Before you hit play, the video for psych-rock quintet Hopewell’s cover of Brian Eno’s “Needle in the Camel’s Eye” seems firmly rooted in the 1970s. It’s a ’70s song, inspired by two performance–art pieces from the ’70s…this should be a throwback, right? Watch it and prepare for a wild juxtaposition.
David Byrne has one of the most recognizable voices in music, ranking somewhere between Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe. No doubt this is why everyone wants the former Talking Heads front-man to guest on their records. Dirty Projectors, Arcade Fire, Jherek Bischoff — they’ve all taken advantage of the static friction of that back-of-the-mouth tenor.
But Love This Giant, Byrne’s collaboration with St. Vincent, a woman who’s known more for her multi-instrumentalist abilities than her voice, is the first full-length he’s co-written with anyone other than Brian Eno.
Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason: “Reyja”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Ben_Frost_Daniel_Bjarnason_Reyja.mp3|titles=Ben Frost & Daniel Bjarnason: “Reyja”]
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.
Chris Connelly: “Wait for Amateur”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Chris_Connelly_Wait_for_Amateur.mp3|titles=Chris Connelly: “Wait for Amateur”]
Chris Connelly, formerly a member of industrial bands Ministry and Revolting Cocks, is set to release his 15th solo album in November. Entitled Artificial Madness, the record is guitar-driven rock that wears its contrasting pop and post-punk influences proudly. A month before its scheduled release, Connelly took some time to run through each song, explaining lyrical content and narrative themes.
Track-by-Track Breakdown of Artificial Madness
by Chris Connelly
Here is a breakdown to the lyrics on Artificial Madness. I’ve never really done this before. It’s always been my intention to leave a lot of things ambivalent, giving the listener a few red herrings here and there. Perhaps I’ll leave some stuff buried in there…
1. “Artificial Madness”
The protagonist is not really a person — more of a collective consciousness built from panic and paranoia. The city and landscape are fabricated, and all the aggressors or distractions are metaphors. Here we have the crux of the album: the “artificial madness” brought on by the deity that is technology. It can be used to enslave parts of our minds, conscious or subconscious, and it can also serve as a control tactic and a mind-numbing drug. Why do we feel the need to talk and keep in touch with each other so much? Because we are panicking and fearing some sort of apocalypse? I recently read that the Taliban turned off all cell-phone communication at 8 PM in an urban area that they had control over. Control and fascism — always at work.
2. “Wait for Amateur”
The emperor’s new clothes. A satirical song about modern pop culture using modern theater (namely Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot). Can you tell if the play is being superbly or horribly acted? Are the actors playing us? Taking us for a ride? Is the director making fools of the actors? (Make a mark in the ground with a primitive tool.)
3. “Classically Wounded”
A high-speed chase on a wet night, and a violinist is ultimately impaled on his/her own violin bow. A cautionary tale.
4. “Cold Blood in Present Company”
War being waged via technology, misinformation, independent contractors (mercenaries), and the torture of innocents to glean information that will result in the deaths of thousands. Like I said earlier, fascism is very good at adapting to the times.
Todd Reynolds: “Transamerica”
[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Todd_Reynolds_Transamerica.mp3|titles=Todd Reynolds: “Transamerica”]
Violinist, composer, and producer Todd Reynolds has taken on an outsider, almost renegade role in music. Though he had a strict classical upbringing and a leading seat in an orchestra, Reynolds took his own path for a more personal means of expression, utilizing electronic loops and effects as a context for his dizzying improvisational instrumentation and emotive compositions.
His new double album, Outerborough, is an all-encompassing look at the myriad ways that the artist creates and collaborates, with one half of the album composed and performed entirely by Reynolds, and the other a disc of Reynolds performing pieces written by friends such as Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong of The Books, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Phil Kline, and more. Speaking with Reynolds from his home studio, the virtuoso experimentalist shares his passion for music and explains why he choose the path that he did.
What was your musical upbringing?
Well, I’ve been playing the violin since the age of four. Around high school, I ended up studying with the late, great violinist Jascha Heifetz, one of the most famous concert violinists who ever lived. I then went to music school back in Rochester, joined the Rochester Philharmonic, and was principle second violin. I then moved back to New York, went back to school, and began my career.
When did you start exploring electronics as part of your compositions?
Even from my earliest days of college, I was interested in the outside aspects and the avant-garde side of music. So I was pretty heavily invested in that music. But I started using electronics shortly after I left the orchestra. I went back to school to get a master’s degree, and it was in that time that I went in that direction.