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INTERVIEW: Pep Llopis
Christian Eede , July 26th, 2017 13:38

Following the reissue last month of Pep Llopis' grand, new age 1987 debut by the Freedom To Spend label, we dig into the record's history with words from Pep himself as well as Freedom To Spend's Pete Swanson

Freedom To Spend is the recently launched reissue label from Pete Swanson and Jed Bindeman, re-established earlier this year as a sub-label of New York-based label RVNG Intl.

Following a brief run in the late '00s, the label is now devoted to pressing out-of-print records - and often ones that are fetching sizeable figures on the resale market - that Swanson, Bindeman and RVNG Intl.'s Matt Werth all take a liking to, so far shining a light on Michele Mercure's peculiar synth experimentations on Eye Chant and Marc Barecca's industrial abstractions on Music Works For Industry, originally released in 1983.

For their third release, they look to the Spanish new age scene of the 1980s, and particularly the Grabaciones Accidentales label, which yielded vast amounts of stunning, expansive music across the decade.

Poiemusia La Nau Dels Argonautes came about primarily after Llopis spent some time exploring the islands of the Mediterranean, with the time allowing him to tap into a new area of creativity following the break up of his prog band Cotó-En-Pèl. With Llopis setting out on creating the five pieces that make up the album, he took further inspiration from a poem by Salvador Jàfer called La nau dels Argonautes, having been commissioned to soundtrack a gig based on the poem. The show premiered at the Princesa Theatre in Valencia on 1986 and the record's release followed one year later via Grabaciones Accidentales.

Drawing comparisons with Tangerine Dream, Wendy Carlos and Manuel Göttsching's E2-E4, though noting the record's decidedly Mediterranean slant, Ben Cardew described the album as "a paradise of soft edges and sun, comforting like a new towel or freshly-made bed," in his review for tQ.

We decided to dig a little deeper into its background, catching up with Pep Llopis to discuss its origins, legacy and new lease of life on Freedom To Spend, as well as Pete Swanson who told us about his personal relationship with the record.

Could you tell us about the background of this record with it being specially written for a gig about Salvador Jàfer's poem? Were you commissioned by somebody else to put the record together for that performance?

Pep Llopis: The original idea came from Josep Pérez Montaner (a cultural thinker of the time) who put Salvador Jàfer in contact with myself. He knew the work of both of us and he thought we could make a good connection. His idea was to combine poetry and music and establish a creative relationship between the two disciplines. The project consisted of a series of three concerts which would also include [Spanish multi-disciplinary musician] Carles Santos and [Belgian composer] Wim Mertens.

From the beginning I thought it was an excellent idea, but I also thought I wouldn’t like to do something that was already as conforming as singing poems, or reciting them over background music. In fact the term ‘Poiemusia’, which ended up defining both the concert series and the concert itself, was a clear fusion between both languages. I saw that there was an opportunity to try to relate music and poetry in a personal and, in my opinion, innovative way.

After many months of work and rehearsals, in 1986 we performed a concert with music and poems intimately related and infused mutually with peculiar rhythms. The rhythm of the words influenced the rhythm of the music and vice versa.

The reception from the public was spectacular. The following year the project got institutional backing from the Department of Culture, Education and Science of the Generalitat Valenciana, for the recording of an album, and thus the record was born.

How did Jàfer's poem affect you and the music you created in response?

PL: I read the poems continuously many times at first to familiarise myself with their content and their metrics. There were several aspects that caught my attention and that influenced me later. There was an intensity in the emotions contained in the verses; a passionate global feeling that emerged from them. Evocation, longing, memory, desire for recovery, growth and innovation. And perhaps something decisive: a sense of navigation.

Some of the phrases were repeated not only in their time, but they appeared as a bond of union in other parts, in other subjects. That repetitive character led me to compose certain music: emotions reflected in repetition with full intensity like the verses of Jàfer. In fact it was the poems that drove the birth of each one of the parts. Without them this music would have been really different.

It’s said that things happen at certain times when one is open and receptive. At that time, Jàfer's poems stimulated in me the appearance of music that was latent, waiting for someone or something to wake them up.

Steve Reich and La Monte Young were some of your influences. What was it about their work that you liked so much and did they influence the way you worked or how you wrote music?

PL: What I valued most in La Monte Young’s work was the impulse and its personal way of pushing the concept of minimalism. ‘The Well Tuned Piano’ was one of the pieces that most caught my attention. His influence was in how he sought the internal resonances of small interventions and in an insistent and repetitive way, as well as his way of building a sound world on a monochrome background.

As for Reich, the clearest reference on my album is Music For 18 Musicians. But I'm really interested in many of the things he raised at the time and has continued to create. From Music Pendulum or Six Pianos to Different Trains, his proposals have changed the concept of contemporary musical composition. I could name many of his works, but what I get from him is his great creative richness, his open mind and his adaptability.

I also heard proposals from Terry Riley and Philip Glass, because it is clear that as soon as their first works appeared, a very innovative and suggestive window was opened for any composer who wanted to walk new paths. However, there was no recurring situation regarding the composition of these pieces. At no point did I consider working on this album while thinking of a pre-existing piece, because, as I have already mentioned, the inspiration came mostly from the poems of Jàfer.

When were you first approached for this reissue and what was your immediate reaction to the idea of reissuing the record?

PL: The first email that came to me was in May 2015. Pete Swanson wrote me a succinct text telling me of his interest in the album and asking me if I had any interest in reissuing it in the US. My first response was of surprise. It’s true that at that time I was aware of new interest in my work because several people had contacted me asking me to reprint it as many years had passed since the first edition. I thought about it a little and it was a curious and interesting idea.

This is how I answered his message: 'Dear Pete, thanks for your interest in my music. I think your proposal is a good idea. If you want let me know your conditions, I can check the best way to do it.' Since then, we've sent countless emails, first with Pete, then with [RVNG Intl. label head] Matt Werth, and now with almost everyone from RVNG and Freedom To Spend.

The communications and sharing of ideas between us has always been easy though, despite the distances and the communication system. Thanks to Pete, Jed, Matt and all his crew, Poiemusia La Nau Dels Argonautes is ready to continue its journey sailing the seas of the world.

Below, you can find a short Q&A with Pete Swanson about his discovery of the record and plans for Freedom To Spend.

When did you first discover Pep Llopis' record and what immediately drew you in upon first listen?

Pete Swanson: I personally can't remember exactly when I first heard it. I'm not one of those listeners generally. First listens never really do it for me all the way. I was really excited about the Finis Africae anthology [Amazonia] on EM and decided to dig a lot deeper into the Spanish underground. There were a lot of treasures, but this particular album really did it for me. I kept coming back to it. I was also really excited about [Italian composer Franco] Battiato and was going through one of many phases where I was fixated on Robert Ashley and Poiemusia sat well with those artists.

How long was the process of setting up the reissue, and tracking Pep down to approve the release?

PS: I found Pep's website and shot him an email. It took a few tries, I'm not sure if he understood that we were serious. But once things got moving, they moved pretty quickly. Some of the reissues we've been working on have taken years, but the Pep reissue was fairly painless.

What, if anything, do you feel ties together the records reissued by Freedom To Spend so far? There's been a focus so far on musicians experimenting with new forms of technology, so will that continue with further releases?

PS: Yes. Pretty much everything we're working with now is the result of a personal process of discovery with equipment, approach, etc. Pretty much everything we've got on deck results from insular processes, new gear, new steps in self discovery.

There are a number of labels operating that are devoted to reissuing older material. How important do you think it is that labels of this kind place maintaining a strong curatorial eye and seeking out high quality music above the resale value of records on the second-hand market?

PS: I think a strong curatorial ear is really important, since there are so many records out there. If you had the ability to reissue a bunch of classic rock albums, you'd probably sell more copies than we do, but there's also not a huge point to printing 10,000 copies of a record that there are already 100,000 copies of in whatever city selling for $6. There are a ton of records that are great that you can get for $6 or $10 and they just don't need a reissue because they're available. That being said, we're not simply looking at the value of an album in terms of scarcity, but the album also has to be really compelling sonically. And all of us have to agree that the album is excellent and worthy of a reissue.

Pep Llopis' Poiemusia La Nau Dels Argonautes is out now on Freedom To Spend. You can purchase the record here

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