ELECTRONIC music composer Jon Hopkins recently sat down with Sophie Miles for the second instalment of her podcast, The Witching Hour.
It was just before the release of fifth album, Singularity, and the pair spoke at length about music, consciousness, and the psychedelic spiritual dimensions of electronic music and rave culture.
Jon revealed his daily meditation regime (“I wake up and I do transcendental meditation straight away because I don’t always sleep that well”), his way of coping with creative block (“I just do something physical”), and the five new age tracks that centre his day.
This is without question my favourite ambient piano piece really of all time. It’s so magic. I think it’s from 1985 or something like that. I discovered it maybe when I was 19 or 20. As soon as I put that record on, all of it’s like this. All of it’s incredible. They’re like 12 different moods or 12 different colours. Actually, I can’t remember if there are 12 tracks or not, but each one feels like a different shade or a different side of the same diamond or something. They’re all so connected and they’re just essentially improvisations on the piano, which Harold Bugg did, and then Brian Eno had some sort of context chain processing going on, I think, with the help of Daniel Lanois.
The piano has this kind of glow around it. It has this sort of halo of sound around it. I had no idea how he’d done this … I thought that they recorded the piano and then they doubled it with synths somehow to get all that magical resonance around the piano. But, yes, it’s all just done with processing. It made me think very differently about the idea of using reverbs and echoes of any sort as instruments in their own right – that you can have independently mixed alongside the original signal, to get a bit technical.
In terms of a piece of music, it all really is like you’re kind of suspended blissfully in this humming air. If you imagine the perfect late summer’s day or something, like a meadow, and I can always picture this perfect meadow scene with all the insects a bit lazy, kind of drowsily floating about. It’s very evocative. I’ve been listening to this album ever since I was 19 … Every day at some point I put one or two tracks on just in the background because it just centres me a lot.
This is from an album called Field Rituals, which is another very hypnotic, beautiful record that I just discovered randomly. It seems to be lively acoustic instruments, and then with some processing, which is always a great starting point I think. With this album [Singularity] for the first time I really felt … like there were no barriers really. It’s more like I was translating it through the technology, translating a beautiful feeling that I’ve had or that I got from much more universal ideas through this technology into music.
The next one is a track called ‘Cathedral, Pt.2’ by Christopher Tignor on this album called Core Memory Unwound, which is a beautiful title. It’s a very, very highly spiritual sounding piece to me, very celestial, I guess. It’s just been a part of a lot of psychedelic experiences. You can hear these little violins in there and piano, but it just sounds much more mysterious than that because they’re all playing very strange harmonics. You really have to listen to that one. You can’t describe it that well.
All of their stuff is amazing. It’s very hard to pick one. It’s kind of drone-based guitar music, I guess. In particular, this one just modulates very softly between two chords for 11 minutes. I’ve always been into things that do that. It’s very subtly vibrating. It’s very hypnotic. In my music, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing in terms of frequencies. I’m just on an unconscious level just searching for ones that resonate for whatever reason. There’s sections on this record [Singularity], the end of ‘Everything Connected’, for example, there’s kind of a double bass drone that comes in. For me, if you hear that very loud, it does have a very interesting vibrator effect on the body.
With the track ‘Feel First Life’, in particular, for the first time I was able to actually get a real choir. That’s 15 people singing in the room together. That was a bit of a dream for me because I’ve been fascinated with choral music my whole life. There’s something truly transcendent about it and it’s interesting, because a lot of the great choral music, it’s like almost all of it is religious in nature. I’ve always had a feeling with it connected to the real experience, the harmonies of it. Not the construction, but the actual ecstatic experience that was at the heart of maybe the origin of religion. It’s a great example of music as a truly holy thing.
To finally get the opportunity to get all these voices in the room, there is definitely some magic going on there. It’s the way all these things, all their voices go together. As well, it had to be done in one take. There’s no overdubs on there. It’s all actually being sung. I think they all feed off each other.
Humans, whether we know it or not, are incredibly sensitive and we perform very differently in a room full of people. Some people who’ve heard that track think it was done with overdubs or one person thought it was my voice. To me, there’s no technology that could replace just 15 people singing together. It’s not yet been invented. It will be at some point, I’m sure. But for me, it’s a real untouched and beautiful thing.
This guy’s criminally unknown. He’s actually one of the best ambient composers I’ve ever come across. He’s released tonnes and tonnes of albums and they’re not all amazing, but the ones that are are some of the best. When I get asked about this kind of music, I always recommend him, and point people towards particular records. This one, Summer Light, it’s just a four part ambient record that I think explores translating that title really into vibration. It’s again, very mysterious.
