Talking Heads: Ryan Teague

Interviewed by Ben Hogwood

Asked to describe himself, Ryan Teague could easily offer the text of his website biography as a succinct summary. Here the multiple disciplines of composer, sound designer and multi-instrumentalist are listed, with the declaration that the Bristol-based artist ‘combines acoustic sources and arrangements with electronic synthesis and processing to create unique contemporary soundscapes’.

What we could add to that is that over nearly fifteen years of commercially released albums he has travelled through a number of very different styles, rarely visiting the same one twice. We have been able to marvel at his treatment of acoustic instruments in a style that allows the influences of minimalism and the gamelan to be heard. More recently, on the new album Recursive Iterations, he has started to look at algorithms and their use in electronic music.

It is a very distinctive style, as though Teague has joined up a series of different statements that travel round in circles, and each time they pass the listener something has changed. As we talk about his music, he agrees with this first point. “Yes, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. The algorithm is exactly that, a 360 degree rotation, with every variation possible within the parameters. It’s not always obvious, and some come around more often than others.”

The press release is helpful here, describing how ‘the musical structure is derived from a custom–written algorithmic system that sequences harmonic and rhythmic events in ever-shifting patterns. Hyperreal electro-acoustic phrases and digitally synthesised fragments come and go in continual rotation, re-framed and re-contextualised by their proximity to other events in the sequence as the compositions evolve. The effect evokes a minimalist bricolage, hypnotic and kaleidoscopic in nature, and calls to mind artists such as Oneohtrix Point Never, The Haxan Cloak and Ital Tek‘.

In spite of this detail there is plenty of room for manoeuvre and expression. Some of Teague’s melodies and harmonies are playful, and some are left open-ended, as though he were facing outwards. “I think there’s a sense that it’s constantly leading you somewhere but never quite arriving,” he says. Picking the second iteration as an example, he cites the use of “sounds off an old radio from the 1950s, together with a Hawaiian guitar. They kind of fit together. Getting them to work coherently together is a challenge but one that I really enjoy.”

He has a wealth of experience of music in the longer form – substantial instrumentals on his albums prove that – but also in the shorter attention span world of advertising and TV. Has that helped him with what is a concentrated approach on Recursive Iterations? “It has a bit, but I think the relationship is more derived from exploring certain aspects rather than the film or advert work. It’s getting to the bottom of sound design and pushing sounds to their limits, so that you are finding the very bottom and the very top of each. I guess working in TV stuff you have to get proficient at very broad briefs and sonic requirements, but this was more of a personal point. It helped that I have been working with a really good Hi Fi system and seeing how far I could push it. I have an ARCAM amp and B&W speakers, and on those it has been a real revelation to hear things in such a different way so it informed my work in more recent times.” It also explains why the new album comes into its own on headphones, the full range of its frequencies revealed.

Contrary to expectations, Teague’s training has not been formal. “No, not strictly”, he says. “On my very first press release someone put that I’m classically trained. I’m not, but I went to art school and studied sound intensely. I find that I’m more interested in structures, and I play classical guitar, but I’m not formally trained. I would say I have a good understanding of harmony, and also that I was always ambitious with sound. As a kid I was really making dance music, and that’s what I always thought I would be doing for a while. I have ultimately found beats to be restrictive though. There was a linear path that I had to get off in my early 20s, and I wanted to find ways I could express myself.”

Teague approaches his structures “more through clarity of vision of ideas, and I literally see them visually. I know what I’m going to do before I start. For me the timbre is very visual, so that when I’m working on a metallic piece, I am focused on achieving a particular sonic effect. It’s architectural rather than sitting down at the piano. When you get to constructing harmonies, that’s where you have to sit down and work it out.”

A common mistake from reviewers and interviewers – this one partially included! – is that Teague is influenced primarily by the music of Steve Reich. Yet while he fully respects the work of the master minimalist, Teague’s references spread further afield. “The Reich reference comes up a lot, probably in every review I’ve ever had, but if anything I was much more interested in the work of John Adams, and his sense of structure and development was much more in my early references. Colin McPhee was a big inspiration to me too, because I went on to study the gamelan myself. He achieved things more than 50 years before the likes of John Adams and Steve Reich came along, and is tragically not really credited for that.”

Post-tonal music also exerts a pull, though more in its instrumentation and concentration than its actual harmonies. “Webern is a very strong influence”, says Teague, “distilled down to his element. What he does in his music is not to be afraid of silence, and to use the space between notes to make the maximum impact. For me Webern is incredibly innovative, and massively overlooked. I would also check Morton Feldman, for his use of time, space and colour. A lot of electronic music too. I don’t tend to keep up with what’s going on at the moment, but I do have my comfort music.”

He thinks on, and another name comes to mind. “One reference especially relevant to Recursive Iterations would be Richard Skelton. He pretty much works solely with acoustic instruments, with beautiful strings, drones and treated piano. He sets up a few things that keep happening at various points, using beautiful, shimmering music without being too cheesy. That is a challenge that I set myself, asking how can I set things on their own cycles without getting in their way?”

