Jeremy Young is a composer and experimenter from Montreal, creating highly conceptual pieces through processes like tape looping and foley sound. Whether it’s as a member of groups Sontag Shogun and Cloud Circuit or in his past solo recordings and commissions (which have names like Layered Monotonal Oscillations and The Poetics of Time-Space), Jeremy’s approach to music is one led by curiosity; he hears and explores sound the way a scientific researcher would.
While these scholarly endeavors kept Young quite busy with countless projects and collaborations, there was a downside – he had never made an album that was truly his own, without guidelines or outside input. This became what Young calls a “crisis of identity that I needed to address,” so in 2019 he started compiling what would become Amaro, his debut solo record, released last month on Thirsty Leaves Music.
Read on for our conversation with Jeremy, where he dives deeper into his work, ponders whether the album is performable live, and discusses the bitter Italian liqueurs that inspired the album name. Plus he sheds light on his intriguing, unclassifiable guest mix.
Name: Jeremy Young.
Hometown: The State of New York (the Oneida Nation).
Where do you live now? Montreal, Quebec or Tiohtià:ke tsi ionhwéntsare, the hereditary land of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation.
Congratulations on releasing your debut solo album, Amaro, along with the accompanying EP, The Amaretto Ballroom Tapes. As a bartender and cocktail fan, I’m intrigued by those titles! How do liqueurs and spirits connect to your musical identity?
You’re a bartender? I had no idea, that’s awesome! I would say bitter liqueurs and amaros are some of my favorite beverages to enjoy in moderation when you’re drinking for the taste and subtlety of the glass itself. I drink wine mostly with food, I drink bourbon in bars, and I drink beers and cidres outdoors, but amaros function as kind of their own form of enjoyment for me, a drink to simply drink. There’s an element of combining bitter and sweet here on this record for sure, and there’s a bite to the production as well.
I have always taken a “lo-fi high art” approach to my music, so I’m always working out the knots of 60 year-old machine signal-to-noise ratio, aggressive harmonics and frequencies, and tape static in my mixing, but I lean into it too. The tone consonances on this record I hear as truly succulent, sunburnt and orchard ripe.
But more simply, I’m just at my core, very improvisationally minded, focused on the identity of a moment when music is created, and throughout the Amaro sessions I was drinking a lot of the stuff while in my studio. Picturing the drink is the most accurate way to recollect and depict the memory of these recordings (period). And it’s the same reason certain tracks are titled the way they are: “Electricity Over Mirabel” was written at night as I watched a lightning storm out west from my studio window, “Tiny Pine Cones” was named after this box of little pine cones that Ida and I crinkled together in the studio one night, “Your Air Smells Like Cinnamon” was named after another moment in the studio, because earlier that evening I had grabbed a bag of ground cinnamon in my kitchen a bit recklessly and it poofed up in the air covering my shirt… so, you know, that’s all I could smell or think about as I laid down some loops to send to Markus.
Amaro is an album of collaborations with some of the artists you’re closest to. Can you pick a track or two and say a little about the how they came about?
Amaro is a solo record built out of these meaningful multidisciplinary duets, and with all of its improvisation, collaboration, refracted and pattern-based composition and aleatoricism, it’s an album equally driven by praxis as it is poiesis. These pieces each started with improvised “tone clusters” in my home studio; they were then deconstructed and fragmented into short musical ideas; and then sent to artist friends and cohorts very special to me to respond to. There were no rules, no bad ideas, and no other prompts. I then reacted and reconfigured the works based on the material feedback returned from my collaborators — and in the end, it turned into an organic, “livefeel” record of simple, yet bold musical statements. Every track tells a story.
Here’s a particularly special example: “The Duchamp Bicycle Wheel Resonator” with Vito Ricci.
