Double residencies at claus for the moment: Farida Amadou & Floris Vanhoof downstairs, Christophe Clébard upstairs
The first of the year's two promised Dntel albums offers an intriguing glimpse into Jimmy Tamborello's sketchbook for Will Salmon
In ‘The Lilac And The Apple’, the opening track on the new Dntel album, a robotic voice croaks out the first few bars of an eerie acapella folk song. It's joined a few moments later by the far more human tones of Kate Wolf, the American singer-songwriter who originally wrote the song in 1977. The two singers – in fact both Wolf, processed, vocodered and time-stretched – duet with each other in uncanny harmony.
It's not the first time that producer Jimmy Tamborello has used such effects. His breakthrough 2001 LP, Life Is Full Of Possibilities, also warped and twisted the human voice to often searingly emotional effect. But there's something uniquely haunting about hearing Wolf – who passed away in 1986 aged just 44 – singing about the way that life carries on regardless, even if we’re not around to see it. It’s unsettling at first, but the song grows more moving and beautiful with every listen, her voice now a ghost in the machine.
If The Seas Trees See peaks with its first track, the rest of the album is still shot through with moments of quiet beauty in a similar electronic pastoral mode. There’s a bucolic tranquility to the burbling, aquatic synths of ‘The Seas’, while the sun-bleached clutter of ‘Back Home’ recalls Rounds-era Four Tet. ‘Fall In Love’ is joyful, a soft, shy serenade with the vocals warped to near abstraction, but you still get a sense of the meaning.
Tamborello has referred to these tracks as a collection of “sketches” and that’s evident in a couple of places. A few of them don’t feel quite fully-formed, with the tape-worn piano of ‘Movie Tears’ and ‘What I Made’ both built around meandering loops that simply peter out. They’re unobtrusive ambient doodles, pleasant enough, but also fairly forgettable. ‘The Man On The Mountain’, meanwhile, is a spoken-word narrative that doesn’t add anything to the record aside from some nice sound design.
More interesting are the moments where he chucks a rock in the water to disrupt the calm. There’s nothing as energised as the skittering glitches of his last full album, 2014’s Human Voice, but ‘Whimsy’ sounds like the sort of stark electronic experiment you might find on a knackered LP from some forgotten 1970s music library, while ‘Hard Weather’ closes out the record on soaring synths worthy of M83.
The Seas Trees See is the first of two Dntel albums this year, with the second, Away, said to be more pop-influenced. That will likely appeal to fans of Tamborello's work with The Postal Service and may overshadow this entirely. That would be a bit of a shame. It’s a little ramshackle in parts, but this is a wide-ranging, evocative, and never-less-than intriguing glimpse into the producer’s sketchbook.
Review in The Quietus
‘Brainwave Music’, David Rosenboom’s landmark 1975 album, is now re-released as a double LP on Oren Amarchi’s Black Truffle label. Ten questions for Mr. Rosenboom about this album.
If you listen to ‘Brainwave Music’ now, 44 years after its first release, what do you hear, what do you think, what do you feel?
I am gratified when I can listen to my music over many years and continue to discover new things in it. My goal is to make things that are rich enough for me to always be able to find new listening pathways I haven’t traversed before. I also hear the spirit of the time, an optimistic feeling about the evolution of life and a sense of continuous self-discovery and deepening inner knowledge. I am happy to be able to say that this has been my experience with “Brainwave Music,” especially now that it’s been revitalized by the re-issue from Black Truffle Records in such a nice package.
Is listening to an old record like looking at a younger version of yourself, like looking at an old picture?
Maybe that, but more importantly, I hope for it to always be a source of new ways of looking at the world and the universe, as they are now. That’s part of what I strive for in making music all the time. I look back to analyze and re-analyze how I got to now, but am always looking forward when making new work everyday.
Which place does ‘Brainwave Music’ take in your discography?
It represents a point in time when my explorations with what I eventually came to call “extended musical interface with the human nervous system” had produced results that I believed should be shared with others who might also derive inspiration or useful insights from them. It is one of my relatively early, independently produced and released recordings. I am very glad I took the time to do this back then. I always advise younger composers, document your work while you can. You won’t be able to predict those points in time when it might emerge as having special meaning for others.
