Ateleia - Biography
Ateleia is the wonderfully vivid project of Brooklyn-based composer, performer, and producer James Elliott. Elliott is at the forefront of a new generation of post-electronica artists — including Tim Hecker, Oren Ambarchi, and David Daniell - who have absorbed the laptop ‘n’ pop mélange of Fennesz, and are now sweating out a rigorous new lather in which instrumental finesse, white noise, danceable beats, and rhythmic psychedelia all bleed together in fluid, inky cohesion. Elliott in particular has an impressive ability to musically multitask, and his insistence on exterminating the niggling, needless definitions that separate genres makes him a key figure in forward-thinking sound.
If nothing else, Elliott deserves kudos for co-founding the crucially relevant Antiopic label, which has done a magnificent job of promoting some of the most provocative audio around. As a producer, Eliiott, along with partner David Daniell, has presented a broad swath of contemporary sound, all of it swaddled in gorgeous, micro-batch packaging. His production credits range from the minimalist formalism of Alvin Lucier and La Monte Young collaborator Charles Curtis, to the politically charged and socially engaged agro-thump of Ultra-red; additional participants in the Antiopic project include Dion Workman, William Basinski, Jim O’Rourke, Lee Ranaldo and Kaffe Matthews.
That’s a formidable collection of artists, and that roster was the genesis porridge for the first Ateleia record. Swimming Against The Moments (2005 Antiopic) touches the pop, ambient, and electronica bases, but rather than slide into home plate, it floats above it, in pursuit of song. The melodies are subtle, and emerge from multicolored pools of distortion; dense interference ruptures and pours out tonal clarity. Elliott incorporates source material from a host of collaborators, then skews and refigures it into a variety of textures, using various strategies and approaches. The Wire called Swimming Against The Moments “quietly breathtaking,” which indicates that Ateleia’s debut had a modest but marked, international impact.
The follow-up Ateleia disc, Formal Sleep (2006 Xeric/Table of the Elements, is more rigorously focused and glossy, yet subdued. Aquatic tracks like “Salt Horse Sculpture” and “Brine, Coming to Rest” combine crystalline pulse with submerged drones and subtle ghost melodies. Not to belabor the metaphor, but Formal Sleep is more tide pool than ocean - the churn of the tidal impulse captured in miniature and crawling with activity. This time Elliott receives source contributions from David Grubbs and Bear in Heaven’s Jon Philpot, and he puts it to good use. The closing “Bridget Riley,” mirrors the optical effects of Riley’s artworks, as it tumbles upward to a melancholic crescendo. Formal Sleep is outstanding, echoing both My Bloody Valentine and Fennesz, yet indebted to neither.
Formal Sleep also marked the start of a flurry of prominent activities for James Elliott. Fast on the heels of Formal Sleep was the EP Nightly (2008 Radium/Table of the Elements). In it, Elliott artfully evokes the humid krautrock of Popol Vuh within a whirlpool of lush minimalism, nimble electronica and digital psychedelia. “In Inner Air” and the title track are raw, full of menace and dread, voyages up a primeval river of sound within a steaming jungle of invisible detail. Nightly is brief, but completely concise and successful in its execution. It also foreshadows the more rhythmic approach Elliott would soon adopt.
At the same time, Elliott began an ongoing collaboration with Benjamin Curtis, formally of the arena-rock behemoth Secret Machines. Together, and with Claudia and Alejandra Deheza of On! Air! Library! and drummer Joe Stickney of Bear in Heaven, they started a band. The result, School of Seven Bells, immediately made a big splash in the rock realm; David Bowie invited them to perform at his 2008 High Line festival in New York, and they toured with electronica mainstay, Prefuse 73.
Face to Face on High Places (2008 Radium/Table of the Elements) is the debut EP by School of Seven Bells, and it’s dazzling, thanks in large part to Elliott’s insightful manipulations. Curtis leads with heliospheric guitar invocations. Stickney (a brilliant, underappreciated talent in his own right) provides a breathless, pounding groove; the Deheza sisters cast an irresistibly intense psychomagical spell with celestial vocal arrangements and keyboards. The extended title track is a dizzying whorl of pounding ecstasies and mystic lyricism; Elliott takes over at the end with an extended bout of lucid dreamscaping. Face to Face is an inspired bit of electronic psychedelia.
Within months of the Face to Face release, both School of Seven Bells (SVIIB) and Ateleia appeared on Impala Eardrums: A Radium Sampler (2008 Radium/Table of the Elements). The SVIIB track, “Limb by Limb” is mesmerizing; luminous voices beckon from the far side of a mirage; whispered electronic infernos are swept away by raging torrents of percussion. Elliott’s solo track is also intriguing. Texturally, “Grasses” is his richest work to date: It jumps, sparkles, twinkles, and shimmers — and then it begins to gallop. Elliott is definitely getting into rhythm, and with an effortless groove. You can dance to this one. Great stuff.
Ateleia and Benjamin Curtis then paired for a contribution to the Table of the Elements’ “Guitar Series” of LPs. Baghdad Batterie confirms that Elliott is in pursuit of the funk. Beneath Curtis’ electronically extruded guitar riffs, Elliott throws down deep beats, and the operative word here is “throb.” Instead of simply adding straight percussive sounds, he has an uncanny ability to make the entire sonic substrata pulsate and undulate.
Unfortunately both Elliott and Stickney have parted ways with SVIIB, but this has not slowed Elliott’s production schedule. Upcoming releases include the new track “Along a Space Diagonal” on the Kesh label’s 88 Tapes compilation, as well as a DVD release of the ongoing audio/visual collaboration with Brooklyn graphic artist Sadek Bazaraa, soon to be released on Table of the Elements.
In a way, Ateleia seems to be this decade’s counterpoint to Fennesz, and Elliott embodies what seems to be trend, a determined effort to force feed electronica some organic, non-electro nourishment; e.g., David Daniell’s masterful, post-Fahey finger-picking epics; Oren Ambarche’s post-metal lavascapes with Sunn O))). Elliott’s contribution is forceful rhythm, as he folds the rigors of sophisticated manipulations back into a hot-breathed, meaty sort of music that straddles both avant finesse and a minimally funky, bass-heavy tub thump. Sweaty, grooving laptop music can only be a good thing.