As befits a composer of several disciplines, Teague is working on a number of different projects concurrently. “I have a TV thing and a film thing, but can’t say too much about either unfortunately. The album was only finished back in July so I’m formulating my next project, which will be very different. I am thinking perhaps of something in the live arena with a different energy. The studio can be a bit lacking on its own so I’m keen to open things up and take in a different energy. I have ideas forming in that area!”

He agrees that Recursive Iterations is very different to previous albums, “I’m never a good judge of that sort of thing, but that’s happened before. It is certainly very different to the kind of guitar-based stuff I did for Causeway or when I worked with the gamelan for Storm Or Tempest May Stop Play. That has been dance music with acoustic instruments.”

“I could almost have different audiences for different projects”, he considers, “because I go through different phases of different styles and I’m quite clear about the sonic worlds those things inhabit. Recursive Iterations sounds more electronic, and thinking back I guess Burial would be another key reference. Sometimes I think I’m not representing myself very well, with such different styles!”

At this point the music of a composer such as Beethoven comes to mind, the composer able to move between such contrasting forms as symphony, string quartet, piano sonata and song. “I think it changes as the scene evolves, thinking of the present day”, says Teague. “With the post-classical scene my involvement was back to 15 years ago, with the Six Preludes but more recently it’s gone nuts. I’m trying to do something else now. Maybe I could cash in and do loads of piano music now, so that we could play it to people in offices and pacify them! These things all get capitalised on and it becomes a business. So many labels are jumping on that and it’s a bit too late now. The album I’ve just finished was a bit of an antidote to that for me, with the idea to do something bolder sonically.”

Ryan Teague‘s new album Recursive Iterations is self-released on Friday October 25. It can be heard and purchased from his Bandcamp site below:

Stay tuned for a special playlist from Ryan, exclusive to Arcana, in the coming days!

Talking Heads: Kit Downes

Interviewed by Ben Hogwood

Kit Downes has very generously granted Arcana half an hour of his holiday time. In it we will discuss his upcoming performance at Snape Maltings as part of the Festival of New weekend, and while we cover that the discussion moves across East Anglia to Norwich, where it transpires both of us were born.

Our current locations, however, could scarcely be farther apart. I am perched awkwardly in a sunlit Soho café, Kit is “marooned on the Isle of Arran. It’s so windy and rainy here but it’s a really special place too.” Is he doing anything musical? “No, that would give a sense of purpose to the holiday! It’s a really relaxing time for me with family at the moment.”

The Snape performance will give listeners a chance to hear material behind his new work Dreamlife of Debris, in the company of Lucy Railton (cello), Seb Rochford (drums) and Tom Challenger (saxophone). The album, his second for the revered ECM label, brings him into contact with much of the music of his youth, growing up as a chorister and organist in East Anglia. “When I was pretty young I sang in the choir at Norwich Cathedral, which would have been there about 25 years ago”, he recounts. “I played with the then organist Katherine Dienes, who was a great improviser. I badgered my mum to get me organ lessons with her, and played on the fantastic four-manual organ at the cathedral. She showed me how to improvise. It was more about learning the different strands of orchestration, texture and sound than working on a particular piece, and looking at how church organists are able to improvise between functions of the church service, where they often have to build on a particular hymn tune to fill time. Through that I learned jazz on the piano, because my mum saw the link between the two. I went to music school in Watford until I was 22, when I started my jazz career.”

The current project began in sessions with saxophonist Challenger. “I was looking for a new project and a new setting”, says Downes, “and I was interested in the music of some of the ‘duration’ composers, like Morton Feldman, and minimalists like Steve Reich. I wanted to get back to instruments where you hold a note for more than one second, and so I returned to the organ. Tom and I did a residency at Huddersfield University, and I enjoyed working back at the organ for three days. I wasn’t playing repertoire like Buxtehude or Reger, although I love that music, but it was about getting jazz that I love on to the organ, in a holistic way – sharing influences in what I play.”

The pair continued working together. “We did one project at Snape Maltings before the recording project where the Vyamanikal album came from. That then led into the solo album for ECM that I did, Obsidian. That was recorded on smaller organs from the area as well as the much larger Henry Willis instrument at the Union Chapel in Islington.”

His new album broadens the spectrum a little. “More recently I have been making a new album for ECM, using some organ and piano but with some guests too. Seven or eight years ago, I made a reconnection with the area, which I had wanted to do since I left for boarding school at 15 years of age. It was great to see the flat landscape and big sky where I grew up, and nice to revisit that part of the world. If you are brought up with the East Anglian landscape that means you are brought up with trees growing sideways! I love Scotland for that reason too, and where we are at the moment. Snape also offers that beautiful connection with Benjamin Britten, and what he did there is very inspiring.”

The move to East Anglia was not initially deliberate. “Without the commission we wouldn’t have run so far. Snape Maltings have been instrumental in developing the sound and approach to the album.”

