The universe is making music all the time

Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Neufeld

Mixtape: Early Blue (A Fractured Air Mix)

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To listen on Mixcloud:



01. Ed Askew – ‘Drum Song’ (Tin Angel)
02. Áine O’Dwyer – ‘Albion Awake/Lifeboy’ (Second Language)
03. Harold Budd – ‘Wanderer’ (All Saints)
04. Calexico – ‘No Doze’ (Quarterstick)
05. This Is How We Fly – ‘Pelargonens Död’ (Playing With Music)
06. Glenn Jones – ‘My Garden State’ (Thrill Jockey)
07. Karen Dalton – ‘Katie Cruel’ (Light In The Attic)
08. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh – ‘Fead an Iolar’ (State Of Chassis)
09. Sarah Neufeld – ‘You Are The Field’ (Constellation)
10. Julia Kent – ‘Tourbillon’ (Leaf)
11. Colleen – ‘Geometría Del Universo’ (Second Language)
12. Moondog – ‘Symphonique #6 (Good For Goodie)’ (Columbia)
13. Julia Holter – ‘In The Green Wild’ (Domino)
14. Lucrecia Dalt – ‘Mahán’ (Human Ear Music)
15. Yo La Tengo – ‘Green Arrow’ (Matador)
16. F.J. McMahon – ‘Early Blue’ (Rev-Ola / Sacred Bones)
17. Richmond Fontaine – ‘Valediction’ (El Cortez)
18. Gram Parsons – ‘Love Hurts’ (Reprise)
19. Lambchop – ‘The Book I Haven’t Read’ (City Slang / Merge)
20. Ludovico Einaudi – ‘Fuori Dal Mondo’ (‘This Is England’ OST / Warp)
21. Lou Reed & John Cale – ‘Hello It’s Me’ (Sire / Warner Bros.)


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.


Fractured Air. The universe is making music all the time.


Chosen One: Nils Frahm

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Interview with Nils Frahm.

“And what is the purpose of writing music? One is, of course, not dealing with purposes but dealing with sounds. Or the answer must take the form of a paradox: a purposeful purposeless or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life—not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.”

—John Cage (Taken from ‘Silence: Lectures and Writings’, 1968)

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


Having had the good fortune of speaking to Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk last Spring, much of the inspiring topics (Continuous Music, Eastern philosophy, the piano and sources of inspiration) he spoke of resonates powerfully for the latest Erased Tapes release by label-mate, Nils Frahm. ‘Spaces’ is a special document of the Berlin-based composer’s other-worldly live performance that feels closer to a vast treasure of field recordings than the typical live concert album. Frahm’s singular vision and immaculate craftsmanship is etched across the sonic canvas of these stunningly beautiful twelve live recordings – culled from over thirty concerts over the last two years – creating yet another work of indispensable art.

I recall Melnyk describing the art of his unique blend of ambient sound as he explained: “the space that as a musician, we go into a certain space where this music happens.” This becomes the essence of what ‘Spaces’ means for me, where Frahm’s piano and synthesizer-based compositions takes the listener on a wholly life-affirming voyage. With each delicate note of piano or ripple of synthesizer, time stands still as one feels beautifully lost in the sacred music. A moment in time is captured within the recordings of ‘Spaces’ that beautifully captures the energy and raw emotion of Frahm’s concerts. For those who have witnessed any of these remarkable shows, it is a universal fact that needs not be explained, for it is this unspoken connection between the performer and audience that permeates throughout the narrative of ‘Spaces’. Indeed, isn’t a concert a shared experience between the performer and his/her audience? As the ambient flourishes of the tour de force ‘Says’ and the utterly timeless and hypnotic ‘Said And Done’ effortlessly flow in and out of focus, the impossible becomes attainable that sees Frahm’s sonic creations effectively translated into the human space. The audience and performer become one.

A central question was posed from the outset: “Is it possible or not to isolate sound recording from live concerts, put it out of context, where it has happened, and then put it in a medium where people can listen to it.” Undeniably, ‘Spaces’ conveys Frahm’s fascination with sound and love for experimentation that truly reflects what audiences have witnessed during his resolutely unique concerts. Similar to his previous solo piano works from 2009’s ‘Wintermusik’ and ‘The Bells’ to 2011’s critically-acclaimed ‘Felt’ and last year’s opus ‘Screws’ – the aesthetics of ‘Spaces’ forms the expansive sonic terrain from which the layers of tracks are built from. The dynamic range of these live recordings is something to behold, as the short interlude of dub-based odyssey ‘An Aborted Beginning’ and pulsating ‘Hammers’ are interwoven with reflective pieces such as the fragile lament ‘Went Missing’ and the windswept beauty of ‘Over There, It’s Raining’.

