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Stars of the Lid brings elegant soundscapes to the Warhol

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Since the early 1990s, the duo of Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride have created gorgeously minimalist sheets of sound as Stars of the Lid. Often referred to as drone composers, the term doesn't really convey the emotional, expressive impulse at the core of their beat-less, vocal-less music. Their latest release on the Kranky label, Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement of the Decline, is a double-CD more than five years in the making, featuring densely layered orchestral instruments blended into electronics and swelling electric guitars. Adam Wiltzie, a resident of Brussels, Belgium, talked with CP via phone from Los Angeles, where Brian McBride works as a university debate coach.

 

With you living in Brussels and McBride in Los Angeles, how do you collaborate with Stars of the Lid? 
Typically, I start something, and there's a lot of sending CDs through the mail. I think over the whole six years for this record, we only got together one time, physically, that is. Even when we lived in the same city, we didn't so much get together and jam together -- we were always trading tapes. There was always a lot of time in this music to take it home and reflect by yourself. It needs a lot of time, a lot of breathing space. It's not something that's just kinda jammed out in a studio.

There's a basic composition that starts everything. Obviously, there's a lot of changing that goes on. As you add tracks, it takes on a new sort of force on its own. But in general, it's written down in a really simple notation, and it starts from there.

How do we even talk about your music?
I don't want to say I'm uncomfortable talking about what I'm doing -- but I don't really enjoy it so much. I'd say it's my least favorite thing to do about being in Stars of the Lid. I find it difficult to really put into words what I'm doing. Sometimes you're just doing it because you don't really know why -- it's just something inside of you that needs to come out, and this is how it translates. For me, the music I love is soundtrack music, classical music, and this is my medium for finding it.

Is there a conceptual basis that's primary, or are the musical effects -- the effects on the listener -- most important?
I've always found conceptual music and art a little bit like wading through vomit. For me, it's just finding something that encapsulates both sad and beautiful all in the same notes. That's really all I'm looking for -- nothing more. These pieces of music aren't trying to have some broad statement. It's very simple. 

What would be the ideal environment for experiencing your music?
I've never played the Warhol Museum, but what I've seen in pictures, it's the perfect place. An auditorium-style setting with seats -- it's almost like coming to see a movie. We really love planetariums, churches are really good, old churches -- just a nice big comfortable space that doesn't smell like cigarettes, and people can sit down and just relax and not think about where they are. That's my favorite. 

Like watching a movie -- more a solitary exercise than the shared mass experience of a music club?
That's the closest thing, to put it in the simplest terms. It's kind of a weird, abstract movie -- a little bit of a sad movie. It's definitely not for everybody.

Has your music followed a natural progression over the years, or is linear development essentially at odds with your project?
There's not really a conscious effort to change. For me, if you listen to the first record and listen to the last record, there are some slight differences, but the general effect is there. The instrumentation has obviously changed -- there's more classical instruments going on, only because I think when I started out, I was such an amateur. 

The titles of your pieces are often quite unusual -- are they integral and descriptive, or more just a convenient handle?
Probably a little of both. Each song probably has significant meaning to one or two people on Earth. That's all the titles really mean. There's someone out there who really understands the title along with me, and that's pretty much it. 'Cause you need a song title, and they're a little bit silly maybe, but it's just a song title.

Like "December Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface"?
It's about this person that I used to know -- a really annoying vegetarian. I was a vegan for 8 years, and I almost live a vegetarian lifestyle when I'm at home ... But it's nothing. I'm taking the piss out of everybody, really.

 

Stars of the Lid with Christopher Willits 8 p.m. Fri., April 25. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $12. All ages. 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org

Articulate silences: Stars of the Lid live in the Netherlands
  • Articulate silences: Stars of the Lid live in the Netherlands

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