Juno Daily In The Mix – Portico Quartet
Duo celebrate Terrain album with exclusive mix session
Pic: Hannah Collins
Portico Quartet are one of the most celebrated and revered acts in the UK’s avant garde scene, noted for the luxurious sound design and undiluted sense of sonic adventure that they’ve showcased
To celebrate the release of their new album the duo are dropping a truly exquisite session from the decks for the Juno Daily – In The Mix series. Not only that, but they’ve answered a few of our questions to give us an insight into the inner workings and inspiration of the LP.
A thorough grounding in the terrain of Terrain, you might even say.
The music on this project, especially ‘Terrain I’, sounds like it’a getting at a point of tension. The tracks have a feeling of both intensity and stasis, restlessness and relaxation. Does that mood have something to do with being locked down – and the feelings of uncertainty that come with it?
Yes it did, Having something to engage in that bought both routine and concentration gave us an engagement with music making that was both cathartic and sustaining. Cathartic in the sense that we were able to channel emotional content though the music, able to take the disruption and its emotional effects and find a way express it through our work. And sustaining, in the sense that it provided us with a focus and structure during a period in which there had been huge upheaval.
The daily trips to the studio, the creation and exchange of ideas and the development of sounds all provided a way to engage and structure our lives in that period. And the focus on the minutia of individual sounds and really listening deeply, noticing, appreciated and altering the qualities of what we were making insulated against the scale of unfolding pandemic in which the death toll had grown so large that the numbers were comparable to some of the most deadly wars.
Creating something that could respond to this was about engaging with it while recognising that our engagement with making the music provided a way to insulate from the madness itself. I think this juxtaposition comes across in the music, in that, like you say, there is a sense of both intensity and stasis.
How was lockdown for both of you? What was it about the lockdowns that caused your stylistic ‘rethink’?
Kind of like I mentioned above, lock down was a mix of things for me. It was obviously completely mental and (at least for me) unprecedented but it was also strangely calm at the start especially given that we had all our gigs cancelled. It gave us some space to reflect
Jack, Terrain follows in the tradition of your solo project ‘Paradise Cinema’. What was your headspace like at the time of recording that album, and how has it changed since?
I think there are definitely some similarities between the records, particularly on Terrain III. But also a lot of difference.
The way the two layers of dense percussion propel the music forward while having a kind of serene top layer to it is formally quite similar to Paradise Cinema. However when doing Portico stuff I’m in a very different headspace from Paradise Cinema. That album was so bound up in my experience of living in Senegal and also with collaborating with the amazing percussionists Khadim Mbaye and Tons Sambe. A lot of that record was recorded live and Khadim and Tons did the percussion only. In Portico Duncan does much more than just the drums so it’s much more of a dialogue wherein the compositions evolve quite slowly through a long process of back and forth.
What was it about the concept of a personal ‘terrain’ that influenced the album so much?
I guess this was bound up in our experience of the pandemic too. The way in which we used our creative process to channel our experiences into the music as a way to both insulating and engage with the world. I think we went through a whole range of emotions collectively, but also every one has their own personal experiences of it, and I think looking back on it this was our attempt to navigate it. The journey we took felt like a good metaphor for the album. And especially as it does have this sense of trajectory to it, it feels landscape to me, like you are being pushed through different worlds and emotions.
Who is/was Arundhati Roy, and how did his writings come to influence the album?
Arundhati Roy is a female Indian author, most famous for her novel The God of Small Things. In Spring last year, as many of the worlds nation states sealed themselves up and braced for disaster, she wrote a piece for the Financial Times where she lucidly discussed how the pandemic threatened India – her home – as well as the world in general. It was a brilliant piece of writing, perhaps most notable for how she describes the pandemic as a ‘portal’, as an opportunity to reimagine the world. I think it was this sentiment that found it’s way into the music.
Could you tell us more about the influence of Midori Takada? She’s been a big point of reference for many artists of late – why do you think her music is so revered today?
Midori Takada was definitely a big influence. I guess its kind of obvious that she was one of many influences but I think i mentioned her in the press release as her music just seemed to chime so well with what we were doing. I think it’s about the way in which she took minimalist ideas and pulled in a lot of other influences around them. She often has these fast repeated improvised patterns that form the core of what she is doing. For me it also feels like you are moving through these imaginary landscapes, there’s this kind of horizontal propulsion that you get in a lot of minimalist music but then also a lot of non western influences, that in combination feel very individual and unique. It’s also not too far away from the approach of one my other favourite artists and influences on the record, Jon Hassell. I like to think we are doing something vaguely in the same ball park!
Could you talk us through the recording process? Was it painstaking or did it flow freely?
We actually recorded the majority of this remotely. We came up with the initial ideas in London around June 2020, then I worked with a home set up in a studio in France. There was a lot of sharing of ideas back and forth and working on each others parts. We bought a lot of it together for a few weeks afterwards in London and did a few days recording strings and running some stems through nice equipment at a nice studio. Then we mixed it in Berlin. Making our album’s are always quite labour intensive – it involves a lot of painstaking refinement. There wasn’t a recording session where we played together for this one. A lot of it is just a big collage of bits of audio recorded over each other at different places and different times.
Edward Armetiev – Meditation (from Stalker)
Museum of East Asian Art Köln – Nine Chinese Bronze Bells pt.II
Vito Ricci – The Ship Was Sailing
Hiroshi Yoshimura – Rain Dance
William Basinski – Melancholia VI
Satoshi Ashikawa – Still Way pt.II
The Necks – Townsville (excerpt)
David Lang – I Lie