I Don’t Think That MDMA Was Pure: Visions of Ecstasy

05 Mar 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

Last November, Jerry Paper played his set at the Center for Digital Arts in Brattleboro, VT, wearing nothing but a pink satin robe and grey socks, bunched at the ankles. This was, apparently, not atypical. Before the show, I’d familiarized myself with the work of Jerry Paper, whose ‘host body’s’ name is Lucan Nathan, by reading his feature with The FADER, where he discusses his typical show attire, as well as his attraction to pre-linguistic sensory experiences, both in musical and religious settings.

During the set, Paper moved in ways I’d never seen anyone move. It was oddly seductive, the way he belted into his microphone, the farting and belching sounds he made between songs. Oftentimes, he’d crouch low to the ground, as though he were attempting to hide underneath his synthesizer, while also stomping his feet in alternate wide-legged strides.

In the other room, through a Christmas-lit doorframe, a set of iMacs displayed Jerry Paper’s new video game, which accompanied his latest album, Big Pop for Chameleon World. Nathan, in addition to being a musician, designs digital worlds in which he is the main character, pottering through his own dreamscapes. I’d been standing over the shoulder of my friend Julia, who was seated at one of the computers, when she pronounced, “I’m about to score some MDMA.” The digital version of Paper stood at the bar in a mostly empty nightclub. Julia hit the T-key on the keyboard, which prompted the digital Paper to give some of his virtual coins to the bartender in exchange for ecstasy. Immediately, the club began to quake and all we could see was the back of Paper’s head as his brain began to suffer the effects of the virtual MDMA. Julia hit a slew of keys, trying to get the shaking to stop. “I wish I hadn’t done that,” she said, sighing. On screen, in fancy print, appeared the words: I DON’T THINK THAT MDMA WAS PURE.

Jerry Paper’s set came as a relief seeing as I had spent the last half-hour trying to force myself to enjoy the opening band, whose conceptual drivings had almost certainly overshadowed the consideration of musical craft. A tall skinny boy with long black hair had sung into the microphone the way one sings into a comb while pretending to be a rockstar in front of the mirror, at home, alone. He used his other hand to make wild gestures above his head, arm outstretched, fingers reaching for the stars. He sang in a mostly broken and frantic falsetto while twirling his lean body around the carpeted stage. Occasionally, he knocked knees with the people sitting in the first row. This did not faze him. “Everybody wants to be somebody upstairs,” he crooned, over and over, during one particularly heartfelt song, whose background track played on his iPod and which he sang over. After each song, the iPod would immediately begin to play the next track and the boy would rush to it, pause the music in order to consider which song he wanted to play next, and then press play. Throughout all of this, a sea-themed screensaver projection colored the stage, the boy, his iPod.

When he was done, the audience screamed for more. This both baffled me or did not baffle me at all. While I’d found the music itself intolerable, there was something about the performer’s abandon, the bright reverb-laden tracks, and the porpoise projections that seemed important. I was skeptical of this sentiment then and still am, but I can’t shake the feeling. In the middle of his set, I turned to another friend, who was seated to my left. “Maggie,” I said, in the quiet between songs. She turned to face me and I stared at her for a moment before whispering, “What is happening here?” She laughed, but I stared on. I gestured toward the Christmas lights, the metal folding-chairs, the dorm-style lamps, the eroding carpet. “This all feels so familiar. What is happening to us?” She shrugged, but not before nodding in agreement.

There is a sound I hear all the time now, in the music that surrounds me. Or rather, it is a type of sound that I can only describe by listing the things it reminds me of. It sounds like nostalgia for the future, like robots at the beach, like the darkest depression and the brightest cheer you’ve ever felt. It sounds like carefree but not because I don’t care but because I can’t care. Like, these are the times we’re in, the world is ending, we have no future but I promise I’m having fun.

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But it’s not just a sound. On the last day of the Hudson Music Project, which featured headliners like Flying Lotus, SZA, and Kendrick Lamar, I witnessed a woman sporting an oversized t-shirt with a picture on it of one of the baby Olsen twins – I couldn’t tell which –  and the caption: COCAINE. I had the same feeling I had watching the boy squealing against the beach background in that tiny room. This isn’t just funny, I thought. This means something. But what? What is happening to us?

The last day of the festival was canceled due to a thunderstorm. This severely disturbed the droves of Bassnectar fans who’d trekked to Saugerties, NY from god-knows-where. I suspect I will never again in this lifetime see as many Bassnectar tattoos as I did that weekend. As I wearily packed up my tent, I heard a man making rounds through the campgrounds. “Horny and high!” he exclaimed,  apparently offering last-minute copulation services, as though to counteract the general low morale that had taken over the festival-goers.

