FRACTURED AIR

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Posts Tagged ‘Valgeir Sigurðsson

Chosen One: Puzzle Muteson

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Interview with Terry Magson, Puzzle Muteson.

“The title ‘Theatrics’ comes from a weight of the songs being hugely strung by a dramatic, intimate emotion, sometimes real but sometimes fable. It felt right.”

—Terry Magson

Words: Mark Carry

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Earlier this autumn marked the eagerly-awaited sophomore full-length release from Bedroom Community’s prized singer-songwriter, Puzzle Muteson. From the Isle of Wight, Terry Magson’s unique blend of sound – where the singer’s tremulous tenor coalesces effortlessly with beautiful patterns of finger-picked guitar – continues to develop and further evolve on ‘Theatrics’ as a more stripped-back feel permeates the surrounding space. With contributions from Magson’s trusted collaborators (and label-mates) Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nico Muhly, the resultant eleven sonic creations seep into your consciousness and linger there like a faded dream or fragments of a distant memory.

Since Puzzle Muteson’s 2011 debut record ‘En Garde’, an unerring emotional depth prevails the song-writer’s tower of songs; evoking at once a vivid sense of loss, longing, pain, and hurt but also hope, survival and desire that radiates like “the shade of the morning sun.” The compelling songs contained on ‘Theatrics’ reveals the magical spell cast by a luminous song-writer- with gorgeous shades of Robbie Bashoe’s similarly other-worldly sound that is steeped in an exponential state of oblivion. The immaculate instrumentation of Magson’s voice, guitar, piano and glockenspiel is further heightened with the presence of Muhly’s piano, synthesizer, harmonium; Sigurðsson’s electronic wizardry; percussion supplied by Rob Holmes; Jon McMullen’s added piano and harmonium parts, and Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek)’s synthesizer and programming.

By Night’ is a stunningly beautiful duet between Magson and Dutch-born (and Belgium-based) songstress Chantal Acda that represents one of the album’s (many) defining moments. A fragile beauty floats majestically in the air where an intimacy and striking intensity unfolds before your very eyes. The fragile ballad feels like a distant companion to the album’s penultimate song – and only cover version – of New Order’s ‘True Faith’. The cover version takes you to the special place of Cat Power’s ‘Covers Record’ as the listener becomes unknowingly immersed in a song’s divine web of enchanting sound. I’d like to see Magson’s interpretation akin to Chan Marshall’s rendition of ‘I Found A Reason’ where a profound impact is created with each note and achingly beautiful vocal delivery.

‘City Teeth’ is built on a slow melodic pattern of gentle guitar and piano notes, beneath Magson’s mesmerizing voice. The song’s rise provides a luminous crescendo of hypnotic piano segments that is reminiscent of Geman pianist Hauschka such is its sublime brilliance. The chorus refrain introduces an imaginary realm; stemming it would seem from a dark fable, as Magson sings “For a while his teeth would tear you up and half your hands”. A wonderful rhythmic pulse serves the backdrop to the dark tale. Gorgeously clean guitar tones drift beneath Magson’s captivating vocals on the sparse lament of ‘Into & Opened’. The refrain of “Old parts have gone” resonates powerfully.

As ever, a soaring sonic backdrop is masterfully choreographed beneath Magson’s deeply-affecting songs; from the compelling electronic loops of opener ‘We Are, We Own’ to the warm percussion of ‘In Circles’ and majestic harmonies of ‘River Women’. The closing piano-led ballad of ‘Chair’ serves the album’s fitting close as a striking immediacy and cinematic atmosphere comes to the fore, where Magson sings “There’s still a reason to believe” that seamlessly penetrates the human space. ‘Chair’ evolves into a synthesizer-laden, blissful wall of sound, before the closing refrain of “But you are locked in and I am out of time” strikes each and every aching heart pore.

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‘Theatrics’ is out now on Bedroom Community.

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Interview with Terry Magson, Puzzle Muteson.

It’s a pleasure to ask you some questions about the gorgeous new album, ‘Theatrics’. I would love for you to first discuss the album-title and how you see this collection of beguiling songs fit next to your previous full length, ‘En Garde’? 

Terry Magson: The title ‘Theatrics’ comes from a weight of the songs being hugely strung by a dramatic, intimate emotion, sometimes real but sometimes fable. It felt right. I think if ‘Theatrics’ was sat on a train and ‘En Garde’ went and sat next to him they would make a fetching couple, miserable but fetching. I went through a solid period of writing in which half of ‘Theatrics’ was written around the same time I made ‘En Garde’. The beauty and difference is now the starkness of ‘Theatrics’ songs, ‘En Garde’ was flooded with Nico Muhly’s prepossessing arrangements which I love, but now we have a bunch of half-dressed tracks with more space and breath.

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As ever, there is a rich sonic tapestry embedded in each of the heart-wrenching songs. What I love most is how the intricate layers of instrumentation (piano, harmonium, guitar, synthesizer, percussion) coalesce so beautifully with your distinct baritone voice. As a song-writer, it must be a special feeling to witness these songs metamorphose into their final entities, so to speak. Can you talk me through this process in which the spark of a song is gradually transformed into a fully-realized composition?

