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Guy Sigsworth (born June 14, 1968 – on that day Grateful Dead played live at Fillmore East) is a U.K. based composer, producer and songwriter. In his career to date he has worked with many famous artists, including Seal, Björk, Goldie, Madonna, Britney Spears, Kate Havnevik, Bebel Gilberto, Mozez, David Sylvian and Alanis Morissette. He has also collaborated with many celebrated instrumental musicians, including Talvin Singh, Jon Hassell and Lester Bowie. He was previously a member of the band Frou Frou together with Imogen Heap.

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Michael: Yesterday I downloaded an album I’ve never owned or heard before (except for the famous songs on it); Bill Withers´ “Just As I Am”. I’ve never been a Soul fan in the first place, but growing older I do discover, from time to time, old Soul albums. Bill Withers has established, as they say in MOJO, “a lower-key confessional soul style”. That’s what I like here, going for the more intimate moods. On the last track, at the end, the singer is shooting himself. Do you have a knack for certain old Soul records (apart from the nostalgic aspect)?

Guy: I love Bill Withers – you should listen to “I Can’t Write Left-Handed”, from “Live At Carnegie Hall” – and Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye – the greats. It’s mostly Gospel songs I feel a need to hear again – “People Get Ready”, “Many Rivers To Cross”. Is it nostalgia? Yes, but not just that. Hip Hop is massively indebted to Gospel, for instance …

Michael: A propos nostalgia, and the “wild sixties”. Did you see MOONRISE KINGDOM?

Guy: Not yet. I love Wes Anderson, but he’s not a director many of my friends like, unfortunately. So I only get to see his movies later, on DVD.

Michael: I’m sure you will be blown away (at least impressed) by the music of the movie alone, mixing Benjamin Britten (his music is part of the story, children seem to love Britten here) and old Hank Williams songs, emphasising the outsider feeling of the 12-year old protagonists in the wilderness …

Guy: I love Britten’s music. Many 20th century composers really struggled with composing. The old common musical language was gone; so it felt like you first had to invent your own language before you could write even one note. Webern’s music feels like that. But Britten never seems to have struggled – at least not with the notes. Damn him! There’s a Suffolk connection here – one that connects Britten with Brian Eno and WG Sebald. BTW, have you seen Kevin MacDonald’s “Marley”? I loved that film.

Michael: A fantastic documentary. And MacDonald did this without being a Marley aficionado, more as an outsider working himself slowly into the life of Marley. Being a football fan myself (my club, Borussia Dortmund, is one of the ways to never walk alone :) – and we adopted that old tune via Liverpool) I loved the way he played football with his friends in London with the same intensity he was singing on stage. Besides a lot of other things. What did you especially like here?

Guy: Great personalities, great stories, great music. It was wonderful to see both Bunny Wailer and Lee Perry.

Michael: Yes, Lee dancing in the studio and directing the music. Time  is running too fast. We can already look back at 2012, at least the first half. Anything that’s impressed you so far, musically?

Guy: In electronic music, Ninja Tune are my favourite label right now. I like Emika. She’s Czech, living in Berlin. She put out a great single, “Drop The Other”, in 2010. The album finally arrived at the end of 2011. I also like Eskmo. He’s got one trick – making snare drums sound like splintering wood – but it’s a good trick. And Amon Tobin’s “ISAM” is an amazing work of advanced sound design. Apparently he has a great live show featuring 3D mapping.

I’ve heard some really great process music this year: Seth Horvitz’s “Eight Studies for Automatic Piano”; Marcus Schmickler’s “Palace Of Marvels”; Mark Fell’s “Multistability”; and Cyclo’s “ID”. I guess most listeners will think this is pre-music – research rather than rounded musical statements. And they’ll think it’s cold.

I don’t think my own music is cold, but I’ve always been fascinated by artists who adopt a deliberately severe and cold aesthetic. Some of these artists are incredibly cold – they’re about as emotional as a barcode. Ultimately I’d like to hear these musicians attempt a dialogue between the cold precision of their statistical processes and the messiness of frail, breathing humanity. I guess that should be my mission. If I get round to it.

