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Interview

Want some music to go with this cold snap? I present to you Matt Siffert‘s new EP Cold Songs

Cold Songs

Cold Songs

I absolutely adore the string quartet format, so I was eager to hear this EP, which features songs for string quartet and vocals written and sung by Siffert (whose voice reminds me of Oliver Sim from The xx). The first song opens with the moody “When Is It Gonna Be Me?”, followed up by the Gogol Bordello-vibed “Two Women at Once.”

“Show-Off” shows off Siffert’s composer chops, his simple vocal line laid over a very atonal sounding string quartet. “October” is a shimmering texture piece, and the EP closes with the subtly high-strung “Figures from Your Past.”

MW: Why use a string quartet and not the more traditional rock band set up?

MS: “My highest priorities as a songwriter-composer are creating clearly defined characters in my songs —  i.e., is this song told from the perspective of an angry person? a sad person? — and then building a musical backdrop that illuminates the nature of these characters. When I finished the songs for ‘Cold Songs,’ I realized that all the characters lived on a dark, austere wavelength. They had energy and passion, but in a more formal, muted way. I felt the sonic qualities of the string quartet better matched this emotional landscape than that of a rock band.”

I know you study composition at Juilliard: Why write indie songs? Do you feel like you live two musical lives?

“I write songs and instrumental music for the same reason; to explore. I never know what I’m getting myself into when I sit down to write; it’s my job to pry open my subconscious, discover what’s happening in it, and then pass it on in a way that is thoughtful, creative, and clear. This duty is the same when I write songs vs. instrumental music; therefore my musical life is quite singular.

“More broadly, the relationship between songwriting and instrumental music, indie vs. classical, etc. is more plastic than people often acknowledge. It’s really about figuring what you’re trying to say and then developing the language and configurations to articulate it most clearly. I’ve written songs and said, “This is actually better as a woodwind quintet with no vocals,” and written pieces for solo electric bass and then decided to turn them into songs. Or, as is the case here, written songs and realized that they were best served by string quartet accompaniment. So, the less inhibited we make ourselves by conventional musical boundaries, the closer we can get to authentic self-expression.”

Check out Cold Songs on Friday, February 1st, 8pm at Zirzamin, 90 West Houston St. in the West Village. (Admission is free.)

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Out today is DJ Chris Lawhorn‘s new album Fugazi Edits, which is exactly what it sounds like. The album has already received some coverage at A.V. Club and Punk News, so I’ll summarize: 22 instrumental tracks consisting of dozens of Fugazi samples–used with the permission of the band–profits to be donated to two charities.

Even if you’re not a hard and fast fan of Fugazi, the album is compelling listening, ranging from the expected post-hardcore sound to some seriously experimental stuff, which ended up being my favorite tracks (particularly track 8; Poème électronique, anyone?). Check out my interview with Chris below:

Why Fugazi?

I have all their records. I love the music. And, it was their records that first made me realize I could put my own records out. Also, on a practical basis, the band is really tight, so the songs lend themselves to layering.

You mention that half the music is straightforward and the other half is experimental. Did you set out to do this, or did it happen as you were making the album?

That’s just the way it ended up. In part, this is because their music changed over time. To that end, their earlier records are more straightforward than their later ones. But, also, I was trying to approach each track’s mix differently. In order to do that, I had to try a lot of different kinds of mixes–some of which deviated further from the source material than others.

Plans for another album after this?

No. It’s very strange for me–as I usually have two or three albums planned ahead. But, I’m trying to approach things differently than I have in the past. And, part of that meant not having so many projects in the works at once.

Fugazi Edits is released by the Case/Martingale label; check out Chris’ site for more info.