‘Brainwave Music’ is often seen as your ‘classic album’. Can you understand why? Do you see it that way too? Do you see ‘Brainwave Music’ as your most important work?
If some others see “Brainwave Music” as my “classic album,” that’s fine. For me, though, it is just one of many attempts to share the products of my pretty wide-ranging work with the world. My hope is that other musical explorers, other creative beings, may find value in them. My work proceeds in multiple areas of interest, and brainwave music is only one of them. Of course, I also continuously find what Gregory Bateson called “ideas that connect” threading through much my work; and this often leads to discovering new relationships I hadn’t seen before.
Do you think a musician is the best critic of his own work, or is that up to others to decide that?
I don’t think about who is the best critic. I’m not about dividing the world into what those who designate themselves to be the determiners of quality decide is worthy or unworthy. Let individual creative engagers decide how they want to apportion the time they give of their lives to what they determine is valuable for them. And by the way, there is a big difference between a critic and a reviewer. A good reviewer helps inform listeners about what they are experiencing and doesn’t only authoritatively specify how they should listen. Critics should not tell people how to hear things. Active imaginative creative listeners can do that for themselves.
Why is there a second live recording added to the original album for this re-issue? How is the live recording linked to the original LP?
When I agreed with Oren Ambarchi’s kind invitation to re-issue “Brainwave Music” on Black Truffle Records, he asked me if I would like to include any additional audio material. I thought this idea through and decided, yes, he was offering a very good opportunity. Most brainwave music is fundamentally emergent in nature. That means individual performances of any given piece are almost always different from each other. So, I thought this would be an opportunity to release an alternative, never-before-released version of another, previously released brainwave piece. I listened through my unreleased archives, and, together with Oren, decided on a version of “On Being Invisible” that had been recorded live in a concert at Western Front in Vancouver. “On Being Invisible” is one of my most important examples of compositional forms that are absolutely self-organizing. Music Gallery Editions released a version in the late 1970s that had been recorded live in a concert at the Music Gallery in Toronto. That one was also later re-released on a CD from Pogus Productions. It’s interesting that the Toronto one and the Vancouver one were recorded in the same year; and though they are the same piece realized with the same electronic systems, the outcomes are very different in form. I thought it would be great if people could access both. Also, the sonic nature of the Vancouver version seemed to go nicely with the material on the original “Brainwave Music” album. The composition and hybrid (digital/analog) systems involved in “On Being Invisible” are quite complex. They are described generally in the album liner notes and in a more technical monograph, “Extended Musical Interface with the Human Nervous System,” which is now available for download on my website: http://www.davidrosenboom.com
Could you explain the title of the album; what is a ‘brainwave’ and what is ‘brainwave music’? What are ‘beta’, ‘alpha’ and ‘theta’ brainwave bands?
The term “brainwaves” is quite general. It really refers to fluctuating voltages, otherwise known as the electroencephalogram (EEG), that can be recorded on the scalp of the head and that arise from the masses of electrical impulses that are constantly being exchanged among the hundreds of billions of neurons inside the brain. These fluctuating voltages give very general clues about various states of consciousness, shifts in attention, or information processing in the brain. So, I made the title “Brainwave Music” to refer to using information derived from EEG signals to influence the generation of sound, the design of which is considered compositionally, and the setup for which usually involves some kind of feedback with the individual(s) who are generating the EEG signals. Delta, Theta, Alpha, and Beta waves are simply defined as relatively coherent, i.e. repetitive, waves arising in specific frequency bands within a range of about 1 to 40 or so cycles per second (Hz).
The text that comes with this re-issue talks about ‘biofeedback’. What is ‘biofeedback’ and what is the difference between ‘biofeedback’ and ‘normal feedback’?
