volcano waiting to happen so the writing process was a bit of a musical purge and happened quite quickly. I had a definite vision of how I wanted this album to be from beginning to end. The previous albums unfolded as I went along whereas with “Wide Asleep” I had an overall vision from the start and I worked on achieving getting to that end point. I wrote the bare bones of the pieces in a sort of hasty fashion and then basically worked on structuring the other musical layers thereafter.
The process was a little like being seasick; once the tidal wave settled, I felt a sense of reprieve. (As in I got all the piano pieces written and demoed). I then wrote out the string, vocal and soundscapes in small waves. There was a lot of melodies circulating around in my head throughout the journey of Wide Asleep. Sometimes it would be whilst in bed so I’d get up and record the melody so as not to let it slip away, which happens. Other times it was just through focused playing and composing over many cups of tea by day, red wine by night allowing itself to form.
We recorded a lot of the piano and strings live. I added the textural soundscape elements and vocal harmonies after that at one my favourite local studios (Oceanic studios). It has a very warm and homey atmosphere. One of its unique aspects is a huge window that looks out onto a typically Australian bush setting. I love that. So, I just faced upwards looking out to the scenery and practiced my vocals and we hit the record button…
The added elements of divine opera vocal samples further heighten the ambient dimension of ‘Wide Asleep”s sonic landscape. For example, the opener ‘Dream Gate’ and hypnotic pulses of ‘Falling’ contains such sublime vocal passages that meld so effortlessly with the piano instrumentation. Can you talk me through the various instrumentation you have utilized on the new record, Sophie and indeed any challenges or difficulties posed by the layering of new elements to a particular composition?
SH: I’ve always enjoyed the dreamy ethereal side of music. One that you can’t quite pinpoint yet evokes a certain feeling. I wanted to take that element a little further with the use of harmonies and implement older sounding instruments like the Harpsichord and bells. A little bit of drone. I also utilised an opera vocal sound from one of my keyboards to create a repetitive hypnotic pulse in “Falling”. I felt those sort of subtleties lifted the pieces just slightly and have them waiver or hover for a moment in time. I really liked the idea of using vocal harmonies more so as a form of instrumentation and felt it would suit the theme of the album so I wrote some voicings out on piano and worked on transposing that into my vocal harmonies.
The vocal harmonies were looming from the onset so it felt right, without them unduly taking over. They are an added essence. It’s almost a way of coming up for air before plunging into the unknown again.
I must say the closing section of ‘Falling’ in which the vocal harmony motif returns for the last time, signals one of the record’s most captivating moments…I would love for you to discuss the importance of repetition in your music, and in turn, how you ‘see’ or visualize music? I always feel that a certain gravitational pull or hold on the listener occurs through repetition inside music.
SH: I am a massive fan of repetition in music. Repetition fastens the mind into a gentle trance where you can let go and not feel affected by your surroundings or time itself. In a society where time demands so much of us, repetition engenders a freeing effect without expectations or obligations in what you the listener feels or thinks. That’s all I ever want from music.
I don’t visualise music as such. In a way with the early stages of writing, I think my mind goes into shut down mode which is why I find it difficult to remember exact moments of writing. If I do see music, it always comes in a very hazy dimension and will slowly evolve into its own likeness from there which is what happened with Wide Asleep. It started to take on a theme of its own as the album grew, evoking those intangible gateways between sleep and wakefulness. Those moments where what actually feels real isn’t…. Perhaps sneaking in that other worldly element.
Has your compositional approach changed or altered in any way from previous records such as ‘Night Sky’ or ‘Becalmed’? ‘Wide Asleep’ was produced by yourself, solely. I am very interested in this stage of the music-making process and what transitions or developments these compositions undertook during this stage?
SH: The early concepts or ideas always seem to have a similar pattern of approach. With the previous albums, I tended to write more as I went along. Wide Asleep was determined from the beginning. The full vision was in the forefront of my mind and I trusted myself to attain that end goal. With Wide Asleep I had this inward sense of urgency… I found that sense of urgency a challenge to contend with as the production took a little longer however you always learn and gain new experiences each time.
Collaboration is another vital part to the process, and your close friends Tim Whitten (engineer), Peter Hollo (cello) and Jay Kong (violin) bring so much to the table, as always. I just love how such a deep communication – almost innate – exists between these different voices that forms one cohesive whole of utter transcendence. Can you recount your memories of recording with these guests and the headspace you all must inhabit when these parts all come together?
SH: Having worked with Peter and Jay for a while now is a real asset. It has become very instinctive. The musical chemistry between us is something that is very easily communicated. Jay and Peter have a very sensitive approach to understanding the way I write music and make it very easy for me when we all sit down together to map out the process and contemplate their parts. Occasionally I have a weird way of putting my melodies together but they’ve become accustomed to it! I love them so much for that.
Tim being a long-standing family friend has observed my pattern of composing from a young age and has watched it grow and wholeheartedly supported my style and process. I can have a tendency to be quite timid with my approach. This time around I had tunnel vision which took Tim a while to get his head around but once he did he knew and understood where I wanted to be and we worked as a team to get there. He’s very intuitive when mixing instrumental music which I guess is why bands like The Necks continually go back to him as do I.
The euphoric crescendo of ‘Memory II’ with its gorgeous choral refrain and mesmerising piano lines serves one of many defining moments. These two compositions, ‘Memory I’ and ‘Memory II’ are obviously very significant and are the heart to part B. The sequencing of the record I feel works wonderfully and the layering and aesthetics of the two parts – A & B – creates such a moving and powerful journey. I wonder are any of these pieces borne from old melodies you have had in the vaults, so to speak?
SH: I always have unfinished pieces sitting in vaults! Sometimes I randomly revisit them. There’s quite a few demos waiting to be woken from their slumber sitting on hard drives…
In this case Memory I was half written and I ran into a wall with it so to speak. It didn’t move for a little while so I left it alone, then one night I sat down with it and it germinated and took off so it was either going to be one really long piece or could be consumed in two parts which I think works with the astral vocals taking over from the darkish coloured middle eastern tonality of the strings. It picks it up and sweeps it into another dream state territory though still in the same key so the journey has a connection to its former memory and goes back to that in the outro of Memory I.. It’s like a Memory that expands and travels, then gets revisited ….
Can you shed some light on the influences or inspirations you feel found their way into the ‘Wide Asleep’ sound world, Sophie?
SH: I was listening to a lot of old Gamelan music, Indian Classical Raga and Jazz which is nothing like Wide Asleep but subconsciously things can infiltrate the subconscious. It’s the way our being then formulates that expression. Different music can still relate to each other. It can be like the sentiments of Indie Rock vs the music of Opera. They can evoke a similar feeling. Perhaps it works the same? I grew up listening to extreme polar opposites in styles of music. One side of the house was Jazz and the other Indie rock. It was a war of the worlds between my Dad and my older Brothers. From a young age though I was writing the kind of music I write now. I’m still not sure where that comes from. At times it frustrated me that I attempted changing it when I was younger but it’s something I’ve recognised comes from within me and I should enjoy embracing it. It’s just another way of me articulating without having to phrase them into words.
Lastly, I must ask you about the beautiful solo piano full-length ‘Drift’. This forms such a perfect sister companion to ‘Wide Asleep’ with its marked intimacy and ethereal quality, a magical spell is cast with each delicate piano note. It feels as if this was created in one sitting, and effectively feels like one large piece. Can you discuss these compositions and how much of a role improvisation played in the inception of ‘Drift’?
SH: These were all layered late night recordings that were half improvised / half composed. It was a very organic relaxed unpressured approach between the walls of my lounge room using the damper pedal out of convenience but also for its tonally soft tranquil effect… It’s the sleepy sister of Wide Asleep indeed.
‘Wide Asleep’ is out now on Preservation.
We are delighted to present an exclusive video album teaser and track premiere from the eagerly awaited new solo full length release from Sydney-based pianist and composer Sophie Hutchings. “Wide Asleep” will be released on the Preservation label on 22nd July 2016.
The Preservation label presents “Wide Asleep”, the third album from Sydneyʼs Sophie Hutchings, which is due for release on 22nd July 2016. “Wide Asleep” is the much-anticipated follow-up to 2012’s much-loved “Night Sky” album. Watch the official video for “Wide Asleep” below:
Listen to the Sophie Hutchings’ track “Memory I”, taken from “Wide Asleep” via Soundcloud below:
Sophie Hutchings is a pianist and composer from Sydney. She began teaching herself piano at an early age before any tuition, developing her unique style through countless hours of secret practice. Hutchings has released three instrumental works to date, ‘Becalmed’, ‘Night Sky’ and ‘White Light’, receiving fine recognition internationally for elegant and beautiful music compared to the likes of Nils Frahm, Max Richter, Peter Broderick and Dustin O’Hallloran.
With ‘Wide Asleep’, Hutchings has taken her compositional scope into larger realms of sound and feeling. It is her most searching work, based on ideas on consciousness between sleep and wakefulness. In her most dazzling and poignant pieces to date, Hutchingsʼ piano lines extend with both electricity and elegance, winding through strings, textured ambience and choral voices through beauty and vitality.
Reaching further with her music than ever before, Hutchings is in great company, recording Wide Asleep with Tim Whitten, best known for his nuanced and dynamic work with The Necks.
‘Wide Asleep’ will be released via Preservation on 22nd July 2016.
Pre-order the “Wide Asleep” ltd. edition boutique vinyl & CD at the links below:
Final part of our “Don’t Look Back” series; which is our look back on the year from the perspective of both musicians as well as various members of the arts community at large, who — despite varying geographical locations and backgrounds — all share the following in common: a deep passion and love for music. We’re both honored and delighted to be able to share the words of these special people through their personal accounts of the year that was: 2014.
Part 2 of a 2-part series.
William Tyler (Nashville, USA)
William Tyler is a Nashville guitarist and composer who has played an integral part in world-renowned U.S. bands such as Lambchop, Silver Jews and Hiss Golden Messenger. In recent years, Tyler has carved out a deeply enriching solo path, beginning with 2010’s universally-acclaimed ‘Behold The Spirit’ (Tompkins Square) and its exquisite follow-up, ‘Impossible Truth’ (Merge Records), released in 2013. Last April marked the release of ‘Lost Colony’ – a limited-edition 12-inch – featuring the new song ‘Whole New Dude’, a full-band re-working of ‘We Can’t Go Home Again’ (from ‘Impossible Truth’) and ‘Karussell’; a cover of a Michael Rother (Neu!) song.
My year in review:
Hanging with my buddy Michael Slaboch talking records and life in early January. Michael came down to Nashville from Chicago and got stuck in a rare snow storm the precluded his return to the Windy City, which I believe was suffering from some of the coldest temperatures on record. We ate bbq and watched Auburn lose to Florida State in the national championship game while Nashville buckled from the cold outside.
