Download: Julia Kent's Lower East Side-Style Ambient Epic "Ailanthus"
Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.
Julia Kent wrenches swirling, atmospheric symphonies from a cello, her hard-working loop pedal, and an always-mesmerizing arsenal of intimate field recordings. Her last album, Delay, placed her sweeping arrangements out in the eerily meditative world of airports, but the follow-up, Green & Gray (out March 8 via Important Records), pits nature against her Lower East Side home base. Kent's spiraling suites live in that snug place where the gentle and uplifting (she plays on Antony's records) meets the decidedly darker-hued (she's also done time in the '90s incarnation of goth-flecked string trio Rasputina). The plucky "Ailanthus" is a multi-layered one-woman orchestra, with her heart-tugging cello dive-bombs matching wits with ominous footsteps and dubby minimalism. As the track progresses, the layers build and collide in an enormous smear of bulging, cinematic dissonance. "I find that when I'm making music I really just submit to the process and see how things evolve," says Kent. "Working with loops, especially, I find that I end up cherishing the accident that, through repetition, becomes integral."
Julia Kent on "Ailanthus"
What is "Ailanthus" about?
I don't know if it's about anything, really, other than an atmosphere and a feeling. The musical textures to me suggested whispers and wind and an atmosphere of things rustling in the night; the spiraling structure of the loops reminded me of the pattern of leaves, and also of things growing and things falling and returning to the earth, so that led to trees. I named it "Ailanthus" because the ailanthus tree has a quite distinctive, delicate, but almost rhythmic-looking leaf structure, and it's a tree that flourishes in an urban environment . . . though I'm a bit vague on the actual dendrological details.
What are the field recordings at the beginning of the track?
The field recordings on Green & Grey were made mostly at night, some in the woods and some in the city. I was interested in recording found sounds that could function in a rhythmic way, so on the record there are insect sounds, footsteps, windshield wipers, rain. I got particularly interested in insect sounds, and how a choir of cicadas can create a sort of rhythm track. The footsteps at the beginning of "Ailanthus" were recorded outside, at night, so you also hear the wind in the trees and the insects. I like the nocturnal quality; somehow, night sounds have a completely different ambiance than day sounds.
What can you tell me about constructing the dubby rhythms?
I wanted to make some sounds that were percussive but also had a rustle-y, wind-like quality, something that would echo the field recording -- so I played around in Reason with some crazy reverbs. I do love a crazy reverb!
This album is about "the intersections between the natural world and the human world." How did you best get in touch with the natural world in the middle of a bustling city?
I'm always fascinated by how nature can persevere in the most extreme urban environment. Where I live, on the Lower East Side, you see the occasional red-tailed hawk flying past; there are fireflies in the summer, and always weeds bursting up through the concrete. Hawks in particular seem amazingly adaptable to life in the city. What about that hawk that is hanging out in the main reading room of the Library of Congress? They are trying to lure it into captivity with frozen quail. But, obviously, the relationship between the natural world and the human world is becoming increasingly fraught.
What's the most memorable show you've played in New York City?
I played a show a while ago in an amazing space in Brooklyn called Invisible Dog. It's a former factory that has been transformed into an arts center. As part of an art installation, I played inside a freight elevator inscribed with text from Dante: The elevator went from Inferno to Paradiso and back again.
What's your favorite place to eat in New York?
I am a big fan of David Chang's empire of deliciousness, particularly Momofuku Ssam Bar. Closer to home, I am grateful for the gastronomic triumvirate of Clinton Street: WD-50, Falai, and Alias.
Julia Kent plays at Brooklyn's Littlefield on March 4 with Elfin Saddle, Nat Baldwin, and Picastro.