- 29 October, 2009
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With our recent North American Launch of Gabriel Prokofiev’s “Nonclassical” label we find ourselves fortunate enough to have two fantastic releases by the Elysian quartet. In sept we released Gabriel’s string quartet no. 1 and now on Oct. 27th we’ll release Gabriel’s 2nd string quartet also performed by the Elysians. I can’t rave enough about these recordings, it’s also given Elysha Miracle and I a chance to interview the quartet in anticipation of this second round of Nonclassical releases….
First off of course we’ve become familiar with the quartet through its work with Gabriel Prokofiev and Nonclassical, can you tell us how this relationship came about?
Laura went to York University with Gabriel and they had a lot in common musically, both being interested in contemporary and electronic music. A few years later, when she had joined the quartet and we had started working with amplification and electronics, she rang him up and suggested a collaboration. He wrote his first ever string quartet for us, and it went so well that we commissioned him to write us another.
Of course on these Nonclassical releases of Gabriel’s string quartets your performances are also remixed, what’s the groups take on this part of the projects?
We thought it was a great idea, especially as Gabriel’s music is so influenced by dance music in the first place, and when we heard the remixes we were all pleased with how they had turned out. They only use sounds from the original recordings, so the remix artists had to find ways of creating new music from original material without resorting to extra drums or beats.
Which remix is most fun to play? Which do you prefer listening-wise?
The remixes are not written to be performed live – they were made by people using sounds from the recordings and have had many many effects and layers put on them. We have talked about trying to turn them back into live pieces, but the complications have so far put everybody off! Listening-wise it would be far too cheeky to single anyone out…
Can you give us a little history lesson on the quartet itself? Maybe tell us a bit about each member?
The quartet got together at Trinity College of Music in 1999 and gradually morphed from a normal classical string quartet into what it is today, totally dedicated to contemporary, electronic and improvised music. A big turning point for us was playing George Crumb’s music, and then also meeting Gabriel. Each member of the group has a very diverse background in classical, jazz, pop, and improvised music and everyone plays regularly with other groups, and on other instruments. This seems to bring many styles of playing into the group and gives us a great advantage and certain lack of fear when we improvise.
You have such a fun and energetic feel as a group. What makes you have such a unique approach to playing and ‘classical music’?
Thanks! I think we might come across like this because we all consider ourselves ‘musicians’ rather than ‘classical musicians’ and we bring our different musical experiences to the group. For instance, two of us used to play in a samba band, and that not only teaches you a lot about rhythm and feel, but also a great deal about group vibes. Also each one of us knows what it’s like to play on stage in a pop/folk/rock context, which is usually so much more fun and relaxed than playing classical music. So I think subconsciously we probably bring a bit of that into our concerts.
Have you recorded projects for other labels? If so what were / are they?
We recorded a great project with British composer Max de Wardener last year, with cover art by Stanley Donwood (Radiohead collaborator), for Stanley’s record label Six Inch Records. We have also contributed our improvising skills to some pop albums, and recorded our own EP of improvised music. We are also planning a few albums with other people next year – will let you know which label they come out on!
What music / art inspires the quartet as a group?
Wow big question. I think our various inspirations would be so massive it would be crazy to list them all! But as far as music goes you could definitely throw in the Crumb, and Gabriel, then Dai Fujikura, Reich, Stravinsky, Hot Chip, Melanie Pappenheim, Can, Janacek, Keith Tippett, Adem, Simon Fisher Turner… Art is a bit less relevant to us as a group, but individually I think we are all pretty modern in tastes…
I see from your facebook updates that you guys play in Germany from time to time, where else do you perform regularly and what rep do you play generally?
We have been to Belgium and France several times, and many other countries internationally, but mostly we perform in the UK. Our repertoire has become more and more fully improvised over the last two years, but we also play a lot of British and American contemporary music, most of which is either written for us or commissioned by us. Our concerts at the moment tend to be a mixture of very contemporary music and improvisation, sometimes both within the same piece.
Are the members involved in other music projects? What might those be?
Emma and Vince together are remix artists Geese and are becoming quite successful with their string instrument based remixes. Jenny and Emma play in Mercury-nominated Basquiat Strings, which is a jazz based project, and Laura is successfully carving out her own solo career with her music for cello with voice. All four of us are involved with other performers too: James Yorkston, Nancy Wallace, Adrian Crowley, Gilad Atzmon to name a few.
Ok so WoW you’ve worked with Damo Suzuki! how did this come about? Your impressions of Damo? Was this material recorded? How is CAN important to the quartet?
Damo is a pretty amazing guy, in that he makes his living going round the world improvising in a made up language every night. i’d like to make a living this way…seems like a nice life! He’s usually very friendly and interesting, occasionally grumpy when he hasn’t had enough sleep and has been flying around the world too much.. He is a total showman on stage with incredible charisma and a great voice. We’ve played with him twice now, and the first time was the best, at the Purcell Room on the South Bank, London. This was recorded, and Damo absolutely loved it, so it was then edited because it was VERY VERY long, and then…don’t think it got released or anything. Hopefully one day… As a group we obviously listened to a lot more CAN prior to and after working with Damo, and I think we all took a lot of inspiration from the spirit and energy in that band. Obviously when we improvised with Damo it was an entirely different thing. But CAN are great. You can always learn a lot from bands like that.I can’t quite remember how the collaboration came about.
Any future plans with Nonclassical? Plans on performing in the USA?
Nonclassical’s pop imprint StopStart will hopefully be putting out Laura’s solo album next year, and we are also discussing our future projects with them, but nothing is concrete as yet. We would absolutely love to go back to the USA after our very successful first time out there this March for SXSW, perhaps with composer Graham Reynolds who we met in Austin, or with Meredith Monk who we are working with next year. If anyone wants to book us a tour we’ll be right there….