Touring with Califone in the dead of an intense midwestern winter. We did “Big Ten” country: Minneapolis, Madison, Columbus, Omaha, Detroit, Chicago. I should have brought a snowplow instead of a Volvo station wagon. Beautiful people and music. Frigid temperatures. Haunting drives through cracked Michigan highways covered with snow. Listening to Bruce Hornsby in a Tim Horton’s outside of Benton Harbor.
Taking a series of trains across central and southern Europe on tour in February. Played a rock club that doubled as an indoor shooting range in Belgrade. Played a theater in Zagreb. Played a wine bar in Switzerland. Played a cinema in Lausanne, another cinema in Dresden. Watched “Dallas Buyer’s Club” with German subtitles. Read “Blues People” by Amiri Baraka and “Where the Heart Beats”, an incredible book about John Cage and Zen Buddhism. Train hopped across Italy. Wrote fragments of songs in hotel rooms like you are supposed to. Ate everything that was offered to me. Bought Fernet at an Italian gas station.
I drove across America with my buddy Garland two days after returning from Europe. One day we drove from Nashville to Omaha, the next day across South Dakota to Wyoming. Next day all the way to Coeur D’Alene Idaho. The fourth day we made it to Seattle. I did a three-week tour opening for Daniel Rossen. My other best bud Brad Cook accompanied me for most of the trip. Stoned day off driving through the redwoods for a weird evening of awesome beer and sketchy Mexican food in Eureka, California. Playing a winery in Napa valley. Playing the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. Driving across the west by myself in a rental car. San Diego to Phoenix, Phoenix to Santa Fe, Santa Fe to Roswell, Roswell to Marfa, Marfa to Austin, Austin to Jackson, Mississippi. Putting about 8000 miles on that poor rental car. Up and down the east coast. Driving back through the North Carolina mountains to home finally and the ‘welcome to Tennessee’ signs greeting me.
I moved temporarily to Oxford, Mississippi for a month. Spent a lot of time writing and reflecting, walking every afternoon down to the town square and sharing a few drinks with new friends. This was the place my parents went to college and I settled into the lazy, deliberate pace of the environs. I feel like as I grow older, the pull further South is stronger. It felt like home.
Green Man festival in Wales. Epic hang with my man David Morris. Playing to a field of friendly folks as the sun set. Being cold in the middle of August and drinking lots of cider.
Some things I enjoyed:
Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather
Harold Grosskopf – Ocean Heart
Swans – To Be Kind
Bob Dylan – Basement Tapes reissue
“The Soul of Designer Records” – Big Legal Mess box set
My favorite modern country singles of 2014:
Blake Shelton – Neon Light
Keith Urban – Somewhere in My Car
Dierks Bentley – Drunk on a Plane
Anything by Taylor Swift
‘Lost Colony’ E.P. is available now on Merge Records.
Félicia Atkinson (The French Alps, France)
Félicia Atkinson is a French visual and sound artist based between the French Alps. She also co-curates Shelter Press, an independent music label and contemporary art publishing house. Félicia Atkinson also releases music via her Je suis le petit chevalier guise and exhibits regularly across both Europe and the US. Atkinson lives presently in the French Alps and has released over 20 records and tapes with labels such as Shelter Press, NNA, Umor Rex, Aguirre, Spekk, La station Radar, Home Normal. Atkinson has performed extensively all over Europe/USA-CANADA with such artists as: Sun Araw, Grouper, Gabriel Saloman, Theo Angel and Hamish Gilmour, Mind Over Mirrors, Lee Noble. She is also involved in the duo Naked Island on the L.A based label Peak Oil (alongside Ensemble Economique’s Brian Pyle). Her new album, ‘A Readymade Ceremony’, will be out on Shelter Press during 2015.
2014: A YEAR OF RENDEZ-VOUS
Caption: Félicia Atkinson painting yogo balls during the preparation of her latest art show at Saprophyt, Vienna, last November.
New Year’s Eve, dancing with candles and flutes outside in the snowy mountains with my friends, the musicians and artists Mc Cloud Zicmuse, Anne Brugni, High Wolf, Marsh Cavern, Chicaloyoh and Bartolomé, my partner in life and in Shelter Press.
Anne Brugnu makes incredible colorful ceramics and drawings. She just published a children books with Mc Cloud called “bonjour”, published by L’artichaud, here is an image of it:
It’s a very sensitive book about natural phenomena and the marvels of earth. And here is an example of her vivid collages:
You can also hear Mc Cloud Zicmuse’ poetic words and music HERE.
Driving from California to New Mexico with Bartolomé. We also met a series of unforgettable artists. In Joshua Tree we walked among the prickly pears with Alexander Stewart and Lilli Carre. They are from Chicago and make very interesting minimalist animated films. Lilli is also an illustrator and ceramic artist. She exhibited recently at the MCA of Chicago. Here are two images of her sculptures:
Alexander made collaborative films with musicians from Chicago, such as Jeremy Lemos, who plays now in Acteurs and also with Disappears, two Chicago bands that I strongly recommend. I particularly like the specially designed EP Disappears published with the Belgian Sleeperhold publications with a silkscreen on the B-side by this young and talented Belgian photographer, Stine Stampers. You can see the design here:
Here are video stills of Alexander’s films ‘Peacock’ and ‘Power’:
In March Bartolomé and I did an exhibition, ‘The Last Frontier’, at this artist-run space in Basel called OSLO 10. They are also a music venue and there was a wonderful list of music shows during the exhibition, some with shelter press artists and some with people, even if we don’t publish them, we feel related to. One of them played at Oslo 10 in March 2014, it’s the French-Japanese musician Tomoko Sauvage who plays with water and bowls: a mesmerizing and meditative music.
April was a beautiful month in the Alps, with butterflies and flowers everywhere. On the 1st of April I invited Jennifer Tee, an artist from the Netherlands, to make a lecture at the art university I am teaching in: Annecy, L’ESAAA. I am a huge fan of her works that include: performance, sculpture and installation. Some examples of her works here, including her latest exhibition at Signal in Malmo:
In May I played a music show for Videoex Festival in Zürich with the experimental film-maker from San Francisco, Paul Clipson. I don’t know if you are familiar with his works, but he showed his films with a lot of interesting musicians from the Bay Area such as Grouper, Jefre Cantu and Barn Owl, who are all musicians that inspire me everyday. Here are some images of Paul’s films:
June was a month spent listening to Suzanne Ciani’s amazing re-issues by Finders Keepers.
In July I toured in Canada with the amazing Sun Araw and D/P/I. I feel like I learned a lot while seeing them playing and each of their shows was a source of joy. I recommend you to see them live and to listen to their latest album. I also played in Seattle with RM Francis that month, which was the occasion to discover his beautiful and smart music.
August was a month spent in Oregon. I always love Portland. It was great to hang out there with my friends and see very good shows and have such great vegetarian food. Then we spent some time camping at CAPE LOOK OUT before I recorded with my friend Peter Broderick. Stay tuned… the project will be called La Nuit and will be out next summer on Beacon Sound.
In Portland I bought a lot of records at Little Axe Records, Mississippi Records and Beacon Sound Records. One of my favorites is ‘Put No Blame On The Master’, a record of Jamaican gospel, published by Mississippi.
In September 2014 I did a mini tour in Switzerland with the amazing Gabriel Saloman, with whom we just published a record on Shelter Press. I recommend also his records on Miasmah and Infinite Greyscale. When he played in Geneva, it was so powerful that the sound engineer actually cried. We are all blown away. I also listened very much to the re-issues of K. Leimer on RVNG.
In October I saw Lieven Moana / Dolphins into the future and Spencer Clark / monopoly childstars playing also in Geneva, with wonderful visuals. It was like being in another time. Lieven is a kind of Caspar David Friedrich of modern times.
In November I played at Soy Festival where I had a chance to see playing some people I admire: Lee Noble, Noveller, Steve Hauschildt and Robedoor.
Do you know Lee Noble’s cassette labels NO KINGS? They do amazing artworked tapes that you should take an ear/eye at!
My highlight of December was feeding and meeting the neighbor’s little cat that love to visit us and watching VANISHING POINT by Richard Sarafian and CARRIE by De Palma. I also listened a lot to Valerio Tricoli album on PAN, Miseri Lares. And Bartolomé bought me this wonderful book by and about Robert Ashley, ‘YES, BUT IS IT EDIBLE’ published by New Documents.
THE END/THANK YOU!
Naked Island’s self-titled debut, the collaboration between Ensemble Economique’s Brian Pyle and Félicia Atkinson, is available now on Peak Oil. ‘A Readymade Ceremony’ is a forthcoming release on Shelter Press.
Cian Ó Cíobháin, An Taobh Tuathail (Galway, Ireland)
Cian Ó Cíobháin is the presenter of An Taobh Tuathail, a music show dedicated to promoting the very best in independent music. Cian’s show is broadcasted on RTÉ Raidió Na Gaeltachta on weeknights from 22.00 to midnight, Monday to Friday. Cian also compiles a series of compilations which are made available for free download. Presently, the An Taobh Tuathail compilation series is at volume 6 (they have this year been uploaded to Ó Cíobháin’s Mixcloud page HERE). Additionally, Cian DJ’s at 110th Street, Galway, with Cyril Briscoe. As of this year Cian Ó Cíobháin has also carved a name for himself as a specialist wedding DJ.
In January and February, I dipped my toes into English language broadcasting for the first time in eons, with a six-part series on Pulse about my ‘An Taobh Tuathail’ compilations. My thick-tongued mumbling were well received, in some instances it was the first time listeners were able to follow what I was saying on the radio. ATT was shortlisted for two awards this year. In April I visited the picturesque St. Ives in Cornwall for the Celtic Media Awards, then had a night to remember in Kilkenny in October at the PPI Radio Awards. The Lyric FM contingent were seated at our table and helped us to party with panache. The winners of both categories were utterly deserving. JJ O’Shea’s superlative ‘The Global Village’ took the gong in St. Ives and Ray Wingnut’s excellent documentary on the Community Skratch games topped the PPI list.
Two of the best DJ sets I heard this year happened at Ireland’s best off-the-radar summer festival (so secret that I’m afraid to even refer to it by name). A fine summer’s evening somewhere in deepest Longford, the intimate & enthusiastic gathering in convivial spirits, were treated to the DJ début of Roscommon-native Peter Casey who simply blew the roof off the place with a perfect festival set: a combination of bangers, anthems and sing-a-longs. Later on, underground Liverpool legend John Heckle showed what an outstanding DJ he is, reading the crowd perfectly, working some amazing disco basslines into his high-octane techno set…. Speaking of Scousers, following Liverpool last season was a riot. Sure they fell short, sure they may never win the Premiership, but what a gallant effort it was, playing some of the most scintillating football in Europe, which even Pep Guardiola tipped his hat to. Of course, we’re back to a level we’re sadly more accustomed to now, in the wake of Luis Suaréz migrating to warmer climes. In a peculiar way, like when the winter evenings begin to draw in, there’s almost something strangely comforting about being simply mediocre again. Almost.
In other sports, my native Kerry thrilled in their two game battle against Mayo in August before grinding out an unexpected All-Ireland victory in September (unexpected to everyone bar the team and management), ending a five-year Celtic Cross-less drought in the Kingdom. All this without The Gooch. Great to see Star poach an opportunist’s goal in the final. I was DJing in West Kerry a few years ago and he was right up the front urging the crowd to sing along to the words of Warren G’s ‘Regulate’.
Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Under The Skin’ was a haunting cinematic experience, made all the more powerful by Mica Levi’s superlative soundtrack. One of her featured compositions ‘Love’ is my tune of the year: somehow evoking ‘Loveless’-era MBV, Badalamenti and Bernard Herrmann. I only recently realised that the movie is based on a book by Michel Faber. I picked up his latest novel ‘The Book Of Strange New Things’, as endorsed by the wonderful West Cork-based author David Mitchell and have been in a trance reading it the past few days… Other movies I enjoyed this year were ‘12 Years A Slave’, ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ and I finally watched ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’. How had I ignored it up to now? Simply one of the finest movies I’ve ever laid eyes on. If only I could roll a cigar around in my mouth like Clint Eastwood. The original ‘Blondie.’
Summer 2014 was one of the most consistently summer-like summers in recollection, the rain seemed to bypass our island. How good was the vibe at ‘Body & Soul’ during the shortest nights of the year? It was my first time in attendance and I was bowled over by the genuinely magical, fairy-tale atmosphere. Galway legend Mike Smalle played a beautiful set under the trees, that weaved everything from Max Romeo to Nolan Porter to Hot Natured into its fabric. Mike was busy recording again this year, his first work since B-Movie Lightning, under the Augustus & John moniker collaborating with Matteo Grassi. Check out their excellent ‘Crosslines’ EP.
In late August, with the help of Galway’s Electric venue, 110th Street hosted a boat party on the river Corrib, where Cyril Briscoe & I were joined by Jon Averill and Sol O’ Carroll. Between the genial atmosphere on the boat, where everyone was best friends by the end of the voyage, followed by a hothouse atmosphere in the club, created by a combination of our guest DJs being on top form and the visiting influx of revellers, it was a day and night that will live long in my memory.
I read shed-loads of books this year but the two that stood out were ‘The Casual Vacancy’ by JK Rowling, a brilliant take on that peculiar and specific genre of ‘English village’ literature and ‘I Am Pilgrim’ by Terry Hayes, one of the most breathtaking thrillers I’ve ever read. Re-reading Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Portrait Of Dorian Gray’ was a great pleasure. Two evocations of hedonistic life in our capital city in different eras also provided food for thought. Anthony Cronin’s ‘Dead As Doornails’ recounts the lives of Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan & Myles na gCopaleen in the pubs of post-war Dublin. The drinking and the poverty they endured to keep on drinking is utterly startling. Rob Doyle’s ‘Here Are The Young Men’ recounts a different Dublin, that of the early to mid-‘noughties’. If the pre-mentioned literary giants had access to the drugs that the characters in Doyle’s début novel binge on, well … the mind boggles at the consequences. Both books shine a torch into our nation’s gluttonous, booze-centric culture and reveal long, dark shadows extending well into the background.
The best TV show I saw this year was ‘Fargo’ but I was also impressed by ‘Boardwalk Empire’ (seasons 3 & 4), ‘Ray Donovan’, ‘Vikings’ (second season), ‘Love/Hate’ (which found its groove again – though I’d love to sort out their often incongruous soundtrack choices for them) and ‘The Fall’. Caught the first season of ‘Sherlock’ too, the opening episode was particularly good. I waded my way through most of the first season of ‘Game Of Thrones’ but was left cold by its clunky pace and prolixity.
My best nights DJing all happened at weddings. I was lucky to be invited by some remarkable people to play at their nuptials, more often than not in memorable, bucolic settings to intimate gatherings of sound heads. The atmosphere at these evenings were off-the-hook and has encouraged me to launch myself in the specialist DJ wedding market in the year ahead. So (here comes a plug) if you’re getting married and want to avoid the usually stodge, I’m available through cianociobhain.com or the One Fab Day site.
And what about the night the Sleaford Mods came to Galway? Like Gang Of Four, The Fall, Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins & Bez rolled into one Tour(ettic)-de-force. Middle-aged rock stars showing everybody else how it’s done. Proper.
Oh! One of my music moments of the year was when my truelove bowled me over by playing the soundtrack to ‘Tales Of The Unexpected’ out of the blue at a party last summer. I hadn’t heard it in decades and it completely transported me another place. Somewhere special, beyond mere nostalgia.
—Cian Ó Cíobháin
Seán Mac Erlaine (Dublin, Ireland)
The Dublin-based woodwind composer (saxophonist and clarinetist) and music producer Seán Mac Erlaine is one of Ireland’s best-loved musicians and composers. Mac Erlaine is also a member of the Irish/Swedish four-piece This Is How We Fly and has collaborated with numerous musicians in the past in both live and studio settings (The Gloaming, Bill Frisell, Lisa Hannigan, The Smith Quartet, Iarla O’Lionaird). This Is How We Fly had an extensive European and Irish tour this year promoting their remarkable debut self-titeld album (having been released at the end of 2013 via Playing With Music) while Mac Erlaine also released his latest solo album ‘A slender song’ via Dublin-based label Ergodos. Earlier in the year, Mac Erlaine contributed to the Ergodos-released ‘Songs’ album which featured numerous re-interpretations of songs by members of the Ergodos roster of musicians. In September, Mac Erlaine performed at Dublin’s annual Bottlenote Festival (which Mac Erlaine co-runs) for a site-specific “The Walls Have Ears” series of live improvisations.
Two thousand and fourteen began in an urban idyll: Prenzlauer Berg. Waiting on fingers to defrost to record a range of songs from John Dowland to Richard Thompson. That record, released a few months later, turned out to be a beautiful thing – listen to Michelle O’Rourke sing! Germany has a lot of saxophone players and a lot of dead saxophone players – I bought a sleeping beauty from a dusty shop – a Martin alto saxophone from 1968.
Nobody saw it coming but in February I made my dancing debut in Willfredd Theatre’s CARE, this was a great eye-opening process working with super people looking into the work of hospice workers.
I was very lucky to find myself lost in Pauline Oliveros’ near infinite reverb chambers in the company of fine musicians broadcasting live to the nation on my favourite medium, radio. More radio followed later in the year working with director Dylan Tighe on a new sound piece celebrating one of our favourite poets, the late Michael Hartnett. We poured many hours into this work and in every moment (almost) there was a richness that can only come when your two singers are the incomparable Nell Ní Chróinín and Iarla O’Lionaird.
Spending time with the three other members of This is How we Fly has been such a rewarding and important aspect over the last few years. In 2014 we got to play in France, Sweden and all over Ireland (Baltimore Fiddle Fair does seem in fact to be the best festival here!).
Other high points included: sharing the stage and shaking the soft, soft hand of maestro Bill Frisell… The honour of playing solo to many rooms of silent listeners over the year… Playing Bowie’s back catalogue in NCH with such a killer band… Walking around Cork City in the very early morning… Walking around the Lower East Side in the almost late night… Swimming through a lake in Northern Sweden at midnight watching the paling sky… Cycling thousands of kilometers through the mountains of Wicklow, the flatlands of Kildare and the streets of Dublin… Cycling a 180km round-trip to play a gig in a sauna…
I loved seeing Ger Wolfe sing in Dublin – gotta be one of the most honest songwriters out there these days. Steve McQueen’s ‘12 Years A Slave’ didn’t hit me quite in the same way his first two features did but this was a fine piece of work. Irish film-maker Pat Collins produced another beautiful work with ‘Living in a Coded Land’ and Lenny Abrahamson’s ‘Frank’ was superb. Contemporary fiction isn’t a strong point for me but I was astounded by the beauty of Tarjei Vesaas’ ‘The Ice Palace’, a Norwegian novel from 1963. Gabriel Rosenstock’s monumental collected poems ‘The Flea Market in Valparaíso’ seems to have slipped under the radar but that can happen easily. Richard Mosse’s work ‘The Enclave’ got a lot of lookers, it blew many of us away. Israeli choreographer Danielle Agami had me up out of my seat whooping after her dance piece as did Irish actor Shane O’Reilly’s piece ‘Follow’ in The Abbey Theatre. A great time for Irish music: The Gloaming album made many revolutions on my CD player (I hope they press it on vinyl!), seems to have classic album written all over it. Deaf Joe’s ‘From The Heights Of A Dream’ is refreshingly really going for something and presented so beautifully – strongly recommended. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Dan Trueman’s fiddle duo record ‘Laghdú’ (also presented as a highly covetable good) is a tender thing of beauty.
—Seán Mac Erlaine
‘A Slender Song’ is available now on Ergodos.
Kat Epple, Emerald Web (Los Angeles, USA)
Kat Epple has released 30 music albums internationally, composes music for film scores and television soundtracks, and performs live original music featuring synthesizers and flutes with her various ensembles, including the legendary “Space Music” band Emerald Web (comprising Epple and her late husband Bob Stohl), whose hugely influential music continues to impact music audiences worldwide through many recent re-issues. ‘The Stargate Tapes’ album was re-issued in November 2013 via Finders Keepers, and consists of music originally recorded from 1978-1989; earlier this year, Emerald Web’s ‘Whispered Visions’ has also been re-issued by Finders Keepers, while ‘Catspaw’, Emerald Web’s seminal recording (first issued by Larry Fast’s Audion label) will be re-issued by Anodize in January 2015.
Highlights of my year 2014 include: a concert for dolphins, ancient dead Indians, growling dinosaurs, and ‘Whispered Visions’. These events transpired as I concert toured, recorded new albums, did session work, archived old reel-to-reel masters, and enjoyed some amazing adventures!
“Legends of the Giant Dinosaurs” is a film for which I composed music, sound effects and Foley, for The Hong Kong Science Museum. The high-tech digital animation was projected onto a sixty-foot-wide HD screen with my music and sound effects in surround sound. I enjoyed creating the music, but especially making the sounds of the dinosaurs as they tromp, fight, and perish as a meteor strikes the earth. CRUNCH…….GROWL……..RUMBLE…….SCREAM………EPIC CRASH!
Playing native flute at sunset, on the top of a burial mound built by the extinct Calusa Indian tribe, may have been one of my concert highlights of the year. I felt as though their spirits were surrounding me, and softly singing. Now THAT is surround sound!
My favorite jam session happened one night as I was playing flute for a star-gazer cruise on a beautiful ship on the Gulf of Mexico. A pod of dolphins arrived, then surrounded the ship as they lifted their ears above the waterline, apparently to listen. They all joined in as they clicked, splashed, and squeaked along with the sound of my flute.
There has been a resurgence of interest in the music of my vintage synthesizer and woodwind band, Emerald Web. In fact, this year, our second album, “Whispered Visions” was released on vinyl LP, thirty-four years after its original issue. The master tapes had to be baked and archived after sitting on the shelf for decades. It was very moving to hear the music again after all those years, as it transported me back to the moment it was created so long ago. Music has the power to do that, especially when it is your own music!
I recorded acoustic tracks for a new album with World Percussionist, Nathan Dyke. I played World Flutes in the session, and am now in the process of overdubbing synthesizer tracks to the album. Yep……Thirty four years later, I am still pissing off the purists who don’t like it when I mix ancient primitive instruments and technology. Yay!
My session work on flute, EWI, and synthesizers for albums by a variety of musicians include: New Age pioneer Steven Halpern, enchanting folk musician Mariee Sioux, electronic guitarist Barry Cleveland, and legendary heavy metal guitarist Devin Townsend.
I did manage to get out of the studio once in a while to go camping, running on the beach, and to attend concerts, including King Crimson, the “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass” festival in San Francisco, and a variety of amazing house concerts.
I am grateful for the wonderful experiences that 2014 brought, and look forward to 2015 being even better!
Roll The Dice (Stockholm, Sweden)
Roll The Dice comprise the Stockholm duo of Malcolm Pardon and Peder Mannerfelt, who released their hugely anticipated third LP this year, ‘Until Silence’, via the renowned UK-based independent The Leaf Label. ‘Until Silence’ sees a brave and intriguing shift in the duo’s sound (most noticeably with the addition of a 26-piece string section ensemble during the recording sessions with an even greater focus this time around on an intensity of emotion across an ever-expanding sound palette) while the conceptual framework of the album draws inspiration from World War One (the album’s title is inspired by a book on the period). To date, Roll The Dice have released a trilogy of monumental albums, beginning with their self-titled debut LP (Digitalis, 2010);‘In Dust’ (Leaf, 2011); ‘Until Silence’ (Leaf, 2014), confirming the Swedish electronic group as one of independent music’s most intriguing and compelling contemporary artists.
Tracks of 2014 by Roll The Dice:
Future – ‘Look Ahead’
The groove and the sample and the 123 /15 hi hat pattern. Lovely.
Aphex Twin – ‘Produk 29’
Surprisingly likable. As I haven’t been a big fan in the past, I had no “issues” with him putting out a new album whatsoever.
Vessel – ‘Red Sex’
Simple and to the point monotony as it should be.
Nils Frahm – ‘Says’
A bit cheesy in the best possible way. Reminds me about us…
Katy Perry – ‘Roar’
I have been force-fed this track every morning all spring by my 10 year-old daughter. A bit like a musical stockholm syndrome…I have fallen in love with my tormentor.
Gazelle Twin – ‘Anti Body’
Just found out about this record, totally feeling the attitude and impact of it. Really got a sound of it’s own which is pretty rare these days.
Klara Lewis – ‘Msuic II’
Klara is probably the artist that has had the biggest impact on me this year. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with such a unique and gifted talent.
DB 1 – ‘Nautil 1/3 B1’
The whole Nautil series on Hidden Hawaii is so amazing but if I have to pick a favorite from the 3 records this has to be it. Perfectly balanced and executed.
Surgeon – ‘Fixed Action Pattern’
The best techno 12″ this year from the best label, Token.
QT – ‘Hey Qt’
The PC music camp is the most punk of 2014. The fact that both my girlfriend and my 3 year-old daughter told me that it was the worst thing they ever heard me play at home makes me like it even more.
2014 Highlights Roll The Dice:
Putting out ‘Until Silence’ of course but also the fact that it turned out exactly the way we wanted.
Semibreve festival in Braga, Portugal: it was a delight to get to play in this beautiful old theatre where they have hosted the festival off the beaten track for several years. The organisers and everything surrounding this small and heartfelt festival was a delight.
My 10 week old Staffordshire puppy, Billie.
Being able to do what I do for another year, to be able to make music and do whatever I want is something I am truly grateful for.
The Swedish parliamentary situation which is going from bad to worse rapidly.
We all hope that the re-election in march will clear things up a bit, but as is now its just a farce, with very sinister undertones.
See Mal’s answer. One love, fuck fascism.
—Roll The Dice
‘Until Silence’ is available now on The Leaf Label.
Klara Lewis (Stockholm, Sweden)
Earlier this year marked the eagerly awaited debut full-length release from Swedish electronic artist, Klara Lewis, on the prestigious Editions Mego label. ‘Ett’ was recorded, sampled, edited, manipulated, mixed, produced and arranged by Lewis. A collection of four new works — contained on the sublime ‘Msuic’ EP — would later see the light of day on the Swedish imprint, Peder Mannerfelt Produktion (released on 12″ vinyl last November). ‘Msuic’ sees Lewis further expand the sonic envelope with her signature explorations of field recordings, electronics, rhythm, sound and atmosphere; confirming the Swedish artist as one of electronic music (and independent music at large)’s most exciting new talents.
My top albums:
‘Ett’ is available now on Editions Mego. ‘Msuic’ (12″ & Digital) is available now on Peder Mannerfelt produktion.
Seti The First (Dublin, Ireland)
Seti The First is the Ireland-based cello-led group comprising the songwriting duo of Kevin Murphy (cello) and Thomas Haugh (drums, marxophone, percussion). ‘Melting Cavalry’ was the band’s debut album, released in 2012 to widespread critical acclaim. The band’s distinctive sound draws inspiration from a wide number of diverse sources (Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Henryk Gorecki, The Haxan Cloak). 2015 will see the highly anticipated follow-up to their mesmerizing debut, ‘Melting Cavalry’, entitled ‘The Wolves of Summerland’.
Kevin: It’s probably a question of tunnel vision but for me 2014 was all about finishing our second album which is called ‘The Wolves of Summerland’. We toiled relentlessly and finally put it to bed in December. It marks a bit of a departure from our first album ‘Melting Cavalry’ and therefore was a bit of a nerve-wracking adventure, however, we’re thrilled with the results. Cellos still provide the bedrock but there is much more frantic Marxophone and Zither leading the way; overall there is a more aggressive intend this time out. We had strong themes of unrest and revolution in mind––the dynamics of denial & delusion and the blindness to rising tides of societal upheaval among those in power; and of course, the recurrence of these things time and time again. So we focused on some extraordinary historical events, the rise and demise of entire empires and the regimes that followed, huge moments of passion, bloodshed, tragedy and melancholia. This became the canvas unto which we offered our wandering brush. In November we collaborated with visual artist Brian Kelly at the Cork Film Festival which took these ideas into the live arena, something we’ll hopefully further explore going forward.
Other than that, highlights of the year include playing on Adrian Crowley’s brilliant album ‘Some Blue Morning’. Myself and Seti’s live cellist Mary Barnecutt also played at Adrian’s launch in The Workman’s Club in Dublin which was a special night.
Thomas: Working on the second Seti album likewise dominated my year, rhythm made an unexpected return to my musical outpouring. As we got into the spirit of the music–with all of these big themes and ideas, it just became necessary to have that kind of foundation. It’s been a long time since I got behind the drums to really drive the bus, I just let it happen and it more or less flowed. Some new discoveries for me here too–the Persian Daf (drum), an incredibly versatile instrument. It’s a powerful and sacred centre piece in lots of Sufi music of which I’m very fond. Some Hurdy Gurdy made it on there too and I’ve loved that instrument since my teenage years when I first heard a Nigel Eaton album.
As for the music of others in 2014, Perfume Genius and Wildbirds & Peacedrums come to mind, both of which also took rhythm to new levels on their latest releases. Mica Levi’s incredible soundtrack for ‘Under The Skin’ thrilled me, also Grouper’s ‘Ruins’ and Arca’s ‘Xen’. Hildur Gudnadóttir’s ‘Saman’ took some time to settle with me but it was worth the effort. I also took some time to listen to the works of Ligeti–the music of whom most of us are probably familiar with through it’s prolific usage in films, music that is both terrifying and thrilling in equal measure. Not a bad aul year.
—Seti The First
‘Melting Cavalry’ is available now; its much-anticipated follow-up, ‘The Wolves of Summerland’, is due for release in 2015.
Adrian Crowley (Dublin, Ireland)
2014 marked the special return of Irish songwriter Adrian Crowley with his hugely anticipated (and career-high) seventh studio album, ‘Some Blue Morning’, via Glasgow-based independent label Chemikal Underground. ‘Some Blue Morning’ is the follow-up to Crowley’s masterful 2012 Choice Music Prize nominated ‘I See Three Birds Flying’, and features contributions from Seti The First’s Kevin Murphy on cello; Dublin-based songwriter Katie Kim on vocals and members of London string ensemble Geese, amongst many more.
Oh, and speaking of London, I’m brought back to a late night taxi ride with my sister. It was late September. We had hopped in a cab in Hammersmith and didn’t speak once all the way to Woolwich Arsenal where our younger sister lives. Why didn’t we speak? Well, we both suffer from car sickness and we had just been on a pilgrimage, you see, and were still trying to process the three hours or so that had just passed. I’m talking about Kate Bush. Kate Bush at Eventim Apollo. The opening bars of ‘Running Up That Hill’. Now there was a moment.
But that was the night there was a power outage on stage before the show was due to start. We, the audience, sat waiting for around 50 minutes. At one point when the house lights went up, we all thought the show had been cancelled but a few minutes later Kate is onstage telling us matter-of-factly and down-to-earthedly that “it had been sorted”.
I managed to see a lot of great concerts. Bill Callahan at the Olympia, Dublin in February. Cat Power in July, also at the Olympia. Eels at Muziekgebouw, Eindhoven for Naked Song festival. I was playing at the festival and I managed to duck in behind the sound desk an watched the whole concert (at the end of the concert Mark jumped off the stage and went around the entire auditorium giving hugs to everyone in his path before ending up back on the stage to play an encore).
