Amelia’s Magazine | Frans Lanting and Philip Glass: LIFE: A Journey Through Time performed at the Barbican by the LSO

Frans Lanting Joanne Young
Frans Lanting. Illustration by Joanne Young.

Way back in the depths of February I went for a very different night out in the middle of London Fashion Week. This was for the London premiere, at the Barbican, of an unusual multimedia collaboration between composer Philip Glass and Frans Lanting – a wildlife photographer much beloved of the National Geographic. LIFE: A Journey Through Time comprised an orchestral performance by the London Symphony Orchestra played beneath a huge three screen projection of photographs depicting the evolution of life on earth: not a big task at all then. The images have also been turned into a beautiful (and heavy) coffee table tome produced by Taschen, which is available here.

Life: A Journey Through Time
You wouldn’t want to drop this on your toes.

When I was I child my parents seemed hopeful that I’d become a serious violinist, so at the weekends I was dragged on numerous trips to watch classical music performed at the Royal Festival Hall and ever since then the idea of doing the same under my own steam brings back memories of mind-numbing boredom. What a great idea though – create something for those of us more visually inclined to look so that our minds don’t wander too far. I was hoping that the combination of imagery with music would produce something so much more engaging than your usual orchestral performance.

Barbican gallery

I was not disappointed: from the upper gallery we had a great view of the screens onto which were projected a mixture of stunning images from Lanting’s back catalogue together with many that were specifically taken for this project, one which clearly necessitated many further trips into pristine wildernesses to capture the world as it might have been many years before man arrived on the scene. The music and the images were expertly ‘choreographed’ by Alexander Nichols for the first ever performance, held in 2006 in Santa Cruz, and have been altered and adapted at each ensuing one. LIFE: A Journey Through Time has now been performed all over the world, including at the official inauguration ceremony of the CERN Hadron Collider. You can watch an excerpt of the show here.

After the performance we stayed on for a Q&A session, which was unexpectedly interesting – possibly due to the high calibre of the audience questions – a rarity! Together, Franz Lanting (the man with the idea), conductor Marin Alsop and Cameron Hepburn, an environmental economist and representative of Julie’s Bicycle (on organisation that seeks to reduce the carbon emissions of the music industry) talked about the processes and ethics behind the performance.

frans lanting turtles
Image courtesy of Frans Lanting.

The extreme luminosity of the projections were perfect for showcasing the impressive images, which somehow took on an otherworldly feel despite being very much about our own amazing earth. Lanting did his best to find images that look hyper real in the first place, which of course has been abetted by the move to digital photography. “All the most recent images were taken on digital cameras and the colour of earlier ones were synchronised with them.” No longer do we need to worry about the quality of “crummy prints.” The project was only supposed to take a few years to do, but unsurprisingly Lanting kept finding new and interesting things to photograph. How does he locate and then shoot his subject matter? “It takes a lot of patience and research; finding out where and when to go to a place. You can’t just sit behind a tree and hope for the best – you have to engage and then get out of the way quickly.” He offered as an example the yawning jaws of a hippo. No, you wouldn’t want to stay too close to that particular vision!

frans lanting ferns
Image courtesy of Frans Lanting.

The biggest issue for Lanting was how to weave the human story into such a beautiful project without really, erm, sullying the imagery with shots of actual humans. Seems I’m not the only one who regards us as a blight on the planet. He decided that the best way to do this was to subtly represent the vulnerability of humanity with an image of an embryo, a curiously delicate pair of human feet, and cross sections of brain and hands to highlight the universal branching patterns that can are found everywhere in nature, from landscapes to music. Setting the imagery to music made perfect sense because everyone can relate to music in the same way that they can relate to the natural world. “Resonance is indigenous to life, so the same patterns repeat themselves at different scales in whatever form.”

Frans Lanting croc
Image courtesy of Frans Lanting.

And this is where the choice of Glass came in. “Selecting the composer for this work was a logical decision,” explained Lanting. “I’d had his music in my ears for decades because it has the same organic focus on pattern as you find in the natural world.” And anyway Steve Reich won’t work with an orchestra, so that put paid to his inclusion in the project.

Marin Alsop Joanne Young
Marin Alsop. Ilustration by Joanne Young.

As for the conductor, Marin Alsop. Well, I and most of the audience were most surprised to discover that there was no automatic synching of the music to the imagery – she does it all done totally live. “It’s quite a tricky thing to keep in time with the images,” she admitted. No shit! I was seriously impressed. Added difficulties arise when the images are changed around from performance to performance. “Sometimes I’m looking for an iguana and it’s become a bird.” She tries to keep in time by doodling eyeballs in the correct places on her score, although she admitted that “it’s mostly just luck when everything lines up.”

Cameron Hepburn Joanne Young
Cameron Hepburn. Illustration by Joanne Young.

So why do this? Why put together this piece and then tout it all over the globe? “It’s all about humanity being in the same place experiencing something together at the same time” was the best that the panelists could come up with. This is where I struggle. It’s a beautiful piece of work and one that I would highly recommend anyone to go and see – it’s evocative, engaging, mournful, emotional. But the creators are also being flown all over the world to promote the piece, which in itself is a carbon intensive production. Because I feel so very conflicted about projects like this I was really interested to hear the thoughts of Hepburn, who admitted that although he cycled to the Barbican he also flies around the world to attend conferences on climate change. He was also disarmingly honest in questioning how successful this performance could be in raising awareness of climate change and the attendant huge loss of biodiversity that we currently face.

frans lanting jellyfish
Image courtesy of Frans Lanting.

Yes the performance was incredibly moving, and the accompanying book is very beautiful and I’d really like a copy, yes please, as did many of the punters queueing around the shop to buy it – but what exactly will its purchase do, apart from provide a bit of wow factor for the coffee table? Having enjoyed this performance, will the audience go away and change anything deeper about their lifestyles? Am I a cynic to doubt they will? The main demographic were assuredly middle class cultured types of the sort who think nothing of flying half way across the world on holiday and then assuage their conscience by staying in an eco-lodge. Does this really help preserve the glory of our natural world? I am sure that the production of this work alone has justified Lanting’s global jaunts to fragile places of beauty many times over. Therein lies the conundrum: it’s important to document and tell people about what we risk losing and Lanting is particularly good at capturing the raw primeval beauty of the natural world – but when the very production of those photos contributes to global warming, where does that leave us?

frans lanting cheetah
Image courtesy of Frans Lanting.

Humans are programmed to rejoice in the wonder of the natural world; it’s why we love to travel abroad and experience the landscapes of beautiful unspoilt places. I love being in wild places so much that it was one of the reasons I decided to pursue fashion photography for a while – it allowed me to seek out amazing locations that I would never otherwise have been able to justify visiting. But we’ve become so greedy to see all the beautiful places of the world that we bury our heads and do our best not to consider the heavy carbon costs of air travel. How many people actually think about what that holiday to a pristine wilderness now costs us on a planetary wide scale? And how do we balance having a global view not only of the beauty we risk losing, but the multitudes of cultures and peoples, whilst taking into account the costs of travel?

Frans Lanting volcano
Image courtesy of Frans Lanting.

I don’t know what the answer is. If I’m honest I’m jealous that Lanting has a reason to justify his visits to the Galapagos and I don’t. But would I fly there repeatedly if I had the opportunity to do the same? Probably not. My conscience just weighs too heavy. Although maybe I can justify just that one trip for myself in my lifetime… Now how long does it take to get there by boat?

Categories ,barbican, ,Cameron Hepburn, ,CERN, ,Classical Music, ,Frans Lanting, ,Galapagos, ,Hippo, ,Joanne Young, ,Julie’s Bicycle, ,London Fashion Week, ,London Symphony Orchestra, ,LSO, ,Marin Alsop, ,Minimalist music, ,Philip Glass, ,photography, ,Royal Festival Hall, ,Santa Cruz, ,wildlife

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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 | Red Bull Music Academy: Steve Reich lecture Q&A from students

Illustration by Gemma Milly
Illustration by Gemma Milly.

Steve Reich gave a very inspiring lecture to the students of the 2010 Red Bull Music Academy (which you can read here). Afterwards he took a series of questions from the floor and I’ve tried to transcribe the answers as best I can on this blog, viagra 100mg because they were an intriguing bunch:

How do you balance the listenability of your music with what you want to create?
When I write I’m alone in the music, and my theory is if I love it I hope you do too, but I think it’s valid to question listenability if you’re writing a jingle. It’s not the same with a fine art composition. People are intuitively smart about music so you can’t fool them – they will smell a rat [if your music doesn’t come from the heart].

How easy is it to get into composition if you’re not classically trained?
Sometimes you can see shapes in music and follow them. My son got Pro Tools and everything changed because he suddenly saw what he was doing and the eye got involved in addition to the ear. It changes your perspective when you can see the music you are composing. I work with Sibelius; it’s easy to learn the basics but you should ask yourself – will it be useful? Will it help you?

Are you interested in audio illusions?
Well I haven’t used phasing since the 70s but [having said that] my entire arsenal of equipment is Macbook Pro, Sibelius and Reason. My new piece will feature speech samples from 9/11and they are triggered from a notation programme. I also wanted to create the equivalent in sound of stop action in a film, and something called granular synthesis can stop a sound anywhere, even on a consonant – “I saw a fishhhhhhhh…..” – it does a fantastic job of it.

Of course the audience want to know more about his new project…
During 9/11 I was living on Broadway, four blocks from Ground Zero. My son and grandkids were in the apartment when it happened, and I won’t go into details but it was terrifying but basically our neighbours saved my family. I didn’t do anything about it but a year ago I realised I had unfinished business and so I’m in the middle of a new piece based on the Jewish tradition whereby you don’t leave a body before it’s buried. These women didn’t know what parts were in the tents [at Ground Zero] but they came down and said psalms 24 hours a day.

I worry that I’m saying something flippant now, but how did you describe your music in the early days?
Hey, lighten up, they got London once so let’s hope they’re not back in a hurry!
It’s not important what you call your music: journalists want a label, but they’ll invent something anyway so it doesn’t matter. Philip Glass called it repetitive music. I don’t like ‘minimal’ but it’s better than trance or some other things. If a journalist ever pushes you on this say ‘wash out your mouth, it’s your job to write the next piece’. Don’t put yourself in a box – it’s someone else’s job to do that. Be polite though, and don’t make enemies if you don’t have to.

What is the process when you start writing? And how much has it changed?
Oh boy! I briefly did pieces for orchestra, and they were by far not my best works; they were too phat. I learnt that in the late 80s, so since the beginning, minus a little break, I have written for ensemble, e.g. six pianos. I want identical pairs of instruments. Before Music for 18 Musicians I used rhythmic melodic pattern, like drumming on a phone but then I thought what happens if if I worked things out harmonically and it really worked, so I continued. I start with a harmonic super structure, which before computers was done on a multi track tape. I’ve always worked in real sound, not in my head. I’m a crippled man, I have to hear it! In the mid 80s I got a grant and bought a Tascam 8 track, which weighed a tonne, but I used it for the next ten years until midi appeared. Different Trains was composed on a Mac which was easy. No, that’s a complete lie, it crashed every 15 seconds! I invent harmonic movements that don’t come intuitively, which is a bit like hanging onto a horse for dear life [to keep control]. All the details are done on computer but there is a lot of garbage. My trash can runneth over!

How do you advise moving from the creation of songs to symphonies or longer works?
It’s usually a mess when pop musicians try to do that – for example I would never advise Radiohead to write a symphony – they’re geniuses anyway so why bother. Anyone who doesn’t recognise that is mad. But if you are really serious about it it may mean going to music school to get the practical knowledge, which could be a laborious series of years.

Do you think it’s better to concentrate on emotion or concept?
Bach was the greatest improviser of his day but I’m not much of one so the bedrock of anything I’ve ever done has rested on musical intuition. How does it sound on Monday, Tuesday, next month? Does it keep sounding good?

And with that there is a standing ovation for this most revered of modern composers. I think there’s a room full of people here who will go away and reappraise the oeuvre of Steve Reich if they haven’t already done so.

Categories ,Bach, ,Broadway, ,classical, ,Gemma Milly, ,Ground Zero, ,improvisation, ,Macbook, ,Minimalist music, ,Orchestra, ,Philip Glass, ,pop, ,radiohead, ,Reason, ,Red Bull Music Academy, ,Sibelius, ,Steve Reich

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Amelia’s Magazine | Red Bull Music Academy: Steve Reich Lecture on Tuesday 16th February 2010

Steve Reich by Gemma Milly
Steve Reich by Gemma Milly
Steve Reich by Gemma Milly.

