Could this be the year’s most original mix? Spanning five decades, 1935-1985, Cliff Dweller’s “The Golden Days of Radio” is an aural walk through history with a decidedly experimental bent. It’s unlike anything else we’ve heard this year.
While reviewing Cliff Dweller‘s new album, The Dream in Captivity, we were drawn to a diverse back catalog that includes film scores and original works. The music of Cliff Dweller (Ari Balouzian) incorporates viola, old 78s, samples and stray dialogue. While the music often comes across as menacing, it can also be beautiful. Concurrent with the album release came a unique mix with an intergenerational appeal. After pursuing the matter with Ari, we were overjoyed when he agreed to award us the premiere, along with a short interview.
Listening to “The Golden Days of Radio” brings us back to the bygone era before television, when families gathered around wood and transistor consoles to listen to radio shows, news and music. For those who could afford it, the heart of entertainment was a large piece of furniture with a dial in front and a turntable that could be accessed by lifting the lid. My grandparents had one of these monsters, which they passed down to my parents. Some of my earliest experiences with music came from this radio: sitting cross-legged on the floor, turning the AM dials, trying to find broadcasts from across the sea in the late hours of the night. One never knew what one might encounter: a symphony, a comedy show, a brand new style of music that no one had heard, debuting in the static-drenched shadows. The knob was the key; with some dexterity, one could zero in on the clearest transmission of a broadcast. Sometimes the transmission was so faint that one needed to keep one’s hand on the metal in order to boost the reception.
“The Golden Days of Radio” restores this sense of discovery with a series of well-chosen vinyl sources, from long-lost songs to the sounds of war and the triumph of choirs. A Closer Listen is proud to present the official premiere. Press Play and keep reading after the jump for our interview with Ari Balouzian.
Congratulations on the new album and on this spectacular mix! It seems like the mix provided an opportunity for you to show your lighter side after a series of darker releases. Would you agree?
Thanks. Yeah I think I would agree in terms of especially the vinyl, the mix has a lighter vibe.
What are your earliest memories of radios?
My earliest memories are just of my family’s little set up. I didn’t really know about the radio stuff but I was super fascinated with the hi fi stuff that I didn’t know about like the amps and putting the radios through that and what that did to the sound.
This may be an obvious question, but by naming your mix “Golden Days of Radio”, you seem to be implying that the modern age of radio, despite its innovations and global reach, has lost something. In your opinion, how might radio – including internet radio – enjoy a modern resurgence?
Well, I don’t necessarily think of it as like looking back and comparing it to today. I was really kind of interested based on the idea that before TV and movies, there were shows purely on the radio that people tuned into and got lost in. That power of the mix of the audio and the imagination is really cool to me. I’ve always really liked listening to full albums and artists that have this full world you can kind of get lost in which is what I like in a lot of classical music. Like I used to listen to Das Reingold, the Wagner opera and really liked the way it brought you in and even though you couldn’t understand it, you were in that world and could picture a narrative that applied to you. That’s something that I guess I’m really interested especially in terms of making music that would be on a vinyl that’s there to be to only be listened to (not in the context of a film). I think it’s cool to make things that people could apply their own situations. In terms of the future of radio, I think internet radio and a few stations really do have an audience and are putting together interesting things that broadcast around, like i think the idea of a Boiler Room and NTS radio and stuff are cool that you could see concerts broadcast via the internet or mixes and pieces that artists can kind of run and broadcast around.
What are your favorite songs and/or albums released from 1935-1985?
A lot of them are on this mix… couldn’t really name them all but I would say some standouts from the mix are like the last track on the Mishima soundtrack by Philip Glass, “It’s All Forgotten Now” by Ray Noble, the stuff Wilhelm Furtwangler conducted of the Berlin Philharmonic during the 40s, Glenn Gould Art of the Fugue I really like and also the sound design of Walter Murch on THX 1138 I would say is another of my favorites. Pretty random, but definitely couldn’t name all my favorites in one go.
You’ve done film work, mixes, and just released a new album ~ where do you go from here? What can we expect from Cliff Dweller over the next year?
Well I’m continuously doing film work because it’s something I get hired to do a lot so it helps me to eat haha. I always really work to put something that is unique and really heightens and works with and not against the film, because I feel like a lot of film music has just all become the same. I just finished sound designing and scoring a feature and a few shorts that I’m really excited about. I really like working in film because I feel like it’s a place for some really kind of experimental music and sound to reach and translate to a large audience. For example, I recently did an ad with a director and musician Ryan Hope from the UK and we worked within this kind of crazy system but ended up making a spot and especially a piece of music and sound design that we are both 100% happy with and I think it’s interesting that something like that would make it on TV and be experienced by people when it is something that is a bit abrasive and interesting to me. So I would say definitely a lot more film work. I also do string arranging and have done some arrangements with two song writers especially that I’m really excited about, Tobias Jesso Jr and Robin Nydal who goes by Mirage. They both have records coming out this year and have this amazing timeless and personal quality about their music that I love. Other than that I think the next record we would do as Cliff Dweller would be this thing I’ve been doing with Max Whipple who I always collaborate with and he’s been writing these incredible piano pieces that we’ve been figuring out how to orchestrate and also incorporate found sounds and something into. Definitely a lot more melodic than this record which was made mostly out of tape loops.
A Closer Listen thanks Ari for his time and music!