Julian Koster Lets Us Into the World of His Orbiting Human Circus

Julian Koster Lets Us Into the World of His Orbiting Human Circus

Under the banner of the Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air), Julian Koster has assembled an unprecedented mixed-medium project consisting of a beloved podcast and zany live show featuring Koster's orchestral indie pop group The Music Tapes and narrated from the perspective of an imaginative janitor of the Eiffel Tower. A member of the ersatz Elephant Six collective, creator Koster has performed with Neutral Milk Hotel and Black Swan Network in addition to releasing music under his own name. Before his orbiting troupe touches down in Brooklyn Bazaar June 4, AdHoc caught the multi-talented Koster for a glimpse into his giddy world.
 
AdHoc: We’re really excited for the show—it’s pretty unlike anything we’ve hosted before. Could you tell us a little about the story behind the podcast?
 
Julian Koster: Sure, in the podcast, a janitor of the Eiffel Tower is our hero—if you can use that word in relation to him. But you don’t need to know a thing about the podcast or ever have heard it to see the live show—it’s kind of a show in its own right, designed for someone who’s just walking in the door. 
 
And in that show, the janitor is actually hired to clean that night’s venue, so the janitor’s been hired to clean the Brooklyn Bazaar, and he’s there alone, in the middle of the night, cleaning—or trying to clean—or cleaning badly. And he’s imagining the stage that’s there and [that] the lights are there, and he’s imagining putting on a show he’s done all his life since he was a kid. He’s imagining an audience, and that’s you. And so, when you walk in the door, you’re walking into the Brooklyn Bazaar all empty, being cleaned and worked on, and you’re in his imagination. So it’s almost sort of like walking into a circus in a janitor’s imagination in the middle of the night and none of it’s actually happening—but it is happening, all over the Brooklyn Bazaar. 
 

 

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Via App Wakes Us Up

Via App Wakes Us Up Photography by Magdalena Krzyzanowski

Via App, the Brooklyn-based DJ and electronic producer, is up for a challenge. That is, Dylan Scheer doesn't just make challenging music—but actively challenges the dilution of techno: Scheer leads a cadre of DJs renovating the underground electronic scene from a boys' club into something more welcoming. Her innovative vigor—as seen on 2016's Sixth Stitch on Break World— and legendarily experimental performances have opened up a playfully dissonant new sonic space whose warped energy is both infectious and invigorating. Ahead of Via App's performance at Brooklyn Bazaar on Saturday May 20, Scheer caught up with AdHoc to talk DIY geography, DJ technique, and future plans. 
 
As an electronic musician, you’ve performed as both a DJ and a live musician. What’s the difference for you? 
 
In doing both, I think about collaging different styles and attitudes into something narrative. I think these references are more traceable when I DJ. I have control over more variables when playing live, but I have a broader range to pull from when I'm DJing. My approach and experience are definitely more rooted in playing live, but also in constantly collecting and learning about electronic and experimental music.
 
You started the Via App project while in Boston, working in the DIY electronic scene there. How has living in New York changed your approach to creation, either in terms of material conditions or more stylistically?
 
There's more pressure for output. So that does change my relationship to the work—for better or for worse. There's a cool community of makers here. There are a lot of people who are really devoted to what they do, and who make work with unique voices. That is exciting to me and has probably influenced my sound quite a bit in writing to play as part of a night of varied sounds, and writing for New York venues. This isn't to say that those people weren't in Boston, but there were a lot of external factors like cop presence at DIY shows, conservative laws around clubs which made it hard to foster a growing dance music community. so I think my work moved at a different pace and mostly developed in my room. 
 
 

 

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Pharmakon's New Record Is A Panic Attack

Pharmakon's New Record Is A Panic Attack Illustration by Leesh Adamerovich

This article originally appeared in AdHoc Issue 19.

