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Sam Shepherd is walking to his Islington studio when he picks up my call at 2pm. He tries to guess what time it is, and while he prattles through different hours of the early afternoon, he explains he's stressed by the task of writing string parts for a rehearsal five days later. "I'm not bad at it, I just get bored writing the parts. That's why I always leave it until the last minute," he says, before calling himself "bone idle" as he curses his procrastination and nervous state. He politely asks if he can get a sandwich while we're talking (I oblige) as he's not eaten all day, and I can hear traffic in the background as he rushes to box off each task his unscheduled lunch break offers.
Evidently, our brief conversation reveals how precious Shepherd's time is as he readies the release of his debut album 'Elaenia' under the Floating Points name. Over six years in the making, and previewed by the elegiac, 11-minute epic Silhouettes (I, II, & III), 'Elaenia' takes on the free impressionism found in post-modal jazz, with a root in Shepherd's unmistakable brand of electronica. Far removed from the spectrum of techno and house music that his club performances induce, it is a visible, and disciplined seven-track movement made for deep mental involvement, and flow into each other like the seven seas. Recorded intermittently while he completed a P.H.D, Shepherd believes it is a "continuation" of his 2012 EP 'Shadows'. Case in point: the limpid Rhodes keyboard progression heard on album opener Nespole are a close descendent of Myrtle Avenue, and both releases benefit from volume to amplify the nuanced strokes of instruments. In most cases on 'Elaenia', an interval rather than a drop becomes a melody: the arpeggiated synths on the title-track sounds as though it could have been on 'Sextant' if Herbie Hancock had the equipment in 1973. Conforming to very few structural precedents, across it's 43 minutes, 'Elaenia' earns its environment and unfolds to be more than the sum of its sounds.
If you contrast this picture of austerity with the resonances of 'Elaenia' – and the fact it took this long for him to release a full-length – then you will find there is something incongruous with the view. The attention to detail paid toward's the environment's space and time – and its influence – runs parallel to the initial boundaries that Shepherd conceived 'Elaenia.' For all the spatial awareness that Shepherd holds, his expression of musical structures is always controlled, even if his daily routine isn't. Much of this ordering rests in the musical touchstones he regards so highly: they're not found in the shadows of the club, but in the intricate rhythms of obscure records or the primitive lifeforms you can find in a pond. Through the terrain of the album, the bleeps, and fidgety melodies often don't develop into something comprehensive, rather, they promise life in a more fertile ground. Crowned by the crescendo fuelled Peroration Six, 'Elaenia' measures like the evolution of a tadpole to a frog; it hints at bigger things to come.
What challenges have you faced performing with an ensemble, say compared to playing alone or in a DJ set?
Floating Points: "The latest is adjusting to in-ear monitors that I never used before, but the biggest challenge is just having confidence in the music. I'll write the music and see it as a score, but then the problem is that I have a rule in the studio that dictates that I don't listen back. It is such a sad picture and representation of how it will later sound, so it isn't fair to me to listen again. I just have to imagine it, and the challenge is that it cooks my brain. It's always much better when people are playing it live than on paper."
If people mostly associate you with club music, do you think people will be surprised hearing the album?
Floating Points: "If people only know something like Vacuum Boogie, they will be surprised. But if you take in all my work, then I don't think it will be. 'Shadows' for example, I feel like 'Elaenia' is a continuation of that EP, which for me is similar in its depth and richness. I still consider it an electronic record but the addition of instruments associated with the rock world. I don't consider it a dance record, a rock record; I view it as an electronic record or an alternative record."
Where you aware of the association when recording 'Elaenia'?
Floating Points: "Yes, of course. Sometimes I go to clubs, and people think I'm going to play my music! I imagine those people will be grossly offended by this record [laughs]. What can I do, though? I can only make the music I want to; the sound manifests itself."
I don't think anyone will be grossly offended by it.
Floating Points: "I hope not!"
Do you think there is still a dichotomy between classically trained composition and the electronic form or is that a boundary that is breaking down?
Floating Points: "I'm not aware of one. The thing with classical music is that it just takes up more space, so it limits the venue that one can perform in. It's about narrowing the gap between the two convincingly because they are unified. I'd like to see more of it in clubs because we see more techno played in concert halls."
Did you have anything in mind conceptually or any reference points when composing 'Elaenia'?
Floating Points: "Not really, but some records are important to me. Talk Talk's 'Laughing Stock', for example."
I read that was a big influence on the album.
Floating Points: "There's a difference between influence and reference. A reference is something that I am trying to achieve sonically or musically, but the influence is something that has sunk into me and affected me subconsciously. There is influence from 'Laughing Stock' because I've listened to it for years.
What can people identify on 'Laughing Stock' that people will be able to notice?
Floating Points: "Dynamics. It's delicate and intrepid: it crawls along and is scared of doing the next part of its improvisation. 'Laughing Stock' does that in a way that sounds confident and delicate at the same time. You can hear the freedom in that record."
Each time I listen to the album, there's a new part that you can pick out, usually depending on the way you listen to it. Do you think a lot about how people are going to listen to your music?
Floating Points: "Definitely. There's another journalist who also said that I use space as a sound in itself, which I thought was quite nice. I like it when people pick up on that in my work. I'm always trying to build a room bigger than the space within.
I don't know how to do it, but I've had my studio for two years now which has given me time to experiment. I spend all my time experimenting with recording techniques. I don't have any formal training in recording. I have a lot of tape machines, and a great deal of Elaenia was recorded on a 24-track. I'd have that running at all times. I have no time constraints, so I can treat every instrument with care.
When they come together, they sound as though they have their place in the room, but they're unified – that's my aim. On the last track [Peroration Six], it becomes chaotic but you can still hear the bass drums, the strings, the Rhodes piano, the guitar – everything is going on, and that's taken years of experimentation."
It sounds like a life cycle, a form of impressionism that is always evolving.
Floating Points: "This is gonna sound a bit hippy, but I like the idea that you have nothing at the start. Then you build the room, and then paint the walls, hang a painting on the wall. Then, you put the room in a building; you put that building in a town, and you build the town next to a city, and finally you've created the world, and then the universe.
Throughout the whole record, more and more is being added to that world. There's a sonic world where everything is made sense of only when it is together. At the end of the record, the whole world implodes on itself and falls into a black hole. I feel the same way about DJing: you build the room with music that you want to exist in. I see music as a way of exploring space in the literal sense and a temporal and spatial sense."
So that's how the two disciplines of Floating Points combine I guess.
Floating Points: "Now we're getting into neurogenetics. I don't want to get into that and lose you [laughs]."
Floating Points' deut album 'Elaenia' is out November 6th on Pluto (pre-order).