From the confines of a tiny Brooklyn apartment come bassist nEko Soto’s first tracks as a solo artist: “Shoot Myself” is a straight up gritty blues song with some curvy melody lines, while “Leaving My Girl” shows off Soto’s bass chops with a funk-styled bass line. Read on for the artist’s colorful musings on whiskey and his predictions of self-dissipation:

 

How did you get into playing music?  Back in 1998, I was a freshman in high school in the Bronx when a couple of new friends I made in homeroom said they needed a bass player for their punk band.  The idea of being in a punk band sounded pretty awesome to me.  At that point in my life I had never even touched an electric bass and I hadn’t even gotten into punk yet, but I was hooked on the idea and felt pretty cool at the mere fact that someone asked me to be in a band!  My father, being a guitar player and musician himself, was really cool about it and treated me to one of those Fender basses that come with the little practice amp.  Sure enough, when I got the thing, I put it on and was like “Well, I guess I have a bass.  What the hell do I do now?”  I went to practice with my first band ever and I sucked so they never called me to play again.  They kicked me out of the band after that one practice!  Bastards.  I’m thankful though, because maybe I never would have even gotten a bass to begin with.

 

Did you play with other bands before going solo?  I’ve been playing in and out of bands for over 10 years now.  I still play in other bands because I actually do love to play that supporting role the bass player needs to play in a band.  I also do music full-time.  It’s how I make a living, so as anyone in the music scene knows, especially the NYC music scene, it definitely ain’t easy to pay rent and bills strictly playing music, particularly original music.  I’ve lucked out in many instances and I do some hired-gun work and get paid to play and tour and record and things of that nature.  I was always cool with just being a bass player but over time I felt like I had some things to say and express.  That’s pretty much when I got into writing songs and teaching myself how to sing and play.  I progressively got better at writing, but to be honest, I wasn’t writing very good songs.  I’d write a couple of cool things or parts or rifts here and there, but I just hadn’t quite figured out how to be completely vulnerable and let go and just write a good fucking song.  You have to be vulnerable in order to truly express yourself and write anything that’s worth writing.  May sound somewhat corny, the whole “find your voice” thing, but it’s true.  Look it up.  I’m kidding, you can’t really look it up.  But you can try.  I’ll stop now.

 

Which do you like better, recording or performing?  It’s like vodka and whiskey to me.  I love vodka, but I really love whiskey. Feeding off the energy of a crowd is an incredible high that literally transforms you into whatever character you’re portraying up there in that moment.  Just listen to a recording of an awesome live show you went to where you really let loose.  It can be mixed and mastered professionally and it can still sound fucking incredible, but it’ll never top actually being there, in that moment, sharing that collective energy with whoever was there.  You can try to relive the experience by living vicariously through that recording, but that moment is gone forever.  That’s the beauty of performing.  That’s the beauty of a live show.  There’s something eternal about being on stage and I dig that feeling.  The studio can be a very frustrating experience.  I love it, and sometimes things just go your way, but it can be very tedious.  The studio has been known to turn pacifists into violent fascists.

 

Do you have a regular group of musicians that play/record with you (drums, guitar, etc.), or does that change regularly?  I recorded SHOOT MYSELF and LEAVING MY GIRL with my good friend Devin on Pro-Tools in his tiny-ass Brooklyn apartment.  He was kind enough to help me out and play guitar on both tracks.  He’s signed to FrenchKiss Records and is currently touring the world.  He’s easily my favorite artist out there, major label or indie label, human or alien, you name it, he’s awesome.  Straight-up in your face, I wanna drink, grab a girl and dance Rock n Roll. I’m definitely hoping to solidify a core band but if I have to do somewhat of a revolving door of musicians due to scheduling differences or conflicts and things of that nature, so be it I suppose.  I found some Brooklyn cats, a guitarist and drummer to fill out my three-piece, that are incredible musicians and we’re currently practicing and gearing up for some shows that should be taking place before the year comes to a close.  I’m really excited!

 

Plans for a full length album?  I would absolutely love to record a full length album.  I don’t exactly have plans to record one just yet though.  The game has changed so much these days.  I don’t think it really makes much sense to record a full length album out of the blue unless you’re backed by some sort of label, have your own studio, have someone backing you financially, or have a good amount of money yourself, you know?  Once you’re done with that album, what now?  Hope you have a following because who’s gonna buy it?  You have to tour, you have to have merchandise, you have to market it properly.  You really have to be honest with yourself.  There’s a lot that goes into making an album outside of just recording the music.  A lot of those things, in most cases, musicians don’t want to be burdened with doing.  Or sometimes they’re just either not good at it or don’t have the means to really do it properly.  I think I’ll record a few more low-fi demos with the DIY spirit, hope people like ’em, start playing some shows in Brooklyn and NYC to create a bit of a buzz, maybe throw together an EP or something, tour, gain some interest by a cool Indie label, become a pretentious and pompous rock star, consume way too much whiskey and impregnate multiple women in multiple states in similar fashion to Hip-Hop great Old Dirty Bastard.   Then, after my music career sails into the sunset, I can work as a laborer into my 70s before retiring with poor health and massive amounts of debt.  Finally, I’ll be able to live happily ever after as a massively miserable and depressed man who has no idea why or how his life went by so quickly.  Isn’t that the American Dream?

