MARK WINGFIELD / RENÉ VON GRÜNIG
Cinema Obscura
(Dark Energy Music)

 

Following several acclaimed solo albums and collaborative works, U.K. guitarist Mark Wingfield has released his strongest album yet. A group effort centered around a compositional collaboration with keyboardist René von Grünig, the nine track Cinema Obscura features Wingfield and company performing highly charged and atmospheric instrumental tracks that offers the perfect showcase for his electric guitar work and Grünig’s keyboard work. Although Cinema Obscura is jazz, it also rocks when it wants to and the details which go into making the album are quite startling at times. Commenting on this amazing 2013 CD release, Wingfield's sometimes recording partner in the Boston area, and a fellow guitarist with whom he’s planning a new CD later this year, Kevin Kastning adds, ‘Mark's virtuosic playing is always in effect on all his albums, but I think that he should be especially proud of Cinema Obscura. It's a wondrous album from some truly amazing artists.' Recorded in Switzerland and mixed in England, Cinema Obscura also features strong contributions from Iain Ballamy (sax), Yaron Stavi (double bass), Andi Mötz (drums), Christoph Leistner (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Mike Mower (flute). An intriguing composite of free form, soundtrack inspired colors and more, Cinema Obscura is the perfect sonic storm, from start to finish. www.MarkWingfield.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
MARK WINGFIELD



mwe3: Your 2013 CD Cinema Obscura is a collaborative effort with keyboardist René von Grünig. How did you meet René and what was the plan and time frame as far as writing, rehearsing and recording the music for the Cinema Obscura CD?

MARK WINGFIELD
: I've been working with René for a long time. This is our fourth collaborative album together and we've played together in various groups across Europe and as far as Istanbul. We first met when I was touring Germany and he was playing a venue on the same night I was. When I heard him play I instantly knew there was a strong musical connection there. So I went up to him and suggested we should do some music together. He agreed and invited me come over to his studio in Switzerland. That visit resulted in the basis of our first album and we've continued to work together ever since. René is an amazing musician and composer, completely original.

René and I talked about our ideas for Cinema Obscura for about a year while we were both busy with other projects, exchanging concepts and musical sketches. We used an interesting process in writing the material for this album. I would write a piece and record some parts sketching it out. Then René would take that piece and rework it adding ideas of his own into it, sometimes adding whole new sections and completely restructuring it. We would then do the same thing the other way around with him sending me an idea were I would rework it and add my ideas to it. We then spent time working together on each piece brining it to its finished state. The next stage was going into the studio with the musicians to record. Finally we worked together on the production and mixing to create just the right sonic space and sound for the mood and atmosphere of each piece.

The over arching concept behind the whole album was to create a musical journey through times and places both real and imaginary. Each piece represents a different time or a place, some of these places are real, such as “Lemon Boulevard” in Istanbul or “Beacon Street” in Boston, others are imaginary like “Now and Then” or “Interference”. What we did was to try and recreate the unique feeling of each place or time and the lives of the people living there. I won't describe what any of the pieces mean to me because I'm sure each listener will form their own interpretation when they listen.

mwe3: There’s so many mesmerizing guitar sounds that it really does sound like soundtrack at times.

MARK WINGFIELD: The guitar sounds are all my Patrick Eggle LA guitar and a Roland VG-88. I'm not using a guitar amp and actually I haven't used an amp in many years. I never use presets on the VG-88, I need create my own patches to get the sounds I'm after. One reason for this is I'm really not after trying to recreate the sound of an existing guitar and amp. What I'm interested in is creating the specific guitar sounds I hear in my head, what I've often called imaginary guitar sounds. What I tend to hear in my head are sounds which are very guitar like, but don't conform to the range of tones conventional guitars and amps and effects offer. What's also important to me about the VG-88 or VG-99 is that it’s not a synth, what it does is manipulate or restructure the actual guitar audio signal. This means that every tiny nuance of your playing is preserved, even something as subtle as pick angle or scraping the string, all of that is crystal clear. For me that's really important as a lot of what I do is about these small nuances and manipulating the tone by how you play the note. It’s amazing how much this can get lost with a typical chain of conventional effects.

mwe3: Are you planning any video montages?

MARK WINGFIELD
: Video montages are an excellent idea, and I think that's something we'll be exploring.

mwe3: It’s amazing to hear such a processed sound yet also such warm sounding sonic voices on the Cinema Obscura CD. What guitars, guitar synths and samples are you using on the guitars on Cinema Obscura and can you describe the guitar sounds and effects you implement on the CD and also describe how you balance that sound with René’s heavily processed keyboard sounds and his more acoustic based piano too.

MARK WINGFIELD
: With the guitar I think the warmth you're hearing is the transparency of the sound. With the VG-88, even though I'm using it to add distortion and EQ, there is much more dynamic range and detail preserved in the sound than with most conventional guitar effects chains. I mean if you add a bit of nail or skin in with the pick or move the pitch a hair's breath, you hear that tonal difference clearly. By contrast, if I use conventional effects, say for example a distortion box, compressor, EQ and then a guitar amp which adds more distortion and EQ, a lot of that detail gets lost. I think the more detail you hear, the closer it is to an acoustic instrument and that, to me, makes it sound warmer.

The sax, bass and drums were all recorded with good mics in good sounding rooms. I think a lot of the warmth you hear on the recording is in the way the instruments are played. It’s also down to the actual sounds that come out of high quality instruments if well recorded. The better and clearer the recording, the more this can come through. It’s certainly got nothing to do with analog processing or tubes as none were used.

The keyboards and other synths are mainly Spectrasonics Omnisphere. For me, and I think René would agree, this is the best synth created so far in terms of organic richness, detail and variety of sounds. It’s also very powerful in terms of programming and sound manipulation.

Most of the non-musical sound effects on Cinema Obscura are samples we recorded ourselves from various sources inside and outside in the environment. Both René and I are into recording our own samples, so what you hear on the album is a combination of samples from each of us. The important thing was to find or record samples that created a sense of time or place which fit with or which enhanced, the time and place we wanted to create in the music.

mwe3: Also I like the way the CD cover compliments the dreamy nature of the music, can you say something about the Cinema Obscura album artwork?

MARK WINGFIELD
: René took the photo for the cover, we both thought it fit well with the concept and feeling of the album. Most of the photos inside were taken by either René or me and represent the concept of the album, which is a journey through, lives, times and places, real and imaginary.

mwe3: It sounds like a lot of thought went into the engineering, mixing and CD mastering of Cinema Obscura. Can you say something about how you approached those aspects?

MARK WINGFIELD
: We did spend time on the mixing, René and I worked on that together. It wasn't really something we could hand over to someone else as the production was actually part of the composition and concept. Our approach was to create space. Space for each instrument and a space for the music as a whole to exist in. This meant some creative use of reverbs as well as careful control of frequencies. I don't think we used a single compressor on the album. If we did it would have been very light compression to fix a problem, but as far as I remember we didn't need to.

When you have really good players, especially improvisers, there is a lot of expressive detail in the dynamics of how something is played. Compression reduces the dynamic range, so its not something I like to do unless I really have to. I think a lot of music these days has the life crushed out of it by the over use of compression.

I'm not a believer in using analog signal chains or tubes to create so called warmth. What analog gear and tubes do is add harmonic distortion, EQ and changes to the dynamics. If you have great players with acoustic instruments they already naturally sound rich and warm. If they are well recorded, why would I want to add distortion and EQ? To my ears that is not going to add more warmth, it’s simply going to add small amounts fuzziness, mud and unnecessary EQ to each instrument. If you do this on every instrument in a mix the combined fuzziness, and sonic mud is going to cloud the details and dull the sound. This in turn, makes it necessary to add further EQ to make it sound clearer. If you are then mixing through an analog desk, you're adding even more distortion. The result is a certain cloudiness and loss of detail and space I associate with recordings from the 1960's and 70's. To me that loss of sonic detail and space is not warmth, it’s simply a loss of detail and space.

There are times when I might want to add extra subtle harmonic distortion of course, like on electric instruments which already have distortion. But I see these things as part of the electric instrument's effects chain. For example some of the Waves plugin emulations of API and Neve EQ and the 1176 can sometimes add a nice extra layer of distortion to guitar which can be useful in sculpting the sound. It’s just one more effect in an already quite long chain of effects which create the electric guitar sound and it works because the sound is already coated in distortion from the start. But if you add this kind of analog treatment to lots of instruments in the mix, to my ears you simply loose space, 3D depth, and detail. Personally I don't hear either real analog gear, or plugins, as adding warmth to the sound. For me the warmth is in the playing, its in the fine detail, and its in the sounds of well recorded quality instruments.