I carry a reel of these events – these images, strange encounters, strange sounds – in my mind, as I try to connect the dots. I think of how sad Jerry Paper looked but also how luminous. When I try to answer my own question about what is happening to us, I come to this: We are trying to improvise small paradises in a landscape of doom. This is, no doubt, heavy-handed – but if every era dreams of what the next era will be, and tries to manifest that dream in everyday life, here in the present, then it is clear that our dream of the next era isn’t a very good dream. In fact, it’s a nightmare. The future, if there is a future, is disjunctive, incoherent, figuratively drug-addled, melancholic. The future has been canceled due to a thunderstorm.

In the 1974 film Space is the Place, when Sun Ra speaks of shuttling the black race into space, it was because he could conceive of no future for the race on the planet Earth. We don’t talk about transcending space and time, generally speaking, unless we feel doomed – headed for some fate we should like to avoid. So we improvise new futures. That’s what the porpoise projections were doing. That’s what Nathan’s kimono was doing. Opening a portal, by way of transcendence, to a vision of ecstasy.

But what have we transcended, if anything, and how? It’s worth noting that the voices I hear are markedly plainspoken. A day or two before Jerry Paper’s show, at a house concert in a basement in Hadley, MA, I was struck by one particular lyric I heard, for its sincerity. The guitarist sang, “When I was a kid, I fell down,” as he played, with remarkable skill, music in a world somewhere between Daniel Rossen and classical guitarist John Williams. This set was preceded, somewhat inexplicably, by a reading from Finnegan’s Wake from a man in tall hiking books and was succeeded by a death metal outfit whose lead singer yelled into a microphone made out of bone. There were Christmas lights there, too.

If the future isn’t a viable option, then all we have is right now, which means we have no choice but to make all the mundane things feel more special than they really are. What the boy who sang along with iPod lacked in musical talent, he made up for in heart; and if there was a time when all these strangenesses were merely chicaneries, that time is over. I don’t say this because I particularly care for displays of inappropriate lighting or equally inappropriate readings of James Joyce, but rather because I am perhaps sick with the same ailment I see afflicting those around me. I’m not standing up for anything in particular, but I’m also standing up for it all. I will fight for the future of this planet until I die or it dies, but I’ve also already given up. Throughout my days, I sometimes lose bodily awareness, not because I’m lost in thought but because I’m lost in observing what is around me. How beautiful and entirely absurd it is. How uneventful and awe-inspiring. I feel more and more like a child. I feel more and more like I am in mourning for a death that hasn’t happened yet.

Interview: Susanne Sundfør

04 Mar 2015 — Andrew Darley

For her fifth studio album, Susanne Sundfør vowed to put herself to the test. After building a repertoire of producing for herself and others, as well as collaborations with Röyksopp and M83, she committed herself to self-producing and arranging a body of work. This autonomous approach conceived a frenetic collection of songs, comprising several stories and characters as she embarks on a crusade of love. Ten Love Songs expands on her signature brand of dramatic pop that interweaves classical and electronic elements as she hops between menacing electronics, sweeping synthpop and organ ballads. The initial assault of her diverse palette soon gives way to lyrics of complexities of love; obsession, unfulfillment, vengeance and trust. Her voice is both the anchor and the vehicle of the music as she brings these stories to life in the way she heard and imagined them. I spoke with Susanne about the intent of the record’s literal title, the learning curve of her career so far and the confidence she has developed to carry her music.

Read the interview after the break.

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The last time we spoke in 2013 for Polari Magazine, your back catalogue had just been given a UK release. How do you feel you have progressed since then?

I feel that I have made a lot of progress working in the studio, especially different boxes involved! I have learnt so much about production; from how to use new synths to writing string arrangements. It’s been a very exciting album to make. It was a lot of hard work but it was fun as well.

You recorded, orchestrated and produced Ten Love Songs predominately on your own. What made it feel like the right time?

I produced an album for a band called Bow To Each Other two years ago so I learnt a lot from that. That project gave me the confidence to produce my own music. Also, I co-produced my previous album, The Silicone Veil. It’s been a step-by-step process where I’ve just picked up more and more skills as I’ve done it. I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted the songs arranged and things to sound so I figured it would be best to do a lot of it myself. It was both a wish to have independence in the studio but also a necessity because I had so many ideas. It would have been pointless to tell another person to do what I could do myself.

Do you feel that you are able to execute ideas you hear in your head more effectively now?

