SPOTLIGHT 7: BESARIN QUARTETT, MICHAEL MIZRAHI, OLAN MILL, SESSION VICTIM
Our seventh spotlight at first might seem like the most diverse yet, but in actual fact there are many commonalities shared between at least three of the four artists involved. Besarin Quartett and Olan Mill are both what might be called classical-electronic outfits, while Michael Mizrahi is a classical pianist who's also a co-founder of Now Ensemble. Session Victim has few ties to classical music, though there's no doubt the group traffics in classic house music. Regardless, all four of worthy of one's time and attention, and we thank everyone involved for contributing their words to this month's spotlight.
Who: Thomas Bücker, graphic-designer and musician, Münster (Germany)
What: Imaginary fictional filmscores
When: Münster: Blackbox (May 31), Berlin: Krake-Festival (August 6-11, tbc), Essen: Denovali Swingfest (October 5-7, tbc)
Musical philosophy: It's about the notes you don't play.
Influences and inspirations: Spontaneously: films (especially opening titles), soundtracks, typography. Music of all kinds—at the moment: Andy Stott, Pjusk, Jacaszek, Demdike Stare, 2562, Clark; in the past: Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, The Art Of Noise, Talk Talk, Codeine ... but of course everything can be an influence or inspiration—wittingly or unwittingly. Permanently or non-permanently: friends, family, even the weather and the stars.
Who: Alex Smalley, based in the south of England. I've lived in the same area all my life with the exception of a few years studying in London and some extended periods travelling; I would be happy to live here forever. It was illness that took me into creating music in my late teens, and it has served as therapy ever since. Part of my initial recovery involved studying audio recording at a local college, and I was fortunate to be taught by Martin Colley, the principal engineer for the BBC John Peel sessions. Following this I moved to London to study Sonic Arts under Hugh Davis, a course that opened my mind to sound beyond composition and into contextual art, an area I explored most over this period. After completing these studies, I qualified as a teacher and set up a Sonic Arts module as part of the Media Studies degree at the University of Surrey where I worked for a few years. During this time an opportunity arose which led me into Music Therapy, a field I have now worked in for over six years, most recently at Broadmoor Hospital, one of three high-security mental institutions in the UK. I was employed to lead music on a pilot program treating patients with dangerous and severe personality disorder (DSPD). I am now setting up sound therapy workshops to take into prisons and hospitals across the country.
What: Historically, Olan Mill has been Svitlana Samoylenko and me. We employ acoustic sound sources like violin, voice, and piano, and process them to create emotional compositions that are dynamic and evolving. This is a somber project that seems to resonate with my melancholic disposition. We tend to write this stuff in the autumn and winter when the sky is grey and the trees bare and frozen.
Pausal is my project with Simon Bainton and is a far sunnier outlet of euphoric guitar and vinyl samples. The songs are more electronic and often travel deeper into dense, colourful psychedelia. Simon and I are friends before creative partners; we hang out all year, but tend to work on this project in the spring and summer when life is most vibrant.
Both projects occupy the over-populated areas of neo-classical composition and sound-design. There are countless albums I would recommend someone investigates before picking up one of mine (please e-mail me for more information).
When: Both Olan Mill and Pausal have live sets we are currently performing, and details of forthcoming shows can be found at my website with European and US concerts planned for later in the year.
Olan Mill has contributed a track to the documentary Surviving Progress, a proactive film that sets out to inform people of the impact human progress has made on the planet through many of the world's leading scientists, writers, and historians. It was produced by Martin Scorsese, and we are honoured to be involved in something so close to our hearts.
Currently: Olan Mill has a new record titled Paths out on Fac-ture this month; it is my first vinyl release and is accompanied by a text from Vincent Vocoder Voice specifically for the project.
In the summer Barge Recordings will be releasing Pausal's second album FORMS. It's great to be working with Ian and Dave again, and I'm particularly excited about the artwork for this release.
Musical philosophy: I am not trying to move mountains with my music; it is a personal therapy, not a profession. I am happy to be contributing to my own well-being through these creative endeavours and only hope they have a similar impact on any listeners there may be. I release music and perform it in order to communicate with like-minded people the world over, and I look to collaborators for their morals and ethics before considering their musical prowess. I live for the day and don't believe in competition; drawn to the idea of love I see beauty in most things and am proud of my amateur status and the ignorance associated with it, as it means creatively I will always be learning.
Influences and inspirations: My work with personality disorder has made me tap very deep into the social decay of society in the UK, and I think it is this that informs my work most right now; with people's spiritual needs being met through consumerism, we seem to be totally disconnected from our grounding in nature. I believe we are living the most interesting point in history and quite possibly the last days of humanity as we know it; to me this feels exhilarating and very inspiring as change is paramount for our survival.
I recently read Man's Search For Meaning, written by Dr Frankl and one of the most life-affirming things I've engaged in for a while. It is about his time in various concentration camps during the Second World War, and the book details from a professional standpoint the psychological impact such experiences have on the human spirit.
The most consistent influence on my music and indeed my life has to be my immediate environment. I live in a quiet village in the south of England, the kind of place Jane Austen lamented over in her novels. In the UK we are lucky to have a steady seasonal shift that keeps nature looking different from month to month. I take long walks and am inspired by everything I listen to along the way. Recently I've been seeking music and film that don't inspire me creatively, but rather quieten those impulses with sheer unobtainable genius such as the work of Mark Kozelek and Peter Greenaway.
Who: Michael Mizrahi, classical pianist. I grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. I studied at the University of Virginia and at the Yale School of Music, where I was a student of Claude Frank. While at Yale and then in New York City, I met a lot of the people I play with today, including the members of NOW Ensemble, a group I helped form in 2004. I am currently based in Appleton, Wisconsin, where I teach piano at Lawrence University.
What: Over the past several years, I have become fascinated with the composer-performer dynamic – working with composers on the creation of new works. As a classical pianist who has spent a lot of time with the traditional repertoire of the past three hundred years, I have been struck by the timeless appeal of the piano, and how much the repertoire that I've premiered in the past five years has had in common with those older works. I particularly enjoy programming newly composed works alongside more established cornerstones of the repertory; despite differences in compositional language, there are several ways in which the pieces speak to each other across the centuries.
When: In the coming months, I am planning several performances in conjunction with the release of my new album, The Bright Motion. I'll be doing a big album release show at (le) poisson rouge in New York City on Tuesday, June 12, and then a performance at the Strathmore Mansion outside Washington, DC on June 15. In the 2012-13 season, I'll have several more performances of repertoire from the album, which will take me to several venues across North America.
Currently: The Bright Motion, my new recording coming out May 29 on New Amsterdam Records, is the result of a multi-year project in which I commissioned and recorded several new works for solo piano. Along with recording the album, I also worked with El Tigre Productions on creating a short music video (also called The Bright Motion) that was released this spring.
Influences and inspirations: I resonate strongly with the music of several composers: Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Prokofiev, Ravel, Copland, Steve Reich, Michael Gordon, to name a few. Since I was able to work so closely with the composers featured on The Bright Motion, they composed pieces for me with my approach to the keyboard in mind, and many of the strongest influences heard on the album reflect the influences of many of those composers listed above. For example, Mark Dancigers' title track on the album channels Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata, and Judd Greenstein's First Ballade references the sound worlds of both Chopin and Ravel, among many others. Several composers invoke the minimalist strains pioneered by Steve Reich.
In my musical career, my colleagues and teachers have continually inspired me. My teacher, Claude Frank, taught me to more deeply appreciate the beauty and purity of music. Although I never worked with him on any 21st-century repertoire, I've found his approach compelling when learning the works on my new album. Colleagues with whom I've worked and performed have been inspirational in their incredible devotion to the highest standards of music-making.
Who: Session Victim is Hauke Freer and Matthias Reiling, long-time school friends, vinyl DJs, beatmakers, cheese connoisseurs from the small north German city Lüneburg.
Matthias lives in Hamburg, makes beats for record labels like Giegling and Retreat, works on theater music and occasionally coproduces rock and metal bands. Hauke moved to Berlin in 2000 to work for music labels. Nowadays he's employed at Ableton and runs the aforementioned Retreat recordlabel.
What: You could say house music, there's funk, hip-hop, and some psych happening. Mainly we are trying to get the groove right. Often we make dance tunes, half of the upcoming album, though, is rather slow and well-suited for head nodding.
When: Catch us soon in Mainz, Hamburg, Bergen, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Garden Festival in Croatia.
Currently: Debut album The Haunted House of House drops May 14th. New vinyl EPs every now and then.
Influences and inspirations: Shadow, Photek, Tolkien, David Lynch, Pete Rock, Bob Ross, Mr Scruff, Nick Holder, Snapcase, Stephen King, Monkey Island, Stern, Bally & Williams Machines, Otis Redding, Pepe Bradock, Jedi Mind Tricks, Commodore Amiga 500, Sound Stream, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Theo Parrish, MF Doom, Stephen Segal.