Future Folkloric

Pedro Canale, Chancha Via Circuito

Argentinian producer Pedro Canale, better known to your Bandcamp collection as Chancha Via Circuito, is currently touring the U.S. with a brand-new album in hand. Amansara is his third, and his first for the New York-based Wonderwheel label, which is spearheaded by globe-trotting DJ Nickodemus.

Cutting his teeth with the ZZK crew of Buenos Aires’ digital cumbia scene, Chancha’s blending of traditional folkloric music with futuristic sounds has forged ties with fans of electronic music around the world. On Amansara he reaches beyond the boundaries of his motherland to incorporate styles and influences from neighboring South American countries, too.

Bandcamp: It’s been 3 years since your last release. What have you been up to?

Pedro Canale: I’ve been composing new material and touring around Europe, Russia, Mexico and Nordic countries. I’ve also been teaching Ableton Live here in Buenos Aires and traveling for pleasure. This year I visited the jungle of Belize, and I went to the jungle of Peru for the third time.

BC: How would you describe the difference between Amansara and Rio Arriba?

PC: The spirit of the music is the same, with many different influences that start a dialogue in each song. The main difference between Rio Arriba and Amansara is that for this new album I didn’t use samples. I used to sample a lot before and sometimes I still do, but now if I use samples in a song, I just put the song up for a free download. This is why I dropped a free EP called Semillas after Rio Arriba.

BC: Is it important to you to preserve traditional sounds, instruments, songs, and rhythms of your motherland?

PC: It’s important to me to play with traditional sounds, to reinterpret and mix them in a new way. I consider this the best way to preserve the traditional—the best way of keeping these ancient rhythms alive.

BC: Where did you grow up and what kind of music did you listen to there?

PC: I grew up in José Mármol, a quiet and beautiful city on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. My parents played a lot of different music in our home—folklore, jazz, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Violeta Parra, Urubamba, the Beatles, classical, etc. I think it was very important for my musical education to have had this background.

BC: The collaborative track with Mariam Garcia is a great example of how your music marries traditional and future sounds in a really organic way. Garcia is a unique singer and her vocal style seems to fit your music perfectly. How/when did you start to work together and what is the process like?

PC: When I heard Miriam’s voice for the first time in the track “Pintar El Sol,” I felt something very deep and special. I didn’t know she was alive and living in Buenos Aires, so it was kind of a miracle to find this out. She had already heard my remix of “Pintar El Sol” through a student of hers and liked it a lot, so I didn’t hesitate to invite her to my studio. We have been working together ever since. The process is that I show her some beats and she simply starts singing and trying some melodies.

Chancha Via Circuito and Miriam GarciaPedro Canale and Mariam Garcia

BC: How is the digital cumbia scene doing in Argentina? Are you pleased with its reception around the world?

PC: The scene of digital cumbia was related to Zizek parties, and this is how this movement got stronger. Nowadays, Zizek doesn’t exist anymore; a lot of new cumbia parties took its place (with a bunch of new producers also). So I don’t really know if we are still talking about a scene, but this is something that has gotten bigger as an influence here in Buenos Aires and all over the world. I’m very happy to see that cumbia, including digital cumbia, has won a deserved place everywhere.

BC: What can you tell us about “Sueño en Paraguay?”

PC: It’s a song that’s inspired by the harp music from Paraguay. I haven’t been there, but I really want to—maybe some day. A curious thing in this song is that I used, as a percussive element, some loops that I made by colliding stones in Sun Island, Bolivia. It’s a meeting between countries.

BC: In addition to “Sueño en Paraguay,” there are other references on the album to South American countries outside of Argentina. What was the aim of reaching beyond your home country?

PC: The curiosity and the desire to know new places and music pushes me in my search. There are many magical places in South America.

BC: Your remix of José Larralde’s “Quimey Neuquén” played a big role in the final series of Breaking Bad—Walter White buries his millions in the desert to the soundtrack of your mix. Were you a fan of the show and did this license open the door for more interest in your music?

PC: I’m not a fan of the series; I only watched the first season, but I know I should watch it entirely. Yes, this license opened the door, as you say. Many people reached my music through it. It was a big step in my career and I’m pleased.

