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Posts Tagged ‘Rafael Anton Irisarri

Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S02E08 | August mix

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August’s mixtape features a pair of tracks from This Is How We Fly’s eagerly-anticipated second album “Foreign Fields”, due for release on 15th September 2017. The four-piece comprise the renowned musicians: Petter Berndalen (drums), Nic Gareiss (percussive dance), Seán Mac Erlaine (clarinets, electronics) and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (hardanger d’amore fiddles). Hailing from Ireland, Sweden and USA, the quartet draw upon a rich tapestry of sounds and traditions, drawing upon the raw energy and rich dynamism of jazz and its true spirit of improvisation, together with traditional music’s eternal affinity and appreciation for honing and perfecting one’s craft. “Foreign Fields” is a joy to behold, its soul-stirring music navigates new sonic terrain while continually pushing its four composers to reach for new heights, forever onwards and upwards for this most inventive and mythical of bands.

UK producer James Holden’s “The Inheritors” (Border Community, 2013) was one of this century’s finest records, an album for modern times created by one of the most consistently innovative and singular artists making music today. With the announcement that it’s long-awaited follow-up, “The Animal Spirits” (due for release on 3rd November once again via Holden’s own Border Community label), it is bound to rise to the surface on many an end-of-year lists come December. The album (described as “synth-led folk-trance standards”) features Holden’s newly assembled group of “fellow travellers”, James Holden & The Animal Spirits. The personnel comprises long-time collaborators Tom Page and Etienne Jaumet, as well as Marcus Hamblett, Liza Bec and Lascelle Gordon. The album’s lead single, “Pass Through The Fire” has so far been unveiled, the track having been inspired by his 2014 trip to Morocco to work with late Gnawa music legend Maalem Mahmoud Guinia. James Holden was also recently added to the special guest curatorial program at this November’s Le Guess Who? Festival at Utrecht, where he has invited such stellar musicians as Serbia’s Mario Batkovic and Canada’s Jerusalem In My Heart to his lineup.

August’s mix also features new releases from: Julie Byrne’s “Not Even Happiness” (Basin Rock); Four Tet’s latest essential single for his Text imprint, “Planet”; Grouper’s new track “Children” (taken from her “Ruins” album sessions); Rafael Anton Irisarri’s mesmerising “The Shameless Years” (Umor Rex) and Hype Williams“Rainbow Edition” (Big Dada Recordings).

Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S02E08 | August mix


To listen on La Blogothèque:


01. Psychic TV“Just Drifting” (WEA, Some Bizzare)
02. Moor Mother“Valley of Dry Bones” (Don Giovanni)
03. Mica Levi & Oliver Coates“I’ll Keep Going” (Slip)
04. Hype Williams“#Blackcardsmatter” (Big Dada Recordings)
05. Lee Gamble“Istian” (Hyperdub)
06. Rhythm & Sound with Cornel Campbell“King In My Empire” (Soul Jazz)
07. Ken Parker“My Whole World Is Falling Down” (Heartbeat)
08. This Is How We Fly“Tí Mór” (Self-Released)
09. Laurel Halo“Who Won?” (Hyperdub)
10. James Holden & The Animal Spirits“Pass Through The Fire” (Border Community)
11. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith“To Follow And Lead” (Western Vinyl)
12. SAICOBAB“Bx Ax Bx” (Thrill Jockey)
13. Snapped Ankles“Hanging With The Moon” (The Leaf Label)
14. Ex Eye“Xenolith; the Anvil” (Relapse)
15. Suicide“Cheree” (Red Star)
16. Four Tet“Planet” (Text)
17. Washed Out“Down and Out” (Stones Throw)
18. Mariah“Shinzo No Tobira” (Palto Flats, Columbia)
19. LCD Soundsystem“tonite” (DFA, Columbia)
20. Severed Heads“Dead Eyes Opened” (Dark Entries)
21. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma“Echoing Green” (Mexican Summer)
22. Rafael Anton Irisarri“Sky Burial” (Umor Rex)
23. This Will Destroy You“The Puritan” (Julianna Barwick Remix) (Suicide Squeeze)
24. Grouper “Children” (Bandcamp)
25. Benoît Pioulard“Rook” (Beacon Sound)
26. Julie Byrne“Natural Blue” (Basin Rock, Ba Da Bing!)
27. This Is How We Fly“Fjellvant” (Self-Released)
28. Do Make Say Think“Shlomo’s Son” (Constellation)

Compiled by Fractured Air, August 2017. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.

