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Close-up: Fotgjengeren – Antipodal Existence

(written by Christopher Manning, Fotgjengeren)

“The creative process for Antipodal Existence began in the end of 2018, shortly after the release of Purenas. My approach for it was unique because it was the first time I wrote lyrics before any of the musical material had been written. In the past writing lyrics came towards the end of recording process and having the lyrics beforehand greatly affected the outcome of the album. It was also the first album that would consist entirely of tracks in English.

In January 2019, I travelled to Cyprus for 10 days, taking a break from playing, writing and listening to music. I came back from the trip refreshed, and this sparked an intense writing period. I set out to record a minimum of 1 minute of music per day, which ended up continuing for 23 days. Before each recording session I would lay out a concept or explore a particular sound. All of the musical material for Antipodal Existence was born from these sessions.

Extensively touring throughout 2019, I had many intervals where I wasn’t recording any material, besides making some field recordings, so the tracks developed very gradually. The main concept for this album would be the fusion of acoustic and electronic elements with field recordings, the majority of which were recorded while on tour.

A landmark event for the album was the 2 months I spent in Israel from November 2019 to January 2020. It was there that I met most of the collaborators on Antipodal Existence. Collaboration is one element that has been a consistent part of Fotgjengeren. This is the list of performers on the album:

Christopher Manning – synths, vocals, bass clarinet, guitar, drums (4, 5), clarinet
חגי איזנברג (Hagai Izenberg) – electronics
Филипп Барский (Philipp Barsky) – harp
Александр Астафьев (Alexandre Astafiev) – cello (3)
Jasmine Pender – cello (4), Max SP
Араик Фитингоф (Araik Vietinghoff) – drums (1, 5)
רחלי פרטיג (Racheli Fertig) – voice

Note: In addition to performing on harp, Philipp Barsky recorded harp and cello (3) in his studio and mastered the album.

The easiest way to talk about the album is to break it down track by track and discuss what went into writing each, though I won’t delve into the lyrics.

  1. Antipodal Existence – The main stimulus for this track was to record short thematic material which never truly repeats and is constantly varying. For example, the opening melody on synth is relatively consistent rhythmically but has constantly varying pitch content. The bass synth moves from a two-note figure to four-note figure and finally a longer passage at the end, though higher pitched. I had purchased a bass clarinet in 2018 and was eager to use it in more recordings. I decided to quad track it, doubling the bass synth line with some slight embellishments, giving the whole part a unique timbre. It wasn’t my intention to perform screams on this track, which hadn’t been part of my music since 2014, but they were what manifested when I went to record the lyrics. The first collaborator was pianist/drummer Araik Vietinghoff, who I lived with briefly, whose drum tracks I mixed in a more atmospheric way, rather than having the drums provide a steady beat. Hagai Izenberg also contributed various layers of electronics which can be heard throughout the piece.
  1. Gyre of Perdurable Smoke – This track is a sound collage and the various sections and layers came from several sessions recorded after my trip to Cyprus, along with field recordings from Maribor, Slovenia of church bells and an art exhibition in Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland. I explored difficult rhythms in the first section and it is almost impossible to keep track of the rhythmic material happening there. The following two sections were explorations of chord clusters and closed-chord voicings (due mainly to playing the parts on a 2-octave Akai MPK mini), respectively. The final section features church bells from Maribor, Slovenia and some spoken parts from an art exhibition in Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland. Hagai once again contributed various sound layers along with Philipp Barsky on harp, recorded at his studio.
  1. Intoned – I recorded a string sounding synth that was based around clusters and close intervals along with a drone sounding synth with some effects as accompaniment. It wasn’t until much later in Israel that I was able to record cello to replace the synth parts, once again at my friend’s studio in Tel Aviv. While visiting an old friend who lived in Israel with his wife and children, I made some additional field recordings. They sell flowers in custom-made baskets and I accompanied them for basket making, where I recorded them using saws to cut wood for the baskets. I took these recordings and used them as the melodic content for the second section of the track. I wanted things to evolve very slowly and added some additional synth parts to accompany the saws. My friend’s wife’s voice also made it into the track.
  1. An Appercipient Form – Similar to Intoned I had recorded some synth parts of a loosely interpreted 12-tone row, which served as the foundation for the track and added vocals to these. As was the case in Antipodal Existence, I didn’t go into the sessions thinking I would scream, but it is what came out when I wanted to record the lyrics. For the second section, I used a field recording while on a train in Austria of a peculiar sounding drone which lasted for a few minutes and added some noise on top of this layer. I recorded bass clarinet and clarinet, both quad-tracked as well as drums performing along with synth parts. I left the original synth parts in along with the bass clarinet to give it a more peculiar sound, though I removed the electronic drum pattern. The final layer to be added was cello. I came into contact with Jasmine Pender when we were booked on the same bill for a show in London that was supposed to occur in April 2020. She discussed with me the direction she wanted to take her parts in with me and recorded them a couple of weeks later, using Max SP to process her cello parts.
  1. A Stone Cast Starboard – The writing process for this track was very peculiar. I took out the lyrics and began singing melodies. The vocal harmonies came very naturally and later on I added field recordings of various streams on the outskirts of Tbilisi and from Dilijan and Gyumri, Armenia. The track remained approximately 4 minutes in length for a very long period until March 2020 with a bulk of the lyrics unaccounted for. After such a long interval unable to continue the track, I began the writing process in the same way, taking out the lyrics and starting to record melodies and harmonies of them without any accompaniment. I recorded the remainder of the lyrics in one day and decided that the rest of the instrumentals would come from other sessions of guitar I had recorded throughout 2019 and unused harp parts from Gyre of Perdurable Smoke. I gathered together these parts and imported them into the session. Slowly I began to break them up into pieces and add them to the track moving the vocal lines accordingly. It was a very meticulous process deciding the order these fragments would occur in, but eventually everything came together.”

Find out more about Fotgjengeren here:

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The ‘Close-up’ series contains insight provided by artists about their work.

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