Having given an overview of his more recent work, Downes considers the impact Aldeburgh’s most famous resident had on his musical development. “We used to sing loads of Britten at Norwich Cathedral. We sang the Missa Brevis, and I remember productions of works like Noye’s Fludde, and loads of the choral works at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. We would also work with contemporary composers on commissions for the choir. It was a huge learning curve for me with the pretty modern stuff we used to sing, like Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. It was especially noticeable in a service as right after their music you would sing some Palestrina, and jump back hundreds of years in the process. That would be a big deal in a concert, but not in a church service, where they often sit together. The musical aesthetics can connect but the text connects as well.”

Downes agrees that, perhaps like Britten, the textures and sounds of his music offer a link with nature and the outdoors. “I love it myself, so I guess it will come out somehow! I love walking, and being outdoors generally. Our work for the new album involved travelling around rural parts of East Anglia and being outdoors, so I captured lots of field recordings outside the churches where we were recording the organs. We would take things like farming mechanisms and sounds that were important to the location, and put them into the music. If a bell went off we wouldn’t work around it, we’d keep it in. We would be mastering in full so it was never exactly what happened but similar to what Werner Herzog does. You can exaggerate things that feel more truthful, if that makes sense!”

The press release for Dreamlife Of Debris describes the field recordings as ‘deteriorated’. “I think that was already done by our sample rate conversion!”, he jokes. “I was very influenced by William Basinski, who on his Disintegration Loops would leave orchestral loops on a tape machine that would warp and turn into nothing. Some of the recordings were made on cassette recorders. What the ‘deteriorated’ description really talks about is the feeling of everything we were capturing being in a state of slow decline, in an emotional way too. In that part of the world there are those things that have been left to fall apart slightly. With the organs they are historical instruments, and in some examples the community instrument. The whole way the organ is paid for is congregational, through raising money in the community, and it’s very symbolic when that starts fading away”.

One particular instrument drew Downes’ eye. “We played the old Thomas Thamar organ in Framlingham (above). In Germany and Italy you get old and very impressive instruments, and the one in Framlingham is a real rarity as it still has the original pipework. It originates from London, and they moved it up there about 100 years later. It is a really important and special instrument. The whole process was in sharp relief to that of a one-manual harmonium that we also used, which was falling to bits. It made what we were doing as much of an album as a social study. The way these instruments are built is so important to how they sound, the circumstances under which they came to be.”

Downes has strong connections in the organ restoration community. “I’ve got a friend in America who is an organ builder, and he has the depth of knowledge for the tuning, the reconditioning, removing old things and bringing them back to life. Some builders put modern aspects on to old instruments, which would not preserve the older features. Norman & Beard were the company make that we tended to end up playing, and they were based in Norwich which is very appropriate! The construction and restoration involves so many people over so many years.”

Kit’s rediscovery of this part of his musical heritage is a relatively recent thing. “I listened to the American and European jazz improvisers for a long time. One thing about returning to the organ that I noticed most though was that it feels separate from contemporary classical music. It feels like an open canvas to have a go with.”

Kit Downes // Dreamlife of Debris // ECM from Freeze Productions on Vimeo.

The title, Dreamlife of Debris, has a clear precedent. “It comes from the W.G. Sebald book The Rings Of Saturn”, he explains, “which is all about a walking tour he took around Suffolk. He came over to work at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and The Rings of Saturn is about a walking tour of the area, parts of which we went to for field recordings. Everything reminds him of a tangent that takes him back in time, linking tangential parts of history or philosophy with the location. He takes in things like the silk trade, weaving silk through his narrative. I found it inspiring to create a work in that way, capturing where your mind is wandering and making a composite, putting the things together. That’s how I made the record, with lots of improvisation in different times and places but trusting that the record itself would be coherent.”

The title revealed itself to Downes relatively quickly. “Dreamlife of Debris is a quote from the film Patience After Sebald, which is a discussion piece on that book. It’s the idea that projecting thoughts and feelings onto inanimate objects gives them a kind of extended life. It felt appropriate. The people that I chose to play with me on the album were Lucy Railton, a cellist based in Berlin, Seb Rochford playing drums, and of course Tom Challenger. On the album we also have Ingebjørg Loe Bjørnstad, an electric guitarist from Norway, though he won’t be playing at Snape.”

What can the audience at Snape expect in the Festival of New concert? “I’m going to play piano rather than organ”, he says. “Some of the live stuff is using the ensemble as if it’s an organ. An organ is essentially music of reed, woodwind and strings, so I felt I had enough colours to emulate the sound.

Downes has also been exploring folk music in a major project with Aidan O’Rourke, fiddle player with the Scottish band Lau. Between them they have released two instalments of the 365 project. “That’s been the other big thing”, says Downes modestly. “I ended up recording 200 tunes with Aidan in all! It was a lovely exercise in just the sheer volume of arranging. Aidan would write a melody and I would arrange it, and we basically did that 200 times. I drew on the treatment of folk tunes from people like Britten, Vaughan Williams and Delius, and on techniques used by Ravel and Debussy too. With that music every decision should come from inside the melody rather than on top of it, and it was a really nice exercise.

