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.
Jan St. Werner, of pioneering electronic music duo Mouse on Mars, discusses his forthcoming solo album, Blaze Colour Burn. Stream exclusive content from Blaze Colour Burn, due out June 11th, 2013, below.
Jan St. Werner may be best known for his genre-defining work in the electronic duo Mouse on Mars, but listening to his new solo album, Blaze Colour Burn, one hears an artist redefining his unique approach to sound. Site-specific composition, field recordings, and film scores are carefully complied into an album which transcends the material and space into an acoustic reality all its own. His collaborative work with MoM and Microstoria, as well as his solo projects Lithops and NoiseMachineTapes, span decades of experimentation, yet didn’t prepare me for the full spectrum of depth in this new work, which is the first release inaugurating Thrill Jockey’s new Fiepblatter series.
Gregg Kowalsky and I were interested to speak with Jan since our new album at Date Palms is coming out the same week on Thrill Jockey. Gregg was first introduced to electronic music while interning at Beggar’s Banquet, the label that distributed the first MoM records which were a huge influence on his early work. I came to Jan’s music through a more classical avant-garde route—through the music of composers like Stockhausen—eventually making my way to more popular dance forms in the 2000’s. Speaking to Jan over Skype, we discussed how recording has transformed the electronic musician into a curator and archivist, how the manner which the individual manipulates sound reflects his inner prism, and his time as Artistic Director at STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music in the Netherlands).
– Marielle Jakobsons
Gregg Kowalsky Three of the pieces from your new record Blaze Colour Burn are from film scores, and one of the pieces, “Spiazzacorale,” was a long-form public performance. But I felt when I listened to Blaze Colour Burn that you managed to create a really cohesive album from such varied material. Was it a challenge to do that? What was your approach?
Jan St. Werner I’m constantly producing musical ideas which are never played or used in a score, so I kind of forget about them. They happen, they disappear—some of them are never really used. I just keep them as sketches. But eventually I went back to this archive of material and realized that apparently there is something in common there. Of course there is something in common with every piece of music you do even if it’s super eclectic or is as varied as you can imagine—still there is something that holds it all together, that connects it all.
Stephen Pastel looks back on creating a new Pastels record, fanzines, and his courtship with film music.
The years between 1978 and 1985 saw a cluster of bands pop up around the world, similar in sound and approach, but initially having little to no contact. Largely unknown to each other, for the first few years, at least, Dunedin, Olympia, and Glasgow and London all nurtured their own, particular brand of post-punk. Groups like the Clean in New Zealand, Beat Happening in Washington State, and the Pastels in Scotland employed curiously similar kinds of jangly (or “shambling,” to quote John Peel) guitars, flat vocal melodies, and odd pop kernels, and the innumerable fanzines and cassette tapes orbiting their respective scenes further highlighted their compatibility. Glasgow’s the Pastels formed in 1981 and are arguably the definitive group among the movement that would be known as C86 or Anorak pop. Despite this, their ambition, prolific output, and regular shift in sound effectively distanced the band from the self-consciously amateurish, twee aesthetic associated with some of their contemporaries and other C86 alum.
The band’s frontman Stephen Pastel (neé McRobbie), who intermittently worked a day job as a librarian, and musically, is also a curator of sorts. Stephen spent the 16 years between the last full-length Pastels record and Mobile Safari follow-up, Illumination (1997), and their latest, Slow Summits (2013), forming Geographic Records with fellow Pastel, Katrina Mitchell, organizing screenings for the Monorail Film Club in Glasgow, and, most notably, writing soundtracks for theatre and film, also with Mitchell. Understandably then, Slow Summits's sound is a veritable blend of the melodic pop they teased out of punk rock’s wake and something quite cinematic. I was lucky enough to chat with Mr. Pastel via telephone about his time between records, producing fanzines like Juniper Beri-Beri and Pastelism, and his initial correspondence with other progenitors of the genre.
Tyler Curtis Between Illumination (1997) and Slow Summits (2013), most of the Pastels’s output has been collaborative. Illuminati consisted of remixes. You worked with directors for soundtracks to a film and a play, and you did Two Sunsets with Tenniscoats, and “I Picked a Flower” with Jarvis Cocker. Was there any impetus behind that? And why you didn’t move forward with more singularly Pastels releases?
Stephen Pastel It was just really responses to opportunities that came up. I think we always had a strong sense of our own identity and wanting to do new Pastels things, but also, I agree with you, I think that’s a good point about a film soundtrack being collaborative with the director, and the same with theatre music. In a way, you’re responding to directions and it’s made with some kind of limitation, even though I think that kind of limitation can be really good sometimes. In a way, it suited us, because when Annabel left the group, we weren’t sure about how we’d progress things, and I think we needed time to take stock. And it was good that we were able to do some work, no matter how intermittent, and define a new sound for a group. Tom started playing live with us when we were touring after Illumination and he became a really central part of things, and Gerard became really important, too. So I think it’s incredible, you know, to take that long to make a record, but in another way, it didn’t ever feel too desperate. I think we always thought that we’d be able to make another record, and we’re with a record label that’s very supportive and happy for us to work in our own way. We were doing Geographic, the label, that was another thing that took up a lot of our creative time. Probably eight or nine years ago, we were doing that quite a lot. You know, releasing four or five records a year. I think after a while we just decided that with Geographic we’d try to release one record a year, but concentrate primarily on the Pastels.
Channeling neurosis into haunting dance beats, Autre Ne Veut’s newest release Anxiety helps bring us all in on the healing process.
Autre Ne Veut (the brainchild of Brooklyn based artist Arthur Ashin) is an amalgam of sounds, a pastiche of both beats and emotions. Its mastermind and uber mixmasterologist wafts between krautrock and the kind of unique blend of self-deprecation and faux bravado that’s come to characterize much of the more ground-breaking forms of R&B. In short, Autre Ne Veut escapes definition. With a popularity that has soared to astounding heights this year, recent world tours, a growing and loyal base, and the approval of esteemed music outlets like Pitchfork, 2013 is truly looking to be Ashin’s year. Energetic, enigmatic, and tinged with the outlines of a sinister force propelling his heavy loops and falsetto-inflected vocals, you’d expect Ashin to be something of an elusive mad man. Rather, he is a down-to earth New Yorker with a background in psychology, who uses his innate intellectualism and perceptivity to zone in on emotions we’d rather forget: anxiety, fear, depression, and turns them into something that connects his work to the entire human experience.
Laura Feinstein I hadn’t realized your family was from Kenya. How do you think this multi-cultural aspect of your background has affected your music?
Arthur Ashin Saying my family is from Kenya is a bit of an overstatement. My mom spent a number of years the Peace Corps and my dad had been out in the Kakamega district for years before that, teaching at and running secondary schools. I was actually born in the United States, though. The biggest creative impact that it had on me is that my parents listened to African music while I was growing up (King Sunny Ade, Ladysmith Black Mambazo) and obviously Graceland was a big player. But really, the music that they listened to was filtered through a sort of Kenyan lens. That’s what trickled down to me, and as with many things that we grow up with, it created an implicit foundation for my musical tastes as well as my internal melodic and rhythmic sensibilities.
Video by Veronika Vogler.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Aaron Dilloway perform at one of the last Wierd Records parties at Home Sweet Home.
In many Eastern philosophies and religions, one of the essential lessons of meditation is to realize the Oneness of being by overcoming the distance between the self and what surrounds it. In Hinduism, the term Ardhanarishvara signifies the confluence between the Self (purusha), which is male, and the Universe (prakriti), which is female. The union between these two energies translates into the very essence of Creation where Love denotes itself, and not the space between two entities. The idea is that by eradicating distance, difference is no longer perceived. And if there is no difference between us there can only be Love. While the end result of this stream of thought is enticing, it is onerous to reconcile the idea of a symbiosis between two people, let alone with the entire reality of the world. This is what makes the performance of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge creatively transcendental and aesthetically ceremonial. Over two decades ago, Genesis and his wife Lady Jane began their most prolific collaboration by undergoing numerous surgeries to look like one another. The end result being this Oneness of being which they titled the Pandrogyne Project—the creation of a new gender through the synthesis of their two entities to be known collectively as Breyer P-Orridge. If the body is the personal property of the soul, can bodymates become an extension of soulmates? The one step beyond the Platonian concept of androgynous beings—both male and female confined to one form.
Deerhunter discusses automatic writing, Monomania, and setting the record straight on Connie Lungpin.
“Keep him in the bathroom! We’re not done yet.” Bradford Cox yelled as I entered the hotel room where I’d be interviewing Deerhunter in just a few moments. On Late Night with Jimmy Fallon this week, Cox, dressed in drag and covered in fake blood, tore through his band’s latest single and album title track, and prominently displayed what looked to be his own dismembered fingers. I was the last of a series of interviews they had done that day. The band was understandably worn down.
Monomania, Deerhunter’s fifth album, is described in their press release as a “nocturnal garage” album, and the description couldn’t be more apt: peaked guitars and distorted vocals evoke such classics as The Stooges’ Raw Power and Royal Trux’s Twin Infinitives in equal parts. From “Dream Captain”s bratty wreckage of a melody, to the serene middle jangle of “Monomania,” every song has the immediacy of a sort of punk rock Everly Brothers cover band, a far cry from their more abstract breakthrough, Cryptograms. Sitting down with the members of Deerhunter, I successfully avoided Cox’s infamous interviewer ire and discussed their recent lineup change, the writing process of Monomania, and the mysterious masked man they’ve been bringing on stage with them.
“You’re not hiding in the bathroom are you?” his press person asked a few minutes later. I emerged. The interview began.
Gary Canino I really enjoyed your performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last night. Who was your friend on the side of the stage with the tape player?
Bradford Cox (lead vocals, guitar) Paul! He’s the greatest guy.
Moses Archuelta (drums) He actually messed that up though, it was amazing. He forgot to rewind the tape—
BC I made this cassette, like these motorcycle sounds that are on the record, but Paul was so spaced out by the cosmic NOW of the idea of satellites and shit…he’s a great kid. He’s been with the band for a long time. He’s kind of like our little brother.
David Behrman, Tyondai Braxton, and Karlheinz Stockhausen took New York City by storm last weekend. Nick Hallett celebrates their interwoven histories and relationship to the cosmos.
Between March 21 and 24, 2013 three iconic Upper East Side institutions convened semi-ritualized multimedia gatherings of electronic music and art in celebration of the divine elements that define Earth’s relationship to the cosmos—lunar orbits, bodies of water both liquid and frozen, insect habitats—while in Brooklyn, opera audiences gathered in front of a giant video orb to celebrate all the remaining planets in our solar system. As the events of the weekend unfolded, I progressed from concert to concert as if at some kind of rarefied Burning Man festival, inscribed by the art world. Perhaps the synergy was due to the weekend’s proximity to Vernal Equinox or the Passover holiday. Whatever the reason, the music and art left me feeling evolved, ready to beam up to . . . somewhere, resulting in what I have since been calling Space Age New Music Weekend.
