TWINE: CONVULSIVE BEAUTIES, REQUIEMS FOR DARK AGES, AND OTHER STORIES
When Twine's eponymous album appeared on Ghostly in 2003, it was met with a justifiably rapturous response by listeners and critics alike. Painstakingly assembling the release's material through file-sharing from their respective home bases in Baltimore, Maryland and Boulder, Colorado, Greg Malcolm and Chad Mossholder gave birth to one of the year's most haunting releases, a collection of hallucinatory soundscapes teeming with phone conversations and ethereal vocals. So it would be disingenuous to begin any article on Twine's new full-length, Violets, without first addressing why it took five years for it to surface, especially when the duo had it ready long before Ghostly decided to issue it. Responding via e-mail, Malcolm cites profound transformational changes within the music industry as one reason, and the label's desire to release it “in the right environment at the right time” as a second—a conundrum of sorts, however, given that perpetual transformation can prevent that “right time” from ever happening. “After four years,” he says, “I felt personally hopeless about the release and lost faith basically in the entire indie-electronic music business.” Venting his frustration online and wanting to update puzzled Twine devotees, Malcolm posted to the IDM list and his personal e-mail list the reasons why the release was taking so long to appear. Perhaps that helped accelerate the process because soon thereafter Ghostly decided that the time for its release had arrived. In Malcolm's own words, the release process is, in general, one that's “unclear, subjective, and drawn out.”
Mossholder's less despairing and more diplomatic in his explanation. He stresses the band and label's mutual desire to “release something special for the listener,” refers to the time and love the duo put into the album, and concedes that “it's a complicated time for artists and labels.” He even charitably credits Ghostly for sticking with the group and helping it see the record to fruition, especially when “(o)ther labels may have seen the Twine album as too much of a niche market and dropped it.” If there's an upside, it's that, even though the pair worked most intensively on Violets' material during the 2003-04 period, Malcolm and Mossholder were able to continually edit and update the tracks and their proposed sequencing while they awaited the release date.
Other factors intervened too. “Life in general interceded as my personal life went from stability, to chaos, and then back to something approaching normal,” Malcolm says, “and both Chad and I delved into our careers and personal lives when it started to become apparent that the album's release would be delayed indefinitely.” Mossholder turned his attention to orchestral composition and became heavily involved in writing music and creating sound design for the video game industry. “I've been collaborating with multi-media artist and author Mark Amerika and am currently scoring his latest feature-length film,” he says. “It's quite an amazing piece of work. Mark's imagery is highly unique and provocative, and the score is very much like Twine music. The end result is an hallucinatory audio-visual experience which will be traveling through museums around the world and film festivals; I expect a DVD release will follow.” The pull of domestic life entered the picture too, with Mossholder marrying, having a daughter, and relocating to Austin, Texas while Malcolm also moved to a new region, took on a new career, and settled down. “We're both thirty-five years of age,” he muses, “and we were twenty-five when we started Twine. So much has changed in the last ten years, but I'm thankful that Chad and I are still best of friends.”
Their friendship began in high school when shared musical tastes (Skinny Puppy, Sonic Youth, Fripp and Eno, Warp, Underground Resistance) sparked initial forays into music-making. After forming Twine, the two issued music on Hefty (2000's Immediate Action #3), Komplott (2001's Circulation), and BiP_HOp (2002's Recorder) prior to the Ghostly move (Twine also released—a bit under the radar, by its own admission—At Land on the MP3 label Rope Swing Cities in 2006). While influences on their music include John Cage, Stockhausen, Autechre, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Joy Division, A Silver Mt Zion, Cranes, Cocteau Twins, film composers Howard Shore and Danny Elfman, Black Sabbath, and even Fellini (Twine's “Asa Nisa Masa” references 8 1/2: it's the magic chant the young Guido Anselmi believes has the power to make the eyes in a portrait come to life), Twine's sound is uniquely its own, something clearly heard on Violets, a fully-realized statement whose cumulative impact is intensified by its immersive, dream-like flow.
A so-called “requiem for the new dark age,” the album deftly bridges micro- and macroscopic levels and largely strips Twine's sound of the IDM-associated traces that sometimes colour its previous output. Certainly the new material's psychedelic ambiance and tremolo guitars suggest the group now has more in common these days with Set Fire To Flames than Autechre. The album's pronounced guitar focus asserts itself in the title song, where the listener is slowly drawn into an undertow that grows progressively more disorienting. On “Small,” one imagines a lonely guitarist on a backwoods porch pulling the song's graceful themes from the air while rain plummets from the skies. And speaking of Cranes, the group's Alison Shaw drapes her fragile voice around hypnotic guitar figures in “Endormie,” while Gail Schadt's lovely voice becomes a beacon of light emanating from the dark center of “From Memory.”
The album's thematic preoccupation with voice communication emerges when a truck driver's CB prosaic musings are paired with epic instrumental shudder in “Longsided,” and even more dramatically during “In Through the Devices” when the listener bears witness to a phone conversation between an older man, an uncle perhaps, and a desperate teenage girl intent on leaving home. While disembodied communication can be alienating, it also focuses concentration and heightens sensitivity; certainly the devastating exchange within this song attests to that. Malcolm agrees, noting that the song's phone conversation illustrates the degree to which powerful emotion can seep through sterile devices, much as it does in Twine's own music; that such private moments can become voyeuristic fodder for public examination feeds into the paranoiac dimension of the band's sound too. “Technology can bring us together, and Greg and I couldn't work on our music without it,” says Mossholder. “That being said, I agree that a lot can be lost in translation when communicating via new technology, and that meaning, tone, and emotions can get scrambled and misinterpreted.” Both also acknowledge the price that comes with living far apart and collaborating via file-sharing. Malcolm, for example, concedes that closer proximity would have allowed the band's sound to have evolved in “a more focused manner” and that Twine consequently “would be much further along.”
Having essentially completed the album so long ago, they continued producing new material while waiting for the album's release and consequently now have a significant stockpile. Malcolm quips, “Chad and I need to start the process of compiling all of this material and forming it into something coherent, maybe release a Twine: The Lost Years album or something like that.” They've also been discussing the idea of forming a live band (guitar, bass, keyboards) with a female front singer and doing a DVD release. A few special dates in support of the album are in the works, and the pair would love to play in Europe given that Twine's fan base is larger overseas than at home.
The two are anything but precious when it comes to Violets' “meaning,” with both happy to let listeners write their own narratives to the album's songs. “Once we give birth to our art and let it out into the world, what we intended in part becomes irrelevant,” says Malcolm, “which is not to say that it doesn't represent an artistic vision emanating from the mind of the artist, but more that people will create their own narratives and find connections we never even thought about.” Mossholder concurs: “Music is narrative whether you intend it to be or not. Our intentions, of course, for Violets were for the entire work to be a narrative. But if one doesn't find it to be that way, that's fine also.” Still, he says, “I hope everyone will find the album to be more like an intense film than a music album.” Malcolm admits that the two often embed clues into their music and are thrilled when fans “figure” them out, but they're often more impressed when presented with different interpretations of what listeners have heard. When I propose a narrative trajectory that moves from modest hope (“Small”) to desperation (“In Through the Devices”) and eventual rebirth (“Something Like Eternity”), they're accepting of the interpretation but stress that it's merely one of many. “The themes that you're picking up on are themes we like to delve into and have explored in the past,” says Mossholder. “There is something about the current state of the world that's both beautiful and alienating. It's the constant push and pull between the mundane moments in life and our dramas and dreams that keeps us going. I find that even the most commonplace event can take on meaning when viewed out of context.”
Pressed to elaborate on Violets' presumed themes (e.g., the music business, politics, culture, and technology), Mossholder desists committing himself one way or the other. “I don't like to impose meaning on things,” he says. “Violets is how you perceive it. I personally wouldn't say that anything on the album is overtly political, cultural-social, technological or music business-related. And if it is, it's all an illusion. And if it isn't maybe you missed it.” Malcolm, on the other hand, is more direct: “The album was not created in a vacuum; I was personally affected by what I saw in the run up to the war in Iraq, and everything that I'd learned from a more classical background in history and international politics was offended. How this literally carried over into the material was through field recordings of anti-war marches and rallies and debates I had with people who had this war fever.”
When asked whether the turmoil associated with life in the post-2000 Bush era influenced the album's sometimes bleak tone, Mossholder says, “It's bound to come out in the things we create, our actions, and everyday conversations. I think the situation has affected the disembodied voices that drift throughout the album more than us.” Malcolm doesn't equivocate in his assessment: “The last seven years have been a disaster for the United States: conservative governance (and lack of it) has damaged the country, economically, politically, spiritually, and by almost any other indicator,” and pointedly characterizes the present administration as one of “incompetence, authoritarian impulse, manipulation, and arrogance.” Mossholder's careful to note, however, that, even if the country's political climate were different, Violets would still probably feel much the same, given how emblematic the work is of Twine's sound: “It's who we are,” he says, “it's the sounds we choose to use—are in fact drawn to. I very much believe in Jung's theory of the collective unconscious, especially with regards to creating art. Oftentimes, we channel things into our art and don't realize it until the work is complete. It operates on a sort of surrealist level for me: the concept of convulsive beauty. We are all Maldoror” (a reference to Les Chants de Maldoror, the 19th-century prose poem written by the Comte de Lautreamont that served as a key inspiration to Surrealism-associated figures like Dalí, Artaud, Duchamp, Ray, and Ernst, and to current experimental music artists such as Current 93 and cellist Erik Friedlander). Ultimately, for Malcolm at least, “The story of the album's release was a lesson in the limits and sometimes expansion of commercial art and expectations, personal relationships, informal information, distance, movement, change, success and failure … and rebirth.”