Festival of New, described as ‘a whirlwind two days of freshly devised music and sound, exploring some of the most exciting work being made in the UK’, takes place on Friday 6 and Saturday 7 September at the Snape Maltings. Performers include urban poet Reload, cellist Maja Bugge and pianist Sarah Nicolls highlighting environmental issues in an inventive set, and Shama Rahman, who will perform with pianist Anya Yermakova ‘the seeds of a sitar concerto informed by neuroscience’.

Kit Downes and friends will perform on Saturday 7 September at 5pm in the Snape Maltings Concert Hall. For more details on the weekend click here. For more information on Kit Downes you can visit his website or his ECM page.

Check back with Arcana soon, as we are intending to host a podcast from Kit with some of his favourite music for organ. In the meantime some of his work can be heard on Spotify below:

Talking Heads: Andy Bell talks all things GLOK and Ride

As Arcana discovered only the other week, Andy Bell is a musician with several strings to his bow. Many will know him as a founder member of Ride, the Oxford group popular in the early 1990s and enjoying a creative renaissance capped by new album This Is Not A Safe Place, released as this interview is being written. Others will recognise the Ride genesis but think of Bell more as a sometime member of Oasis – where he played bass guitar – and Beady Eye. Add to that Bell’s time as front man for Hurricane #1, at peak Britpop in the late 1990s, and you have a pretty formidable indie discography.

As it turns out, this is only part of the story, for Andy also makes music in a solo capacity, under the name of GLOK. Here the keyboards take over, and a love of Krautrock and other weird and wonderful electronica becomes clearer – as does the sense that here Bell is really able to indulge his full portfolio of styles.

Last week we had the chance to talk all things GLOK – and to ask Bell that now he’s been ‘outed’ if he intends to make it a more full time piece of work.

Arcana: When you started making music as GLOK, was it your intention to keep it private?

Andy Bell: Originally I was using the name to hide behind. I didn’t want people’s first experience of hearing it to be tied to a mental image of me, or what they thought I stood for. A side effect of this was that the tracks barely got noticed, or at least it felt that way. But in a way that was what I wanted. Dissident got added to a pretty big Spotify playlist and that was cool. But after that none of the other tracks did much.

At the time the tracks were signed to a label called Globe. This was a couple of years ago. I’m still signed to Globe, myself, as a composer, that’s the nature of that deal. GLOK was just one way of getting music out into the world really, but after a couple of years, the tracks were basically sitting dormant on iTunes and Spotify, until I got a call from Bytes about doing a physical release. There were 5 tunes out at the time, from a group of around 10 or so GLOK tunes which I’d made and had mastered for Globe. By that time it was no longer a secret that GLOK was me, I’d done a few remixes under that name including one for Ride. When Bytes got in touch Joe Clay told me that he loved Pulsing way before he knew it was me, which was really cool to hear.

When did you start to realise the potential of making your own music with synthesizers?

I bought a Yamaha CS-5 after Dave Sitek had used one in the studio with Beady Eye. That was because I saw how easy it was to use and what great sounds you could get with it, especially using it with guitar pedals. Dave had brought over a ton of gear with him to London and I ended up getting a lot of things he turned me on to, for example that was the first time I came into contact with the Eventide Space Reverb, which for me now is like a member of my family or something. It gradually spread from there. I got a Roland SH 101 and a couple of things from the Critter and Guitari range, a little bit of modular, apps on the iPad like the mellotron etc. Initially I was buying this stuff to augment the sound of songs that were still in guitar world. The catalyst for me to start to get my head into actually making electronic music was kind of a side effect of the Music recording software Logic going from version 9 to version X.

I had been using Logic 9 – by trial and error, after Jeff Wootton showed me the ropes. Jeff was horrified that I was making demo’s on Garage Band! He was like “You’re using kids’ software man. Here’s the grown-up Garage Band, you need to be using this”. So then I was stumbling around inside Logic 9 but able to get ideas down. Then 9 kind of became obsolete and the next version, X, was totally different. I was completely lost by it so signed up to learn Logic X at a place called Sub Bass Academy, near Waterloo. I spent six months inside Logic X and it was amazing. The course started with sampling and went from there. As soon as I learned to use the onboard sampler I was away. Just like when I learned the guitar, I started off re-making tracks I liked (Mr Fingers‘ Can You Feel It, Underworld Rez, and A Guy Called Gerald‘s Voodoo Ray) and then moved on to coming up with my own stuff. And I was getting help from them along the way. So basically after that six months, I was OK at sampling, synthesis, all the stuff I’d been getting interested in but didn’t really know. Logic became the way I made demos, and therefore, a lot of the time, the way I wrote songs.

Was it a leisure activity to start with, or did you always see a single / album release as part of it?

Leisure, for sure. I don’t feel like I have an actual ‘job’ ever, except maybe when I’m doing promotional stuff. It built up into quite a collection of music over a year or two, and then through conversations with Marc Robinson at Globe, he told me he’d like to put some of the tracks out. It wasn’t envisaged as a conventional album at the time. I think they did one track a month, for five months. But I kept on making GLOK tracks long after Globe stopped putting them out. OK, so most of them are half finished, but so were the first seven until Marc gave me a deadline!

