Talking Heads: Paavo Järvi

Interviewed by Ben Hogwood

If anyone typifies the flexibility of the modern conductor today, that person is Paavo Järvi. Like his father Neeme and younger brother Kristjan, he has an eye-watering workload and schedule, but such is his deep love for his art that it is not a factor in his musical life.

When our conversation starts, Järvi has just finished rehearsing in Estonia – in his home city of Tallinn. This time his role is that of a visiting conductor, in charge of the NHK Symphony Orchestra. The Japanese group, now 95 years old, appointed him as their chief conductor in 2016 and recently extended the arrangement until 2022. Their recent recording releases present a partnership that can only be described as going from strength to strength.

On the night of our conversation they have a concert in Tallinn itself, followed by a visit to the Royal Festival Hall in London three days later. Their program is an enticing one, beginning with Takemitsu’s orchestral piece How slow the wind. Järvi confesses to being a slow starter with his music. “I have been an admirer of his music for a long time, but recently in the last couple of years we have recorded his works with the orchestra. It has just been released in Japan, and it includes all of his orchestral music. In the last couple of years it was a big project that we took on, especially with him being so big in Japan. He died before I ever had a chance to meet him unfortunately, but as you know he is a major figure in Japanese musical life. His is the only real name from the Western world that we would know as being from Japanese music. I grew up knowing the name but not the music. It’s been a new experience for me but something I am very proud of, a new musical experience.”

One of the NHK Symphony Orchestra’s recent releases with Järvi is a searing account of Mahler’s Symphony no.6, which they gave to great acclaim in London in 2017. Wishful thinking it may be, but I suggest that some of Takemitsu’s writing draws from Mahler’s ability to write chamber-like music in the depths of the Sixth. “I think it is more likely that the influences are Messiaen”, says Järvi, his sonorous voice deeper than ever. “It was Messiaen who taught him, and the line goes back to Debussy before that, but there are echoes of certain other worlds in Takemitsu’s music for sure. Mahler could have been one of them.”

Sol Gabetta joins the orchestra for Schumann’s Cello Concerto, a work which has seen its fortunes on the stage revitalised in more recent years, before Järvi leads the orchestra in Rachmaninov’s Symphony no.2 in E minor. This is a work he recorded with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra back in 2006, but as he admits his view of the piece has changed since then. “It has changed, and I have changed in that time too”, he admits. “I have fewer inhibitions since I made that recording, and I am not as cautious about the piece as I used to be. It is one of the most Russian works of Rachmaninov’s output, but it cannot be taken too literally. The orchestra have played the Second quite a lot, and it is extremely familiar music within Japan. There is certain music that they play really well, and the Second Symphony is certainly one of those pieces.”

Nor have they required much persuasion or coaching to make the move to Mahler in their recorded output. “The orchestra is extremely well versed in German Romantic music, and they have had a lot of conductors who have encouraged them to play it. Herbert von Karajan and Karl Böhm used to conduct regularly in Japan, and so did Eugen Jochum. Most of the Western conductors came with their own orchestras. A lot of Western conductors were connected with the NHK Symphony Orchestra – Wolfgang Sawallisch, Herbert Blomstedt and Horst Stein just to name a few – so they know the repertoire extremely well.

Alongside the Mahler release is a programme of Bartók orchestral works, comprising the Divertimento for string orchestra, the Dance Suite and the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Jarvi prides himself on the output, and the overall orchestral sound, which has an extraordinary clarity. “That’s something we have been trying to get”, he admits, “the directness of sound, so that it is transparent and clear. We had to work on that a bit for the Bartók, but as you can hear the orchestra is very versatile.”

The London leg of the NHK’s mini tour will take place on Estonia’s Independence Day, which Järvi describes as ‘a very nice coincidence’. This helpfully leads me on to a new recording he has made with the Estonian Festival Orchestra of the music of fellow countryman Erkki-Sven Tüür. The main work here is his Symphony no.9, dedicated to Järvi himself, with orchestral pieces Sow the Wind… and Incantation of Tempest.

He describes the new Ninth. “It’s a big piece, and very interesting. It describes the Estonian history from its beginnings right up to today, so it is a very long narrative – but it is very atmospheric too. He (Tüür) is a master of creating great layers of sound. I think it’s an epic piece, and because I have a lot of years performing his music it is very special for me as a culmination with the Estonian Festival Orchestra. It makes it even more special because it is very close to home.”