Chosen One: Julia Kent

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Interview with Julia Kent.

“At this point, I am just trying to express the emotions I’m feeling, whether positive or negative, in whatever way I can.”

—Julia Kent

Words: Craig & Mark Carry


‘Asperities’ is the fourth full-length solo work by the Vancouver-born and New York-based cellist Julia Kent. Released earlier this year by English independent The Leaf Label (and follow-up to 2013’s glorious ‘Character’), ‘Asperities’ sees a significant shift and development in Kent’s unique sound, with an increased focus being placed on the treatment of sound. While Kent’s work practice has always consisted of a looping pedal station with her beloved cello, ‘Asperities’ displays a heightened focus on how far this processed sound can be manipulated and pushed while maintaining the emotion distilled at the moment of initial playing. It is the manner in which both worlds of analogue and digital – acoustic cello plus processed electronic sound (which can also incorporate field recordings) – that strikes such an irresistible chord throughout the spine of ‘Asperities’. Significantly, the album was also recorded, produced and mixed in its entirety by Kent (who formerly performed as cellist to Antony & The Johnsons and Rasputina) in her New York studio while mastering duties were done by American composer and sound artist Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below, Orcas).

A distillation of emotion has always been at the fore for Kent’s recordings thus far – from her 2007 debut ‘Delay’ (released via Swiss label Shayo) to its 2011 follow-up ‘Green And Grey’ (Important Records) and her most recent album ‘Character’ (her first for the UK-based Leaf Label). Tracks such as ‘Missed’ (‘Green And Grey’), ‘Tourbillon’ or ‘Nina and Oscar’ (both from ‘Character’) are testament to this: the careful looping of cello lines interweave forcefully and gracefully all at once, creating moments of raw power and pure emotion in the process. The fact that the Canadian composer can conjure moments of both earth-shattering force and a fragile lightness of being (sometimes all at once) is both testament to Kent’s immense playing prowess but also her own very specific outlook and vision as an artist. Like similarly minded souls such as Iceland’s Hildur Guðnadóttir or Germany’s Hauschka, Kent is less concerned with mere technique or surface detail as she is with where such surfaces can take her.

On talking about the album’s title Kent has previously stated: “I was thinking about the concept of difficulty. Whether in life or in nature – of conflict, of being troubled. The idea of friction. Also in geology, an asperity is some part of a faultline that doesn’t move which can create an earthquake, which is quite an evocative concept.”
Indeed, such a concept beautifully encapsulates the album’s arc as a whole as well as its nine divine tracks. From the gradual build of album opener ‘Hellebore’ – where hard-edged cello lines cut through the foreground to stunning effect halfway through – a whole world of both impossibly intricate and fluid-like abstract textures awash the sonic palette. Its clear from second track ‘Lac des Arcs’ that an increasing focus is now placed on both the distance between notes as the precise notes themselves. Like a network of branches offset a winter sky, we lose ourselves in the infinite patterns of both positive and negative shapes in our midst. The ever-expanding well of emotions is palpable throughout – reminiscent of a prolonged mood-piece motion picture or an epic piece of fictional prose where we nervously await the outcome of our ill-fated protagonist – and brings to mind the other special souls making music in the modern classical realm today such as Jóhann Jóhannsson or William Basinski.

‘The Leopard’ begins with plucked cello lines which are looped throughout the piece (the longest cut on the album at six-minutes) and recalls vivid memories of witnessing Kent live in concert. For it’s in live situations one can readily appreciate (and effectively visualize) the construction (and simultaneously the deconstruction) of Kent’s majestic oeuvre. The impact of tracks such as ‘The Leopard’ leaves one loose complete sense of the present and existing moment; we are floating to some distant shore underneath the moon and stars above. In fact, the piece embodies no less an impact than as if played by a string quartet or full-scale orchestra where a seemingly endless gamut of mood, emotion and scale emerge from the horizon. ‘Flag Of No Country’ contains an alluring melodic line (akin to a piece of musical saw performed by Amiina), and precisely how these acoustic sounds merge with its processed electronic counterpoint (recalling both electronic and dub-influenced traditions) is a pure joy to behold. There is a meticulousness felt here and yet – crucially – what emerges most obviously throughout is a palpable sense of the present, the here-and-now (it’s as if we are a silent witness hearing the songs for the first time being performed in Kent’s New York studio). Fittingly, ‘Terrain’ sits at the center point to Asperities’ vast landscape where a synthetic drum line further accentuate the electronic arc of the album. Whereas on a previous track – for example, 2013’s ‘Tourbillon’ – such an addition may have functioned more as a backdrop to the main cello line narrative; here, each and every electronic element lives, breathes and seeps into every pore of Kent’s cello playing. Indeed, such a brooding atmosphere only heightens and intensifies as we continue to navigate side b’s precarious waters, where processed and found sounds (for example, the buzzing static on ‘Empty States’) merge and fuze to startling effect, recalling Murcof or Fennesz in the process.