Fully electronic music has become something I do equally as prolifically as guitar songs, and it’s never something which I start with a release, or even an end product in mind. What it comes down to, is I would much rather start a track than finish one. I’m lazy and on any given day I’ll just start about five ideas, name them, and forget about them. They could be electronic or guitar-y. I’m always finding tracks that I have zero memory of making. I love that. Some of them are even half decent.

Was it enjoyable keeping GLOK a secret, and has your approach to it changed at all now it’s out in the open?

Maybe I didn’t need to use another name at all, but that just made me more comfortable with it at the time. Nothing has changed about the way I make music since then.

What other music using synthesizers / keyboards do you admire?

Everything from The Beatles onwards and outwards. Psychedelia and Krautrock opened rock music up in the ‘60s and ‘70s and from that point there’s no huge need to categorise. But if we are talking pure electronic music, then for me the biggest influence is Mr Fingers. I love the home made feel of his records. There’s a direct line there to Voodoo Ray which is another of my favourites, I bought that on 12” when it came out. Recently I’ve heard Harald Grosskopf – he’s an artist I think I’m going to really love. But my taste is pretty broad and I think I’m not that unusual in that respect. That’s how people listen now I think.

How did you get to writing much longer pieces like Dissident, and when did you realise you could write much more substantial tracks while keeping the interest high?

Dissident was almost that long right from the first demo. I’d set up an arpeggiator and started playing chords over it with a softsynth, and in essence the track hasn’t changed that much since then. I hadn’t realised how long it was, I was just noodling around with it. I think the first version was about 12 minutes, and I repeated a couple of sections along the way, and it ended up around 20, which feels like its natural length.

Have you ever considered writing in a more classical form – and has classical played any part in your musical development so far?

I have never had any interest in classical music, but Loz Colbert did get me into Minimalism, which I think had a lot of influence in the rock world, that’s something I’d never heard about, and it blew my mind when I started connecting the dots. Steve Reich is the man, and I especially like Come Out and Piano Phase. Phases and Music for Eighteen Musicians are two albums of his I play a lot the whole way through. I’ve also been to see two Philip Glass operas, Satyagraha and Akhnaten – they are incredible. A couple of hours passes in what seems like 15 minutes! I’m still waiting for a chance to check out Einstein On The Beach.

Do you think you’d like to take GLOK out as a live concern?

Yes, I’d like to but I have no idea how it would work. There’s a lot of scope for what a GLOK live thing could be, from a DJ set with bells on, all the way to a full live band. I don’t think it is going to happen anytime soon. I’m about to go around the world with Ride.

In terms of songwriting, how would you summarise the contributions you’ve made as a band member to Ride, Hurricane #1, Oasis and Beady Eye?

All those songs, even the GLOK ones, all come from the same source. There’s no rule as to the end point, whatever the starting point has been. I am quite instinctive and I don’t always know when I’ve written a really good, or really bad song. I’ve put out a few of both. It’s hard to tell at the time, weirdly. I know when a song feels special to me, but often those particular songs don’t mean much to anybody else. The ones people really like are normally the ones that took the shortest time to write. Those ones can feel quite throwaway to me until time passes and I can look back and see where the quality really was. I think it’s normal to associate effort with quality but it’s not always that way at all.

On the new Ride album (the band photographed above), the approach allows for more electronics. Was that your input?

No, not at all. I use bits and pieces in places. But I think Steve Queralt is the one whose demos are the most full of synths. When Erol Alkan came on board, I felt the door was open for us to make a fully electronic album. It’s still open. It would be cool to do. But Erol plugged into the band element. I think that was the braver move in the circumstances, and the better one for the big picture of the band.

It must be gratifying to see how Ride have developed over the years.

It’s great, it still feels like we have so much to do. I just mentioned an electronic Ride album. But a full on, “Daydream Nation” kind of Ride album is something I think we could do. I think that could be incredible. To go in and just turn up the guitars, jam out on open tunings, do some real long freeform songs, make like a mid 70’s Neil Young or late 80’s Sonic Youth album, would be fantastic.

What are your plans for the rest of the year – and do you have many beyond that?

The Ride tour will take us through into the middle of next year. But alongside that there are various other things I’ve been working on. GLOK is one of them, but there are a few other things in the pipeline as well.

Finally, could you select a Ride song (or any other) that you’ve had a big hand in that you’re particularly satisfied with?

Cool Your Boots is one of my all time favourite Ride records, mainly because of the last two minutes.

The Glok album Dissident is out now on Bytes…while the new Ride album This Is Not A Safe Place is newly available on Wichita Recordings. Both can be heard below on Spotify:

Talking Heads: Miloš

When Arcana sits down to talk with classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglić, we find him at the end of a busy day’s interviewing. For some artists this would be a real chore, but the sense here is very much a positive one. Having returned from a career-threatening injury, this is the sort of day Miloš dreamed of having to deal with.

The reasons for our chat are many, but are headed by his striking new album Sound of Silence. On first glance this appears to be a relatively standard crossover piece, equal parts classical and pop. Closer inspection, however, reveals a carefully studied and assembled set of original pieces and arrangements with the 12 Ensemble that hang together beautifully, each of them carrying personal significance for Miloš himself.

