In Conversation: 7balcony
21st September 2021Features Birmingham Record Company
Ahead of the release of their debut album, Paul Jackson sat down with Richard Stenton of the Birmingham-based duo 7balcony to discuss authorship, the influence of early sci-fi and hanging microphones off very tall buildings
Paul Jackson: Very excited about the forthcoming debut album from you guys. I thought we could start with talking a bit about how the overall sound came about for the duo and the record?
Richard Stenton: Yeah sure, well the duo and the whole setup was definitely founded around Zach’s 80’s Yamaha sk-10 Symphonic ensemble synthesiser. I think at the time it was the only keyboard instrument he owned at the time and was writing all his music on it. There were a few solid bits of work from Zach in which he included the synth back then, like a piece called end from back in 2017. Ironically end was actually performed as the first piece in the first ever Post-Paradise concert here in Birmingham. But anyway, the synth has a great sound, despite constantly being on the edge of an electronic failure. In his hands it gives a vintage Si-Fi/early Phillip glass/church organ sort of sound and I was loving the stuff he was doing with it. We came up with this setup of the two keyboards facing towards each other, adding the midi samples, sounds etc. as well as the digital automation elements.
PJ: I certainly get those references of the Si-Fi, early Glass and church music but despite there being a cohesive aesthetic to the record I can hear farer reaching influences as well.
RS: For sure, I think we found the sound through sharing music that we liked and maybe even copying each other’s music to some extent. We both share an interest in various forms of early music and the rest of the sound world is built up around noise and more vivid plasticy digital sounding elements. There is influence from artists like Mika Vainio, particularly the album Black Telephone of Matter. Carl Stone has had a big influence on my work on the record, especially the way he manipulates samples over longer durations. We are also both into Giant Claw and other hyperrealism, microsound and a bunch of other stuff. We both have a background in contemporary music and would also have to give a nod to UK and Ireland based composers practicing the art of minimal music as well as the larger experimental music tradition.
“We both share an interest in various forms of early music and the rest of the sound world is built up around noise and more vivid plasticy digital sounding elements.”
PJ: Can you talk a bit about the authorship of the music? 7Balcony appears like a cross between a group and an ensemble.
RS: Essentially each piece is either written by me or Zach and performed by one or both of us. We have only ever performed our own music… apart from we once did a piece by Maya Verlaak actually… but we don’t generally bother to make a distinction between the authorship at gigs or on the record as it doesn’t particularly bother us. It just works better for one of us to have a vision for a piece and to see it through that way. As I said before, we definitely take each other’s ideas for our own music and work closely and discuss pieces and how they fit together so it is all one of the same in many ways.
PJ: I read that the duo name was inspired by a Ruscha painting? I'll put in a picture of the specific one.
RS: I think I like how savage and pessimistic the Ruscha paintings like The Music from the Balconies are. Sad, dark and beautiful. Maybe a bit shallow. I see that in our music. Too much promotion of positive thinking around these days I think. We also tend use a mix of serenity and elevation with levels noise and antagonisation in the music which i think mirrors the J.G. Ballard quote he uses.
PJ: What’s the origin of the music that is on the record, was it written for record or performed before?
RS: Most of the music was written to be performed with the two keyboard set up and has been performed from 2018 onwards, often developing from one performance to another. We have played a variety of gigs in various and often weird situations. We once followed a black metal band which was odd but far from the most misjudged atmosphere that we have ended up performing in. We have done the usual art galleries and concert venue affairs but have tried to find some new situations to play in as well. Through this I think we have developed a good understanding of what kind of situation the music works best in and how we might cultivate that. Namely it being later in the evening, dark in the space and trying to bring the audience in close to the performance in a number of ways. Anyway, going back to the question, a couple of the tracks were also made specifically for the album and the last track microphones hanging from tall buildings was actually resurrected for the finale from 2013, before 7balcony existed.
PJ: Was that actually made from recordings of microphones hanging from tall buildings?
RS: Yes, made in Birmingham with a cheap microphone and a long cable.
“We have played a variety of gigs in various and often weird situations. We once followed a black metal band which was odd but far from the most misjudged atmosphere that we have ended up performing in.”
PJ: I noticed the CD booklet contains a score extract from vertical cities, are all the pieces scored in someway?
RS: Some are completely scored with traditional notation like vertical cities and some are partly scored, including some graphic and chart type notations. At times the character of the music is in the notes and sometimes it’s more in the way of approaching the playing but even in the more freely written music, some written elements or structures give the music more vitality and direction, especially in performance.
PJ: A lot of the music seems like it could just keep going and is cut to a length, what’s the thinking behind that?
RS: We have played a lot with a Platonic idea of the existence of music, that all the music is happening all the time and you just have to channel it. We made a lot of tracks thinking about music in this way and would play them for different durations at different gigs as if they were always happening and we were just tapping into them. It is also the idea behind how we often cut in and out of sampled audio and use interference type noise. Ideas of infinity have always been at the heart of the conversation when coming up with ideas for the music but we still haven’t really found a good way to talk about it! An early project we worked on before we started performing together was a table-book called Forever Grey which was an infinite score in four parts for open instrumentation. It’s difficult to describe if you can’t see it… working on a project like this for so long that tried to create something physical yet infinite was certainly in our minds as we started developing structures and ways of working for the duo.
PJ: Talking of design, the album cover obviously speaks to church music elements of the album but I’m interested to know how it came about.
RS: I’m not actually sure what the exact location of the church is, I took a lot of fisheye shots of church interiors that summer. I’ve always liked church domes painted as if they continue up into the heavens. I’ve actually always thought about trying to write a keyboard piece that somehow produces the same effect but I think Zach’s vertical cities (the first track) does it nicely. The record also has a lot of music that has linear rising structures and the image also mirrors that nicely.
PJ: Great to hear a bit more about the record, what’s next for 7balcony with this release and beyond?
RS: Getting back to playing live will be great. Promoting this album and trying to push the live performances to be more dynamic and varied. Past that, we have plans for some multiple recordings in the future, honing in closer on individual elements of our music. Thanks for the chat!
7balcony’s debut album comes out on Birmingham Record Company on 24 September 2021, and is available to preorder from the NMC shop
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