There are many kinds of fear, but few as fathomless as the one that can sneak up on you when you’re lying in bed at night, thinking about nothing in particular. Suddenly it dawns on you: you are just a collection of atoms, puttering around on a larger mass of atoms that people call Earth, floating around inside a dark expanse of atoms and dead air that just goes on and on forever. Hopefully—for the sake of a good night’s sleep—you’re able to blot out the terror that comes from the recognition of your own smallness, but it’ll probably completely overpower you the next time Pharmakon, aka Margaret Chardiet, walks up to you at a show and screams in your face.

You don’t really need to understand the lyrics to catch her drift, but in the below interview, our medium was words, and the Brooklyn-based power electronics artist had a lot of them when describing the theories of humanity and community underpinning her bracing new album, Contact. The one caveat being that, as Margaret reminded me repeatedly during our chat, an interview was unlikely to do her ideas justice: “I really want people to read the freaking lyrics for this record,” she said. “I laid them out like really blatantly in the liner notes, because they’re the most important thing about it.”

AdHoc: What was on your mind when you went in to record the new album?

Margaret Chardiet: I guess what was on my mind was the fact that the project was 10 years old—feeling like I needed to grow and move in a new direction, and thinking about what that was going to be. The last two records—[2013’s Abandon and 2014’s Bestial Burden]—were immediate, short-term responses to specific events [in my life], whereas with this one, I had a couple years to think about what I wanted to say and do.

What are some ways you’d say the project has changed over the years?

I think I’ve found myself focusing more on experimental thinking and philosophical ideas, as opposed to personal ones. I’m still exploring the concepts of duality and human nature, but I think I’ve allowed myself to get broader, which is a really scary thing to do. If something is very acute and small, it’s easier to explain and converse about with other people.

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AdHoc Issue 19 is Here

AdHoc Issue 19 is Here Cover by Girlpool

AdHoc Issue 19 is here! Download a PDF of the zine at this link, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. (Those of you outside New York City can order a copy as well.)

In this issue, we explore music as a social act. Speaking to Emilie Friedlander, Pharmakon’s Margaret Chardiet explains the importance of audience engagement in her live shows, and how that sensibility informed her new record, Contact. Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad of Girlpool—who also have a new record, Powerplant, in the works—unpack the role of person-to-person connectivity in their music. In conversation with Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy, they discuss their closeness as an artistic and social unit, and how introducing new people into the Girlpool live band was almost as tricky as opening up a romantic relationship. Both Pharmakon and Girlpool articulate reasons for making art that move beyond personal expression or gratification, and into something more inclusive.

AdHoc Issue 19's contributors:

Girlpool is a Los Angeles-based band whose founding members, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, made the collage that appears on this issue’s cover.

Meg Duffy is a Los Angeles-based musician who performs under the name Hand Habits; her album, Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void), is out now via Woodsist. Meg interviewed Cleo and Harmony for this issue.

Leesh Adamerovich is a Brooklyn-based illustrator who enjoys collaborating with musicians. Her work is influenced by ’70s music, animation, and quiet moments, and she made the illustrations for this issue.

Kane West Wants To Be The Best

Kane West Wants To Be The Best

To know Kane West is to dance to Kane West. The producer, one-third of ebulliant crossover pop act Kero Kero Bonito, peddles an ecstatic brand of four-on-the-floor techno laced with the squirming leftfield charm of his PC Music affiliates. Often employing basic music software setups and presets in lieu of the fetishized and highly-prized analog equipment, Kane West is devoted to the sole aim of making people dance. His lyrical content is typically no more than an assemblage of stock DJ tags and shoutouts—reminding us, in no uncertain terms, to "put [our] hands up in the air" and "dance." Faced with the cryptic Kane West and his irresistable output, there's really not much else to do. As the enigmatic figure makes clear in his interview with AdHoc—ahead of his April 13 show at Sunnyvale—Kane West is an effervescent entity who congeals, not in the press release or music journal writeup, but in the club. 
 
