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Greetings, good fortune has allowed me the opportunity to ask Toni Oswald some questions about The Diary of Ic Explura album, A Love Letter to the Transformer.   The art shown are pages from the accompanying book.

 

First of all, it is a really, really incredible album, and I find it extremely listenable yet challenging in a good way. There is a lot of unusual music on the album, yet it is formatted in what I consider an extremely palatable way.

 

The album is titled A Love Letter to the Transformer, and you’ve mentioned it is a Lou Reed reference. Does it specifically reference the album Transformer by Lou Reed? If so, how?

Well, possibly (Laughs). What that is about is that I initially wanted to write a whole album of love songs to Lou Reed and I did write some of those songs, but only one of them ended up on the album. I won’t say which as I think it is about so much more now and I don’t want to take away the listener’s experience and what they may read into things because that is such a wonderful experience: Finding your own meaning and stories in music. Also, because it is a story. The album goes with a book I wrote and all of the songs fit into that story – this album, being part one. As for the whole “transformer” thing, as I began to write more songs I realized there was something much bigger inside of this – A bigger story than my love songs to Lou Reed (Laughs), and also at that particular time in my life I was going through a dramatic transformation. It was very painful but beautiful at the same time, and all of the ideas around transforming became very interesting to me. This story is something that had to come through me. I could not stop it and in the process it has continued to transform me in many ways. So, it is a love letter to the process of transformation, along with a love letter to a particular time in my life.Silhouette

 

Since the album deals with transformation, would you care to give some thoughts on transformation, or that particular time in your life?

Well, I am always thinking about transformation really. This is the creative act and it is something I am doing in my life as well all of the time. All of life is constantly changing and mutating. Who I am today is not who I was yesterday, and so on into infinity – the piece A Love Letter to the Transformer is my love letter to that process and also to different people and spirits who have either encouraged me to change and transform or even forced me to do so at times. It is based on some specific times in my life that were both amazing and also very difficult as well and really the only way to make sense out of any of it was to transform, to grow and also to realize that this ability to transform is a great gift for all of us. One must shed the old skin to begin again so to speak. [We must] burn in the flames and rise again. My sun sign is Scorpio, so I suppose on that level it is natural for me to be focused on these ideas of transformation, as Scorpio rules this. I have found in my life many times that if I do not transform, I get stuck. Sometimes it is very painful as well, but necessary.

 

Prelude starts off with some really cool synth and drum playing, then rises into what is kind of a pretty rockin’ guitar part. It almost feels with the rock guitar part like you are having fun with the listeners, like “this is going to be a rock album,” and then you pretty much abruptly cut that off. To me, it’s like that macho element has been disrupted and then some grainy synth line introduces Space is Dawning. It seems like a sort of ushering in a new emotion, while giving a nod to older style rock. Is any of that intentional, do you see what I mean?

What an interesting idea! I didn’t plan it that way, but I like that idea. I think I was really just thinking about David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars at that moment (laughs). Josh [Klinghoffer] played the guitar part and I think it was just a fun thing to do and I wanted some kind of guitar in the beginning, as I love guitars!

Are the synth parts through out the first two songs divided between you and Josh, or just you?  

They are divided between us. It was very loose and improvisational in many ways. I would have a feeling in my head relating to the story and Josh and I would play around and find something that resonated to that.

Was the album recorded to tape?

It was actually recorded on digital 8 track.

What was it mixed down to?

Hmm, Josh did that. I think just a master CD and then eventually my friend Martyn Lenoble dumped it into his computer and mastered it properly.

I think you said it was recorded at John Frusciante’s house, was it recorded on the “King Crimson” 8-track?

(Laughs) What is that? I would lie to believe that! It was recorded at John’s using his 8-track that he had used to do a lot of the stuff from to record the To Record Only Water for Ten Days album on. We used his synths, too.

The reference to the King Crimson 8-track was about an article where John said that Curtains was recorded on the same 8-track as In the Court of the Crimson King.  I always wondered if he meant that literally the same, or the same model. Then wondered if you had recorded on the same.

Curtains from Niandra La Des? I think he meant one like King Crimson (laughs). I recorded on a different 8-track of his.

Are there any plans to release the book that this album is in conjunction with? I am sure a lot of people are curious about the details of places such as Blossom City.

I would like to eventually release the book, but when I have shown it to people they feel it may be too expensive to reproduce, which I actually disagree with, but yeah I would like to. Right now I am working on the music for part two and when that is finished I would like the whole thing to come out really. I am also making some short films to go with the whole piece. Blossom City is a place of innocence, if that helps.

