No Lands, “Pretender”

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No country for Red Hook refugees and sound designers.

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Sjimon Gompers | July 23, 2014

Brooklyn centered artist and audio engineer Michael Hammond has been recording music under the title of No Lands, creating the unanchored album Negative Space, and unveiling the following premiere of “Pretender”. Raised in West Tennessee on a diet of MIDI soundboards, 90s Soundblaster sound cards, and various other analog to digital interface configurations; Hammond has been making solo music out of his Red Hook neighborhood as both a producer, sound designer, and developer of custom music software.

On the upcoming Negative Space album, available at the end of July from New Amsterdam Records, Michael enlists the essential and instrumental talents of his brother Jay, Anthony LaMarca (touring The War On Drugs member, previously in St. Vincent) with R. Stevie Moore and Chris Schlarb’s collaborator, Aaron Roche. While centered around Hammond’s self-penned compositions, together with a band of family and friends, Negative Space works its way out of the places where dark matter materializes into collective sound bodies built out of liquidated continents of earth.

On the debut of “Pretender”, Michael’s vocals are sampled as a series of rising builds as if No Lands were pushing stacked ancient ruins upwards to the surface from the buried confines of old earth. Octave scales are ascended like climbing ladder rungs in tones that chant and contain barely discernible mantras. The conversations and lyrics begin to breakdown as fragments of noise filter into the sound frame, the amalgamation of captured air spaces implodes in an ending where all the electronic and acoustic particles become lost like fragged data pieces whizzing within the humming suction overhaul of pressurized vacuums. Stay tuned following the listen to “Pretender”, as Michael Hammond discusses the new territories of No Lands.

From messing with 90s 486 and Pentium processors during your upbringing in the West Tennessee of the 1990s, to studying with Dan Trueman, how do you describe the developmental chapters that have brought you to where you are now?

It’s hard to say exactly how all these different episodes have affected what I’m doing now, but I’d like to think they add up to something greater than the sum of the parts. For me, the goal is to assimilate various aesthetics and influences, so that it all becomes part of a singular musical DNA.

When I was a kid I was writing music using the much-maligned built-in MIDI sounds of the 90s Soundblaster sound card, but I was also listening to classic rock on Clear Channel-controlled radio waves and trying to learn jazz guitar. When I got older, I kind of rejected all that and got into experimental composition and audio programming (mostly using ChucK, but also MaxMSP). So I had all these seemingly incompatible aesthetics and world views coming in. But I think that’s pretty standard for my generation. The goal is to accept all of these influences, and not to shy away from them.

What was it like creating the Negative Space cycle of sounds with Jay Hammond, Anthony LaMarca, and Aaron Roche?

The album was mostly recorded on my own, in solitary confinement in my bedroom. Usually when I’m recording I’m not thinking about how to play things live. So Jay, Anthony, and Aaron helped translate the songs and sounds into the live realm (they each have contributions on the record as well). I feel really lucky to be able to make music with these guys. Jay is my brother and we’ve been playing music together since we were kids. He also has an incredible sensitivity on the guitar. Aaron and Anthony are two of the best musicians I know. They have this quiet, un-flashy virtuosity about them. Playing music with these guys has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my musical existence. They have helped bring the material to life in a way I didn’t realize was possible.

How do you feel about the different adjustments and audio impacts when collaborating with other minds and talents versus when you’re just creating solo?

Most of the time I’m working on music, I’m alone in my bedroom tinkering with sounds and ideas. It’s kind of my default state. But it’s also really easy for things to get dark when you’re working alone. When you’ve got other people in the mix, you can use each other as sounding boards to bounce around your ideas. Working alone is like being in a vacuum. It’s solipsistic. When you run out of ideas you start circling the same things over and over and can lose perspective (the title Negative Space is a partial reference to this mental state). But it’s also completely necessary. I think the trick is to find a balance between working alone and working with others. If there’s a flaw in my approach to music, it’s not doing enough of the latter.

How had the catastrophic events of Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it wrought in NYC, and namely your own Red Hook space, give birth to No Lands?

I was already working on the material for Negative Space before Hurricane Sandy. After the storm, I was couch surfing with friends for about three months while my apartment was being renovated, treated for mold etc. After moving back in, I started having dreams about flooding (and still do from time to time), and I noticed that some of that imagery was making its way into the music I was writing. The name No Lands came to me around this time. It felt like an appropriate name to describe that unmoored feeling of not knowing where home is. At the same time, we were having our first rehearsals and live shows here after the storm, which was a nice way of kind of reclaiming and recoding the space with good memories after so many bad ones.

Describe for us how you all made the real, unfeigned beauty of “Pretender”.

The base of the song is a vocal sample (of myself). I was messing around with that and started adding all these other sounds (guitars, synths) and then began to hear a syncopated beat coming out of it. To me, there’s a lot of tension in this song—musically, lyrically. The goal was to create something with mounting tension that never really resolves. It’s also about having feelings of mistrust in someone you care about and not being able to verbalize those feelings, for whatever reason.

No Land’s Negative Space will be available July 29 from New Amsterdam Records with a release show in Brooklyn at Baby’s Alright on August 24.

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