11 October, 2008

Interview with Nakatomi Plaza

Like many other Irish music dedicatees, the demise of 66e was my Take That moment. To see them reinvent themselves as Le Galaxie (yes I know it’s a completely different band, comparisons will end now. Well, soon anyway) gave us a new hope. Not only that but Anthony, former guitarist and synth-ist for 66e has started his side-project of electronic/house/techno showcasing Nakatomi Plaza: an experiment in sound combinations and a study in mixing skills. Here he talks about his old band, his current band and of course, his going solo.

As Nakatomi Plaza and part of Le Galaxie, the name 66e must be following you around quite a lot. Are you finding it hard to break away from the association?
Le Galaxie is pretty much a completely new band to 66e. 66e were a rather more serious act to Le Galaxie and we found that though Ed (the singer with 66e) had an great voice we found it somewhat restrictive in terms of diversifying our approach writing material. Le Galaxie is pretty much all instrumental and a far more upbeat affair. The same influences are there but we’ve applied and taken from them in a different ways. We all would have been heavily influenced by dance music and Le Galaxie gives us a chance to use those influence whereas 66e didn’t really. I suppose in terms of being associated to 66e we try to avoid it as much as possible as we don’t want people judging the band on preconceived opinions particularly because the bands are so different. With Nakatomi Plaza is one further step removed so it’s more my association with Le Galaxie which is cool by me.

Though you were the guitarist in 66e, you've turned to electronica - how did that transition come about?
I actually played a good bit of synths /keys with 66e as well guitar and though I only play guitar live with Le Galaxie I play a lot of synths and programming when we’re writing and recording the songs. The reason why I only play guitar live is to maintain a more “traditional” live element at our gigs. Also for simplicity reasons as we have a lot going on on stage without having another bloody laptop or keyboard there to break down on us. I have always listened to dance / electronic music and with Nakatomi Plaza it was just something I wanted have a shot at.

I assume your system of and ideas about songwriting have changed...?
Ha yeah I actually noticed that. The first couple of songs I wrote as Nakatomi Plaza were very verse chorus verse chorus in their structure. I also notice that the more songs I write as NP there more I’m leaving that way of thinking behind (not that that’s a bad thing).

How do your songs work in a live setting? As in how much to you leave up to your presets and how much do you do live?
Because I’m playing live by myself yeah it can be somewhat restrictive. It’s a mixture of tracks sequenced and playing live. I also have my keyboard mapped to a load of filters which I can control and bring in and out during the set. The plan is to use an Akai MPC in the near future for playing samples live which would really give it a more live feel. Thing is it would probably require more hands than I have so might end up getting somebody to play live with me. That’s the plan anyway.
What kind of equipment/software does Nakatomi Plaza use?
Mainly just Reason 4.0 with a bit of cubase for any live recorded stuff. I’d use a load of sampled vintage keyboards as well.

Why show Predator at your HWCH gig? Why do you consider Nakatomi Plaza a soundtracker?
Ha it was actually supposed to be Predator 2 that night but the DVD player that was playing the visuals wouldn’t play it for some reason. Just did it for laugh really as another element for the gig. “If you don’t want to dance, you can watch Dutch, Mack, Blaine, Poncho, Dylan and Billy tear it up in the jungle”. I would be really influenced by soundtrack music so just thought it would be cool to have on. It’s an awesome movie.

So you're an Atari fan? ;-) Do you listen to computer game music at all?
Actually not really. Meneo is a chip tune dude living in Barcelona and is awesome and has played in Dublin a few times. The Vinny Club is mega also but I don’t know if you could class that as computer game music.

Do you put Le Galaxie before Nakatomi Plaza? Will it always be that way?
Ah yeah it’s Le Galaxie first. We’re super busy at the minute. We’re just finishing our new video and playing an arse load of gigs and it’s going really well. We have a new single coming out on 31st October which we’re launching in Crawdaddy on Halloween night and should be savage. Because we’re so busy I haven’t really got much of a chance to play many gigs as NP lately. I am just in the middle of finishing off one more song and then hopefully get my arse in gear and start gigging around.

Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
Ah I would just like to keep gigging and playing in as many places as I can. Jaysus that’s a particularly unwitty response. Sorry about that.

Anna Murray

Review of Debussy's 'Pelléas et Melisande', 09/10/08

Dublin City Hall's Rotunda Theatre is a pretty unique venue for an opera. Its high dome, its Georgian architecture, paintings and stately statuary seemed fitting surroundings for Debussy’s setting of Maeterlinck’s Neoclassical play Pelléas et Melisande; being corralled by the circle of pillars, which doubled as stage walls and props, created an intimacy which threatened to dissolve the barriers between stage and audience. However, the small “theatre” meant that the production were forced to use the two-piano rather than full orchestral version. Robbed of the specific colours and timbres prescribed by Debussy’s orchestration, lines, themes and motifs lived up to the their original criticisms and became truly blurred and indistinguishable from each other. With the vocal parts closer to speech than song, and the symbolic significance of certain instruments and the overall character of the music depleted, the opera was rendered somewhat flat, while the singers struggled to be heard in the sound-devouring dome. Though it did serve to emphasise the role of silence in the opera, used by the composer to add weight to certain lines and sentences: in a long-unfolding form such as that of Pelléas et Melisande, any cessation of the pianos in the echoing dome made silence starker, and reverb-laden solo lines more striking.

While The Dublin Corp should be applauded for their attempt to make an relatively difficult opera more accessible (certainly I appreciated being able to follow the story for once), but the English translation of Maeterlinck’s libretto undermines a central tenet of the work’s compositional aesthetic: the close relationship between the Debussy’s vocal writing and the nuances of the French language. A major source of this opera’s original criticism was the composer’s choice to dissolve the traditional forms of opera into a continuous Rousseau-inspired recitative-like speech pattern, which follows the rhythms and inflections of the librettos original language closely, down to the liquid sounds of the protagonists names (the particular accents of which were, by necessity, retained). The English translation therefore rang a little false, a dialogue forced upon an existing framework of rhythms, emphases and cadences.

But despite the above criticisms, and the slight chopping around of scenes, this production of Pelléas et Melisande is an excellent one. I have to own that I did not pick up a program (call me cheap or call me a student) so more details about the cast, musicians and production crew will have to be sourced from elsewhere, but I can say that each of the cast members had power and depth, with Golaud in particular fulfilling his role of the volatile, betrayed husband and Melisande doing what she could with her fairly disinteresting part. Pelléas was as milky as his character but with moments of memorable sweetness. What really shone in this opera was not in fact the performance, but the stage itself. Minimal in terms of its use of space and props, the directors adhered strictly to the nature of the play, placing the symbolic forces of light and water in as important a role in the setting as the characters and props themselves. Lit candles served to not only mark the passage of time and the difference between interior and exterior but to cast light or shadows on characters and moments. The problem of the frequent references to water in the opera (the sea, the fountain, even the stagnant water beneath the castle) was solved by placing a circle of plastic on the floor and using a shimmering blue/green light to project its image onto a pillar, reflecting through shadows and light any action which took place at the water.

Though the opera may not have been exactly as Debussy had intended (Dublin not exactly being early 20th century Paris anyway), this production of Pelleas et Melisande is a brave and original one, eschewing the traditional forbidding formality and modifying the aesthetic traditions of the classical concert or opera in favour of intimacy, minimalism and a valiant attempt at modernisation.

Anna Murray