INTERVIEW: Coppice on Form, Style, and Walrus Noises!

Photo credit: Michael Sullivan

Since 2009, Coppice have made some of the most challenging ambient/drone music around. Comprised of the duo of Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer, Coppice explore sonic textures of incredible nuance, with plenty of air and space surrounding their music. With a style that defies easy comparison, it’s no wonder that the pair have worked with the label Quakebasket, run by Louisvillian Tim Barnes. You can catch Coppice this weekend at Dreamland performing with mAAs, featuring the combo of Barnes and Connor Bell. Listen below to hear what Coppice (and to a less extent mAAs) are all about. We caught up with Cuéllar and Kramer to ask about their compositional style, the challenges of live music, and what gets them riled up lately. Read on.



NN: What influence did your earlier work as a musician have on Coppice?

Noé Cuéllar & Joseph Kramer: Before Coppice we had been respectively versed in bellows and electronics in separation. When we first met we found a mutual interest in quiet, composition and listening experiences that pulled the audience in. We would talk about the private questions of the listener and their footing within music. From then on our study and interests in bellows and electronics deepened.

NN: When and how did Coppice form? Was it an aesthetic decision to perform with such specific limitations, at least in terms of instrumentation?

NC & JK: We met each other and started working together in 2009, trying several things to see where our commonalities intersected best. The constraint of bellows and electronics seemed to have revealed itself to us and we followed it because in it we found a new world. Although Coppice is a closed system it can be quite unconstrained, as it also includes installation, sculpture, instrument construction, software, visuals, etc.

“Although Coppice is a closed system it can be quite unconstrained, as it also includes installation, sculpture, instrument construction, software, visuals, etc.”

NN: Given that the music is instrumental, is there any effort or consideration given to crafting any sort of narrative or sense of cinema compositionally?

NC & JK: Coppice delivers the experience of a process that exposes its processes. We don’t create stories, but we’ve described Matches as “a story with many holes”, and we sequenced Cores/Eruct to evoke a trajectory inwards and back out. Compound Form is an epic short story. With the newer work we’re more consciously making decisions towards a more cohesive sense of narration, as much as we keep disrupting it with dendritic effects for private detours.

NN: Relative to that, how do you compose? Is it jam oriented, or is there a pre-existing structure brought in by someone?

NC & JK: The process starts with pairings of instruments, technology, objects and materials. For example our early work emerged from the constraint of pairing a shruti box with microphone techniques and tape processes. Between 2011–2014 we honed in to prepared pump organs and tape processes. Now our focus is on physical modeling and analogue syntheses, with room for many other accompanying elements like samples, percussion, and sound sculptures. Generally the process is divided in two stages: first we choose and prepare the instruments and technology, then we find the music relationships between them and each others techniques in performance.

NN: How would you describe Coppice to someone unfamiliar with what you do?

“Our elevator pitch was “a duo of bellows and electronics” for a while, although it’s become harder to summarize things now because Coppice has grown and become a process. “Air and its sound across edges” are at the core of what we do, wether it is a performed installation, or a sound sculpture, all of which we think of as part of the same branch of music composition.”

NC & JK: Our elevator pitch was “a duo of bellows and electronics” for a while, although it’s become harder to summarize things now because Coppice has grown and become a process. “Air and its sound across edges” are at the core of what we do, wether it is a performed installation, or a sound sculpture, all of which we think of as part of the same branch of music composition. In 2014 our work entered a new cycle in which we reflect upon elements of our past work and create synthetic emulations of it as “fake air, binary clocks and impossible objects.” We call this body of work “Newly Cemented Dedication to Freedom.”

NN: How did you come to work with Quakebasket?

NC & JK: We first met at the botanical garden in Chicago on a warm day. He had heard “Compound Form” and reached out to us to work together.

NN: I understand that the use of pump organs figures heavily into your music. What problems does this present in a live setting, if any?

NC & JK: There would be challenges using microphones in the cavities of the organ, and most of our music was composed at the edge of caution for feedback. This fact makes our music for pump organs a very delicate endeavor to install and perform. The organs are fragile and need special care when traveling even though they were built to be portable. We treat bellows “the Coppice way.” The effort involved to play our music for pump organs made the performances very specific and special. We still enjoy performing those pieces, even when they call for a controlled environment.

NN: How important is live representation to recorded compositions? Does it need to adhere to any set or expectations (i.e. what’s recorded being in any way duplicated live)? Does an ambient or avant-garde have any obligation to an audience for any particular form of engagement?

NC & JK: Most of our music is composed for live performance. The recordings are different experiences of the music, because they’ve been arranged to be experienced as playback recordings. Our live performances are often installations, having many spatial effects that aren’t the same in recordings. We enjoy how some of these effects don’t transfer because arranging is a big part of what we do, and working with the specific details of different modes of capturing is exciting. It has always varied: we collided many different listening perspectives on composition and production in “Matches”, while Big Wad Excisions is a more live album, etc.

NN: What non-musical things have you excited lately? Have you watched, read, eaten, or drank anything worth mentioning?

NC & JK:

NN: What have you been listening to lately and why?

“We’re into a recording we found online of an Atlantic walrus vocalizing during breeding season in the High Arctic. It has vocal emissions from underwater and from the surface. It’s very percussive and unpredictable and exciting.”

We’re into a recording we found online of an Atlantic walrus vocalizing during breeding season in the High Arctic. It has vocal emissions from underwater and from the surface. It’s very percussive and unpredictable and exciting. We’re writing a song to go along with it. Many of our ideas for new music have to do with flow, inclusion, and emulation.