Text: Andy Fenwick
At its best, ambient music evokes a sense of place or memory. It interacts with its surroundings (aka you) and never becomes background music. The laziest categorization of duo Aris Kindt’s music – ambient-shoegaze – places them in a genre-tributary that, by its very definition, dodges ambient’s background-music-curse. Better yet, Aris Kindt goes one genre-transcending step further, into a category all their own, with moving compositions that will bore into the most passive listener’s head. Take one spin through their non-album cover of “Pick Up Song,” by the immortal, slowcore guitar maniacs in Codeine, and it’s clear Aris Kindt is up to their own notion of ambient shoegaze.
Named for the corpse of a criminal in Michelangelo’s painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (see, you’re already interacting) Aris Kindt arrived fully formed on Floods (2015), an album of pulsing, almost fidgety ambient shoegaze, innovative and nonetheless reminiscent of no less than Seefeel, possibly the inventors of the genre. Members Gabriel Hedrick and Francis Harris shared the kind of seamless collaboration one would expect from childhood friends. Harris was better known for his more dance-oriented Adultnapper or Frank & Tony recordings, as well as his Scissor & Thread label. Floods also retained a touch of Harris’s dance and techno work, especially on tracks like “Embers.”
But Swann and Odette, Aris Kindt’s new album, and their first release on Harris’s new Kingdoms label, almost discards the notion of percussion completely (almost. See “Several Wolves.’) Album opener “Swann and Odette” could be described as a mashup of Vangelis’s Blade Runner tracks and John Hassell’s distorted, mouthpiece-free trumpet on Eno/Hassell’s Possible Musics, and that’s a mashup no one would kick out of bed. “Still Undivided” allows two minutes of soft menace to unfurl before exploding into a roar of high volume feedback, like a slow-motion jet passing overhead.
Keep in mind, too, that we’re in concept album territory. If you weren’t tipped off by the album’s title, these tracks coordinate with Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. To literally provoke readers’ brains into using memory while reading about the power of memory itself, Proust wove coruscating, page-long sentences containing multiple clauses, each successive clause relying on the context of all previous clauses, all the way back to the first clause – which could be 23 clauses ago. Remember, or lose your way. If you put in the effort – if you interact with Proust – the payoff is one of the greatest reading experiences in history. Paying attention to ambient music works the same way. Aris Kindt’s secret weapon – their 23rd clause, if you will – sometimes takes the shape of incidental sounds. Possibly the best track on the album, the moving “A Second Type of Problem” touches up a wistful, tonal melody with washes of feedback, and yet, almost hidden away, a sparse and unpredictable tapping, like a field recording of a tree branch tapping a windowpane, reaches deep into an attentive listener’s head.
OK, who’s read *all* of In Search of Lost Time?
F: I managed to get through 4 volumes when I was in my twenties. 🙂
Tell us about John Stroud. His essay for this album– how did that happen?
F: John Stroud is an old friend and is quite certainly my best intellectual friend when it comes to all things nerdy in art and theory. He was the only one I personally know who not only has read all 7 volumes of Proust but more importantly, has read Gilles Delueze’s Proust and Signs. In general, there needed to be some context as the project had a conceptual arm that was worth exploring. John was clearly the person for the job.
The track “A Second Type of Problem” is magnificent. How was it composed? A voice whispers at one point? What does it say? What is that scattered percussion sound, like a tapping on shaky metal?
G: That one began with a beautiful piano sketch from Francis that you can still hear traces of at the beginning of the song. Living on opposite coasts, the bulk of our songwriting develops through few back-and-forth exchanges of recordings done in our respective home studios and ultimately culminates at the mixing phase where we add last minute touches, including some live studio overdubs at Key Club Recording, where we mixed both records. The percussion sound was one of the last things I recorded for this piece after the guitars. It’s essentially just white noise, processed through a few eurorack modules and, as is our M.O., lots of delay and reverb. Also, one of the things that I think really defines the sound of this record is that most, if not all of the synth tracks, including the shaky metal sound you refer to, were re-amped and re-recorded in Key Club’s live room, which really gives everything a sense of three-dimensional space.
F: It did indeed begin with a small musical sketch that then became greater than the sum of its parts. This happens on the entire album. Finding a musical theme and then letting it go into a process that doesn’t necessarily have an end in mind, much like how memory works.
