J.G. Thirlwell’s a man with a lot on his plate, composing soundtrack music for Adult Swim’s latest season of The Venture Brothers and producing Zola Jesus. He’s also performing with his experimental classical ensemble, Manorexia.
To my ears, 2011’s brilliant Manorexia release, Dinoflagellate Blooms is one of the best things Thirlwell has put out under any of the various pseudonyms he’s worked under in his long career. I’m a huge aficionado of 5.1 surround mixes and Dinoflagellate Blooms (which is only available from Thirlwell’s website) is one of the most striking uses of the format I can name. Most often 5.1 mixes are re-mixed versions of classic rock albums tarted up for six speakers, but Dinoflagellate Blooms is one of the rare albums that was mixed especially for the format.
Tractor Beam caught up with Thirlwell after Manorexia’s June 23rd live performance at the River to River festival in New York:
Tractor Beam: During the Manorexia performance, you are at the back of the stage working from a laptop. As Tom Waits might ask – what are you building back there?
J.G. Thirlwell: Most of my compositions are on the page (i.e. the score) and I re-voice them for the instrumentation. The pieces have a bedrock of sounds from the laptop and some contain one or two events (e.g. samples). On two of the pieces, we are using the laptop as a keyboard module (e.g. an organ sound), or a bass. On one piece I am using a Max MSP Patch and I have signals from all four strings running into the computer; into four different channels. I am processing the strings live (i.e. adding plug-ins, delays, filters, etc…) as well as triggering samples and changing (sound) levels.
Tractor Beam: Experimental music – as an identifier – can leave me baffled and frustrated. What is Manorexia?
J.G. Thirlwell: Manorexia as a recording project is something unto its own and the pieces take on a different but parallel life when performed by the chamber ensemble. One of the pieces we perform, “Anabiosis,” started life as a commission for Bang On A Can; so it was voiced for clarinet, cello, contrabass, percussion, piano and guitar. A symphonic version ended up on the last Manorexia album, which was then re-voiced again for our live performances. Another one started life as a Foetus piece. There are elements are probably informed by contemporary classical music and soundtrack music.
Gravitation Generator: JG Thirlwell Talks Manorexia, John Peel and Analogue Synths (Tractor Beam)
Below, Thirlwell’s Manorexia ensemble perform “Tubercular Bells” and “Anabiosis” live at Roadburn on April 13, 2012: