Amelia’s Magazine | Snow Palms, Intervals: an interview with Dave Sheppard

Snow Palms by Grace Coombes
Snow Palms by Grace Coombes.

If, like me, you are partial to a bit of modern classical music, then your must buy album for 2012 must be Intervals by Snow Palms, a collaborative project between musician/composer David Sheppard and numerous other creative types. Channelling the repetitive strains of Philip Glass and intricate, polyrhythmic bleeps and glitches, Intervals is an eerily beautiful and hypnotic album that you will want to play over and over again. Just don’t call it World Music.

david sheppard Snow Palms
There is a dizzying array of instruments featured in your album… who played them all and which was the one you fell most in love with, perhaps surprisingly?
The multi-instrumental Christopher Leary (from Ochre) contributed lots of woodwind, additonal electronics and percussion and wrote and played some of the string parts. Josh Hillman (from Willard Grant Conspiracy, etc) played violins and violas and I played all the mallet instruments (glockenspiels, marimbas, xylophones, etc), as well as classical and electric guitar, piano, harmonium, drums and so on… One of the most resonant sounds is based on a little faux electric harp effect on an old Suzuki Omnichord (it’s on ‘Index of Rivers‘) which we ran though tons of effects to create this big, sepia ‘cloud’. It’s sort of sonic Proust; it billows up here and there over the track like bursts of nostalgia. 

Snow Palms by Mireille Fauchon
You’ve mixed genres and styles from different countries. Have you travelled a lot and if so what place has inspired you most musically?
I’m not sure if there was a delibarate mixing of specific national or ethnic ‘styles’ – that sounds too much like, shudder, ‘world music‘. It was more about trying to recontextualise different types of ‘exotic’ or ‘elevating’ musical approaches, like alloying vaguely Eastern Gamelan-type percussion with Western baroque strings. But it was less scientific and far more intuitive and spontaneous than that sounds.
Snow Palms by Mireille Fauchon
I have travelled a fair bit, I guess, but the music that consistently excites me at the moment comes mainly from West Africa, and I have yet to visit… Sometimes just the vaguest impression of a ‘foreign’ music can be a more potent influence than thorough immersion in it.

Snow Palms by Mireille Fauchon
Snow Palms 1,2,3 by Mireille Fauchon. I wanted to create imagery which could capture the enigmatic quality of Snow Palms – Intervals, it seemed appropriate to respond using colour and pattern in order to create illustrations which, much like the compositions, are multi layered and textural and open to interpretation.

How did you ‘sort the wheat from the chaff‘ with producer and arranger Chris Leary?
I’d begun a lot of tracks on my own and there were some that wanted to be left spare and minimal, others that begged for additional arrangement and still others that needed shelving. Chris helped with the general winnowing process.

Snow Palms Intervals cover
What inspired the polyrhythmic structures? Were you listening to anything else particular when you created the album?
A lot of the influences weren’t specifically musical. I was definitely thinking architecturally and about map contours, wave patterns on the ocean, trees growing up through city grids… all kinds of vaguely moiré things. I was also listening to various Gamelan records someone brought back for me from Indonesia, and Moondog‘s ‘Elpmas‘ recordings for marimbas. Of course, once you start layerig up idiophones it’s almost impossible to evade the pervasive influence of Messrs Riley, Reich, Glass, Nyman, etc… I was also bending an ear to old ‘exotica’ records, Arthur Lyman in particular, to Carl Orff‘s ‘Schulwerk‘ music for children, and to lots of European film soundtracks, specifically those by Krzysztof Komeda.

Snow Palms by Alexa Coe
Snow Palms by Alexa Coe. Whenever I listen to music I often retreat to a fantasyland. I found the music hypnotic, unable to really describe what really came to mind, I found myself in a state of automatic drawing, which is why I’ve presented here my inner child, like a doll waiting to wound up and spring into action,

Will you be performing the album live? if so How will that happen?
Almost certainly not, unless the Arts Council get heavily involved! It will require a very dextrous ten-to-fifteen piece band!

Dave Cartoon Snow Palms
How did this comic strip image of you (above) by Darren Hayman come about?
Because Darren and I are working together on an instrumental album, called Semmering, about the eponymous ‘cure house’ retreat in the Austrian Alps. Also, I play a little bit on some of his more recent albums.

Snow Palms by Margaux Cannon
Snow Palms by Margaux Cannon. I ran with the childlike quality of the music, the chimes and the idea of winter.

Darren says you like to hide, hence we didn’t get many images of you to work from, what is the best environment for you to create your music in?
I’m hardly J.D. Salinger, but I do believe mystery, shyness and inaccessibility are underrated qualities in these hyper-connected, self-aggrandizing times. Anyway, I prefer the cloistered laboratory envrionment of the recording studio to the ‘showbiz’ of the stage. I like to be surrounded by lovely musical instruments, especially ones I have no idea how to play. 

Snow Palms – Motion Capture

What are you working on next?
An album by Ellis Island Sound (aka Pete Astor and me) which explores some of those African influences, and the aformentioned Semmering instrumental album. If the planets align, I’ll also be embarking on an entirely solo album in the New Year.

Intervals by Snow Palms is out now on Village Green.

Categories ,Alexa Coe, ,Arthur Lyman, ,Carl Orff, ,Christopher Leary, ,Darren Hayman, ,David Sheppard, ,Ellis Island Sound, ,Elpmas, ,Gamelan, ,Glass, ,Grace Coombes, ,Index of Rivers, ,Intervals, ,Josh Hillman, ,Krzysztof Komeda, ,Margaux Cannon, ,Messrs Riley, ,Mireille Fauchon, ,Moondog, ,Nyman, ,Ochre, ,Pete Astor, ,Philip Glass, ,Reich, ,Schulwerk, ,Semmering, ,Snow Palms, ,Suzuki Omnichord, ,Village Green, ,West Africa, ,Willard Grant Conspiracy

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Amelia’s Magazine | Mediaeval Baebes, The Huntress double album: review and interview with founder Katharine Blake

Mediaeval Baebes by Elisa Macdougall
Mediaeval Baebes by Elisa Mac.

I’ve never paid much attention to the Mediaeval Baebes before, but then new album The Huntress landed on my doormat and I listened, and was won over: look past the frou frou faux mediaeval stylings and this is great fun. Across two packed CD’s worth of tracks, both old tunes and ancient texts set to self-penned music get the Baebes treatment – intriguing stories, atonal melodies, folk noodlings and plenty of glorious harmonies. For anyone interested in the intersection of classical music and mediaeval folk this will make an intriguing purchase. Founding Baebe Katharine Blake answers some questions about the creation of and inspiration behind The Huntress.

Mediaeval Baebes The Huntress
How have the Baebes changed over the years?
The Mediaeval Baebes started out as a raucous, hedonistic bunch of girls who initially started out singing together on a purely recreational basis. Over the years, I suppose things have calmed down a bit in the non-stop partying department to be replaced by a much more professional and slick operation…. On a musical level the band favors setting ancient and romantic verse to their own diverse compositions rather than the more traditional slant of some of their earlier material.

Mediaeval Baebes by Rhiannon Fraser
Mediaeval Baebes by Rhiannon Fraser.

What is the process for choosing a new Baebe?
Every new Baebe has been through word of mouth rather than an open audition process. The audition consists of singing with the choir to make sure that their voice blends well, performing a song of their choice, sight reading some music (usually in an ancient language), and trying out some of our dance routines…. It’s not easy being a Baebe.

Mediaeval baebes huntress
Why did you decide to place such a strong emphasis on looks?
The band is very much about fantasy and escapism… If we all turned up on stage in our jeans the spell would be broken. The reason people like our music is because it is deeply romantic and other-wordly. Enhancing this with a faerie-tale image heightens the experience for the audience.