Consciousness, a performance lecture by Marcus du Sautoy featuring music by James Holden and visuals by one of us at the Barbican.
A couple of weeks ago in London, a mathematician sold out The Barbican. And the hall wasn’t packed with sartorially disheveled mid-career scientists, it was filled by a mass of frankly quite stylish twenty and thirty somethings. To be fair, Oxford professor Marcus du Sautoy was presenting his lecture-performance, Consciousness, with the support of electronic musician James Holden, founder of the highly danceable Border Community label. But clearly no one had turned up expecting a techno party. The enthusiasm for the event was another solid affirmation of the (relatively) recent and steadily increasing intertwining of art and science.
Added into the art and science mix were visuals by one of us. A film and VFX studio based in Soho, their recent projects include director Joe Wright’s 2012 adaptation of Anna Karenina. Sometimes their images consisted of supporting documentary clips or were purely diagrammatic, but just as often they were more intuitive reflections on the content—quirky, almost Monty Python-esque video illustrations drawn from scientific archives. While not making a particularly strong statement in their own right, these more interpretive elements definitely heightened the humorous curiosity that characterized the night.
Mike Polizze of Purling Hiss discusses his four-track roots, Ampegs, and letting his song-guts hang out.
Mike Polizze got a four-track recorder in 1999. He was 18 then, and fresh out of high school. Polizze spent a lot of nights playing around with home recording, and in 2003, he laid down the first tracks he’d release under the moniker Purling Hiss some years later. Each record since then half-buries two or three decades of influence, an amalgamation of Black Flag, Sabbath, and the poppier side of Dinosaur Jr. or Sonic Youth, all of it cloaked in a buzzy, white noise.
Between their first record in 2009 and now, Purling Hiss saw an explosive output of vinyl and cassette, roughly two EPs, a split 7”, one compilation, a live tape, and five full-lengths. The latest of which, Water on Mars, seems a bit of a departure from the band’s lo-fi roots: it’s bigger, it’s crisp, the lows are lower (much lower), shattering the transmission loss between Purling Hiss’s heavy live shows and the lo-fi (albeit ripping) pop of their back catalog. I spoke with Polizze about buying that initial four-track, making the new record, and the space between the two.
Tyler Curtis What’s with the higher production this time around? It’s not masked by the buzz and white noise of everything before. Maybe your intention’s different with Water on Mars? Or at least, something more fleshed-out?
Mike Polizze I feel like I shed my skin a little bit on this one. All the recorded stuff I did before was poorly lo-fi, with varying levels of quality. Most of the past recordings weren’t intended to be released when I recorded them at the time, because I didn’t know what it was going to be. A lot of it was first take, a lot of it was just poorly mixed. And I kind of did it on purpose. A lot of times I buried the vocals, not always on purpose, but just sort of kept them underneath. It was sort of like the learning process, before I was confident with the drums or the vocals. Plus, it was fun to experiment. Using the four-track recording as the tool itself in the process to give it it’s aesthetic. It’s like part of it’s own personality.
I bought a four-track in 1999. I was 18 then. So for the first few years, I just kind of messed with it a little bit. But around 2003, 2004, I really started recording. And there’s kind of where the backlog started. I was just recording stuff, and by the time Permanent Records put out the first Purling Hiss record, I had already recorded a bunch. That was kind of new at the time, so they kind of got me right when I was doing that. But we’re talking like 2004 to probably like 2011, of stuff you might hear, whether it’s on a tour-only tape cassette release or another record I did.
Julian Lynch on his new album Lines, the recording/performing dichotomy, and different ways an artist can make use of an influence.
Julian Lynch is a composer and performer from Madison, WI. Currently working on a dual concentration Ph.D. in anthropology and ethnomusicology at the University of Wisconsin, Lynch has released a handful of albums while still in school, including 2010’s mysterious and meandering Mare as well as the more focused, driving Terra (2011), both out on New Jersey’s Underwater Peoples label. His next album is called Lines and is slated for a March 23 release date.
As a denizen of a quasi-legendary Ridgewood, NJ high school music scene that spawned such successful groups as Titus Andronicus, Real Estate, and the Vivian Girls, Lynch still holds close ties with that cadre of musicians and songwriters; he often shares bills and band members with these bands and their offshoots. At the same time, where many of today’s popular groups with North jersey roots share a musical lingua franca of pop song structure and good-time party-dance rhythms, Lynch’s sound eschews these references to achieve an altogether different type of memorability—melodies that sneak up on you when you might least expect them and play on idioms from five centuries ago as opposed to five decades. BOMB caught up with Lynch to discuss balancing school and music, the recording/performing dichotomy, and different ways an artist can make use of an influence.
Andrew Aylward How was your first week of school?
Julian Lynch It actually hasn’t started yet but I’ve just been taking care of odds and ends before it begins next week.
AA So you’re doing anthropology and ethnomusicology for your PhD, right?
JL Yep, that’s right.
AA I didn’t you know you could do that. Is that like double majoring except for seven years?
JL Yeah, it’s basically like that. It’s called a joint PhD and it just took some fine-tuning with getting coursework requirements done for both departments. It’s been going pretty smoothly. I guess you could think of it like double majoring for a Phd.
Watch Matmos’s new video, directed by M.C. Schmidt, for “Luminous Rings,” a bonus track from their recent album The Marriage of True Minds, out now on Thrill Jockey.
Tres Warren of Psychic Ills on sonic exploration, making music in New York, and Gibby Haynes’s culinary choices.
