"It’s a world of changing landscapes and experiences that we traversed through June-November 2020, both emotionally and physically... It’s also a dialogue between me and Duncan that has both a calm to it as well as an unease and trepidation. It will always remind me of summer 2020 when the world seemed to turn upside down but we still managed to find a way to make this record work."
Portico Quartet's Jack Wyllie recounts the recording of Terrain, a three-part suite drawing on American minimalism and ambient music alongside their own rich heritage released on Gondwana records on 28th May.
Terrrain explores new musical vistas against a backdrop of the unique impact of the events of 2020, the global pandemic and lockdowns causing them to take stock, re-think, and plot a new musical path.
"Terrain was made over the summer of 2020, I’m sure it will be one of a handful of lockdown albums that will all be coming out very soon and I expect all will respond to the situation we found ourselves in in their own unique way. Part of the challenge in making music is to be able to draw together experiences and channel them through your work, and the degree and way that you connect with people through these is what enable the music to live beyond itself and the people that make it. I’d be surprised then, if in what is perhaps the most significant disruption to normality in our collective lives, it doesn’t produce a huge artistic response.
Having something to engage in that brought both routine and concentration enabled a level of engagement with music making that was both cathartic and sustaining. Cathartic in the sense that we were able to channel emotional content though the music, able to take the disruption and its emotional effects and find a way express it through our work. And sustaining, in the sense that it provided us with a focus and structure during a period in which there had been huge upheaval.
The daily trips to the studio, the creation and exchange of ideas, the development of musical parts and sounds all provided a way to engage and structure our lives in that period. And the focus on the minutia of individual sounds and listening deeply, noticing, appreciated and altering the qualities of what we were making provided relief against the scale of the unfolding pandemic in which the death toll had grown so large that the numbers were comparable to some of the most deadly wars. Creating something that could respond to this was about engaging with it while recognising that our engagement with making the music provided a way to insulate from the madness itself.
I think this juxtaposition comes across in the music, in that there is a sense of both calm and unease within the music and the making of it. We spent 2 months writing in the UK, from June/July 2020, we went into the studio almost every day and came up with the raw ideas that would eventually make up the bulk of two albums. When the first lockdown ended, I was able to drive to France with my then girlfriend and set up a remote studio in a small rural village in the Var region. It was 18 hours in one day trip, leaving at 6am and arriving just past midnight. One of the nice things about longer drives is the sense of distance you get. From London to Var you can see and feel the landscape gradually change from cloudy grey skies and green fields to warm sunny pine trees. You’d miss all the details of this if you were flying. It was a time spent running around the hills and doing very French things like playing boule, drinking Pastis in the Fraternitié and eating large amounts of croissants.
We sent ideas back and forth between France and London, refining structures, re-recording parts and working into the dialog that would eventual define the album. A lot of the saxophone on Terrain was recorded here in a cave at the bottom of this house. The next stage was mixing the record. At the point we booked train tickets the pandemic was in recession, however just before we left for Berlin cases started to shoot up again and someone in the studio we were mixing in tested positive for COVID. We had to get PCR tests before departure and then there was a 4-day delay before we could start mixing. A similar experience to France was the train journey across to Germany, changing landscapes and Friedrichshain in particular had almost doubled its cases in a few days and the Berlin we were used to seemed like a very different place. It was clear at this point a second wave was on its way. Again, music making enabled a degree of insulation, we could take a 5-min scooter across the bridge to the mixing studio and then spend all day working on the album, occasionally popping out to eat outdoors at the many great eateries around.
It’s with this backdrop that the music turned out the way it did. It’s a world of changing landscapes and experiences that we traversed through June-November 2020, both emotionally and physically. And it’s our attempt to put these into music. It’s also a dialogue between me and Duncan that has both a calm to it as well as an unease and trepidation. It will always remind me of summer 2020 when the world seemed to turn upside down but we still managed to find a way to make this record work. We hope you enjoy it."
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