The minimalist duo on their craft and why they choose to perform their entire album front-to-back, with no computers
by CH Contributor in Culture on 07 March 2014
by Naheed Simjee
NYC-based Butterscotch Records recently hosted a unique event that defines its guiding philosophy. Two of the artists on the label, Mikael Jorgensen and Graph Rabbit, played a show at west LA record shop Touch Vinyl and while the artists performed, headphone pros Audeze (one of the few to use planar magnetic drivers) installed high-end hi-fi turntable listening stations for people to listen to limited edition vinyl records. As live music and recorded music happily shared the limelight, Butterscotch Records reminded us of what we're missing out on when we contently stream music onto our laptops.
We chatted with Brooklyn-based duo Graph Rabbit, made up of singer and filmmaker Austin Donohue and experimental pianist Shy Kedmi, whose concept album Snowblind transports the listener to the inside of an expansive, glistening snowglobe as Donohue's vocals (reminiscent of more delicate Jónsi) swirls with metallic textures and bells. When playing shows, Graph Rabbit performs Snowblind's eight songs front-to-back without pausing to speak, to fully immerse the listener in the new soundscape they have created. And despite all the electronic elements in their album, you'll see no computers and hear no prerecorded samples on stage; Donohue and Kedmi perform Snowblind with their bodies and instruments—embracing variation, mistakes and risk, fully engaging with the audience.
When performing Snowblind without any computers, what element does performing all analog and acoustic bring to your shows? Does this mentality lend to your creative process as well?
For our music, analog and acoustic instruments are a more visceral and truthful approach. It imposes limitations which can be very liberating in the creative process. Because nothing is programmed, we never know exactly what's going to happen. It's a constant tightrope walk.
What tends to influence and inspire you?
Rothko, John Luther Adams, Vespertine, snow storms, bell choirs, Nick Drake, Brian Eno, Arvo Pärt, minimalism.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
It's a great question, but none of us feel that we have any other option—it's hard to imagine a time before or after music.
Is the artistic life lonely?
Surprisingly not. We have a tight-knit group of collaborators and we get the opportunity to work with amazing artists. It's very gratifying.
Do you do have any rituals that you perform before you begin working on a piece?
We are devoted to albums as an art form. Snowblind is a narrative concept record and there was an extended writing process that slowly revealed the narrative and themes. When we are writing or working in the studio we devote ourselves completely to art making and stay focused on the thematic purpose of what we're trying to create. Good coffee never hurts.
How do you know when the dust has settled and a song is done?
The songs on Snowblind all fit into the larger narrative concept of the record. We try to focus on the artistic intention of the album and each songs' place in it, both in the writing and in the orchestration of the recording. Our producer Allen Farmelo is instrumental in this process. Once again, the limitations that we impose on the songwriting make it a bit more clear when a song is done.
What gear are you fond of lately? Is there something you can’t live without?
Snowblind is available in vinyl, CD or digital format from Butterscotch Records.
Additional reporting by Nara Shin, images courtesy of Rob Givens
Our in-depth thoughts on one of snowboarding's most innovative boards
by Graham Hiemstra in Design on 07 March 2014
Known worldwide for their innovative approach to snowboard design, ecologically-minded construction techniques and distinctly heady graphics, Lib Technologies might very well be responsible for the most radical changes in snowboard design over the last two decades. At the center of it all is the Skate Banana—the board that introduced reverse "banana" camber to the industry in 2006. Designed in opposition to building snowboards like skis, Lib's banana camber puts rocker between the bindings, with flat-mid camber from feet to tip and tail. The result is a characteristically fun, flexible board ideal for pressing tricks in the park and floating through powder. For a reminder of just how fun these boards can be, we recently took a Lexus RX F Sport up to Okemo Resort in Vermont for a few days on hill with next season's Lib Tech Skate Banana.
Equipped with Lib's patented Magne-traction—a serrated edge with a total of 10 additional contact points for increased control and stability on all snow conditions—and (of course) all-terrain banana camber, the board was super-noodley, but never felt out of control or incapable. It feels perfect through big carves on fresh corduroy, packed powder and even infamous East Coast ice; picking up momentum coming out of turns, and propelling into the next. When kept flat based, it felt a bit loose at times, though never slow.
Even with such a playful construction, the Skate Banana is surprisingly responsive, making it especially solid in the park where little last-second adjustments are often needed for hitting jumps and jibs. The feeling of loading the tail and blasting ollies over rollers with speed is unmatched on the Banana. And, if you're curious how it'll handle powder, rest assured the Banana is a beast. Another benefit of Magne-Traction is the ability to run a size smaller than you might be used to. Even in the deep stuff, a shorter board floats like a pow-specific deck.
Graphic-wise, Lib is known for blessing their topsheets and bases with art by snowboard legend and Lib loyalist Jamie Lynn. The 2014/15 Skate Banana, however, features art by Mike Parillo (who recently collaborated with Corey Smith on the Neon Daze and Winter Waves art project) and Annette Veihelmann. Holding our feet to the board was a pair of current season GNU Choice bindings. While the non-traditional rear entry binding was a bit tricky to adjust and took some time to get used to, in the end the Choice offered a comfy, secure fit and responsive connection to the board.
Like all Lib Technologies snowboards, the 2014/15 Skate Banana is made in Washington State "by snowboarders with jobs." Expect to see it in stores next fall for around $490. The 2013/14 GNU Choice bindings are available now for $260.
Additional reporting by Noah Johnson, photos by Graham Hiemstra
Three must-see booths at this year's New York City show
by Jonah Samson in Culture on 07 March 2014
Volta Art Fair (in New York City this year from 6-9 March 2014) continues to offer a unique, fresh and edgy alternative to those from more established galleries participating in the bigger fairs like The Armory Show and the ADAA. Housed in the lofty warehouse space of 82 Mercer in SoHo, the venue enhances the youthful spirit of the fair, and we narrowed down a shortlist of our favorite booths at the show.
Tony Romano at Clint Roenisch Gallery (Toronto)
Canadian artist Tony Romano's multidisciplinary approach is on full display in this impeccably installed exhibition from the Clint Roenisch Gallery. While there is always a danger of having an artist lose a cohesive vision by attempting to display too many talents, Romano's combination of drawing, painting, photography and sculpture work together solidly to demonstrate his interest in figurative representation within the history of art. The abstract forms produced through a skillful application of carpentry and iron-work are tempered by a series of delicate and playful ink drawings of artists avoiding getting their work done.
Matthew Craven at DCKT Gallery (New York)
New York-based artist Matthew Craven uses relics from lost cultures as a form of abstract storytelling. Rather than relying on historical accuracy, his blend of drawing and collage focuses on shape and composition to allude to the myths of the past; creating all-new stories. These works—on show thanks to DCKT Gallery—are history in the most modern way.
Alfred Steiner at Gallery Poulsen (Copenhagen)
Alfred Steiner's work—on show at the Gallery Poulsen booth—has been described as a place where Audubon nature paintings collide with Nickelodeon and a barrage of various images. To create his meticulous watercolors, Steiner starts by choosing a character like Spongebob's neighbor Squidward and replaces his physical features with visually relatable objects: a hand becomes a ladle, a nose becomes a puffin egg. The stylized results are at once surreal and naturalistic. Steiner manages to access that extraordinary place in which the familiar becomes the bizarre.
Photos by Jonah Samson