Järvi’s familiarity with the music of Tüür goes right back to the 1990s, and a disc of new music by him and fellow Estonian contemporaries. “It’s a great place for new music”, says Järvi of his home country. We have a lot of good new music, and established composers like Arvo Pärt and others.” In spite of his worldwide travelling, he keeps up with developments. “ It’s not difficult to keep in touch with the possibilities for Estonia”, he says, “as they are all there with the internet. I am always looking at what’s happening in musical life in Estonia, and even when I am far away my heart is here all the time.”

This year will see the tenth season of the Pärnu festival, founded by Paavo Järvi in 2011 together with his father, Neeme. How does he look to bring new audiences to classical music? “This is what we are always thinking about”, he says with feeling. “I don’t have a magic formula, other than one has to do it really well and be engaged. If the programme is interesting then that is the first important thing. The other thing is to enjoy the music. Very often with orchestras it can look like business as usual, and they play as if they are working.”

That was emphatically not the case with the Estonian Festival Orchestra when they made their BBC Proms debut last August, and who were noticeably all smiles. “I think that’s the way it should be”, says Järvi. “It is very hard for me to imagine playing music and looking like you’re not enjoying it, it’s not logical to me. Orchestras that come together occasionally, like the festival orchestra does, have an advantage, but it has to happen with every orchestra. It’s such a very logical thing, and if you enjoy it makes sense to do something which is very contagious. Energy comes through being contagious!”

The NHK Symphony Orchestra and Paavo Järvi perform Takemitsu, Schumann and Rachmaninov at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday 24 February.

You can listen to the orchestra’s new recordings of Mahler and Bartók on Sony Music on Spotify above, and follow the link to find samples and buying options on the Presto website – the Mahler here and the
Bartók here.

Järvi’s disc of Tüür’s Symphony no.9 will be available on the Alpha label in March – for more details click here

Talking Heads: Emika

Interviewed by Ben Hogwood

Most people hate January…but then, from early on in our chat, it is clear Emika is not one of them. “I love January, it’s the one!” she gushes. “Everyone’s moping around, but I’m just on it doing all my work so I can relax in the summer! Everywhere is cold and dark in Berlin currently but I really love it at this time of year.”

We have connected to talk about the many and varied musical projects in which she is currently involved. Head of the queue is new piano album Klavirni Temna, a sequel to 2014’s Klavirni – about which she became Arcana’s very first interviewee in 2014. A lot has changed in her life since then, in particular the arrival of a baby girl. The new addition is heavily connected to Klavirni Temna, of which more later – but first Emika is talking about how her music is developing.

“My creativity is getting a lot worse now I’m a mother! I’m doing more and more, I’m collaborating a lot more. I have a new label concept, working with a lot more artists, and working in much more creative zones. There are things that don’t fit my Emika project but I can do them on someone else’s record. I call it having music kittens, lots of them!”

Klavirni Temna can be thought of as the pedigree in the litter. While the new release schedules and streaming platforms are packed with solo piano records, it has a distinctive voice of its own, and when heard on headphones (listen above!) it is like having someone in the room next door. “That’s what I wanted”, she affirms. I like the feeling that someone’s actually performing, a person in a time and a moment. All the pieces and improvisations are ones that didn’t have mistakes in them, and they were recorded on my phone. Then I went back to them, racked up on a lot of things and recorded them properly.”

Emika was effectively recording for two. “It’s a particularly interesting record because I wrote it while I was pregnant, and I could feel how the baby was responding to the music. When it went too dark I could feel the baby didn’t like it, and it got more uncomfortable! I finished the record and was in a rush, so I whacked plug-ins on it and thought it would be nice, I could put it out, and concentrate on becoming a mother. But when I’d had the baby it sounded rushed and clean, and not really me. I re-did it and used broken, dirty, dusty tape compression and delay. I wasn’t sure what to do, I had the test presses and didn’t know, so I put the test presses on and my daughter came in. She was listening, and then came over and tapped my stomach and said ‘mummy sound’! She understands the piano as being home and me. Forever we have this sound connection, and it’s one of a kind, a strange musical thing.”

Her Czech musical ancestors wrote similarly intimate pieces for piano, the likes of Dvořák, Suk and Janáček putting down some of their most private thoughts in suites and individual pieces, such as the Janáček example played by Piotr Anderszewski above. Emika is no different. “The piano’s my notebook. It feels like a black pencil and a white piece of paper, and it’s how I can set down to work.”

