Rising from the still cooling ashes of the sadly disbanded
Providence, Rhode Island band the Iditarod (see Dream Magazine #3); Black
Forest/ Black Sea continues the musical experimentation of multi-instumentalist
Jeffrey Alexander; who is now joined by the abundantly talented Miriam Goldberg
(who had previously guested with the Iditarod on cello). The path explored
by BF/BS quite literally picks up where the Iditarod left off, but they are
also a distinctly unique musical entity taken on their own terms, and they
seemed determined to effectively expand upon the musical palette of the former
band. A surreal combination of low tech electronics, resonant acoustic instrumentation,
drone, noise, folk, free jazz, improvisation, psychedelic, and pop sensibilities;
that feels warmly hallucinatory, alien and instantly familiar. Warm and cool,
dark and light, distant and intimate, organic and synthetic; BF/BS are a study
in contradictory contrasts that somehow comes together as a beguilingly compelling
whole. Their self titled debut album is a short but brilliant introduction
to their twilight world; a shared release between Jeffrey’s Secret Eye
label, and Last Visible Dog (see interview with LVD’s Chris Moon elsewhere
in this issue). On the first day of August, 2003 the summer cooled slightly
and Jeffrey and Miriam came to Dream Magazine’s territory for a picnic
in the park and to play a live show in a nearby converted convent. Everyone
who attended the show still smiles somewhat wistfully when mention is made
of the show, and it was seeing them live that made me realize that though
I had just chatted with Jeffrey about his previous band in the preceding issue;
BF/BS were such a new creation they warranted as much exposure as I could
afford them. Catch them live, or at the very least pick up their debut CD,
and you’ll likely become another convert.
G.P.: What is Black Forest/Black Sea?
M.G.: It's a band that primarily consists of me and Jeffrey,
but which is occasionally enriched by a guest musician or two.
J.A.: A musical partnership between myself and Miriam Goldberg.
G.P.: What is the future of The Iditarod?
M.G.: I was a mere guest cellist with the band, so I'll leave
this one to Jeffrey.
J.A.: There are several Iditarod records yet to be released
and these will be coming out on a variety of labels including Camera Obscura,
Fleece and Last Visible Dog. The LVD release is actually a split LP with the
Olive Tree - that's Glenn Donaldson of Jewelled Antler. The studio tracks
that we did for the split LP with Glenn are actually the only Iditarod recordings
with Miriam in the band. So anyway, the future holds a lot of records, but
as a live project, the Iditarod is on sabbatical.
G.P.: How do you feel about the debut
J.A.: I like a good deal of it, but there are things that
I would re-do if given the chance. Miriam and I had only been playing together
for a short time and we decided to go on a lengthy 6 week tour together. So,
we sort of rushed out this CD to have it in time for the tour. But then after
playing together on the road for 6 weeks, our sound slowly mutated into something
different than what is documented on that CD. We still play a few of those
songs, but what we're doing now is much more expansive and loose - we got
pretty free while on tour. And that is exciting. I like the CD we did, but
I'm really looking forward to doing the next one. That first one is almost
gone and we've decided not to re-press. I should also mention that its very
cool to be working with someone now who is totally submerged in the process
as i am. Miriam and I share everything equally - writing, recording, art design,
everything. That's a nice change for me, indeed.
M.G.: I've been thinking about this a lot lately. We recorded
it very quickly. Did the tracking, mixing, mastering, artwork, and layout
in about a week and a half. So once it was done, I couldn't even listen to
it. I was sick of it. A month or so later, though, when we got it back from
the manufacturer, we put it on and I really enjoyed it. I've never recorded
an album before, so it was kind of a strange experience. I was surprised by
how much I liked it. I usually hate experiencing stuff I've made. I can be
very self-critical, and listening to our recordings previously was torture.
I'd notice everything I didn't like. But for some reason that didn't happen
with this cd. Not because it doesn't have it's frustrating moments, but because..
I guess it's just OK. I can't explain it. Since we've been on the road, we've
progressively gotten looser, more improvisational. I picked up a moog ring
modulator/ lfo and that's added a lot of different sounds to our palette.
We've been out almost six weeks at this point and we've evolved quite a bit.
I listened to the cd last night with my parents (they hadn't heard it yet)
and I kept thinking to myself "Gosh, we don't sound like this anymore."