There is so much evidence here that ‘Asperities’ is Kent’s most remarkable and life-affirming tour-de-force to date and – taking into account the exceptional output that has already been made by the hand (and mind) of Kent – this is a truly remarkable achievement all on its own.

‘Asperities’ is available now on The Leaf Label.



Interview with Julia Kent.

Congratulations Julia on the truly breathtaking and exceptionally beautiful new record, ‘Asperities’. It’s such a pleasure to speak with you again and ask you some questions about this latest chapter in your beautifully storied career thus far. Please take me back to the making of ‘Asperities’ and the time and place these songs came to life? It really feels that this collection of music echoes the darkness of our times and the world as a whole of late. But nevertheless, in the darkness a deep sense of hope and strive for a better life prevails. The new music I feel captures this emotional depth and really feels (as all your records do) a special and emotional experience for the listener. I also love the many meanings of the album-title which in many ways filters into the album’s nine sonic creations.

Julia Kent: Thank you so much, Mark! Indeed, ‘Asperities’ was made under the influence of the stresses that I think we’re all feeling right now as humans: we seem to have lost empathy for one another as mutual inhabitants of this planet. And the title of course references the sense of harshness that echoes that sensation, as well as a sense of forces, whether tectonic or social, that are in conflict. But, as you say, there is still a sense of hope: there is still so much individual kindness that one encounters in life.

Please discuss the various stages of the album-making process: you recorded, produced and mixed the album in your own New York studio. This solitary process must really help shape the music that is eventually created. Also, I am very curious about the mindset and this concept of a musician’s mind when it comes to the creating/composing of music, and your instance, these heart-rendering cello-based compositions steeped in such unfathomable beauty. How do you feel your approach (and indeed the work of your mind) has developed across your solo works and in turn which has led to the creation of the latest masterpiece?

JK: The process of making ‘Asperities’ was actually fairly rapid, compared to my previous records. I’ve been playing some of the pieces live over the past year or so, so once I had some time in the studio, recording went quickly. And I tried to keep a sense of immediacy, and let the pieces go, rather than letting things percolate too long and getting stuck in an endless cycle of tweaking, as can sometimes happen when I’m working on my own. It’s great to have the objectivity that having someone else mix can provide, but I decided to mix myself, though I was lucky enough to be able to ask Rafael Anton Irisarri to master: I love his music and his sensibility so much, so it was really amazing to have the opportunity to have him do the mastering. I do think this record represents an evolution in my solo work: I’ve definitely become more comfortable with the idea of harshness and noise and sounds that aren’t inherently trying to be beautiful. At this point, I am just trying to express the emotions I’m feeling, whether positive or negative, in whatever way I can.

‘The Leopard’ is one of the record’s most captivating moments, and serves the centrepiece to the record’s Side A. In terms of the layering and meticulous crafting of the various sounds & textures, can you talk me through the construction of ‘The Leopard’? Also, I love how these intricate layers forever feels as if it’s one swarming ocean of sound (rather than many different isolated parts), something that has proved a great hallmark to your sonic creations. I love the reverb and heavy bass sounds that serve the pulse to this track, and creates a foreboding, menacing atmosphere whereas the counterpoint of strings forms a sea of sadness and pain. It’s such a moving, transporting piece of music.

JK: Thank you! It’s so interesting that you would point to ‘The Leopard’, because it had a particularly interesting genesis. It began as something I developed playing live for a dance piece: a very dark and powerful piece dealing with bearing witness to war and the inevitable repetition of conflict. I called it ‘The Leopard’ because there was a visual reference to the animal in the piece, but then I started thinking about the Lampedusa book, which also references conflict and social change, and has such a strong and evocative atmosphere. We ended up not using the piece in the dance performance, but I kept developing it, and eventually it evolved into what you hear on the record. I hope it conveys a sense of foreboding: that’s definitely what I feel when I play it. And I feel as though there is a tension within it between repetition and things that are trying to break free.

