Watch: Kvien & Sommer “Kwan” (exclusive)

24 Jun 2015 — Henning Lahmann

Kvien & Sommer is the collaborative project of two highly acclaimed Norwegian musicians, vocalist and improviser Mari Kvien Brunvoll and composer/multi-instrumentalist Espen Sommer Eide. We're not sure if Weathering, the duo's four-track mini album, is a one-off affair or even the result of a set of spontaneous creative impulses. But it certainly reaffirms Karelia-based imprint Full of Nothing's position as one of the most adventurous and forward-minded cassette labels out there. Described as containing "four broken suites for voice, modular synthesizers, bagpipe and various sound objects", Weathing is an unassuming yet subtly bold collection of contemporary exerimental music. Of all tracks, "Kwan" is the easiest to access upon first listen, a quiet, pensive movement focused on a fractured rhythm pattern, with melodic fragments merely insinuated at most. The piece only reveals its hidden marvels when taken together with the accompanying video by Piotr Pajchel, an equally abstract series of circles and grainy waveforms in black and white. Watch it below.

Weathering is out now on Full of Nothing. Get the cassette over here.

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Interview: LYKANTHEA

23 Jun 2015 — Henry Schiller

In her video for "Parturition" ambient artist Lykanthea walks slowly from an ancient Etruscan burial ground before settling in the sea. The mythic, almost otherworldy video is fitting: The Rome-based Chicagoan, whose real name is Lakshmi Ramgopal, wrote much of the EP Migration while studying ancient ruins on the remote Greek island of Delos.

Last week I spoke with Lykanthea over email about her time spent on Delos, the Sumerian mythology that inspired her EP, and the difficulties of pursuing a music career and a PhD at the same time. Check out the video for "Parturtion" below, and read my interview with Lykanthea after the jump.

 

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To start things off, I’d be interested in learning a little more about how Migration came together in Delos. Was there some point in your time there when you decided to record the EP, or was it something you had been thinking about beforehand?

When I went to Delos, I was in the early stages of researching my dissertation and needed to visit the island to study and photograph some of its archaeological ruins. I had decided even before I left the States that I wanted to start writing my record while I was traveling, so I brought a tiny Akai midi controller with me to Greece. I would get up at 3am in the morning, thanks to jetlag, and fiddle with the controller while I sang into my laptop until the sun came up.

How much of the EP would you say was recorded on Delos? How much of it was put together when you got back to Chicago?

The record was written and recorded all over the place - on Delos, in Athens, in Chicago. "Telos," which I wrote almost in its entirety on Delos, remained the least changed throughout the writing, recording and mixing process. I spent a lot more time agonizing over "Aphonia" and "Hand and Eye," since I spent months rearranging and rerecording them in Chicago. In the end, everything came together at different times and places. For instance, I didn't touch many of the low-fi vocal takes I recorded with my laptop mic for the demo of "Telos," since they included quirky little ambient sounds that the mic picked up from the chair I was sitting in while recording. But I replaced the original vocal parts in other songs with studio retakes in Chicago. That's also where I added guitar and live drums.

How did the experience of being in such an isolated place influence the songwriting? Did it push the record in a direction that your music may not have been going in before?

I'm sure it did. I didn't consciously set out to write a dreamy, inward looking album, especially since my old band wrote electronic dancepop. Initiating my first solo record while living alone on this rocky, raw, mostly uninhabited island put me in a mindset that helped me go deeply inward in a way I hadn't experienced in songwriting before. That mindset stayed with me for a long time after I left. I think it's what made the album's world feel so complete in the end, at least to me. And maybe even a little solipsistic. I'm speaking to myself in it because I'm alone.

In addition to being almost uninhabited, Delos is pretty famous is Greek mythology as the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo - I was also curious as to what kind of influence mythology might have had on the record.

The Sumerian story of the goddess Inanna is the original inspiration for a lot of the ideas contained in Migration. Inanna is described as a terrifying force of creation and destruction who voluntarily makes her way to the underworld and is then involuntarily held there against her will. The process of entering and finally leaving the underworld changes her, since it forces her to confront her weaknesses, her dark sides. I was immediately drawn to the Sumerian myths that frame these ideas of birth and death, of claiming yourself despite yourself. I wanted to build on their narrative structures and symbolic language to make myths of my own.

Is an interest in mythology what lead you to graduate work in Classics?

Actually, no. I've never been that interested in Greek and Roman gods. I headed to a grad program in Classics because I'm a historian at heart. I want to know what people did and why, I want to know how they come to understand themselves. Mythology definitely plays a part in self understanding. But for me, it's the people, not the gods, who pull me in.

There have been a couple of other artists who have balanced very interesting recording projects with academic commitments. Do you think there’s anything about the academic lifestyle that contributes – positively or negatively – to your work as a recording artist?

I'd say there's plenty of good and bad. Being a grad student has given me lots of freedom to decide when and where I do my work. I've been able to spend a lot of time on writing music and touring in addition to being a researcher and teacher. It's amazing to be able to do that. Plus, my academic field allows me to travel, and that travel changes me and gives my music a lot of texture.

But it's also hard being an academic and a musician. Plenty of academics think that peers who use their time for serious, non-academic work are unserious about their academic work. I've received comments about this throughout graduate school. That's really hard, to feel like you can't be yourself in a community you're part of, to feel like you have to hide an essential part of yourself.

Do you have a community of artists – removed from the graduate community that you’re a part of -  that you work with frequently?

I do! Musicians and designers and artists, many in Chicago and the rest scattered around the world. I know a lot of them through social media networks, and those relationships have yielded a lot of amazing collaborations, like the capsule collection with Hvnter Gvtherer and the video with Krist Mort. These relationships have been so creatively nourishing. They've pushed me to keep raising my standards and also defy any instinct to fit into any particular genre, musical or otherwise. It's important to work with other people, otherwise you get stuck in your head and develop an ossified way of thinking about things.

Speaking of your work with Krist Mort: the video for “Parturition” was shot in an Etruscan burial site at Orvieto – how did the two of you decide on that particular location?

I've been drawn to the textures and gloomy interiors of Etruscan tombs since I first visited them in college. They have a weird, alien quality, maybe because they're architecturally less familiar to people than, say, Roman ruins. They immediately came to mind when Kristina and I decided to shoot the video. Since Migration deals partly with the idea that we emerge from phases in life as new people, I wanted to shoot at a necropolis, which literally means "city of the dead." Our original plan to apply for a permit to shoot at a site at a town called Cerveteri. The permit was rejected by the division of the Italian archaeological commission that runs that site, probably because the video has nothing to do with Etruscan archaeology. So then we applied to shoot at Orvieto. Amazingly, the request went through.

You just played a spate of shows around Europe – what kinds of recording software and audio devices are part of your live repertoire?

My live shows are mostly improvised versions of songs from my album. I do a lot of singing, which I loop heavily and run through a mix of EHX and other pedals. I also play synth parts with a midi controller hooked up to my laptop, use backing tracks and play a guitar with a cello bow. In the past I've performed with choruses, clarinetists and violinists onstage, and I'm hoping to make that a more permanent thing. Having more people onstage makes the music bigger, more texture, more energized.

 

Stefana Fratila “Tugging”

22 Jun 2015 — Henning Lahmann

According to herself mainly considered a performance-based artist (check out her incredible and important live piece "no history" over here and make sure to read the accompanying explanation), Romanian-born and Vancouver-based musician Stefana Fratila released her latest recording Efemera right in time for summer solstice yesterday. The ten-track work explores intersecting narratives of noise, electronica, and psychedelic pop, all interwoven within and across the individual tracks. Some parts are dominated by straightforward 4/4 beat patterns, while others meander along seemingly unstructured washes of sonic interference. "Tugging", which you can stream below, lies somewhere in between: built around an intricate rhythm that slowly dissolves into a house-informed beat, the song is mainly carried by Fratila's layered, deliberately salient vocals. Originally recorded years ago and then revisited earlier this year, it would be interesting to reconstruct the individual steps of the song's evolution.

Efemera is out now on Trippy Tapes. You can buy it on cassette and digitally over on bandcamp.

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Watch: Katapulto “Blue Eyes” (exclusive)

22 Jun 2015 — Henning Lahmann

There are basically two ways to do an Elton John cover. You can either make an attempt to out-romance the master himself, in which case you should ensure that your video involves tiny cats and Super-8 videography. Or you try something else, like going all meta for instance. Enter Bristol-via-Poland artist Wojtek Rusin, whose work as Katapulto has been described as "kinda like a brighter, ostensibly straighter adjunct to Autre Ne Veut", a comparison not necessarily obvious (or convincing) if the two didn't happen to be championed by Olde English Spelling Bee, still one of the most important underground labels of the last five years. For "Blue Eyes", a song taken from his recently released full-length Powerflex, Rusin not only reinterprets the original itself, turning it into the greasy synth anthem John actually should have come up with in 1982. Almost carrying the joke too far, on top of that he encroaches on the video, extracting the original's overblown white grand piano and presenting it in glaring high definition, before rather literally deconstructing this ultimate symbol of decaying pop grandeur.

Powerflex is out on Olde English Spelling Bee. Get it over here.

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Review: Good Moon Deer “Dot”

22 Jun 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

This past April, at a small venue in downtown Reykjavík, Icelandic producer Good Moon Deer's live setup looked misleadingly straightforward. A small table housed all of the equipment from which Guðmundur Úlfarsson played tracks off his newest album, Dot. He stood perpendicular to the audience’s gaze. To his right, and directly opposite where I sat, a video projection of ballerinas’ legs in faded VHS colors seemed to dance oddly along to the mechanical commotion.

Úlfarsson bounced. Each touch to his equipment seemed a touch of destruction. With every tap, the beat fell apart, the strings splintered, vocal samples abruptly ended. He bowed his head with every stride from right to left, delighting in the tumult he seemed to so easily generate with a touch of the finger. The disorientation was thrilling. And perhaps the only experience that compares to watching Úlfarsson break things apart live is listening to his debut LP, Dot. Ominous and brooding and yet bright, Dot is an opus of the Internet age.

Úlfarsson's background as a graphic designer, and more specifically a typographer, seems worth mentioning. Dot is designer's album, though not in the sense that it flashes or bedazzles. It holds to a minimal aesthetic, though not in the sense that it lacks. Admittedly, words seem to fail me as I attempt to arrive at what it is that Dot does. It is negligent but not under-done, it is ominous but not evil, it is masculine but feminine like a ballerina all the same.

There are eight tracks on the album, each one word long. Strung together, the track-list reads: And be gone after karma run love under. Strung together, these eight words seem to issue a warning, about the inevitable death of love in the face of insurmountable karma, the blindly ruinous forces of nature as they topple over the hopeful intentions of the human heart. Of course, I don't mean to suggest that Úlfarsson planted this message in his track-list, but only that the statement, "And be gone after karma run love under," seems to come from the same world that the album does – a world that is ruthless in its adherence to order (read: composition).

Úlfarsson gives vibrancy to techno, bringing the genre into dialogue with the more contemporary, if nostalgic, synth-pop sensibilities of producers like Nosaj Thing, Shlohmo, and Caribou. Úlfarsson is cautious, however, to conjure up the desolation of tech-age without resorting to the familiar sound of retro-irony. Make no error, Dot is playful, but it isn’t subversive. It merges the bright and the dark, the organic and the mechanical, without giving way to either one, without declaring a winner. It poses a question without succumbing to the pessimistic answers of apocalypse pop.

Part of Úlfarsson's success with this debut album owes to his skillful use of the human voice. On the seventh track, "Love," the bass line in the introduction threatens to evolve into an outdated bossa nova ballad. That is, until a disorienting child-like voice eliminates all hope for easy listening. I found myself laughing all through Dot, especially in moments like these – though here I mean laughing with Dot and not at it. The album has "just kidding" moments sprinkled all over it – moments when you think you know what will happen next, when you say to yourself, "Oh, I understand what's happening here" only to have your expectations dashed by atonal vocal arrays: the sound of karma eventually wreaking its havoc.

Naturally, what is most powerful about the notion of karma is that it is immeasurable. In fact, the saying, "Karma's a bitch" is founded on the false assumption that you can track the karmic outcomes of your actions. Instead yogic philosophy tells us that it is impossible to determine karmic end-results (making the concept all the more terrifying). In the same way, later tracks on the album seem to signal at earlier moments, seem to suggest a cause-and-effect relationship, but never answer the question definitively. The last track, "Under," features decorative flourishes on the piano, just as the first track, "And" does. But the parallel is not so neat as that. "Under" is not a reprise, and in fact the very idea of a reprise – which merely reiterates what has come before – is foreign to the universe of Dot. There are only incomplete connections here, only a riveting simulacrum of the chaos of daily life.

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Reanimator “Damaged Bads”

20 Jun 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

Pure abstract electronic music. That's what this full length brought to you by faceless duo Reanimator references: Mouse on Mars, aspects of David Morley, and maybe even DJ Soulslinger. Timeless though it seems, there is a cleanliness to Damaged Bads that simulatenously defends its accurate context of production. Tinkles, thrashing doodles and blasts, as well as familar bass breaks are the meat of this work, one which equates to a serial statements made in a foreign, esoteric language (hence the straightforward reach to abstract electronica). The album is somehow full of personality yet one you can't put your finger on. Dense, dissonant, and aggresively harmless, one might suggest that the best occasion for such a listen is when feeling delightfully insane and anxious free. Maybe something like drinking gin with old buddies from your comp science program you attended at whatever state university. 

The Community Library label is run by Paul Dickow (aka Strategy) and David Chandler (DJ Brokenwindow). You can check out their lean yet attractive discography here.

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Watch: The Horn The Hunt “My Face In Your Eyes”

16 Jun 2015 — Andrew Darley

After a winter spent in Greenland in 2008, Clare Carter and Joseph Osborne decided to try writing music together. The couple’s experiment revealed a creative spark in songwriting and sound crafting. Channeling the genres that inspired them, their band The Horn The Hunt crosses electronic, rock, folk and pop. Now on their fourth album, Wovo, their songwriting has only grown in strength. Both sonically and vocally, they have become more distinguished and tighter as a unit. Their new single "My Face In Your Eyes" highlights their ability to play with restraint; its soothing synth melody rocks back and forth as Clare’s voice heralds the joys and pain of togetherness with others. Its accompanying video sees their live band perform in an unassuming British club hall until there’s only one member left. The video is dedicated to their bassist, Ian Smart, who passed away earlier this year. 

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Interview: GABI

12 Jun 2015 — Zachary Taube

I first listened to GABI’s Sympathy on a ride around Berlin’s Ringbahn. It was one of those bright-yet-cloudy Berlin afternoons where you’re not quite sure where the sun is, and you’re overwhelmed with just how white the sky can be. Sympathy is equally overwhelming; nine tracks of elegant, sensitive, whimsically explorative and intuitive composition, drawing upon an amalgamation of genres ranging from orchestrated minimalism to experimental pop, electronic composition, Balinese gamelan and arcane folk.

GABI aka Gabrielle Herbst is trained in both composition and vocal performance, and it shows; she breaks the voice apart, down into its most basic elements, and composes from that point of reference. Sympathy is less about what Herbst sings (her lyrics are sparse, minimal, and at some points nonsensical) but about how she sings it. She truncates the voice into short bursts or articulation, hocketing with nothing more than a short expulsion of breath to form a skeleton around which the rich fleshiness of her cry, the anxious hesitance of her stringed orchestrations and the eeriness of distant percussion can wrap.

I sat down with Gabrielle a few hours before her recent show at Acud in Berlin to talk about Sympathy, intuitive composition, longing and synesthesia. Check it out below.

Sympathy is out on Software.

Photo by Amanda Hatfield.

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Your music is compositionally very vivid and ethereal. How do you experience music? How do you want people to experience music and how do you want people to experience your music?

Well, I guess that I have a lot of different influences. I come from more of a classical background, so I myself have a really strong, deep background of studying classical instrumental music, and then studied composition at Bard with Joan Tower and also Marina Rosenfeld and Zeena Perkins, who was a visiting professor at the time. So that’s a huge influence for me, as well as all kinds of world music growing up, pop and rock, pretty much everything was in our household, folk, Americana. So for me music is, simply put, music is music, you know? And I like to not pay attention to thoughts of genre while I’m composing. Though I’m really interested in music that has a conceptual intellectual framework that drives it, my music does not have that, so I like to compose from a really intuitive place and write music that just particularly speaks to me. It's either something that I want to hear or something that, you know, really describes the state that I’m in at the moment or a feeling or a vision that I think is really inspiring in the moment and share that with people. I want people to go into a state when listening to my music and it's not really meant to be…well, it can be anything.

Of course it can be anything.

I hope that it kind of engulfs people in a sensual way and creates a state and mindset for them that maybe brings them to new thoughts or new feelings of themselves.

Sympathy especially feels like such an organic album. I was listening to it and hearing all of these influences, from Bjork to Reich to John Adams, especially when the songs really start to break down. What’s your process of composition?

Well what you were just saying, you know, [is that] the music has a lot of abstraction. But it's very deeply personal, so it’s sort of meant to be – not even meant to be, it became – a state of mind. As an album, it’s a state of mind, it's very organic to me, it’s very intuitive. How do I compose? Well, it really depends on the project. I also compose in a more classical vain, and I wrote an opera last year which was a fully notated score for a chamber orchestra of singers. That was composed in a way where I notated every single instrument. It was a very…classically composed piece, very set-- a set narrative and language for the conductor to take and work with the musicians and pull it off in three rehearsals, because everything’s there in the score.

With this album it was much more…there are certain notated sections and a lot of un-notated sections…I wrote most of the songs from a place of exploring my voice, not sitting at a piano and writing down specific notes, but experimenting with electronics, my voice and my pedals…my really simple loop pedal, and sort of creating layers and sounds I was drawn to and realizing that with my self, you know, I could create such a huge sound. And so that became the palate of the album, me exploring new terrain with my voice in solitude. And then I brought those songs to musicians who I work with, my band right now, and I said – or I notated – certain things. I arranged parts for them from a very vocal intuitive off the page free form place. So, very different. I have two sides to myself…there’s Gabrielle Herbst and then there’s GABI. And they’re different mindsets. I think they influence each other quite a bit, but they’re different personas.

The whole project is shrouded in a very specific aesthetic. Everything is coated in this whiteness and this purity. How much does visual culture play with your music, persona and (alter) ego?

When I’m composing, I see things very visually…I see music.

Are you a synesthete?

I don’t really know, I do know that when I listen to music I see different colors and work from that place, so music for me is both felt and seen. It’s like vibrations in your body and visual fantasies. So visuals are super important for me always, but visual culture I think is…in the age that we live in now is a huge component of getting to know a musician and understanding and connecting with them. I’ve been working with Allie Avital Tsypin, who’s a really close collaborator, and it’s nice to work closely with someone who really understands you and your music. It’s nice to have that relationship when creating visual elements to the music. I want to go much further with the visual components of my live set.

There’s so much longing in Sympathy, especially in the last three or four tracks.  There’s this ache in it that’s so painful on one hand, but on the other it’s almost sublime. Do you feel like Sympathy wants to ask questions or to provide some sort of answer or closure or resolve in that longing?

I think both. It’s interesting that you brought up the idea of longing, because that’s really true. There’s a lot of that feeling in the music, but that sublime element that goes along with that is this sort of realization that the pleasure doesn’t exist without that pain and you need the two to define each other and you need the one to know what the other means. That’s the sublime uplifting nature of the longing, is to realize that it needs to exist and to indulge and have a catharsis and take it as it is and give it…accept it. That’s something that I sort of found for myself through the album that I hope can reach other people in the same way and [be] pretty uplifting for them. And, in the same way, I love the idea of people enjoying it, getting into a state while listening to it that is exploratory for themselves and brings them new sensations or new questions and is ultimately a soothing and loving experience.

You’re opening for David Longstreth soon at David Byrne’s Meltdown. That’s a pretty big deal. How’s it feel to be recognized as a peer in such an early stage of in your career as GABI? What’s next other than finishing up this European tour? Are you touring the States? Are you recording more? Collaborating?

Kind of, all of the above…I’m doing some collaborations, various ones, that are in the works or starting, so hopefully those will emerge soon. I love collaborating with people and interpreting their music with my voice, it’s really exciting. The dates in August are being set right now, so there will be another European tour around those dates. And we’re playing some US dates this summer, and a bigger US tour in the fall. So yeah, I think that the live show is a really important way to reach people. And I think where the label and I were prioritizing that as a way to connect with people. As you’ll see at some point, the live set is actually a really different experience than the album, which it always is with bands, but I think with this case performance is really important to me, a big part of reaching people. So, a lot of performing, and I’m already thinking about the next record. I’m really excited to write it. It’s not there yet at all, but I’m already, you know, imagining songs and thinking about new songs and we’ll probably start trying that in later shows, because that’s so much fun.