[img credit: Shawn Brackbill; clothes by Risto Bimbiloski]
By Jenn Pelly
Laurel Halo is in flux. For six years, the 25-year-old Brooklyn-via-Ann Arbor composer’s electronic avant-pop has been perpetually evolving, informed equally by Steve Reich, science fiction, and Detroit techno. Halo’s upcoming King Felix 12"-- out 11/30 on Hippos in Tanks, alongside releases by Games, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Sun Araw-- is a heavily textured amalgam of diverse musical, intellectual, and geographical experiences, including a stint as a freeform college radio DJ at the University of Michigan and six months abroad in Thailand.
AZ: Can you tell me about your musical background?
LH: I started playing piano when I was six, and picked up violin and electric guitar along the way. I was always improvising patterns and motifs, but I didn't start making anything until I was 19. I related super hard to classical music more than anything growing up. I suppose studying theory helped develop a visual sense of music in terms of relating the geometry of notation to actual progressions and harmonies. For a while I think I was too deep in that grid of harmonic relationships and numbers; getting outside of any written conception of music was absolutely crucial, and I think my ears are still opening up. When I first saw Anthony Braxton's graphical scores, with its little lego-like image logics, and had to come to grips with expressing my spiritual relationship to music in a way that wasn't dictated by notes or specific instruments, I thought maybe I might be able to get the hang of making music in Ableton!
AZ: Any composers who have influenced you in particular?
LH: Listening to Steve Reich's "Piano Phase" for the first time was an incredibly spiritual experience. I know saying this is corny, ‘cause it's such a classic piece, but it totally shattered the concept of expectation in my head. It's fully notated, but takes on this breathing feeling that is completely out-of-body. It has these waves of chords and emerging textures that really freaked me out, and it definitely made me seek out other music that fucked with my head in some way. I find music that doesn't surprise or trip you in some way to be super boring.
AZ: In an interview with Fact Magazine, you cite "the asymptotic quantification of memory" as an influence. What exactly do you mean by that?
LH: I'm afraid that the way we retain and share memories is going to dwindle as our brains start to mimic our patterns of information retrieval and consumption on the Internet -- to the point where the concept of memory becomes almost irrelevant, and we move towards this eternal Present of full info-disclosure. Maybe I'm wrong, but I do know that the Internet is a dangerously addicting and often brain-draining virtual space. I think we're living right before this serious exponential jump-off in technology, and it's fun to imagine standing on a cliff before diving into the world of hands-free computing, brain-texting, etc. I also like writing very much, and think that “the asymptotic quantification of memory” is a nice phrase.
AZ: You also talk about suspension, floating, and diving. Were you talking about these activities in the abstract sense, or are they something you partake in yourself?
LH: It's both: the visual/cinematic aspect of these actions and the physical sensation. When I was talking about suspension, I was referring to the floating feeling you get when you experience moments of suspension in music; holding notes from one chord over into to the next creates this tension and release that rocket-launches you into the sublime. But the physical actions of floating and diving, I have experienced them as well. I grew up near the Great Lakes and spent a lot of time in and around them. It's funny, ‘cause bodies of water are well-visited in music, and the metaphors for healing and the infinite are definitely there, but the force and hostility of water is there too. That is unavoidable. Diving is an experience that is both transcendent and slightly morbid. Plus water might be a scarce thing one day, so it's nice to put it on a pedestal and think about it.
AZ: What role does science-fiction play in your music?
LH: I like thinking about what exists outside of your range of vision, or even the sensation of palinopsia, which my friend D'Eon is exploring on his upcoming record. In sci-fi you are always presented with what's outside your current field of vision-- your current cultural situation, and technological capabilities. The novel VALIS by Philip K. Dick is full of his conspiracy theories; in his near-schizophrenic state, he describes the noise of normality as “The Empire”. Man’s only salvation from "The Empire" comes in the form of pure information from “VALIS”, the “Vast Active Living Information System.” “King Felix” is a phrase taken from the book: they are the only words on a piece of paper PKD receives in the mail as an invitation to meet Sophia, a little girl who is the personification of information.
AZ: The EP has been generating quite a bit of buzz. Can you talk about what inspired it?
LH: King Felix is definitely inspired by VALIS, by the idea of positive conspiracies, of rational energy invasion. In a way, we're all our own Vast Active Living Information Systems, though we're still limited by biology, and information is no substitute for love. The lyrics were important for me on this record, as they provided the rhythmic foundation for the songs. Once I figured out the words, I assigned them rhythmic patterns that caused the beats to change drastically. “Metal Confection”, specifically, was inspired by a dream I had where one of Hajime Sorayama's gynoids turned into a giant submarine. In the future, my music won't necessarily have words.
AZ: Some of your songs have a bit of a club vibe. Where does that come from?
LH: I'm definitely inspired by Detroit techno producers, by Metroplex, Underground Resistance. I have been going to the Detroit Electronic Music Festival for years. Seeing Kenny Larkin and Model 500 live this year was insane, and I’m also super stoked on Nightslugs, old R&S, A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State, 4hero, Lords of Acid, Joy Orbison, James Blake, DJ Nate, Charanjit Singh, Brenmar. I could go on, it's pretty endless. The best dance music plays with release-- letting your mind drift into abstract rhythm zones. I would never date someone who didn't like to dance!
AZ: Lastly, "Halo" is such an awesome name to go by; I feel like it kind of embodies the whole cosmic aesthetic. How did you come up with it?
LH: I came up with it because I used to go by Halolos when I'd play with other people. I liked the word Halolos because the word itself echoes. I ended up going by Laurel Halo because it's easier to pronounce and it's fun to have a pseudonym. It reminds me of the video game. And the infinite.
11/2 - Brooklyn Bowl w/ TBA (Fader Bowl)