AdHoc: So, who is Kane West? Is it the real identity of Kero Kero Bonito member Gus Lobbon? An alter ego? A faceless, anonymous house DJ? A Kanye West tribute band?
 
Kane West: The best DJ.
 
How do you envision this figure behind the name Kane West?
 
The best DJ playing the best records.
 
What’s the joke behind the name? Do you have any special affinity for Kanye West?
 
No—it's a coincidence.
 
Not to belabor this line of inquiry, but what IS your favorite Kanye record?
 
The "Mr. Fingers" one.
 

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Locking into the Grid: An Interview with Forma About Composing for Synthesizers

Locking into the Grid: An Interview with Forma About Composing for Synthesizers Photography by Lena Shkoda

Brooklyn's Forma congealed into a three-piece outfit nearly a decade ago. Ever in flux, the synth collective has undergone lineup changes and stylistic renovations over the years, coalescing most recently into its current configuration of George Bennett, Mark Dwinell, and John Also Bennett. Forma’s 2016 Kranky debut, Physicalist, saw the band wading even deeper into the murk of psychedelic modular synthesis, while introducing flute, piano, and even traditional drum setups. AdHoc caught up with the band around their show supporting Cluster alumnus and kosmische heavyweight Roedelius this March. They disentangled the cosmic richness of Physicalist, outlined their compositional methods, and staked their claim as devotees of a krautrock genre tracing its roots back to archaic folk traditions.  
 
AdHoc: Reviewers tend to describe your work using lots of visual metaphors—I’ve definitely seen a lot of terms like “pointillism,” “spectral,” “rippling,” “bubbling,” “fluid,” and “rich.” Is your music this visual to you? Do you think in terms of sight and space while composing? 
 
Mark: Maybe people [gravitate] to visual metaphors [because] we don’t give people a lot to grab onto in terms of lyrical content. Using visual metaphors is just a short way of dealing with how to talk about the material without having any lyrics to go on to talk about what these guys [at Forma] are actually talking about. Personally, my experience of how we function at Forma—I would say it’s a lot more emotional than visual. The visual component really has nothing to do with it. To me, there is an ocean between the audial and the visual. 
 
John: I understand why reviewers use visual terms to describe Forma's music, but I don't think we're envisioning a particular place or space when we're composing music. For me, Forma has always been more about feeling out a process between the three of us. One of the major tenants of the so-called "minimalist" music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass was that it wasn't representative of a specific emotion, place, or thing. The music was representative of only itself. In Reich's case, it was a process playing itself out; with Glass, it was a series of intervals gradually changing. I'm not saying that Forma's music doesn't take on some emotional capacity or evoke something visual—I think it absolutely does, and we put a lot of thought into the visuals and titles surrounding the latest album, which certainly evoke a very particular sense of place. But it's kind of interesting that with Forma those things tend to emerge afterwards, after this process of group improvisation [and] composition under constraints has played itself out. 
 
George: You could imagine situations where improvisational musicians would use visual metaphors or visual devices to ground or guide their activity. We do not do that. There are visual constructs that I do use in my own playing, but they are things that are very practical, like a sixteen-step grid. We’re working with a lot of gear, and a lot of our premises are around gridded-out step sequences and really long, repetitive patterns, so I would say that such imagery has a functional role in Forma, but not necessarily a thematic input into how we compose. 
 
In the same way that we don’t have any visual imagery to guide our creative process, we don’t have any input saying, “Now we’re going to do this sad song, now we’re gonna do this happy song,” or whatever. It’s all sort of emergent. All forms of meaning are just emergent within our music; we don’t go in with a lot of pre-established parameters, especially thematic ones. 
 
Mark: It’s like the beauty of math, and how math turns into poetry and art. Music is sort of the most direct art of math, and relationships between numbers We’re not noise musicians, you know, and we’re not free jazz musicians; by using ARPs and sequencers, there’s a fairly balanced construct that we work inside of. Hence, this idea of a grid. And we’re always trying to figure out ways to fuck that up a little bit, but not enough to completely sidetrack us. Just trying to find some balance with it. 
 

