Meandering is good. VERY good. That’s how we find a lot of great stuff to share with you at Flush. Being open to new great things and wandering down those barely worn sonic paths and lanes to discover what treasures they may contain. And of course giving those gems the light and ears they need/deserve so others may appreciate their qualities. Such as when we chanced upon the American contemporary composer Rafael Anton Irisarri via the bastion of all that is good in music/sounds that you have a beautiful reaction too ie. Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC 6 Music.
She had just put on Reprisal from Rafael’s new album A Fragile Geography (2015) and the universe slowed to the pace and allure of a blooming flower. It was the ambient digital soundscape of galaxies being born.
Even though there was a sense of birth/growth permeating (at least in my minds response) throughout the work, there is a distinct Autumnal/Winter days weight to the pieces on the album where dualities (ethereal/monolith) can coexist peacefully within the dense layers. Not in a negative way, just the enveloping warmth and reflection of a year coming to a gentle close. And like the seasonal change, the tracks build so slowly and gently that there’s very little perceptive change, but before you know it you are minutes into a track with no idea when it started (ideally listened to at the best equipment you can find). As the year starts to wind down, it is the perfect realise time for the album as the sun lowers itself slightly more each day, and we need to wrap up in extra layers of gentle sound to protect ourselves from the cacophonic elements.
This is the fourth in Rafael’s studio releases, two years in the making after moving from his home in Seattle to New York. A forest fire on his creativity struck when his entire sound studio, gear and archives were stolen, which meant having to rebuild and replant with the help of friends. Thankfully his mind remained extremely fertile, and there seems to be a more epic (such is the vastness of the soundscapes he builds) focused gentleness coming through in the infinite overlapping sound waves. It’s as though some unfortunate pruning (in no way underming his loss) has allowed the work to really blossom and push through to the fore. There is darkness, but colour/hope too.
He lists his very diverse influences in such luminaries as David Lynch, Werner Herzog, A Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins to Debussy and French existentialism. So it ticks all my boxes. And you can hear, even see all those threads when (repeatedly) playing A Fragile Geography. In an ever increasing frantic world, it is gems such as this that you need to counter the frenzy. It instantly transports you to the conception and birth of everything.
And with the best of discoveries, there is a rich seem of work and collaborations that Rafael has previously done, that will tide us over till yet more pieces are released. As even though A Fragile Geography has just come out, I’m already looking forward to future works.
Rebuild it and they will come
To celebrate the release of A Fragile Geography, Flush caught up with Rafael to discuss the album.
The album cover is a very haunting dreamlike black and white image of a small harbour and a house. What significance does it have, and in relation to the album title.
The album cover is a photograph my good friend Sean Curtis Patrick took at an undisclosed location. When I saw it, it almost immediately reminded me of my old neighbourhood in Seattle, as I used to live right by the water. I love the contrast between that nice white house and its bleak surroundings. It kind of feels like the dark reality of my past year, having to start all over (quite literally, as I had nothing) in a new, foreign place. The image is almost hopeful in a way, a beacon of resolve, cutting through all the chaos life throws sometimes with power and resolve.
Tragically you had a robbery where all your equipment and archives were stolen. Was the album started after that event, and were you forced to work in a different way with everything gone?
It was a bit worse: it was started before, so I was actually in the middle of creating something. This meant that every single sketch, idea, demo recording for it were lost for good. I had to figure out a way to remember lots of things I had written, but for the most part, it’s safe to say almost 25 years of music composition are gone for good. One of the many beauties of having a large archive, is been able to go back in time to different eras of your life and listen with a fresh perspective what you were writing when you were 15, 20, 25, etc… Everything from old cassette tapes from the ‘90s to old CDs filled with sketches & demos. So it was rather devastating for me, much more so than anything else in my studio or household. You just can’t quantise that sort of vast creative archive, your entire life’s work, gone in a mere seconds. The worst part is the uncertainty of what ever happened to it. See, if a fire had burned down my house, and everything lost as a result, at least there is a sense of finality, it’s been burned to the ground.
