apples and apricots
WRITTEN BY RITA
Aside from the lack of whales and eagles in the music video, our collaboration with Claire Puckett of her song ‘Apples and Apricots’ almost perfectly encompasses my experience and memories of an entire four months in Alaska. Among the mountains of Alaska, the sense of aging and evolving of the earth is absolutely humbling. It was mesmerizing to observe a place that remains mostly untouched by humans, yet its preservation is a vital priority as it endures the global changes of our fast-paced societies. As we got to witness the ways in which Alaska morphs from summer into fall, there was nothing quite like the misty rainforests, the glistening blue of the glaciers or the purity of the air to gently remind you of the brevity of life. Before embarking on our second journey on a ship, people would warn us that sailing on the same route in Alaska would get monotonous. For ATLYS, it was anything except boring.
After successfully launching our group (at the time known as Atlas Music Project) during our first contract on MS Eurodam, coming back to do the Alaska route felt unknown yet familiar. We had a plan for our time in Alaska and how we would keep growing! However as is life, nothing went according to plan.
It quickly came time for us to redefine our mission as a group and hone in on a new vision. At the time, it was very stressful and daunting, but it was also an invaluable time for us. Many questions surfaced. As I am sure any artist can relate, when you are creating or building something new, vulnerability and fear tend to accompany the creative process. ‘Are we good enough?..What will people think?..Can we really do this?..How do we best define what we do?..How can we truly make a difference?’
We found strength and inspiration in one another to persevere. Even during the dismay of our transition of redefining ATLYS, I found being among the glorious landscape of Alaska to be very grounding and inspiring. I found comfort in those mountains everyday. As artists (and humans), the brooding and fearful questions never truly go away, you simply learn how to grapple with and reconfigure them to strengthen your work.
If the beckoning of our new mission had not come about, we would have never had the chance to work with Claire and her wonderful boyfriend, singer/songwriter Nathan Wilkins! (Stay tuned for future collaborations with Nathan too!) When they arrived to the ship, it was our second to last week in Alaska and the impressionistic feel of Claire’s music suited the nostalgia that was already in the air.
Apples and Apricots is the first song I had the pleasure and thrill of arranging music to, especially for ATLYS. I have always loved jamming and improvising along to music, but the act of writing down notes on paper is an entirely different process! Bouts of fear and inadequacy did arise, but the beauty of this song pushed me through. The intricate guitar lines with Claire’s ethereal voice made the process of adding string melodies and lines completely organic.
Thank you Claire & Nathan for coming to Alaska and helping us encapsulate this very special time & re-birth for ATLYS, through the beauty of music. There was absolutely nothing like waking up and getting out my room to the view of the majestic beauty of Alaska everyday. My goodness, how I deeply miss it actually. The silkiness of the waves along the ship, spotting blowholes off in the distance, eating wild-caught fish and playing music with my dear friends on a vessel floating next to glorious mountains will always hold a very special place in my heart.
ravel duo pt 2
Pairing Nature With Music: Incorporating Sitka, Alaska into our ATLYS of Music.
Written by sabrina
Nature has and always will be an endless source of beauty and awe. Nothing beats its mystery and miracle, and few places in the world provide an example better than Alaska. We were lucky enough to spend 19 weeks last summer touring the southeast corner of Alaska, from the green mountains of Juneau to the unmistakably blue glaciers of Glacier National Park. One of my personal favorite spots, however, was the peaceful and eerie National Totem Poll Park in Sitka, a woods of sky-reaching trees, inviting trails, and, of course, dozens of intricate, towering, handcrafted totem polls. Each one has a palpable presence that is commanding and yet, in no way offensive. These structures are created to tell stories of origin and law. Oh, how I wished I could know their secrets!
It occurred to me that if I could not give words to these beautiful pieces of art, complimenting and existing effortlessly among their natural surroundings, maybe music could. The eerie and enigmatic music found in Ravel’s Duo for violin and cello conjured similar feelings of bewilderment and awe. The music is written with unfamiliar harmonies and rhythmic structure, just as the totem polls contain representations of creatures and stories that are unfamiliar, and yet they both are irresistibly intriguing!
