We don't play songs. We play albums.
Björk released her masterpiece Homogenic in 1997. Since then, artists of every conceivable genre have mined these ten songs, revisiting and reinterpreting them innumerable times. So the idea of reworking Björk’s music is nothing new. But what of presenting a version of Homogenic as Björk herself presented it — as a singular, glorious, 45-minute entity — but on an entirely different set of instruments, with all the changes that demands?
We are Wooden Elephant. We present electronic-based music of elephantine proportions on nothing but our little wooden instruments.
Wooden Elephant violist/composer Ian Anderson worked with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood as part of the London Contemporary Orchestra, culminating in a tour across Europe and Russia with Jonny’s string music, and appearing on Radiohead’s latest album A Moon Shaped Pool. Along the way Jonny - along with LCO directors Rob Ames and Hugh Brunt - continually experimented with sound production techniques, and his whole approach to music creation has had a massive influence on these Wooden Elephant projects. We have incorporated many of those ideas that he explored with the London Contemporary Orchestra, as well as adding many more of our own that we developed during the Homogenic, Kid A, and Lemonade sessions.
The challenge of translating electronic sounds onto acoustic instruments has been particularly fascinating, and we have used many extended strings techniques as well as an array of trinkets, children's toys, and small instruments to create yet more intriguing sounds.
We don't play songs. We play albums. Sadly, in these modern times, too many of us have abandoned the art of listening to full albums. We appreciate the masters of the 3-to-5-minute song, but what we lose in our bite-sized modern lives is the appreciation for their utter command of long-form art.
So join us for our alternative journeys through classic electronica. Completely acoustic, completely other, but also completely faithful to those musical beasts we reimagine.
ORIGINS: classical vs. Pop
The classical music world and the pop world (to use two very inadequate labels) come from two very different philosophies. In classical music, live performance is king, with recordings coming a distant second; in pop music, the album/record rules. In classical music, the composer writes a set of instructions for others to perform, and the composer rarely - if at all - performs their own music (or any music at all, for that matter). In pop music, artists record their own music, releasing perfected, parcelled, physical* versions of their songs, for others to consume in their never-changing forms. (Even if a pop artist does not write their own material, in the public consciousness it is still their music.) Both philosophies have their attractions.
The pop philosophy is attractive in the sense that what you listen to is recorded perfection. On the best records, the artist has sweated in the studio to present their exact vision, every sound and millisecond considered, executed, and mixed with devastating meticulousness. But this is also the pop world's limitation, in the sense that there is only one definitive version of each song, each cover by a different artist being thought of as exactly that - a cover. A 2-dimensional skin that you glance at before (re)turning to the real meat inside.
The default classical format of live performance has, in its core, the element of human error, and of the possibility of the listener's wild disagreement with the performer's interpretation, even if it one of their favourite pieces of music. But that is also the joy of the classical model. In this sense, classical music is constantly resurrecting and reimagining itself - it is alive. It lives and develops and changes as each new performer interprets the dots and lines on the page. With the best performers - the truly world class performers - the audience has the joy of experiencing not only one, but two great minds at work - the composer and the interpreter. And at that moment of performance, those two forces are equal - neither can live without the other. And in that sense it is far more varied and exciting and alive than the single-minded, never-altering, record-worshiping pop world (which of course we adore too).
We at Wooden Elephant wanted to take some of these pop masterpieces, and remove them from the world of never-ending comparisons to their Platonic blueprint. We want to take this wonderful music and present it to the world not as a pale imitation of its parent-record, but as a standalone piece of art that can be performed live as a standalone piece of art. Despite its many faults, this is what the classical world does so brilliantly: artists interpreting artists as equals.
But ultimately, despite all this talk of differences, all we’re really trying to do is show that music is music. It doesn’t matter if it’s pop, funk, classical, electronic, folk, jazz, or anything and everything in-between. If it's written and performed with love, then it will be glorious.
*admittedly this physical aspect of pop music is changing. Maybe the digitisation of music will change the almost religious way we worship seminal pop albums.
WITH THANKS TO...
Greg Lawson and his cross-genre GRIT Orchestra for realising Martyn Bennett's 'Celtic-fusion' album GRIT for Glasgow's Celtic Connections in 2015. It was immense.
The London Contemporary Orchestra for innumerable innovative, captivating, and inspiring projects in always the most awesome of venues.
Yoel Gamzou and IMOGEN for commissioning a version of Jóga for string quartet back in 2015 and setting the whole idea in motion. Performed by IMOGEN in Berlin, May 2016: Lynda O Connor and Diana Lewtak (violins), Ian Anderson (viola) and Stefan Hadjiev (cello).
Steven Walter and PODIUM Festival Esslingen for bringing the Elephants together from across Europe, and for making Homogenic and Kid A happen.
Matthias Heuermann and form-art.tv for documenting and creating such wonderful films of our Homogenic performance.