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‘Far Away’ by Shadow Ray

Forsaking traditional live music structures, Shadow Ray follows more artistic practices in order to explore the limits of studio composition

Published: September 10, 2017
Words: Anders Holst & J.Scott Stratton
Photography: Sebastian Hvass
Reference: www.andersholst.dk/

Ander Holst has been skulking around the seedy underbelly of Copenhagen’s music scene for a number of years now– kicking out records and collaborative projects for over a decade. But in all of those projects – Won’t Lovers Revolt Now, Ectoplasma, Clang, Cirklen, Bog Bodies – Holst has worked in part with other artists and musicians.

Shadow Ray is his first complete self-produced solo project during his entire career in music – which is something of a testament to his dedication towards collaborative processes, as it would have been easy for him as a music producer – at any time – to just pick-up and strike out alone.

Shadow Ray is a project which is experimental in its nature, not only in sound, but also in process. For the album, Holst set out to explore the limits of his own creativity and skill with instrumentation – focusing on what could be done within the constraints of a studio, as opposed to writing music live with a more traditional band structure. Some might find that to be an easier process that composing music live, but a medium for any artist is only as simple as you let it be. When you push yourself, and the medium, beyond the limits of what you are used to, great things can happen.

Upon the release of the newest single of the debut album Eyes, Gleaming Through The Dark, I wanted to dig a bit deeper into Holst’s processes and exploration while working solo.

You’ve been floating around in various Copenhagen music projects, what lead you to start fresh with Shadow Ray?

I love making music with different people, in different constellations. I find every time there’s a new and inspiring musical meeting with someone – it will bring out unique aspects and nuances to your musicality. So playing in different bands, or whatever context it might be, shines a light on various aspects of my musicality. I find that endlessly interesting and inspiring.

Shadow Ray Anders Holst press photo for Blacklisted

Some years ago I started this project to dive into things that I needed to explore on my own. I wanted to dig deep into the realm of the recording studio, using it as an instrument in itself, utilizing all the things you can do in that setting, like recording in multiple layers on top of each other and such. So I started to record various bits and pieces, and I began to write some things from an idea of a particular sound or texture that I imagined in my mind, and which I would then try to materialize in the studio.

From a creative process point of view, I explore the distinction between creating music in a studio an creating sound live –it’s two very different ways of dealing with sound in time.

How have you approached this project differently than your previous bands?

The main difference in this project is that I’ve been working on my own schedule, both in making all the material and making all the decisions. Although schedule is not exactly right, because I purposely haven’t had a schedule per se – at least not until very late in the process of finishing up the album.

In a band situation there are more people, so solutions and decisions have to be made within a collectively decided time frame, for instance – which is great, and very dynamic. But in working alone, I wanted to explore certain other parts of the creative process.

Frequently, I find, I can be sort of tread water for quite a long time, with nothing seemingly really developing or moving forward. But as long as I stay alert and focused I know that all of a sudden things will somehow crystalize, the whole picture will materialize, and then you have to scramble to capture it all. I’ve let things take the time they needed for this album, and this approach is only possible when you work alone.

“I’ve got a pretty vast archive of ideas that I’ve recorded on either tape, paper or my phone. I try to capture any stray ideas that appear to me out of the blue.”

As this is a solo project, how did you work with the instrumentation to create your debut album?

When I was looking for the right sound for a certain thing, I would try to work with what I have in my studio until I found it. I’ve got a variety of guitars, amps, effects, synths and other types of instruments. Once I think the sound is there, I’ll record it. I recorded everything on a computer, but I hardly ever use the computer to process the music, with plugins and such. I like to shape the sound in the room, and then record it.

I avoid looking at the screen as much as possible when I’m developing the music, as I’m very visually inclined, and looking at the sound files on a computer screen can sometimes disturb more than it helps.

I use natural sound recordings as well – ones that I’ve recorded out on the streets or in out in nature. I also use a lot of alternative techniques on the guitar, which allows me to work with a really broad scope of different textures. On the song Silent Call I made a string arrangement in four voices, which I recorded on electric guitar played with a cello bow, recording the voices one by one. It’s a sound that has flavors of a string quartet and electric guitar, but it has it’s own texture altogether, and I like the way it sits in a mix.

Take me through the process of how you compose?

I use different approaches when composing new music. I’ve got a pretty vast archive of ideas that I’ve recorded on either tape, paper or my phone. I try to capture any stray ideas that appear to me out of the blue.

Often times listening back to them will spark the creative process of structuring and stretching the idea into a composition. Another approach is to walk into my studio with no pre-conceived ideas of what to do, set up a few instruments and microphones, and then just start making sounds, until something starts happening. This is usually the case, and then I dig deep into that idea and let it manifest itself. I also sometimes create an overall structure as the very first thing and then create the music to fit into the structure afterward.

That’s sort of what I did for this first single Far Away. I wanted to make a kind of a suite in four parts – two parts with vocals, two parts instrumental – with distinct transitions in between them and with no repetitions, except at the very end, where a shadow of the introduction to the song reappear. Some of the parts in this song came from my archive of ideas, as described above. So I guess you could say that to me composition is where structure and improvisation meet up.

Is there a theme behind ‘Eyes, Gleaming through the dark’?

There’s no real theme. It’s just a picture I like thinking of, a sentence that bring a lot of associations to me, and that somehow sits well with the music on this album, in my mind anyway. I hope that everyone that hears the music will get their own associations.

Tell me about this new single, ‘Far Away’, and the the video?

I love to work with music in relation to other media. I’ve been working a bit with film music and music for contemporary dance before, and it’s been very inspiring. When I made this video, I decided to follow the structure of the song, which I described earlier, so it’s four different parts, stringed together with transitions. I hope that the video will work as an opening into the music and vice versa for those who experience it. As with the music, there’s a certain level of abstraction that balances with the concrete.

Do you have any other singles planned from this album?

Yes, the next single is the song Face It, the second track from the album.

Shadow Ray Anders Holst press photo for Blacklisted

Now that your debut is out, what are you working on now?

Releasing this album will free up a lot of creative energy! In that last stage of releasing an album, where the music is done but haven’t been released yet, I find it hard to start working on new ideas, even though they are knocking on the door. I have to see this through first, let the music out of my hands and into the hands of others. So, now that it’s out, I’m all excited to start working on new ideas!

At the same time, I look forward to playing the music from the album live. In order to play it live, I’m working with a setup where I play a modified electric guitar which also can control a synthesizer, and I’ve got different ways of manipulating the sound of my voice as well. So, I’ve got a pretty broad range of sound and texture.

As I said, I like to make a clear distinction between recording in the studio and playing live, so right now I’m having a lot of fun translation the album into something I can play live with this setup. It’s going to be the music from the album, but it’s going to sound very different. I can’t wait to share it with a live audience!

Do you have any famous last words?

Love is real!

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