Mathias Van Eecloo’s Eilean Records ended its six-year mission in December, finishing a 100-point map with the massive 82-track (eilean 100). A new decade has brought a new project called Laaps, launching with The Alvaret Ensemble‘s ea (not to be confused with the band’s AE). Today we take stock of the label that was and the label that is, touching on these discs and more, while gathering perspective from the man behind it all.
It’s been a long, slow, beautiful ride for Eilean Records, which launched on the auspicious date of 4.4.14 with Twin Cities’ Variations for the Celesta. But those who purchased the album noted a strange thing: this was Eilean 02. Where was Eilean 01? It turned out to be 9T Antiope’s Grimace, released over five years later. The numbers were not chronological, but points on a map that would reveal itself over time. In addition, each album was given a season and a color: a synesthetic choice that underlined the precision of the plan.
One can picture all 100 releases lined up nicely on a display shelf; it’s a collection of which the curator can be proud. The seeds of the project were sewn years earlier with the multi-album The Clyde Parker Project, on which Van Eecloo teamed with artists across the globe under the moniker Monolyth & Cobalt. Last October, the artist revisited these 116 tracks, choosing 23 to highlight and remaster ~ a victory lap of sorts, tumbling into nostalgia. After all, the artists had been approached on MySpace!
What’s the best release on Eilean? The answers will vary from listener to listener ~ or even hour by hour. My first impulse is to go with Jonathan Kawchuk’s North (2015), because I have a fondness for winter music, as well as for music that matches its season of release; the same principle holds true for Monolyth & Cobalt’s The Dunen Diaries. But if pressed, I’d say the label saved the best for last. It’s hard to compete with a 6-hour release, on which 61 of 82 tracks are new or unreleased. The sheer size of the release (in a metal box!) makes it virtually impervious to review. One either likes ambient music or one doesn’t, and if one does, this is a must-buy. It’s fun to choose highlights; restricting the choices to one per disc, here are my picks:
From Disc One, Bamboo Stilts’ “Porthole,” from 2015’s Beneath the Bark ~ an album we missed out on reviewing as it was released at Christmastime. The twinkling tones of this piece are reminiscent of bicycle bells, mirrors and stars. Continuing on this theme, Disc Two’s “Une Dernière Lueur” is a fine introduction to Ieva, its wind chimes sparkling in the cold breeze. The artist first appeared on Eilean with 2015’s Lueurs. (Jump a few tracks forward to hear more wind chimes on Dramavinile’s “Borrow” and Ciro Berenguer’s “Lunar Cresciente” ~ am I cheating by mentioning three?)
By the end of Disc Two, some decidedly non-ambient tracks are starting to seep in through samples and beats. The trend continues on Disc Three, which contains 9T Antiope’s abrasive “Seagulls Feast,” the duo’s very first single ~ and a wild one it is! Just as one thinks the drone and doom will continue throughout the track, a fragile voice drifts in on a cloud of strings. Disc Four is packed with drone, which may be why a crisper track stands out: Banabila and Machinefabriek’s “Sasquatch,” one of the rare Eilean tracks that one can dance to. And finally to Disc Five, which shows no dip in quality; in fact, the timbres keep expanding. Emmanuel Witzthum’s “Dire For Lost Places No Voice” is a mournful piece of modern composition, drifting like a slow boat on an open sea. It’s worth mentioning that the closing track, BMRN’s “Going Down Fighting,” is the most non-Eilean sounding selection of the whole set, a head-nodding, feet-moving piece that bodes well for the future. Extra points if you can spot the name of a BMRN track that is also the name of another Eilean artist.
Laaps continues some of the facets that made Eilean a success. The albums are still associated with seasons, and the premiere LP looks and sounds like winter ~ it’s even offered on snow white double vinyl. There will be 100 releases once again, but the release schedule will be slower: two each season. The difference is that the new story is linear: each album begins where the last album ends in a 100-bridge game of exquisite corpse.
The Alvaret Ensemble is a wonderful choice to launch the label. This time around, the group is comprised of core members Greg Haines (piano, church organ, percussion ), Sytze Pruiksma (percussion), Romke Kleefstra (guitars, bass, effects) and Jan Kleefstra (words, poems), augmented by Joana Guerra (cello, voice) and Olga Wojciechowska (violin, piano), the latter following her hit album Infinite Distances. With two pianists and two percussionists, it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s doing what, with one exception: the ensemble rises or falls on the performance of Jan Kleefstra.
ea is primarily an album of mood. Melancholy is stretched across its grooves like lacquer. The mournful strings make it sound like a leafless tree, whispering that it is still alive. Kleefstra is the world-weary narrator, offering a chronicle of inevitability. His voice seems introspective, his words impressionistic ~ although they sound better in his own language. The finest phrases, such as “I pull on some clouds,” teem with magical realism. Ironically, in the digital / streaming era, it’s likely more people will hear the words without translation, lacking access to liner notes. Instead, they will be enchanted by Wojciechowska’s violin, Guerra’s cello and the piano notes, as sparse as trunks in a snowy landscape. The fun part is that due to the exquisite corpse format, every album ends on a cliffhanger!
