Busy year for the etheral Julianna Barwick, whose 2013 release Nepenthe
on Dead Oceans received rave reviews amid her opening slot with Sigur Ros - she recorded Nepenthe
with the group's Alex Somers in Iceland - in Indianapolis. The Brooklyn-based songwriter will collaborate tonight with ISO partner group New Amsterdam's Ymusic, who, along with the Indianapolis Children's Choir and Kristin Newborn, will perform a diverse program at the Hilbert Circle Theater. (Note: during the program, New Am collaborator Caroline Shaw's piece for the opening of Eskenazi Hospital will also be performed.)
I spoke with Julianna before her appearance at the Hilbert.
NUVO: Let's talk about your three recent and upcoming performances in Indianapolis. I saw you open for Sigur Ros at the Lawn last fall. Before I went in, I was wondering how your (atmospheric, quiet) show would translate to this huge outdoor venue. What are some of the challenges in mounting your show outdoors?
Julianna Barwick: Well, I had my first outdoor show back in 2011. I was a little worried because I'd always played inside and I'd never used monitors. So, I was kind of wondering what would happen if I was in a giant outdoor stage. But it ended up being fine back then. And I've found that it doesn't really change much for me onstage. The feeling is the same because I can hear myself. It works out fine. It's really nice to be outdoors when you play - it's like an open, beautiful ceiling.
NUVO: I've read several live reviews of your performances in churches, which are supposed to be stunning. Do you find your sound changes significantly in a church, which are often built for the acoustics of choirs and more orchestral performances, etc.?
Barwick: Environment definitely alters the performance in every way. It really does. I wasn't really worried about playing outdoors any more after my first experience. But playing in a place like a beautiful, ornate or not church, there's just a reverence that you feel when you're inside a place like that. It's just a whole different feeling than being in a rock club. It definitely lends to a place you can get to emotionally, for me any way. When I sing inside a place like that, there's a different feeling happening emotionally and in my head. Playing in a place like that definitely changes it for me. I really like to play in beautiful, really special places. Art institutions will kind of do the same thing too. It's just that kind of thing where you're in awe or something. It's the antithesis or playing in a small rock club, which is fun but very different.
NUVO: Well, one of those beautiful places is the Hilbert Circle Theater, where you'll play today with KO, the Indianapolis Children's Choir and Ymusic. Could you break down how that set will work?
Barwick: As far as I know, the last program that I saw in an email was that the Indianapolis Children's Choir will do a piece by Caroline Shaw, and then I'll do a couple songs just me, then two or three songs with the Choir, then Ymusic will have a set, then I'll have a set with Ymusic, and then we'll have one big finale between me and the kids and Ymusic. I can't believe I'm saying this all out loud and it's actually going to happen.
NUVO: And then you'll be at Russian Recording about a week later in Bloomington, your current label's home. When I was looking through your releases, I realized that you've stuck with Indiana labels for the last several years. Is this just total coincidence or is there something about Indiana that you particularly like?
Barwick: It's coincidence, I would say. I was talking to Dead Oceans a few years ago, met all of them, then met all the people at Asthmatic Kitty and did a one record deal with them - which ended up being The Magic Place. They're all super great people and super warm. I feel really lucky to put records out on both labels. Nice peeps!
NUVO: I have a note here about your performance with Sigur Ros - about both your and their ability to transcend language and still be understood -
Barwick: I can respond to that. My music .... some of the songs have lyrics and some of them don't. I've sung like this like I was a little kid. [hums wordlessly
] - just about like sounds, and not coming up with something to sing about right off the top of my head. For me, it's just more about feeling and sounds. And all the music I make just starts with me making stuff up as I go. I plug all this stuff in, I start playing around with effects and I just start singing, like I have my whole life. It's not intentional; it's just what happens. I don't want to be wordless singing lady - it's not what I was thinking - but it just happens.
It's like with Sigur Ros too. I don't know what they're saying, but I can weep when I listen to it. Or get super amped. Those kinds of emotion in language translate without words. I really love that, because I feel like the listener can adapt that and process the music and internalize and individualize it. And make it their own, and not make it about some story that I'm telling. It just so happens that that's a side product of how I ended up making music. Which I totally get, because there's a lot of music in different languages that completely moves me, and I know that other people feel the same way.