Personal space

Eluvium and Julianna Barwick find their voices
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  May 12, 2010

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SOLO MISSION “I’ve never been in a band,” says Julianna Barwick. “It’s a lot more satisfying for me just to do everything myself.”

If you’re in a hurry, or you’re reading this in a tweet, here are some choice Julianna Barwick keywords (thank you, every music writer!): æthereal, ghostly, and luminous. (Okay, that last one was me.) Those of you who can stick around for a little while might be more likely to dig Barwick; the Brooklyn vocalist’s simply, prettily constructed compositions — made entirely from layers and layers of her own voice — deal in an unfashionably glacial give and take.

But beyond the usual signifiers of “æthereal” or “ambient” music — that is, too much reverb, lots of gauzy sonic textures, and woozy loops unfurling forever into a warm, slo-mo celestial breeze (or something like that) — Barwick’s music also carries within it its own privacy, as though the songs had no idea you were listening. The six tracks on her Florine EP (Florid) pass by with the arresting indifference of a sunset — like shadows creeping across the room until they forget themselves. As with her previous Sanguine LP, she recorded Florine entirely at home, alone, with limited means, noisy neighbors, copters over the East River at all hours, and what sounded, over the phone, like thousands of angry birds.

“When I get back from tour, I’m moving my piano and all of my music stuff into a studio for a while,” she tells me. “I feel like this is going to be really good for my brain.” Think about any domestic relationship that lasts less than one lease and you know that a home can absorb all kinds of associative clutter. So after recording “millions” of essentially wordless songs over seven years in one place — and winning thousands of fans with the couple dozen she’s culled for release in the meantime — Barwick’s about ready to take what she’s taught herself and get out of the house.

“I’ve never been in a band,” she tells me with a voice that sounds more than a little wary of the thought. “I love to meet new people and everything — but as far as, like, a working relationship? I’m totally not into that. It’s a lot more satisfying for me just to do everything myself.”

Barwick grew up in Tulsa singing in opera choruses and church choirs, but she picked up a lot more about texture and technique than about teamwork. The glowing harmonies that brighten Florine rise from what sounds like an endless choir; in the end, though, it’s all Barwick. And the special contradiction of her music — that the more she sings, the less she actually says — is one of its most enduringly beautiful qualities. (So that’s due for a change as well.)

“I’m actually really excited about adding more instruments — piano, guitar, clarinet,” she concludes. “Maybe even songs with words — just to get my father to stop asking about it.”

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VOICE COACH “If you are going to sing, you have to make sure it’s you singing,” says Eluvium’s Matthew Cooper.

That’s what like-vibed ambientalist Matthew Cooper (a/k/a Eluvium, who performs alongside Barwick at Great Scott next Thursday) had to do to complete his recent Similes (Temporary Residence). Like earlier Eluvium albums (there have been four), Similes was generated through Cooper’s careful process of gentle looping and layering, adding and subtracting, until the vaporous consistency of the songs hung properly in the air. In the midst of composing the album, he was called upon to score Matt McCormick’s minor-star-studded feature film Some Days Are Better Than Others.

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