Photography by Lena Shkoda
Photography by Lena Shkoda
On their debut Kranky outing, the upcoming 2xLP Physicalist (with breathtaking Robert Beatty art), Forma have carved out a new niche for themselves, forgoing their full-frontal synthesis attack to make way for acoustic sounds. For those familiar with the project, there are still plenty of pristine synth sounds, albeit one with a more kosmische bent than the band’s earlier techno-leaning outing on The Bunker New York. Physicalist is also notable for being the group’s first go-round with John Also Bennett, new member and multi-instrumentalist. For sufficient background, the album name comes from the idea of physicalism or “the philosophical belief that all phenomena in the universe are created entirely from physical interactions,” which, to make the appropriate jump, implies a structure in which Forma improvises—like variations on a theme, permutations, and fractals. The impossibly small is just as infinite as the sublimely huge. Physicalist is out September 23 on Kranky.
AdHoc: What prompted the inclusion of acoustic instruments on the new Forma 2xLP?
George Bennett: The instrumentation change I made on Physicalist was less about moving from electronic to acoustic and more about a distinction between automation and hand-playing. In our earliest days, FORMA did lots of manual work. Mark was hand-playing arpeggiated sequences and I was playing a drum kit, so in a sense we’re coming full circle. If there was any conscious shift for me on Physicalist, it was a return to hand-playing, where I have more opportunities for spontaneity and can get off the grid with my rhythms. Some of that was done on acoustic cymbals, and some of it on electronic sample pads.
John Also Bennett: We’d been tossing around the idea of including some acoustic instrumentation, or even just more hand-played instruments for a while, though we hadn’t much tried it out until we got to the studio. I was trained classically on flute and piano (and saxophone!), before trading in my flute for a guitar as a teenager, and then later trading my guitars and amps for synthesizers. So this is really just coming back to my roots after a long journey. I brought my flute to the studio, where there was also a great Steinway grand piano, and George brought a cymbal and some percussion instruments. After almost two days of tracking synthesizers, we took some time to work out on the piano, Mark and I trading off, and me on flute. It’s a way for us to free ourselves from the sometimes musically constraining idea that electronic music needs to be danceable.
In what has turned into the most plesant of traditions, Long Distance Poison synthesist and Modular Solstice/Equinox organizer Nathan Cearley has shared recordings from his most recent seasonal synth showcase at Bushwick's Silent Barn. The most recent edition, celebrating the spring equinox, featured sets from regulars such as Mark Dwinell of Forma, Jesse DeRosa of Grasshopper (alongside Konrad Kamm), and Mister Matthews of Telecult Powers (alongside Bhob Rainey and bandmate Witchbeam) as well as less regulars like Joe Bastardo (with Mickey O'Hara and Seamus Williams of Lean) and Dave Doyen (of Roped Off).
Listening to Mark Dwinell is like taking a photo of a growing plant or a building being erected every day for a few years and then watching a timelapse video made of them. What at first appears to progress at no pace at all, suddenly becomes a dynamic process, in which the changes take a dizzying speed and everything is pulsing with dynamism. The just intonation organ experiments of the FORMA frontman take the same path. And the video for "Drive," directed by Matthew Caron, explores the psychedelic, transformative potential of slowly unfolding, tightly sequential electronic music through a lens of an autumn forest, gradually widening the perception of sound and entrancing the listener with a colorful aura while the visuals deform and gain additional layers, as if to unfold emerging hallucinations.
Golden Ratio is out now on Amish Records. Dwinell is playing a record release show on January 31 at Schoolhouse, Brooklyn.
Like all self-respecting (and ancestor-respecting) synthesizer visionaries, Forma’s Mark Dwinell browses the vast catalogue of electronic pioneers and minimalistic experimentors, employing hypnotic, repeating patterns and had a very liberal take on harmonies. “Ascend”, from Mark’s upcoming release Golden Ratio is one of the documents of his just-intonation organ era (2007-2008), which carries some heavy Terry Riley overtones. Wonderfully detuned with an extremely wavy background, ecstatic Teutonic solos are played over the track's skeleton, sprawling across the analog landscape like a rainbow through curved air, ascending into the shimmering, progressive electronic bliss.