Each of the pieces is identified as Dilo, which means ‘moment’ in Czech. “It is exactly like that, and I feel akin to it”, she says. “Janáček made a lot of pieces for his children, and that was a big confidence boost to me. If he’s done it I will do it! Since the first Klavirni album solo piano has become so popular and trendy, and that’s why I wanted to develop the sound this time. Usually my music is not so trendy but this feels like the height of the trend! And it is five years since I did the last Klavirni album. It’s cool – it could have gone either way, but this release makes the other one safer if you know what I mean.”

There are unexpected twists and turns as the album develops, meaning the listener is kept on their toes while experiencing the darkly meditative scores. Dilo 31 is an example, dropping in pitch as it progresses in an affecting and slightly disturbing way. “The engineer couldn’t believe I wanted it that way, he was really confused! I think bending the piano’s pitch afterwards rather than playing it live is cool.”

Emikae loves the escapism playing the piano affords. “My studio is close to a forest, and that’s what I see when I’m playing, with the weather changing. The piano is right by the window, so it’s connected to the outside world. I’ve shifted from a dark Berlin room to a lofty space outside. The studio is a work in progress, and it’s really inspired by Earthship. I saw how Michael Reynolds builds houses from trash, using glass bottles and tyres. The houses capture energy and heat from the sun and have their own ecosystem, and you can grow food too. I’ve been researching solar power, and the goal is to have somewhere sustainable, rather than being part of a grid system. I am trying to downsize, to not use too much energy and to do more with less. The piano is the ultimate instrument for that…synthesizers, not so much!”

Her enthusiasm for the move is contagious. “The first step was to move out of the city. Then I wanted to look at designs, and to get architects. I’m really inspired by the Tiny House movement, and I would love to build a tiny house studio. You can run them with solar power, and reuse your waste. It’s all about getting ready for the next era of survival and energy, and it’s making me think very differently about shrink wrap, vinyl and all those things. It’s difficult in the digital age to replace that with something meaningful, but we will find a way!”

Now she’s fully installed in the German countryside, Emika can devote more time to her second symphony project. “It’s inspired by the economist Jeremy Rifkin, who delivered a talk with VICE on YouTube (below):

I looked him up and just e-mailed him. I let his chief of staff know that I wanted to do a piece of music inspired by his work, and to my surprise he got back to me! Melanfonie, my first symphony, looked back to the past, but this one is looking 300 years into the future. I’ve been experimenting with using Maxim SP to play synthesizers, deciding what they play with a set of conditions that you program in first. It plays for half an hour, and I’ve got about 80 recordings, each one of them getting better with the process. Now I’d like to get the orchestra to play those parts.”

Emika’s willingness to embrace both the analogue sounds of the piano and the future digital ways of working is inspiring, each complementing the other in her music. “The more we understand technology, the closer it’s getting to nature and feels like it will save it again. I would like this symphony to be a live process. With Melanfonie everyone got it on the CD after, and didn’t get the live experience. For this symphony the idea is to do it in front of a live audience, with no click track or headphones. That creates a lot of pressure, but if you’re going to do it it’s the best thing you can do. This time I want to have synthesizers and to perform with the orchestra. That was the feedback, to have some bass-heavy, epic stuff going on!”

Klavirni Temna, Emika’s second piano album, is released on Friday 14 February on Emika Records. You can listen to extracts and order the album on Bandcamp here:

You can read more detail about Emika’s studio set-up on the Music Tech website (opens in a new window)

Talking Heads: Sheku Kanneh-Mason

Interviewed by Ben Hogwood
Picture courtesy of Decca Classics

Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a rare commodity. In the midst of dazzling publicity, he is helping open doors for classical music by his very approachable demeanour and an approach to album-making that brings it into closer contact with other forms. On the evidence of this interview he is refreshingly grounded and intently focussed on his first love, which of course is music.

While some have expressed concern that the cellist might be overworked early in his career, our discussions around second album Elgar confirm him to be relaxed and deeply satisfied with the newest addition to his discography.

His debut album Inspirations, released this time in 2019, presented the Shostakovich Cello Concerto no.1, the piece he played to win the final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016. Kanneh-Mason coupled it with diverse pieces from Pablo Casals, Offenbach, Leonard Cohen and Bob Marley. This time however his main focus is the work of a much older man, the Cello Concerto in E minor of Sir Edward Elgar.

