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Music can be a remedy in these times of danger and darkness, in its own peculiar ways. It can offer calm, consolation, and open new gates of perception. Readers of this interview with composer and drummer Sebastian Rochford may know well some albums of artists who did record in vast spaces, from the likes of Paul Horn, or Jan Garbarek moving into the monastery of St. Gerold.  Thinking of albums that have been made outside the comfort zones of modern recording studios, clubs and concert halls, Pauline Oliveros‘ classic „Deep Listening“ may also come to mind, a quite thrilling exploration of natural reverb in a meditative state of mind. „Rose Golden Doorways“ by „Pulled By Magnets“ is somehow a wilder affair, and if anyone would ever write a book about wonderful albums, recorded in caves, churches, pyramids, and other  power spots, the writer should make sure this album will be part of the journey.

 
 

 
 

FEELING THE SPACE, FILLING THE SPACE

 

Michael:  If you are still living in London, what would be a great place for this interview if we would do it face to face. You have a favourite cafe there, or another place with a good vibe?

 

Sebastian: Would probably be the Colombian indoor market in Tottenham, I love that place and has great food and coffee, sadly it’s been sold off to make apartments so don’t know how long it’s going to be there.

 

Michael: My favourite Polar Bear album, „Same As You“,  was inspired, in parts, by your visit at the Mojave Desert. Now, with the new trio in mind, what did you trigger to move into another vast space, The „Old Church“  in Stoke Newington?

 

Sebastian: This album was inspired by energy and creation, what it is that makes us and how our perception of that changes our lives. The  church was for how I could further represent that sonically,  I wanted us to have a place we could fill our sound into in an active way, where Pete could let his saxophone soar and somewhere that would answer back to the sound we were making.

 

Michael: The bigger the reverb, the less you have to play, or was it a challenge to approach the zone of falling apart, soundwise, meaning „conventionally“ soundwise?

 

Sebastian: I wanted to use the church in different ways, sometimes to feel the space and sometimes to fill that space with more volume and density, using the reverb almost as a sheet noise when needed.

 

Michael: If everybody in the band uses electronics to,  at least from one perspective, alter the sound of the instruments, was the intention, to minimalize the expections associated with „nomal“ saxophone or electric bass sounds? Was the adding of electronics a device to further move into the unknown?

 

Sebastian: When we started rehearsing I asked Neil and Pete to have effects all the time and then we go from there, I wanted them to feel that extreme as a seed to grow from.

 

Michael: Did you record at nighttime? Apart from probably being in the zone while playing, how did the atmosphere of the church affect your mood? Was it more dark and brooding, or more on the peace of mind side of things? I‘m asking cause you can easily associate this music with archaic rituals, miles beyond the history of the place. 

 

Sebastian: There’s a certain silence and acoustic in a church that for me, definitely has an influence on your mood, every sound is very much amplified, quieter sounds have such impact, so making lots of noise in there almost felt confrontational to what is perceived as the „right“ thing to do, this is in part of what the album is about, feeling energy as a whole and there being a balance in different elements. There was a passage I read in the Upanishads that said about human beings being a collection of armies that sometimes collide and sometimes work in harmony, this really made a connection with me and was an inspiration. Because of all the stained glass windows, the atmosphere changed during the day into night and I loved it’s presence and influence.

 
 
THE RIGHT TIME FOR A CHURCH BELL TO RING

 

Michael:  Now there are, apart from drone elements, no playful allusions to Classical Indian music. The connection seems to come alive in a different way.

 

Sebastian: My Indian roots are always a part of my creativity as they are a part of who I am, but I did go back to India before making this album to connect again and see family. While I was there I didn’t listen to any recorded music, instead just listening to all the sounds around me, I felt I needed a sonic cleanse. As I write from singing inside me, I wanted to expand my internal sound and this was part of my process. I also studied singing while I was there though none of the Pulled by Magnets music uses any of the raags I learnt there. The Indian influence on this album was more my experience of going back there, my connection and the relationship I have with myself every day around it. My family there are all Catholic and I was brought up Catholic but I’m also descended from Hindus and in recent years was the first time I allowed myself to explore these religious traditions for myself, which I found great inspiration in and allowed me to think differently about who I am on a day to day basis, which in turn helped me to write and play this music.

 

Michael: Did you go into the church with some compositional sketches, and in the mood to see what happens when sound moves its special ways , or was it a  more improvisational approach?

 

Sebastian: We went into the recording with written pieces and arrangements that contain passages of improvisation, the harmony in this music is very particular too, sometimes using 9 and 10 note scales that for me are integral to the sound of the music but as always I want to the musicians to take the music in their way when the ground has been set. I gave myself time before writing the music to daydream about form and sound in different ways.

 
 

 
 

Michael: The last piece of the album is building up to a climax, the sax, the noisy grid, but, in the end, a warm enveloping sound…

 

Sebastian: That’s me playing the church organ at the end and then the church bell which never chimed during a piece the whole time we were there, but went off ten minutes after we finished recording and I asked Sonny to record it. It felt like a natural way to rest the album.