With Cinema Obscura we minimized the analog signal chain as much as possible. So we recorded everything as cleanly as possible, the guitar is all DI from the VG-88 or laptop with no amps used, the keyboards are almost all softsynths, and sax, drums and bass were all recorded with high quality mics and preamps but minimal signal chains. Once recorded, nothing left the digital domain all the way to CD. Using this approach, I notice a real difference in detail, richness, and spaciousness in the mixes compared to some previous albums where we've had a lot more analog gear involved.

mwe3: Would you cite any other people involved during the making of the Cinema Obscura album?

MARK WINGFIELD
: Iain Ballamy co-produced the album with René and I. Working with Iain is always great, he's someone who just gets what the music is about without you having to explain much. So he doesn't need to be directed, but always adds something really unique to the music. As well as being a truly great musician, his production ideas were essential in making the album what it is.

Of course Yaron Stavi is a great asset in any recording, he brought a lot of emotional warmth and low end lyricism to the album as he did with my previous album Sleeper Street. On the drums we wanted someone who could straddle jazz, contemporary beats and some rock elements with equal ability. Andi Moetz has all that plus the ability to move between gentle sensitivity and thunderous drive as the music demanded.

I'd like to thank Christoph Leistner for his warm tone and skillful trumpet and flugelhorn playing on several of the tracks, not least in leading the huge brass sections on “Lemon Boulevard”. Also Mike Mower for the wonderful flute solo on “Jemaa El Fna”. Finally I'd like to thank Hanspeter Gutjahr for his excellent engineering work during the recording at KVV Tonstudio.

mwe3: What part do computers play in your recording process including the writing and recording of music? What computers do you use and what types of software do you use to write and record music as well as edit or texturalize a recording?

MARK WINGFIELD
: Computers play a huge role in the music I do. Both René and I use computers to compose as well as record and produce. When I compose I'll either write it directly into the computer note by note or I'll play it into the computer on guitar or keyboard. It's usually a combination of both. René works in a similar way.

Also for Cinema Obscura the computer played another role because production was so much part of the album concept. The album was entirely mixed on computer, we didn't use a desk or any outboard gear to mix. I actually got rid of the mixing desk in my studio some time ago. I find mixing on computer is better in every way, than using a desk and hardware processing. You couldn't even begin to approach what's possible with automation and plugins on computer using a mixing desk and hardware. As far as I'm concerned all a desk does is add noise and harmonic distortion to the signal, even the best desks do.

There are other reasons why computers are becoming an essential part of recording music. A lot of people these days don't want to pay for their music which means the entire music industry, including producers and musicians are working on much smaller budgets. This in turn means there isn't the money to rent large studios to record and then mix an album. This is why so many of the once thriving studios in London, New York and LA, have now disappeared. This is partly a consequence of people not paying for music, and streaming services not paying musicians and labels properly. But it may also be partly due to more music being recorded and mixed in small production studios. But the effect goes both ways. A lot of music is now being recorded and mixed in small production studios because the budget is no longer there to hire bigger studios.

On a creative level, for musicians like myself, the possibilities offered by computer mixing completely outstrip what can be done with analog equipment. For some of the music I do, I see production as part of my tool kit as an artist. So for me, using a computer as my production studio offers a much bigger and richer set of colours.

By contrast, when I record with Kevin Kastning for example, the production is extremely simple, it’s just two guitars and reverb. We don't use EQ, compression or any other processing on these recordings. They are live in the studio, with no overdubs, so the idea is to keep the sound as close to the way it sounded live in the studio as possible. But here again a minimized analog signal chain and and mixing on computer has helped that process. We recorded at Traumwald Studio which has a great sounding room, great mics and mic preamps. But no mixing desk or other analog gear was used in the recording or mixing, it was all done on computer. The result is that there is a lot of space and detail in the mix, the instruments sound rich and every subtle nuance and texture can be heard.

mwe3: Hopefully because of their tangibility, CDs that sound as good as this album will be around for many years to come but for those who prefer it, what is the difference for you between CD and digital download?

