Today sees the long-awaited release of Bell Orchestre's first full-length album in over a decade: House Music — an immersive ecosystem created by the acclaimed Montreal-based outfit, which include Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld and Richard Reed Parry.
House Music unfolds as one long piece, a recorded-then-sculpted improvisation that vastly expands their work, coalescing classical and electronic instrumentation in the creation of genre-defying musical worlds.
In the album’s liner notes, the group recalls countless moments when, in kinetic moments of improvisation, “a nuanced piece of music would emerge organically, completely formed, without any plan or discussion or rational thought” — and then be lost because it wasn’t recorded. In conceiving a new album, they decided to celebrate the spontaneous and accidental, to centrally situate the act of collaborative, democratic creation in their finished work. With the legacies of improvisation-exploring greats like Talk Talk, The Orb, Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis and the late Ennio Morricone in mind, on House Music, Bell Orchestre captures the impulsive, connective, mysterious poetics of musical invention happening in real-time.
With help from engineer Hans Bernhard, the band wired every corner of Sarah Neufeld’s (Violin, vocals) multi-story rural Vermont house. She and the mini orchestra’s other five members — Pietro Amato: French horn, keyboards, electronics; Michael Feuerstack: Pedal steel guitar, keyboards, vocals; Kaveh Nabatian: Trumpet, gongoma, keyboards, vocals; Richard Reed Parry: Bass, vocals; and Stefan Schneider: Drums — assigned themselves to different rooms. They spent two weeks together in camaraderie, creation, and focused isolation to record their improvised sessions every day, but ultimately structured a 45-minute album out of a one hour-and-a-half long improvisation.
“If you sliced away the front wall of the house and looked in, you’d see the horn section — with so many different things going on — down on the first floor of what would normally be the living/dining room, and it was full chaos with tables and tables of kalimbas and harmonicas and synthesizers and horns. Then you travel up a floor, and there’s me and Richie in an empty, warm sounding wooden bedroom. Mike was on pedal steel in the bathroom, on the same floor as us. And then up the stairs, through the ceiling and in the attic, was Stefan, alone on drums. It’s a big piece of land, and if you went outside to take a break, you’d look over and hear all of this crazy shit coming out of all the different floors, and it filled this valley, and there were lots of rocks so the sound would bounce around. It was spooky and glorious”, describes Sarah.
While edited and trimmed, and occasionally added to, the album itself is in large part the original recording — with the broad structure of its movements kept intact. This single piece of music — written almost entirely as it was being recorded — emerged with no parameters beyond the inclusion of a short harmonic loop Parry had brought in as a starting point, which coheres and propels the album as it moves forward through the birth; vigorous, unrestrained growth; and ultimate slowdown of the musical ecosystem it creates. What the band generated is an album that lays bare the contours of a lived musical moment.
“Most of my favorite recordings have some element of an explorative and accidental feeling within the music, a feeling which reflects the truth of musical minds which are partially super focused on specific musical ideas and partially wandering, exploring the musical world surrounding those ideas,” says Parry. “I think it’s really satisfying as a listener when you can hear a musical mind exploring an idea — not just a musician who has pre-formed an idea and rehearsed it 100 times until it’s totally perfect and ironed out. In this recording, every one of the six of us is simultaneously exploring our own ideas, deeply listening to each others’ wide open minds and also totally immersed in our own strange and beautiful little internal musical worlds.”
House Music is out now.
· order the album on LP · CD · DL
· listen on streaming platforms
· watch IV: What Your'e Thinking
· watch V: Movement
· watch VII: Colour Fields
· watch IX: Nature That’s It That’s All.
· book tickets for the German performance film premiere
“Remarkably cohesive: a semi-classical/electronic/post-rock suite with the space to go off in all kinds of interesting directions." ★★★★ — The Times