The Seer, the new double album that follows Swans’ productive 2010 reunion and studio return, is a space in which to wander in furious mediation — as songwriter Michael Gira puts it, a “total experience.” Dense without losing immediacy, the album stretches over two hours of constantly shifting aural landscapes. This is a work to be enjoyed second by second, losing your mind to its deceptive repetitions.
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Last year, Mat Schulz, who started Poland’s Unsound Festival, asked composers Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason — each residents of Reykjavík, Iceland — to rework Andre Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Sólaris. For both Frost and Bjarnason, their collaborative album Sólaris is a complete departure. Though Frost’s music is often labeled everything from dark industrial to classical minimalism, Bjarnason’s compositions are wildly extravagant yet controlled; together, it’s an inspired collaboration. Under their guidance, Sólaris achieves a delicate balance of the two personalities.
The soundtrack began as an improvisation played to the film. With the help of music software, these initial sketches were reproduced digitally and were then given to a 30-piece orchestra to replicate. Though far from the original score, what resulted was a sort of experiment between man, machine, and art, skillfully capturing the beautifully fragmented, tense, and at times haunting quality of the film.
The piece has been performed — alongside stunning visual “film manipulations” by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson — with Sinfonietta Cracovia in Krakow and New York as well as Iceland and Austria.
In light of last month’s release of Sólaris, we spoke with Bjarnason about the concepts behind the album and the soundtrack’s transformation.
Why did you choose to remake the Sólaris soundtrack? In what ways did the original fall short of your expectations?
For me, the issue was never to make a new or better soundtrack to the Tarkovsky film. The piece is simply inspired by the film and the book. Stanislav Lem wrote Sólaris in Krakow, and it had its 50-year anniversary the same year as we premiered Sólaris in Krakow during the Unsound Festival, so it was a great way to mark that occasion.
Was this originally meant to be a literal soundtrack to the film? How did it evolve into what it is now?
That was the original idea, yes, but we were quick to abandon that idea. I think we were both much more interested in taking the film as a starting point and then moving on from there. So all the music was made during improvisation session where me and Ben watched the film and improvised on top of it and recorded what we did. So every musical moment is a response to a certain scene or moment in the film. But we never watched after those initial sessions, and when I listen to the piece now, I have no idea what music goes with what scene. In a way, we left the film behind at that point and just looked at what we had musically. Then the Sinfonietta came into the process, and the whole thing took on another dimension.
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Hajduch: The Fun Years is among a noticeable cadre of artists pushing icy, shoegaze-tinged ambient music these days, but the duo lacks the name recognition of Tim Hecker or even Ben Frost. Hopefully, its 2010 release, God Was Like, No, changes that.
The group is comprised of Ben Recht on baritone guitar and Isaac Sparks on turntable, but this album suggests that there are a lot of delay and fuzz pedals in that signal chain. Fittingly, the album opens with swirling guitar notes that gradually build into a sustained howl before suddenly exiting stage left, leaving a repeated crackle and simple guitar phrase in their wake.
Though it’s more than 40 minutes long and holds eight tracks, God Was Like, No ignores its purported divisions to form a cohesive suite, with each track blending into the next. All maintain a similar minor-key melody while shifting timbres in and out; bit-crunched, buzzy guitar, bowed cymbal, and repeated snippets of manipulated vocals all appear and disappear. The overall effect is of one long track; it’s very satisfying.
Montreal-based ambient electronic artist Tim Hecker recorded his most recent album, Ravedeath, 1972, in one day with a single church organ in Iceland. Then came the real work: meticulous editing, rearranging, and layering.
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Experimental electronic musician Tim Hecker recorded his forthcoming album, Ravedeath, 1972, over the course of one day, using a pipe organ in a church in Reykjavik, Iceland. As with the majority of Hecker’s work, the record was shaped by computer-based post-production tweaking and editing (with engineering help from Icelandic jack-of-all-trades Ben Frost). His ambient soundscapes comprise ever-changing layers of noise and melody, building toward monolithic sonic density and hemmed in by meticulous attention to detail.
In addition to making music, Hecker also studied the cultural history of urban noise in North America at McGill University in Montreal (where he now teaches a course called “Sound Culture”), making him the perfect candidate to expound on important moments in thunderous aural innovation.
Seattle’s Decibel Festival is back for its eighth year, this time boasting talent from 14 countries. The festival brings together technology and creativity through visual art, workshops, panel discussions, and electronic-music performances.
The musical lineup this year is long and impressive; Fennesz, Ben Frost, Eskmo, Alex B, Ctrl_Alt_Dlt, Mount Kimbie, and Starkey are among the nearly 100 performers, speakers, and visual artists scheduled for appearance. With a world-class conference included (details have yet to be released), this event is an oasis of underground electronic music and art with plenty to offer.