HiFi Album of the Month
Throughout a storied career, producer-engineer-artist Daniel Lanois has steered his work into uncharted waters.
As Brian Eno’s foremost protégé he pushed the ambient genre into new territories, notably on Ambient 4: On Land (1982) and Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks (1983). As a studio ace Lanois recorded landmark albums for U2 and Peter Gabriel and revitalized the careers of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. His own work has furthered ambient explorations while never straying too far his trusty pedal steel guitar – such as on 2005′s western-themed instrumental, Belladona. But Flesh And Machine marks the first time Daniel Lanois has truly deployed every sonic weapon in his arsenal.
Initially conceived as an ambient record, the album bristles with new ideas and completely original sounds, while remaining rooted in the ambient philosophy of pursuing an idea. He spent uncounted hours processing an array of source sounds to create the vibrant sound palette that is Flesh and Machine. The results are a complex yet concise set of instrumental songs, each distinctly different yet fitting of the whole.
The concept is bringing the studio to the stage, thereby blending his two worlds as a sound-maker and performer; and the mad scientist has big plans for demonstrating the processes of his sonic “laboratory” to live audiences.
“I can display in a resourceful manner what it is I do in the recording studio,” says Mr. Lanois in a forthcoming interview with TIDAL, “It’s a way of mixing performance with technology – hence the title, Flesh and Machine.” He goes on to merit the album as ”what I believe to be some of my best work.”
We are delighted to highlight Flesh And Machine as our HiFi Album of the Month. Let this be clear, Daniel Lanois is not trying to market records here – he’s trying to redefine them. Lanois is unlocking doors, opening up portals into to the audible unknown. If Flesh and Machine sounds unfamiliar, unlike anything you’ve heard before, it’s because that was precisely the artists’ intent. He’s inventing a new language both unspoken and universal.
We urge you to listen to this album in its intricate and exotic beauty – which can only be justly appreciated in lucid High Fidelity. Enjoy a track-by-track commentary specially delivered by the man himself, below, and look forward to our revealing in-depth interview with the self-described sonic specialist very soon.
The little character that I created as the front cover image for this body of work represents that part of me which looks for sonics that have not yet been heard before. Countless hours were spent in my laboratory processing hand-played interments and source vocals to build a symphonic blend. To take the listener on a sonic journey has always been my quest, for the listener to feel something they’ve never felt before would be the ultimate compliment.
- Daniel Lanois
The piano part is following the chords of a Bach piece. I added my Taurus bass pedals, which is a Moog synthesizer, and has a deep, soft cinematic bottom end. My friend Rocco DeLuca, who lives across the pond here in Silver Lake [Los Angeles], he’s a good friend, and a great singer. I asked Rocco to ad lib on top of the pedals. He did 10 tracks and went home, and I combed through and compiled what I thought was his best moments. A few times it touched on a sound I love — the sound that I remember from a Bulgarian women’s choir that I was exposed to by Brian Eno many years ago. I was very excited when I heard those collisions of harmony. And I named it after him. There’s something very deep and emotional about that one.
A sort of protest instrumental. A piece responding to all the headlines we need to endure these days — it seems to be non-stop war across the planet and people need to live through atrocities. It represents the crying voices of war zones as we get to talk comfortably on the phone. There’s a lot of anger in there — sounds of war and people suffering. It really sounds like the sky is falling down. It’s not meant to be peaceful listening, it’s meant to be a challenging piece, that causes people to stop in their tracks and make people wonder what’s happening in the parts of the world that don’t have our comforts.
“Sioux Lookout’ is my idea of a contemporary native cry — a cry for balance, for us to live in balance with our relatives. It’s an ancient native philosophy, we need to respect our relatives: the sky people, the four-legged people and the water people. I made an attempt on mixing human sounds with animal sounds. I touched on this with Brian Eno back in the day on a record called On Land, and I see this as a continuation of that way of looking at music.
I keep a house in Jamaica, and this was a drum track I already had in my library and I manipulated that track in Jamaica through a couple of processing boxes. But I was so limited with my equipment, I only had one little mixer and two boxes. The signal is going through the box, and not even going through the mixer. I was so limited that results turned out to be very radical. The drums suddenly become like they are coming from another dimension. I think it’s a very fine example of a lot of depth of feel to be had out of very little equipment.
“Two Bushas” started out as a Rocco DeLuca song that I was mixing for him. I processed and sampled my sounds and created two tracks that were meant to be ornamental sitting in the distance behind Rocco’s song. But then I stripped away the song and featured the processings and I found that they were fascinating in themselves and quite orchestral. I started to see the future of symphony — the results very symphonic but the sounds are not recognizable. I played it for Rocco and he got very excited about it. I asked him if I could put it on my record, and he said, ‘Of course.’ It’s a deconstruction where only the hidden components are heard and brought to the forefront.
This features my steel guitar, very manipulated. It goes very electronic, where the electronic components sound like little animals whispering. There’s something very touching and romantic about it, like two little muskrats making love in the bushes [laughs]. It’s one of my favourites actually. What’s in the foreground is so far away from the source, it really appeals to me.
I sat at the piano, and Brian Blade sat at the drums. It’s a very pure form live performance. When [Blade] left the studio, I then carried on with my manipulations and processing. Everything you hear is piano, but I overdubbed a nice dulcimer — a dulcimer that I used on Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball — and that dulcimer plays the lead, and there’s something very touching about the pure sound of that. A nice combination of nice acoustic instruments, but very electronically processed.
My First Love
Again features my steel guitar. This one is very much a throwback to the early ’80s when I was working with Eno because I used this little toy instrument called the Suzuki Omnichord, it’s like an electronic autoharp. It was only meant to be a toy instrument but there’s something sweet about it when you slow it down. So I played it fast, slowed it down and did all the overdubs on top. And a nice drum performance by Brian Blade as simple as it might seem, it has a lovely zip and lilting effect. If you ever heard Esquivel — he was a Mexican orchestrator from the ’50s who did very cinematic music that always had a little humour in it — this is as funny as I get on this record.
“Opera” is very high speed, very electro. The basis of it is this drum machine, a famous drum box called the Roland 808, and I found a complimentary echo to the 808 beat. So that became the spine of this. It has a curious personality trait: halfway through it goes off into melody and the bass part follows the melody line, which is a very unusual thing to do but it feeds quite well.
A solo steel guitar performance, with a very overdriven sound. I hit on this sound putting it through a couple of overdriven Fender amplifiers that I used on Neil Young’s Le Noise record that I made a few years ago with Neil. So I used the same Neil Young setup and I put my steel guitar — it has a very cavernous and sometimes submerged sound. It reminded me of some of the sounds I heard coming out of San Francisco in the ’60s. It always felt it was underwater. I created this image in my head of a character — let’s say me — floating at the top of the St. Lawrence all the way to the open mouth to the Atlantic, and the characters I bump into along the way. It’s constantly unfolding, a very lonely journey, but a beautiful one.
“Forest City” started out as one note on my Les Paul guitar. I have a little sampling device that I use as part of my Les Paul rig so I pushed sample, pushed hold on it. It had this beautiful mantra-like tone and personality, so I carried on with it. I just kept adding on to that, so that whole five-minute journey is built from one note. It’s very textural. I played it for [filmmaker] Terrence Malik, and he fell in love with it. He said, “This is exactly how I see life.”
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