Psychic Ills’ fourth LP, One Track Mind, fulfills the promise of their record prior: eschewing the improvised jams of their early catalog, Tres Warren and Elizabeth Hart instead craft each dark, blasted track with full intent. It’s only fitting to find contributions from the likes Gibby Haynes, Peter Kember, and Powell St. John throughout their body of work, situating them firmly in the American psych rock tradition.
I called Warren as he geared up for their North American tour, now underway, and chatted about the record, living in Austin, and the density of New York.
Tyler Curtis How did you and Liz Hart first link up?
Tres Warren I met her in school, at the University of Texas at Austin. We were in the same Art History class. Psychic Ills happened a few years later.
TC Your earlier work, the Mental Violence EPs and stuff on The Social Registry, was based around drum machine and a lot of jamming. What facilitated the shift to live percussion and more song-based material?
TW When the band first started, I had just gotten this Roland TR-707 drum machine, and I was getting into programming drums and kind of writing songs along to drum machine stuff. And that’s kind of how that happened. There wasn’t really a course planned ahead, and it just evolved into a live band, you know? And at certain points there was still some stuff with drum machines, and there might be again. But it definitely turned into more of a rock band.
A lot of times it would be kind of jamming. And more recently, it’s definitely been more writing songs, almost like demoing them, and then recording them. There were definitely times where it was more of like improvised jamming, and seeing if you could write a song that way. And then sometimes improvising but not necessarily trying to write a song, just jamming. More recently, it’s just become writing out the songs and then recording them.
Spencer Clark of Monopoly Child Star Searchers on brain music, The Garnet Toucan and sick jetski videos.
Spencer Clark is a contemporary musician known for his work with James Ferraro in their boy band, the Skaters, as well as his solo recordings as Monopoly Child Star Searchers, Vodka Soap, Black Joker and more. The Garnet Toucan is his latest release, out now on Underwater Peoples, and is the final work in the “Romance Audio Trilogy”, following up on 2010’s Bamboo for Two (Olde English Spelling Bee) and the CDr, Make Mine Macaw.
I first heard Spencer’s music shortly after being turned on to Ferraro’s own solo work. I assumed Spencer’s record would be of a similar vibe, but I was surprised to find that, while there was certainly overlap between their solo efforts, Spencer’s compositions were introspective in a different way than Ferraro’s. He’s on a much more solitary and heady trip than Ferraro, whose inspiration seems to be contemporary cultural detritus. Whereas Ferraro has been more and more interested in shimmering surface play, in internalizing and reorganizing cultural noise, Clark is more concerned with his own idiosyncratic obsessions in the pursuit of what he would call “internal brain music”.
In 2011, I learned that Clark had released new music—and had been, actually, for the previous 4 years—under the Monopoly Child Star Searchers moniker. I listened to Bamboo for Two and I loved it; it was ecstatic, tropical club music. It also sounded like some of the most accessible music I had ever heard from either of the ex-Skaters, but no less bountiful or expressive for that.
Martin Lynch Hi Spencer. Thanks for doing this interview.
Spencer Clark THANKYER YUR WELKER.
ML Your new record is part of a trilogy. What binds the three albums, thematically or otherwise?
SC The “Romance” trilogy highlights the way I feel and have felt in the past few years; with dedications towards freely experiencing the world and with expeditions at every corner one can find a more inherent meaning in things that are outside oneself, like for instance nature. When one is free of worry and guilt and regret I feel as though one can see the outside world more as it is in it’s own nature, and not what it has to do with you directly. So the keyboard solos on Bamboo for Two are meant to highlight the imaginary and the romantic side of the percussive nature of Monopoly Child. Make Mine Macaw has never been released, and it will be on LP this year.
Jennifer Herrema weighs in on her art work, fake reunions, Black Bananas, and sweating the Fiscal Cliff—and the Meatloaf/Gary Busey fight.
Jennifer Herrema’s artist’s residency at the New Museum—called “She’s Crafty”—featured the influential frontwoman—formerly of the legendary Royal Trux, currently leading Black Bananas—and several artists taking turns reimagining the storefront window of the New Musuem’s bookstore (several of the items in the window’s storefront are for sale and are, presumably, going to be part of her new Feathered Fish clothing and jewelry line). I met Jennifer on the street, where she immediately asked if I’d like to do the interview over a few glasses of wine next store at the Bowery Diner, along with two of her peers: musician Lizzi Bougatsos (of Gang Gang Dance) and videographer Jess Holzworth. It became clear pretty quickly that Jennifer was one of the least intimidating or pretentious artists I’d ever met. Even those questions that I was a little wary of asking, she answered with total ease. When I asked if she was going to the fake “Royal Trux” showNeil Hagerty’s low-key performance of Twin Infinitives that happened at St. Vitus last month—that, at the time, was only a few days away, she told me she was flying out that night, but gave me her own take on it. I think “The Needle and the Damage Done” was playing as we were seated at the diner. This appropriately loose and laid-back conversation followed.
Gary Canino I wanted to ask about Royal Trux and Virginia. I went to school down in Charlottesville, and have always heard rumors about the ’91 show at Trax . . .
Jennifer Herrema Yeah, I love Charlottesville, it’s just a nice place to live. Conducive to getting shit done.
GC You recorded in Virginia too, right?
JH Yeah, we owned a 15-acre farm with a studio built in. In Castleton, Virginia, right between Culpeper and Little Washington, out in Rappahannock.
John Cale discusses tour drama with with Eno and Ayers, hip-hop comedy, and what it takes to cover Nico.
At John Cale’s performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week – the legendary Welsh musician and producer (most known for his stint in the Velvet Underground) – I was struck by how casual the man seemed performing a lifetime of material. He walked out on stage, blew through his 1970 orchestral-rock classic Paris 1919 with precision, and then returned to the stage to play a set of challenging and obscure (even for Cale) material. It was clear that for Cale, this second half of the show was the focus: “Hedda Gabbler,” “December Rains,” and several other songs from his most recent album, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, proved to be the centerpieces for the night, as the sprawling (and often challenging) orchestral pieces filled the Gilman Opera House. The most audible reaction of the night was very obviously reserved for “Venus in Furs,” with loud cheers greeting the lone appearance of Velvet Underground material. I recently spoke to Cale about the concept for this show, his bizarre one-off 1974 tour with Nico, Brian Eno, and Kevin Ayers, and There’s Something About Mary.
Gary Canino With previous Paris 1919 shows that you’ve done, the second half of the show has been devoted to Vintage Violence. However, the second half of the show I saw at BAM last week was half Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood material, and half Sabotage-era material. What was your concept for the show?
John Cale Over the years I’ve been trying to add new songs every time we do it, to really take advantage of the fact that we have an orchestra. If we could only have an orchestra every time we want… so we did three or four new tunes the other night. This time we owed the new record some support, so I added some orchestral versions.
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.
Bee Mask’s Chris Madak spent the better part of the last two years constructing his new album. Now he reflects on the conceptual threads running through it.
There is a lurking strangeness in the music of Philadelphia-based composer Chris Madak, who records under the half-silly, half-terrifying moniker Bee Mask. Like sometimes tourmate Oneohtrix Point Never, Madak uses synthesizers and scraps of nostalgia to conjure a sonic world that defies the usual parameters of noise and pop. In part undeniably catchy and in part incredibly abstract, these tracks are constantly eluding their center. They are hauntingly subdued, quasi-human, and dramatic; far-out but felt. Bee Mask’s is an artificially intelligent music reminiscent of that moment in sci-fi stories when technology turns in on itself and gains a glimmer of human consciousness—think HAL 5000 or Johnny Five.
My talk with Chris—an e-mail exchange, actually—was surprising on a number of levels. To hear him wax philosophical on everything from Platonic forms to the evils of streaming video to the nature of time itself can be a disorienting experience. You want to think the guy behind a project like Bee Mask possesses a laconic minimalism across the board, but, then, that’s just not the case. After reading his responses to my questions, I was at first a little stunned. He had successfully gone in with a little scalpel and dug out the bits of the questions that seemed to him to ring false, and then filled in the empty space with his own ruminations. But then this approach is similar to the one that he takes to composition. Instead of hearing the music as ultra-minimal and restrained, I started to think of it as a reduction of sorts—a block of sound, bit by bit reduced of its superfluous parts.
Chris’s approach to this interview was unconventional as well. He responded to my questions—which became more like prompts—with an unexpected richness and enthusiasm. He talks a bit about his excellent new album, When We Were Eating Unripe Pears, out now on Spectrum Spools, and instead of offering the usual “mixtape” of YouTube videos, gives his thoughts on the shifting meaning of artistic responsibility. Feel free to read the small print.
A selection of pages from Elliot Sharp’s score Foliage, with an introduction from the composer.
“Using graphics software, Elliott creates the visual equivalent of what he does with audio editing software in a live performance. Altering what he sees the same way he alters what he hears, by modulating, distorting, filtering, stretching, multiplying, layering, inverting, blurring, and ultimately exploding the traditionally written sheet music.”
Excerpted from Christian Marclay’s forward to Foliage, London, August 2012
In its primary function, Foliage is a graphic score open to interpretation and realization by any instrumentalist or ensemble of any size; for an extended duration or a succinct hit; as a concert performance or sonic installation. Much of my composed work uses traditional notation, often the most efficient way to convey instructions to such ensembles as a symphony orchestra. Improvisation also has been extremely important for me, the best way to create social music. But there is another path between composed and improvised, that is often best represented with graphics. Foliage is a culmination of my work in this approach, the closest I’ve come to presenting the “look” of what I’m hearing when I compose in my Inner Ear.
Oorutaichi muses on the technology of music and the benefits of collaboration.
I first heard of Oorutaichi in 2005 when I was buying everything that came out on the Idjut Boys label, Bear Funk. Misen Gymnastics was a playful, poppy jam that seemed to come from another planet with focused distortion, strange vocal verses, original melodies, and a strong percussion laden rhythm. The track and its two smoothed-out remixes stayed in rotation longer than most. Fast forward to 2011 and the release of his third full length album, Cosmic Coco, Singing for a Billion Imu’s Hearty Pi. Released only in Japan, it is a colorful tapestry which sounds as fresh now as it did then. I want to call it future pop, but it proves that the future is now. The album also features amazing remixes of the single, Futurelina, by Daedelus and Eye from Boredoms.
Oorutaichi is truly an original artist with a unique vision. An ardent collaborator, his music seems almost ego-less, to be enjoyed by young and old alike, from a kindergarten to the dancefloor. On Friday November 16, Japan Society will host Cosmic Coco with Oorutaichi featuring an always energetic multimedia performance. We spoke briefly through email in October about the advantages of technology in art, the importance of collaboration, and the meaning of Oorutaichi.
Translated by Monika Uchiyama
Scott Davis What were you like as a child? Where did you grow up?
Oorutaichi とても人見知りでおとなしい子供だったと思います。 日本の奈良県というところの少し寂れた町で育ちました。
I think I was a very shy and well behaved child. I grew up in a slightly deserted town in Nara, Japan.
Lee Ann Norman speaks with jazz musician Jason Moran about his multidisciplinary approach to music and what inspires him.
I’m always looking for an excuse to visit Café Grumpy in Chelsea. I love the vibe that discourages digital mediation in favor of analogue interactions and face-to-face conversations. I’ve done a lot of reading, meeting, greeting, laughing, talking, and thinking there, so I was excited when award-winning jazz pianist Jason Moran agreed to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat with me. Since the late 1990s when he became a fixture in music circles, Jason Moran has been determined to keep listeners on their toes. Although the 2010 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and Artistic Advisor for Jazz at the Kennedy Center works primarily in jazz, Moran is always eager to expand definitions of the genre. He often weaves elements from dance, language and literature, the visual arts, and other musical forms into his arrangements and compositions.
I’ve been thinking a lot about multidisciplinary work—the messy kind that isn’t easy to categorize. Such work usually requires knowledge and technical expertise that forces the artist to reach beyond her studio, writing table, piece of Marley floor, or practice room. To go outside of the self for creative expression is exciting, but inherently risky, and maybe a bit dangerous. “Collaborative efforts are never easy and everyone has a different spin on them,” I wrote in an email message to Jason prior to our conversation: “I’m quite curious to learn more about your approach . . . why you find it valuable. I’d also like to learn more about your process, what projects you decide need collaborators and why.”
I enjoy working with others to create something larger than I could on my own, but collaborating is hard work. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth all of that messy ambiguity and negotiation—that feeling of cat herding—that inevitably results as part of the process. Talking with Jason, though, reminded me that the rewards of collaboration far outweigh any of the struggles.
Lee Ann Norman You kind of raised your eyebrows a little bit when I said, “Collaboration is hard.”
Jason Moran Well because jazz is so collaborative, at every turn you’re entrusting someone else with something. The gene make-up of the music is that you listen to others, that you respond to others, that you have your own idea and you know how to weave it into a bigger idea.
Clive and Mark Ives describe the history of their groundbreaking experimental band Woo.
Clive and Mark Ives started banging things together as wee lads in South London. As their equipment improved, they honed their telepathic bond and recorded hours and hours of music. Eventually label interest, literally from across the tracks, came knocking. Their first album Whichever Way You Are Going, You Are Going Wrong was released in 1982 and garnered critical acclaim by the likes of the NME and Melody Maker. The brilliant second record, It’s Cosy Inside, was released in 1989. The record seemed to drift into obscurity almost immediately, its delicate, cosmic and witty, yet quintessentially British instrumental music seemingly tailor made to be rediscovered many years later by a handful of record obsessives. The Ives brothers never stopped recording and Woo became a sort of cult band, their vibe becoming more New Age while their sound retained its idiosyncrasies. Unlike any other music of the period (or any other period for that matter) Woo’s records are instantly recognizable. If you know them, you can’t help but love them.
With a well-deserved reissue of It’s Cosy Inside set for release on Drag City imprint Yoga Records, the world will again get a chance at a taste of some Woo. I got in touch with the Ives brothers over email.
Scott Davis How did you start playing music? Can you talk about the origins of Woo?
Mark Ives Our Grandad and Uncle Ivor would come round when we were kids and play music in the kitchen. We would sing songs around the kitchen table, good old songs: “Back To Guilford,” an old First World War song that they brought back from the trenches.
Scott Davis speaks with Franco Falsini of Sensations’ Fix about what it means to be a musician, the evolution of his sound, and doing what it takes to pay the bills.
Franco Falsini is a wanderer. By freeing himself from the constraints of his hometown of Florence, Italy he is able to soar among the furthest reaches of both outer and inner space. He is a nomadic searcher, a seeker of beauty. Having left Florence for the States in 1969, he soon set up a communal jam environment in Richmond, Virginia and Sensations’ Fix was born. The band recorded six albums proper throughout the ’70s, and in 1975 Franco recorded Cold Nose (Naso Freddo), a beautiful, experimental meditation that provided the soundtrack to a film of the same title. After several cosmic serendipitous encounters, his son Jeyon was contacted by New York label RVNG and Franco’s masters were soon uncovered, including hours of unreleased gems. September 25 sees the release of Music Is Painting In the Air, a double cd/lp packed with these remixed and unheard treats. I talked to Franco over email and Skype about Sensations’ Fix, his time as an engineer in New York City in the eighties, his stellar dance label Interactive Test in the nineties, and his continuous experimentation with emerging recording technologies.
Scott Davis So, how did you end up in Virginia?
Franco Falsini I met an American girl, Lavinia Sherman, who was working as a waitress in the American Bar, Red Garter, where I was playing with the band Flying. We got married in 1969 in Florence, and in August of that summer we received the sad news that her mother was dying of cancer so we went back to Virginia, where we ended up staying for few years.
SD What was the vibe like during the time when this RVNG music was being recorded? How was the rehearsal situation?
FF We played all day and night and we recorded a lot. We lived together in houses that were chosen to make our lifestyle possible, and that meant away from the cities.
Frontman Mike Donovan discusses the lo-fi DIY recording and music-making process of Sic Alps, set to release their fourth full-length album.