 

Michael: Has there been a book that inspired the new album. Some discoveries you made by reading that opened you up for some of the „reasearch fields“ of this music?

 

Sebastian: I was reading alot The Upanishads, The Isvara Gita and The Mirror of Simple Souls which is essentially a book about Divine Love written by a French Bedhouin named Marguerite Porete who was burned at the Stake for refusing to keep her writings private, I discovered it through a great Dutch band called Turia. All these books greatly inspired me and enabled me to write this music as they gave me different ways to perceive the world and energies around us.

 
 
SYMBOLS, MAGNETS, AND FOOD

 

Michael: Opening the inner sleeve, you see an extension of the cover, a rather enigmatic drawing playing with symbols. Can you offer some information for those who might think they’ve found a treasure map?

 

Sebastian: From all the reading I was doing, I noticed there was an element of my intuitive understanding of these texts, so for the album I created symbolic and written text forms of the music that I hope people can feel and interpret using their intuition while listening to the music, every track has it’s own symbol that is personal to what it’s meaning is for me.

 

Michael: Why calling the trio „Pulled By Magnets“? There surely is a great alchemy between the three players, Pete Wareham  again playing essentials, never entering the light talkative mood, and Neil Charles at the electric bass and electronics adding something wild, too?

 

Sebastian: I was describing the music to someone and they mentioned the feeling of being pulled by magnets, it stayed with me so I asked if I could use it which they said were happy for me to.

 

Michael: Have there been albums recently you have experienced as really immersive experiences?

 

Sebastian: For that experience I love the bands Solar Temple, Hexeth and Entheogen who I discovered after writing the music for Pulled by Magnets.

 

Michael: Did you do another ECM recording waiting for release?

 

Sebastian: No not as yet but I hope maybe in the future, Manfred Eicher is another great inspiration to me.

 

Michael: What are your plans for today or the day you have finshed to answer these questions? I do have some favourite rituals there, like traveling to the north by underground and strolling through Hampsread Heath. I always get into a very special mood there.

 

Sebastian: I started today with my own ritual and also watching two magpies gather twigs and mud for a nest.

 

Michael: What comes to your mind when you think of  the late Jon Christensen on drums?

 

Sebastian: I saw Jon Christensen playing with Jakob Bro a few years ago, I loved watching him play, was at the same time like a master and curious child.

 

Michael: What has been recently, or way back, a TV series that put a spell on you in a good way, on Netflix or wherever, or did the „new  revolution“ on TV did not cross your ways….

 

Sebastian: I love watching Netflix, so many good series, documentaries and food shows! I love watching programmes about food also because it is so connected to culture, history and community so you learn about all these things, one of my favourite ones is Ugly Delicious.

 
 

Vor Jahren war ich mal auf dem Weg zu jener Kirche im Norden Londons, in dem dieses beeindruckende Werk aufgenommen wurde. Oder verwechsle ich da zwei Räume der Andacht und des Rückzugs? Es war der Abend des Tages, an dem ich Scott Walker besucht hatte, es regnete unaufhörlich, und irgendwann war klar, ich würde es nie zeitig dorthin schaffen: ich schaffte sonst alles mögliche in jenen drei Londoner Tagen, ging unfotografiert über den berühmten Zebrastreifen von Abbey Road, stöberte in einem Plattenladen nach alten Vinylschätzen, und sah abends vorm Einschlafen die eine und andere Folge von „Longmire“.

 

In der Kirche im Londoner Norden liess Scott Walker seine Zusammenarbeit mit Sunno))), „Soused“, laufen, als „release party“, über mächtige Lautsprecher. Ich stellte mir das wundervoll vor, dieses dunkle dröhnige Werk mit Donnerhall in mich aufzunehmen, aber es sollte nicht sein. Ich verirrte mich auf halbem Weg. 

 

Nun also lausche ich Musik, die tatsächlich in dem Gemäuer in Stoke Newington entstanden ist. Und das, auf alten Fotos, jeder Gespenstergeschichte gutgetan hätte. Wenn der Drummer Sebastian Rochford ein neues Projekt auf die Beine stellt, bin ich immerzu gespannt, und werde seit den Zeiten der Bands „Acoustic Ladyland“ und  „Polar Bear“ nicht enttäuscht. „Same As You“ ist eines meiner Lieblingsalben vom „Polarbären“, und entführt tief in die Mojave Wüste. Nicht viele können behaupten, mit Brian Eno in Notting Hill und  Manfred Eicher in Lugano Musik aufgenommen zu haben. Aber das ist nur eine witzige Randnote. 

 

Der Schlagzeuger suchte jedenfalls mit Energie nach einem „power spot“ für sein Trio „Pulled By Magnets“, in dem die drei Akteure Schlagwerk, Saxofon und E-Bass spielen, zudem ihre Klänge mit allerlei Elektronik  verwandeln, verbiegen, verrauschen – es gibt keine Gewissheit für den reinen Instrumenenklang. Und er fand seinen „Ort der Kraft“. 

