Analogue Music | An Orchestrated Impulse

An Orchestrated Impulse

By Matt Conner

Twelve paintings. Twelve accompanying compositions.

That's the most straightforward description of An Orchestrated Impulse you're likely to find—an audio-visual project bringing together musicians Matt Pond (yes, of Matt Pond PA) and his longtime collaborator Chris Hansen with Georgia-based visual artist Eva Magill-Oliver. The idea was to create what Pond calls "modular" installments that can work together as a cohesive whole but also serves as individual musical responses to the beauty of Magill-Oliver's work.

If this sounds academic or artistic, it is. Or at the very least, Pond isn't too concerned about the ensuing response. The beauty in temporarily shelving his own solo pursuits (or those with a band) to work with Hansen on these instrumental pieces is found in the joy of creation. Commerce, be damned. These are responses derived from a pure place and Pond wants to keep it that way.

Pond says he'll get back to making the music fans are most familiar with (in fact an album is tentatively planned for a fall 2020 release), but for now, An Orchestrated Impulse is busy applying its artistic touch to old films as well as Magill-Oliver's paintings. Most recently they scored Ralph Steiner's silent film H20 (1929) that will be featured on another upcoming release, Scores For Made and Unmade Films.

If you've hung with us at Analogue in the past, you know we're fans of anything Matt Pond is up to, so we wanted to sit down and get the full story on this new endeavor.

Analogue: Does this format or project feel like it lines right up with your own goals for your own music over the years, or does it feel like this comes with its own set of hopes and expectations, because it is just so different?

"Language is changing, so I want to make sure that we’re working within the changing language and lyricizing and speaking musically in that way."

Matt Pond: I started out, it was independent music. You didn’t want to have pictures when we were starting out. It was coming out of post-punk. We sat down when we played in the beginning. I didn’t have a lot of expectations. I probably put expectations in there at some point soon after we started, but this doesn’t have expectations. We’re working at it, but we don’t live or die by it. We’re going from this to scoring old silent films for the National Film Registry and that’s been a lot of fun.

Scoring is kind of an extension of... you’re interpreting someone’s film and we wanted to do that with paintings. We wanted to do it with other things. We wanted to extend this to other people. The music is a free license if people contact us first. If it’s not for profit, anyone can use this music. I think that doesn’t appeal to people, because people just use music anyway if something’s not for profit. But we wanted to make it official.

Analogue: What does this mean for the music that people have known you for, up until now? Is all of that on pause? Are these intertwined in some way?

Matt: No, I can send you the half of the album we’re working on now. That’s going to come out maybe next fall, hopefully. But what I wanted to do was slow down and not go, 'I’ve got to put out an album and there’s going to be a few things that aren’t perfect about it.' I like that, but you’re opening yourself up to much more criticism if you just kind of go, 'Let’s go through and finish an album. It won’t be perfect.'

With this stuff, I don’t think it’s perfect. There have been a couple people who are like, 'We can hear your sense of melody within this.' And I’m sitting there going, 'Really?' But it is inescapable. It’s hard to get away from your melodic sense. So maybe someone else can hear that and I can’t. I think for people who really like songs, which I do just as much, we’re making those, too. It’s just, we’re trying to kind of reconstruct the sense of the way that people... language is changing, so I want to make sure that we’re working within the changing language and lyricizing and speaking musically in that way.

Not like co-opting or changing what it is we do, but I think you just have to be aware of the time that you’re in—especially with words. For some reason, there’s this kind of flooding adulation of a Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, which is great. They’re great. But this hyper-specific, hyper-wordy thing was something I always wanted to try to get away from. I wanted to let a few words fly. I’ve used bad grammar in songs, known it, and just lived with it, because to me it sounded good. But you can’t get away with it now—just singing something for the sake of the sound, and it not being specifically clever or extremely evocative.

I get tired of when things are so finite and precious, perfected. But at the same time, why not try that? Why not say, 'Okay, I can see what I’ve done that could be critically better'? Why not always try to be better? Not for the sake of other people, but for the sake of seeing what else is possible.

Analogue: You said you’re halfway done with another album, timeline next fall. Can you tell a difference in that vein of music that you make now that you’ve kind of taken this turn? Does it bring something new to the music that you were making before?

Matt: Sure. We’re trying to improve. We haven’t been unsuccessful, but we haven’t made million-dollar albums, and I think that there’s something good about not making million-dollar albums. We’re always trying to produce. We’re always trying to better ourselves.

