In the first installment of his new column Volumes and Territories, Sean Higgins parses the growing debate over the nature and duty of a developing non-musical sonic art.
Part II of Sean Higgins’ investigation of the growing debate over the nature and duty of a developing non-musical sonic art.
Brooklyn musician Ashley Paul on lyrical development, the conservatory, and the Third Stream between jazz and classical.
Line the Clouds, the latest album from Brooklyn-based musician Ashley Paul, is bewitching. It combines familiar elements (the guitar and vocals of the singer-songwriter genre and the techniques of the veteran improviser, for instance) but mixes them in such unusual ways, and takes them from such seemingly incompatible sources, that the result is a unique personal aesthetic. It could be confounding if it weren’t affective at a gut level—on repeat listens any initial strangeness gives way to reveal her intuitive sense for melody and a disarming emotional directness. Though musically inventive, the record is a humane experience filled with moments of rare grace.
When we met near her apartment in Brooklyn, Paul had just performed at the release party for Line the Clouds. Over the course of a few hours and a few beverages, we talked about topics including: playing music that doesn’t fit in, intuition, music’s slow evolution in relation to art, busking, singing, and how to disguise your nerves while playing the saxophone.
Sean Higgins So I was reading through the description for the record, and I wanted to ask you some questions about that.
Ashley Paul OK, I didn’t write that description.
SH Who did?
AP I think there are two descriptions, and all the press stuff I feel a little crazy about. But I think Eli [Keszler, Paul’s husband and head of REL records, the label that released Line the Clouds] partially wrote one of them and then someone who works with the person who is helping me out—like my publicist—wrote the other one.
Holly Herndon on techno-optimism, the academy, and the computer as a compositional tool.
In the past year alone alone, Holly Herndon released her debut solo record, Movement, performed at a few high-profile festivals and at least one venerable modern art museum, and began studying toward a PhD at Stanford University. Once we managed to contact each other on Skype (both of us were tired enough to sleep through the first interview we scheduled), she was friendly and generous, speaking at length about a record that she must have been talking about for weeks already.
This generosity of spirit is characteristic of Herndon’s work, too. Though Movement has already spawned a dozen well-deserved think pieces, the record is incredibly listenable. With the music on this album, she broaches questions about the lines drawn between the body and the machine, the traditional musical instrument and the laptop, and dance music and academic music, but she does so without a hint of the opacity that tends to accompany such conceptually dense work. Her pieces, which include a cassette titled Car which features car sounds and is meant to be played in a car, and an audience-pranking collaboration with the Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani, are just as sonically engaging as they are dead smart.
Where 2012 saddled the listening public with a glut of musicians who responded to the anxieties of the new millennium with a self-defeating nostalgia or by taking refuge in a dark and anxious aesthetic, Herndon’s response is refreshing—she expresses a deep and playful optimism for the technological possibilities of the future. We spoke about, among other things: day jobs, upright bass, the academy, electronic-music pioneers, gender, California, noise, and synthesizers.