 

Werfen wir mal einige Wörter in die Luft, die bei solcher Wucht die Runde machen: Grime, Drone, Free, Far Out, Improv, Gothic, Hypnos, Raga. In manchen Passagen klingt es wie eine radikalisierte Version von Bohren & Der Club of Gore, in anderen, als träume Brian Eno von einer expressionistischen Variante von Ambient Music, und würde nur deshalb nicht am Mixing Board sitzen, weil die Musiker und das Kirchenschiff alles selbst regeln.

 

Ähnlich wie bei seinem einstigem Mitstreiter  Shabaka Hutchings, spielen auch bei „Pulled By Magnets“ die „ancestors“, die Vorfahren eine Rolle, und so, wie Shabaka und seine südafrikanischen Freunde bis in die Karibik, bis nach Jamaika blicken, um einigen „nyabhingi“-Wurzeln und anderes Groovekraut anzuzapfen, nimmt Sebastian auf sehr, sehr sublime Weise Klangspuren Klassischer Indischer Musik auf (er hat einen Familienstammbaum, der eben auch ins ferne Asien reicht).

 

Da wird keine Ragamusik imitiert, eher schon ein ferne, verblasste Erinnerung an das  Schnurren der Tamboura in ein archaisches Soundgeschehen made in London transportiert. Die Einflüsse sind weit gestreut, ich erfahre, dass Mr. Rochford im Vorfeld der Produktion auch alte Beduinentexte studiert hat. Ist der Jazz, wenn das mal Jazz ist, nicht auch, irgendwie, Geheimwissenschaft?

 

Die Musik des Trios ist ungemein wandlungsfähig, auch Pete Wareham am Saxofon schreit und wildert nicht in Free Jazz-Arealen, wie man ahnen mag, wenn es, wie hier, keine Kompromisse gibt. Eher ist sein Spiel gebündelt, er lässt Sounds ins verwinkelte Rund schallen, folgt dem Echo, als gebe es kein gestern, kein morgen. Alle Drei, auch Neil Charles, der kundige Dritte, der Mann am E-Bass, fühlen sich sauwohl in diesem Szenario, in dem jeder Sound seine eigene Strahlkraft besitzt, und doch, von einer Sekunde zur andern, verloren gehen kann. Und was hat es mit den Pforten, Schwellen, Durchgängen auf sich, die im Titel anklingen: „Rose Golden Doorways“?  Hat man so etwas schon mal gehört?!

Sometimes you really have to dig deep to find something of great value in that genre once coined „New Age“, crammed with wrong nirvanas and boring heavens. If heaven actually is a place where nothing really happens, the music of Jordan De La Sierra´s „Gymnosphere“ might be a place of constant wonder: a lot is going on here (in a very silent way) – lonesome notes drifting endlessly through a sacred space. As we know, sacred spaces often are a big deal for long reverberations. Call Eno´s classic „Music For Airports“ a (very) distant relative, and you´re close.

 

The desert has always been a place for inspiration, from Harold Budd to Giant Sand, and Polar Bear´s new album „Same As You“ is no exception. Though it starts with some Woodstock mysticism, invocations of light and love, don´t hesitate to surrender to the overall flow of the six tracks. A wonderful mix using field recordings without any resemblance to the usually „holy desert  sounds“, the album is captivating from start to end. Arthur Russell would been totally enthusiastic about this work of art. The dancing, joyful lines of the two saxophones add to the excellent mix of the primal, the melodic and the experimental. So this may be one of England´s finest contributions to the American „West Coast“-culture ever, known for relaxed moods, skilled studio musicians – and even Sonny Rollins once wearing a cowboy hat.

 

„A Most Violent Year“ is a fantastic movie, a time travel to New York City, 1981 (the year Eno and Byrne created „My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts“, in Manhattan), shot with late 70´s vibes and colors, and, nevertheless, likewise oldfashioned and inventive. That´s saying a lot about a genre movie linked with gangster syndicates, archetypal anti-heroes from another era and the usual suspects from the old „New Hollywood“. The gist of the matter: J.C. Chandor is really doing fine in creating a new skin for an old ceremony. At times with breathtakingly slow speed, packed with the devil in the details (beware of the soundtrack, sparse and subtle), and, one of the most thrilling chase-scenes since Cary Grant had been attacked by a small aeroplane in „North By Northwest“. Chandor knows when it´s time to speed up. Pop corn fodder? Not at all, more of a descent into the underworld (in the psychic sense of the word). For example, within one single shocking second, you are transported from an overcrowded tube train to a deserted, ghost-like station (in the middle of NYC) – a good place to meet the inner demons.

 

And coming to terms with your own demons, you might want to enter the sceneries of the „Thriller of  April“. I´m still running through the last hundred pages, and, as you know, you shall not sing the praise of day till the last ray of light has vanished from the sky, and darkness surrounds you with all horror or relief delivered on the last page. Will the story linger in your mind, or is it just a cheap thrill and utterly forgettable? Wait and see. Manafonista Wolfram recently recommended an ancient thriller by Chester Himes. That book might be the other option. Himes can compare in quality to Chandler and Hammett, and he clearly is commenting on and developing their novels, plots and style. The past remains a treasure grove. But you can easily be trapped by it. Chester Himes, and J.C. Chandor luckily know the exit signs.


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