I am very curious to learn more about the electronic aspect of the music, Julia? Certain pieces like ‘Terrain’ contains sublime electronic textures that coalesce so effortlessly with the strings. What signals in you to incorporate more electronic-oriented sounds to be added to the cello-based compositions. A beautiful sense of motion and journey is inherent on tracks such as ‘Terrain’ and elsewhere dotted across ‘Asperities’.

JK: On this record, some of the pieces actually began first with electronics rather than cello, which I think made for a different point of departure, and created an interesting synthesis. And, in some cases, I was trying to see if I could erase the boundaries between the electronic and the organic textures, through processing and through blending the sounds.

The cello instrument is an extension of your own self and indeed your true voice, something that rings true when thinking of you and kindred spirits such as Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (fiddle), Lubomyr Melnyk (piano), Arthur Russell (cello) and so on. I also love how you bend the possibilities of the instrument to your own needs, for example a plethora of treatments to the cello is at work throughout ‘Asperities’. Please discuss the cello instrument, your first discovery of this beloved instrument, and indeed the voyage you began with this instrument back with debut solo LP, ‘Delay’ and even much before? Being so fortunate to witness your live performance, it was very special to visualize your cello-based compositions unfold and emit its magical spell.

JK: Oh, that is more than kind of you to mention me with Caoimhín and Lubomyr! They are great artists and I’ve been really fortunate to encounter both of them. And Arthur Russell is of course my hero: he really expanded the boundaries of the cello in such a personal way. The cello is, and always will be, my voice: it has such expressive possibilities. I’ve had a slightly troubled relationship to the instrument: I stopped playing for a couple of years after music school, because I was really disheartened by the whole process. But then I discovered another musical world, one that was freeing and creative, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to continue on that path. The cello at this point feels really like an extension of myself.

You have been heavily involved with score work for dance and film in the last couple of years, Julia. I wonder how does the music-making process vary depending on the particular medium? I can imagine some of this score work must have filtered into the overall makeup of ‘Asperities’?

JK: Yes, definitely the work I’ve been doing with dance and theatre and film has influenced this record a lot. I’ve found the process of making music for dance and theatre particularly interesting, because, in certain cases, I’m creating music live in reaction to movement or text or image, and that can be so inspiring and so immediate. I especially like working with dance: there is a sort of nonverbal communication that can happen with dancers on the stage that is really powerful.

The immense power of instrumental music – and your music typifies this simple truth – is the expression of emotion without words. I would love for you to share your thoughts on this whole idea and the journey you feel that has unearthed as a result of your musical path? Have there been other musicians, artists and records you feel that have truly moved and inspired you and has helped shape your own musical landscape?

JK: I do listen primarily to instrumental music – a lot of it electronic – and I find so much of it moving and inspiring. I think artists like Stars of the Lid or Kyle Bobby Dunn or William Basinski or Rafael Anton Irisarri or Markus Guettner are so conceptually and sonically powerful, and convey so much emotion in a relatively abstract way. And Oneohtrix Point Never and Tim Hecker and Haxan Cloak and Blanck Mass: it’s really an endless list of amazing music. But I think my own musical landscape is a fairly personal one: I really feel as though I’ve found my own way over the years, as one does.

Lastly, Julia, the penultimate track ‘Invitation To The Voyage’ feels like a very important piece of music on the new record, somehow akin to the approaching sun-lit horizon, reflecting hope and redemption. Please talk me through the various stages of this song’s inception and gradual development?

JK: ‘Invitation to the Voyage’ of course shares a title with the Baudelaire poem, but I also was thinking about the Watteau painting ‘Embarkation for Cythera’. I’m not particularly a huge fan of Watteau, but I’ve always been slightly haunted by that painting: it’s almost like a vanitas, with a sense of the ephemerality of life and of pleasure. You wonder if all those beautiful, frivolous people in fact made it back from Cythera? Or knew where they were heading in the first place? An invitation to a voyage conveys a sense of adventure and possibility, but there are some voyages from which one does not return. So I feel as though the piece is balanced between a sense of hope and a sense of elegiacness, and that it’s bittersweet in the way life is.

As a p.s.: I wrote all of the above before the most recent awful events in Beirut and in Paris and in Syria and elsewhere and who knows what else will have happened before you read this?… I don’t have any words other than: be kind and take care…





‘Asperities’ is available now on The Leaf Label.