Inside/Outside is a really beautiful track, very atmospheric, and a little reminiscent of ice cream truck music towards the end. Was that intentional?

(Laughs) That’s funny. I didn’t have an ice cream truck feeling in my mind (laughs). It is actually a Wizard of Oz music box that I had at the time. I loooove music boxes and I wanted to use one as they feel very child like and nostalgic for me and so then Josh just mic’d it in the bathroom as I wanted an echo-y type feel for it. Also, in the story Ic Explura finds a glass music box cube in the forest and when she opens it the transformers’ creature friends jump out and start playing the song that comes next: The Harmonium Song.

On the track A Serious Dream, was the classical sounding part in the middle done with a keyboard?  The strings and woodwind sound really good!

Oh yes, here is the next song, A Serious Dream. It is a harmonium done in rounds, like when you sing, you know? It starts and then it starts again and then again kind of thing. I wanted it to feel like a dance, it is very much like a waltz for me. The middle part is a Mellotron, I think. It’s been a while (laughs). I work very spontaneously for the most part. My ideas are very, very specific and I am going for a very particular feeling when I write with this particular piece as it is a story, but everything is very open and free as to how one can get there. I like to try a lot of different routes if you know what I mean. For instance, I might have an idea where I want it to sound like a mountain falling in slow motion with a red filter tainting that image. So, the routes of music that we take to achieve that, like which instrument to use or combination of sounds, etc., are chosen very spontaneously, although sometimes I have a clear and defined idea of that, too (Laughs) Contradiction as always, you know, I just really like the actual process of things – how they come to life.

Would you say that the instrumental tracks are in a sense traveling some mood spectrum towards the vocal songs, and was that intentional if so?  

No, no intention in that direction. Basically for me, there are times where words are necessary to communicate and a lot of times they are not, they just get in the way. It is just going with a feeling really. Also important for this piece always is the fact that it is a story. The music fills in parts of the story. When the whole thing is finished it will be a musical in two parts, a diary, some film and a storybook and all of these parts fill in pieces to the puzzle of the entire story. You cannot see the full story without all of the parts.

The Longing – the vocals on this are really great. Do you remember if more than one mic was used for your vocals? I really like how they run into each other. And what is that first line? Inside this forming …?

Well thanks for that. Only one mic was used here. It was a Neumann mic and that’s why it sounds so great (laughs)! Sometimes I’ll do fill-in vocal takes to get that call-and-response or running-on-vocals style thing. The first line is, “Inside this forming I can see out.”

Is that you on tremolo guitar? Or Josh? Or both?

I believe it is both of us on this track and, of course, Josh is always doing the drums. I love the drums on this! I just adore his drumming so much!

Ic Lands – some great “channel changing” sounds start this off. It’s a lot of what some people would call mistakes or edit out, but it sounds terrific. Do you follow your ear in taking risks using what some people would consider non-musical sounds?

Oh yeah for sure. That is some of the best stuff. I love mistakes, or what ever you wanna call them. I like to think of them as the spirits bringing you gifts; helping you to find what’s underneath it all. All of us tend to be so afraid of mistakes and problems and all that jazz. In music and, more importantly, in life, but these mistakes or obstacles or problems, or whatever you wanna call them are there for us. If we are open enough to see that they have a very real magic of their own and if you can learn to work with them, I find that is where you can actually see great beauty and wisdom. And in music and in art, I think they mirror something more true to life as life is full of mistakes and obstacles and problems and so on but that is where all the learning takes place. It is the gold. In alchemy, the “negrito” comes first, before the gold.

Black Fish Pearls — What a marvelous piece of work! This is honestly one of my favorite songs in the world. It’s got great back-and-forth vocals, meeting up to display beautiful symmetry, beautiful music.  Is that ice shaking in a glass at 46 seconds into the song?

Thanks again. I don’t know actually! (Laughs) Josh did all of the percussion here and he did it at home after we recorded everything else and then brought it to me. I love all of that stuff, too, so much. It is a sea song of sorts.

Is that a dog barking during the instrumental towards the end?  I didn’t think John [Frusiante] had dogs. Were they sampled? Field recorded? Also, was that a spray paint can used as a shaker?

Well, those would be neighborhood dogs. John is a cat man (laughs). I don’t know anything about a spray paint can. As I said before. Josh did the percussion at his house.

