Ali McGhee is a journalist, creative writer, and academic. Her work has appeared in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Romantic Circles, Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary...
Julianna Barwick's music is the soundtrack to dream visions. Filled with her mostly wordless voice rising and falling over loops, synths, and distortion, it's a meeting of organicism, techne, and more than a little magic. Her new album, Will (released in May of this year on Dead Oceans), continues her exploration of expansive soundscapes that lie between sleep and waking. Barwick plays Asheville's Forsythia Hall with opener Mary Lattimore on Friday, September 30th, in support of the album. The show is presented by the Mothlight.
Barwick's previous album, Nepenthe (Dead Oceans), was composed and recorded in Iceland, and the songs conjure up otherworldly images of vast, gorgeous landscapes. Will, on the other hand, was created over the course of 2015 in locations that ranged from Lisbon, Portugal, to Asheville's own Moog Music. Despite the difference in their creations, Barwick's signature sound, informed as it is by the spaces in which it was birthed, is in place on the new record.
Although she uses technology extensively to create her songs, they seem to invoke the most sacred spaces of the natural world. It's fitting that the title of her first album, The Magic Place (2011, Asthmatic Kitty) refers to a particular tree in her childhood backyard that she visited often. And this quality of magic in nature seems to inform her own process. She composes via improvisation, knitting together sounds into patterns and honing them as they emerge.
This process gives a quality of timelessness to the record. Barwick eschews narrative in her music; rather, she's more interested in textures. Although rare words or phrases emerge out of her vocals, it's the shape of the words that matter more, and Barwick bends and stretches sounds to explore every angle that might be of interest. While melodies do build and fade, repetition is more often the order of the day. Ends of songs cycle back to their beginnings, knitting together fabrics of sound that call attention to the glimmerings of individual threads spun together to create the whole. It's a beautiful, meditative album that conjures visions as well as emotions, of longing, of love, and of hope.
&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a data-cke-saved-href="http://juliannabarwick.bandcamp.com/album/will" href="http://juliannabarwick.bandcamp.com/album/will"&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;Will by Julianna Barwick&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
I spoke with Julianna about the album and its creation and her upcoming visit to Asheville.
Asheville Grit (AG): Can you talk about the process of creating and recording Will? You composed and recorded Nepenthe in Iceland, which is such a specific (and perfect) location. How was it different this time around?
Julianna Barwick (JB): It was more scattered than the Iceland production. I had to find my way through the year and I didn't have one place, one producer, like I did for Nepenthe. I kind of had to figure it out again on my own. I just started with baby steps. I spent a week in upstate New York in February 2015 and did some writing there. I was completely alone with no car. It was like 20 degrees outside.
I wrote stuff there, and then the next step was Asheville. I had met the people at Moog a few times and they had me do the Mother demo. For that, I just made some stuff up once they showed me how to use it, and I recreated those things when I was there in Asheville for the record. "Nebula" was a song I did there. But that was totally different, it was July, and it was hot.
Then the next stop was Lisbon. I had a bunch of friends there, and I had performed some festivals in Europe and I used my time and resources to stay for a couple of weeks. I've had friends there since 2007 who had exactly what I needed. Lisbon is one of my favorite cities--maybe my favorite city. There are people there that I love and it means a lot to me. It was the first place outside of New York where I was asked to play, so that was a huge deal. And I've remained super connected to the city and the people I met since then. With this album, I felt I was using opportunities that presented themselves all throughout 2015, that whole year, collecting pieces and parts when I was in each environment. Basically the antithesis of the process of Nepenthe.