dirk serries' microphonics at Roadburn 2013 by Jan Kees Helms 4

Before he coined the term “ambient music,” Brian Eno released an album called Discreet Music. Inside the 1975 album’s liner notes he described listening to a record of harp music at an extremely low level. It was a serendipitous event. “This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music – as part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of the rain were parts of that ambience,” he writes.

Dirk Serries happens to be an electric guitarist who shows a profound understanding about this notion. The Belgian-based artist has experimented with ambient music for over 30 years. He released his earliest work behind the pseudonym Vidna Obmana. His latest work is a sort of return to Vidna Obmana but informed with a subtlety that only comes with his growth as a musician who has spent decades exploring his craft.

Some might find this music so spare it may seem undeveloped, but it’s quite realized in its subtle quietness. Serries avoids hooks, and there is little sign of sentimentality in his music. Serries returns ambient music to its discreet origins. This month saw the release of three ambient records by Serries on limited edition 180 gram vinyl. The pieces are unedited, live run-throughs meant to fill up a side of a vinyl record, released on the boutique tonefloat/ikon imprint. Visit this website to stream all six pieces in their entirety and learn about ordering details: tonefloatikon.bandcamp.com.

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The album titles are all “Streams of Consciousness” followed by varying numbers. For instance, the first release is titled Streams of Consciousness 130806. The names of the individual instrumentals, however are more evocative. “The Illusion of Sense” opens the first release. It starts with what feels like an almost orchestral swell for a couple of notes. It almost feels like the notes are prepared to take off in a rhythmic dance. However, the piece reveals itself as something else as the volume slowly rises and something much more minimal comes to light. It is composed of a throbbing whine and a distant response from a slurred, falling note. The pattern repeats at a hypnotic, slow pace until it gradually fades away, at about 20 minutes in. It’s the perfect introduction to the sonic world of Dirk Serries.

Not much changes across his pieces, as Serries seems much more interested in creating atmosphere over melodies. “Harmony is an Effect” takes up the second side of the first release. It is composed of what sounds like a distant horn cutting through the gloom of a fog that gradually morphs into a bright, shimmering piece.

Streams of Consciousness 131006 opens with “A Ghostly Apparition,” which reveals how Serries can play with high-pitched notes yet remain unobtrusive. As soon as the music enters the high range, a series of lower notes drone below. The high note is hardly ever allowed to differ in timbre or duration. It appears with the routine quality of an oscillating fan, melding into the background. The dynamic comes from the varied lower notes, which throb, hum and shimmer like the sparkle of light on the undulating surface of a night-drenched ocean.

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With “An Ideal Opposite” on the second side, a minor key progression is revealed during a very slow fade-in on sighing electric guitar strings, as an undulating chorus of shimmering chords seem to tug at each other, taking turns between silence. They blend closer and closer with each refrain until they overlap into a cozy union of chilly yet luscious harmonies that ebb and flow with a random quality that speaks to the nature Serries reaches to capture in his unique orchestrations.

Streams of Consciousness 131106 starts with “Principle Origin,” which sometimes features a distant trickle of falling or climbing notes that appear with little pattern. It could also be composed of a sustained howl. This is the audio-hallucinogenic effect of Serries’ music. It does not drone. It has a verve of randomness, despite its lulling quality. Finally, “Faith and Reverence” appears as one sustained stroke of the guitar, shifting low and disappearing. It returns again and again, only a tad louder each time.

The hypnotic nature of Serries’ music comes with time and restraining anticipation. It’s all about a delicate touch that never disturbs between sound and silence. Though improvised, it’s carefully crafted work. I was keen to tap into the mind of this musician from Belgium, and I reached out via email with some questions. I was grateful he was game to entertain my queries and also share some images of the vinyls which were just released:

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Hans Morgenstern: So, I was looking into your history, and I see you have been at this for years. Have you made a career of it?

Dirk Serries: I believe the only thing I really succeeded in is to establish myself as a willful artist with a persistence to move forward, explore and expand my own specific sound palette.

Over the years, I met pro and contra and despite some bigger success in the mid ’90s, I never was able to make a career of it. But now with almost 30 years of baggage I’m really proud of what I managed to build up and the music I’m currently focusing on.

From the time you’ve been going, since the mid-80s, how has your approach to this ambient music changed?

I always have been pushing the boundaries on what ambient could be to the disappointment of many followers back then. The world of ambient music is a pretty conservative one, as from the moment you’re exploring new elements criticism was to follow soon. It’s therefore that I deliberately moved away from making ambient music per se. I never shied away though from incorporating harmony, mood and expansion in my music, but it surely was different, and a break with the ambient circuit unavoidable. But with the re-installment of the tonefloat:ikon label, I returned to the harmonic spaces I was known for in the late ’80s, early ’90s. The current experience and maturity made me recapture the ambience with solely an electric guitar and a few pedal-effects, while back in the days, I needed a stack of synthesizers and outboard effects to create those spaces. The fulfillment now is bigger, more intense and rewarding.

What to you is special about droning music? Where do you find the pleasure in performing it versus listening to it?

I don’t know really. I hardly call my music drone music either, as I feel it’s much more. Each piece is a moving canvas where layering timbres, shifting harmonics and subtle dissonances meet each other or not over the course of numerous minutes. It’s just that breathing quality that is so essential in ambient and minimal music. For me, personally, it’s precisely that process that draws me to this kind of music. Focusing on just a few configurations of notes but working towards a maximum effect in atmosphere, emotion and construction.

The music I make now is all about performing real-time and this is exactly where you get so in tune with how the sound moves, modulates and expands. Listening to what comes back, interact [with it] but most of all anticipate without playing those unnecessary notes. It truly heals, guides you to focus and makes you enjoy the effect of each note, no matter how sparse and minimal they are.

dirk serries' microphonics at Trix 2013 by Benjamin Van der Zalm

What ambient/drone music do you enjoy listening to and how do you listen to it? Is it accurate to call it musical wallpaper?

I hardly listen to ambient or drone music, and the ones I’m currently listening to and enjoying, although not sure to use this label, are Duane Pitre’s Feel Free, Cory Allen’s The Great Order and Richard Skelton’s Verse of Birds. I feel it’s absolutely not correct to label ambient or drone musical wallpaper. With good ambient music you actually need to listen closely and attentively to discover its progress and subtle changes, but I can relate to the fact why most of the people call this musical wallpaper. OK, there’s music out there that only serves the purpose of being background music, but the music I perform and listen to demands much more from the listener. Therefore, with the current improvement of vinyl quality, I decided to release this new series of minimal music exclusively on vinyl. The format does demand more involvement of the listener and therefore avoids the risk of having the music being used in the background. It’s sort of re-educating the listener to the point of going back to where listening becomes discovering.

