Chances are, if you’re reading this you are most certainly well-acquainted with Orange Milk Records. I assume anyone who’s interested in left-field music is at least aware of their monolithic presence in the cassette dimension — if not dutifully and respectfully obsessed.
Yes, for the better part of the last decade, co-owners Seth Graham and Kieth Rankin have made available some of the most daring, sometimes challenging, and all-around inspiring experimental electronic music ever to grace our ear canals. Their own projects, of course, are included in this sentiment (Seth releases his music under his given name, while Kieth releases his under the moniker Giant Claw).
So far in 2019, Orange Milk has released only one cassette — a split consisting of pieces written by Seth Graham and Los Angeles-based composer Sean McCann and performed (with venerable skill and gusto) by a group of classically trained Russian musicians known as the Kymatic Ensemble.
It’s about as cool as it sounds.
The split begins with Sean McCann’s 21 minute track ‘Vilon’ on Side A — a sweeping melancholy serenade that drifts and fades in the upper reaches of the atmosphere like an endless expanse of cumulus clouds. Throughout the composition, the various instruments of the Kymatic Ensemble seamlessly weave in and out of the foreground in such a way that it’s sometimes difficult to discern when one phrase ends and the other beings — making for an especially meditative listening experience.
Side B is slathered in Seth Graham’s signature avant-classical ‘goop’ — while the overall dynamic is, of course, magnified and masterfully reinterpreted in real-time by Kymatic. It’s truly astounding how these classically trained musicians are able to achieve the underlying ‘internet’ sound that has come to define Orange Milk. The most surreal and charming aspect of Side B is the occasional conversations between Kymatic members that occur between sections. Such inclusions (be they purposeful or inadvertent) speak to the sacredness of openness and chance in modern experimental music.
Altogether, the amount of layers and tonal nuances that comprise both compositions is nearly geological in magnitude — which in turn demands rapt attention and multiple listens. It would almost be a shame to utilize these recordings as mere background music. This is not to say you shouldn’t ever listen to this split while cooking spaghetti or taking a shower (obviously doing so would greatly enhance either experience). Just give it your full attention first. Please.
Anyway, I think that’s about enough from me. You deserve to know more about this split than what I have to say — so here’s a conversation I had with Seth Graham about it:
1. Tell me about the inception of this split. How did you become acquainted with the Kymatic Ensemble?
They asked me to be a part of a Phillip Glass tribute they were doing with Sean McCann and Sarah Davachi.
2. How did your compositional process differ – if at all – with this release?
This story may be funny, lack luster or both? Once I was asked to write some pieces for them, I did research on how to notate for the instruments available in the ensemble. Then I began writing with those restrictions in midi. (Example – I would use a midi alto sax, then just write in the real human range. Once I finished a piece, I would process it to real notation.) I had a month to get them my pieces. I quit my job because I really wanted to provide good material. The 2nd day off it was a nice day, so I decided to go skateboarding in the morning with a friend — and I broke my elbow in 6 places as soon as we got to the skate park. I had to get emergency surgery 2 days later, and then I was bed ridden for about 10 days — on drugs and incoherent. Once I was with it, I wrote the ensemble, told them what happened and said I would need more time. They insisted I send them something soon, they couldn’t push the deadline back. So I revised the midi in Gasp to fit their ensemble, then I notated the samples. The one piece I made for them – Grit Clock – is the piece I started on before I got hurt. I finished that just for them. It was easier to work with that piece because I started it off with them in mind, so I didn’t have to really re-edit anything since the range and intention was clear. For example, with the Gasp material I had to change the range and instruments and re think some of it so they could play it.
3. Did your music translate over the way you thought it would? Or did the Kymatic Ensemble provide some new perspectives you were previously unaware of?
I really had to wing it for the most part, because of the deadline. I was sad I didn’t get that month to make something much more deliberate for them. That being said, I was really happy with how it turned out. They did a great job with what I sent, I felt I was not easy to deal with since I was so short on time. Sergey from Kymatic helped edit the scores so they were easier to digest/perform as well, so big thanks to him.
4. What does this split say about 21st century internet music and the practice of international collaboration?
I am not sure what it says, but I like the process a lot. I hope to do more with them or other ensembles in the future. I do think the ease in which anyone can now notate may suggest (not this release in particular) the age of white male composers as the “height of musical excellence” might be a bit dubious, even though I am a white male non-composer/composer. I do think with some discipline and internet study and good collaboration, many could write interesting pieces for the classical set up if they so chose. Mine is just one example, there are many others that have done this. I do think classically trained often has its obvious aesthetics, and non-trained people break out of that. Untrained writers have technical limitations. The eternal argument for what is ‘better’ keeps going, but I feel this does not matter.
I mostly value the end result: is it compelling? If it is, I have no further requirements. I may be curious on how it was done, but it won’t change how I feel about the result.
What it all really comes down to, if I am being frank, is about status, supremacy and how to appeal to demographics. All demographics have pre-requisites. Either you pretend to fit those pre-requisites, or you actually do fit them (example – I went to Juilliard). Sometimes, pretending and real are the same.
This tape is playing with that a bit, I have no training, my music in it I sorta try to mock that process a bit by utilizing very non-traditional elements, almost a fun ‘whateverness’ going on with it, yet it has intentional phrasing or parts. (I cant speak for Sean’s pieces here). But I did have ‘fuck the classical world’ in mind with Grit Clock, the piece I wrote for Kymatic.
5. The Orange Milk Japan Tour seems to have been a successful endeavor. Do you see a potential Russian tour happening in the future? It seems like you’ve released enough (killer) albums from that region to justify the journey.
I am touring Europe this May, and Phantom Limb is booking my tour. They told me they were going to attempt to work something out in Russia, so we’ll see.
6. How’s Orange Milk doing in general these days? Are there any upcoming releases this year that might surprise us? (I mean, surprise us more than OM releases already typically do).
I was in graduate school for the past 2 and half years. I just graduated in December. We were kinda low key for the past 2 years for that reason. We did releases, but Keith and I were occupied with music, life, and work. This year is our most ambitious year, since I’m out of school and am working a steady job and can predict my schedule.
We have at least 7 LP’s coming out. Late spring we have – Koeosaeme, CVN. Summer we have Pascale Project, Toiret Status, GS Sultan, Velf, Fire-Toolz.
We also have lots of tapes coming out soon – Bath Consolidated, Muqks, Maharadja Sweets, Sven and more.
I also arranged for Koeosaeme and CVN to tour the US in mid June to promote their new records.