Released on August 25, 2023
Johan Lenox answers some questions about his debut chamber music album:
CAN YOU LET US KNOW THE BASICS OF THIS RECORD? WHO MADE IT AND WHAT WERE THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF ITS CREATION?
This album JOHAN'S CHILDHOOD CHAMBER NOSTALGIA ALBUM was recorded by members of the string quartet Ethel, who I first encountered during a residency they did at New England Conservatory prep school in Boston while I was a student taking lessons there — while the final piece 'Deep Breath' features he Brooklyn Youth Chorus, a group I used to arrange for. (I met their director through Bryce Dessner).
I wanted to create an album which encapsulated the classical composition work I had done while studying at Yale but which made use of more modern recording and producing techniques. It was made while I was still living in New York City after my formal education. I am from Boston but the album was recorded by New York musicians in a New York recording studio and is being released on a New York label. This is very much my New York record, speaking to the concerns and ideas that circulate among chamber music composers in that city.
Originally I made the album at Oktaven Audi0 in Mt Vernon New York almost as a backup plan before I started pursuing a career in pop music, while also speaking to some larger ideas I have about classical recordings which I've wanted to showcase. It was recorded much like a traditional classical album but we went a bit wild in post-production, revisiting and enhancing the audio with my co-producer Jonas Karlsson, who was giving full license mess with the raw audio and produce what became the final record.
DO YOU WANT TO TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR THOUGHTS ON CLASSICAL MUSIC RECORDING TECHNIQUES?
Classical music has been around for centuries but since the early 1900s it's steadily faded from relevance, especially in the United States. So many people may not be aware that there are still people composing and playing new classical music every day. I suspect one reason why this is the case is that albums in the genre are traditionally made to be a pretty clean and naturalistic document of a live a performance in a studio. In theory, this is meant to capture the experience of a live performance, but I think this is inherently impossible and therefore a pointless exercise, except for pure archival purposes.
So my goal with the album was to explore what it would be like to have these old instruments recorded and produced using a lot of modern techniques that allow for greater drama and a more intense listening experience, to elevate the effect of what's happening in the composition of the music. Most other genres of music have evolved with recorded media and have taken full advantage of the possibilities within the format to help create a more evocative final product, and I think classical musicians should take greater advantage of this.
OK WE HAVE THE TECHNICAL STUFF. BUT WHAT IS THIS ALBUM ABOUT? ARE THERE SPECIFIC THEMES YOU HAD IN MIND WHILE WRITING IT?
The album is about hazy memories of childhood. I am a very nostalgic person and I revisit those times often and it's interesting how fractured and blurry the vignettes I recall even most vividly are. I wanted an album that felt like how I remember a school day feeling in elementary school, when I'm not even sure my brain was fully developed yet.
To guide the listener to some specific tracks. The first song released from the record "HOPES AND DREAMS" was the last piece written, and is probably the most rhapsodic and least focused piece, but for that reason I think it's probably the best illustration of the spirit of childhood nostalgia which I'm describing.
The next track we're featuring "PARACHUTE DANCE' is built around a swelling gesture that was inspired by an a cappella group arrangement I heard while I was a participant on the NBC contest show The Sing Off. The swelling effects are recorded live (and not reversed even if they sound that way), a detail which probably gets lost on a recording as manipulated as this. Once I began work on the piece, that swelling effect also reminded me of a memory from childhood of playing with a gigantic parachute in gym class with 50 other kids. This recording is what inspired the concept of the entire album.
"WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE" and its companion, "DEEP BREATH" are ambient pieces in that they are just chords and texture without any melody or contrasting ideas. The former song was inspired by a moment in a music class at Yale when heard someone playing some simple triadic harmony, extremely muffled in the next room. The idea of not being able to hear something clear enough to even tell what it is and then slowly revealing it to be something pretty simple and quaint felt really emotional. "DEEP BREATH" goes further in trying to fracture this sort of endlessly-circling and directionless chorale into something very fragile and barely held together
recorded at Oktaven audio
Engineered by Ryan Streber
Composed by Johan Lenox
Produced by Johan Lenox and Jonas Karlsson
Mixed and mastered by Jonas Karlsson
Mix: Jonas W. Karlsson
Atmos: Jonas W. Karlsson & Henkka Niemistö
Mastering: Jonas W. Karlsson
Tema Watstein, violin on tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Kip Jones, violin on tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8
Ralph Farris, viola on tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8
Dorothy Lawson, cello on tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8
David Kaplan, piano on tracks 3, 6
Karl Larson, piano on track 7
Brooklyn Youth Chorus, directed by Dianne Berkun Menaker, vocals on track 9