TM: Thank you! I’m not sure it’s ever fully – realized, not fully, but there is a distinctive moment when each added idea makes total sense. As an artist (does that sound pretentious?) as a professional bullshitter, I usually rely on my intuitive voice to take the reins when a new added part is working or needs to be there. It does feel special though when things start to grow especially because I have friends playing on this album and with none to little guidance, they add subtle magic, so by the time we’ve finished up in the studio I’m already doing a private conga dance.

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A wonderful cast of musicians are present on ‘Theatrics’, including your Bedroom Community label-mates Nico Muhly and Valgeir Sigurdsson. Please recount for me the recording sessions of ‘Theatrics’ and the special collaborative aspect of your work that is inherent between you, Nico and Valgeir?

TM: Right then.. So I went over to Greenhouse studio in Iceland to get the bulk of ‘Theatrics’ down but the sessions were a little disjointed. Next to the studio they were renovating Valgeir’s flat, which through the head phones when delicately recording a song say like ‘Bells’ it literally sounded like they were knocking down Hallgrímskirkj (awesome church in Reykjavík) with those balls that Miley Cyrus likes to swing about on with her vagina half hanging out.

Basically I had to re-do most of the songs, so I went to my friends (Boe Weaver) studio on the Isle of Wight and re-recorded vocals, guitars, some harmonium and some piano there. Once everything was flowing from those sessions we sent over the files to Greenhouse and Nico and Valgeir popped their little wizard hats on and brought ‘Theatrics’ to life. I wasn’t there and I didn’t need to be.

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I feel the cover version of New Order’s ‘True Faith’ is such an ideal penultimate track for the album, and a song you truly make your own (Cat Power’s ‘Covers Record’ comes to mind). Can you discuss for me please the reasoning for the selection of this particular song and your memories of first hearing ‘True Faith’?

TM: Thanks again! This was a little strange as for some reason this song started invading my head space for a few days uncontrollably. I hadn’t heard it for a long long time so it seemed slightly formidable and plausible to try and do a cover of it. It has a solid nostalgic connection with me. I remember probably first hearing it on Top of the Pops show mid 80’s, I used to get a tennis racket; turn it the wrong way round and run up and down the front room pretending to play it like a guitar. It’s the synthesizers that has given it that nostalgic haunting feeling.

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Can you take me back to your earliest musical memories? Also, I would love to know what folk records and indeed song-writing records do you feel have served sources of inspiration for your own music (and more precisely, leading you down the music path)?

TM: I’m not sure about my earliest? I’m guessing it would have been some monotonous baby toy that I’ve blocked out as it was so fucking horrid. I could tell you about when music started consciously making an impact and that would of been through John Williams scored Spielberg films, and 80s radio chart shows. The first tape I ever bought myself was N.W.A and first record 7″ was Snap – The Power.

There was a lot of Neil Young and Leonard Cohen records being played through the house growing up so I have a connection to those guys and in later years I would say Elliott Smith I connected with and Sparklehorse comes to mind.

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Two stunning duets are present on ‘Theatrics’ with Chantal Acda’s mesmerising vocals on ‘By Night’ and Lidwine De Royer Dupre guesting on ‘Belly’. One of my favourites must be ‘By Night’; a song whose sheer beauty unfolds gracefully before your very eyes and ears. It must have been lovely to have had these guests present on the recording sessions? 

TM: Chantal and Lidwine came about by the strength of an email. I had toured with both of them previously and knew their capabilities. I think me and Chantal sing from a similar depth, it’s very sensitive, and very real so I wanted to get her on ‘By Night’ to see how both voices would sound together.

Lidwine has a colossal voice and I knew she would be perfect for the chorus of ‘Belly’. Initially I was going to try a whole bunch of vocal layers but I thought the dynamic would be more interesting getting Lidwine in. Both sent the recordings back in just over a day of asking and both were flawless.

 


 

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‘Theatrics’ is out now on Bedroom Community.

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https://www.facebook.com/Puzzle.Muteson
http://www.bedroomcommunity.net/artists/puzzle_muteson/

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Written by markcarry

November 19, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Chosen One: Daníel Bjarnason

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Interview with Daníel Bjarnason.

“A painting is not about experience. It is an experience.”

―Mark Rothko

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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The Autumn of 2013 heralded the highly anticipated return of Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason’s newest work, entitled ‘Over Light Earth’, released on the prestigious Iceland–based independent label, Bedroom Community. ‘Over Light Earth’ represents yet another groundbreaking work in contemporary neoclassical music from the multi-award winning composer. The latest record is Bjarnason’s third release for Bedroom Community, having released the stunning ‘Solaris’ collaboration with label–mate Ben Frost last year and the similarly universally-acclaimed debut album, 2010’s ‘Processions’. The latter was described by Time Out NY as “coming eerily close to defining classical music’s undefinable brave new world.” On ‘Over Light Earth’ an equally exhilarating new world is created by the masterful composer that encompasses a seamless array of stunningly beautiful arrangements, intricately woven melodious patterns and enriching textures.

‘Over Light Earth’ comprises three major works. The title–work is Bjarnason’s nod to the abstract expressionism school of painters – such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock – where a sprawling sonic canvas is wonderfully drawn from. ‘Light Over Earth’ was commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The second piece is aptly titled ‘Emergence’, where a plethora of strings (performed by the newly formed Reykjavík Sinfonia) conjures up a vast ocean of mood as dramatic tension gradually unfolds as the emergence of Bjarnason’s orchestral voice comes into full-focus, in all its power and glory. ‘Solitudes’ comprises the third and final piece that in fact is Bjarnason’s first piano concerto, reworked with electronics by Valgeir Sigurðsson and Ben Frost. The magical spirit of John Cage permeates the piece’s hypnotic piano motifs and rhythmic pulses of strings. The results are nothing short of staggering.

