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Nouvel album, peu de temps après un précédent Ancestral Star plutôt lumineux et un EP titré Shadowland  encore plus inspiré, de Barn Owl, dont le récent concert parisien était, de mémoire récente, des plus remarquables possibles. Ici, le groupe explore encore cette lignée si ardue entre musique du désert et du cosmos, entre Sunn et Alice Coltrane, dont l’influence est soulignée par le titre du deuxième morceau, Turiya. L’album, qui dure 40 minutes, déploie ainsi une forme de mysticisme ailé, bourdonnant à souhait dans une espace que l’on sent se libérer, s’élargir, au fil des minutes qui avancent. De la musique pour drogués ? Pas exactement : plutôt du rock qui s’étire à l’infini, mené par une rythmique inédite pour le groupe, des aplats de Juno 60, quelques échos d’instruments indiens. Mais l’enjeu est bien dans la dualité des guitares du duo qui forme Barn Owl : ensemble, ils mettent au point une dynamique qui se départit de celle de Sunn. Là où ce dernier groupe jouait sur la lenteur et la superposition des riffs lourds, créant des strates horizontales, des paysages sonores monolithiques, Barn Owl tend à faire s’élever ses guitares comme autant d’aigles ou de condors visant une ascension toujours plus haute, quitte à se laisser brûler les yeux par le soleil du désert, forcément trop fort. L’album sort en septembre chez Thrill Jockey.

Déjà dit ici, plusieurs fois, l’admiration portée à ce Barn Owl, interviewé ici et qui figure bien la génération nouvelle, après Earth dans les années 90 et Sunn O))) dans les années 2000, des guitaristes qui bourdonnent, entre métal, minimalisme et envolées cosmiques. Ce soir, ils jouent à Saint Ouen, à Mains D’Oeuvres, avec Stephen O’Malley, qui viendra, d’après ce que j’ai entendu dire, jouer avec eux. Il y aura aussi Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, patron du label Root Strata, déjà vu à Paris il y a quelques semaines, et qu’on a hâte de réécouter tant ses propres disques sont d’une belle douceur mélancolique.

La typographie grise et quasi argentée, sur fond noir, évoque instantanément les premiers disques de Nirvana, avant Nevermind. Mais, le dessin qui fait office de pochette dit bien que nous ne sommes plus en 1990 mais en 2011, année où l’abstraction organique, les collages et les peintures, les dessins l’emportent sur les photos rock – au moins dans les disques qui m’interpellent. Ici, d’ailleurs, on est plus proche de Earth que de Cobain, avec une continuation de ce que Barn Owl a déjà développé sur une poignée d’albums. Celui-ci est court, fait suite à leur beau et cosmique Ancestral Star, à propos duquel je les interviewais récemment. Sans doute plus instinctif, plus mélancolique, ralenti et triste que le précédent disque, Shadowland s’ouvre sur une série de notes monotones, qui planent doucement, et se dévoile progressivement plus dense et tendu. Monolithe se dépeçant lui-même, Shadowland brille en diffusant une légère réverbération élégiaque, belle et tendre, réchauffant doucement les synapses à la manière d’un soleil pastel. Barn Owl jouera à Saint Ouen bientôt, avec Jefre Cantu-Ledesma et Stephen O’Malley.

Ancestral Star de Barn Owl est un de mes albums favoris de l’année. Du coup, j’ai envoyé au groupe (Evan Caminitti et Jon Porras) quelques questions par mail, voici leurs réponses en VO.

1.What state of mind were you in when you started recording this new album ?
Evan: We had been honing the material for awhile, playing it on several short tours. So we were really ready to put versions of the songs to tape.
Jon: Most of Ancestral Star (referred to as AS in the rest of the interview) were songs we had been playing live for some time, so we spent much time digesting it all. I would say we went into recording very eager to translate the live actions into a proper record.

2. Did you have a specific intention or purpose before recording ?

Jon: Maybe to combine a wide range of influences that did not seem related on the surface. We have a wide scope of musical interests, we love black metal, dhrupad raga, ornette colman and so on, so i guess we just wanted to find a way to incorporate them all.

3. How do you feel about your previous records as a band ? and compared to the new one ?

Evan: We’re definitely pleased with the new record, it felt like the first time we couple flesh out all the ideas we had to total satisfaction. We’re proud of how the past records came out but I think the experience of making a few records gave us the knowledge to really say what we wanted to say this time.
Jon: With AS we were able to incorporate more ideas, and in that way i feel it is more complete. But after recording the conjurer, we immediately had new ideas, we knew what worked and what we wanted to do differently, so i hope we matured a bit with AS.

4. There is a certain cosmic feeling related to this record which reminds me of some Alice Coltrane LPs and also something very remindful of Earth’s Hex album : are they musicians you have listened to ? what do you say you take from them ?

