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Julia Holter x gorilla vs. bear takeover: AVIARY recording

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This record felt very personal to me in the early stages of writing and recording on my own, but, as with many of my more recent records, ultimately it entailed a lot of other people, all of whom have been performers and composers whose work I respect and love. Here I wanted to explain what they bring to this record and beyond…


How I present my music to players tends to vary a lot — depending on what the song seems to need. I sometimes just give a verbal direction, or just chords/chart with a verbal direction, or a mix of notation and verbal ideas, or occasionally (like with “Words I Heard” or the first part of “Chaitius” or “Colligere”) it’s all written out. A lot of times it’s a struggle too, I have to think a lot about how to present my thoughts and it can be a sort of confusing and frustrating process, throwing together all my ideas into messy charts and parts, and trying to make certain decisions in realtime in the studio. Also, sometimes the songs aren’t finished when we’re in the recording studio stage, and I finish them at home later, so I try to fit time into the studio time to experiment with different options.

It was powerful recording certain songs live with everyone in the studio, this was the case for the first and last songs for instance—“Turn the Light On” and “Why Sad Song”. Playing “Turn the Light On” with everyone was a brief and ecstatic and intense experience lol, at least for me and from what I remember, for them too. The idea was simply to play an ecstatic expression of Ab (sort of major scale but pretty free to do whatever and slide around, sometimes flatting the seventh and sometimes going into Db when I sing certain lines), with strings tremolo-ing up and down the board, and drums thundering and trumpets blaring lol. And with “Why Sad Song”, I just asked them to come up with a set of any gestures that they repeat ad lib in any sequence very loosely, but in whatever order, and all independently of what I’m doing, and then bass eventually joins me, and what resulted is what only would result with deep and creative musicians who are putting in the effort to listen to eachother and build something together. I think the instrumental first minute and a half of “Why Sad Song” is one of my favorite
moments on the record.

In “Chaitius”, there’s a mix of both kinds of direction that leads to something kind of different I think—the first half is all notated (it’s a transcription I made of an improvisation I did on synth using a two voice melody I wrote), and in the second half of the song, I passed that improvising-based-off-the-melody approach on to the musicians, so there they are doing this kind of call-and-response back and forth with that same two-voice melodic material. But while recording, they were playing over these kind of congested vocal and synth recordings I’d already made, so honestly it was a lot to work with all at once, and the creativity and improvisational abilities of the musicians really shows on this one. Also on “Underneath the Moon”, it’s powerful to me how Sarah, Dina, Devin, Tashi, and Corey all congeal into this spritely crazy dancey unit, like sometimes the pizz viola and bending drum are weirdly indistinguishable, blends like that. The direction in this case was quite loose, there was a chart but, as
happens sometimes, it actually didn’t reflect all of the little changes I ultimately made to the form, and so a lot of what we did ended up being verbally discussed, guided by my home recording. If I remember correctly, they were also recording over a recording I had made, and so the layering of all these things probably dictated a ‘cacophonous’ approach.

And, as with all of my records, after recording both at home and in the studio with musicians, there was a lot of editing and messing around that Cole MGN and Kenny Gilmore spent a lot of time with me on. — Julia Holter

[follow all of Julia Holter’s posts throughout the day here]


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