Michael: That should be your mission, for sure! Let’s talk about metal music, Guy. The last metal album I listened to quite often, was, in my teenager days, the first or second Black Sabbath album. After that, I seemed to have lost the appetite :) Is there anything in this genre, you can recommend? Maybe I can reconnect with my youngster self …

Guy: Try Meshuggah. I’m still listening to their 2008 album, “ObZen”. I recently met the members of the band. They were in London playing a show at the Forum – which was fantastic. I had a really interesting conversation with their rhythm guitarist, Mårten Hagström.

For me, Metal is all about riffs; and Meshuggah really know how to write great riffs. “Bleed” has the most memorable riff I’ve heard since – what? Smells Like Teen Spirit? Some of their really offbeat “math rock” riffs remind me of the Adrian Belew era King Crimson. Their new album, “Koloss”, is mostly more of the same; though the closing track, “The Last Vigil”, is a beautiful ambient guitar tune that could almost have been on a Brian Eno album.

Michael: Brian will read this, and maybe buy his first metal album since the early 40s of the last century:) In the 80s he had compared (english humour mixed with a small dose of truth) the walls of sound of Heavy Metal with the textures of Ambient Music. Did you listen to Icebreaker reworking Eno’s classic APOLLO?

Guy: Apollo is one of my favourite albums. It’s difficult for me to adjust to this acoustic re-imagining of it – especially “An Ending (Ascent)” (which I sampled for a Frou Frou song). I have a theory about that tune – which I never dared ask Brian to confirm or deny. I think the whole tune is playing backwards.

Michael: We are strolling around a wide field of genres here. Today, there is more exchange, I think, between genres that were often seem as quite antagonistic a long time ago … the good thing about the post-age of everything …

Guy: I’m not the first to notice that the current Skrillex / Noisia / Knife Party strain of Dubstep / Complextro appeals to the very teenage boys who once would have gotten into Metal. Hence Skrillex and Noisia working with Korn on “The Path Of Totality”. It seems that the newest wavetable software synthesisers have finally overtaken guitars in their ability to make a venomous, hostile, annoy-your-parents racket. That’s really obvious on the Korn album: the synths constantly upstage the guitars. The heaviest guitar sounds around now – even Meshuggah’s wonderful 8-string “djent” sound – may no longer be heavy enough. A terrifying thought for most of your listeners!

Michael: Think so. And what about a great new jazz album?

Guy: I love Matthew Bourne’s Montauk Variations. His piano playing probably owes as much to Messiaen, John Cage or Ligeti as it does to McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett. Bourne judges mood better than any young pianist I know. Just when the avant-gardism hits the limit of what a generous but unsure listener can comprehend, he’ll resolve into a serenely naive hymn: difficulty and simplicity in perfect balance.

Michael: I like Saltash Bells, John Surman’s new and pure solo work. This jazz veteran is playing everything himself: saxes, clarinets, synthezisers! He has done this quite often! But it never appears as a clever game. He is moving through landscapes of the English southwest (the spaces of his childhood). A kind of neo-romanticism with an open mind … I like the balance between ascetic forms of introspection, memory – and an uninhibited joie de vivre.

Guy: I’ll give it a listen.

Michael: Let’s open the songbook again. I fell for the new song cycles from Paul Buchanan, Fiona Apple, Lambchop and Dan Michaelson (no one knows Dan Michaelson).

Guy: I’ve bought and loved the Paul Buchanan album – Mid-Air. I first listened to it in mid-air, too. It really helped me on a turbulent flight. Isn’t it fascinating to hear how our favourite singers’ voices age? How they find new ways to touch us even as their vocal range often contracts. Buchanan probably sounded older than his years back in the days of the first Blue Nile album. He’s rounding out beautifully. (BTW have you heard Joni Mitchell’s mature re-recording of “Amelia”? Cigarettes have weathered her throat, and she’s completely lost her high range; yet her ability to touch us with what she has left has actually deepened.)

