This past week a new set of liner notes I wrote went live. They accompanied the pre-release announcement of a tremendous new album by Michel Banabila. I’ve collaborated with Banabila, who is based in Rotterdam, in various ways over the years, and this new album from him is one of my favorites. Here is my brief essay that accompanies the record, titled Uprooted. The album is available digital and on a limited-edition CD. Tomorrow mark’s the album’s official release.
“The Uprooted Orchestra”
“Orchestral.” The word’s an adjective, certainly, an unambiguous one. It depicts amassed instruments working in synchrony according to a fixed document prepared in advance.
But what if “orchestral” were uprooted? What if “orchestral” referred to what we heard, not how it was recorded? What if “orchestral” welcomed electronic instruments not just into the pit, but into the compositional process?
For that is the sound of Michel Banabila’s Uprooted, this album of beautiful, striated, patient music — patient on the surface, deep with turmoil underfoot. When bass clarinet and harmonium rise above a misty string section halfway through “Breathe,” that’s orchestral. When woodwinds trill and pulse against piano on “Dragonfly,” that’s orchestral.
Over the years, Banabila has made his share of experimental ambient, wherein future roots cultures are foreseen through a low-tech looking glass. On Uprooted, the tech is transparent. The album has touches of Fourth World, most notably on “Collector” and “Breathe,” but Uprooted is orchestral, full stop.
It’s also an album entirely forged of material sampled by Banabila from improvisations by invited musicians. Those samples were then constructed into a whole by Banabila, layered sinuously rather than triggered on a rhythmic grid. The fixed orchestral document here is the recording, and it marks the close of the composer’s efforts, not the start of the performers’.
The Uprooted album features contributions, by way of the samples mentioned in my essay, from Peter Hollo (cello), Alex Haas (synths & electronics), Gareth Davis (bass clarinet), Oene van Geel (viola & stroh violin), Stijn Hüwels (guitar & electronics), and Gulli Gudmundsson (el.bass, double bass, e-bow), with Banabila on MIDI instruments, sampling, and electronics.