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Getting to Know...Xeno & Oaklander

Posted by Aaron Detroit, February 15, 2010 02:15pm | Post a Comment
Xeno & Oaklander
In the tradition of the DIY Minimal Wave and Synthpop bands of the 1980's, Xeno & Oaklander make music with strict guidelines: no digital instruments or recording. The New York-based duo of Sean McBride (of the quite excellent synth-project Martial Canterel) and Liz Wendelbo implemented the exclusive use of analogue synthesizers, instruments and equipment to write and record their darkly brilliant debut full-length, Sentinelle (one of our 20 Dark Music albums of 2009,on the always-superb Wierd Records). Recently, I got the chance to have the band expand on these principles as they were preparing for a series of upcoming globe-trotting live dates in New York, Rotterdam and Paris. Please, get to know...Xeno & Oaklander.

Black Light District: First things first. Why is analogue better than digital?


Liz Wedelbo:
Analogue is immediate and raw. Sean McBride: It's alive -- a current which can be shaped in infinite ways. It's quite elemental, like fire.

BLD: Sentinelle is available on CD and LP, but being an exclusively analogue band in a digital age, do you prefer vinyl? Your presentation as a band seems pretty complete in sound, concept and artwork – so in the age of downloads and streaming, how important is the physical piece to you?


LW:
I'm fond of the weight of objects. SM: The physicality of vinyl has some earthly origin. LW: ...with traces, marks and scratches.

BLD: The press release for Sentinelle expresses that the album's laments of industrialization are meant to mirror our fast-evolving and totally isolating digital age. With this bleak message, what are you hoping to incite/inspire in your Xeno & Oaklanderlistener?

LW: I would wish to inspire a new form of rebellion. SM: and a return to a craft and community.

BLD: Sean, you've been credited as the founder of the current Minimal-Synth revival with your other current project, Martial Canterel – what led you to synthesizers as an instrument and chosen tool?

SM: My college had an electronic music lab with all sorts of esoteric analogue synths. This was absolutely inspiring and I owe much to the many nights spent there patching the Arp 2600 and the Serge modular creating a music I couldn't quite describe.

BLD: What musical artist was the ‘one’ that made you want to start your own project?

SM: It’s a particular methodology in music that inspired me, not a singular band.
LW: Mozart.

BLD: Do you feel an affinity with any other current 'Minimal-Synth' bands of the moment?

LW: There is a great community of like-minded musicians around the world, who have a similar approach to music. Here in the US, there's the Miami scene with bands such as Staccato du Mal, Opus Finis, Ronin and Nina Belief -- Miami is the darkest scene in contrast to the sunshine. On the west coast, there are new bands like Frank Alpine in LA, and Futility in Portland. Here in New York there's bands such as Sleep Museum and Epee du Bois -- seminal first wave Wierd artists who have been working in the genre with great rigor and dedication – and Led Er Est; also more recently Light Asylum, Figure Study, and Further Reductions.
SM: And outside of the US this affinity is felt strongly in the Ruhr Valley, Germany, such as our friends Dirk Klein of Silent Signals / Echo West, Andreas Sippel from Second Decay, the lads from Epic Dreams, Automelodi in Montreal, Frank (Just Frank) from Nice; too many to name here.
Xeno & Oaklander
BLD: Sean, is there something separate or different from your work you are trying to achieve or communicate with Xeno & Oaklander and Martial Canterel?

SM: There are a lot of similarities with X&O and MC, however with MC there isn't the fine art of cooperation which exists in X&O, the counterpoint, the fusion of two hearts and two minds. MC is quite isolating, which figures heavily into many of the themes I deal with. Naturally, there is a greater immediacy as I can just turn on few step-sequencers, patch them into a synth and the song has started.

BLD: Liz, do you also work on music separately from Sean? When can we look forward to hearing this?

LW: I'm a visual artist, so when I'm not doing Xeno & Oaklander, I make films, books and take photos -- that is my solo project. I'm a punk at heart though -- I like the idea of community and being in a band is that for me. I'm fond of collaboration, and have released music with other artists, such as Staccato du Mal in Miami, the 'Xeno & Staccato' 7inch, or Epee du Bois and Martial Canterel with our 'Three to Forgotten' Cdr Music for Ruins.

BLD: Sentinelle has been described as a “cinematic” record. What films or directors would you say helped shape the album or your music in general? In what way?

LW: I've been making films for many years. It's a kind of cinema I refer to as 'Cold Cinema', which is based on similar principles as the music of Xeno & Oaklander: one take, all live effects, no post-production. So it only makes sense that our songs are visually charged. Japanese directors such as Teshigahara and Ozu were formative during the making of Sentinelle -- dehumanized urban experiences, arid landscapes and the recurring character of the lone wanderer. The sparse aesthetics combined with great attention to detail and texture of 50s and 60s Japanese cinema are affecting. There's always a slight sense of menace lurking beneath the surface, an uncanny sort of tension.


BLD: Being such a “cinematic” band, are you interested in scoring a film or -- the next step -- collaboratively producing one yourselves?

LW:
Sean has been scoring soundtracks for my films from the moment we met (one can see a few on our site). We've also shot the video for "Rendez-Vous d'Or" on super 8, which was cut by director Jimi Patterson. Soundtracks are a passion of ours, and ideas often come from specific fixations on a detail, such as the sound of the wind in Fellini movies, or the sound of a door closing in Teshigahara's Face of Another -- and recreating that feeling with the specific sounds of a filter on the Serge, tubes rattling in the Arp 2600, or two oscillators coming in and out of phase. A new series of short films is in the works.



BLD: How do you see Xeno & Oaklander evolving in the future? Are you firm on working within the confines of analogue synths or would you ever consider using or adding other instruments?

SM:
Certainly. The track "Another" features Liz playing live Indonesian percussion,xeno & oaklander Maracas, Flute, and I play trumpet -- my first instrument. With some of the soundtrack work I have done, I have incorporated non-synth instrumentation, such as using the voice to imitate raven song, drumming on an aluminum bread box, using SuperCollider to create 36 tone aleatoric clusters. Having said all of that, the synthesizer still affords us the greatest variability and breadth.

BLD: It took you nearly 3 years to release Sentinelle, can we expect a follow-up sooner?


SM:
We are already working on new material...

BLD: Excellent, so finally and just for fun, recommendations -- your guiltiest music/film pleasures?

LW:
Devil's Daughter
by Michele Soavi -- written by Dario Argento, a Horror film set in the provincial suburbs of Frankfurt, Germany, starring classic actor Herbert Lom and Kelly Curtis (Jamie Lee's Sister). Devils' Rain by Robert Feust -- a 'melt movie' set in a Western desert awash with sunlight starring Anton Lavey.
SM: Stuffy septuagenarian British Murder mysteries: Midsomer Murders, Inspector Morse, Lord Peter Wimsey (Edward Petherbridge), to name a few. For music I quite like smooth jazz and DC Go-Go.


Xeno & Oaklander's Sentinelle is available at Amoeba Hollywood on CD & LP. Also check out other great new Minimal Wave and Synthpop releases; Frank Alpine Night Tripper  7",  Led Er Est LP, Cold Cave Love Comes Close CD/LP and Death Comes Close 12" and The Minimal Wave Tapes, Vol. One -- all filed in the always awesome Goth/Industrial section.

Relevant Tags

Synth (4), Goth (42), Darkwave (3), Cold Wave (1), Minimal Wave (3), Xeno & Oaklander (3), Amoeba Music Hollywood (104), Frank Alpine (2), Wierd Records (1), Cold Cave (12), Interview (251), Industrial (23)