The crowning jewel of ‘Spaces’ for me is ‘For Peter-Toilet Brushes-More’ – a gorgeous fusion of three of Frahm’s works – that are inspired by songs from ‘Juno’ and ‘Felt’. The opening section comprises a rich ebb and flow of brooding synthesizers, conjuring up the lost sounds of Laurie Spiegel, Mountains and Stars Of The Lid. The whole sense of the ambient flow of sound is distilled into the sixteen minutes of enchanting sounds. Seven minutes in, as the synths slowly drift away, the piano is utilized as a percussion instrument. African rhythms and an infectious groove is created (I fondly remember Nils opening one of his shows with this precise piece – immediately casting a spell upon his transfixed audience) forming the ideal backdrop for Frahm’s piano. The soft notes ascends into the atmosphere, building upon layers of breathtaking sounds where a beguiling tapestry is gradually constructed before your very eyes and ears. Thirteen minutes in, a crescendo is reached as the momentum of swirling piano notes reaches new summits, as something powerful and deeply profound is unleashed into the surrounding space.

Different recording mediums were employed by Frahm to capture his many live performances; old portable reel-to-reel recorders, some recorded on simple cassette tape decks, others roughy recorded on the house engineer’s mixing desks, and others with more advanced multi-tracking recordings. As the needle is spun and ‘Spaces’ is played, the listener is left to truly appreciate Frahm’s unconventional approach to an age-old instrument, as the liner notes of Frahm reads: “imagining you were in one room with me, where I play for you.”

In addition to extensive touring and the release of ‘Spaces’ – representing the latest chapter in Frahm’s treasured songbook – 2013 also saw the release of several records in which the German composer was responsible for producing in his trusted Durton home studio in Berlin. The first of these was Montreal-based composer and violinist Sarah Neufeld’s sprawling debut album, ‘Hero Brother’ released on Constellation Records. Next came the Dutch-born singer-songwriter Chantal Acda’s latest set of intimate torch-lit songs ‘Let Your Hands Be My Guide’ (Gizeh Records) and last but not least, the Bella Union release of Sumie’s self-titled debut album of (primarily) voice and acoustic guitar (to be released in January 2014). With all these records, a sacred dimension is tapped into, which could only be forged by Frahm’s deft touch of hand.

As ‘Says’ – the second track on ‘Spaces’ – culminates in a haven of sounds where piano, synths and electronics effortlessly coalesce together, I am reminded of of the album artwork of a certain pioneering composer, Laurie Spiegel. The album in question is her 1980 debut ‘The Expanding Universe’ (a title that perfectly embodies the interstellar journey of Frahm’s ‘Spaces’). On the front and back cover, an interview with Spiegel is printed where she discusses music. The following quote I feel mirrors perfectly the twelve sublime creations contained on ‘Spaces’:

“Every piece is different, and I suspect that every good piece has all the aspects of being human in it which are integrated into its creator, probably in the same balance.”


‘Spaces’ is available now on Erased Tapes.



Interview with Nils Frahm.

Welcome back home from your tour.


How was Japan? You were there recently.

Yeah, first New York and then Japan. And now we’re on our way to Copenhagen.

Congratulations on ‘Spaces’, it’s an amazing album. It’s a really special document of your concerts.

Thanks a lot. We were really happy with it.

The one thing that stands out first is how the original versions, how the songs live evolve and change from the actual versions on the albums itself. It’s lovely to hear how they must be changing over time.

Yeah, I think that’s the really, really interesting part to it actually.

Is there a particular song you included on the album that is the one you’re most proud of?

Well, I think we’re all really happy with how the second track turned out, ‘Says’. That’s a good take I think.

Yeah, it’s amazing. And I love how all the instruments that you have at your disposal – the syntheziser, the piano – it blends together so amazingly too. It develops so well.

Yeah, I think it’s a nice way to include some more electronics to the music and people really respond well to that.

You know the synthesizer itself, Nils, is that an instrument you got into after the piano?

I have that particular synthesizer since I was 14 years old so it’s always been in my collection. I made a lot of electronic music before I started working on the piano. I think I’ve been touring with the synth for 2 years now. Maybe sometimes when I was playing Ireland, I didn’t bring it because it was always too heavy but now I found a way how to bring that stuff on the plane so it became a part of the show.

My favourite at the moment is the eighth song, ‘For Peter-Toilet Brushes-More’. I suppose it’s a fusion of the three tracks and I love how it’s contained in the one flow of music. It works really amazingly.