I don’t really know how he makes his music. There’s this combination of electronic and organic sounds. He uses a lot of nature sounds, which I don’t always like in ambient music, but he gets away with it because he somehow makes the synths as organic as the nature sounds that are in there, so it all sounds like one. That’s what you can experience in a psychedelic state where that kind of oneness of everything, the way the music blends so perfectly into a natural setting. I really highly recommend checking out of all that kind of stuff.
Missy Scheinberg and Dom O’Connor – from the Laneway offices in New York and Sydney, respectively – team up for the best tracks of the month.
The self-proclaimed “fresh prince of Arnhem Land” has been one of the most interesting stories in Australian music for the past year, making frenetic, bilingual hip-hop with hooks galore. ‘Mr La Di Da Di’ trades in the hyperactive energy of his first two singles for a smooth, G-Funk-leaning bassline and a chanted, group-vocal assisted chorus. The adeptness and flexibility of his voice is fully on display here, effortlessly switching between English and his native Yolngu Matha language. On ‘Mr La Di Da Di’, Baker Boy continues to position himself as one of hip-hop’s most vital young voices. – Dom
Damon McMahon has been releasing a somewhat steady stream of music for the past 15 years – as the lead singer of Inouk before launching solo project Amen Dunes. But it’s Freedom that finally takes him from a local New York act to an international name. On ‘Dracula’ – one of the final tracks on his fourth full-length under the Amen Dunes moniker – Damon finds himself somewhere between Cass McCombs’ poeticism and Jim James’ modernised classic rock with a standout number on one of 2018’s stand-out albums so far. – Missy
The music that 19-year-old George van den Broek makes under the Yellow Days moniker has the ominous, encroaching feel of an anxiety attack. And ‘The Way Things Change’ crawls along at a walking pace, slowly ramping up the paranoia. The guitars have the same watery sound as the dreamiest Connan Mockasin tune, but George’s deep, resonant voice urging the listener to “keep going” brings in a welcome sense of unease to the proceedings. While the song never reaches a welcome crescendo, the menacing mood throughout never wanes, establishing Yellow Days as an auteur and master of atmosphere. – Dom
After a quiet three years, London singer/producer and Dirty Hit signing Ben Khan has returned in fine form. ‘2000 Angels’ is his comeback stunner, with his signature Jai Paul reticent maximalist production and powerful sleek vocals that gets us excited for his long-awaited album, due out later this year. – Missy
The first taste of the scuzzy Melbourne duo’s forthcoming debut record, ‘Mirror Freak’ is a bleary, hungover wake-up sigh of a song that’ll surely soundtrack your next morning after. The guitars don’t exactly intertwine but circle each other playfully, and the skipping melody gives way to a perfectly atonal sax solo played by singer Stefan Blair’s dad. ‘Mirror Freak’ is like the perfect housemate – friendly in a casual and unpretentious way, never too much to deal with or handle and never overstaying its welcome. – Dom
Ever since the emergence of playlisting, “chill” has pretty much become its own genre. Haux – aka London-via Massachusetts singer Woodson Black – has become one of the genre torchbearers with his whispery folk-electronic that can be filed somewhere between Bon Iver and Shallou. On ‘Arrows’ – the closing track from his most recent EP – Haux creates a gorgeously subtle piano-led soundscape that is both sensitive and comforting. It’s the perfect soundtrack for any “chill” situation you may find yourself in. – Missy
It’s rare that a debut single causes as much hype as King Princess’ ‘1950’. The first release off Mark Ronson’s Zelig Records has accumulated over a whopping 30-million Spotify streams in three months, but also gained fans in Harry Styles, The xx, and Charli XCX. While a debut like that sounds nearly impossible to follow up, the Brooklynite did just that with another authenticity-oozing DIY near-smash. ‘Talia’ cements King Princess as one of the year’s most exciting pop up-and-comers. – Missy
Western Sydney MC Nardean sounds like a picture of tranquillity and peace on ‘Nothing Matters’, like she’s accepted the song’s title as a mantra to live by. The twinkling keys and ticking beat shroud the song in an enigmatic cool, while the switch-up in flow employed halfway through is virtuosic in its effortlessness and adds a new disparate new layer. A nuanced, impressive debut single from an artist worth watching in the future. – Dom
Tom Misch is in a league of his own. The multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/producer has been self-releasing his unique blend of electronic jazz-pop for the past few years and finally followed up his 2015 debut full-length with the genre-bending Geography. The record’s lead single ‘Lost In Paris’ is as good as you can imagine, with the South Londoner’s smooth jazzy vocals, Grammy-nominated GoldLink’s signature bouncing flow, and even a funky sax solo. Straight fire. – Missy
“We think duos can conjure magic,” says Brisbane’s Primitive Motion, aka dreamy two-piece Sandra Selig and Leighton Craig. “They converse without talking, aspire toward symmetry or the chaotic, call and respond, push particles through the air and practice an ancient form of telepathy. They can seesaw or be a sonic mobius strip.”
