Joseph Branciforte & Theo Bleckmann
release: june 21, 2019
formats: vinyl + digital
vinyl edition: 150
theo bleckmann / voice + electronics
joseph branciforte / modular synthesizers, fender rhodes, tape loops, and processing
The debut recording from Grammy-nominated vocalist Theo Bleckmann and electronic musician & producer Joseph Branciforte. Vocal loops of hushed beauty framed by artificially synthesized tones, deep subharmonic oscillations, and gently layered sheets of noise, with a shared musical language drawing upon ambient, choral, microsound, and free improvisation.
In the early days of spring 2018, Theo Bleckmann and Joseph Branciforte retreated for two days of uninterrupted sonic exploration. In some ways it was a meeting years in the making, in others a wholly spontaneous encounter. Without a note of music prepared or a word of discussion, the two arrived at Branciforte’s Brooklyn studio, armed with an array of looping devices, guitar pedals, found objects, and sound-making machines. The results can be heard on LP1, a debut recording as finely distilled as it is wildly exploratory.
Branciforte had long been a deep admirer of Bleckmann’s work — he grew up obsessively listening to records like Bleckmann’s Origami and Ben Monder’s Excavation, later working as producer & recording engineer on Monder’s Hydra (2013), in which Bleckmann played a prominent role. It wasn’t until 2017, however, that the two collided creatively: Bleckmann stumbled upon an online sound journal that Branciforte had been maintaining, which contained his ongoing studio experiments with Fender Rhodes & synthesizers, elaborately manipulated via pedals and modular processing. A musical friendship was born, and two successful duo performances followed later that year.
In 2018, the pair was invited to perform alongside pioneering electronic musician & composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. In the days leading up to the performance, the two met at Branciforte’s studio to experiment, their first time making music together in a non-public setting. The four tracks comprising LP1 represent a musical snapshot of those improvised sessions, ranging from the edgy and dark to the delicate and pastoral. Through the process of live asynchronous looping, the pair builds and dissolves complex sonic structures in realtime, achieving an impressively immersive sound without the use of studio overdubbing.
Having amassed a substantial amount of raw material, catalogue numbers were assigned to the improvisations and their subsections, a system whose logic is reflected in the final track titles. Editing, mixing, and further manipulation by Branciforte continued through the summer and early fall, with the album pared down to a concentrated 35 minutes in the end. The set is bookended by two darker pieces that stretch the harmonic and textural language of ambient, while the record’s center cuts tend towards sensuous and sublime abstraction.
Bleckmann is widely known for his arresting and hauntingly emotive voice, an instrument capable of producing all manner of tones and otherworldly textures. Contextualized here by Branciforte’s contrasting palette, his sound can be apprehended in a wholly new light. The warmth and fragility of the human voice is merged with the clicks and whirs of machines, the rawness of analogue synthesizers, and the grainy imperfections of decaying tape loops. Branciforte uses the entire surface area of the audio spectrum as counterpoint, extending Bleckmann’s three-and-a-half octave range into impossibly sub- and super-sonic realms. At other times, the two performers appear to merge together into a single sonic entity, the lines between voice and machine blurred beyond recognition.
While these pieces were born of improvisation, they display a patient and deeply compositional logic. LP1 manages to walk a fine line between discovery and restraint, emotion and form, identity and dissolution — outlining an expanded vision of ambient music that embraces narrative and arc as much as landscape and line.
recorded april 23-24, 2018 at greyfade studio, brooklyn
edited & mixed by joseph branciforte in cheshire, ct / pelham, ny
mastered by joseph branciforte at greyfade studio, brooklyn
THE NEW YORKER (US): Theo Bleckmann, an improvising vocalist of exceptional range and breathtaking sensitivity, collaborates with the musician and producer Joseph Branciforte [on a] beguiling new recording, LP1.
BANDCAMP (US): Jaw-dropping beauty. This is the sound of falling snow.
ALL MUSIC GUIDE (US): 9/10. Wordless vocalizations reverberate airily atop glassine tones and crispy clicks and pops. Subliminal sub-bass and minor-key close harmonies bring a faintly sinister edge. Beautiful and beguiling, it's an excellent album, and a very strong start for Branciforte's Greyfade label.