“Biofeedback” is a term that refers to measuring some biological signal from an organism, translating that signal into a sensory signal (commonly auditory or visual for humans), and presenting that sensory signal back to the organism. Much research has been devoted to determining whether the presentation of that sensory signal back to the organism might facilitate its ability to find ways to internally control the original biological signal. The term “feedback” is used in the standard way it emerged from the field of cybernetics, taking some part of the output signal from a system and combining it with any external signals that may be connected to the input of that system. The output is fed back into to the input. Complex behaviors of that system will often emerge from using this technique.
Does ‘Brainwave Music’ still have an influence on the music you play now?
Well, this may sound glib, but everything I have ever done still influences what I do now. It’s really true. Life is a cumulative experience. That’s part of my practice.
Last Friday, I saw you playing live at Les Atelier Claus in Brussels. Before you played, there was a concert of Floris Vanhoof, who’s concert was influenced by your brainwaves ideas. What did you think about that?
Floris’s work is really powerful. It is intense and engaging, to be sure. I thought the audience certainly responded to that power. Floris is very interested in exploring how perception works in his audiovisual work, and his “Fluid Computer” idea is really very interesting. I was impressed, and I am very gratified that Floris has found my work useful in the evolution of his own, even if only in a small way.
Counterflows is at Home! In response to the pandemic and our inability to present live music, we have created an autonomous online space where marginal artists from around the world can share all new and exclusive work. Through audio, film, podcasts, documentaries, writing, interviews and more, the online festival offers an in-depth journey into artist’s practice, as well as opening the intersection where music meets politics, society, history, friendships, community and life.
The festival is free and is for everyone. Dive in.
This will be the 10th year of the festival and although 2021 will be a very different year in many ways we are sure that we have encapsulated some of the spirit of the festival in this edition.
As in previous years the festival features a wide array of artists bound together by their questioning spirit and refusal of easy categorisation. Whether born out of the likes of so-called DIY scenes, the internet or geographically remote communities, we believe that the underground belongs to a myriad of voices and is best engaged with when we come together, share ideas, break down borders, challenge hierarchies and push boundaries.
Hailing from Los Angeles, Jimmy Tamborello has been a key figure in refining what today is considered electronica for over twenty years. The Seas Trees See is the first of two Dntel albums to be released in 2021 by Morr Music in collaboration with Les Albums Claus: a free-floating and rather loose stroke of musical genius, giving ambience a whole new meaningful context. It combines crackles and hiss with deep, yet modest, synths and poignant, yet elegant, vocals and lyrics. Away, its counterpart album, will follow later in 2021. It will showcase Dntel’s unapologetic love for pop music from a long-gone era, presenting yet another aspect of his multi-faceted personality.
Dntel has always covered many musical grounds – from the pop-infused hits on Life Is Full Of Possibilities (Plug Research, 2001) to his much more abstract works on Aimlessness (Pampa Records, 2012), Human Voice (Leaving Records, 2014), and his electronics for The Postal Service (Sub Pop).
Interview by Tyler Nesler
You've been making music in one way or another since 1989, and you've had wide-ranging commercial and creative success with various types of music from electro-pop, ambient, indie rock, and more. With such an expansive range of work, what would you say has been a unifying or connective feature of it all throughout the decades, if there is one?
Melancholy has always been my favorite musical mood. I have trouble avoiding a certain degree of cuteness. It’s a built-in instinct, probably defensive. I try to be aware of when it’s happening so it doesn’t reach embarrassing levels.
Mostly everything I’ve made I consider to be techno-pop. Sometimes it’s been in a more traditional sense, like Postal Service and Figurine, but even when I’m doing something more experimental I can’t help being drawn to pretty melodies and other more accessible tendencies.
You've collaborated with several musicians over the years, notably with Ben Gibbard with The Postal Service, which had a successful 2003 album Give Up. Your new album The Seas Trees See is also a collaboration with Les Albums Claus, the in-house publication label of Belgian organization Les Ateliers Claus.
Regarding their releases, Les Albums Claus says, "Each publication consists of at least one object with a proper artistic finality, blurring the lines between music, sound, visual and conceptual art." Could you elaborate on what exactly this unique organization does, and why you were specifically drawn to working with them for this release?