“The playlist we’ve compiled,” the pair continues, “features duos who speak this secret tongue and let their sounds float. There are countless others we could have included – where are Broadcast, Silver Apples, and Suicide you say? – so maybe there can be a volume two.”
Emerald Web made soundtracks for planetariums, National Geographic and NASA. What more to say. Just a little: they were cosmic flautists and arpeggiating synth fanciers with their toes dipped deep in the New Age pond. ‘Ars Nova’ actually features guitar and no synth, but no matter, it’s a gem from the prismatic web of dawn. For those of you with a penchant for navigating the slightly perilous seas of New Age private press (one of PM’s guilty pleasures), their cassette with Barry Cleveland Stones of Precious Water is one of the highlights of the Emerald Web catalogue.
This song feels like it’s been dormant in my bloodstream for a lifetime, so when I heard it for the first time it had the familiarity of self. When I listen to it I feel like I’m its host. It plays as an endless cycle, a sonic mobius strip turning in upon itself, blissfully dissolving time. Eight minutes that last forever. It’s also as close to a painting as a song can be – deep hues and shadows suggesting form, but never quite figurative. Deeply beautiful song.
Footnote: Simon Wickham-Smith came over for dinner once when he was in Australia. He promised to post me the missing items in my collection from the Simon/Richard catalogue. I thought no more of it, then a couple of months later a large box arrived in the post from the UK with the promised booty therein. Capital fellow!
Some songs are seasonal affairs. This one is unquestionably a winter song. A cold morning driving to work. Or staring out the window from the kitchen table, morning coffee in hand. The passage of days, the ache and beauty of solitude. Island self. Liz Harris drifts into the last section of the song like a ghostly fog across the landscape, slowly blanketing the song in billowy puffs of reverb and the immersion is complete.
“Several small clouds drifted through the sky. When one of them passed before the moon, the world’s filter changed. First my hands were silver and the ground was black. Then my hands were black and the ground silver. So we switched, as I walked, from negative to positive to negative, as the clouds passed before the moon.” – Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places
A song that quenches like a long cool draught of water on a summer’s day. Waltzing voices entwined in the perfect fit. This is a song that exemplifies the oneness of two. Elsewhere on the L’Incendie album, A & B pushed further from shore, exploring sounds and form, exchanging call and response vocals and delivering a stunning collection of minimal other-world pop-folk. But it’s the simplicity of this song that is its enduring strength and beauty.
Duos can conjure magic, pushing particles through the air and conversing without talking, like an ancient form of telepathy. Don and Ed speak the secret tongue, and their El Corazon album is for me one of the ultimate expressions of intuitive conversational duo play. The fact it was recorded so exquisitely is the icing on the cake. Listen to those toms! High-hat in one channel, cymbal rides in the other and Don parps away to Ed on his melodica right down the middle. They are talking to each other and we are in the room! This record goes straight in and stays. A pinnacle.
The Intrigue. A sun-drenched garden, the south of France, dappled afternoon light plays on the tablecloth. Cut to lone figure on cobbled laneway in the pre-dawn, pale lamp light and sepia tones. Filtered conversations through shuttered windows. There is a cinematic aura that shrouds Deux Filles classic Silence and Wisdom album. Each song a miniature soundtrack to a forgotten movie. It’s a dream zone and mirror world conjured not only by their sounds, but by the beguiling characters they became* to channel this music. Eerie ambience.
Footnote: read more on the tragic story of Claudine Coule and Gemini Forque.
Double albums. Where to start? I’ll choose the early-’90s, when three of my favourites were released: Simon Wickham-Smith & Richard Young’s Lake, Royal Trux’s Twin Infinitives and The Dead C’s Harsh 70s Reality. Cut from different cloth and recorded at disparate points on the globe, I love the thought of these towering exemplars of uncompromising and primitive exploration being recorded in isolation at approximately the same time – and being double LPs!
