Modern Classical / Ambient / Minimal.
'The Uprooted Orchestra'
“Orchestral.” The word’s an adjective, certainly, an unambiguous one. It depicts amassed instruments working in synchrony according to a fixed document prepared in advance.
But what if “orchestral” were uprooted? What if “orchestral” referred to what we heard, not how it was recorded? What if “orchestral” welcomed electronic instruments not just into the pit, but into the compositional process?
For that is the sound of Michel Banabila’s Uprooted, this album of beautiful, striated, patient music — patient on the surface, deep with turmoil underfoot. When bass clarinet and harmonium rise above a misty string section halfway through “Breathe,” that’s orchestral. When woodwinds trill and pulse against piano on “Dragonfly,” that’s orchestral.
Over the years, Banabila has made his share of experimental ambient, wherein future roots cultures are foreseen through a low-tech looking glass. On Uprooted, the tech is transparent. The album has touches of Fourth World, most notably on “Collector” and "Breathe," but Uprooted is orchestral, full stop.
It’s also an album entirely forged of material sampled by Banabila from improvisations by invited musicians. Those samples were then constructed into a whole by Banabila, layered sinuously rather than triggered on a rhythmic grid. The fixed orchestral document here is the recording, and it marks the close of the composer’s efforts, not the start of the performers’.
San Francisco, March 2019.
Michel Banabila: banabila.com
Gareth Davis: klangtint.com
Oene van Geel: oenevangeel.com
Gulli Gudmundsson: gulligudmundsson.nl/BinaryOrchid
Alex Haas: alexhaas.com
Peter Hollo: celloraven.com
Stijn Hüwels: stijnhuwels.bandcamp.com
Reviews / quotes:
A CLOSER LISTEN:
On his latest album, Michel Banabila “uproots” concepts of the orchestra. Marc Weidenbaum’s liner notes ask “What if ‘orchestral’ referred to what we heard, not how it was recorded?” These tracks are indeed orchestral, but they have been plucked from their original soil and replanted.
Banabila invited a number of friends to participate in the recording process, among them Stijn Hüwels (who seems to appear on every album this season), Gareth Davis and Oene van Geel. He then recorded the guest improvisations on instruments such as the bass clarinet, viola and cello, then took the raw material back to his greenhouse, where he extracted the seeds. After this, he began to water them with electronics, pruning them as they developed, shaping them into the healthy plants they are today. To the ear, these compositions seem as if they could be live; and they certainly don’t seem like improvisations. While their forms are fixed, it’s conceivable that a live orchestra could offer stirring renditions.
We’re used to hearing Banabila as a more restrained performer, floating gently in the ambient arena. The meditative “Collector” is the best bridge to the larger body of Banabila’s work. But he seems to be energized by this new compositional approach. “Breaking Point” is embedded in light electronic soil, atop which the bass clarinet plays. Correction ~ the sample plays. It’s easy to get distracted and forget, a testament to the seamlessness of Banabila’s splices. That is, until the burst of sound at its center ~ like a plant breaking through the earth. After this, the track reaches a “new normal” of stasis.
When the guitar is added to the peaceful “Breathe,” the tone turns temporarily to jazz. But the bulk of the album falls into the category it claims. At certain times, Banabila approaches a timbre of joy, most notably on lead track “Dragonfly.” This piece swiftly develops a head-nodding tempo, only temporarily restrained by plaintive piano. The track teases the listener like the arrival of warmth, approaching and retreating, imitating mild days followed by frost, steadily moving toward the season of the dragonfly. Once the strings enter in earnest, a minute before the end, the song sings of spring. The composer is having fun, cherry-picking the happiest snippets to loop and layer. It’s easy to imagine Banabila as this new creation, emerging from the larva and testing his wings under the encouraging April sun. (Richard Allen)
Michel Banabila‘s 36 year career (his first release was Marilli, in 1983) has known many surprises. Many unexpected turns and genre-crossovers made him hard to pinpoint in one specific area, but also became a trademark of his versatility.
