an interview in process...
Excerpts from an ongoing interview between me, and my mother:
ACL: What was your vision for this album at the beginning?
SEL: My vision for the album at the beginning was to try and make something that was
really sort of sweeping and sensory and visual—almost like a movie that you would listen to. Something very narrative, with characters, and stories that happen to the characters, so you’d
close your eyes when you were listening and picture a scene that was happening.
ACL: Well, it comes across very much that way, through, all the songs. The songs are different
from each other, but still there is a unity to the entire album. It’s really delightful. I definitely
want to talk about your song writing, but first I’d like to touch on your vocals, your vocal
phrasing. It’s so different from most of the songs in your first album (SuperBleu 2007), and it
has really evolved and matured. It’s very simple, but so elegant.
SEL: Thank you.
ACL: It drives forward when it needs to, hangs back when it’s appropriate to the song. You’ve
developed such a flexible and impressive instrument with your voice. Can you talk about the song
with no words first? “Pesnya”?
SEL: “Pesnya Bez Slov” which translates as, “Song Without Words”.
ACL: It’s amazing to me that without language, basically with nonsense syllables, it can
communicate so much. One thing I loved was that for any listener coming to it, you set the stage
for them to bring their own story. With your inflection, and the way you used your voice, the
emotion came through without any words. Yet it really did tell a story. As I was listening, I
pictured this youthful feminine character who was yearning for intimate connection and it was
eluding her and she almost achieved it, but it kept kind of going wrong. There was a section of
the song where she was just so fatigued, but then, at the end, she picked herself up, and kept
going. That was the story I heard. Can you talk about the making of that song, in all its aspects?
SEL: Sure. I think probably the reason that that story came across to you is because it’s very
close to the story that came across to me when I was listening to the piece that inspired it,
Rachmaninoff’s Allegretto in E flat minor. It’s from his collection called “Moments Musicaux”,
which is where the name of this album comes from.
The first time I listened to that song, I was in my car, and it was autumn, and it was sort of
gray, and it was the mood of autumn: things are starting, but things are also dying, and that’s the story of autumn that comes around every year. And I listened to this Rachmaninoff song and I felt like my heart was falling down a flight of stairs – but beautifully. It wasn’t sad. It was everything happening at once, and I felt from Rachmaninoff—and I should say that I was listening to a recording of Rachmaninoff playing, it wasn’t someone else interpreting his music, it was his playing—and I felt from him that, that piece, which also has no words, was about the story of humans. How we are trying to achieve these grand dreams, and find these grand loves, and do all these things and it’s like (lifts hands up and spreads them out with an inverted sigh – inhaling) Auuch, it’s so beautiful, and then (slumps, exhaling) Auch, you’re back to the end, you know?
And it’s also, you know, he was Russian and he had a lot of tragedies in his life and also a lot of
grand successes, too. I think in all of his work, that comes through, but that song, the Allegretto
in E flat minor is what inspired the arpeggiated section of “Pesnya." I structured very similarly
to the way he structures that section of his piano Allegretto, and I had that story and those emotions in my mind when I was structuring it.
ACL: Well, it’s very interesting to me that something without words can communicate on so
many levels. It conveys that at some times, we human beings are just at a loss for words, we just
don’t have the words.
ACL: And sometimes it’s just like the Tower of Babel, that we’re all speaking, but we can’t
understand each other .
SEL: Sure. Well, a lot of the communication in speech isn’t necessarily from the
words that you’re speaking, with humans. And, you know, with cats and dogs, too. A lot of the
communication is from tone of voice and from prosody, and body posture and facial expressions.
What I was thinking about when you were asking me initially about the song, the lead-in to
your question about phrasing, lyrical phrasing was that my technique with this record—this
whole record—vocally, was to try an amplify the meaning of every verbal statement, of every
word, by taking the meta-things from human speech, inflections and prosody, and thinking of the natural rhythms of speech. If I say, like, oh, “Excuse me,” (lightly, lilting tone) I'm being polite, but if I say, “EXCUSE ME!” (frowning, angry tone) - I'm saying
two different things with the same words.