Definitely! On my two first albums, which I’m very happy with, it was difficult for me to communicate in the studio because I didn’t have the language or didn’t know the names of things. I might’ve had a vague idea of how I wanted things to sound but I had no idea how to express it to someone else.

The name of this album is Ten Love Songs and the songs feature diverse musical styles and moods. Did the title of record give you the freedom to write ten very individual songs which worked as a whole too?

It was the title that made the most sense because they’re all different worlds. They have quite different sounds so Ten Love Songs was a name that bound them together.

You obviously were not afraid of not being cohesive?

Yeah, it’s a bit schizo for sure! I just had so many different ideas and I was listening to lots of diverse music and that’s probably why my songs came out that way too.

There’s always been electronic dance elements in your music but possibly not as direct like "Accelerate" or "Kamikaze". Did you want to make people dance with this record?

I think if that’s what I directly wanted, I would’ve made it quite different. Like in "Accelerate" there’s a long part of just an organ solo and "Kamikaze" ends with a harpsichord solo. I think I wanted to use the dance elements in music just because it’s an interesting sound. It’s quite instant. It’s not like jazz, you can pretty much get it after a few listens. It doesn’t mean it’s bad but there’s something more immediate about it – it’s like candy almost.

There are several voices and characters throughout this album. The character in "Delirious" really stood out for me in the way they describe his or her desire to hurt, even kill, their partner.  It’s quite a viscous tale. Do you enjoy creating characters like that?

I think it’s interesting to put yourself in someone else’s mindset. I’ve seen these things happen to people – these misunderstandings in love when one is just playing and the other one gets hurt. It’s so classic. I thought it would be more interesting to frame it as a murder ballad.

This theme of violence also has roots in The Brothel and The Silicone Veil. What is it about it that fascinates you?

Extreme things fascinate me a lot – these extreme emotions. Taboos as well. I think the biggest taboo of this album is that it’s called Ten Love Songs. It might even be more controversial than the violent references because a lot of stuff happening in the public or in media, it’s usually about sex or violence. It’s generally never about love or feeling vulnerable. Love is kind of corny to talk about today. That was also a reason why I believed it to be an interesting title.

As you say that, I can see that the album and single artwork is quite different as well. It almost doesn’t match the music.

That’s one of the reasons why I really like it. I completely trusted Grady McFerrin and told him to do whatever he wanted based on what he had done before. He came up with this drawing concept, which I thought brought an interesting element to the record. I love when artists bring their own take on the music and conjure another world or dimension.

Moving on to performing, I’ve watched your shows online for this album and it looks like you’re becoming more comfortable fronting your music in a live setting?

Totally! The first time I was ever on stage, I completely forgot the lyrics but I was 12 then. It’s taken me a long time to just be comfortable on stage and feel like it’s my place. For many artists, going on stage can be a bit alienating especially if you work a lot in the studio – an audience is pretty much watching what you do in the studio on stage. It’s much easier for me now to be in the music when doing shows.

Are there any musicians that you admired in terms of carrying the music over to a live stage?

When I started music high school that we have in Norway, I began listening to a lot of my Dad’s old records. Before that I would only listen to pop music or whatever was in the charts. I listened to Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, John Lennon and George Harrison – all these ‘60s and ‘70s classics. Both their songwriting aesthetic and the way they performed as musicians really inspired me. These artists really influenced how I view and create my own music.

Have you learned anything about approaching music from the contemporary artists you’ve worked with recently, such as M83 or Röyksopp?

Oh definitely! I’m a huge fan of both, so to work with them was such an honour and an education. I learnt so much about the various microphones, different equipment to how they compose music.

Back to your music, "Insects" closes the album in an intense, almost anxious way. Why did you want to close out the record in this way?

When I made the tracklisting for the album, it was more about the mood than the lyrics for me. There also had to be a flow to the songs and "Insescts" was so intense that it wouldn’t really fit in anywhere else. That is the main reason why it’s the last one but it’s also quite open and experimental. It doesn’t end with a statement or something clear – it’s a cliffhanger.

Looking forward, what would you like to achieve with Ten Love Songs?

I just want to have an open mind about it. I am ambitious but I prefer not to make business plans. My only goal with this album, apart from that I wanted it to be good, is that I want to play more shows. Maybe that can happen and maybe not. We’ll see!

My final question I’d like to ask you, given the content of this album, is what are some of your favourite love stories?

The Brontë sisters are the first people who come to mind. They’re probably my number ones.

Ten Love Songs is out now. 