Yeah, that’s an epic song for sure. That’s usually the song I’m closing the set with. Yeah, it’s kind of developed over time.

You know ‘Ross’s Harmonium’ as well, I love the liner notes with your essay on the sleeve of ‘Spaces’, where you outline all the variables – depending on the space, the environment you find yourself in on that day. For example, ‘Ross’s Harmonium’, I love how you mention it’s an artist who welcomed you to play on his harmonium. So I guess that was an improvisation?

Yeah, exactly. I try to include as many happy accidents as possible and record it on tape. That was my little piece, I thought it would be nice to add a bit of colour to the album.

And I love the dub song, the opener to the album.

That was more like a happy accident.

Is that something you might do more of?

I don’t know. It’s just a way to start the album, to confuse everyone a little bit. Also to make sure people set their volume right for the record because the second song starts at low volume because people would have to turn up their stereo too much. So I needed a very loud short bit to open the record with so people would have the record on with nice volume and that was the purpose of that song.

It was really interesting to read how there were different recording mediums you were using to capture all your concerts. The variation from the more professional set-up to a simple cassette deck. That must have been a nice process. I mean you had 30 or so shows, so it must have been quite a process to pick out the right ones from these sources?

Yeah, sometimes I recorded the shows with different recorders simultaneously and I choose the right tone or the right sound or the right medium for the take and it was hard to make a running order out of all the different media because sometimes when you have a tape recorder there is a lot of hiss without people noticing it cut, so the transition is something I had to work on a lot. It was a nice puzzle, for sure.

For any fan that has seen you live and for the people who have not had the fortune to see you in concert yet, it’s a lovely way to bring you back to one of your shows. You really feel that energy as you listen to the record itself.

Yeah, that was one of the hardest parts to translate the energy from a room where all the people are in the room – to record and capture something little more than just music where you feel you’re part of something. And yeah, it worked out, I’m happy. That’s good to hear.

Again, on your liner notes, it was cool to read how you see it more like a field recording. It’s obvious it’s not a typical live record, for example you know where 80% of the record is the new album. For this, it’s more an experiment than anything.

It was, definitely. I had the feeling I wanted to try to make something special out of this live set and then to not only record one show and go with that because I feel like if I had done it more like putting it online for free, you know like film one concert and label it as a feature or gimmick. In order to make it like a real album and to give it a feel of an album rather than just to record a concert. Because one recorded concert feels like we’re selling out already, like there is no more albums to come so put out the live record or something like that. The world’s not crazy about that but more about recording all these pieces live which I love to have part of the album. The concert is an ideal situation to record them, to include the audience energy you were talking about into the recording, something you can’t really create in a studio.


It’s interesting too, Nils, I had the pleasure to interview Lubomyr Melnyk earlier in the year and obviously you collaborated closely with him on his latest record. But you know, from what he was saying about the continuous music and I remember he was talking about music as much as Zen and philosophy in the sense of you know, being in that right moment. It’s obvious listening to your music, it must be the same situation?

Some people say it’s a little like taking drugs. Maybe they mean there’s a certain almost…maybe some people call it like a spiritual element to the music where people kind of get lost in it and think it’s something and they go on a journey while listening to it. And that’s why some of the pieces are sometimes really long, you have time to get into that certain state of mind where you can listen distantly you know, come from a different perspective.

I was reading recently a book you’re probably already familiar with, by John Cage. It’s a book on lectures and essays called ‘Silence’. He talks about music but also philosophy and the mental aspect of music and performance. But you know, after seeing you live it’s fascinating when I see how many dates – you’re playing so many concerts – the energy, both physical and mental – it must take a lot out of you.

Yeah, it’s a little bit like that but it also gives the energy in the same way, as much as it is exhausting, it is also something which you gain in the same time.

Another thing that’s fascinating is that for the performance itself, you use what you have at your disposal and it’s all in real time. It’s beautiful, you know like what you said that accidents can happen during the show itself as well. Can you recall a moment where you have created something new or an older song where you realize now it’s going in a new direction or following a new path?

