Music Interviews
2:30 pm
Fri April 5, 2013

Bonobo: Challenging Music's 'Borders,' Finding A New Frontier

Originally published on Fri April 5, 2013 6:04 pm

If you've ever paid attention to the sounds between the stories on All Things Considered, the music of Bonobo may sound familiar. Bonobo is the recording name for British composer and DJ Simon Green, a star of the electronic-music world. Green's new album, The North Borders, began when he was playing his thumb piano alone in his attic studio — a process culminating in the creation of a track called "Cirrus."

"The way I make music is often to kind of treat instrumentation like I would a sample," Green says. "The main thing that I did [with 'Cirrus'] was just to take the decaying tails of two notes of that thumb piano and then put them against this kick drum and make it into some kind of cohesive whole. I'm just trying to sort of push the ideas of what can create melody, what can create rhythm, and how drum sounds don't necessarily need to come from drums, but can come from a different place."

When traveling, Green often visits record stores in search of samples. The basis of the song "Transits" is a recording of a vibraphone and harp that he'd found in Boulder, Colo.

"I put it into the sampler and I played around with the tuning and did some processing to it," Green says. "Again, it's about sort of re-contextualizing the sound and bringing it into a very different place from where it started."

To create his moody compositions, Green doesn't just sample from records. He carries a little microphone around so that if he hears an interesting sound, he can capture it — generating his own samples of the outside world.

"There's noises of a truck's air brakes being used as a sort of melodic refrain somewhere on this record," Green says. "I also recorded, you know, dropping coins into water, or in the subway, recording train doors opening. It all eventually ends up in the music somewhere."

While Green pushes the boundaries of instrumentation, the new album's title, The North Borders, questions geographical boundaries. Green says the idea for the title came from the flight he often takes from New York to London.

"There's all these places that you fly over, from Iceland [to] the northern territories of Canada, all these huge frozen expanses which I fly over regularly, and I never know what's down there," he says. "And I like the imagery of borders and moving away from traditional geographical fixings. The North Borders has that sort of nonnationalistic sound to it."

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If you've ever paid attention to the music between the stories on our show, the track you're hearing now may sound familiar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: This is the artist Bonobo. His compositions are a favorite of our directors and on heavy rotation here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Bonobo is the recording name of British composer and DJ Simon Green. He's a star of the electronic-music world, but says he wants to move past that boundary.

SIMON GREEN: The idea of electronic music for a lot of people is that it's synthetic and it's created digitally. I prefer to work with an actual source recordings of things that have travelled through an air into a microphone.

CORNISH: Simon Green's new album is called The North Borders, and he says it started with him in his attic studio, tinkling his thumb piano.

GREEN: I was just recording some kind of raw - it's just a raw recording of me playing on this calimba for awhile. And this is the first - the actual starting point of the whole album is this little clip of thumb piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREEN: The way I make music is often to kind of treat instrumentation like I would a sample. This track playing now, "Cirrus," this is actually the first piece that I did for the new album.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREEN: The main thing that I did with this was just to take the two notes of that thumb piano and then put them against this kick drum and make it into some kind of cohesive whole.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREEN: I'm just trying to sort of push the ideas of what can create melody, and what can create rhythm, and how drum sounds don't necessarily need to come from drums, that it can come from a different place.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREEN: The way I'm working now is I tend to treat all sounds, you know, I'm sampling from not just from records, but from outside. I have actually a microphone that I take out with me and (unintelligible) interesting sounds. You know, there's the noises from the truck, air brakes being used as a sort of melodic refrain somewhere on this record. I also recorded, you know, dropping coins into water, or in the subway, recording train doors opening. And it all eventually ends up in the music somewhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREEN: This is a recording of a vibraphone and a harp, which I found on a record. I'm often sort of - when I'm travelling, I'm kind of hitting the record stores as well, finding samples. And I found this particular sample in Boulder, Colorado. This is an example of one sort of snippet of a recording I found, which I thought had some really interesting textures. So I, you know, put it into a sample and played around with the tuning and did some processing to it and ended up becoming a part of a track called "Transits."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREEN: Again, it's about reconceptualizing the sounds and bringing it into a very different place from where it started.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREEN: There's a vocalist on this track, Geraldine(ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREEN: The album is called "The North Borders," and I like the imagery of borders and moving away from traditional or geographical fixings. And "The North Borders" has that sort of non-nationalistic sound to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Simon Green records as Bonobo. You can hear full length songs from his new album at NPRMusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.