Review: We Love Lobster Theremin and Here Are Three More Reasons Why

27 Feb 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

We have covered several of Lobster Theremin's limited edition releases since their genesis, ranging from Imre Kiss to Route 8 to Ozel AB. While there are several more excellent EPs coming your way from new LT artists, here are three that we would like to highlight.

Pairing with sister label Mörk, Raw M.T.'s La Duna is a calm cab ride along a coastal region. Seeing as how the "M.T." stands for music theory, this Italian producer surely has more goods to offer than what is briefly seen in this enjoyable EP. The title track starts us off in the usual LT aesthetic of lo-fi quality, and the beat is experienced with a type of jovial skipping stone counterrhythm. Midway through the track, a friendly, curious melody hits all the while the shimmering pad persists in the background. "Untitled" is an entrancing, beachy song, nearly balaeric. It bears a steady and simple hum next to an indecipherable, perhaps Arabic, vocal sample. "Strike" is slightly darker. An applicable analogy for the listening experience of this EP is an afternoon in a beachy destination: it starts slow and sunny, perhaps accented by consumption of local food and material goods. The taxi ride to the social event of the day is like "Untitled," private, transitional, and meditative. Then, "Strike" is the dirty transition from participation in one's own beachy day to an acidic situation in either a bar or an underground party. Take what you will from this alternative construction, but take lots from this gorgeous piece of music.

La Duna is out March 6th.

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All the LT album covers are sleak, completist, photographic, and some kind of beautiful. The cover chosen for 1800HaightStreet's The Pursuit is a psychedelic branching out. Apart from that visual difference, The Pursuit is furthermore a refreshing break from trancey techno, the LT variety I personally love most. What we get from 1800HaightStreet is clearer production with more of a strange and cynical trajectory. Doubtlessly melodic, this non-1080p Vancouver-based producer seems to be on a mission to make people dance maniacally rather than ask them to contemplate a scene or experience. A maze of matter-of-fact distorted percussion and raise-your-hands-high synths awaits listeners like a small, unassuming volcano waits to blow up and lovingly destory something nearby. No fatalities needed, just an LSD casuality anticipated.

The Pursuit is also out March 6th.

Now back to that trancey tech stuff. Budapest's Route 8 is one of my favorite discoveries from last year. Considering his mastery over banging bass and midi tapestry, and also his loving involvement with Chicago house archetypes, Route 8 still shines through with a unique sound. This Raw Feeling is equipt with romantic undertones and nostalgic implications. Song titles such as "The Sunrise In Her Eyes" and emo-electro "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" communicate the possibility of a personal catharsis for the artist, emotionality only vaguely differing from that of his release from last spring. All that said, I feel like Route 8 could make an excellent score to a film, despite my conjuring a movie-like scene for Raw M.T.'s EP; Route 8's charming combination of dance and sensitivity speaks loudly to the evolution of his artisty as well as his humanness. Yeah, I'm a fan.

This Raw Feeling hits as soon as February 26th, thank god.

High Heels “Pendulum Swing”

23 Feb 2015 — Lukas Dubro

Austin Brown is one artist in Berlin that I admire a lot. He is someone who knows entirely what he is doing. Not just by the action, but by the intellectualization of it as well. When it comes to music, Austin can tell you everything from the difference between sine and square waves to the forces behind his favourite records. On the last EP of my band 케이프 you can hear Austin's self-built amplifiers coming to work.

This experience doesn't come from anywhere specific. At the age of five, Austin began playing violin and has been playing music ever since. The US-native used to play in more than 50 bands, most notably Why?, the Anticon hip hop rock outfit. In 1991, he began studying audio engineering and experimented with recording techniques for a long time. In the 2000s, he worked as a professional sound engineer in the states before moving to Berlin in 2008. Here, he made several records for local bands and worked in different venues; "My education was just trying out a bunch of bad ideas to see what might work."

The two new songs "Pendulum Swing" and "Collide" from his moniker High Heels are a demonstration of Austin's skills. We hear perfectly arranged dense rock music with a warm organic sound. Distorted lead vocals catch up with clouds of noise produced by guitar and powerful drums. The music has a great dry '90s vibe, reminding me a lot of Sonic Youth records from that time along with newer reverb drunken noise music like No Joy. With the two songs, Austin perfects the style of his older records out under the same name.

An important part of Austin's working process is to collaborate with other people. In the course of the last years, he has recorded with over 20 other musicians. These are people he worked with in studios or wanted to work with, but didn't have the chance to. For each musician Austin carefully picked the material knowing pretty well their individual playing styles. This way, he could compile the best parts together and add them to the songs the way he wanted without making compromises. "The results are fantastic. People do their best work, when they are doing whatever they want," he says.

