Echo Collective – The See Within

I spoke to Margaret Hermant and Neil Leiter – the core of Belgium-based modern classical unit Echo Collective – in February 2018. At that point two albums featuring the Collective were about to be issued – World Beyond, a classical interpretation of Erasure’s World Be Gone that was the focus of my interview, and a classical reinterpretation of Radiohead’s complex, sonically challenging Amnesiac. Leiter had hinted at other projects, one of which was a collaboration with Maps, which surfaced as 2019’s outstanding Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. 

The other project Leiter mentioned is what became The See Within, the first Echo Collective album to contain original material. At that point in February 2018, The See Within wasn’t even written; it merely existed as an idea, something he and Hermant were keen to do, but its execution seemed relatively remote. Their publisher, on the back of performances of Amnesiac and the reception to World Beyond, suggested that they should be prepared to “clone themselves” as classical interpreters for hire. It was clear when talking to Leiter that the idea, lucrative though it may well have been, had limited appeal: the goal was their own music, and what became The See Within thus became a driving focus. 

Neil Leiter & Margaret Hermant by Julien Bourgeois.

The See Within contains eight pieces for strings and magnetic resonator piano, an adapted piano that allows long, string-like tonalities to emerge. The album finds the core duo of Hermant (violin, harp) and Leiter (viola) collaborating with a third member of the collective, Gary De Cart, whose use of the MRP on standout pieces like ‘The Witching Hour’ or the lengthy ‘Respire’ gives the album its distinctive melodic character. Despite the emergence of strange, alien sounds and textures (for example, the opening moments of the evocatively-titled ‘Glitch’ or the gentle, evolving music box clusters of the beatific ‘Unknown Gates’), the Echo Collective mantra is to avoid studio effects other than subtle reverb. Theirs is an approach born of the concert hall, of live music, of being able to use instruments to their fullest potential, without resorting to the studio to achieve their idiosyncratic artistic vision. 

The result is an album that stands out in the crowded marketplace of modern classical music; an album that also stands apart from their previous interpretative or collaborative work yet feels inextricably linked through the way that Hermant, Leiter and De Cart interact with one another. Here you find moments of improvisatory freedom overlapping with rigid composition, of traditional playing effortlessly overlapping with instrument adaptations, giving each and every piece on The See Within an acoustic personality and sonic resonance unto itself.

A more engaging modern classical album you will not find. 

The See Within by Echo Collective is released October 30 2020 by 7K! Echo Collective are published by Mute Song.

Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Gaia and George. 

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence 

New Release on Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords: Alka – Regarding The Auguries

Album released today via Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords. Watch the video for ‘Faito’ below.

Regarding The Auguries is the portentously-titled fourth album from Philadelphia electronic unit Alka. It is an album that reflects back our myriad concerns about the world; a teeming, restless work surveying global civil unrest, freak earthly phenomena and a sense that order is slowly being dismantled around us. Although it was recorded long before lockdown, its grim outlook makes it a fitting release during the grip of an existential crisis that has impacted us all. 

After being a solo project of Bryan Michael since the early 2000s, for Regarding The Auguries Alka is re-imagined as a unit of Bryan Michael, visual artist Erika Tele and fellow Philadelphia electronic musician Todd Steponick, a line-up familiar from their recent, pre-lockdown shows. 

The eleven tracks on the album were written in what Bryan describes as “slow motion” – he would start an idea; Todd would respond to it; Erika would add her distinctive vocals, which would then be woven through the track like another instrument. A track might then be disassembled, deconstructed and rebuilt, or its atomised components could end up as the basis for another track completely. What emerged from this evolving, morphing, shapeshifting sonic conversation is a body of work that could not have existed without the interplay between the unit’s three members. 

From the outset, Alka wanted to make this an album encompassing human reactions to the times we live in. Fear, dread and unknowable mysteries might dominate its sonic architecture, but here we also find personal emotion and vulnerability on the tender ‘My Heart’, led by a delicate, emotive vocal from Erika, or a sense of being dismayed by an inability to decipher the fact from fiction on ‘Doubt’. 

Here we also can identify with the feeling of life’s certainties unravelling around us on the album’s gradually-evolving opener ‘Fractured Time’. The bold, robust ‘Faito’ deploys a Japanese word used to inspire confidence and encouragement, while ‘Scrapple’ finds Erika’s vocal positioned with shouty insistence on a spiky electro track inspired by the gilets jaunes riots in Paris. 

Throughout the album, we hear melodies that glitch and splinter into strange, unpredictable shapes. We hear sharp edits and off-kilter time signatures, horror movie samples and brief gospel interjections; on the widescreen ‘Earth Crisis’ we hear a chilling sample of unexplained natural atmospherics that sound like the earth foretelling of its impending final moments. 

“An augury is like fortune telling that comes from looking at the patterns of bird flight,” explains Bryan of the album’s title. “Those patterns usually prophecy some sort of doom. I’d come up with the title a long time ago, but when we were working on the album, it seemed to become more and more connected to the world around us. In the end, it feels like it’s become a very timely album.” 

More timely it could not be. Regarding The Auguries is a dark, contemplative electronic album made by three human beings staring fixedly at our suddenly uncertain futures. 

Regarding The Auguries will be released as a limited-edition CD, download and stream through VeryRecords on 9th October 2020. veryrecords.com

Track list:
1. Fractured Time
2. Widthchild
3. Faito
4. Earth Crisis
5. Scrapple
6. Sourcery
7. My Heart
8. Solfège
9. Doubt
10. Dead Like Me
11. King Card
12. Solfège (Fujiya & Miyagi Remix)
13. Faito (Vince Clarke Remix)
14. Fractured Time (DJ Jekyll of Shelter Remix)

Credits 
Bryan Michael – synths, programming, vocoder, worry 
Erika Tele – vocals, werds, projections, fear 
Todd Steponick – synths, programming, treatments, doubt 
Vince Clarke – additional synths and programming on ‘King Card’ 
Elizabeth Joan Kelly – guest vocals on ‘King Card’ 
Starkey – mastering 

Alka biography 
Bryan Michael started operating under the name Alka in 2000, tapping into the local IDM scene that centred around the city’s Broketronica experimental electronic music club night. With Principles Of Suffocation (2007) and A Dog Lost In The Woods (2009), he subtly railed against IDM’s restrictive covenants, offering a brooding, almost foreboding strand of electronic music. 2017’s The Colour Of Terrible Crystal was released through Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords, and found Bryan fusing together moments of broken electro beats and sparkling melodies, supported by stunning visual contributions from artist Erika Tele and sonic interventions from fellow Philadelphia electronic musician Todd Steponick. Alka is now a trio of Bryan, Erika and Todd. 

About VeryRecords 
VeryRecords was founded in Brooklyn by Erasure’s Vince Clarke in 2016. We are a small record label dedicated to releasing very fine electronic music. The label was launched with ‘2 Square’ by Vince Clarke and Paul Hartnoll, which was then followed by releases from Reed & Caroline, Alka and Brook. 

“Shaping up as a label to keep a serious ear on.” – Electronic Sound 

(c) 2020 VeryRecords. Press release text by Mat Smith for VeryRecords – press@veryrecords.com