Jon Brion

October 31, 2016 12:00 am

Ben Talmi has worked behind the scenes for ages, manning the boards at Virtue and Vice Studios, as well as scoring films and being a DJ for an EDM-driven circus (more on that later). Now Ben has stepped into the spotlight, releasing a music video for his song, “Play”, and gearing up for the release of his album.

ATYPICAL SOUNDS was lucky to catch a few minutes with this musical renaissance man, and get his take on creating music for a diverse world.

You recently released a video for your song “Play”. What’s next?
I’ve got some more music videos up my sleeve, and an album done that I can’t wait to get out there. I’m hoping to tour as hard as possible on it.

 Virtue and Vice Studios has seen some pretty impressive bands pass through its doors. Do you have a favorite band or artist you worked with there?
Any time that I’ve had the extreme luck of working with or having any of the musicians from yMusic in my studio has been amazing. They operate on a very inspiring level of musicianship while maintaining impeccable taste with their playing. Often times when musicians achieve such a high level of technical ability, they want to use all their knowledge and skill all the time but the musicians in yMusic really balance that world beautifully. I’ve also been writing a bunch of songs with Dave Monks from Tokyo Police Club recently, he’s amazing, just totally free and fun to write songs with.

You wrote the score for the film Duke and the Buffalo, which was included in the Tribeca Film Festival. How does one go about writing a soundtrack for a film about bison? Where do you start?
These days, directors and filmmakers will send you what’s called a “temp score”, that’s sort of a guideline or reference music for cues that they want you to imitate or mimic. Composers generally detest this because it doesn’t leave room for much creativity or the ability to put your identity into the music you are making. With Duke and the Buffalo I was pretty inspired by the peaceful nature of the animals in these epic landscapes virtually untouched by man. If you listen to the score you will hear hints of Brian Eno, Nils Frahm and Jon Brion throughout.

You also wrote an EDM score for Circus Electronica. Acrobats seem pretty different from bison. Is it a challenge for you to switch gears between projects?
Conor Oberst once said something great about how a song is just a naked body and the way you produce it is like sending it into a walk in closet and putting on this shirt or that pair of pants. At the end of the day its all harmony, melody, rhythm and lyrics, just open up the faucet, the water will pour out.

How different is the “real world” of music from what you learned while attending Berklee?
No one cares about how many scales you know, how fast you can play augmented arpeggios or what your proficiency ratings are. The only thing that matters is if you make art that says something and connects with people. It’s not about you, squash your ego, be a vessel for something greater that can inspire and change people for the better.

You’ve also done music for clients like Microsoft. Do you have much experience specifically in the advertising industry? Do you find your advertising clients asking you to do things like making a soundalike of a popular song for an ad?
Whenever I’ve done commercial writing, music supervisors will always ask to mimic other songs or do a soundalike but Microsoft actually licensed one of my own songs for a commercial. Its a really personal song that was inspired by something I went though. I had no intention what so ever of molding the music to fit a commercial sound or putting any kind of obviously “licensable” characteristics in it. Funny how that works.

You have experience in orchestral composition, yet much of your work is electronic. Do you see there being major differences between the way the two genres are composed, or are they more similar than people may think?
It’s all the same if you look at music as the four fundamental elements of harmony, melody, rhythm and lyrics.

What’s your favorite place in New York to get pizza?
This might be obvious to people who live in Brooklyn but Roberta’s will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

January 21, 2016 12:30 am

On her first full-length album, Quarantine, Laurel Halo gave us some of the dreamiest glitchy electro-pop you could ever hope to hear. Each synth key served as a soothing resting spot to lay down and gaze upon the swirling loops up above. “MK Ultra” felt like a love ballad being told in space to and from an unknown entity. If you’ve ever played the game Pokemon Snap, it’s basically the Mew level in musical form.

I refuse to apologize for my Pokemon fandom, so we’re all just gonna power through and move on to some more hard hitting Laurel Halo analysis.

Quarantine was a true beauty, but her more recent releases have shown that she is going for a denser sound, without any vocal accompaniment whatsoever. I personally think that’s a shame because her voice is amazing, but it adds a complexity in her songs that can be too much.

Chance of Rain, sees Laurel Halo replacing dreamy with dreary by amping up the glitch and incorporating it with a wider array of instruments, like when she splices up a somber bassoon solo on “Melt”. It’s a compact song, but the disorienting impact of it hits you immediately. The medley of sounds in “Melt” flashes by you in an instant. The juxtaposition of a melancholy piano riff playing over breakbeat drums on the eponymous track also works in such an imaginative way, almost as if a Jon Brion soundtrack is being remixed by Burial.

The expansiveness heard on Chance of Rain, makes it her most thoroughly detailed album to date. The pace is frantic and there’s so much jammed into every song that after each listen, there’s a new layer discovered. Her latest release, In Situ, offers a more stripped down approach, but with heavier sporadicism and drone friendliness. Leaves” goes at a very steady pace, while also throwing conventional structure into the waste basket. At times, you might think someone gave a baby an 808 drum kit and let them play with it for a few minutes. None of us know for sure whether that’s true or not. We weren’t there. Throughout the album she takes what’s found in most songs of the genre and brings them back to their most primal form, like on “Nah.” Each tone is familiar, but never in such an isolated context.

Laurel Halo will continue to consistently experiment and play around in her own spectacular fashion. She’s an immensely talented electronic artist with an unlimited trove of ideas, so I expect her to do plenty more re-creation upon each release. Hopefully, she’ll bring her singing back into the equation at some point, but sometimes when you’re digging deep into the cavernous hole of avant-garde electronica, you need to save your voice.

And no, I’m not embarrassed about being an adult who still loves the occasional game of Pokemon. Charizard’s flame is what makes those New York winter nights all the more bearable.