Especially nowadays where everything primarily seems to be about style you don't come across many people who are real maîtres of their metier. Hanging with a perfectionist like Austin is always quite refreshing. It reminds you that dilettantism and irony, as interesting as they are, are not the only things that are cool.

Photo: Elisa Longhi

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Stream: 5 Years of NFOP Anniversary Edition on BCR

23 Feb 2015 — Henning Lahmann

This little website is turning five today, and there will be a proper party sometime this spring – or so we hope. We'll keep you posted. For the time being however, without further ado, here's our Special Anniversary Editon of the NFOP Show on Berlin Community Radio, which aired last Friday. We only played songs from 2010, the first year of the blog, when it was tiny and even more irrelevant. It was the age of blogging however, even though decline yould already be felt. In June of that year, Altered Zones entered the playing field, which first seemed to make everything even more exciting but ultimately engulfed everything into the abyss along with itself (*full disclosure: this author used to contribute to AZ). The rest is history. In any case, we're still here. Thanks for bearing with us.

That being said, another announcement: The NFOP Show on BCR will from now on be biweekly, two hours long, and air from 7 to 9pm CET. The next edition will be on March 6. Tune in.

Stream both parts of our anniversary show below.

Part 1:

(1) Games ”Shadows In Bloom“
(2) Autre Ne Veut ”Drama Cum Drama“
(3) Hype Williams ”The Throning“
(4) Girls ”Broken Dreams Club“
(5) LA Vampires & Matrix Metals ”Berlin Baby“
(6) Twin Sister ”All Around and Away We Go“
(7) The Sweethearts ”Burnin' Thru the Night“
(8) Herbcraft “Road to Agartha”
(9) Velvet Davenport “Warmy Personal Routine”
(10) Holy Strays “Faint Beams Ceremony”
(11) Big Troubles “Bite Yr Tongue”
(12) D’eon “Keep The Faith (Airbird Remix)
(13) Philip Seymour Hoffman “requiem for the ghostbuster”
(14) Perfume Genius “Look Out, Look Out”

Part 2:

(15) Rangers “Deerfield Village”
(16) Tamaryn “Love Fade”
(17) Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Bright Lit Blue Skies”
(18) Pigeons “Fade Away”
(19) Julian Lynch “Mare”
(20) Demdike Stare “Caged in Stammheim”
(21) Ensemble Economique “Forever Eyes”
(22) LA Vampires & Zola Jesus “Bone Is Bloodstone”
(23) Sun Araw “Deep Cover”
(24) Woods “Blood Dries Darker”
(25) Herzog “Cautiously Optimistic”
(26) Coma Cinema “Only”
(27) How to Dress Well “You Hold The Water”
(28) Jeans Wilder “Blanket Mountain”

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Review: Björk “Vulnicura”

23 Feb 2015 — Andrew Darley

Every Björk album release feels like a standstill moment in music history. Her records are made with emotional brevity and shaped by restless exploration. Electronic producer, Arca, mentioned in an interview in 2014 that Björk had completed a new body of work which he helped co-produce. The trickle of information came as a surprise, yet the bigger jolt was that no one expected it to be released as early as January – not even the artist herself. Quickly after the official announcement of Vulnicura’s release in March, it was leaked online in grainy quality. Taking the issue into her own hands, Björk put the album in its entireity on iTunes to be heard as she had intended.

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In her recent Pitchfork interview about the record, she disclosed the dissolving of her marriage as its inspiration, as well as how it relates to its ambitious predecessor, Biophilia. She considers the multimedia album about the connection between music, nature and technology as her way of attempting to accomplish everything (which comprised an album, musical app, documentary, scientific instruments and a school for children). She likened the project’s completion to the closing scene in Mary Poppins; once relationships are finally resolved, the nanny must leave the house she has cared for.

The glaring transition between Biophilia and Vulnicura is that she locates herself once again at the centre of her music. Like many of Björk’s records, Vulnicura fuzes words to form a clue of its content: the vulnerability of heartbreak and its cure. The album is a stark and intuitive chronological documentation of her relationship’s disintegration. Its songs put words on the intangible abyss heartbreak plunges us into. Co-produced with Arca and additional production on two songs by The Haxan Cloak, it encompasses the touchstones of Björk’s music and positions them in a new light. "Stonemilker" begins the story with impassioned string arrangements and the artist’s babbles of disorientation, while "Lionsong" ruminates on the torturous doubts of whether two people can withstand together.

