Unsound 2014: Stars Of The Lid

For two decades Stars of the Lid have been pioneers of vast, minimalist, slowly unfolding soundscapes

For two decades Stars of the Lid have been pioneers of vast, minimalist, slowly unfolding soundscapes. Performing in Australia for the first time, and exclusive to the Adelaide Festival, they are the outstanding attraction of Unsound 2014. “If you’re making art, there are things that happen to you your whole life that sort of resonate off you, and this is how you start to create. It’s great if you can get this connection with people that turns into something bigger than you ever thought possible. I never in a million years imagined I’d be making a living off music – it was completely accidental. I feel very fortunate. I wanted to be a professional tennis player when I was a kid,” admits Adam Wiltzie, on Skype from Belgium where he has lived for the past 15 years. Although speaking the local language,he finds being a non-native in Belgium allows him to escape into the necessary silences of his mind, while at the same time enjoying the more equitable northern European social system that contrasts with the ongoing ravages of contemporary American collapse. “It’s the most uncool place on earth,” he says of Brussels.“I love it here.” Berlin, he says by way of comparison, as a mecca for so many aspiring artists from around the world, “has turned into New York City. It’s horrible.” Wiltzie and long-time collaborator Brian McBride form Stars of the Lid, the enigmatic US pairing whose shimmering, elongated drone experiments have produced some of the most beautiful recorded music of the past 20 years. Their following – small yet fiercely loyal, as is common to niche artists – has nevertheless grown substantially since the release of 2001’s The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid and 2007’s And Their Refinement of the Decline, both double CDs from US label Kranky that spend over two hours stretching the conventional sonic possibilities of classical instruments – violin, piano, horns and cello – layering harmonies, building sheet upon sheet of immersive drone ambience. Both artists have also worked side projects of an experimental nature – McBride both solo and as Bell Gardens; Wiltzie as The Dead Texan, or with Labradford and Aix Em Klemm, among others. The music speaks for itself; the Stars of the Lid sound seemed to be there from their very first release, Music for Nitrous Oxide, back in 1995. It was clear this was a new template for listening, quite unlike anything else, though Wiltzie would never claim, he asserts strongly and humbly, to be doing anything special. The often comic nature of their song titles attests to a pairing not quite prepared to take themselves too seriously, despite the evidence of their music. Stars of the Lid are not about the sugar hit. Film maker Andrei Tarkovsky once commented that while in cinema a long shot can be boring, an extremely long shot becomes fascinating as the complexities of what is in range are slowly revealed – the expansion of time allows for a better study of the essence of things. Stars of the Lid’s music sometimes operates on the same principle of lengthened and slowed concentration. Its depths are revealed over long stretches of subtly changing sound such as treated guitar, cello or piano, lit up with odd tweaks and shimmers, twists and scraps of dialogue, reverb and organic decay. The music plays out as gravitational, archaeological, even glacial, while verging on the psychedelic in its regular homage to David Lynch; it somehow manages to be simultaneously meditative, melancholy and unashamedly romantic. As a music that gives a sense of not being intimidated by the vastness of things – in fact of wanting to explore that vastness that surrounds us – Stars of the Lid have been likened to a contemporary secular form of religious music and experience, though Wiltzie would never claim that as an intention. A commitment in New York directly after Unsound means Stars of the Lid will play exclusively in Adelaide. And, Wiltzie suggests, they’ll be playing a combination of new music (it’s six years since their last CD) and “the hits”. How would the group decide which of their long, stately pieces are the hits? Given Wiltzie and McBride live so far apart, and don’t have opportunities to practice together, it tends to be the pieces they know best. “Whatever’s easiest to play,” Wiltzie finishes off laconically. Stars of the Lid Adelaide Festival Adelaide Town Hall Thursday, March 6 (8pm) adelaidefestival.com.au/2014/music/unsound_adelaide

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