I’m not going to repeat too many details here: you can just search his name here on this blog to see quite a few of his releases recommended.
In recent years, Banabila moved toward more abstract experimental electronics. He has collaborated with many artists with whom he co-created the music, or who delivered fragments and sample parts that Banabila used to further create his music with.
When collaborating with violinist Oene van Geel in 2014 (for Music For Viola And Electronics), a seed was planted: the desire to create arrangements for a more acoustic ensemble.
This album is the (first?) culmination of that wish – the music is performed by a remarkable ‘ensemble’ of guest musicians: Peter Hollo (cello), Alex Haas (synth, electronics), Gareth Davis (bass clarinet), Oene van Geel (viola, stroh violin), Stijn Hüwels (guitar, electronics) and Gulli Gudmundsson (electric bass, double bass and e-bow). Of course, Banabila himself also contributes to this (midi instruments, sampling and electronics) – but his main role is the creator/director of this ‘ensemble music’ he wanted to make for many years.
And so, Uprooted marks yet another important direction in Michel Banabila‘s already impressive catalogue.
I don’t know if I would have recognised this as a Banabila project if this had been presented anonymously and without context. Mainly because the overall sound is so very different from his earlier work.
But gradually, I started to recognise some of his musical trademarks. Which is also true for the creative process: the compositions a result of extensively manipulating the sampled material.
It’s authentic ‘Banabila’ music but with a different instrumentation that sounds like they are, or could be, performed live. Which, according to Michel is not exactly the case:
“From these five tracks, only the first (Dragonfly) can actually be performed live; the others consist of so many edits and treatments that they are more like a ‘sketch’, a sketch of a possible new future for me, an atmosphere or genre where acoustic instruments and electronics melt together.”
I’m not entirely sure, but I guess the ‘ensemble’ is a virtual collective who never met each other to play together during the creation of this album. The middle part of Collector, for example, “feels like Oene, Gareth and Peter are reacting to each other but nothing was played live or even on the same track.”
Knowing this, it is even more amazing to hear how ‘organic’ the compositions sound. I can still imagine them being performed live by this ensemble collective (and I really hope that we’ll live to see this happen sometimes in the future)!
The music itself is hard to categorize: there are elements of improvisation, parts that sound ‘composed’, ‘post-classical’, with many elements referring to ‘ambient’ soundscapes.
But ‘uncategorizable’ is how we have come to know and appreciate Banabila‘s work.
In the liner notes for this album, Marc Weidenbaum uses the word ‘orchestral’ and I think that word simply covers this exciting new direction in Banabila’s musical path – a promising venture into new territories! (Peter van Cooten)
Banabila is nu terug met het conceptuele en ambitieuze album Uprooted. Hij heeft een orkestraal werk gecreëerd, maar niet in enge zin dat het gaat om een groep instrumenten die op synchrone wijze een vooraf opgesteld patroon afwerken. Eigenlijk is het juist het doel om dit te ontwrichten, door elektronica in zowel het instrumentarium als in het compositieproces te gebruiken. Daarbij is het opnameproces minder belangrijk dat wat je aan geluid hoort en ervaart. Als bijvoorbeeld een basklarinet trilt en pulseert tegen een piano, is dat in deze definitie orkestraal. Goed, dat is erg theoretisch allemaal misschien, maar dan weet je waar het bijzondere, soms haast niet te definiëren geluid vandaan komt. Banabila gaat aan de slag met elektronica en samples en krijgt steun van cellist Peter Hollo (Tangents, Fourplay), basklarinettist Gareth Davis (A-Sun Amissa, Shivers, Mere, Maze, Oiseaux-Tempête, Birdt, The Whalers Collective), toetsenist/elektronicaman Alex Haas (Cypher 7, Bill Laswell, Kronos Quartet), gitarist Stijn Hüwels (Silent Vigils), altviolist en violofonist Oene van Geel (Cloud Ensemble, Zapp String Quartet, Estafest) en (contra)bassist Gulli Gudmundson. Op papier al een superorkest, dat dus heerlijk ontworteld wordt door Banabila. Maar de muziek mag er ook wezen in deze 5 langgerekte stukken. Deze houden het spannende en tot de verbeelding sprekende midden tussen neoklassiek, minimal music, drones, experimentele en filmmuziek. Daarbij weet Banabila zoals wel vaker een surrealistische sfeer te scheppen, die je compleet weet mee te voeren en zorgt voor bezinning. Daar dragen de op sopraanzang lijkende geluiden ook aan bij Denk bij dit alles aan een licht bevreemdende kruisbestuiving van Colin Stetson, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Philip Glass, Dictaphone en Sarah Davachi. Dit is nu precies zo’n toonaangevend meesterwerk, waar ik in de inleiding al op doel. Meeslepende, majestueuze en bovenal diepgravende pracht. (JanWIllem Broek)
VITAL WEEKLY 1182:
This album marks, I think, a difference in approaches for this Dutch composer. Before he has made many albums with instrumentalists, such as Oene van Geel (violin) and Eric Vloeimans (trumpet), but with 'Uprooted', he takes it all a step further. The five pieces on this release he gathered a bunch of instrumentalists in his studio and together they form a small orchestral ensemble. Van Geel is present, but also Peter Hollo (cello), Gareth Davis (bass clarinet), Stijn Hüwels (guitar and electronics), Gulli Gudmundsson (electric bass, double bass and ebow), and Alex Haas (synths & electronics), with Banabila himself on software instruments, sampler and electronics. Not every player is on all tracks; Haas only on one and Hollo and Davis on all, just like Banabila himself. In recent times I thought quite a bit about modern classical music; there seems to be much of that and not always something I understand or like. There are, however, also albums that I like very much and this here is surely one of them. Of course, it is not easy what attracts me to this and not to something else, which perhaps also sounds like a piece of modern classical music. Much of this has to do with the way things are worked by the composer. If I understand well, Banabila took improvisations from all of these players and through extensive copying, pasting, editing and sampling created these pieces. He's not in front of the players like a mad conductor explaining the score to them. It is, I would think surely the sort of Banabila music that is recognizable as music that he does. It is lush, it is ambient, it is mysterious and it is orchestral. Banabila paints some sombre clouds of music in which there is slow movement; like on a grey day, when the sun is not to be seen and clouds do move slowly. Today is very much such a day for the melancholic musical moods depicted by Banabila. He layered freely all of these sounds together, doubling and tripling the voices and playing around with them. It starts with a great piece; 'Dragonfly', the opening piece here, in which Davis plays a lead with his clarinet pushing and Van Geel and Hollo playing accents with the occasional chord on the piano. Very mysterious, cinematic and beautiful. The other pieces are equally beautiful, going from mood to mood. This is a solid new album by Michel Banabila; you know what to expect and yet you also get something that you didn't expect, a slightly new uprooted version of Banabila's music. (FdW)
Schrijven over de muziek van Michel Banabila is bijna onbegonnen werk, want de muziek van deze unieke componist is eigenlijk nergens mee te vergelijken. Hij maakt geen soundscapes, want daarvoor is zijn muziek veel te spannend, geen minimal music want daarvoor zitten er te veel haken en ogen aan, geen jazz want daarvoor is zijn muziek veel te ongrijpbaar, neoklassiek komt er soms in de buurt, maar dat is dan weer zo’n vaag begrip. Avant-garde is ook zo’n overkoepelend begrip waar je alles wat hij doet onder zou kunnen vangen zonder dat je ermee uitlegt hoe die muziek nu eigenlijk klinkt.