MARLBANK (UK): A fascinating blend, by turn moody and dark, experimental and ambient, a mighty unearthly universe which the two have created.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ (US): The four improvisations constituting this album prove hauntingly beautiful while affirming this pair's gifts for micro-expression. These glacially open expressions belie their sophistication while delighting in the convergence between the audible and the subliminal.
TOUCHING EXTREMES (IT): I discovered the unadulterated charm of LP1: a work by electronic wizard Joseph Branciforte and virtuoso vocalist Theo Bleckmann. A superb exemplification of ‘sensitive quiet music’, possibly to be experienced in an ever-stretching continuum.
QUADERNI D’ALTRI TEMPI (IT): Austere and extremely controlled sonorities, where impalpable textures dominate from which rarefied and well-kept details emerge.
TONESHIFT (US): Delivers experimental electronica in unexpected ways. It’s difficult to imagine any listener not becoming engaged and one with the warm atmospheric sound. The vocal treatments are engaging, suspended and translucent.
5:4 (UK): Improvisational freedom and compositional planning are evidently both being brought to bear on the music at the same time. As such, it’s not remotely background or atmospheric music, but an altogether more active form of immersion.
THE BROOKLYN RAIL (US): An ethereal program that combines electronic and ambient soundscapes with a classical composition bent.
AMBIENTBLOG (NL): A fascinating mix of voice and electro-acoustics, perfectly balanced on more than one level. The combination of voice and electronics on one hand, neither taking the lead but both complementing the other, and the combination of darker and brighter atmospheres.
PERCORSI MUSICALI (IT): Bleckmann’s vocals are much more ethereal than usual, voice loops transformed here into something that suggests a liquid fluctuation.
A vocalist and new music composer of eclectic tastes and prodigious gifts, Grammy-nominated Theo Bleckmann makes music that is accessibly sophisticated, unsentimentally emotional, and seriously playful, leading his work to be described as “from another planet” (The New York Times), “magical, futuristic” (All About Jazz), “limitless” (Philadelphia City Paper), “transcendent” (The Village Voice), and “brilliant” (New York Magazine).
Bleckmann has collaborated with musicians, artists, actors, and composers including Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Ann Hamilton, John Hollenbeck, Sheila Jordan, Phil Kline, David Lang, Kirk Nurock, Frances MacDormand, Ben Monder, Michael Tilson Thomas, Kenny Wheeler, John Zorn, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and, most prominently, Meredith Monk, with whom Bleckmann worked as a core ensemble member for over fifteen years.
Bleckmann’s accolades include NPR’s 2012 Top 10 Jazz Albums of the Year for his album Hello Earth! The Songs of Kate Bush, top-five spots in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 DownBeat Critics’ Polls for Best Male Vocalist, and the prestigious JAZZ ECHO award from the Deutsche Phono-Akademie in his native Germany in 2010.
Joseph Branciforte is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, sound artist, and recording engineer based out of New York City. His wide-ranging musical interests have situated him at the intersection of several of New York’s most fertile progressive music scenes — from jazz and improvised music, to modern chamber music and algorithmic composition; from ambient and sound art, to experimental forms of rock and pop. At the bottom of these seemingly discrete threads lies an undying fascination with sound as a profound emotional medium — organized through musical form, articulated by a careful selection of sound sources, and framed through the act of recording.
Branciforte’s recent work as a performer centers around the Fender Rhodes piano, augmented with modular synthesizers, custom digital processing, tape loops, and found objects. In this format, he has performed solo and with artists including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Taylor Deupree, and Theo Bleckmann.
As composer, he has developed a unique process of algorithmic composition for acoustic instruments using custom software of his own design. His ongoing collaboration with electronic musician and composer Kenneth Kirschner explores digital, generative, and procedural methods of composing for chamber ensemble, and will see its debut recording released on greyfade in September 2019.
Equally well-known as a recording and mixing engineer, Branciforte has lent his sonic touch to over 200 releases, working with some of the most well-respected names in creative jazz along the way.