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Chosen One: Echo Collective

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Interview with Neil Leiter (Echo Collective co-founder).

I love playing this music and feeling my heart slow down in the pulseless moments, and then the opposite, getting carried away by the wall of sound and transported to the next realm.”

Neil Leiter

Words: Mark Carry

Photograph: Jesse Overman

official echo photo

Echo Collective is a collective of classically trained and professionally active musicians based in Brussels Belgium. Past and ongoing collaborations include A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Stars of the Lid, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Laniakea, Adam Wiltzie, Dustin O’Halloran, and Christina Vantzou.

The live experience is one of those rare occurrences where a multitude of emotions can engulf your every thought, like a whirlpool of forgotten dreams that suddenly resurface to the pools of your mind. Of course, an experience such as this is impossible to quantify but the feelings and profound impact caused by these sonic transmissions is absolute and true.

When I think of some of these live experiences, the Echo Collective string quartet lies at the heart of several otherworldly live shows: Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson; A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s ‘Atomos’ tour (several years later) and Stars Of The Lid’s 2016 European tour. Undoubtedly, the gifted quartet have developed a common musical language with these awe-inspiring modern composers and the wall of intense sound unleashed by these live strings – blended with electronics, drone noise, ripples of piano notes or otherwise – navigates the depths of the human heart and (unknowingly) transported to another realm.

As part of the Echo Collective’s concert residency at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels during the 2016-2017 season, the Echo Collective will re-adapt and reinterpret Radiohead’s Amnesiac album. In a similar way to André de Ridder’s exceptional Stargaze modern classical ensemble – their reinvention of Boards Of Canada’s ‘HI Scores’ EP or the divine ‘Deerhoof Chamber Variations’ record are just two examples – Echo Collective are continually searching to redefine the boundaries of music (and in turn, these boundaries become beautifully blurred).

www.echocollective.be

https://www.facebook.com/collectiveecho/?ref=bookmarks

As part of the Echo Collective’s concert residency at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels during the 2016-2017 season, the Echo Collective will re-adapt and reinterpret Radiohead’s Amnesiac album. For details of the first edition of the BRDCST Festival and Echo Collective’s show (as a double-bill with Germany’s Hauschka), please visit HERE.

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Echo Collective performing with A Winged Victory For The Sullen at the BBC Proms, 5 Aug 2015, Royal Albert Hall, London.

 

Interview with Neil Leiter (Echo Collective co-founder).

It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about your awe-inspiring musical project of Echo Collective. Firstly, can you please take me back to the founding of Echo Collective and the particular space and time in which this collective began on their music path? I’d love to gain an insight into your musical background and classical training. Also, please introduce to me the current personnel who comprise of Echo Collective.

Neil Leiter: First Mark, thank you for your interest in Echo Collective. It is a true honour to be part of your inspiring blog.

Echo Collective began five years ago. I was introduced to Adam Wiltzie by a childhood friend Caroline Shaw. She plays violin as part of ACME in New York and is a fantastic and renowned composer. As part of ACME, she had played with Adam as part of A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Stars of the Lid. Adam was looking for European based musicians to play with, and she put us in touch. I will be forever grateful for that introduction.

Margaret Hermant and I put a team together to collaborate with AWVFTS and Echo Collective grew out of that initial relationship. All of our musicians come from a classical background. For example I studied viola performance at Indiana University Bloomington, and had been an active professional in Brussels for ten years before Echo. Margaret our violinist and harpist, studied in Brussels and has also been an active professional for many years before Echo. The list goes on, but the background is the same. Classically trained musicians, searching to redefine the boundaries of music and what it means to be a classical musician.

Echo was and still is primarily a collaborative group. Though we have started to branch into our own projects, our roots remain collaborating with modern composers on their new projects, recordings, and tours. Though we tour mostly as a string group, normally between three and five musicians, our team in residence at the AB in Brussels this year, is seven strong: Margaret on violin and harp, myself on viola, Harm Garreyn on cello, Gary De Cart on piano, Hélène Elst on bassoon/contrabassoon,Yan Lecollaire on clarinet/bass clarinet/baritone sax, and Antoine Dandoy on orchestral percussion. The upcoming albums that we plan to release also are in this formation.

You have formed an integral part with many of the finest modern composers of today, including Stars of the Lid, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Christina Vantzou and more. Please discuss how the process of collaboration has developed between Echo Collective and these array of composers? It is clear that there is a dedication, trust and openness between you and these collaborating musicians. Each of these projects must take you on some deeply rewarding and fulfilling experiences. How have you developed as a string quartet in light of these wonderful projects and collaborations?

NL: You are completely right that collaborating with the aforementioned composers is deeply rewarding and fulfilling. Part of what makes it so special is that there is a real dialogue between us and the composers. Because we come from such different backgrounds, part of working with each of them is developing our own common language for musical communication. And as we develop this language together, there is a deep bond that develops. All of these people are like family now.  I think that these strong relationships come from learning how to communicate in our own special way, in an individualised way. In a way that only relates to their music.

I know that these composers appreciate that dedication. And all the people that take part in Echo have that innate ability to live the music live. In fact my wife jokes that I am probably the biggest Winged Victory fan. And I might be, I listen to their music and the music of all these amazing people all the time. And I truly do love it. All the people of Echo do. And that love is felt by our collaborators and hopefully the audience.

It is hard to say how we have developed over these years. I think that probably, we are faster in understanding what the composers want. Often times anticipating ideas before they are brought up. After playing so many concerts together, mostly it just takes a few words or a certain look between us to know where we are going and how we are going to get there.

The live experience of playing cities around the world with these incredible artists must be another truly inspiring avenue and path to be on. I was fortunate to witness Echo Collective onstage with Stars of the Lid last year and Jóhann Jóhannsson a few years previously. Can you shed some light on the preparation and rehearsals that are involved with these tours? I wonder what particular stage in the live context would be your favourite? The energy and depths of emotion that fill the atmosphere during these shows of yours create such a deeply profound impact on the listener. Can you somehow reflect on the live performance of music and the effect of strings (and the live string quartet) has on the live setting?

NL: For me personally, music is at its best live. I think that is where the greatest range of emotion is communicated by the performer and felt by the audience. And this is where the live strings really add the most. Because we are naturally acoustic, we can give the soft moments the transparency of un-amplified sound. And because we are amplified, as the music reaches those mind bending peaks in volume, we can help give it that extra oomph. In those forte moments, often times I feel that even in three we sound like one hundred.

We have worked over the years with Tom Lezaire (our long time sound engineer with AWVFTS and SOTL) as well as other sound engineers to keep the natural sound of the string instruments.  Even in the loud moments, the audience should feel the direction of the sound from the strings, the bow moving across the strings, the hiss of the contact point. Though the audience only sees the musicians on stage, the relationship that we have with Tom and the other sound engineers is imperative to a strong live performance.

As we play these great compositions, we try to feel the emotion that we want to convey. As a result, if we are doing our job correctly, the depth of emotion that we feel, should be the feeling that the audience gets swept away by. I love playing this music and feeling my heart slow down in the pulseless moments, and then the opposite, getting carried away by the wall of sound and transported to the next realm. That is by far my favorite part of the live context, being transported by the music.

As Margaret always says, and she is so right, having a stable team that is able to communicate and feel in these common ways is essential to being swept away and sharing that feeling with the audience. It is not by accident that we convey these feelings, it comes from years of playing together.

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Echo Collective plays ‘Amnesiac’ is an ongoing residency at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, which culminates in April 7ths Brdcst Festival performance. Firstly, please discuss your reasons for choosing Radiohead’s Amnesiac album and indeed your love and fascination with this band? This of course was a special time, when ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ were unleashed into the world at the turn of the millennium. What are your memories of first hearing ‘Amnesiac’ and the impressions it left on you?

NL: This might surprise you, but I had never listened to the Amnesiac album before Kurt from the AB proposed it as the focal point of our residency. I grew up singularly focused to a fault on classical music. In fact it is a kind of running inside joke how little popular culture I actually have.  That being said, other members of Echo are huge Radiohead fans.

Kurt Overbergh, the artistic director of the AB in Brussels, initially proposed a choice between Kid A and Amnesiac as the focal point of our residency. At that point, I asked for a week, and immersed myself in these great records. We decided to work on Amnesiac because it is more complex, more built on layers, in my opinion more based of classical construction and colours, and in many ways more of a challenge.

The live recordings of ‘Amnesiac’ from AB Brussels, are quite extraordinary and the intricate arrangements are a joy to savour. Can you talk me through the process of notating, arranging and fleshing out these songs, so to speak? What I love is how you add many colours, textures and new perspectives to the sound world of ‘Amnesiac’. What have been the most challenging aspects of this project?

NL: Gary, our pianist, and I have been working this year to arrange these songs. Of course the process involves notating all the parts from the original songs (Gary is a real pro at this) and then imagining how to apply it to our ensemble. In a lot of ways, reworking the songs without voice has been freeing. Where a traditional rock song has to leave lots of room for the vocal line, we have allowed the secondary lines to be more equal with the vocal melody. This results in more interaction between the lines, and as a result hopefully lots of colours and variation in sound and form.

