D//E Interviews: Nous Alpha

Nous Alpha is the collaborative project of multi-instrumentalist Christopher Bono (Ghost Against Ghost, Bardo, Nous) and acclaimed producer Gareth Jones (Grizzly Bear, Depeche Mode, WIRE). They have just released their splendid new album, A Walk In the Woods, through Our Silent Canvas, and on the back of it Gareth Jones connects with D//E, discussing the album's creation, its artistic intent and more.

The interview is followed by the newly unveiled video for the track Virtues, by Laskfar Vortok.

How did you come together creatively? 

We came together about five years ago when Christopher invited me to help mix some of his massive Ghost Against Ghost project. Challenging and difficult as that experience was it deepened and strengthened a musical relationship that grew over the following years in spite of the fact that I’m based in London and Christopher is in the Catskill Mountains.

Come together creatively is a good turn of phrase actually, because so far in our Nous Alpha project all the work is predicated on a physical presence, being in the same physical space at the same time. Being truly present for each other. Before we hit on this working method, we did try to collaborate remotely by exchanging files. It didn’t work for us.

What makes Nous Alpha different from the many projects in which both its core members have been involved?

So one of the things that makes Nous Alpha different for us and special for us, is that we take the time to be together. And because our resources are finite and our budget is limited and we are both very busy working on other projects, our time together is limited. Therefore, it’s very precious, very respectful, very focused and very effective.

And so far all the Nous Alpha recording sessions have taken place in the incredible OSC studio in the Catskill Mountains, this is our church, this is our temple of sound.

Is A Walk In the Woods an entirely improvisational record? What's the creative process like?

Our first album, Without Falsehood, was entirely based in improvisation. This was inspired by the fact the project was born out of the NOUS ensemble ethos, which is an improvisational group Christopher founded. When we realized the unique nature of the project early on, we decided to provide the project with its own unique band name, while still paying homage to its NOUS roots.

The new album, A Walk in the Woods is based in improvisation, but we changed the process for this second gathering. It grows from improvised seeds that we discovered in the forest. We nurtured the seeds and encouraged them to grow, back in the hothouse of the studio. Sometimes with further improvisation, sometimes with detailed editing and sometimes with multiple takes of precision performance.

So the album is rooted in improvisation, and improvisation plays a part in its growth, but it is by no means entirely improvised.

How would you describe the new album's sound palette?

The album sound palette, for me, is simultaneously extremely limited and very wide-ranging. I say limited because we limited ourselves to simple field recordings (wood, water, Earth and stones) and only three keyboards, Moog Voyager (just playing bass) Prophet XL and Roland Juno 60 (just playing arpeggios), and my Make Noise shared system. This is of course an infinity of tones and colors, but also a limitation. As huge fans of the analogue recording process we also made a real effort to limit our track count. Some pieces are 8 track some 16, nothing more than 24 track.

You took a completely unconventional direction regarding the instrumentation on this one. Would you elaborate more on this and the found objects you used in the process?

We knew we wanted to build a record around our own samples, but the only plan in place for the beginning of the process was to spend a day out in the forest recording sound. The primary material was derived from two hikes, one up a mountain and the other through a flat forested area. As we wandered down the path, we found about five areas where we set up recorders and just gave ourselves the open space for experimentation. The sounds were all made with what would be considered mundane day to day objects: sticks, stones, logs, water, and a few other odds and ends. What really provided deep material were the rhythms that emerged from these spontaneous jams. By allowing the forest to be the source of our material, we were provided with a huge gift of creative resources, which we molded into the album. 

How else did nature and your surroundings inspired or affected the new album? 

We share a sensibility where we are very aware of the fact that we are nature, we are in nature we are from nature. We reflect our surroundings, and our surroundings appear as a reflection of our internal state. Christopher has spent many years walking the path of meditation and his practice is a huge inspiration for me, and this stillness engenders perceptivity and receptivity to everything around us. And of course, the record is built on the sound of nature, and the sound of our interaction with Woods and Stones and Water as we walked in the woods with our field recorders at the start of the session. In this way we brought nature into the recording studio, which is itself nature, constructed from nature, standing in nature, in the woods.

Would the contents of A Walk in the Woods make for an engaging live act? Do you plan to present it in live form of some kind?

I would love to present A Walk in the Woods as a live show, although I’m musically challenged and terrified by the idea. There are also very real financial challenges involved, from travel costs through work permits. Let’s see.

A Walk in the Woods is the second Nous Alpha full length. Is it going to be a continuing project? What comes after the album's release?

Nous Alpha is a lifelong project and will continue as long as we are granted time and energy.

A Walk In The Woods from Our Silent Canvas

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