Mamiffer “All of the compositions are directed heavenward; they are like hallucinations, space, and transcendence of the body.”

Faith Coloccia

Mamiffer strike beautiful, haunting chords that grow more nuanced and confident with each release. The audio-visual project is helmed by Faith Coloccia, who also performs as Everlovely Lightningheart, Mâra, and serves as one half of the experimental SIGE label. She receives occasional help from husband and guitarist Aaron Turner. Always driven by driven by source material, 2012’s Mare Dencendrii was a sullen epic with many guests, exploring a grand vision not unlike Sunn O)))’s Monolith’s and Dimensions, albeit with more melody and finesse. Multiple collaborations with sound artist Daniel Menche also took place, as well as seeing his field recordings appear on Mamiffer’s latest, The World Unseen. Menche even makes a guest appearance in the following conversation, conducted over email with Coloccia and Turner, who live in Seattle. That explains a lot. I’ve never been to Seattle, but if it rains as much as it does here in Scotland, the pathetic fallacy is certainly something I can relate to, cascading over mountaintops. Dour, but free.

The World Unseen was released earlier this month on SIGE Records.

Both of you are prolific musicians, and it seems like many of your projects stem from a clear goal, or a certain piece of source material. Do you find certain materials (places, books, people, sounds) engage you so much that they become a driving force toward a particular work?

Coloccia: Yes, it seems that the interests and questions I have at the time of making a recording or artwork, converge/come together from disparate sources (books, dreams, interviews, philosophy, daily events, memories, goals, architecture, sounds etc). And the common thread is found, or I collapse these subjects into a common idea/container during the process of making a record and the artwork that accompanies it.

Turner: Faith’s explanation covers it pretty squarely. Beyond whatever outside creations I might be absorbing during the process of making an album, integrating general life experiences is also critical. Daily life — both mundane and profound — changes my perspective, re-directs my thinking, and defines who I am — all of which I actively reflect on in the music we’re making. The most powerful and life-altering experiences I’ve had involve interacting with other people, and those that bring me into direct confrontation with who I think I am. The emotions and ideas that come out of that is what I want to bring to the music as it is the deepest material I have available to pull from — and the most satisfying to work with as well.

You both also collected field recordings with Daniel Menche for your work on Crater. I often find a walk can spontaneously inspire recordings as sound emerges. Was there a method to the recording process? What images or memories were you capturing, and how can field recordings be used as a tool for expression?

Menche: Field recording is basically photography but of course with sound. Now with photography there’s a wide range of ways to capture an image in nature. A Polaroid photo of a mountain can have the same impact as an Ansel Adams photo of the same mountain, but the difference is that the Polaroid photo was personal and unique to the person snapping the photo. Field recordings work the same way with us. Polaroid snap shots of our hiking adventures and then we put them together in a collage sort of way to tell a story in a sonic sort of way. Myself, I make field recordings quick and immediate in the same way I use my camera. Blurry and out of focus photos have their charm and so does noisy distorted nature recordings. Whatever it takes to capture that immediate moment and yet what’s most important is the personal narrative in a field recording. I cannot use words to tell a story but I can do what I can to form a narrative with sound and image.

Coloccia: Our method for recording was going on hikes and having fun together. We are all very interested in the potentials of noise creations, and the immediate capabilities of generated sound. I am personally very interested in the limitations of documentation. I use very old cassettes and an old hand held cassette recorder to capture sounds, and there is often a lot of interference, missing information and tape drop out. This interest in the fractured document helps guide me compositionally, I use the “accidents” in the recording as compositional markers/or change placers. Its great to see Daniel doing field recordings, I have some memories of him hanging over rushing water in the summer dangling a small microphone into the water, the physicality of the sound can match the contortions his body has to make to get the sound recorded.

What other collaborative projects have you been involved in recently? Could you talk about the different creative dynamics in your work with Daniel Menche, Alex Barnett, or as Everlovely Lighteningheart?

Coloccia: We are currently working on a new split record with Finland’s Circle, and I have been working on a solo collaboration with Daniel Menche for about 5 years. Alex Barnett and I are also starting on ideas for our new record together.

With Everlovely Lightningheart, the entire process and project was one large experiment, from my friendship with Chris Badger, to the ways we lived our lives, how we talked, what we made, how we viewed the world, everything. It encompassed our whole lives and was very much based on chaos. The project was often times very stressful, and there was a lot of pressure and tension. The project focused on improvisational abilities, chance, collaborations, freaking ourselves out, unlearning old patterns of thinking, and was barely contained.