Sitka is a notoriously rainy place, a rainforest, in fact, raining 360 days a year. But mother nature granted us her good graces on the day we decided to venture through the forest with a camera at the ready. Rita, our resident video editor, later spent COUNTLESS hours piecing these clips together with a great deal of help from Genevieve. Gosh, this was a task more difficult than we’d ever imagined! To place the dozens of clips we’d acquired over the course of seven minutes of music. To feel that each clip was serving the music and that the music was serving each clip. So many decisions, so much second-guessing, so many drafts. When you watch this, take a moment to appreciate how naturally the music pairs and flows from one image to another. Though the music was performed solely by Genevieve and myself, Rita is certainly a third artist and equal collaborator on this project!
Written by rita
Goodness what a year it has been for us! Perhaps this year has flown by because of the way that living on a ship warps your sense of reality, or simply because time goes more quickly as you get older. When we decided to release this “Soulbird Rise” music video, we did not necessarily think about how well it would pertain to this time of year, let alone how much the meaning behind this song is relevant to us as a group.
One of the highlights of our ship contract this year was when Oprah was aboard the ship for a week in July! The O Magazine and Holland America Line partnered up to promote the idea of soulful travel. We were lucky enough to be aboard the very ship instigating their partnership! There was a buzz of wonderful events such as early morning yoga, cooking classes, spiritual talks (with people such as Gayle King & Oprah herself!) and oh my, some very good music.
The musical feature that week (aside from Lincoln Center Stage of course😉) was none other than India Arie. Of all the activities, I honestly was most excited about seeing India Arie perform LIVE!
The night India was performing, we also had our regular performances on LCS and had to hustle over after our last show. India’s much anticipated concert, was absolutely refreshing and uplifting. Everyone in the audience was captivated..by her fearlessness, her ease, her voice, her soulfulness. It felt as though we were in a beautiful combination of a yoga class and spiritual offering.
At first I felt myself resist what she was saying. The stir of skeptical thoughts such as “This is silly” or feeling embarrassed about how easily I was able to relate to what India was saying. “I’m outside of the box, what did not demolish me, simply polished me, now the clearer I can see… I know where I wanna go, I am living in the flow, and now that I have dropped the weight, it’s time to elevate…I believe in open doors.” I gave in. I let myself fall into the meditation of her “Songversation.”
There were tears, laughter, hope and gratitude. Immense gratitude. Gratitude for living/performing on a floating hunk of steel sailing along the mountain views of Alaska, for sitting next to new friends, for my best friend visiting from Austin that week, and for my ATLYS ladies (who are not only colleagues that I get to make beautiful music with, but who are basically family at this point).
Even after the week was over, all of us who worked on the ship were walking around with a feeling of lightness and rejuvenation. I got to talking to one of the badass singers on the ship, Melody Wilson. “Dude, let’s do a cover of an India Arie song together!” Well, it was not until the end of our contract in November that we actually made it happen, but hey, we MADE it happen!
Constructing the arrangement of “Soulbird Rise” was as meditative as the song itself. I didn’t mind listening to it repeatedly for days on end. As I am new to the arranging world, I literally sit at my desk and jam along to the song with my viola. Really love exploring the realm of arranging for string quartet, and perhaps someday I will come up with a quicker method. For now, I do not mind the “jam along” approach.
After a couple of rehearsals and adjustments to the score, we were ready to go! The thing I love most about making these videos is the way they always bring people together. I love that we ended up having two more wonderful singers join, an audio engineer who ended up being extremely helpful (thank you Adrian!), and an entire stage crew who helped us get access to this space for a few hours in the middle of the night.
It’s been a year of many new beginnings for ATLYS. Just like anything in life, developing our musical place in this world takes time, learning everyday, trial/error, determination and love. We certainly do believe in open doors. And we are looking forward to all the open doors 2018 has in store for us.
SOULBIRD RISE. ATLYS RISE.
Written by sabrina
CONSTRUCTING THE “FISHBOWL”: MY FIRST COMPOSITION
I’d never met Claire before, but I felt an immediate connection to her music. Claire is a guitarist/singer/songwriter, and an old friend of Rita’s from their Austin-based band, Mother Falcon. Rita showed us a few of Claire’s solo tracks for voice and guitar, and we just knew we needed to collaborate with her. This particular song, Fishbowl, out of the three we narrowed down, was the most compelling to me.
(STAY TUNED: Rita and Jinty each claimed one of the two remaining tracks for which music videos will be released in the coming months! Even though all three songs are originals by Claire, each of our arrangements has a very distinct style that reflects our respective personalities! I suppose that is to be expected, but hearing it is pretty neat!)
