The Alps answer the Questions of Doom
If some music holds a conversation with you, The Alps shouts for attention. This isn't easy listening or background music, The Alps have invented a new language of pulsating electronic drones. The atmosphere on forthcoming Alps album 'Le Voyage' is epic: a heavy surround-sound experience, is music that frees the imagination, but also takes it to incredibly dark places. Almost conjured up in a demonic hallucination of American howls, freedom-in-repetition electronic blurs and a Morricone-like screeching violin to keep you awake and remind you that yes, this is really happening. We got the Alps in for a Question of Doom sessions to discuss forthcoming album Le Voyage and musical manifestos.
Each member of the Alps has had a long history of solo projects? What were your expectations of The Alps, once you formed? Do you think the solo projects brought together a strong sense of individualism within the music for the Alps?
Alexis Georgopoulos: We didn’t really have any expectations. We’d known each other for years and had reached a point where our other bands didn’t need our full attention and so just started playing together for kicks. Initially, we just played in Scott’s living room. We documented those early, low–fi days on a few CDRs but didn’t have any particular ambitions, other than seeing where things would go naturally.
When we decided to go into a proper studio, where we could improvise one at a time, and as a group, this created an entirely new way of working. Now that I’ve moved to New York, by necessity, the way we do things has continued to evolve. Without the luxury of living in the same place – since I knew we had to knock out a record in 3 days – for Le Voyage, I wrote a good deal of the pieces and brought them into the studio. Then, of course, we made up a number of pieces on the spot. “Le Voyage”, the song, is a good example of the latter approach.
Is the sequencing of the Le Voyage important and if so why?
AG: Sure, in an ideal world, it would be listened to in sequence. All of the individual pieces work together as part of something larger, cumulatively. I do think each piece stands on its own, that it can be played in any order. But there is a particular flow, a pointed trajectory, that the sequence creates. With iPods and mp3 players – and the whole notion of things playing at random – perhaps placing such emphasis on the intended order is anachronistic but…
Is there a narrative to Le Voyage, and is so, what is it?
AG: We never decided as a group to pursue a particular narrative. I imagine each one of us has a different narrative in mind. That said, Le Voyage begins where III leaves off. There’s a similarity in tone and texture from III’s last track “Into The Breeze” and “Drop In”, which begins Le Voyage.
The references that surface – using an excerpt of a particular classical recording, or using Classical Indian instrumentation, etc – all evoke particular landscapes and the album travels through a number of different landscapes: the open air in the country, whether it be in England, Italy, or the US, a villa somewhere in Europe, a plane over a body of water, North Africa, Brazil, India. Of course, with these actual landscapes come social landscapes. A characters’ interior thoughts: daydreams, hopes, failures, successes, terrors. Territories not defined by national or cultural boundaries. If we try to hit upon something, it’s that tradition, if you can call it that, that Paul Bowles or, say, Antonioni’s The Passenger are a part of. I think of it as a kind of travelogue. There are lush landscapes. There are inhospitable landscapes. The legacy of colonialism is present. Water is in short supply in the desert. What grows there? “Sand never melts,” I remember Sven Lindqvist writing in Desert Divers. So, it’s a journey to the core of someone. It’s a journey of historical exploration. Beauty and possibility are found. So are dead–ends. So if you play connect the dots as the record plays, you can start to put together a map of where those pieces would be happening. What might be happening. There are plenty of clues.
Le Voyage seems to be under the influence of Bruce Langhorne’s more organic scores.
AG: Interesting. Well, we all love The Hired Hand. But we haven’t talked about it in years. I don’t know when I last heard it. Probably a few years ago. If it’s influenced us, it hasn’t been conscious.
Scott: We’re big fans of Bruce Langhorne. HIs soundtrack to The Hired Hand is on constant rotation, and I absolutely love the work he did for Idaho Transfer, adding more electronic elements. HIs recordings always sound like there are lots of players, but at least on The HIred Hand, it was all just him.
I definitely hear elements of Morricone’s Giallo Soundtrack work within the grooves, how important are visuals to your music, and has cinema infected and influenced what you’ve done so far?
Scott: We are all pretty visual people. All three of us our artists as well as musicians, and we all tend to favor the kind of music that feels experiential and immersive, whether it be drone music, free jazz, or minimalist composition. Jefre often performs with the experimental filmmaker, Paul Clipson, Alexis made a film with Paul for ARP shows, and The Alps have performed on a few occasions to Paul’s organic super 8 films of patterns and light found in nature. Though we’re drawn to films that marry strong sound and visuals, I don’t think we deliberately try to form a specific narrative in the creation of the work, but rather we’re open to narratives being formed in the listener’s minds.
Was it intentional to bring in a more traditional ‘band’ sound to the electronic scope you’ve been involved in?
AG:Perhaps you mean that there seem to be more songs and less pure improvisation on the record? That’s true.
S: I don’t think we consciously decided to go for a more ‘band’ sound, but recording in the studio, freed us up to do things we couldn’t do live previously. When we recorded both “III” and “Le Voyage”, the tracks evolved through the studio process, adding more layers as we went along. We just followed them naturally.
Are you looking forward to playing Le Voyage live? And if so are you, are you going to play it in sequence?
AG: Things are somewhat complicated as we live on either side of the country. To add to that, in the studio, we all play numerous instruments on each song. Which means that live, we need to ask friends to join us to pull off album tracks. We did that last year at the On Land Festival in San Francisco last year and it went really well. But, it takes a lot of planning.
But no, if & when we play, I don’t think we’ll play Le Voyage in sequence. Our live shows, like the way we compose, are rooted in improvisation. I imagine we’ll play variations on songs from Le Voyage and III.
The Alps have seem to have taken a more complete and solid identity as a unit. Was there talk about manifestos and what you wanted to do with Le Voyage?
AG: There were a few conversations about what we wanted to try doing on the record. For example, I’d really been wanting to make the collage pieces – sampling bits of music (our own and others’), field recordings, explosions – and I’m really happy with how they’ve turned out! But yeah, there was talk of building on what we started with III. The songs were written with the intention of building and expanding upon what we’d begun doing and creating a more composed approach.
‘Crossing the Sands’ is a harrowing listen. What were you trying to evoke with the song?
AG: Really? Interesting. I don’t find it scary at all – ha! Well, we never set out to make music that’s scary. I have a real aversion, in fact, to scary things. Well, ok, that’s not entirely true. I can watch Nicholas Roeg movies. But I rarely, rarely – if ever – watch a commercial horror movie.
I think we try to make music that feels true, and that something often contains beauty and tension. I think part of what makes something psychedelic, for lack of a better word, is disorientation. And I do think there is a value in that. But I do think that’s very much up to the interpretation of the listener.
“Crossing The Sands” for me song evokes Northern Africa. I imagine Westerners who’ve just arrived in Morocco with a romantic vision of things. A näive vision, perhaps. Who are now just realizing what they’ve put themselves into. The desert is not a joke. The culture is not familiar. This song is like the beginning of the journey into that.
What’s next for The Alps?
AG: We’ve gone into the studio since the Le Voyage sessions and we’re nearly done putting together a record for Mexican Summer, called Easy Action. It will come out in September 2010. After that, hopefully we’ll play the pyramids in Egypt.