BC: Can you talk to us about the artwork—who did it and what’s the story behind the image? What are you hoping to convey?

PC: The artwork is a painting from Paula Duró; she is responsible for the art of my last three releases. This image evokes some magical and spiritual situation, something very typical in her art. I don’t know if it has a story behind it, but it really inspired me. Maybe this question is more for her. We should ask her! It’s a mystery!

BC: What is the significance of the title, Amansara?

PC: It has no translation, really. Amansar is a verb more related to calming animals through love when they are a bit nervous or anxious. The meaning of the title for this album is the same, but for people.

Pedro Canale, Chancha Via Circuito

 

Shedding Light on the Darkness of Myrkur

Wyatt Marshall is a writer in New York City.

Myrkur, Rasmus Malmstrom

“I never planned on playing this music for anyone, let alone releasing it. So it was not without complications for me to unleash this project into the world.”

Two months ago, “Nattens Barn,” the debut song from Myrkur—Icelandic for “darkness”—appeared on Pitchfork. It’s a really good track, a dose of early ’90s second-wave black metal that’s a compelling take on the original thing, with twists. Led by an ethereal female chorus, “Nattens Barn” soon dives into a rich, mid-tempo plod, then goes into full-on, furious and melancholic blasting. Barely contained, gorgeous chaos reigns as Myrkur simultaneously embodies Enya and (2014) Ulver.

Press materials state Myrkur is a Danish, one-woman, black metal band from the “darkness of Scandinavia,” and her debut, self-titled EP “burst onto the scene like a Valkyrie into battle.” The second single, “Latvian Fergurö,” followed a similar script to “Nattens Barn” and added fuel to the fire. The whole self-titled album, now available, is a compelling ride—raw like black metal of yore, yet stylish, confident and mature.

Captivating mystery surrounds the release of Myrkur’s debut. Could Relapse, the influential American metal label that signed her, really have snagged this artist after hearing her sing in a forest? It is a sad testament to the insular nature of the genre that there aren’t many women in black metal—let alone one-woman bands. People began to wonder how such an act could fly by all radars, skip the demo phase, and leap onto a high-profile stage.

Almost immediately, music journalists and enthusiasts began to chip away at the mystery. It turns out, Myrkur is the work of Amalie Bruun, a Danish artist and longtime black metal fan. Bruun says she writes and records all of her music in Denmark, where the history of Scandinavia and Scandinavian nature—forest, mountains, cold, and Nordic magic—inspire her. She references second-wave Norwegian black metal bands like Darkthrone and Ulver as influences, as well as Edvard Grieg, the 19th-century Norwegian composer known for his romantic works and occupier of a special place in the Norwegian collective conscience. She’s also in another band, the indie-pop duo Ex Cops, and she’s a model who has been featured in fashion publications like Refinery 29 and an ad for Chanel, directed by Martin Scorsese.

It is fascinating that an artist can compellingly coexist in such different worlds, and interesting to think how one might inform the other. Can one simultaneously be a successful indie-pop artist and a mysterious, black metal musician from the Scandinavian hinterlands? Darkthrone’s Fenriz, an elder statesman of black metal if there is one, is a professed fan of techno and house (watch this video around 1:02:20 for proof), and says a lot of his colleagues in Norway feel the same way— even Euronymous of Mayhem, before his passing, was a fan. They look at the limited purview of a strict black metal doctrine as both unnecessarily blinded and foolish.

In a statement from Relapse, label manager Reynold Jaffe said that Myrkur was signed based on the strength of her debut record and, “we are well aware that context is necessary for many people to formulate an opinion, for better or for worse.” He continued, “Myrkur is categorically controversial and challenging. She’s not someone who discovered Ulver and Burzum 18 months ago; she grew up on it and channeled her passion into a very authentic-sounding Scandinavian black metal record. It’s unfortunate for anyone to dismiss a great record simply because it came from an unusual source that contests the typical narrative.“

Nevertheless, it’s inevitable that Bruun will run into detractors. As Jaffe indicates, among the most severe are those that say Bruun might be deliberately misleading potential fans while dabbling in a genre where listeners are drawn to the music for its perceived authenticity—the Michael Moynihan book Lords of Chaos serves as a good guide to the craziness from which black metal as we know it was born. Being a dilettante is a grave charge in a genre that has traditionally followed an unwritten doctrine of obscurity and has shown resistance to change, challenging credos and outsiders who step into its world. Black metal is, however, experiencing unprecedented coolness in the wider music criticism sphere, and time will tell if sounding authentic, or the perception of being authentic, will affect the success of Myrkur.

