Laurel Halo: State of Flux
¨All is flux and nothing is stationary¨ said Heroclitus. And so is true of the music of Laurel Halo which has always existed in a state of flux, guided from the beginning by an intelligent instinct for form and change to become one of the most respected s
Chris Mann - February 28, 2014
When Laurel Halo first played in Barcelona at last year’s Mutek festival she had just released “Quarantine” [Hyperdub, 2012], her debut album of vocal–driven songs that went on to become one of the critics most lauded albums of the year. Yet her performance captured a different sound, one that was more ecstatic and free flowing. Since then she has refined her approach from constant time on the road and channeled it into the labyrinthine psychedelic masterpiece “Chance of rain” [Hyperdub, 2013], once more hailed as a classic. Mutek 2014 sees Halo return to the festival riding the wave of this second album, but playing in a different setting, this time in the club environs with her Hyperdub lable mates. We ask her about then and now, about movement and inspiration, and about the process of change.
Q: You played at Mutek in Barcelona last year. Can you tell us about your experience of Mutek and Barcelona?
LH: I had a great time and am glad to come back!
Q: Last year you played a set that was leaning towards ambient and psychedelic, but you have also been doing more rhythm-driven sets lately. What sort of show can we expect in Mutek this year?
LH: Maybe something more club oriented but with a heavy emphasis on deep-end ambience and sample construction.
Q: You have now had two albums and a two singles out on Hyperdub and are playing in their showcase this year. What has been the most important thing about your relationship with them that has been so productive for you both? How much of a role did/do Hyperdub have in the final process of production or curration of the different releases?
LH: The most important part of working with Hyperdub is that they’re just generally supportive, and hands off - if they like the music they put it out, basically. I’ve been exploring different sounds as I develop as an artist and I think it’s healthy to work with a label that’s cool with it, not expecting you to churn out the same release or a certain style over and over. They’re way more about letting their artists develop craft and style, rather than developing their artists into brands.
Q: You have also played recently in some of the other Mutek festivals around the world. Can you tell us where you have been lately and some of the surprising or unexpected things you came across there that have influenced you?
LH: This is a hard question to answer; of course different geographies, architectures and people inspire new perspectives and help break familiar patterns in your head. But there’s also a lot of waiting in airports and never being actually able to engage with the place that you are playing, being a nonentity moving through allocated people places to deliver your function in society. I can say I was blown away by the landscapes outside of Wellington and Auckland in New Zealand; these ancient pastoral views put everything in context, reminding of the infinitely small and irrelevant nature of what I’m or anyone else is doing, which is actually a big motivator. It’s freeing to know that yes you should take yourself seriously, but you have to realize the cosmic humor of every situation.
Q: How have the audiences you have played for changed in the last few years? Is there a difference in their attitude or expectation towards electronic music or your own music in general?
LH: I’m not sure!
Q: How often are you changing your setup for live shows? Is it important to keep the setup moving and surprising or to stay the same to master it?
LH: A mix of both - there are some essential components but I like to change up certain pieces of kit to keep it exciting.
Q: How has your touring schedule impacted on your production? Is it harder to record or does playing live constantly somehow influence what you want to do in the studio?
LH: It does make it harder to record, but it’s also good because you figure out what works and what doesn’t of your live tracks, and it’s also nice to record in the studio with no intent of playing the music out live, just making recordings for recordings’ sake, and on the flip side making live tracks that may or may not get recorded, just sketches and tools to perhaps manipulate later, perhaps not.
Q: Can you describe your creative process a little. Are you more likely to start a piece from a conceptual or an aesthetic inspiration?
LH: Generally it’s just a state of equilibrium - marinating work until there’s a sense of balance throughout, reconciling aesthetic, conceptual and instinctive drives. I’ll go into a recording or making a live track with specific aesthetic goals in mind (certain rhythms, harmonies, samples to achieve certain moods or structures) but oftentimes I find that my initial goal gets mutated into something else because either the pleasure center or intellectualizing is tugging at the thing, and I just shape it until the where the music has gone and where my initial goals were rendezvous with one another.
Q: How important is it to have a visual aspect to electronic music today and how much can it influence interpretation of the music? Do you prefer to play with visuals or without, for example? In addition, both your album covers have had a certain macabre element to them, but yet your music has never been labelled as macabre or even necessarily dark.
LH: I’m not opposed to visuals with electronic music although I dislike the idea that it’s necessary to have them. Ultimately it feels like the emphasis on having visuals turns electronic or dance music into this entertainment complex in which the music matters less than the overall audiovisual, recreational experience. Though it’s interesting to see how performance can be stretched or manipulated, and visuals can be successful in that respect, I don’t think they’re essential. I will say the visuals at Mutek in Montreal last June were successful.
With respect to album art I think it’s crucial to have the artwork come into play with the music, to either be in contrast and cause tension as with the Quarantine and Chance of Rain covers, or be in parallel and reinforce the aesthetic or narrative of the music inside. I will completely ignore records that have shit art, fonts or overall design, which is a shame because I probably have missed some great music, but it’s part of the whole thing - the album cover, the sleeve, the vinyl sticker, they all tell a story about the music you’re listening to.
Q: How important is format to your work? You have so far released almost as many albums as singles. Is that because you are very aware of, or perhaps specific about the format/structure certain tracks should have as a unit, or is it because you have a conceptual gravity towards larger concepts like albums?
LH: Format’s not so important it just depends on the tracks you have and what you want them to express.
Q: There seemed to be a lot of subtle jazz influences on ¨Chance of Rain. Is that something that influenced the genesis of the album particularly or something you are developing further?
LH: I’ve been listening to jazz for a long time and I think Chance of Rain was the first time I’ve been able to significantly integrate that influence into my music, though it is on other records of mine too. Just the idea of a music that takes repetition and mutates it into something else.
Q: You started out working in groups, but have you ever considered trying to work with other live musicians or other vocalists either live or in the studio?
LH: I’m not opposed to collaborations though not sure what form it would take; am in discussions with some friends but nothing's solidified.