Star Rover - Plain Air

Abigail Clyne

Star Rover’s video for their new instrumental single “Plain Air” is a dreamy dive into an ocean abyss. The video, directed by Nao Yoshigai, stars dancer Kaho Kogure performing elegant choreography beautifully juxtaposed within the rhythmic and trance-like instrumentals. The soundscape of the song is a creative combination of electric guitar, overdubbed sonar whale recordings, and a string arrangement which enters midway through, fleshing out the track's otherworldly dynamic.

The title of the song is a play on the “plein air technique,” which simply means to paint outdoors in the environment you are depicting. Kaho Kogure embodies this through dance, showing how her body moves through air, light, and water. In the video’s and song’s climax, Kogure’s previously measured movement explodes into a powerful and aggressive dance. She fully owns the space she inhabits in this beautiful moment, and shows what can be found when we allow ourselves to dive into the depths within us. 

Catch Star Rover live on December 13th at Secret Project Robot!

REVIEW: Michael Hix - Aeon

Will Shenton

Ambient music isn't always the easiest sell. In the age of Pandora and other set-it-and-forget-it curation services, most of us don't seem to have the attention span for it anymore. I'm as guilty as anyone—the last ambient album I bought was Geotic's Mend, which I still mostly just listen to as I'm trying to fall asleep.

That's part of the reason Michael Hix's debut Aeon got my attention. For whatever reason, despite being as thoroughly in the gray area between classical and pop as one can get, the album seems gaining traction with people who normally wouldn't touch the stuff. All of my evidence is anecdotal, of course, but it led me to think that maybe Hix has picked up on something the rest of us haven't yet.

Comprised of six movements (I hesitate to call them "tracks") and lasting about forty minutes in total, Aeon was clearly meant to be enjoyed in a single sitting. "Intro" has perhaps a bit more punch than the other sections, but leads into "I" with the sound of an idling car engine—I can think of few things more soporific. The intent here, as with all great ambient music, is not simple entertainment. This is an album to play when you need to slow down, reflect, and even meditate.

I don't want to get too much into what I think Hix intends for us to take away from the record (because that's fairly presumptuous and, in my case, usually wrong), so I'll focus instead on the fact that it's utterly gorgeous. Aeon's soundscapes are sprawling and bittersweet, and capable of evoking a pretty staggering array of emotions in a single movement. The textures of Hix's synthesizers are subtle, but he's not afraid to bring in a bit of guitar and vocals here or there. When you're in the right mood, it's anything but boring.

To those of you who are hesitant about ambient music in general, I say give this one a shot. Aeon is approachable and impeccably produced, and as the simple movement titles demonstrate ("Intro" and "I" through "V"), it isn't daring you to "get" anything. This is abstract art, there for you to experience and project upon as you will, and I think we need more of that in the world of popular music. At the very least, it's nice to have something new to fall asleep to.

REVIEW: GABI - Sympathy

Brad Hess

When you think of pop music, no doubt sugary top-40 tunes come to mind. While GABI, aka Gabrielle Herbst, may classify her work as pop, these are not your tween cousin’s favorite jams (unless your cousin listens to artists like Bjork, Philip Glass, and tUnEyArDs). What Herbst creates instead are delicate, heavily-layered compositions worthy of close examination.

In her debut album, Sympathy, released April 7th, Herbst expresses a dynamic range of emotions. Each song has a cinematic ambience and revolves around a simple mantra that leads the listener into uncharted territory.

Take “Mud,” for instance—an existential ostinato of “Maybe we are mud / Sliding away” loops over orchestral swells until you begin to see the imminent mudslide for yourself. This gives way to a bed of resonant vibraphones and sliding strings as Herbst's many ethereal voices emanate, before ending in a cacophonous crescendo. Similarly, the track “Where” begins with the vocal repetition of the phrase “Where would I go without you?,” then slowly embraces the chaos of the implied destination, an unknown place made somewhat uncomfortable by a stinging dissonance.

GABI at Rough Trade in Brooklyn — photo: Gerard Marcus

GABI at Rough Trade in Brooklyn — photo: Gerard Marcus

As in “Mud” and “Where,” Sympathy continuously showcases songs with layers upon layers of delicate vocals intertwined with orchestral arrangement. Creating the canvas for Herbst's choir of angelic voices are Rick Quantz (viola), Josh Henderson (violin), Matthew O'Koren (percussion), and Aaron Roche (electric guitar / trombone). Yet make no mistake about it—Herbst’s voice is the focal point and driver of the album. "I’m endlessly fascinated with the human voice,” Herbst said in our recent interview. "It’s the closest instrument I could find to some kind of raw truth I was looking for. There are no barriers, there is no hiding. You are completely exposed."

photo: Gerard Marcus

photo: Gerard Marcus

Truly, Herbst’s diverse background shines through in the album. Her training on gamelan and early exposure to experimental classical and world music are exhibited through the polyrhythms and atonality of each song. In “Love Song,” breathy words drip with reverb, a siren song that seems to come from the depths of a cave. Patient, eerie waves and gently rumbling percussion tug at the words to create a tense sonic landscape.

