The sort of slow, beguiling compositions that Christina Vantzou has made since 2011 seem antithetical to prolificacy. Across four records, each with a minimal numerical title, she’s slowly unfurled this intensely orchestrated pieces of swirling ambience. Even when there’s a flurry of instruments playing at once, they usual shirk drama in favor of delicate ornamentation, taking pleasure in a moment, finding the beauty in each swirling note. It’s work that sounds like it takes time, like its labored over, and consequently you can lose a lot of your own time getting lost in the details. Appropriately, until this year, she hadn’t released a proper record since 2015.
But things have been different for Vantzou in the first half of 2018. In the last six months, the stars (or scheduled) have aligned such that she’s released three distinct projects, each of which clocks in around album length. In addition to her fourth proper solo record on Kranky, April’s No. 4, she’s also released a pair of thrilling collaborations.
In February, she issued Folded Galaxy, a recording of a live performance she did at the New York record store Commend. Then just a few weeks later, the experimental label Shelter Press put out Thoughts of a Dot as It Travels a Surface, a record she composed in a day with John Also Bennett, on which they interpreted minimal line drawings by the artist Zin Taylor as a graphical score. Those two projects are obviously a little more spontaneous than her mainline records, but they too contain the same kind of emotional gestures. Each compose both analog instruments and dizzying synth lines, that dance around each other in ways that force the listener to turn internal—soundtracks to the exploration of emotional landscapes.
Following along with these releases this year has been thrilling, in a low-key way. Though similar, each piece unfolds in its own unpredictable and interesting manner—making each among the year’s most immediately engaging ambient records. And let me say again, she’s already been involved with three of them.
You should go listen to them now, but if you already have, or if that wealth of material isn’t enough, Vantzou has also put together this week’s Noisey Mix, an hourlong set of similarly internal music. She dives between minimalist icons, slowed-down edits of legendary synthesists, recently uncovered spoken word experiments, and more. It’s largely instrumental, and sections of it are barely tonal, meaning that there’s a lot of space for you to explore, which you can do so below, alongside an interview with Vantzou about the collaborations that birthed this flurry of material.
Noisey: How are we meant to enjoy the mix? What's the perfect setting?
Christina Vantzou: I’d recommended listening through earbuds / headphones while walking outside—in a park, a garden, a forest or any green space. And if that’s not easily accessible, a city, or seascape or a mountain will work.
What to wear: a long trench-like coat or a trench coat—any color—this is especially effective during the Drew McDowall part. I start to feel like Neo from the Matrix.
Is synesthesia a real thing and if so, what color is this mix?
Everyone’s perception is different. Smell and taste are incredible. I think we have way more than 5 senses and they’re definitely not totally separate. To me, the way senses trigger one another is interesting but totally subjective. My subjective choice of color of this mix would be celadon—the ceramic glaze—plus some black specks in the celadon.
Was there any specific concept to the mix?
Altering existing tracks is kind of a theme I guess? I slowed down / pitched down the Ciani track about 7 years ago and felt it was time to put it somewhere. Carl Stone has been an inspiration lately and his process falls in line with the theme perfectly.
Do you have a favorite moment on the mix?
Drew McDowall—because of the Neo / Matrix thing.
No. 4 seems like it had a wider cast of collaborators than your previous solo works did? Were you intent on working in a more collaborative way this time around?
Yes—on No. 4 I steered away from written scores, and any fixed musical arrangements. I had a some notes written out, a few simple graphic scores prepared, and we listened to certain recordings for inspiration. From that, the musicians created their own arrangements. Eliminating the conductor and score left the music more fluid and liquid-y. Our recording sessions in Brussels and New York were set up so that the musicians could hear all the effects—reverbs and delays—while playing. All of these things let the listener get a sense of the the making of the music along with the music.
There’s a really rich sound palette this time around, what drew you to the sounds that you use on No. 4 . Were there feelings you felt like you needed more colors to convey?
I knew I wanted to have gong on No. 4 after my friend Katrin and I ended up at a gong bath in central London. My ears were totally seduced. I knew I would pair gong with cello and that’s all I knew. We ended up recording Sound House in the echo chamber at Jet Studio in Brussels. It was a psychedelic experience. The echo chamber had stucco walls painted red, with a layer of translucent orange on top—a really crazy paint job—and the stucco was melting and forming sound sculptures for my eyes while I listened to Clarice and Kat play that piece. I wanted to title something on the record “Sound House” for Daphne Oram. The trip to London which led to meeting Kat was to visit Daphne Oram’s archive at Goldsmiths.
Finally, I’m curious about the role sleep plays in your work. It’s mentioned as an aside in the press materials but I was wondering if you could expand upon that.
I’m a heavy sleeper and I love sleep. Last night I slept about eleven and a half hours. The transition from sleep to fully awake is a slow process and kind of a daily challenge for me.
Deradoorian - N4 ( morphed)
John Luther Adams - become ocean (excerpt)
Shiho Yabuki - Tomoshibi (excerpt)
Pablo’s Eye - Double Language
Drew McDowall - Unnatural Channel (excerpt)
Vangelis - Flamants Roses
Laurie Anderson - Home studio
Shiho Yabuki - Tenshingoso
Annea Lockwood / Christina Kubisch - STREAMING, SWIRLING, CONVERGING (excerpt)
Ciani - The Fifth Wave (halfspeed)
Carl Stone - Banteay Srey
Christina Vantzou - Glissando for Bodies and Machines in Space @ Ambient Church (ff)
John Luther Adams - become ocean (excerpt)