The hardest part has been finding our voice within, while still remaining ‘true’ to the original.  We want the audience to feel like they are meeting an old friend for the first time. To feel comfort in hearing a song that they love, but to be challenged to listen and interact with it like it is the first time. That is a real fine line to balance.

After our initial arrangements, all the fleshing out and balancing happens collectively in rehearsal.  We try things, see if they work, play a concert, reimagine, and repeat. We are constantly searching to take the sound to the limit, to appropriate each line as our own. In this way, the pieces are not just interpretations but reinventions. Our residency at the AB has really allowed us the time to work through all these processes, and to assimilate the music for ourselves. It has been a fantastic opportunity that we are very thankful for, and I think that we are finding that illusive balance.

The opening ‘Pyramid Song’ is magnificently re-arranged. The woodwind instrumentation replaces Thom Yorke’s voice but retains that sombre, brooding, dense feeling and atmosphere. Can you talk me through the instrumental make-up of ‘Pyramid Song’ and what new layers were composed for some of these parts?

NL: Like almost all of the songs, there is very little composition added to these amazing pieces, the lines from the original are kept, but readapted in our colours and techniques. In Pyramid Song the intro and outro are wind like color effects that we added to help set the mood. We achieved this through extended techniques in the strings and winds. And the baritone sax replaces Thom Yorke’s voice, later doubled by the contrabassoon. We chose those instruments to try and capture the amazing timbre he is able to achieve. It was one of the first arrangements we did, and still one of our favorites.

‘Hunting Bears/Like Spinning Plates’ epitomises the dynamic range of your ‘Amnesiac’ performances and just how aesthetically rich these compositions are. One of the defining moments arrives with the gradual awakening of ‘Like Spinning Plates’, coming after the sparse ‘Hunting Bears’. So much colour is added to the latter, it’s a piece I’m sure you particularly enjoyed arranging and performing? The strings on top of the piano and percussion – arriving on the rise of the song – is one of the defining moments of this live set.

NL: Hunting Bears is originally a big guitar solo, but for us was very reminiscent of a recitative from opera. Very free and in a way spoken. Margaret plays both the harp part and then the violin part which replace the guitar, and we follow her seemingly free form improvisation like an orchestra would accompany a singer in a recitative. We chose to use it more as an introduction to Spinning Plates than as a standalone piece.

And our version of Spinning Plates is based on Radiohead’s live version of this song. Their live version spoke to us directly, almost like something that we would have composed ourselves. It is probably my favorite, and also the most classical of all the songs. Like in many of the arrangements the vibraphone and glockenspiel are integral in creating the resonate atmosphere.  Everything just fits together like a clock. The contrabassoon line, which is not really the melody in the original, is a great solo line in our version. Put all together it gives the sensation of flying.

‘I Might Be Wrong’ and ‘You and Who’s Army’ remain as vital and affecting on these live recordings. I feel listening to these arrangements of yours, it not only reminds us how incredible Radiohead’s works are but how you are able to channel new energy and perspectives into these songs. ‘You And Who’s Army’ was always one of my favourite songs from the original and to see how this instrumental version slowly bloom and continually build is certainly the record’s crescendo.

NL: Part of the work that went into these arrangements was imagining the dynamics in a classical way.  That means creating long crescendos, or dynamic contrasts that might not be evident in the original.  ‘You and Who’s Army‘ was in fact reimagined as one long crescendo. The soft color of the bassoon solo accompanied by harp and soft viola and cello, that transitions into a raucous jazz inspired baritone sax and violin solo. This version really shows our full dynamic range both in terms of volume and color. As the layers pile up, so does the emotion. This is an extremely classical construction, and is part of what helps us reclaim the song as our own.

What are the kinds of conversations you’ll be discussing about honing in on your sound as you’re working together for the next number of weeks before the Brdcst festival? It must also be quite liberating to be undergoing a project such as this where there is vast possibilities as to how to bring ‘Amnesiac’ to life with your artistic vision?

NL: At this point we are fine tuning. Everything is basically set, and we are working towards esoteric things like flow, how to connect the pieces, in which order, communication, balance etc.  This is the part of the work where it really becomes chamber music.

How ‘Dollars and Cents’ is transformed into a sweeping orchestral jazz work out is another important part of Echo Collective’s ‘Amnesiac’ and how it serves a wonderful prelude to ‘Knives Out’. What have you learned about this body of work by Radiohead and what new insights and feelings/impressions you may have now after being immersed deeply in this project for the past few months?

NL: As we have worked through this large undertaking, we have been confronted with many things that we are not often confronted with as classical musicians. For example, non-classical musicians often talk about the groove, whereas classical musicians talk about pulse. This immersive process has really helped us to find that alternative perspective and abandon many of our preprogrammed classical clichés. By working through these arrangements we have in many ways transformed into a band. And that is exciting. But I am continuously struck by how classical and jazz oriented Radiohead is. It is ironic, but as we move away from what we know best, we continuously come full circle and are confronted with our origins. I feel that these songs are as much classical as they are not. And that paradox also gives the energy to reimagine what is already a great piece of art.

What other plans for Echo Collective lie on the horizon? I hope there will be (physical) releases made available in the near future.

NL: Thankfully there are many things on the horizon for Echo Collective.

We plan on releasing three albums in the near future, though where is still a great mystery. Of course we want to release the Amnesiac rework which we will record in August. We also want to release a reworking of Burzum’s ‘Daodi Baldrs‘ that was commissioned by the AB two years ago, which is already recorded, and we continue to play live. And we would like to release an album of our own original material that we have been working on in parallel to the Radiohead as part of our residency.

And then of course we will continue to work with AWVFTS as well as other artists in collaboration.  For example, we are in the beginning of collaboration with Daniel O’Sullivan. And of course we are always looking for new collaborations with artists.

We are doing more and more film work these days. As well as teaching graphic scores in collaboration with Christina Vantzou. All in all we are very excited as our activities continue to diversify.

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www.echocollective.be

https://www.facebook.com/collectiveecho/?ref=bookmarks

As part of the Echo Collective’s concert residency at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels during the 2016-2017 season, the Echo Collective will re-adapt and reinterpret Radiohead’s Amnesiac album. For details of the first edition of the BRDCST Festival and Echo Collective’s show (as a double-bill with Germany’s Hauschka), please visit HERE.

 

Chosen One: A Winged Victory For The Sullen

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Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.

I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.”

Dustin O’ Halloran

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The highly anticipated arrival of A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s third full-length, ‘Iris’ marked the commencement of the New Year. The awe-inspiring duo of Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’ Halloran have carved out some of the most vital and captivating modern-classical-infused-ambient explorations, in the shape of the band’s eponymous debut record and sophomore full-length ‘Atomos’: each record represents a beautiful time capsule, steeped in divine beauty.

On the ‘Iris’ film score, the band masterfully expand their sonic palette with use of analogue equipment. The results are nothing short of staggering as the otherworldly sound world of Mica Levi’s ‘Under The Skin’ is navigated amidst a beguiling atmosphere and forever-building wall of intense emotion. The opening ‘Prologue Iris’ is built on an achingly beautiful piano melody (similar to Wiltzie’s gorgeous ‘Salero’ debut solo score). A vast sea of symphonic sounds is combined with pulsating synthesizers on ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’. One of the album’s defining moments arrives on the scintillating ‘Gare Du Nord, Part 1’ where organic and synthetic worlds fuse together.

The recording sessions began with their long time sound collaborator Francesco Donadello in the form of some modular synth sessions in Berlin. The final sessions to what is now the score of Iris were recorded with a 40-piece string orchestra at Magyar Radio in Budapest. ‘Iris’ also features the duo’s trusted string quartet, Echo Collective.

‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.

http://awvfts.com/

http://www.erasedtapes.com/

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Interview with Dustin O’ Halloran.

Congratulations Dustin on the new Winged Victory record; the ‘Iris’ score is really amazing. I’d love for you to discuss the making of this record? One aspect I love is – in contrast to the previous two records – the addition of all the beautiful synthesizer elements and seamless mix of analog with the strings in these new pieces.

DO’H: That was a bit of a collaboration. When Jalil Lespert – the director – he heard ‘Atomos’ and he really thought that was the sound for his film and he wanted us to explore a more electronic side for his film. At the same time, Adam [Wiltzie] and I have been getting into working with modular synth, working with our long-time collaborator Francesco Donadello. It was something we wanted to explore as well so we ended up doing some sessions with modular synth and we liked the idea of this very organic electronic element. The thing we love with the modular synth is that you can’t ever repeat it: it’s a real instrument and there’s no settings to save so you have to capture performances. It was an element that we were just exploring but we were really pleased with how it works with our sound. And it was a nice, new element to bring in and explore.

As you mentioned those sessions with Francesco, would that have been in isolation or before you ever got to writing for the string parts and so on?

DO’H: When we started work on the film – around the time he gave us the script and he hadn’t shot anything yet – so there was a lot of time to just do some experiments. So, the first experiments happened just with modular and some of the pieces are really built from those first sessions. The film has a thriller element to it so we needed also to create tension. We were bringing in this idea of pulses and things to give us movement that would move us along but still have a tonal identity and a sound identity. So, some of the pieces were really built from those first sessions.

