Known primarily for his haunting falsetto and other-worldly presence as the singer in Sigur Rós, Jon Thor (Jónsi) Birgisson has – together with his partner Alex Somers – been exhibiting artwork and staging exhibitions under the name Riceboy Sleeps for two or three years now. A couple of months back the early fruits of the musical side of this collaboration surfaced in physical form for the first time, with the track ‘Happiness’, on the exemplary ‘Dark Was The Night’ Red Hot compilation.
Among such company as Antony Hegarty, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens and many more high and mighty names besides, it says something that Jónsi & Alex’s sparse and haunting instrumental contribution was picked out by many people who-ought-to-know as the apex of the record – especially given that the track was neither finished nor mastered when the deadline came around.
Now, however, the full-length ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ album (the name having migrated from artist moniker to album title) is finished and ready for release. And, as with ‘Happiness’, it is set to subtly redefine expectations of slow and elegiac instrumental music in 2009.
‘Riceboy Sleeps’ is human in a profound and verging-on spiritual way. It says nothing, literally, and yet living through its 68-minutes you emerge feeling much has been revealed. Its slowly evolving abstract landscapes are both edifying and life-affirming. The record works as a whole, and exists in a contemplative dream-state, unconstrained and mesmeric, seemingly outside time.
The record, however, is more active than its apparent antecedents in the ambient output of Brian Eno, and other deliberately low-impact works. ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ is awash with both tension and stimuli, as well as being frequently, and stunningly, beautiful. A piece like ‘Daniell In the Sea’ feels as natural as breathing, or more precisely like being able to breath fresh air after a long period spent in stagnant confinement. In fact both ‘Daniell…’ and ‘Sleeping Giant’ appear to feature actual breathing, albeit through some kind of underwater respirator.
This filtering function of making the world seem at once alien and as-new, is perhaps the strongest sensations to be derived from listening to ‘Riceboy Sleeps’. Jónsi & Alex’s artwork has always been intoxicated with the notion of innocence (as in many ways is his work in Sigur Ros, although the only musical comparisons here would be with the band’s most blissed-out atmospheric songs), so it is perhaps not surprising that this washed-clean sensation should ring clear from this startling record.
Played solely on acoustic instruments in Iceland (and featuring long-time string collaborators Amiina, as well as the Kopavogsdaetur choir) and then endlessly toyed with on solar-powered laptops in a raw food commune in some far corner of Hawaii, ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ has a suitably, uh, “organic feel” to it; the wave-like lapping of its tidal flow buried beneath analogue hiss, crackle, pulse and distortion; the creaking of rigging and sometime indeterminate falling delicately over; and, on ‘Howl’, ruminative animal chirrups, grunts, snorts and purrs.
Sometimes it feels like a record coming back at you across the seas of time, with ancient Washington Phillips-style tumbling musical figures and stumbling crescendos as slow as a sunrise, or a weightless mantra-like choir singing from somewhere in the Middle Ages down the centuries.
Jónsi and Alex – “Riceboy Sleeps” is set for release on EMI on July 20th and XL July 21st.
Robert Ames is at the forefront of a new generation of musicians questioning the conventions and rituals surrounding classical music. He is Co-Artistic Director and Conductor of the London Contemporary Orchestra and is also well known as an innovative programme curator. Robert has led the LCO in sell out concerts at The Printworks and Oval Space in East London, the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican Centre, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and BBC Proms at the Tate Modern and Royal Albert Hall.
Recent and upcoming conducting engagements include the BBC Concert Orchestra, L’Orchestre National De Lyon, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Moscow New Music Ensemble, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, Aarhaus Symphony Orchestra, Kazakhstan State Symphony, Belarusian State Symphony, Symphony Orchestra of India, Wordless Symphony Orchestra, City of London Sinfonietta and The Manchester Camerata.
Robert has worked closely with many leading figures in new music, including Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Bryce Dessner, Mica Levi, Nico Mulhy, Richard Reed Parry, Terry Riley, Anna Meredith and Steve Reich. He is also passionate about championing music from the leading composers of his own generation, premiering works by Shiva Feshareki, Claire M Singer, Emilie Levenaise Farroush, Catherine Lamb and Edmund Finnis amongst others. He has also collaborated with a variety of artists in other fields including fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, architect-designer Ron Arad and Sculptor Conrad Shawcross. Recent forays and collaborations have also taken him into the world of pop working with artists such Actress, DJ Shadow, Jonny Greenwood, Thom Yorke, Jamie XX and Frank Ocean.
His work has encompassed a number of film projects, as conductor, orchestrator and producer. These include the soundtracks for Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb (Oscar nomination 2014), John Maclean’s Slow West (Sundance Film festival 2015), Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant (2017) Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (Oscar nomination 2018) and Alma Har’el’s Honeyboy (Sundance Film Festival 2019)
In 2018 he conducted live performances of the Phantom Thread soundtrack at screenings of the film in Rotterdam as part of the Rotterdam Film Festival and gave the film’s European premiere at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Upcoming projects include Robert’s third appearance at the BBC Proms in three years, a performance of Philip Glass’s Bowie Symphony Trilogy at the Royal Festival Hall, a world tour of Jónsi and Alex Somers Cult ambient album ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ a world premier new orchestration of William Basinski’s iconic Disintegration Loops and a performance of a new collaboration with electronic artist Actress at the Holland festival.
“New music presented with style rather than po-faced seriousness…performed with such devoted care.” – The Telegraph
BOTH THE WORK AND THE LIFE OF COMPOSER AND VIOLINIST DAVID HANDLER ARE DISTINGUISHED BY STRIKING DUALITIES.
His life followed the traditional path of the classical musician, marked by rigorous training and conservatory studies in violin and composition, before he decided to pursue a riskier, more entrepreneurial approach to music. He became a creative disruptor, co-founding (Le) Poisson Rouge (LPR), a boundary-breaking venue in New York, NY that has opened doors for his fellow performers and connected audiences with unheard music. As a composer, Handler has collaborated with leading classical performers and popular artists alike, and has received premieres and commissions from Central Park’s Naumburg Orchestral Concerts, BAM and Lincoln Center.
In Handler’s earliest memories of music — his parents’ record collection and car radio — he could always identify and focus on the violin, no matter the arrangement. Concerned about the pressure of performance training at a young age but unable to ignore his uncanny ear, Handler’s parents sent him for violin lessons at the age of three. He attended the Professional Children’s School where he introduced his fellow students and friends to classical music by connecting it to other genres — Stravinsky for metalheads, French Impressionists for jazzers, minimalists for club kids — before enrolling at the Manhattan School of Music where he earned a bachelor’s degree, studying violin and viola performance, composition and conducting.
Handler composes acoustic and electronic music that has been described by The New York Times as “eerie and superbly wrought…exploring polarities of light and dark, the sacred and the profane.” His beautifully broken sound juxtaposes seemingly dissonant elements: the acoustic with the electronic (“Lullaby for Piano and Electronics”) and the soothingly pastoral with the strikingly percussive (“Sun-Bled Sky”). For Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival he was commissioned to create an arrangement for orchestra and voice of Riceboy Sleeps, an album-length ambient electronic piece, written and performed on disc by Sigur Rós vocalist Jón Pór “Jónsi” Birgisson and his partner Alex Somers. Handler succeeded brilliantly in reimagining this “bedroom recording” work for a major public performance, enhancing its depth and beauty. Similarly, on his own “Smile,” Handler deconstructs the classic Charlie Chaplin tune into something more portentous and broken in feel; the piece finds hopeful snatches of the familiar melody rising to the disquieting surface.
In 2007, disillusioned with the conservatory setting — and recognizing the art world’s need for popularity and nightlife’s need for substance — Handler founded LPR with Justin Kantor, a former conservatory classmate. The basement space occupies the prior site of venerable Bleecker Street jazz club The Village Gate. The venue has been credited with reviving the symbiotic relationship between art and revelry, reinvigorating the musical landscape for a wide variety of artists and audiences. Among many iconic artists and emerging talents, LPR has hosted performances by Thom Yorke, Paul Simon, Yo-Yo Ma, Lady Gaga, Iggy Pop, Lorde, Beck and Philip Glass.
Handler believed that packaging, more than content, had dissociated younger listeners from the arts, and from classical music specifically, so with LPR he revived the concept of the salon, a traditional but often forgotten environment for classical music that strips away pretension for a more intimate connection between artist and listener. The New Yorker has described Handler as the “Ian Schrager of the music scene” while The New York Times has called LPR a “forward-thinking venue that seeks to showcase disparate music styles under one roof” and the “coolest place to hear contemporary music.” The Los Angeles Times has said of LPR, the “place isn’t merely cool… the venue is a downright musical marvel.”
LPR programming has expanded to include LPR Presents, a trailblazing booking and promotion company that has presented unique and unforgettable live performances at a wide range of venues across New York City, including Union Pool, C’mon Everybody, Knockdown Center, The Town Hall, Brooklyn Masonic Temple, Prospect Park Bandshell, The Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Beacon Theatre and Apollo Theater.
Handler is the Founding Artistic and Executive Director of Ensemble LPR, an orchestral collective that varies in size from string quartet to symphony orchestra and personifies the venue's commitment to aesthetic diversity and artistic excellence. The group has worked with esteemed classical musicians, conductors and composers, including Lara St. John, Simone Dinnerstein, Jennifer Koh, Daniel Hope, André de Ridder, Christopher Rountree and Max Richter, as well as prominent artists from non-classical backgrounds such as Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), David Longstreth (Dirty Projectors), Bryce Dessner (The National), Oscar-nominated composer Mica Levi, John Lurie and San Fermin.
Handler is the creator and host of the online radio show “Music to Live By” and has spoken on the subject of creativity and entrepreneurship at The North American Critics Alliance at Lincoln Center, University of Missouri – Kansas City, New York University, Syracuse University, Hunter College, The New School and The Manhattan School of Music. Handler joins Philip Glass, Nico Muhly, and Rufus Wainwright on the roster of St Rose management.
Ten years on, LPR continues to thrive and Handler’s own artistry has been deepened by his role as a creative disruptor, the doors he has opened for fellow performances, and the unheard music he has introduced to audiences. As Handler returns full-time to his work as a composer, it’s clear that his best is yet to come.
Handler is a citizen of the United States and Ireland, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and children.
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