As the new label launched, we reached out to Mathias Van Eecloo for some perspective on the success of Eilean and the process of beginning a new project.
We’re sad to see Eilean end, but we’re excited about Laaps. Who else is on the team?
The new team is the same as the previous team, my design mate, Rémi and I ~ the same team behind IIKKI!
Looking back over the Eilean catalog, please choose (if you can) one answer to fit each of the following categories:
Aaron Martin – Comet’s Coma / Autistici & Justin Varis – Nine / The Clyde Parker Project – Various Artists
2) The album you are most proud of releasing, and why
I’m proud of all of them. But certainly The Clyde Parker Project has a special place for me. Not because I’m involved in it, but mostly because without this first project more than 10 years ago, there would not have been eilean rec. and all the projects which have followed. And that was almost a hardship to me, to come back to the past and try to make something more coherent and successful.
3) Your favorite track
It’s impossible to have just one between 100 releases and around 1000 tracks!! I love a lot of them.
4) The best story behind a release
Meeting Miguel Isaza from Columbia and having him at my home in Brittany, so far from his land ~ it was fun to have him here and a really nice meeting.
5) The best friend (or friends) you made through Eilean
Same, a lot of them have a particular place in my heart. I could name some with whom I continue to work and that I consider as friends to me : 9t Antiope, Aaron Martin, Aries Mond, Benjamin Finger, Craig Tattersall (from The Humble Bee) Danny Clay, Emmanuel Witzthum, Ian Hawgood, Leigh Toro, Miguel Isaza, Offthesky, Orla Wren, Seabuckthorn (who came to my home), Stijn Hüwels (whom I met in Ghent), Toàn.
This was a huge undertaking ~ congratulations on being consistent with releases over the entire span. Was there a learning curve for running a label? If so, what did you learn along the way?
Thanks a lot for your words and for the support too by the way! Since the start, you and a few other music blogs have been at my side, and that was important for me and a strong support!
I’ve learned a lot of things. And mainly, it was a pleasure to produce some releases from well known music artists in this area, as well some unknown music artists. Each time it was like a gift to open the files, listen to the works, talk and make the tracklisting and find the appropriate artwork. It’s a creative effort that I love a lot. But, that’s true, it’s a huge work to manage. Alone with all. I’ve been exhausted a lot of time! I’ve learned to master too, even if I’m not at the level from some « real » mastering engineer, I’ve learned a lot on this side too. The part that I don’t love so much is to package each copy for mailing! 😉
What other aspect of the project did you most enjoy ~ for example, the preview mixes, the videos, the mapping, or the designing?
I’ve enjoyed all the parts. The designing too, even if I’m not the person behind this part, it has been the source of a lot of discussion with my mate Rémi. It’s one of the most important parts of this project and the other projects like IIKKI, and now laaps.
Both glad and sad, but it was the deal since the start. It’s like a child for me who has grown, and now, I let him live his own life 😉
What does the name Laaps mean? To me, it connotes Lapland, overlapping tracks and albums and elapsed time.
That’s the laaps of time. a particular moment where something happens. And the exquisite cadaver idea is this moment. the passage between two releases. And there is something in the continuity, a loop which will come back at the start when the 100 releases will be complete.
I’m glad the seasonal associations will continue. Will you also be adding colors?
Yes and no. Not like eilean rec., but each seasons will have a particular visual imprint for the artwork. And this time, my wish is to have a particular imprint for the music, for each season. Winter is connected to something more dark, experimental, drone and post-classical; spring is connected to something more soft and dusty (a lot of releases for this season will be connected to the works in reel to reel, or that similar process, something out of time); summer will focus on electronic, even IDM if that’s possible, or with more beats; and autumn will focus on some free folk, psyche folk, that kind of stuff, more close to a rock scene, but in the ambient vein.
How did you come up with the exquisite cadaver theme? (In the States we call this exquisite corpse ~ I played it on paper in grade school to create wonderful monsters and stories.)
As with eilean rec. I didn’t want to just release some albums and that’s all. I love the idea of the connection between each album, even if that comes from different artists, from various horizons and practices. Finally, something like a family. And the artists have to be involved in this process, which gives them a form of challenge.
What are your hopes for the new label? It will certainly be around for a while ~ if my math is right, the final release will arrive in 2032. At that time, will you wrap the project around like Ouroboros, so that the end of the last release connects to “In Meagere Nekke” (from ea)?
Yes ! that’s it! An Ouroboros project.
If Monolyth & Cobalt arrived in the MySpace era, and Eilean in the digital era, what technologies or platforms do you see emerging in the next decade? In 2032, will we be able to download your entire catalog directly to our brains?
That’s a funny question, because I’m a person very excited by all technologies; but at the same time, afraid about that. And I think it could be a possibility to connect the music directly to our brains in the future. If it happens, I won’t do that. Music needs space, needs to circulate, and not be connected to our body. I guess.
To finish, once more, many thanks to you, all the people who have followed eilean rec. since the start, their positive words, their support, and a special thanks to all the artists, the music artists and the visual artists.
I hope laaps will bring some new discoveries, some new people and that the project will have a long life until the 100th release!
A Closer Listen thanks Mathias for his time and wishes Laaps all the success of Eilean and more!