The beauty of ‘Iris’ – and indeed all the many scores you have created – is how it’s very much a new studio album as it is an actual score for a movie as it works so well on its own.

DO’H: Yeah, you never know what you’re going to have at the end of a commission or collaboration like this. I think we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to start in the way we make our own records and we had a lot of time. Then we took the pieces and what we released is more our vision for a stand-alone record so we’re able to go back into the tracks and rework them a bit and make more of a studio record out of it. We were happy with what we got, I think it feels connected to our sound but it’s an evolution as well.

And as you say, the atmosphere, there’s a collection of the more electronic pieces work so powerfully, such as ‘Retour au Champs de Mars’ and ‘Gare du Nord Pt. 1’, there’s something quite breath-taking when the synths come in: there’s the space for it and you’re waiting for them to appear.

DO’H: We’re happy with how the modular and the orchestra work well together. We tended to use the modular for the lower end sounds and working with space and rhythm and then having the orchestra. It’s like light and dark is a big subject of the film; it’s a love story but there’s also a lot of deceit and treachery and so the film is always like light and dark fighting against each other in this way. The modular has this more aggressive, synthetic, cold feeling and the strings are definitely this warmer love story that ultimately both elements are in the story.

I wonder for those final sessions in Budapest – for you and Adam as the composers of the music – it must be quite something when you’re all in this room and you hear this big ensemble perform the music at the final end of it all?

DO’H: Oh yeah, I mean it’s definitely a satisfying moment when it all comes alive. I love recording with real instruments and it’s always something very important to me. I think with Winged Victory too, we’re always trying to put as much care sonically into everything that we do and record it in the best way. I’m a big fan of records that are great sounding records and those are the records that usually stay in my collection so it’s something we try to put a lot of care into.

For those final sessions, is there still room for accidents to happen or surprising things happen in the sense of the music altering in any way?

DO’H: Yeah, I mean up until the point of doing the strings everything is always flexible and changing and we’re exploring different things and obviously, we hear different things. And when you’re recording the modular stuff, it’s a lot of experimenting and sometimes you find something and you’re not even too sure how you got there. By the time we got to the strings everything had to be pretty much worked out but there’s a lot of extended techniques used in the strings – a lot of harmonics and glissando effects – that we did that were really fun to do in the studio. And to get the orchestra make a lot of noise [laughs] and do less traditional sounds and that was fun so we got to explore that a little bit in the studio and then that was the last phase before we mixed.

I was interested to read how it was edited down – well everything is edited for a final mix of the album – was it difficult to see it as both a film score as well as a studio album in the sense that you needed to remove parts to reduce it down?

DO’H: There was always like a push and pull of what we were leaving in and we were pulling back. For some of the studio record we took out some elements that we needed for the film to help push the picture a bit and then there’s other elements that we decided to bring back in that didn’t work so well with the picture. We definitely approached the record because we wanted it to work on its own. I mean it was important that it would be a standalone experience.

It’s fascinating to see how you have the three studio albums (with Winged Victory) in terms of the speed in which they’re coming out, it feels that there’s a sort of flow between you and Adam where you must always be learning from this partnership?

DO’H: Well I think we’ve been lucky to work on some really great projects and each time we’re definitely learning more about our own process. I think that maybe we’re getting better at working a little bit quicker although there’s a beauty to taking your time and that’s something we just haven’t had the luxury of for a while. So, when we start working on another record, we’re hoping that we will give ourselves a little bit of time and let things percolate, you know that’s something that’s also important to me. With these projects, you have a finite amount of time to work on it but hopefully we’ll be able to take our time again soon but it’s good to know that we can do it and we can be happy with the results.

I must congratulate you also on the amazing ‘Lion’ score and collaboration with Hauschka. It’s wonderful seeing all these musicians and composers and realizing it’s this small community that you’re all releasing amazing albums in your own right whilst collaborating so much with others too. I wonder when did you begin working on this particular project?

DO’H: Yeah, as I was finishing ‘Lion’, Adam and I were starting ‘Iris’ so it was kind of a cross-fade [laughs] But it’s been great, I feel super lucky to be working with people that I love to work with and there’s been so much care. Robert [Raths] has put a lot of love into the releases and we’re grateful to work on some good projects. I mean it’s busy times, the hard part about it is the amount of music you have to produce when there’s a lot of requests, it’s the most demanding aspect but those are good problems to have, you just have to be more diligent and have more time in the studio [laughs].

For ‘Lion’, were you and Volker in the same room together for these sessions?

DO’H: With Volker, we started in our own studios for about a month working on the film and then he came to Los Angeles to work in my studio here and we finished everything here and we worked for about another month. We didn’t have as much time and we came in after the film was already edited so we were in pretty deep pretty quickly.

The same thing happened with you and Adam in the way you spend quite a bit of time in your own respective studios?

DO’H: We try to get together as much as possible (Adam and I) because part of the Winged Victory sound is really both him and I working on stuff together, there’s just something that happens when we’re doing it together, it feels different than when we’re just sending files back and forth because I think we both let go a little bit more when we’re together and we’re able to follow instinctual things quicker and we write quicker as well so it’s always good when we get together.

A very important part of A Winged Victory is the Echo Collective string quartet. I just remember witnessing your live show – and also with Stars of The Lid – and feel the hypnotic effect of the strings, it’s something out of this world when you’re at the live show in one big space.

DO’H: I mean without us finding them, it would be so hard for us to perform live and to translate what we want. We’ve been really lucky. We went through a lot of different string players and we had a lot of bad shows and a lot of shows that didn’t really work out. We’ve been really fortunate to find a bunch of string players that have been so dedicated to helping us find what we need. Our music is very slow-moving and it takes a lot of patience and a lot of string players can look at the sheet music and be really dismissive; it’s actually much harder to get a good sound than it appears on paper. We’ve been really, really lucky, they’re great players, they’re so dedicated to us and I think a lot of other people are starting to work with them because of that dedication that they have. But we definitely couldn’t do it without them, they’re a huge part of our sound.

I loved your solo EP ‘3 Movements’ that came out towards the end of the year.

DO’H: It’s the first time I haven’t collaborated in a while. I’ve been slowly working on different pieces and I’m working on my own solo record but it’s definitely nice to finally get some solo work out [laughs].

And lastly, have there been any live shows that you’ve seen in the last few months that struck a chord with you and have been blown away by?

DO’H: There was a festival that happened in Berlin that the Michelberger Hotel put on, it was at the Funkhaus. There was a twenty-piece choir who performed with Bon Iver who did this acapella piece and it was really beautiful. It was in the old East German recording studios and I forgot how beautiful just the sound of voices is, you know I’ve been listening to so much amplified music and to hear just a choir of voices, it just gave me goosebumps, that was my last moment.

‘Iris’ OST is out now on Erased Tapes.

http://awvfts.com/

http://www.erasedtapes.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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February 13, 2017 at 8:25 pm

Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S01E10 | October mix

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October’s mixtape contains an exclusive unreleased track by the world-renowned electronic composer Loscil (Canada/Kranky) ahead of the release of his forthcoming album “Monument Builders”, due for release on November 11th via Kranky.

For over nearly two decades Loscil (Vancouver-born Scott Morgan) has been amassing a constantly evolving, soul-stirring body of work. Beginning with his 2001 debut “Triple Point”, Loscil has developed his own unique style of textural rhythms that ceaselessly blur the lines of ambient, techno, drone and modern-classical. Next month sees the hugely anticipated release of Loscil’s “Monument Builders” (his eighth release for the Chicago-based independent Kranky) and follow-up to 2014’s magnificent “Sea Island” full length.

Also included in October’s mix are two selections from the latest masterful guest mix by Late Night Tales – this time with Belfast-born producer extraordinaire David Holmes at the helm – which ranks amongst the most irresistible contributions in the vast Late Night Tales archive to date. Featured here is the heart-stopping tribute to the late Henry McCullough, the Northern Irish guitarist who was a member of Spooky Tooth, Paul McCartney’s Wings, Sweeney’s Men and also performed with Joe Cocker. Holmes collaborates with the Irish DJ, musician and author BP Fallon for the gorgeous “Henry McCullough”, a most loving and poignant tribute to his memory.

October’s mix also features new releases by the Irish-based electronic producer Ellll (pseudonym for Cork-based artist Ellen King) who releases her sublime debut EP “Romance” next month; Katie Gately’s stunning debut album “Color” on the Tri Angle label; the impeccable “Stranger Things” soundtrack composed by Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein from the Austin-based band S U R V I V E and the second album by Xylouris White (legendary Cretan-lute player George Xylouris and Dirty Three’s Jim White) entitled “Black Peak”, out now on Bella Union.

Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S01E10 | October mix

To Read/listen on La Blogothèque:

http://www.blogotheque.net/2016/10/21/fractured-air-x-blogotheque-s01e10-october-mix/

 

Tracklisting:

01. John Carpenter“Hofner Dawn” (Sacred Bones)
02. Colleen“Your Heart On Your Sleeve” (The Leaf Label)
03. Ellll“Romance” (Art For Blind)
04. Katie Gately“Lift” (Tri Angle)
05. Jessy Lanza“Could Be U” (Hyperdub)
06. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein“This Isn’t You” (Stranger Things OST, Lakeshore)
07. Black Marble “It’s Conditional” (Ghostly International)
08. Madvillain“The Illest Villains” (Stones Throw, PIAS)
09. Betty Harris“There’s a Break in the Road” (Soul Jazz)
10. J Dilla & MF Doom“Sniper Elite” (Gold Dust Media)
11. Virginia Wing“Daughter of the Mind” (Fire)
12. Marissa Nadler“High on the Road” (Bandcamp)
13. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis“Texas Midlands” (Hell or High Water OST, Milan)
14. Stars Of The Lid“Tippy’s Demise” (Kranky)
15. Low “Untitled 1” (Bandcamp)
16. Bob Dylan“Song To Woody” (Columbia)
17. Xylouris White“The Feast” (Bella Union)
18. the Marquis de Tren and Bonny Billy (with Angel Olsen)“Solemn 28” (Drag City, Domino)
19. The Children Of Sunshine“It’s A Long Way To Heaven” (LateNightTales)
20. Townes Van Zandt“Waitin’ Around To Die” (Charly, Poppy)
21. Ennio Morricone“The Ecstasy Of Gold” (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly OST, United Artists)
22. The Avalanches“The Wozard Of Iz” (XL)
23. BP Fallon & David Holmes“Henry McCullough” (LateNightTales)
24. Primal Scream“Inner Flight” (Creation)
25. Katie Kim“Ghosts” (Art For Blind)
26. Boom Bip“I See Me” (Sun Choke OST, Lex)
27. Loscil“Varia” (Unreleased)
28. Jóhann Jóhannsson“A Song for Europa” (Deutsche Grammophon)
29. Claire M Singer“Wrangham” (Touch)
30. Gavin Bryars (with Tom Waits)“Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” (Obscure, Island)

Compiled by Fractured Air, October 2016. 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.

http://www.blogotheque.net/
https://fracturedair.com/

 

Chosen One: Stars of the Lid

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Interview with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie.

“…when it works, it’s a feeling not even of contentment, it’s a sort of cross between accomplishment, contentment, satisfaction and just where you can sit there for a moment and it feels as if the whole world is OK for a few minutes even though the rest of the time it feels as if it’s about to explode.”

—Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie

Words: Mark Carry

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Since releasing their debut record ‘Music For Nitrous Oxide’ in the mid-nineties, Stars of the Lid have been responsible for creating some of the most ground-breaking, singular and innovative ambient music to have graced the earth’s atmosphere. The innate ability of the gifted duo Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride to stretch out space that in turn, creates vast, limitless drones steeped in unimaginable beauty. Each Stars of the Lid record remains a vital musical document whose meaning and significance has only deepened with time.

Brian Eno once said “A studio is an absolute labyrinth of possibilities — this is why records take so long to make because there are millions of permutations of things you can do.” It is abundantly clear across the storied career of Wiltzie and McBride’s sacred works that a labyrinth of possibilities permeate the drone soundscapes and intricately arranged symphonic works of monumental works such as 2007’s ‘And Their Refinement of the Decline’ (the band’s last studio album); ‘The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid’ (using strings, horns and piano to captivating effect) and ‘The Ballasted Orchestra’s utterly compelling ambient explorations. These albums were painstakingly recorded, processed and assembled over long periods of time (for instance, the band’s last studio album was five years in the making). I feel this has become the essence of Stars of the Lid’s resolutely unique musical oeuvre: the listener feels the creator’s sheer devotion to their chosen art being poured through every divine note and aching pulse.

SOTL’s Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride will be embarking on an extensive tour to debut some new compositions, and some old classics with long time visual collaborator and projectionist Luke Savisky, and German lighting designer MFO.  On stage this tour will be featuring a new band. Two new members, Robert Donne from Kranky label mates Labradford, and Adam’s long time studio collaborator Francesco Donadello. Plus Brussels residents and A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s string ensemble, the Echo Collective and a vintage Moog 55 Modular Synthesizer.

2016 has already seen Brussels-based Wiltzie provide original scores for a number of feature films including Jalil Lespert’s ‘Iris’, ‘The Yellow Birds’ by Alexandre Moors and Mike Plunkett’s ‘Salero’ (the latter will be released on 11th November 2016 via Erased Tapes).

For full details of Stars of the Lid’s European tour, which kicks off this Saturday (1st October @ Paradiso, Amsterdam) and includes two Irish dates (Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre and Dublin’s National Concert Hall), see HERE.

https://www.facebook.com/starsofthelid

adam-wiltzie

Interview with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie.

I’d love for you to discuss the forthcoming Stars of the Lid European tour itself? It must be very special for you and Brian to be re-united again after being involved with other projects in the interim?

Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie: So, technically it’s been ten years since we released a record. In the meantime, I’ve been really busy doing a lot more soundtrack work and working with A Winged Victory For The Sullen but at the same time, pretty much every year Brian and I have at least done a couple of shows here and there. So we were always there but I think initially it was intentional to step away from it for a while and try something different so I think more and more we’re kind of getting back into it and getting closer and hopefully we’re going to find a way to finally finish the record and so it’s connect a little bit to both, you know getting our feet wet again. And like I said, we haven’t been completely gone away from it, there’s also this thing connected with the Moog that brought us to do more than just a couple of shows. Having the ability to use this beautiful piece of analogue furniture was sort of the catalyst to make the tour go longer and go to places we haven’t been in a long time – like Ireland – and yeah it’s good to be back.

I’d love for you to discuss a bit more about the synthesizer itself because as you say that must be a real treat to have in your live set-up because normally that might not be possible?

AW: Yeah absolutely, it’s a hugely famous piece of old gear that’s obviously really expensive and fragile and it’s so huge that it’s not really so easy to normally take on tour. We’re really lucky to have this for a really short period of time. I had it in my studio some months ago to test it out and see how we could make it work. We’re going to be playing some new material plus we’re playing some old songs we’ve played throughout the years so it’s nice to breathe some new life into it with some new sounds and in a new way to approach it.

The Moog is a complicated instrument because this one in particular doesn’t have the ability to save pre-sets, so when you get a sound it’ll go away really quick so we’re kind of meeting it halfway. The Moog can very easily turn into some sound that doesn’t sound like anything that we do but there is some inherent beautiful simplicity within the instrument that really fits to what our sound is. It’s been a nice journey to find a way to make it fit inside our world so we’re looking forward to trying that out every night.

Another component too, Adam, is the wonderful string ensemble that audiences would already be familiar with those very special A Winged Victory For The Sullen shows?

AW: Absolutely. The same string players I have been using for a while now, mostly through A Winged Victory For The Sullen. They’ve started playing with Stars of the Lid a few years ago but they live with me, I’m here in Brussels and they’ve become really good friends and they have become a really big part of my live show no matter where I play so it’ll be a real treat to have them along with me as well.

It was cool to see last year Kranky re-issuing some of the Stars of the Lid albums on vinyl, and just a reminder of what special musical documents they very much are.

AW: Yeah, they went out of print. I don’t know if it was really conscious but it seemed a really good time to re-press them on vinyl. It’s been such a long time it’s funny; I figured out that sometimes the best promotion is to do nothing for as long as possible and for some reason we’ve grown in a strangely beautiful organic sense that I never really imagined. For whatever reason those records resonated with people and people care about them so in a weird way this is almost like we’re going back on tour to support those records we released almost twenty years ago [laughs]. It’s nice and as I always say, I’m pretty lucky that people like anything that I do, it’ll be a real pleasure.

I’m curious with the art of a duo – there’s of course you and Brian as Stars of the Lid and alongside Dustin as A Winged Victory – there’s obviously something very special with working or creating together as a two-piece?

AW: Well there’s something two people can do that one person could never do, that’s always the beautiful thing with collaboration. I guess I’ve always been a big believer and big fan of it. I’m lucky to have two guys that I click with in this world.

You already mentioned scores and different things – even more so in the last few years – it’s a wonderful time seeing all these composers with so many projects and varied releases coming out where you’re one prime example. It must be interesting to have all these different projects in your mind at the same time?

AW: I think it’s nice to do different things because you don’t get bored with it whether it’s the different projects or working on something individually like the score project. And obviously as an artist you want to keep busy and not become stagnant so it’s good to have all these different things you can work on.

In terms of the new Stars of the Lid material, can you shed some light on the new material or direction in which you’re going with it?

AW: I don’t really know. We have a lot of new material but I don’t think we have really sat down and decided on what’s actually going to be on the record. In that sense, it’s almost as if we’ve done nothing but we go out on tour sometimes to test out new songs and see what feels like you want to develop more. As far as telling anyone about our new record, there’s actually nothing to report. Everyone seems to think we’re going on tour because we have a new record but we don’t. And everyone also seems to think – it’s a strange thing – that we still live in Texas, I don’t know why that is but they always say the Texan duo, it seems that in the world of the press we will always be existing in Texas.

You already mentioned living in Brussels, you know the studio itself has it been a place that’s been developing over the last few years? I’d love to learn more about the space itself and your set-up?

