Sullen impact


Adam Wiltzie’s work in Stars of the Lid, The Dead Texan and Sparklehorse are among many natural antecedents to A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Wiltzie’s collaboration with Dustin O’Halloran; but it is perhaps an acute sense of community and loss that drives him most, writes SIOBHAN KANE

A Winged Victory for the Sullen released their self-titled record in 2011. A statement of hard wrought poetry, it mingles classical and ambient conceits, swirling instrumentation and droneand it emerged over some years, after Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran met in Italy in 2007, at a Sparklehorse concert.

“I remember the night quite vividly,” says Wiltzie. “We mostly had conversations revolving around passport cache issues and whiskey, which I suppose still come up quite often. “I remember the promoter of the concert in Italy. A lot of bands had disaster stories. He slammed the car door on the hand of [Mark] Linkous,andit swelled uplike a grapefruit.We almost couldn’t play. And it was on the heels of Mark falling in the bathroom in Torino – he had completely smashed his face in. He seemingly had his foot halfway out the door at all times, it was a constant struggle keeping himalive, but ironically one of the best times of my life.”

Excited by their combined musical influences and differences, O’Halloran and Wiltzie set about making a record, with physical space becoming an important part of the process. “It was decided that we would compose and record in places we do not normally work. To do it the old-fashioned way, or at least how it used to be.The digital recording age has created a climate of laziness for collaborations – we purposely defied the practices of ‘file sharing’ and ‘digital online transfer’, and encouraged the art of ‘internal whiskey sharing’ and ‘Italian gastronomical stomach transfer’, it was extremely liberating.”

Recording took place in places such as the renowned Grunewald Church in Berlin, a 17th century villa in northern Italy, and East Berlin DDR radio studios, with special pianos, and collaborators such as violinist Peter Broderick and cellist Hildur Gudnadóttir.

“It was a combination of space and the piano, and ultimately it was about finding the right piano sound that could fit with all the layers of the guitar wash – the Bösendorfer, and later in the recording, an Italian model called a Fazioli, it was like finding the perfect colour to match our knitted sweaters.The main evolution has been our ability to let the songs evolve with the addition of different voices. We have been playing shows with large orchestras, and it has been very satisfying for both of us.”

While there is a looseness to their creativity, there is also a belief in serendipity, with the late Mark Linkous as a kind of patron saint. Requiem for the Static King Part One is a raw and moving elegy to Wiltzie’s great friend, with the glowing, devastating strings reflecting Linkous’s wandering spirit. “There is a lot of Linkous on the record, as I am a very sentimental person. If it was not for Mark, I never would have met Dustin, and AWVFTS never would have happened. He died six months afterwestarted the recording, and after I returned from his funeral I was really down. The next timewegot together, we came up with Part One of his Requiem–he deserved nothing less.The man was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met, and my life will never be the same without him.”

The record must have made Wiltzie think about his own journey, a musical contribution that is intelligent and eclectic, inspired as much by Arvo Pärt, as by Talk Talk. “Looking back and finding some kind of reverence in what I have created over the past 20 years is something I will never be comfortable with. I strongly feel that success for so many artists has resulted in a lack of struggle to keep creating something that is truly worthy of listening.

That is what it feels like most of the time – like a big, silly beauty pageant. I reckon I just have a really hard time taking myself seriously, and, in the end, music was never something I thought I was particularly good at. It always feels like a constant struggle. In the context of the Winged Victory record – it was such a joy and pleasure to create, and there were times that I just completely knew where I was going with the writing and the structure. I am not sure if I have finally turned a corner, but I suppose I can only hope.”

I mention this might inspire new work with Stars of the Lid, Wiltzie’s brilliant collaboration with Brian McBride. “Yes, despite the general impression that we are dead, broken up or still living in Austin, Texas – none of which is true – I am currently recording basic tracks in Budapest with their National Radio Orchestra, but I amafraid only the shadow knows if and when it will be finished.”

Shadows are referenced in the preface to the video for Requiem for the Static King Part One, part of the Wallace Stevens poem The Rock: “It is an illusion that we were ever alive,/ lived in the houses of mothers, arranged ourselves/By our own motions in a freedom of air./Even our shadows, their shadows, no longer remain./ These lives lived in the mind are at an end/ They never were.”

So it comes as little surprise to find out what Wiltzie is presently reading. “This is going to sound cliched, but I have been reading some of that WB Yeats fellow. I never really read anything by him before, and I ama bit astonished at myself. I feel like I have finally discovered the long-lost king of great song titles.”

AWVFTS play the New Music Dublin Festival at the National Concert Hall tomorrow night

New Music Dublin: Aa Here worth a shout

Is music strong enough to provoke a reaction from a government? That’s the question been asked tomorrow by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, when it will perform works by Arvo Pärt and Louis Andriessen.

Pärt’s Symphony No 4 is a direct criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin and is dedicated to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, while Andriessen’s De Staat from 1976 considers the relationship between music and politics and has developed something of a cult following.

The Hilliard Ensemble created something almost unearthly when they performed at St Patrick’s Cathedral with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek in 2011.

Here, they are playing a double-header concert along with composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (right).

On Sunday evening, Crash Ensemble will be delivering a survey of cutting-edge European music with its Europa concert. The programme features works by Simon Steen Andersen (which uses text from Nelson Mandela’s prison diaries), Georg Fredrich Haas (in this piece, the audience sits within the players), Heiner Goebbels (this work is a reconstructed ballet) and Michel Van Der Aa. The latter’s piece is called Here. Anyone heard heckling with an “Aa here, leave it out” will probably get thrown out. It might just be worth it, though.

Laurence Mackin

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