The Thesis Project: a lesson in craft

 

We're big fans of craft when it comes to physical releases. We've gone so far as creating custom wooden CD and vinyl cases for previous releases here at ASIP, and often spend more time discussing artwork than the actual music when it comes to each release. So to see Gregory Euclide pushing forward a truly custom take on physical vinyl releases, we wanted to find out more, especially given the music at hand. 

The Thesis Project was triggered by a deep desire to bring something valuable back into a world of fast consumption, as Gregory began during a recent twitter conversation: "music has always been an object and not just files on a device. I wanted to make music physical, unique and precious again". As an artist behind some well known releases from Erased Tapes and Lubomyr Melnyk, this was Gregory's chance to combine his passion for art and music: "I see the world in musical terms... everything has a sound. Colors, movements... every sound has an action... and that is where I worked for a long time. I was making music with my pencils and brushes. I think it is pretty common for artists to have this connection. I tried to play music when I was in high school and college. I'm not mathematically gifted. I really struggle with it. So, my college music theory class was really hard for me. I think I thought it was out of the picture for me... to be involved in music in any other capacity than a consumer. I did a few album covers for musicians I really respected, but I still felt outside of it all.

When I think about my practice as an artist, I often try to mirror that of the music world. I like how musicians can have different projects, with different names. Artists always seem to be... just them, their name and they have to be consistent. Basically, my move to music through Thesis Project was a move away from the traditional idea of being an artist".

As with all deep desires and ambitions, it took a couple of real-life moments to push Gregory to begin the Thesis Project. Whilst attending a Vic Chestnutt concert, Gregory started wondering how much it would cost to commission a song from such an artist, after which he received a grant from the McKnight Foundation for his artwork, and decided to take his work into a new direction:

"I decided I would start asking musicians that I know if they would like to work on a project. When I am listening to certain musicians I think 'this would be really cool with this or that.' I started thinking about the idea of collaboration as a way to push something forward".

The Thesis Project was born, with the premise to combine two artists who have never worked together before and create a beautifully packaged, and custom release, with each sleeve laser-cut and etched by Gregory himself. Whilst this may seem like a tall ambition, given each piece would be custom and limited to 300 pieces, Gregory knew this was the only way he would be able to fulfill his burning ambition for the project.

"I don't really like the idea of me being the only visual artist for the project. One goal of the project was to try and compensate the artists well. Pay them up front and then give whatever extra is left from sales. This seems to be a successful model as musicians I have spoken with like the arrangement. In order for me to do that I have to do much of the artwork. I make each jacket and sleeve from scratch as well as make each of the unique covers. If I had to pay another artist to do that it would not be possible. So, for now, I'm doing it. I hope people don't get sick of it or think it is an ego thing".

I asked Gregory why he feels each piece needs to be unique, after all, from my experience, a premium, differentiated and highly-considered piece of artwork is enough to make something much more valuable in today's world. But his desire to create something individual stemmed from a desire to go against today's mainstream approach to music. It's his way of giving back to the artists, and to the listener, and leaving something truly unique in the world. 

"Handmade is not a big deal to me in general. If something can be made better with a machine... I think, why not use that. When it comes to music it is different. Much of the project's concept comes as a reaction to my own life. I was eating up albums, buying them online, listening to them, buying more... downloading and downloading. I didn't even know what I had and what I didn't have. I wanted it everywhere. I wanted it free or cheep. It was gross. I wanted to pay attention again. To know the names of songs, to stop and listen, not just have it on as I was doing things. So, I decided it was going to be vinyl only. No streaming. No downloading. No on the go. The process of making the album covers takes over 2 hours a piece. I cut the paper, run the sleeve through the laser cutter, put a drawing on the sleeve, spray a stencil over the drawing, fold and glue the sleeve. I cut the paper, run the jacket through the laser cutter, put a unique painting on the cover, fold and glue the jacket. It is hard work. It is my way to make something that is the opposite of Spotify. It is my payment to the artists. To give them something unique. It is my payment to the music. Music can be turned into 10100001100010110101 and duplicated and deleted and downloaded again and so on. But I wanted to make something that people are careful with. I don't want it to be goofy or over the top. Just hand made because I care".