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November 26, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Mixtape: With the Dark Hug of Time

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With the Dark Hug of Time [A Fractured Air Mix]

To listen on Mixcloud:



01. Nordic Affect ‘Clockworking’ [Sono Luminus]
02. Masayoshi Fujita ‘Tears of Unicorn’ [Erased Tapes]
03. Julia Kent ‘Tramontana’ [Leaf]
04. Cork Gamelan Ensemble ‘The Three Forges’ [Diatribe]
05. Jerusalem in My Heart ‘A Granular Buzuk’ [Constellation]
06. Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld ‘With the dark hug of time’ [Constellation]
07. Roll The Dice ‘In Deference’ [Leaf]
08. Dawn of Midi ‘Dysnomia’ [Erased Tapes]
09. Lower Dens ‘Quo Vadis’ [Ribbon Music]
10. Micachu & The Shapes ‘L.A. Poison’ [Rough Trade]
11. The Fall ‘Early Days of Channel Führer’ [Narnack]
12. Helen ‘City Breathing’ [Kranky]
13. Time Is A Mountain ‘Alicetti’ [Repeat Until Death]
14. Musette ‘Send In The Clown Clones’ (excerpt) [Häpna]
15. Roslyn Steer ‘Gently’ [KantCope]
16. Rafael Anton Irisarri ‘Will Her Heart Burn Anymore_00’ [Self-Released]
17. Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm ‘Wide Open’ [Erased Tapes]
18. Ellll ‘Now’ [Unreleased]
19. Holly Herndon ‘Home’ [4AD]
20. Julia Holter ‘Night Song’ [Domino]
21. Eleni Karaindrou ‘The Weeping Meadow I’ [ECM]

The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.

You can follow Fractured Air on Twitter HERE or on Facebook HERE.



Fractured Air 33: Saccade (A Mixtape by Loscil)

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Loscil’s Scott Morgan has been responsible for some of the most captivating and stunningly beautiful ambient creations over the past fifteen years. Across a compelling body of work (beginning with the 2001 classic ‘Triple Point’) – the majority of which has been released on the immense Chicago-based imprint Kranky – Vancouver-based Morgan has developed his own unique style of textural rhythms that ceaselessly blur the lines of ambient, techno, drone and modern-classical. The recently released ‘Sea Island’ marks the latest chapter in Loscil’s explorations through sound that lies at the intersect between nature and humanity.


Fractured Air 33: Saccade (A Mixtape by Loscil)

To listen on Mixcloud:



01. Mica Levi ‘Love’ [‘Under the Skin’ OST/Milan]
02. Rafael Anton Irisarri ‘Will Her Heart Burn Anymore_00’ [Room40]
03. Simon Scott ‘Spring Stars’ [Miasmah]
04. Lawrence English ‘Hapless Gatherer’ [Room40]
05. Hildur Guðnadóttir ‘Strokur’ [Touch]
06. Jon Hopkins ‘Breathe This Air (Asleep version)’ [Domino]
07. A Winged Victory for the Sullen ‘ATOMOS VI’ [Erased Tapes, Kranky]
08. Kyle Bobby Dunn ‘Spem in Alium and Her Unable’ [Students Of Decay]

The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.




‘Sea Island’ is available now on Kranky.


Chosen One: Orcas

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Interview with Orcas.

“I usually boil it down by saying, “I write the words and the beginnings of chord structures, and Rafael makes the rest what it is.” He has such a great intuition and is a very good director when I’ve got something in mind; he knows very well how to make a given vocal line or guitar line or piano sketch fit into whatever we’re working on.”

—Thomas Meluch

Words: Mark Carry, Design: Craig Carry


Orcas is the collaborative project of Thomas Meluch (Benoît Pioulard) and Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) whose latest full-length release, entitled ‘Yearling’ — the follow-up to their sublime self-titled debut — recently saw the light of day by German independent label, Morr Music. Both artists — Benoît Pioulard’s shape-shifting hazy ambient explorations, and The Sight Below’s similarly mesmerising drone-infused electronic explorations — have been a cornerstone to all trusted independent music collections this past decade, and Orcas offers new, illuminating pathways for the pair to venture down (and audiences to gladly immerse themselves in).

