How did you get
together, and what made you decide to start a record
Koen: Well we’ve been friends for quite
a while. We met at school when we were both about 12
or 13 years old. Had some interests in common: art,
music, skateboarding etc. We stayed friends over the
years and both ended up going to college in Chicago,
which is where Apestaartje got started.
After starting out in different areas, being music
geeks we both inevitably gravitated towards the sound
department. After a while we started trading CDRs and
playing together a bit and I really liked one particular
piece that Brendon had done so I told him I wanted to
start a label to put it out because I thought more people
should hear it. He responded with the idea of putting
together a small compilation with a few different projects
that we were doing. We all chipped in and that’s
basically how the label came about.
Brendon: The two of us have known
each other for a long time. We went to middle school
together and kept in touch. Then we both ended up at
the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and started
playing music together. Koen wanted to put out a 3”
with a track each of us had done and that was the beginning
of the label.
You’ve released music that is
quite experimental and is often the result of a combination
of acoustic and electronic instrumentation. Is that
an aspect that interests you particularly, and how did
you come to get into that kind of music?
Brendon: I’ve always played music
but it wasn’t until going to the Art Institute
that I became familiar with what you can do with a computer.
It was really exciting being able to record and manipulate
sound that way, it gave me a lot of ideas. Before that,
I never really knew too much about effects. I was mostly
an acoustic guitar player and I listened to a lot of
folk music. I guess that’s where the combination
comes from. I think it gives the music some form of
balance to have both natural sounds and electronics.
Koen: That’s definitely an aspect
of what we focus on. Initially it was not a pre-planned
aesthetic but I can hear the beginning of what we’re
doing now in the first CDs we put out and I think that
it is sort of interesting. Acoustic instruments just
have a sonic character that really appeals to me. For
example: I really love the sound of the acoustic guitar.
It has a warmth and familiar intimacy that I sincerely
enjoy. We’re very particular about the production
aspects of our work and I think that with a combination
of acoustic and electronic elements we’re able
to create a more real sense of warmth then through using
purely digital or even electric instruments. Also I
really enjoy the hands-on feeling of holding a resonating
object in my hands versus simply hitting computer keys
or twisting knobs. Don’t get me wrong we use computers
and electronics quite a bit as well but it’s important
to us to have some sort of instrumental core to work
You’ve released the debut album from
French sound artist Sebastien Roux. How did you become
aware of his work?
Koen: He sent us a demo which I really liked,
some of which ended up on the Object Set & Motion
compilation. We happened to be going to Paris to perform
shortly thereafter so I dropped him a line and we met
up and it seemed like we had quite a bit in common so
asked him to do an album.
Is there anyone you would really like to work
with and release their work?
Koen: There are many folks that I could fantasize
about working with (Sparks!, Eliane Radigue etc.) but
generally I prefer to just work with friends. I have
some collaborations that have been pending for a little
while because everyone’s been busy but I look
forward to catching up on that in the next year or so.
In terms of release: Akio Suzuki, Michael Chapman. We’re
putting out the next album by Australian sound artist
M.Rosner called Morning Tones, which I’m
really excited about. He has an amazing way of always
leaving just enough to keep things interesting.
You both release music as part of solo projects
(Aero and Anderegg). What made you want to start working
together on Mountains, and how working together differs
from working on your own?
Koen: Well Mountains was initially
conceived as a way for us to perform live. We had both
done some shows solo, together and in some other groupings
both improvised and composed and to me it never felt
quite right sitting behind a laptop trying to recreate
this more studio oriented work in front of an audience.
I have no problem with pure laptop performances; it
just wasn’t fun for me. So with Mountains the
idea was to start with the idea of the performance.
That’s when we started to get more into real time
processing and that’s sort of how the acoustic
elements have become more of a focus. Or perhaps our
use of them is just a bit more obvious. Very little
of the sounds we use are initially sourced from an electronic
device. They are often being processed to varying degrees
but most of the sounds we have used since we started
putting out CDs at least originate from acoustic elements.
Brendon: The first time we did a tour
was with Minamo in Europe a few years ago. I found it
particularly difficult to transfer my compositions into
a live format. Koen and I played together one of the
shows and I thought it went really well. It was a lot
more fun than getting up on stage and performing alone.
We started playing together a lot and incorporating
more and more live instrumentation. Mountains became
our main focus. We’re both really picky about
what sounds to use and effects settings and such but
we trust each other’s opinions enough to meet
somewhere in the middle. In the end it always yields
unexpected results and really keeps me from falling
too far into my own habits.