Working with Daniel is a very free process, Aaron and I work in a more compositional way and Daniel works in a very immediately primal way. It’s a good combination, and always a challenge, especially in the live setting. I very grateful for our friendship, and what music we make together. We both have the same feelings about never resting or standing still with idle hands. He is an inspirational friend because he always has something going on. We both also love gardening/farming, and trade grown foods and seeds.

With Alex, we both have a sense of wonder about our changing world, and can both see the beauty in the decaying structures of what the “future” was supposed to be. Before we made music together we would explore Chicago, recording abandoned buildings and rail yards in thunderstorms. We have a lot of the same life/music influences. He is very technically and mathematically proficient. What he brings to our collaborations is a knowledge of vintage synthesizers and modular units. We have sought out strange and little known studios because of rare instruments that they have. I know how to play piano and use keyboards, though my knowledge of circuitry, and how to use these vintage synthesizers is extremely limited. What I bring to the collaboration is a vast ability to experiment in a tactful way, I can work with the instruments intuitively, and this brings good results, and is a good balance to Alex’s technical knowledge. Deciding on the record’s concept, and a lot of discussions are involved in the making of our records.

Aaron, you’ve often cited your role in Mamiffer as a form of creative support, particularly with guitar. Can you talk a bit about your role in the creative relationship, and how you shape your guitar parts to fit Faith’s composition?

Turner: Faith is the creator and director of Mamiffer and I do my utmost to honor her vision, while simultaneously offering up my own musical perspective where warranted. Guitar is my primary instrument and what I do with that tool has been greatly broadened by being in Mamiffer. It’s been a great challenge for me to find new ways of approaching the guitar, and finding ways to make it fit into compositional frameworks that are very different from those that I’m accustomed to working in. This process of learning has led to making sounds/textures/atmospheres that are often very un-guitar like, at least in any traditional sense. Any given Mamiffer song is a combo of using my own intuition and listening to Faith’s input — sometimes I come up with a part right away that suits the needs of the song — other times I’ll make something I think is right, only to have Faith point me in another direction entirely. The parts are mostly quite minimal, and as a result need to be highly focused and refined — space and tonal quality are as important as note choices and structural concerns.

Faith, your work in Mamiffer is more than just music — it encompasses, art, photography, and writing as well. How much is Mamiffer a sandbox for your creativity? What are some pieces outwit the music itself that you’re particularly proud of? How about on The World Unseen, in what ways did the art extended beyond the aural?

Coloccia: For now Mamiffer is one of my main vehicles of public expression for my art practice. This could change, although for now I enjoy all of the challenges this medium brings. I cannot get comfortable with the various aspects performing and recording music brings. There are always new and unexpected trials, and I find that I need new forms or bravery, or I have to develop new skill sets/methods of thinking/doing, which is very rewarding. I bring my visual artworks to Mamiffer to resolve the records concepts. The artwork and music inform each other, and influence one another.

The artwork for Mare Decendrii transcended what I thought I was making at the time, and continued to have a life of its own after the release of the recording. I used a medium I have been working with for a long time: Ashes/painting with ash. I expanded my ash paintings in a way to fit the music, made them larger and more “composed.” I was surprised and happy by how they turned out, and this helped me to expand my experiments with the medium.

With the artwork for The World Unseen I created an anchor to the earth and to the body. All of the compositions are directed heavenward; they are like hallucinations, space, and transcendence of the body. All earlier Mamiffer recordings (besides maybe Statu Nascendi) have been very chthonic, and rooted in the earth and body. With the artwork for The World Unseen I wanted to express time from the perspective of the body changing, the wear upon stone veneration objects hidden within the earth’s body, the body “reading” heaven through actions, and bodies of water running — an abstract image of time, and freezing — time stopping. All of these images including lyrics are contained within the cover, which is an ash painting done during the writing of the record. So in these ways I feel that the art extend deeper beneath the aural compositions of the recording, giving the record a tether, so it is not so body-less.

How has Mamiffer evolved as a live act? What sort of challenges or limitations have you overcome over your years of touring?

Coloccia: Mamiffer had a very clumsy start to live performance. Some of the first performances I did were solo with a grand or upright piano and one cassette player running through a PA. I was so nervous that my sets would run only about 15 minutes.

Eventually I started to perform with my friends Travis Rommereim, Alex Barnett, Daniel McCoy, and then Aaron. Some of the shows Travis and I did as a two piece were really cool (at least from our perspective!), in garages and small smoke-filled rooms without PA’s etc, they were really fun. Again, we would play about 20 minutes and then leave.