Here it feel almost like a missing person’s case, yeah, your loved one is more than likely dead, but as humans we tend to only hope and keep hoping. I still have very vivid dreams in which I find all my archives, I don’t think those will be going away anytime soon, unfortunately. So this record was a bit of a cathartic moment, not only having to try and reconstruct something from memory or whatever I had available at hand, but also trying to put everything behind and move on with my life. I’m VERY lucky this happened to me at a time where I’m older and more centred and surrounded by people who really care about me. Ten, maybe even five years ago, I’d have probably just jump off the infamous Aurora Bridge (once considered the suicide capital of America) in Seattle and call it a day.
Did that loss inspire the direction of A Fragile Geography?
Very much so. All of my work in general can be describe as a ‘hopeful gloom,’ and it this case, the internal and external elements of my life really collided into a creative storm.
What is the creative process for your work? The concept catalysts/inspirations, gestation period and actual production time. Being that the work is highly emotive, it’s not always easy to tap into that creative lay line on a 9-5 approach.
Usually I binge. I suffer for terrible sleep disorders. My sleeping patterns have been messed up for years, so once I get an idea going, I’ll completely obsessed over it and work on it nonstop, the same way a junkie goes on a 3 to 5 days bender. Being creative can be both a blessing and a curse sometimes, but overall, I think having an outlet is also rather therapeutic. That’s how I got into composing music in the first place, so it feels like I’m going full circle to when I was 10 years old and was a lonely kid who just read books, played video games, didn’t go out much and couldn’t find a place to belong in this world.
I’d read that The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) is one of your favourite books. It’s themes of searching, journeys, discovery, learning and even the Foxes quote ‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes’ (ie music) seem to permeate your work.
That’s very true. I was obsessed with the Little Prince when I was a young eight year old kid (I actually had very blonde frizzy hair that looks just like the illustrations). My mother gave it to me right after my father passed away and I read it quite regularly. The line ‘It is lonely when you’re among people, too’ really struck with me, cause that’s the way I felt for a long time, and to some extent still do today, almost 30 years later. I like this line you quoted too a lot as well, it’s very true. We miss out on the events from people that are closest to us, we miss experiencing our immediate surroundings (in favour of are virtual selves on social media), when in fact, the things that are closest to you, wether friends, family or experiences, are really the most essential aspects of your life.
When I was young I’d often lay on my bed in the dark listening to Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack, A Fragile Geography flooded my mind with those relaxing moments. What are significant albums for you.
So many, but if I had to pick just the one album, I’d say Harold Budd’s masterpiece (with Brian Eno) The Plateux of Mirror. That had a big impact on me when I heard it and it’s a record I can still listen today from start to finish and still discover new things with each listen.
Being that the pieces are extremely filmic. Have you scored any movies yet, or indeed aspire to take your abilities into directing, or indeed are there any particular directors you’d like to work with?
I’d love to of course, but that’s not happened much for me. I live in a bit of a bubble, I don’t have any sort of profile that would allow me such opportunities, and that’s fine. I’m sure it’ll come in due time at one point. Directors: again, so many, but if I had to pick a few, I’d say Julio Medem (Spanish-Basque director, not so well-known outside of Spanish cinema), Alejandro González Iñárritu (a bit obvious but I love his work), and of course, David Lynch (goes without saying).
So what’s next? Are you touring with the album, and what’s in the pipeline that we can look forward too?
We are plotting some touring dates in Europe this Winter, so I look forward to playing live shows. I really enjoy playing out for people and being to connect with listeners, meet, etc. It’s a small, tight knit community and I enjoy that aspect of my work. Aside from it, I’m always busy in the studio, this year thus far I’ve mastered over 35 albums, and I’ve only been back in business since the Spring. So yeah, just working, creating new material (hoping to have a new The Sight Below album done soon) and collaborating with others.
A Fragile Geography is out on the 23rd October on Room40. Keep up on Rafael’s work at www.irisarri.org