Hi Josh, how are you doing?
It’s hard to tell sometimes, what with everything currently going on in the world, but generally I’m doing pretty darn well. I have everything I need, and I feel very fortunate and grateful for that.
Congratulations on the release of your debut album, ‘…And the Birds Will Sing at Sunrise’! How do you feel now that it is out in the world?
Thank you! There is still a bit of that “well…what now?” feeling hanging around, but I’m relieved that it is finally out in the world. I believe in the music and in the ideas so it is nice to see them have a life of their own now. I’m able to listen to it through different ears, and it is really lovely to hear how people are engaging with it. I have moved on to a different creative mindset, so I identify with it differently now, but I think that’s good.
The artwork of your album, a photograph you took in Iceland, is incredibly striking. Was this the source of inspiration in writing the album or did you come back to this photograph when deciding on artwork?
Yes! Striking indeed. I was very taken by that monolithic rock. I was staring at it for ages, just watching the ocean waves wrap around it. I remember being quite obsessed with that photograph after we got back from our trip to Iceland, and I knew that I would use it for something. I remember quickly cropping it into a square, imagining it as the artwork for something in the future.
The album is mostly motivated by my thoughts on the environment, and the various relationships that exist between humanity, the earth, and the rest of nature. A big theme for the album is the end of humankind, which then allows the earth to flourish again. It isn’t a straight-up ‘we are the virus’ thing, as there is a lot about humanity to be celebrated, and the album does touch on some of those things. A lot of sights and experiences from our trip to Iceland have informed the imagery of the album – both the music and the artwork.
The album features a gorgeous range of textures and sounds. How did you find the writing process?
My writing process involves a lot of improvisation and experimentation with musical ideas, synthesiser patching, and sound processing. Often the piano ideas come first, and then I go hunting for the ondes Martenot part. There will be this iterative back-and-forth where I’m running between the piano under the stairs and the ondes up in the music room with my phone, recording voice memos of ideas. The piece begins to take on a more specific form quite quickly when that process starts. This is how most of the pieces on this album were written, I think.
Music and sound have always had very tangible physical properties to me, so texture is very important in my music. Sometimes that textural motivation comes from the sound of two notes on a piano, or a certain gesture on the ondes – sometimes a spark just sets it off and things usually develop quite quickly and intensely in my head.
Sometimes I will simply be inspired by a specific patch on a synthesiser or the sound of recordings processed in a certain way. This was the case on ‘Trust’. There are some processed ondes Martenot recordings that are quite audible in the first section. These recordings are how this piece started – I loved the sound so much that I wanted to build them a good home.
When and how did you first discover the ondes Martenot?
How does it work as an instrument?
I can’t remember the first meeting, to be honest. I think it was around high-school age, and I remember spending pretty much all my spare time in college absorbing everything I could find about it; photographs, videos, recordings, articles, everything. I’d study the technique of all the ondistes that I could see and hear, and I would devour any information I could find. I have always been interested in musical instruments, especially in synthesisers and electronic instruments. My maths book in school was covered in pictures of synthesisers that I had printed out and glued on. I imagine it was only a matter of time before the ondes came onto my radar.
It is very simple in operation, but it requires a lot of the player in some ways. Essentially, your right hand controls the pitch with either the keyboard or by moving a ring attached to a string, and your left hand controls the volume and operates the controls for the various tones and speakers. The keyboard can move slightly from left to right, so you can impart your own unique vibrato, while the ring is an especially expressive mechanism that grants you complete control over the pitch. The volume control, called the ‘touche d’intensité’, is really the heart of the instrument. It is a very sensitive key/button – the further you depress this key, the louder the sound becomes. There is a lot more to it, but that is a basic introduction! It allows for a great deal of expression, and the sound really does come from the player.
What incited this clear passion you have for the ondes Martenot?
It just captivated me, really. I have been passionately obsessed by it for as long as I can remember. It has been a real vehicle for me to discover a lot about myself; not just musically, but emotionally and spiritually, too. It’s the first musical instrument that I have felt a very true and very deep connection with, and it has certainly become a part of my body.
In the grand scheme of things, it is a relatively young instrument, so I think that there is great potential to see the ondes really grow in my lifetime, and I want to do all I can to help that happen.
If you could collaborate with any musician who would it be and why?
Oh, goodness. I don’t think I could pick one. I really enjoy working on soundtracks, and I would especially love to work with Colin Stetson and Hildur Gudnadottir – both wonderful musicians and composers.
Colin’s soundtrack to Ari Aster’s ‘Hereditary’ is just so perfect, and so exploratory. It really stood out to me as a very considered and unique soundtrack, and it elevated an already great film. I love all the textures he conjured up, and my ondes and I would love to be a part of one of his sound-worlds.
Hildur has been a favourite composer of mine for a while. I remember getting a copy of ‘Without Sinking’ from a friend and I listened to it a lot, and have really enjoyed Hildur’s subsequent projects. My interest in ‘Chernobyl’ and ‘Joker’ is due chiefly to her involvement, and – while they are both good in their own right – the soundtracks are just superb and I am so pleased to see how well Hildur is doing.
Collaboration is key and I love working with other musicians.
What is the meaning of music for you?
It is a bit of a cliché, but I can’t imagine life without music – and I would say the same about the ondes. Music is such a central and fundamental part of who I am, but I couldn’t tell you what it means. I could tell you what a given piece of music means to me in a given moment, but the meaning of music as a timeless whole is impossible to articulate. Music and sound has always been extremely central in my life, and I can’t really imagine it any other way.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today Josh. Now that the album is out, what’s next for you?
I have a lot of ideas, and I think very deeply about them most days. At the moment, I’m working on a few actual projects and have a few other, less fleshed-out things on the back-burner. I’m not sure which one will see the light of day first. They are both quite different from “…And the Birds Will Sing at Sunrise” and from each other, and I am excited to see what will happen with them. I learned a lot from this first album, and I am excited to see what I learn from the next things.