The album has a good bit of improv, big spacy sections, interesting textures
and stuff, but I guess we've just gone *more* in that direction since we left
G.P.: Why Last Visible Dog instead
of Secret Eye?
M.G.: erm. label stuff. uh? jeffrey?
J.A.: We did a split label release.
G.P.: How was/is your West Coast tour
J.A.: It was fantastic. Best tour ever. Rollercoasters, camping,
swimming, groupies, drugs, oh yeah.
M.G.: Well, we've been off the west coast for a while now.
We just left the south and played in pittsburgh last night on my parents'
front porch. That was really nice. We've been out since 7/16 and today is
8/20. We have three more shows and then it's back to Providence. Tour has
been amazing. High points, low points, but all in all fantastic. Lots of great
stories, lots of opportunities to play for all sorts of people in many different
situations, chances to see/eat/ride all sorts of stuff. And as a band, we've
grown tremendously. I think hearing all of this different music and meeting
so many musicians, the inevitable "Oh, you have to hear this album!"
conversation in every city, educational trips to giant record stores, all
of this has really been very influential. I've been turned on to all sorts
of stuff I hadn't heard before and I think it's coming through in our music.
Plus we tend to treat tour like a working vacation, so we've been riding roller
coasters wherever possible.
G.P.: The front porch gig at Miriam's
folk's house sounds cool; would you describe it a bit?
M.G.: That was like a dream. My mother cooked this huge dinner
for everyone. My family sat on the patio in front of the porch and we set
up on the porch and played there. The crickets were chirping, cars would drive
by, sometimes the windchimes would start to make noise. It was the best possible
environment I could imagine. I love my family so much and I'm always so happy
to be with them. I think that came out in our performance. At the same time
I think I was more nervous about that performance than others. I mean, these
are the critics who I actually care about: Mum, Dad, Margot, Jess and Gill
(ok, and you too George). It was also really cool to have Christina perform.
Sharing that kind of experience with the people I love most made it so much
more meaningful. I want to figure out a way to bring some or all of my family
with us on tour some time. I guess shielding my teenaged sisters from all
the cocaine and sex would be a little difficult though (ha ha ha).
G.P.: Jeffrey, is it true you are doing
ALL of the driving?
M.G.: I drove for about a half hour in south dakota and it
was terrifying. I don't have my license. when not on coast-to-coast tours
I usually don't need a car. You know what I'm talking about, right George?
Jeffrey is an amazing driver. Very fast, but very safe. I get to DJ, flip
off motorists, take the wheel when JR needs to pick his nose, navigate, etc.
However, in Austin we picked up Christina Carter and she's been helping with
the driving. Christina motherfucking Carter. Holy crap. We have been travelling
with her since and already, she's totally changing the way I think about music.
Her sets are transporting. I think she's really inspired me and Jeffrey to
allow more space in our performance, to put more of ourselves into our music,
to make it more personal, to be less self-censoring, and more beautiful.
G.P.: Is Gillian Goldberg (who wrote
the words to Beautiful Here) your sister?
M.G.: Yes she is. She's asleep upstairs right now. Gill has
always been a fantastic writer. A couple years ago I found a book she'd filled
with poetry she wrote in big awkward block letters. looks like she wrote it
when she was in elementary school (she's 16 now). Of course, being a nosy
older sister I read all the poems and loved them. So I wrote them down and
slipped the book back. Gill is really protective of her privacy, particularly
when it comes to her writing. When she found out I nicked those poems she
was livid. But I started setting them to music and she liked the songs and
eventually got over it. She's my favorite poet. More people should be able
to read/hear her work. I'm sort of lazily working on a little solo ep of songs
based on Gill's poems, but we'll see if that ever actually happens.
G.P.: Do either of you have a ghost
M.G.: I wish. we've been camping on this tour and neither
of us could think of ghost stories to tell by the fire.
G.P.: What is the goal of your music?
M.G.: I guess to have fun. And to get things out that are
J.A.: I want to enjoy myself, share things that I enjoy with
other people, make new friends and travel as much as possible. Another important
thing for me, musically, is to collaborate with others - fascinating things
happen. On this past US tour, we got a chance to do that with Glenn Donaldson
and also Christina Carter. They are so inspiring - it's exciting. Um, I guess
those are my personal goals (rather than the goal of our music), now that
I think about it. Whoops.
