How often can musicians be called inventors? There are icons like Harry Partch, the avant-garde composer who conceived and crafted his own acoustic instruments, then well-known creative minds like Malcolm Cecil, who invented parts of his TONTO synthesizer, plus members of Kraftwerk, known for their use of self-made electronic instruments; legitimate inventors all. Then there are artists like Marconi Union, who in 2011 were considered worthy of a place among TIME magazine’s inventors of the year list, for the composition and recording of their ambient piece Weightless. We explore that and four other sonic creations from the inventive three-piece below, ahead of their Band on the Wall show in July.
Weightless pt. 1 (Ambient Transmissions Volume 2, 2012)
Created in collaboration with the British Academy of Sound Therapy in Autumn 2011, Weightless has gained Marconi Union international notoriety. Its layering of piano and guitar, low bass tones and manipulated field recordings creates a subtly shifting soundscape that, according to reports, is remarkably effective at reducing anxiety and inducing relaxation, hence it being considered “an invention” in the eyes of TIME.
It’s a composition that conjures up contradictions: it’s both unconstrained yet self-contained, it’s incredibly engaging despite a dearth of overtly engaging sound properties, its textures are perceivably dark and yet it is uplifting and in keeping with this theme, it has reached and touched a great many individuals without concerted efforts being made for it to do so. That said, it is a beacon in today’s music world.
Sleeper (Ghost Stations, 2016)
There’s a lot of secrecy surrounding Marconi Union, but one thing they speak candidly about is their desire to progress, to explore new regions of sound and not to rest on the merits previous work. Sleeper, which begins 2016 album Ghost Stations, is one of the more instrumentally replete examples of their work, featuring a dub techno beat beneath sweeping noise and eventually flourishing into a momentous closing passage, featuring trumpet, drums and electric guitar at the fore. No transition in the song feels unnatural; the group have a masterful understanding of how to develop compositions, a skill presumably refined when working with minimal materials and best exemplified when working with more, as in this instance.
Anomic (Marconi Union & Jah Wobble, 2013)
PiL bassist Jah Wobble has been a part of some tremendous collaborations, working with founding members of Can, Bill Laswell and Brian Eno during his career. His 2013 collaboration with Marconi Union led to brooding, dubby compositions evocative of the industrial. The group describe the music as having a ‘strongly cinematic feel’ saying that ‘Wobble’s bass underpins the whole project’.
Under Wires And Searchlights (Under Wires And Searchlights, 2003)
This is one of the group’s earliest works, released on their 2003 debut and goes to show the evolution of the group over the past decade. The presence of cello and beat processing again display their mastery of texture to give structure to compositions.
Interiors (A lost connection, 2011)
Melody is present in everything Marconi Union do and this minimal piece is layered more distinctively, with greater “space” than other pieces, so gives the listener a clearer picture of how melody and texture is built in their composition.
Pick up your tickets for Marconi Union’s show here.