The latest from Arp, the aerodynamic sonic vehicle of Alexis Georgopoulos, offers an experience as malleable and unpredictable as the man himself. After dabbling in minimal disco as one-half of DFA-outfit Q&A, and navigating the controlled chaos of San Francisco's celebrated Tussle, Georgopoulos shifted toward more understated endeavors, introducing Arp to the world with 2007's In Light. His ideas come fully into focus with The Soft Wave, an eclectic exploration of electronic and pop music that recalls shades of Eno, Cluster, and the Ghost Box collective.
Expanding the palette of his crafty solo debut, Georgopoulos adds guitar and a surprising vocal presence to his trademark, modular synth-laden meditations. Balancing both lush and sparse arrangements, Arp cultivates high-minded music sans pretension, informed equally by the academia of John Cage and the accessibility of Boards of Canada. While The Soft Wave traverses many genres and moods, it is not, as he explains, ambient.
AZ: Arp is decidedly a departure from some of your previous projects, like Tussle. What was the catalyst for this solo project?
Alexis: After playing house parties and making 12–inch dance records, I just wanted to try to make something quieter, dreamier. Around that time, Matthew Higgs, the curator of New York gallery White Columns, asked if I'd do an installation for an exhibit he was putting together. The installation went so well, I decided to collect the pieces I'd recorded for an album. That's how it began.
AZ: Arp strikes me as a very insular project. Do you record, produce, and perform entirely by yourself, or do you invite others in on some of the process?
Alexis: Yeah, In Light was a bedroom record. I was just playing synths late at night and decided to press Record. But The Soft Wave was recorded in a proper studio on 2–inch tape. And I invited a few friends to contribute. On the recent tour I did with Caribou, I performed alone. But it's all dependent on circumstances. Yesterday, I performed a site-specific piece, "Raga for Moog & Violin", at the Berkeley Art Museum and was accompanied by violinist Marielle Jakobsons, who plays in Date Palms, and Jefre Cantu–Ledsema, whom I play with in The Alps, on modular synths and guitar. To perform the record I'm recording now, I'll be forming a band.
AZ: Before you recorded The Soft Wave, you moved from San Francisco to New York. Did the new locale influence what you hear on The Soft Wave?
Alexis: To a degree, I think, yes. The last bits of The Soft Wave were written in New York, and I think the city seeped in. There's more white noise, a bit more chaos woven into the pieces. But I think it's much more evident on the album I'm writing right now. It's far more extroverted.
AZ: Partly from the analog synths, I get a strong, hauntological, BBC Radiophonic Workshop vibe from your music. What are some of the other ideas or sounds that inform the Arp aesthetic?
Alexis: Yeah, I suppose there's a bit of that in there. But if that comes across, it's not something I'm intentionally trying to put across. I do like some of that stuff for sure, sound library stuff. But I was listening to a lot of Durutti Column and John Cale. Robert Wyatt. The Ralf & Florian record. Eno's vocal records. Clara Monshine's Luna Africana. Dorothea Raukes' Deutsche Wertarbeit. I have intentionally left things open enough so that there is room to think, to fill in the blanks. I like the idea that you can return to recordings again and again and have different experiences with them, different thoughts. And leaving things to suggestion is part of what creates that. Not spelling things out, not overly manipulating. Not thinking for the listener, but creating an atmosphere within which the listener has some say.
AZ: As the only track with vocals, "From a Balcony Overlooking the Sea" certainly stands out. What prompted you to go out of step and create a pop track?
Alexis: It was just that, really. The idea of including just one song with vocals on an album seemed appropriately inappropriate. I couldn't think of a record that did that. And so, the unlikeliness of it all-- the fact that I couldn't think of an album that did that-- appealed to me. Beyond that, it was simply a song that needed to be sung, not just played. I'd written and demo'd a number of songs with words and vocals for The Soft Wave sessions. But after listening to what had been recorded, "From A Balcony..." seemed appropriate, while the others seemed destined for another album: the next album. "From A Balcony..." is meant to be a bridge. The next album may not have any instrumental songs. It may not have any synths, actually.
AZ: I read recently that you scored a modern dance piece. Do you have any plans to do additional scoring or collaborative work?
Alexis: I collaborated with the dancer Jonah Bokaer, who was with the Merce Cunningham [company] for many years, and Judith Sánchez Ruiz, who still dances with the Trisha Brown company. It was great-- an amazing experience. And I hope the first of many scores I do. It's funny though, I saw it as a chance to finally score for a chamber group, to do something that's a step closer to minimalist classical music. And yet, the dancers, coming from ballet backgrounds, were attracted to my more abstract electronic pieces. I sent them nearly 20 ideas and was very surprised at their selections.
AZ: Ambient music is a difficult genre; many of its players sound similar, and regurgitate the same historical touchstones. What does ambient music mean to you, and why is it your weapon of choice?
Alexis: I must confess: I despise the term ambient. And think it's horribly out–of–date, unless we're talking about something clearly working within the staid confines of drifty tones, [something that] belongs on Hearts of Space. I've never considered what I do ambient, nor do I listen to anything that I feel falls under that rubric. I guess maybe some of the Kompakt Pop Ambient stuff. I do appreciate what Eno meant when he coined the expression-- something that can be actively listened to or easily ignored, a play on Satie's furniture music. On that level, I can appreciate it, but it's come to denote a very specific kind of chill-out thing that I'm not against. I just think that's not exactly what I'm doing.