YouTube Preview ImageMediaeval Baebes – Veni Veni Bella

What is the strongest thread running through all your music?
The timeless and romantic themes which are expressed in the texts that we use. I love to take an ancient poem by an anonymous poet and breathe life into it. This feels like a very magical process to me. It is an honour to help keep the spirit of our ancestors alive within a fanciful environment.

Mediaeval baebes huntress
There are lots of references to the moon on your new album… where did you look for moon inspiration?
The moon just keeps cropping up in romantic and ancient poetry. We never get bored of her though, due to her infinite mystery. The control she has over us is enormous. Being organisms comprising mainly of water, we are sensitive to her cycles in the same way that the tide is.

What other feminine energy should listeners listen out for?
There is a track on the album in Arabic called Clasp of a Lion which was written by the Andalusian Arab poetess Nazhun al-Garnatiya (Very little is known of her origins, except that they were lower class, and that she may have been a slave. By the time of her death in 1100, however, she had risen to notoriety on account of her sexual reputation and her fearlessly sensual and erotic verse. One of her many lovers, Abu Bakr ibn Sa’id, the Vizier of Andalusia, exchanged verses with her, complaining about her other ‘thousand admirers’. She is now regarded as perhaps the most outrageous and outspoken female Arab poet of the Mediaeval period.) The lyrics to this particular poem describe her and her lover as ‘The Sun in the arms of the Moon‘, or a panting gazelle in the clasp of a lion.

Mediaeval Baebes by Bhulla Beghal
Mediaeval Baebes by Bhulla Beghal.

The album is equally folk and classical inspired – what inspired the more esoteric songs?
All the songs on the album apart from Cruel Sister and She Moves Through the Fayre are original compositions. Dies Irae, and Dianae (two of the more esoteric numbers) both use text from the manuscript of Benediktbeuern which was the Mediaeval Latin source of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Other texts which have been set to music in an ethereal and whimsical style in include the Elizabethan poet Ben Jonson’s Queen and Huntress (an ode to the moon) and the 17th century poet William Broome’s The Rose-Bud (a meditation on the tragedy of withering beauty and mortality).

For those readers more used to discovering indie and folk bands who are under the mainstream radar, how would you persuade them to try out the Mediaeval Baebes‘ new album?
Fans of folk music might be interested in delving further back in time to experience music using languages such as 12th Century Irish, 14th Century Middle English, 13th Century Latin and 11th Century Arabic. In the ancient tradition of folk music it is our aim to popularize and keep alive the spirit of ancient languages and traditions.

Mediaeval Baebes by Jhinuk Sarkar
Mediaeval Baebes by Jhinuk Sarkar.

The Huntress by Mediaeval Baebes is out now. The Mediaeval Baebes are currently on tour around the UK: catch them at these cathedrals and churches in the run up to Christmas: buy tickets here.
Saturday 8th Dec – Norwich Cathedral
Thursday 13th Dec – Gloucester Cathedral
Friday 14th Dec – Ely Lady Chapel
Saturday 15th Dec – Peterbourough Cathedral
Friday 21st Dec – St Sepulchre Without Newgate

Categories ,Abu Bakr ibn Sa’id, ,Ben Jonson, ,Benediktbeuern, ,Bhulla Beghal, ,Carl Orff, ,Carmina Burana, ,Cathedrals, ,Clasp of a Lion, ,classical, ,Cruel Sister, ,Dianae, ,Dies Irae, ,Double Album, ,Elisa Mac, ,Elisa MacDougall, ,folk, ,interview, ,Jhinuk Sarkar, ,Katharine Blake, ,Mediaeval Baebes, ,Nazhun al-Garnatiya, ,Queen and Huntress, ,review, ,Rhiannon Fraser, ,She Moves Through the Fayre, ,The Huntress, ,The Rose-Bud, ,Tour Dates, ,Veni Veni Bella, ,Vizier of Andalusia, ,William Broome

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