A wide spectrum of ambient, experimental and alternative stars have been a part of the project so far. Taylor Deupree and Sean Carey (of Bon Iver) graced the Thesis Project's first release, with Loscil & Seabuckthorn following, Sonic Pieces' Takeshi Nishimoto & City Centre Offices' Roger Döring (Dictaphone), Dustin O´Halloran* & Benoît Pioulard, gracing the catalog so far. As if that wasn't enough, the project has also announced collaborations between some ASIP favorites (and artists) including Rafael Anton Irisarri & Julianna Barwick, and Michael Price (Erased Tapes) & Christoph Berg and (it just keeps going), Eluvium & Marcus Fischer. If that list of artist collaborations isn't enough to persuade you of the project's ambition and curatorial skills, then I don't know what is. 

Gregory's curatorial process is based loosely on who he may see as an interesting fit, but mainly because he sees something greater coming from the two parts. As Gregory describes, "I ask these people to work together because I think it is going to be meaningful... to them, to us. When I hear it, it is like... "ok, I was right" Taylor and Sean's work - the first one I did... was over the top. It was so satisfying. They liked it. I liked it. It was a win win. Nothing beats that feeling". 

It's undoubtedly a challenge, defying the norms and akin to the format and approach, bringing something new to an otherwise fast-paced, ephemeral world, but these pairings aren't taken lightly and it takes Gregory a while to think of who would work well together. His dream pairing being Beth Gibbons and Justin Vernon, but until that works out, Gregory's trying to push the boundaries on a classic ambient approach that could quickly become a stale recipe: "I'm always hoping for musicians to take the opportunity to shed a skin, try something new, be totally open. I have a group of amazing musicians that I have not paired up yet, because I don't want the sound to be tired. I don't want to repeat the sound over and over again. I could do piano and ambient things till the end of time, but I'm looking for there to be a little something new in each of the releases."

Once he has decided on the duo, he'll make a graphic for each musician before they make the music: "It is kind of based on what I love about their work... how it makes me feel".  From that, he develops the cover, adding things to the mix based on what comes back music-wise.

The vinyl sleeve artwork is abstract enough, but if you look closely, you'll notice the ongoing theme between them all, with Gregory taking contour drawings of each musician's hand and the city where they reside into consideration. 

Gregory's ambition doesn't stop solely with the Thesis Project concept, with a similar but subtle concept Print/Track also gathering pace. Slightly different to the Thesis Project, Print/Track  features a musician completing one side of a 10" by themselves in response to a work by a visual artist. Or alternatively, a visual artist responds to the work of a musician. The first release out of the blocks comes from Ed Carlsen and Heather Woods Broderick

With two base-concepts, a host of amazing artists and all of the artwork falling on Gregory's lap, he's undoubtedly a busy man pushing through a very labor-intensive project. Thesis Project is a platform built entirely with the artists in mind. Funding is set-up to help everyone involved (you buy through a subscription), and Gregory is committed to doing most of the hard work to keep costs down.

It's projects like this that help push ambient and experimental music forward as a whole, whilst also raising awareness for lesser-known artists, now given an esteemed platform to express their works. It's a celebration of the format, showing the world what hard-graft, a focus and a passion for music and artwork can get you. And it's a big middle-finger to the way everyone thinks things should be done. You can move slowly. You can control it all yourself. You can spend more time on the artwork than the music if you wish. You can even fulfill dreams of seeing some of your musical heroes on the same record together. Thesis Project is proof. 

https://thesisproject.us/

 

ASIP - Formation

 

Mixes coming like buses from Camp ASIP!

This mix was originally put together for the Mysteries of the Deep podcast, but I decided on another route in the end. I can't let this one deteriorate on my hard drive though, so here we go! More techno focused, with many of my favorite releases of 2017 so far making an appearance that deserved to be heard. 