You ask that the music be played at a low volume. What does this do to affect the listening experience?

Simple, because it was made that way. The tonality, the combination of the harmonies and the slow-expanding nature of the sounds is especially made for listening to on lower volumes. The low volume accentuates, to my ears, the movement of details, particular notes and tones that move in and out, appear on the surface and fade out. An experience that would be less effective if played louder. Another option is the headphone, as it’s combination with playing it on lower volume results in discovering the full sonic pallet.

Hans Morgenstern

Visit the following website to stream Serries’ latest sonic experiments and learn about ordering details: tonefloatikon.bandcamp.com. These records are limited to only 99 physical vinyl copies each.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

20130612-ovalfreeThe other day, thanks to a friend, I took a trip down memory lane listening to some early music that would later come to define a movement now often referred to as “glitch” music. A pioneer of this once obscure and now quite influential music genre, Oval, real name Markus Popp, had just released much of his back catalog as free album streams via bandcamp.com (link).

Characterized by rhythms and melodies that appear on an almost subliminal level, Oval’s music stands as something beyond gimmick. It’s the aural equivalent of art that looks better from the corner of the eye. Forced attention makes the music seem jarring. A casual listen, with the mind preoccupied on something else, like writing, enhances the experience. It is then when the music expands and swells and breaths, shimmering with a life inequitable to traditional music. These are the unseen atoms of life that barely hold matter together made manifest as sound— almost a portal to another dimension sprung to aural life. In turn, put it on some headphones and look out at the world, and you might feel a strange disconnect, as if everything has turned noisily silent. A fellow blogger paying tribute to the music Oval admitted he finally “got” Oval after having his wisdom teeth pulled out and taking painkillers (read the blog post here).

The notion of glitch music comes from its source: samples of damaged sound sources like CDs and records. It’s the skips in the disc or the hiss of surface noise that interest these artists. They then process them into subtle rhythmic and melodic patterns on a computer. The first I ever heard of anything like this was on Tortoise’s 1995 post-rock masterpiece album Millions Now Living Will Never Die (you can read a thorough review of that album here: Albums that have stood the test of time: Tortoise – ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ [1996]).

Popp was the sole figure behind Oval when I first met him on tour with fellow Thrill Jockey Records label mates Tortoise sometime in the late 1990s. Markus PoppI had a chance to watch him work his magic on a MacBook on stage during soundcheck at Club Firestone in Orlando, Florida, and I introduced myself. This may have been one of the first times I had ever seen a musician work solely on a laptop, and I was skeptical but also curious how he employed musicianship via this tool.

Standing over his shoulder he showed me how he moved tiny midi files into an array of folders, in effect turning the craft of mixing into a performance. I recently got back in touch with him via Facebook, and he reminded me, “That was SoundMaker, an OS9-only shareware app made by a dude from Italy. Parts of the workflow still unrivaled today.”

I’m not sure if I reviewed his first album for Thrill Jockey, Dok, before or after this meeting. Regardless, I had been impressed by it. I wrote the review for the record collector’s magazine “Goldmine.” I had been the go-to guy at to write reviews for some of the more difficult to classify music, and Oval’s 1997 album Dok was one of those albums that required my attention.

I have dug up my old draft of that review. Save for a couple of spelling errors this is what I handed in to my editor:

Oval Dok album artOVAL
Dok
Thrill Jockey (THRILL046)

Presented in layers of hushed, yet dense sounds, Oval’s latest release, Dok, feels like the soundtrack to a dream.  The surreal music sounds as if it were coming through walls or from down the street.  Like clouds drifting high overhead, it’s music appreciated from afar.

“Lens-flared Capital” opens Dok with thick layers of harmonic hiss and fizz, creating a sound one might hear in the deep, suffocating stillness of the ocean, while the hum of a raging tsunami echoes in the distance.  The album is filled with lush soundscapes that rumble along quietly with the threatening potential of explosive character.  On most of Dok’s tracks, melodies, driven by bells, ring under rumbles of dissonance, while unintelligible voices loop and fade in and out among layers of whispering static.

On earlier recordings, the Berlin-based Oval scratched records and marked CDs with paint to create a pallet of sounds to work from. To create Dok, Oval’s third album, Tokyo-based “installation artist/sound designer” Cristophe Charles, who has two doctorate degrees in music, provided sounds from his travels to foreign towns— particularly the sounds of bells among everyday noise.  Markus Popp, Oval’s sole member, took Charles’ clatter and processed it with loops and tones to create musical collages of sound.  The sounds are so thoroughly processed that the only true noises one can distinguish are the chattering voices that appear from time to time.  The resulting tracks are soft, yet luxuriant, ambient pieces that aren’t as difficult to listen to as the concept seems to suggest.

Ultimately, it’s the sound of this album that makes it worthwhile.  Its modest 45-minute length transports you to another dimension of sound, where environmental noise becomes music, but you don’t have to be John Cage to appreciate this record.  Rather than wading in self-indulgent noise and sound freak-out, Oval does what so many ambient artists overlook: add a depth to found sounds through conceptual pieces that are pleasant to listen to.  Eat your heart out, Brian Eno.

“Eat your heart out, Brian Eno.” Lol. Some nerve, but at that time, Eno’s music was not treading such pioneering ground as Oval. It was an utterly refreshing re-invention of ambient music that I can still appreciate. Popp’s a true music pioneer with a firm sense of the independent ethos. He has agreed to answer some questions regarding his thoughts on his peculiar brand of music. Come back to “Independent Ethos” for that exclusive interview in the next week or so.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Pulido performing in Deep-Surface. Image courtesy of the artist.Gabriel Pulido, aka Gabó, will once again bring his unique ambient music stylings to a silent film at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. Last year, Pulido produced an experimental score of electronic noise for the silent surrealist film classics by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age D’or (1930) at the cinema (Gabriel Pulido brings soundtrack craft to the early films of Luis Buñuel). But now his visual will come from a decidedly different, though no less pioneering cinema artist: Buster Keaton.