Regardless of whether Bruun’s other work colors the way fans see Myrkur, it’s an impressive debut EP from a promising artist. Her new album, which she is currently writing, is one to look forward to—she has set the musical bar and level of intrigue very high.

Bruun declined to talk about her work outside Myrkur, but she did answer the questions below. Her responses have been edited for brevity.

Myrkur, Rasmus Malmstrom

Bandcamp: You’ve got a unique vocal approach on your self-titled album. Instead of rasps, you go for a multilayered chorus and the occasionally heavily distorted, caustic shriek. The result straddles more traditional black metal and haunted beauty. Why’d you choose to avoid the genre-standard shriek?
Myrkur: I would not say I avoided the standard screams. I do quite a lot of these metal/primal screams on this EP [and even more so on my upcoming full-length record that I am now writing]. Screaming is one of the rewarding parts about black metal, both to listen to and to do myself. It releases a fraction of the anger and hatred I have inside me. I have, since I was a child, listened to and sung in girls choir, therefore these choral vocals and arrangements come quite natural to me.

BC: Your music has an early ’90s second-wave quality—I agree with some other writers who have likened it to Ulver’s Bergtatt. Can you elaborate on the influence that period’s output has on your music? I’m also interested to hear about the influence of the 19th-century Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, whom you called the “godfather of black metal.”
Myrkur: Edvard Grieg to me is the supreme being of Nordic composers. His works reflect the nature of Scandinavia itself—dark brutality, but also pure and frozen beauty. He moves within the eerie and tension-filled Nordic folk music universe that echoes so deep in my heart. Some of his music paints a picture of the conversion from our pagan Asetro to Christianity that was violently forced upon us.

Yes, Ulver and these bands of this period I have listened to and hold dear to my heart. I feel they echoed Edvard Grieg in the sense that they captured the essence of Scandinavia and Nordic history, nature, culture, and mind. As a child I was fascinated with Norse Mythology and our Aseguder. This is often an inspiration in black metal, as well. I can’t very well put words to what it does to me when I listen to this era of black metal, other than it feels like my home.

BC: In press materials and an interview with the blog Halifax Collect, you’ve said, like a lot of black metal bands, the nature and beauty of your native Denmark inspires you. Can you elaborate?
Myrkur: Only when I find myself on, for example, the top of a mountain or in a big forest, can I feel that odd silence that is not empty and makes me feel fulfilled. A lot of people have told me they feel the same way. Maybe it goes back to when I was born. The night of my birth [the northern lights were shining] and [it was] one of the coldest winters of several decades. My mother tells me I was not allowed to come outside until I was around 2 months old because the cold could kill a newborn baby. I feel at home in cold and darkness because of this. But I love Denmark all year long. We have midnight sun in the summer. The author Hans Christian Andersen poetically captures Denmark in a beautifully melancholy and dark way. My mother used to sing to me his song “Min pige er så lys som rav.” The lyrics roughly translate to “My maiden is as fair as amber and the golden wheat of Denmark. Her eyes are as blue as the sea, when the sky is down there.” I identify with this song musically and as a woman.

BC: Do you play all the instruments on the recordings?
Myrkur: I play all the guitars, some bass and the vocals. My friend from Sweden, Rex Myrnur, did all the drums. I recorded and mixed the EP in my house and a mastering engineer [did] the mastering.

BC: Any possibility Myrkur will play live?
Myrkur: Yes, I would very much like to play live concerts. I don’t have any desire to go on tour somewhere with venues that would force me to compromise my sound. I dream of setting up a show at Grieg Hallen, for example, with the Norwegian girls choir.