The recording of this much-loved corner of the cello repertoire was made with conductor Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra. It has an intensity which belies Kanneh-Mason’s tender years, offering new viewpoints into what will be familiar music to a lot of people. Again the context into which Sheku puts the Elgar on his album is intriguing, of which more later. But where did he first hear the music of Elgar – and was it the piece he has just recorded?

“It would have been the concerto, definitely”, he recalls. “I listened to it a lot when I was younger, and I grew up with the famous Jacqueline du Pré version. While we were working on it I listened to a lot of different recordings of the piece, it’s such a special work. Other recordings I really love are the most recent Steven Isserlis recording, Truls Mørk with Simon Rattle, and the famous one from Beatrice Harrison with Elgar himself conducting. There is a huge range of ways in which people approach the piece, and what strikes me about the piece is that everyone reacts in a different way.”

The second movement (a Scherzo) finds Kanneh-Mason and Rattle scooting along with a particularly quick choice of tempo, and the cellist clearly relishes the fast bow strokes required. “It’s a fun piece to play, and you get swept up in it but you have to work on getting a lightness of touch with the repeated notes.”

Elgar’s concerto may be the main piece on the album but there are a variety of shorter pieces imaginatively included by Kanneh-Mason. One composer in particular we may be hearing from again is the Swiss-born American Ernest Bloch, born to Jewish parents. Two of his shorter pieces are included here. “I love his music”, says Sheku. “For Grade 8 I did the Prayer for cello and piano, which is a piece I knew to play young. It’s music I really love, and there’s also the piece for cello and orchestra, Schelomo, which I hope to record in the future. You can feel some of the pain in the harmonies he uses.”

More obscure still is a piece for cello ensemble, Hymnus, by the German composer Julius Klengel. “It’s an amazing piece”, he says. “He was a cellist as well, so I think that’s how he ended up writing for 12 instruments. Every week at the Royal Academy of Music we had a cello ensemble, and that’s how we got to know it. There’s a nice link there, as there is for all the pieces on the album. It’s very inspiring being around really young hardworking musicians and all of us being based in one place.”

How does Kanneh-Mason balance his studies with days like today, where he has a whole day of promotional interviews to navigate? “I just have to be very organised with my time, which is a good thing for us anyway. I never feel that I have too much on.”
He is particularly gushing when talk turns to his work with Sir Simon Rattle, and the bond they share in the interpretation of the Elgar. “Definitely. I think what I love about working with someone is the freedom to do what I want but knowing that they can do everything as well. It’s the spirit of true collaboration I think”.

The theme of collaborating runs through both albums, and Kanneh-Mason identifies with this original approach. “It’s nice to have a link and a reason for putting them together, like creating a concert program. It’s great to record a masterpiece and a big piece, and put it with smaller pieces that have an equal range of colour and harmony, and perhaps more subtleties.”

For Elgar he was helped by Simon Parkin, with sensitive arrangements for cello and orchestra of Elgar’s Nimrod, from the Enigma Variations, and the Romance originally written for bassoon and orchestra. To that he adds Frank Bridge’s Spring Song, the folksongs Blow The Wind Southerly and Scarborough Fair, and Fauré’s profound Elégie.

“He’s an amazingly skilled arranger”, says Sheku of Parkin, “and he keeps the heart of the pieces while making the most of the instruments. I love mixing the arrangements that complement the pieces of music in their original form, and it’s great to record them in respect of friends and teachers, which makes it more personal. I’m always excited and open to lots of new things and working with new people. I’ve had some amazing experiences with these recordings, and you can hopefully hear the enjoyment from them.”

As you might expect given his album programming, Sheku’s ‘out of hours’ musical tastes are varied. “I listen to a mixture of classical, jazz, reggae, and different kinds of folk music”, he says. “Growing up with music all around me has been really inspiring, and it has kept me grounded and motivated. Now I live with students, and the people below me are also musicians.”

Thinking back to his BBC Young Musician of the Year triumph brings Kanneh-Mason onto a subject close to his heart, musical education. “I think we should have as many young people in music as possible. The Young Musician of the Year is great as it shows people playing to the highest standard. When I did it I found watching people three or four years older than me was really inspiring, and it ultimately gives people the opportunity to do many more things.”

He also notes the importance of after care. “Afterwards there was so much attention, but the BBC really looked after me. It was important to have the right people around me and to be working with the right people. A competition is only good if what comes after is good.”

With time running out, we conclude by discussing his favourite musicians of the moment. “I love Steven Isserlis”, he says. “He’s my favourite cellist to watch…and I also love listening to the violinist Daniel Lozakovich. Martha Argerich is also someone I find really inspiring, I love watching her play the piano.”

This blend of youth and maturity, established and new, is perhaps the most inspiring thing about Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s success. His approach is very inclusive, and his next ventures will be very interesting to chart and appraise. With Elgar reaching the heights of number eight in the album charts so far, the musical world is very open to him right now.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s Elgar album is out now on Decca Classics – it can be purchased here, via Apple Music, or streamed below via Spotify:

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):

Talking Heads: Amongst The Pigeons

Interviewed by Ben Hogwood

Amongst The Pigeons is the name under which Worthing-based artist Daniel Parsons makes his electronic music. Those Stolen Moments is his new album, regenerating the project after a few years’ hiatus. One of the tracks on the album, Perching, was inspired by a distinctive rhythm from the clinking of coffee cups – so it seemed only appropriate to decamp to a cafe for a discussion on electronic music and the stolen moments Daniel needed to make it.

His way in to electronic music was a heartening one. “For me it was when I was at school doing GCSEs in the early 1990s, listening to John Peel on the radio. Probably the biggest electronica influence I got in to was Orbital. I saw them a lot at festivals, and then into the mid-1990s it was The Chemical Brothers and Underworld. It was a tried and tested route I guess!”

All roads eventually led to Britain’s biggest festival. “I watched Orbital on TV at Glastonbury ’94, the first year it was televised, and then I went to the 1995 festival, which was the first time I went. I was 15 and I’d just finished my GCSEs, and Orbital played the main stage just before Pulp. On the Friday the Prodigy played on the other stage, which was brilliant. It was the first time I’d been to Glastonbury, and one of the things I remember was a lady in her fifties or sixties coming up to me and saying, “D’you wanna buy some pills?” It really freaked me out! Orbital were on the main stage on Saturday, and it was brilliant. Happy memories.”

Parsons has kept an open musical mind since then, though “probably less so as I’ve got older. Having said that in the past couple of years I’ve tried to get back into listening to newer music, and I’m following newer stuff. Growing up I was always the kid in the common room who would put on all of the new music. I used to go to Our Price on a Monday, buy new releases and try to influence everyone else.”

The shift online has been telling. “I follow a lot of blogs these days. A place I always used to go for new music was John Peel or The Evening Session on Radio 1. I don’t listen to the radio a lot but I do read blogs and follow stuff on Twitter. You get waves of stuff that bubbles up to you, like the BUNKR album that has come out recently. One of his tracks is on the playlist that I’ve done for Arcana.”

We move on to the making of Those Stolen Moments, recorded in pockets of time that Daniel had to seek out for musical use. “When I made my first album, most of the songs on it started out as two minutes long, which is the time you take to brush your teeth – and so it was called Music To Brush Your Teeth To! With Those Stolen Moments the idea behind that was more around the opportunity I had to make music. Being at work and having a family means you don’t have a ton of time to do stuff, so I would find time sitting in a coffee shop with a laptop, building up an idea, or on a train, as I have a four hour commute – or in between other things that were going on. It was taking an opportunity to progress my music a little bit more. A lot of the songs would come together late at night, so everyone else would go to bed and I’d be up between 10 and 1-3 in the morning. The stolen moment is if you don’t do it then, you won’t do it at all! I did purposefully try to keep things around two and half or three minutes with the new stuff.”

Does the album purposely fit today’s shorter attention span society? “Well my wife is one of my biggest critics”, he laughs, “and she can get incredibly bored of things. If we listen to an album you’ll get to track five and she’ll be bored of it. I always think of trying to power through but without cutting off what something could become – trying to include lots of ideas or journeys in a short space of time. A lot of the ideas do start off a big longer, but things get pruned over time. A lot of dance music is about the 12-beat introduction and the slow build, whereas I like the slow build very quickly!”

Inflight Entertainment, the album’s second track, began on the airport gravel itself. “I was recording it on my iPhone on GarageBand, and it was initially the take-off noises and the air stewardess talking. There’s a bit where I’ve cut out some of the words she says, looped them back through and they trickle in the background as a noise, building up the effect of where it was recorded. Perching is the same, with the cluttering of the cutlery turning it in to something that told a story. I was aware of the rhythm going on, and the beat in the song is very much edited to be in time with it.”

By contrast, Polly Bee Gone goes much lower. “That’s a weird one. I was working on it when I didn’t know that I was going to rejuvenate Amongst The Pigeons, and it’s one of the heavier, more dubstep-based sounds that I generally don’t go too near.”

The 25th Hour, meanwhile, celebrates the extra hour available when British Summer Time segues into Greenwich Mean Time – and was in fact made in that 60 minutes of freedom. “It links into the whole stolen moments theme running through the album, about taking any opportunity and doing something where you don’t usually have time to do it.”

Meanwhile there is a subtle warmth and humour running through tracks like Beautiful Negative Space. “I’m glad that comes through,” he says. “The earlier stuff I did was very much sample-based, trying to find unusual comedy in a way in some of the music I make. As I was making the Amongst The Pigeons stuff it started going down a route where it lost some of that frivolity, and when I was doing this I wanted it to be fun. Tracks like Thinking Is Addictive, you have the sample that takes me through and the noises in there that are all about trying to make it more accessible as electronica.”

One producer that comes to mind when listening to Parsons’ music is Andy Votel – though it should be stressed the two are individual voices, their common ground in the snapshot approach they can take to electronic instrumentals. “I listened to a lot of his stuff when I was at university, along with Lemon Jelly and Mr Scruff, and I always try to keep an element of them in there as well. I try to find that little element of humour wherever I can.”

Parsons refers affectionately to his place of recording as the ‘sheddio’, a place for his musical self in the garden, bolted onto the family home. Does the location come through to him in the music? “That’s a very good question”, he says, “and quite poignant in terms of doing this album. When I made the older Amongst The Pigeons stuff I did a lot in hotel rooms, trains and planes when I used to travel with work, and I never used to think about the context of where people would listen to it. When I was restarting I was keen to get back to doing it live, and found it difficult to find the right tempo for an hour-long live show with the older stuff. I kept trying to bring the newer songs into the live show. In terms of what I hear back when I listen to them, it’s some of those shows that I’ve done.”

Having had formative experiences with electronic music at Glastonbury, Daniel is now making them for himself. “I played The 25th Hour there this year, and I remembered the exact moment where it really kicks in, and all the people in the tent were dancing to it. I remember the songs more from live performances now than when they were recorded. When I’m in the ‘sheddio’ the majority of it is looking at triangular and pyramid tiles. The other thing I’ve been trying to do recently is to record standing up, rather than sit down to record and program, so that when I’m looping things I’m thinking of how it will work playing live. When you’re in a band you’re stood up and playing, but when you’re doing electronic music you’re sitting down and programming.”

Radio support from previous Amongst The Pigeons material was headed by Steve Lamacq, whose positive take was “I’ve no idea how to describe this, but I really like it!” “He’s played some of my stuff a few times”, says Parsons. “There was one he played where he said that, and there was another one where I made a song called Waiting In The Rain. I hadn’t realised but there is a sound that is like electronic ‘cooing’ at the start. He played it and said, “I like the way he’s captured the electronic cooing”, which I hadn’t thought about. I really like that first quote as a comment though.”

It is a phrase a good many artists would be happy with, away from categorisation or ‘amongst the pigeon’ holing, so to speak. With that in mind, what are his hopes for the album? “That a couple of people listen to it! For me it was all about resetting, a statement to say I’m back and making music again after a six-year break. If new people like it that’s great, and if people who have listened to me before like it that’s great too, and they will hopefully tell other people to listen to it. It’s not about selling loads of copies, as I’m not doing a physical release, but if people say it’s cool then I’m happy.”

There are live dates too, despite the occasionally daunting prospect of a one-man musical show. “It can be daunting, and it was the thing I found hardest doing this album. In the gap between albums I was releasing music with my friend Ollie as Exactly Zero, and within that we always had each other as sounding boards to decide when something was finished or where it should go. One of the things I struggled with on this album was questioning whether anything was good at all, and trying to get the confidence back to be able to be self-critical with it. On the live element, when it’s just you standing there and talking to people, you can feel quite exposed. It’s hard work, but it’s nice that I’m my own boss, can do anything when I want and don’t have to rely on anyone else!”

Listen & Buy

You can order Those Stolen Moments, the new album from Amongst The Pigeons, by clicking this link

Meanwhile the ATP Bandcamp site enables streaming and purchase of the album:

Daniel’s playlist choices and a review of the album will appear on Arcana soon. For more information on Amongst The Pigeons, head to the artist website