The slapstick comedy of Keaton offers very different imagery from the surrealist works of Buñuel. However,  Pulido states via email from his new home in New York, this does not mean either artist does not cross over into territories of humor. Keaton, Buster (Navigator, The)_01“Even as The Buñuel films I did music for had a comic edge, Buster Keaton has his unique universe,” writes Pulido. “Musically I am trying to cross the original (played in theaters back then) music’s melodic and harmonic language with kitsch seventies and eighties raw synthetic sounds. Those old Casiotone rhythmic machine sounds might also show up!! It’s going to be fun.”

Pulido has put in some impressive work— once again— in studying the film he will score, Keaton’s 1924 sea-faring adventure the Navigator. “I’ve been watching the film several times, spotting the important moments and moods, analyzing the existing music, and writing some ideas on different synth sounds for different registers (bass parts, mid-range, etc). I am also creating motifs to the main characters. I basically create frameworks and sound palettes with which I can play live.”

Pulido will appear for one night only at the Miami Beach CinemathequeThursday, Dec. 6to offer his distinct musical stylings to a screening of the Navigator at 8 p.m.

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

I do feel it seems rather pointless to reissue music largely produced on computer via vinyl record. Vinyl is an analog medium, after all, and there is little nuance in digital work to merit a release in the format. However, one of the greatest works of the nineties electronic age had to be Aphex Twin’s “self-titled” album, Richard D. James. It was a thing of subtle, strange beauty, far beyond samples and electronic noises (see how well it was received).

Warp Records recently reissued the 1996 album by the one-man electronic music artist from the UK as a digital download (access previews and purchase them here). Nov. 26 will see a 180g vinyl reissue.

I still have the advance CD release Sire Records sent me to review ahead of the album’s original US release date. Below you will find what I turned in to either “Jam Entertainment News” or “Goldmine Magazine” (can’t remember who I even wrote this for!). I still stand by it (though, if I could, I’d tweak the language, but for the sake of posterity, I’ll allow my original text from 15 years ago stand). I’m glad to see this album has held up so well over the years…

APHEX TWIN
Richard D. James
Warp/Sire (2-62010-P)

Aphex Twin’s latest release, Richard D. James, offers more of a listening experience than most monotonous, beat-driven ambient albums ever have; yet it still stays true to ambient’s definitive elements.  Electronic beeps and whines, along with computerized jungle and break-beat rhythms are sill ubiquitous, but shifting melodies and animated instrumentation are at the forefront, adding new life to an ever evolving music genre.

Aphex Twin is actually a solo artist, whose real name happens to be Richard D. James.  James had always been interested in electronics since he was a youth.  A dropout from London’s Kingston Polytechnic, James turned his knowledge of circuitry into music in the mid-80s and has worked under such aliases as Polygon Window, Caustic Window, and GAK, among others.  But James is best known for his work as Aphex Twin, having achieved number one indie status in Britain with his last release, and US major label debut on Elektra, I Care Because You Do.

Richard D. James is a departure from the grandiose arrangements and high concepts of  I Care.  James goes for a more intimate feel by mixing homemade electronic gear with organic instruments and adding vocals, making for one of the most charismatic albums the new ambient scene has yet to offer.

The album opens with an ethereal, electronic wash of strings, propelled by a beat that’s light but furious, all the while a shivering melody weaves along between the contradicting sounds.  On two occasions the beat falters, and voices can be heard muttering in the background as if they’ve opened up the hood of a car to see what’s wrong, and the song kick starts again.  As an opening track, “4” sets the mood of this human electronic work nicely, showing us that computerized music needs to stop and catch its breath once in awhile.

Opening with an analog hiss that rips into an effervescent electronic pile of melodies, “Fingerbib” abandons the superhuman rhythms with a decidedly archaic yet bountiful ambient tune that could have come out of the ‘70s.  Speedy rhythms still prevail on most of the tracks, though, but other departures for Aphex Twin are in store.  On “Milkman” and “Beetles” James sings.  The lyrics don’t seem to say much (“I wish the milkman would deliver my milk/in the morning/I wish the milkman would deliver my milk/When I’m yawning”), but they actually carry some weight as minimalist concepts, conveying a deeper emotion, which might even impress followers of Brian Eno.

Maybe his claim that he hadn’t even begun listening to music until after he started creating his own seems far-fetched, but there is no denying the Richard D. James is an original.  The subtle power behind his self-titled album cannot be denied.  With it James can sway critics of soulless electronica, while still pleasing fans of ambient, trance and techno.

I make a brief reference to Aphex Twin’s prior album, 1995’s …I Care Because You Do. That will also see reissue by Warp (see here). Here are the mock-ups on vinyl:

I would also like to add a note on one of my favorite tracks off the album, which I only touched on in the original review, noting how it seems to harken back to the seventies. The reason I stated that “Finger Bib” could have come out of that era is not only due to its slower beat, but also that it specifically threw me back to a rare instrumental track by David Bowie, “A New Career In a New Town,” off his own masterpiece of an album, 1977’s Low. Both tunes have a bounding, hazy quality recalling the twilight of a new day. It’s a wonderful, mesmerizing moment that offers a nice downshift to the plethora of “breaking” beats that often appear on the album.

Richard D. James holds up better than ever in these days when computerized sound manipulation dominates much of the pop charts. I felt a bit ambivalent to a music termed IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) back in the early nineties, a genre defined by artists like Aphex Twin. Back then, I measured music against seventies art rock by people like Brian Eno, Cluster, David Bowie and King Crimson. Now, Aphex Twin is part of a music past of comparatively artistic proportions. These albums certainly merit a revisit on vinyl.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Spielberger has returned with a brand new album, and the duo has added guitars and drums to their wash of ambient noise. Where 2011’s Chrissie’s Last Swim existed in a world of droning hiss and white noise, Jazzy features driving rhythms and enthralling guitar showmanship. The product of Miami-based musicians Bert Rodriguez and Ed Matus, the duo’s third album kicks off with a grand statement, as far as the presence of these two new instruments in the Spielberger mix.

“Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone” opens with the roar from a strike to the hot strings of an electric guitar, responded to by the growl of a bass. The instruments sizzle for a couple of seconds in that classic charged reverb only electric guitars can make before the musicians take off, following the thud of a kick drum and clang of a high hat. After a few bars of swelling chords, the rest of the drum kit comes to life and a melody of muddy reverbing guitars tangle and bound along in classic post rock fashion. Almost halfway through the piece, the groove seems to freeze and echo, as the drumming disappears. Throbbing in place for approximately another two minutes, the guitars emit roars and growls that seem impossible to create by the strokes of the strings, recalling shades of the earlier Spielberger. The piece sways and throbs in mid roar, as other sizzling drones grow almost exponentially, spinning off from the array of notes, throbbing, shrieking and pulsing at their own pitches and echoing at various tempos. The drum kit comes alive again with power and zeal, snares, cymbals and all. The shrieks of the ambient drones grow higher until they seem exorcised out of the piece, and the melody returns. After a few bars, the guitar breaks away to slowly start a solo that turns into a frantic pummeling of strings in an aggressive tremolo. As “Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone” grinds to its end, the strings seem to emit little electric speckles of reverb, like the remnants of static hidden in a wool blanket.

The track makes for a thrilling opener to an album firmly in the contemporary world of post-rock, while still reflective of its early roots in minimal ambiance. It marks a positive sign of evolution for the duo. However, as Rodriquez reveals, do not call this a departure. “Actually, the first track, ‘Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone,’ is literally the first song we ever wrote together,” he writes via email from his new home in Los Angeles. “We put it aside because we hadn’t built up other tracks that related to it. The whole album is really the result of several jam sessions we had from before we even released the first EP [“Music for Cruises”]. Almost all of the tracks on this record came from those sessions. I guess we’ve been working on this album from the beginning of our relationship together.”

So guitars do not mark anything that new for the duo, as Rodriguez tells it. “We both play guitar so, whenever we got together, we would plug them in and just write parts until things fit together. We were also constantly experimenting with affecting the guitar sound.”

As described in my earlier profile on this band (Spielberger hold torch proud for ambient music), some moments of Chrissie’s Last Swim, composed mostly through altering sounds on an iPhone app called Mixtikl, sounded like electric guitars. However, the sound of contact between guitar string and pick seemed missing. “We were really obsessed for a while with trying to make the guitars sound as little as a guitar as possible,” Rodriguez states. “I wanted to be able to play guitar but have it sound like a synth.”

Though Spielberger mutated the sound of electric guitars into something original on Chrissie’s Last Swim, it was the first step toward the new album. “That experimentation really helped us find some pretty interesting sounds that you can hear on the record,” Rodriguez says of Jazzy. “In fact, now that I think of it, almost everything on this record, even the two ambient tracks, were created with guitars.”

In a recent phone conversation, Matus says the two recorded the album just as Rodriguez was in the middle of moving to LA, but the mixing took a while longer. Matus notes that it was also important to get the drums sounding realistic, though no real drumming took place. With Jazzy’s rollicking opener, one can practically visualize a drummer raising his arms as high as possible to beat the skins, however, Matus, says, it’s all computer-generated and very carefully produced. Matus had already turned artificial drums into something primal and real-sounding in the past. “Ritual #1,” an instrumental track on the final album by his previous project, the Waterford Landing, In The Heart Of Zombie City, features some nightmarish rhythmic pounding of something akin to an indigenous drum accompanied by tambourine, echoing through what sounds like a giant room inside a derelict building of some wasteland as some alien, mechanical screeching echoes in the background (stream and download the album here). It’s a visceral moment on that final, grand album by the Waterford Landing (also worth checking out is the Bay City Rollers meets chill wave number “Soft Revolution [Blue Flames]”).

Matus says some of the ideas for the pieces off Jazzy came from he and Rodriguez improvising together on guitar. The title track began with the simple, soft pulse of an electronic click track, he says. Matus starts it off with a luscious, grooving but repetitive guitar line and Rodriguez comes in plucking his part out, dropping down the guitar’s neck, like a series of soft, dripping bits of rain on a window’s edge. They wrote the piece as such: two guitars tangling together. They later added bass and rhythm, a move that might seem counter-intuitive to many musicians who piece together music via overdubs while writing or recording. “I don’t think I’ve ever recorded a song like that,” Matus says, “to just plug in our guitars and see what happens.”

Though ambient music pioneer Brian Eno was a major inspiration for the two earlier Spielberger albums, this one features the influence of another pioneer and cohort of Eno’s in the prog rock world: Robert Fripp. When asked about the similarity of “Jazzy” to the work of Fripp with Andy Summers in the early eighties, Rodriguez embraces it as a high compliment. “That was definitely an inspiration, without a doubt,” adds Matus. “A long time ago, when I first heard that stuff, I always thought it was so alien and otherworldly.”

“Jazzy” also found a life outside the album thanks to a famous beer company, and Rodriguez’ higher-profile reputation as a contemporary multi-media artist. Beck’s commissioned Rodriguez for part of its “Artist Series Bottles,” alongside M.I.A., Freegums, Geoff McFetridge, Willy Chyr and Aerosyn-Lex. Rodriguez designed the only text-based label with the loaded statement “Don’t Forget You’re Here Forever” in neon lights. Beck’s created a campaign promoting the artists in this limited edition series and produced a short video documenting Rodriquez’ journey and arrival to LA. The music used in the video is “Jazzy:”

Though the guitar-use is unmistakable, still prevalent in Spielberger’s sound is the creative use of Mixtikl. Though it features some frenetic guitar work, the sound of the guitar in “In the Museum,” sounds like some spasmodic little creature trapped in a gelatinous blob, composed of echoing reverb that washes and wanes over the poor guitar. “Part II – A Boundary Crossed” is a subtle thing of beauty, as the guitar echoes from below the whoosh and calm sparkle of electronics like a ghost. “We just decided to break out the guitars … There are still tracks that are largely Mixtikl-based,” Matus says. “We always wanted it to have that background quality where we wanted it to be floating in the background. Some songs started with a Mixtikl theme.”

Rodriguez sheds further light on the duo’s creative process. “It was never our intention to only use Mixtikl to make music,” he states. “In fact, Ed has hardly used it at all. He likes to use his phone mostly to make beats and use the synth apps that are on there.”

However, Rodriguez appreciates how one cannot completely control the resulting music via the program, as it is just one of many auto-generative applications that can produce its own music via programming. “I’m a little more obsessed with Mixtikl,” Rodriguez confesses. “I think it’s because it ties so much into my art practice. It’s a really unique and non-traditional way to produce compositions. I could use that thing to make music forever really. I really enjoy the fact that you can’t expect 100 percent how the composition will turn out. I like the chance at play there.”

Despite Rodriguez’ relocation, the distance has not stopped the duo from recording and planning follow-up projects to Jazzy. Though this latest album came out only three months ago, the duo is deep into work on follow-ups, including a third full-length album and a physical 7-inch single. “The next album is gonna be called That Championship Season,” Rodriguez says. “My gallery out here offered to produce a limited edition 7-inch so, we’re working on two new ambient tracks for that.”

The 7-inch will mark Spielberger’s first physical release, and will surely become a collectible considering the LA-based art gallery OHWOW would be behind it. As far as other physical media or even working with labels, the duo are happy with their independence. It allows them to release music when they want, no matter how close to their last release date. It also frees up their creativity. “We like a lot of different stuff, we like playing different instruments,” Matus says. “It’s just making music the old fashioned way. It’s the idea that this is us, and we’re going to do what we want. We don’t have anyone to answer to. As long as it comes out honest and real, that’s what matters.”

Spielberger likes to allow the music to speak for itself. Though for sale in cyberspace on sites like iTunes and Amazon (You can support this blog as well as the band by purchasing their album through Amazon links), Matus is fine about giving it away to anyone who might be curious. “It’s there for free if you want to take it,” he says referring to links on the band’s website. “If you want to donate and help us, that’s fine too, and there are people who do that. But the most important thing is for people to have it and listen to it.”

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

So what would it sound and feel like to experience Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jaws with John Williams’ signature score replaced with the experimental, ambient drone of distorted synthesizers? The duo of Spielberger have imagined it, though it was purely inspired by the chapter titles of the DVD, and they swear they never watched the movie as they came up with the music. Heck, they even admit they did not exactly create the music from scratch, as they used a program available as an iPhone app to “generate” the music. Though both Ed Matus and Bert Rodriguez are musicians who can play a guitar if they wanted to, they chose to explore musicality in quite a different way. The result adds a strange, ethereal sense of gravitas to the movie, in a remote sort of way. If you know the film as well as I do, then just the titles of the tracks, like “Hooper Goes In” or “Town Meeting,” conjure images of the iconic film. The collision of these titles and the haunting drone of the music that seeps forth like the sludge of an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack for a David Lynch movie, brings an unknown artsy quality to the movie while still capturing the film’s over-all dread.

Already at work on a third collection of music, Spielberger are currently promoting this recently released conceptual ambient album entitled Chrissie’s Last Swim (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). It is available at all the expected mp3 download sites for purchase without the album art, as the iTunes store rejected Rodriguez’ design, a play on the famous Jaws poster art (but join their Facebook page, and you can get the album for free, with the original art). Rodriguez is actually best known as an artist. He’s received numerous grants for his work and has exhibited at the esteemed Bass Museum in his Miami neighborhood, at well as Art Basel Miami Beach, but also at New York’s Whitney during the 2008 Whitney Biennial and in London during the Frieze Art Fair. Most recently he was the focus of a feature-length documentary that played at the Miami International Film Festival and screened theatrically at the Miami Beach Cinematheque called Making Sh*t Up.

A conceptual artist who never limits himself to any medium, Rodriguez adores the prankster aesthetic of the Fluxus movement of the 1960s. A post-Dada, post-futurist, post-surrealist movement, Fluxus owes a debt to all those movements but is probably best known for its wit. For instance, staging a dramatic play with the curtain lifted a couple of inches to only ever reveal the shoes of the performers. Rodriguez notes one stunt he is famous for that involved him buying up picture frames from retail stores and replacing them for purchase soon after with the sample pictures replaced by photographs of himself. He noted that for the Whitney Biennial, he designed a space…

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/hIwVseUwAg width=”418″ height=”278″]

… with comfy chairs, a tissue box, etc. to give psycho-therapy sessions to anyone who registered for an appointment on the Whitney’s web page, in effect creating a living, breathing example of transference between the artist and the spectator with art object taken out. In some ways he does not take himself too seriously, yet he does. “It’s like if Andy Kaufman were in a gallery,” he sums up.

He and Matus recently dropped by my apartment in the Kendall suburbs of South Florida to casually talk about these mp3s they recently conjured up. Rodriguez sits still in the corner of my couch and always seems to look straight ahead as he talks, looking at the blank TV screen in front of him. “This was a way for us to do something fun and awesome,” he said simply of the collaboration.

Matus, who was once known as the singular artist behind the experimental electronica act H.A.L.O. Vessel and most recently as a member as the eclectro-pop-rock outfit the Waterford Landing, looks for a record to put on and immediately gravitates to my Neu! box set. Rodriquez approves, and Matus selects the Krautrock masters’ 1972 debut. They both marvel at the timelessness of the grooves that inspired everyone from David Bowie to Stereolab and maybe even them, a bit.

Spielberger’s debut EP, Music for Cruises, came from a project Rodriguez had developed as a commission for a cruise line, inspired by Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, the concept album that paved the way for what Eno would term “ambient music,” an unobtrusive and atmospheric instrumental form of music that was part of the spatial environment where it was played. Though Rodriquez said the client liked the music he generated using the iPhone app called Mixtikl, they went another way. The music did not go to waste, however, and after some treatments by Matus, they released Music for Cruises (the cover art for the EP features the duo with their “instruments”). Matus, who first appeared on the local music scene as a member of the art-rock/hardcore/punk outfit Subliminal Criminal in the early nineties, spent a great part of the later years of that decade experimenting with electronic music (Here’s a story I wrote for the “Miami New Times” about his early forays using keyboards and a bank of effects pedals for instrumentation). “We were discussing that there really isn’t any ambient music,” Matus said. “Nobody’s done a real serious ambient album like Eno in the seventies.”

But, one must wonder, what sort of musicianship does Mixtikl call for? The pair both admit “none.” Rodriguez explained the parameters to create the music requires some vision, however. “It takes a certain level of intention, discipline and comfort with the capabilities and limitations of the tool itself to produce a sophisticated sound that can be guided or coaxed to create a mood or express an idea effectively,” he explains further via email. “Those qualities have very little to do with what is traditionally defined as ‘Musicianship.’ All those qualities I mentioned above are what define creative intellect as opposed to technical skill.  Although one is not better than the other, and they are certainly not mutually exclusive. At the end of the day, the music has to be good and/or interesting regardless of how it was produced, and that can only be decided by a third party.”

Though they are working with a program that comes finely tuned, Matus notes it does call on a musical aptitude to realize some sort of vision. “Bert and I are both trained musicians,” he explains via email, “so there is a bit more clarity when it comes to knowing how to intentionally create a certain mood, as opposed to messing around blindly.”

The program indeed offers an intimidating amount of variety that calls on musical creativity to produce a specific form of music, as demonstrated by the poster art promoting it (click the image below for a larger view of the various screens involved):

Rodriguez had said, in the end, it’s not too different from how Eno designed works like Music for Airports or its predecessor, 1975’s Discreet Music. “It’s just how Eno would have done it. You set up certain parameters, you pick key, scale, whether it’s major, minor, then you pick tempo, and the banks of sound [the program offers].” He also noted that Mixtikl “was created by the same guys who created Koan, which Eno pioneered the use of around ’95, ’96.”

The result of the duo’s first collaboration, Music for Cruises, can be streamed in its entirety right here:

For ambient music, it does offer quite a dynamism, from the rhythmic ebb and flow of the tracks to the variety of pulsing electronic sounds that offer an array of tonal color and textures. It sounds kind of like post-Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd with the guitars, drums and voices stripped away, leaving only the bare, skeletal hum of the backing electronics sighing and groaning on their own.

Spielberger’s latest effort, Chrissie’s Last Swim, already reveals a bit of a departure for the duo. Opening with the white noise of “The Town Meeting,” the album starts with a roar, like a long frozen moment of horror that is the shark attack. “The Expert,” arrives to bring some calm to the proceedings, as a whispering howl ever so slowly fades in for over a minute and then seems to blow and recede, as a soft metallic metronome beat keeps a rhythm for the ghostly sound that only seems to follow the pattern of the wind.  “July 4th” opens with a metallic quaver that sounds like it must come from an electric guitar, yet one cannot discern any plucking on it. The noise ebbs and flows for eight minutes to reveal a calm layer of whistling synth noise below the din, which quietly fades away over the course of a minute. Steve Reich would be proud.

From the album title to the individual tracks, all the titles are indeed lifted from the chapter insert found inside the DVD case of Jaws. The album rounds out with the following tracks:

4. Face to Face
5. Hooper Goes In
6. End Titles

Rodriguez explained that Spielberg the director has no direct influence over the music or its theme. “We never really chose Spielberg in favor of any other director or something. Our relationship to him is actually pretty random.  It’s just become a starting point for an ongoing joke that started with how the name came up for the group. We never set out to make fun or pay homage to him over any other director or even anyone else at all for that matter. It was a funny exploration that has led to the images I’ve created thus far, which we’ll either move on from or not.”

Rodriguez shared more images that iTunes would probably never allow as future album covers. All are variations of famous posters for even more famous Spielberg movies, while offering a typical example of Rodriguez repurposing existing art as his own. Though he created an array of these images, he and Matus have not committed to future albums designed the same way as Chrissie’s Last Swim, with music named after other chapter titles from other Spielberg DVDs. Rodriguez presents Music For Cruises as an example contrary to such assumptions, which he called “a riff on Eno’s Music For Films [1978].” In that album’s case the titles were inspired by the feminine word for “Sea” in different languages, Rodriguez noted. “There is really no reference to Spielberg in that record at all,” he said.

Matus even noted that to consider Spielberger only a musical project would be unfair. He and Rodriguez did hint that they are trying to conceive a live show out of it sometime before year’s end. “We can reproduce what we do live,” Matus stated. “However, due to the generative nature of the program, things will be different. The mood of the song will be the same, and there’ll be enough for someone to recognize it, but the events will be happening at different times, intervals etc. … We do plan on doing this live. However, we don’t want to define ourselves as just a music project or a band. Spielberger has many facets, which we hope to show during our performance, as well as the follow-up to Chrissie’s Last Swim, which we are working on now. Our intention was to create a vehicle in which anything and everything can happen. We are currently planning a performance in which the generative aspect is a tiny component among many. Hopefully, this will happen in December.

Rodriguez goes into further detail: “… the nature of ‘Generative Music’ is such that once you create and play that composition the first time, any time after that, even if the rules and parameters are exactly the same, it’s never the same exact composition. We can definitely save those parameters and perform a likeness to the original but, it will never be exactly note-for-note to the original. That’s also really liberating and exciting for me because it gives us a chance creatively to think about live performance outside of the traditional way where you sit there and play music while a bunch of people just sit there and watch you do it … That’s why I describe Spielberger as an ‘experimental duo’ formed of… We created Spielberger as a platform for us to be able to explore and execute any idea we had musically or otherwise. This is just the beginning. We’re working on a new record which will sound nothing like the last two records. And we already have ideas for other recordings in the future that are even less like any of those. We have ideas for some videos, even some limited edition projects or releases. We have lots of plans for things that also have nothing to do with music at all. I believe we both enjoy using this program so much and have so much yet to explore within it that we’ll probably continue to release generative compositions like the ones on the first two records in the future. We’ve only really worked together for a few months and have produced a great deal of music in a short time. For our live show, we’re planning on incorporating the music into a much larger context of what a performance can be, from anywhere between Andy Kaufman, Stanley Kubrick and the Pet Shop Boys.”

So, consider these two releases Spielberger’s calling card for something much grander to come… stay tuned.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

The other day, I shared an interview compiled from a series of emails exchanged with the UK-based poet Rick Holland, who most recently worked on a collaborative album with rock’s most famous intellectual, Brian Eno (Eno collaborator/poet Rick Holland corresponds on craft – An Indie Ethos exclusive [Part 1 of 2]). Drums Between the Bells (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the limited edition on Amazon) saw release by Warp Records back in July. I had been exchanging emails with Holland since late June, as he considered several questions I had about his collaborative work with Eno.

He took his time, and I offered it to him. He wrote out my questions and journaled answers in hand-written notebooks before writing me back with thoughtful answers. But he also sent me back some spontaneous emails with thoughts on further questions. Though this certainly allowed for much editing of thoughts, I think it appropriately reflected the craft of what he and Eno did together. After all, Drums Between the Bells, with its electonic-based music and deliberately read poetry (sometimes presented in a haze of another layer of electronics), is anything but a jam record. The Eno/Holland collaboration is a thoughtful work, and grows with age and listening investment.

When I began my undergrad art studies in the early nineties, I took a mix of Eno’s instrumental music on a portable cassette player to art galleries and parks. Who better to offer musical accompaniment to art? His music can range from subtle drones to hyperkinectic layers of poly-rhythmic dissonance. It also defined a new genre of music in the mid-seventies that Eno himself coined: ambient. What better composer to offer a musical track to a poet who crafts artistic prose that can both observe the world on its existential face and cut into the fabric of perceptions? My favorite track on Drums, must be “Pour It Out,” adapted from Holland’s poem “New York” from his Story the Flowers book (It’s all there):

But then the album as a whole offers its own dynamic journey through a variety of prose and musicality (In the interview below, Holland notes the complete process of writing, recording and producing this album took eight years). Throughout our correspondence, Holland offered some dense insight into the process of crafting Drums Between the Bells, and also provided an illuminating look into the mind of a poet well-suited to work with someone as intellectual as Brian Eno. Before I continue with this interview, which you will find concluded below, I feel it’s important to contextualize the significance of a new, original, Eno-composed album featuring words.

Eno has been recording solo albums since 1973. He broke out of England’s post-prog scene of glitter and feathers glam rock, after leaving Roxy Music. All the while, he made a career of coming to terms with the role of words in music. Eno famously considers the function of words within songs as just another instrument rather than a literary narrative with a message, as the implications behind the latter throw in a huge monkey-wrench into the ideas of composition for him.

Citing from Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound, the Eno-centric website More Dark Than Shark, quoted Eno as having said, “[Lyrics] always impose something that is so unmysterious compared to the sound of the music [that] they debase the music for me, in most cases.” That was back in 1985. I thought surely his attitude towards lyrics had changed by the time he recorded his first solo vocal album in 25 years, 2005’s Another Day on Earth (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). It seems it has. In an interview with Sound on Sound (a music magazine for the studio engineer) promoting that album, Eno said of his return to music with vocals: “The simple answer is that five or six years ago I noticed that I was starting to sing again and enjoying it. Also, since I stopped doing vocal albums and worked on the landscape side of music, certain technological developments have happened that give you the possibility to shape your voice, and that reawakened my interest.”

This technological idea of obscuring the voice of the singer was key for Eno, in that it seems to separate identifying the singer with the words he is singing. “One of the reasons I stopped making vocal records was because I was fed up with the identification that’s always made between the voice on the record and the composer, as if this person singing was some sort of extension of my personality,” he continued in the 2005 interview. “But I don’t care about my personality being the content of the thing. I always liked the idea of seeing what I was doing the way a playwright might think of a play or a novelist might think of a book.” So chalk up Eno’s growing distaste for lyrics to the influence of mostly “illiterate” music journalists and fans he must have encountered during his many years as a rocker.

To the ears of this writer, Eno’s attitude to lyrics produced some amazingly surreal and pure prose in his early years, but the later years of his lyrics never seemed to stand out as some of his more remarkable works, as it all must have worn thin on him by then. Now here comes the 32-year-old Holland, invited by the 63-year-old Eno to provide him with some of the most refreshing words in many years for Eno to work with. The result, which suitably features an array of guest vocalists who have nothing to do with the rock world– as noted in the first part of this interview series– certainly has brought my attention back to words entangled in Eno’s music. In the end, Drums Between the Bells offers something even more interesting than Eno’s most recent work with a better known songwriter and long-time collaborator, David Byrne, for the pleasant, albeit predictable, 2008 album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon).

With that context in place, on with the interview with Holland, who, in this part of the feature, offers his ruminations on the best place to listen to Drums Between the Bells, the music of words and even an evaluation Eno’s early explorations of lyric-writing on 1973′s Here Come the Warm Jets (Support Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon) and 1974′s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (Support Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon)…

Hans Morgenstern: Can I just say that I read this article (Clash Music’s Aug. 7 interview with Holland), and the fact that Brian says Drums Between the Bells is a good album to “wash up to” was funny to me because that was the first way I heard it (whilst taking a shower). So where’s the best place to hear the album in your opinion?

Rick Holland: In a state of stillness akin to lucid dreaming where surface concerns are replaced by free and contemplative activity that is not self-conscious. In the absence of this elusive brain state, washing up sounds a pretty strong contender. I have most enjoyed listening while driving on a long journey; though the best time for achieving this brain state seems to be in the middle of the night listening to incidental sounds mashing up – I like to use the sounds as triggers to imagine whatever comes into my mind. A flow is achievable in this state that is very much reduced when ‘recording’ art from imagination to medium. Getting near to that state is probably ‘the best place’ to listen to this album, where judging brain is dampened and imagining brain is electric, and as free to move as electric as long as the circuit is in place and not interrupted.

As I noted in an earlier post on Drums Between the Bells (Brian Eno reveals full streams of 3 tracks from new album), I was attracted to this Eno record because he seems to finally be dealing with lyrics on a deeper level than usual. Has he told you why he was interested in putting your words to music?

Strangely enough we have never had that conversation, we just got to work. I did learn through the process that ‘lyrics’ served a greater master: ‘sound’ in world Eno, but also that he was not closed to them as carriers of their own potential, but that he was overjoyed for the ‘meaning’ to become tied in with different axes of sound and atmosphere, and be loosely and ambiguously tied to the more conventional systems of language.

Is there anything on the album the could have been done differently? If so, how?

The whole album could have been done differently; it spanned eight years or so, and at any particular juncture in that time I would have had strong ideas about what could have been done differently. There were techniques available in the last three weeks of work that were not available in the first seven years, and early tracks with components that were lost forever in archival glitches and were rebuilt. There were times when I wanted only to feature the voice, and other times I wanted the voice obliterated into signals bearing no obvious resemblance to speech. At various points we would try versions of each of our visions, and make a piece that really and truly was not the end product of either of those visions. I would make the whole album differently if we started again tomorrow, and so would Brian. From ‘Drums Between The Bells’, all of the experiments have been successes in my eyes, but all of them have also suggested future alternatives. People who listen to the record will have strong ideas of what can be done differently too. That is one of the album’s great strengths; it moves in between territories, music, words, sound, that are familiar and then alien and many points in between. That aspect of it I wouldn’t change at all.

Do you have any rhythm or music in mind when your poems come out of you?

Cover for 'Story the Flowers,' Holland's first book featuring the poems that were part of 'Drums Between the Bells.'

The words themselves dictate the rhythm, set it running like a free drum part, but I would say I have an instinctive relationship to music and rhythm in my writing more than a trained one. To steal directly from something I heard Rakim say in a documentary the other night, ‘I was trying to rhyme like John Coltrane played the sax’. Fundamental rhythms and music have moved me since I can remember, and these are definitely built in to my writing without ever feeling the need to adhere strictly to traditional ‘poetic’ forms and meter.

From what source do you find most inspiration comes from when composing?

The world playing out in front of me. If pushed to identify a trigger, I would say pattern formation followed closely by sound. ‘Artificially’ speaking, music and especially live performance fills my gut with a kind of adrenalised need to express something.

Have you read reviews of the album? What do you think of the reception? Do you think music critics are “getting” it?

I went on a journey with the criticisms of the album. I ignored common wisdom that says ‘do not read reviews’ and actually ended up being encouraged to read them and respond in a ‘blog conversation’ with Brian (which itself headed off piste straight away). Like everything, some are good and some are bad, but of the critics who were able to put time and investment into listening and avoid the understandable traps of rushing out copy, I think the reception was fair. For a reviewer wanting to be transported without challenge, ‘Drums Between The Bells’ may seem an unnecessary challenge of disparate ideas and sounds. And it is completely reasonable to expect music to be a portal to elsewhere that doesn’t need to be ‘got’. If a reviewer came to the album with no expectations and a little time to think, they almost unanimously found things that resonated strongly in the experience. There are of course plenty of comments, good and bad, that are wide of a mark that I would recognize, and a few that have made me want to contact the writer and vent some spleen, but life is short.

I would say that our need as a society to quickly package anything is indicative of a wider approach to the world that has serious pitfalls, but I am not so self-important to think that someone ‘not getting’ this album is significantly important to the wider good of humanity. I wish people would stop harping on so much about ‘Art’, ‘Poet’, ‘genre’ and other blanding agents, but it is for each person to decide how he or she perceives what is really only a collection of sounds and relationships, like any music. Brian and I came up with some categories for songs when putting the running order together, they were ‘think’, ‘look’, ‘feel’ and ‘soul,’ I think, or similar with several crossovers.

I’m very curious of what you think of Eno’s early forays into lyrics, which he himself has called nonsense, but I feel have an unabashed surreal quality.

I scanned (thanks to Enoweb) through the lyrics for ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’ because I haven’t listened to that album, so I thought it would be a good appraisal of the ‘lyrics’ as standalone … the scanning happened quite fast until I hit ‘Dead Finks Don’t Talk.’ This was the first thing that caught me as more than words to be sung that had been transcribed. From what I know of Brian, the sounds will most likely have come before the actual words, but in this automation there is still subconscious coupling of sounds with emotions, and emotions with word choices, and word choices with streams of more ‘macro’ patterns of thought.

Rappers freestyle in 16 bar salvos. Through practising and writing more, the rhythms and internal variations within those rhythms develop so much so in the best rappers that they become second nature until they act as a conduit for whatever the consciousness wants to express. I think good lyrics are the same beast and are no less ‘poetry’ because of it; if anything they are more so, as they are perhaps more likely to avoid the pitfalls of over-analysis on the way out.

‘Dead Finks Don’t Talk’ on the page could be about any ‘authority’ figure in any walk of life who is more bluff than balls, and it also has interjections from less primary sources of input like modernist poetry (which may have taken that tendency to mix and match from a world of songs and televisions and technology anyway). ‘More fool me, bless my soul’ sounds like a blues phrase co-opted, especially repeated. The ‘perfect masters/thrive on disasters/look so harmless/til they find their way up here’ is pure 16 bar beat riffing when I read it on the page. So, in the interests of science, I listened to the song after reading the lyrics to see what happens to them in the song…

At which point I realised I have heard this song before! No matter, I wrote all the above before realising that. The ‘more fool me, bless my soul’ was unsurprisingly musical, though more Buddy Holly than I was expecting. The lyrics in this song are certainly not nonsense, though that doesn’t mean that they have been set out to work as words on a page (which, in this case, they certainly do. I enjoyed reading them).

I’ll try the same approach with the ‘Whale’ song [“Mother Whale Eyeless”] you mentioned, which I haven’t heard before.

This reads like an appraisal of life in a country even more at the mercy of its media and propagandas than the one we live in now. It reads as highly political and highly poetic. ‘Don’t ever trust those meters’, ‘there is a cloud containing the sea’, ‘parachutes caught on steeples’, these all sound like the product of automatic writing that has been introduced to and bedded into an environment; the environment has been made by constantly observing the world in an imaginative way (‘stirring the air’ I called this in my own early poems about escaping from the claustrophobic world around me). At its start it reminded me of the impression I got from ‘A Day in the Life’ when I listened to it as a kid. ‘Got up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…. somebody spoke and I went into a dream’. It says the details of our politicised lives are as ridiculous as they are pervasive, and that we, as individuals, are in turn angered, powerless and gloriously alienated from those details. Our bonds in life are all constructs ultimately.

Then I listened to the song…

“Mother Whale Eyeless” is a fascinating song, unmistakably Brian in places, I would have to say. That brilliant simple guitar riff after about two minutes, the change and shift with the female chorus vocal. But anyway, the words, the words. The thing is, the morning papers, tea and other details are already shaken to their core by the way they are sung and spiral away from the details I picked up reading the lyrics straight away. It says a lot about the ‘lyrics’ debates that go on, the words on a page are a wholly different animal from the words performed and adorned.

If I had just listened to that song straight away, I would not have listened closely to most of the words, I must admit (though certainly would have picked up more with repeated listens). I would have started in the kitchen, then moved on to the guitar-feeling and then moved into the otherworld of the clipped female chorus and settled on the statement, ‘In another country, with another name/ Maybe things are different, maybe they’re the same’ as a carte blanche for anything that doesn’t make sense to float on unrepentant for being nonsense, because it might make sense under different circumstances, and the next evocation of something more ‘graspable’ may be just around the corner. I’ve always made these kinds of allowances listening to music, ever since I can remember. There is something perfectly sensible about that approach to writing words and to listening to them too. The eyeless whale chuckles at the world’s myths. Nonsense?

If I had to choose between the two experiences, in this case, I would choose reading the words, which is a surprising outcome. ‘Mother Whale Eyeless’ is a poem on the page for me (maybe because I approached it like this first) and the song is an event with some exciting moments but holding less meaning overall for me, at this moment. Perhaps this tells us that anything is ultimately what we make it. Perhaps it also tells us that Brian was writing poetry in spite of himself, and perhaps it also tells us that his instinctively curious approach to the world manifests itself clearly in the groups of words he chooses to fit together, which certainly isn’t a surprising outcome. I mentioned (skilled) rappers earlier so used to their molten bedrock that what they can sprinkle on top of it is almost instinctive. This doesn’t make their output less important or interesting.

Brian understands his vocabularies and their potentials so well that the more cumbersome ‘word’ part I would imagine does not excite him as much as other things: ‘sound’, ‘voice’, ‘space’, ‘colour’ being a few. Doubly so when you consider that he has been making music for several decades and is always keen to explore new possibilities.

* * *

Many thanks to Rick for taking the time to entertain these questions and offering such an enlightening look into the experience that culminated in one of the richest albums 2011 has had to offer! Not to mention indulging me with his honest view of some early iconic Eno glam rock songs that he had never heard to start with.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)