Bjarnason’s string arrangements can be heard on the last two records by Icelandic ensemble Sigur Rós – most ‘Kveikur’, released in June of 2013 – and not to mention the plethora of collaborations with label-mates Valgeir Sigurðsson, Nadia Sirota and Nico Muhly in the not-too-distant past. As ever, a rich symbiosis exists between the Bedroom Community collective of gifted composers and musicians that effortlessly percolates into the solo artist’s respective work of true art. In 2012, Bjarnason contributed the score to the feature film ‘The Deep’. His composition was awarded Best Film Score at the Icelandic Film and Television Awards in 2013 and nominated Best Original Score at the Harpa Nordic Film Composers Awards 2013. His 2012 compositions, ‘The Isle Is Full Of Noises’ and ‘Light Over Earth’ won him the prize for Best Composer at the 2013 Icelandic Music Awards.

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Interview with Daníel Bjarnason.

Congratulations on your new record ‘Over Light Earth’. I’ve loved your first solo record, ‘Processions’ and the new music is equally stunning. I love the sequencing – and the beautiful flow – to the album and how it’s separated into three distinct movements. Can you please discuss for me these three wonderfully realized worlds you so effortlessly have created; ‘Over Light Earth’, ‘Emergence’ and ‘Solitudes’ and how this deeply affecting intensity of emotion is captured so well in these recordings?

DB: Well…thank for your kind words! Actually the 3 pieces on the album all have a very different genesis and they are all written for different occasions. The last piece on the album is actually the oldest one, 10 years old! But it was the first thing we recorded when I joined Bedroom Community 4 years ago. Emergence is this huge orchestral thing I wrote for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra around the time I was becoming a father. It is a bit of a crossroads piece in that I am looking back at things from my past but also moving forward and trying things I hadn’t done before. The most recent piece is Over Light Earth which was written on commission from the LA Phil and premiered last year. It says the most about where I am right now even though I have already moved on from certain things in that piece (at least I think I have, but it’s sometimes hard to tell). So actually the pieces are not at all thought of in a unified way and what I guess really brings them together on this album is the way they are approached from a recording and producing point of view.

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I was intrigued to read how the works of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock formed such an inspiration for ‘Over Light Earth’, and indeed Canvases No 9 and Number 1, 1949 inspired the two movements of ‘Over Light Earth’. I would love to gain an insight into your fascination with these particular paintings? The music shares similar qualities of abstract beauty and a plethora of meanings are obtained, just as the works of Pollock and Rothko share. 

DB: Obviously there are a lot of shared space between (abstract) art and instrumental music. I feel very close to this period in art called abstract expressionism and the way both Rothko and Pollock approached their art as well as other artists from that period. Sometimes it is also a question of coincidence. While I was thinking a lot about what I wanted to do for this piece I happened to be in LA and walk in on an exhibition where I saw this Pollock that knocked me off my feet. Rothko is obviously more subtle but had a deep aftereffect somehow. Even though I had seen works by both these painters in museums before I felt like I was really seeing them for the first time. Sometimes things just happen like that. But in the end the piece is not really about that or an illustration of a certain piece of art. It’s more that you put yourself in a certain headspace and meditate on certain things while you’re creating. I don’t want people to think too much about Rothko and Pollock when they listen to the piece. It becomes its own thing. This is why I am often afraid of telling people about the connections one is making while creating a piece of music. There are a lot of invisible threads in creation and sometimes it’s better if they remain invisible. However there is a big demand on artists to speak about their work and tell how and why and what. I’m a bit torn on this subject.

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I would love to learn about your creative process involved in these life-affirming compositions? I read your recording technique involves meticulous close-miking and multi-tracking. I would love for you to talk a bit about this please?

DB: For this album we really approached the recording process in a non-classical way. It was recorded in sections with the strings, brass, wind, percussion, harp and piano all recorded separately. We recorded the wind, brass and strings in groups as much as possible but even so there was a lot of overdubbing. This became a bit of a scrolling nightmare in ProTools because we had well over a hundred tracks running most of the time. But in return we had a lot of control.

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This special record sees your own music performed by the newly formed Reykjavík Sinfonia, creating in turn, a monumental symphonic recording. As a conductor, how did the music evolve – from the music you first of all wrote and seeing it take on new significances horizons later on – and how you felt as a composer, when you heard the resulting works performed by the orchestra?

DB: I’m used to following my music all the way from perception to performance and I sometimes feel like I don’t really know a piece of mine until I have conducted or performed it myself. But performing your work and recording it for the first time is always special. Because of the way this album was recorded in layers it was sometimes hard to keep track of the big picture but I’m happy with how it all came together in the end.

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I love all the music you have collaborated on, from the likes of Sigur Rós and Efterklang – some of the most innovative bands making music today – and the amazing ‘Solaris’ record, in which you collaborated with Ben Frost. As an artist and composer, these magical projects must provide you with great inspiration and tap into the music of your own solo works. Can you discuss for me the collaborative aspect of your music, and how you feel you have developed as a composer, on the back of these amazing records?