Vito is an artist I’ve looked up to for years, and who has become an ad hoc mentor of mine. We’ve performed together, listened to music together, gone to concerts and out to dinner, and I’ve stayed over at his house in Queens on a few occasions. I invited him to be part of this record and went to New York to see what we might come up with if we were in the same room together. That day, we sat in his basement for hours, listened to lots of unprocessed, raw audio he’d recorded over the last 30 years that was stored in various folders, unearthed even a few tape reels from his archive, all of which to potentially include on the album, but nothing felt ripe for me to take and respond to. Suddenly, in the corner of his basement I spotted a big wooden box which had a photo of his father sitting atop it, and asked what was inside. He unlatched it at the edges and it turned out not to be a box at all, but a wooden resonating chamber with a spinning bike wheel inside, and the story goes that he built it for a 1987 festival performance dedicated to the centennial anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s birth (at which John Cage and Merce Cunningham were present). A Dadaist bike wheel instrument with spokes removed for chance-based polyrhythmic playability, Vito played it with chopsticks (talk about lo-fi!) and the instrument only ever made it onto one album, a live performance recording with the late, great mutual friend of ours, poet Steve Dalachinsky, issued by the short-lived private imprint of the Knitting Factory. He was all too happy to have a chance to twist away at it that day in his basement and I rushed to grab my Zoom recorder and spend its remaining battery life getting his sounds, his stories, and his palpable joy, captured forever. It’s a ridiculous sound, one that sounds equally like church bells as it does some broken assembly line machine on the factory floor, and this moment will stay with me forever.
For some words on Vito that are not my own, read this lovely, tiny published shout out (remember when print publications had pages to dedicate to such pretty nothings?) written by Steve Dalachinsky, for no reason whatsoever. Dalachinsky was one of the greats, he died in 2019 in Autumn.
Do you have any upcoming live performances planned in support of the new record?
No live performances at the moment unfortunately. I had five weeks of touring planned to celebrate the release of the record before the pandemic but we had to push back the release over a year and cancel the tour back in 2020, and after a few failed attempts to rebook I’m in no mood to waste more energy on that until I know it’s finally going to work out. So… 2022? We’ll see!
But the more exciting question inside this question is whether this album is actually “performable”! Considering all the duets on this record I probably won’t be touring with a full-scale band anytime soon, but the music here was absolutely designed to be performed live in solo iterations and of course in duo format with anyone. The “Amaro” setup was a tourable rig of oscillators, amplified surfaces, radios and a tape machine long before it was a record, so everything here can absolutely be taken on the road and played live; which I’m really excited about.
Can you briefly explain the concept behind your guest mix? There’s an emphasis on fellow Canadian artists, right?
Thanks for noticing! Yeah there’s some fancy splits happening here. Firstly about half or maybe just more than half the artists on the mix are Canadian with an emphasis on Quebec. But there’s also a funky split here between decades; I was born in the ’80s and have always felt drawn to the late period experimental approaches from this era. I’m talking about the sceneless artists working in synthesis, tape music and new concert music for the most part, and wanted to feature some brilliant new directions being pursued at the time alongside artists who I think have paved new creative paths in these areas in this past decade of ours now. So there’s a reflecting pool happening here in sonic voicings from both decades, all of which I think pretty definitively sums up the kinds of approaches and sounds I’m personally inspired by. You could also hear this mix as a collection of “ways in” to how I personally hear Amaro.
In general the concepts I wanted to approach with my mix for Slow Breathing Circuit were: new experimental canadiana, late period tape and concert music, indigenous and naturalist sound approaches to improvisation, and “human scale” synthesis (as I like to call it). But more than anything I tried to produce a mix that flowed smoothly and felt like a canoe ride through a river of sound, not ambient (rivers never are) but oscillating between smooth rippling sonic journeys, tidelike repetitions, and more contoured, craggy edges, swoops and slopes and blind bends. I think I like this mix quite a lot 🙂
01. andé somby – gadni [spirit of the mountain] (2016)
02. kite – ((( (2020)
03. akos rozmann – dorr med tarar [excerpt] (1989)
04. oli coates – john luther adams: sky with nameless colors (2018)
05. shn shn – essence (2020)
06. yoshi wada – the appointed cloud [excerpt] (1987)
07. enfant magique – au lit (2021)
08. alanis obomsawin – theo pt. I (1988/2018)
09. nick kuepfer – bowed guitar tape manipulations on shore (2016)
10. doris hays – exploitation (1983)
11. cedric noel – fresh (2021)
12. vito ricci – centre of the bridge (1985)
13. markus floats – forward (2020)
14. giselle ricard et bernard bonnier – une autre création du monde [excerpt] (1982)
15. gerald cleaver – galaxy faruq (for faruq z. bey) (2021)
16. ida toninato – distance raisonnable [nicolas bernier & the university of montreal oscillators ensemble remix] [excerpt] (2020)
17. arnold dreyblatt & the orchestra of excited strings – propellers in love (1986)