Vito Camarretta

Dec 302019
 

Fly Pan Am‘s is maybe the most heartbreaking reunion of somehow glorious bands that made the history of contemporary music I saw in the last year. The project, developed in 1996 by former Godspeed You Black Emperor guitarist Roger Tellier-Graig with the precious support by talented musicians like Eric Gringas, Felix Morel, Jean-Sébastien Truchy and Jonathan Parant, managed to grasp some interesting stylistic ideas on the fertile grounds of post-rock and shoegazing. Their ‘C’est ça’ (released by Constellation records) could sometimes sound predictable, but these Montreal-based wise guys managed to turn the musical experience they offered astonishingly exciting as if they were showing some notorious place by revealing many previously hidden details and wrapping the listener into a warm hypnotic flow. After getting wrapped by the listening of their album (and personally some nostalgic listening of some of their previous ones), we had a talk with them.

Chain D.L.K.: Hi guys! How are you doing?

Roger: Positively busy! We’ve been working with the dance company Animals of Distinction over the past little while, composing the soundtrack for their newest piece, Frontera, and we just came back from its premiere in Quebec City earlier this week.


Chain D.L.K.: As far as I read, Constellation records was super happy to welcome you back after… 15 years! How do you remember that first landing on Constellation?

Roger: Wow, that is quite a while back and my memory isn’t so reliable anymore, so I’m afraid I can’t go into any details here. It was certainly a great time for music in Montreal, and we were happy to be part of Constellation’s roster at the time.

JS: If I remember correctly, even though our first show at Hotel 2 Tango wasn’t great, CST and some of GY!BE came without our knowledge to our second show, a few months later. II guess they really like what we played then (one track, about 20mins of a pulsing drone that would eventually « develop » in a kind of ultra-minimalist rock bit for the remainder of the track). From there on, I think CST were curious enough to be present at other shows, have us play at an event of there’s (Musique Fragile) until they felt confident enough in our music to offer us to put a record out for us. Even then they were quite encouraging, helping us along the way from recording, mixing and everything.


Chain D.L.K.: Some readers know about your following steps, some other not… let’s try to refresh their mind since the beginning! How did Fly Pan Am start?

Roger: We started out as a bunch of music fans lost in a city that didn’t really have a scene at the time – that was before we ever heard of Constellation, so apart from some of the folks who ran cool little record shops here and there, we felt very alone. I remember we were even daydreaming about moving to the UK at the time – ha-ha. A lot of the bands that we liked were from there, bands like Main, Laika, Loop, Pram, Stereolab, Seefeel, etc. Eventually, we heard about GY!BE, Exhaust and Constellation, so we hooked up and started playing shows with them. At the time, Constellation was curating the Musique Fragile series in their loft space in Old Montreal, and we went to a bunch of them. They eventually invited us to perform, and we started working with them not long after that.


Chain D.L.K.: What’s the importance of having grown in Montreal for the development of your sound?

Roger: I’m not sure how much our location had an actual impact on our sound. We were listening to music from the US and Europe mostly. The fact of being able to afford cheap housing definitely helped us spend time working on music, but yeah, I guess you could say that once the scene started developing, and we discovered folks like Shalabi Effect, David Kristian, Alexandre St-Onge, the label Alien 8, then I guess we started developing a mutual influence on each other in a way. Like I said earlier, it was a rich time for music in Montreal.


Chain D.L.K.: What are the main milestones of your path out of Constellation between 2004 and 2019?

Roger: Personally, I started learning how to make electronic music on my own around 2008 with the project Le Révélateur. This project then turned into an audio-visual duo with video artist Sabrina Ratté, and we performed live a lot and released stuff on labels like Root Strata, NNA Tapes, Steve Hauschildt’s Gneiss Things and Dekorder. I also rediscovered musique concrète – which had been a personal influence in the early FPA years – so I decided to go back to school and studied electroacoustic composition at the Conservatory here in Montreal. This music will be coming out next year on the Second Editions imprint.

JS: Around 2010 after somewhat of a brake from music, I started playing more electronic music in groups and especially solo with releases on Root Strata, Digitalis Records, Tranquility Tapes, Sic Sic Tapes and others and founded, with a couple of friends, Los Discos Enfantasmes, a now defunct cassette label. Somewhere around then the creation of Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche happened, and we have since released two records on Constellation.

Félix: I kept really busy playing in a lot of bands. Les Enfants Sauvages was an improvised No Wave supergroup with members of Les Georges Leningrad, Duchess Says, AIDS Wolf and Red Mass. Panopticon Eyelids was a Psychedelic Noise Rock band with free rock and No Wave influences. We released a bunch of tapes and CD-Rs on underground labels and self released an LP. No Negative was a punk band with Noise Rock, Death Rock and Psych influences. We released a 7 inch and 2 LPs.

Fly Pan Am “C’est ça” cover artwork


Chain D.L.K.: First, thanks for attaching lyrics to your album! Such a wise choice will avoid many cyclotomic questions on what you said, what you’re going to say… or maybe not! For instance the way by which you seem to describe what’s happening to the sound you forge on the amazing Distance Dealer is awesome… but speaking in general, what’s the role of lyrics now and in the past in the development of your music? Is it a more sonic element or a source of meaning?

Roger: With regard to the lyrics I wrote and sang, I would say I am interested in both the sonic quality of the words, as well as the delivery, as I am with the potential meaning of the lyrics. Lyrics are an opportunity for me to tackle some ideas and considerations that really interest me, but I am not interested in turning this expression into a self-congratulatory manifestation of my perspective on things. I prefer a more open-ended approach, where you might get the impression that the lyrics are pointing at something, but it all kinda remains vague, blurry, dreamy, hallucinatory. I first come up with the vocal lines and the delivery, so once I set out to write lyrics I need words that fit in musically, so this highly influences the choice of words. I will already have a pretty clear idea of what I want a song to be about beforehand, but again, the choice of words may have an impact on what I had set out to do originally.


Chain D.L.K.: How many times did anyone try to match you to Stereolab or Slowdive or both by “offending” the praiseworthy way you forged your own distinguishing aural mark?

Roger: Well, I personally really love Stereolab’s Transient Random Noise-Bursts and Mars Audiac Quintet, as well as Slowdive’s Pygmalion, so such a comparison cannot offend me in any way. People seem to namedrop My Bloody Valentine and black metal way more though – haha.


Chain D.L.K.: Related to the previous question/answer, are there any band that inspired some choices somehow?

Roger: Yes, the first actual wave of “post-rock” bands, like Main, Seefeel, Disco Inferno, when it was more about using technology to go beyond the usual rock tropes than what it turned into later on, but also earlier bands like Dome. These bands were definitely an inspiration at the time where we started the band back in 1996, but we had no idea how to make music like that. When we set out to make this record, we had grown so much individually, learning how to use samplers, synthesizers and computers, that it just made sense to finally make this record we had always wanted to make, a kind of futuristic rock record using electroacoustic techniques. I like to joke that this is our 4AD record, as if someone like Christian Zanési had produced it.

JS: We’ll also incorporate, as always, other influences, coming from near-non-audible electronic music to contemporary music all the way to complete noise when composing. But as Roger points out when answering this question, we always have a direction, something to achieve sound wise but never letting go of all the various influences which will help us, hopefully, bring a different flavor to our work when compared to the work of others in a similar – or not so similar – genre. To me, a FPA record is always the combination of influences that give us a direction and all the other ones that will help us somewhat counteract said direction or, at least, play with certain aspects of composition, genre/tropes and listener’s expectations.


Chain D.L.K.: C’est ça! Besides the Canadian bilinguism, is there a reason behind the choice of title in French where lyrics are in English?

Roger: The title is kind of nod to the end of our last record, “N’écoutez pas”, where you hear our bass player JS’s kids ask in French “What is Le Fly Pan Am?”; since we felt this record was the logical successor to “N’écoutez pas” – we felt we were picking up exactly where we had stopped in 2004 – we decided to link the two this way. “C’est ça” pretty much means “It’s this”. We also wanted a French title because all the lyrics were in English, which was a first for us, and it felt necessary to counterbalance that with a simple French title.


