Echo Collective are a modern classical collective from Brussels. According to the press release, they have forged an enviable reputation in the post-classical world: sought out for their instrumental and arranging expertise by icons such as A Winged Victory For The Sullen and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, or lending their interpretative intuition to genres as diverse as alt.rock, synth-pop and black metal.
They have released a new album called The See Within which is out now via 7K!. It is scored composed for violin, viola, cello, harp and, in itsfirstappearanceon an album recording, themagnetic resonator piano(MRP). “All sounds are acoustic, and produced in real time,” explain co-founders Margaret Hermant (violin, harp) and Neil Leiter (viola). “Noprocessing or post-production other than reverb. The acoustic element is Echo Collective’s identity. A natural sound.”
Listen to the full album below and check our chat with the band who detail the new album, the feelings about the current situation, their future live show at Transmissions Festival in Italy and much more.
Let’s start from the current situation. How are you living these strange times and what are the main concerns as a music collective?
We have really taken the time to regroup at home. Be with our families and continue to be in the present. It is a very difficult time for everyone, so we are trying to stay as flexible as possible. At the same time, impossible to stop and wait for things to return to ‘normal’. We have to continue forward and shape our path. So as a band we are staying active as much as possible, continuing to create, and plan for the future.
“The See Within” is your new album. You said “The Ancienne Belgique residency produced full pieces but we didn’t feel we found our identity with them”. How did you find your identity with this album? What’s the story behind it?
At the Ancienne Belgique, we had the first opportunity to write music individually and to play it and refine it together. It was a good first step, and forced us to try something. We realised through the process that our identity was together, in the sound that we have created over the years together, and truly in our way of communicating together.
So we set out to write an album as a group. As three musicians; Margaret Hermant, Neil Leiter, and Gary De Cart, we set out to compose collectively. You could almost describe it as how a band might work. The mix of our different approaches, cultures and backgrounds, really came together as a distinct sound.
The album is scored composed for violin, viola, cello, harp and, in its first appearance on an album recording, the magnetic resonator piano (MRP). Can you say something more about MRP?
We wanted to find a way to present the piano in a more expressive context. While researching possibilities, we stumbled upon the inventor Andrew McPherson and his Magnetic Resonator Piano. It is amazing what this device can add to the natural acoustic sound capabilities of the piano. Instead of needing to attack the note, it is possible to play without attack and even crescendo while holding a note. All while staying acoustic. It is really fascinating and forms the basis of our sound for the album. A lot of our collaborations mix electronics with acoustic sound/instruments. And we have chosen to work in that sound world, while staying completely acoustic, no electronics. You might think that you hear a synthesiser or other manipulated sounds, but that is just the pallet of colours that we have developed using traditional instruments.
The Artwork is very powerful. How did you choose it?
We decided early on that we wanted to tie all of our visual material for the album together. It was important for us that the album artwork, music videos, and of course the music all tied together. We are very fortunate to know the artist and musician Florian Guibert, who also lives in Brussels. We knew that he liked the album, and we invited him to collaborate on the visual side. The album cover and inner sleeve actually comes from the work to create the video for ‘The Witching Hour’. Florian’s images are completely digital, but they evoke very natural movements and forms. And our music is completely acoustic but sometimes evokes the digital. That play on perspective really brought the components together.
You are one of the headliners of the Transmissions Festival (Italy) and you will play a show in March 2021. What do you like the most when you play live shows compared to the studio sessions and what is your main focus for live shows?
When we where composing ‘The See Within’, we where already thinking of playing it live. In a lot of ways our inspiration comes from our background as live performers. We cherish that energy connection between the audience and the stage. It really is a sacred connection, and one that is very dear to us. And of course with COVID, a lot of those moments are on pause.
The feelings that are produced in the moment of a live show are so unique. Even with the same music, one performance to the next can be completely different. There are so many variables that can change, and with each change unexpected things happen. And that is really thrilling.
You are from Brussels. I’m really interested in the connection between the places we live over the years, the territorial geography of our roots and the art. How do you feel these themes connect to your music and your way of thinking music? What are your favourite places which have inspired you the most?
Brussels is right smack in the middle of Europe. It is easy to travel throughout Europe, and geographically and culturally, it really acts as a hub. As a result, it was only natural for us to begin as collaborators. You are right to suggest that geography influences our art. Quite simply, if we had never been introduced to Adam Wiltze, who also lives in Brussels, Echo Collective would have never started.
Besides Brussels, Berlin, has been a very central place for us. Many of our collaborators are based there: Francesco Donadello, Johann Johannsson before his death, our label 7K! etc.
And, in a lot of ways the cities have a similar feeling. They both have in there own way fostered cultural innovation. It has been very inspiring to work back and forth between the two cities.
You worked with Jòhann Jòhannsson. What is your most vivid memories of him?
Working with Johann was incredibly impactful for us. One of our most vivid memories of him is the family of collaborators he worked with and nourished. He had a way of connecting with people and creating together that was unique. He truly was only focused on his art, and even in performing to continuously search for the next step. He was so passionate.
Ritual question. Have you seen or heard anything good recently?
Clarice Jensen – The Experience of Repetition as Death; Maarten Vos and Sebastian Plano – &; Rutger Hoedemaekers – The Age of Oddities and Mau Loseto – Hologram.