While the album seems like it would be at home in a yoga class or as an ambient workday companion, the overall depth and complexity makes every listen an opportunity for discovery. Both unique and familiar, many tracks are just begging to be sampled (take this club remix of “Fleece”, for example). Quiet but compelling, soft yet menacing, Herbst’s Sympathy makes a strong case that pop can be cerebral, too.

Interview: GABI


Gerard Marcus

Replete with understated, ambient instrumentals and some fairly astonishing vocal melodies, Brooklyn solo artist GABI's debut LP, Sympathy, is one of those rare albums that manages to be both melancholy and exuberant without missing a beat. At points it's quiet and contemplative to an extreme, but that only serves to emphasize the moments when it breaks out of its shell with unabashed experimentation.

We recently got the chance to sit down with GABI (aka Gabrielle Herbst) and talk about her background in classical composition, the raw veracity of the human voice as an instrument, and balancing rent payments with artistic pursuits.

ThrdCoast: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get into music?

Gabrielle Herbst: I grew up in the Berkshire Hills in Massachusetts in a very small, rural town. My parents are both working artists and they allowed my brother and me a lot of freedom. My father, a musician and ethnomusicologist, exposed me to lots of experimental classical music and world music. I grew up studying clarinet and piano, and later at Bard College finally ended up finding voice and composition. The rest is history really! I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life.

TC: How does the music you're writing now differ from what you were working on at Bard? And what was the transitional process like?

GH: I was exploring many different kinds of music at Bard. I was studying classical composition and score writing with my mentor Joan Tower, history of experimental music and turntableism with Marina Rosenfeld, and opera with Ilka LoMonaco. I integrated all of those experiences into my own sound pallet, and from that I created the sounds that became GABI.

TC: Do you think your classical training had a lot of influence on the art you're making now?

GH: Definitely. I feel like my memory bank and unconscious self is filled with musical works I’ve performed: Berlioz, Brahms, Schubert, Messiaen, Bach, Mozart… The musical logic of those artists definitely seep into what I create and influence me greatly, even if it’s in a subconscious way.

TC: Where do you see the future of classical music going?

GH: Upwards! I think there is so much more to explore, more to create and so much more to discover in what’s being created right now. It’s a ripe and vibrant time for classical music.

TC: Would you say your early training in gamelan affects your musical choices today?

GH: I'm really drawn to melodic percussive sounds. I’m also quite interested in creating overlapping patterns and beats with my voice. Yes, I think that gamelan music has influenced how I feel rhythm and deeply inspired some of the vibraphone writing on Sympathy.

TC: As a fellow composer, I know choice of instrumentation is usually very intentional. What made you want to focus on a vocal-centric project?

GH: I’m endlessly fascinated with the human voice. It’s the closest instrument I could find to some kind of raw truth I was looking for. There are no barriers, there is no hiding. You are completely exposed. The voice as one with the body, breath, heartbeats, skull, and brain balancing in just the right way to create a particular vibration and sound baffles me. I think there's a lot of untrod territory with the voice, many stories that are untold, and a lot to experiment with.

TC: When writing Sympathy, how much freedom did your collaborators have? Were they given fixed scores, or more flexible guidelines?

GH: It really depends on the piece. Some of the songs had parts that were fully notated, while others were more flexible and I directed my musicians off the page through non-traditional prompts. I always have a clear vision of what I want, but how I get there varies.

TC: Would you change anything about the amount of freedom you give them on future projects?

GH: It’s an interesting balance, working with collaborators. Every player brings his or her own special sound, their own grasp of their instrument. I find that it's most beneficial to embrace my players as people and musicians, and work with what they are best at and the unique sounds they can give. I have the overall vision for the songs and know the sound I'm looking for. I direct my band until we reach that point, while also allowing the freedom of experimentation in the moment. This allows healthy spontaneity and freedom within a focused vision.

TC: How did you get together with Software Recording Company?

GH: Daniel Lopatin heard my demos and wrote me a beautiful letter about how he perceived my sounds. I loved his thoughts and interpretation and we met up soon after. He signed me to Software pretty immediately.

TC: Have you found working with them valuable? Do they push you in a positive direction? Do they allow you to work with little input? How's the relationship?

GH: Wonderful! I love Software. They've been nothing but supportive in this relationship. They help me grow and leave the space completely open for me to develop my vision. I couldn’t ask for a better label-family.

TC: What are your plans for the future of GABI?

GH: My plans keep evolving and changing, though I do know I want to develop, share and perform this music as much as possible. I’m devoted to it, and know I'll probably be exploring this project for the rest of my life.

TC: What's your life like outside of GABI? Not much? No, just kidding. Kind of.

GH: I’m still working different jobs, attempting to pay my expensive Brooklyn rent, and studying opera and art songs. I’m also working on other collaborations and commissions, writing lots of new music.

TC: Any projects you want to tell us about?

GH: I’m writing a “nightmare” piece for my opera singer friend Ariadne Greif for her project Dreams and Nightmares. I’m also writing a piece for chamber ensemble and electronics for Sugar Vendil and the Nouveau Classical Project. I’m hoping to further develop and perform my opera Bodiless again in the near future.