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

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: