Stephen O’Malley from the legendary Sun O))) talks to Wonderland about his new project, Ensemble Pearl.
Think of the biggest, baddest noise supergroup and you might come up with something along the lines of Ensemble Pearl. Consisting of Sun O)))’s Stephen O’Malley, Boris drummer/vocalist Atsuo, Michio Kurihara and William Herzog, the ensemble’s debut record was hailed as the world’s slowest-building anxiety attack (in a good way). Sludgy, ominous music made for creepsters and other denizens of the night, it’s not so much an LP as it is an experience – the kind of praiseworthy experiment you don’t see enough of in music. O’Malley tells us more.
How did this collaboration come about?
The recording came about from a commission to work on music for a theatre play by Gisele Vienne. One of the possibilities was to work in Japan because one of the co producers of the theatre piece was a contemporary dance centre in Yokahama. I invited Atsuo and Michio Kurihara; Atsuo’s an old friend and we’ve done several things together in past tours. Michio is working with Boris, so we were friendly and Bill Herzog is also an old colleague from Seattle who has played in Sunn O))) and with Jesse Sykes. We were all able to meet up in Tokyo and spend a week recording music for this theatre play. Later on we went back to the sessions and really loved the demos that we’d created, so we decided to finish that under the guise of an album. That’s what the Ensemble Pearl album is.
Did you find it easy to all work towards one ideal or concept for the album? How does your creative process work?
It’s abstract; it’s not always a similar process. That session was very fluid and it was really focused and enjoyable. We created something. That’s the thing about music, you’re creating something based off of your history and your state of mind and where you are in the world and the universe at that moment psychologically, mentally, emotionally and physically and any other way you can imagine. You bring all of these people together to do something that essentially, whether conceptual or abstract or structured music, is all pending on those elements. It’s a process.
You’ve collaborated a lot throughout your career, is this something you do to keep things fresh and new ideas coming? Or is it that you have a lot of like-minded people around you?
I don’t feel like I have anyone around me, I feel quite isolated actually as a person but I do feel fortunate that I’ve crossed paths with many incredible musicians and artists who are open to trying new things out, and trying to have this experience together which is making music. Human beings have to collaborate, we’re social animals.
With music maybe it’s got a slightly more mystical obscure band on it because it’s this ancient practice actually that has a lot of shamanistic and magical methods. I think maybe one of the human conditions is everyone feels alone even if they’re surrounded by humans at every step. Making the connection is the important thing. And being a musician I feel fortunate to have that in my life as a way to communicate, you have to communicate with people.
How did you choose what went on the final record, it’s a 6 track record, is there a lot of material you didn’t use? Is there more to come from Ensemble Pearl?
Those 6 tracks represent versions of most of the pieces that we were working on. Atsuo, Bill, Michio and I have all discussed doing another recording and we would love to do that, it’s just a matter of where we are placed in geography, in the temporal moment… but we’ve discussed it and I think it will happen at some point. The same goes for the possibility of a live show. We’ve also discussed another recording with a vocalist, and have talked to a certain vocalist who is interested so that could expand and hopefully there’ll be another record. It’s not concrete, but there are ideas there to continue this project in that way.
Ensemble Pearl is out now on Drag City. www.dragcity.com/artists/ensemble-pearl
Words: Laura Isabella