What drew me to “Fishbowl” was its moodiness and darkness, as well as the rhythmic intricacy. It actually makes me think a lot of Spanish flamenco music! I later found out, after completing the arrangement, that Claire wrote this song about her experience living in her parents’ house. That explains the dark moodiness!
Claire’s original music is inherently instrumental and harmonically complex with her virtuosic display of classical guitar technique. She composes her songs with many instrumental interludes which gave us a lot of space to fill in with strings. Since the vocals are pretty simple and spread out, we really had moments to shine.
Though by this point, I’d written several pieces for ATLYS, I consider this to be my first ever “composition,” meaning it came entirely from my imagination. Everything else I’ve written has been a direct arrangement of existing material. In those cases, it was a matter of re-imagining or reorganizing what I could hear in the track—a kind of puzzle or game. For “Fishbowl”, however, there was nothing. Just space to fill. I really had to tap into my own creativity and allow the music, the harmonies and rhythms, to speak to me. I listened to the track over and over and OVER. I sang along with it, numerous times, each time trying something different. Though the open-ended-ness was, at first, daunting, I eventually realized that while I found pressure in other arrangements to include this, or find a way to incorporate that, with “Fishbowl” there was liberty and license to do whatever I wanted!
Our first read-through was exciting and nerve-racking. The girls had no idea what to expect, and I was worried it might not sound as I’d heard it in my head. But as soon as we began to play it, the worries melted away, and the girls, who are so supportive no matter what, genuinely liked it! Claire was blown away when she first heard it. This was a song she knew so intimately, after all, it was her own; and yet this arrangement made her hear it in a way she never had before.
This is the beauty of music, the beauty of art. Everyone will have their own interpretation, their own associations. For me, I brought my decades of exposure to classical chamber music. The girls said they heard bits of Debussy in my arrangement (Debussy was influenced by Flamenco music, too!). Well, I’m terribly flattered!
But, this experience clarified for me that musical composition, and perhaps all forms of art-making (painting, sculpting, writing), is like a kaleidoscope of all the musical (and non-musical, for that matter) influences on the composer’s life. It is inevitably an amalgamation of your own experiences, and can illuminate which pieces and styles of music made the greatest effect on you.
The experience with Claire was a journey into unchartered territory for us. But after some exploration, we discovered something beautiful: a true collaboration that is entirely original and entirely ours! We have plans to make Claire a regular collaborator of ours, and to create many more original collaborations, and even an entire album together!
read my mind
WRITTEN BY Jinty
It feels like forever ago that we filmed this video, but I will never forget the experience. “Read My Mind” was a collaboration between ATLYS, Brennan Smiley (singer), John Arndt (arranger), and Kenneth Edwards (videographer). You can read more about our collab with Brennan in his own blog below, but I wanted to share a few memories about this particular shoot.
We found this charming little square in the Spanish city of Cádiz, known for being the place from which Christopher Columbus started his journey to the Americas. It was just days before we began our own voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, a journey that would last 8 (!) days at sea, and we were eager to get some videos filmed on land before that adventure started.
One of the biggest joys that we experience as world travelers is the culture and kindness of the people in each place that we visit. Cadiz did not disappoint in this respect. Once we’d chosen our street square of choice, we began to set up all of our gear to make the video only to realize that we would need some stools to prop up our music. The cafe owner across the way kindly let us use two of his without even asking for anything in return. During the entire shoot, he was one of our audience members, resting on the doorframe of his restaurant, watching us play.
Another character that we encountered was maybe a little less helpful, but certainly comical. The town drunk was on a park bench in the square, trying to sing along with us in his operatic voice. After about 10 minutes of this, a swift snap and a shhh from our videographer, Kenneth, finally silenced him. And he later left the square.
Our music drew both locals and tourists. It was such a beautiful thing. Music: bringing people from all over the world together, a truly international language. This is a big part of the mission of ATLYS, and so it was special to experience that. Some people wandered into the square, while some audience members could be seen leaning out of their apartment balconies to take in the melodies we played.
One such balcony audience member came down and invited us into the foyer of his beautiful, old apartment building to make some more, shorter videos. We gladly accepted and moved all of our gear inside to play. As the girls started playing, a mother and her baby came downstairs to join us. I wasn’t playing, so I just stood back and took the unique scenery and circumstance in. See a photo I snapped below of Sabrina, Rita, and Genevieve playing in the building with Kenneth setting up the microphones.
After we recorded in the apartment building, I went across the square to get a snack at the kind shopkeeper’s cafe. And let me tell you, the flan that I ordered was just fantastic. A perfect end to our “Read My Mind” adventure.
WRITTEN BY Genevieve
Who knew we would ever be writing soundtrack music to a horror film!
Rideshare is the name of a new horror film that has been getting a lot of attention recently. It is just about to be released out to the public on Amazon and Youtube, and we are so fortunate to be a part of it! It surely was a time crunch, though, to say the least!
Here’s the story behind it: We met a fella named Stan Egger on the Eurodam during on our first Lincoln Center Stage contract. He’s a country singer and producer and was working to put together a soundtrack for this horror film. He heard us play and was hooked. He asked us to work with him and we didn’t want to miss this opportunity!
After waiting for further instructions for several months, we finally got an email to write an arrangement of Stan’s theme song to Rideshare. It’s beautiful! Super simple, country-feel, just a man singin’ and strumming the guitar. Here’s the catch. We had to write it, rehearse it, professionally record it and send it to them in 1 week…while on a ship…..this was going to be hectic.
Sabrina pulled up her bootstraps and got working on this arrangement in no time! And man, did she score! The arrangement was gorgeous. We hashed a few things out to enhance the song in our rehearsals but I definitely would say this was Sabrina’s baby :)
With limited cell phone service and wifi, Jinty was frantically calling everyone from Alaska to Seattle, trying to get a hold of someone. We struck gold and got so incredibly lucky to get a master recording engineer named Kory Kruckenburg. This guy is a genius. He edited the soundtrack to The Revenant (last years big winner at the Oscars)! We were so excited to work with him! It was such a pleasure recording with him. Easy as pie. We got in there, focused on playing, and let the master do his thing! We felt so comfortable working with him and we owe a lot to him being a part of this project! And so in 1 week, we managed to pull it off! We hit the deadline! All was good.
Now that we had this beautiful arrangement, we all immediately realized we had to make a music video of it! Yet, we needed it to be filmed in a spooky haunted way. Kayla, a visiting friend aboard, had the wonderful idea to use a steady-cam to move around us as we play. Here’s the problem- we didn’t have one. Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way! We needed something with wheels to steady the camera. What did we have? SUITCASES. So we taped a camera to a suitcase. Looked hilarious, but surprisingly enough, it totally worked!
Since it was not as sleek and smooth as a steady cam, we did have to work around some obstacles. We choreographed how to get the suitcase around us while not getting stuck anywhere, even while opening and closing a door! Kayla manned the camera-suitcase, and Ilana, Sabrina and my sister, also visiting at the time, directed Kayla. She was ducking left and right, rolling on the floor, hiding behind objects, so as not to be seen in the camera’s viewpoint. She was our ninja! The whole ordeal was histerical! And yet, we had to keep a straight face! Remember, Rideshare is a SERIOUS song placed in a horror film! No smiling! Man, it was hard not to crack up! There were a few takes we couldn't help it, but we got through it! Yet every time that camera stopped rolling, we burst out laughing without fail!
Despite how silly the process was, the film came out so so beautifully and spooky! It totally looks like someone is sneaking around in the room. And we can not thank Kayla and Ilana enough for helping us out!
So there you have it! We are so proud of this music video and we couldn’t have done it without all of you guys! Thank you!
WRITTEN BY Sabrina
Among a few others scores, one of the first violin-cello duets Genevieve and I ever acquired, we must have been twelve or thirteen, happened to be the Duo Sonata by Maurice Ravel. What did we know? Neither of us had ever played any works by Ravel before, we had never heard a recording, even. We had no idea that this was arguably one of the MOST difficult compositions for violin and cello ever written.
Genevieve and I have been playing duets together since as early as we were physically able. We started piano at age four, and since we fit too easily (and cutely) on one piano bench, it was only natural that we began learning music for piano four-hands. We even entered and won several local piano competitions as a duo. And so from the earliest age, music for us was a collaborative activity. When we picked up the string instruments, violin at 6, cello for Gen at age 8, we simply continued the tradition.
Violin and cello are such a natural combination. They span just about the entire pitch range of the string family and together there is an unlimited potential for color and blending. The repertoire available is vast because composers have been writing violin-cello duos for centuries, from the Baroque era to present day. And so once we began to hone our skills as string players, around age twelve or thirteen, we became especially inspired to learn and master the more advanced duets.Think about it: we lived in the same house, we loved to play together, and we could practice together every day. It doesn’t get easier than that. And so, our mother helped us to look up duets in the music catalogue.