As far as how things interact, I don’t know. There are some parts of this where I want to examine it, and there are some parts where I almost don’t want to think about it. I’ll tell you this: it feels good to make this music. It feels like a lot of people may not like it, a lot of people may not get it. I get that. It’s not something I would sit and listen to at any time. But if I was driving across the country, or if I had time to just think and read and I had a couple of hours carved out just to kind of focus and unfocus, this is perfect.

Now if you want to get excited about a song and you have five minutes, it’s not going to work. But I’m probably more prone to wanting to listen to a five minute or less song and be moved and then move on than almost anyone. So I guess it’s good for me to kind of take a longer view of things. I don’t know. I don’t want to sound like a hippie. A lot of this stuff is about self-improvement. I’ve been going to therapy and trying to fix myself and fix the way that I communicate and interact. I don’t want to be optimistic just to save my soul. I want to be optimistic because I want to be able to keep alive. But I want to be realistic.

I have always been protective about the darker truths, because I put up a wall, and then I realized that was probably not good. I have never wanted to exploit the reality of my life for the sake of commerce, but I have for the sake of art. But when your art is commerce, how do you even... if what’s popular and what sells is critically what’s good, then I don’t care if what I make is then not good.

"I have never wanted to exploit the reality of my life for the sake of commerce, but I have for the sake of art."

Analogue: I think I hear what you were saying earlier, which is, I want to mine the depths of myself and my experiences for the sake of my art. Because that leads to art that’s rich, deep, beautiful, and ultimately stands for what is true. But yet, to expose that to the marketplace feels like a selling of self because commerce doesn’t feel true, basically. So that’s what it sounds like what you’re saying.

Matt: It’s absolutely true. I don’t know what people are saving for themselves. If some of these people live their lives out on the internet, how can you have personal relationships? If you’re not turning off for a few days or a night, alone with someone, or your family, what’s happening? I actually don’t want to know.

Turning this all around, what I liked about what we’re doing is I don’t mind selling this stuff. I don’t mind it in pieces. I don’t mind because with An Orchestrated Impulse, maybe some of it has to do with the fact that the words aren’t there, so it’s just completely interpretable. But it’s just freeing to kind of be like, 'Well, let’s make some effort with it. Let’s continue working this way, where we’re just kind of, with sound, and with really vague structure, interpret other things with nonvocal or even vocal—at some point, if it calls for it—music. So that’s kind of the point of it.

Analogue: We were talking about commerce. Is there a chance this holds cinematic potential?

Matt: Sure. It’s possible. It’s hard to break into any kind of corner of the music world or any world. You need to know somebody. Unless you’re viral, there’s no just sprouting from nowhere. So hopefully. We’re reaching out to people. I wouldn’t mind the music being licensed. I’m not above that. If it becomes commerce, that’s fine. If people want to listen to it in another way, sure. If we got to score more films, sure. I don’t pursue millions, but I don’t mind money. It helps.

Credit: Matt Pond, Chris Hansen
Credit: Matt Pond, Chris Hansen

Analogue: You enjoy this work and would love to do more of it.

Matt: Sure. Oh yeah, we are. We’re doing more of it. And I mean, the artist is into it, too. We’re going to apply for a few grants. We’re going to see how that happens. We’d love to do it again. But we did this. I was like, 'Let’s do this to do this to show that we can do this. Let’s not get held up by sponsors or grants. We can do this cheaply.' I mean, it costs a bunch of money, but we found a lot of people willing to lend their time. So that’s better. A sponsor, you have to have posters and signage and social media blasts that fulfill your obligation. And the same with grants. You have to do things along a certain line and a time period. And we just wanted to do it. It cost money, and I just thought, it’s worth it to do it.

Analogue: What else is coming up for you? You’re working on the silent film, you’re halfway through –

Matt: The next album. I don’t know what you’d call it. Contemporary music? We were working on a book, but it’s a long process. We’re trying to redo a radio show that we’re doing. And all of this is kind of loosely integrated. Like there are narrative lines between them that will pop up between all of them. I want to spend all my time that I’m not with my dog working on these projects. They may not be the biggest things in the world, but people respond to them. So that always gives me hope.

Analogue: Any live plans?

Matt: Sure. But the album has to be finished, and then it’s like, 'Okay. How are we putting this out? Is someone else putting this out?' Yeah, I would think that late next year or early in the year following. I don’t want to do it for the sake of doing it, or kind of grind out something that just feels not right. That’s kind of why I took time off. Between all the people that you have to go through to make it, I think I would book my own tour at this point. There are just a lot of things that you go through when you tour and you play for a couple decades. It’s never going to be perfect, but I just don’t want to have to endure other people’s mistakes and wrath. I just want to play shows.

VISIT: An Orchestrated Impulse