DB: I feel it is important to collaborate and I enjoy it very much, especially when I have had the good fortune to work with the people you mention. When you are arranging music it’s a delicate balancing act of bringing something of yours to the music but not making it become about you. When collaborating on a new piece you need to work differently than when you are composing your own music; you relinquish some control but you’re also involved in a dialogue which you sometimes miss when working alone. Working with Ben was great and I think we’ll continue to work together on various projects.

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Can you trace back to your earliest musical memory? I can only imagine you must have come from a very musical family and background. Were there particular records or events that triggered for you your love of music and fascination with sound?

DB: Well, I didn’t come from your typical musicians family and neither of my parents are musicians. I did get a pretty good music upbringing though and when my family lived in Madison, Wisconsin I went to a great pre school called Pre-school of the Arts. I think my first musical love was Mozart actually. When I was about 3 or 4 I had this cassette that told the story of his life and played his music and I used to listen to that a lot. I was also crazy about Michael Jackson.

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‘Over Light Earth’ is available now on Bedroom Community.

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http://danielbjarnason.bandcamp.com
http://bedroomcommunity.net

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Written by admin

December 5, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Chosen One: Nadia Sirota

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Interview with Nadia Sirota.

“To me, baroque is an adjective meaning ornate, intricate, and worked-over, but also unexpected; the original word came from a description of an imperfect pearl– something that is gorgeous but irregular. Within these tracks, the solo viola was recorded relatively quickly, the idea being that the energy and imperfection of performance is left intact and embroidered upon.”

—Nadia Sirota

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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‘Baroque’ is the title of Nadia Sirota’s debut release for Bedroom Community, whose mesmerizing three-dimensional structures of viola awakens your senses and captivates your heart. This represents the latest landmark record in the modern classical era of the 21st Century. Of course, as ever, Iceland’s Bedroom Community lies at the heart of this significant, groundbreaking music. Sirota is synonymous with the label, whose collaborations include labelmates Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurðsson amongst a myriad of other leading artists. Sirota’s viola playing is nothing short of astonishing.’Baroque’ comprises six pieces: three by labelmates Nico Muhly, Daníel Bjarnason and Paul Corley, and three pieces by acclaimed composers Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazoli and Shara Worden. In the words of Sirota: “I feel that my job is to communicate the intent of the composer as clearly as possible to the listener”.

Over the past decade, Sirota has been involved with unique interpretations of new scores and for commissioning and premiering works by some of the most talented composers. The New York Times has heralded Sirota as “a bold new-wave music interpreter and the violist of choice among downtown ensembles these days.” Sirota has been an integral part to luminaries of both the modern-classical scene (Stars Of The Lid, Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson) and indie giants such as Arcade Fire, The National and Grizzly Bear, to name but a few. Similarly to her close friend and colleague, Nico Muhly, Sirota graduated from the Juilliard School where she created the Juilliard Plays Juilliard programme for student composers and performers. Furthermore, Sirota is also a founding member of ACME (the American Contemporary Music Ensemble). I feel that ‘Baroque’ is a sum of all these parts that showcases Sirota’s multi-faceted role as performer, chamber musician, educator, and above all, interpreter. It is these very interpretations found on ‘Baroque’ that transcends time, and where the listener witnesses pure joy from the violist.

Album opener ‘In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves’ comprises intricate layers of glorious strings. The piece of music is soft and its diminished tones gradually evolve into a swirling symphony of interwoven melodies. This piece of music was written by Judd Greenstein. At the heart of the music lies a collaboration that began over a decade ago, when these two souls met in New York. ‘From The Invisible To The Visible’ is a composition by Shara Worden, of Clogs and My Brightest Diamond fame. The opening viola strings and pulse of synthesizer creates an otherworldly ambient soundscape. Think Oneohtrix Point Never remixing the work of Valgeir Sigurðsson. Sublime. Next is Missy Mazoli’s composition, entitled ‘Tooth And Nail’. A playful viola motif returns throughout, as a drone of pulsating strings are majestically looped together. This was the first piece of music Sirota knew would appear on the record. ‘Etude NO 3’ begins the second half of ‘Baroque’ and is perhaps my personal favourite. A symphony is distilled in five sacred minutes. A myriad of moments are embedded in this joyous piece of music. There are endless leaps of notes as the music dances around the sonic terrain. The little vignettes of viola unravels before a crescendo of empowering strings and electronic wizardry brings the piece to a magnificent close.

‘Tristan Da Cunha’ is composed by labelmate Paul Corley. A slow, gradual build of mournful strings is etched across the beautiful tapestry of sound. I feel the opening passage is score music to a delicate sunrise, as the sun’s rays slowly radiates through the sky’s clouds. This gorgeous composition was just finished in time for Iceland Airwaves in November. ‘Sleep Variations’ is a piece of music composed by Daníel Bjarnason, also a renowned composer from the Bedroom Community family. Amazingly, there are 11 lines of viola, each one recorded on top, which meant recording over two and a half hours of music. The expansive sound is steeped in magic and wonder. I am dumbfounded by just how a piece of music such as this is made. ‘Baroque’ is a body of work comprising six concertos, where each one offers a realm of infinite beauty, wrapped with extravagant intricacy.

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‘Baroque’ by Nadia Sirota is out now on Bedroom Community.