 

You can find nEko Soto online at wordpress, facebook, twitter, soundcloud, youtube, tumblr, and even myspace.

Originally posted on February 19, 2010

Music =, the NYC-based experimental music group, debuted their ensemble on February 19th.  The concert featured performances of pieces from the ’80s and ’90s by Peter Ablinger and Morton Feldman, as well as two new works by Music = co-founders Matthew Hough and Inhyun Kim.

Kim’s piece, Musicsquare, had the fullest sound of all the pieces, the continuous melodic motion from the ensemble giving the impression of tightly woven colorful patterns.  The patterns moved upwards, interlocking and repeating.  Three-quarters of the way through the motion slowed briefly, as the hitherto silent violin joined in and the pattern-motion dramatically returned to its original pace.  The intensity grew to an abrupt ending.

Hough’s piece, Middle Mediaval, combined two elements that have shown up in his music quite a bit as of late: text (spoken), and “ghost” notes (the performers play music, but little to no sound comes out).  These were combined with surging, quaking gestures from the instruments, playing outside their comfort zone to get the extremes of pitch and volume. Curious to know more about this intriguing piece, kleineKultur contacted Hough with some questions:

What was the inspiration for Middle Mediaval?
“I wrote the piece specifically for this concert, the first by the Music = Ensemble. It shares elements with some of my recent work–fragmented spoken text, unusual methods of playing the instruments, and harmonic material derived from pre-existing sources.”

Why did you decide to use spoken text in this piece?
“The text consists of poems by Ian Gallagher, who is a friend and longtime collaborator. These poems hold a great deal of meaning for me, and address some of the same things I am interested in as a composer.”

Tell us about the “ghost” notes.
“This material forms a sort of background in the piece, a ‘noise’ from which and against which the other sounds come and go. The instruments play in unusual ways to create this nebulous texture.”

Check out the next Music = performance Friday, May 21st, followed by a CD-release party dj’d by BORU, both at Cafe Orwell.

Originally posted on September 25, 2009

Austrian composer Peter Ablinger (who currently resides in Berlin) came to Bushwick’s Cafe Orwell for a night featuring a selection of his works, followed by a short interview, presented by new music organization Music =.

The performance began with 6-18 (excerpted from 1-127): 13 short pieces for electric guitar and amplified sound, played in quick succession.  Each piece was characterized by: quiet simplicity, interrupted by highly complex loudness, with a return to simplicity at the end.  The loudness comprised amplified, pre-recorded samples of city noise and lightning fast guitar gestures; the loud sections, as well as the simpler solo guitar sections, differed slightly in length piece to piece.  Thus it was impossible to predict when or how long one’s ears were to be barraged with the loud sections; only that they would occur somewhere in the middle.  The guitarist’s performance was compelling, as he executed the abrupt virtuosic gestures with apparent ease.

Weiss/Weisslich (“White/White-ish”) 17c: A clock radio tuned to white noise, shut off at the entrance of an extended snare drum roll.

Ohne Titel (“Without Title”) 1-10: Performed by electric guitar and vibraphone (the instrumentation is up to the performers).  A sparse, quiet, rarely more than monophonic piece.  Here again there were many short pieces in quick succession, though this time creating a string of delicate gestures, performed with tender care by The Silent Book.  A particularly nice moment occurred when the guitar and vibes struck the same high note together, both instruments letting the note ring and fade.