MARK WINGFIELD
:I hope so because I like the fact that the CD brings artwork and liner notes with it, something sorely missing from digital downloads I think. Sound wise however, I think digital downloads will exceed the quality of CDs before too long. Its already possible to download 16 bit audio which is full CD quality from some vendors. As soon as 24 bit downloads are widely available, the quality will be significantly better than CDs. I wish there was some universal way to bring artwork and liner notes along with digital downloads, I think this is a huge void in the world of digital downloads.


mwe3: What place do you feel the internet will have as far as music and live performance with the internet turning into an artist driven place where sights and sounds so naturally intersect. Just think, this kind of thinking was totally unimaginable for most of us just 15 years ago! lol I knew I should have invested more in Yahoo back in 1997!

MARK WINGFIELD
: There seem to be so many advantages to using the internet for music I can't see anyway that this is going to stop. One thing which is a problem is getting people to pay for the music. Without paying for the music they download, musicians and all the other music professionals they work with cannot survive. The idea that most professional musicians can make their money just from playing live, without making money from recordings is a myth. I don't know who started it, but its simply not based on the reality of how the economics of music work for most recording artists.

Some people are willing to pay for their music, either because they believe in paying for the labour and goods they use, or because they want a physical CD and the cover art. These are the people who are allowing the musicians and other music professionals to survive and create new music. Make no mistake, without the people who do pay for music, all of us creating music professionally and much of the industry would disappear over night. Its no different from any other form of labour and product creation, you need to pay for the goods and services someone provides in order for them to survive as a business.

The streaming services however are causing a major problem here. Anil Prasad (of) Innerviews.org, one of the internet's most respected music journalists has pointed out that you would need to have three million plays a year on Spotify just to get U.S. minimum wage. That's 1450 plays an hour just to get U.S. minim wage. So where is all the money from Spotify paying subscribers or advertisers going? Not to the musicians, but to the big Spotify investors like Sony, BMG, Warner, Universal and EMI who are making millions from it.

I know there are people who will not pay for music. What gets me is how streaming services like Spotify have duped people who are willing to pay for music into thinking they are paying money which goes to the musicians, when it doesn't. For anyone interested in this here is a link to Anil's you tube lecture on this.

Jaron Lanier who's at the centre of silicon valley thinking explains very convincingly how this economic model is unsustainable. Here's a link for anyone interested.

I think there are amazing possibilities for the future of music and its intersection with other art forms on the internet, but we have to find a way to sustain this economically, by paying the content creators properly and at the moment that's not happening.

mwe3: Do you play other instruments in addition to guitar and can you say something about your early exposure to music and some of your favorite artists and albums when you were growing up?

MARK WINGFIELD
: I grew up listening to rock music but then discovered the Mahavishnu Orchestra and that got me into jazz. This didn't stop me liking rock music, but it did open me up whole new areas of what music could do. I was then introduced to music on the ECM label and became completely absorbed in that. Around the same time I started listening to classical music which lead to a whole other world of listening and influence. I read that Bartok, one of my favorite composers, spent a lot of time and effort collecting folk music from remote areas where the music was relatively isolated from outside influences. And that he used this in his compositions. That got me interested in folk music from all over the world, especially traditional forms and music from isolated areas. So I've had a very rich source of music to draw on. Today my listening still includes all these different types of music.

mwe3: I know you mentioned Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter among your big influences. You also mentioned Coltrane among your heroes. It’s a pretty wide range of styles, much like Cinema Obscura. How does it all fit together?

MARK WINGFIELD
: In a sense I guess what ties these diverse things together for me is the emotion that can come through music. Music is the language of emotion. In Coltrane's 1960's live work, which is my favorite of his, he took improvisation to a new level. The intensity of what he played was just amazing. It’s as if his instrument literally took flight and that flight was one of pure emotion. That's what interests me in music. My favorite period of Miles was also his 1960's work, both live and studio. What Miles' playing does for me is another kind of emotion. It’s very subtle, but none the less very intense. For me he could almost literally paint pictures with what he played, pictures of lives and places.