This Ravel, though! You’ll notice when you see the video that we use all sorts of extended technique, plucking the strings with the LEFT hand (left-hand pizzicato), harmonics—the high-pitched, airy sounding notes, not to mention all the rapid changes in tempo and mood that Ravel throws in, like musical curve balls. This is no straightforward piece. From age thirteen into our undergraduate years, Genevieve and I would repeatedly pull out the Ravel at home, dust it off, and try to play it—try to see if we had reached a level where we felt technically (AND musically!) competent. Well, it wasn’t until the final degree recital of MASTER’S DEGREE, at age 25, that we finally conquered and performed the Ravel Duo Sonata! We can say we waited half our lives to be able to play this piece, and now we’ll always have this whirlwind of a composition in our arsenal!
We felt that this duet resonated especially with the ATLYS story because Maurice Ravel, a proudly French composer, was inspired by all genres and styles of music, especially by Eastern Asian, Hungarian, and American Jazz music. You can hear it in this movement (oh yea, did I mention there are three other movements to this eclectic and epic piece!). Like us, his compositions illustrated his own ATLYS of Music!
WRITTEN BY Genevieve
I am so thrilled to be writing the blog of our recent arrangement and music video release, “Because” by The Beatles. The Beatles are flat out one of my favorite bands of all time, always have been. It runs in the family, actually! My sisters and I went to grade school about 30 minutes away from our home, and our dad would drive us every morning. But before Sabrina and I entered Kindergarten, our two older sisters would rave about how great those car rides were. Of course, it was always fun to joke around in the car- talk about science projects, or be quizzed on that history test. But, the one thing that everyone looked forward to was 10 minutes of “Breakfast with the Beatles” on Philadelphia’s Classic Rock Radio, 102.9 WMGK. Three songs. Every. day. And so, when it came time to head off to Kindergarten, we couldn’t wait to hear the Beatles!
It was the BEST! We would sing along to the melodies, listen to the inventive harmonies, and discuss the innovative use of rhythms and crazy sound effects that the Beatles pioneered. The Beatles had written so many songs, that with only 10 minutes of radio airtime, we played a game to see who could guess which songs the station chose! It became this brief, beautiful moment each morning where we lost ourselves in the music and forgot about the stresses of a hectic school or work day. If we were just a couple minutes behind schedule at home, we’d miss an entire song! So, it’s thanks to “Breakfast with the Beatles” that we never had a problem getting to school on time! Today, as a professional cellist with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in music, I look at The Beatles songs with even more appreciation and awe.
Fast forward to 2016, and I’m a member of the Atlas Music Project, a collection of musicians that searches for new ways to express ourselves through music, often through collaboration. Our most frequent collaborator is one of the most charming and badass singer-songwriters I’ve ever met. His name is Brennan Smiley and not only does he have a mesmerizing voice, he’s got some serious guitar chops, too! Brennan joined us on the Eurodam in early November to begin an epic project with us, encompassing an album and several music videos.
We knew we wanted to make a few covers, and so, I couldn’t have been more excited when he and John had the idea to arrange “Because.” What stands out in this song is its mystery and haunting beauty. When I heard Brennan sing the lyrics for the first time, it gave me chills! I couldn’t wait to put the whole thing together! And then, to top it off, we also had on board the wonderful Kenneth B. Edwards, a fantastic photographer/videographer/musician, who was never seen without his mandolin, to help us capture all this magic.
From the moment the idea was born to the moment the live video was shot, this entire process spanned hardly 72 hours! Here's what it looked like: After John had stayed up into the wee hours of the morning the night before to write the preliminary draft of the string quartet arrangement, all of us, that’s John, Brennan, Kenneth, Rita, Jinty, Sabrina and me, gathered in our backstage, crew-only room/stairwell in a corner of the Dining Room. We had the smooth and slick voice of Brennan, riffing up a storm on his acoustic guitar. There were the four of us girls, with our strings, playing around with first drafts -adding individual and accompanimental ideas to it, and discussing how to blend our parts together, phrase to phrase. Then, we’ve got Kenneth gathering information and joining in with some improvisatorial mandolin nuance for kicks. And John giggling away, excited at all the transformed ideas which shaped the whole production into what it is now.
The very next day, the ship docked in Málaga, Spain. The seven of us disembarked early that morning and followed Kenneth as we blindly navigated this unfamiliar, but GORGEOUS city looking for the best spots to film. After testing out a couple different spots, some were too noisy, some didn’t quite have the right light, we settled on this picturesque and oh-so-charming alleyway. Besides the weather being a little chilly (notice our jackets), we could not have found a better spot.
Looking back on this experience, never before have I felt so capable of contributing to the creation of a piece. I’ve always learned music by reading it from a page. But during this “Because” process, we were improvising and playing without a visual cue. At first, it felt very awkward, but seeing as I am so comfortable with this group, I was able to let go and start testing ideas out, letting a note take form and seeing where it took me next. And it wasn’t so hard! I didn’t want to stop, nor did the others! At one point, we were jamming so well that we got a little sidetracked and started improvising to a little creation Brennan came up with called “Late Night Lido.” Late Night Lido was a meal on the ship that took place for just one hour, every night, from 10:30-11:30pm. We were goofing around so much, and it was sounding so good that I had to document it! We posted a snippet of our “Late Night Lido” improv on our Facebook page, should you want to get a little laugh. This is what happens when you’re chillin’ with a group of musicians who start letting their creative juices flow!
All things aside, I couldn’t have asked for a better time to begin opening up my mind to improvising. Helping to create cello lines for this Beatles arrangement alongside the coolest girls and guys I know, is something I never want to stop doing! And these arrangements are only going to get more complex and intricate as we keep doing it. Thank you for reading AMP fans, and look out for more coming soon!
WRITTEN By SABRINa
Behold—the first Atlas Music Project throwback! While much of what AMP strives to achieve is to search for new mediums, explore unchartered sound worlds, expand the boundaries of what it means to be a string quartet in this ever-evolving world of technology, we will never, and i mean NEVER, lose our passion for chamber music in its most authentic form: the string quartet. The raw string quartet is quite possibly the purest form of music making that exists, if you ask me. The combination of these four acoustic stringed and bowed instruments allows for absolute blending, absolute synchronization—no in-ear click tracks, no special effects or imposed beats needed.
The four minds and bodies of the musicians must work organically and unanimously as one. The only way to achieve this? Good old fashioned hard work: rigorous rehearsal hours, ruthless discussion and argument, and lots of individual preparation. This level of precision and accountability is what we’ve spent our entire lives training in school, bachelors degrees, masters degrees, summer festivals and workshops to achieve. There is, in my opinion, no other genre of music that parallels the string quartet’s requirement for exactitude.
To top it off, we present to you a work by the titan composer Beethoven who holds a sacred place in the realm of string quartet writing. His work is so intricate and detailed that it leaves a near impossible task for a string quartet execute—precisely what makes it so extraordinary! The extent of detail and fine-tuning is literally infinite. Like a mathematical fractal, the more experience I have with Beethoven string quartets, and the closer I look at them, the more intricate they become.
The movement featured here is the finale to one of Beethoven’s most tempestuous and fiery works of his early period, the C Minor quartet, the fourth of his six Opus 18 quartets. Beethoven’s quartets are not for the faint of heart, which is exactly why we’ve tackled one for our latest video!
If you’re still reading, I’m sure you’ve gathered that the art of fine string quartet playing is among my greatest passions. Growing up with a cellist twin sister, chamber music was introduced at the youngest age, in fact I’m not sure if I ever really thought of music in any other way. We were in serious competitive string quartets since age twelve. Throughout my undergraduate degree at the Bard College Conservatory, I worked exclusively with professors who had made their careers in chamber music, and spent every summer since age 16 continuing my education and experience in chamber music at several music festivals, with a focus in string quartet playing. Most recently at Northwestern University, while completing my Master’s degree I had the incredible opportunity to work intensively with some of my greatest idols, the Dover Quartet. And as I learn and gain experience, I remain hungry, or even, I grow HUNGRIER for more expertise, higher expectations of myself, greater ambitions.
As we embark together on this journey as the Atlas Music Project, we face a music industry in the throes of a digital enhancement frenzy. Through the use of digital software, one can completely transform every aspect of a recording by adding effects, auto-tuning, hyper-splicing of different tracks, in order to create a product that is virtually *perfect.*
It is not unlike the use of the photoshop tricks that magazine photographers use when editing their shots of actors and models. Of course, the subjects of these photos are ALREADY unusually striking and beautiful individuals, who take meticulous care of their appearances, considerably more than the average human. Yet editors still use their tools and technology to elevate their looks to even higher and more unachievable, superhuman levels. The extreme symmetry and complete lack of blemishes is NOT REAL. In the flesh, we find these actors and models to be exceptionally beautiful, and the vast majority of us are not observant even concerned enough to ever notice their smallest ‘flaws’—if you can even call them that! But in a printed photo, one that millions of people see, the editors use all the skills and tricks they know to achieve ultimate perfection, because while a moment of seeing the human in person is fleeting, the photo will last forever.