On ‘Yearling’, the core duo of Meluch and Irisarri are joined by Martyn Heyne (Efterklang) on guitar and piano, and Michael Lerner (Telekinesis) on drums to build upon the shimmering ambient soundscapes of their self-titled debut, adding new layers of analog warmth to the band’s unique blend of ethereal pop creations. In contrast to the guitar improvisations and impromptu vocal sessions of the debut record, most of ‘Yearling’ was constructed from short pieces Pioulard wrote and developed while staying in Germany during the summer of 2012. Furthermore, the nuances and hidden details of Benoît Pioulard’s utterly beguiling songbook can be found interwoven in the rich tapestry of Orcas’s sonic trajectory. The album’s recording sessions took place in Heyne’s Lichte Studio in Berlin, and Irisarri’s own Black Knoll Studio back in Seattle.

Album opener ‘Petrichor’ begins with building synth passages blended with gorgeous analogue warmth, forming a beautiful ambient canvas of sound that gradually finds its way into the endearing pop gem of ‘Infinite Stillness’ (if ever a song-title embodies the music of its creator, it is this). A deeply affecting hazy pop gem radiates from the analogue foundations, as rays of light are emitted into the surrounding vast skies ahead. The pristine production and intricate arrangements of Lerner’s drums, the infectious guitar lines and Meluch’s distinctive voice forms an organic, cohesive whole of stunning beauty. Vocal duties are crossed over on ‘Half Light’, another heartfelt pop gem, packed with a seamless array of lush sonic wizardry. ‘Selah’ is a towering ambient pop instrumental cut which develops over beautifully restrained, clean guitar tones, recalling the crystalline electronic output of City Centre Offices, Morr Music and beyond.

The second half of ‘Yearling’ contain more majestic master-works, not least the hazy torch-lit ballad ‘Capillaries’ with drifting piano notes, warm guitar tones mixed with Meluch’s heartfelt lyrics, drenched in reverb and analog loveliness. An immediacy prevails on the following track, ‘An Absolute’, where glistening electric guitar passages and brooding harmonies are placed in the forefront of the mix. The album’s penultimate track, the meditative ‘Filament’ fades in slowly, constructed from an ethereal harmony sung by Meluch (reminiscent of Benoît Pioulard and indeed Kranky label-mate, Grouper). Album closer ‘Tell’ completes ‘Yearling’s illuminating journey of sublime ambient soundscapes, which effortlessly breathes vital life and meaning into the hearts of each and every fortunate recipient. The essence of Orcas is indeed, infinite stillness, sculpted by the gifted minds of its ever-evolving members.


‘Yearling’ by Orcas is available now on Morr Music.


Interview with Rafael Anton Irisarri (Orcas/The Sight Below) and Thomas Meluch (Orcas/Benoît Pioulard).

Congratulations on the latest Orcas album ‘Yearling’, a gorgeous and beguiling collection of dream-pop creations. Please take me back to the summer of 2012, during your stay in Germany where the seeds of the new record were sewn. I was very interested to read much of the album was constructed from short pieces Thomas Meluch had written. I would love to gain an insight into the collaborative process that developed those pieces into the fully formed hazy pop gems that comprises ‘Yearling’?

Rafael Anton Irisarri: Yep, that’s correct lots of it was written while staying in Berlin. Tom (Benoît Pioulard) moved away to England in December 2011, where he stayed for a year with his wife; while geographically separated we exchanged files and sketches throughout 2012. During summer 2012, we rented out a flat in Prenzlauer Berg, quite close to the Morr Music office actually. We toured for a bit around Europe that summer, and during the downtime, we’d always come back to Berlin. It was sort of our homebase. While in Germany, we started to work with Martyn Heyne (live member of Efterklang). He joined ORCAS playing piano and guitar live, and rehearsed with him at his Lichte Studio in Neuköln quite frequently. We clicked almost instantly, he is such an amazing person and talented musician, so as we wrapped up the touring, we stayed in touch and kept working together. Martyn recorded all his parts at his studio and would send me his files online, then I would add to the mix, send back, and so on. Over the course of the year we built on and revised those tracks into what you hear on the final record.

Thomas Meluch: Berlin was our home base, so to speak, through a period of five weeks during which we had only 7 or 8 shows booked in various cities… So there was a lot of downtime and I found myself returning to some lyric ideas and messing around on the guitar when I would have otherwise been idle or passively watching football championships. “An Absolute” appeared in a completely different version on a limited lathe-cut thing I made in 2010 or 2011, and I’d always liked the melody of that one, so I added a couple of verses and let it sit for a while. Most of the others were little kernels of ideas that didn’t really have lives at all until I returned to the states in early 2013 after spending the previous year in the UK – but having moved back to Seattle rather than Portland I’m now about a 30 minute walk from Rafael’s place and it’s much easier to work together on short notice when we both have time and energy for Orcas stuff. Once we really began the recording process in earnest, there was a good balance of pre-existing ideas and some amount of improvisation; for example “Selah” (which, I admit, is my favourite song on the album) was 90% finished after one day of work… Rafael had been experimenting with a new analog synth patch while I was on the other side of the room with a guitar, and it all fell together quite naturally by my recollection.


