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cheyenne_h on 10/23/2017 at 03:03PM

FMA Q&A: The Freeharmonic Orchestra!

Last year, the Freeharmonic Orchestra made its debut with "Freeharmonics Vol. 1," a groundbreaking round-robin music project that spanned the globe. I interviewed a couple of the artists last year for Radio Free Culture when the album dropped. This year's project is called "Space, Robots, the Future!" and features an impressive roster of musicians: Steve Combs, Lonely Punk, simon_mathewson, Monplaisir, Tapes & Tubes, Scott Holmes, gentil, Monk Turner, Matt Oakley, springtide, Ketsa, Art of Escapism, Jahzzar, Nic Bommarito, Matteo Berni, half cocked, Unthunk, Blue Dot Sessions and Small Colin. Needless to say, it's a profoundly varied listen and was a labor of love by these artists. Check it out (for free of course!) right here. I asked a few of the artists to tell me about their experiences and you can read answers from Simon Mathewson, Offal Tunes, springtide & Unthunk (lightly edited) below.

FMA: How did you get involved with the Free Music Archive?

simon_mathewson: I make music and put it on the FMA. In the past I've put music on Myspace, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, Bandcamp etc but I've found that people who use the FMA to find music are far more responsive and my music has been used for film, animation, games, choreography, documentaries, podcasts and more.

Offal Tunes: I have been a participating artist on the FMA platform since July of 2015 and have been releasing material on the site ever since. At first I put out a bunch of tunes by a band called Bad Ronald until they broke up late in 2016. At that point I put together a new act called half cocked. Through the site I have been contacted more than a few times by video artists looking to use our material for their projects, which I found quite exciting. That has never happened on any of the other music distribution sites I have worked with. I also volunteer my time helping produce live sets for the WFMU community as well as helping out with some of the site's curatorial duties. It is a labor of love and I am thankful for the services that the FMA provides!

springtide: I’m the only member of one-man band called springtide. I have been releasing my tunes on FMA since 2012, and it allows me to connect with listeners around the world, including talented videographers.

Unthunk: I use FMA as a distribution hub for my recorded music. I got involved through Lee Rosevere of the netlabel Happy Puppy Records. He graciously agreed to put out something I was working on, and as you know, the label operates through FMA.

FMA: Where do you live and make music?

simon_mathewson: South West England.

Offal Tunes: I reside in Manhattan and can be found walking the streets of the East Village with my rat terrier, Jackie.

springtide: Tokyo, Japan.

Unthunk: Bowen Island, BC Canada.

FMA: How did you become involved with the Freeharmonic Orchestra?

simon_mathewson: Last year I made an album with Steve Combs and he suggested the idea getting lots of FMA musicians together to make a collaborative album. He organised Freeharmonics Vol 1 and I organised Vol 2 (Space, Robots, the Future).

Offal Tunes: Simon Mathewson, who put the whole thing together along with Steve Combs, contacted me through the FMA site back in 2016 to ask me if I wanted to participate in a musical version of an "Exquisite Corpse" where artists would begin a composition and hand it off to someone else for completion. I loved the idea from the get go and agreed enthusiastically. I had a blast working on both projects!

springtide: I didn’t know about this project before Simon asked me if I’m interested in this type of collaboration. Actually, I have no idea why Simon selected me ;-) 

Unthunk: When Steve and Simon hatched the plan to produce the first album, I gather they browsed the FMA artists looking for likely participants. Simon sent me an email, and I was thrilled be included. I was therefore looking forward to Simon's call to action for volume 2.

FMA: Tell me about the song(s) you worked on.

FMA: Tell me about the song(s) you worked on.

simon_mathewson: We had a theme (Space, Robots, the Future), and with that in mind I sent the bare bones of a track to another collaborator, who then finished the track. I was then sent the start of a track by someone else for me to put the finishing touches to. The whole album was created like this, between about 20 people from all over the world!

Offal Tunes: There are 20 tracks on Vol. 2 and I had the pleasure to work on 4 of them. The first track I appear on is titled "Sorry, Dave" which was written by Art of Escapism and handed off to me. In the spirit of the album's title, (which was determined by Simon I believe), I named the track with a nod to the Kubrick movie and tried to give it a deep space feel. I even slipped in some kettle drums for a laugh! I think it came out pretty well. I like the unintended feedback from my bass guitar track; I think it adds the element of chaos that is intrinsic of time and space. The next track I worked on, per the sequence of the album, is "Mission to the Center" which was written and titled by Scott Holmes. In this case I simply went along for the journey and laid down a very subdued bass track in addition to some samples of chatter from the Apollo 11 astronauts, then passed it on to my partner Michael McAuliffe, (who worked on all of the other tracks with me as well), for final touches and mix-down. I like how the tune progresses and intensifies. The third track I was involved with is titled "Galileo" and our partner in this instance was Matteo Berni (who is from Pisa, Italy, where the famous astronomer was born). I had the bass track lying around, (which eventually became an altogether different song for half cocked), Matteo wrote the words and provided drums, and Michael added the guitar. "Galileo" is the rawest track from the collection and adds to the rich variety of Vol. 2. Finally, there's "Bogey" which started out as another bass track I had laying around but Steve Combs decided to use a small portion of it and turn the tune into something completely different, which is the beauty of collaboration.