Evan: Sure, Alice Coltrane’s « Journey in Satchidanandas is a total classic and probably one of my favorite albums of all time. Earth is great too, particularly both Earth 2 and Hex, but I think people get the impression that we are influenced by them more than we really are. Guitarists like Sandy Bull, Loren Connors and John Fahey have had a bigger influence on us than Earth. I think that the as far as the « desert sound » is concerned, Earth is the easiest reference point, but this hasn’t been a conscious influence on us since « From Our Mouths… ». Also, as far as the desert vibe goes, Cormac McCarthy and the Dead Man soundtrack are important influences.

5. You have both released solo albums : how does the solo work inform Barn Owl’s sound ?

Evan: I think work we have done as Barn Owl informs our solo work more than anything because we first began exploring our sound together and then branched off into the solo material, honing our respective styles.
Jon: The solo work helps to keep the creative juices flowing, we love recording and playing so it makes sense for us to always be active.

6. How dependant are you on your instruments ? could you compose Barn Owl’s music on other instruments than the ones you are currently using ? what do the additionnal musicians bring during the Ancestral Star recordings ?

Evan: I donZt think we could do what we do without guitars. Those are our instruments, i’d feel lost on stage without a guitar. The other musicians that played on the record really enriched the album through the new dimensions they added. Marielle Jakobsons’ violin on several of the albumZs tracks really took them where they needed to go.
Jon: Though guitars are our main instruments, we’ve also grown up playing other instruments, piano was the first instrument i learned. We hope the other musicians added a richness to the recordings, we figured the more instrumentation, the wider rage of harmonic detail and ultimately a better sounding record.

7. Actually, how did you first got interested in drone music ? did you at all listen to musicians like La Monte young or Terry Riley ? Or did the music come out of playing, without any specific references in mind ?

Evan: La Monte Young and Terry Riley have definitely informed our work since the beginning. Reading things by and about them had a big influence as much as just listening to their music. I think having references is important in understanding how to approach music like this that has such a different aim than pop music, you have to listen in a different way to be able to appreciate it.
Jon: I have a cousin, Paul Greenhaw, who was studying just intonation and composition when i was in high school. His musical taste had a huge influence on the music i make now. i guess being exposed to long tone music helped me develop a patient attitude toward listening and playing that has become a big part of our musical personality.

8. I was recently in San Francisco and had the chance to see an exhibit of Evan’s drawings (I wanted to buy one, but they wouldn’t know how to sell me any !) : I was wondering how connected are the drawings and the music ? Does the art come in the same way as the music ?
Evan: Oh, that’s too bad…sorry to hear that! Sometimes the art is in a really direct dialogue with the music, sometimes its more of a subconscious connection. With Ancestral Star, all of the artwork was done after the album was finished with a really specific intention to convey the sound of the music visually.

9. I first discovered your music through Root Strata is there a feeling of a « scene » around that label ? Or in San francisco ?
Evan: There is a pretty small group of people that constantly support each other in San Francisco with a definite feeling of community. Also, Jefre and Maxwell of Root Strata have done an amazing job curating the On Land festival the past two years which is a wonderful collection of musicians, although most of those people arenZt from the Bay Area.
Jon: Jefre and Maxwell (guys who run Root Strata) are amazing, if there is an experimental scene at all in SF, it might be because of them.

10. The title tracks from Ancestral Star seem to indicate a certain fascination with rituals, magic, and moments of the day when senses are a bit blurred : how do come up with the titles and what do you seek in them ? Are they a reflection of what the music is trying to be or to point out ?
Evan: The titles are usually an intuitive thing, where a song will evoke a specific image or feeling that we want to convey. Ancestral Star is connected to the idea of ancestral memory, which involves getting in touch with a force greater than yourself through music.
Jon: It might seem cheesy, but we like mystery, and we like to title songs after moments or scenes that emit a sense of uncertainty. sometimes we name songs after specific moments, other times we just pick titles because they sound cool.

11. Please tell me how you compose your track : for instance, Light from the Mesa ?
Evan: Light From the Mesa was sort of composed backwards from the way you hear it. It started off as me on guitar and Jon playing drums. And then with Norman, who recorded the album, we all sang over the track. Later, Jon and I played guitar together which became the introduction to the track.
Jon: First we wrote and recorded the skeletal foundation of the song, the drum and guitar parts. After listening back we knew we wanted a dramatic intro, and what better than some dark atmospheric wash? Often we will write parts or melodies on our own, then compare notes, and together we will lay out parts into a whole song.

12. Finally, where do you feel your music is going and what projects do you have after this new album ?
Evan: we’re always trying to explore new ideas. This has to be done to avoid stagnation and boredom. we’ve been working on more intricate dual guitar pieces involving more live playing than looping. we have plans to record new material which we’ve been working on for over a year so far. I have a new solo album down the pipeline on Immune Recordings and there is a new Higuma album due on Root Strata very soon.
Jon: We have a collaborative project with Ellen Fullman, Theresa Wong and Norman Teale soon to be released on Important. I also have two solo records to be released on Root Strata and Immune Records in the future.

Ancestral Star de Barn Owl est édité par Thrill Jockey.

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