From Alps to Arp

Pub date August 31, 2010

MUSIC Taking its name from the 1982 final edition in Brian Eno’s ambient series, the On Land Festival is in some ways a younger relative of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (as well as a prelude to it). Attuned to grain of sound as much as volume, unlike popular music fests, it isn’t as concerned with expansion or unlikely pairings as with the enhanced appreciation that can result when artists with a kinship are brought together. Grouper is back, and this year, Oneohtrix Point Never appears amid online raves and a recent collaboration with Antony Hegarty. On Land also sees the return of former SF resident Alexis Georgopolous, who’s had a hand in two excellent 2010 albums, The Alps’ spring release Le Voyage (Type) and Arp’s brand-new The Soft Wave (Smalltown Supersound). Alps are playing On Land while Arp isn’t, but because the Guardian covered Le Voyage earlier this year, the time seemed right to check in with Georgopolous about The Soft Wave.

SFBG There is a more pastoral quality to the music of both The Soft Wave and FRKWYS, Vol. 3, your recent collaboration with Anthony Moore. To me this is interesting because I just got off the phone with a musician and former New Yorker who talked about the lack of nature in New York City in relation to the Bay Area. Arp’s music has a strong elemental feel to it, one suggestive of oceans or the cosmos, but this more pastoral atmosphere is new in a way, so I’m wondering about its inspirational sources.

Alexis Georgopolous I like the idea of conjuring the natural world with analog synthesizers. It’s true that the current vogue is for ultra-artificial sound. It’s become trendy to exploit all the present synth sounds that were off limits, that were just too cheesy. Some good music has come of that opening up of the floodgates — Ariel Pink, Oneohtrix, James Ferraro. But I can’t say I know where this zeitgeist is leading. It might not be good.

But though there are some new age gems to be found, I’m not into just anything that purports to be “cosmic” or has a synth on it and happens to be obscure or ignored.

SFBG The Soft Wave was recorded onto two-inch tape. What is it about two-inch tape that attract or appeals to you in terms of the resulting sound?

AG Most of my favorite records were recorded to tape. There’s just something about it, the way that things can sound far away but also very present. Now everything is just butted right up against your ears. There’s no space between you and the sound. It’s just a wall. If you record 16 tracks or less on two-inch, the space on the tape itself creates a spaciousness, a wide angle. If digital gives you a blank space to inform, tape adds its own atmosphere.

SFBG Was it a major step to move vocals to the foreground as you do on Soft Wave‘s “From a Balcony Overlooking the Sea”? I realize you’ve sung or used your voice a little before in other projects, but your voice is central to the song, and its arrival occurs within what otherwise is an instrumental recording. It’s a bold gesture in that context.

AG It was simply a song that needed to be sung, not just played. It was written at a time when I’d realized the California chapter of my life, significant as it was to me, was over. It was, um, emotional. I’d seen so many friends leave and though I still have many dear, dear friends in San Francisco, it just felt that the time had come and I would be doing something wrong if I chose to ignore it. I had to leave. It sounds desperately corny, but I was literally choking back tears when I did the first take — which we ended up using.

I’d written and demoed a number of songs with words and vocals for The Soft Wave sessions. But after listening to what had been recorded, “From A Balcony” seemed appropriate while the others seemed destined for another album, the next album.

Initially, the idea of including just one song with vocals on an album seemed bizarre. But then, the unlikeliness of it all — the fact that I couldn’t think of an album that did that — began to appeal to me. The next album will be entirely vocal songs. “From A Balcony” is the bridge to the next record.

SFBG “High Life” also marks an overt step into melodicism. In some ways it’s so immediate or classic it sounds like a cover (forgive my ignorance if it is indeed one). Can you tell me a bit about the creation of that song?

AG Ha! That’s great. Well, it’s my own tune. But I’d be curious to know if you know of a song that sounds like it! That reminds me of the story about Paul McCartney waking up with the melody from “Yesterday” in his head. It was already so fully formed, so familiar in his dream, he was convinced it probably wasn’t his own tune. Some record executives looked into it, really looked high and low for a preexisting song that sounded like it. They didn’t find it. So McCartney recorded the song. I think it’s the most covered song of all time. Alas, I digress!

“High Life” is just a joyful little tune. Something to lighten things up after recording “From A Balcony.” It’s a bit cheeky, innit? I was sort of going for a Holger Czukay solo album feel, when he was into West African music and Fairlight synthesizers. I love Malcolm McLaren’s track “Obatala” (from 1983’s Duck Rock). It’s always struck me as sounding a lot like late-’70s Can. Like ethnological synth forgery. Fourth world.


With Oneohtrix Point Never, White Rainbow, Pete Swanson, Operative, Robert A.A. Lowe, Eli Kezsler and Ashley Paul, Golden Retriever

Fri/3, 7:30 p.m., $10 ($45 for four-night festival pass)

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


With Zelionople, Xela, Date Palms, Grasslung, Metal Rouge, Le Revelateur

Sat/4, 7:30 p.m. $10 ($45 for four-night festival pass)

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016