Michael: Yeah, it’s on Travelogue from 2002. A lot of gravitas in there. Returning to Paul Buchanan and his Mid-Air. Late night music at its best … I remember an interview with him, and he was talking about the moods he’s longing for … of certain black-and-white movies, Hopper paintings … something still and somehow out of time …

Guy: Buchanan endlessly re-writes the same song. But it’s such a beautiful song. We’re always at night in a city that’s a hybrid of Glasgow, Los Angeles and, well, every town (a friend recently told me how well Blue Nile songs seem to fit her current home town of Beijing); we’re feeling regret at our failures in love and life, but still refusing to give up on romance and become cynical or curmudgeonly. Car horns, street lights and stop signs blur and become galaxies. This isn’t sentimental escapism: it’s transcendence.

Michael (with a sigh): Nothing to add to that.

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P.S. In August 2012 (exact date will be announced soon), I will broadcast Guy Sigsworth’s PUNKT REMIX w/ Nils Petter Molvaer from last year’s PUNKTFESTIVAL in Kristiansand.

2011 16 Nov

Ein Genazino-Interview …

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 … in der Sueddeutschen ist vergnüglich und lesenswert. Hier drei aus dem Interview herausgepflückte Zitate, von denen mir besonders die letzten beiden sehr gefallen:

Genazino: “Es klingt vielleicht arrogant, aber ich halte das digitalisierte Leben nicht für einen Teil des wirklichen Lebens. Das Internet, die sozialen Netzwerke, die Chats sind ein Surrogat, ein friedlicher Ersatz, auf den sich die Menschen geeinigt haben. Das wirkliche Leben ist geheimnisvoller und poetischer. Es zu finden ist uns aufgegeben, man kann es nicht in einem Kaufhaus erstehen.”

“Wo finden Sie das wirkliche Leben?”
Genazino: “Wenn ich in Hagen oder Osnabrück aus dem ICE steige. In diesen verrumpelten Städten geht mir eine Herzkammer auf. Ich stehe auf dem Bahnhof und denke: Osnabrück – genau, das ist die wirkliche Welt. Oder wenn ich Enten im Park beobachte, die auf einem Bein stehen und schlafen, darüber kann ich mich freuen wie ein kleines Kind.”

“Ein Zitat aus Ihrem Buch: Wer allein lebt, erkennt die anderen allein Lebenden. – Woran?” Genazino: “An ihrer inneren Eingesunkenheit. Man sieht es Menschen an, wenn sie es nicht gewohnt sind, offensiv zu kommunizieren. Sie sitzen da, schauen durch die Gegend, in Restaurants lesen sie lange in der Speisekarte.”

“I´ve just read a few parts from your blog, and I must admit that your interpretations of my solo harmonium playing corresponds very well with my own thoughts of it. Even if I play completely acoustically, my sound aesthetics is deeply inspired by electronic music and analogue synthesizers.” (Sigbjorn Apeland, Email from Nov.2)

Hello Guy

Here in Dortmund we have a clear blue sky on November, 1, “Allerheiligen”,  not the ideal weather (at the moment) for people who love to listen to melodramatic Cure songs on their Ipods on  burial grounds. By the way, I´ve only loved one Cure album, “Seventeen Seconds”, an early one.

I didn´t hear any “Witch House” music until you told me about it. So I ordered Balam Acab and his cd “Wander / Wonder”. I like the richness of the textures, especially the aquatic atmospheres. It reminds me a bit of early trip-hop (a new recipe?) … The music is a bit too interesting to end up in New Age territory.

GS: Balam Acab’s new album is a conscious departure from Witch House. Witch House tunes usually feature lots of 808 drum machine. They’re like indie music with southern crunk beats. I think this is probably more to your taste than Salem or the other Witch House bands.

Yes, the synthesizer is an old-fashioned instrument now. And one has to be careful using it. It now carries along so much history: every new sound seems easily to be an “old sound”. Creativity is required to avoid the “retro stamp”…

GS: To be fair, I still think there are bold new ways to use synthesizers. Dubstep synth, as popularised by Rusko and Skrillex, really is new. They’re flaunting the brash digital wavetables and clocking filters of modern software synthsizers like Native Instruments’ “Massive” and Rob Papen’s “Albino”. You can’t make those kinds of sounds on a 1970s Moog or 1980s Prophet V. But in general, you’re right. The synth is now a historical instrument.

English synth player Benge has a vast collection of old synthesizers, and he has put out (you will know this) a record that works as a time journey: nearly every ancient synth gets a composition (synth only!), and listening to the tracks makes you think – in moments – of Vangelis, Kraftwerk, Eno (just by the colour of the sound, not by the themes)

GS: Actually I didn’t know his music. I’ll give it a listen.

I have a great idea for a double concert (at least I think this is a great idea): imagine Benge bringing  three or four old synths on stage, and he plays his little solo pieces. But he has to share the stage with Norwegian harmonium player Sigbjorn Apeland (who has put out a brilliant solo record of harmonium music on HUBRO, called “Glossolalia”, full of acoustic ambient music with old harmoniums, all on the verge of falling apart). Benge plays a piece, Apeland the next, and so on, till, in the end they play duos:

I mean, a duo of harmonium and synth sounds rather weird in the first place. But if you close your eyes and listen to Sigbjorn´s playing with drones and overtones and so-called false tones and irregularities, the harmonium sometimes sounds, well, like a strange electronic instrument. Being far away from perfection, gives an old synth the same human quality. So, what once seemed to come out of totally different worlds, now reveals interesting affinities (all linked to the fact that synths are no longer state of art, but are having a good time in museums.)

GS: That sounds like a wonderful idea :)

The best Giorgio Moroder (my memory may have holes) is the one who produced the classics with Donna Summer.

GS: Moroder had one simple idea – that aggressive, endless, hypnotic, motorised sequencer “chug”. I suspect he heard it in the middle bits of Tangerine Dream records like “Rubicon”, but he may have discovered it independently. Any way, he isolated it, and made it the basis of his style – a powerful musical meme which changed pop forever. I am not a real expert on Moroder, but my friends who are always urge me to get to know his album with Sparks, “No. 1 In Heaven”. One day I will.

Did you know that Moroder worked with Japan on “Life In Tokyo”? They refined his motoric sequencer approach into something more band-friendly on “Quiet Life”, donated it to Duran Duran, then abandoned it altogether. I’m kind of glad they did – it freed them to cultivate a completely opposite approach to synthesis. The synths on “Tin Drum” sometimes suggest Stockhausen, sometimes Delia Derbyshire, sometimes imaginary ethnic instruments, and consciously avoid the motoric groove approach. I wish more synth bands had followed their lead.

Yes, you´re right, in the Ryan Gosling-movie, Cliff Martinez references the “decadent” Californian Moroder, and it works fine for the soundtrack – fluid and dense at the same time. A memory comes to mind: I liked  the way moviemaker John Carpenter performed (along with Gareth Williams?!) ) his own rather primitive electronic music on his early films like “Assault on Precinct 13”, “Dark Star” or “The Fog”.
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Dark Star” (1974) – Trailer
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GS: I’m also very fond of Carpenter’s primitive synth scores. Back then, when people made records with only synths – especially when they were just monophonic synths – it was almost impossible to make normal sounding music. Even if you wanted to sound like Abba or the Bee Gees, two mono synths and a microphone wouldn’t let you. Weirdness wasn’t optional, it was inevitable. The first two Human League albums show that.

When I listen to 80s synth pop now, I notice how the arrival of the big fat polyphonic synth normalised things again, and made the arrangements less interesting. I think the Pet Shop Boys are great, great songwriters. But their arrangements – usually with one huge 10-finger synth pad in the middle – have far fewer interesting counter-melodies than, say, Vince Clarke’s Yazoo songs.

It is very interesting what you´re writing about M83 aka Anthony Gonzales. A guy who seems to re-interpret the 80s American-pop by adding a sad and yearning quality, as you say. I really can hear this in some of the (nearly) spoken pieces, but for me the music is a too much bombast. But, Guy, you really “tricked” me into listening to this double-album at breakfast time two days ago. I don´t like the colour and the sounds of the synths/keyboards, it makes me think of one of my “enemies” of old times: Trevor Horn and like-minded spirits of pathetic overkill.

And why did I listen to this M83 music? First of all, I was looking for this element of yearning, and then, even more (as I could not find too much of it) for, what you called “the ghost of Molly Ringwald”. That rang a bell: two years ago, I saw that famous film with Molly for the first, time, “The Breakfast Club”, and liked this coming-of-age-film, and the performance of Molly! But I have no idea what Mr. M83 found here: maybe a nostalgic angle for his music?

GS: I’m sorry if M83 is not for you. It’s definitely bombastic – that’s a design feature, not a mistake. I could develop a whole argument about the recurring ways French artists discover depth in American trash. Baudelaire loved Poe where highbrow Anglophones thought him a cheap shocker; Godard found something inspiring in American genre movies; arguably the French took American jazz more seriously than Americans ever did, etc. Maybe another time, when we have some French wine to hand :)

I have to defend Trevor Horn a little, at least for personal reasons. He was the first record producer I ever worked with. I really learned how to “comp” (compile) a vocal performance watching him do it. And “Slave To The Rhythm” is astonishing for the sheer number of musical parts he manages to cram into one song. It’s the Mahler 8 of pop!
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Speaking of sadness/yearning/melancholia: yesterday I received an interesting record with a very special mood: “If Grief Could Wait” by Giovana Pessi (baroque harp) and Susanna Wallumrod (voice; a neatly constant presence at our Punktfestival). The tow other instruments are a viola da gamba and a nyckelharpa. On ECM Records, a few seconds, and you realize, this is a Manfred Eicher production.

Now, a lot of the music is dedicated to Henry Purcell´s songs (centuries and centuries ago), and then there are three cover versions of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen songs. The famous shiver was running down my spine when I listened to Susanne Wallumrod performing Cohen´s “Who by Fire”. And isn’t that, too, “old music”, coming from the Seventies?! A Quote from the background informations: “This record is neither a project that adheres rigorously to ideals of historical performance practice, nor one that strives self-consciously to “cross over”.”

I like the way this music moves between eras. I would not say I´m very keen on Henry Purcell´s music and his deeply religious lyrics. But I´m drawn into this music because of the “restrained” passion of the performance – as if the musicians made a clear rule before playing this utterly sad music: “no matter how heartwrenching this all is, we will never break out in tears”, (but, when listening, you get the impression, that zone of losing control is quite near…)

GS: Purcell’s Viol Fantasias are incredible. They still sound modern today. Which is odd, because they’re intentionally nostalgic. Purcell is re-imagining an old England of Gloriana, rejecting the flashy speed-metal innovations of the Italian violin style then arriving in England. The Fantasia for Three Viols in F major is a personal favourite, as is the Fantasia Upon One Note.

I think, sometimes, looking back turns out to be the most effective way of looking forward. Late Bach, late Beethoven both show that. The “Heiliger Dankgesang” in Beethoven’s A minor string quartet is – for me – the most radical and most conservative piece he ever wrote. It looks back to Palestrina, and forward to Bartok and Pärt. I love it. Especially when it’s played very slowly but the players don’t try too hard to milk it. Again, achingly sad.

I sympathise completely with that aesthetic of restraint, BTW. Histrionic surface sentimentality is no proof of inner depth. Quite the contrary. Dry deadpan can be more compelling than melodrama. So I understand completely your reaction to M83. For me, Ralf Hütter half-singing “Computer Love” – Kraftwerk’s saddest song – that’s infinitely more emotional than Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On”.

I think I’m actually very drawn to under-powered, almost broken “weedy” voices if they have that honesty. Robert Wyatt, Stina Nordenstam … I will definitely seek out this recording, BTW. Thank you for the recommendation.

Good sadness is uplifting, isn´t it?

GS: It’s the best.

Best,
Michael

GS: Best,
Guy


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