Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly and James McAlister have made a collaborative album called Planetarium together that will come out on 4AD on June 9th.

Planetarium is a reimagined version of a project that first got under way some years ago and combines Sufjan’s often treated voice, McAlister’s beats, Dessner’s guitar, and Muhly’s instrumental compositions. It’s been described as “part rock odyssey, part electronic experiment, part classical opus”.

Stevens’ lyrics address “mythology, astrology, science, astronomy and the intricacies of human consciousness.”

Here’s ‘Saturn’

The album began when Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven commissioned Muhly to create a new piece and he enlisted friends Dessner, Stevens and McAlister, all of whom had been looking for the opportunity to collaborate on a larger scale.

After sketching the framework of the song cycle and performing the piece as a band – flanked by a string quartet and seven trombones – in various forms, the quartet put the project on hold for several years. Returning to the raw material in 2016, Stevens and McAlister reversed their typical process, taking recordings of the live show and adapting to the studio. “We had recorded all the arrangements and the live parts in a studio after our last performance,” says Stevens, “so years later when we all kind of settled down, we said, ‘let’s open Pandora’s box.’”

Stevens and McAlister worked to arrange Muhly’s symphonic framework and Dessner’s guitar virtuosity alongside their own lyrics and beats. Stevens became the driver behind the “song” part of the song cycle, his unique voice providing a clear and coherent center of gravity for the whole project.

In the time between Planetarium’s conception and release, Muhly wrote a new viola concerto and a commission for the Metropolitan Opera; Dessner released Trouble Will Find Me with The National, toured extensively and moved to Paris; and Stevens recorded and released Carrie & Lowell and, with McAlister, toured the album worldwide.

PLANETARIUM Tracklist

1. Neptune
2. Jupiter
3. Halley’s Comet
4. Venus
5. Uranus
6. Mars
7. Black Energy
8. Sun
9. Tides
10. Moon
11. Pluto
12. Kuiper Belt
13. Black Hole
14. Saturn
15. In the Beginning
16. Earth
17. Mercury

Posted on March 28th, 2017

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Sounds from a Safe Harbour is a new festival put together by Cork Opera House’s Mary Hickson with curated lineup by Bryce Dessner of The National taking place around the city of Cork from September 17th to 20th.

Billed as a festival of music, art and conversation, music will come from The Gloaming, Julianna Barwick, My Brightest Diamond, Sam Amidon, a collaboration between Lisa Hannigan and Aaron Dessner, New York So Percussion and Nadia Sirota, a bunch of Icelandic artist including composer Valgeir Sigurðsson, Amiina, Ragnar Kjartansson, Kjartan Sveinsson, Skúli Sverrisson and the record label Bedroom Community; This Is How We Fly; English organist James McVinnie, Donal Dineen, Crash Ensemble, Eat My Noise and more.

Wave Movements – a new composition by Bryce Dessner and Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire will be the focal point of Sounds from a Safe Harbour. It will be performed at Cork Opera House by the RTE National Symphony Orchestra and accompanied with film by the celebrated Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Many of the events are inspired by the “harbour environs, themes of waves, water and movement.”

There will be screenings of Sigur Ros’ ‘Heima’ and The National’s ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ with conversations and a music trail to be announced. Cork Opera House, The Everyman Palace Theatre, UCC, Port of Cork, Triskel Christchurch, Firkin Crane, Crawford Art Gallery, Wandesford Quay Gallery and Sternview Gallery are some of the venues involved.

Tickets on sale from May 21 with more announcements in June.

“Sounds from a Safe Harbour has grown exponentially from my initial conversation with Mary Hickson into a huge, imaginative celebration and contextualisation of the initial idea alongside the port aspects of Cork,” says curator Bryce Dessner. “Rolling with the water, wave and sea themes, we decided to look to the river, the harbour and the port in making Sounds from a Safe Harbour. I’m especially looking forward to bringing ‘Wave Movements’ to Cork and performing it along with another composition of mine entitled ‘St. Carolyn by the Sea’, which myself and my brother Aaron will perform live the RTE National Symphony Orchestra.

“Collaboration is a huge part of my own practice and I enjoy very much exploring cross genre engagement. We have injected this energy into our festival and will be presenting music, art, film, conversation, dance and food across the weekend. The unifying factor being the music, this is the special glue that brings Sounds from a Safe Harbour home.”

Posted on May 7th, 2015

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