Where am I going with this? Well, nowhere fast it would seem, but perhaps part way down the path of including VOTS’ unheralded 22 Coloured Bull Terriers in this canon of DIY double classics. Recorded 20 years later in Australia, it’s redolent of the spirit of the aforementioned Mighty Three, which is to say that it sounds quite unlike anything else and was made because the artists needed to make it. Home recorded and made for an audience of two: the band. Beautiful and sad and funny and dark and light. The real thing.
Marin Headlands blue sky autumn daydream, sun sparkling Pacific Ocean, bells tolling offshore in a light breeze, waves breaking on the shore. Pathway past deserted bunkers and deeper into the hills. The Blithe Sons walked here, instruments in hand, became the landscape and then recorded it and burnt it onto CD-Rs to be played on kitchen boomboxes in Tampere, Dunedin, and Brisbane. And it was full of light, a fragment of melody blowing through the tall grass, improvised part-songs. They captured space, no grooves here, just outdoor jams adrift like flotsam. Quiet dreaming.
Missy Scheinberg and Dom O’Connor – from the Laneway offices in New York and Sydney, respectively – team up for the best tracks of the month.
Brooklyn’s Cautious Clay has proven himself as one of the year’s most promising acts with his recently released EP, Blood Type. And the title track is its crowned jewel. ‘Blood Type’ manages to combine soulful vocals and hip-hop production with an indie rock aura that feels part Moses Sumney, part Man On The Moon-era Kid Cudi – and what’s more is that he produced the entire EP himself. – Missy
The title track from Athens-via-Melbourne expat Benny Montero’s first full-length is an ivory-tinkling, soft-rockin’ kiss-off that’s as sickly sweet as the finest Michael McDonald falsetto. The track’s languid keys and fizzing cymbals mask Montero’s anguish, until his voice cuts through in the expansive chorus – a strangled, reverb-coated howl to an ex lover/friend. The vocoder in the song’s long, searching coda feels like a robotic counterpoint to the expression of raw emotion that makes ‘Performer’ such an enrapturing listen; an injection of digital feeling in an analogue world. – Dom
Few entertainers have a more interesting career path than George Miller – best known on the Internet as ukulele YouTuber Filthy Frank, comedy musician Pink Guy, the originator of the ‘Harlem Shake’ meme, and perhaps most importantly, his trip-hop-meets-soul persona, Joji. After releasing one of last year’s most stellar debut projects, In Tongues EP, the multi-talented Japanese-Australian is back with a gorgeous two-minute number that somehow manages to channel both James Black and Yung Lean while remaining completely his own. – Missy
The first taste of new music in four years from the erstwhile elder statesmen of slacker indie is a characteristically warm, shambling jaunt full of tossed-off hooks and uninhibited rhymes (“Men are scum I won’t deny/May you be shit-faced the day you die” is an early front-runner for lyric of the year). The Pavement co-frontman has never sounded in a hurry, but the lackadaisical charm of ‘Middle America’ feels particularly comforting in the current climate; a brief respite of easy-going contentment in the shape of a three-minute pop song. – Dom
From the skipping, insistent drum beats to the clarion-call synths that begin the song, ‘About You’ is about as confident a first single I’ve heard in a very long time. Melbournian newcomer G Flip also uses her own voice masterfully, coalescing disparate layers of her own harmonies and synthesising them all to create an ear-worm of a chorus. The song’s assured poise is also matched by the lovely, swooning sentiment- a perfect mix of songwriting nous and wounded heart. – Dom
South London-via-North London four-piece Sorry may be one of the most underrated guitar bands of the past couple of years. On ‘2 Down 2 Dance’, the recent Domino Records-signees continue doing what they do best: creating mathy, textured psychedelic-tinged DIY indie-rock. Just another reason why South London – home to Shame and Goat Girl – is becoming the UK’s most exciting hub. – Missy
Jittery Canadian post-punks Ought have never struggled to stay in perpetual motion in the past. The rim shots and loungey feel of ‘Desire’ sound like a distinct outlier in their discography at first, but frontman Tim Darcy’s impassioned delivery gives ‘Desire’ the dramatic energy it needs, his baritone sounding parts Verlaine and parts Psychedelic Furs. Tim and his band are masters of the slow-burn. The band builds to a palpable climax before Tim is joined by a Greek chorus of choral voices, repeating the song’s refrain into infinity without softening the brutal, harsh truth at the centre of it. – Dom
While it’s barely been a month since his debut single ‘High Like This’ took the internet by a storm, Atlanta’s Kevin George has returned in full force with second single ‘My Crew’. The track creates the perfect blend of futuristic soul and hip-hop, surely putting the rapper/singer on his way to becoming one of the most exciting new R&B acts since 6lack. – Missy