G.P.: Who are some of your influences?
M.G.: Brian Eno. He is the coolest. The way he makes pop
songs out of all these funny noises. He slays me. Lightning Bolt, too... the
way their songs sort of straddle the form/ formless line, the exuberance of
their music and the timbres they achieve, their music and their energy are
just really inspiring. Plus Brian G and I both use the Digitech Whammy pedal.
Music that's kind of outsider like the Mountain Goats, "The River Nektar",
the Langley School Project, all of that really helped deprogram me and become
comfortable making the kind of music I want to make the way I want to make
it even if it's kind of quirky. In a similar vein there's hungarian composer
Gyorgy Ligeti, who is unafraid to make devastatingly beautiful music, even
when it's considered by his contemporaries totally passe to do so, and still
be thoroughly inventive. Sister bands. Sister bands are the shit. ESG, The
Shaggs... I have three sisters (Margot and Jessica, twins, are 17 and Gillian
is 16) and they inspire me every day. I wanted to get them on our album, but
we recorded it in such a hurry it didn't happen. But at least I got Gillian's
poem. Jeffrey's not my sister, but our relationship is often very sibling-like.
I can't explain it, but I think there's something about familial bonds that
can make music very vital.
J.A.: Um.. I don't know. This answer changes everyday. Today
I guess I would say Tom Rapp, Nico, Robert Wyatt, Eno, Grateful Dead...
How significant are dreams or dreaming to your life or your work?
M.G.: I very rarely remember my dreams, but when I do, the
memory comes with a very specific feeling of awe and wonder. I try to work
that feeling into everything I do.
J.A.: Sometimes my dreams become true, so that's kind of
freaky. I guess that happens to a lot of people, so its not unusual or special,
but it can still be unsettling when it happens. Not that it happens a lot.
Will the next Black Forest/Black Sea be a bit longer?
M.G.: Well, I have to get back to school and finally graduate
this semester. Then it's off to Europe for tour in January. So between then
and now, we'll hopefully have time for an EP, so I'm going to guess "No."
I like things short though.
How goes Volume 2 of the Tom Rapp tribute albums?
M.G.: Probably Jeffrey can answer that better. All the tracks
are in, the artwork is done. Jeffrey needs to master and sequence. I've been
helping out and it's been difficult because there are sooo many tracks (the
comp is supposed to be two cd's). When I go back to school in september bf/bs
stuff will have to slow down, so Jeffrey should have time to finish up that
J.A.: Quite well - should be out in October.
Here is the final tracklisting:
1. Marissa Nadler - Ballad To An Amber Lady
2. Kemialliset Ystävät - Suojelusenkeli
3. the Olive Tree - Blind River
4. Bardo Pond - Uncle John
5. Aquarium Poppers - From The Movie Of The Same Name
6. Gentle Tasaday - Snow Queen
7. Noxagt - Regions Of May
8. Kawabata Makoto - When I Was A Child
9. Oren Ambarchi - Sail Away
10. Prydwyn - Prayers Of Action
11. Fursaxa - Epitaph
12. Black Forest / Black Sea - Wizard Of Is
13. Kitchen Cynics - Les Ans
14. James Jackson Toth - City Of Gold
1. David Rapp - Frog In The Window
2. Aspera - These Things Too
3. Bevel - Look Into Her Eyes
4. Monster Island - Riegal
5. Ron Chelsvig - Rocket Man
6. Adrian Shaw - Mars
7. Thurston Moore and Mike Watt - Fourth Day Of July
8. Alastair Galbraith - Everybody’s Got Pain
9. Green Crown - Raindrops
10. Dead Raven Choir - Song About A Rose
11. Stone Breath - Ring Thing
12. Cauldron - Man In The Tree
13. Mutter - Forbidden City
14. Pearls Before Swine - Translucent Carriages
Is the woman on the cover of the BF/BS album related to Miriam? She sort of
looks like a great grandmother or something.
J.A.: I don't know, she could be related.
M.G.: I don't think so. We just liked her face. Very placid,
but also kind of mischevious.
Do you believe in magic?
J.A.: I think so - certain kinds for sure.
M.G.: I was just thinking about this yesterday. I'm not really
sure. It's all tied up in whether or not I believe in God, and the jury's
out on that one, too, well, sort of.
How would you describe the music of BF/BS?
M.G.: That's a good question. We've been trying, but our
often differs greatly just from song to song. We both really like to build
soundscapes and find timbres and textures that are new to us, but with my
classical background, I'm still really drawn to form and structure, so I guess
that struggle, between free-form exploration and organized ideas - comes into
play in a lot of our music. I don't know if that really is a description of
our sound, but it helps explain why we sound the way we do.
J.A.: It's true that our sounds change a lot - given the
mood of each night we perform, different songs will come out. There are a
lot of elements that are improvised. Some nights we're more aggressive (like
when Miriam wants to do that Big Black cover. No, for real. She sometimes
does. And sometimes we do.), some nights we're spacier and psychedelic. But
I guess the most simple description is that we make music from an interplay
between guitar, cello, and electronics. In Iditarod my main focus was taking
simple recognizable folk song structures and adding unusual, tweaked elements.
This is especially true of the music we made over the past few years - I kept
wanting things to get stranger and I wanted to add more and more experimental
elements, like for example, at Terrastock V, I played a set that relied heavily
on fuzz guitar and my friend Alec's distorted accordion. I think a lot of
people were not expecting that sort of sound from us based on our previous
recordings, but I continually wanted to change and alter the sound. With this
new project with Miriam in some ways it's like exploring those changes even
further and taking away the folk song structures. It still has tweaked elements,
it still has the love of sonic experimentation, but instead of a recognizable
acoustic folk base, there's more of a classical, pop, and electro-rock foundation.
G.P.: How was it playing in Grass Valley?
M.G.: That was a super-relaxing, happy show, I think. It
was our first show in California, we had just driven through the redwoods
and had a beautiful cookout in a park nearby with you, the Faulkners, and
this other super-cool family -Frank Mikus and his wife Claudia and son. They
were fantastic. We stayed with them and they were some of the warmest, most
kind-hearted people I've ever met -- really an inspirational family. Then,
before we played, this band Whysp played and they were totally whimsical and
uplifting. There was a sleeping baby in our audience, so I guess in all, it
was a set filled with satisfaction and warm-heartedness. I think I smiled
through most of that set. It felt good. I hope it came out in our music.
J.A.: I loved Grass Valley and Nevada City. The whole area
was beautiful and we got a chance to drive around the next morning and soak
in the sights. The Convent itself was a cool old building and the people there
were so friendly. I think that was one of our better sets. Because our live
performances are often loose, we sort of play to the room and that really
comes out. It was a great night. And it was great to see you again, George.
And Miriam is right, Whysp is awesome. We played with them again and stayed
with them in Santa Cruz. Super cool.
G.P.: Has touring brought you together
as a band?
M.G.: It's kind of like a Vulcan mindmeld. When we were on
the road we played each other a lot of our personal cd collections, went to
record stores and picked out things we wanted to show each other. We learned
a lot about each other musically. Wrote some new songs. Learned some new jokes.
Yeah, we're pretty tight now.
J.A.: Yeah tight - like a tiger. There's nothing more exciting
than travelling, performing, and sharing things with your best friend.
G.P.: What makes you most happy?
M.G.: My family.
G.P.: Favorite films?
M.G.: I love food movies -- Tampopo especially. But in general
I'm not a big film buff. I often find the experience to be pretty unrewarding.
I get drawn into some sort of fantasy world and then dumped back into reality
disappointed. Then I have to remember that real life is so much better. Movies
can be so manipulative.
J.A.: I like all kinds. Sometimes goofy hollywood comedies
are just the thing. And I'm into most of all of the "deep experimental
foreign films" that you would expect a hipster to be into.
M.G.: Oh, that reminds me. I did like two movies I saw this
year: The Fast Runner and this other one that I can't remember what it was
called, but it was written and directed by these sisters it was about these
two maids and one got hit by a car.
J.A.: Have you seen Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors? I think
you'd dig it, George. I'm also constantly amazed by people who don't think
Zoolander is funny. Sometimes horror films are cool too - when we were in
Sacramento Brian Faulkner took us to see 28 Days Later. That was cool.