The bands PNAU and Empire of the Sun are stalwarts of the Australian music scene. We find out why the musician and record producer to stars including Elton John has taken the change of direction from the beloved pop sounds of those bands to bring us the 2 Leaves Project.
You wrote recently: “Music is a way of putting a better foot forward, encapsulating all the mess and chaos into a few minutes of purity” - what do you feel when you are creating?
Creation for me has always been the most exhilarating part of the process, since a very early age I’ve felt a connection to something much larger and stronger than this reality. I was always making things with my brothers and my friends as a child. First it was photography, which then led me into making short films on super 8mm. I was fortunate to have had different mentors along the way both physical relationships such as my friend’s father who was a filmmaker and also my own grandfathers on both sides. One was an engineer who never completely got a chance to design and realize the wondrous things he had in his head and my other grandfather who was a major part of the design and construction of the Sydney Opera House as well as many other prominent buildings. So essentially I think I understood how lucky I was and always felt that anything was possible for me but more than that I wanted to create things that I could do cheaply but to great effect. Unlike film, which at that time was a very costly and lengthy process, (you’d shoot some rolls of Super 8mm and then send them off to Texas and wait for 6-8 weeks to get the developed lm back) music once I had a few very cheap analog synths was instant and for all intensive purposes free! So each afternoon after school I’d sit there making strange repetitive music and record onto old cassettes, this was the beginning of my career in many ways. So I guess I feel everything but I’ve tried to always paint stories through sound, I’ve seen colors and landscapes in my mind, to create emotional scenes, strange yet uplifting, foreign yet familiar.
You have achieved major success both with PNAU and Empire of the Sun - how is it working on different projects with different partners and stepping into different roles for your live performances?
I love having the chance to work in different modes. Both these projects have starkly different approaches and outcomes. Working with Peter Mayes from age 14 onwards we know each other very well, and many of our youthful experiences such as going out to warehouse parties and having crazy adventures still to this day inform the work we do, where as Empire of the Sun was something I started much later in life when I’d already had some success and a load of experience, having worked with a few different singers, creating with Luke Steele we instantly felt a crazy power when united, a much more visceral feeling that as my manager has said is like “lightning in a bottle”. Hard to control but powerfully present and confronting, full of childlike energy and passion. In many ways these two projects have become similar because of
the success that they have enjoyed, as now it is expected that we offer up radio friendly or sync friendly pieces. That is the major reason why I’ve started this new “ The 2 Leaves Project” to create something truly artful and free, away from the trappings of ownership and the weight of outside interest. What I mean is I’m now much more excited about once more painting with sound and doing so with people who don’t necessarily t into a pop mold. Nothing is forced here it’s all natural, like the universe itself I let all ideas in to these collaborations and make decisions solely on feeling without trying to force them into three minute packages.
PNAU is one of Australia’s most loved electronic acts with five critically acclaimed albums including a UK #1 album with Sir Elton John – how do you approach the challenge of starting from the beginning with a new type of project?
I love newness and I love to work with people who come from a different place to me. Each of my bands has its manifesto and that helps me to understand how to differentiate between them. But yeah as they go on there tends to be more opinions and expectations on them. I create this new Project as a revolving door of artists to work with. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to meet and record with an enormous amount of gifted individuals over the years, and this is a way of making something with each or as many of them as I can. It’s made only for people who share a deep love of creation, not the ones who’ve allowed music to turn into a business or livelihood. It can be both and that’s where I reside. Most of my time now is focused on working with fringe artists and applying all I know to bring out the best in them and hopefully shine a light on talent that might have otherwise been marginalized, but not exclusively because some of the artists are well established and then its just people I feel that great connection to and a shared love of musical conversations.
Tell us about the Two Leaves Project - You represent one leaf and the other is constantly shifting between different collaborators – why this innovative approach?
I do it for my own sanity, which at times is extremely elusive! It all came out of a few extremely deep experiences with DMT, my take away from meeting the universe and tapping into the cosmic consciousness was to share more and make more, so I started a record label to facilitate this. These records are about healing, and none more so than this current release with “Brooke Shelley” an extraordinary artist, singer, choirmaster and composer. Brooke and I met and have worked together for many years in the background on numerous things but this was a chance to make a body of work just her and I wanted zero limitations and we approached it differently to all the others. To start with I wrote text, lots and lots of text, which I sent to Brooke. She has the immense talent and I wanted to allow her the space to create freely without borders, so it was her hand that added the music initially to it, to sing out my words, so it started like that and once she had added the initial strokes it was clear this was going to be very special.
You have described Two Leaves Project as: “About exploration, to make experimental works that delve deeper into the subconscious and the meditative”. Quite a shift from Electro-Pop hits, why did you take this new direction in your music?
