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Interview with Nest

img  Tobias

„Retold“ is the first step for Serein on "carefully considered commercial avenues“. In which way are physical releases allowing Serein to grow more?
Although the music 'industry' and how people interact with music is changing a lot, it still felt like the label could only go so far operating as a non-profit venture. Not only is it very difficult to get noticed by press without physical albums, it's also difficult to attract artists who've already made a name for themselves through more mainstream avenues. In making this change I hope to make the label known to a wider audience.

Does it feel as though you're making a fresh start with the label?

To me it feels a lot like a fresh start, it's not so much that I've wiped the slate clean – I'm proud of what we achieved from 2005 to 2009 - but I felt in order to take things up a notch, things needed to change quite considerably. I have a different agenda now than I had when I started Serein; the label had reached the point where it had to become commercially viable in order that I could justify the time I was putting into it.

Why did you decide upon the material of „Retold“ for your first physical release?

I hadn't considered any music other than Nest for the first physical release, it was the most sensible choice for a number of reasons. The Nest EP was our most popular release with over  20,000 downloads served over two years, and it had only been available physically as a CDR limited to 50 copies. My thinking was that if anything could get us off to a good start, that material could do it. I wanted to give those tracks a 'proper' release, tastefully presented and packaged. Initially the release was planned as a reissue, but the more Otto and I spoke about it, the more we felt we could easily double the length again. We started writing new material right away.

In which way do the EP-pieces correspond to the rest of the album?

The first six tracks on the album were those originally released on the Nest EP in 2007. The pieces making up the second half of the album were all written in 2009. Although there was quite a long gap between the composition of the opening and closing tracks, the continuation felt very natural to us. We keep all of our unfinished material, so there were sketches and ideas we were able to go to back from that time with fresh ears and new motivation.

What, do you feel, did Donal's master add to the album from a musical perspective?

Although we were both really happy with how the older tracks sounded, being as there was such a long gap between the first and second half of the album, we wanted to make sure that the balance was right. Although the pieces of 2009 pick up where we left off in 2007 in a musical sense, there were elements in our approach to mixing and production that had changed quite considerably. Mastering the album from start to finish helped to tie everything together and make sure the dynamics sounded balanced throughout. Donal has an impressive rack of analogue mastering gear, so the day spent with him was a real pleasure; we're really happy with the results.

Did you ever consider the option of not just remastering, but also re-mixing the album, similarly to what Taylor Deupree did on „Nothern“?

We never considered remixing the tracks, we'd grown used to them and they sounded 'right' to us. Moreover, we liked the idea that these pieces were being 'reissued' as true to their original form as possible. The EP was really well received, so we didn't want to change it or make it more complicated than was necessary. The only exception we made was creating a new, revised version of the track 'Cad Goddeu'.

I know the artwork of „Retold“ is incredibly important to you. What was your approach to design and packaging?

You're right in saying that our album artwork is important to us. We spent a lot of time considering different ideas for the sleeve and it took us a long time to get right. We wanted the cover to reflect the nature and spirit of our music, there is an openness, almost a sparsity to our sound which we wanted to convey. The image of the sea immediately leapt out at us, particularly as some of our more recent pieces explore nautical themes.

Where did the idea for the album-title come from?

Coming up with a suitable title for the album was difficult, since it is part reissue, part new material. The idea behind the title was to suggest both a continuation and the opening of a new chapter for us. While we're on familiar ground musically, the physicality of the release and indeed the commercial aspects in general are a new direction for us. We are also fond of the idea of storytelling through music, 'Retold' seemed to capture all of these ideas very succinctly.

Let's get back to the beginning for a second. To some, it might seem unusual for two trained Pianists to work on a project with electronica and using file exchanges. What was your original vision for the project and how did the idea come about?

The project grew quite organically over a long period of time. We became friends as former members of the Miasmah label maybe ten years or so ago. We started swapping music via the Internet around that time, but we never spoke about musical direction – and that's still not something we talk about to this day. Musically we share very similar backgrounds, we both play the piano (although Otto is actually self-taught) and we listened to very similar music during our formative years.

Is there a typical way of how a Nest-song is composed?

We both collect samples quite obsessively, both field recordings and found sound which is a very important aspect of how we work together. Even when we're not actively composing together, we swap samples and sketches. Eventually something sparks inspiration and acts as a catalyst for a complete piece of music. Other times we share melodies and musical phrases, sometimes a few seconds long, sometimes several minutes. Even once a piece has been fleshed out quite considerably between us, it's not unusual for one of us to completely transform it as a point of fresh inspiration.

Speaking about „Far from Land“ and „the Twelve“, how did you record the aforementioned Brass and Choir?

We actually find it quite amusing to be asked questions like this. People often want to know how we recorded a a particular brass or piano section, what sort of room we were in and so on, but we aren't often asked how we recorded the train noises on the track 'Trans Siberian'. People make assumptions about which aspects of our music come from samples or found sound and which parts are taken from original recordings, but those assumptions are often wrong. It's always interesting hearing different peoples takes on this aspect of our music, we aim to mislead.

I use the train sample as an example, since most people are surprised to learn that the oncoming train is almost exclusively made from processed snare drums, while the train's whistle is actually an excerpt from a recording of two girls singing a duet.

So the production itself is like a part of the composition to you?

I think we'd both consider ourselves producers before composers; production is extremely important to us. Since we are often dealing with quite minimal composition and a sparsity I've mentioned already, the characteristics and nuances of our sound become very important. Production is a part of the creative process for us and something we are continually trying to improve and refine.

Film Music is also quoted as an influence, which makes sense to me. I had to think of Elliot Goldenthal's soundtrack to „Alien3“, which is part pure ambiance and part mesmerising composition. Is that also an ideal which you aspire to?

I think we both enjoy the freedom of being able to explore whatever direction we want with our music. Film is certainly a great source of inspiration for us, both visually and musically. The idea of background music in that sense is something we draw parallels with in our own compositions. Our music is very meticulously choreographed which I think is perhaps another reason we identify so strongly with film. There is definitely a sense of composing for an imagined time or place, despite the fact that we don't necessarily communicate those ideas verbally to one another.

By Tobias Fischer

Retold (Serein) 2010

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