Mountains: "Sewn Two"
Koen Holtkamp spoke for a second:
What is your set up when Mountains play live? Instruments, gear, effects, programs you run?
Holtkamp: The setup fluctuates a little bit. For example we've recently stopped using laptops, so at the moment we're focusing more on analog electronics for the processing side of things. We both play acoustic guitars and various small acoustic instruments like melodica, harmonica, shruti box, and objects, which are then sampled, layered and processed through various filters - low pass, ring mod, phaser, pitch shifters, multi resonance filter, and delay. We also use synths occasionally to fill out the overall sound, but most of what we're doing originates from the acoustic guitar.
How do you approach your live shows?
We really enjoy playing live and I think it’s the most important part of the process for us. Usually we compose a piece to be performed live and then perform that for a tour or certain group of shows. As the tour goes on we’ll try different approaches or directions within the overall piece until we reach a place where it seems right. Then after we've played it a number of times we will record a definitive version and then move on to the next thing. So what we perform live is more of a work in progress rather than something from an album we have already finished.
How do you get Mountains’ sound?
This is hard to define but something we’ve spent a long time on. I think our sound, which to me is a big part of our music, comes from the combination of acoustic and electronic elements. There’s a certain warmth that’s a natural characteristic of many acoustic instruments we are drawn to, while the electronic elements allow us to manipulate and expand the temporal possibilities of these instruments. We also tend to focus on detail and a very gradual sense of timing, which has a big impact on what we do.
Is there a process to the arrangement of your compositions? How do the songs come together?
How we work somewhat depends upon the situation. Sewn was done over a short period of time in relative seclusion from the outside world. We went to the country for a couple weeks to make a record with some loose structures we had performed live and a lot of instruments. Choral was done a few nights a week over a period of months while we both had full time jobs and plenty of other outside stimuli to focus on. Pretty much everything we’ve done starts with some aspect of improvisation. We'll explore some different tunings and the composition starts to take form when we settle on one. From there, we'll improvise and rework the parts that clicked until it becomes a composition. We use performance as part of the compositional process. The more we perform something, the more 'composed' it becomes, and then eventually we record it and start performing something new.
What kind of acoustic guitars do you all use? Do you have a favorite? How do you mic them when you record?
I tend to play bigger guitars because I like the full sound whereas Brendon uses smaller guitars. We both use a variety of instruments through, guitars and otherwise. Brendon has an isolation booth so sometimes we use that to record. Most of the time we’re using pick-ups where the guitars aren't really mic'ed.
What do you all use to record your nature sounds? How do you go about recording them?
We’ve used various recorders over the years. Recently, we've both been using digital recorders. For me, making field recordings is mainly about exploration, going for a walk and trying to find interesting sounds. Most of the field recordings I’ve done have been with binaural in ear microphones. I like using binaural mics because they focus on listening and capture sound as an ear would hear. With binaurals, there’s a hyperdimensional sense of space created by the way in which they capture motion.
Any funny sound collecting stories? Have you ever fallen in the stream you’re recording?
Nothing too dramatic. Mosquitoes in upstate NY. The police under the Queensboro Bridge. Children singing on a fake beach in Amsterdam.
Do you know beforehand which sounds will go with certain songs? Do you think, "Ooh, this song needs the sound of a stream?”
No. Not at all. We collect sounds that we like and figure out later what they will go with compositionally.
Do you have a favorite piece of gear?
I'm quite attached to a lot of my setup, as it's something I've put a lot of time into, but I would have to say my acoustic guitar. Because I use it more than any other piece of gear and it's an actual resonating body vs a bunch of knobs that I can use to manipulate sound.
Who and what are your influences?
We're both huge music fans so this could go on for a while. I think we take elements of a lot of the music we love, whether it be Popol Vuh, Charlemagne Palestine, early music, Indian classical music, Steve Roden, the Incredible String Band, Microstoria, Cluster, Psych, Country. It all sneaks in there.
Mountains play Friday, Sept. 25th in Anacortes, WA at the Department of Safety, and Sunday, Sept. 27th, 7:30 PM, at the Triple Door as part of the Decibel Ameritronica Showcase. Both shows are all ages.