Fronted by San Francisco lo-fi vet Mike Donovan, Sic Alps is one of the leanest, most out-there psych-garage acts working today. Their songwriting demonstrates remarkable balance, marrying hiss, distortion, and sunny washes of reverb with a deep understanding of pop composition. Donovan and company have long favored a barebones, DIY method—recording their songs piecemeal on an eight-track, usually just with one mic—that is rudimentary in its means but complex in its execution. This is no doubt the lo-fi challenge: the track-by-track approach to songwriting is itself somewhat flexible, but also requires a careful compositional ear in assembling “finished” products. It’s hard to pin down the music’s exact genealogy, but it clearly reflects the influence of nineties lo-fi—recalling, at moments, GBV in their early, scuzzed out bedroom glory, psychedelic rock, and ’60s garage, all of which harmonize through the formal constraints of the pop song.
Sic Alps will release their fourth full-length release on Drag City Records in early September. They’ve displayed a remarkable capacity for evolution over the last six years and four LPs, and their upcoming self-titled album represents their most innovative move yet. It’s softer, slower, and highly meditative—on the whole, a much more polished record than the band has previously put forth. Sic Alps was recorded in studio, and the change in operating practice is apparent from the very first cut off the album, “Glyphs,” which features a string section. But moving in the direction of higher fidelity has not compromised the band’s distinctive “no-fi” brand, and the record’s mellower constitution is not so much an abandonment of its familiar working method as a new perspective on it—a retrofitting that has left their sound tighter and more defined than ever before.
The group has seen a slew of personnel since its inception, and on Donovan’s account, Sic Alps evolved as an honest, natural reflection of its current line-up’s priorities and sensibilities. I recently spoke with Donovan over the phone—he’s not the most technologically inclined, and our conversation was a luxury of his having coincidentally purchased a burner—about the band’s musical history, development, and the significance of this latest record in that trajectory.
Gary War on his latest record, Jared’s Lot, inspired by the harshness of Massachusetts in winter, the sounds of Chrome, and the times in life when shit gets real.
Gary War’s latest full-length album, Jared’s Lot, is out July 24th on Spectrum Spools, the label founded by John Elliott of Emeralds. It is an oddball epic of dark psychedelia and warped pop, and the sounds are weirder, the textures harder to decipher, and the songwriting deceptively sharper than anything War has released to date. His 2009 LP, Horribles Parade, had traces of classic rock and New Wave, falling in alongside the outsider-pop continuum of friends/collaborators John Maus and Ariel Pink.
Jared’s Lot, though, is harder to place. There are hints of ’70s prog and and high-bpm electro, but the album is more mood than anything else—ghostly, hypnotic, fun, like a lost Giorgio Moroder soundtrack to Duke Nukem for MS-DOS. War spoke with me via email about his philosophies of recording, San Francisco psych pioneers Chrome, and the geographic and psychic confusion that inspired his most recent work.
Nick Hallett on a recent performance by synth pioneers Tangerine Dream who are on the outside looking in of the recent revival of interest in kosmische music.
In the wake of Kraftwerk’s much-hyped and much-sold-out career retrospective at MoMA earlier this year, the other pioneering German electronic band, Tangerine Dream, arrived quietly in New York this past weekend for the first time in two decades to play a three-hour concert of music spanning its 45-year history. Any comparable heraldry from the press or on the social networks was nowhere to be found. In 1988, the band had filled Radio City Music Hall. But with the main seating area of the 2100-capacity Best Buy Theater in Times Square cordoned off, the 400 or so attendees could not have been noted for their “artfully swept hair, uncomfortable-looking shoes, [or] architectural glasses,” as The New York Times described the close-to 4,000 Kraftwerk fans lucky enough to actually make it across MoMA’s velvet rope in April. (Hawaiian shirts and sensible footwear typified the mostly male audience at Best Buy, where temperatures outside the theater registered above one hundred degrees).
Blues Control curates an odyssey through avant-garde landscapes of film and classical composition—with a brief digression into street performance.
Over the last five years, psychedelic duo Blues Control has honed a sound that defies neat categorization. Drawing on a marriage of styles—avant-garde, ambient, psychedelia, lo-fi, classic rock, and New Age—their music often takes on the character of collage; as they craft their songs, guitarist Russ Waterhouse and keyboardist Lea Cho carefully arrange, integrate, and layer sonic textures without homogenizing them. Valley Tangents, the band’s latest record and first release on Drag City, represents a fulfillment of the expansive promise of their earlier efforts—it showcases all the enthusiasm for exploring and synthesizing varied musical approaches that fans have come to expect of their tracks. Yet this record finds Blues Control in command of an even more mature understanding of how to assemble and sculpt intricate, challenging, and multifarious soundscapes—in short, a cooler and steadier compositional hand.
They’ve displayed this same eclectic sensibility in making the following video selections. Their mixtape juxtaposes the street gymnastics of recent collaborator Allstar the MTA Mime with the experimental films of Joseph Cornell, and includes a fantastic assortment of deep cuts from foreign avant-garde composers. I recently spoke to the band about the origins of Blues Control, their working process, the recent move to Drag City, leaving New York, and the enigmatic star of “Love’s a Rondo.”
Ryan Sheldon So, how did you get started with Blues Control?
Lea Cho Our first project was a New Age band called Watersports, which we started in 2003. The influences for that band were kraut, New Age, synth, and electro-acoustic music, and environmental field recordings. At some point—probably while drinking—we started a running joke that we had a piano rock band on the side called Blues Control. We were listening to a lot of blues, psych, and classic rock around this time, especially Polish psych CDs we found in Greenpoint.
When I was a teenager and just fumbling for a sense of what it meant to have a feeling, an idea, an impulse—and to articulate it on paper—I was listening to Kathleen Hanna sing about that same process as the leader of the seminal Riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, and later, as the frontperson of Le Tigre. At fourteen, I was just starting to try to name what it felt like to be a girl, to be angry, and to tell a story that maybe someone else could relate to. Hanna was articulating these same ideas and emotions at a time when I had yet to fully comprehend them.