Yeah, I mean I feel like there are so many different ideas. Some songs are connected – for example, the solo piano song – they follow a certain ideal and there are other songs, for example, the more synthesizer driven ones which go in a total different direction but I feel like they are still connected because they appear different when they, for example the piano songs are in contrast to the more loud songs of synthesizer. The contrast helps both to stand out more. The solo piano songs feel even quieter and the loud songs feel even louder or more powerful. I contrast them like that so it’s about pretty much creating a certain dynamic in my live set and it always maintains a certain energy where people feel they’re totally sucked into something and they can’t escape it. When there’s like ten minutes of really, really quietness, it’s good to play something really loud to refreshen your ears and brain. I mean I feel it even when I play certain times with a long beginning with one note repeating, it usually is a good way to make everyone really curious, like what the hell is going on – people who have heard the song don’t know what I’m doing there – and they get so maybe upset, annoyed or at least they wonder, you know. That’s all I want to do, it’s not really about the musical concept but what it does to the listener. So throughout the album, it’s mostly about that, it’s a little bit like translating music into psychology and the other way around and to see how to structure that where people feel they can’t escape the experience, they want to be part of it and really want to know what’s coming next. They feel like anything’s possible. I’m working on that basically.

That’s exactly how I’d describe it if I could. You do definitely get lost in the music like it’s very much a journey.

Yeah, that’s exactly what I want.

One other thing Nils that you were touching on earlier, the whole thing of releases. For yourself and any important artists, you know each release is a very special document as well. For example, to have it on vinyl and you know it’s going to be there for years to come, you know it’s not something you just throw out haphazardly. Even, you know having your essay inside and the artwork and photography, you know it’s very special, like a new chapter. I’m sure this aspect and seeing your music now – there’s a few great albums under your belt – it must be nice to think that you have a series of special records to your name.

I think that each record tells a little story beside the concert, they all document, they all have a narrative element to them. ‘Screws’ tells the story about an injury, ‘Felt’ tells the story about the recording process and chance, and my neighbours basically, ‘The Bells’ was a recording about two friends improvising two nights in a church, and ‘Wintermusik’ was a gift for my family.

I wonder Nils do you have any ideas or thoughts on the next chapters in terms of the narrative?

I’m working on all kinds of different ideas right now. I’m still recording solo piano material but I’m also working more with synthesizer and I’m also interested in doing something with a conductor named Andre De Ridder, that’s something I’m doing some sketches for now. Ideally, I work on three different albums at the same time and which one feels the strongest and which one is the most exciting. There are a lot of recordings in my hard drive which aren’t released and usually I feel they don’t really have strong enough of a story to it, you know the music is interesting. But usually when I’m working on a record there is a point where I feel like this is something I want to do now and until that point, I’m just working, working on the music, recording, recording more until I can see the bigger picture.


Even as you say, Nils, outside of your own releases this year alone, I love the albums that you were involved on the production. For example the Chantal Acda album ‘Let Your Hands Be My Guide’ was amazing.

Oh thank you, yeah that’s a great album.

I wonder is this in your Durton studio when you’re producing this music?

That was Durton studio, yeah. That was my place.

I love how this album and Sarah Neufeld and also the Sumie record, I love how it’s obviously their own sound but at the same time, there is a lovely kind of hidden dimension in all of them, there’s a similar ambience and intimacy, it’s really quite something.

Yeah, I think that’s my handwriting probably. It’s not to over do it because originality of the artist I’m working with should be in the focus but it’s just the way the sound turns out when I work on it.

Do you have any techniques you would use almost religiously, like that you would have some rules nearly that would guide you or does it not really work like that?

Well, usually I want to work in a certain tempo. The recordings you mentioned were done in not more than seven days. But I think a good album needs to be done rather fast. It needs to be prepared well. You shouldn’t be tired of the songs by the point when you’re finishing them. And I worked on other albums that took many more days to make them and then something gets lost – the exhausting process of fiddling too much – so I’d like to kind of work fast.

As you say, you always have multiple things going on at the same time, even as I read the track list to ‘Spaces’ it’s lovely to see how all the different projects feed into one other. It must be healthy to have all these projects on the go at the same time.

I mean at the end it’s all one. For me it’s quite connected but there could also be different elements joining in the future. For example, like I said that I want to work with other players to go away from just solo playing and share a stage and studio with other musicians and that could be a whole different chapter again. Now, there’s so many solo albums of mine and I would like to see what would happen if I played with other musicians, for example. That could be something.

That sounds amazing. Would you have people in mind?

I mean it’s weird if they read about it before I talk to them but I have a long list of musicians I’m listening to at the moment who I think could be interesting. But it could also more be people from the classical music world. Right now I’m really interested more in choir music and vocal music. So maybe I will work on something like that. But it’s too early to really say this is a plan, it’s just ideas floating around.

I loved your release a few years ago with Anne Müller.

Oh yeah, we’re working on a second album right now.

Oh wow, is that cello and piano being the main focus?

The main focus and added there is also some singing and more electronic elements to it. It’s really promising material. So I hope I can finish it in the next year sometime.

I remember you were telling me before about the new piano you got at the time, you were saying how you never came across one before like it.

Yeah, it’s fantastic, really fantastic. I just hadn’t much time to record on it but I’ve got a couple of pieces recorded on this which is beautiful, it’s more like sophisticated felt sound. It goes in a similar direction but it sounds almost more polished in a more interesting way. It sounds like a cross between a harp and a piano and the guitar sometimes. Yeah, it’s a fantastic instrument.


Well thanks so much for talking to me. Well done again on ‘Spaces’, it’s amazing to hear all your related releases from this year.

Oh thanks so much, it’s good to hear. That means a lot.

I hope to see you on tour next year.

Yeah, we definitely need to come to Ireland again.

It’s funny, I remember the Unitarian Church and being in the background for your soundcheck, it was really quite something.

We need to make a proper show because I haven’t really played a full set in Ireland yet and we’re definitely coming back with a full set-up.


‘Spaces’ is available now on Erased Tapes.


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January 2, 2014 at 11:44 am

Chosen One: Sarah Neufeld

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Interview with Sarah Neufeld.

“Hero Brother is a character that emerged during the writing. I like the universality of it; we have someone in our lives that’s stoic and fights for us or we are that person, or we need someone, or we lost someone like that.”

Sarah Neufeld

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


‘Hero Brother’ is the solo debut album from violinist and composer Sarah Neufeld, released towards the end of the summer on Constellation Records. Best known as a member of the indie-rock giants, Arcade Fire, the Montreal-based composer is one of the founding members of innovative instrumental group, Bell Orchestre, in addition to collaborative work with The Luyas, Esmerine and Little Scream. ‘Hero Brother’ is the sum of all these parts: forming a wholly fulfilling and deeply meaningful experience through the sonic radiance of Neufeld’s beloved violin instrument. Certainly, the collaborative nature of the composer’s artistic output to date lies at the heart of ‘Hero Brother’s sublime violin compositions, honing into one very distinct energy that inhabits a deep, special and otherworldly space.

The solo pieces contained on ‘Hero Brother’ originated from 2011, where Neufeld began to write the songs during ‘The Suburbs’ tour, as Arcade Fire traversed the world’s vast plains and seas. What is immediately most striking is the sheer scale of captivating emotion that pours from these sublime compositions. An intimacy radiates from the embers of the recordings, and remains there: lingering in the air’s atmosphere for the listener to quietly absorb and savour in. The primary influences of Bela Bartok, Steve Reich, Iva Bittova and Arthur Russell is adorned across ‘Hero Brother’s remarkable sonic canvas, yet Neufeld – like all good artists – soaks in these disparate influences, creating in turn, something truly unique and transcendent. The songs are born out of Neufeld’s undying love of minimalism, pop music and improvisation. In the words of Neufeld, the violin instrument is “a natural extension of my voice”, resulting in music as natural and vital as the air you breathe.

In addition to Neufeld’s violin, small touches of harmonies, harmonium and piano are effortlessly woven throughout ‘Hero Brother’. The effect is nothing short of magical. For example, ‘Forcelessness’ – the album’s breathtaking penultimate track – can be seen as a duet between Neufeld (violin) and Nils Frahm (piano). The ambient space is beautifully arrived upon here. Elsewhere, Frahm’s harmonium is added on the album’s centerpiece – and longest cut on the record – ‘Breathing Black Ground’, creating the ideal counterpoint to Neufeld’s brooding violin melodies. Several movements are present in this spellbinding piece of music: opening with slow, meditative solo-violin, before a nervous tension encapsulates the sonic terrain. Neufeld’s voice is drenched in reverb, and feels as though a longing for survival becomes unearthed from the depths of despair. The song in question was in fact captured in a dark dome during the raging storms inflicted by Hurricane Sandy. It is these very depths of despair and sense of the abyss that emanates from ‘Breathing Black Ground’, that in turn creates something deeply cathartic.

‘Hero Brother’ was recorded in Berlin by pianist and composer Nils Frahm. The tracks were recorded in an old orchestral recording hall. Later, Frahm and Neufeld spent a couple of days driving around Berlin with a portable set-up, capturing random happenings in locations with site-specific acoustics. Some of the locations included an abandoned geodesic dome, an underground parking garage, and the legendary Studio P4 orchestral recording hall at the broadcast complex of the former GDR. The sound of the rushing wind – that raged around the dome – became the noise floor throughout the record. The variations of Neufeld’s violin-based compositions is staggering. At times, the mood is calm and reflective, and moments later, cascading violin notes evoke a foreboding atmosphere of a looming darkness.