As is customary for Arcana interviews, however, we approach the new album from the very beginning, and his first encounter with classical music. “I believe my first proper encounter with classical guitar was when my father played me an old LP of Andrés Segovia”, he recalls, “and it was at a time when I had started to play the guitar. I was completely discouraged by how particular and tricky it was, with using the nails and reading music, and knowing where each note is. I imagined that playing a guitar meant to strum a chord really loud and sing a song! It was a time when I really didn’t want to go back to the score, and when my father played me that Segovia record – Asturias was the title of the track, by Albéniz – I really was mesmerised by the sound world of it, and because of that experience I think I am a classical musician today. I think I would not have continued had that not happened, so it was a defining moment very early on.”

“I remember thinking, how is it possible one person and six strings, with their bare hands, can create so much magic? That prompted me to really practice and one day to be able to do that myself. When I recorded my very first album for Deutsche Grammophon in 2010 I knew that had to be the very first track, because that is where it all began.”

Segovia was one of several guitarists to leave their mark. “Because of that he will always be very important to me, but my absolute hero in my teenage years was John Williams, and his incredibly peerless sound projection and the quality of musicianship. He is still very inspirational to me. David Russell is an incredible musician, Julian Bream too – it is very hard to just think of one.”

Sound of Silence is a poignant album, and an important point for Miloš to reach, given the recovery he has made. “I hope that my journey will inspire others”, he proclaims, “because I think no matter what you do we all face these sorts of problems. The only way out of it is to accept it as part of life, to re-evaluate and re-think, and then start again.”

With this in mind, he used his time away from the guitar productively. “Even though at the time I thought I wasn’t, I did use that time to really open myself up to a wider world. I was always flirting with the mainstream, and I took pride that as a guitarist you can so comfortably sit between those two worlds. After going through something like that you just do what feels right, and for me it felt right to apply all those influences and bring them into my world.”

His cover of the Portishead song Sour Times is an embodiment of the dark periods he navigated while removed from practise and performance, and was a natural choice for the album. “I just guided myself with what felt like the right piece, because most of them have such an important personal meaning”, he explains. “Some of them are surprises but they just felt right, and I thought why not? You only live once, and now is the time to explore the world. Maybe there will be surprises along the way!”

One such surprise is a sensitive and moving arrangement of the Dido song Life For Rent, transformed from daytime radio to a deeper utterance. “I remember hearing that song a lot when I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music”, says Miloš, “and I remember walking down Oxford Street to hear that song blasting everywhere. I think everyone could relate to the emotion of that song, but it’s so blatantly pop that I wondered if it could work, because I love the song. I think it does work because it doesn’t matter about the genre, whether it’s Bach or The Beatles, Schubert or Paul Simon, or Dido. It’s all music, and it’s all there to be felt and enjoyed and explored. It is such a gift to be a musician and to really bring it inside your world. It is the essence of what we do.”

This inclusive approach has opened up collaborations with the likes of Manu Delago, who plays the hang as part of an arrangement of Nights In White Satin. “After this period of not playing, I realise that collaborating with artists that I like as musicians and love as people is more and more important”, he says, “making music together with someone is so wonderful and it brings so much quality and variety to your own artistry.

With The Beatles album I was also very collaborative, and that’s where the whole direction started. On that album I had Gregory Porter, Tori Amos, Steven Isserlis and a wide range of artists. On this album as well I had Manu, Jess Gillam, the 12 Ensemble. It has been really fun to create music, not just any music but music that hasn’t been played 100 times already, giving it a unique sound.”

One of the defining moments on Sound of Silence is Cancion de cuna (Berceuse), by celebrated Cuban guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer, which feels like a light in the darkness of Miloš’s injury. “I put it strategically in that place on the album, because I think it needs it to bring you to the core. It is such an iconic piece of part writing, and Leo Brouwer and his sound world are so unique. With something as simple as that, I had to have it there because it just felt right.”

It is the culmination of Miloš’s album construction, on which he elaborates. “You start off with a huge variety of things and along the way you build, take and remove until it feels right and is ready to be printed, if you like. It’s a long process; it’s not like going into the studio with pre-prepared recital repertoire. It’s actually all new. You don’t know what it’s going to happen or how it’s going to sound until you go in to the studio, and even then you think of new things you can do or things you need to take out. It’s an endless process almost, until it feels right.”

Alongside the album Miloš attaches great importance to his work with contemporary composers. In the last year he has given two world premieres – a Guitar Concerto by Howard Shore and Ink Dark Moon, a concerto by Joby Talbot given for the first time at the 2018 BBC Proms. “It’s some of the most important work I do”, he says. “I really believe that classical guitar needs new repertoire, and in order to open it up even further we need to encourage and inspire important composers to write for the guitar. I’m in a unique position as an artist, because through my work and travels I get to meet really amazing composers.”

“Whenever I get the chance I try to get them to write something important for me, but with Joby and Howard it was very natural. They heard me play, we talked and that was it. Both premieres had to be rescheduled because of my injury, and as soon as I felt better I was ready to do it and the moment of me returning onto the stage at the Royal Albert Hall, for Joby’s piece, was exactly a year ago today! The premiere at the Proms was like a rebirth. Howard’s was a couple of months ago. He wrote me a very beautiful piece and we premiered it in Ottawa, and the reception was amazing. He is such a legend in his world, and it’s a privilege to play a piece by a composer of that stature, to have a chance to play his work, I am excited to take those pieces on tour and make them live beyond their premiere. This is almost for me my most important work. The pieces are already recorded, so you should expect them in the not too distant future!”

Miloš’ reassurance is important here, for too many new commissions and pieces get one or two performances before fading from the spotlight, with little chance to appraise them over time “It is very important to keep them alive, and that they become my whole library of commissioned pieces. I want to premiere the Concierto de Aranjuez of the 21st century, and that’s very important to me.”

To that end, further projects are afoot. “I’m working on a new piece with David Bruce, who is a fantastic composer based here in the UK. He is writing me a piece to give with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in February 2021, and I am working for some other composers because I think it is very important to keep that going, to give things new life.”

He recognises the opportunity to give more repertoire to an instrument still in its relative infancy, when compared to its string ‘rivals’ the violin and the cello. “Absolutely. When you are lucky enough to be the artist that people perceive to be a flag carrier for that instrument, that’s a role you have to take really seriously because it’s up to you to commission new repertoire for future generations, and that’s a privilege. It’s a very important part of what you do.”

With this approach, is he looking to continue the work begun by two of his heroes, John Williams and Julian Bream? “Exactly, especially Bream who did so much collaboratively, and who did so much to create what is now the core repertoire of the instrument.” Miloš’ position, balanced between pop and classical, would seem ideal for future developments. “I hope so. For me that’s very important because I feel the guitar is one of the world’s most loved instruments, and it speaks to everyone. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point strummed a chord on the guitar and tried to play a song. It’s an instrument of people, and in the times when we are struggling with new audiences in the classical world, it’s the perfect instrument to invite new audiences into the concert hall.”

It also works on social media – a fact not lost on Miloš. “It works so well on playlists too. The whole world is changing, and when I see the world of recorded music today and compare it to a couple of years ago when I had my last album, it’s a completely different ball game. That also creates opportunities, and I’m very excited about that! There really is an audience out there, and we’ve just changed the ways we are thinking about reaching them. The guitar is loved, and I think it’s loved because it doesn’t scare anyone. You don’t need to be a connoisseur or a classical musician to understand it. I love that in my concerts I get teenagers, young professionals, people from all walks of life.”

Given his recovery from injury, I confess to being worried for Miloš when looking at his intensive tour schedule. Presumably he is fully in control of the demands made on him physically? “Absolutely, although I do enjoy the intensity of touring. When you are touring and going from one place to another you are really finding a different way of performing, and everything flows. I never had an issue with the number of concerts I played, that’s not why I injured myself. I had to develop a steel core in order to be able to take the experience of performing in a very secure and connected way. This stability is what I’ve been looking for, and the reason why I had to stop and regroup. I’m excited by my tour, there are a lot of concerts in the UK – 20 in all – which is a lot in two months, and I can’t wait! There are some very famous and important venues in the bigger cities and then some smaller ones, which just feels right.”

Miloš is refreshingly open when talking about his experiences of injury, and the effect that have had on others. “In the musician’s world it is a taboo, and that’s not right. In the world of sport or ballet, if you injure your leg or your arm everyone is so supportive and understands that it is part of the job. In the world of classical music it almost means that you have done something wrong, and that you hurt yourself because you are not good enough or haven’t practiced enough! There are all these prejudices about a musician’s injury, and I would really like to change that by opening it up. That’s why I talk about it, because to me it is very important to show we are not some sort of fantasy creatures that are able to create the music of the angels – we are real people that suffer real things, have real emotions and can also suffer injuries. Openly talking about it I think can create a much more inclusive environment.”

He recounts meetings with artists who have not been so fortunate. “It broke my heart so many times when I was on this recovering journey how many people I have met who never recovered, just because the way it’s all set up is in my opinion completely wrong. A musician’s injury is not a black and white thing, it is not one diagnosis. It is a number of very complicated relationships which are physical and psychological at the same time. To untie that knot takes so much understanding, and that’s why it is very hard to recover. I was really lucky I think, because I had it in me to not give up, but that should not be the case.”

Sound of Silence, Miloš’ fourth studio album, will be released on Decca on Friday 13 September. You can pre-order the album by clicking here

The guitarist also heads out on an eleven-date UK tour ‘The Voice of the Guitar’ the following week, beginning at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall on Saturday 21 September and ending in The Lighthouse, Poole, on Friday 11 October. There will be a further chance to catch him when performing Rodrigo at a further nine days around the country. All tour details can be found on his website

Finally, you can listen to MILOŠ – The Complete Playlist on Spotify below:

Talking Heads: Labelle

Arcana chats with Jérémy Labelle, the prodigiously talented composer and performer signed to InFiné, about his album Orchestre Univers. This ambitious project looks to bring classical and electronic music together, as well as the musical cultures of Europe and the Indian Ocean. We explore his methods behind that combination, beginning with the inevitable first question…

Can you remember your first encounter with classical music?