AW: Yeah I mean I’ve been there for almost twenty years. So, it’s slowly developing – you get new gear and whatnot – it’s basically a really old apartment with really high ceilings and it’s very sympathetic for recording acoustic instruments. Although I do a lot of recording for bigger projects with an orchestra in a studio in Budapest and sometimes I record some strings at another studio in Brussels but I somehow have been able to make it sound like as if you can’t really tell so you can mix and match different things from different places and it feels connected. I’ve always – from the early days – all my earlier recordings were recorded at home because I didn’t have any money, so I’ve always loved recording at home, it’s something that I think I will always do.

The special thing is too with the range of the different material, you know it always has this sort of DIY aesthetic to it too, which is a big compliment too.

AW: Yeah absolutely, it’s all connected. I mean in the beginning, we were so anonymous and we didn’t have any money so we had to do it yourself. So I think it stems from that even though I have a manager now and people who work for me, it still feels strange if I don’t do most of it myself. I feel as if I’m cheating someone if I don’t. My mom told me the other day, she likes to tell me that I remind her of my father because he always had trouble sitting still and so maybe I have adopted a little bit of that from my father. It’s hard to let someone else do something because you just want to do it yourself.

Looking over the Stars of the Lid discography, there’s obviously a string of really amazing records. The length of time it took to make some of these double or even triple records, it must feel like a gradual process when you’re trying to build one piece with so much going on?

AW: I think in the past; songs would develop over a course of years. A two-hour record – you know like a triple album – could take years to make but as I’ve gotten older it seems things happen a lot quicker. I recorded a score this summer – and I’m going over the soundtrack right now to release it – it’s this French film Dustin and I have just composed and it’s over an hour-long and we did all this in about two months. So I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that it’s a little bit easier to let go and not be so precious about everything. I’m not necessarily saying that one is better than the other and I do still slave over things, there are some other music that I’m working on that will take longer and develop. I guess it really depends on the project, you know when you’re working by yourself – for example a soundtrack, it’s a commissioned piece – you have to please other people so you have to find a way to not be precious and let go quicker because there’s deadlines and people have agendas. When you’re working for yourself, you can take all the time in the world.

I always think about when you’re connected to the first [Stars of the Lid] record ‘Music For Nitrous Oxide’, which came out in the early nineties and you had your whole life building up to that one moment, which I was in my early twenties when that came out so it was essentially twenty-three years of my life to release the first record and after that it’s a series of a lot shorter times. So I can see both sides, I do have to say that since I’m professional and that I make a living out of making music, I am relieved in a sense that I can not spend too much time if I need to. I was talking to Jóhann Jóhannsson the other day and he feels as if it doesn’t matter what he has recorded, it never feels finished to him and that must be really stifling at times you know. I like to let go when I can, I think it’s good for you; they’re like these time capsules so you need to let go, otherwise you’ll never finish anything.

It reminds me of Arthur Russell too who always seemed to struggle in order to finish something.

AW: It’s hard to let go sometimes, which I totally understand. You’re making this piece of art and once something doesn’t feel finished it can be very stifling and suffocating, you know it’s better to put it aside and release something that you aren’t happy with because you don’t want to end up feeling like a prostitute or something. What’s the line from that movie, “a wise man once said there’s always a fine line between clever and stupid”, that’s important to remember.

I’ve been listening a lot to your ‘Salero’ soundtrack recently, it’s really amazing and the pieces are just so beautiful. It feels related to other things you have done but it exists in its own realm as well, there’s a separate identity as well.

AW: Yeah maybe, it’s a commissioned piece so I had to work a lot quicker on it but I mean I still think that it sounds like me even though it’s recorded with an orchestra but I’m biased so I don’t know. I don’t know how to feel about it, I’d like to get out of my body and look at myself but sometimes it’s hard to do that. But I’m pleased with it, I’m glad it’s going to come out. I think it’s a beautiful time capsule.

And composing to actual visuals is the process really but in terms of the film then, it feels like a perfect fit where you’re composing music to a vast salt flat?

AW: The first time I saw the images, they were absolutely overwhelming, they’re so beautiful and it’s also kind of strange to see a part of the world that you’ve never seen before. It could maybe look a bit familiar but just have no concept for it, especially the reflections from the sun it looks as if it’s not part of the earth sometimes. It was just so beautiful.

You already mentioned the string orchestra, you must go to that stage after having the compositions pretty much written I imagine but I wonder it must be nice to end up in the same space as the orchestra?

AW: For me, it’s my favourite part because this is the moment where you have this brain fart in your head and you get to let it come out. And just have these other people interpret, it’s going to pretty much sound like you wrote it down, I just absolutely love it. I found this great orchestra – I can’t say they connect with what I’m doing because they are just playing notes – it’s really my favourite part of the whole process because this is where all the happy accidents happen. It sounds like kind of what I was trying to do and you get these other things out of it that you never imagine in a thousand years, you know when you get thirty people in a room to play a drone, it’s absolutely beautiful.

That must be the same feeling for those Stars of the Lid albums where the sessions at the end, you hear all these strings and horns over those drones?

AW: Yeah, it’s different though because that record I mostly recorded in my home studio, not to say that wasn’t a satisfying recording experience but since I’ve been moving more into larger orchestras for the past number of years now, it’s a different thing. I mean there’s one track on the ‘Salero’ record – most of it is recorded with an orchestra except this one track called ‘Bring This Place To Life’ – it’s recorded in my studio with the people who I play with normally and it’s got a totally different sound so the feeling you get when you get people to play on something that you have written – it doesn’t matter if it’s large or small – when it works, it’s a feeling not even of contentment, it’s a sort of cross between accomplishment, contentment, satisfaction and just where you can sit there for a moment and it feels as if the whole world is OK for a few minutes even though the rest of the time it feels as if it’s about to explode. I guess if I meditated on a regular basis, it would be like this moment you come out of meditation and everything is calm. That’s the only way I can describe it, it’s just a feeling of slight contentment.

You have done so much and there’s been so many accomplishments that you should be very proud of, I wonder looking back – and forward too – has there been one philosophy or belief that you always hold onto when you work on the next album, like a musical philosophy so to speak?

AW: Oh my God I definitely do not have but I did read ‘The Oblique Strategies’ by Eno the other day and he has one called ‘Honour your mistakes as a hidden intention’ [laughs] and that one makes complete sense to me [laughs]. I think that’s about as close as I can get to having a theme song.

There’s been several odes to ‘Twin Peaks’ in some of the Stars of the Lid material in terms of song-titles and whatnot, you must have great memories of watching the various David Lynch films and the TV series?

AW:  The Lynch connection was more with ‘Twin Peaks’ because when Brian and I were starting out that was around the time when ‘Twin Peaks’ was on TV so we used to sit there and watch it every week on a Thursday night when it would come on TV. It was a great moment in television history for America. I don’t know if we were the biggest David Lynch fans but we absolutely loved that TV show so that’s why we dedicated that song to him.

Lastly, Adam, what’s been your favourite records that you’ve been enjoying lately?

AW: Well my favourite record that I’ve been listening to is Jóhann Jóhannsson’s new one called ‘Orphee’, it’s absolutely beautiful. He hasn’t released a record of his own work in a long time, it’s gorgeous and I would highly recommend checking it out.

For full details of Stars of the Lid’s European tour, which kicks off this Saturday (1st October @ Paradiso, Amsterdam) and includes two Irish dates (Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre and Dublin’s National Concert Hall), see HERE.

https://www.facebook.com/starsofthelid

Fractured Air 44: Benoît Pioulard “Kranky Mix”

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‘Sonnet’ is the fifth Kranky album by Thomas Meluch under his musical alias Benoît Pioulard, following the 2006 debut full-length ‘Précis’, ‘Temper’ (2008), ‘Lasted’ (2010) and 2013’s ‘Hymnal’. The American sound sculptor – in a similar fashion to his label-mates Loscil, Grouper and Pan American – has amassed a rich body of empowering work, seamlessly creating some of the most affecting and captivating ambient-based compositions of the past decade. This year has also marked the release of ‘Noyaux’, a four-track EP released on Morr Music and the collaborative project with longtime friend and colleague Kyle Bobby Dunn under the moniker of Perils (the debut self-titled LP was issued by Desire Path Recordings).
Kranky is an independent record label based in Chicago, Illinois. The prestigious label’s first release was Labradford’s debut album ‘Prazision’ in 1993. Some 22 years later, the label continues to release some of the most compelling and adventurous sounds from the likes of Loscil, Stars Of The Lid, Pan American, Grouper, Benoît Pioulard, Implodes and much more. 2015 has already seen latest releases from Benoît Pioulard, Disappears, Ken Camden, Valet, Helen and Christina Vantzou.

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Fractured Air 44: Benoît Pioulard “Kranky Mix”

To listen on Mixcloud:

https://www.mixcloud.com/Fractured_Air/fractured-air-44-kranky-mix-by-benoit-pioulard/

 

Tracklisting:

01. Low ‘Will the Night’ [Songs for a Dead Pilot, krank021]
02. Mirrorring ‘Silent From Above’ [Foreign Body, krank162]
03. Labradford ‘El Lago’ [A Stable Reference, krank006]
04. Loscil ‘Hastings Sunrise’ [Sketches from New Brighton, krank171]
05. Felix ‘Who Will Pity the Poor Fool’ [Oh Holy Molar, krank165]
06. Anjou ‘Adjustment’ [Anjou, krank185]
07. Ken Camden ‘Eta Carinae’ [Space Mirror, krank180]
08. Jonas Reinhardt ‘Modern By Nature’s Reward’ [Jonas Reinhardt, krank119]
09. Implodes ‘Wendy’ [Recurring Dream, krank174]
10. Tim Hecker ‘Black Refraction’ [Virgins, krank183]
11. Belong ‘Common Era’ [Common Era, krank155]
12. Stars of the Lid ‘Tippy’s Demise’ […and Their Refinement of the Decline, krank100]
13. Valet ‘Tame All The Lions’ [Blood Is Clean, krank105]
14. Grouper ‘Labyrinth’ [Ruins, krank189]
15. Windy & Carl ‘The Smell of Old Books’ [We Will Always Be, krank163]
16. The Dead Texan ‘The Struggle’ [The Dead Texan, krank072]

Compiled by Thomas Meluch (Benoît Pioulard). The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or Kranky. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.

 


 

http://www.kranky.net/
http://pioulard.com/

 

Chosen One: Christina Vantzou

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Interview with Christina Vantzou.

This year marked the hugely anticipated release of Kansas-born composer Christina Vantzou’s breathtaking second album ‘N°2’, featuring, once again, Minna Choi of the San Francisco-based Magik*Magik Orchestra and Adam Wiltzie (Stars Of The Lid, A Winged Victory For The Sullen). Since its February 2014 album release on the Chicago-based Kranky label, Vantzou has also filmed and directed a film for each of the eleven pieces from ‘N°2’, as well as inviting a host of artists to remix and re-interpret the material from ‘N°2’. We’re delighted to premiere the videos (directed by Christina Vantzou) for both ‘Anna Mae’ (opener to ‘N°2’) and Ken Camden’s exclusive remix for Christina Vantzou’s ‘The Magic of the Autodidact’. All films are made in 100% slow motion using a Phantom Miro 320S slow motion camera. ‘N°2’ is available on all formats via the Kranky label.

Words: Mark Carry

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The Kansas-born and Brussels-based composer, Christina Vantzou is one of those rare treasures in the 21st Century Neoclassical realm whose music has graced the world with her stunningly beautiful compositions. The latest album, ‘N°2’ is the appropriately titled follow-up to 2011’s utterly transcendent opus ‘N°1’ released on the formidable Chicago based label, Kranky. What remains vividly present on Vantzou’s newest masterwork is the infinite beauty and unlimited emotion that pours from the intricately layered compositions. Similar to its predecessor, ‘N°2’ bloomed into vital life over a long period of time (over a four-year period to be precise) and it is the composer’s meticulous detail and sheer musical capabilities that lies at the heart of these truly captivating artistic works.

‘N°2’ was composed using synthesizers and a wide array of unidentified samples that were manipulated beyond recognition. Although similar patterns can be traced on ‘N°2’s gradual ambient flourishes (akin to Vantzou’s beautifully constructed frame-by-frame animation work), compositionally, the record shows a more daring approach with added instrumentation and the presence of a 15-piece string section. New addition of bassoon and oboe adds gorgeous colour and texture to the densely layered strings that enriches and heightens the musical journey unearthed by the U.S. composer. A wider sonic palette is used throughout, from the gentle ripple-flow of piano notes on the album’s penultimate track, ‘Vostok’ and prominence of harp on the achingly beautiful ‘VHS’ to the rapturous crescendo of strings of ‘Going Backwards To Recover What Was Left Behind’ where an emotion-filled sadness engulfs your every pore. Elsewhere, slowly shifting layers of brass and woodwind drifts majestically in ‘Brain Fog’ before brooding strings come to the fore, resulting in a cathartic release of energy. Layers of angelic voices appear and disappear throughout, forming not only a monumental symphonic movement but also an other-worldly choral work. ‘Vancouver Island Quartet’ could be the record’s pinnacle as a seamless array of fragments (celestial voices, empowering strings, tranquil harp notes) coalesce together forming a deeply affecting and cohesive whole.

A collaboration between Vantzou and Minna Choi of the San Francisco-based Magik*Magik Orchestra took place once again for ‘N°2’s recording sessions. Prior to recording at Tiny Telephone studios, Vantzou and Choi worked on the notation and arrangements. Later, the Brussels-based artist spent four months pre-mixing the album before close friend and colleague, Adam Wiltzie (Stars Of The Lid, A Winged Victory For The Sullen) engineered the final mixes, in addition to adding his signature sound texture at his studio in Brussels, Belgium. As Vantzou previously described of the mixing process in our interview from last year: “Adam Wiltzie is now doing the final mixes and it’s a mammoth effort. He’s peeling back layers and adding a few special touches. There are so many layers. I’m not exaggerating, it’s a bit of a monster.”

The results are nothing short of staggering where a ground-breaking work of immense power and cascading emotion heightens all that surrounds you. As the drone embellishes of ‘The Magic Of The Autodidact’ blurs in and out of focus, a magical spell is cast upon all those fortunate enough to witness such unfathomable beauty.

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‘N°2’ is available now on Kranky.

http://www.christinavantzou.com
http://www.kranky.net

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“Anna Mae”

From the album “Nº2” out now on all formats via Kranky.

Directed & Produced by Christina Vantzou
Cinematography: Léo Lefèvre
Assistant Camera: Elvis Fontaine-Garant

Featuring: Stefanie De Regel & Marcus Doverud
Gaffer: Denis Antheunissens
Key Grip: Artur Castro Freire
Assistant Director: Adrien Monfleur
Color Grade: Florian Berutti
Shot with a Phantom MIRO M320S

Special Thanks to: Perrine Wens and BFC, Julie Calbert, Eye Light & KGS

————

Ken Camden Remix: “The Magic of the Autodidact”

Directed & Produced by Christina Vantzou
Cinematography: Léo Lefèvre
Assistant Camera: Elvis Fontaine-Garant

Actress: Stefanie De Regel
Gaffer: Denis Antheunissens
Key Grip: Artur Castro Freire
Assistant Director: Adrien Monfleur
Color Grade: Florian Berutti
Shot with a Phantom MIRO M320S

Special Thanks to: Perrine Wens and BFC, Marcus Doverud, Julie Calbert, Eye Light & KGS

————

Interview with Christina Vantzou.

Congratulations Christina on your truly stunning ‘N°2’ album. You must feel deeply proud of this mesmerizing and beautiful work of art. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about your latest masterpiece. Please discuss the four-year period where you worked on composing and recording ‘N°2’ please and the creative process that ensued?

Christina Vantzou: Thank you. It’s difficult to encapsulate a four-year period in a few words. I remember a lot of composing time and then long listening sessions. Sometimes I would listen to rough draft portions of the record while I cleaned my apartment. I had too much raw material at first, so the decision-making process, as far as what would go into the studio, was long and arduous. It’s both meditative and maddening.

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It is clear upon listening to ‘N°2’, your compositions are more adventurous than ever before, with use of added instrumentation and heightened layers of immaculate sounds. For example, I love the use of woodwind instruments and the prominence of solo instruments on particular pieces. Can you please discuss your main priorities from the outset, in what you wanted to achieve on ‘N°2’ and the direction you were moving towards from ‘N°1’?

CV: I was sure I wanted an oboe in the sound. Adding a bassoon was second priority together with a bassier string section. There was one track that was intended for woodwinds only – a woodwind quintet. I had put together 15 tracks for N°2’s recording session, and 11 tracks made it on the final album. I made sure to keep some room for experimentation and failure. Leaving room for failure was very important to the overall process of ‘N°2’.

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Since the last time we spoke, it feels that the process of making ‘N°2’ follows a similar pattern to that of its predecessor, ‘N°1’, in terms of collaborating with Minna Choi, Telephone Studios in Francisco and indeed, your trusted collaborator Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie. Can you please recount for me your memories of working again with these gifted people and the collaborative process between you and Mina and Adam?

CV: Yes, like ‘N°1’ ‘N°2’ involves close collaboration with Minna Choi in the early stages and Adam Wiltzie in the final stages. Minna and I have built an interesting working relationship together: I think the work we do is special because of her excellence and my naïveté.

For both ‘N°1’ and ‘N°2’, I composed some tracks that were more or less finished in their midi stage, without much transformation, but a lot of tracks were quite sketchy and some were just weird ideas, like a drone-y audio file with a list of instructions on paper and a few images for inspiration. Minna has a way of attacking everything, no matter what stage, leaving nothing untouched or unconsidered.

Although mixing took several months, there’s an efficiency to working with Adam because we have done so for a very long time. Both Adam and Minna were very generous towards ‘N°2’. When the record was passed to Jason Ward at Chicago Mastering service, I felt he took special care of the record too. Jay Pellicci at Tiny Telephone is very much a part of the sound as well. Everyone’s time and care had an influence.

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What stage of the process is the most challenging, Christina? I’m always amazed to think of the time, emotion, artistic input and energy that pours into a record such as ‘N°1’ or ‘N°2’ but one can feel that space and time embedded in your heavenly music. For example, working on the notation part of the music with Minna or finalizing arrangements, mixing stages towards the end, are just some of the stages of the creative pathway. What stage comprises the moments you cherish the most?

