Razen: The Science of Sleep

August 4, 2011
By Joeri Bruyninckx

The Confessor’ is a collaboration between free ethno psych band Razen and conceptual artist Bryan Lewis Sanders. Sanders delivers the vocals, Razen is responsible for the music. Sanders recorded his vocals while being asleep, which is part of his ambitious Stream Of Unconscious serie. Razen’s Brecht Ameel explains.

I only knew Bryan Lewis Sanders from his drug portraits. How did you get to know his work and how did you get in contact with him?

Initially, I contacted Bryan as a fan. I had discovered his music on one of the WFMU shows and I had been struck by how his use of voice and his narration had a very distinctive tone and created an immediate poetic spell. Later on I read an interview where he mentioned his disillusion of making it big as a stand-up comedian in China. He seemed to be a person who’s looking for the extremes, both in his personal experiences and in his artistic output. I see that as a positive trait. I should often be more like that myself. So I wrote him a sort of fan note and after a while he sent me a four or five hour sleep recording to work with.

Did you meet Bryan for this collaboration?

We haven’t met in person yet. I hope we will. It would be great to run into each other once while touring and be able to do a show together, have a shared momentum onstage.

How did you work together on ‘The Confessor’ than?

I cut the original sleeptalk recording into various shorter pieces and I worked our music around it. It was simply a matter of sending files through the net. I was able to approach the material without any forced direction. Bryan let me run wild with it.

This release is part of Saunders’ Stream Of Unconscious series. Can you explain the concept behind this series and behind this record?

Well, it’s a massive enterprise, to say the least. Bryan has been recording himself while talking in his sleep for quite some time now. He refers to this sleeptalking as his stream of unconscious method of writing. There are 24 so called sleeptalk sessions that form the chapters of his unconscious novella, each with a different artist doing the music.

Bryan’s novella as a whole will be released in the form of twelve separate split tapes, text included, and as a box set with all the tapes and a book. I should mention that the artwork by Alice Lane is fantastic too.

Where does the title ‘The Confessor’ refer to?

I think there are a number of possible answers. ‘The Confessor’ might be the narrator, Bryan’s persona while unconscious or dreaming. Or he might be the person recording the dream, the character that’s introduced in the first part, who’s eliciting people’s confessions… There are quite a number of possible entries into the narrative. In the beginning of the project, I saw the narrator as a triple-agent stuck in an Afghan hideout, troubled by nightmares, paranoid and ranting on in his audio diary… But after all it’s a dream, illogical and layered, it’s Bryan talking in his sleep, in between snoring and dozing off.

This album is released as a tape. Does the object of a tape have a special meaning for you?

For sure the audio nature of tape adds an extra layer to this release.

The hiss of Bryan’s original recording was quite strong and I tried to use that as a coloring in the edit. There’s a timeless quality because of the tape. And personally I enjoy playing tapes. I still have an 80s Walkman, one with a tiny built-in speaker. I don’t have a car radio anymore and I am always listening to tapes on the Walkman, that I keep lying on the passenger seat. A lot of music is rendered truly manic and possessed by that device.

Razen sounds different on this record than on the previous one. More open and free. Why is that, you think?

The first reason I believe is length: on the Kraak record, we wanted to compress as much of our world as possible into four songs. Each track had to mark out it’s own territory. Now it’s almost an hour of music that is meant to be listened to as a whole. Another possible reason is that having the voice somewhat up front and the music as a conduit for the story creates a certain freedom. I wanted Bryan’s voice to be the center of attention, not the music. Because that voice disappears every now and then, or turns inaudible, there is a sense of floating, … you could say it’s, well, dreamlike.

The music of Razen reminds me of a lot of things on this album. It reminds me of Godspeed when you combine spoken word with dark acoustic soundscapes. Of Af Ursin when every whisper sounds like poetry, of Radian when each click sounds in place, of Lounge Lizards when it sounds nonchalant cool.

Those are all great references and I have been listening to those bands at certain times. So surely they will be of influence somehow. I would say that William Burroughs in Tangiers was a personal reference for me in the light of this album, maybe an obvious one. Also some Mirror recordings have been very influential of late, as is the cinematic approach of Kato Hideki.

And then there’s the influence of Morricone when your music comes close to kitsch. Are you aware of that?

You can’t be doing instrumental music that’s somehow story-driven and not be influenced by Morricone… As for the kitsch, I would say that with our instrumentation there just is a direct transfer of emotion. Maybe that’s why you’re mentioning Morricone; in some of his music, he’s using obvious statements, underlining what’s happening with a broad gesture. He’s in a league of his own, of course.

In our case, I would say that you simply couldn’t have a fading sense of suggestion on bagpipes or shawm. Those instruments just have too powerful a presence. The recorder, then, has the ability to sound human in a way people feel too sophisticated to submit to, nowadays.

With every release and at almost every concert, the line-up of Razen changes. Does this mean that you are still looking for a definitive line-up?

Razen isn’t really a band but an idea, of which you might say that I am the initiator. And it’s not easy to find the right people to complement that idea, both on a musical and a mental level. Since the past six months we’re a duo, consisting of Kim Delcour on bagpipes, shawm and all recorders, and myself on santur, bombus, psaltery and bouzouki.

Having to generate the same power and sense of orchestration just with the two of us has been very challenging, especially in a live situation. I believe the music benefits from that tension, so we’ll keep working as a duo. But in the past months we also met some great instrumentalists that are ready to join the frenzy.

There has been two Razen release until now. Both of them were split records. Are you working on the first Razen full album?

Yes, in our minds we are working on a first full album. There is a lot of new material that we developed by playing live. What we do is still largely improvised but our method has changed: we now focus on a single image or a single note. Which has taken us into a wholly other realm, one that has more to do with pre-industrial and spectral music than ethnic psych. We still have to capture the material in a way that’s interesting for a listener, though.

Besides being part of Razen, you’re also a solo artist. Does the music of Razen have an influence on your solo work? And does your solo work have an influence on Razen?

Razen is all about my love and curiosity for certain instruments and the attempt to construct an imaginary world of primitive tone by using those instruments and by improvising in duo or ensemble settings. In my solo work the instrumentation is a lot more conventional and the focus turns toward composition and studio work. Also I don’t shy away from my conservatory training, while with Razen, I want to block off all technical matters. The passion for acoustics and natural resonances is identical however.

all photos by Ronny Wertelaers

Bryan Lewis Saunders


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