Chain D.L.K.: I enjoyed the experimental interplays such as Alienage Syntropy or Dizzy Delusions or the opening Avant-Gardez Vous, even if they look like ironic stylistic drops or moments of detached divertissement… what’s the correct meaning of such a grasp?

Roger: To be honest, they are not intended to be ironic. We’ve always had more abstract pieces or passages on our records, and this just came very naturally for us. We wanted this to be a record that played with pop tropes, but it still had to feel like a Fly Pan Am record. We’ve always loved contrast and the friction that comes from opposing radically different aesthetics. I have a feeling this kind of abstract material will keep expanding and take up more space as we continue working together.


Chain D.L.K.: Shoes are on the grounds but your sound points to fluffy clouds and outer spaces, even by means of bleeps and hisses that evoke orbiting satellites and space debris… that’s amazing! But someone could ask you what’s the role of those brutal-metal like shouts…

Roger: Haha, yes. There are three people in the band that provide vocals on the record, and we all have a distinct approach and different backgrounds, and It’s very important for us to acknowledge the sensibilities of all band members as much as possible. We believe that richness comes from the complex intersection of different references and influences, which again, creates contrast, which is a core element of FPA. JS is the one singing with this approach, and this is something he has been developing in his solo work, as well as in his other band Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche, so it just made sense for us to bring that element into the making of this record. If you listen carefully to “Brûlez suivant, suivante!”, the first track on “N’écoutez pas”, you can hear the root of this approach of our dual dynamic singing, where I sing in a low-key dreamy way, and JS shouts on top of me, far in the mix. We tend to see these different approaches to vocals as a set of variables we can use to create dynamics. We’re interested in seeing how you can use a certain vocal aesthetic in the context of a piece that wouldn’t normally feature that type of approach, because for us, what may sound like a “brutal-metal like shout” is simply a different color of singing, a different way to approach vocals.

JS: I couldn’t agree more 🙂


Chain D.L.K.: Any past release that could be the perfect logical match with C’est ça?

Roger: Personally, I’m tempted to say OLD’s “The Musical Dimensions Of Sleastak”. It’s a totally crazy futuristic post-metal record from 1993. It goes all over the place, from abstract ambient passages, to sample-based experimental sections and vocoder cyborg rock. I was definitely listening to it a lot when we were working on the record.


Chain D.L.K.: Did you bring it on stage yet? Any interesting feedbacks besides moving steps and waving heads?

Roger: We’ve only done a handful of shows in Canada at this point. Folks seem to enjoy it. We’re coming to the UK in March, and Europe after that.


Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress? Would you live Constellation again or should we expect something else marked by this awesome label?

Roger: Yeah, as I mentioned earlier, we just finished composing the soundtrack to the piece Frontera by the dance company Animals of Distinction. We’re hoping to record that sometime in 2020.

JS: After that (the soundtrack), we’ll most likely be back with a full length, hopefully in a not so distant future…

Dec 302019
 

If you followed the interesting musical and artistic path by Tristan Douglas aka Antwood, you shouldn’t have missed his recent creation Delphi. We could introduce his third album on Planet Mu as a proper creation, as Delphi is the name of the fictional character he forged together with his girlfriend Olivia Dreisinger, and such a bicephalous origin is not casual at all, as Delphi also represents the hurdles faced by lovers in our age and those felt by Tristan himself, as well as the battle between fantasy and reality. In his own words: “Olivia and I started making the album cover as soon as I knew what direction Delphi was headed in. I took objects that had significance to me at the time of production and physically recreated them as “Delphi world” objects so that the album’s narrative and each track are represented in the cover photo. If you flip the album over, there is a computer rendering by Paulin Rogues of the two landmarks in the ancient city of Delphi – not quite ancient or modern Delphi, somehow real life but also fantastical.” Imagine such a theme translated into the sonic language that Tristan developed in the guise of Antwood. But let’s see how Tristan introduced his creature to our readers.

Antwood “Delphi” cover artwork

Chain D.L.K.: Hi Tristan! How are you?

Antwood: Really good, thanks!


Chain D.L.K.: An interesting note on the cover artwork of your release… I recognized an old coin with the symbol of my “raped” home town Taranto – at the center of Italian chronicles for serious matters related to the pollution caused by the biggest European steel factory – and Taras, the son of Greek god Neptune riding a dolphin, who supposedly founded Taranto according to mythology…. Did you know that? Any relation with Taranto I ignore?


Antwood: When I made the cover art, I was looking for old coins that featured dolphins depicted in Greek mythology as a way to represent Apollo. According to the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, the god Apollo first came to Delphi in the form of a dolphin, carrying Cretan priests on his back. So I figured the dolphin on the coin was Apollo, with a priest on his back. But looking at the coin more closely now I see that it is Taras and the coin is Italian. Dolphins are all over Greek mythology. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter for the symbolism whether the dolphin on the coin is connected to Apollo since for them the concept of dolphins was very positive – dolphins were a good omen – so whether it’s Dionysus, Poseidon, Delphin the sea god, Taras or another Greek god the dolphin stands for respect, admiration and affection and that’s how I wanted to use it


Chain D.L.K.: …but besides this detail, let’s focus on the main character, Delphi! Why did you choose to intersect mythology to forge this fictitious sonic novel?


Antwood: I did use elements of Greek mythology, but I would say the structure of the record is more a take on the monomyth, where the hero (often the chosen one) is introduced in their ordinary mundane world and contrasted with the “other world” in which the hero will enter when they accept their quest. Delphi hits most of the hero’s journey narrative stages, like the call to adventure, the crossing of the threshold, the tests and allies, the innermost cave, the ordeal, the road back, the resurrection and the return. I call it a take on the monomyth narrative because Delphi’s final form (besides being an album) is more of a fanfic, where the author takes the template and injects themselves into the story and then shifts the focus to whatever personal and specific weird things they choose. So the Delphi story is a hero’s journey, but the journey is basically a daydream and, instead of returning triumphantly with lessons learned at the end of the story, Delphi sits bored and confused on top of the mountain, checking her phone, right back where she was at the beginning with nothing learned.


Chain D.L.K.: Before focusing on single acts of this character, some questions… what’s the weight in the whole concept of the album of the contribution by your girlfriend Olivia?


Antwood: Early on when I only had a track called “Delphi” and wanted to build something around it, Olivia proposed that Delphi was a person and not just a place. From there, we constructed the character and the story together over the next year or so as I would work on the tracks. Olivia wrote all the words, which were either stuff she wrote to me in real life or things she wrote for the album. The Skype Ghost line and Hostile Message poem were things that Olivia wrote to me in real life. The process of deciding which of the elements from real life should be incorporated into the album was intuitive, and it happened naturally without planning. The cover was collaborative as well.


Chain D.L.K.: As we mentioned the coin, what’s the meaning of the other elements visible on the cover artwork? The other coins, that Club Dread bracelet, the pills, the moth, etc…


Antwood: A lot of real and made-up things got merged together on the album and the artwork, and the album and artwork are very entangled with both mine and Olivia’s real lives. It was satisfying and helpful to make a project like this, although it can be a bit uncomfortable and confusing to talk about in extreme detail since most of what I want to say is already there in the art. But I’ll do my best to explain the things on the cover a bit more:

The Phone: the phone is mine, with the Skype Ghost message displayed which was written to me by Olivia in the first week we met. I ghosted her because I was in the hospital and couldn’t contact her.

The Pills & Hospital Bracelet: I was in and out of the hospital a lot at that time and had procured a collection of wristbands and pill bottles that I modified for Delphi as part of her narrative. I wrote Ecstatic Dance in the hospital. I had the idea that Club Dread would have festival bracelets that would double as hospital admission bracelets for overdoses and mental health emergencies.

The Coins: According to myth, Apollo slew a python that was guarding the land of Delphi, and its body fell into a chasm. The fumes that arose from its decomposing body were a sweet-smelling vapor called pneuma that was thought to induce the Oracle’s clairvoyant trances by allowing Apollo to possess her spirit. In my story, the Delphi character confronts a corrupt Pythia (Oracle) and throws a coin with the dolphin Apollo into a chasm as part of her quest.

The Stone: There is a stone beside the coins which Olivia put in my jacket pocket without me knowing one day while walking on a beach.