BC: Why’d you choose to present yourself anonymously when you first came out—was it your idea? Were you worried about how your other work might color the reception of Myrkur?
Myrkur: Yes, it was my idea. I don’t think any record label prefers an artist who doesn’t want to do any press, face-to-face interviews, band photos or portraits, and [provides] no background information or bio. But it was my requirement or I didn’t wish to release the EP at all. I never planned on playing this music for anyone, let alone releasing it. So it was not without complications for me to unleash this project into the world.

Today, some people don’t trust their own ears and their own inner beings. They need others to tell them what to like. They need to know everything about an artist to decide if they like the music. Their ears have somehow gone deaf to just taking in music by just hearing it.

If you write and release a classical music record, does it matter what color your hair is, what you did last year, what you like to eat for breakfast? This should not matter for my record and it must be up to the listener to decide if they like what they hear, instead of waiting for some kind of PR company-written bio that isn’t truthful anyway, and writers to tell them what to like. I believe people are strong and brave enough to trust their own ears and hearts.

BC: Some might say the way you presented yourself was disingenuous. Whether it’s fair, many black metal fans crave “authenticity.” What would you say to those who might not take Myrkur seriously in light of your other work and how Myrkur was unveiled?
Myrkur: I was born and raised on the northern coast of Denmark. I have written this music for years by myself in my house in Denmark. Black metal comes from my part of the world, Scandinavia, and has its roots in the Nordic nature that I hold so dear and also our ancient pagan religion of Norse Mythology and our folk music.

So I don’t know why a person coming from an entirely different part of the world with an entirely different culture would ask me if I’m really Scandinavian enough to write music that [has run] in my bloodstream from the day I was born. Luckily, most people don’t ask me these questions and they aren’t fixated on genre etiquette.

Another thing is that the black metal musicians I play with in Scandinavia all like and play different genres of music, as well. So this type of concern is only something I’ve met with recently. Luckily, most people just listen to the music and let their ears be the judge.

Myrkur, Rasmus Malmstrom

BC: What should fans expect from Myrkur going forward?
Myrkur: I would like to play live concerts. I am working on a full-length record that most likely will be recorded in Bergen. The rest I don’t really know. This whole time of releasing Myrkur on Relapse has been completely spontaneous and unpredictable. So it is hard to say.

The Lover and the Killer

Shara Worden, My Brightest Diamond

“How is it that every human being has the capacity to be both the lover and the killer?”

“This is my hand, this is my wrist, this is my arm, this is my fist,” chants Shara Worden, unadorned and unrelenting. A bassline quickly ascends a five-note scale and promptly begins again, ad infinitum. “This is my face, this is my mouth, this is my eye, this is my brow.” Worden continues to proclaim her presence, as My Brightest Diamond—her ever-shifting band, here in its fourth major iteration since 2006—builds around her.

The repetition of each mantra, the simple act of naming, accrues into a kind of manifesto. “‘This Is My Hand’ was literally this ritual of me taking back my body, for myself,” Worden told me in a phone interview. The song is the titular track of a new album that brings My Brightest Diamond back to basics, emphasizing rhythm above all else.

Underlying that stripped-down approach is a personal vision. “Here was this record where I was trying to make dance music, and I realized that I really can’t,” she said, somewhat in jest. It wasn’t that Worden didn’t know how to dance; it was that she had been pulled away from it for most of her career. Entering the music scene in her late teens, Worden immediately encountered gendered limitations. “I figured out that people were not going to take me seriously as a woman, and so I stopped dancing,” she said. “There was a lot of baggage, so I became more and more intellectual, even though I’m a really intuitive and emotional person—and I also really love to dance. But in my own mind, I really wasn’t able to, because I wasn’t going to be taken seriously.”

Shara Worden, My Brightest Diamond

“I’m coming to terms with the fact that I want to be a whole person, and that includes that I have a body,” Worden said. Her insistence in “This Is My Hand” reclaims that space; the rest of the album explores similar territory. “By now, if I’m not going to be taken seriously there’s no hope,” she added, laughing. “There’s no hope of me ever being taken seriously. So then in that case, screw it.”