Similarly, the range of musical styles, rhythm and emotion conjured up by Neufeld’s solo violin is nothing short of staggering. Title-track ‘Hero Brother’ contains layers of soaring violin coupled with Neufeld’s stomping feet as percussion. This breathtaking piece taps into a distinct energy, like that of an approaching storm. In contrast, ‘They Live On’ is a bright folk lament that conjures up the sound of Andrew Bird. Like Bird, an openness and honesty exudes from this gorgeously delicate composition. The wordless harmonies of Neufeld brings forth limitless rays of hope, as a brightness ascends onto the record. Album closer ‘Below’ is a Neoclassical gem that inhabits a hidden realm of sound. Cinematic brilliance. The ebb and flow of Neufeld’s hypnotic harmonies maps the rushing wind that is present as field recordings throughout. The majestic violin sways, like that of the wind, and serves a compass to your heart’s core.

In the words of Neufeld: “Hero Brother is a gathering of characters in our collective mythology – the strong and weak; the secret buried underground, played by one instrument, echoed by my own voice as a plaintive companion.” ‘Hero Brother’ becomes just that: an unfailing, trusted companion.


‘Hero Brother’ is out now on Constellation Records.



Interview with Sarah Neufeld.

It is a real pleasure to ask you some questions about your incredible music. Congratulations on the exceptional solo album, ‘Hero Brother’. There is a wonderful variation within your solo violin recordings, from Reichesque movements and pop sensibilities, to avant-folk and modern-classical infused ambient realms of sound. The pieces of music feel as if they were floating in your head for quite some time, that inhabits a deep, special and other-worldly space.
Please discuss the music of ‘Hero Brother’, and the space and time these pieces of music were given its wings, and where the seeds were sewn for these breathtaking sonic creations?

Thank you for the kind words! The music came together during 2011/12. I started writing pieces while touring The Suburbs. I had a lot of creative energy I needed to work with. There was so much going on in life at that time that it seemed necessary to go very internal and make something personal.


The recording process for ‘Hero Brother’ must have been an enriching experience. The album was recorded by composer/producer Nils Frahm – someone I’ve been obsessed with for several years – and performances captured in various locations with site-specific acoustics. Please recount for me your memories of working with Nils, and the different locations you used for recording? Was there a particular place you feel captured your music the best?

Working with Nils was a treat. We recorded everything in an old orchestral recording hall, and then spent a couple days driving around Berlin with a portable set-up, capturing random happenings in extreme acoustic settings. The most extreme atmospheric space we used was an abandoned geodesic dome on top of a creepy hill. Dark, forbidden, the longest reverb I’ve ever heard- we had to work quickly in there, and it was mad cold. These things really affect how you play and how it comes across. We used the sound of the wind rushing around the dome as a noise floor throughout the record.


My favourite piece at the moment is ‘Breathing Black Ground’ – the longest cut on the album that seeps slowly into your consciousness. I love the different movements inherent in the spellbinding piece; opening with slow, hypnotic solo-violin, and halfway through the piece evolves into a large canvas of enveloping sound. The addition of harmonium and touches of harmonies creates an utterly beguiling atmosphere. Congratulations! Please discuss for me the construction of ‘Breathing Black Ground’ and memories of writing this piece?

I wrote Breathing Black Ground during hurricane Sandy, holed up in a cabin in the mountains in New England. I had gotten out of NYC as the storm was coming and then got kind of trapped in the mountains waiting for it to pass. The nervous tension in that piece wove itself into the rest of the album and settled, becoming a main character in the whole story, evolving out of the storm and into more of a meditation on burrowing underground, like a mole. I added the vocal line in the dark dome because singing in there felt wonderful, and then while in Nils’ mixing studio, the harmonium line felt like a big fuzzy blanket that needed to be wrapped around the piece.


What makes ‘Hero Brother’ such a special record – like any great artist’s work – is how personal the music feels; coming from the beating heart of the composer. I would love to gain an insight into the album-title, and indeed the themes of this debut album?

Hero Brother is a character that emerged during the writing. I like the universality of it; we have someone in our lives that’s stoic and fights for us or we are that person, or we need someone, or we lost someone like that.
Some of the themes are characters in a story, others are textures, others are feeling based.


Can you take me back please to your earliest musical memories? What age were you when you first played the violin? I can only imagine your family were always immersed in music, that seamlessly rubbed off you.

I started playing at age 3, the Suzuki method starts kids young. My family was into a lot of folk music, they played banjo, guitar, fiddle, flute etc. My mom was into Classical minimalism as well. My dad listened to a lot of Bob Dylan and Hendrix. So all that was music to me and I thought learning classical repertoire was one-sided, since there was so much music out there.