I’ve been friends with Tommy Denys (who runs Claus’s operation) for twenty years, so it’s really just a matter of wanting to work with my friend. For The Seas Trees See and Away (the other new album), Tommy was one of just a few people who were really encouraging me to finish and release this stuff. Ateliers Claus does so much to support artists and the label has put out a lot of music I like…
The opening track of The Seas Trees See is a cover/remix of Californian folk singer Kate Wolf's 1977 song "The Lilac and the Apple." Your version adds entirely different layers to her sparse acapella original, adding a kind of vocoder atmospheric eerieness other effects that drastically alter the sound of the original. What attracted you to remixing this song, and in what ways do you think your version of it underscores the poignant feel of the original version or even takes it into another realm altogether?
I originally remixed it just for use in some live ambient sets I was doing in 2019. It became a highlight of the sets but I didn’t think much about releasing it officially. But it kept inspiring more songs — really it was the starting point for The Seas Trees See. Most of the voices on the album are heavily altered folk acapellas.
When I was getting close to having an album finished I decided to reach out to her family just to see if there was even a possibility that they would allow me to use it (it samples almost the whole original song and also drastically alters her voice). They ended up being understanding and we were able to work it out.
There wasn’t much thought that went into the way I altered her voice and turned it into a duet, but when I heard it that way it really magnified the emotions for me. Also I liked the lyrics, they felt like a good central theme for the album.
The Seas Trees See will be accompanied by the "counterpoint" album Away, which will be released later in 2021. It will showcase your "love for pop music from a long-gone era." How will Away act as a creative counterpoint to the songs on this new album? What gave you the idea of releasing two works in a short period which will accentuate each other in different manners?
Away was a real struggle to make. It took a few years and there were stretches where I was working pretty non-stop. By the end of those nights sometimes the songs would be worse and I was really questioning what the point was. Most of the lyrics ended up being about this relationship with making things versus not being lonely. When I finally decided to be done with it I just accidentally started The Seas Trees See and finished it in a few months with very little stress.
I like imagining that The Seas Trees See is the album I’m referring to in the lyrics on Away. I almost called it What I Made (but I didn’t like how it sounded).
Also, Away is almost all vocal songs, with my voice in the front of the mix which made me self-conscious, it made me feel better to balance it with The Seas Trees See’s quiet.
You've said of The Seas Trees See, "I thought a lot about making an album that you would find in a thrift store...like a mysterious collection of sketches that leaves a lot unanswered. It doesn’t beg for attention or have any big moments." In an increasingly less analog world, what do you value about sifting through found objects such as old photos or discarded mementos, or obscure vinyl? Are we losing a vital sense of mystery and discovery when everything now is so personally curated through digital algorithms?
I do think I perceive a record differently if I discover it in a thrift store and know nothing about it versus buying that same record as a fancy reissue with liner notes. The thrift store version you want to love and defend, while the reissue needs to prove something to you. I still buy tons of reissues, though.
The Seas Trees See is an album that would not survive the way I consume music on the streaming apps — judging songs by skipping through them, listening to a couple seconds to get the idea, and then throwing albums into a big playlist and listening on shuffle.
Really there’s too much discovery the way we consume music now. With access to everything I find myself almost never listening to things multiple times. I’m more interested in constantly being surprised and hearing new ideas. When I was a teenager I’d maybe get to buy a couple new CDs a month. Whatever I got, I was stuck with, so even if I wasn’t that into something I’d still listen to it in its entirety over and over. Sometimes it took a lot of listens to realize I actually loved an album. Now music that isn’t immediate usually just gets lost.
Both ways have positives and negatives, who knows. As a listener I like the access to everything and I can still go into old fashioned mode and sit and listen to whole albums on vinyl. As a music-maker maybe it seems harder to get listeners to really pay attention, but who cares. You can’t force people to experience art in a specific way or the way that you intended as the artist.
With the album's fuzzy tones and nostalgic and atmospheric samples, I immediately thought of the work of the legendary duo Boards of Canada. Were they or anyone else in particular an influence on your production approach with The Seas Trees See?
