We are premiering the first “physical” album of the interesting project Cello+Laptop, formed in Valencia by Edu Comelles and Sara Galán: an exploration of the free spaces that there are between string music and the stealthiest, most minimalistic electronica.
From Valencia, far from the official channels of the Spanish indie scene, Edu Comelles and Sara Galán have spent two years articulating a sound project that treads the path between two worlds. On the one hand, the resonances of the classical tradition embodied in the wood and strings of her cello, and on the other the field recordings and digital manipulations orchestrated from the laptop of Edu Comelles, an artist with plenty of experience in sound composition and recording.
After numerous concerts and two live recordings distributed through the netlabels Audiotalaia and Colección de Emociones, Cello+Laptop have just released their first physical album, “Parallel Paths”, through Envelope Collective, an exploration of the free spaces that exist between string music and the stealthiest, most minimalistic electronics. Edu and Sara have enclosed their mists of sound in five compositions exploring the limits between melody and ambient, between texture and singular timbre, drone and silence. Electroacoustic ambient music blends with motifs that are typical of the Neoclassical school, in fifty minutes of profound music that seems to evoke traces of a faded past. If names like 12k, Hildur Guðnadóttir, William Basinski, Touch, Lawrence English, Marcus Fjellström, Jacaszek, Leyland Kirby, Sonic Pieces and Miasmah say anything to you, you mustn’t overlook Cello+Laptop.
Cello+Laptop acts as a meeting point for the sounds of two individuals with very different backgrounds in sound. How did you find each other and what led you to think of a joint project?
It came about coincidentally, when I asked Sara to record some musical phrases for an electronic piece that I was working on in 2010. And that was it, one thing led to another, and once those phrases were recorded, we started improvising. A few months later, we gave our first concert.
The project was oriented towards improvisation from the beginning. Why?
It came about naturally. On the one hand, Sara feels the need to distance herself from what she learned in the conservatory, and as I personally don’t feel myself to be linked to any musical language, it’s also more comfortable for me to work on a project without any stylistic constraints. Over time this has become a tendency that has grown. Nowadays we improvise fully and we don’t plan our concerts. Musical language, structure and composition has always led us to a dead-end street. On the other hand, the flow of improvisation opens up our horizons.
Two careers with almost opposite directions converge in Cello+Laptop. On the one hand there is Sara, distancing herself from the academic musical tradition to throw herself into an exploration of more experimental, abstract sounds in which concepts such as melody, harmony and rhythm play an essential role. And then we have you, making your way in the area of field recordings and sound landscapes, working here with purely musical material (Sara’s cello). Has working with musical material, and not only field recordings, posed specific challenges in terms of dealing with sound composition?
It is true that there is a certain distance between the two disciplines, but it is more a distance created by musical tradition. I think that field recordings are a raw material that is suitable to being combined with any type of instrumental source of sound, whether acoustic or electronic, and that it can fit in and establish dialogues with practically any sound or musical situation. In the end, a sound landscape always surrounds us and gives us identity; the music that we listen to every day is full of sound landscape, whether we want to listen to it or not. The act of combining the two ranges of timbres hasn’t been too complex, particularly because of the processes carried out and because the dialogues generated have more to do with the physics of sound than with musical issues such as rhythm, notation, harmony, etc. The relationships that we establish are more at the textural and especially the intuitive level.
Do you establish any sort of differentiation or hierarchy between musical and non-musical sounds?
No, we don’t establish any difference; each element is determined by the other, they are dependent on one another. For us, both are musical elements if they are used according to a musical language.
Do you think that your past in the area of recording has influenced your way of approaching improvisation, in the sense of helping you to listen in a different way; making you evaluate details in terms of timbre, empty spaces and silences that might seem strange or extreme for ears accustomed only to music?
Yes, without a doubt. I think that one of the most significant efforts that both Sara and I have made is learning to listen. More than an effort, it’s been a pleasure.
