Kid Koala's Music To Draw To: Satellite
is an uncharted musical journey for the legendary scratch DJ, producer, and composer. Eric San's fifth studio album is an expansive work of ambient electronic soundscapes and chilling dream-pop ballads sung by Icelandic artist Emilíana Torrini.
is the renowned audio-collagist's first non-sample-based record, with Kid Koala composing, performing, and producing with an array of synthesizers, keys, guitars, strings, turntables, noisemakers, and inventive recording techniques. This inaugural volume in the Music To Draw To collaboration series also finds Kid Koala contributing poetic lyrics to five of Emilíana Torrini's seven vocal contributions.
Created during the gelid Montreal winter, the eighteen movements of Music To Draw To: Satellite
tell a tale of discovery and loss through the lens of lovers separated by an early Mars mission.
Album opener "The Observable Universe" swells in a cycle of orchestral electronic ambience, a glacial and patient overture to Satellite's 72-minute sonic expedition.
On "Collapser," San's heartrending poetry is sung in Torrini's spectral, icy style, repeating the song's sombre mantra over a pulsating sequence of keyboards, analog synthesizers, samplers, and controllers: No plan, no map, at this rate, we'll all collapse.
About working with the vocalist, San says: "Emilíana is one of my favourite singers in the world. I've been following her work since her first album. She's just got one of those singular voices that captivated me years ago. Even when she is singing at whisper quiet levels, it's enough to crack your heart open."
Following their meeting at one of Emilíana's shows at Joe's Pub in New York, the pair bonded over a mutual appreciation of one another's work. Kid Koala had been composing a collection of ambient instrumentals inspired by the pensive electronic records he would turn to when in the creative cocoon of Montreal winters. He invited Torrini to his studio to write and record the songs over ten days, much of which was spent exploring the city and getting acquainted, talking about things like life, love, loss, fear, and hope, before finding the idea that would ignite their shared imagination:
"Emilíana told me about an article she had read about a woman who had signed up on a one way mission to Mars and would leave her significant other behind forever. We spoke at length about how it might feel to leave your planet, and what it meant both literally and metaphorically. Many of those ideas grew to become a narrative theme for the album. It allowed us to create two characters with differing points of view through which we could write."
During the session, San would wake before dawn – sleepless and impelled by the sudden loss of a family member who had indelible influence on his own artwork – to write words on the beauty and isolation of winter/space. To his surprise, Emilíana loved Eric's poetry and was soon in the studio improvising melodies to his instrumentals and lyrics. Many of the songs preserve Emilíana's first takes. In her words:
"Eric told me it was his first time writing lyrics so I thought it was a big deal. It is the first thing I listen to in music, my absolute favourite. Words are powerful. He was also going through a bit of a brain maze so writing your way out is perfect. He is an annoying guy in a sense: with everything he does, with whatever he touches, he is amazing. Creation is his absolute core, his nature. I have to work harder to reach that space."
Satellite is not a departure from the turntable as instrument as much as it is a choice to feature it uniquely and amongst different voices. Along with virtually every instrument in his studio, including turntables, San's patent imagination and technical innovation combine to create the album's ghostly, surreal sound:
"For narrative reasons, I wanted some of the vocals to sound like they were being shot through space, so I experimented with ways to purposefully lower resolution and make Emilíana's voice seem further away, just as the distance between the album's characters grows," San recalls. "On ‘Satellite,' we recorded Emilíana's voice to old magnetic cards. By playing her singing back through a card reader or the Universa magnetic disc recorder, we were able to add just enough dirt to make it sound like a transmission being received from an Apollo mission."
Music To Draw To: Satellite
is an emotional work of expansive instrumental soundscapes blended with chilling ballads. The interplay of the elements is in perfect confluence on "Fallaway," a downcast lullaby that captures the raw tenderness of fresh loss. On the dirge-like "Beneath The Heat," helices of Emilíana's whispers chase one another down a spiral of mournful melody.
The instrumentals of Satellite
invoke no less emotion than their vocal counterparts. Kid Koala composes with the gentle touch of early mornings falling peacefully on piano keys. "Novachord" is an eponymous meditation on a theme, with the wistful rhythm of meteors in reverse. "Transmission 2" glints with the fragile sound of frozen chimes, and the lonely echo of a distant symphony.
By the unraveling of "Epilogue" and the elegiac closer "Nightfall (Pale Blue)," Kid Koala and Emilíana Torrini complete the first circuit of this unexplored universe. Music To Draw To: Satellite
is a transportive departure from the dense sonic patchwork of Kid Koala's earlier works, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Some Of My Best Friends Are DJs, Your Mom's Favorite DJ, and 12 Bit Blues. It is in stark, beautiful comparison an ambient masterpiece: over 72 minutes of stardust settling over Kid Koala's trove of turntables and sentiment.
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