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Interview with Nadia Sirota.

Congratulations Nadia on your amazing new album ‘Baroque’. All six pieces of music are breathtaking and really are touchstones of 21st century music. It’s with great pleasure that I talk with you a little about your music. Please discuss ‘Baroque’ and the reason why you chose this as an album title?

I feel it’s baroque but not in the traditional sense but of a time and space removed from any such classification.

On this project, I had the luxury of ample time in the studio to create plush, 3D textures. When choosing a title for the album, I was trying to find a word that would describe how intricately worked all of these tracks felt. To me, baroque is an adjective meaning ornate, intricate, and worked-over, but also unexpected: the original word came from a description of an imperfect pearl– something that is gorgeous but irregular. Within these tracks, the solo viola was recorded relatively quickly, the idea being that the energy and imperfection of performance is left intact and embroidered upon.

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Three pieces on ‘Baroque’ are composed by labelmates and close friends of yours- Nico Muhly, Daníel Bjarnason and Paul Corely. Please give me an insight into these compositions and how you interpreted these pieces of music?

Nico and I have been friends since college. Early on I was a little put out by his melodic footprint, namely that all of those fifths didn’t lie that idiomatically on my instrument. Eventually I decided to suck it up and ask for an étude that would help me internalize these weird leaps. One étude became many, and this étude number three is (oddly) the fourth such work. They are kind of joyous little pieces.

As for Sleep Variations, Daníel sort of casually mentioned that he had written a sort of viola concerto with an orchestra made up of ten additional violas because of an international viola event that had taken place in Iceland and would I be interested in checking it out some day. As you can imagine, this is an absurd and wonderful thing for someone the casually drop into conversation. I was totally intrigued. When there were a couple days available in the studio, we decided to try our luck laying down the viola tracks, one on top of the next. Two days for a 14-minute piece seems pretty generous, but with 11 lines, I had to record over 2 and a half hours of music! We got through it on willpower and whisky, and the result was the backbone of this updated version of the work. I’m in love with it.

Paul Corley and I were bored in Switzerland last summer when he played me a demo of what was to become Tristan Da Cunha. I bullied him into finishing it in time for Iceland Airwaves in November because it was too gorgeous to not include on the record. Once I knew it was a possibility, I got super selfish about it. I’m so glad he got on board.

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Staying on Bedroom Community, it is a really romantic situation for making music out of this inspiring label. It is a tight-knit community of friends and musicians with like-minded aspirations. Please tell me about Bedroom Community and the friendships and projects you have made and are part of through this?

Yeah, I can only say hippie-ish things about the label, studio, people. They are wonderful amazing yadda yadda yadda.

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I love the opening piece ‘In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves’. A heavenly sound of strings and intricate layers recalling the rhythmic pulses of Steve Reich. As a visualization of this piece, a red sun is rising on the horizon, slowly and gracefully. Please talk me through this composition?

This work, by Judd Greenstein, was inspired by Carl Sagan’s Golden Record, shot off into space in 1977, containing all manner of humanity’s output for other potential life forms to discover. It was part of an installation by the artists New Catalogue, and originally the seven viola parts were spatialized around the exhibit. It’s such an elaborately composed tapestry of similar but distinct voices. I love playing it.

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The other three pieces are by composers Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazoli and Shara Worden. What is it about these composers and their work that brought you to re-interpret their music?

Similar to my relationship with the folks at Bedroom Community, I have a relationship with a lot of composers in New York, with whom I’ve collaborated for almost a decade now. Judd and I met at a summer festival in 2004. Missy and I met shortly thereafter and made quick plans to collaborate, although the piece on the album, Tooth and Nail, represents the first project we ever got around to making happen! That was one of the first things I knew was going on the album. I met Shara playing viola parts for her project My Brightest Diamond. She has also collaborated a lot with my sextety Music. I love her compositional voice (not to mention her voice-voice).

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‘From The Invisible To The Visible’ is beautiful. The slowly moving harmonies feels just that and is reflected in the title. Please tell me about your viola playing and how you have developed over the years?

Shara wrote From the Invisible to the Visible for James McVinnie and myself to play at the MusicNOW festival in Cincinnati last year. It was conceived to be performed on a church organ in a great and resonant space. Jamie and I were actually just playing around when we tried it on Valgeir’s 1982 Yamaha Home Organ with built-in drum machine, but we loved the sonority and kept on playing with it and it ended up on the record.

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On your debut album ‘First Things First’, the opening ‘Duet No.1, Chorale Painting Downwards by Nico’ was the first piece you ever commissioned. Please tell me about this piece and special moment where you had music commissioned?

In college, among other things Nico was known for working quickly. If your recital program was too short, you could ask him for a piece and boom! You had a piece! This work was initiated in that context but more importantly we found a really special working relationship through that project that inspired all the collaborations after it.

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In terms of collaborations you have worked with everyone, from The National, Arcade Fire, Jonsi, Grizzly Bear to Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter and Stars Of The Lid. It really is amazing! How do you feel about the collaborative side of your work and how does the creative process change from being a composer and performer?

I am at the end of the day a perpetual collaborator. I do not write my own music, so there’s actually not a massive difference in working with the artists you mentioned and working with the artists on the record. I feel that my job is to communicate the intent of the composer as clearly as possible to the listener.

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What is next for you, Nadia?