The Lesson in Eight Parts – Is there any expanding you’d like to do on the title, or is the lesson something to be learned by listening? This is one awesome track that shows Avant-garde music fits right in with songwriting.  Reminiscent of Yoko Ono and John Cage.

The story here is that when Ic lands on the transformers planet, there is a magician of sorts who teaches her how to communicate only through sound, so these are her lessons. They are also games of chance, and that is a kiss to John Cage from me.

Any further words on John Cage, have you read Silence? I’ve been absorbing that book for a while now. Any particular favorite John Cage piece?

I have read Silence and a few other books of his. There is a great one called Conversations With Cage, which I adore. As far as his pieces go, I really love all of the prepared piano pieces.

The Mirrors in Him – another great track! No specific questions, but there are great breathy vocals. Tangled Up in Music – A lot of guitars happening here. Were these tracks all you?

Yes.

All in all, I think it’s a truly marvelous album that definitely rewards repeat listening. Thanks for making it and making it available!

Well, it’s not only a love letter to the transformer, but a love letter to life and all that exists.

You’ve mentioned in the recent past that you are getting ready to make another Diary of Ic Explura album with Max Davies.  Has work on that begun yet?

I have started writing and recording. So far it has been me as well Max and also some drumming by Pete Newsome, and Josh is going to do some stuff as well. There may be some more people as well. I have a wealth of amazing musicians here in Nevada City. Slowly, but surely. I should have it done by next spring at the latest. I am also making a film to go with the piece and when it is all finished I would like to put out parts 1 and 2 of the music on a vinyl set.

Somehow I had missed Invocation to My Demon Sister being posted on your MySpace,  Is this track going to be on the next album or is it mainly posted to share because it will not be?

It is an early demo for the next album.

Also, I’m sure people will also be curious about any intent you might currently have towards releasing The Desert in the Shape? Would you like to address that at all?

Well, I may put it online at one point and people can pay-a-few-bucks-and-then-watch-it kind of thing, or maybe for 10 bucks you can download it. I am so busy with other stuff; I don’t know when though. I have a friend who is going to do this for me most likely though, just want to protect the film though as I don’t want it all over the Internet. It is something from my heart and it is really meant to be seen in a theater, ideally speaking. I would only do it because people have expressed so much desire to see it.

Is there anything you’d like to say to anyone that may read this?

“Don’t try to build in the space you suppose
is future, Lydia, and don’t promise yourself
tomorrow. Quit hoping and be who you are
today. You alone are your life.
Don’t plot your destiny, for you are not future.
Between the cup you empty and the same cup
Refilled, who knows whether your fortune
Won’t interpose the abyss?”
-FERNANDO PESSOA

For more The Diary of Ic Explura info, please visit http://www.myspace.com/thediaryoficexplura

 

For hand crafted art items created by Toni, please visit her Etsy store at http://www.etsy.com/shop/seminafilligree

 

Toni is also involved in a collaboration project with Chris Oliver Sounds. Visit http://www.myspace.com/magicandfunmusic for more information.

 

Max Davies is a great singer/songwriter, and partner musically and otherwise with Toni. His songs and other information are at http://www.myspace.com/maxdavies

 

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3 Comments

  1. Ms. Toni “Ic Explura” Oswald is one of this centuries greatest living artists/musicians and i want her new album on vinyl, cd and any other form of release!!!! this woman is gifted beyond measure and you all need to know about her, her art and her wonderfully dark and amazing music of beauty and sorrow. Loveletter to the Transformer, indeed.

  2. Toni is a beautiful and magical person. I am always looking forward to hearing/seeing her latest creations.

    :O)

    Heather

  3. Toni Oswald is one of the most creative and kind and balanced people I have ever met. Literally, she is a well of creativity and the most beautiful spirit and most importantly, a loyal and supportive friend.

    If Toni were a guy, she’d be as big as Bowie was – if she wanted to be, which I doubt. She genuinely lives her life in this artistic, creative, spacial, musical, beautiful way and I’m sure she’d not want mainstream success to interfere with her free imagination and ability to create as she wishes. Because on another place Toni Oswald has always been a star and always will be – her starlight radiates. Anyone who ever could think otherwise isn’t familiar with her music, art, film, photographs, and fashions and certainly has not met her. Never a kinder soul have I met. She is the waves of freedom and creativity incarnate in the form of woman.


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  1. […] If you're interested in reading the whole interview with ms. Oswald, done by the blog's owner David Coupaud who was really kind to give me a heads-up regarding it, click here. […]

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