The Moth: a moth had flown into my coffee cup one night when Olivia and I were broken up. In the morning I took a photo of it and sent it to her, and it helped make things better somehow. In ancient Delphi, people would go to the Corycian Cave to pay homage to Pan and his nymphs and other deities by leaving small offerings (little keepsakes like tiny vases and jewelry). In Greek mythology, Corycia was a naiad, one of the nymphs of the springs of the Corycian Cave which was named after her. She lived on Mount Parnassus in Phocis and with Apollo, she became the mother of Lycoreus who gave his name to the city Lycoreia which resided above the sanctuary of Delphi. Corycia is also a genus of moth, so the coffee moth became Delphi’s offering when she went into the Corycian cave in the track “Cave Moth.” Later in “Some Dust” Delphi imagines herself as the moth.


Chain D.L.K.: I appreciate the choice of contemporary electronic music language to tell a story… are there any previous similar artifacts that inspired this idea?


Antwood: Maybe Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love is similar. It also has a similar 2-part structure, and musically it is an influence and was at the time I made Delphi. It’s also similar in that it tells a dramatic story told through snapshots of the protagonist’s emotional state. But I can’t think of any electronic music records that really do this. It’s not very easy to market.


Chain D.L.K.: Considering the order of the track as mirroring the part of a plot, why did Delphi appear on the third track? What can you say about the parts (Skype Ghost and Club Dread) that precedes the track where the name of Delphi appears for the time?


Antwood: Delphi’s voice appears on the first track which is kind of prologue that introduces the simplified theme. Then we are dropped right into Delphi’s life, into Club Dread, and it isn’t until the title track that Delphi is put into focus and described as a character. The theme at this point is Delphi in the real world, and the music has recognizable electronic music features. It feels a bit immature to me. As the story progresses the theme is adapted to where Delphi is at emotionally. In “Healing Labyrinth” the theme is more direct, and even more so in “Delphi’s Song” where the theme is stripped down to its basic components of tune and arpeggio without any extra style or ornament which was intended to render Delphi more vulnerable and honest.


Chain D.L.K.: Can you explain the meaning of that “Hostile Message” and the choice of a cheeseburger? 🙂


Antwood: That was a real thing Olivia wrote to me last year and the meaning is literal.


Chain D.L.K.: Many scary monstrous entities appear in the tracks of the first part (vaguely remind some creatures by Otto Von Schirach or Richard Devine)… I can imagine the connections with the fiction, but can you explain them in detail?

I’m not sure. I didn’t think of anything as monstrous entities but that’s an interesting observation.


Chain D.L.K.: “Healing Labyrinth” seems to mark the end of the above-mentioned stage, while “Portal” – one of my favorite track from the exquisitely technical viewpoint – and that female “goodbye” at the beginning before the awesome maelstrom and the following emotional sets of this track sound like the beginning of a new stage … any word about this stage of the record?


Antwood: Yeah you are right, I see the record as divided into 2 parts separated by “Portal.” In the portal, the character Delphi travels across the threshold to the city of ancient Delphi, on the back of Apollo in the form of a dolphin (hence the dolphin sound at the start of the track). It’s the beginning of her quest or escape or however, you want to think about it. Over the course of Portal, the Delphi theme is deconstructed and sheds its “real-world” sound palette and morphs into a more dense and mystical tone where it stays until “Delphi’s Song.”

In the second part, there are moments that also evoke Greek music as well as sets that detach from juke or bass-driven music to go closer to cinematic music… is there a study behind it that you want to share with our readers?

The second half of the album takes place in an imagined, semi-historical land of Delphi. I tried to make the music feel like the story and landscape I was imagining. This part of the record went through a few iterations. At first, I was really going for an ancient, mystical sound that faithfully referenced ancient Greek music modes and instrumentation. But that ended up coming across as gimmicky and wasn’t what I was going for. I have to be careful not to let the concept of a record dictate what I want to do musically, or it becomes creatively limiting. Plus, this was not only an imagined ancient Greek world, but a fanfic retelling of an allegorical cliché narrative, so I felt pretty free to do whatever I wanted to achieve the mood I was going for.


Chain D.L.K.: Delphi’s Song vaguely reminded the sonorities of the notorious themes for The Legend of Zelda… any similarities between Zelda and Delphi?


Antwood: I think there are musical similarities just because they are both other-worldly music with classical components and flutes and intended to propel a story forward. But Zelda is a damsel in distress narrative and Delphi is a hero’s journey, so they are different in that way.


Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to forge some new characters or new chapters for Delphi’s story in the future?


Antwood: I would like to make more if anybody is interested.


Chain D.L.K.: What’s the connection between this release and your whole musical path?


Antwood: After my first two albums, I wanted to work on something less dystopic. The two previous albums came from a place of apprehension and dread about the internet and the future. With Virtuous.scr I was trying to make the music as if it had come from artificial intelligence, and Sponsored Content took place in a glossy, absurd and vacant online world. I think of Virtuous.scr as forward-moving but ending up in a place that is uncanny and inconclusive, while Sponsored Content is static, like a structure with corridors and showrooms rooms full of novelty material for sale. Both were inhuman, and any moments of optimism or honesty were intentionally compromised by the topics they dealt with. Delphi isn’t totally straight forward or lacking any cynicism, but there are moments where it breaks free from that and it can get across feelings that are more hopeful.

Dec 052019
 

The listening of Pip‘s Possible Worlds, the one-take recording (without overdubs or editing) they recently dropped on the SOFA catalog, was a real pleasure to me and I cannot but recommend a check, even if you’re not a lover of improvisational sessions. Let’s discover it and this band by the words of their forgers, Torsten Lavik Larsen (trumpet, sampler, synthesizer) and Fredrik Rasten (guitars, electronics).

Chain DLK: Hey folks! How are you doing?

Pip: Good, thanks! We are looking forward to our concerts coming up in Oslo at the SOFA label night on the 25th of November and at KM28 in Berlin on the 5th of December.

Pip on the couch – OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chain DLK: Some preliminary questions for readers who never met your art… first, as we used this magical tricky word (‘art’), what’s your personal definition of art?

Pip: Maybe something like an activity dealing with an abstracted or aestheticized aspect of our world, allowing us for ways of thought and for experiences that are not directly about the basic needs or about the economy.

Chain DLK: What’s the sparkle that caused the creative fire of Pip?

Pip: A playful exploration of different musical ideas and having quite similar musical tastes have made it easy to work together in this duo.

We went to the same high school and listened to a lot of the same music, mostly the things happening in the Norwegian jazz and experimental music scene at the time (around 2006-7).

After some playing together in a more conventional jazz quartet, we wanted to explore the duo format and more minimal approaches to both lyrical musics belonging to jazz and free-form improvisation.

From there on we have explored many different pathways, often involving playing multiple instruments at the same time – Torstein has combined the trumpet with electronics, small synthesizers or even harmonium, while Fredrik has explored playing more than one guitar, using open strings in different tunings.

We always played with what we had at hand, often things we got cheap at flea markets, like old guitars, toy instruments, Casio keyboards, etc, and included these findings to the core of guitar and trumpet.

In the last years, before the work with “Possible Worlds”, we were working with the basic instrumentarium – acoustic guitar and trumpet, with music, focused on long stretches of sound and on intonation.

“Possible Worlds” is summing up our history as a duo quite well – it has equal parts improvisation and composition, a strong focus on intonation and timbre, and it includes a big collection of guitars, electronics and keyboards played in real-time.


Pip - Possible Worlds from Fredrik Rasten on Vimeo.


Chain DLK: What’s the meaning of the word ‘Pip? Nothing to share with ‘Picture In Picture’ or is there any relation with that acronym?

Pip: Naive enough, the band name is nothing more than the onomatopoetic sound or word for bird sounds in Norwegian. We had an interest in birds and birds singing and in sampling them in our early days. Half-jokingly, but also serious – the band name was a suggestion for the aforementioned quartet we played in, but when the two others were reluctant to the name, we formed our duo with that name. We like that it is simple and derives from a word for bird sounds, although we would probably have come up with another name if we got together for the first time now.

Chain DLK: You existed since 2006, but you weren’t so visible since the last years. For instance, the first time I met your sound occurred when I heard your untitled output on Creative Sources. Did you prefer to stay in the shadows on purpose or is there any other reason explaining the fact your outputs weren’t that easy to find on the surface of the musical oceans?

