Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I'll confess something about my Polaris ballot: when asked to prioritize the five Canadian albums I loved the most from the last year, I indulged in some ultimately futile strategic voting and put Goodbye Lucille by Feuermusik in my number one spot. Considering the love for this record among at least four or five Toronto critics, I thought that might be enough to vault this obscure saxophone-and-buckets duo onto the list. Oh, such hubris!

Jeremy Strachan and Gus Weinkauf comprise Feuermusik--a band whose moniker that, for the longest time, had this Kraut-challenged Canuckophile thinking they had something to do with Montreal MVP Mike Feuerstack (Snailhouse, Wooden Stars, Julie Doiron, etc.).

They don't, of course, and nor do they sound like anything else you might expect. Not the hardcore band Rockets Red Glare, where they both spent the early years of this decade. Not the eggheady art-rock of the Sea Snakes or the cinematic orchestrations of the Hylozoists, two bands where Jeremy played guitar. And certainly not like most jazz records you own: Feuermusik play intricately arranged pop songs based entirely on buckets, bass clarinets and saxophones. Intense rhythms frame an abundance of melodies and harmonies, very few of which sound improvised--there's even sheet music in the liner notes if you want to follow along at home.

Feuermusik went on hiatus almost immediately after the release of Goodbye Lucille, when Jeremy moved to St. John's, Newfoundland to study at Memorial University. He's back in Toronto this summer, where's he wasted no time in gigging steadily in various incarnations, including Feuermusik, who are recording new material as we speak. They play tomorrow night (Thursday) in Guelph, and Jeremy will be part of a tribute to John Coltrane's Ascension at the Tranzac on Saturday. More details here.

Jeremy also just released his first album of solo saxophone improvised pieces, called The Heart of the Matter, inspired by the paintings of Kate Bond Pretti. It came out this month on the new imprint Standard Form, founded by Alex Turlak of hardcore band I Can Put My Arm Back On You Can't.

The interview below was excerpted in this piece for Eye, and another for the Kitchener-Waterloo Record which has been reprinted here. It's a rather exhaustive discussion: everything you never knew you wanted to know about Jeremy Strachan but didn't have time to ask.

You can also hear Jeremy interviewed by David Dacks on CIUT 89.5 in Toronto tonight (Wednesday) at 6.30PM.

Jeremy Strachan
June 26, 2007
Locale: his parents’ basement in Erindale

Driving by Erindale high school on the way in here, I was thinking of the large posse of Mississauga musicians that have taken over the Toronto scene. Which ones did you go to high school with?

I went to Erindale. I grew up with Shaw-Han [Liem, I Am Robot And Proud], although we didn’t go to school together. Gus [Weinkauf] and Jim [McIntyre] went to different high schools a well. Kristian [Galberg, Sea Snakes] and Lee [Shepherd, Holding Pattern] were in Oakville. The only person I really went to high school with that I ended up playing music with was Evan Clarke. Other than that, everyone else was spread around. It was less of a high school thing than meeting at shows in Streetsville and Oakville, at the Kinsmen Lodge and Masonic Hall.

So you just met by seeing each other’s bands?

Yeah. Shaw-Han, Evan and I were in a band when we were 15 or 16 that lasted until we were 19. There were a lot of bands that would form and play a handful of shows and then it wouldn’t work out. That’s how I got to know all these people. It’s weird, because these friendships have lasted so long. I’ve known Shaw-Han for 15 years now. He and Evan and I have been friends since we were 13. The high school aspect was not a huge factor. There were these shows at the church that were the nexus of where I met everyone. Then we all moved to Toronto in drips and drabs.

How far back do you go with Gus? To Rockets Red Glare?

Earlier. Gus and Jim McIntyre used to play in Blake with Evan. Before that, Jim and Gus were in a band called Scrambled Debutante with this guy named Dan Zubawa, who is in a band called Girls Are Short. The first time I think I met Gus was outside the Opera House when I was 16. He had dreadlocks and was trying to force me to drink his Slurpee. I didn’t really get to know him well until Rockets Red Glare, which was 1999. It’s a good chunk of years now.

What do you think you and he have together? Why did you want to work with him for Feuermusik?

Actually, he asked me. After Rockets broke up, there was the Sea Snakes thing for a while. I really learned how to play with him. He has a very distinct way of playing. He’s a very detail-oriented musician, and I mean that in every respect: his playing and the way he wants to put things together. In Rockets, he and I had more of a thing locked in, where Evan was playing on top.

You were playing bass in Rockets, yes?

Yeah, locking into patterns he was making. I learned how he would build up a beat and play changes on that beat. We established a fairly common vocabulary in terms of playing. Then he called me to say he was playing buckets and wanted to try a duo with saxophone. That started in 2004. We’re just on the same page both musically and personally. Feuermusik is a very easy band, compared to the Hylozoists or these massive juggernauts that require huge amps and lots of co-ordination. Whenever Feuermusik plays out of town, we usually take the bus.

Were there many out-of-town gigs during the two active years you were together [before moving to Newfoundland]?

We played Montreal and Guelph a handful of times. That’s about it. We’re doing some shows this summer, like Ottawa. Both Gus and I are very content to focus locally, instead of trying to do the thing we’ve both done before: build up a local following and then go play in other cities. Especially after living in St. John’s, you get the sense that there can be an inflated sense of importance that local scenes have—which is a good thing, because it bolsters that identity. That’s much more important, though that vocabulary and awareness might not translate to other centres. Living in St. John’s, no one knows what’s going on in Toronto and no one cares.

And vice-versa.

Yes. I’m very happy to be back here and playing in Toronto. You really do realize the insane amount of music being made in this city, and stuff like the Extermination Music Nights and the Poor Pilgrim thing, you really realize how special this place is. That sense of importance is vital to keeping things going.

Rockets ended around 03, right?

Yeah. Started in 99, ended around 03 or 04. I can’t remember when the last show was.

I found an interview with you from 03, when you were in Rockets, and you say that you didn’t think you were a very good saxophone player. When did you start taking it seriously, or when did it step up?

Really when Feuermusik started. At some point I became very disinterested in being a guitarist and a bass player. I played guitar for many years and it’s the instrument I went to school for. I bought a cheap saxophone when I was 19 and squawked away on it for three or four years. At some point I made a concerted effort to learn the instrument better, and then I became interested in other reed instruments: bass clarinet and the other saxophones, alto, soprano and baritone. And flute—most of what I practice now is flute, because I’m very weak on it and I want to have that proficiency. Towards the end of Sea Snakes I made a conscious effort to get better. And I kept getting calls to do studio work for indie rock records, because people knew me and that I was a nice guy and wouldn’t be some studio monkey charging $300/hr for my time.