Tracklist:

01. Gonzalo F Cardoso - A Study Into 21st Century Drone Acoustics [Discrepant]
02. nthng - Touches [Lobster Theremin
03. Arovane - III_I [Éter Editions]
04. 36 - Further Room 4 [A Strangely Isolated Place]
05. Acronym - Final Descent [Auxiliary
06. ASC - Come To Ruin [Silent Season]
07. SVLBRD - Hvit [Faint
08. Claudio PRC - Plantae [TGP
09. Luigi Tozzi - Wadjet (Wa Wu We’s 4th Dimension) [Hypnus Records]
10. Artefakt - Entering The City [Delsin
11. Mind Over Midi - Soft Science [Rohs!
12. Steve Good - Mercury [MFYL]
13. Ishq - Knul […txt] + Tongues Of Light - Healing [Pre-cert]
14. Loess - Wrikken [n5MD]
15. Aukai - Snow Works (Abul Mogard Rework) [Self released]
16. Sebastian Paul - Zen Temple [Dewtone]

 

isolatedmix 68 - Christoph Berg

 

An understated producer and renowned collaborator, Christoph Berg has appeared under his Field Rotation moniker across many significant projects in recent years, with several noted here on ASIP. He featured on Hior Chronik's album Taking The Veil, and provided remixes for Benoit Pioulard's Hymnal, and Ocoeur, for example, but as well as being a go-to collaborator for many of the genre's best, Christoph is a sublime composer and producer in his own right. 

His last album under his own name, Paraphrases was a collection of chamber music compositions, embracing an enigmatic modern-classical vibe that veered on the edge of the most intriguing, experimental soundtracks. To quote from the release notes, "Christoph scores the history of eight narrow worlds, carved only from wood - violin, piano and double bass", and we've been waiting a full four years for the follow-up. In a fitting tribute to Christoph's instrumental prowess, the brilliant Berlin-based label Sonic Pieces (home to releases by Deaf Center, Nils Frahm, Otto A Totland) is set to release Conversations at the end of this month, affording Christoph the stature he deserves, as one of the most exciting composers around. 

It's been a busy month for Christoph. Not only did he spend weeks putting this beautiful vinyl-only mix together, finessing it based on permissions like a true gentlemen, but we've also been treated to a collaboration with pianist Henning Schmiedt for bei, released on Tokyo-based imprint flau records just last week. 

For his isolatedmix, Christoph has picked one of my favorite pieces of his to start (featured on the Reflection on 2016 mix); a beautiful rework of the dramatic Night Falls by Hecq. What follows, are carefully curated pieces that highlight the intricacies of Christoph's work and passion for complex, intriguing, yet romantic compositions. Fellow renowned instrumentalists Jacaszek, Celer, and Deaf Center make appearances, and a track from Christoph's new album provides the perfect curtain closer.

"It's been ages since I released my last record. And it's been a while since I created my last mixtape. Now, since I am proudly adding my second solo album Conversations to my discography this month, I have taken this opportunity to rummage through my record collection, select a couple of incredibly inspiring vinyls and play them for you. So, never mind if you happen to spot some crackles or dust. Perfectly suits the music, if you ask me...

Thanks to all the artists and record labels involved for giving their permission to make this mix available to the public as a vinyl-only mix. Since it is also containing works that have never been released digitally at all, please respect that this isolatedmix shall not be made available as a download". - Christoph Berg.

Tracklist:

01.  Hecq – Night Falls (reworked by Christoph Berg)
from the LP Night Falls (Hymen Records)

02.  Kreng – Untitled
from the 10“ Selfed (Substantia Innominata / Drone Records)

03.  Jacaszek & Kwartludium – Kingdom (Les chênes, les bouleaux)
from the LP Catalogue Des Arbres (Touch / Gusstaff Records)

04.  Simon Goff – Orange
from the LP HUE (Hiddenseer Records)

05.  Mico Nonet – Maloja Pass
from the 7“ Maloja Pass (Mico Nonet Records)

06.  Christoph Berg – Interlude
from the LP Paraphrases (Facture)

07.  Celer & Machinefabriek – Maastunnel
from the 7“ Maastunnel / Mt. Mitake (Machinefabriek)

08.  Deaf Center – End Station
from the LP Pale Ravine (Miasmah Recordings)

09.  Christoph Berg – Conversations
from the LP Conversations (Sonic Pieces) 

Christoph Berg/Field Rotation web | Bandcamp | SoundcloudFacebook | Twitter

 

ASIP - Mysteries of the Deep LXVII (Windows at midnight)

 

I am very honored to be a part of the great Mysteries of the Deep series, which has hosted some of my favorite ambient DJ's and producers over the years. 

