Experimental bedroom recorder, Julian Lynch explains his academic interests on ethnomusicology and anthtropology, why he may stop writing lyrics in his songs, and some behind-the-scenes insight into his latest masterpiece, Lines.
Lines is out now via Underwater Peoples.
Could you begin by talking about some of the academic work you’ve been doing with ethno-musicology and anthropology, and how that relates to Lines?
I’m still in grad school now, doing a joint PhD, as you said, in ethnomusicology and anthropology. I think that, in a general sense, studying anything having to do intrinsically with music can be beneficial for someone who makes music, since thinking about music certainly occupies a lot of my time. But, the truth is, the work I do towards my dissertation research has little to do directly with the music I make in my free time. The primary evidence I typically use in my research isn’t actually musical material at all most of the time.
Some ethnomusicologists and ethnomusicology students use an approach called bimusicality in their research, which basically means that they learn about a musical “system” by engaging with it, learning how to play it, etc. Since my research isn’t really about the mechanics of a musical system, or any formal features of music itself, I don’t really “learn” about music in that sense (through intensive listening and playing). So I can’t really say that I’m immediately inspired by the musical practices I study.
Here’s a link to an article I wrote about my main project. As you might tell from the violent nature of the musical practices I’m researching, they are hardly anything I’d like to emulate with my records!
Ok. So if there was one feeling you could leave a listener with after listening to Lines, what would that feeling be?
When it comes down to it, I don’t really have a strong desire for listeners of my music to feel any particular way. Of course, I would hope that they like it! But I don’t make music with the intention of invoking feelings of joy, sadness, disorientation, nostalgia, indignation or any other specific sensation or emotion. People listen to music in different ways, and have very different reactions to it, and I’m perfectly happy with that. One of the things I find most fulfilling is when people tell me about their own special personal connections they’ve developed in hearing my music, usually in ways I wouldn’t have predicted.
Well, I listen to Mare most—primarily when driving. It feels to me like an album of traveling. There are moments of curiosity and exploration, but mostly ones of intimacy. Which brings me to my next question, what do you think makes music intimate?
Haha yeah there are some albums I love to listen to while driving as well. As for what makes music intimate, I think it also is dependent and varies from person to person. It could even vary for the same person based on their mood. Sometimes a person can approach a recording in one way emotionally, and return to it later and hold completely different feelings. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t believe there is anything inherently intimate in music, it is all about how people listen to it.
This kind of relates to your question—I just read a review of one of my new tracks on a website, and the review includes some lyrics the reviewer had “heard” in listening to the song which are entirely not my own. There are also lyrics websites which contain “lyrics” to my songs which are really just imagined by listeners, with some similarity to the sounds of the words I’m actually singing, but typically the meanings are pretty far off. I think this phenomenon is kind of amazing and beautiful (and maybe speaks to the idea of intimacy you were asking about). The relative indecipherability of words in my songs allows some people to treat the music like a blank canvas for their imaginations, in a way. I guess you could just reduce it to mishearing some words, but I like to think there is some amount of creativity on the part of the listener to be putting together these phrases that are so distant from the actual lyrics.
What value then do you place on lyricism? What’s your writing process like?
I place much less value on lyrics than I think other listeners of pop music often do. My entire life, I’ve rarely paid attention to the lyrics being sung in the music I enjoy. To whatever extent lyrics are “present” in my own music, it is largely a formality. I actually think I will most likely stop writing and singing lyrics altogether in the near future. I don’t mean to say, however, that I don’t like writing words outside of prose, or that I have any specific apprehension about sharing words I’ve written. I just don’t have much enthusiasm when it comes to the song form itself in music.
My writing process varies, and it has changed slightly in the last couple years. Sometimes an idea will begin simply with plans for instrumentation, for example two instruments I’d like to pair with each other. Sometimes I’ll start with a short melody. Other times I work out a rhythmic pattern and build layers on top of it.
Could you speak a bit about the instruments/instrumental tools used on the album—perhaps how or why you used what you used?
I recorded the album on a Yamaha MT8X 8-track cassette machine. I used only one microphone during the recording process—a Shure 58beta. I used a Silvertone 12-string acoustic guitar on many tracks. Most of the time, when I use acoustic guitar, it is for the percussive qualities of the instrument. I’ve found a 12-string to be particularly useful for that reason. The synth heard throughout the record is a Moog Rogue, though I played a Kawai SX-210 on “North Line.” On “Going” (and maybe another track?) I recorded very low-end synth parts that sit so low in the mix I’m not sure they can be heard upon immediate listening, but occasional filter sweeps brighten those sounds in the mix at certain points.
On a few tracks (“Going” and “Carios kelleyi I” for example), I was producing sounds by manually manipulating cassettes running through a tape machine.
I used woodwinds pretty extensively, mostly clarinet and bass clarinet, but also some alto saxophone (e.g. on “Yawning”). In many cases (“Going” being the most noticeable) I recorded several tracks of clarinet parts at slightly different tape speeds to produce a “detuned”/”dissonant” effect to the overall recording.
Bass parts were often doubled with a fret-less to produce a stereo chorus effect (in harmony parts at times, e.g. outro of “Going”), and in all instances I recorded bass directly into the tape machine. Most electric guitar parts were also recorded direct-in. I played slide guitar on “Going” in doubling the vocal melody. Many people think I saturate guitar and other parts with pedal effects, which often isn’t the case though there are some small exceptions. I kept all the vocal tracks dry deliberately and at times focused on recording many subtle sounds of things like my mouth/lips rubbing against the microphone etc. while recording the singing.
In recording some guitar parts, I was very inspired by this Wayne Shorter track. The guitar parts (mixed in stereo) are performed by John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock. I really love the subtlety of both performers’ guitar playing demonstrated on that track.
What are your future plans for recording? What do you look to achieve musically?
Tough question. I will probably be going very slowly with any future recording projects. As you might have guessed by the amount of time between emails, I’ve been dealing with lots of work for school and teaching, and in some ways I really need to scale back my music activities and stay focused on all that. I have no plans to ever stop recording, though, so ultimately new recordings will emerge. It just might take some time. :)
A lot of my motivation for recording is quite personal, since obviously this isn’t really a career for me nor do I perform often at all. I feel like working on recording projects keeps me balanced and happy in a lot of ways, so in that sense maybe it is a bit self-serving, but at the same time I’ve very happy to share what I make with anyone interested in listening, and I’m really grateful for all of the great connections I’ve made with people through playing music.
Thanks so much Julian. Look forward to hearing more from you soon.
Curated by Eloise Hess & Tyler Andere.