springtide: Matt, who worked on this tune with me, came up with the title “The Day The Robots Finally Won”. When we found that the final version sounds uplifting, we discussed if we should change the title accordingly, but Matt suggested that a dirk title with happy sounding song is more interesting, as it sounds quite sinister. Matt gave me first part of verse, so I created the rest of it. The process was like “unveiling” unheard part, instead of adding something quite new, so that you can feel natural continuity between each part. Then I created chorus which leads to fanfare-like phrase Matt created. Again, it was like discovering missing pieces of music.

Unthunk: For vol.2, we were assigned two pieces. For each, we were paired up, with one musician to start, the other to finish, the assignment. "No Crime" was started by Lonely Punk. Kevin and Julian handed over a fairly fleshed-out instrumental piece built from a repeating chord pattern. I stripped back their arrangement to the solid drum and bass foundation, then considered what their title "No Crime" might have to do with space, robots, and/or the future. I put down some words about a benevolent robot that was crippled by its untrusting inventor so it could commit no crime, and fashioned them to work with Kevin and Julian's foundation, then added back some of their keyboard parts, along with touches of guitar, to give the piece some shape. Maria Alejandra Velasquez Restrepo sung the words, and we were done. I have recently been interested in using field recordings as the basis for musical pieces, and used my second assignment to work with a recording of ocean waves to set up an apparent anti-technology scenario - "No Robots." To the slow wave pattern, I added some birdsongs from the Macaulay Library. The musical component consists of one acoustic baritone and one regular guitar line. These elements are intended to sound natural and organic, but... The ocean waves are quantized, so each wave has been altered slightly to take the same time to break, forming a steady rhythmic foundation. Likewise the bird calls have been slightly adjusted into regular patterns, aligned with the waves. So on first listen, you might think these are natural sounds, but on closer listen, the resulting rhythm is, in fact, robotic. I passed this foundation to Tapes and Tubes to complete. His most dramatic contribution is a multi-layered drone, but he also does some subtle but effective processing to the parts.

FMA: What was it like working with artists who were far apart?

simon_mathewson: The distance doesn't really make any difference. In fact I didn't really know where any else was, so they could have been next door.

Offal Tunes: I enjoyed it. That's how I usually work, unless I'm rehearsing for a live gig, where an act has to be in the same room in order to feed off of each other. When you're recording in a studio together there's more pressure to be productive, which can be debilitating. There is an element of freedom and less time restraint when recording with someone remotely.

springtide: Physical distance didn’t mean anything this time. However, working with someone who has different background and musical taste inspired me so much. For example, I hardly use synths and keyboards with my tune because I’m a guitar player and usually I use synth-like guitar sound generated by electronic guitar and effectors. But this time, I decided to try different approach so that my electric guitar sounds more natural in contrast to synths and noises Matt added.

Unthunk: The assignment for the project is to either start and piece and hand it on, or finish a started piece that is handed to you. I miss the back and forth collaboration, when you react to what your colleague does, and they react back in turn, making the creative process conversational. Our process is a bit like sending (receiving) a message in a bottle. On the other hand, the process is essentially conflict-free, so getting to a completion is relatively easy!

FMA: Do you think you'd be interested in doing another Freeharmonic Orchestra project in the future?

simon_mathewson: Yes, it's great being sent an unfinished track and having free reign to do what you want with it, and then hearing the tracks you've worked on within the whole album.

Offal Tunes: Absolutely, it's a gas!

springtide: I have no idea. When I created this tune, I was also working on my next album scheduled early next year (and I’m still working on it actually), so I had to finish this song within a week, while my two young kids were also asking for my time. I’m not sure if I can make it again next time...

Unthunk: Certainly. I really enjoy collaborating, and it is easy with current technology to do so from the comfort of your own studio. I've had the pleasure to a do bit of work with FHO mate Offal outside the project, and would be delighted to further collaborate. Doing another FHO project is a good way to keep in touch.


Thanks to all the artists who came together to make this incredible piece of audio art, and especially to Simon Mathewson, Offal Tunes & springtide for doing this interview with me. 



Offal Tunes on 10/27/17 at 11:40PM
Thank you, Cheyenne!
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