From Alps to Arp

Alexis Georgopoulos has an SF homecoming at the On Land Festival

"There's just something about tape, the way that things can sound far away but also very present."

MUSIC Taking its name from the 1982 final edition in Brian Eno's ambient series, the On Land Festival is in some ways a younger relative of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (as well as a prelude to it). Attuned to grain of sound as much as volume, unlike popular music fests, it isn't as concerned with expansion or unlikely pairings as with the enhanced appreciation that can result when artists with a kinship are brought together. Grouper is back, and this year, Oneohtrix Point Never appears amid online raves and a recent collaboration with Antony Hegarty. On Land also sees the return of former SF resident Alexis Georgopolous, who's had a hand in two excellent 2010 albums, The Alps' spring release Le Voyage (Type) and Arp's brand-new The Soft Wave (Smalltown Supersound). Alps are playing On Land while Arp isn't, but because the Guardian covered Le Voyage earlier this year, the time seemed right to check in with Georgopolous about The Soft Wave.

SFBG There is a more pastoral quality to the music of both The Soft Wave and FRKWYS, Vol. 3, your recent collaboration with Anthony Moore. To me this is interesting because I just got off the phone with a musician and former New Yorker who talked about the lack of nature in New York City in relation to the Bay Area. Arp's music has a strong elemental feel to it, one suggestive of oceans or the cosmos, but this more pastoral atmosphere is new in a way, so I'm wondering about its inspirational sources.

Alexis Georgopolous I like the idea of conjuring the natural world with analog synthesizers. It's true that the current vogue is for ultra-artificial sound. It's become trendy to exploit all the present synth sounds that were off limits, that were just too cheesy. Some good music has come of that opening up of the floodgates — Ariel Pink, Oneohtrix, James Ferraro. But I can't say I know where this zeitgeist is leading. It might not be good.

But though there are some new age gems to be found, I'm not into just anything that purports to be "cosmic" or has a synth on it and happens to be obscure or ignored.

SFBG The Soft Wave was recorded onto two-inch tape. What is it about two-inch tape that attract or appeals to you in terms of the resulting sound?

AG Most of my favorite records were recorded to tape. There's just something about it, the way that things can sound far away but also very present. Now everything is just butted right up against your ears. There's no space between you and the sound. It's just a wall. If you record 16 tracks or less on two-inch, the space on the tape itself creates a spaciousness, a wide angle. If digital gives you a blank space to inform, tape adds its own atmosphere.

SFBG Was it a major step to move vocals to the foreground as you do on Soft Wave's "From a Balcony Overlooking the Sea"? I realize you've sung or used your voice a little before in other projects, but your voice is central to the song, and its arrival occurs within what otherwise is an instrumental recording. It's a bold gesture in that context.

AG It was simply a song that needed to be sung, not just played. It was written at a time when I'd realized the California chapter of my life, significant as it was to me, was over. It was, um, emotional. I'd seen so many friends leave and though I still have many dear, dear friends in San Francisco, it just felt that the time had come and I would be doing something wrong if I chose to ignore it. I had to leave. It sounds desperately corny, but I was literally choking back tears when I did the first take — which we ended up using.

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