“Lifenotes is a nice mixture of complex atmospheres and stripped back pieces. It has a long track list (sixteen), but they are all short tracks, easily digested.”
Clem Leek is a composer who has quietly been working away for some time now. He is very often described as neo-classical, which is a pretty loose term for modern music that is based on traditional classical constructs. Although it certainly draws influence from that genre, I would say it is a bit more soundscape oriented. Ambient washes of drones and electronica popping and fizzing while simple melodic motifs are used, often repetitively to add colour and definition to the pieces. Based in Bath, UK, I first came across Clem at a small gig in an underground venue in said town, and was pretty impressed. Not what I was expecting given the venue, it being more suited to a grimey punk band or or something, but the atmospheric and emotive music of his performance was engaging and interesting, if merely for its juxtaposition of content and context.
Since then, Clem has released several works, all steadily developing his style as a composer. This latest offering is another step on his journey. Lifenotes is a nice mixture of complex atmospheres and stripped back pieces. It has a long track list (sixteen), but they are all short tracks, easily digested. Centred on the piano, but also using many other real instruments such as violin and guitar, the album is very much played rather then produced for the main part.
The recording is pretty low tech it has to be said. I once read an article which argued that the recording process was as much a part of the finished product as the performance it captures, and the buzzing and clicking captured during that process is just important to the music as anything else, and should be celebrated as such. Well, you can certainly hear the recording process in all its glory on this album, which could be considered a celebration of the art, or could be seen as unnecessary hiss depending on where you stand on the argument. Either way, it’s a minor gripe, if that’s even what it is.
I managed to ask Clem a few questions about the album:
Gustave Savy / Igloo :: When and how did you first get in to music?
Clem Leek :: I have always had a passion for music for as long as I can remember. My parents exposed me to music at a young age and encouraged me with music lessons. I have been very lucky that I have been able to really explore music at each stage of my life.
Igloo :: What prompted you to start composing?
CL :: Well, as most musicians do, I used to write small melodies and improvise a bit, but it wasn’t until GCSE and the discovery of Sibelius (software not composer) that really got me thinking about the process and structure. Since then I have been exploring lots of genres, areas of notation and instrumentation. It is my favourite part of music, expression through composition is a huge part of my musical life.
Igloo :: What are you listening to at the moment? Not what influences you, but what do you actually get down to?
CL :: Well I am listening to a tonne of stuff at the moment. I’m loving the new Com Truise album, along with Nils Frahm’s new CD and i’ve been getting down to 65daysofstatic as well.
Igloo :: Your album Lifenotes has pretty melancholy vibe in places, is that intentional, or did it just turn out like that?
CL :: I think a lot of my work, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally is melancholic. The context in which some of the songs were written definitely lead to that.
Igloo :: How was this recorded? At home or in a studio?
CL :: Some of it was recorded at home, some recorded out and about with my little travelling studio. It’s nice to be able to record something In the spur of the moment, little moments like that can really add to a piece. All the mastering was done in a studio though.
Igloo :: Did you have a definite concept for this release, or is it a coincidentally harmonious collection of disparate pieces?
CL :: The album is a collection of pieces written over the last two years, so really in its element it can’t help but be a disparate album. Although I like to think that adds something rather than detracts. Each piece really is a Lifenote and I really wanted them to be seen that way.
Igloo :: What’s your live set up? Is this stuff in your live repertoire and is playing live something you spend a lot of time working on? Translating recorded material to a performance context can be a technical conjuring trick.
CL :: Preparing live material is always a challenge. Most of the pieces from Lifenotes I will perform live. Some, just being piano pieces, remain like that for live performances. I like to adapt other pieces so that they are recognisable yet I re-imagine them for a live situation. My setup always changes. Sometimes I love to keep it simple and just use piano and other times I’ll have laptop, piano, guitar, violin and other instruments. It depends on the piece as to how long I spend on preparation, I always like to keep an element of improvisation in my sets, meaning I can work with timbre and structure. Using Ableton live allows me to be flexible live, it is a great platform to work from.
Lifenotes is the latest album from the multi-talented composer Clem Leek. It is available now on Drifting Falling.