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Lea Bertucci Discusses "The Cepheid Variations" and Her Upcoming NNA Tapes Release

Lea Bertucci Discusses Photo by Andy Hardman

All That is Solid, Lea Bertucci’s new album for NNA Tapes, begins with a breath and a whine, a slow distant emergency smothered in smoke and hiss. Throughout the course of this first side—entitled “The Cepheid Variations”—a troika of live tape collage, viola, and cello unearth a massive sound. From the churning tape reels to the Pendereckian wails of the strings, this 28-minute opener is only outdone by the immensity of Side B, a 33-and-a-half-minute closer called “Double Bass Crossfade.” Two double bassists weave dolorous tones through a fabric of feedback recorded in a 50,000-square-foot former glass factory—their sound can be as deep as whalesong in the abyss, others times treading vibrations imperceptible as infrared.

Bertucci’s compositions are stark, resonant, and certainly something to behold in person. I was able to catch the original performance of “The Cepheid Variations” at Brooklyn's ISSUE Project Room in 2015, where her live tape collage was accompanied by Leila Bordreuil on cello and Jeanann Dara on viola. Hearing the music again immediately thrust me back into the old ISSUE Project Room theater at 22 Boerum Place, where the cream moulding was moldy and peeling and a good part of the vaulted ceiling was ripped apart, the HVAC guts spilling out like cables. It was an incredible show, so I was excited to speak to Bertucci about it’s "second life" on the new album. Of course, she’s been busy since 2015 with a variety of projects—including a collection of experimental graphic scores as well as a composition involving a 20-child children's choir—so I had to ask her about those as well.

All That is Solid is out March 24 via NNA Tapes. Catch Bertucci at Pioneer Works with GRID, Greg Fox, and Multa Nux on March 28.

AdHoc: Can you talk a bit about "The Cepheid Variations"? It is a few years old now—how does this piece fit within your larger sound and your practice? Is this a track you find yourself coming back to often?

Lea Bertucci: I wrote this piece in 2014 as a way to approach my interest in harmonics and resonances. At the time I had just been selected as an ISSUE Project Room artist-in-residence and had free access to their space, which is an amazingly resonant McKim, Mead & White building in downtown Brooklyn. The resonant nature of the room was the perfect excuse to write a piece of music specifically for that space. Because my background as a musician is as a woodwind player, string instruments have always held a particularly exotic appeal to me. I was also interested in writing a piece that combined live acoustic instruments with pre-recorded collage material in a seamless way, where the two elements obscure each other. I am constantly questioning the boundaries of what I do as an artist, and am always looking ahead to challenge myself, whether it's doing sound design projects, composing for large ensembles or working with unfamiliar instruments.

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Girlpool Discuss Their New Album and Live Band: “It’s a Giant Collaboration of Feeling”

Girlpool Discuss Their New Album and Live Band: “It’s a Giant Collaboration of Feeling” Photo by Molly Matalon

This interview between Meg Duffy of Hand Habits and Girlpool will appear in AdHoc Issue 19, coming later this month. Catch Girlpool at AdHoc’s unoffocial SxSW showcase on Wednesday, March 15. If you can’t make it to Texas, they’ll also be playing at Warsaw in Brooklyn on June 9. Their new album, Power Plantis out May 12 via Anti-.

About two years ago I was eating a meal inside a festival’s hospitality tent somewhere in the Netherlands. I remember being very psychedelically tired from a drive with the Kevin Morby crew—it was around two weeks deep into a tour. I have no recollection of playing a set that day.

While eating bread soaked in some sort of chicken juice and noticing the conversations around me, I spied a tall redhead bopping around the cutlery zone with a blue-haired accomplice. I admired their fashion. I recognized them both but couldn't remember from where.