Pip: I think that up until the last 3 years, when we released the Creative Sources release in 2016, Pip was as much a playground for musical exploration and socializing together as it was a goal to go on tours or release records. But we are happy now to release on SOFA, to play concerts regularly and to reach out a little longer.


Chain DLK: Besides music, how did your friendship start?

Pip: We knew each other a little from before through common friends, but we became good friends when we were at the same music high school in Oslo.

As mentioned earlier, our friendship and the duo project has more or less been one thing, and it is hard to see where one thing ends and the other begins.

Earlier, we always rehearsed at Torstein’s parent’s house, and playing music together was always synonymous with hanging out in a relaxed way, letting the playing and the social interaction mingle seamlessly.

Pip performing in Bergen – courtesy of
Thor Brødreskift

Chain DLK: One of the most fascinating aspects of your recent Possible Worlds is the fact it was recorded in one-take… what’s the main benefit of such a decision?

Pip: I think we have always had as an ideal to record the music as it is sounding in the room, and nothing “more”. That is also a consequence of our work with an extended instrumentarium – we wanted to play the different instruments and sound sources as a big instrument in itself, instead of layering them on top of each other in a recording session. With that said we are not principally opposed to overdubbing and at one point we considered the chance of adding something on top of the “Possible World” take. But it has a nice feeling we think, that what you hear on the record is just the way we played it there and then, only with the adjustments of volumes, eq, etc. that a recording process normally involves.

Another benefit is that we can reproduce the same sound live, without pre-recorded tracks or added musicians.

But to clarify, we did not take one take only, we did three long versions of “Possible Worlds” on that September day last year, and it is the third one that ended up on the record.

Chain DLK: Possible Worlds sound like the meeting of two apparent poles, the American minimalism and Indian Dhrupad music… is such a meeting of Eastern and Western poles the reason behind this title?

Pip: No, although an interesting point! But there are strong influences from Dhrupad and other Indian classical music to some of the American minimalists, as La Monte Young’s and Terry Riley’s music exhibit for instance, so they are not too opposed either, in that sense. The intonation aspect is an important part of the Dhrupad tradition, and seems to have had a quite huge impact and influence on parts of the field dealing with just intonation historically and today, and maybe especially for those following in the tradition of American experimentalism / minimalism.

Composer and violist Catherine Lamb’s music for instance (which we really like), has a clear influence from Dhrupad music, in the way the harmonic and melodic aspects suffuse in a sonic equivalent to light and shade.

The idea was to find a rather simple title that could work well as an overarching association for the music. “Possible Worlds” has both a philosophical interesting content as a metaphysical idea, and it also has some poetry to it in our ears. In philosophy, it has to do with the conceivability of circumstances and their metaphysical possibility. Often, the thought experiments and examples are given in philosophical discourse have a poetic or evocative side, besides also often being rationalistic and “dry” in their motivations or goals.

We think the title works good with the music, and that the piece can be heard as a kind of “world” in itself, with its own logic, form, color, and sound.

Chain DLK: Do you remember your emotional or mental set before and after the recording session?

Pip: Not really, but remember a high level of concentration while playing and in the end a mixture of delight and exhaustion, as well as Torstein’s remark right after we finished the take on the record: “Ooooh (sigh), that was long!”

The place where we recorded, Flerbruket, is a multi-usage space for recording, practicing, residencies, etc, a hours travel outside Oslo, and Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard who recorded is a good friend of us, so it was all a very nice atmosphere.

Pip performing in Bergen – courtesy of
Thor Brødreskift

Chain DLK: Improvisation in Possible Worlds plays a role, but apparently tonal aspect as well…

Pip: Yes, improvisation plays the role that the actual sound-making and the nuances of it is shaped live, and the improvisational aspect allows for a real time interplay that is important for us and our musical method.

The composed aspect consists of a long form of specific musical materials or parts, a tonal system based on 11-limit just intonation, and the instrumentarium of the piece, with two electric guitars, two acoustics, trumpet, keyboard, sampler, chimes, and bells.

It seems like this is a good way of working and common for many groups that exist somewhere between composed minimal music and improvisation – to create a flexible musical pallet by means of composing and improvising collectively.

The just intonation aspect is an important focus in the music. The main chord that we play and improvise on is a Bb-major chord, that is, speaking in harmonic ratios, built up of a 5/4 major third, 7/4 seventh and a 11/4 – approximately a quarter tone raised perfect fourth, as well as the 21/8, a perfect fifth above the 7/4, so a slightly lowered perfect fourth.

We also add chords with other tonal roots, foremost a septimal Eb minor chord, and together the chords create some very dense bitonal clusters. The Bb-major chord in itself also has some quite dense sonorities, such as the 22/21 interval produced by the combination of 11/4 and the 21/8.

We have worked more intuitively with intonation in general for many years and more recent more systematic with just intonation. In a way, JI shows us a very interesting aspect of the sound quality that inherently exists in harmony, in tonal relations, since in the just tonalities the pitches “fall at rest” with each other. You don’t hear the fuzz and beatings that are part of more complex or irrational tonal relations.

The ephemeral quality of working with JI is also something appealing. That the really exact intonation and the sound of it are not easily attained, and that you only find moments of the clarity of these sounds after concentrated searching and active listening.

Instead of thinking that any tonal system or approach to pitch is better than another, we think that a general focus on intonation and the investigating of sound phenomena connected to pitch relations are sources for sonic beauty, and within such a way of seeing the subject, the familiarization with the JI-sounds is a great resource and a detailed referential framework for harmony, both in theory and in our listening experience.

Pip “Possible Worlds” (2019, SOFA) cover artwork

Chain DLK: The choice of the cover artwork seems to feature some connection… the representation of an invention during a stage when the flight was still a dream…

Pip: The cover image is of Fredrik’s father flying his ultralight plane in the early nineties (it might look like a picture from the early days of aviation, but it is actually not!).

We think the picture has many possible links to the music and to the title, Fredrik was (like his father) very interested in airplanes as a child, and the sound of propeller motors resemble the periodic sounds of just intonation sonorities as in our music.

The cover picture has a kind of alienness to it, with the colorful simple airplane, the pilot in the open air and the desert-like airfield. One can imagine someone landing on another planet, another possible world. Also, the act of flying an ultralight plane is a way to shape one’s own world, by finding an alternative subjective sphere or point of view up in the air.

Chain DLK: What’s the relation between Possible Worlds and your previous releases?

Pip: Possible Worlds shares the working with an extended instrumentarium with our first release, a self-released untitled CD-R (2015) that we recorded ourselves at Torstein’s parent’s house. Also that one has a more composed structure, with frameworks for improvisation and fully composed songs mixed together. Our Creative Sources release form 2016 shows our work with only prepared acoustic guitar and trumpet, and has in common with Possible Worlds its focus on timbre and long stretches of sound.

Chain DLK: Any work in progress?

Pip: We have ideas in mind for new music, but nothing concrete yet. We are also living in different cities at the moment as Fredrik is mostly based in Berlin and Torstein in Oslo, so it takes more planning to rehearse and make music together. But we will play more concerts with Possible Worlds in the coming year, and are looking forward to letting it grow further as a piece from playing it live.

Visit Pip website here: www.pipband.com

Nov 262019
 

Following the recent release of ‘Hoarse Songs’ (out on Field Radio), we had an interesting conversation with Andrew Poppy. The multifaceted English artist signed a unique body of work mixing acoustic and electronic sounds with language, visual images and performance disciplines. But let’s get deeper into his experience, his knowledge and his last record through his own words.

Chain DLK: Hi, Andrew! How are you?

Andrew Poppy: I’m ok, and thanks for inviting me onto the Chain. I love that book called ‘The Elizabethan Chain of Being.’ Some of those old cosmological ideas are coming back into fashion, don’t you think?
I’m preparing a new concert program which is music from the new record Hoarse Songs and some things from the back catalog: Matters of Theory and The Amusement. Someone told me you can’t go on the road without playing the hits. Hahaha!

courtesy of Julian Roberts

Chain DLK:  Ooh, I know that! I agree with you! Maybe for younger readers and listeners who don’t know you, before focusing on recent times, do you mind going back in time by talking about your (very interesting) formative years? First, what’s the lesson or the teaching that keeps on coming up in your mind?

Andrew Poppy: Ooh, that’s tricky; it seems so long ago and so many things float up. I wasn’t a very good piano student as a kid. Looking back, I valued learning some basics of notation and keyboard skills. But reading music was always difficult and I preferred to improvise. But then I heard things on the radio: Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, and Cream – Jack Bruce was an early hero – that really got me hooked. So I taught myself the guitar and bass guitar. The physical structure of those instruments is so different from the piano. I mean, how you get from one note to another, it takes you on a different path, and exploring these things for myself was an invaluable lesson. Formal teaching is only ever half the story at most. As a child, we sang hymns in the church; that was a lesson. I listened to music on the radio and bought records. That was another couple of lessons. Sometime in the late 60s, I realized there was a whole load of experimental music out there. It was hearing records of Stockhausen and Terry Riley who opened my mind to things. Then, in the 70s, I started getting into playing notated piano music and had some brilliant teachers and played Bartok and Debussy on the piano, which taught me something else. As a music student at Goldsmiths, I organized performances of Riley In C and gave some amplified solo piano performances of Music in Fifths by Philip Glass. That taught me so much about how time and repetition work both in composition and performance. I feel I’ve come full circle somehow. When you study music and want to explore it as a composer, it’s easy to think that this is a different thing from being a songwriter. That it’s mutually exclusive. In some ways it is, and in others, it isn’t. But for me now, Schubert and Purcell have become models, inspirations, some kind of lesson. They both wrote instrumental music and fantastic songs. The new album Hoarse Songs is about the way that one thing moves into the other. That they can co-exist.

Chain DLK: I read you also wrote the awesome orchestral parts for Force
The Hand of Chance, the debut release of Psychic TV. What can you tell us about that collaborative experience?

Andrew Poppy: It’s a funny thing, but when the phone rang and someone said ‘I’m Genesis P. Orridge,’ I knew who he was. Not from Throbbing Gristle music but because I’d seen some of his collages in an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London a few years before and knew he was making performance art of some kind. When I was at Goldsmiths, I’d been very interested in how visual collage moves into performance art and how John Cage (who I met later) used those ideas in music. This is way before sampling, of course. Collage and repetitive patterns meet inside poetic processes. I think about collage as connected to variation forms in music. It makes a formal element out of the texture. Have you seen those great photographs from the 60s of the British painter Bridget Riley in her studio? Even though the painting will eventually be repetitive shapes and paint, she is prepping the work with bits of colored paper. Minimalism can seem reductive, cool and formal sometimes, but it also has a strong relationship to the color, the fun and immediacy of Pop. That’s much clearer in visual art than music, perhaps. Warhol, Gilbert, and George; it’s sampling and repetition. Gen and Sleazy had just started to work on the first Psychic TV project. We met at Trident studios in Soho, London which also happened to be where Some Bizarre Records was based (Soft Cell and Matt Johnson’s The The were also on the label). They’d just been having a conversation about guilt and were working on one of the tracks which became Guiltless – which Marc eventually sang on. They gave me a cassette of rough versions of things. I think they had heard some of my music ‘Matters of Theory’ perhaps or ‘The Object is A Hungry Wolf,’ which are both quite orchestral in a way. And Wolf is a kind of cut-up and collaged set of variations on Reich’s pattern-making ideas. What was great was that they talked to me as a creative artist about the concept of the project and were very open to what I might come up with. We talked about Morricone film scores and TV theme music. I suppose my starting point was the orchestral pop of John Barry and Spector productions but in a more punky, messed up way, more Charles Ives.

Chain DLK: Interesting! Any words about that brief, but intense project named after Magritte’s painting, The Lost Jockey? Why did that experience have such a short life?

Andrew Poppy: That was before the PTV project. When we started in 1980, it was great. When we played, all five of us were connected to the pulse. The first concert was at the Air Gallery, and we played music by Glass and Reich and Cadenza for piano and electric piano, a piece I’d written the year before and had performed a few times with Helen Ottaway and Jeremy Peyton Jones in Regular Music. It was important to me that the music connected to the spirit of what those Americans were doing. That meant keeping away from the academy and the precious rituals of classical music that are about deference and playing with amplification: mixing electronic instruments with acoustic instruments from classical and jazz textures. It meant directly engaging with the general public. Rainbow in Curved Air was on CBS Records and got played in people’s living rooms next to records by Pink Floyd and Soft Machine. I sent info and cassettes to Time Out and Melody Maker, and they wrote stuff. It started something, but not everyone in TLJ wanted that. It became too big and chaotic. So I left before it broke up and people went on to different things. I’m still friends with some people from back then. Both Schaun Tozer and David Owen played on live versions of 45 Is and The Amusement when I had the 9-piece band in 86/7. And I recorded Cadenza for piano and electric piano with Glyn Perrin for The Beating of Wings.

Chain DLK: How would you describe your relation with ZTT Records? Do you think they made some mistakes?

Andrew Poppy: I remember it being a great time of creative energy and enthusiasm. It wasn’t always a breeze, but you work through those times. The record company, the recording artist, the composer, the musical performer and the audience all have different expectations of what music or an album has to offer. I was experienced, self-contained and very motivated, and no one really expected me to have a hit. So I probably had an easier ride than some of the other artists. Maybe ZTT’s regret was that I didn’t write an O Superman. I was signed for five albums but only got to release two. Things would be different if I’d been able to see it through. The company went into meltdown for a while in 87/88. But I saw Trevor recently, and he told me he still listens to The Amusement, the single from Alphabed! That’s some kind of endorsement. If you listen to The Beating of Wings and then Alphabed, something happens. I am still getting very positive reaction about those records, and a couple of years ago a theatre in Liverpool asked me to make a live show of The Beating of Wings. (By the way, the remastered box set of my ZTT work includes the unreleased 3rd album. And I put a long gap between the original tracks and the extras so you can get the idea of where each album ends. Of course, all that goes out of the window if you’re listening on iTunes or Spotify.) When I signed to the label, I already had more than 2 albums’ worth of material demo’d. Things were starting to develop. I had a track on the Touch cassette label, tracks on both Lost Jockey releases and contributions to 2 PTV albums and the Strawberry Switchblade album and a few other things. I’d been making pieces with my own 8 track tape machine for experimental theatre projects with Impact Theatre Co and the ICA theatre, plus a couple of contemporary dance scores including Netherland Dans Theatre. EG and Cherry Red Records were interested in what I was doing. So it was a busy period. Mistakes? The short answer is: I stand by the work. Looking back, it seems I wanted to make records as some kind of hybrid of the composer and record producer, and ZTT was the perfect context. Trevor, Paul and Jill trusted me to get on with it, so all the creative decisions on the records were mine. One of the first conversations I had with Trevor was about what Tomita had done with Debussy. And Steve Lipson encouraged me to buy a computer and a sampler so that I could do what I wanted to do with the Fairlight but in a ‘hands on’ kind of way. I was lucky to have amazing engineers and great studios to work in, and I tried to do something with it.

courtesy of Julia Bardsley

Chain DLK: Have you ever thought after re-listening to something by yourself, ‘I should have done better?’

Andrew Poppy: Always at the end of a project I want to just never hear it again. If you are thinking this in the middle of working on something, then it’s about not hearing what it is that’s actually happening. It’s a disappointment or frustration that the thing that is emerging is not what you want it to be. It’s resisting you. But that can be destructive. You can end up unraveling the whole thing you just made or started to make. Or you rebuild the piece and end up with two pieces from the same starting point. That often happens. Revolution by the Beatles, ok, it’s the same lyrics and tune, but it’s a different piece. Track 6 on Hoarse Songs is ‘What Is This Place.’ There was an earlier version. Completely different music. But something about it didn’t feel comfortable, not in an interesting way at least. So I started again. But the lyric developed by working on the first piece. So maybe I had to write it twice to write it once. There’s a kind of entropy involved in the creative process. The initial, often euphoric pleasure of discovery or invention fades and you are left wondering if it’s rubbish or not. Dylan talks about this. He says that once you are inside writing something, you have to get out. Otherwise, it will drag you down. But do you have a specific track in mind? What is ‘better’? In what way? For sure, I’m always editing, but that’s part of making anything: intuition and reflection bounce off each other. Pieces get fixed if they are completely notated like 32 Frames for amplified orchestra. But I can make a dub version like The Impossible Net in the studio and unfix it. For me, there is always the composition and performance. The composition can be written and fixed in one way or it may be fixed in performance if I’m working in the studio in another way. The life of the moment also controls so much composition; when it’s getting written, it doesn’t really belong to the composer. It has a life of its own that has to be given its head.

Chain DLK:Would you say that improvisation played some role in your musical research?

Andrew Poppy: Absolutely. It does for everyone! But improvisation in a composition is more like the intuition working something out and in performance, it’s a convention within a style or genre. A composition is more than a written-out improvisation. The playfulness of improvisation moves into an analytical phase and then back to playfulness again. Although writing things down or recording something can be analytical in some ways. Track 9, XY Song, started from a percussion improvisation, but not in a soloistic way. It was about establishing a simple pulse, just with handheld percussion, a textured pulse. Other things developed out of that. The throbbing synth was a different kind of textured pulse; the filter is always changing. The melodic music emerges out of the pulse. The bass guitar is also texturing the pulse. It’s what happens in so-called minimal music: Glass, Riley, Reich, Disco, Techno. It’s a way of thinking about repetition. Pulse.

Chain DLK: Compared to – let’s say – 30 years ago, how did your approach to composition change?

Andrew Poppy: It’s not linear. In recent years, I’ve gone back to pencil and paper and working without any technology. Only the piano and my voice. I’ve written a lot for other people’s voices but only recently decided the performing voice was my own. When I was making the Alphabed album at ZTT, in ’86, I worked much more with technology and the studio, using notation to work out and control structural things and all the patterns but leaving room for the orchestration to develop in the studio. And I wrote parts for the voices of Annette Peacock, Ashley Slater, Udo Schupflug and Shelia Smith. By contrast, almost all the pieces on The Beating of Wings are fully notated concert works written at the piano and the desk. The orchestration decisions are made as part of the writing process. I would sit at the desk and imagine/hear what the brass might do at a particular point and write it down. The exception is Listening In. It’s a kind of passageway into Alphabed, that piece. The demo was made with a Dr Rhythm drum machine, Space Echo delay, Sequential Circuits Pro One monophonic synth and a Wurlitzer electric piano and my voice. The demo became a kind of sketch, and for the album I completely reworked the Dr Rhythm patterns with my own percussion samples triggered via Linn drum machine. A rhythmic part that originally had one sound now had 6 sounds and became melodic somehow. But after the ZTT time, in the early 90s, I no longer had access to studios and budgets, so I went back to writing with pencil and paper and wrote things like the Poems and Toccatas for violin and piano. Released on the Recordings album.

I think those ZTT albums set that pattern of to and fro. With Hoarse Songs, the new record, there are different processes for each of the 10 pieces. Some more acoustic and others with keyboards and synths and more textural than composed. But things are fluid. Practicalities mean that a piece like ‘What Alice Said’ is unlikely to get performed in its album form. It has a string orchestra plus 2 Flügelhorns and bass guitar in addition to the voice and piano. But I’ve made and performed a version of it which is just voice and piano. That might be a different piece, then? The album is framed by piano pieces but I’m fascinated by color and texture, so synths and saxophones, samplers and string orchestras are equally provocative. Orchestration is a sensibility as well as a skill. I try to get the balance right and have a taste for it, I think. There are different instrumental combinations that I’m drawn to. Track 6, Riderless, has five different synth/keyboard parts plus the voice and two trumpets and two Flügelhorns. I don’t know where that came from; it’s not very generic but I think it works.

Andrew Poppy “Hoarse Songs” cover artwork

Chain DLK: I really enjoyed listening to Hoarse Songs… Can you introduce it in your own words? How does it connect to your previous outputs as Andrew Poppy?

Andrew Poppy: It’s very connected to the previous two records: …and The Shuffle of Things and Shiny Floor Shiny Ceiling and, in a more subterranean way, to opera projects from the 90s like Ophelia/Ophelia, Uranium Miners Radio orchestra Play Scenes From Salomes Revenge and Baby Doll. Why did I want to make an opera in the 90s? I think experimental theatre and performance art is the opera of the modern world. It has come out of how performance reacts to film and recording technology. Making and listening to records puts the performance in a strange position. It’s uncanny. The whole period of 80s/90s I was trying to understand how records and recording and live performance related. Something in me wants to queer the classical music ritual, the concert hall, and the opera house. But I don’t want to try and rehash the performing image and mythologies of ‘the band’ as an alternative. Making a recording is a form with multiple performer-less playback existences: on wax/radio/digital streaming/CD/whatever. An infinite number of individual stagings by whoever happens to be listening intentionally or not. But if a recording is not a representation of a band, ensemble or orchestra playing, then something else has to happen in the space of performance. The problem is how to design a performance that is appropriate. For me, this has been the point where ‘a theatre of musical performance’ needs to be conceptualized and designed. A theatre in a performance art/ John Cage sense, some kind of intermedia composite of music, poetry, visual art and drama. It’s best summed up by Cage when he says something like: ‘Music – the imaginary separation of hearing from other senses – does not exist.’ Which sets up the idea that everything is connected to the theatre of the moment. For me, it’s connected to the way poetry messes with words; its something about the way that language forms and music forms overlap. With Shuffle and Shiny, the two previous albums, I’m exploring the idea of being a songwriter as much as a composer and placing my own voice and texts in there. On Shiny, I’m having a dialogue with 6 other voices. In some ways, it’s an opera for seven voices and I’m a narrator suggesting a world from which emerge six ghostly characters. It may be clearer if you see the show or have the physical record and engage with what is suggested on the sleeve. But the new album, Hoarse Songs, is the first time that I’m singing all the songs, and this seems more directly connected with the contemporary world of songwriting. To make a generalization: unless it’s based in 19th century theatrical forms, I think an audience wants the embodiment of a single authorial voice. Even if the singer hasn’t written the songs, the lead singer is an unbreachable role. It’s interesting thinking about the problems of hybrids like the Who’s Tommy.

Is it a band’s album or a musical or opera? In its original form, the overriding image of the band, The Who, contradicts the characters that are necessary to make a traditional drama read. The whole thing seemed cumbersome when I first heard it compared to Dylan’s Isis or The Jack of Hearts. Through the progress of the Hoarse Songs record, the voice becomes more involved with some kind of narrative use of language. So Track 2, Wave Machine, is the most abstract using just two words of the title, then moving gradually to Track 6, What is This Place, which is the most suggestive narratively, and then by Track 9, XY Songs, and Track 10, Hoarse, it dissolves back into exploring the resonance of the single units of language itself. Mike Barnes in The Wire says Hoarse Songs is a song cycle although it’s got three instrumental tracks or rather three tracks without words. I think the idea of ‘the album’ has been very important to my generation. Although it’s there in the 19th Century with Schubert, and Sinatra and Nelson Riddle were consciously making ‘albums’ in the 50s with a sustained mood and thematic. But it really takes off in the 1960’s with Sgt Pepper setting out the operatic possibilities of the 45-minute space in 2 acts. It also has something to do with the two sides of the vinyl record. Turning it over. Managing the mechanism of the vinyl record player was a kind of ritual that initiated us into the musical experience. It created a narrative or quasi-narrative form. Listening to albums as a whole journey is like the way people see a movie. We’ve all got busy lives, but when we commit to the 75-90 minutes in the theatre or film theatre something happens to our attention. Listening to a track on headphones in a noisy bus is great, but it’s not the whole deal. On an album, each track has a specific place. The sequence. Even the tracks you don’t like have a place. After Radiohead’s The Bends, which is a kind of perfect rock album, OK Computer seemed lumpy on first listening. It’s got the musique concrète piece Happy Fitter and the piece they wrote for Baz Lurman’s Romeo and Juliet film, which doesn’t feel like the band somehow. But if you stay with it, everything makes sense. I like this movement: a disruption that folds back into the story (or net or grid) of the album. Everything I’ve done is connected to this idea of moving away and looping back. The track Listening In, it’s very disruptive on The Beating of Wings. But its an essential part of the story that may not be obvious if you’re scrolling through iTunes or Spotify. Having said all that, I’m pleased to say Hoarse Songs is the first album I’ve made where people tell me its great for listening in the car. I love that!

Chain DLK: Starting with the heart-moving piano piece called ‘Song Tide (interrupted)’. How did you arrive at this decision? Why is it specified that it’s interrupted?

Andrew Poppy: It’s an interruption because the record is a song cycle, but Song Tide is not a song. Because the album is mostly pieces with vocals and everything is trying to become a song. The tide is coming in. It’s interrupted because Song Tide is not a song, but it is melodic, so it could be one. Write your own lyrics and sing. Or hum along, perhaps! Song Tide (interrupted) is Track 1. It’s a kind of overture.

Chain DLK: Andrew McNeill described Hoarse Songs as “a kind of cosmic, metaphysical waking up echoing the quest of Solaris.” Do you agree with his words? What would you add or specify?

Andrew Poppy: Andrew is an amazing musician and was very enthusiastic after the first performance of Hoarse Songs. He really got the whole arc of it. He said it’s a journey into space, but not physical space. I really value his enthusiasm and these thoughts. The connection with Tarkovsky is flattering of course, but the poetic melancholic beauty of Stalker is definitely something I can relate to.

Chain DLK:While listening to your album, I had the feeling you put questions to the listener without providing explicit answers. Would you say the same? Will the listener find answers in the music?

Andrew Poppy: Exactly, you could say the same of Stalker. Yes, some of the answers may be in the music. A language question answered musical, sonically, an abstract response, a gesture. Asking questions can open up a space to travel in. I like musical experiences that are immersive but where I’m free to explore the sounds and their movement and meaning. I would like to offer that to people in what I do. A question builds a frame. A question with one answer or only a limited number of answers makes a frame that’s like a trap. But most music and poetry are open; it’s undecided or hidden or unknowable. Track 5, What Alice Said, is a Romance based around the conversation of a number of couples where one or both is an artist of some kind. It’s a trigger or a kind of sampling. You immediately have a character in play, in your head, especially if they are iconic like John and Yoko, or Alice B Toklas and Gertrude Stein. But you won’t know all of them. And some names you may know, but know nothing about them, like, say Mozart. The listener makes the details of the question for themselves. The reality is that these people were/are private individuals as well as characters in a drama. How can you know what Alice said to Gertrude?

courtesy of Julia Bardsley

Chain DLK: Track 9, XY Song, is one of my favorite tracks… Someone can imagine those words as ex-wife/ex why! Jokes aside, what’s the idea behind it?

Andrew Poppy: Yes, making your own connection and story, you just proved what I was saying. It can be all the things that pop up into the mind, everything you can possibly imagine it to be. (Which is not the same as ‘any old random thing goes’.) It’s a vibration that travels out from the music and travels out from the listener to meet somewhere. Another way to think it is this. X and Y sit next to each other in the 26 letters of the alphabet. They are numbers 24 and 25 in the sequence. They are framed by the 23rd letter, which is W, on one side and Z, the 26th letter, on the other side. Like the bits of a DNA code, the letters are always bumping up together, repeating and trying to escape the pull of gravity. There are different types of gravity. The gravity of language: word forms and grammar. Another type is the gravity of the alphabet. Jasper Johns might see the way that G falls to F and then E and D and C and then B and then A, which is some kind of beginning of the chain. Harmonic gravity, rhythmic gravity and formal gravity are the things that you work with as a composer. How to move, how to get away, how to get back home. The Elizabethan Chain of Being reappears as a DNA chain. And the lyric of Track 9, XY Song, is connected to Track 8, Cyber Spark, with the idea of bits of cyberspace colliding without breaking, unlike flesh and blood which is always transforming in an organic way, like love. And yet, some of the developments in bio-scientific knowledge have played into the changing ideas about the body and sexuality, don’t you think? What it means to be male or female isn’t what it was. We think differently. When Prince sings, “let a woman be a woman and a man be a man,” it drowns in irony.

Chain DLK: Any word about collaborators?

Andrew Poppy: Lots of old and new friends have made generous contributions to the project. There are 10 musicians and 10 video artists involved in Hoarse Songs, and there is a story with each of them. But here’s four of each. Samuel Hallkvist, the Swedish guitarist, plays on a couple of pieces: What is This Place and Cyber Spark. He’s one of those guys who can be wild and noisy and then beautifully controlled and melodic all in the space of a few bars. I meet Cassie Kinoshi a while back, and we’re both Fela fans. She’s a hip young composer and bandleader who has just been nominated for a Mercury. She plays Saxophone on Track 4, Downside Up, and Track 2, Rainy Must Kiss Everybody. I’ve previously worked with Greek Harpist Maria Christina on a kind of music theatre piece that Julia Bardsley and I made called Jason and Medea Go Boating. Maria plays an amplified harp on Track 3, Wave Machine, and Cyber Spark. Then there is Gabriella Swallow, a classical cellist who has been working in the studio with Bryan Ferry by day and playing Scarrino and Julius Eastman by night. She plays an electric cello on XY Song and Track 4, Downside Up. We met a few years ago when she played some of my Poems and Toccatas in a duo with percussionist Gen Wilkes. Near the end of recording the album, I had the idea to commission different artists to make videos for each of the tracks. Julia Bardsley is a constant source of inspiration, and we have worked together in many different ways over the last 30 years. She is an extraordinary maker of performance and installations and made the XY Song video and something for Rainy Must Kiss Everybody. In fact, some of the visual texture for the XY Song comes from a show we did together called Improvements on Nature. Simon Vincenzi is an old friend who makes uncompromising theatre and visually striking performance work. He made the most trippy abstract video for Track 6, Riderless. You’ve got to see it to believe it! I met the fashion designer Julian Roberts in the 90s. Then we lost touch until recently. At first, I asked if he’d make me some kind of garment for XY Song. Then I remembered that he is also a video maker, so I asked if he would do something for Track 7, What Is This Place. He made this enigmatic red ‘gown dress’ and shot a video on Worthing beach with me in it. Julian has a completely original way of designing clothes and has just done a lecture in Australia about how he made that garment.

Chain DLK: The release was premiered at The Barge House performance stage in London. Is it going to reach other stages?

Andrew Poppy: I really hope so. Its performance form can change depending on who is hosting. There have been three different versions so far. The first was with all the videos with inter-titles, live mixing but more like a cinema experience. We did this as a cast and crew type performance at the Hitchcock Theatre, Queen Mary University in London, and then at The Barge House in Haggerston, which was the first public event. The second version at Liverpool Capstone theatre we did with all the vocals and piano live with some playback mixed by Fred de Faye. We’ve also played in Lisbon and Athens. I would like to do it with the 10 musicians as on the record. But I am realistic and practical, so there is a version which is just me and the piano. So I’ve been giving a few concerts for friends: Intimate Salons, completely acoustic! Music without electricity. I didn’t know it was possible. And then there is a quartet version with vox/key, electric guitar, electric cello and harp that’s happening at a festival next year.

Chain DLK: Any other work in progress?

Andrew Poppy: Always so many thoughts for new projects. A new piano piece happened last month, not sure if it’s finished. But Hoarse Songs certainly isn’t finished and I’m excited that it’s getting positive responses in so many places. There is a complete set of videos to air and shows to play. Looking forward to all that.


Hoarse Songs and previous releases available at http://www.andrewpoppy.co.uk/FIELD_RADIO.html

Sep 232019
 

“The Greek word daimōn derives, through the Persian dēw (…) from a probable Sumerian original *DA-IA-U-NA , meaning “having power over fertility”. The demon thus had the power of affecting, for good or ill, birth and death and the various stages of health in between. The medicinal drug had similar powers, and the Hebrew word for ‘be sick’, dawah , and its cognate noun in Arabic meaning ‘medicine’, come from the same root. So the demon of health and sickness and the drug are radically one and the same” . This is the interesting explanation of the word DAIAUNA by John M. Allegro in his essay, “The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross: A study of the nature and origins of Christianity within the fertility cults of the ancient Near East” (2009). A word that has been chosen by composer, DJ and producer Hüseyin Evirgen aka Magna Pia as a title for his recent album, recently out on Berlin-based label Feral Note. Let’s check why and let’s discover this interesting sound artist through his own words.

Chain DLK: Hi, Huseyin! How are you?

Magna Pia: Thanks, I’m fine. I hope you are too.

Chain DLK: Can you talk to us about the way you started getting interested in electronic music? Any eureka moments or inspiring artists or scenes that sparked this love?

Magna Pia: I think my interest started around 1988 with Acid House. I was a 10-year-old kid back then. I used to love to dance to this music, and I was really curious how they made the sounds. I started playing the piano with 7, and I was always interested in different genres. I played in a metal band as a teenager, and that later on turned into free jazz. My taste in music became more and more abstract. So I think that’s why I eventually got into electronic music. Artists like Goldie, Photek, Aphex Twin and Autechre influenced me a lot in the 90s. At some point, I realized that techno is one of the most abstract forms in the music.

Technical side of the story: I didn’t grow up with a computer. I bought my first computer when I was 17 years old. A friend told me that I need to spend a lot of money on the audio interface. I got a Roland Rap 10 audio interface and this came with some DSP software. A few of my friends who played instruments would come over to my flat to hang around and I used to make them play some sequences, record them with a cheap mic and process the sounds later. I think this is how I started making electronic music. Later on, I studied composition at the University Mozarteum in Salzburg and there we had a very professional studio and lots of courses to attend.

courtesy of Gözde Güngör

Chain DLK: What are the images, the thoughts or the emotions that electronic music manages to render against other musical genres or styles?

Magna Pia: For me, electronic music is not a genre or style, it’s rather a medium. As a young artist, my comprehension of abstract music was not fully developed yet. It used to be easier for me to comprehend the content if I imagined massive landscapes. With the acoustic instruments, you are always limited to the physical surrounding and the skills of the performer. I’m not saying it’s better or worse; both mediums have their own plus and minus. As I got into electronic music production, I somehow realized that I’m finally not limited to the room around me or the human performing skills as much anymore and I can create those massive landscapes just as I want. I think this is the first difference that comes to my mind among many others.

Chain DLK: According to your discography, your debut came out on Ed Davenport’s imprint, but it’s pretty different from what you do now… Can you tell something about that release, your expectations after that output and the meeting with Ed?

Magna Pia: Well, it was the first release as a solo techno artist after years of producing, releasing and touring with Cassegrain. Alex and I made so much music together over the years that I had the need to get back to solo production, make my own individual techno and play it alone on the stage. Ed is one of our dearest and closest friends. It seemed like a good idea for me to give it a start within the family.

I don’t really agree that it’s so different from what I do now. My focus is still in techno. Daiauna is a very special album for me. But I don’t necessarily see it so differently than the techno music I make normally. It might not include any straight bass drums but it’s still full of techno aesthetics. It is definitely not the music for the peak time in a club and also not for after hours. But it’s maybe the music you could listen when you get home with your lover after a long club night.

Chain DLK: Your interest in ancient cultures and myths is even clearer on another output, Artemisia… How do you pour such an interest into music?

Magna Pia: I think many aspects of the way I grew up made me feel different than the surrounding people. I always needed to imagine about the ancient and the far future to be able to understand, embrace and fit into the reality of now. Also, we all carry thousands of years in our DNA and we still have no clue what we are, how we ended up here being so different than the rest of nature and how we used to live even a couple of thousands of years ago. The more I dig into history, the better I understand the society we’re living in.

I also worked a lot in the theater; I wrote and directed several pieces which were combining ancient practices and futuristic science fiction ideas. Maybe this is where the idea behind my alias comes from. Magna Pia is a fictional character for me. Definitely female. Maybe living sometime between 1000 BCE and 1000 CE, possibly an amazon warrior or a shaman. 🙂

Chain DLK: What’s the origin of sound or music according to all the myth of your studies or readings? … And according to your beliefs?

Magna Pia: Nature.

Magna Pia “Daiauna” cover artwork

Chain DLK: Let’s finally focus on Daiauna… Before focusing on single tracks or some technical aspects, can you tell us something about the source for inspiration? Did the myths and deities you mention relate to personal events or feelings that occurred during the making of the album?

Magna Pia: I made the album in a very emotional phase of my life which I’m still not fully out of. I had limited time to make it; I closed myself into Feral Note Salon pretty much 24/7 for two weeks due to my residency there. I barely left the studio. I decided to make the music only for myself without caring about my stance in the techno scene and my background as a new music composer and pianist. I wanted to be honest to myself. I also limited the gears I was working with and I remember that the first thought I had in my mind was not to touch the drum machine. I somehow managed to get really high over two weeks by only diving into the music very deeply. I spent a long time on the post production but almost 100% of the musical material was made within those two weeks.

The possibility of the word “Daiauna” being the origin of the words “demon”, “remedy” and “drugs” has a very personal meaning for me. Maybe the demons inside us are made of the same substance which can help us to get rid of them. And I came across this while I was researching and reading about fertility, sexuality and the use of drugs in both ancient and still existing religions. So if you would like to look for some special meanings in the titles, you need to look carefully into every myth and the deity using these keywords. And this, of course, relates to my personal events and feelings just like everyone else’s.

Chain DLK: I noticed the almost ritual use of percussive elements along with the whole album… Did you use traditional drums or percussion?

Magna Pia: There’s absolutely no recorded drum sound in the album. There are two sound sources for the percussive elements: One is the noise generator of the module called “Warps” by Mutable Instruments running through lots of effects, and the other one is the muted strings of the piano.

Chain DLK: Did you try to mediate elements from ritual or folk music in any of the tracks of Daiauna by chance?

Magna Pia: No, I never do that. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been interested immensely in the non-western musical traditions. I think what you hear is a general influence of that, combined with my microtonal ideas and the ritualistic elements coming from techno.

Magna Pia “Tocharian Love” from DAIAUNA (2019, Feral Note)

Chain DLK: The title of one track quotes the mysterious extinct Indo-European linguistic and ethnic groups known of Tocharian… What can you tell us about them? What did you try to render in that track?

Magna Pia: My mom’s origin is Uyghur, coming from Kashgar which is now in Xinjiang, China. I have a strong connection to the culture and the history of this region and the Tocharian culture is still a big part of the cultural influences there. I also believe the separation between east and west as we learn at the school is something made up artificially somewhen in recent history.

But if you would like to know what I really wanted to render in this track, we would need to down several shots at a bar first.

Chain DLK: The track named ‘Giants’ and its mysterious halo let me guess you believe in the theory of Annunaki, ancient cosmonauts and Nibiru, don’t you? Would you say that your music somehow mirrors the disquieting question that many men keep on not asking to themselves about the origin of mankind and the manipulation behind religions?

Magna Pia: No, I don’t believe in those things. I’m just aware of them and I’m interested, but I’m generally a skeptical and curious person. I pay attention to the esoterics and the conspiracy theories, but I never fall into those blindly. I see those things rather as artistic inputs. I do love the ancient Mesopotamian aesthetics and the whole sci-fi aspect when you dig into their religions. And I believe many civilizations had some kind of connection with them in history. But there’s no way that anyone could know what really happened back there. I’m just trying to read between the lines and try to make the connections between eras to make some sort of sense of the world we live in right now.

The track “Giants” is a trip in a tunnel. It’s just me trying to reproduce musically what a portal might be.

Magna Pia “Giants” from DAIAUNA (2019, Feral Note)

Chain DLK: How do you recommend enjoying your release?

Magna Pia: Completely up to the listener. But some people told me that it’s good to listen to it when you travel.

Chain DLK: Are you going to turn Daiauna into a multimedia experience? Did you bring it on live stage?

Magna Pia: I already played two debut live gigs this summer in Berlin. First one was a peak time techno set only with hardware at Berghain. The second one was Feral Note’s release concert at St. Elisabeth Church with a grand piano and electronics. Both really different experiences. With techno, you need to open yourself to the crowd, but to play the piano in front of an audience, I needed to close myself completely. I would love to expand this setup for Daiauna with a visual artist in the future.

Chain DLK: Any work in progress?

Magna Pia: I will just concentrate on making more music in the next months, for both Magna Pia and Cassegrain. I’m also looking forward to having more Daiauna gigs with a piano.