Writing in an admittedly direct way, she makes no attempt to dress up her pain. Its lyrics unfold the lucid moments of clarity amidst the depression, anxieties, loss and frustrations of love. "History Of Touches" stutters in a penetrating electronic arrangement as she laments the last night in bed with her partner (“Every single fuck we had together is in a wondrous time lapse”). The ten-minute "Black Lake" gazes into the void after life is turned upside-down. It fades in and out of focus with mournful strings and propulsive beats as she agonizingly questions “Did I love you too much?”. No matter how bleak, the heart of Vulnicura echoes in an awareness that its creator’s only way of coping with such intense and crippling emotions is through music. The music she has written here embodies the psychological and physical toll of despair – portraying the darkest streams of human thought.

The essence of the record is the distressing journey of finding solace in solitude after a life-defining relationship. On the menacing "Family" she rhetorically asks for space to lament the death of her family. Its pain is palpable in which she sings, “How will I sing our way out of this?”, without response. She offers a deep insight into her own desolation through which it offers a hand to others in suffering. She closes the record with "Quicksand" – a song that profoundly accepts “When I’m broken I am whole and when I’m whole, I’m broken”. Björk does not end Vulnicura  with a happy ending, nor does she attempt to lend any resolutions of loss. Instead she casts a light on its potential cure, as its title implies, which is the understanding that we remain to exist no matter what excruciating or terrifying circumstances we find ourselves in. Her personal account of grief is cast in universal language, which is often difficult yet rewarding if one is willing to sit with the pain she sings of. As Björk’s 20th anniversary retrospective launches in New York’s Museum of Modern Art this year, she has synchronized it with one of her most vital, deeply felt records of her career. Vulnicura is the sound of the horrors and healing of the human heart.

Vulnicura is out now.

The Spacesuits: Finding Paradise with Karneef

20 Feb 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

Sun Ra and his Arkestra were known, amongst other things, for their elaborate space garb – the sequins, the ancient Egyptian symbolism, the face-paint, the full-length capes. These were spacesuits the band wore to accompany them on their mission to ‘travel the spaceways.’ So when I first began the project I called The Spacesuits, the plan was to construct a series of costumes, modeled after the garments of the Saturnalian people from which Mr. Blount claimed to have descended. I drew inspiration from the early ILC Dover spacesuit prototypes, crafted in the mid-sixties. I also drew inspiration from artist and Afrofuturist Nick Cave, known for his Soundsuits, large wearable sculptures whose bedazzling feathers and contours are meant to obscure the race, class, and gender of its inhabitants.

The Spacesuits, however, quickly became more about the music than about the costumery. The Arkestra’s outfits, after all, were only subsidiary elements of a larger mission; namely, that to restore race relations by re-imagining a future for blacks that quite literally transcended space and time. Sun Ra’s music was, above all, paradise music. It was music, which by the process of “telemolecularization” (a word coined and used often by Sun Ra), would transport its listeners to another dimension.

Thus began my own search for Sonny Blount’s contemporary musical descendants. The Spacesuits became a collective of musicians in whose work I heard elements of new utopias. I studied their bodies of work and searched for themes like apocalypse, reincarnation, the afterlife, etc. To each musician, I provided five ‘calls to action.’ I gave them prompts like, “Create a short book on how to communicate with stars. Do not use words,” (a prompt given to Stasia Irons of THEESatisfaction) and “Imagine the instant the world began. Create the corresponding soundscape,” (a prompt for Bryce Hample of REIGHNBEAU). The responses produced by the musicians in The Spacesuits collective will form the basis of a series of 8+ multimedia installations over the course of The Spacesuits summer tour, which begins on April 24th at Mengi in Reykjavík, Iceland and then travels across North America. (See the full schedule here.)

When Portals did a micro-feature of Montreal-based musician Karneef in April 2014, I knew I’d want him in The Spacesuits crew. The feature was succinct, if humorous. It read:

Montreal’s Karneef is a man that really, really loves his bass. The video for his new single “Swimming” finds him in some weird situations, most of which involve him in his underwear. Karneef keeps it cool with a lot of smooth strumming and awkward dance moves; occasionally hiding behind paintings so he can scope out a cute girl in the studio. She seems to be in her own world for most of the video, walking around aimlessly and dancing while Karneef serenades her in different parts of the studio.

It is true that Philip Antoine Karneef does indeed love his bass. But he’s also up to much more. Karneef’s 2013 album Love Between Us is, for me, an exercise in paradise music. It is, of course, tongue-in-cheek, but its sincerity is just as unmistakeable. In fact, over time, it has become clear to me that paradise music always plays on that tension between irony and sincerity. One of my favorite moments in A Joyful Noise, Robert Mugge’s 1980 documentary, is when that very subtle smile appears on Sun Ra’s visage as he advocates for governments to give constitutional rights to angels. The smile isn’t signaling that Sun Ra is, in fact, joking around. Instead, the smile says, “There’s a lot more going on here than you think.”

Read Anaïs Duplan's interview with Philip Karneef after the break. 

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You’ve mentioned collaborating with Pascale Mercier, who has done some work under the name Mathematique, on a new project, and also with Slim Williams. Could you elaborate on that? How you see those projects relating to your other work?

Pascale has played drums for the Karneef band on and off, mostly on, for three years. I saw her live show at this terrifying house party. Terrifying because the house was very scary and dark. I can't remember if it was summer or winter but I'm pretty sure she was wearing a backpack – one of those green canvas ones that you take to school. And she had a baseball cap on. Anyway, I mixed her last EP and I recorded vocals. I’m preparing to mix her first full-length album PASCALE PROJECT which seems to be lots of robust composition with elegant, searing vocals. Simple but not easy.

We've been singing up at Slim William’s mind-blowing recording spot in the Laurentians. I have no idea how I ended up being encouraged to do stuff there, but it's really paradise. It's Slim’s and Phoebe Greenberg’s place, a very beautiful duo. I help out however I can, with equipment or media-based stuff (archival or social media), or with helping set gear up at Slim's live shows. I give him tutorials on software, etc., and I get to use the studio to work with others, like Pascale, Asaël from Bataille Solaire, Dylan III. These are some really beautiful artists and I'm so lucky to have met them, incredible humans!

Will you tell me about your video work? How did the video for "Space," for example, come about and how did that experience compare with making your other music videos? I'm thinking in particular of the videos for "Bring You Back" and "Swimming."

"Space" was just unreal. That song was chosen to have a video made, and produced by the PHI Centre team including Phoebe Greenberg, the director. That took two full days, lots of costume stuff, a great camera and technical crew. And my body-double and dear old high school friend Matthew, who played the sax in the video. The VFX stuff and images are all stunning and engaging, and to be directed in all those scenarios was a great deal of fun. I just write the songs! I enjoy seeing how people want to have them visualized. I did a music video myself once for another band and it took too long. I'm not terribly preoccupied with the visual world.

The video for “Bring You Back” was the first video I'd ever done for my own music. It was directed by Thom Gillies, who has a band called Vesuvio Solo, and it's just me dancing around in my neighborhood, which has a lot of interesting people in it. They really didn't mind the camera and seemed to enjoy watching me dance. It was edited by our friend Adam Wilcox, who is very enthusiastic about cinema, so he put a lot of effort into it and I think it shows. The cuts are all very natural and rhythmic, etc.

The "Swimming" video was just as impromptu, but it was more about objects and fabric colours. But actually now that I think about it, the two videos are very similar in that they’re just kind of weird, with me jerking around and such. But the costumes are really neat and the director, Renata Morales is, of course, a very fun person, and Antoine Bordeleau, who shot and edited it, made it look really cool on the web.

On your website you've released a set of tracks called the Midas EP. In many ways, it's quite different from Love Between Us, but I also think the Midas EP is recognizably yours. What are your thoughts on that? When you go back and listen to your work, do you hear it and recognize yourself? Are there concepts or themes that you seem to revisit?

Midas was actually written before Love Between Us, but I sat on it for a while. I would say that it's recognizably mine because, yes, I tend to oscillate between a few themes. I don't realize they’re there until I listen back and say, "Oh damnit, those are really similar ideas." There are a lot of themes that come about by adding only one instrument at a time, and that instrument is playing only one note at a time. But then, harmonically, something very striking comes out. I don't tend to hear all the voicing in my head as it happens. I hear bits of it and I add it all up. Somehow, though, I have heard from other people that there is something recognizable in my music from one thing to another, even when stylistically it’s very different, and that makes me feel nice because I like to recognize artists too. It makes me feel like I ‘know’ them. We have this understanding.

When I was looking for musicians to participate in The Spacesuits, I spent a lot of time listening in search of what I was calling 'paradise music.' When I heard Love Between Us, I was absolutely certain that I'd found it. That being said, I know how strange it is to have other people characterize your own work. What relation do you think the concept of paradise has to your music? 

