Premiere: Julia Kent - 'Character' [album stream] Listen to the Canadian composer’s remarkable cello and found sound album for The Leaf Label.
Vancouver-born, New York-based cellist Julia Kent started her musical career in experimental cello group Rasputina in the 90s before going on to work and tour with Antony and the Johnsons. Having previously released two solo albums – ‘Delay’  and ‘Green and Grey’  – she has now found a home on Yorkshire indie The Leaf Label. It’s a context that suits her, striking up conversations with the searching works of Polar Bear’s Sebastian Rochford and the steely shadows of Sweden’s Roll The Dice (who we interviewed here). An urge to bridge worlds has always underpinned Kent’s work, and often involved her disrupting the structures of her classical background by incorporating found sound into her compositions. ‘Character’, which we are thrilled to premiere in full today, is her third solo album and first for Leaf. It’s a deeply intimate record, one that maps the flux and flow of our inner world and, at points, invokes life’s chaos in order to provide shelter in the calm at its core. Listen here, and find out more about the making of album in the short interview below.
The album’s notion that we are all characters in our own narratives makes ever-increasing sense in our media-drenched realities. It is a feeling that is, of course, enhanced dramatically by listening to music: the world around us takes on different shapes and meaning through its veil. Were there any specific experiences that led to the album’s concept?
“‘Character’ is an exploration of an inner geography; a sort of personal chart.” Julia Kent
Julia Kent: “Music for me definitely is a way of shaping both the world around me and my own internal narrative. As you say, these days we are completely bombarded with superficial information and with the illusion of infinite choice, and music is so important as a way of focusing on what is relevant and emotionally true. ‘Character’ is very much an inward-looking record; with my previous solo records, I felt more inspired by external atmospheres—airports for ‘Delay’ and the natural world for ‘Green and Grey’—but ‘Character’, on the other hand, is an exploration of an inner geography; a sort of personal chart.”
I love the incorporation of found sound into your composition – although they’re more hidden on ‘Character’, they provide a visceral landscape. How do you approach composing with found sound? Do you have a library of found sounds you experiment with or are they conceived in the moment?
Julia Kent: “A lot of the sounds I use truly are “found,” in the sense of being discovered—it’s a pretty spontaneous and experimental process for me! Sometimes I am trying to recreate some kind of serendipitous accident that happened while I was looping, where an accidental sound, once repeated, became integral to how the music developed. For ‘Character’ I used a lot of unexpected sound sources that I then transformed through processing, trying to retain something of their character while simultaneously making them hard to identify.”
What drew you to the cello originally and what continues to bind you to it as your primary instrument?
Julia Kent: “I have played cello since I was very young; I studied classically, and then fled that world and never looked back! I love the cello because it is capable of making such a wide range of sounds, and because, for me, it feels like my voice. And I’m continually inspired by all the musicians who have used the cello in not necessarily traditional, but incredibly expressive ways: people like Tom Cora, and Ernst Reijseger, and, of course, Arthur Russell.”
Do you have any rituals or practices that you’ve found guide your creative process when working alone?
“Working with technology can be frustrating: some of my rituals involve invoking the obscure gods who apparently govern the correct functioning of Pro Tools.” Julia Kent
Julia Kent: “I find working at home, alone, very freeing; it feels very intimate, and I think it allows me to express myself in the most direct and personal way I can. And, after having spent quite a lot of my musical career in studios, being recorded by other people, it’s been incredibly empowering to learn about, and take control of, the recording process. But, of course, working with technology can be frustrating: some of my rituals involve invoking the obscure gods who apparently govern the correct functioning of Pro Tools and, when that fails, quite a lot of cursing.”
Outside of sound, what else feeds into the shaping of your music?
Julia Kent: I think all of my life goes into my music; I feel lucky to have that kind of outlet for it. And of course I am constantly influenced by the sounds that surround me. I travel alone a lot, and that isolation really makes me conscious of whatever sound environment I’m in.
Did your home of New York find its way into this album in any way?
Julia Kent: “For sure, the energy of New York City is always present in whatever I do, even when what I am doing is attempting to block it out. I’ve never actually experienced what it might be like to live in the middle of the countryside and make music in total isolation and silence. It sounds…peaceful? But I find living in New York City incredibly stimulating, creatively, even when it’s exhausting. It’s an interesting struggle.”
What new creative projects do you have on the horizon?
Julia Kent: “I’m very excited to be talking with a few musicians I admire enormously about the possibility of collaborating. I am about to start working on a score for a very compelling documentary film, and I am discussing collaborations with choreographers in New York and Europe, and with a theatre company in Australia. I am very interested in working in theatre and dance and film: it’s always a fascinating collaborative process.”