It is normal to try to link certain field recordings to the psycho-geographical outline of the places where they have been recorded and their power to call to mind a memory, or to evoke images in the listener’s mind. Do you think that the same thing occurs with certain musical instruments? Specifically, do the timbre and resonance of the cello have any specific type of association for you in terms of images, energies, or moods?
It’s easy to establish these links, especially for those who know where the recordings come from or where they were recorded, which, unfortunately, in general is only me. Even Sara doesn’t know many of the locations. What happens in places of collective listening or a concert is different; there the listener often constructs his or her own imagery in response to the sound. This situation is really outside of our control; some see waves breaking on cliffs, deserts, gales, storms, or arctic landscapes, while others simply limit themselves to listening.
As far as the timbre of the cello goes, we have to struggle every day with over 300 years of tradition of music played with stringed instruments and bows, which immediately evokes this whole past for the listener. But that is inevitable, and apart from being inevitable, I don’t know to what extent it helps or hinders us. One does have to admit that for various reasons, the timbre of the cello is much more “pleasant” and recognisable than other timbres typical of experimental music. This, effectively, helps us, in that more people take an interest and listen to us, which is welcome.
Could you describe you work process in general?
Once “Parallel Paths” was finished, we began a new work system, which has come about because of personal interests of Sara’s and mine; we wanted to find a computer system that allows us to build a meta-instrument structure. This basically consists of working with a set-up that is a feedback system, in which all of the parts involved are dependent on each other. On the one hand, Sara playing the cello is involved in a series of random processes that the computer triggers in response to the timbres that Sara executes, and on the other hand, we have a system of data collection that allows me to record and trigger fragments recorded in real time of what Sara is playing at all times. The result is a canon of voices and cello lines that play with Sara. At this point in the process, we have eliminated almost all of the field recordings.
Until now, you had chosen to distribute your recordings, always recorded live, free of charge on netlabels such as Audiotalaia (the platform that you head) and Colección de Emociones. What led you to issuing a physical release through Envelope Collective this time?
I think that it came up in Madrid chatting with Ann Deveria, Olivier Arson and Jordi Giráldez. They spent the whole evening saying that we had to put out a physical album. We wanted to make an object, a tangible release, and this is the result. In any case, this release is only different from the others in that there is this physical object, and in the post-production work. “Parallel Paths”, like all of our work, is released under Creative Commons. Finishing “Parallel Paths” doesn’t mean that we are going to stop releasing as we have until now. We will continue to release in digital format, which is a format that we feel very comfortable with.
To what extent can the material on “Parallel Paths” be considered improvised? Doesn’t the work of editing and later post-production imply a compositional strategy in and of itself?
“Parallel Paths” comes out of improvisation and its production and post-production were improvised, but it is true that this is a “canned” version of our work process. “Parallel Paths” is the consequence of the two first years of life of Cello + Laptop, where we improvised long fragments with defined structures. This album is the result of selecting, limiting and rewriting those improvisations.
From the outside, “Parallel Paths” may be seen as a first album, the Cello + Laptop project’s first big project. How do you see it from the inside? Is the album the peak of the project so far, or is it just another step in the course of a project aimed above all at live interaction?
For us, this album marks a point of departure. In fact, since we finished it - at the end of February, beginning of March - we haven’t ever played any of the songs on the album again, nor do we intend to. Since then, we have been focused on the construction of this meta-instrument that gives us creative freedom and a wide range of possibilities. I don’t think that it’s the peak of anything - in any case, it would be the peak of a work process, that of “Parallel Paths”. The path is still there and it’s in front of us. And yes, as you say, Cello + Laptop is made and intended for live performances; that is what we are working on, playing, in real time. Post-production is tedious for us, although it is necessary if you want to make an album like this.
In a time like the present, when everyone seems to be in a hurry and attention is spread out over hundreds of stimuli in the course of a day, what type of response do you expect from the public in offering them an album like yours, which requires careful, deep, thoughtful listening?
We hope that whoever is interested in this album stops, slows down, and listens... if they have time and they feel like it, of course.