The same thing goes for the music industry. The difference between the record industry and live performance, is that a live performance is a one-time experience through time from start to finish, no pausing, no rewinding, no re-living it. In any live performance, you can absolutely count on there being a range of mistakes, blemishes, if you will, that may or may not go unnoticed by the listener. While a published recording can be paused, rewound, and replayed an infinite number of times—therefore scrutinized. If one has the tools to make something that is infallible, why wouldn’t they!? The technological advancements necessary to get to this point are astounding. Editors and record producers might as well be called magicians.
In fact, our own John Arndt is one of these very magicians. He is truly a master of producing albums which show in his multiple nominations for grammies! Postproduction of sound is an art form unto itself, but the tradition we come from, originated in a time before electricity let alone any digital enhancement. All of the intricacy and fine-tuning of the final product had to be organized in rehearsals prior to the performance and then executed in real time by the performers in collaboration amongst themselves.
Many of our AMP music videos are shot from multiple camera angles, in several takes—and then edited in post-production to make an action-packed, directed final version. This is the standard for music videos in our current market. In this scenario, the audio is recorded separately and attached to the video in the end. When we began the process of planning this video, however, the other members of the quartet and myself were ADAMANT and had to collectively put our foot down to convince John to shoot and record this video in one take. For Beethoven, for the level of precision, and for our integrity as a string quartet, we needed the whole movement to be shot in real time, like a performance.
This is WHAT IT MEANS TO BE THE ATLAS MUSIC PROJECT: As we enter the global arena as a musical group, we are adapting our traditional, classical art form to be more current and competitive with what else is out there, without losing our integrity. We’re incredibly inspired to bring this level of work and dedication to all the music we play. You can take the string quartet out of the illustrious concert hall, but you can’t take that ambition for ultimate detail and precision out of the string quartet!
Written by BRENNAN
About three years ago, my good friend John Arndt and I were loosely throwing around the idea of collaborating together to create some kind of project. At the time, we weren't sure what that meant or what it could look like... whether it would be one song, a collection of songs, or something completely different. Fast forward to February of 2016.
We had continued talking about this idea off and on, and somewhere along the way John had taken an old song of mine called "Noah" and had created a string arrangement for it to be performed by string quartet. I received a message one day with a voice memo attached to it containing this newly-formed string quartet he had been working with playing through this song. When I clicked "play" I heard this old tune of mine come alive in all these ways that I had tried to imagine years ago when I had first recorded it, but in so many new ways that jolted my excitement for music in ways that I hadn't experienced in a long time. It was perfect.
This song, and this arrangement, is special to me for a few reasons. One being that it was a song I wrote not too long after deciding to make music and be in a band, but not knowing at all where that road would take me... and I can hear that newness, that longing to create every time I listen back to it. But maybe more importantly, "Noah" is special to me because it became something bigger. It became a gateway to a much larger project, a much larger collaboration, and a MUCH larger experience with John, Rita, Jinty, Sabrina, and Genevieve - The Atlas Music Project - where I've had the pleasure of working with this amazing group of musicians on not just one but many songs, and in many different ways. We loaded up taxi cabs in Madeira and performed in different locations around the island, and threw various takeaway performances in different cities around Spain, to name a couple. We even recorded a new record together that was almost entirely created while on a ship at sea, some songs written by John, and some by myself.
Rehearsing in empty storage rooms on the ship with air vents almost louder than our instruments, lugging instruments and came equipment through alleyways in various cities throughout Spain just to find that right spot to perform... These are memories I'll cherish forever. I can't wait for you to see this full picture we've painted, but for now, here is Noah, a song about exploration.
WRITTEN BY Rita
Fatai is an extremely gifted singer/songwriter from Australia and we feel so honored and lucky that we got to put this collaboration together with her.
While the idea to create a cover of “7 Years” was hers, in some ways, the message behind this song parallels the story of how Atlas Music Project came to be.