To my surprise, the two sat down at my table! Soon I learned that they were Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, aka Girlpool. We had many mutual friends back on the East Coast. I didn't catch their set at the festival, but during our time there, our crews merged. We climbed a jungle gym, ate delicious Belgian waffles and ice cream, and talked about jet lag and how strange it was to be at a festival very far from home with so many friends of friends.

Since that day, Cleo and Harm moved back to Los Angeles (where I also live), made a new record called Power Plant (that I love), and expanded their live band to include two new collaborators. They also each have one new pair of pants, which I know, because recently we all went shopping together. This winter—while I was in a van on tour with my band Hand Habits, and while Cleo and Harm were in their respective homes in LA—we spoke on the phone about friends, feedback, and collaboration. —Meg Duffy

Meg Duffy: So you guys live in Los Angeles now. What are you doing out there?

Cleo Tucker: We’ve been rehearsing with the new band; we’re gonna go to SxSW and then hopefully have some time to record a ton of music. And then we’re gonna hit the road at the end of May for like a month, and then we’re gonna go to Europe.

Who is in the new band?

Cleo Tucker: It’s Miles Wintner from Traps PS on drums, and Stephen Steinbrink on synth and guitar. And then… us.

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Vagabon's Lætitia Tamko Discusses the Similarities Between the Underground and the Real World

Vagabon's Lætitia Tamko Discusses the Similarities Between the Underground and the Real World Illustration by Samuel Nigrosh

This article appears in AdHoc Issue 18.

A Cameroon native with a past working as a full-time software engineer, singer-songer Lætitia Tamko, aka Vagabon, has spent the past few years developing her songs through live performance, experimenting with solo and full-band versions of her sets, which are invariably intense. February 24 marks the release of the Brooklyn-based artist’s first full-length, Infinite Worlds, on Father/ Daughter Records, and Vagabon is set to tour in March alongside Allison Crutchfield. On Infinite Worlds, Tamko blends the frank lyrical stylings and swelling guitar rock that marked her 2014 debut EP, Persian Garden, with lush electronic flourishes. In late January, she spoke to us over the phone about her music’s evolution, and offered some thoughts on how DIY and the “real world” aren’t always so different after all—at least when it comes to questions of inclusivity.

AdHoc: The title of your record comes from a book of poems by Dana Ward called The Crisis of Infinite Worlds. What did you like about that collection?

Lætitia Tamko: It was a really challenging read for me. His writing style is so particular. There are a lot of run-on sentences; I had to really comb over his poems to grasp even an idea of what he meant.

I detect a similar affinity for strange repetitions and movements in your lyrics.

It’s funny—these songs were written before I read the book, but I was reading it as I was recording. It’s one of those things that sticks with you, though.

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Prom For People Who Hate Prom: Maria Sherman on Indie Pop Prom

Prom For People Who Hate Prom: Maria Sherman on Indie Pop Prom Illustration by Samuel Nigrosh

This article appears in AdHoc Issue 18.

I never went to my high school prom. My boyfriend at the time and I thought we were too alternative to take part in such an antiquated ritual, so instead, we took a train 40 minutes to see Portugal the Man perform in a packed warehouse. It was my first time having a partner I could feasibly invite to something like that, but going to prom never crossed my mind. Prom was for normies, after all. I didn’t think I was missing out on much.

As an adult, I’m still not big on traditional heteronormative practices, but I am a fan of coopting uncomfortable relics of the past and creating something new and exciting. Obviously, when it comes cultural appropriation, there is a line. I’m talking about the inverting-McDonald's-logos-for-band-merch type of appropriation, not the insensitive cultural kind. Fucking up prom made sense to me.

The first Indie Pop Prom I put on, in 2013, was probably the most successful: a bill full of friends at the now-defunct 285 Kent. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart headlined, with Swearin’, Waxahatchee, Potty Mouth, and Weed Hounds supporting. The New York Times covered it, and I’m proud of the headline to this day: “Independent Women Celebrate Genres That Never Went Away.” People actually dressed up—and many said it was much more fun than their actual prom.

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