By Amanda Nordqvist
With the September EP, Garreth Broke and Anna Salzmann began a project to cope with and comment on the stages of grief, portrayed in the different seasons. Following the first EP came three more – December, March, and June. With Garreth’s heartfelt pieces ringing with accuracy relevant to each season and Anna’s incredible, abstract paintings so clearly following each note of each piece, the project has been a joy to keep up with. The artistic duo joined us for a second interview, telling us about the latest – and last – addition to the project.
What can you tell me about the June EP?
Garreth: It’s summery, hopeful, and - I guess inevitably, given that it’s me - occasionally pretty bleak! I really wanted to write something that would sum up the whole series, a series which began with a track called The First, a minor key waltz that I wrote around the first anniversary of losing my Mum to suicide. At the time I was still in the middle of some pretty intense grief - probably still in shock, to be honest. The First opens the September EP but for most of the rest of the series I made a conscious effort to focus my thoughts elsewhere, to look at the landscape around me, to respond to it in music, to try to find some hope. I think that comes out particularly in the March EP. The track Hope is one of the most joyful things I’ve ever written, I love it. So when it came to this final June EP, I thought the best way to sum up the whole series was to refer back to The First. I wrote an even bleaker minor key waltz, and called it The Last. It’s the opening track.
Anna: Why “The Last”?
G: It’s a neat pairing with The First, for one thing, but more than that - grief is a process. Sometimes it’s really painful but there are also times when you completely forget about it and then it will hit you again out of nowhere. I guess The Last is about being hit again by grief, and knowing that while it might feel terrible, it’s survivable, and actually necessary. I think I’m getting quite good at grieving.
Anna: [sarcastically] Yay…
Garreth: [laughs] … I guess the point is that there is no “last” grief; it just goes on and on. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy life anymore, you just have to accept that sometimes you’re going to have to spend some time grieving. I guess the June EP is about that: grief is incorporated in it, but it doesn’t dominate it. The next track is called Take Flight, and it’s totally different in character. It’s almost a dance, it’s just such a pleasure to play. I remember the day I composed it, it was almost like it just appeared out of nowhere, and I remember you really liking it.
Anna: It made me cry!
Garreth: But in a good way, I think?
Anna: Yes, it was beautiful!
Garreth: For a while I jokingly called it “Anna cries” but eventually I changed it to Take Flight, because it’s a really positive, stirring, moving kind of song, and I always feel like I’m taking off towards the end when my right hand starts playing those rapid arpeggios. I guess the flight thing is also a reference to Murmuration on the September EP.
Then, finally, there’s another track called Making Something from Nothing on a Random Evening in Dobrota in June. This is really a departure from my usual style - it’s even more jazzy than normal. It’s also a collaboration with a friend of mine, Phil Smith, a musician and radio producer. I wanted to get that feel of a hot summer evening in southern Europe. Phil sent me some field recordings of cicadas from a tiny village in Montenegro, and then I just made up this jazzy chord structure out of nowhere, came up with a melody and he improvised a response, and it’s just there, as it is, in all its slightly random glory, mistakes and all. I love the process of improvising - you just let things happen and extract the good bits. I’m sure Phil feels the same. And sometimes you have to keep the slightly rough bits in the mix, because the “mistakes” make it real. Anyway, for the EP cover Anna created some pretty spectacular art, like she’s done for all my EPs - do you want to describe it, Anna?
Anna: I wanted it to be summery, a bit heavy, a bit dark, a landscape. But I also wanted it to be abstract. I really wanted to be able to feel the heat, the sun, the cicadas, the long evenings. When I look at that painting it feels a lot like longing for that place where summer never ends.
Garreth: Like the long evenings?
Anna: Yeah, but also like being a teenager again, or a child, and having those endless-seeming summer holidays, that felt like they’d never come to an end.
Garreth: And I took the art, did a bit of digital manipulation and created this video, which was fun.
So the year-long project of yours is coming to an end – how does it feel? Did you both get to express and portray all the things you wished to?
Anna: That’s an interesting question. When I look at each EP they are artistically very different. I think the March EP was the most exciting for me in terms of the art that I created, just because I used a different format - the leporello format - and with that leporello I had this order, this chronology, and it was a bit more like telling a story. And I always feel like spring does that. As you watch plants grow, the countryside coming to life, growing out of the earth, I thought that was very fitting.
Garreth: I guess there are a few bits that I seriously considered including but eventually dropped - a lot of improvisations fell by the wayside. I also really wanted to do an arrangement of a favourite Welsh folk song of mine, but I just couldn’t find a place where it fit naturally in the series. Maybe I’ll release it at some point. But I never had a concrete plan about all the things I wanted to portray – it was more that I wanted to create a sort of diary of the things I’d experienced throughout the year. I needed a structure, and doing one per season seemed logical. I wanted to focus on something other than myself - landscapes were an obvious choice.
Were there any significant differences in your respective creating processes from beginning to end? Did they change or stay the same?
Anna: As the project has gone on, we’ve become busier and busier and have had less time to spend creating art at exactly the same time, which was always our process.
Garreth: We still work together a lot, though, don’t you think?
Anna: Yeah, I guess, but we used to work at exactly the same time. You would sit down to compose while I painted and your composing would influence what I painted and vice versa. Now it’s more like you compose and then I listen to it and react to it.
Garreth: Yeah, but your paintings definitely influence the final product. But my way of composing has definitely evolved. I still start all my compositions with improvisations, but I now record everything I do so as soon as I’ve done a good one, I’d listen back to it and try to capture that in sheet music. It’s much more efficient for me because I can focus on the good ideas and discard the bad ones quickly.
What will you take with you from this experience?
Garreth: I’m really happy with all the music, and I really enjoyed it. I also really loved working with 1631 Recordings - they have been so good to me.
Anna: And I’m also really pleased with the collection of art we now have and I think it goes really well together. We work well together! It’s fun, I like it!
Garreth: Me too!
What might the future hold for you two?
Garreth: I’m gonna make a CD of the collected EPs. I’m also preparing all the sheet music for all the EPs and my Coping Mechanism album. I’m going to spend some time making sure it’s really well presented, and then I’ll publish sheet music books for both projects. I want Anna’s art to be featured very prominently in those books, both on the inside and the outside, and I might even include some writing. Oskar Schuster does a great job with his self-published music books and I want to follow his excellent example! Aside from that I am going to take some time to improvise again for a while, and learn to play other people’s music.
Anna: I’m still hoping that we can do a performance piece at some point, where I paint large scale paintings as you play.
Garreth: That would be a lot of fun.
Anna: I would also like to have the opportunity to exhibit all the pieces I’ve made for your music over the time. And then I have a picture book project I’ve been working on, which I’d like you to make the music to.
Garreth: Definitely more concerts - I’ve got a few scheduled for the autumn. I played several house concerts this spring and I’d like to do more of them - they are such an awesome experience. I’ve attended a few as an audience member recently and they are usually so much better than concerts in traditional concert halls. Just more intense, somehow.
Anna: I started making art for other musicians as well - Dominique Charpentier’s EP Esquisses came out on 23rd June, and there’s an album with a group of musicians coming soon. I really enjoy creating art for musicians and I wouldn’t mind doing more!