I’m trying to find a nice wine store while I’m here visiting Dallas.

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‘Baroque’ by Nadia Sirota is out now on Bedroom Community.

http://www.nadiasirota.com

http://bedroomcommunity.net

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Chosen One: Valgeir Sigurðsson

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Interview with Valgeir Sigurðsson.

“The outside of her was suddenly froze and only the first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and froze, with her fists tight. After a while the music came again, harder and loud. It didn’t have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the day-time and by herself at night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all the plans and feelings. The music was her – the real plain her.”

(—Carson McCullers, ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’, 1940)

Words: Mark & Craig Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Reading Carson McCullers’s debut novel ‘The Heart Is Lonely Hunter’ one is reminded of the power music can have over an individual, in this case for the thirteen year old Mick Kelly. Mick, on hearing Mozart, and later Beethoven (via the radio through an open window of a neighbor’s house), has been cast under the spell of the power of music.

On listening to ‘Architecture Of Loss’, Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurðsson’s third album, the listener is similarly transported to an unknown, magical realm. Released last year on the Bedroom Community label (founded by Sigurðsson); the album is a challenging, intricate collection and a delight to truly savor.

‘Architecture Of Loss’ was written for the dance piece of the same name by Stephen Petronio, a world-renowned dance-maker and choreographer, based in New York City. Petronio is widely regarded as one of the leading dance-makers of his generation. What makes Petronio unique is how he combines music, visual art and fashion to create “powerfully modern landscapes for the senses.” A quick look at some of the musicians Petronio has collaborated with in the past reveals some of music’s best-loved composers: Nick Cave, Johnny Greenwood, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson and Michael Nyman.

Indeed, fellow Bedroom Community labelmate Nico Muhly has himself previously worked alongside Petronio for the dance piece entitled ‘I Drink The Air Before Me’, an evening length score which was intended to be “big, ecstatic and celebratory” (celebrating Stephen’s company’s 25th anniversary). The Nico Muhly album bearing the same name was put out by Bedroom Community in 2010 with Sigurðsson accredited co-producer (alongside Dan Bora) and programming (with Ben Frost).

To date, Sigurðsson has released two prior solo works; his debut solo album ‘Ekvílibríum’ in 2007, followed by a release of his soundtrack for ‘Dreamland’ (Draumalandið) in 2010. However, these three solo works from Sigurðsson only scratch the surface of the rich musical oeuvre he has been creating over the last couple of decades.

Most notably, Sigurðsson’s collaborative work with Björk would propel Sigurðsson’s status as a technical musical master. He would work alongside Björk (as engineer and programmer) on the soundtrack for Lars Von Trier’s ‘Dancer in the Dark’. This fruitful collaboration would continue for the best part of a decade, Sigurðsson playing a major role in Björk’s studio recording output.

Over the years, Sigurðsson would lend his technical mastery to a whole range of musical projects. Indeed, some of my personal favorite albums over the last number of years have been worked on by Sigurðsson. Fellow-Icelandic classically trained cellist Hildur Gudnadóttir’s extraordinary album ‘Without Sinking’ was put out by Touch in 2009; Sigurðsson mixed the album (alongside Gudnadóttir). Sigurðsson co-produced (and assisted on arrangements) Feist’s 2011 masterpiece ‘Metals’. Other collaborators include Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Paul Corley, CocoRosie, and múm, amongst many others.

‘Architecture Of Loss’ was recorded in Sigurðsson’s own Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavík, Iceland. Sigurðsson composed, produced recorded and mixed the album, while also responsible for composing the electronics, piano, baritone guitar, programming and percussion. Guest musicians for the album include: Shahzad Ismaily, Nadia Sirota, Nico Muhly and Helgi Jónsson.

The album itself is a true delight, filled with one gem to the next. My current favorite is the fourth piece, entitled ‘Between Monuments’, where strings and piano combine to stunning effect, building to its dramatic earth-shaking finale. Elsewhere, the meandering ‘Reverse Erased’ recalls Hildur Gudnadóttir’s ‘Without Sinking’ in it’s pulsing and wonderfully atmospheric journey. The album drifts wonderfully between quiet, ambient shades of electronic sounds, to extremely visceral volume-raising sonic textures.

Yet, all the time, Sigurðsson’s technical mastery is in full evidence. Never does any one component take over, or seek to detract from the overall tone or mood of the particular piece of music; creating hard-edged and often beautifully subtle textures along the way. A true feast for the senses awaits the listener. A true musical creation from one of music’s most gifted and essential modern composers.

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“But maybe the last part of the symphony was the music she loved the best – glad and like the greatest people in the world running and springing up in a hard, free way. Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen.”

(—Carson McCullers, ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’, 1940)

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Interview with Valgeir Sigurðsson. 

Congratulations Valgeir on your amazing new album ‘Architecture Of Loss’. It is such powerful music, filled with an outpour of emotion. It is a real pleasure and honour for me to ask you a few questions about your music. Thank you for your time.

I’m glad to hear that, thank you. I hope you will be able to come to one of our shows this spring, and really do I hope that we can come play Ireland.

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‘Architecture of Loss’ was originally composed for the same titled ballet by Stephen Petronio. I am intrigued to know more about your mindset and process involved when composing music with a physical performance in mind, by its players and dancers? 