Following My Brightest Diamond’s 2011 All Things Will Unwind, Worden immersed herself in a series of compelling projects, from singing David Lang’s death speaks to writing her own Baroque-style opera to acting in a Matthew Barney film. When returning to the studio for the next MBD album, Worden confronted the basic existential issue for any musician today: “I’m about to make a record and people don’t buy records anymore, so what does that mean?” Worden found an answer in her fascination with three books that all deal with myth, music, and human evolution: Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee, Daniel Levitin’s The World in Six Songs, and Robert Graves’ The White Goddess.

“What does the modern tribe look like?” she wondered. “We’re such a fragmented culture. I thought, ‘Okay, what if the concert becomes the tribe, and we’re only a tribe for a single night?’” The tribal rituals of the concert experience might involve clapping hands, waving lighters, dancing; This Is My Hand draws those out, emphasizing the collective along with the rhythmic, fueled by the elemental themes of the books.

This approach is crystallized in “Pressure,” the album’s opening track. It begins with the staples of the marching band—drumrolls, percussive filigree, and taut winds—a tradition that balances raucousness with tight coordination. For the past several years, Worden has integrated the Detroit Party Marching Band into her live shows, making the experience at once expansive and participatory. “For me,” she said, “the marching band became the symbol of the place in American culture where folk, the idea of music being available and accessible to everybody, meets shared music-making. It’s a communal experience.” In “Pressure,” Worden’s varied musical persona is also on display with her ability to turn on a dime from a propulsive, jazzy vocal sound to quintessential, My Brightest Diamond moments of stop-time ethereality. Toward the end of the song, the music suddenly moves into a fluttering sonic plane as Worden sings softly of “Pink, purple, green, red, yellow, blue.”

Worden initially wrote and recorded a larger body of songs for the album, but found herself dissatisfied. She decided to pare down and rewrite, transforming broader themes into intimate ones. The brooding and bluesy “I Am Not the Bad Guy” began as a narrative about an innocent man wrongly jailed, which Worden wrote for a Buster Keaton film. Its political implications, though, didn’t quite hold up as a song; she adjusted the point of view, and put herself in prison. “By changing the perspective of who the ‘I’ was, it took it to a different place,” Worden said.

“Lover Killer” is based on a bit of verse analyzed by Graves in The White Goddess—a kind of poetry game played by Welsh bards, in which consonants remain the same while vowels change (“Billet spied, bolt sped”). Worden sets the poem, a description of a quick and bloody death, in an intricate seven, articulated with handclaps and close-fitting percussion. But she also places herself at the center of the tale. “I wanted to somehow humanize the killer, to make it myself again—instead of ‘Those bad people, I would never do that,’” she said. “How is it that every human being has the capacity to be both the lover and the killer?”

This Is My Hand dwells on such questions, but not in a ponderous way. It’s really quite danceable.

Shara Worden, My Brightest Diamond

Ebb and Flow

geotic and christopher willits

This summer, Will Wiesenfeld, the artist widely known for recording edgy electronic pop as Baths, released Morning Shore, the first in a new series of full-length albums under his Geotic moniker. Each release in the series, collectively known as Eon Isle, will be sourced entirely from a single instrument, and the music showcases Wiesenfeld’s more mellow, ambient style. Morning Shore is a warm bath of guitar loops that gently ebb and flow, perhaps reflecting the Malibu setting in which they were recorded.

Christopher Willits is not only an accomplished musician, but also a multimedia artist whose interests in film and photography were a strong influence on his new Opening album, released on Ghostly International. The tracks for the album and the accompanying visuals were recorded over four years in multiple countries. Like Wiesenfeld’s Morning Shore album, swaths of guitar sounds illuminate a path for reflective and imaginative listening.

We thought it would be an interesting exercise to bring these two artists together and have them ask each other questions about their music and process. By the end of just 10 questions, the possibility of a collaborative recording was born…

Questions for Christopher Willits posed by Geotic

christopher willits photo by tomo saito
Christopher Willits, Photo by Tomo Saito

Geotic: How does your studio environment inspire you during recording?
Christopher Willits: Having my own mixing and mastering space is a serious luxury. I usually have access to studios to properly hear mixes, but now that the Overlap Studio is happening, I can set my own speed and take as much time as I need to finish things.