For me, for you and for us. I grew up seeking out the weirdest music, as a kind of badge of honor. I felt with the advent of streaming that suddenly there was a chance to make longer form works that were more like companions for our daily lives. Music you could both listen intensely to and also have in the background while you did something else. 34 minutes is the chosen length, which to me seems just perfect. Whether you are driving someplace or exercising or making love or whatever, these records are your friends and offer something memorable in a different way to the hedonism of PNAU or the soft pop of Empire of the Sun.
Because there are so many different ones and we are all essentially leaves, or mushrooms or energy or whatever. Under these powerful trips I’ve taken, the plants have spoken to me, very directly. Nature is us, and I want to remind people of that. No two are the same; each contains all the stories of creation of this world and beyond.
Tell us about some of the collaborators you work with on this project?
The first album was a three-way collaboration between Tim Lefevbre and Vera Blue / Celia Pavey and myself. The second was with Henry Hey and myself. This third one is with Brooke Shelley. All of these artists are very different and the work we’ve done together is different again. Most of these records have been recorded quickly and full of instinct and then my time spent has been shaping and sculpting them into the records you now have. I’m doing mainly what I love and trying to capture these incredible artists in an unguarded moment then building the support network around them through sonic manipulation and instrumentation. Always swimming upwards but not in a stream you’re familiar with.
You have produced for a range of Artists including Robbie Williams, Mika, Groove Armada and an entire Elton John collaboration album remixing his old hits. How do you approach producing for other Artists?
Producing for other artists, known or successful ones is a real test and one needs to have the ability to be as large or as small as need be. It’s not about the producer it’s about bringing the best out of the artist and should be done as transparently as possible. A huge part of it is psychological, finding out what they want and what the record label want and what the fans need. Ultimately I try to serve the fans, and in order to do that I must become a fan of the chosen artist. It can be and should be an all-consuming process, something these days I somewhat shy away from and instead seek out unsung creatives or ones without the stigma of stadium level success, for it often alters the artist. I’ve loved working on all these projects and have tried my best to put as much love into them. It’s often the outside influence of the business side that’s detrimental and ultimately has little place in the studio.
The changes in the music business in recent years are well documented – how has that affected your process?
It would be easy to allow these changes to in influence the work and only focus on singles and follow the trends but the listener still wants to hear and that’s not a three-minute piece. They want to be transformed, taken to a higher ground, out of the storm of their own mind, to reach out a branch, to find a space where the music can enrich the witness.
If not music, what other careers could you see yourself in and why?
I still long to make films. I hope one day to find the space to do that. I write a lot of stories and prose, film has always been my first love. I really hope I can find the patience, persistence and strength to get there. I have extraordinary amounts of respect for anyone making films and long form pieces. Making films was my main focus up until about 16 years of age and I became obsessed with a few films in particular namely Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Katsurhiro Otomo’s Akira. I must have watched both those films over a thousand times each! I did fairly early understand that the weight of making these kind of masterpieces was such a huge undertaking and that many many artists never get the opportunity to create on such a high level. It was when I made a short film called Stigmata about a young teen who takes an LSD trip that goes wrong that music first truly became a part of my creative process, and I felt such freedom within it. I know just how much effort it takes; unlike music it’s a very very long process. I need to focus more. I love making these albums and would like to make feature films to accompany them, but I’m funding it all myself at present and adding film into that will surely leave me homeless. I hope you take the time to listen to this very special artist “Brooke Shelley” on the new 2 leaves project entitled “Evening Of The Sky”.
If only concrete could talk! What stories would the walls, floors and ceilings of this bunker tell us? Built by the Nazis using forced labour, a warehouse for Cuban fruit, Techno parties and sex fairs, finally a home for Art.
1941: Planning of the “Friedrichstrasse Imperial Railway Bunker” by Karl Bonatz under supervision of Albert Speer, “General Building Inspector for the Reich Capital”.
1942: Construction of the bunker as an air-raid shelter for the civilian population, built by forced labourers.
1945: Bunker occupied by the Red Army and used for prisoners of war.
1949: Use as textile warehouse.
1957: Converted into warehouse for imported tropical fruit from Cuba, managed by state-owned company “Fruit Vegetables Potatoes”. Known locally as the “banana bunker”.
1990: After German Reunification, the building becomes the property of the federal government.
1992: Techno music and fetish parties mean that the bunker gains a reputation as the hardest club in the world.
1994: Deutsches Theater stages Simon Donald’s Lebenstoff (“Stuff of Life”) on the bunker’s fourth floor.
1995: “Sexperimenta”, a giant erotic trade fair.
1995: The New Year’s party “The Last Days of Saigon” is banned but nevertheless takes place. The authorities close the bunker.
1996: Art exhibition Files featuring Olafur Eliasson, Daniel Pflumm, Ugo Rondinone and others.
2001: Nippon Development Corporation GmbH acquires the bunker.
2003: Christian Boros purchases the bunker to convert it to house his collection.
2007: Completion of the renovations and first public showing of installations.
2008-2012: Collection #1, first exhibition of works from the collection attracting 120,000 visitors in over 7,500 tours.
2012-2016: Boros Collection #2, second exhibition of works from the collection attracting 200,000 visitors in over 9,000 tours.
In the Bunker artworks from the Boros Collection are exhibited.
Artists shown in the present exhibition Boros Collection / Bunker #3:
Martin Boyce, Andreas Eriksson, Guan Xiao, He Xiangyu, Uwe Henneken, Yngve Holen, Sergej Jensen, Daniel Josefsohn, Friedrich Kunath, Michel Majerus, Fabian Marti, Kris Martin, Justin Matherly, Paulo Nazareth, Peter Piller, Katja Novitskova, Pamela Rosenkranz, Avery Singer, Johannes Wohnseifer
Artists featured in the second show Boros Collection / Bunker #2:
Ai Weiwei, Awst & Walther, Dirk Bell, Cosima von Bonin, Marieta Chirulescu, Thea Djordjadze, Olafur Eliasson, Alicja Kwade, Klara Lidén, Florian Meisenberg, Roman Ondák, Stephen G. Rhodes, Thomas Ruff, Michael Sailstorfer, Tomás Saraceno, Thomas Scheibitz, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Danh Vo, Cerith Wyn Evans und Thomas Zipp.
Artists featured in the first show: Boros Collection / Bunker #1:
Michael Beutler, John Bock, Olafur Eliasson, Elmgreen & Dragset, Kitty Kraus, Robert Kusmirowski, Mark Leckey, Manuela Leinhoß, Sarah Lucas, Kris Martin, Henrik Olesen, Manfred Pernice, Daniel Pflumm, Tobias Rehberger, Anselm Reyle, Bojan Sarcevic, Santiago Sierra, Florian Slotowa, Monika Sosnowska, Katja Strunz und Rirkrit Tiravanija.
Credits: NOSHE and Wolfgang Stahr
Paul Evans, to which I must confess some astonishment, has emerged as America’s most highly valued Modernist furniture designer. Another New Hope master, along with George Nakashima and Phil Powell, Evans produced about 5,000 studio pieces of furniture, many of which were bench made one-off’s, fabricated in and around the Lambertville/New Hope artist’s colony, and about 20,000 factory pieces for the Directional furniture company which was then based in New York City.
Price confusion is to be expected, with Evans’ various periods and lines spanning three decades of production from about 1955 until his untimely death in 1987. We’ll revisit Evan’s work periodically but, for this initial instalment, I thought it best to focus on his massive, mostly brutal, case pieces. While to the casual eye they might appear similar, there are variations and nuance that can add tremendous interest (and value).
Good - Wavy front
Like all of Evans’ major case pieces, this Wavy Front credenza seems to be the avor of the month if prices currently paid for this line are any indication. Welded steel doors mounted on heavy, wooden carcasses, the background colors tend to vivid reds and golds. Like nearly all of Evan’s horizontal cabinets, the top is finished with inset slabs of locally mined slate. There is less work involved with this design, as we’ll see, which accounts for their lower, original sale price of about $400. According to Dorsey Reading, perhaps about forty Wavy Front pieces were produced at Evans’ studio.
Better - Sculpture Front
With rare exceptions, Evans’ Sculpture Front line is considered his premier offering. Every piece, in spite of a design vocabulary that is often repeated from example to example, is bench made. Evans was said to have sketched each panel in pencil, on a napkin, which he handed to his main fabricator Dorsey Reading (whose initials are often found on a hidden, interior corner). Complicated, intense, and similar in theme, each version of this form (he made about 75 Sculpture Front pieces of various shapes and sizes in all) shows variation in pattern, color, brightness, and size. Since “brutal” is the aesthetic, bigger is usually better.
Best - One off
While most of Evans’ furniture is a variation on a specific theme, we are ultimately dealing with the offspring of a creative, artistic mind. “Bench made” means exactly that and, accordingly, there are unique interpretations that venture into the realm of the extraordinary. This cabinet, designed at the behest of a new client who “didn’t like his other work”, is a hybrid between both a Wavy Front and a Sculpture Front and, for good measure, turned on its side into a standing cabinet. Bodacious, brutal, and beautiful, this vertical case piece is considered the pinnacle of Evans’ production and holds the world record for the artist’s work.
www.ragoarts.com Credits – RAGO Arts