I don’t know if it’s that much different to composing for another occasion. Like, I don’t crawl into a cave and think “movement, movement, movement”… But on the other hand, there is the dialog between the composer and the choreographer that really sets the tone of the piece, and it was riveting to see what Stephen came up with when we first sat in their rehearsal space in New York and  he tried out different movements with the dancers playing back my initial demos. I learned a lot from that, that I was then able to take back home to my studio and work the ideas further and focus in on what we discussed and experimented with in the physical space.

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Please discuss the digital processes involved in your music? 

Many of the pieces started from digitally manipulating raw recordings that I had made, both new recordings and older that I had lying around. And with these processed bits of audio I started piecing together structures and motifs that I had mostly written on a piano. I respond really well to abstract sounds and things that sound familiar but not pure, so I like to distort and disconnect many of the acoustic sounds that I use for source material from what they are intended to sound like. The piece deals with formation and disintegration, and one way of addressing that in the writing was to start with something our and completely turn it inside out.

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There is a wonderful tight-knit ensemble of musicians on ‘Architecture of Loss’, several highly talented Bedroom Community artists. I would love to gain an insight into this use of sparse musical materials on the album. The effect of which adds rich textures and new dimensions to the pieces themselves.

Before starting the writing process I thought long and hard about who I’d like to be able to bring with me into the performance, and I chose Nadia and Shahzad because they are each on their own extreme as performers and probably have a very different approach to what they do. I wanted to be able to push and pull in these two opposite directions, with Nadia’s viola as the central ‘voice’ of the music and Shahzad the unpredictable groove-machine.

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My favourite piece is ‘The Crumbling’. I love the sound of the hypnotic strings amidst the beautiful piano notes. Can you shed some light on this heart-wrenching piece of music please?

I think it’s all right in there, if people care to listen. It’s such a super simple cyclical piece built out of a bouncing bass-note figure and a slowly moving piano motif over which the viola soars and sometimes takes the lead. It’s meant to be sort of discomforting. What I’m especially pleased with in that piece is how spare it is, I did strive to use as few notes and as much space and silence as I possibly could and I think it worked out well.

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Your second album was the soundtrack to the film ‘Draumalandið’. Discuss please the differences between composing music for film and music for ballet/performance?

I approached both projects as writing the music that I wanted to write at the time, but there was an element of telling a story or following a narrative that was suggested already. The major difference for me was that one was composed with the performance aspect in mind and the other was realised as a studio project, and the performance came as an afterthought.

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I love all the releases on the Bedroom Community label. The records always deliver and inspire. You are the founder of the Bedroom Community label and Greenhouse Studios in Iceland. Please tell me about the close family of Bedroom Community and its prolific development over its relatively short lifespan?

I don’t know if I think of it as a particularly prolific output, we’ve put out less than 20 records in our 6 years of existence and that’s probably not a lot compared to many labels who release a seemingly endless stream of albums. But yes, it’s a tightly knit family of people who all really enjoy working together and learning from each other. We have excruciatingly high standards and all we care about is making the best records we possibly can.

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Describe Greenhouse Studios and the reasons why it’s such a magical place in the creation of art through sound?

It’s  a place that feels homey and technical at the same time, it has a spirit of creativity and the studio setup is very fluent. A place is not much without the people and we make sure to nurture every aspect of the creative process, including making nice meals and having a good time. The fact that it’s home to Bedroom Community does give the studio an added dimension too, where as many studios depend entirely on visiting artists and bands Greenhouse is constantly channeling the output of the Bedroom Community as well as a fresh and new inspiration from musicians from all over the world.

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Iceland is a country I would love to visit and experience. How does this place inspire your music?

It’s pretty hard for me to say exactly how it might influence my music, but my basic theory is that your experiences and surroundings will influence who you are and therefore how you make music and any other art or form of expression. The only time I’ve consciously drawn on this place I’m from was when I wrote Dreamland, that was definitely written as Music for Landscape.. You should come visit!

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What records inspire you most lately?

Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely.

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‘Architecture Of Loss’ is out now on Bedroom Community.
http://bedroomcommunity.net
http://valgeir.net

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January 18, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Chosen One: Nico Muhly

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Interview with Nico Muhly.

The gifted composer, arranger and conductor, Nico Muhly discusses the new album ‘Drones’, the Bedroom Community family, his arrangement work for Grizzly Bear and the effect the Juilliard School for Composition had on his own compositions.

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Earlier in November saw the release of Nico Muhly’s three-part ‘Drones’ album, in collaboration with pianist Bruce Brubaker, violinist Pekka Kuusisto, and violist Nadia Sirota. As ever, some of the most compelling sounds of cinematic wonder are unleashed by the awe-inspiring Bedroom Community label. ‘Drones’ consists of the Nico Muhly three E.P’s ‘Drones & Piano’, ‘Drones & Viola’ and ‘Drones & Violin’. Drones was recorded and produced by Valgeir Sigurðsson in the Greenhouse Studios in Iceland. The artist-run label headed by Icelandic musician Sigurðsson was inaugurated in 2007 with the release of Muhly’s first album ‘Speaks In Volumes’. Since then, Muhly has been highly prolific in his vast amount of works encompassing his peerless roles as arranger, composer, performer and conductor. My favourite Muhly album must be ‘I Drink The Air Before Me’, a score for Stephen Petronio’s dance piece of the same name. It is simply modern classical music at its beautiful best. Muhly is central to many songs of one of my favourite bands, that is Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear. His string arrangements for their modern indie gems is a pure joy to savor. Other artists Muhly has collaborated with are Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Jónsi of Sigur Rós and Antony and the Johnsons amongst many others.