Banabila gebruikt eigenlijk alles, van elektronica tot straatgeluiden, fragmenten van stukjes die collega-musici voor hem hebben opgenomen, fragmenten van radio, tv en internet, alles. Denk nu niet dat hij daarmee dan een soort collagemuziek maakt, want zo simpel is het ook weer niet, want Banabila maakt intrigerende composities die verbijsterend gecompliceerd in elkaar steken en die tegelijk heel toegankelijk klinken.
Zijn album Uprooted klinkt op momenten zelfs orchestraal, en ik zat er regelmatig met open mond van bewondering naar te luisteren. Magnifieke spanningsbogen, subtiele arrangementen, en weelderige klanktapijten vormen samen een uitgebalanceerd, adembenemend mooi album. Eerlijk gezegd denk ik elke keer weer dat Banabila zijn beste album heeft gemaakt, en weet hij zichzelf toch steeds weer te overtreffen door weer een iets ander pad in te slaan en komt hij weer met een subliem meesterwerk aanzetten. Een absolute aanrader! (Holly Moors)
“Ingetogen en orkestraal klinkende moderne klassiek, minimal en ambient, met als hoogtepunt het dramatische “Breathe” (Oscar Smit)
Michel Banabila is a prolific Dutch composer who was originally introduced to me by my dear friend Peter Van Cooten (of ambientblog.net)
and since appeared on my rotations and these pages on countless occasions. I said “prolific” and I meant it because it’s a bit tough to keep up with all his output, ranging from numerous collaborations, like the one with Machinefabriek titled Entropia (Eilean, 2019) to studio albums and singles, appearing on his very own Tapu Records, such as this latest, Uprooted release. The music of Banabila is a microcosm of itself, a complex interplay between acoustic and electronic, found objects, field recordings, and unnamed unheard of textures produced in a combination of all of the above. For his latest solo release, Banabila employs an unlikely array of instruments, which unfold a patiently evolving landscape full of wonder, wit, and awe. Here I pick up on the bass clarinet (played by Gareth Davis) exchanging breath with the harmonium (or is that an accordion of sorts?), as the gleaming piano keys lay down their solemn chords. The woodwinds and the strings both pluck and bellow, and it is often hard to tell which instrument takes on the lead. The electronics and guitar (courtesy of Stijn Hüwels of Slaapwel) only enhance the already elaborate and sophisticated palette of the sound. The pieces are then stitched from the original material, sampled from the ensemble, and weaved into an ambient tapestry, which rests so warm and cosy on my mind. For fans of captivating music, deep and wise. (Mike Lazarev)
La puntata odierna di Contemporanea è dedicata a “Uprooted”, il nuovo album di Michel Banabila pubblicato il 16 aprile per la personale Tapu Records. Nel corso del suo lungo percorso iniziato nel lontano 1983 con “Marilli” , Michel ha lavorato più volte con singoli esecutori e strumenti acustici, ma in questa particolare occasione, un desiderio “antico” si è finalmente avverato. Qui, il sound artist olandese, ha infatti compiuto un passo ulteriore arrivando a coinvolgere persino un ensemble di sei elementi composto da: Peter Hollo (Violoncello ), Alex Haas (sintetizzatore, elettronica), Gareth Davis (clarinetto basso), Oene van Geel (viola, violino di Stroh), Stijn Hüwels (chitarra, elettronica) e Gulli Gudmundsson (basso elettrico, contrabbasso ed e-bow). Il confronto con una dimensione musicale più “classica”, non ha impedito a Banabila di esprimere al meglio il suo particolare estro per sperimentazione e manipolazione sonora. Non essendo un musicista con una formazione tradizionale, in grado di leggere o scrivere la musica, e soprattutto, non avendo la possibilità di provare con gli altri strumentisti, Michel ha immaginato un’interessante soluzione creativa che gli permettesse di ricreare con originalità le tipiche dinamiche esecutive di un settetto. Ciò che mi ha particolarmente incuriosito, è stato proprio il metodo di elaborazione dei pezzi, nati da improvvisazioni dei musicisti su dieci tracce precedentemente composte da lui e inviate a ciascuno tramite file. Michel mi ha raccontato che una volta ricevute le singole improvvisazioni, ha poi eliminato dai brani i suoi spunti originari ed elaborato direttamente queste idee, combinandole, tagliandole e riorganizzandole ex-novo come vera e propria materia duttile, “sradicandole” (volutamente) da quello che era il loro contesto iniziale. Da tale processo compositivo, è nato anche lo spunto per il titolo del disco “Uprooted” che significa appunto “sradicato”, anche se tale sradicamento fa altresì riferimento a un sentimento ben più profondo che talvolta coinvolge l’artista e la sua musica, come mi ha rivelato. A tal proposito, nei brani di Banabila, le atmosfere apparentemente riflessive, celano in realtà una sottile e intrigante tensione sotterranea che li rende particolarmente misteriosi. Suoni acustici, elettronica, musica da camera, jazz, ambient e world music, si fondono con sorprendente naturalezza in un esperimento d’indubbia bellezza che ha il potere di evocare immagini. Con “Uprooted” Michel ha inoltre consolidato la collaborazione con artisti affini come Nan Wang, che ha realizzato il video di “Breaking Point” e Gerco de Ruijter che ha creato la curiosa copertina. Se volete conoscere questo progetto, potete acquistarlo in cd, formato digitale, oppure ascoltarlo direttamente in streaming sulla pagina Bandcamp dell’artista. (Marco Calloni)
THE SQUID'S EAR:
At first listen, Uprooted sounds like a soundscape. And, indeed, Dutch composer and musician Michel Banabila's electronics and samples evoke the sonic topography of nondescript, churning environs. The sounds evoke rolling hills and valleys, gusts of wind, craggy footpaths and mountains, glittery starscapes, and clanging industrial wreckage. An incessant pulse — sometimes a clear electronic palpitation, other times an iterant throb of brief melodies — ritualistically drives the music onwards.
Uprooted, however, is more than a soundscape. Parts of it sound ancient, even timeless. Other elements, however, sound modern as they reflect the multidimensional depth and spaciousness of modern music. Banabila does not sculpt these five tracks alone, but invites a collection of strings, reeds, and additional electronics to flesh out the contours and contrasts of this musical excursion not just through a sound-world, but also through a mélange of contemporary styles. Influences range from the brooding spaciousness and palpitating loops of the New York School to the post-industrial atmospherics of Utech Records to contemporary sampling and sound collage techniques. Each track is constructed of snipped, sampled, and layered chamber improvisations rather than extended studio performances of pre-written pieces. The composition, in other words, lies in the actual construction of the album, rather than in sheet music or even simultaneous collective improvisation.
In one sense, the varied musical influences are the roots from which the music on Uprooted springs. "Uprooted," however, has another meaning related to the disruption and redeployment of the orchestral tradition. "What if," Marc Weidenbaum asks in his liner notes, "'orchestral' were uprooted? What if 'orchestral' referred to what we heard, not how it was recorded? What if 'orchestral' welcomed electronic instruments not just into the pit, but into the compositional process?" What if, moreover, the orchestra allowed those instruments and methods too modern to fit into such early modern categories to deepen that pit and pull that cybernetic revolution that has transformed our life-worlds into the realm of classical chamber music? Banabila and the musicians on this album are not alone in pursuing this task of modernizing the very concept of the orchestra and blurring the already questionable boundaries between old and new musical vernaculars. They do, however, chart their own path, a path which retains classical structures and motifs while integrating the electronics and the dynamics of contemporary practice almost seamlessly. This is not a chamber ensemble featuring Michel Banabila. This is not abstract electronic music produced with strings. Rather, this is a balanced syncretism of musical strategies and forms that becomes more rewarding and provocative with each listen. (Nick Ostrum)