G: Do you have a fantasy studio setup beyond what you have now, and what would that include? Or if not, what is one of your favorite studio assets or pieces of gear that you currently use?
CW: I’m really happy with what we have for mixing and mastering right now. I’d like to add a DW Fern VT-7 for some extra compression options or some older tube compression to contrast the Neve MBP and SSL compressors we use. But man, I would love to have a Neve console, not too picky which one really. Right now, if I need a console I have access to an SSL Duality and a drum room, but to have my own full console and room to track would be so amazing.

G: How important are visual aesthetics to your music, and how are you involved in that process?
CW: I’m realizing that my music is all visual. I approach music more like painting and graphic design — taking colors and shapes of sounds, chords, notes, texture, bass, and connecting and overlapping them until it feels right. I just hear it and do it. I’m not thinking about music as a thing, just sound as a feeling and images in the imagination.

My work now is more visual also in a literal sense. I’m making these audiovisual pieces from the ground up — shooting, editing, and adjusting color. It feels good, like the sounds and images have created a home together.

G: Can you talk separately about two of the most positive experiences you’ve had with listening to music and creating music?
CW: When I was 13, the music of Jimi Hendrix was the most amazing thing I had ever heard. It was like hearing someone make the music you had been listening to in you dreams. I knew I was going to play guitar for the rest of my life after listening to Hendrix, especially “Machine Gun” from Band of Gypsys Live at the Fillmore East.

I love John Coltrane. He’s another artist that I feel a very deep connection with. And I love his work with McCoy Tyner. The way he voices chords is just so beautiful. I can’t see Coltrane since he’s passed, but being able to see McCoy Tyner at Yoshi’s was so incredible. When I’m old, maybe I’ll just play some far-out jazz.

Creating Ocean Fire with Ryuichi Sakamoto was pretty surreal. It was the first time we ever met, and we recorded in his New York studio for hours. Pure sound communication. No speaking, only listening and responding with sound.

Playing my first show in Tokyo was a really amazing experience. Every show teaches you something, but this one really stood out. In the middle of my set, I looked up and felt this incredible feeling, like a validation of everything I wanted to do in my life. I could feel the audience connecting to the sound, and it was just so clear to me that I’m here to create and bring people together in this way.

G: What differences or similarities do you experience when collaborating versus recording by yourself? Do you prefer one to the other?
CW: I love collaboration because it always shows me something new about my own practice and how I communicate and relate to others. But I also love working solo, because it always shows me new things about myself that I would not discover outside of a creative process that is solely my responsibility. For me, it’s about setting an intention and designing a process around that. If the project calls for collaboration, I’ll do that. One thought that often goes through my mind that’s related to this is that, really, everything is a collaboration. You are always in collaboration with the universe around you. It’s all consciousness and I am one part of this incredible whole.

Questions for Geotic posed by Christopher Willits

baths photo by david michael cortes
Geotic, Photo by David Michael Cortes

Christopher Willits: What was the intention behind the looping guitar pieces?
Geotic: I really enjoy meditative and ambient music, and when I set out to make a guitar record I wanted to try and write in that style. It’s kind of a comfort zone for me. I like to take my time with the pieces and slowly shape them into a comfortable loop.

CW: Do you remember what was on the Geotic CD-R you gave me in 2008 after my show with Stars of the Lid?
G: I don’t! I completely forgot that I gave you something, although I definitely remember meeting you at that show! So curious what was on it.

CW: What is your all-time favorite album?
G: Probably Alligator by The National. I still find it very resonant and emotional after so many years of listening to it.

CW: Have you ever been attacked by a wild animal?
G: Almost! My brother and I went out to record stone samples for my last record and decided to venture into the woods at night. We were sure (but have no proof) that a mountain lion started to pursue us. We backed out of the area extremely slowly and then raced back to our car, afraid that we would be attacked at any second!

CW: Do you want to come up to San Francisco and make an album in a day with me?
G: That sounds rad! I’d love to. I’ve gotta find the time, since I’m just about to start school in a few weeks. But definitely down. Thanks for the questions!

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