CV: Every stage has its challenges. Composing is challenging because it’s done in isolation. It takes a lot of time, and most of that time is in front of a computer. When I passed the record to Minna it felt like Christmas. She sent me mock ups for each track — samples transformed into midi arrangements that would then be turned into notation for the ensemble at Tiny Telephone. The recording session was like triple-Christmas, the pre-mixing phase was terrifying at first because the record was a monster. Some tracks consisted of more than 20 layers. The tracks were still forming in the pre-mixing. Hearing the final mixes was like Christmas again, and then I still had to see if anyone was interested in releasing it.

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I was intrigued to read about your work as a SAT university entrance exam mathematics tutor that entirely funded the making of your album. I must ask you please about this aspect of your work: is there a correlation between mathematics and music for you, as I imagine there must be some sort of parallel between both worlds?

CV: Math is in music, but in my case the two worlds have not quite unified. That might change…but to date I haven’t composed along to a click track, so the Math goes out the window right there.

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My favourite piece at the moment is the gorgeous sonic creation ‘Sister’. The moment the crescendo of strings arrive is one of the many defining moments of this captivating album. I love the layer of ethereal voices that flows beneath and also, the woodwind re-occurring motifs present. Can you please talk me through this piece of music, Christina?

CV: Sure. ‘Sister’ was one of those monster-tracks. The original composition was made in Reason, with a beginning and a middle like what you hear on the final version. Minna added a crazy ending with voices, piano, and winds. I ended up re-working her idea in post production and changing the part she intended as piano to pulsing strings. I also found an instrument line in her midi mock-up that was muted and discarded. I turned that melody into a harp part. All of these additions lead to more and more tracks and big mess in Pro Tools. I color coded the instrument sections to make it easier to navigate. But it was still ghastly. So ‘Sister’ is the only track that Adam did not mix. He refused on account of too many layers.

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In terms of samples, can you please shed some light on the various sources these audio recordings originate from? Similar to ‘N°1’, I love the plethora of voices that combines with the synthesizer lines, it works so beautifully.

CV: I used synth samples found on YouTube from early synthesizer instructional videos. I also used some Stravinsky samples (from The Nightingale), Snow White samples (from The Original Disney soundtrack), and there are some John Carpenter soundtrack samples…

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Listening to ‘N°2’ almost religiously these past few weeks, the works of Jóhann Jóhannsson (particularly, The Miner’s Hymns) comes to the forefront of my mind, such is the sheer beauty and spellbinding magic unleashed by your music. I can imagine he must serve an influence on your music, Christina? I would love to know what records, gigs, artists you have been most obsessed with of late?

CV: Jóhann is a big influence. As far as I’m concerned in new classical music there’s Jóhann Jóhannsson and then there’s everyone else.

I saw ‘The Miner’s Hymns’ performed in Kortrijk last Spring. My mom was there with me. I played the same festival. I remember it was a stressful week getting ready for the show, but the Johann concert just sucked all the anxiety out of me and put me in a good place for the rest of the evening.

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I am a huge fan of your video work that accompanies your own music and indeed the videos of Dead Texan’s music. I would love to learn more about this area of your artistic work and the processes and tools you utilize to create such human and affecting visuals? It’s clear that the frame-by-frame animations — a slow, gradual process — must act as a close companion to the gradual music of your own musical compositions?

CV: The slowness and gradualness of animation and maybe its simplicity as a medium / technology does relate well to the music. Making animations cultivates patience like nothing else. The slow pacing is a big factor in ‘Nº1’ and ‘Nº2’…I’ve tried to make faster music. I started a dance album two summers ago, but everything I make ends up slow and weird.

I’m pretty much attracted to anything slow and weird so for ‘Nº2’ I grew obsessed with a slow motion camera. It took over a year to figure out a way to work with the camera (I used a Phantom Miro 320S) and finally I decided to transfer my SAT teacher earnings into time with the camera. BFC, a rental house in Brussels, also decided to support the project so eventually I got 3 days to work with the camera. These experiments will become the videos for ‘Nº2’. 100% slow motion.

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It’s really cool to see both your album and A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s new record enter into the world during the same general time-frame. I love the cover artwork you did for their first record. Can you please discuss this aspect of your work and your drawings — something that has been a constant for you most of your life — and how this feeds into your music? Any other projects in the pipeline, Christina?

CV: I’ve been drawing all my life — my mom is an artist so art supplies filled the house and it was just a part of everyday life. I remember writing an essay to enter art school about drawing. I said it was the only thing I’d done my whole life that I’d never got bored of. My most recent drawings were of young girls and old people. I have years of drawings in my apartment in Brussels and in Kansas City. The drawings are kept inside boxes that are inside drawers, so not many people know about that work. Adam became a huge fan of my drawings and prints at one point so he chose that particular nude drawing for the Winged Victory album. I hear that a lot of people liked it as a record cover.

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‘N°2’ is available now on Kranky.

http://www.christinavantzou.com
http://www.kranky.net

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Chosen One: Christina Vantzou

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Interview with Christina Vantzou.

“Performing and listening to a gradual musical process resembles: pulling back a swing, releasing it, and observing it gradually come to rest; turning over an hour glass and watching the sand slowly run through the bottom; placing your feet in the sand by the ocean’s edge and watching, feeling, and listening to the waves gradually bury them.”

—Steve Reich, “Music as a Gradual Process” (excerpt)

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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‘N° 1’ is one of those special records that holds a resonance and (quiet) power over you – the listener – long after the swirling ambient flourishes fade into the the star-lit sky overhead. The creator of this spellbinding music is Kansas-born artist, musician and composer, Christina Vantzou. Although released back in 2011, the record continues to reveal new hidden depths and meaning, such is ‘N° 1’s infinite beauty and remarkable artistic achievement. Much like the music of Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Arvo Pärt, Vantzou’s music becomes more than mere musical notes, but rather, a symphony of cascading emotion – raw, delicate and powerful – that indeed resembles the slowly sifting sand of an hour glass or the ocean waves’ slow-dance at your feet. The ebb and flow of Vantzou’s divine ambient soundscapes conjures up the spectrum of human emotion that enriches all of life’s surroundings. Very soon, before the year draws to a close, the follow-up – naturally titled, ‘N° 2’ – will see the light of day.

The debut album from Christina Vantzou was released on the Chicago-based independent label, Kranky. A common theme in the discovery of music – new or old – are the paths or desire lines you happily find that introduces you to a new artist. The source to my discovery of Vantzou’s music is indeed a figure integral to both Kranky’s roster of awe inspiring talent and Vantzou’s own musical compositions, namely Adam Wiltzie. The pioneer of ambient and drone music, has been involved in a wide of array of vital musical projects over the years. As one half of drone/ambient specialists, Stars Of The Lid – alongside compatriot Brian McBride – several life-affirming records such as ‘Avec Laudenum’ and the most recent LP, ‘And their Refinement Of The Decline’ were released on the Kranky label. Outside of Stars Of The Lid, more recently Wiltzie has been creating Neoclassical infused ambient soundscapes, under the guise of A Winged Victory For The Sullen (a collaboration with pianist/composer Dutin O’ Halloran, home to the Erased Tapes label). It is yet another project of Wiltzie’s that formed my connection to Vantzou, namely The Dead Texan, which is the collaboration of Adam Wiltzie and Christina Vantzou. The common thread here is the peerless independent label, Kranky, who released these ambient masterpieces into the world.

The Dead Texan’s self-titled record from 2004 is a wonderful document of a special collaboration between like-minded artists, that continued to filter into Vantzou’s solo music. ‘N° 1’ is produced and mixed by Wiltzie, as is the soon-to-be-released sophomore full-length, ‘N° 2’. Vantzou’s main role in The Dead Texan was making videos to accompany the drone-based musical compositions of Wiltzie. Having studied visual art and receiving a bachelor’s degree from the Maryland College of Art, Vantzou’s music can be seen as a natural extension from the medium of visual art. Similar to Stars Of The Lid, the music itself is rooted in minimalism, where melodic patterns – using only a few notes – are intricately layered, forming a rich musical tapestry of divine shades and textures. A parallel can also be drawn to Vancouver’s Loscil or Brooklyn-based duo Mountains, who effortlessly blend drone and ambient spheres of sound, forming a beguiling landscape of treasured sounds.

‘N° 1’ started in 2007. In the words of Vantzou: “I just kind of sunk into the composing.” Much like the frame by frame animations Vantzou worked on for years, ‘N° 1”s sublime sonic tapestry reveals a slow methodical process that lies at the heart of the music’s inception. ‘N° 1’ was made in tiny fragments, where each meticulous detail reveals a snapshot in time, like cherished memories from a distant past. Over the course of three years, the artist assembled together the tracks that would soon become the foundation of ‘N° 1”s final entity. During this time, Vantzou worked in isolation, using synthesizers, samples and her voice, before a long-distance collaboration ensued that would evolve the music into new realms of possibility. Minna Choi, director of Magik*Magik Orchestra, transformed the sprawling 45-minute single track into a score for a seven-piece orchestra. This culminated in a two day recording session with Magik*Magik at Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco. The album of full symphonic movements was finally mixed in Brussels (where Vantzou resides) with production assistance from Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie.

