Julianna Barwick’s musical style lies somewhere between the collective voice of a choir and what the ghost of a pod of whales might sound like. Consisting of loops and wordless vocalizations that recall a higher-pitched cousin of throat singing, it’s a decidedly unique listening experience.
Julianna Barwick: “The Magic Place”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/julianna_barwick_-_the_magic_place_-_the_magic_place.mp3|titles=Julianna Barwick: “The Magic Place”]
Since her self-released album Sanguine in 2006, Julianna Barwick has been experimenting with the human voice to create loop-based compositions that turn the concept of a cappella into something completely new and uncharted. Contributor Jeff Terich discusses these atypical methods with Barwick, in addition to how her music is informed by collaboration and personal memories, as she readies the release of her new album, The Magic Place.
The Magic Place has some additional instrumentation, compared to your previous release, Florine. What led you to decide to add some of these extra elements?
I was excited about incorporating some more instrumentation into this record, and when I had the opportunity to use a friend’s space, filled with lots of fun instruments to use, it made it easier to experiment. I especially could not resist the grand piano, which shows up tons on the new record.
Do you find it more challenging to write songs from limited sources? Or is there more liberation in writing vocal-only compositions?
For me, the music that is all vocal is very easy and intuitive for me — it’s when I’m adding instrumentation that it becomes challenging, trying to make the sounds from the instruments fit with the vocals. Making the vocal loops is all done on the spot, so there’s no real pressure that I feel when doing that at all.
When you write songs, how does the process typically begin? Do you ever start with a different instrument and then translate to voice?
Ninety-five percent of the time I’m starting with a vocal loop I’ve made, and building on top. But there are exceptions; for instance, “Unt1,” on Sanguine, started with a guitar line. On the new record there are a couple that started with an instrument; for instance, “Vow” starts with piano and “Bob in Your Gait” starts with guitar. There’s also some stripped-down / non-loop vocalizing on this record, which is new.