The mix I put together was drawn from a scene in my head which involved a kid escaping his bedroom at midnight. After the initial jump down into the garden, the complex emotions as he explores uncharted territory follow. He's scared, intrigued, has a sense of freedom and joy, but knows he shouldn't be out there, as he explores close-by woods, and deserted streets under the yellow hum of street lamps.

A big thank you to Mysteries of the Deep for hosting and to Candace Price for the beautiful accompanying artwork. I hope you enjoy it. 

Tracklist:

01. Ourson - Night Roads [Self]
02. Arovane - Electroacoustic Session 7 [Self]
03. Harkan - Unnamed [Self]
04. 1 Mile North - Broken Corners [Wortcunner]
05. Rafael Anton Irisarri - Abandoned (too soon) [Self]
06. Secret Pyramid - VII [Proposition]
07. High Plains - A White Truck [Kranky]
08. Malibu - Held [PAN]
09. Richard A Ingram - Valehouse 2.2.01 [Medium Format]
10. Arovane & Hior Chronik - Dornenreich [A Strangely Isolated Place]
11. Broken_Canyon - (MISSING) (Sea Of Clouds)
12. 36 - Black Horizon [Self]
13. Steve Moore - Depths Of The Earth [Moon Glyph]
14. Abul Mogard - Unarmored Love [VCO]
15. Paul Wolinski - MidiFlood [Self]
16. Carl Stone - Kuk II Kwan (1981) [Unseen Worlds]
17. bvdub - 01 [Self]
18. Ourson - Night Roads + Carl Stone - Kuk II Kwan

 

Billow Observatory - II: Plains​/​Patterns

 

I have to admit, I didn't see a follow-up Billow Observatory album coming. Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb's initial self-titled masterpiece was just that - a truly brilliant album - they somehow managed to encapsulate everything that's good about textured, emotional ambient music without a single note wasted. There was no doubting the purpose and vision they formed and executed upon flawlessly. I didn't need anything else. That was until, I heard their follow-up.

If you listen back to the Billow Observatory's ST album, it focuses on the gentle caress of guitars, lulled into oblivion - a colorful dream inducing pallet of superlatives, commonly associated and overused when describing ambient music (I for one am guilty). I'm not sure if Jonas and Jason felt a sense of achievement with the original album, but with this perceived perfection, comes the psychological inability to replicate it. 

II: Plains/Patterns, is a outstanding evolution on their original dreamy, distant sound. 

As described in the album's notes, "II: Plains/Patterns departs from the first LP’s amorphous ambient haze with a more rigid, albeit subtle, underpinning of rhythm and pulse". It's as natural a progression as evolution itself - the best parts remain, and the core essence of the album has morphed into an even richer, textured experience.

From the very first track, aptly named Pulsus, it's evident Billow Observatory have evolved. A stuttering of distorted guitars in Kercheval bring the album back into more familiar Billow Observatory territory, but the echoes of synthesizers in Nulstil remind us you're no longer *just* listening to the deep textures and dream-like murmurs found on their previous album - there's more energy, more light. Glimmers of their past album still however, remain. Guitars take to the foreground on Plains - perhaps the most stunning track from the album - but this quickly shifts back into a glorious ambient phase, reminiscent of early Biosphere pieces. 

The simplicity of Montclair harkens back to some of the earliest addictive textured melodies from Aphex Twin's Rhubarb, or many of Brian Eno's infamous pieces. The shifting beats and glazed static amongst Vex then tease out some additional electronic elements, before album closer Plum perfects the delicateness that I'm now realizing is the Billow Observatory magic. No-matter what elements have been added, they always manage to create this soft, hazy landscape. 

I didn't think there was any way to better their original album other than copy the exact same recipe. But Plains/Patterns has taken their ambient bedding, and added more color, and richness through these additional elements. The title is likely suggestive of the two layers that now form the music here. The soft, textured and dreamy plains, and the new pulses and patterns, add a new depth to Jason and Jonas' music that will go down as one of my favorite albums from either of them yet. 

Available on Bandcamp.