One of Ireland’s finest producers returns to our feeds this March as Belfast talent Phil Kieran adds yet another full length studio album to his already impressive sonic repertoire.
The album in question is his newly minted ‘The Strand Cinema’ LP, which in part pays homage to his time working out of the iconic theatre of the same name, which opened in 1935 in the East of the city. With a number of recent excursions into soundtrack composition including Nightride for Netflix, the album gives more than a subtle hint as to the direction this highly revered producer is heading at this stage of his multi-decade career.
It also challenges the theory of nature vs technology, and finds Phil collaborate with a different filmmaker for each individual song on the record. Resulting in a complete audio visual experience which adds another layer of enjoyment and creativity to the experience. Already picking up plaudits from across the electronic music spectrum with the likes of Francois K, Hot Chip, Laurent Garnier and Charlotte De Witte giving it the thumbs up.
The album is preceded by a single ‘Atlantic,’ out February 24th on Phil Kieran Recordings, while next month sees two very special album launch shows taking place. On Saturday March 4th, Phil will perform the album in its entirety, backed by Northern Ireland’s internationally renowned Ulster Orchestra, on stage in the iconic Belfast cinema which gave birth to the project, for two-sell out back to back shows. The orchestra will perform tracks from the album, while 11 individual film compositions to accompany the tracks will be beamed on to the silver-screen for what promises to be a very unique audio visual experience.
InflytePlus asked Phil a couple of questions in relation to the album, where we spoke about his connection to The Strand, why he wanted to add the visual aspect to the project, and his thoughts on technologies relationship with art.
How are things in the life of Phil Kieran right now?
Keeping very busy with preparations for the album launch which has been taking up most of my time for the last three or four months. Like a full time job on a volunteers salary. Who would have guessed that coordinating 10 visual artists and 16 orchestral musicians and a live performance would have been so complicated huh? Hopefully it will all be worthwhile when it comes together. I’m very used to being fully immersed in the studio or performing solo but producing a show is the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done.
You’re preparing for the release of your new album as you mentioned, what can people expect to hear from ‘The Strand Cinema’?
The music is a collection of ideas or works that were written within a few weeks following a burst of very strong feeling of creativity. Written at the start of lockdown, the world and life as we knew it was suspended and it felt like everything up to that point was in the past, and this was a new beginning. I had a sense of a new dawn. Out of an initially bleak time, with gigs cancelled I quite quickly had a burst of optimism, a sense of transitioning. In the absence of the usual cinema sounds that I hear from my studio when the Strand is open to the public I began to look inward and use my imagination.
I kind of soundtracked my daily emotions or created music for films that weren’t actually playing. I’m not good at describing music with words as music is such a visercal, felt thing for me but most retailers seem to be listing it as melodic techno or indie dance or experimental. Rather than categorise it in a genre I think it’s an emotional album, its otherworldly and expansive yet minimalist and intricate in parts. There’s machine sounds and organic instruments all hacked together and I’ve used a few field recordings.
The album is also accompanied by an audio visual show, which features some really creative people, what was the process of putting that together like?
It has been a huge task and I’m still not out of the woods yet. I had to get out there and track down as many interesting creative film makers as I could. At the beginning it felt like I didn’t know who to ask, but as I went through the process I just kept picking up new suggestions and meeting new people. There is just so much talent out there, the hardest bit really was whittling the videos down to the final 10. Each artist picked the track they wanted to visualise, and each filmmaker comes from a different discipline.
I kept the brief loose; the only suggestions were to explore nature versus technology and cinema so their interpretations are really varied from dark and dystopian to utopian. They haven’t seen each others films but for some reason , although each film is distinctively different it all just seems to work together, so far. We’re still finalising the edit now, so I’m feeling under pressure as it debuts in one week. I want it to take audiences on a journey through time. The show includes films that use digital archive footage from NI Screen to SFX and generative art. There’s even a film by Oona Doherty , the dancer and choreographer which is just amazing.
I’ve never produced an A/V show myself before and I hit obstacles with funding along the way but yourselves at Inflyte and NI Screen have been very supportive in helping me get this show off the ground and hopefully it will tour soon.
You’ve been working on some big OST projects over the past few years, did that influence the decision to include a visual aspect with this album at all?
I’ve been making a move towards different mediums, not just making music for people to dance to in nightclubs. I love making interesting records that will make people dance, it’s still a challenge I find exciting but I also want to try new things. Making music for film or theatre is really exciting for me, as you creatively use a new part of your brain. It’s almost like you stop working on the grid and start thinking in a completely different way about sound, almost 3D. With film, most of it is about thinking through and working out what’s best for the film. It involves putting yourself into the story and emphasising and imagining the emotions involved, whilst setting a tone and character for the overall film. It’s not about me, you have to elevate this art form to a higher level using whatever means necessary.
What made you want to title the album after The Strand Cinema?
I’ve been the artist in residence there for the last 5 years, I’ve loved working from the building and found it to be a really creative period in my life. I love coming in and hearing the explosions of bass rumbling through the building. I think being in a cinema has motivated me to do more music for film and with this album having a very ‘cinematic’ sound to it, I wanted to spell it out in simple terms what it was about. It’s an ode to cinema and to the particular cinema building that has been my home for 5 years.
The record explores themes of ‘nature versus technology’, is this in regards to sustainability or simply for creative reasons?
The original basis of the music was using all acoustic instruments through a microphone and then mangling them with computers and machines. The theme was nature vs technology in a dream-like state of mind.
I tried to blend the natural acoustic sounds into a computer world and blend them with machines and synthesisers. It’s a world I’m very familiar with and I love trying to blend the different worlds together, creating a sense of harmony and contrast at the same time. They can both compliment each other in a beautiful way, light and dark, soft and hard. I wanted to create something that felt like nature and the computer world colliding perfectly together.
On the topic of technology, AI is becoming a big part of art, with some people even using it to create entire songs from scratch, what’s your opinion on the direction things are going?
I think a lot of people have been making music like that for years anyway, following the winning formula and trying to emulate something else that’s been successful already. Nothing new there.
This album was created from organic sounds manipulated by machines. The machines in my studio only sound as good as the human soul and spirit I put into them but I’m not so sure that AI generated music can sound human. A computer can work out that a certain sequence of notes can create a certain emotion in a human being, but I find more and more it’s about the space between notes or sounds that creates something really special. That can only be felt out using emotion and tuning into your personal feelings and life experiences.
I’m mindful that pioneers like Delia Derbyshire and Wendy Carlos came from a scientific background and they used their experimentation to create new ways of communicating with sound that the music establishment didn’t all accept as music, so maybe AI will be a power for good rather than evil after all. I think AI could work well for experiments. You could get a machine to come up with some bizarre sound which you could sample and use in a track. It really depends on how you’re using it. I can’t imagine AI making something as good as Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, y’know? Nick Cave was talking about it too, how could you ever recreate a song that defines an era or moves people to tears? I don’t know, maybe it can. It would really be frightening if something could tap into that kind of resonance.
Phil Kieran – Atlantic is out February 24th on Phil Kieran Records.
Phil Kieran – The Strand Cinema LP is out March 24th on Phil Kieran Records.