‘Just A Matter of Time’ by Spell
Sound artist Kristen Roos is no stranger to Newfoundland. He wowed audiences with his performance at the 2008 Sound Symposium and plans to perform again at next year’s symposium. Recently, Roos has turned his attention to a collaboration with vocalist prOphecy Sun, under the moniker Spell. The duo have just released an EP entitled Hex. Each song was recorded in one take with no post-production in hopes of creating a representation of how Spell might sound during live a performance. I recently asked Spell few questions about the project. Here’s what they had to say.
What prompted this partnership between yourself and Prophecy Sun to create Hex?
Kristen: Prophecy and I met at a locally organized experimental electronic music festival here in Vancouver called Squarewaves about two years ago. We were both helping out with a bit of the organizing at this point. The folks that organize this festival are very awesome people who all like to collaborate. I think coming out of such an atmosphere caused me to ask Prophecy to come over and jam, and we were instantly sonically connected. I’ve never experienced a connection like this with anyone else. The tracks without beats are created by Prophecy’s voice, and my voice, that’s it. So to answer your question, we started collaborating shortly after that, mainly because when you meet someone that you can instantly improvise and create the most intense sounds with its hard to not want to keep getting together. It’s really been in the past few months that we’ve taken a look at what we’ve recorded and put out our EP Hex. A full length is in the works, and we’re moving faster and focusing on getting our stuff out there now.
Hex is much more structured in the traditional musical sense than your previous solo work with found sounds and radio transmissions. Did you intend for this project to be more of a band effort than a sound experiment?
Kristen: Well, like I said we started experimenting with crazy, intense vocalizations, there are way more intense recordings that I love that don’t appear on Hex. The structured songs came out of my interest in looping, and creating beats, and then collaborating with another friend who goes by the stage name Walter Bloodway. He played with us for a bit, and is much more of a percussionist, and all around awesome musician. I like to sculpt and tweek sounds, and have training in electro-acoustic music, but I don’t have any formal training in music, other than Balinese Gamelan. So Walter played with us for a bit, and really showed me how beats could be incorporated into Spell, and that’s how the song “It’s Just a Matter of Time” came about. So it wasn’t really a conscious decision to go one way or the other, it all just happened at the same time. I really enjoy it when I see a band play live, and they can play structured music and also something where the structure falls away. It’s a nice ride when you see Spell play live, and we’ve worked on this as being a key component in our live shows.
prOphecy sun: We started off with voice & electronic manipulations. Later, we progressed with a firm desire in recreating our sound experiments again & again live. Our musical backgrounds marry well together. I am an installation & performance artist who performs in Spell, solo as prOphecy sun & in 5 other bands. Two of those bands- “Tyranahorse” & “Under the Sun” are more set song structure bands.
Kristen Roos is a collaborator’s best friend. He is gentle in his approach and is continually adding his electronic sounds and buzzing voice to Spell.
Hex was birthed in a Kristen’s home — me on the floor with microphone & pedals, Kristen in a chair with copious pedals, electronic gizmos. We played and with straightforward effort, we recorded Hex. We are very focused on bringing in our mutual passions of beat. I am also a contemporary dancer, dancing in “Dance Troupe Practice” and “So So So”and find my voice pushing for rhythm in our duo collaboration. Hex is becoming more structured as we develop and finding the stride to our next jump.
Portions of Hex are quite haunting (“Forest”, “Fading Away”) with Prophecy Sun’s vocals blending into the music as another layer in the mix while other pieces like “Just A Matter of Time” are more in the trip-hop vein of groups like Portishead and Massive Attack with lyrics and a pronounced beat. What are your thoughts on the role of human voice in music as a lead focal point vs. being a part of a greater whole?
prOphecy sun: The voice is an immediate source of communication. My voice is my instrument. I can be harsh, seductive and haunting tones. My voice can convey many emotions & dominate or be especially silent when it is appropriate. In Spell, I sit back and let the beat get it’s speed. Then, like an animal, I circle my prey- listening, blending in melodies, finding my stride.
I can dominate and lead. In this collaboration I aim to listen and then begin my vocal loops & find my melody. That being said, I do impose lyrics, as they spring out of me.
Kristen: We definitely blur the boundaries of lead vocal vs. being a part of the whole, mainly because the sounds are all created by both of our vocals on tracks like Forest and Fading Away. Prophecy has a couple of pedals which she mainly loops and delays, and sometimes tweaks the delay to sound like its spiraling out of control. I have a bunch of pedals that I use to loop, and pitch change and filter and delay my voice. So all of the synth-like sounds on these tracks are my voice being manipulated live. For example, the low end is me pitching my voice down, and looping it into a tone. I appreciate both ends of the spectrum in music, so I think this is reflected in the sounds we make.
Who would you cite as influences that led to the creation of Hex.
prOphecy sun: Definitely, portishead, Cocteau twins, radiohead & 80’s beats & sounds & lyrical patterns.
I love, classical world sounds as well like N Ali Kan.
Kristen: I’ve always liked drones, and there are a wide variety of influences and cultures that create drones, from eastern cultures to noise. I’m influenced by a history of appropriation in music, sampling and looping, and as a teenager first getting into creating my own music I was listening to Aphex Twin and Hip-Hop in the 90’s, as well as bands like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. These influences have defined some of what I do, but I’m also influenced by free jazz and people like Eric Dolphy, as well as improvised music and the many cross overs of noise and improv that have flourished over the past few years. There is a lot of that happening in Vancouver right now, and there seems to be a high threshold for experimental music, noise and harsh sounds here.
One of the locals I’ve recently discovered is Lief Hall, I really like what she does on her own and with Myths. But to answer your question in my overarching huge way, I was born in the 70’s, so my childhood was in the 80’s and I was a teenager in the 90’s, so my direct musical influences come from all of these generations. Too huge to really get into all of that, but I’d say I like beats from the 80’s and early 90’s, and I like combining these drum machine sounds with live drum sounds. There are so many bands and influences out there though, but as far as bands, and the more rhythmic elements, I’d say there’s a little Cocteau twins in there, a little Portishead, Oval, and a little Dub and Hip-Hop, but these are just influences, and I don’t really think we sound like any of those things on their own.
Any plans for performances with Spell or otherwise here in Newfoundland?
Kristen: We don’t have any set plans, other than hopefully coming out to the Sound Symposium next summer…fingers crossed. I’ve been to St. John’s twice, and I was at the Sound Sympoisum back in 2008. It was a truly awesome experience, and it’s really my favourite city in Canada, I can’t wait to come back.
You can listen to and download Spell’s Hex at the link below