A lot of people recognize, when I sing about technology in my music, that it's a really important part of my life. And when I dream, often technology creeps in there, because I know a lot about what might be possible with technology. So it's natural that those ideas enter my dreams, and of course paradise pops up in dreams – or, our projections of paradise maybe. Like being in a pilot-seat of an airplane or in a bed on a beach somewhere. I think I'm often trying to conjure up paradise in my lyrics, and just hoping that other people can relate to those silly ideas all strung together. Those shifting harmonies can really make a person feel like everything’s gonna be okay. I think when you're exposed to jazz, those rules change very drastically and ‘what’s okay’ changes. There are lots of different, faster, and smaller micro-emotions in jazz, and as I go further into the orchestral or instrumental music domain, I really question why I need to use lyric in the first place. I have to save that stuff, make it really count.

You mentioned hoping that people could relate to the “silly ideas all strung together” in your music, and I think that might actually be part of what makes your work all the more utopian. Paradise is a scary topic, or at least, it can cause discomfort – but somehow you manage to make it okay to fantasize about. What is it about shifting harmonies that makes people feel at ease? And more generally, how would you characterize what ‘paradise music’ is?

Lately I've been thinking about a lot of words in French that we use in English too, but mean something different. Like “sensible.” That's the French word for "sensitive.” Isn't that weird? How did that happen?

Anyway, paradise is everywhere these days, if you want it. I'm the worst. I'll just spend a couple bucks at the store and get a chocolate bar, and I'll be in paradise until it's done. Then maybe I'll go on Netflix, or take a bath. Winter on this planet is just devastating. I can't believe we just sit in our heated houses and go out and buy olives or work in a restaurant, or talk to your mother on Skype, who is on the other side of the Earth. Soon people will be so used to being apart and there will be crazy relationships that are born and die online. Probably already a million of those happened. I can sit alone in my apartment, reading a book on how to be a better person or how to drive a boat, or order pizza. Or look at naked people screaming with pleasure. We are doomed.

You talked about being exposed to those faster and smaller micro-emotions in jazz. Give me an example of a track that does that for you.

Well I'd like to offer any track where Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul play the theme together, because the phrases are so long and the notes that are sustained are usually beautiful harmonies interrupted by staccato chirping, a big glowing synthesizer and honking reed instrument blending together. The synthesizer is being strained to sound natural and the sax is played with such exactness and precision that it could be programmed. That's paradise, mechanical and silicone, participating while singing to you. There's no words in that music so you can listen while trying to imagine that words don’t exist at all in life, just melodic themes.

Can you say more about your relationship with technology? How does it open up possibilities for you in your music?

I'm just a freak when it comes to using and fixing stuff. I can't stand that feeling of not knowing about how some very useful device was developed, where it comes from, or how to change it. Lately I've been very scared of the consequences of piracy and received some very scary letters from my ISP. I'm very bad at earning money, so of course, like most composers, I use software that I didn’t pay for and that has been really eating at me. I decided the next big film gig I get, which might never happen, because who knows really, I'm going to pay for this very advanced, thoroughly researched world which I step into each day, staring at their colors and boxes for things that I hear and share with others. What a tragedy.

Something I might like to do when I have some ability to develop my own ideas would be more intuitive percussive interfaces, or just different ones – some things that allow for very natural movement in faking hand percussion, or maybe a mallet-based instrument that does something different than emulate a drum-kit or marimba and uses physical modeling. Or portable 3D sound that seems to be nowhere close. Where are the worn donuts that have 360 degrees of sound? Maybe it exists and I haven't seen it. I think 3D records will be a thing soon. Like easily, through iTunes. Can’t you see a donut-shaped Apple device you wear on your head? It's wireless. 10 or 12 channels. Imagine!

Karneef's newest album, Musique Impossible, will be released in April, in collaboration with the new Montréal-based composers' collective, Géocité, which includes Pascale Project, Bataille Solaire, and Dylan III.

The Spacesuits is sponsored in part by The Afrofuturist Affair, a community for Afrofuturists in Philadelphia, as well as by Pushdot Studio, a fine art printing studio in Portland, Oregon.

Sea Change “Squares”

20 Feb 2015 — Andrew Darley

Sea Change is Ellen A.W. Sundes’s musical project whose debut album, Breakage, is due out February 23rd. Based in Oslo, the musician recognizes her own shyness as an impetus for this project: “I've spent so much time being too shy to show people my music or even actually write finished songs because of my own self-censorship. This project is about letting go and just being comfortable in this space”. The record’s title, Breakage, refers to her own desire to break away from old to create a new environment for herself. "Squares" reflects the heart and sound of the debut record. Entering with breathy vocals and a stuttering beat, she sings of escaping the trappings which hold her back. It broods in its sparseness, as she vows that her “feet will run all they can”. "Squares", much like the album, drifts between a melancholic and a rising spirit. Sea Changes’ Breakage is the sound of an artist transcending the anxieties which restrain her creativity and discovering her own voice.

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