This was for horn work and arrangements?

Yeah. I figured I should learn how to read a bit better on the horn, and play in tune!

What were some of those records?

I played on the Golden Dogs. The Constantines’ albums, both Shine a Light and Tournament of Hearts. The Fembots, Jon Rae, the Deadly Snakes. It’s mostly through Paul Aucoin, actually. He’s so busy recording all of these records, it seemed like in 05/06 every record had to have a horn section on it. A lot of the arrangements were Paul’s, and he wanted me to play horn. Nathan Lawr’s newest record, I did all the arrangements for. I think Paul really liked the idea of a live horn section: tenor, trumpet and trombone in a room with three mics.

Are there melodic things you’re more comfortable exploring on the saxophone than you are on guitar?

Sure, it’s a totally different way of making music and even experiencing music. The way that I play guitar is that it’s fundamentally orchestral: you can play a melody and a bass line and harmonize at the same time. On the horn, it’s much more a linear thing. There’s only one note you can play at a time. When I’m playing it, I try and hint at the harmonic implications of a melody. With the bass clarinet, the lower registers of the instrument are so contrasting with the high and middle sections, and there’s so much richness in that instruments and I can really hear the chords in the melody. I’ve become much more attuned to melody, as opposed to the guitar…

Which is more shapes.

Exactly. I find it’s a forest-for-the-trees thing. When you pooch a note on the bass clarinet and it squawks, especially in Feuermusik, there’s nothing underneath that. Of course, the other option is to incorporate that into the vocabulary. And I do incorporate a lot of extended sounds.

In Feuermusik I hear a lot of specific scales and cultural influences, for lack of a better term. Are there specific things you’re intentionally bringing into it?

The first record, there were definitely things I was aware of after I heard what was going on. I wasn’t trying to say, ‘I want this to sound like a weird Mexican thing, or an Afrobeat thing.’ Mostly when I was writing those arrangements I was thinking of the colours of the different horns on top of each other. The record we’re working on right now, we just did a session on Sunday, and I improvised with four bass clarinets doing polyrhythms, because I’ve been playing with a drummer in St. John’s who just spent a lot of time in Ghana, and he’s influenced by that kind of thing. His name is Curtis Andrews, and he’s amazing. So that knowledge is latently being absorbed by me.

I’m curious about the composition process. The live and the studio experiences are obviously so different. I didn’t see you play before I heard the record, so was there stuff that you knew you could only do in the studio and didn’t play live before that?

The record turned out very differently from what we anticipated. We wanted it to sound really scrappy and dirty, loud and abrasive. We planned to do live off the floor in one day at Jeff [McMurrich]’s studio. We did something like 24 takes in one day. But I don’t think we were good enough as players at that point.

We started those sessions in 05. I was playing a really beat up old student model tenor which was really a piece of junk. That kind of energy that translates so well live as players—just between the two of us—just doesn’t translate to the studio. All you hear are bad notes.
We had no deadline for the record, so we kept building on these duo performances that we did. It was a weird way to make a record. Our bed tracks were buckets and a single tenor saxophone line. We’d go in, record, and I’d improvise on top of some things, then I’d take the record home and chart out some more concrete ideas.

We’re taking the opposite approach with this record, me living in St. John’s and Gus being in Toronto. I’m bringing in bigger charts now, because I know what it’s going to sound like when we go into the studio.

I like that the live thing and the record are two totally different things. I feel like I’m getting better on the horn and I’m able to access a much more extensive “bag,” as they call it, that I can grab on to as an improviser. It’s taken me two and a half years to do that. Same with Gus. Our performances are free-er now.

I don’t know if this is accurate or not, but when I listen to the record I think I hear you harmonize the overblown notes, or the squawkers. Is that true?

Yeah, there are some parts on the record where that happens. “In a Violent Way” starts with a really low overblown Bb on the tenor, and then I mimic that on the bass clarinet, so you get those harmonics and textures. That was intentional, for sure. And on “Tyranny of Apperances” there’s a middle section where there’s a wall of horns that opens up for a minute or so. Mistakes in the playing become the starting points for weird compositional things like that. The instruments have these crazy acoustical resources that you can really build on.

Why cover “Summertime?”

That’s a good question. I always really liked the tune. I was really into Coleman Hawkins, who has this famous tenor sax solo called “Picasso.” There are a few other unaccompanied solos by guys like Eric Dolphy. They’re really tuneful pieces. So I took that melody because I really like those opening chords, those lush half-diminished chords rocking back and forth, and I wanted to see if I could do something with that with just the saxophone, to bring out the harmonic implications of those opening chords. The melody is really easy and it’s really well-known, and I knew that Gus would come up with something insane to put underneath it. That tune is probably the album’s biggest question mark, because we couldn’t get a good tenor sound on it, and the beginning and ending are weak.

Is there a lot of editing on the record, in terms of stretching Gus’s parts to create room for a solo, for example?

No, not too much. Most of the editing was just fixing mistakes in the beds and banging little parts into tunes.

No time stretching, then.

I think in one tune, “Doppelspiel,” because we thought it was too short at the end. I think that’s it.

About your new album, can you tell me who Kate Bond Pretti is, and how would you describe her work?

She’s an artist from Toronto. The work I’ve seen of hers, she does a lot of black and white etchings with swaths of colour. It’s mostly the contrast of these lines, these meandering pieces that she’s done. There was a series of pieces she did called The Heart of the Matter which I thought were so great.

Her pieces are very musical. You can see the movement, and the impulses behind what’s going on. I knew that when she does these etchings that she’s listening to music, and you can see that they’re responsive pieces. I emailed her one day to see about the idea of doing responses to her etchings, because I thought it would be such a neat idea to keep that cycle going. Conceptually it appealed to me. I don’t know if she’s a fan of solo improvised music.

Do you know what kind of music she listened to while doing them?

I don’t, actually. I do know she liked Rockets Red Glare. I don’t know how relevant that is. She is Alex Turlak’s partner, the guy who is running the Standard Form label. I knew Alex was working at the Power Plant. For a long time, he had been bugging me to record something weird and wanted me to play some guitar music in an alley or something. I think he was interested in uncontrolled environments, the results that a recording process would yield. We booked two days at the Power Plant gallery.

Did she have a show there?

No. Alex was working there as an installation crew that would set up and tear down the galleries for each exhibition. He arranged for me to come in on a couple of nights in this massive gallery with nothing in it. The only thing in there was an exhibition of this Inuit artist with these bleak snapshots of the north, about alcoholism and abuse. Alex printed off some high quality prints of [Pretti’s] series, and I put them on an easel and improvised to them. There are five in the series, but one of them had been sold, so there are only four cuts on the record.

Do you think there’s a relationship between her drawing style and the notation for improvised music? I was noticing on the Goodbye Lucille sheet music you included in the liner notes, that there are lines on the sheet music indicating spaces on the register where I’m assuming the player is expected to improvise.

That’s totally interesting. I didn’t even consider that at all, but you’re dead on the money. A lot of graphic notation, the contour or the gesture is much more important than the actual notes you’re hitting.

The glissando between notes.

Absolutely. In a sense I guess I was improvising from these graphically notated scores.

It just struck me because what little I’ve seen of her work seemed to be very much about lines as opposed to rounded shapes.

For sure.

Part of your artistic statement in the liner notes for this album says this: “I am largely concerned with the mutability of simple musical gestures, and their ability to sustain an expanded perceptual present.” What do you mean?

Less so now, but when I wrote that I was really interested in the idea of form in music. Large-scale form is largely a learned process.

The argument—and I’m paraphrasing here—is that when you’re listening to, say, a 27-minute piece of music, the music that you’re experiencing and not remembering or anticipating, is an incredibly short amount of time. It’s seconds long. The idea that you can perceive these large-scale forms and structures and closures in music is an enculturated thing, more of a series of expectations. It’s an engagement with listening that doesn’t actually involve a lot of listening, but more anticipating and regurgitating and fulfilling expectation.

Musicologists and phenomenologists and cognitive scientists—there’s been a lot of research into this idea—[ask]: what exactly is a perceptually present musical engagement? It’s an incredibly short amount of time. So I was saying that I’m not thinking in large-scale terms or closure. It’s the idea that the music in the moment that you’re listening to is there, and if it can sustain itself through various permutations and transformations—if you can sustain that engagement—then there’s a loop that goes on between either the sound source and the listener, or the musician and the instrument, or the audience and the recording device. If the idea is there and it’s constantly regenerating itself, it’s something that interests me.

Sometimes I’m more interested in writing out songs and having really good form and sections that resolve and close. The other end of that, which most people have problems with, is that improvisation is indulgent and esoteric and alienating, etc. One way of looking at it is that it’s a way of producing and experiencing music that blurs out the anticipatory and recollective aspects of listening, and it becomes pure listening.

I’m sure a lot of people will think that’s bullshit. But as a musician, it alters how you approach music in performance. It gives you that license and all sorts of tiny gestural things that could be a tiny second or millisecond or a mistake or four notes, it’s the immediate experience.

The question then is what an audience takes from that when they’re listening to a 12-minute improvised solo saxophone piece, vs. listening to Feuermusik—which to me is essentially pop music, where it’s very composed, it has a head and a chorus and parts you recognize.

Sure. I don’t think this [Heart of the Matter material] would work with Gus, because of his approach to playing music. He’s very interested in improvising, but I don’t think it would translate in that context. I think we’re both on the same page, where there are improv aspects in what we do, if there’s a tune or a head or a chorus or some structure we can go back to, then… That’s probably what people have come to expect from us. There’s a level of expectation from people that you want to meet them halfway on.

Slightly off-topic, I went to see the Fiery Furnaces last night, and it was really confounding in the most glorious way. I’d seen them before and kind of knew what to expect, but quite often a song would have the same lyrics, but a completely different melody and totally unrecognizable chord structure. Everything is plucked apart, and the melody of one or two songs will be dropped throughout the set for about four or eight bars as recurring motifs. When you talk about people’s linear perceptions of a longer piece, one could tell that a lot of people there just didn’t understand—or like—what was going on because it really toyed with their expectations.

This is also something that’s interesting to me. You start getting into interpretive strategies. There’s a book by this jazz scholar, Ingrid Monson, called Saying Something: Improvisation in Jazz. She’s picking apart the language metaphor in music, like musicians are talking to each other, etc.

One of the things she says is that there are these concentric circles of interpreters in any given audience situation. There are people who have an experiential knowledge of a tune or a piece. So for example, you can remember these things and you can hear them being dropped into different points in the set, and you come to a Fiery Furnaces concert with this knowledge base. Whereas other people won’t: they hear sounds and chord structures.

Her argument is that in any given situation where jazz musicians are playing with each other, there are these infinite levels of familiarity and understanding at play, between people listening to music, between musicians themselves who have this capability to speak with each other, by throwing in quotations or switching things up and displacing the melody, bla bla bla. The more you hear, the more you have this aptitude for being able to recognize these structures.

Whereas, I’ve never heard a note of the Fiery Furnaces so I wouldn’t know what’s going on in that situation.

The question then is, is it completely impenetrable? A friend of mine who works in tech crews at the Guelph Jazz Festival told me that he just doesn’t get it, and that he wants someone to come on stage—whether the musicians or someone else—and explain it before the performance. And I told him that there really is nothing to explain: at a core level, you either have a visceral, spiritual reaction to it or you don’t, and there’s nothing right or wrong about either reaction. Foreknowledge and experiential listening informs how you react to it, but the question then is when does it just become a big circle jerk and an in-joke?

Sure, yeah. That’s a massive question that’s plagued—well, I shouldn’t say plagued…


It’s confronted experimental music making since musicians decided to work outside of structures, to step outside canonical streams of music making. All the labels you have—new music, avant garde, experimental—those questions are always there. That’s what program notes are for. That’s why when the Canadian Opera stages Wagner’s Ring Cycle, they have afternoon-long talks explaining what this four-hour 11th century Norse saga was about, and why it was important. What kind of knowledge can you assume? What kind of interpretative skills can you expect to be confronted with as a musician on stage?

How do you think that applies to a four-track, 36-minute solo saxophone record?

It applies to it in the sense that there will be a lot of people who don’t like it, which any musician engaged in this kind of music-making recognizes. It’s not for everybody, but it is for a lot of people. It’s a very important record for me. I remember Lori Freedman did an Interface series that AIM Toronto puts on—do you know those?


The Association of Improvising Musicians do the Interface series, when Joe Sorbara and Scott Thomson will bring in an internationally recognized improviser—usually someone from Europe. I know they get a lot of people from Europe, especially Dutch musicians because there’s a funding thing that allows them to do that.

The Dutch are very well funded.

(laughs) I know. The Dutch consulate might pay them a thousand dollars to help export Dutch culture. The idea is that the improvisers of international renown will improvise with various configurations with local players, bringing their knowledge to the community, which will then be disseminated through other musicians.

So Lori Freedman did one of these a while ago, and Feuermusik played—not with her, just the middle set to give her face a break from blowing so hard. If there’s any one person that has influenced me to believe that you can play a solo bass clarinet in that way, it’s her, because that’s what she excels at. I find it exhilarating and fascinating and inspiring.

Anyway, she said that at one point [in her career] she was really worried, saying, ‘There’s this music I have and this relationship I have with my instrument when I’m playing, but I don’t think anyone wants to hear it.’ Somebody said to her, ‘No, in fact there are a lot of people who want to hear this. You just have to get over the fact that because it’s weird, because it’s a very strange forum for music, a strange vehicle for solo woodwind stuff, there are people who do want to hear that kind of thing.’

So especially doing this record, I kept that in the back of my mind. For instance Alex has been so supportive and gung-ho about putting this release out. I’m like, ‘Really?’ It’s something you always want to have to keep you going.

Goodbye Lucille seems to have really struck a chord with people who wouldn’t normally listen to a sax and buckets duo. Were you surprised at how well it was received?

Yes, I was surprised. At the same time, I knew that it was a really good record. We put a massive amount of time into documenting this thing, and really, really obsessed over the details—that was largely Gus. We have this yin/yang relationship, where I’m always saying, ‘Yeah, that sounds awesome!’ And he says, ‘No, it doesn’t.’ There’s a certain sense of satisfaction that this amount of work is being received well.

I try not to think about this too much, but I would be really devastated if people said, ‘This is just a joke or a novelty record.’ Sure, ‘sax and buckets’ equals ‘busker.’ But I spent so much time on the arrangements and the voicings and the structures and making it make sense. We wanted to make sure something was happening with each song.

Last weekend [at an Extermination Night underneath the Dundas Street bridge in the Junction neighbourhood] you performed with two auxiliary players. How does that fit into Feuermusik’s long term plan?

It fits in when we can find people to do it and when I have time. It amounts to me rehearsing, which I don’t particularly like doing, directing a room full of people. When we did the CD release show last summer, in August at the Bummer in the Summer at the Tranzac, there was a quintet. Three other horns and me and Gus.

Who were the horns?

Doug Tielli played the trombone. Kai Koschmeider played alto. Mark Leder played soprano. We did the same configuration at the Extermination Music Night in the bun factory last year. Those work really well, and it’s fun because it fleshes out the sound.

But the dynamic that Gus and I have—because we’ve been playing together for eight or nine years—that vocabulary we have with each other gets sacrificed to ensure that people are playing the charts. The fun thing about that is that if you can get players who are comfortable with loose structures and things falling apart. The reality is that good musicians are busy so rehearsal time is at a premium. I factor that in when I do the arrangements, but it’s stressful. With Gus and I as a duo, it’s really easy to just shut your brain off and play. You can’t get that with people reading charts.

What are you studying at Memorial?

I’m doing an MA in ethnomusicology. I went to Memorial because I wanted to study with Beverly Diamond, who is head of the program out there, and it’s a really small and new program. Bev used to be at York and Queen’s. Aside from being a fabulous human being, she’s a great writer and a great teacher and a great thinker. I’m researching Canadian music around the centennial, the Canadian avant-garde in the context of nascent ideas of Canadian nationalism and how that fits in with Indian compositions. There are many pieces by Canadian composers that are based either in name or more substantially on aboriginal texts and myths. A lot of that has to do with notions of Canada figuring out what it is as a nation and its folk history, which it doesn’t have as a bunch of colonizing Europeans.

So it’s not performance based?

No, not at all.

Was that part of your undergrad?

I did that at U of T. I took a long time to do my undergrad, dropping out and doing stuff part time. I’d been at U of T so long that I needed a change. My undergrad was in music history theory. I started doing a degree in classical guitar, but I wasn’t interested in being a classical guitarist. And I was in classes with guys who had smokin’ chops, and I just wasn’t interested in being that dude. The sensitive rocker kind of thing!

How much longer will you be at Memorial?

I’ll go out for one more school term, and then come back and write. St. John’s is nice, but this is my home: friends, family, [girlfriend] Naomi, and the music community here. I used to be disdainful; I had a certain amount of scorn [for Toronto]. Living in the city for eight or nine years, you lose perspective a bit. There are so many bands, so much stuff, and is any of it good? But when you go away and miss it, then, yes, it’s all very good! You miss it. The people here making music are just so fantastic. The three shows I played this weekend were just so good.
It’s just not like that in St. John’s. I’m sure it is for different sets of people. The hardcore punk community and their all-ages shows are massive out there. Same with the singer/songwriter scene. It’s just not something I have a relationship with.

What about jazz or experimental music there? The Sound Symposium?

That runs every two years. The major forum for that is a monthly event called Night Music, which is subsidized by the Sound Symposium and organized by Craig Squires, who is a member of the Black Auks. They are three older guys from St. John’s, like the equivalent there of the Nihilist Spasm Band. They’ve been around for two decades, jamming every Monday night and recording it. I put a band together for Night Music last March, a saxophone quintet I did some charts for. I tried to get something going when I moved out there, but I just don’t think there’s the audience for it. It’s once a month, and even then it’s pretty low-key.

Musically, what do you think you learned from being in a hardcore band? In terms of how it applies to music you make today?

Touring as much as we did…

How far-flung were you?

Sydney to the east, Vancouver to the west, New Orleans to the south, and everything in between. We toured all over the place. The thing I learned the most was learning how to deal with people. When you’re in a band and you’re 19 and you have a six week tour booked, you have to tie things up on your end to make sure that works. You have to have enough money to go on tour. You have to get time off work. If you flake out, then you’re screwing everyone else over.

Being in a band like that where it’s The Band vs. The World, the stakes seem so much more heavier. You feel like you’re on a mission. When I think of some of the places we used to sleep in—they’re great that I have these stories to tell, but I wouldn’t do it again. It’s this weird social microcosm that is the band, where it’s just about learning how to deal with people. In Rockets, there were three of us.

The unholy triangle?

Exactly! Which side are you on? When you meet musicians who have toured with a lot of people, you can tell, because they’re a bit more relaxed about it. Everybody has to deal with everybody else. You’re not going to take over the world.

Not to be fatalistic, but I used to believe in the narrative of emergence. That’s not what happens. There are bands who slog it out for 15 years and still play to five people in that city where they’ve been to five times. Once you realize that music making is a social activity, it becomes more enjoyable and you can be happy sharing it with other people.

Instead of waiting for a break.

That, or trying to delegate responsibilities to people and saying, ‘We gotta do this because we gotta make it.’

When did you reach that state of enlightenment? And is that why the band broke up?

No, we broke up because Evan and I were out of school and we weren’t making money. It sounds like a greasy thing to say, but it was a drain. We were quitting jobs and giving up apartments to go on tour. It was fun, but it got to a point where it felt like it had run its course. We had made good music, but when you play Boston for the fourth time and there’s no one there… There were two really good records and an awesome seven-inch, and our last show in Toronto was really amazing, it was packed and everyone was really into it. It was a good high point to go out on. Musically, I wanted a a change and didn’t want to play bass in a loud band anymore. Who knows, I might in five years or two years.

Musically, how do you think that band manifests itself in what you do now? If at all?

There’s a lot of discipline that being in Rockets Red Glare taught me. Other than disciplining myself as a social being. Everything about that band was about trimming the fat off of tunes and bringing out those elements that were important and getting rid of extraneous things that were just there for effect. The discipline of being in that creative environment, I think I carry that with me. Now that Feuermusik is what it is, I can kind of do whatever I want. Gus is a little more open to that kind of thing: ‘Do whatever you want, and if it sucks I’ll tell you.’


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Miracle Fortress

The Polaris Prize nominees were announced on Tuesday, and amidst no small share of grumbling about inclusions or exclusions (Apostle of Hustle was robbed!), the one item that made me the happiest was the inclusion of Five Roses by Montreal's Miracle Fortress. Though I like several of the albums on the list, there are few that I love as a song cycle, a sustained mood, a real album--which is the whole point of Polaris in the first place.

This record snuck out quietly a little more than a month ago to zero expectations--especially among anyone unimpressed by Think About Life, the other project for the 23-year old Miracle Fortress mainman Graham Van Pelt. Yet Five Roses has quickly captured the attention and imagination of many with its delicate and dreamy pop songs set to a hazy soundscape of indeterminate origin, sounding like the ultimate 70s summit between Brians Wilson and Eno. I've been smitten from the first time I heard it--when it showed up unannounced on a multi-disc player on an early summer Scrabble evening with my beloved, who has since become its biggest and earliest champion.

Here, guest poster Helen Spitzer (the aforementioned beloved) talks to Van Pelt for this article in Eye Weekly about living and creating in Friendship Cove, the (soon-to-be-shuttered) loft/living/studio and performance space he shares with poster artist Jack Dylan and others in Griffintown, a historic English-speaking working class factory district in Montreal. He also explains how he's always been a solitary man since growing up in the Shakespearian small town of Stratford, Ontario, and how attached he is to the album format--something that is evident in everything that went into the minor masterpiece that is Five Roses.

Miracle Fortress, Graham Van Pelt
Interview by Helen Spitzer
June 13, 2007
Locale: phone interview from the Friendship Cove in Griffintown, Montreal

Helen Spitzer: What does your Miracle Fortress look like?

That’s privileged information. I don’t want to give that out on the phone. Especially to a journalist.

HS: Good point. But really, where does that name come from?

Actually the Miracle Fortress looks like a big pile of equipment that is arranged in a circle, that I used to get into and play onstage when I did solo shows. I climbed in behind this drum set and three amplifiers and a whole bunch of keyboards and samplers and tried to play everything at once. It was a glorified one-man band.

HS: You don’t do that anymore?

I’m still doing a little of that at the beginning of sets that I play, but now I’ve got a backing band that helps me [for the rest of the set].

HS: Who’s in the band?

Jordan Robson-Cramer plays in Sunset Rubdown and Magic Weapon, and Adam from Telefauna and Jessie from SS Cardiacs.

HS: To me, this seems to be a really joyful record.

Yeah, that’s weird. I guess it kind of is. It just kind of happened that way. Some of the lyrics are pretty personal and kind of dark. The songs that ended up being keepers were these really fluffy pop washes that I ended up really liking. It wasn’t something that I had planned on. There was no blueprint for it.

HS: I wasn’t suggesting it was unrelentingly happy or anything. For the most part, the lyrics seem to be an internal conversation and I’m curious what that’s about.

Well, a lot of it is private. Issues I’ve always dealt with, that I ended up writing lyrics about because I wanted to deal with. There are songs about the inability to express myself and songs about troubles with religion. And then songs about goofy relationships in the sun: sunshiny summertime flings or whatever.

HS: What are your issues with religion?

Not even religion, but just weird spiritual experiences that I’ve felt, or had growing up. Not really being able to interpret them and not really wanting to tag it as religion, or anything, but I don’t know what to do with it.

HS: What were those?

Oh, I dunno, a lot of pretty private stuff. But there were definitely moments when I … I don’t know how to go into this, but just like sort of confusing awakenings and stuff like that.

HS: Like being aware of a presence?

Yeah, stuff like that. It was more psychedelic experiences. I would be really bad at describing it here, though. That’s a tough question

HS: The record is also really sentimental. And I don’t mean that in a negative way at all; it’s something I connected with immediately.

I wanted to try something that was less ironic, and kind of grandiose, and try to do something that was a little more personal. If you abandon irony you end up with sentiment, and then you either try to mask it for the sake of your own decorum, or you just subtly deal with it. The sentimentality in the songs is scary or personal but I left them there instead of trying to hide or something.

HS: So what’s your motivation for abandoning irony?

At the time I had been doing a lot of really tongue in cheek music and doing things that were really intentionally over the top. And fans were acting over the top and ironic and I wasn’t really relating to it very much anymore. I guess I wanted to see if I could be one of these artists who could revive a bit of seriousness.

HS: Or just sincerity.

Yeah exactly. I don’t know if I was particularly successful, but I think I’d admired those artists most, the ones who could put themselves out there in an honest way. And there’s tons of great stuff that comes out of being silly and goofy.

HS: So how would you characterize Think About Life?

It’s changing a lot but it definitely started out as a joke band that became serious. And now we’re actually writing songs and treating it with some respect, instead of this recklessness that we used to approach it with.

HS: So you continue to be involved.

Oh yeah. We’re recording new stuff and have an EP coming out at the end of the summer. It’s in a transitional phase right now because it’s going away from being totally non-serious and almost like ironically sentimental or childish to [something else]. We’re trying to keep some of that childish awe but actually take the project seriously. Which is weird.

HS: My first impression of Five Roses was that it was the sound of someone falling in love.

I did write a lot of the songs in one of those sweeping, early periods of a relationship, so it was very exciting. That was where most of the songs came from. There was definitely that kind of sweetness that came from experiences coming from very early in a relationship.

HS: Alluding to what you were saying earlier about an internal monologue, you seem to be cautioning yourself to be careful with your heart.

It’s true. It’s clearly a biographical piece of work. And working solo in the studio for three months or whatever, not having any outside input, you spend your time with your inner demons. I was just talking to myself the whole time, singing to myself. It was weird putting this character into a record that was actually me. Sometimes it’s very awkward to listen to.

HS: Did cautioning yourself work, though? Was that good advice?

[Laughs] Like I said, it was stuff that was written in a very early phase of a relationship, and the relationship itself didn’t end up working out. But I can still treasure the instances and experiences that were happening.

HS: The real sentimentalist in me was really rooting for you. When I listened to the record, I thought, “This is the love of his life!”

[Laughs] That’s how it felt at the time, yeah.

HS: Tell me about when you came to Montreal. You moved directly from Stratford, Ontario?

Three years I’ve been here.

HS: Who were the first people you connected with musically in Montreal?

The first people I met were the AIDS Wolf guys and this band called Les Angles Morts. I went and saw Torngat the first weekend I was here. AIDS Wolf started practicing at the house I was living in, which was totally obscene and pretty terrible to have to endure as far as volume was concerned, but great. But they were big influences from the get-go, just being really gung-ho and putting on a great show. Eventually you meet everyone because it’s a pretty small little community.

HS: It’s just like a small town.

The English-speaking community is all concentrated into two neighbourhoods that aren’t really bigger than your average small southern Ontario town. Every second person is a musician or promoter or label guy.

HS: The longer I was in Montreal the more unrealistic perception I had of the rest of the world.

Yeah, totally. It’s kinda heaven.

HS: What do you think of Griffintown?

It’s okay. It kind of forces a certain lifestyle on you that you either adapt to or resent. It’s very, very boring and quiet here, as opposed to anywhere else in Montreal. You have to either immerse yourself in your work, or go completely crazy. It’s good if you have a project on the go or a deadline or something. But when you’re not really doing anything it can be a pretty big drag. I have to like vacation out to the Mile End and crash on everyone’s couches just to socialize,

HS: Really?! You’ll take a break from Griffintown and go sleep somewhere else?

Yeah, you have to. There’s nobody here and there’s nowhere to go and as far as business, there’s no street [life] here.

HS: I had a sense there had been people moving there recently.

Yeah, people are moving here but they just stay up in their condos on the 17th floor or get into their underground parking garages.

HS: So tell me about your sordid past in Stratford!

There wasn’t a lot going on there. I just was doing music on my own. It’s actually how I learned to do a lot of the studio stuff that I do.

HS: What were your musical beginnings?

My parents got me a guitar. I wasn’t into it initially, but after a while I started getting obsessive started reading a lot and really wanted to test myself, and try out every genre that I heard. And see if I could create the same genre I was hearing and listening to.

HS: I’m dying to know how you achieved the sound on this record. Certainly, there are elements that you can point to as being derivative, but at the same time that it’s so bright and sunny it also has this detached, icy feeling. It’s a very consistent sound, yet it evolves over the course of the record. It’s constantly surprising.

There’s no one trick or one piece of equipment that I ran everything through to achieve the effect that I was looking for. I was very into a lot of recordings from the 60s or early 70s, solo pop musicians that I was really admiring at the time: people like Harry Nilsson and John Cale and Brian Eno, especially early John Cale records. I was listening to the tone and the way the instruments used to sing back then, the carefulness with how engineers back then would record instruments.

I tried to impose the kind of restrictions that they would have had. Like if you want to get a reverb sound, don’t just record whatever and then throw a reverb plug-in or something. I wanted to really use the sound of a big room, and record things naturally. I was trying to find the subtlety that engineers used back then, as opposed to recording a bunch of instruments and then fixing it in mixing.

It was all about taking care to get the right tone out of the instrument you were using, or finding two or three instruments that blended really well together and then play them really carefully so that they all kind of sit with one another and form this kind of chorus. Brian Wilson did this on Pet Sounds, blending two or three different instruments very carefully in time so that what you get is this new instrument, like an accordion and a chime and a saxophone or something, coming together and creating this voice that’s totally new and different. Instead of EQing or compressing your sounds, try changing them by blending them in an interesting way.

HS: You were talking about going for natural reverb and using the space that you were recording in. Did you record everything at Friendship Cove?

Yeah. I have a big room that’s really dry and dead sounding, and a big room that’s totally drywall and concrete and really live. I use the “live” room just to get a lot of the big singing reverb and I use the “dead” room to give the keyboards some air without making them too washed out.

HS: Tell me about Friendship Cove.

I had my bed in one of the rooms and I’d roll out of bed in the morning and have it all there in front of me.

HS: How many people live there?

There are four of us that live here. And a few more bands use it as a practice space.

HS: I understand you spent a lot of time sequencing the album.

Definitely. We came up with a lot of sequences and finally arrived at one. During mastering I was moving all the songs around, dramatically. It feels like one piece of music to me now. Even if I’m not listening to it, I imagine it in the order that it got sequenced. I always do this to any album. I never listen on random. I never do anything like that.

HS: I hate random. It’s just wrong.

Oh, completely. It is an art form. Albums are arranged as pieces of music too. I mean, you wouldn’t put a song on random?! You wouldn’t like, hear the chorus first and then want to go to the breakdown and then hear the first verse or something.

HS: Well, unless you’re Venetian Snares. I am now wondering if they’re working on iPods that do exactly that.

So shuffle up a song in 10 second segments? (laughs)

HS: Do you think that the iPod’s kind of messed with how people listen to albums?

Not having first hand experience, I don’t really know. I’ve never been able to afford one. I get this certain joy out of holding a record and taking it out and putting it on, and looking at the artwork while it plays and reading the lyric sheet. I really notice it missing when I’m just throwing an MP3 on. And the fidelity, actually. I didn’t used to notice it but I really do now. I’ve really started to feel the high register missing. It messes with reverb and it messes with cymbals, and I find the bass gets mushy too.

HS: So you enjoy the entire tactical and visual experience of an album.

I guess because I was getting into music just before all the IPod and MP3 stuff started to happen, so I was trained on albums, and going into a CD store and flipping through everything.

HS: Were there other people who played on the record?

No, I played everything on the record, for better or for worse. It’s just easier if you can do it. I’m just too impatient to call up a drummer friend and schedule a day and have him over. Especially when you’re doing pop music where the playing is pretty basic. I do like playing with other musicians and I really like collaborating when I’m improvising, but on the recording end of things, if I’m writing a pop song and arranging it, it makes so much less sense to have to schedule around other people. I like to do things really fast.

HS: So you’re self-taught in all the other instruments you play, like drums?

No, I took about four or five drum lessons when I was in high school. Same thing with guitar. I did try. I should have stayed in them longer. I did all of my improvement during those lessons and it’s been kind of frozen since then.

HS: Do you have any difficulty translating this to a live show??

Plenty! [Laughs] For one thing, doing stuff with other musicians who have different playing styles, you have to get used to hearing what someone else’s guitar technique is gonna be compared to your guitar line. Which is often better than what you did, but it’s all different. Also doing stuff that electronic stuff in the studio and then trying to get a live act to do it, you have no control over the very subtle tone changes, for example, that you can do to a kick drum sample. Having the songs come to life can be a bit jarring at first.

HS: And you have to consider the live setting itself. As a member of the audience you’re not going to hear the subtlety, regardless.

I’m more just worried that they’re gonna be terribly bored if I’m playing these slow, cerebral songs with very particular and precious arrangements. I’d much rather turn it into some kind of rocking thing that people actually want to stand there and watch.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Cinematic Orchestra

The mixed reviews accompanying Ma Fleur, the latest release from the Cinematic Orchestra, compare it unfavorably to the much-beloved 2002 album Everyday. And if the much more pastoral, beat-less approach heard on Ma Fleur sounds like a large departure from that earlier record, it's because bandleader Jay Swinscoe doesn't want to repeat himself, and argues that the multihued Everyday lacked "nuance." If anything, Ma Fleur has too much nuance and not enough meat, which I argue in my review of the record for Exclaim here, which includes some very brief excerpts of this interview.

Swinscoe forged an original sound by combining talented musicians with a creative use of sampling, but when he forced himself to start writing from scratch (no ironic pun intended), he found it more daunting than he realised. This is bound to be the cause of some chuckling for anyone who thinks sample-based composition is not "real" musicianship, but it does speak to a larger discussion about substituting a ProTools musical education for a classical one focusing on arrangements. Because he's still getting his feet wet with the latter, Ma Fleur sounds like a tentative step in a new direction, not a continuation of an already-realised aesthetic.

Ma Fleur once again features the heartbreaking vocals of Fontella Bass, as well as vocal contributions from Montrealer Patrick Watson, whose piano stylings were sampled on Amon Tobin's latest, Foley Room.

Cinematic Orchestra play the Montreal Jazz Festival tomorrow (July 6), a free show at Harbourfont in Toronto on Friday July 7, two dates in New York City on the weekend, and Monday night in Quebec City.

Cinematic Orchestra
Jason Swinscoe
May 14, 2007
Locale: phone interview from his home in Brooklyn

As a Canadian and ex-Montrealer, I’m curious how you found Patrick Watson.

He’s the goalkeeper in the local hockey team, with Jeff from Ninja Tune in Montreal. While I was in Paris, I had been looking a long time for a vocalist to sing all the tunes on the record. I couldn’t find that person, but my radar was open very wide. Speaking to Jeff, he mentioned Patrick and sent me an MP3.

Did he say, “Here, listen to a song by my goalie?” And that got your attention?

No. It was a ballad called “The Great Escape” from his new album, just him at the piano and singing. There was something in his voice and the way he used it that I found intriguing. From listening to that one track, I wasn’t quite sure whether it would work as a collaboration. But I had to take a chance, because I was running out of ideas, because I was trying to find a magical voice, and that person wasn’t presenting itself.

How late in the game was this?

(laughs) It was in the second period… No, it was last March [06] that I flew to Montreal, and I brought with me a rough sketch of the record. Patrick and I sat down and worked on it over four or five days, the track “To Build a Home.”

He co-writes one of the songs that Fontella Bass sings, doesn’t he?

Yeah, he co-wrote the words to “Breathe.” I asked Patrick to try and sing it, but it needed that age-old authoritative figure. Fontella has the weight in that department. I respect Patrick for trying it, but he couldn’t do a genuine version of it.

It sounds like it was written specifically for a voice like hers.

It’s a tune I struggled with for a while, and various vocalists tried to sing it. It didn’t have that weight. It’s a piece of music about mortality. Fontella, in her present state when I worked with her, which was October of last year, she was not in very good health. But she wanted to work, because she was born a singer and it’s what makes her feel great. I went to St. Louis with lyrics and a specific idea for her, and she was happy to contribute. She made it her own. She’s in frail health and recovering from a severe stroke, and not really able to get around easily. But once we got her into the studio and seated, she was loving it. She was able to shine again.

I had a script that was the basis of all the album’s lyrical content. It was written while I was in Paris, by an art director friend of mine, Gavin McGraw. I tried to find a way to visualize the record. I had a rough skeleton of the record, but I was a bit lost, confused, and jaded by music. I was working hard and not getting anywhere, and not being able to find any singers.

One of the aspects I always wanted to develop on this record, as a continuation of Man With a Movie Camera, was some kind of visual aspect. The best way was to get in touch with this old friend whom I trusted artistically, and get him a rough copy of the record. He took it away for three weeks, and I didn’t hear a word from him. I thought he didn’t like it. But he came back with a rough script for a film. We worked together to refine it a bit, and then that became the lyrical basis of the album.

I gave a copy to Patrick, to Lou Rhodes, and to Fontella. And so when I went to Montreal, Patrick and I had something very objective to focus on, rather than it being this inward, subjective thing where we have to find a balance between his experiences and mine.

Were you familiar with the literally cinematic approach to Patrick’s live performances, which involves a lot of projections?

Yes. That first time I came to Montreal, I saw him do a show. He’s got a great band. Good guys. They’re going to do some shows with us this summer. He’s willing to do the major shows to support what he got into.

What else is happening with the current live show?

The whole tour we just did in the UK closed with a big London concert, with 13 people on stage. It’s a six-piece core band, with Patrick Watson, a string quartet, and a London singer named Eska and her sidekick. She was doing lead on the Fontella tracks, and a girl named Heidi was doing backing vocals. Those were all on top of the core six.

You’ve talked about starting completely fresh for this album. Before you started this, had you achieved everything you’d set out to achieve when the Cinematic Orchestra began?

There was never any kind of goal. The one thing at the top of my list was just to write music, and keep challenging myself and my ideas. Through building a repertoire and a reputation, people then become aware of a sound and they expect a specific thing, and I was trying to get away from that, from formula.

Sometimes that can be the demise of great things. I’m not talking about myself, but in any creative field, artists hit this point where they get a certain achievement, where they translate their ideas to an audience with a lot of clarity. And once that happens, people can rest on their laurels a little bit when they find a winning formula, and they stick with it. From there on, it’s just reproduction.

I’m from art school, and my performance art tutor was saying that rules are made to be broken. It’s all connected back to when you have an ongoing development, you find your form and that consists of a series of rules, whether they’re unwritten or subliminal, but there is form and formality to that. It feels good for me to shatter that, and pick up some of the same pieces.

It’s like an artist’s palette, when you finish a series of paintings and you wipe clean your palette, and then redress it with new colours and new combinations of those colours. Those colours are my instruments, and those instruments create an orchestra. I try to see it in that day.

After Everyday and Movie Camera, I was looking at what was going on around me, and I was hearing a lot of folk music being the predominant music force today. In terms of more left field, independent music, anyway. It’s a small world in a way, coming from Ninja Tune and other independent labels, where everyone has somehow been influenced by the folk thing. I didn’t necessarily want to whip out the guitar and start singing some Dylan covers. I was really enjoying the minimalism of it, just stripped back piano and voice, or guitar and voice. Those forms of expression just work, and they’ve stood the test of time.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but are there only drums on one song on this record?

About that, yeah. “As the Stars Fall” is the drum-led track on the record, and “Time and Space” has drums at the end of the tune, and “Breathe” just has drums in the chorus. It’s not as drum-heavy as Everyday was, which is a very considered thing. I found ways to be much more subtle with rhythm. In some ways, I thought there wasn’t enough nuance with Everyday; a lot of it was always going back to the drums and the groove. This record is much more about bringing out nuances in the instrumentation.

Considering the beginnings of the band, and the label you’re associated with, does dance music or club culture speak to you anymore?

Some of it does, but it never really did, actually. Being on Ninja Tune and being around at the time when there was a popular movement around dance music, we never really fit into any subgenre. We somehow got branded as being “new jazz” in the UK. In Italy, we’re electronica. In some places we’re called techno. It’s interesting the way those words travel, in either specific or general music movements.

Is there anything particularly electronic about this record? Because much of it sounds acoustic and natural.

It’s probably the most amount of electronics ever, compared to our previous records. It’s all very subtle, which is the point. Rather than sampling old records, it’s about sampling the band. Instead of going into the studio with old records, I’m going in with my own ideas and writing from scratch. It’s an interesting learning curve to sit in front of a piano and write. It’s quite a hard thing.

I needed something to get the ideas going, and then I was fine. Then I take those ideas in a very simple form: motifs or rhythmic ideas, or some kind of verse-chorus structure, and then get the musicians to play and expand on those. Then I take that material back to the studio and start processing and re-sampling.

It’s probably the most constructed record of all of them, and it’s all through a sequencer and a lot of subtle processing. On “As the Stars Fall” there are three different bass lines … [detailed technical explanations]. It was never about making the electronic aspects paramount, it was more a way to make acoustics and electronics blend together.

You live in Brooklyn now, but you were in Paris before?

Just for two years, and before that I was in London.

When I listen to this, maybe it’s my own romantic notions of Paris, but it sounds more Parisian to me than a Brooklyn record?

It was written in Paris. It was started in London. A lot of that earlier material was discarded, for being too close to Everyday. When I moved to Paris, I discarded a lot of that material. The track that sparked a new voice for the record was the title track, “Ma Fleur.” It was composed in Paris while the saxophone player, Tom Chance, was also living in Paris at the time. He came to the studio and recorded a few ideas. Everything on that piece of music is constructed from scratch. It was never played live, just written and then re-sampled. In that sense, it was a birth for me of a new song. There was something romantic about it, about love and that relationship with music. Whereas Everyday was music about culture and other forms of music happening at the same time.

I’m noticing this happen with some of your peers who started off sampling everything, and now they’re learning how to use time-honoured tools and traditional methods.

It’s interesting. One of the great things about the whole development of electronics is that with sampling, it arrived through the early hip-hop thing here in New York, where the DJs were mixing two tunes together [goes on to provide a detailed history of hip-hop, as if I had no idea]… It’s a new tradition that was being born.

For a lot of people like myself, they now want to go back, full circle, and learn the traditional way as well, and re-invent it and combine it with modern technology and find some harmony between the two. Otherwise, it becomes contrived and fatigued. Once that whole excitement about a new approach dissipates, the question is: is there actually any good music there, or just some funky loops and breakbeats? Music has to touch people, and early dance music was touching people. Some amazing music, some classics, came out that you can always listen to; they have longevity. But it’s also good to wipe the slate clean and start again, looking at song form and experimenting and seeing what’s made it one of the most popular music forms of all time.

An interesting thing with dance music, in a broad sense, is that the only thing that’s changed directions in Western music is not the harmony, but the rhythms that have spawned so many dance music forms. For example, hip-hop and drum’n’bass are all about the beat, not harmony. Harmonically, nothing has really developed since classical music, really. The thing that has defined new music forms is the beat.

I don’t know if I agree with you entirely. There are many different voices in jazz that pushed harmony further, and now there are all sorts of creative uses of noise, both melodically and harmonically.

True. I suppose I’m talking in the traditional sense. There’s a lot of experimentation that pushes the limits of microtonal music and so on.

In the last year, Amon Tobin reinvented what he was doing; DJ Shadow tried to reinvent what he was doing; Matthew Herbert had always had classical training, but he’s started to flaunt it more in recent years.

It’s good to have people out there who really push it. What’s happened with a lot of those various forms of hip-hop is that they’ve come and gone.