The duo of yourself and Tom emits such a captivating sound, embedded in analog warmth and ethereal ambient pop soundscapes. As a listener, you really feel the aspects of each of your highly accomplished projects — Benoît Pioulard and The Sight Below — effortlessly flow into Orcas’ interwoven tapestry, but something entirely new and unknown is equally formed. Please discuss the creative process between you and Tom? I would love to learn how you first crossed paths with one another.

RAI: Back in 2009, I was co-curating a music festival here in Seattle. I invited Tom to play as Benoît Pioulard and shortly after we became friends. Tom started to come up to Seattle (he used to live in Portland) quite regularly and stayed in my house, where we would just improvise in my studio and play with different instruments and sounds. This is how the first ORCAS album came about, out of studio improvisation. As we developed our sound further, meaning by this, we originally had no concrete plans (it was more like two kindred spirits making some drone music), we started to incorporate more pop elements and shape those improvisations into songs. After working together for some time, we now know each others’ virtues and limitations, so we tend to be more focused and work more effectively. On this new album we explored some textural and drone elements – I think those are always going to be part of our sound, but at the same time, we played around and made pop music, albeit quirky pop – unconventional songs structures, disparate elements and sounds converging.

TM: I usually boil it down by saying, “I write the words and the beginnings of chord structures, and Rafael makes the rest what it is.” He has such a great intuition and is a very good director when I’ve got something in mind; he knows very well how to make a given vocal line or guitar line or piano sketch fit into whatever we’re working on, and we both respect each other so I don’t get offended when he tells me I’m fucking up or that something just isn’t going to work. There were also five or six versions of certain songs on the album – for example, “Half Light” was originally a borderline dance-pop song – so each piece is a sort of journey without an endpoint, until one appears to us.


This time around, you are joined by Martyn Heyne (of Efterklang) on guitar and piano, and Michael Lerner (Telekinesis) on drums further heightening to the expansive and sprawling sound. I would love to gain an insight into working as a quartet this time around, was it a case of all four members being present for the duration of the recording sessions? I can imagine Martyn’s Lichte Studio must have been a wonderful place to capture the spark of these special songs? How long did the recording sessions take?

RAI: No, unfortunately we were never on the same room at the same time. In fact, it’s quite amazing Michael and Martyn have never met. Somehow, through music, they got to “know” each other and communicate in a way that feels as if they’ve been friends forever. I find this quite beautiful – music truly transcends time and place. We did things quite backwards out of necessity – we tracked Michael’s drums on top of Martyn’s parts, as opposed to the traditional way of laying down drum tracks first and then everyone play on top.
That said, both of their studios (Martyn’s & Michael’s) are absolutely amazing, awe-inspiring places. Overall I had a great time making this record and working with both. I can only hope we get to play these songs live as a quartet, as I love those guys and will be so lovely to spend some time traveling with them.

TM: Michael and Martyn are both totally humbling in their level of skill – they’re technically trained (which I’m not) but also incredibly intuitive players… Rafael likes to joke about the fact that we sometimes make Martyn play a 3- or 4-note piano part when we know he could rattle off some Bach or Beethoven flawlessly off the top of his head. Neither of them worked with us in the studio, but Raf did go out to West Seattle to record drums in Michael’s home studio, in-person. Martyn’s parts were recorded remotely in Berlin and shuttled around on Dropbox, as you do these days.


‘An Absolute’ is my current favourite. I love how Tom’s alluring voice breathes such emotion into the song’s trajectory. The layers of piano, guitar and drums blend together so effortlessly that forms the perfect backdrop to such a beautiful lament. Can you talk me through the construction of this song please?

