For their debut release, “Winterlands”, the London-based quartet Clang Sayne assembled a collection of unique songs that melded dreamy folk songcraft with an enlivened improvisational rock and jazz thrust. With guitarist/vocalist Laura Hyland’s songs serving as an “elastic structure”, Clang Sayne captured their group energy in the studio and presented it on the album without overdubs or any post-production tampering. Laura, along with guitarist James O Sullivan and bassist Pete Marsh, provided further insight into the making of “Winterlands” and about Clang Sayne in general.
Laura: Most bands I was involved in prior to Clang Sayne played my songs; there were several 'phases' - one with jazz musicians, another with a four-piece female choir, several 'one-off' groups of improvising musicians. Aside from this, I played guitar with Sonnamble for a year or two - a group focusing on electronic and acoustic improvisation using custom-built processing software, and Polly Fibre - a performance art group that makes a huge noise using tailoring equipment (sewing machines, scissors, etc) and fx processing.
James: Currently, I play in an improvisational quartet called TETRAS, which is Thanos Chrysakis, Jerry Wigins, Oli Mayne and myself (I am involved in a recording on Thanos' label, aural terrains- INSTANT-CASCADE-DISTANT) I am also involved in Four Seasons Television, set up by longterm friend and collaborator David Hurn and myself (we are currently preparing material for and album) which explores the relationship between improvisation and composition, and also I have played with David (Hurn) for about 10 years, working on his solo material (song based).
Pete: Ooh gosh. the usual - Breton folk music, improvised electric jazz, free improv, noisy avant rock, a bit of proper jazz, Stuff that's none of the above.
Laura: Well, I write a song as a song - complete in its own right which I can perform solo, but I like the idea that it's also an elastic structure that can stretch temporally and timbrally when played with someone else (harmonically it always remains the same). For 'Winterlands' I presented a collection of songs; we played them together and we all consciously tried to vary the way we played them as much as we possibly could. Rehearsals were recorded and I would listen back to them and pull out ideas that worked best. This would serve as a guide or observation on what was/wasn't working more so than as an 'instruction'; it was a kind of continuous feedback loop.
I don't really think of what I did on this album as improvisation as such - it's definitely more 'variation' for me, or playing with the possibilities - which I guess can be called improvisation but it's a very, very different kind of improvising than playing with each other with no underlying structure. There are specifically designated sections in most of the songs where we do all improvise off each other, and at times things take unexpected turns, which is always great but in general the structures are fixed with plenty of room to maneuver. James improvises throughout, but he knows exactly where the songs are going. Recently we have actually begun to play in a completely improvised capacity where we try to create songforms out of our collective playing. It's good -it ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime! I'm very curious to see how it will progress.
Laura: Hmmm... what do jazz musicians find appealing about playing jazz standards over chamber music, or vice versa for the chamber musicians... it's just what we play really. We could of course play these songs in a more traditional style, or in another style, but I don't think it would interest any of us to do so - we play in the style we play. I asked these particular musicians to play on these songs because I like their specific styles of playing; I think they play with me and with each other for the same reason; we all like each other's style of playing and we're all at ease playing and improvising with each other. As for collective improvisation in itself, it's an incredibly uplifting and joyful experience when it is working, and it's a great challenge when it's not - and it's great fun either way.
James: In this group I am drawn to the results that the improvisation from players with different backgrounds yields, in particular when there is a song as the base for what we do, because the song material is constantly re-examined and never 'ossified' or set in stone. This is exciting for a player because there is a sense of progress, or development, as well as the prospect that something 'new' is happening as well.
Pete: I'm not sure this music's got much to do with folk, really, but I suppose that's a matter of opinion. The improvisation is very much dictated by the song, but still surprising things happen which would be pretty much impossible to make happen any other way. My own role is pretty much functional, to anchor things rather than set them adrift. More recently we've moved towards collectively improvising songs, which wasn't what happened on “Winterlands”. But the results aren't that dissimilar. I don't think I've ever played in a similar situation really, which is why I like doing it. It's risky of course, particularly in front of an audience of Dalston hipsters.
