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WATCH: New Nels Cline Singers Video
Laurie Tuffrey , May 20th, 2014 10:00

We get a first look at the clip for Macroscopic (For Kusama-San) from experimental trio's new LP

Last month, the Nels Cline Singers released a new album Macroscope, out on Mack Avenue Records. It's the fifth from the experimental jazz group, led by Cline, the doyen-like lead guitarist of Wilco and hyper prolific contributor to dozens of records, working with Yoko Ono, Tinariwen, Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore, Mike Watt, Low and Chris Corsano among others in recent years, and sees the trio of Cline, Scott Amendola and new bassist Trevor Dunn joined by percussionists Cyro Baptista and Josh Jones, harpist Zeena Parkins and Cline's wife Yuka C. Honda, founder of Cibo Matto (whom Cline has also worked with).

It's a stylistically varied piece with switchbacks between lounge jazz, hard rock and Brasiliana, to name but three. 'Macroscopic', which we have the video for, for example, is 'Macroscopic (For Kusama-San)', is self-described by Cline as an "arid bit of wistful psychedelia" on his website, dedicated to the Japanese multimedia artist Yayoi Kusama and built around acoustic guitar and synth lines accumulating over the core sound of the album's co-producer David Breskin rubbing his hands together. We asked Cline to fill us in on the track, so read what he has to say below, get hold of the LP from the label's website and watch the video above.

The video looks like viewing some pretty cosmic bacteria under a micro-(macro?)-scope - tell us about your idea for it.

Nels Cline: All I did was ask Brian [Close] and Justin [Tripp] aka Georgia to watch the documentary on Kusama, I Love Me, look at some of her work and use a button of my wife Yuka's from an earlier show at MoMA that says "LOVE FOREVER - KUSAMA" somewhere in it. The rest was up to them! They are so amazing that I wanted them to have their own ideas and execute them with little input from me.

How did you first become interested in Yayoi Kusama's art? What about her work inspired you here, visually/sonically?

NC: I became aware of her through my wife Yuka. It was after learning more about her and her work that I endeavoured to write what became Macroscopic, the piece that gave birth to this video. My friend and co-producer David Breskin - a man thoroughly involved with the contemporary art world - also fed me with support for this piece and we bounced ideas around regarding the song title, a variation of which became the title of the Singers' new record. Ultimately, David suggested the titles. Simply put, I am fascinated with Kusama, her art and her personal story. I find her to be a powerful person and a visionary artist. It interests me that two Japanese women only a few years apart in age - Kusama and Yoko Ono - are not only intensely visionary artists from a culture that, like most, kept the world of "art" as a mostly male endeavour, but they seem to share an absolutely steadfast message of love, peace and freedom for humanity, even in the face of strong resistance from society. In Kusama's case, she also struggles with mental illness, which is also seemingly a source of her vision - a vision of the universe at the atomic level, seen as what it really is: more space than solidity, particles, dots… Her performance work in the 70s in New York was so brave, and her tenacity - not just her visionary work - is inspiring. After doing the song and seeing what miracles the Georgia guys did for Cibo Matto's 'MFN' video, I thought it would be interesting and hopefully oddly fascinating to do a video for this song which has no "groove"; it's just a ballad meant to reflect aspects of Kusama and her work. The sung theme is a sort of loving tribute, and the recapitulation of it in guitar is gradually invaded by sonic particles, an obvious reference to Kusama's "infinity nets" and ubiquitous, signature dots.

It sounds like a fair few of your pedalboard's residents were deployed in the recording process, as well as some deft use of non-standard musical instruments, like your co-producer's hands. What's your favourite sound on the record and how did you go about capturing it?

NC: Hmmm... Well, the peculiar panning was on the acoustic/electric guitar (a Gibson J-200 with a pickup in it that we included in the mix) worked out well, and it was engineer Jesse Nichols' response to my verbal description of what I wanted - something he pulled "out of the box" of effects in the computer, though I can't remember what he finally tried that made me say, "That's it!" It's reminiscent of the mad panning Teo Macero came up with on the mix of Miles Davis' "Go Ahead John". Yuka played her OP-1 keyboard along with Scott on an odd drum box that I had just been given that's actually just an effects box with a pickup in it. All put together, I am happy that they suggest the aforementioned "infinity nets" and dots in Kusama's work. I hope this answers your question!

Finally, what can you tell us about your Lovers project?

NC: Lovers is a really big (20-song) collection of mostly ballads (and mostly cover songs) that I have wanted to do for years but could never bring myself to even think about actually doing until David Breskin stepped forward and produced/cajoled/enabled me. The orchestrations and conducting were done by my friend Michael Leonhart, sometimes with specific input from me, sometimes not. We were of like mind… The musicians involved are all so amazing I can't believe it actually happened! Anyway, it's a kind of obsessive personal take or updating of what used to be called a "mood music" record, though it is not all smooth. It should be out by spring of next year. I hope! It's all done, at least. So stay tuned. But first the duo record with Julian Lage and me called 'Room' needs to be released. Can't wait!

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