Posted on Mar 14th 2010 10:44 pm

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Four years ago, Greg Haines unleashed his debut album, Slumber Tides, released on Miasmah. Its intricate blend of discreet electronics and contemplative classical music rapidly found a place of choice on the musical landscapes. Since, he has been busy contributing to a number of records. Last year, he released a collaborative album with Danny Saul as Liondialer, for which they improvised noise pieces in pubs used to more generic music. As he is about to release his second solo album, Until The Point Of Hushed Support, on Sonic Pieces, Greg Haines took some time off working on a dance piece in Paris to talk about his influences, making the transition from studio to live performance, working with other musicians on his latest album and transmitting his knowledge and experience to younger generations.

How did you come to music, and more particularly, to classical music?
I think when I first began to write songs and create music was with my first guitar. It was a half-size acoustic that I acquired from my cousin who had given up on it. Even from early on, I enjoyed making up my own little songs as well as playing the usual covers. Slowly things became more serious when I discovered the possibilities of the studio and started to focus on my piano and eventually cello playing. As my palette of sounds extended, the music began to take on more of a classical feel and as I developed, that direction began to become more and more appealing to me.

Your biography mentions how the works of Steve Reich, Gavin Bryars, Philip Glass and more particularly Arvo Pärt have been influential in your work. In what way would you say have they made a mark on your work?
Through listening to those composers, especially Pärt and Bryars, I learnt a lot about what I wanted music to be, and what music means to me. At first, I was amazed that such a powerful emotional pull could be created despite their compositional restraint, but over time I began to realise that (for me) it was in fact this restraint itself that was so emotive. There is also a very textural and layered element to the aforementioned composers, which instantly fascinated me and aided continued listening over time and in different situations. Every time I listen to Music For 18 Musicians it still sounds totally different.

You currently live in Berlin. What prompted you to move there?
I had many reasons for moving to Berlin, both personal and in order to pursue what I wanted to do with music and in life, but I think my strongest impetus was a desire to get out of England as soon as I could. I never felt at home there, and I found the attitudes of the general population completely confusing to me. I also think that as a musician, and by extension an artist of some kind, you must keep stimulated and regain a desire to absorb as many new experiences as possible. Despite feeling very happy and at home in Berlin, I still feel the urge to keep moving around all the time, and find it hard to stay in the same place for more than a month usually. Travel and transition is in my bones!

How did you get to work with Erik Skodvin’s Miasmah Records, who released your debut album, Slumber Tides, back in 2006?
I can’t actually remember how I started talking to Erik, but we first met when I decided to come to Oslo for a while to get a feel for the city. He was the only person I knew who lived there, so I sent him an email to see if he felt like meeting up and showing me around. We got on well, and this was around the time where I was looking for a label for Slumber Tides and Miasmah was evolving into a physical label. His first release was a compilation, and he asked me to contribute. After hearing that, and speaking to him about his ideas for the label, it seemed liked a great home for my album. Now Erik has moved to Berlin too, and we are often meeting up as he turns out to be quite a good drinking buddy too!

On Slumber Tides, you played all the music yourself, but on your new album, Until The Point Of Hushed Support, you’re surrounded by a string quintet, a saxophonist, a vocalist and pianist and composer Nils Frahm. Did write for other musicians make working on this album a very different process to what it was for Slumber Tides?
The creative process for this album was indeed a very different experience from the making of my first album. Despite the fact the album took three years to write, it only became clear to me what the album had become and how it was truly going to sound in the last stages of its completion, when we recorded all the acoustic instrumentation in the church. It was a struggle in some ways, as usually I’m used to quite instantaneous results, but this was a long and drawn out process. Ultimately, living with the album for so long brought me a lot closer to it, and it’s a hugely personal work for me as I lived inside it for so long.