When I started to get asked to go on tours, it was hard to transition Mamiffer to a live club setting. I went from doing improvisational music (with ELLH) in alternative spaces and galleries to making structured and rehearsed music based on pre-written compositions, on stage in front of mostly heavy music audiences. We struggled with getting a “delicate” or composed sound to register as “loud/big/communicable” in some form. We came to the realization after many experiments in different settings and with different collaborators, that for Mamiffer less is more. Aaron and I decided to perform as a duo, and we started to structure compositions around this.

Singing has been another challenge for me as well as stage fright. I was very afraid to use my voice. During earlier performances my voice was barely audible live, and there was a lot of feedback. As I have been gaining confidence with my singing, my stage fright has also diminished, which has given me even more incentive to use my voice.

Another limitation is touring without a grand piano, it is difficult to replicate the sound even though I have a stage keyboard with weighted keys. One way I began to deal with the absence of clubs providing Grands was to base more compositions around the organ instrument. The synthesized organ sound is a lot better replicated through bass amps and cabs than the synthesized piano sound.

The World Unseen is a very expansive, sprawling work. What influences played a role in shaping this? You have cited Arvo Pärt, who is known for his vocal compositional technique “tintinnabuli.” Also Thomas Köner — his bleak, location-specific recordings are have the same expansive quality as “Parthenogenesis.”

Coloccia: The main inspirations for The World Unseen was the health situation I was going through at the time. It was a period where I was close with death and also lost someone close to Aaron and I. In my attempts to strengthen myself while also experiencing loss, I turned to some unlikely places to help heal and empower myself.

One time period I returned to was growing up in a normal 80s Lutheran church. I was not inspired by the male-centered/patriarchal/monotheistic aspects of my experience there, though I was inspired by the space of the church, and an essence that many people experienced there including me. This essence of spirit seems to have survived many years of being hidden within certain propagandas/ideoogies etc. The “root” of this spirit was still alive in the sacred space of the church. When I was little I could see hope in some people’s faces for a contact with the root of this essence. Church was the only place I saw grown men cry. It was the only time I heard my mother sing. I found strength in this, and the root essence that I had witnessed and felt and carried with me all my life. I took it for granted until the writing of this record.

Another time period that I turned to to find strength, was a very inspirational time in high school. I was very lucky to find some friends at 13 that introduced me to some amazing non-popular weirdo music. I returned to this time period to resurrect the strength and inspiration I felt as a teenager, witnessing/hearing these transformative songs and albums: Swans “Soundtracks for the Blind” Lungfish “Sound in Time,” Low “The Curtain Hits The Cast,” Einstrüzende Neubauten “Drawings of Patient O.T.,” and Blixa Bargeld “Commissioned Music.” The slowness, repetitiveness, and space in these albums was helpful in translating and giving a sonic framework in which to see my compositions form.

I love Arvo Pärt (and also tonic triads!)! He has been very inspirational to me. Especially in his beliefs in communicating spirit through sound: “I could compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.”

Another inspiration was Richard Skelton’s “Landings.” I had read that this album came about after a major period of loss in his life. The songs communicate this so delicately, and beautifully, there is a thread of hope and will to live through waves of emotion — woven into the songs that can be held on to.

Lastly, a large inspiration for this record was the idea of fractured or interrupted communication, specifically in terms of reaching out beyond the earth and into space/heaven. Communication with the invisible, trying to make a connection to someone you can’t see, hoping to be a human receiver of divine message etc.

Both of you have experience running record labels, and have spoken about the difficulties of pressing records in time for release dates. Can you weigh in on the current resurgence in old formats such as vinyl and cassettes and your experience using them? Many small presses are frustrated with major labels clogging up vinyl plants — what has your experience been in regards to this? Do you see a solution?

Turner: Getting quality vinyl made in a timely fashion has always been tricky, especially for smaller labels. Though admittedly it’s gotten harder in the last few years, small labels and limited pressings were systematically bumped in favor bigger entities. It has however gotten worse in recent years and some plants have become basically inaccessible to those wishing to run small editions. We’ve had the best luck with smaller plants and printers run by people sympathetic to the world of indie labels — most recently Cascade Record Pressing (vinyl), Cryptic Carousel (tapes) and Stumptown Printers (print work). They actually seem to care about their clients rather than just pushing jobs through as fast as they can. Hopefully some new manufacturers will join in to help with the overflow in demand, and in the meantime the only real solution is to persevere — and to set release dates waaaaaay further out than previously necessary. We used to plan a release date 3-4 months from when an album was finished — now we’re aiming more towards 6-8 months. I have a feeling the vinyl bubble may burst soon, but until then we’ll just have to hang tight and hope that the places we work with can stand strong against the major label vinyl-cash-grab epidemic.

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