[The following is paraphrased from my notes; I invite Mr. Ablinger to correct me in the comments section if I’ve misrepresented his answers in any way.]
Q and A session with the audience, hosted by Matthew Hough and Ian Antonio:
Q: What is the significance of noise in your music?
A: White noise is the acoustical version of everything, a totality of sounds like white light, like a blank page, to be tweaked perceptually, or not. Consider a monochrome painting—the closest equivalent in music is white noise.  The experience of white noise: we as listeners have no reference point within white noise, which is emptier than silence.
Q: Regarding 6-18 (1-127), were you thinking about the listener when you composed this piece?
A: Yes.  The perceptual problem with noise is that it creates anxiety about one’s inability to extract information; “our brains are damned” by this compulsion to extract information.  In [Ablinger’s] pieces for large ensembles, once you get over the “materiality” of the noise, you start to hear figures that aren’t in any one instrument, like “illusions” you see when staring for a prolonged time at a white wall.  Likewise, with 6-18 (1-127), behind each short piece and as they go by a new layer starts to emerge, which is the reason for the multiple repetitions of a similar gesture.
Q: Do you have an ideal listener in mind when you compose?
A: No.  It is impossible to perceive [Ablinger’s] pieces in only one way.  Your experience is part of the creation of the piece. “Like a dance between the composer and performer and listener.”  Depending on the piece, one or the other does more leading, or it may be equally divided sometimes.
Q: Why allow the performer to choose which succession of numbers to play in 1-127?
A: The performer should never play all 128 pieces in one performance; flexibility for the performer is part of the reason for letting each decide how many to play.

Originally posted on February 7, 2009

Melancholic lyrics and close-knit vocal harmonies make nice with electronics in Owen Lake’s rare brand of electro-country, as heard in a private performance at Prentis Hall Saturday night.  Performing on his new invention, called the Manta, Owen Lake was joined by the newly added Tragic Loves, with Penny Hunt on vocals and keyboards, and Tommy Byrd on vocals and guitar (all three use aliases).  The timbral blend heard in Owen Lake’s songs was often mesmerizing, and combine with this the flashing images being projected onto the band, it’s no wonder the trio had their audience hypnotized for most of the set.  Curious to know more about his electronic invention and choice of genre, kleineKultur contacted Owen Lake (aka Jeff Snyder) for an interview:

So, for those of us who are electronically challenged, what is the Manta?
“The Manta is a controller for your computer, so that you can get tactile data from your fingers into audio or video software, or whatever else you want to use it to control.  It has 48 sensors arranged in a hexagonal array, all of which continually send data to your computer about how much surface area you’re covering with your fingers.  I made it because I was dissatisfied with the difficulty of really getting my hands on the numbers I was sending to my computer from more traditional knob/slider/button based controllers. Each sensor also has an LED light that provides feedback when it’s touched, or can show other information from the computer if you’d like.  It also has two sliders and four assignable function buttons.  It’s a powerful way to get physical gestures into your computer for live audio or video control.”

How exactly did you use the Manta during the performance?
“I was using the manta to allow me to play the electronic drum and bass synth parts simultaneously.  It was a pretty simple setup, with the different drumbeats and fills used in each song set up as loops that were accessible from particular sensors, and the bass notes used in each song also matched to certain sensors.  My right hand was controlling the bassline, and changing notes and octaves whenever necessary, and my left hand was triggering and selecting the drum loops.  I set up the top 16 sensors to give me a visual indication of the beat, so that we could play to a click and not get out of time with the computer whenever there was a rest in the drumbeat.  A quick glance at the top row of hexagons on the manta would give an instant indication of which 8th-note the computer was on in a two-bar phrase. I had to keep things relatively easy for myself, since I was doing most of the lead vocals at the same time.”

What inspired you to create an electro-country alter-ego?
“I love classic country music, especially the hardcore honky-tonk artists of the sixties and early seventies.  I imagine Owen Lake as an alternate universe 1960’s honky-tonk artist, from a world where electronic instruments became available earlier and became a traditional part of the American country music instrumental arsenal. It’s not that far-fetched – the most identifiable country music instrument in our universe is the pedal steel guitar, which is one of the most complex machines ever applied to the task of making music. I’m also very attracted to the emotional strength of close vocal harmonies, and I wanted to find a way to incorporate them into the types of electronic textures I usually explore.  I’m looking to book some more gigs, make some videos, and spread the electro-country gospel in the future. (of the future??)”