Not exactly, it was at primary school. But the first piece that really did stand out for me was Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale:

You say your family home had a wide range of styles – was it important for you to reflect this in your own music?

Yes, it’s very important as this wide range of styles is an expression of the multiculturalism in which I was brought up in and through which I define myself. Actually, these different styles belong to the same world for me. If you look beyond the differences, you can see what links them.

What dance music did you grow up with? The InFiné site makes reference to Derrick May and Jeff Mills.

I discovered Detroit techno when I was around 10/11 in 1995 and 1996, thanks to my older brother. It was the first type of music I played when I was a DJ and from then on it was the base of the music I was composing.

Was it a long (but enjoyable!) process getting the musicians together for ‘Orchestre univers’?

Getting the musicians together was actually pretty fast (a few weeks). It was the writing process that was very long (but enjoyable!)

It is very difficult to place the music of ‘Orchestre univers’, in a good way. Was it important for you to bring these contrasting styles of music together?

Yes it was very important for me as it’s how I see music for ensembles. A music that is capable of integrating instruments from other cultures but more importantly to find space for the body again. It had become too disconnected from the mind in certain contemporary expressions throughout the ’90s and the ’00s. The body and the mind are a whole for me, a single unit with which I try to communicate.

Where did you learn your skills for making colour with orchestral forces?

I learnt to write at university when I was studying music. But what I did really learn was to understand the different schools of thought and genres that have existed in the history of classical and contemporary music and how and when these genres appeared. Practical exercises allowed me to understand and appreciate the mechanics of these music. But beyond learning, I also have teachers that gave me the keys to understanding the space and the dimensions inside a piece as well as contemporary orchestration and time.

How did you arrive at such rhythmically driven music too?

Rhythm is a fundamental part of maloya and how the trance emerges. It’s in this spirit that rhythm expresses itself. I can’t not work with rhythmic instruments 🙂

The track Oublie-voie-espace-dimension brings in some remarkably strong percussion to go with the held chords. What were you describing in this music?

It’s exactly the beginning of the trance! You have to understand the title as a succession of states. Oublie = forget, forget your markers, letting go; Voie = path, the path that appears at that moment ; Espace = space, the feeling of vertigo, of depth that having chosen this path brings to you ; Dimension = a new dimension opens up (the one that expresses itself in O).

You did a concert recently at the Philharmonie in Paris? What was that like

The concert at the Philharmonie was one of the most beautiful concerts of my young career. The feeling of the acoustic space when you’re on stage is incredible. You can really feel how the sound moves in the room, it’s beautiful. Also the energy that the stage catalyses and disperses is out of this world. The stage seems to float in this circular movement with the audience. The room is unique.

What else can we expect from you this year?

Starting from now until the end of the year, I’m going to be working on my next piece, which is written for a string quartet, as well as on my next album. I’ll also be touring my solo electro-maloya act from the end of August till mid September for the promotion of Digital Kabar with my friend BoogzBrown and the Sheitan Brothers! A special night will happen at La Réunion early Octobre (Digital Kabar – Le Club) with many of the artists that appear on the compilation! Finally, for the first time I’m organising a night dedicated to experimental music on the island. It will happen at the end of Septembre.

What does ‘classical’ music mean to you?

The term “classical” is rather distorted actually. Musicologists refer to MOTE (musique occidentale de tradition écrite = western music of written tradition) and it’s in this sense that I understand classical as a traditional music just like other traditional music in the history of humanity.

What other musical plans and ambitions do you have for the future?

Writing pieces for large instrumental ensembles! But also develop the trance and dancing. I want to stay in touch with the club world and the festival world while writing pieces for orchestras that have this unique combination of classical instruments, electronics and the percussion from maloya.

You have contributed to the new InFiné compilation Digital Kabar. What does the word ‘kabar’ mean to you?

Historically, the kabar is the place and time of maloya, but for me it’s also the place and time of all the maloyas: electronic, electric, pop etc…

The track ‘Block Maloya’ has a strong rhythmic drive. How does maloya manifest itself in your writing?

It’s actually in the rhythms but it also manifests itself through other means! The distant pad that introduces the track is an ancestral reminiscence that carries the track through its development. It’s this relation to ancestors and customs that’s particular in maloya. Maloya is also a spiritual music when it’s played in ceremonies.

Could ‘Block Maloya’ become a really substantial track in a live performance?

Yes and that’s exactly what you’ll hear in my solo electro-maloya live act that will be touring for Digital Kabar in August.

If you could recommend one piece of music from this year to Arcana readers, what would it be?

I know I should think about other artists but right now I’m thinking of my piece Playing at the end of the Universe from Orchestre univers 🙂 It’s a song that always surprises me. I wrote it for my previous record Univers-île but it took another dimension on my new record.

Labelle’s third album Orchestre univers is out now on InFiné, who have also just released the Digital Kabar compilation which can be heard below: