Friday, June 17, 2011

Keith Kenniff - The Last Survivor (Circle Into Square)

Maybe you have missed the latest release by the prolific Keith Kenniff, but this little gem did not escape my ears. In fact, I don't think there's a single release from this Portland based composer that I have not fallen in love with. From his solo piano works composed under the Goldmund alias, to beautiful electronica sprinkled with light beats released under the Helios moniker, Kenniff's works have been in my rotation since his debut release Unomia, on Merck back in 2004. By the time John Twells has signed Kenniff for his Type Records, Helios and his amazing Eingya album (2006), was a household name among the hungry collectors of modern classical and ambient electronica alike. The Last Survivor is actually a feature-length documentary, following the lives of people surviving four genocides - The Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur and Congo. In this collaboration with the directors of the film, Michael Kleiman and Michael Pertnoy, Kenniff is presented yet another opportunity to compose a score, and he easily surpasses all of the expectations, effortlessly gliding between his known monikers and finally producing under his real name. Where solo piano pieces continue to be signed off as Goldmund, most of the soundtrack is saturated with original music composed by Keith Kenniff. The Last Survivor score follows the four main characters of the film, providing the soundtrack for their sorrows and triumphs. At times serving as a comforting blanket, at times as a fuel for revival. At the core of the film and the music is a story about life. Life with all of its ups and downs, treading along the unknown, one ticking second at a time: The music itself acts an extension of the characters' inward journey as they deal with death, redemption and new beginnings. Employing a wide range of sounds and instrumentation, the pieces range from achingly beautiful piano-led compositions to ambient string passages and haunting synth drones as Kenniff creates a score that is as contemplative and diverse as the characters and their experiences. Here are all of the elements of Kenniff's sound that I love. At times seeped in sadness, the piano sings at the center stage of most tracks, at times complimented by full blown orchestration, at times left completely alone, even if it's for a few minutes in length. If the story of The Last Survivors weighs heavily on your soul, it's easy to detach the music from the film, and enjoy the album as the soundtrack to your own struggles. And that's the beauty of this score. For Kenniff's entire discography, make sure you visit his site, Unseen. There you can browse through his music releases, as well as film and commercial works, ranging from corporate names as big as Honda, Coca-Cola and American Express. While there, I recommend that you pick up my personal favorites: Unleft (2010) and Live At The Triple Door (2009) released as Helios, Famous Places (2010) and The Malady Of Elegance (2008) released as Goldmund (see our review), and Keith's collaboration with his wife, Hollie, Songs About Snow (2009), released as Mint Julep. We're looking forward to the forthcoming Save Your Season from the couple out in 2011. Be sure to check out the most recent Adorn by Mint Julep. |

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Interview with Keith Kenniff

In our last interview, you revealed that the compositions behind the Goldmund moniker are "basically just solo piano", whereas your Helios output is "song structure and electronics, guitars and beats". I have to ask, what prompted you to release this album under your real name?
I chose to use my own name because it was sort of a mix of different material and didn't fit comfortably into any one moniker, so with the scores for films that I've done I'm just kind of lumping it into one name. There are cues that sound like Goldmund, and there are some that may sound like the more ambient material of Helios, but then there are some others that don't fit in with either.

I also recognize a few of the Goldmund pieces that previously appeared on Famous Places and Corduroy Road. How did these selections make it onto The Last Survivor?
The directors had used some existing Goldmund tracks from Corduroy Road as temp music for the film initially and it ended up working well so we left it in there and just did some editing and whatnot to match it to the film a bit better. While doing the film I was also working on "Famous Places" at the same time, so those pieces kind of overlapped where I would take a song I was writing for the record and expand it or edit it to fit the mood of the film.

I know you have composed scores for film before. Tell us how you got involved with this particular project.
The directors, Michael Kleiman and Michael Pertnoy, were fans of my music and had put a lot of pre-existing music of mine to the film while they were editing but also wanted to have quite a bit of music composed specifically for the film. They called me up and we chatted a few times and it seemed like we were all on the same page about the musical direction for the film. It was a really fun process and they were very easy to work with and clear about what they wanted.

How were the pieces composed? Were they written for specific scenes in the film? Did you have the particular characters and their experiences in mind when you were writing them?
The directors and I talked at length about what they wanted for specific scenes, so they would give me an idea of how they saw the mood/tempo/instrumentation for a scene and I would go to work at interpreting it from there. The film was basically already shot, so I had the scenes to work from. Each one of the characters in the film had gone through a lot of personal struggle, loss, disintegration / redefinition of their own culture, and family so the overall mood of the music as a whole ranged quite a bit but was meant to be quite emotional and highlight their own stories.

Who plays some of the instruments (strings, guitar) on the album?
I'm playing all the instruments, and the strings are largely samples that I've cut up from samples or sample instruments.

Your Mint Julep project with your wife, Hollie, has an entirely different sound from your other output. Tell us about the recent Adorn EP.
Yeah, my other projects, Helios and Goldmund are somewhat similar in that they quiet and instrumental, but Mint Julep is more of a rockish/electronic project that Hollie and I have been writing for a few years and is quite different. The songs have a lot of layers, is a little more aggressive and beat-driven and Hollie sings on all the tracks, so it's a bit more song-based. We just released a little EP with a few tracks which folks can buy via my website, and later on this year our full length, "Save Your Season" will be out. We're excited about it; it's been a fun process for both of us to do together.

How do you find the time to work on so many different projects?
I think if someone's committed to something they tend to make the time for things when they can. I'm no good at sitting still, I'm best when I'm busy. I enjoy what I do, I work on a lot of different projects, but I like the challenge and the reward even if it means staying up all night and walking around like a zombie the day afterward.

[ - s n i p - ]

Read the entire interview on Headphone Commute

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Emanuele Errante - Time Elapsing Handheld (Karaoke Kalk)

The truth is, I've been meaning to review an album from Berlin's Karaoke Kalk for quite some time now. And it's not only because some of my favorite artists found a home on this label, like Hauschka for his debut Substantial (2004), Senking for a self-titled debut Senking (1998), and Dakota Suite for The End Of Trying (2009) and their amazing collection of remix artists for The Night Just Keeps Coming In (2010)... but because all of the unmentioned artists in its roster deserve to be heard. So it wasn't long before I couldn't resist talking about this amazing label any longer. Especially now that they signed a long time favorite of mine, Italian experimental musician, Emanuele Errante. Errante's music, first introduced to me through Apegenine's Migrations (2007), and then Somnia's Humus (2008), stands to be in its own sub-category of minimal ambient and experimental modern classical compositions. Lo-fi noises, scratching on the strings of a gently weeping guitar, clicking field recordings, and cascading ambient atmospheres, penetrate through the walls and carpet, raising dust and killing mites (perhaps I should lower the volume a bit). Whether consumed as a sonic installation or an abstract piece of sound art, Time Elapsing Handheld captures the moment with its seven titles, creating a path which is "Leaving The Nowhere" through the "Memoirs", a bit "Counterclockwise", sometimes "Later, Earlier", and always "Inner". Lush soundscapes loop and breathe through organic piano tones, guitar strums, and harp plucks, drowning in a generous sweep of synthetic strings, sampled noise, and dripping effects. Centered around the theme of passing time (as the album's title suggests), the music hypnotizes the listener, bringing him a little closer into the notion of now, and then subsides, letting him simply float among the sounds of rewinding moments. Be still... and feel that... that's right... Here's Errante with a few of his own words: "Time is a relative concept. The recording of a song makes infinite the moment of its execution. But man has not yet succeeded in inventing a device that can accelerate the passing of time." Hmm. I thought that a device for "accelerating the passing of time" was television, and that we're all more concerned with a device for decelerating the passing of time, but I'm not going to argue with the composer here. His Time Elapsing Handheld may be that device after all, without his knowing... So... shhhh! Don't say a word... and listen... The digital version of this release contains two more tracks, "Egostatsy" and "Hidden Sun". Oh, and in case this review was not sufficient in piquing your interest, it is worth mentioning that Simon Scott appears on the album, collaborating with Errante on a track, "Made To Give". Highly recommended for fans of Marsen Jules, Deaf Center, Rudi Arapahoe, and Rafael Anton Irisarri.

Be sure to read Interview with Emanuele Errante
Also, check out Emanuele Errante's Sound Postcard |

Interview with Emanuele Errante

Your 2008 release Humus was an ambient masterpiece sprinkled with elements of electronica and IDM. In addition to synth soundscapes, your latest album features a lot more acoustic instruments. Tell us a bit about that progression.
In my works I have always tried to find the right balance between acoustic sounds and electronic sounds. The tracks of my previous album, "Migrations " and "Humus", consist of different themes played with acoustic instruments (piano, guitar, harmonica, flute, strings, sometimes even my voice), but each sound has been processed and loaded with effects. In "Time Elapsing Handheld" I choose to make my compositional approach clearer, by leaving the acoustic sounds mostly unchanged. Electronics give no limits to the creativity of a musician, but I think warmth and vibes of acoustic instruments are unique. That's why mine is a constant research for compromises between acoustic and electronic.

Where are some of the field recordings from? Is that windshield wipers I hear on "Later, Earlier"?
Most of the field recordings have been captured in rural contexts, in Central and Southern Italy. I'm glad you asked me this question about "Later, Earlier". I was in a little town near Terracina, at a friend's house on a hill. We were outside at night. Suddenly I hear a sound that repeats regularly, like a crafted loop. I asked my friend where that sound came from and he replied that it was a bug! I could not believe my ears. That sound had an incredible rhythm. I took my MicroTrack recorder and I captured it. I still do not know what kind of bug it is, but the sound you hear in "Later, Earlier " was not manipulated at all, it is exactly as is.

Tell us how you came upon collaborating with Simon Scott on "Made to Give".
With Simon we were in contact to explore the possibilities of live performances to propose together. The collaboration came about spontaneously. We started working on a draft that slowly took shape and became "Made to Give".

Let's talk about "time". First of all, what does the name behind the album "Time Elapsing Handheld" represent?
The concept behind it comes from a dream I had. In my dream I had a little time handheld that allowed me to make short time-jumps (10-15 minutes). When I woke up I thought that such an handheld would be precious for the human beings. Imagine you're stuck in the traffic: you just press a button and you're back home relaxing on your sopha. Imagine you're attending a very boring meeting: just press the button and you're suddenly in the bar drinking an after-work beer with your friends. Maybe people would be a little bit happier... And I thought that, after all, music is a sort of time elapsing handheld because while listening to it you get completely lost for the whole length of the album and when you "wake up" you realize that music gave you the capability to "freeze" a certain moment of your life and to "wake up" in a different situation, with a different mood and with different feelings.

What are your thoughts on passing time, and what are the proper tools for altering its perceived rate?
We all would like to stop time, but in certain situations we would pay to make it go faster. Both factors are obviously impossible to get so we use little tricks to cheat time and altering its rate according to our needs. I don't think it's the case to afford deep physical and philosophical concepts and their resulting paradox here but I can tell you that music is absolutely my "time machine", my main mean to cancel time. The hardest thing to talk about is the effect that canceling time might produce, because if I freeze a certain moment of my life by any means, when I get the clock to start running again my perception is that the clock hands run faster than before...

[ - s n i p - ]

Read the entire interview on Headphone Commute

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Interview with Emanuele Errante by HC. Photography by Silvano Caiazzo. |

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