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 | Emily Hall presents Folie à Deux at Spitalfields Music Festival

Emily Hall  profile
As one of the Spitalfields Festival Associate Artists, award winning composer Emily Hall is curating the Sound Among Sounds event at Rich Mix where she will be debuting her latest work ‘Folie à Deux’. The new production, presented by the Mahogany Opera Group, is a sonic voyage into a shared psychosis and endeavours to explore love and loneliness within a relationship. The weekend (June 6/7) will include installations and performances sparked from her new opera, showcasing some of the most exciting artists working across the classical music field. Emily takes a few minutes out to explain the inspiration behind, and the making of, ‘Folie à Deux’.

Folie a Deux trailer

Folie à Deux’ directly translates to ‘A madness shared by two’. What gave you the inspiration for your new work?
It was a conversation with a good friend who is a psychiatrist. She told me about ‘Folie à Deux‘, the psychosis where a delusion is transmitted from one person to another, normally a partner or family member. It seemed to me like an exaggerated version of many relationships and a gift for an opera. Initially I workshopped the idea using “delusional parasitosis” where the delusion is some kind of insect infestation but it was so deeply uncomfortable even to research! Once Sjón came on board we happened upon the idea of the delusion involving a pylon and the power it might hold. I liked this idea immediately because of the sonic possibilities it held.

Emily Hall
You just mentioned the Icelandic author and lyricist Sjón. Was this the first time you worked together? How did that relationship come about?
Yes – the first time. I knew I wanted Folie à Deux to be simultaneously an opera and a concept album. Sjón has written many lyrics for Björk as well as many strong opera librettos. I had also been blown away by his book, ‘The Blue Fox‘ so I just got in touch and I was very happy when he accepted the challenge.

Interview with Emily Hall

The new piece enjoyed its world premiere in Bergen, Norway last month. What sort of reception did you receive?
It was a real pleasure to premier Folie à Deux at the Borealis Festival in Bergen. The festival audience was very warm and supportive. We got some great reviews and it gave us a really strong start to the tour.

Folie a deux stage
I hear you invented a brand new instrument, specifically for this production and album. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Yes – Folie à Deux includes a specially invented instrument, the electro-magnetic harp. It is a specially adapted harp basically with multiple ‘ebows’ on metal strings to create drones much like the sound of pylon, all stemming upwards from 50 Hz, the pitch of a UK mains hum. Sound designers David Sheppard and Jonathan Green created the electro-magnetic harp especially for this piece.

Sofia Jernberg
What can people expect from the stage production?
A minimalist tale investigating love and loneliness within a relationship. Performed by Sofia Jernberg, a truly unique vocalist and classical tenor and Finnur Bjarnason, on the acoustic harp and the specially created electro-magnetic harp against an incredible back-drop of responsive lights. The audience isn’t spoon fed the narrative – one of it’s strengths is people have drawn different conclusions about how it ends.

Sofia Jernberg2
You have another new work being performed by Women Sing East during the Spitalfields Music Festival. What’s the concept behind this piece?
Yes – on Monday 8 June Women Sing East, an all female amateur choir based in East London, will premiere my new work in Shoredich Church. It’s called ‘We are Passengers’. I’ve set text-art, old and new, juxtaposing some specially made by the artist Caroline Bergvall with an epic visual poem by Benedictine monk Rabanus Maurus (b.780). I have recorded all 45 members of the choir speaking the letters one by one of the 45 lines of Rabanus Maurus’ Latin poem. I have also woven recordings of material written for the amazing viola de gamba player Liam Byrne and Women Sing East sing quite simple, self-contained lines over the top “We are Passengers” “everything happens all the time”, “keeping still means stopping”… The audience will be able take away limited edition reproductions of the text art I have set. Pop choir Lips are also singing in this gig who are totally inspiring to watch.

Catch Emily Hall: Sound Among Sounds during the Spitalfields Music Festival 2015 at Rich Mix, London on Saturday June 6 and Sunday June 7. Check website for ticket details and performance times.

Categories ,bjork, ,Borealis Festival, ,Caroline Bergvall, ,David Sheppard, ,Emily Hall, ,Finnur Bjarnason, ,Folie a Deux, ,Jonathan Green, ,Liam Byrne, ,Lips, ,Mahogany Opera Group, ,Rabanus Maurus, ,Rich Mix, ,Shoredich Church, ,Sjón, ,Sofia Jernberg, ,Sound Among Sounds, ,Spitalfields Festival Associate Artists, ,Spitalfields Music Festival, ,The Blue Fox, ,We are Passengers, ,Women Sing East

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