Steve Reich is a seriously cult figure for contemporary beats based music. Famed for his minimalist compositions from the 60s onwards he continues to be active today and even though I’ve heard he can be a difficult old bugger to interview, erectile at 74 years of age he was charming and lucid when he gave his lecture to the students of the 2010 Red Bull Music Academy.

Red Bull Music Academy lecture theatre.
Red Bull Music Academy lecture theatre.

I skirted into the back of the packed lecture theatre just as he was starting – and I use the term ‘lecture theatre’ lightly because we are talking the most comfortable lecture theatre you ever saw. Designer arm chairs stuffed with colour co-ordinated cushions were orientated around a sofa interview area above which hung the distinctive Red Bull coat of arms, if you will. Emma “rabbit” Warren, who I’ve known since I was an intern at The Face over a decade ago, was tasked with asking the questions – over the years she has carved a niche for herself in this particular music scene and acts as a “team member” for the academy.

Emma Warren by Gemma Milly.

What follows is by no means a direct transcription of the interview, but an edited version that I hope will make sense to not only those who attended the lecture but anyone who is interested in finding out more about what makes Steve Reich tick. It was certainly an education for me.

Steve Reich‘s musical career started with piano lessons and then the study of drums at the age of 14. This conversation began with his move to San Francisco in 1962 where he decided to become a cabbie so that he wouldn’t have to teach. Emma asked whether it was hard to make music around his day job. “Night job,” he corrected her. “Necessity is the mother of invention – I coulda taught harmony and theory in Nebraska but I’d had it up to here with the academic world.” He saw how his friends became beaten down. “In my time almost all the composers in the US were in universities because that was the easiest job to get but I’m sure that now even being a DJ will be turned into academic trash. But you need to put a lot of energy into teaching and I think if you can’t then that’s immoral, and if you do then you’re gonna be too wiped out to make music.” Surely a sage piece of advice to anyone considering juggling teaching with a successful artistic career. “I had a good time driving the cab and I wasn’t invested in it – it really fit me and was making more money than most musical professors too!”

Unfortunately he wasn’t a cab driver for long: “I inched forward and bumped into someone and ended up working in a post office.” Emma asked if this was an influential period – down amongst the sounds of the ‘street’. “I don’t know how true that would be. All music comes from a time and place. I come from New York, the West Coast, during the 1960s and 70s.” New York was a noisy place to be. “I used to wander around with earplugs in.” He attributes his early experimentations with loops and phasing on a tape machine to such ideas being “in the air” during that period. “You are who you are and your music will bear evidence to the honesty of the situation.”

In the early 60s the Cuban Missile Crisis got everyone “kinda concerned… we felt the clock was ticking. The crisis passed but it made its mark.” In 1964 he recorded Brother Walter in Union Square preaching about the flood and created seminal work “It’s Gonna Rain” where he made use of the sounds without focusing on their meaning. “Do you hear the ‘wap wap’ in the background? That’s the wings of a pigeon, a pigeon drummer.” He described at length how he played around with the sounds, feeding them through mono into stereo and then back again, to offset the source material and create the pioneering phasing technique that has influenced many contemporary composers since. Because he cut the tape loops by hand there was always going to be a bit of drift, creating a “sense of direction”. He gleefully describes how the sound “slides across your testicles, it’s really creepy! You can feel the vibration, and then it gets to one ear sooner than the other.” He found it intriguing that he could splice things together to make sounds that resembled the beats found in African music. “I thought – what have I got here? Mechanised Africans!” The piece becomes progressively more spooky and paranoid in feel. “We’re in the ark, locking the door, it’s the end of the world… a betrayal in sound.” Lest we doubt this sudden moribund turn he confirms, “Yes, I was in a bad state of mind at the time and given what was going on in the world.”

steve-reich & Emma Warren by gemma-milly
Steve Reich & Emma Warren in conversation by Gemma Milly.

A trip to Ghana in 1971 to study music was a key turning point. “All music there was a religiously, politically or historically orientated part of everyday life.” Whilst there he managed to contract malaria by picking up 100s of bites on his sandalled feet, despite a dose of anti-malarials. He realised that music was a form of communication that families were morally obliged to upkeep, but laughed that he met a Ghanaian man many years later who was no longer interested in “grandpa’s music”. Tastes change all over the world.

But Steve was keen not to fall into the trap of trying to adopt African music wholesale. “Many people from my generation drowned in India – it’s like an ocean containing thousands of years of music and as an individual it’s hard to make any sense out of it.” He bought some gang gangs in Ghana – iron bells that are used to accompany songs with a beautiful rattle. “They’re not that big, and I bought six of them. I thought I would use them in my music, but I don’t have perfect pitch and I was like ‘what do I do? They don’t sound right, should I get out the metal file?’ But then I felt like they would be saying ‘hi, I’m a gang gang, pleased to meet you,’ if I used them in my music. I am not an African and they carry the weight of a culture that’s not mine – so I had to think about what I had learnt that could travel, and that was the structure.”

He returned keen to play around with rhythmical complexity of the kind that is used in jazz such as the big band classic Africa/Brass by Coltrane. “It sounds like elephants coming through the jungle for half an hour, there’s no harmonic movement and yet it’s definitely not boring!” He concluded that there was tension and intensity precisely because there was no change. “In Shotgun by Junior Walker you’re waiting for another section, but there is no other section. There was something in the air [during that period] and it was harmonic stasis – even Bob Dylan was experimenting with one chord. It was coming in from other sources outside the west; the structural idea of a canon as an empty vessel that can travel anywhere.”

1971 was also the last year that Steve used the looped tape phasing technique, although he was keen not to be rude about laptop music in a room full of predominantly electronic musicians. “My live ideas came from a machine because all divisions are permeable.” Yet he felt trapped by gadgetry. “I felt like ‘I can’t leave this thing and I can’t do it live!’ I didn’t want to be a little tape maker.” The fact remains that he sees synthesisers and their ilk primarily as a means to an end. “I like the analogue sound so I was excited when the sampler was invented.” He felt liberated and exhilarated once he was able to say “look ma, no tape!” and started teaching ensembles to play his compositions live without the aid of traditional musical notation. Since then his music has got progressively more complex and he has always toured with a close clique of live musicians that he’s worked with for many years. “We’re the gold standard but other generations have picked it up. For instance the musicians in Riga in Latvia burnt Music for 18 Musicians right down into the ground.” Nowadays he uses midi mockups of live compositions to send out for performers to learn across the world.

Emma asked if there was some benefit in musicians learning his compositions without the benefit of written musical scores. “When music began we can speculate that there was no notation. Even early notation is in question. Notation as we know it started during the 10th and 11th centuries in the West – to save music for posterity. There were little pockets where people wrote things down, such as some isolated forms in Indonesia, but it was a marginal thing.” He concluded that notated music has only ever formed a very small part of all the music created worldwide and wonders if it even has a future. “Nowadays the normal position for walking down the street is like this,” he says, standing, head down, arm up, as if his mobile is in his hand. “It won’t be without it’s consequences…”

Steve believes that folk music can be used to describe whatever we interact with that’s around us, and can spontaneously arise in any culture. “Pop music is the folk music of our culture so in some sense electronics are the folk instrument of our time.” We’d come to the end of the guided lecture time, and sat in awed silence as Steve Reich played arguably his most famous piece, Music for 18 Musicians, through the huge lecture PA system… that is until an abrupt technical glitch snapped us all out of our reverie. “Anyone know how this thing works?!” asked Steve, frustratedly betraying his technophobery.

Find out how Steve answered a series of very well thought out questions from the floor in the next blog

Categories ,60s, ,70s, ,Coltrane, ,dj, ,Electronic music, ,Elephants, ,Emma Warren, ,Gemma Milly, ,ghana, ,jazz, ,Junior Walker, ,Minimalist music, ,Orchestras, ,Philip Glass, ,Red Bull Music Academy, ,sampling, ,San Francisco, ,Steve Reich, ,The Face

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Amelia’s Magazine | Johanna Glaza: Letter to New York – Review and Interview

Johanna Glaza by Daisy Steele
Johanna Glaza by Daisy Steele.

Letter to New York is a stunning showcase for multi-instrumentalist Johanna Glaza, channeling the vocal gymnastics of Kate Bush and the idiosyncratic song structures of Philip Glass. Here she tells us more about her songwriting influences and process.

Johanna Glaza portrait
Which musicians have inspired you most, and why?
My bible is Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony N3. I heard it for the first time a few years ago and it had such a profound influence on me,as if it cut me into tiniest bits and pieces in order to make something completely new. At the time of recording my first EP I was listening to Philip Glass. When I heard him I thought- oh my god, this guy ripped off my future ideas I would have had by the age of 60 or so ;). Letter to New York came from endless plays of Ravel’s Sheherazade. Listening to it, I imagined not a boring opera diva but some mysterious creature living in a completely unreal world, singing with such unhuman longing. It sounded so unfamiliar I wanted to take this vibe to the contemporary scene. Recently I have discovered Arvo Part, so I guess the next record will have his imprint.

Johanna Glaza by AmeliaGrace
Johanna Glaza by Amelia Grace.

How many instruments do you play and what is your current favourite?
I taught myself to play piano, keys and ukulele. I even attempted a bit of glockenspiel on my recent record. Each time I try out a new instrument I feel like a kid, it gives me freedom of being not perfect. Different songs inspire different instruments. Piano for me is a very independent instrument with a very strong voice of its own, sometimes it feels like a battle of egos when I try to sing to it. So I choose ukulele for more intimate songs. I love how it sounds like a little harp at times. But my top favourite instrument will always be my voice. There’s just so much you can do with your voice. On one of my tracks I used it as a percussive instrument. On others it served me as a ghostly choir. There’s no distance between you and the instrument, you are the instrument yourself when you sing.

Johanna Glaza the tree
What prompted your intriguing song structures, and how are they created?
Well, I sort of always struggled with writing songs of conventional structures. The ironic thing is the harder I tried to make them conventional, the more I’ve been scolded by my first listeners for their complicity. So one day I gave up and decided to try whatever comes instinctively to me, even if I can’t understand it myself. When I wrote Letter to New York I wanted to stay faithful to the linear structure of the letter, because the letter itself can’t be repetitive. So I wrote the words first, and then sat down and sang them to a simple piano riff, and kept all the bits and pieces that came then. I was so surprised when my brother, who is my harshest critic, rejoiced that finally this song’s structure has made sense to him. I was like, you kidding me, it makes hardly any sense to me now!

JohannaGlaza_LetterToNewYork cover
Why did you want to write a Letter to New York?
To be honest I can’t remember how it came to be. I guess just like with all messages or letters sometimes we have this urge to speak to the person, we grab a phone or a pen so spontaneously. Only in my case it was the place itself I wanted to connect with. I missed New York. My first solo shows took place in that City, it gave me courage to do what I do now. Sometimes I felt so isolated in the basement studio when working on the record, I had to remind myself about the place that inspired me the most, my glass kingdom.

What is your favourite bit of the big Apple?
L trains on the subway. My friend called it the beautiful people line. So true! I met so many beautiful people on L trains and heard some of the most unusual music from busking musicians. Forget about the old tired covers you hear in London. People play mainly their own tunes there, and with an open layout of two way platforms it’s a perfect spot to gather a crowd. I can’t tell you how many times I missed my train to be able hear one more song. And I was never the only one do so.

How did you make the video for Letter to New York? any challenges or best bits?
I’ve chosen to shoot the video in a very wild, uninhibited place in Lithuania called The Dead Dunes. It is a very special place on the coast. No one is allowed to walk there, but a few years ago a local woman showed me the secret path to the dunes. Anyone could be transfixed by the complete solitude there. I imagined this is a place where the main 3 characters of the song – Black Crow, Koyote and the mysterious Wind – could meet. But a week before the filming there was a huge fire in the nearby forest. It’s a miracle we managed to get there at all, and when we did it was an alien world, all black dust. We felt there had to be another scene of the rebirth in the sea. I was with a dream team of crazy inspired people, you see. It was +2C outside, everyone was wearing winter jackets and I went into the sea to be reborn. I would do it again if you ask.

Letter to New York by Johanna Glaza is out now and can be bought here. Catch Johanna Glaza play live in London for free on 11th September at The Finsbury.

Categories ,Amelia Grace, ,Arvo Part, ,Black Crow, ,Daisy Steele, ,ep, ,Henryk Gorecki, ,Johanna Glaza, ,Kate Bush, ,Koyote, ,L trains, ,Letter to New York, ,new york, ,Philip Glass, ,Ravel, ,review, ,Sheherazade, ,Symphony N3, ,The Dead Dunes, ,The Finsbury, ,wind

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