RAI: Thank you. I like this one very much too. This song was one Tom wrote back in Berlin. When he returned to Seattle, I did the initial arrangement in my studio and demo it. I sent the demo to Martyn and he learned the acoustic guitar parts, plus added piano to it. The most amazing part for me is the vocals – the one you hear is the original takes from the demo. I thought it was a great take, so I never re-tracked it. Same with the bass parts – Tom actually tracked that at like 8 am in the morning in my studio, almost half-awake. The “morricone” guitar riff is my favorite element. I recorded Tom playing it on my precious Guild Starfire III — it’s got a huge bigsby vibrato tailpiece. As he was playing it, I kept pressing it at certain parts, thus making the arrangement extra spaghetti-westernish. There’s also a hidden layer of guitar I played thru my tape echo – a melodic Telecaster line that only comes up on certain parts – you can hear me hitting the space echo hard though. The “organ” I constructed in Max For Live from a micro-cassette sample Tom brought in. I used those “chord hit” of 80’s Mexican soap-operas as an inspiration for it, and built a very tense layer. Afterwards, we’ve affectionately refer to this instrument as “mexican soap.” I always come up with very silly names for all my patches and instruments – it’s easier to remember for me.

TM: Like I said before, I wrote a 90-second version of that song with acoustic guitar and voice a few years ago, and felt a different version would be something to pursue for this project… In beginning the second version I slowed the tempo, switched from strumming to fingerpicking and added a few more lines to the vocal part. After that, Raf and I sketched it out, recorded the basic elements and Martyn filled in all the gaps – it was one of the easier songs on the album, in terms of arrangement and execution, though I know Raf agonized over the mix for months, as he’s prone to doing.


Were there certain avenues you all wanted to explore on ‘Yearling’ from the outset, Rafael? It’s a lovely progression on from the equally majestic self-titled debut full-length as you continue to explore new sonic terrain.

RAI: Yeah, I’m a sucker for great pop music (Talk Talk, Kate Bush, Tears For Fears), and this album became my creative outlet for those sensibilities to come out. Having access to Tom’s unique voice is a blessing. I can’t sing to save my own life, so it’s nice to work with someone who can and also is such an amazing songwriter when it comes to lyrics. Working with people like Martyn & Michael really inspired me a lot too. It really challenged me to be a better producer and be at their musical level. I finally got to use every piece of equipment in my studio, something I haven’t really done on my own solo releases, as the production tends to very focused on one particular sound. If anything, I learned a lot making this record, something in the end I appreciate the most: learning and growing.

TM: Not really; one of the loveliest things about this project for me is that I never know what to expect, and as I mentioned we have a good amount of mutual respect that makes working together pretty harmonious most of the time. Some days we’ll go into the studio with a defined idea of what needs to be done, and others will find us improvising around the littlest ghost of inspiration. “Tell”, for example, is an extensively manipulated tape recording of a guitar loop piece I made in June or July of last year, which Raf turned into something much greater than I could have done on my own.


Will there be a European tour for Orcas planned for 2014?

TM: We’re not sure yet; we’ve talked about it but can’t say with any certainty… I’d definitely love to make it happen but Raf is much more perfectionistic about live stuff than I am and a lot of details would have to be set in order for it to happen, not to mention the logistics of rehearsal with a third member who’s halfway around the world.


Since the last time we spoke, your incredible (and latest Benoît Pioulard full-length) ‘Hymnal’ album was released in a special new edition with many fascinating remixes of the original songs. Can you talk me through those remixes please and what it must feel to listen to other people’s interpretations of your own songs? It must have been a special project to be part of, particularly when new perspectives are given to your artistic works. 

TM: That was totally the idea of my friend and colleague Ryan at Lost Tribe Sound… He’s been wanting to work together for a long while and when he conceived of the remix album idea it was pretty perfect timing, and as well he knows a lot of musicians that I admire and was able to curry enough favour with them to make it happen. The Remote Viewer, for example, has been one of my favorite groups for 10 or so years, so getting a remix from them was truly a thrill… As for the rest, I am totally amazed at the directions that people took with the source material, and as someone who’s never been a huge fan of remix albums, I’m surprised and pleased at how well this one hangs together.


Any current reading/listening/film recommendations, Tom? 

TM: My favourite film of last year was the documentary “Leviathan”, which I’ve now watched at least three times. So beautiful and so profoundly simple. Music-wise, I remain totally obsessed with my friend Kyle Bobby Dunn, whose new triple LP is his best yet – and I feel that’s saying something. I am happy to say that he & I also just finished an album together after 18 months of file exchanges; I can’t say much more than that about it at the moment, though.


‘Yearling’ by Orcas is available now on Morr Music.


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July 1, 2014 at 10:47 am