How would you describe Mountains to someone
who’s never heard your work?
Koen: Depends on who that someone is. I really
don’t have a good generalized overview.
Your compositions seem very detailed and precise,
and there’s something very organic about your
music. How do you work on a particular track?
Koen: It’s a combination of things. We
spent a long time developing a ‘sound’ of
sorts and I think what we do is try to expand from there.
We have a very particular aesthetic but how we go about
working within that changes. In terms of the actual
working process I would say this fluctuates a lot as
our living situations seem to change somewhat frequently.
When we made the first record we’d just spent
eight months or so trying to play live as much as possible
and Brendon had a pretty decent place where we could
play and record at night so that one developed quite
gradually. The new record is different for a few reasons
but I think mainly because it came from just a couple
of periods of intense and secluded activity. Aside from
a few rounds of tennis this is all we did for about
a three weeks.
Also our approach to playing live has changed quite
a bit as well and I think that it somewhat affected
the new record. In the beginning we would basically
start with a set of notes and perhaps a few sounds but
it was pretty improvised. Now our live sets are much
more planned, with specific parts that go in a particular
order. But the duration of the parts and what we do
within them is fairly open.
Brendon: Usually we have some sounds
that we have been working on individually that we listen
to. Sometimes a loop or sound could be a good jumping-off
point to work with. Otherwise we just play and see what
happens. We usually record our practice sessions and
if there are things we really like, parts we played
or certain combinations of sounds, we go back and learn
those parts. Eventually we get an entire set together.
Then we practice it a lot, making adjustments here and
You combine electronics, acoustic instrumentation
and field recordings in your records. What is your musical
background and what/who influenced you to do what you
are doing now?
Brendon: I’ve always played instruments.
I started with violin, then drums and eventually guitar.
Once I started working with electronic sounds I realized
that a lot of them really sounded like things one would
hear in the world outside computers. I started recording
people playing tennis and coffeemakers and all sorts
of other sounds and manipulating them and then combining
the source and manipulated sound. I like blurring the
lines between environmental sounds and those that are
digital. I’ve been into electronic music for a
few years, listening to everything from Morton Subotnick
to Janek Schaefer and other contemporary artists. I’ve
always been really into singer songwriter music too.
Listening to people like Jackson C. Frank, Burt Jansch
and other singer songwriters has always made me want
to improve my own skills.
Koen: I came to sound initially as
a listener. I’m not a trained musician of any
sort. Brendon is more the proper musician in the group.
In terms of the acoustic stuff, it’s just a sound
I’ve always been attracted to. I probably have
more acoustic guitar records than anything else. I started
out using field recordings and radio static and all
that sort of stuff before I ever seriously sat down
with an instrument so it’s very natural for me
to include these elements. I spent a lot of time listening
to musique concrète pieces by folks like Pierre
Henry, Luc Ferrari, Bernard Parmegiani etc, and was
definitely influenced by a lot of stuff that labels
like Selektion were doing in the mid to late 90s with
folks like Bernard Gunter, Francisco Lopez and Steve
Roden just to list a couple of examples.
I was listening to Michael Chapman’s Rainmaker
LP the other day and was surprised to hear how similar
his use of rain in the title track was to some of the
stuff we have done. The Australian ‘folk’
band Extradition used a lot of interesting water sounds
as well. It all creeps in there.
Your work is often being compared to people
like Brian Eno, Jan Jelinek or Fennesz. Do you feel
particular connections with these artists, and how does
it feel to be associated with these?
Koen: I’ve always felt a bit hesitant
about comparisons as we usually get compared to folks
in the electronic music world and while I can certainly
understand why, it constitutes a very little part of
the music I listen to. That said, Brian Eno is a huge
influence. Discreet Music is one of my all
time favourite records. And I think both Fennesz and
Jan Jelinek have a very personal aesthetic, which is
something that I admire. They’re both artists
who have a highly developed vision in terms of production
and the kinds of sounds they are working with and I
think they continue to find new ways to work within
Brendon: It’s very flattering
to be associated with these artists. I have listened
to all of them a lot. I don’t think they have
strongly influenced my playing or ideas directly but
are very important artists.
Sewn was released
less than a year after your debut, which seems very
quick, especially with your other projects. How did
the album take shape?
Brendon: We knew we wanted to get a record
out this year and I was moving to Phoenix for six months
so we had to do it over the summer. Instead of just
working on music once or twice a week we decided to
set aside some time to work on the record. It took a
couple of weeks for things to really take shape but
once it started going in a certain direction I think
we both got very excited and it became a lot easier
to get ideas out.
Koen: We’d written some pieces
for performances so we both had a few parts ready to
go when we began recording. I moved to the middle of
nowhere in upstate New York for a few months in August
and Brendon came up for a week or so at one point so
we could make the record. We didn’t really even
get close to finishing but we recorded some parts and
most of the field recordings up there then met a couple
of weeks later in Connecticut for two weeks and finished
Your debut album as Mountains featured four
long tracks, while on the new album the compositions
are overall shorter. Was it a conscious effort on your
side to apply what you had developed over long compositions
to more compact pieces, and how do you think it worked?
Koen: It somewhat naturally started to come
out that way but also I think we both very consciously
wanted to try to do something different. We could have
very easily made that first record again but that wasn’t
the most interesting option for us. There’s a
piece that we ended up making into a tour CDR and we
both really love the track but it’s this really
long somewhat ferocious piece that’s a lot of
fun to play live but it really didn’t fit well
on the record.
Brendon: I think our main focus was
on doing something a little different from the previous
record. We were both really happy with the way the first
record came out and didn’t have a preconceived
notion of what we wanted out of the second. Getting
started was difficult. We just worked a lot and ran
through all kinds of ideas. Eventually tracks started
to develop and the album took form. It was very exciting
for both of us. I like the length of the tracks on this
record and I think overall it works really well. It’s
got a very different feel from the first record in my
opinion. For one thing it was recorded in the summer,
July and August. I really hear this in the music. Koen
also got some great field recordings (while being eaten
alive by mosquitoes) while we were in upstate New York
that I think were really good to work with.
The new album feels a lot more mature and achieved.
Is it something you were conscious of when working on
it, or was it just a natural process for you?
Koen: We’ve played live together
quite a lot at this point. I think it’s made a
huge difference in terms of our ability to connect musically
speaking. You just become more in tune.
Brendon: I think the compositions are
a bit more concise on this record. Also, the recordings
were all done in the same couple of weeks so there is
definitely a consistency to this new record was not
as apparent on the first.
Your music also feels very cinematic, and there
is definitely a narrative aspect in each of the tracks
on the album. Would you like to get involved with film
music, and for what kind of films?
Koen: I would love to get involved
in film music, as that’s somewhat how I came to
working with sound. We both watch a lot of films. We
actually did a soundtrack for a friend’s short
film, which turned out kinda nice. Ideally I would like
to do something a little on the longer side as with
short pieces it often feels too much like a music video
and that’s not really something that interests
me. I made a very slow and long video that we performed
with at a film festival in Utrecht recently.
Space seems a very important element of your
work. Is it, and the name you’ve chosen, a reaction
to the urban aspect of New York?
Koen: Reaction is such a strong word.
I’m hesitant to call it that but I think we do
make an effort to focus on a different kind of listening
that’s often undernourished in a huge urban environment
Brendon: We chose the name Mountains
because we felt it related well to the form of the compositions,
slowly and naturally evolving. I also like the name
because it references nature and puts an emphasis on
the acoustic side of the music rather than the digital.
Do you intend to take Mountains on the road,
and if yes, how do you envisage to transfer your music
to the live environment?
Koen: Most of our pieces are initially
written for performances and we record them after playing
them for a while so what we do live is actually quite
similar to the records though perhaps a bit louder at
Brendon: We went on a tour in the U.S.
for the month of November. Playing live is essential
for us. We really like playing live and creating our
compositions in front of an audience.
The web has become an essential tool for artists
and labels to promote their work. What is your view
on both legal and illegal downloads, and do you think
traditional record labels still have a future?
Brendon: It’s hard to say. I
still buy records and CDs, and I don’t have an
iPod. Lately it seems that more and more people are
saying “why buy music when you can get it for
free” but there will always be people buying music.
I think for a label like Apestaartje it’s not
as big a deal as with major labels marketing their music
for the mainstream public. Labels like that spend so
much money promoting bands and recording albums that
they really need to sell a lot of records to sustain
Koen: I have no idea if traditional
record labels still have a future. Though I can see
certain advantages I’m somewhat hesitant to offer
our releases as download purchases as to me the packaging
and object are part of the album. Illegal downloads
are slightly frustrating on one level but when it comes
down to it I am happy that people are hearing the work.
When you’re not busy with the band, the
solo projects and the label, what do you like doing?
Koen: Friends, films, drawing, taking pictures,
records, walking & eating.
Brendon: I spend most of my time making
music or working with other artists
What is next in your diary?
Koen: Work. Followed closely by play.
Email interview March 2006
Thank you to Koen, Robert and Sonia.