The ten symphonic movements that comprise ‘N° 1’ showcases Vantzou as a powerful voice in contemporary Neoclassical composition. I feel the stunning music belongs to several genres, from drone-based embellishes of sound, where a single tone (of a violin, cello, french horn or clarinet) has a long, slow duration, to ambient flourishes that sees Vantzou tapping into a hidden, sacred dimension. The album ‘N° 1’ is a testament to the seamless array of gorgeous fragments that coalesce together, forming an achingly beautiful and cohesive whole. The instrumentation of strings (violin, cello, viola) and woodwind (flute, clarinet, oboe) performed by the Magik*Magik Orchestra creates an organic and enriching sound that fills the void and awakens your senses.

Much like the music of Brian Eno and Harold Budd, what becomes important is the space around the music. It is through this space that an envelope of sound ascends upon the listener’s headspace, and soaring emotion is filtered through. This sense of oblivion is wonderfully present on ‘N° 1’ from the opening notes of ‘Homemade Mountains’ to the ambient ebb and flow of the closing ‘Joggers’. ‘Super Interlude pt 2’ is my personal highlight that evokes a vivid sense of nostalgia and melancholia. The crescendo of strings that arrives a short time later, is one of the many stunning moments dotted across ‘N° 1’. Gavin Bryar’s symphonic movement ‘The Sinking Of The Titanic’ could be a reference point here. Towards the close, some field recordings depicting audible voices conjures up the sound of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s timeless works ‘Fordlândia’ and ‘IBM A User’s Manual’. ‘N° 1’ belongs immaculately at the interface of contemporary classical and ambient music.

This year marks the legendary Chicago-based Kranky label’s twentieth anniversary, amongst its awe-inspiring roster of talent there have been innumerable classic albums that have showcased the label – and therefore independent music’s – best-loved and most revered records. And amidst the infinite sonic treasures that the label has been responsible for over the past couple of decades lies the spectacular achievement of Christina Vantzou’s ‘N° 1’, an album, while surpassing all boundaries, reveals the full possibilities inherent in the art of music-making at its most beautiful.

“While performing and listening to gradual musical processes one can participate in a particular liberating and impersonal kind of ritual. Focusing in on the musical process makes possible that shift of attention away from he and she and you and me outwards towards it.”

—”Music as a Gradual Process” by Steve Reich (excerpt)

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‘N° 1’ is out now on Kranky. The follow-up, ‘N° 2’ is a forthcoming release on the Kranky label.

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Interview with Christina Vantzou.

Congratulations on the truly stunning album ‘N° 1’. It is such a transcendental ambient journey that forever evolves upon each revisit. Please discuss for me the three year period where you worked in isolation using synthesizers, samples and voice? I would love to gain an insight into the creative process involved during this time?

I started composing N°1 in 2007. I was a closet composer. I didn’t have proper monitors so I worked using headphones. I listened to sample libraries, researched orchestral midi possibilities, and made new samples when I couldn’t find the sounds that matched the ones in my head. I was pretty nerdy about it. I was going through some emotional turmoil and isolation was kind of a byproduct of a decaying relationship. That and also living in Brussels…I just kind of sunk into the composing. I had been doing frame by frame animations for years so a slow methodical process was comfortable to me. Someone had given me a CD of synth-y meditation music from the 70’s that I got obsessed with. I was also listening to a lot of film scores. I worked without a click track, and wrote everything using a midi keyboard. I could only muster playing small bits at a time. I made N°1 in tiny fragments.

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Discuss for me please the samples you collected? What found sounds are on ‘N° 1’? I love how the samples seep into the music so effortlessly, and blends gorgeously with synthesizer and voice.

I sampled some Talk Talk (harmonium), I sampled of lot of film soundtracks, nature documentary soundtracks…I sampled synth tutorial videos on youtube and some real synths plus I sampled my own voice.
I remember when I was younger, going to a lot of shows where 2 guitars seemed to produce a 3rd voice. That 3rd voice always sounded like a distant female voice to me. That’s the kind of voice layer I was interested in creating on N°1. I recorded my voice and on top of most of the tracks.

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I would love for you to discuss the long distance collaboration that ensued with Minna Choi, director of Magik*Magik Orchestra that transformed your 45-minute sonic journey into a score for a seven-piece orchestra? Did you envision this collaboration – and ultimate transformation – to happen during the time you were alone recording your music?

I had worked on the album for about three years around the time I contacted Minna. I had stitched all the Reason files, mini orchestral parts, and samples together into one long 45 minute track. I had no idea how to notate the music I had created, and I’d never worked with classical musicians before. I was also broke. Somehow I convinced myself to search for an ensemble to collaborate with. Meanwhile, I wrote a grant to see if I could get some financial assistance. I was looking for someone who would get into the feel of the music for the notation part of the job and to finalize arrangements. I also needed an ensemble to record with, and a recording space. I asked Dustin O’Halloran for advice and he recommended Minna Choi and Magik*Magik. I contacted Minna, sent her the 45 minute track, she was into it, and the collaboration began there. Minna worked by ear. I passed along details notes and an instrument list. There were click issues all over the place so she created a moving click with her voice.

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As a composer of these gorgeous pieces of music, you must have been enlightened when you heard the full symphonic movements that were finally formed. Please recount for me your memories of first hearing the finished pieces with orchestra, and your thoughts, looking back now on how your music underwent this beautifully organic metamorphosis?

The week of the Tiny telephone sessions Minna sent me the first midi versions of the final arrangements. I was in Kansas City at the time. I hadn’t met Minna in person yet, we had only skyped a few times. I listened to every track, and I can’t really explain how I felt. I was really moved, it felt like a breakthrough.

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Describe Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco and what makes this setting such a good recording place? It is amazing to think the recording session for ‘N° 1’ only took a mere two days. How was that possible?

Originally, the session was planned for 1 day but Minna strongly recommended a second day. Sometimes broke-ness brings on miracles. Even two days was a super economical, condensed approach but we got it done.
I was really impressed with Minna in the studio. She’s great at what she does. Jay Pellicci engineered the album and everyone worked tirelessly and gracefully.

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It must be special to be composing music today, during a time when so much utterly captivating music is being made. You are a powerful voice in contemporary Neoclassical music. What albums for you have inspired you the most?

I listen to a lot of hip hop. I’m a foot soldier in neoclassical music. I admire Jóhann Jóhannsson. His records and live performances have been a big inspiration. I got to see him perform The Miners’ Hymns in Belgium last week.

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Please tell me about your wonderful collaborative work with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie of Stars of the Lid? I adore the music of The Dead Texan in which you both work together. Discuss the creative process between the pair of you and how you tap into this remarkable ambient music, when your two minds combine?

The Dead Texan was a special time. Adam and I work very well together. My main role in The Dead Texan was making videos. Adam wrote and recorded the music. He recorded my voice for When I see Scissors I can’t help but think of you and Glen’s goo. While he was working on the tracks I created the animations and videos. After the album was released he taught me the basics of how to use Reason and I played keyboards on tour. When I got the hang of how midi worked I started fumbling around on my own. We still collaborate. Adam mixed N°1 and he’s currently mixing N°2. I made a few tour videos and the cover artwork for A Winged Victory for the Sullen.

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Looking back, when and where did your fascination with sound begin? What were the defining moments for you when you realized the pathway of creating art was the path for you to walk on?

My early childhood record collection consisted of The Muppets’ Greatest Hits, Tina Turner’s Greatest Hits, Talking Heads, Eurythmics, and the Annie Soundtrack. My dad snuck me into a 21+ Tina Tuner concert when I was really little. It blew my mind.

My mom is an artist and I grew up in an artist community in Kansas City. Drawing was the only thing thing I’d done all my life that I’d never got tired of so that’s why I applied to art school.

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You currently reside in Brussels. It’s a city I’ve been to once and fell in love with the place. It’s clear that the arts and culture is in full bloom in this beautiful city. Please tell me about your love for this city and how the city helps you create art?

Brussels is very laid back. It’s inexpensive to live here, and there’s a lot of support and funding for the arts. I fell in love with Brussels when I first moved here. It’s a bit of a lawless place and there’s a laziness here that’s inviting. It can be slightly annoying sometimes too. There’s a fine line between laid back and lethargy. The city moves in slow motion compared to Berlin or Paris or London or New York.

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Can you shed some light on your follow-up to ‘N° 1’? It will be another life-affirming record, for sure.

Mixing’s nearly finished. Mixing this record has been an unusually long, slow process. I spent 3 months premixing. Adam Wiltzie is now doing the final mixes and it’s a mammoth effort. He’s peeling back layers and adding a few special touches. There are so many layers. I’m not exaggerating, it’s a bit of a monster. Sound-wise there are a few new elementsthe ensemble on N°2 is a 12-pieceI added oboe and bassoon which add a particular color. The best creative collaborations in my life have come from a generous place. Both Minna and Adam bring this generosity to the record. The overall sound has matured and I’ve been a bit more daring compositionally this time. I’ll spend the summer making videos and it all will be unleashed by the end of the year.

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‘N° 1’ is out now on Kranky. The follow-up, ‘N° 2’ is a forthcoming release on the Kranky label.

http://www.christinavantzou.com
http://www.kranky.net

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