Jimi Hendrix for me, was another musician who managed to do this with his instrument. Even though he wasn't a jazz player, his expression on his instrument was pure emotion and what he played, in a sense went beyond the technique and the notes, like Coltrane and Miles did. His sound was the embodiment of what he was feeling. That's generally what I'm looking for in music. Later players like Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek, for me carried on doing this, though the music moved on to new places. Emotions do not want to be confined, ultimately they're not controllable, for this reason, for me neither is the music which allows them to be expressed.

Unbridled and sometimes disturbing emotions are often portrayed in classical music, especially early 20th century classical music. Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring comes to mind along with music from Bartok, Ravel, Schoenberg, and others of that time along with some later composers. One of my favorites of these more recent composers is Elliot Carter.

I haven't mentioned any modern guitar players, of course I have listened to many in the past. However I try not to listen to guitar players anymore because its too easy to start sounding like them. It was difficult, but I found it necessary to stop listening to them. It was only when I did stop, that I was able to hear my own voice, before that my head was just crowded other guitarist's playing.

mwe3: Your last duo album with Kevin Kastning, An Illustrated Silence came out last Fall 2012. I heard there’s another CD title planned for the next couple months. What is this planned third CD with Kevin like and can you compare it with An Illustrated Silence and the first one I Walked Into The Silver Darkness and is there a title yet?

MARK WINGFIELD
: Our new album is coming out in August and we have an album launch concert in NYC at Drom. This album is very different in some ways from the previous two. Like our first two albums the new one is entirely improvised or as we like to say, composed in real time. Like the previous two it’s live in the studio, with nothing written or planned. What's different this time is that we used the work of the American composer Elliot Carter as an inspiration. Carter's work has been a major influence on both Kevin and I and it’s been a subject of discussion on many occasions. So we decided to do an album inspired by his work. We were not referencing any of his material directly, but exploring the sound world his work represented to us. It definitely pushed us both into new areas of playing, which I think we both found really interesting.

mwe3: I know Kevin is very excited about featuring his new 30 string guitar on your next album with him. What do you think about that 30 string guitar? What’s it like playing with a 30 string guitar? Wow I can’t imagine not liking it!

MARK WINGFIELD
: That is a truly amazing instrument. I don't believe anyone else in the world apart from Kevin could play it either. It is fantastic playing with it as its range is so huge and it allows Kevin to explore whole areas of his musical imagination that no other instrument could. He's a truly unique artist and phenomenal player. He's also great to work with. I'm looking forward to playing live and recording with Kevin in August, I'm sure the 30 string guitar will play a big part in that.

mwe3: What about future projects, recordings, CD or DVD releases, performances, collaborations and traveling you have planned for 2013 and 2014?

MARK WINGFIELD: Kevin and I have another recording session scheduled for August, I'm in the planning stages of a new album with René von Grünig, and Iain Ballamy and I have been talking about doing something else together as well. I've also got a trio project planned with Asaf Sirkis and Yaron Stavi, who are both great musicians. Right now I'm working on a new album with Jane Chapman which I think is going to be really interesting one.

I also have quite a few composing commissions coming up this year. I've been asked to compose a piece for the world renowned concert pianist Kathryn Stott, which is a real honor. Kathryn performs and records with many of the world's leading orchestras and conductors, as well having done many recordings with Yo-yo Ma and other great chamber ensembles. So I'm very privileged to have been asked to write a solo piano piece for her.

mwe3: Are there sonic mountains yet to climb?

MARK WINGFIELD
: There absolutely are. I am working at the moment with some completely new ways of shaping my guitar sound. Now that laptop speeds are fast enough, I can get latency down to between 7 and 8 ms round trip. This means I can play directly through the laptop and have access to a huge pallet of sound shaping plugins. I've also attached a touch controller on my guitar made by VMeter which I'm using to control various plugin parameters on the laptop. I'm now working a lot with shaping the sound of sustaining notes in real time. I think there are many interesting things to explore in this area. I'm usually driven by something I hear in my head and I use the technology to try and recreate that. The laptop simply gives me more tools, which means I can create more of the sounds I'm imagining.

Despite all the new areas I'm exploring at the moment, I can already hear new sounds which are not feasible with the current technology. I think we are just at the beginning of what's going to be possible with sound shaping in the future.

Thanks to Mark Wingfield @ www.MarkWingfield.com

 

 
   
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