What I love on ‘Hero Brother’ is the gorgeous instrumentation – delicate and subtle – of harmonium, wordless voice and piano, that complements the solo-violin so well. Was this a decision made from the outset, or something that naturally blossomed during the recording? I feel the piece ‘Forcelessness’ epitomises the truly transcendent nature of your music, as Nils’s piano blends so effortlessly with your soaring violin melodies; the instruments are in deep communication – it’s a true joy to witness.

I wrote Forcelessness last summer with a duet in mind, and its evolved many times with different friends. I knew it would be Nils on piano on that song when we agreed to work together. The other minimal instrumentation emerged during the recording process, feeling as natural as salting food, as opposed to a departure from sticking to one instrument.


Can you please discuss how collaboration has inspired the creation of your own solo music? It is amazing to think you are part of so many vital artists, from Arcade Fire and The Luyas, to Bell Orchestre and Esmerine. I have been deeply immersed in all these projects of yours, and it’s a real privilege to now listen to the solo works of yours. How does your mindset change (if it does) between the art of collaboration and the art of making your own solo music?

Solo writing is such a different animal. I’m naturally a very collaborative person, which is perhaps why it took a while to commit to writing alone. I’m so inspired by playing with other people- collaborative composition through improvisation in particular has always been really satisfying. It’s the way Bell Orchestre has always written. I suppose I took that method and applied it to myself.


Finally, I love the eclectic nature of sounds distilled on ‘Hero Brother’. It is obvious your love of pop/indie music and improvisation shines throughout. For example, the bright folk lament ‘They Live On’ is reminiscent of Andrew Bird, and several of your pieces belong in the magical realm of divine Neoclassical spheres of sound. Can you please discuss your primary influences, and what records you are listening to most lately?

My formative influences as a violinist would be Bartok, Bach, Hendrix, Arthur Russell, and a hundred more. These days I’ve been listening to a lot of west African Blues, Peter Gabriel, electronic musicians like The Field and Burial. It’s a really mixed bag.


‘Hero Brother’ is out now on Constellation Records.



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October 3, 2013 at 10:24 am

Ten Mile Stereo

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Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle “Perils From The Sea” (Caldo Verde)
“Perils From The Sea” is yet another hauntingly beautiful collection written by the legendary American songsmith Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon). Here, Kozelek is joined by The Album Leaf’s Jimmy LaValle who provides the music to Kozelek’s words. The musical arrangements are kept wonderfully sparse, where LaValle’s use of electronics, drum beats and swirling synth presets provide the perfect platform for Kozelek’s deeply affecting and moving narrative songs. Some of Kozelek’s finest moments are matched here, like the gorgeous “From The Time That I Awoke”:
“I wrote poetry throughout my teens / And I far exceeded my childhood dreams / Teachers told me I couldn’t write / That I’d never make a living or touch anyone’s life / People told me I couldn’t sing / That I’d never amount to much of anything”


Forest Swords “Engravings” (Tri Angle)
Forest Swords is the pseudonym for Liverpool producer Matthew Barnes, who releases his hotly anticipated debut album “Engravings” this August on the Tri Angle label. Thus far Forest Swords has released the critically acclaimed debut “Dagger Paths” EP in 2010, and has recently made the tracks “Thor’s Stone” and “The Weight Of Gold” available online, the latter confirming the hype and acclaim is fully merited for this hugely talented artist. “Engravings” will be released on Tri Angle on 26 August 2013.


Letherette “Letherette” (Ninja Tune)
This year saw the Wolverhampton based electronic duo Letherette – consisting of childhood friends Richard Roberts and Andy Harber – release their self-titled debut album on the pioneering Ninjatune label. The album showcases the talents of the pair while also highlighting the broad range of influences that have seeped into their record collections over the years. According to Roberts, their ultimate aim is “to be in a position where they make great albums playing to great people.” “While Harber has said: ‘We always want to be in touch with what’s good and to make music we’re proud of and never go stale. If that ever happened, in my ears, we’d call it a day.”


Sarah Neufeld “Hero Brother” (Constellation)
Best known as band-member to Arcade Fire and a founding member of the acclaimed contemporary instrumental ensemble Bell Orchestre, Sarah Neufeld’s breathtaking violin talents can be witnessed in her solo LP “Hero Brother”. Written and composed by Neufeld, the album was mixed and produced by Berlin-based Nils Frahm who also adds harmonium and piano to the album. According to Neufeld, “Hero Brother is a gathering of characters in our collective mythology- the strong and weak; the secrets buried underground, played by one instrument, echoed by my own voice as plaintive companion.”


Hidden Highways “Old Hearts Reborn” (Out On A Limb)
Hidden Highways’ much-anticipated debut album will be released this September on Limerick-based independent label Out On A Limb Records. Comprising the duo of Carol Anne McGowan and Tim V Smith, Hidden Highways create stunning, immersive folk songs recalling the likes of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. McGowan’s vocals are stunning throughout, her harmonies with Smith recall the spirit of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra. Last year the band issued their self-titled EP – proving to be one of the year’s quietly unassuming, hidden treasures – which included a heart-stopping rendition of the Jeff Alexander-penned classic “Come Wander With Me”. “Old Hearts Reborn” will be released on Out On A Limb Records on 13 September 2013.


Promised Land Sound “Promised Land Sound” (Paradise Of Bachelors)
The self-titled debut album by Promised Land Sound (named after a Chuck Berry jam) is destined to become one of the year’s most talked about albums. The Nashville-based band shot to the attention of many when Jack White (also a Nashville native) released a live 7″ recording of the band on his Third Man Records Label. The band’s hugely impressive sonic palette recalls a wide array of artists including Link Wray, The Band, The Stones, Gene Clark and Gram Parsons. The self titled debut was co-produced by Nashville guitarist (and Lambchop, Hiss Golden Messenger and Silver Jews contributor) William Tyler and Jem Cohen of the Ettes and the Parting Gifts. “Promised Land Sound” will be released by the North Carolina-based label Paradise Of Bachelors on 24 September.


Erased Tapes V Boxset (Erased Tapes)
This year marks the fifth anniversary of the hugely influential record label Erased Tapes. It is amazing to think that in such a short space of time the label have released some of the finest music of recent times, with recordings by artists such as Peter Broderick, Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds and A Winged Victory For The Sullen.
Fittingly, on their anniversary year, the label released “Corollaries”, the new album by legendary pianist Lubomyr Menlnyk, whose pioneering Continous Music has inspired a generation of musicians. The box set features exclusive, previously unreleased recordings made by the label’s incredible roster of artists. What makes it all the more exclusive is the fact that a the compilation won’t become digitally available until the end of the year. A must have for music-lovers everywhere.

While Nils Frahm’s “Juno” is not included, the much sought-after vinyl has been reissued (in beautiful turquoise) after the initial pressing sold out. The material (“For” and “Peter”, written for friend and colleague Peter Broderick) is exclusively made with the Juno synthesizer, showcasing Frahm’s incredible talents as one of the most inspiring of contemporary composers.


Bill Callahan “Dream River” (Drag City)
One of the modern greats, Bill Callahan, releases his new album “Dream River” and eagerly awaited follow-up to his immaculate “Apocalypse” this Autumn, on Drag City. Since dropping his Smog moniker, beginning in 2007 with the release of “Woke On A Whaleheart” Callahan has produced a string of stunning albums, confirming his status as one of the finest artists around. According to Drag City: “Ol’ man Eagle is back, floatin’ Apocalyptically on a Whaleheart down the Dream River. Eight gentle percolations fire the pressure-cooker of life, dialing us into the Callahanian mind- and soul-set. Deep like aqua, soulful like man and animal alike.” “Dream River” will be released by Drag City on 17 September 2013.


White Hills “In Your Room” (Thrill Jockey)
This year Chicago-based label Thrill Jockey have been releasing a raft of sublime albums (last month alone saw records by New York trio White Hills, kandodo, and the long-awaited re-pressing of Mountains’ debut LP “Mountains Mountains Mountains”) showcasing some of the most exciting bands making music today. “So You Are…So You’ll Be” is White Hills’ seventh studio album and was recorded with Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Brian Eno, Swans) at BC Studios where White Hills also recorded 2012’s “Frying On This Rock”. According to Dave W: “Heavy psychedelic music can deliver the thinking mind through a door to the greater universe. I want people to find a space for meditation. We all are constantly barraged and beaten down with a lot of bullshit today. Personally, I find that spaced-out extreme music transports me to a very tranquil place. I hope, more than anything, our music brings others to that place of enlightenment and ecstasy.”


Rodigon G.A. “The Lost Tapes” (Strut)
Released at the end of May, “The Lost Tapes” comprises the first ever commercially released album of Rodion G.A.’s music. The material has been unheard and unreleased for over thirty years and was issued by London-based label Strut in association with Future Nuggets and Ambassador’s Reception. Rodion Rosca composed and recorded much of the music on a primitive makeshift set-up of early drum machines, Tesla reel to reels, and live instruments. The collection is simply a gleaming treasure and one which every music collector should proudly own.