Although it is, like its predecessor, a very contemplative record in parts, the new album has a very different feel to your first, fuller in sound, more ambitious and orchestral. Was it a conscious effort on your part, and was it what made you want to work with other musicians?
It was a conscious decision to involve more players on this album, and I wanted to create something without thinking about the financial implications of recording with more people and let my imagination run wild. How the album turned out in terms of its aesthetic was just reflective of what I wanted to create over those three years. One thing I was certain of was not to repeat the first album all over again – I’m still happy with it, but I made it almost four years ago now so it wouldn’t make sense to throw together something similar. If people want to listen to something like that again, then they should just listen to the first CD. However, I do think there are many threads between the two, but I deliberately aimed for a progression from Slumber Tides with this one.

The album was recorded at the Grunewald church in Berlin, which is also where Nils Frahm recorded his album. Can you tell us more about the venue? Did you choose the place because of its particular acoustic?
The Grunewald church is an amazing location, and I’m so glad Nils found it. The acoustics of the space are incredible, with such a bright reverb. They also have a full-size grand piano there with such a unique sound – it takes some getting used to but just like with all great pianos, when you play it you really feel an interaction and collaboration between player and instrument. We also organised Nils’ release party there where I played with him and Dustin O’Halloran, and everyone who made it out to the suburbs of Berlin to see it came away with a real lasting impression of the place.

What inspired you while you were working on the album, and how did you work these influences in the music?
I can’t really say what influenced the album, as I’m sure a lot of things crept in there subconsciously. Moving to a new city probably influenced me a lot, but I couldn’t tell you how. Certainly coming to Berlin and suddenly being surrounded by a lot of fantastic performances every night made an impression, and I’m sure playing live a lot more myself inspired some of the sounds on there. In fact, some sounds from a concert I performed in Oslo on my birthday actually appear somewhere in the background of the last track. Overall I suppose the album is more a reflection of how I was feeling over its gestation period rather than a reflection of what I was listening to or reading.

You play a number of instruments, piano, cello, church organ, percussions… Which one do you feel the most at ease with?
Nothing pleases me more than sitting in front of a great piano and just playing for hours, so I suppose I would have to say the piano. However, there is something about playing the church organ that fills you with such a sense of power; you almost feel as if you are playing the room itself.

Beside traditional acoustic instruments, you also use electronics in your work, although usually in very discreet manner. Do you see this as an essential part of your work?
For Until The Point Of Hushed Support I think the electronics played a vital role, but I would like to try to work without them in the future, if only for an experiment. There is such a vast ocean of textures and timbres to be created with acoustic instrumentation, so I think as I get better as a composer in the traditional sense, I might rely less on electronic elements. Saying that, I also love using electronics in a very subtle and organic way, so although a recording may sound like it could all be played from beginning to end by a traditional ensemble, it is in fact not possible to reproduce it in this way. I like the position that this puts the listener in.

As a composer, it must be a thrilling thing to have musicians performing your own work. Was it the first time you got to work with other musicians on your own score?
It was the first time that I’ve used a score, as I don’t normally think in those terms when thinking about music. It was a very special feeling to sit back in the church and hear everything come to life, but there is also a strange dynamic in asking great musicians to play exactly what you want them too, and I really tried to be careful to not stifle their own personal expression.

The album is released on Berlin-based Sonic Pieces. Why did you choose to work with them?
When I moved to Berlin, Monique (ed: Recknagel, head of Sonic Piece) became a dear friend to me, and I believe to have a personal relationship with somebody you work with is really important. While I was creating the album, there were numerous labels that said they would release it, but because of many factors around the time it was finished I ended up without a label and worried that this album would never see the light of day. Luckily, Monique was kind (or crazy!) enough to invest in the album so it could be recorded in the best possible way. I’m also in love with her packaging, as is everyone else! I hate plastic CD cases, so it’s nice to see the album encased in something with as much love put into it as the album itself!

You did a lot of live concerts following the release of Slumber Tides. How did you make the transition from recording all parts of a record to performing in front of an audience?
When I began to play live more, I quickly decided I wouldn’t try to play tracks from the album live, so instead decided to improvise as much as possible and try to create something different, yet related to my recorded output in its feel. Listening to an album at home is a completely different experience to listening to a live performance in a space where the sound can be tailored to the room, so to me it doesn’t make sense to replicate my recorded music in a live setting… not to say it never will. On the next tour, there will be some reinterpretations of album tracks being played, but in a very different way that suits the live setting more.