Through the years, my life has been fundamentally shaped by the community of music. As a child, music was the community where I made some of my best friends, as a teenager music was my refuge in a world that I did not understand. These days, performing in concert halls and club venues alike, I am grateful for musical experiences that move us and bring us together. More than ever I believe it has the power to affect positive movement in the world. Being a string player can be relevant to making profound changes in society, gosh darn it!
In my last few years contributing to the incredible art scene in Chicago, I was continually inspired by the city’s commitment to shaping the community through beauty. Always looking for new opportunities to connect the arts to people of different backgrounds, I came across a lot of inspiration to take unconventional paths as a musician.
Some of my most memorable experiences were with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the opportunities we had to work and perform with Yo-Yo-Ma. We had workshops with him, performed in several local schools, ran around the city playing in churches and museums. It took the meaning and beauty of what we did in the concert hall and gave it an entirely new sense of fulfillment. He encouraged us to be creative musicians, and to share that joy with as many people as possible.
Fortunately, I made some friends in Civic who also felt the same eagerness to be musical ambassadors in new, creative ways. Before we knew it we were putting together concerts in peoples homes. We transformed familiar songs into unique arrangements, awakening audiences to the true potential of a string quartet.
This ‘7 Years’ music video was actually filmed in Lori Julian’s home, one of the first hosts of our house concerts. It will always be a very special place for us, as it was a time and place that helped launch this project into a reality.
Life is so short and the years are truly fleeting as we get older. With our sense of adventure, collaborative spirit, love for people, culture and new music, the classical tradition can continue to evolve through us as we grow older.
And here we are now as the Atlas Music Project. Jinty, Sabrina, Genevieve, John, and Me. All in our mid to late twenties, looking back at when we were 7 years old… Then and now, wanting to make a difference in the world through music.
HIDE AND SEEK
Written by Jinty
For most of us in the group, Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” could be considered one of our high school anthems. I remember the first time I heard it. I was in my friend’s car and she put it on one day sometime around my junior year of high school. The unique combination of the vocoder with Imogen’s amazing voice had me completely mesmerized. The whole song was in a way very simple, yet the way it was produced and written made me want to listen to it over and over again. Right after that day I made it my mission to find out who sang it, buy that CD, and sing along to it, trying to fit my voice into the crazy harmonies.
Those crazy harmonies and the nature of the vocoder made this a piece that we all wanted to cover. Way back in the beginning of the year, we started discussing with John, the amazing arranger and pianist in our group, which songs we wanted to play. This one shot to the top of the list. He cranked it out and within a few days we found ourselves seated in a practice room in Northwestern with this music in front of us.
Soon after we started working, we realized that this music was going to be a little harder to play than first imagined. In order to completely mimic the sound of the recording and the vocoder, bowing direction and choreography had to be completely matched; the recording had to be listened to and analyzed numerous times in order to try to “sing” the music the way Imogen did; and most importantly, our sounds had to be perfectly matched and stuck to Sabrina’s, our first violin and melody singer.
In that first rehearsal, we managed to put in some bowings and begin the process of melding our sounds, however, soon after that, “Hide and Seek” was put on the back burner in order for us to work on some other music that we were doing in collaboration with some other artists (stay tuned!).
As some of you might know, we currently hold jobs as musicians on a ship. We had the idea to invite a wonderful videographer named Kenneth Edwards onto the ship with us for a few weeks to make some videos, as one of our main goals as a group is to not only bring our music all over the world with us as we travel, but also to share a little tiny corner of the world with our viewers while we play our music. “Hide and Seek” was one of the songs that we definitely wanted to film. We were fortunate enough to have a little extra free time on the ship, so we started rehearsing a few days before the planned shooting of the video.
We love the music we play on the ship, but there is something so refreshing and amazing about working on your own music for the first time after a long hiatus. Our first rehearsal lasted 5 hours and we barely even felt it go by. After the second day of intense rehearsal, we felt ready to bring our music out into an amazing Spanish city called Malaga.
Malaga, is a really cool Spanish city. It was the birth-place of Picasso and like most European cities, has some amazing Spanish architecture. We wove our way through streets and tiny alleys with all of our gear to find a place to record. This alleyway was our second location, and we loved it because it had a dead-end, which meant that we were out of the way of passerby. This is not to say that we didn’t attract a crowd. Both locals and cruisers were walking by and stopped to hear our music and see what was going on. It was a true pleasure to be able to perform in that atmosphere.