Was Swann and Odette dominated by any particular piece of equipment? How did you two compose, in general? What guitars, delays, synths, etc.? Did you build anything? [Francis Harris] you’ve used live instrumentation in the past, like on Minutes of Sleep, but beyond Gabriel Hedrick’s guitar, it’s not obvious to me what else, on Swann and Odette, is analog instrumentation? If so, what?
G: If by “analog” you mean hardware, then yes, every instrument and most of the effects on both records is hardware. I don’t mean to imply that we’re purists in any sense. For my part, there was some use of plug-in effects, but having come of age in the days of analog, I think we both have a preference for the hands-on approach of using hardware. As far as the approach to composition, I touched on that a little bit earlier, but for my part, composing typically starts on the modular, after which I’ll move to the guitar to fill in the spaces. Though, I wouldn’t say that’s a hard and fast rule.
F: The main and only synthesizer from my side of the pond was an old Yamaha TG-33 synth. The only drum machine: MFB ‘Tanzbär. Then a guitar and bunch of pedals. I’m a big fan of limiting your medium while exploring concepts.
Would you say layering is important to Aris Kindt compositions? Your version of ambient/shoegaze (for lack of a better word) is complex, girded with structures and melodies that sometimes trade places, no?
F: I think with this sort of music, a musical theme provides the basic structure, but sometimes this structure blurs, begins to float in some sort of dissociative manner, or simply disappears altogether. Point being, we like to explore sound as a process of letting go. It’s a lot more exciting and better reflects a dream state rather than a conscious choice.
What’s the plan/equipment setup for Aris Kindt live shows coming in February?
F: The live show is complicated as so much of what we do is improvised, so recreating that live is cumbersome, to say the least. We also don’t want to sell ourselves short with a slimmed down set up. Our last live show, we had two guitars, two pedal bays, a mixer, and a full modular setup. The rehearsals also proved to be challenging as I had to fly to San Diego to rehearse. Gabe then showed up here a few days before our show and we just played until our hands were numb. Overall, unless there is a big demand for it, our live shows will be special and limited. In essence, this is a studio album and a conceptual conversation. It’s not really a hands-in-the-air live show event.
You’ve known each other since childhood, I believe. What made it feasible to finally collaborate? Was Floods the first time you’d made music together? Were you surprised with what came out of the collaboration, or did you have a plan going in?
G: In a sense, we’ve been collaborating since we first started playing guitar together as kids. After high school, we moved to different cities, but we would always reconvene at the holidays and share the music we had been writing. Or, if we were particularly excited about a new song we’d written, we’d call each other and play it over the phone and exchange feedback. But, living in different cities, any sort of formal collaboration wasn’t really possible until large internet file transfers became possible. I had fallen out of writing music for a few years as the realities of adult life set in, but eventually, I came back to writing music and started sending new songs to Francis again. This was around the time he was working on Minutes of Sleep. He invited me to contribute to a few songs on that record and everything developed naturally from there.
Will Aris Kindt be a concept-album-based project, always?
F: For me, any album is concept based. Concepts are what get me out of bed in the morning.
Without vocals, is ambient/shoegaze an easier instrumental genre, than deep house/techno, with which to communicate complex moods or feelings? Or do you see no difference?
G: I’m not sure if it’s necessarily different in terms of the ability to communicate ideas. And, I’m hesitant to pigeonhole what we do into a particular genre. I think, sonically speaking, this record is quite different from Floods, and perhaps the next record will go in a different direction. I will say that with both records, the lack of a traditional song structure and, in some cases, percussion can make arranging and, later, performing particularly challenging. There are no cues directing you when to introduce a new element. There are often no rhythms to dictate pace and swing. In a live environment, that can be particularly frightening. Without a pre-defined structure, the entire performance must be based on feel and, in large part, improvisation. So, certainly, that presents a challenge that’s not inherent in the more structured environment of dance music and especially rock music.
What are the (longtime or new) musical influences for Aris Kindt? (I know it’s a hokey question, but the literary and artistic influences are clarified already, in the concept.)
G: The list of artists I admire are too long to list. So, I think it would be too difficult to say which ones have seeped into my subconscious and out through my songwriting. For Aris Kindt, I try to approach each song with an open mind and let the song dictate how I’m going to play rather than trying to emulate or seek inspiration from any one artist or another.