Relix DECEMBER 29, 2011 - by Sam Davis


...with Mike Gordon, Larry Campbell and Itsnotyouitsme

The New York Guitar Festival was founded in 1999 by musician/producer David Spelman. The event will run from January 6-29 at a variety of area venues. Opening night is a free performance at the World Financial Center's Winter Garden. There "The Apollo Project" will mark the thirtieth anniversary of Brian Eno's Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks with a live "re-imagining" of the recording featuring Mike Gordon, Larry Campbell, Itsnotyouitsme, Noveller and Tortoise's Jeff Parker. Here Spelman discusses that event and the festival as a whole.

Where did the idea for this project originate? What inspired you to choose Brian Eno's Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks?

This year I've been working as a music supervisor with the director Craig Teper, coming up with soundtrack ideas for his next film, Man In The Right Seat. We last worked together on a documentary about Vidal Sassoon. This current film project is about the Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell and, in particular, his epiphany on the return flight from his moonwalk. I was really very moved by Craig's interviews with Dr. Mitchell, who described how the experience bridged the gap for him between scientific exploration and mystical experience, and altered the course of his life.

Craig is a walking NASA encyclopaedia, and he told me that the astronauts took cassettes of music by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard on their trip to the moon, which influenced Brian Eno to use steel guitar on his score for Al Reinhardt's film For All Mankind.

The New York Guitar Festival's opening night concert has traditionally taken place in the World Financial Center's Winter Garden. The venue is a huge, open space with high ceilings and lots of marble and glass. Because of these reflective surfaces, the venue works better for minimalist, atmospheric music than for rock bands or other loud ensembles with percussion.

When Craig mentioned that Brian Eno's Apollo was approaching its thirtieth anniversary, we thought about commissioning a group of innovative guitarists and other instrumentalists to re-arrange and perform Apollo, using it as a springboard for sonic explorations and improvisation.

Can you tell us a bit about the New York Guitar Festival and its history?

The Festival is something I launched in 1999 with WYNC radio host and author John Schaefer. It's been a laboratory for risk-taking exploration of the guitar's character. Over the years we've commissioned many new works and supported innovative collaborations from a broad spectrum of today's outstanding rock, jazz, blues, classical and experimental guitarists.

Our events have taken place in Carnegie Hall and the 92nd Street Y, and intimate nightclubs like Joe's Pub and Le Poisson Rouge. The hundreds of artists we've presented have included: Andy Summers, Daniel Lanois, Jorma Kaukonen, Bill Frisell, Sonny Landreth, Cindy Cashdollar, Taj Mahal, Leo Kottke, Kaki King, Bryce Dessner (The National), and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) as well as surprise guests like Bruce Springsteen, Levon Helm, and Emmylou Harris.

How did Larry Campbell become involved as band leader? Was it his relationship with Mike Gordon that led to the latter's involvement?

I've known Larry for a number of years and we've collaborated on quite a few NYGF events and recording projects. While Brian Eno's music is not what Larry is known for, he's an astonishingly versatile musician and very open-minded.

This will be the first time I've worked with Mike Gordon. It's kinda funny, and perhaps a little embarrassing that I've never seen Phish perform. I have, however, seen Mike play with Leo Kottke, and in some impromptu jam sessions in downtown New York City clubs.

I was having a conversation with Mike's manager at Red Light about another project and mentioned The Apollo Project to him. He suggested that Mike might be into the idea, and that he'd be in town for the Phish run at Madison Square Garden. Larry Campbell loved the idea, as did the guys in Itsnotyoutitsme. One thing led to another, and Mike was quickly on board.

How did you discover the Brooklyn ambient ensemble Itsnotyouitsme?

It's possible I may have first started hearing about Itsnotyouitsme through Bryce Dessner of Clogs and The National. Bryce lives in Brooklyn and is super tuned-in to what's going on in the experimental music scene. Their first two albums, Walled Gardens and Fallen Monuments, really grabbed me.

I think it was Conrad Harris, a violinist in the Flux Quartet, and his wife Pauline Kim (also an exceptional violinist) who actually introduced me to Caleb Burhans though. I'm pretty sure it was in a Greenwich Village pub called Wilfie & Nell. Numerous barstool meetings with Caleb followed, and when I suggested The Apollo Project, he got the idea right away.

Will the arrangements be performed as they are on the record, or will there be room for interpretation of any sort?

While the guys know the album in great depth and could perform it note for note, my aim was always for them to filter the material through their own creativity and build a sonic platform for them and the other musical guests to improvise.

Has the rehearsal process begun, and if so, how is it coming along?

Itsnotyoutitsme had been working for a number of weeks as a duo with this material, but December 13 was the first day they began rehearsing with Larry Campbell. That rehearsal took place in Grey McMurray's Brooklyn apartment, and Larry drove in from Woodstock, where he and his wife have a home. Further rehearsals will take place with the other artists in a larger Manhattan rehearsal studio starting on January 2.

On January 4 the group will perform part of Apollo in the WNYC radio studios, and the recording along with interviews with the artists will air the following night at 11pm on John Schaefer's New Sounds program.

In what way will Craig Teper's documentary, Man In The Right Seat, be displayed?

Craig will be working with VJ software and HD projectors to show what we're calling Apollo: Projections And Abstractions. The goal of this film is to marry Edgar Mitchell's observations and experiences with archival footage, manipulated to evoke the depth, majesty and mystery of Eno's compositions.

Have Brian or Daniel Lanois said anything this or have they been a part of the project at all?

They haven't been involved up to this point, but we've invited them both and will certainly be saving seats for them.