Switched On – Balance presents Vivrant mixed by Jeremy Olander

Various Artists: Balance presents Vivrant mixed by Jeremy Olander (Balance)

What’s the story?

‘Melancholic’ and ‘cinematic’ are two of the words closely associated with Jeremy Olander’s music. They are often applied to the Swedish producer’s own work and his DJ sets, which often contain a lot of his own music. Time, then, for him to release one of those commercially – which he does here on the Balance label. Olander confesses to feeling a little intimidated by the prospect, with last year’s epic contribution from James Zabiela casting quite a shadow, but he nonetheless steps up with music from his own studio and those of his Vivrant label artists.

What’s the music like?

Yes. Olander goes for an expansive style in his mixing, and often stays rooted to the same pitch for ten minutes or more. This is a really effective tactic, creating wide open spaces and a pleasant feeling of hypnosis for the listener, who after a while will discover their feet are tapping automatically. The introduction of the first mix bears this out, with three tracks from J.Singh that stay rooted to one pitch before long bass notes move the music on. Marino Canal & Miguel Payda’s Hidden Eyes are excellent, with a moody vocal and soaring line.

The mix is like a single, arching structure, as is the second which has an utterly sublime beginning from Olander’s own track Akzo. This is a lovely, starry piece of music and it cuts to more spacey, beat driven material in Yoyo. Again the continuity here is more important than single standout single tracks, and Olander judges the build of intensity in the mix just right, finishing with his own Life After Death.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Olander’s mixes are in for the long haul and work best when heard in full, creating spaced out and hypnotic atmospheres. They may not always be full of hooks but the late night spell is cast to perfection.

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You can buy this release on the Balance website

Talking Heads: Ensemble Resonanz – Justin Caulley

Interviewed by Ben Hogwood

These are exciting times for Ensemble Resonanz. Presenting themselves as an ensemble that functions as a group of soloists as well as a chamber orchestra, the Hamburg-based group are Ensemble in Residence at Germany’s flagship new concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie. From that base they have established themselves as a wide-reaching musical force, capable of interpreting the music of Haydn as naturally as their latest release with Bryce Dessner, composer and guitarist with The National.

Arcana spoke to one of the ensemble’s lynchpins, viola player Justin Caulley (above), to find out what makes him – and them – tick, and how they achieve their renowned intensity in concert and on record.

As always, we began at the start, and an upbringing that brings both Beethoven and Pearl Jam into the conversation. “I grew up mostly in Kansas”, says Caulley, “and my parents were amateur musicians. My father played piano and a bit of cello, while my mother played the piano. My upbringing was sprinkled with classical CDs that my dad would bring home. I especially remember Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and Beethoven’s Symphony no.9 as well. I got started playing the violin in church, then moved to viola. My dad was the preacher there. I played in student concerts in country churches, but like every kid at the time I listened to a lot of rock and grunge music. I was pretty influenced by mixtapes my cousin would make for me, with Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Alice In Chains on them. He was in south Seattle and introduced me to them, as well as bands like Sonic Youth.”

Deciding to pursue music further, Caulley made rapid progress in both his musical attributes and his discoveries. “Having grown up in the United States I was influenced by the idea of crossing genres, or category-less music making. When you grow up in a small town all music is not the same but categories exist as much. Beethoven 9 or Pearl Jam, it’s all there. I was also heavily influenced at the Eastman Rochester School of Music, where I studied. It was there that I first encountered minimal music, and especially quite a few Steve Reich pieces. I was lucky to work with him a couple of times, and with La Monte Young, on the Dream House. We played a version of his String Trio and worked with him on it. This all happened before I came to Europe in 2003, so before Ensemble Resonanz I had a good varied upbringing!”

We move on to discuss the ensemble’s new disc Tenebre, a collection of four pieces by Bryce Dessner. “One of the challenges was to encounter Bryce’s music in the realm outside of categories”, says Caulley, in reference to our earlier points. “He is impossible to put in a box, and the challenge is to approach music with fresh as opposed to tabular thinking. The pieces are great and easy to get to, but each needs its own universe.”

There is a very powerful presence on Aheym, the album’s opening track. Originally written for the Kronos Quartet, it has been expanded by Dessner for the bigger forces of Ensemble Resonanz. “It’s one of those pieces that has such an incredible explosion of ideas and energy”, Justin says enthusiastically. “It’s easy to grab on to. It gets you worked up and very suddenly there is a groove. Some of the changes from section to section in Tenebre itself were astonishing to play, too.”

From previous experience I note Bryce has a really positive presence, softly spoken but fiercely driven. Did that transfer to the recording studio? “I think that’s very well put”, responds Caulley. “Working with him was really nice, and it was interesting to get feedback from him. We were working on this other level outside of the nuts and bolts. What I noticed was this unbelievably broad wisdom outside of the music, in a practiced way but also inside of that practicality there is something bigger going on.”

Dessner was quoted in an interview as being quite taken aback by the intensity of Ensemble Resonanz’s playing, which is surely the ultimate reference for an ensemble. “We were ultimately flattered by that! One of the nice things working with him was us working towards a common goal, our wishes were similar. It was easy to stay intense, with us all in it together.”

Ensemble Resonanz have been recording, too. “I just came from a session of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no.4 with Gianluca Cascioli, conducted by Riccardo Minasi. We also have a great tour of our version of Bach’s Weihnachts-Oratorium (Christmas Oratorio) coming up, with quite a few concert dates before Christmas. After that we continue with our subscription concerts, with some Shostakovich and Ustvolskaya in January.”

He reflects on the opportunity to play in the Elbphilharmonie. “It’s great, really nice!” he enthuses. “It is totally larger than life, and even though we’ve toured most of our lives it’s not every day such a building opens up.” It must be rewarding moving between music by composers such as Haydn, Schoenberg, Eisler and Dessner, as the ensemble do. “It’s crazy, the breadth of stuff that we do. It’s always a great challenge, and the greatest luxury to have so many opportunities.”

There are moments of creative tension, but Caulley sees these as a sign of healthy artistic dialogue. “As in any group there is a dynamic that can have its moments of tension. One thing I’ve learned of value is the idea that any sort of tension can be resolved, and can also be used towards working for a goal. Where I grew up there was no tension at all, and it could get superficial. Now although sometimes tempers can flare the search for some sort of truth is important to people. They don’t want just to smile and nod and say that’s OK. If that’s tough, just lay it on the table!”

Ensemble Resonanz have a monthly club night, about which Caulley is most enthusiastic. “For me that’s one of the most inspiring things we do, and I’m on the planning committee so am heavily invested. We have our own space, and we do what we want. We don’t necessarily do the most crazy things but we can let our imaginations roll and see what’s possible.”

chamber müzik club night // resonanzraum Festival 2018 from Ensemble Resonanz on Vimeo.

Tenebre, the collaboration between Bryce Dessner and the Ensemble Resonanz, is out now – and can be purchased here

You can listen to Tenebre on Spotify below:

To illustrate the contrast in the repertoire the ensemble records, their previous release was Haydn’s Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross):

Switched On – Pop Ambient 2020 (Kompakt)

What’s the story?

Wolfgang Voigt has every right to be proud as one of the flagship series of the Kompakt label, Pop Ambient, reaches its 20th edition. Cologne’s finest label refuses to rest on its laurels, mind, delivering a set of old and new music, best enjoyed horizontally.

What’s the music like?

Blissful. Kompakt have not been doing this sort of compilation for 20 years without reward – they know the quick routes to peace of body and mind, as made possible in music.

There is a pleasing mix of familiar and relatively new names here. In the former camp sit Thomas Fehlmann and the bubbling textures of Liebesperlen, Raumschmiere‘s brooding Notre-Dame and two Andrew Thomas contributions, Song 9 and Sleep Fall.

Into the latter group come the easy paced guitar instrumental from Urquell, who also contributes Alles Bleibt Anders. On a similar plain is Gen Pop‘s Iron Woman and early Kompakt contributor Klimek‘s All The Little Horses, though the same producer’s Requiem For A Butterfly offers darker, widescreen strings. For even deeper ambience Yui Onodera offers the incredibly calming Cromo 4, while Joachim Spieth is even more immersive on Meteor.

The ambience deepens still further through the thick, soothing blanket of Markus Guentner‘s Clade.

Does it all work?

Yes. The ebb and flow of the tracks is ideally judged, and the high ratio of exclusives and new tracks make the 20th edition of this series as collectable as ever.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. Pop Ambient has a reassuringly regular place in the calendar of down tempo music, and this is it’s best collection for some time. On a personal level, with the world experiencing such stress and change at present, this is just the sort of music required to counteract it!

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Switched On – Max Cooper: Yearning For The Infinite (Mesh)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

For anyone who attended his sellout Barbican show, the release of Max Cooper‘s second album will be big news indeed. As Arcana reported, this was a rare occasion where a gig lived up to its ambitious title, and since this is the music behind that gig attendees will need little encouragement.

For those new to the story, Max Cooper is a progressive artist and bioscientist looking to explore music through algorithms and pre set patterns in a way that doesn’t dilute its emotional impact. In other words, music that makes you think and feel while pushing the boundaries of composition. “We are rats in the wheel”, he says, “imprisoned by our nature to endlessly pursue. But the view of the essence of this process as a whole, is a beautiful thing.”

What’s the music like?

Cooper’s music is flexible in a way that rewards lovers of ambient music as much as those who love wide, sweeping vistas rich in percussion.

Yearning For The Infinite is a through composed work able to be enjoyed as an hour long stretch or in its constituent parts. Let There Be establishes the wide scope of the ambient sound, seguing into the pulses of Repetition where the extent of the emotion becomes clear. Parting Ways presses forward with a deliberate beat but Perpetual Motion hits a more natural, syncopated groove. After a brief repose Aleph2‘s thick textures are capped by rolling percussion, then Scalar fires rallies of drum and bass around processed vocals from Alison Moyet. Busy beats ricochet through Penrose Tiling while Morphosis has dazzling beauty.

Does it all work?

Yes. On occasion you may find some of the beats too busy for your mood, but that should not be a problem. As Cooper progresses through his voyage the listener is drawn right in to the action, and will find it easy to stay to the end.

Is it recommended?

Yes, without reservation to Cooper devotees, but also to lovers of Jon Hopkins, Nils Frahm or Floating Points. The music here forges a deeply individual path that makes it one of the electronica albums of the year.

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Let’s Dance – Kevin McKay: No Samples Were Harmed In The Making Of This Record (Glasgow Underground)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Traditionally dance music has paid homage to its heroes through the sample rather than the cover version. DJs and producers have tended to use material from the originals, from complete chunks right down to the bare hi-hats, updating them for current and future dancefloors. This has often carried baggage, however, in the time spent clearing samples from their original owners and with money often having to be exchanged prior to the tracks being released.

Glasgow Underground owner Kevin McKay has taken a different approach. Removing the problem stage at a stroke, he releases an album of 14 choice house and disco covers without sampling a single note. The first fruits of this fresh angle were a joint cover with David Penn of Randy Crawford’s Hallelujah in May, followed by a take on Whitney Houston’s Million Dollar Bill in June – and now we have these freshly minted covers to enjoy as an album.

What’s the music like?

Excellent. McKay’s approach works really well, giving us new dancefloor winners but also letting us here the originals in a different light, showing us just how good they really are. The hand-picked vocalists deliver, so much so you can often sense them literally throwing their hands to the sky.

“You blow my troubles away like the winds of autumn”, goes the vocal on Hallelujah, and it’s difficult not to agree when the gospel chorus kicks in afterwards. This is arguably the pick of the tracks, though several run it close. Such A Good Feeling benefits from Joshwa’s excellent contribution, throwing off its cares completely, while the way McKay brings in the piano riff for a cover of XpansionsMove Your Body is also a thrill.

Elsewhere the version of I Got The Feeling is a Nile Rodgers-influenced high, while Million Dollar Bill is brilliantly executed, with disco bounce and classy keyboards. This track was made with Start The Party, who McKay also enlists for the immortal Donna Summer classic I Feel Love. A brave move, but he emerges intact with an excellent cover that doesn’t try to do to much with Moroder’s timeless source material.

Also well worth noting are a suitably deadpan cover of Technologic with Marco Anzalone – excellent cold bass sound here – and a well-judged version of A Deeper Love. Get Ur Freak On takes a while to get used to – the Missy Elliott original is so distinctive it’s odd to hear it done any other way – but the version of Paul Johnson’s Get Get Down, with Matt Fontaine, is spot on. That also applies for the final Start The Party collaboration, Don’t Leave Me This Way wrapping the collection up in style.

Does it all work?

Mostly. McKay has all the experience needed to make the dancefloor a heaving mass of bodies, and the vast majority of these tracks fit the blueprint comfortably. The music is at its best when disco meets house and throws in a few extras, and it is clear these covers are made with a true love of the music and its history.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. Who knew when it started in the late 1980s that dance music would be so durable and flexible? Albums like this only prove its longevity and continued ability to raise us from the doldrums.

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You can buy No Samples Were Harmed… at Traxsource here