The music of Metavari (AKA Nate Utesch) deftly rides a wave of energy from the beautifully subtle to the gorgeously maximal on a searing cascade of meticulously controlled chaos. And whether or not he’s crafting a rescore for an existing film or creating music without picture, Utesch’s art is inherently cinematic.
All of this is resonant on Absurda, Metavari’s fourth album, which contains tracks that are scores for 10 David Lynch short films from his entire art life, such as Absurda, Ballerina, Industrial Soundscape, Dream # 7, Premonitions Following an Evil Deed, and The Alphabet. It gets a beautiful vinyl representation for Record Store Day UK thanks to One Way Static (Light in the Attic will distribute Stateside, as usual). A digital version is also imminent.
The vinyl version contains instructions on when to drop the needle while watching each of the films, in addition to maps on how to replicate certain synth patches on your Arp Odyssey. It’s easy to say that this is an interactive experience, if you’re looking to try out the rescores to picture. You can also just sit back and take in the music. After all, it’s fantastic material and easily some of Metavari’s best work.
In light of all of that, the first thought that comes to your mind might be that the experimental electronic artist has gone fully into Angelo Badalamenti territory — and what a lovely path that would be! — but that’s not the case here. The Ft. Wayne, Indiana-based Utesch uses an all-hardware setup in a way that often recalls elements of Steve Reich, Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, and the sound designs of frequent Lynch collaborator Dean Hurley, all while sounding inherently Metavari.
There are serene, ambient moments with digital droplets of water, such as on “Ballerina, Part 2.” “Industrial Soundscape (Excerpt)” is justifiably mechanistic, but it’s laced with beautiful layers of distorted guitar histrionics James Iha would love, soothing synth melodies, and a percussion track that fires on all pistons. The arp-heavy “Premonitions” is an ominous meditation. “Dream # 7” is Metavari on 11 and plunged into Mandy, a kinetic blast of ferocity with Utesch’s trademark note runs. Those are just some examples. The whole release pairs well with the films. It’s truly a triumph for Utesch and I hope Lynch is pleased.
Also worth noting: When you listen to Absurda, it’s pretty clear that Utesch would have done a great job contributing score work to Twin Peaks: The Return. Utesch, Johnny Jewel, Hurley, and Badalamenti would have been quite the tour de force along with the bands.
Let’s dive into Absurda a bit more. Vehlinggo had an email exchange recently with Utesch to get more information on the release. (The interview was edited and condensed for clarity only slightly.)
Vehlinggo: You are excellent at rescoring — “scribbling over,” as you’ve said — existing work, like Metropolis and Lynch’s shorts). What is it that attracts you to the idea of rescores?
Nate Utesch: It’s an interesting scenario I’ve found myself in. I have to admit that I was never really attracted to rescores or re-scoring anything — not opposed to it, just not interested in it. Outside of the whole Pink Floyd and Wizard of Oz madness, the only rescore I had ever encountered before my own re-scoring of Metropolis was, in fact, Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis, which now muddies my own story a bit.
What I’ve come to love about re-scoring is that it becomes a bound structure that I am forced to compose my music to. It forces me to move in a way I wouldn’t have thought to, if I wasn’t following the pacing on screen. While it is of course a predetermined path, for me it feels like an injection of chaos into my work.
What else would you want to rescore out there?
I don’t have any plans to rescore anything else at the moment. But I’ve found so much strength in my process by following visual cues as I write the skeletal bones of my music. The next proper LP I work on will most definitely be initiated by the same process that a rescore uses. I just may not tell anyone where I drew those cues from this next time.
“The work on ‘Absurda’ has focused me on a path that feels more comfortable than I’ve felt in Metavari in a long time.”
David Lynch is one of the more challenging filmmakers and artists out there — whether in film, music or visual/mixed-media art — and yet he enjoys both a mainstream appeal and a subversive status few could ever dream of. Why do you think that is? What is it about Mr. Lynch that compelled you to create such a beautiful album?
Both my Metropolis rescore and the Absurda project were essentially commissions, funny enough. One started as a commission for a live performance and resulted in a record deal. And the other was the continuation of that deal: an inquiry from One Way Static, gauging my interest to create another rescore as a Record Store Day title. Choosing “what” to rescore for this project was incredibly difficult at first. I was sidetracked with finding a full-length film that was either old enough or obscure enough that we could get clearance from the copyright holder to use imagery from.
I grew so tired of sorting all those details that at some point my brain just reset for a moment. This has to be meaningful to me and there’s a good chance a rescore may get some flack just by nature of it. So, whose work means enough to me that bastardizing it is still going to be a powerful enough exercise to feel like a genuine homage? An act of love. David Lynch.
I love saying that I “scribbled” over his work, because I truly felt like a child. I told this story in another interview, but it’s a helpful metaphor. When I draw with my son, it’s hilarious to watch him scribble like a madman over what I’m doing. [Editor’s Note: Utesch’s day job is as an art director at the Secretly Group, and so he’s constantly designing album art.] It, of course, looks awful, because he’s a toddler. But he’s so overwhelmed with pride at the fact that he’s drawing on top of what I drew for him. What I’ve done here with Absurda is exactly the same.
The album bio on the Light in the Attic store mentions that you experimented more this time around — your synths and cinematic quality are still there, but it’s clear you’re delving into noise and soundscapes that recall the likes of Lynch’s own collaborator Dean Hurley (among other references). Why did you decide to experiment more? Also, what is an example of your wildest, most audacious sonic experiment while recording?
With each record, I feel like I am inching slowing towards a riskier, more confident, more eccentric version of myself: Taking lessons from happy accidents and experiments from the previous seasons and applying them at a larger, more audacious scale to what I’m in the middle of in the present.
Being held up by the visual cues of David Lynch certainly helped keep me on task in terms of letting “the strange” prevail at all the crossroads. A lot of the experimentation on Absurda came in the form of the sound design. I used an incredible amount of foley sounds and field recordings. Each sent through a number of effects and degraded loops — hours and hours of mistakes and not near enough notes for recreating the successes — chopped up for use as both percussive instruments and expansive blankets of sound.
What sort of philosophical rules did you put in place when writing and recording each of these tracks?
No singing, no sax solos, as little “groove” as possible. I wanted this to feel deconstructed and to volley between a collage of experimentation and crawling synth sections. I would first watch the film and choose a meter that felt like it sat well inside the natural rhythms happening on screen, and then commit to it no matter how wild things got.
What else can we expect from Metavari in 2019 and beyond?
I’m working with a live percussionist named Colin Boyd this year, interpreting the Absurda material for live show. We plan to tour later this year, as well as host a number of dedicated screenings to the full work alongside Lynch’s films. His style of drumming can be incredibly complex and intricate, but somehow all feels necessary to complete these songs. He plays with a number of percussive instruments, in addition to the kit, in a style akin to improvised, avant- or free-jazz. It’s perfect and I’m excited for people to hear it.
The work on Absurda has focused me on a path that feels more comfortable than I’ve felt in Metavari in a long time. I had just started working on a new record when the opportunity to write Absurda came down the pike instead. Picking those ideas back up on the other side of all this — and with Colin — is going to be quite a thrill.
Absurda is an exclusive release for RSD UK/Europe, but Light in the Attic will distribute it in the US. Find a participating store.