It is a real pleasure to ask you some questions about your music. I am a huge fan of your solo work and the multitude of collaborations you have done up to now; from Grizzly Bear to Philip Glass, and ‘I Drink The Air Before Me’ to ‘Drones’. Congratulations on your hugely compelling and innovative works to date. 

Tell me please about ‘Drones’. You have said how “we surround ourselves with constant noise, and the Drones pieces are an attempt to honour these drones and stylize them.” Explain please how you honoured and stylized these drones through the varied compositions.

Ha, you have a funny way of wording things! There is a built-in vagueness to the words “honor” and “stylize” (in addition to an aggressive American spelling!) which, I think, befits any writing about music.  That having been said, if you want me to get really specific, I was thinking about how every space has a built-in drone. Houses have them, in the city and the country; empty train stations have them, airports have them. For me, a vacuum cleaner is a wonderful musical prompt; it kind of says: I dare you to put something on top of this sound. Imagine sitting in an airplane at night: nobody’s making noise, but the engine is making its own song.  So these drone pieces are an attempt to take a constant noise/sound environment and make music that can only exist in opposition to it.  Sometimes it rubs quite strongly – the drones and violin piece in particular – and other times the “style” of it is relatively close to the drone, if that makes sense.

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Discuss please the wonderful collaborations you do with your like-minded labelmates in the Bedroom Community collective and Greenhouse Studios, Iceland. How does this beautiful work environment affect your development as a composer?

One of the fun things about Bedroom Community is that we all make such different music.  There isn’t a kind of stylistic manifesto about the place, so the resulting collaborations are more a result of genuine friendship and curiosity.  It’s been interesting to watch – I’m much more comfortable now working in an electronic medium, and I just got an email that Valgeir signed to a very August and Respectable publisher! We’re all slowly blurring our itineraries closer to one another; Ben Frost is making musical-theater works and Sam Amidon is writing books and it’s all become quite jumbled up, in the way of a family.

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You are a graduate of the Juilliard School for Composition. I would love to learn more about this and particularly, your final year thesis? (if you don’t mind!)

Anything in particular you’d like to know?  Juilliard is a great place.  There is a sort of equalizing effect it has on musicians who have all achieved a very high level of SOMETHING, but who require some molding to become great musicians, if that makes sense. We all kind of sacrificed our childhoods on the pyre of music, and the school helps make something out of the embers.  There isn’t really a thesis situation there but the expectation is, usually, that you’ll write some orchestra music, which I did: a fourteen-minute weird thing based on pulses in different tempi happening on top of each other, and then another piece all to do with Pentecost and the music of Thomas Tallis.  In a sense, those two pieces established the groundwork for everything I’ve done since then.

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My favourite release of yours is ‘I Drink The Air Before Me’, a score for Stephen Petronio’s dance piece of the same name. I was interested in reading how you wanted the music to relate to the weather:-storms, anxiety and coastal living. Please give me an insight into the process involved in achieving these aims?

Thank you for your kind words!  With this piece, basically, Stephen and I wrote down all the different sections. I imagined in my head a small town preparing for a storm – people running around doing last-minute errands, taping up the windows, etc.  There is a certain anxiety about it.  Then when the actual thing happens, it’s rather ecstatic, isn’t it?  And boring.  There’s a sense that you’re indoors or outdoors but there’s this aggressive monotony.  So the whole piece builds up to this ninth section (I think it is) that is the center of the storm and it’s basically four on the floor (or actually five on the floor) for six minutes.  Everything else is anxious vignettes.

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I love the arrangements you have done for Grizzly Bear. Can you talk through the songs you have worked on and if there is a particular song you’re most proud of upon the song’s completion?

Talk through all of the songs!?  There are a lot!  I am particularly happy with Cheerleader, but really, that album Veckatimest as a whole was great for me because we really made it in layers.  It wasn’t like I came in at the end and just put strings on everything; the idea was that it would sort of organically come out of the songs and then get processed again.  One of the interesting things about that band in particular is the way they saturate most of the registers with just the four of them – they have intricate, “composed” activity in the bass, the middle, the vocal, the treble, the rhythm.  So there isn’t a ton of ROOM to do intricate arrangements; it’s really more a process of finding blank space and weaving something in and around what’s already there.

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‘A Scream and an Outrage-A marathon weekend of new music curated by Nico Muhly’ happens next year. What can audiences expect for the London Barbican shows planned next May?

Ha that is my all-time least favorite question.  Audiences should never expect anything more when they leave the house than to have a good time.  That’s the sort of governing philosophy of my life.  What should I say, that we’re going to have elephants and stripper-poles and a chorus of pygmies?  It will be a weekend of good music, performed well!  Everybody should come!

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Can you give me a list of recommended listening please?

With pleasure.  David Lang THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL PASSION, Villagers BECOMING A JACKAL (which you probably already have b/c ur irish), Khia EAT IT, Gregory Spears REQUIEM, and Iestyn Davies’ PORPORA recording from the other month.

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‘Drones’ is out now on Bedroom Community.

http://bedroomcommunity.net

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December 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm