Tag Archives: Q&A

On “Migration,” Bonobo Blurs the Line Between Organic and Electronic

Bonobo

Photos by Neil Krug

If the term downtempo makes you worry that your ears will turn to jelly—and even for fans of the stuff, there’s plenty of good reason to—then you can do far worse than to acquaint yourself with Simon Green, the Brighton, UK, producer who records as Bonobo. Sure, plenty of what he’s done has a quality you might well dub “cinematic,” but the man’s ear for detail is as pointed as his textures are gauzy, and he’s quietly amassed one of the strongest catalogs on the Ninja Tune roster.

Green’s early work (on the Tru Thoughts label as well as Ninja Tune) concentrated on programming and samples, but beginning with 2010’s quiet stunner Black Sands, Bonobo albums are equally as likely to be orchestrated for human players. Green has also made a name as a DJ—witness his jazz-heavy 2013 contribution to the Late Night Tales mix series, or his rangy all-night sets for the Brooklyn club Output—and his new album Migration has a similarly wide scope. A typical standout is “Bambro Koyo Ganda,” featuring the Brooklyn-based Moroccan band Innov Gnawa, which crosses its guests’ traditional North African groove with hypnotic bells and violins. It’s a breathing example of what Green once dubbed “that idea of subconscious fluidity in music . . . following an idea and letting the music suggest what happens next.”

It’s easy to imagine Green turning into a go-to producer for more vocal and song oriented artists. In fact, he may well be doing that with another of Migration‘s guests, Rhye: “This is a conversation I’m having right now,” he told Bandcamp in December. “We’ll see. But I’m a slow worker.”

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BATTERY’s Jacob Richards Builds a Whole Band With Code & A Drum Kit

Battery

It’s not unusual to feel somewhat underwhelmed after a first casual listen to BATTERY. In fact, that’s kind of the point. Though it scans at first as a two-piece, ramshackle, synth-and-drums outfit, BATTERY is actually the work of one man: Los Angeles-based drummer/coder/composer Jacob Richards. Richards is something of a career musician—his resume includes stints in no fewer than 10 bands, including percussion for New Zealand-by-way-of-LA twee-pop band Shunkan and studies with luminaries like Rakalam Bob Moses. With BATTERY, Richards employs Nintendo-esque synth textures and lockstep drum patterns to create songs that are deceptively simple in sound but incredibly complex in composition.

He accomplishes this through a programming language called ChucK. ChucK allows Richards to create sequences of notes that he activates by hitting one of his drums. In his programs, he has additional code that allows those sequences to be accessed by the drums in different ways. For example: on his latest album, bloom, Richards rigged his drum triggers to change the song’s note sequence any time he hits the tom. This allows him to spin the song off in countless different ways with a simple flick of his wrist. It’s like he’s splitting himself up into several different pieces and then jamming with them in real time.

And while the final song sounds impressively streamlined, what’s happening behind the scenes is almost brain-breaking in its intricacy: Richards writes the melodic sequences, figures out how they relate to one another, determines which drum accesses which sequence, and then arranges the sequences while he’s drumming to create the final composition. Richards is exploring new means of composing and “actualizing” music, bridging the gap between the banality of pre-recorded electronics and the braininess of improvised free jazz. His goal is to explore new methods of experimental composition, making them more inspiring for the artist and more accessible to the audience.

We talked with him about the theories undergirding his work, and the way he implements them in his music.

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Horsebeach Updates the Singular Melancholy of Manchester

Horsebeach

Pick apart the celebrated scenes stemming from Manchester, England, and you’ll find a certain darkness lurking beneath all of them. Some of the touchpoints are obvious: the dystopian gloom of Joy Division, every word Morrissey’s put to paper. But even through the fog of Madchester’s ecstasy-fueled release, there was a sense that it existed partly because there was a need to escape from drudgery.

As Horsebeach, Ryan Kennedy makes a similar kind of comfortingly familiar, jangly music as his American peers like Real Estate and Beach Fossils—but his first two albums are hardly lazy-day beach highway road trips. Kennedy sings of loss, longing, and desire against a backdrop of reverb-drenched guitars. Throughout both records, escapism is coated in a greyish melancholy undertone—the kind that can only be found in Manchester.

Kennedy has a long history with the city. For years, he’s worked at celebrated record store Piccadilly Records—which is where the desire to start Horsebeach began.

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Mysterious Composer Eleh Blends Drone and Otherworldly Sounds to Haunting Effect

Artwork for Eleh

Graphics from Eleh’s Circle Four: 100 Gongs for Arieto.

Eleh‘s music could be described as a meditative moan. For the last decade, he’s crafted compositions that are long, slow and contemplative, often warbling in strange frequencies, sometimes barely there at all. It’s so soft that it’s hardly audible, similar to the hum of power lines outside. Other times, its deep bass tones are forceful enough to buckle the air in a room. A note appended to one album reads, “Volume reveals detail.” Another: “Incorporating tones as low as .05 hz (well below the range of human hearing) Eleh is as much of a physical experience as it is an audio one.”

All of the music is made with modular synthesizers, with an ear for the most intricate details of microtonal control. “Eleh came about quite by accident, while trying to sync two oscillators on an old modular synth,” the artist says. “The resultant rhythms from the closely-tuned pure wave forms were infinitely fascinating and entrancing. I forgot about syncing the oscillators, and instead followed this path.”

The artist behind Eleh chooses to remain unidentified—less out of a desire for cryptic mystery than a desire for his music to act as its own corporeal force. “I don’t think of it as anonymous—it just doesn’t have an identity attached,” he says. “Eleh is about letting go of a lot of things you want.”

His process is just as deliberate. “I build a large consonant mass of sound, then take it apart and mix it back together again and find combinations of sounds from within that mass,” he says. “It really is about mixing things very slowly so that they arrive in such a way that you didn’t notice them coming or going—so that things are morphing and changing slowly, beyond the point where it’s perceptible. At its core, it is a meditation.”

With a significant amount of Eleh’s discography now available on Bandcamp, the artist—based not in Sealand, the self-styled micronation in the North Sea off the coast of Suffolk, England noted on his page, but somewhere less-mysterious in North America—picked five especially momentous releases from his discography and talked about the ideas behind his music.

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Monica LaPlante Funnels Fear, Darkness, and Phil Spector Into Shadowy Garage Rock

Monica LaPlante

Garage rock can be a beginning, middle, and end for many who make it, but Monica LaPlante—a 25-year-old singer-songwriter and guitarist—isn’t interested in cookie-cutter revisionism. Her 2013 debut, Jour, has a bright indie-pop feel, steeped in 1960s allure. But as the name of her new Noir EP makes clear, she’s darkened considerably—and gained substantial depth along the way. Noir’s songs, particularly the locomotive (and ridiculously catchy) “Hope You’re Alone” and the harmony-drenched “From Your Shadow,” are rich and endlessly playable. Each one occupies its own highly-specific sonic space, and the entire EP showcases a formidable talent coming into her own. LaPlante spoke with Bandcamp’s Michaelangelo Matos at the Amsterdam Bar in downtown St. Paul on a drizzly fall afternoon.
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