My Brightest Diamond at The Workmans Club. Shara Worden’s voice is incredible and it was so great to finally see her live. Violinist Cora Venus Lunny played an astonishing improvised set at her album launch in The Grand Social in Dublin. The National at The Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. Speaking of the Iveagh Gardens, I got to see some great comedy there… namely Eddie Pepitone.
Albums released in 2014… I really loved ‘Brothers and Sisters of The Eternal Sun’ by Damien Jurado and wonderful albums by Cora Venus Lunny, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Kate Ellis, Tindersticks, Einsturzende Neubaten, Marissa Nadler… I’m sure I’m missing others and I’ll probably kick myself later.
Well, my own album came out towards the end of the year…early November. I had a kind of belated album launch at The Workmans Club on December 12th. I am pretty confident that was the favourite gig of mine in 2014. I had been rehearsing with the twin cellos of Kevin Murphy and Mary Barnecutt, and also with Katie Kim who sang on more than half of ‘Some Blue Morning’. It felt so good having Katie, Mary and Kevin on stage with me not to mention my good friend Matthew Nolan who plays guitar on ‘The Wild Boar’ when we perform it live (just saying “plays guitar” feels like a gross understatement, though, considering the vast soundscapes he conjures).
Other favorite live moments from the point of view of the stage were the Daylight Music event at Union Chapel with Katie Kim (it just so happens it fell on the Summer solstice. I remember waking up that morning at 4am to the near deafening sound of birdsong from Hampstead Heath. It was quite something). Explore The North Festival in Leeuwarden, Netherlands was special too. That was in a church also, a Lutheran church with a lot of history. Oh, singing some David Bowie songs in The National Concert Hall in July was much fun.
And there was a special show that I was invited to be a part of during the East Cork Early Music festival. Justin Grounds and Ilsa de Ziah who play baroque violin and baroque cello respectively rearranged an hour-long set of my songs which we performed together at L’Atitude for a late night show. It was the first time I sang my songs on stage without playing an instrument. It felt like a new discovery. What incredible musicians. Also sharing the stage with David Thomas Broughton, Roddy Doyle, Mark Andrew Hamilton of Woodpigeon at the Golden Factories event for Young Hearts Run Free at St. Michians Church was quite special.
In theatre… I saw the final show of a seven-day run of ‘A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing’ performed by Aoife Duffin. She was incredible. It was intense and staggeringly impressive. I wondered how long it must have taken her to unwind after giving so much.
This Is The Kit played in the engineering library of The National concert Hall as a part of the Brassland weekend there in December. Well, that was a beautiful show but equally sweet was having them sing happy birthday to my five-year old daughter in the hallway of my house at 7:30am before they rushed out the door to catch the ferry to Holyhead. I hope they didn’t miss it.
‘Some Blue Morning’ is available now on Chemikal Underground.
David Westlake (London, UK)
The Servants formed in 1985 in Hayes, Middlesex, England, by singer and songwriter David Westlake (Luke Haines would later join The Servants in ‘87). Their unique blend of poignant lyrics, intricate arrangements, and utterly compelling indie-pop sounds was a world away from the mundane and noisy lo-fi scene heralded by the NME’s C-86 compilation the band would later appear on. ‘Small Time’/‘Hey Hey We’re The Manqués’ re-issued double album is available now on 2CD via Cherry Red and on double LP via Captured Tracks. David Westlake’s ‘Play Dusty With Me’ will be re-issued next year by U.S. independent label Captured Tracks.
2014? Deficit, devolution, free movement, Remembrance, Crimea, Ebola, ISIS, One Direction, Rolf Harris. But you know all this already. My 2014 – I got married, I played the NME C86 show, and first time since 1991 I played music with Luke Haines.
I am 49, so the best 2014 music release is unsurprisingly a reissue. It’s the Kevin Ayers Original Album Series five-disc set. The award for best latter-day recording (that I’ve heard) goes to Morrissey, from whom the very existence of new work is always an event. Cherry Red Records reissued C86 in 2014. I am on the compilation, but I always hated that song. Captured Tracks Records will issue my album ‘Play Dusty For Me’ in April 2015. Highly recommended.
Best book of 2014 has to be ‘Coming Up Trumps’ by Jean Trumpington. Multitudes of dull and deluded people trot out self-satisfied memoirs nowadays. Many can claim worth only as purgative toilet-seat reads. ‘Coming Up Trumps’ earns its right to exist – a remarkable life winningly told. Aurum’s paperback selection of John Betjeman newspaper pieces, ‘Lovely Bits of Old England’, is a treat.
Best film – ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’. Impeccable in every respect. Ralph Fiennes delivers a tour-de-force performance. Tenacious and good as Leslie Howard’s Scarlet Pimpernel. Or Anthony Valentine as Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman. There’s one for the teenagers. Someone would have to have a pretentious heart of stone not to love ‘Paddington’, too.
Memorably best new TV – Andrew Graham-Dixon’s BBC documentaries on Paul Nash and William Sickert, with the centennial focus on World War One. Most momentous TV – a repeat in March 2014 of a 1979 episode of ‘Top of the Pops’. Momentous because my wife was on-screen in the audience, then aged 14. Who could have known that thirty-five years later we would be thanking our lucky stars that the presenter she found herself standing next to that week was blameless Mike Read?
‘Play Dusty For Me’ by David Westlake will be re-issued by Captured Tracks (LP & CD) on 18 April 2015. ‘Small Time’/‘Hey Hey We’re The Manqués’ by The Servants is available now on Cherry Red Records (2CD) and on Captured Tracks (2LP).
K. Leimer (Seattle, USA)
For the third installment in Brooklyn-based RVNG Intl.’s archival series, the tape is wound back to 1970s Seattle, home place of ambient music pioneer K. Leimer. ‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975 – 1983)’ unearths unreleased portions of Leimer’s vast archives and highlights the work of a self-taught visionary whose use of generative compositions ferried his music to infinite resonance. Kerry Leimer was born in Winnipeg, Canada. He was raised in Chicago before his family permanently settled in Seattle in 1967. This year’s ‘A Period of Review’ heralded one of 2014’s most prized re-issues. K. Leimer’s forthcoming full-length player, ‘The Grey Catalog’ will be released on Palace Of Lights in January 2015.
It’s odd that highly obscure music, written and recorded more than 34 years ago, would matter in any way at all today. So despite performing again and completing and releasing a few albums on our little label, much of the past year was spent talking and writing about the germinal work that was assembled as ‘A Period of Review’. Which made 2014 seem more like 1979 to me. But between bouts of studio time and grappling with miles of tape there was some remarkable listening: Gudnadóttir’s ‘Saman’; the Jakob Ullmann ‘Fremde Zeit’ / ‘Addendum’ box; Taylor Deupree’s ‘Faint’; David Sylvian’s ‘There’s a light that enters…’; Nils Frahm’s ‘Screws’; and A Wing Victory for the Sullen’s ‘Atomos’. impossibly rich diversity and innovation. And now wrapping up the year with ‘Different Every Time’, a book that’s unevenly written but compelling all the same. And the recording — especially important to me because it includes Wyatt performing one of the ‘Experiences’ by John Cage from a record, also thirty+ years old, originally issued on the Obscure label. Now if i could just find the piano pieces from that same document! The free hours that remained were given over to compiling another reissue, based on ‘The Neo-Realist’ (at Risk). A compilation for my fake rock band Savant which will be released in the first half of 2015. Titled ‘Artificial Dance’, it seems set to guarantee that my experience of 2015 will seem more like 1982. But beyond the solace and joy of such sustained musical innovation and accomplishment, the overriding experience of 2014 remains the naked violence and injustice that my country visits upon so many people. Our own citizens routinely and unjustifiably killed by police; The published and redacted details of the Bush administration’s torture program; pornographic levels of wealth set beside unprecedented income inequality; blanket denials of our shared environmental crisis. Just who is meant to be left solvent and able to purchase the refrigerator magnets and iCrap that drives most of the culture?
‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’ is available now on RVNG Intl.
Matthew Collings (Edinburgh, UK)
Matthew Collings is a Scotland-based composer. In addition to his solo recording and live output, he collaborates regularly with artists from disparate backgrounds, including musicians Dag Rosenqvist from Jasper TX and Denovali label-mate Talvihorros, dancers and filmmakers. 2014 marked the release of Collings’ new sophomore full-length, ‘Silence Is A Rhythm Too’ on the prestigious German-based independent label, Denovali Records.
Has been another year of slow growth. I spent much of the year wrestling with the idea of Edward Snowden. Realising that my work is much better off with other people, and made with other people…and so am I.
It saw various births and deaths of beautiful people who I will miss and look forward to getting to know. I wonder what role I will play in people’s lives.
This year saw a furry of releases – a beautiful vinyl/photobook with Elin Svennberg, the dark yet uplifting pop of Graveyard Tapes, and a new record in ‘Silence is a Rhythm Too’ and a re-release of ‘Splintered Instruments’ on Denovali. 2015 will expect the Snowden monster to rear it’s head, as well as a record with Dag Rosenqvist which I’m finishing right now.
I’ve been incredibly lucky this year to meet so many amazing, inspiring people. The thought of them keeps me positive when I start to complain about my place and position in the world, which I really have no ground to do.
I’m a very very lucky person.
Some music to listen to this year: These New Puritans, Ben Frost, Talvihorros, Numbers are Futile.
Here’s to 2015 ; chasing sound, not chasing my tail.
‘Silence Is A Rhythm Too’ is available now on Denovali.
Sophie Hutchings (Sydney, Australia)
‘White Light’ is the latest collection of mesmerising piano music from Sydney-based composer and pianist Sophie Hutchings. Beginning with 2010’s debut ‘Becalmed’, the gifted composer has crafted her unique blend of neo-classical, piano-based compositions, which would later be followed-up with the spellbinding ‘Night Sky’ LP in 2012. Both records are available now on the Australian independent label, Preservation. Hutchings is currently working on her third studio album – and follow-up to ‘Night Sky’ – which will be released in 2015.
Does anyone get nostalgic as midnight creeps towards the closing of a year, the beginning of another…… Reminiscent. Looking back over years, contemplating life…….
As a child I often created a sacred moment as the year wound down. Preparing for the approaching strike of midnight, setting up the record player with one of mum or dad’s records. I took life very seriously! Always allowing a moment over midnight to ponder over life… And so we should…… Casting our minds back and then casting it ahead in view of a new beginning.
I often start the year with the goal of uncomplicating my life. Uncluttering my brain… Simplfying and yet as weeks and months go by, slowly or quickly enough, the complicated starts to work its way back in. Whether it be the things in your life or the things you fill your mind with…
There was a lot of creative purging this year associated with writing the new album.. The highs and lows that come with that and life in general. So as I venture down the beautiful south coast of Australia this week, and make my way through the diverse landscapes of Myanmar in January, I want to remind myself of a basic fact. The simple things in life can offer so much contentment…
A boundless vast ocean, lying under a star lit sky, or gazing into an open fire……..Things like these..
I’m going to press the reset button and see how it goes for me this year ….
Inspiring Highlights of 2014:
Reads and Watch:
First read of 2014 – Donna Tarts ‘The Goldfinch’ one of the best contemporary authors to date. Her compelling narratives lead to not being able to put the book down!..
‘Tracks – The documented Solo Journey of Robyn Davidson’ (also known as ‘The Camel Lady’) through the Australian West Desert. The cinematography and soundtrack by Garth Stevenson created for the actual film was also a highlight.
Reading Solzhenitsyn’s contemplative and symbolic story ‘The First Circle’ depicting the lives of a secret research development made up of Gulag inmates set in Moscow. His sayings and philosophy on life pack some punch… Indeed an author to respect.
I watch so many movies so this is a hard one, but first one that comes to mind is Lao film ‘The Rocket’. It wasn’t released this year but was a standout for me. After living in Laos for sometime, Kim Mordaunt (director) was inspired to write the film whilst working on the documentary ‘Bomb Harvest’, and discovering Laos was the most bombed country on the planet, per capita. Two young children play the main characters in the movie, both whom had never actually acted before. It was a really inspiring film and gives insight to a country that has suffered at the hands of war.
I wanted to watch Béla Tarr’s 8 hour epic film ‘Satantango’ this year and it’s on my film hit list for 2015! There’s some beautiful shots HERE from it set to one of my all favourite composers Arvo Pärt.
I’ve been embracing a few new musical eras and genres. 60’s Vietnamese rock, Gamelan and also Turkish singer songwriter Fikret Kızılok!…
Also, ‘Open’ by The Necks was on high rotation.
Cleaning the house to this year’s Liars release ‘Mess’.
Touring with Ólafur Arnalds…
Creatively purging and mapping out the journey for the new album which will continue into the new year…….
All the best to everyone’s start to 2015.
‘White Light’ is available now as a free download via Bandcamp HERE. ‘Becalmed’ and ‘Night Sky’ are out now on the Preservation label.
To read Part 1 of Don’t Look Back, click HERE.
To read our Albums & Re-issues of 2014, click HERE.
With very special thanks to all the wonderful contributors for their contributions.
Wishing all our readers a very happy new year and best wishes for 2015.
Interview with Sophie Hutchings.
“For me instrumental music doesn’t always tell a definite story but expresses a definite feeling that words don’t have to define.”
Words: Mark Carry
‘White Light’ is the latest collection of mesmerising piano music from Sydney-based composer and pianist Sophie Hutchings. Beginning with 2010’s debut ‘Becalmed’, the gifted composer has crafted her unique blend of neo-classical, piano-based compositions that transports the listener to the further reaches of the barely attainable as endless moments of fragile beauty and infinite solace ascends into the surrounding atmosphere. To date, the full-length releases of 2010’s ‘Becalmed’ and follow-up ‘Night Sky’ (2012), released on the Australian independent label Preservation reveals an artist’s rich devotion to one’s chosen craft where fleeting moments of majestic beauty unfolds with each meandering piano pattern and ripple-flow of transcendence.
‘White Light’ is a collection of improvisational pieces recorded alone in an old church hall in Sydney. In the words of Hutchings: “These compositions come from nowhere”, reminding us just how special and resolutely unique the art of music can be and why music is indeed a universal language. The sublime opener of ‘Anchor’ feels a distant companion to ‘Night Sky’’s opening ‘Shadowed’ as the ethereal sounds of field recordings, strings and woodwind percussion (elements dotted beautifully across ‘Night Sky’’s rich sonic canvas) fade away beneath the lyrical and poignant solo piano melodies. ‘White Light’ exists in a parallel universe to the jazz piano of American jazz pianist Bill Evans; the hypnotic piano motifs of Australian trio The Necks’ Chris Abrahams and the modern neo-classical composers of Max Richter, Nils Frahm, Dustin O’ Halloran et al. It is this unspoken connection and innate ability to elicit human emotion to which Hutchings’ compositions are forever steeped in revelry and wonder.
The six compositions recorded in the sacred church space transcends both space and time as a deeply immersive and contemplative experience is effortlessly forged. As I listen to the heartfelt lament of ‘Stray’ or the rich textures of ‘The Vanishing’ and burning embers of ‘The Carriers’, my thoughts and feelings become synonymous with the music; buried deeply within the magical realm of music’s endless possibilities. Just like the stillness of night, the solo piano works of Hutchings captures a moment neither here nor there; belonging to the horizon of an approaching sun-lit sky.
‘White Light’ is available now as a free download via Bandcamp HERE.
‘Becalmed’ and ‘Night Sky’ are out now on the Preservation label.
Interview with Sophie Hutchings.
I was very interested to read these new piano improvisations were performed in an old church. Please discuss for me the space (and time) itself and how you feel this setting, in effect shaped the music?
Sophie Hutchings: The space is not like the beautiful old European churches. It’s kinda like a Wealthy Grandma’s big lounge room. Big white arched windows, the classic high ceilings but with lots of lounges, lamps & candles everywhere. The space is actually used as a unique music venue. They have a really nice Grand Piano and I asked if I could take my mic’s in late one night and set up camp. You get the odd bus or car off in the distance and a bit of street noise but apart from that you feel pretty alone & the openness of the room carries the piano nicely which is what I wanted.
Please discuss the process of improvisation? Is it a case of beginning with a blank canvas and seeing where the music takes you, so to speak? Also, I imagine would a lot of your compositions (contained on your full-length releases) start off as solo piano improvs with the spark of an idea?
SH: The pieces on this gift release are a mixture. Some of them started as a blank canvas others were musings I started at home and developed on the night….This time I wanted to learn just to let go and not think about it which many artist would relate to I’m sure. I wanted to press the record button and nothing else. Not overly listening, overly critiquing, scrapping and re-starting (though I admit I scrapped some from the night I didn’t like!) Just some of the things that happen when you’re doing an official album.
Is there a narrative that you feel forms this collection of new music, Sophie? It is clear with your captivating music that indeed something very lyrical and poignant lies at the heart of the piano works.
SH: A lot of feelings and thoughts lie at the heart but really the best therapy when playing for me is thinking of nothing. I don’t really remember what I’m contemplating at the time. You definitely feel strongly and you re-connect when you listen back to them. For me instrumental music doesn’t always tell a definite story but expresses a definite feeling that words don’t have to define…. That’s what I love about it (kind of cheating really!).
Please shed some light on your forthcoming record and follow-up to the spell-binding ‘Night Sky’?
SH: I’m doing it in small increments whenever those involved can spare the time. e.g. Strings, My Engineering friend Tim Whitten…In my spare time I’m working on ideas from home but I tend to focus more and get creatively spontaneous when I’m in the studio. I guess it’s an extension of perhaps the flavour of what I’ve done previously only I hope it’s better and well there will be some different elements for sure!
What records and artists have you been obsessed with of late?
SH: Gamelan music… though I don’t know all the names of the artists I’ve been listening to of lately I absolutely love it and trying to build a collection.
A bit of African Jazz -Tche Belew gets a good spin over dinner and wine.
The Necks release early this year – Open and the new A Winged Victory for the Sullen album – Atomos are on high rotation.
‘White Light’ is available now as a free download via Bandcamp HERE.
The Sydney-based pianist and composer Sophie Hutchings shares with us her feelings on the album which had the greatest impact on her life as a musician. To date, Hutchings has released two solo albums, ‘Becalmed’ and ‘Night Sky’, both available now via Australian independent label Preservation.
The Necks ‘Sex’, by Sophie Hutchings.
From a young age I became fixated with repetition… during practice or mooching around on the piano, even if it were a simple melody I’d made up. I’d enjoy the process of playing it in circular motion. There was a contentment in performing the same thing over and over again — although I’m sure my family didn’t experience the same form of contentment at the time! However, come my energetic teens it was the compelling and emotionally charged power of indie rock music that began to take precedence in my life, and although I continued to improvise at home with the kind of music I generally do now, I wasn’t exactly searching for anything outside of the more aggressive music I was listening to. I was spoilt by the records my two older brothers would bring home, and it was exciting to rummage through their collections and new finds. I felt I was discovering great and interesting music and I was! But when bands like Rachel’s came along, another sense in me awakened.
The first groundbreaking discovery for me was The Necks album ‘Sex’. Tim Whitten — who has been involved with the recording process of both my albums and a long-standing family friend — gave it to me saying: “You will totally dig this album”. I immediately fell in love with the purity, as well as the endlessly repeated motifs of the drums, bass and piano.
Repetition in music for me — be it ambient, instrumental or indie rock when done well — kind of transports you away from what’s going on around you. It holds you in a nice little pocket of time, hypnotic inflections drag you into a musical undercurrent and that’s what The Necks do to me. They manage to calmly hypnotize you without dissecting your emotions. They take you to a pensive place whilst also managing to uplift you at the same time. I chose this record, as it was a huge turning point in my life and it was the foundation of what I was then to build from. To this day I still hold onto it as a very special album. It’s one of those nostalgic numbers in your collection that you put on again, and again, again and again… and again. I never tire of it.
Artist: The Necks
Label: Spiral Scratch
Tracklist: Sex (56:08)
Personell: Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums), and Lloyd Swanton (bass)
Sophie Hutchings is currently recording her third album and follow-up to ‘Night Sky’ (Preservation, 2012) alongside The Necks’ producer Tim Whitten. Both ‘Becalmed’ and ‘Night Sky’ are available now on the Preservation label.
Sydney-based composer and pianist Sophie Hutchings recently toured Japan for the first time where she recorded her impressions and thoughts on her voyage which included performances in Tokyo, Nara and Kobe. The trip also featured musical guests including the sublime talents of guitar/violin duo Ryan Francesconi and Mirabai Peart as well as the Japanese artists Ikebana and Casio Tones. Hutchings’ piano based compositions are both personal and mysterious, all at once. It is divine instrumental music where the ethereal layers of sound shares an unspoken connection with the listener. Her two stunning studio albums, ‘Becalmed’ (2010) and ‘Night Sky’ (2012), confirm Hutchings as one of the most talented and inspiring of modern composers making music today.
Words: Sophie Hutchings
JAPAN TOUR DIARY: Nihon Ichi Ban
From gritty chicken gizzards, octopus balls, and crab’s brains to melt in your mouth sushi.
When stage fright in a public toilet becomes a thing of the past thanks to an automatic soundscape of running streams.
Where rubbish bins sometimes don’t exist but all is somehow immaculate.
Where getting naked for a natural osen soak is a must.
Flashing neon lights, a raving warren of streets, golden story book rural thatched roofed villages……
Welcome to Japan.
Shinjuku Station is one of the busiest train stations in the world, and when it’s near midnight it’s easy to become lost in the pandemonium. Finally we surface and meet the bright battle of neon lights. We’re hungry and it’s late, but the local Seven Eleven surprisingly serves its purpose; and satisfyingly so. We’re not talking greasy fries or hot dogs so preserved they’d survive WWIII. We’re talking fresh bento boxes and more. I get my first sushi fix here and discover the best snack ever – onigiri – a rice ball type hit wrapped tightly in seaweed, with a lucky dip treat embedded in the centre be it tofu, tuna, pickled kombu or whatever else and for approximately $1.50 it soon became a staple when hungry.
First Tokyo Show with Ryan Francesconi and Mirabai Peart
Eastern Tokyo is a largely residential and industrial area with very few tourist attractions. This only spurs the local experience. We make our way through a warren of streets luckily with the help of our friend Masami the Jedi behind Impartmaint.
Typically Japanese – you enter a nondescript building and head down a steep timber stair case to find yourself in the basement gallery of Nanahari. A casual vibe, and a mood set by some earthy 60’s Zaire traditional spinning on vinyl, plus a bit of Don Cherry amongst others. There’s a little upright sitting in the corner waiting for me; I thought Japan was full of Yamaha’s. This is an old masculine Kawaii.
It’s my first time in Japan, I’m not really sure what to expect but I’m told everyone is ridiculously respectful and polite. It’s true, but they’re not just ridiculously respectful and polite – they’re cute, funny and a bunch of individual groovers. Everyone sat attentively – huddled on little timber stools, lounges with some cosily packed up the stair case.
Ryan Francesconi and Mirabai Peart (partners and band mates in Joanna Newsom’s line-up) play a beautiful set. Watching Ryan and Mirabai weave in and out of each other’s musical movements is pretty special, with a fresh yet oldish nostalgic sound stemming from their fusion of Balkan/Bulgarian classical come folk compositions….
I catch up with the Charismatic Yas who has booked most of this tour. We all mingle and I write down a long list of the music that’s been spinning tonight.
Back on the train and following the bright neon lights and sky scraper buildings, Yas weaves us through the tiny ramshackle alleyways of the Golden Gai district navigating us back to wherever it was we came from. Streets almost wide enough for a single person to pass through, an area of tiny shanty-style bars and clubs where musicians, artists and the like gather. It’s a great little hub for food and drinks in a very rustic Japanese style atmosphere. Our first taste of Tokyo is good indeed!
Bullet trains and central Honshu:
We are heading for ‘nowhere’.
Tastefully minimalistic in style – walls covered in creative offerings and records from all around the world for sale – ‘nowhere’ is the perfect name for this tiny iconic venue as it literally feels like no – where. Surrounded by steep mountains and endless fields that embrace a deep bay.
We arrive at the small city of Toyama (in the northern centre of Japan). I meet the very charming venue owner Eiichi Yasukawa and his wife Aiko. Eiichi not only designed and built the furniture but is also seriously the finest chef in Japan, not to mention the possessor of a ridiculously copious music collection.
Eiichi starts out as your typically shy, polite and extremely accommodating Japanese host. However by the end of the night he’s dancing around the tables laughing and spoiling the dinner guests with his modern Japanese delicacies: morohay – a smoky tasting morsel of whisked up egg white, seaweed and goodness knows what else that you somehow have to manage to scoop up with chop sticks. The texture resembles things I’d rather not say… however it’s surprisingly tasty! Tofu okra salad, Japanese style beef pockets, radish and pickle green bean salad, jelly infused with an orange and milk coffee base…and on it goes. With such a generous supply of food and drinks, our ‘lost in translation’ zone doesn’t seem to matter. By now our dining conversation is led by weighty and animated role play.
Winding up the evening all sleepy and full bellied, with the heat of the summer’s day rising and the cold air sinking from the Toyama Mountains, a cracking thunder-storm hits. A beautiful and dramatic spectacle in light. Toyamas closing act for the evening…
NARA: City of Deers
We drop off our backpacks at Naramachi guest house. It’s an old restored calligraphy house and with the now familiar scent of bamboo and incense I’m feeling at home already. The rooms kind of remind me of an old wooden doll palace.
Nara is a place full of hungry deers and little historic treasures awash with long narrow lanes. Former residential merchant buildings and warehouses have been preserved, and now run as cute little vintage boutiques, shops and cafes. On one of these many narrow lanes you will find cafe taken; a small gallery cafe with a quarter of it taken up by a beautiful Yamaha grand piano I am to tinkle on. With rustic timber floors, a beautiful piano packed into a cute space and everyone tucked in around me; It made for a cosy loungeroom atmosphere.
We spend the next day walking through Kasuga woods, playfully fighting off the deers, temple hopping, grabbing another rice ball hit and then finally jumping on our next bullet train to Kobe.
Wedged in between the coast and the mountains lays Kobe’s cosmopolitan port city. We meet the Ikebana girls at the nearby train station who I’m doing a couple of the Japan shows with. Ikebana (meaning flower arrangement) are a local duo from Tokyo consisting of Maki and En. They create dreamlike minimalist shoe-gaze guitar tones over atmospheric drones and sweet distant vocal harmonies injecting a calm somnolent mood in the best kind of way.
Our group makes its way up the hill-side, there nestled at the top overlooking the sea is the beautiful Guggenheim house. One of the appealing things about Kobe is its unique historical, colourful array of European style architecture. Apparently this dates back to the large community of expatriates who arrived in the early 1940’s so its style stands out.
I’m slow to admit that my rice ball hits are getting a bit dreary so I could do with a good cake hit! Thankfully Guggenheim House is run by a half Belgian, half Japanese gent named Ali . Upon arrival we are welcomed with rich heavy Belgian cake goodness for afternoon tea before sound check. I’m a satisfied guest…
Playing at Guggenheim house is like playing in a big old ballroom and the audience as usual are an attentive delight. Ikebana play a beautiful set alongside the quirky opening electronica outfit called Casio Tones. Casio Tones are a concoction of six artists playing musical chairs over continual keyboards, loops and beats. I could only describe it as walking into a video parlour; but instead picture people playing musical instruments instead of games. Very entertaining stuff.
I feel at home, there’s a relaxing vibe crashing out here. Almost an elegant “Great Gatsby” feel combined with a family friendly, hippy commune-like element. The back-end of the property is occupied with full-time dwellers who all hang out together pursuing all things creative. After the show we all mingle over santori highballs and we become like family.
We spend the next day taking the cable car for a fine view of Kobe city, pottering about the funky area of West Tor and meeting up with our new-found friends who run spacemoth. Spacemoth is located in a cool old hospital building that now houses several clothing and music themed boutiques.
This place certainly lives up to its cosmopolitan reputation.
Back to Tokyo
Being based in the sweet little neighbourhood of Shimokitizawa this time around is a bit of a treat. It acts as a rewarding breather if you’re overwhelmed by Tokyo’s more hectic suburbs. Only three stops from the fun and bustling Shibuya – it’s the Japanese Greenwich Village with a laid back vibe full of funky cafes, vintage clothing stores, second-hand record stores, live music venues and groovy little bars and restaurants often arrayed with a mural type graffitied shop front..
The Last show is held here in Shimokita at the enchanting old Fujimigaoka Church. The church is often used for concerts and also affords a neat little view of Mt Fuji. I’m performing again with my newfound friends Maki and En of Ikebana. Playing at an old church always feels totally natural thanks to their naturally lush acoustics. To top off the evening Yas (who is as nutty and fun as the mad hatter) has booked a bunch of us into one of the local Izakaya – the Japanese version of a good pub all-you-can-eat-and-drink style eatery. Huge platters of sashimi salad, whole grilled fish, agedashi-dofu (deep fried tofu in a dashi broth) and the list goes on! Plenty of Asahi or Kirin beers go down nicely in the heat…
With plenty to do in Tokyo other highlights were the tranquil parks, six-seater bars and a long headphone session at Tower Records.
There’s often a notion of rigidity and conservatism attached to Japanese society. However its music and art scene is definitely a unique quirky hub all of its own, with the most polite and appreciative audiences you could ever ask for.
Thanks to Yas, Masami and my travel buddies Reuben, Charles and Nicolette as well as all those involved with the shows for making this a fun and memorable trip.
Go go gai daiski des!
‘Night Sky’ and ‘Becalmed’ by Sophie Hutchings are out now on the Preservation label.
Interview with Nat Hawks, Padna.
“I keep it intuitive. I love listening to partially finished tracks and allowing myself audio hallucinations. Then, I quickly record something similar before I forget! I often will just record my voice mimicking the sounds. On upcoming recordings, I’m going to take this further, composing entire tracks with my voice alone. Then build around the voice, like sloppy paper mache on a balloon.”
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
Sydney-based label Preservation released several momentous albums as part of the label’s Circa series during 2012, and Brooklyn-based Nat Hawks AKA Padna was one of the featured artists. The Circa series showcases the spirit and ethos of independent music, where beautiful artwork – sharing common designs and typography (depicting each artist name in a custom-made typographic alphabet)- adorns the sleeves of each artist’s personal work of art. The level of quality-control as ever is consistently high, with Panabrite’s electronic wizardry (‘The Baroque Atrium’), an utterly beautiful collaboration between Aaron Martin and Justin Wright (‘Light Poured Out Of Our Bones’), the low-key drones of Quiet Evenings AKA Rachel Evans (‘Transcending Spheres’) and Nickolas Mohanna’s detailed electronic explorations (‘Reflectors’). These are just some of the treasured records – all limited physical editions – brought to us by the formidable Australian independent label, and it is through this very Circa series, I crossed paths with Padna’s Nat Hawks.
Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Hawks has been recording as Padna for the best part of a decade. Armed with Pro-tools and a 9-recordable tracks, and a vast collection of cherished instruments (including old casios, banjo, acoustic guitars, bells, analog synths and old contact mics), Hawks creates spellbinding ambient infused psychedelia with embellishes of drone and pop music. The latest album, ‘Burnt Offerings’ is wrapped in lo-fi warmth that showcases the most complete and fully realized album of Padna thus far. There is very much a refinement of the artist’s craft here, with the primary objective being to scale back, and the result is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of forgotten sound and drifting tones. The ultimate goal for Padna is to create “music that is challenging, but still practical.” The seven sonic creations contained on ‘Burnt Offerings’ has riches of organic instrumentation – slowly plucked notes of acoustic guitar, floating piano chords, voices and field recordings – but also expanses of mysterious synthetic elements – analog synthesizers, looped voice recordings, waves of electronic pulses – that effortlessly coalesce together, forming a cohesive organic whole.
Opening track ‘Didiidgduggg’ begins with wonderful drone infused noise soundscapes. As the track builds, lovely fragments of acoustic guitar passages seep into the frequencies of ambient pulses. The closing section sees a gradual rise of electronic tweaking as the piece falls perfectly into ‘Caphonic Fog’. A beguiling voice recording is looped beneath a central ambient piano melody. Most certainly, ‘Caphonic Fog’ is one of the many sublime moments the record has to offer. The voice seems to originate from a far-off land – distant and remote – and the effect I feel is similar to ‘Jesus Blood Has Never Failed Me Yet’ by Gavin Bryars. An ethereal dimension is tapped into, as the voice repeats “ways of being happy”, and the track is indeed an exploration of happiness, the search for joy in the large expansive surroundings of mist and fog. Waves of synthesizer descends upon the mix some minutes later, as the spoken word becomes progressively abstract as the layers of electronic textures envelop the piece.
‘Pelts’ is a beautiful acoustic-guitar led instrumental. The organic warmth of ‘Burnt Offerings’ is at its compelling best, as the clean guitar notes conjure up a deeply immersive and reflective mood. The instrumentation of harmonium that is added sometime later is looped, together with electronic sounds and samples. ‘Never Let Me Go’ opens with a beautiful spanish guitar melody with delicate arpeggios and plucked notes forming the song’s blood-flow. A glorious synthesizer melody forms a close dialogue with the lullaby like guitar refrain. An interstellar journey is created that is somewhere between Laurie Spiegel and Tortoise. As ever, the ebb and flow of the sonic creations are a joy to witness, as ‘Never Let Me Go’ fades into the psych haze of Shoeg’. The slow strum of acoustic guitar creates a dream-world of beautifully restrained ambient spheres of sound. The piece’s meditative quality is striking and as the banjo ascends upon us, a culmination of feeling and mood is beautifully arrived upon.
‘Burnt Offerings’ is out now on Preservation.
Interview with Nat Hawks, Padna.
Congratulations on your truly compelling ‘Burnt Offerings’ album. Tell me please about the recording of this album and the objectives you set out for yourself to achieve from the outset?
Thanks for the kind words! This album began as a live set that featured all but the last two songs. There is an annual holiday show in Syracuse, NY, where I’m from, and I try to write a new set for it each year. When I started creating a home-studio version of these songs I got to embellish them a bit, but tried to stay true to what the songs were like live. The last two tracks I never intended to play live, so felt particularly untethered there, in terms of how much ‘studio’ I was comfortable mixing in.
At the holiday show, I was subjugated to the cold entryway with mostly post-hardcore bands. Sound was blasting through the wall, the floor was wet, it was a disaster. The next night I invited my friends over to my parents’ house, we made a fire, and I played the set with the documentary Winged Migration playing behind me. Success!
Overall, a primary objective for this album was to scale back. I tend to pile layer-on-layer on a track, which is often more fun for me than the listener. I wanted more clarity on this album, more breathing room, or elbow room at least. Andrew from Preservation helped make some tough, but necessary, decisions on this front.
On each release I want to sound “more like Padna,” whatever that may be. This mindset helps me refine what I’m doing, without having to use evaluative wording like “better.”
The wide array of sources and sounds on this album makes for a shape shifting tour-de force in drone, psychedelia and ambient explorations in sound. I would love to gain an insight into your creative process and the source of sounds and instrumentation you draw from?
I’ve been recording as Padna for about a decade. I have quite a few old albums! Having gone through the process so many times, I’m pretty comfortable starting a track from any starting point from a completed melody that needs to be dressed up, to a train-wreck of a track that needs to be torn apart.
I keep it intuitive. I love listening to partially finished tracks and allowing myself audio hallucinations. Then, I quickly record something similar before I forget! I often will just record my voice mimicking the sounds. On upcoming recordings, I’m going to take this further, composing entire tracks with my voice alone. Then build around the voice, like sloppy paper mache on a balloon.
I recently recorded my first melody composed in a dream. I’ve experienced many dream melodies, but I had never ‘caught’ one. Ideally, the entirety of my new album would be created through this process.
One of my great joys is hearing that sound in my head, and looking through my heaps of sound-things looking for the right object (or combination).
My current favourite is Caphonic Fog’ with its meandering piano notes and looped vocal segments. This song represents the creative spirit that exudes from the recordings of ‘Burnt Offerings’. What formed this song; was it the piano melody or vocal treatment? I would love to hear how this song was formed and the song’s construction?
Thanks! I get to play an actual piano only when I visit my parents’ home, which happens, sadly, once-or-twice a year. And then, I often only get about an hour in. I always have my trusty tape recorder with me and try to get at least one usable melody.
For Caphonic, I wanted to turn the piano melody into a track to perform. Live, I looped the piano, looped a woman’s speech program voice, played a weird duck call I got at a Vermont Fair (a plastic cup with a string and a sponge bit), and soloed some vocoder on top. The synth melodies were added for the album-version, and the elements weren’t in tune with each other, which was a challenge.
It can be refreshing to work backwards from a track that was first created for the live setting, as limitations and restrictions have already helped the song coalesce into something relatively clean of excess. Then, assuming these tracks wouldn’t be played live anytime soon, I don’t hesitate when adding on a little here-and-there.
Growing up listening to REM and the Replacements, I was drawn to the ballads. They hit you harder! I wondered why groups wouldn’t JUST write ballads. I was so emo.
There’s a version of this song with a dub beat I really like, but it didn’t make sense for the album.
The album was the final installment as part of the Preservation label’s Circa series. It must be wonderful to have your music released as part of this unique series and on a groundbreaking label such as Preservation?
Absolutely! I remain humbled and mystified that Andrew from Preservation sought me out. That event has fueled my spirits greatly. Andrew was very patient and helpful with how the album developed.
What are your current inspirations? What bands are you listening to the most these days?
To be completely honest, there are few times in the day I can listen to music that is in the same realm as Padna. I have an early start to my morning, and a demanding job, so Crystal Castles blasting on my headphones is what gets me through work a lot. I love La Roux. I like keeping up with stuff like James Blake, new My Bloody Valentine, new Autechre, new Flaming Lips… I have to keep it pretty utilitarian.. Been listening to Laurie Spiegel’s Expanding Universe for the morning commute a lot. Trippple Nippples from Japan is the future.
On my subway ride home, I can free up my brain to listen to the slightly weirder stuff: Sublime Frequencies, Nurse with Wound, Coil, Pete Swanson, Vatican Shadow, Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix …
At home I like to listen to vinyl. Huge fan of Dark Entries, Forced Nostalgia, and Minimal Waves reissues!!! Really like going to Other Music, and often pick up what they’re playing. They’ve influenced my tastes immensely over the years.
All that aside, I don’t often hear stuff that reminds me of what I do, but that’s probably a defense mechanism. I really enjoy the sound palate of a lot of new experimental stuff I hear, but want it to be used in a song structure, which I guess is what I’m going for.
A goal for Padna is music that is challenging, but still practical.
You have been immersed in the DIY/cassette underground where many of your releases has caused a stir in the underground. Please discuss this music you’ve been making–I guess from a young age–and how it has developed?
My parents got me a guitar for my birthday when I was in 7th grade. I took guitar lessons and demanded I just learn Guns n’ Roses songs, which I did. I wasn’t very good and lost interest quickly.
I dusted the guitar off freshman year in high school when Nirvana hit and made new friends around mutual excitement for that music. We formed a psychedelic indie pop band, Mr. Pluto. I wrote the songs and tried to sing. I could never solo, ever, but I could put songs together in crafty ways.
When I moved to New York I started creating the 4-track recordings that would become Padna. Just playing guitar in weird ways through a delay pedal and mixing it strangely. Then I got the free ProTools with 9 recordable tracks and that’s when it really began for me.
‘Pelts’ is a stunningly beautiful sonic creation. I love the acoustic guitar-led melody. The clean tones are blended gorgeously with electronic sounds. You are able to effortlessly combine the organic and synthetic elements, like bands such as Mountains. Please talk me through this song?
Cheers! I love Mountains! A close friend told me he liked Padna guitar-based songs. So when I set out to write these songs, I started on acoustic. I wrote the three guitar songs for this album in one day. It was towards the end of my summer vacation (I’m a teacher) and ‘play guitar’ was still on my list! For years now, I only play any music to write, record, or practice for a show, which is sad, but I have limited time for such things.
Pelts is a series of loops, with e-bow loops laid on top, then a contact mic scraping the ground. This is exactly how it sounded live.
I played this song for ninety 7th graders last year in my school auditorium, which was fun.
There’s an extension to this song that didn’t work for this album, holding onto it for an ep or something.
The moment the banjo arrives into the mix, seven minutes in on ‘Shoeg’ is perhaps my favourite moment of ‘Burnt Offerings’. Discuss for me please your most preferred instrument at the moment and recount for me please the various instruments you have collected over the years?
Thanks for noticing that little banjo section! I like to visualize a song as a physical entity that we can’t see all of, can’t see around its corners. The banjo bit is meant to create that sense.
Over the years I have accumulated … accordion, trombone, banjo, old casios, cheap analog synth, harmonicas, flutes, bells, broken guitar peddles, bird calls, zither, didgeridoo, 99 cent toys, oddball contact mics from noise maverick Crank Sturgeon, dusty equalizers, household objects…
My most recent local acquisition is a home church organ! Very stoked. Will be featured heavily on the next album.
What is next for you Nat?
Just wrapped up recording a piece I composed entirely of cd-skips from a Ralph Vaughn Williams track. My friend Chris McDonald, who mastered Burnt Offerings, mentioned RVW melodies remind him of mine sometimes, and I’m a huge RVW fan, so figured it was a sign. I burned a track to CDR, scratched it, compiled around 400 skips, took my favorite 200, and composed and performed a 40 minute piece using three channels of choreographed samples. I’ve done this process many times in the past with my ‘So Many Fish in Heaven’ series, which did this process generatively over multiple releases.
I’ve also got an ep of some tracks that didn’t fit on Burnt Offerings, an album of improvised material I made with my friend Carl Diehl while at a residency at the Experimental Television Center. I’m also in a droney-pastoral duo, Christian Science Minotaur, and a more beat, song-oriented trio, Hwi Noree, with finished recordings ready to go. Going to start looking for a home for these releases soon.
And it’s time to begin work on the new Padna full-length!
‘Burnt Offerings’ is out now on Preservation.