Laura: No, not necessarily it's just that there's a continuity or a 'wholeness' in each rendition of a song and from experience of listening back to rehearsal recordings and editing them together, that continuity gets lost once you start chopping it up and fiddling with it, particularly when we never played the same song the same way. Also, I feel like you either spend time getting something right while your recording in the studio by playing it until you're happy with the result, or you spend time fixing it up afterwards via overdubs and post production - both ways are a lot of work but the former is just more enjoyable. I don't necessarily think this is the only way or the best way to record - but it was the best way for this album, particularly given that the impression we were trying to create was one of a song being played by four people from start to finish as a single performance. If that's the impression you’re trying to create then rise to the occasion and play it that way! I do actually intend to record an album that is more based on choosing 'moments' from the aforementioned collective improvisation, and editing them together, but this is a different approach to playing and recording, and it will be a very different album.
James: I can't speak for Laura, but maybe the idea was not trying to 'capture the energy of our live performances', but creating no distinction between what we do live and what we do in the studio, as far as that is possible. I was also motivated by the technical aspect of the process as it did wonders for our playing and familiarity with each other and the material and how far we could push things.
Pete: It was Laura's insistence that we did it that way. I don't think we'd played as a quartet in front of an audience before we started recording, so that wasn't the reason. I think it was just the obvious way to do it, and I can't think of any other way we would have done it, really.
Laura: The poem, 'Risk' is something someone read to me years and years ago and I loved it; I think it's a very apt description of human nature. What appealed to me, both in this and in the quote used in 'Brigantine' is the sense that Nature - both human nature and the natural world around us - is something mysterious and graceful but also wild, and somewhat sinister. I believe this - nature is sinister in my opinion.
As for an over-arching theme....well, there is the sea if this can be considered a theme, though I never consciously decided to make an album about 'The Sea'. However, for the first twenty years of my life my day revolved around the sea; it was - and still is - a place to escape; it formed a kind of backdrop, but also a fulcrum around which everything turned. What I did consciously want to capture in making the album was a kind of vast, cold otherworldliness (hence the title). When I went to compile the songs the 'sea theme' just emerged as a backdrop and a fulcrum, both in the lyrics and in the style of the music, much as it does in my life in general. I went with this idea in the cover art and the ordering of the songs without questioning or tying to validate it too much. It just fitted.
Laura: No. I like the sound of it and the way the words look. I pondered names for a long time - I didn't want to put the album out under my own name as I didn't make it on my own. I didn't want anything with a 'meaning' or a reference in case it confined or defined what gets done and how it gets done. So something completely meaningless - a made-up word - seemed the most meaningful way to proceed with a name.
Laura: Yes, two things... a 'collage' of recorded improvised songs edited together, as mentioned above. Hopefully we'll do the recording over the summer - not sure when I'll get around to editing/producing it though... Recently I've just moved back to where I grew up in Ireland, and I'm about to start working on a bunch of new songs that I want to arrange for four voices - the plan is to eventually integrate this into Clang Sayne and record all together - we've had singers play with us before but we've never recorded anything with them.
Laura: There'll be a little flurry of activity mid June as I'll be back in London for the week - Cafe Oto on the 16th of June, plus a show on Resonance fm on Saturday 12th, and a gig at The Gladstone in London Bridge on the 17th, and a couple of others things that have yet to be confirmed. It will all be up on the website (clangsayne.net). I would really, really love to tour - in fact, I'm gutted that we're not touring! I had really hoped to do it this summer but I haven't had the time to organise it - any willing tour managers out there please get in touch!
Laura: You could find it at the following places:
Clang Sayne website
Clang Sayne myspace page
, and iTunes, Amazon, Norman ,etc.
-- David Perron (24 June, 2010)