Through my girlfriend—who is making a film about Hanna called The Punk Singer—I’ve gotten the opportunity to get to know Kathleen and to talk to her about the similarities and differences between our artistic processes.
Making something out of the everything inside you is hard. Sending that something out into the world is a whole other kind of hard. That, I’ve learned firsthand. Before our conversation, I suspected that Kathleen knew a lot more about it than I did, twenty years into a career that shows no sign of slowing. I was right. She knows a lot about the pain of making good work, the risks and rewards inherent in seeing something through to its truest form. And she knows about the hell of online commenters, of Googling oneself, and how one hate letter can outweigh a hundred love letters on the wrong day. She also knows something about moving past all that. About how we might all do better to take some cues from Beyoncé.
Melissa Febos I have to warn you, all my questions are about process.
Kathleen Hanna I love talking about process.
MF It’s my favorite topic, really. Plus, I was just in the woods working on this novel for a month.
KH And I’m in the middle of writing an album.
A talented trio of ladies discusses the collaborative process that defines their band, the different epochs their various albums embody, and the ongoing search for meaningful, yet fun, musical expression.
A sophisticated version of your older sister’s garage band, Grass Widow is a post-punk trio that will actually let you stand in the doorway and listen while you finish your Hot Pocket. Electric and expressive, repetitive and loose, the San Francisco-based band mixes rusty instrumentals with an ambling, fluid harmonization, carrying the Bay Area feel along with them. Comprised of Hannah Lew on bass, Raven Mahon on guitar, and Lillian Maring on drums, and with no single front person, Grass Widow features democratic vocals and advocates age and gender inclusive shows.
Their third full-length album, Internal Logic, comes out on their own label HLR Records (Hannah, Lillian, and Raven, of course) on May 29th. Simultaneously experimental and straightforwardly lyrical, Internal Logic is a fine fit for the hot, wet season ahead. I spoke with the band via email about the new album, touching on the writing process, grief, and the influence of place on their sound.
Lori DeGloyer How did the band come about?
Lillian Maring Hannah and Raven were in a band called Shitstorm with Frankie Rose and our friend Wu. I was living in Olympia, Washington and had met Hannah and Wu through touring with other bands. I moved to San Francisco the spring of 2007 and filled in on drums for Shitstorm because Frankie had moved to New York. Wu left on a bike trip to Mexico and the three who remained began messing around with vocal ideas and started writing songs.
Multi-instrumentalist and composer Nate Kinsella talks about his project Birthmark’s new album Antibodies and shares some soon-to-be classic cute animal videos.
Nate Kinsella, perhaps best known as the MVP of Chicago’s Make Believe (he played keys and drums at the same time!), is preparing his third solo album, Antibodies, under the moniker Birthmark. Though he’s currently based in Brooklyn, NY, the album was recorded in his home state of Illinois, where the recording sessions were funded through Kickstarter.com (Antibodies impressively met its goal of $5,000 last June). Antibodies is lush with strings, marimba, horns and everything else, oscillating in tone between the fragile experimentalism of Arthur Russell and the epic, rhythmic pop of the first couple Peter Gabriel records. With some Steve Reich in there papering over the cracks. I met with Nate in Greenpoint’s McGolrick Park to talk about his approach to composition, how he got started playing drums and keys at the same time, and the persistent and pervading influence of Charles Ives on his music.
Gary Canino Has playing in other bands helped you realize exactly how you want to approach Birthmark, where it’s now 100% you?
Nate Kinsella It’s weird, it makes it easier because I know what the process is like: write an album, record it, release it, tour on it, etc. . . . but without a group of people behind you with their own motivations, you’re really relying on yourself for anything to move forward at all. I could decide tomorrow that I don’t feel like putting any more energy [into Birthmark], but in a band, that doesn’t really happen. Well, it could if I was really stubborn and decided I wanted to end a project! It’s gratifying in a different way when you’re by yourself. When you’re doing solo stuff, it’s just so much closer to you because you’re behind every decision, so if something seems like a bad idea, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Through email correspondence and transcontinental translations, I was able to interview Sidi Touré about his new album, Koïma, as well as get some answers about his other musical endeavors and his personal life. Though I never got to meet or speak to the man himself, there was something about this virtual conversation that seemed appropriate; regardless of our locations, we were able to exchange thoughts and musings almost effortlessly, conquering distance in a way. To me, this is exactly what Sidi’s music does: although his style and musical traditions are from a culture very distant to ours, his albums travel well, hinting at a lost familiarity.
In Koïma, out April 17, one can hear how much American music is subtlety influenced by Sidi’s native style, and vice versa. In anticipation of this conversation, I listened to the album countless times, marveling at the intricacies and beauty of the Songhaï tradition that Sidi is so well-versed in. I wanted to know more about the man behind the music; I wanted to learn more about the genre and the legacy that he is building on with his contributions. Writing back, he delved into his history and roots, enlightening me as to what exactly I was hearing while listening to his record.
EH Although you are experiencing a new spike in popularity, you have been very under the radar for most Western audiences for the bulk of your career. How has this new international interest in your music affected you?
ST This is very satisfying, a great joy, especially when you see the amount of Malians artists who remain in the shadow. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Covalesky, my producer, Thrill Jockey, my label, and Mel Puljic, my U.S. booking agent, for believing in me.
I’m very proud of the work I’ve done. People often think about money first. I think about the work first; only work ennobles you.