You are about to embark on a UK and European tour. What can we expect on stage? Will you be playing on your own or are you touring with the formation that’s on the album?
I will be touring with a violin player who goes under the name Strie, and hopefully meeting up with other players for a few very special concerts, such as the (late) release party in Berlin on June 11th. I’ll be playing piano whenever possible, as well as cello and the usual electronics and small instruments.

On your website, there is a list of works you have been involved with, which include a lot of work for dance. How do you approach music for dance performances? Is this a very different process to working on your own music?
The work I do with dance companies varies from time to time. Sometimes I am simply improvising with the movement; sometimes it is recorded but more often than not I play a semi-improvised score live. The work is very different from my own as the music must leave enough space for the movement, and finding the line between too much and not enough is always a challenge. I also feel a lot of freedom to experiment within my dance scores, and I usually feel free to explore any ideas that come to mind as long as they supplement what the piece is trying to communicate.

Last year, you released an album as Liondialer, which is a project you set up with Danny Saul. The project is very different to your own work, as it is based entirely on live improvisations. How did the idea of Liondialer come up, and will you be releasing more records or performing live again?
Liondialer started as a kind of guerrilla attack on the ears of the ignorant! We started playing together when I lived in Manchester (where Danny is still based), and the basic premise was to trick promoters into having us to play, and then unleash a whole lot of noise on an audience and venue more used to the soft, singer-songwriter type. Usually the audience were more interested in talking or playing pool than the music presented, so we basically battled them for volume throughout the show – typical England! Since releasing the album, we decided to branch out and tour, and from then on the music has become a lot more quiet and subtle, in reflection of the respect shown by the audiences. We will probably release something else in the future, but no concrete plans yet…

You’ve also worked with a number of collaborators over the years, like Wouter Van Veldhoven, Machinefabriek, Xela… How do you choose the people you work with, and is this something you want to carry on doing? Is there anyone you would like to work with in particular?
The people I work with usually come to me – it’s quite rare I ask someone to work together. Saying that, I do really enjoy collaborations, and I have especially fond memories of making the album with Wouter. We both usually spend a long, long time creating our solo music, but when we got together things came together so fast that we were both left feeling like something very special had happened in the three days we spent creating it. As for people I’d like to collaborate with in the future, I’m not so sure… I will have to see what happens. Words were once shared about a collaborative release between Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick and I, but who knows if that will ever happen…

You are currently Composer in Residence at the Theale School of Performing Arts in Reading, and you’ve also done similar roles elsewhere, including at the Theatre de la Bastille in Paris. What does this involve, and how did you get involved with the Theale School? How do you combine this with living in Berlin?
I’m back and forth to England this year for the residency, though I only am there in person for eight weeks of the year, so it’s not so bad. I’m involved in lots of different things there, from teaching workshops to writing piano pieces to be performed at events. My main ‘showcase’ was a semi-improvised piece played by me and ten sixth-form students, which turned out really well I think. Usually the composer-in-residence had just prepared a score and handed it over to the students, but I was much more interested in spending the time I had with them working on improvisational techniques so that the outcome was much more of a group effort. Luckily, I think they really enjoyed it too.

If you had to name five records, books or films that have been especially important in your life, which ones would you choose?
Its cheating I know, but here is five of each that come to mind right now…
Arvo Pärt – everything…
Talk Talk – Spirit Of Eden
William Basinski – Disintegration Loops
Gavin Bryars – The Sinking Of The Titanic
Steve Reich – Music For 18 Musicians

Authors (too hard to name certain books…):
Franz Kafka
Haruki Murakami
Iain Sinclair (London Orbital)
George Orwell
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (100 Years Of Solitude)

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Lost Highway
Donnie Darko
Farvel Falkenburg
Three Colours (Red/Blue)

Email interview March 2010. Picture by Antje Jandrig, used with kind permission.
Until The Point Of Hushed Support
is out on Sonic Pieces on 26 March 2010

Greg Haines | Greg Haines (MySpace) | Sonic Pieces

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