Boards of Canada weren’t really in the front of my mind while I was making this but they had a big impact on me when I was younger, so I’m sure they’re in there somewhere. For stuff from back then it’s probably more the shoegaze groups that started going more electronic and also early Morr Music (coincidentally!). Plus a lot of current new age music, like what Leaving Records has been doing. Some of the songs were first made for Leaving Records Listen To Music Outside in the Daylight Under a Tree park concert series.
I think the biggest influence on the sound was that I was writing in Ableton Live (which is not the DAW I’m most comfortable with) with a new controller, so most songs started as longer improvised jams done kind of clumsily with a set handful of loops. I tried not to spend too much time refining or overthinking.
The Seas Trees See, Jimmy Tamborello’s tenth full-length release as Dntel, is an unassuming delight for complicated times.
While mostly known for his time with indie-pop supergroup The Postal Service, Tamborello has been a steady influence in electronic music for over 20 years. The first of two albums to be released this year, The Seas Trees See reveals a different side to Dntel. Moving away from the usual glitchy, IDM or even pop-based structures, this ambient work resembles something a lot more nuanced and refined.
Even if you know Tamborello’s back-catalogue, this release will surprise you (and will continue to do so after several listens). The reason may be less about the absence of beats and basslines on this album, and more to do with the feelings it instills. Maybe as a response to dehumanising, algorithm-based music recommendations, or maybe just a hipster marketing gimmick, a few years ago cassette, CDR and USB mixtapes started appearing in odd places. Wedged between seats on public transport, taped to a lamp post or perhaps stashed in the inside pocket of a charity shop jacket, the mystery of where these home-made releases came from and who made them added to their appeal. There is something personal and tangible about sharing music like this. It’s something you don’t get with big data crowdsourced playlists. The Seas Trees See is an album that feels like it’s been circulating this way for many years, the crackle and static evidence of its tape spools being lovingly rewound, over and over, by listener after listener.
The mood is set by opening track, ‘The Lilac and the Apple‘, an eerily affecting take on Californian folk-singer Kate Wolf‘s 1977 acapella recording. Drawing us into its abstract space, Tamborello’s production is both innovative, unsettling and yet beautiful. From this departure point we are briefly immersed in folding layers of texture and float gently on the sustaining synths of ‘The Seas‘, before the playful whirligig waves and frothy, bubbling undercurrents of ‘Whimsy‘ pull us further out. The experience is a bizarre, disorienting journey through high and low fidelity samples, distant synths and ASMR tickles that weave in an out of the near-field.
Elsewhere, Dntel is a lot more understated (perhaps sometimes a little too much). ‘The Man on the Mountain’ combines undulating tremello with a simple narrative to create a sense of wonder and discovery. Being one of the few moments of clarity on the album, the story here of a hiker who loses their way on a mountain probably has significance, but we are too quickly whipped up by the next track to take it all in. The mellow, joyous anti-rhythms of ‘Back Home‘ and its neighbour ‘What I Made‘ recall Boards Of Canada or Deru at their most meditative and serene. Next, in a darker turn, the wandering piano of ‘Movie Tears‘ is set against a fibrous brittle background of breathy samples, creating a feeling of solitude and loss.
The contiguity of the first half of The Seas Trees See gives way to slightly jarring juxtapositions in the second. For example, where the introspective lilt of ‘Fall in Love‘ is cut up by ‘Yoga App‘, with its self-consuming side-chained samples, it feels like we are listening to a random track selection. Though slightly over-long, ‘After All‘ is keenly mixed and stacked with organic sounds and field recordings. Judging by my dog’s baffled reaction, the tonal shifts here are so high and so deep that there’s stuff happening we probably can’t hear. Finally, closing track ‘Hard Weather‘ demands attention with earnest synth stabs and those rain-like pads beloved of sci-fi soundtracks. Heralded by androgynous vocal calls and what sounds like the clatter of Thai crash cymbal and Klawng Yao drum, Dntel leaves us in the same, enigmatic mental space as the beginning.
Overall, the album radiates the weird charisma of a lost-and-found object. Electronic music can be soulless, clinical and repetitive, but not Dntel. I urge you to spend some time with this album (with a good pair of headphones) and lose yourself among Tamborello’s careful constructions, searching for their meaning.