Music For Writers: Jodie Landau In Iceland, Romancing ‘You’

Jodie Landau. Image: Hörður Sveinsson
Jodie Landau. Image: Hörður Sveinsson

Click on the image below of Jodie Landau to hear music from You Of All Things as you read:

‘You’re The Choice I Make’

Let me offer you some artful goosebumps. This is a man at 23 speaking to you about what happens when he sings his music:

All of my pieces are from the “I” perspective sung to “you.” And while it is sung by me and thus often from my own perspective, the “I” and “you” at every moment can take on different meaning. Sometimes, I may be singing from me to someone else, while others it may be something I might want someone to sing to me, and sometimes both simultaneously.

If you don’t know we’re in a golden age of contemporary classical music right now, you haven’t read enough #MusicForWriters columns. Just keep Q2 Music playing as you work (a player is embedded below). It now offers music identified for you in the afternoons, 1 to 4 p.m. Eastern, and it just gets better as the international hub of this rising force in musical arts.

And as Mozartean as this lucky era of ours can seem at times, Jodie Landau is a unique talent, a genuine standout, and a welcome one.

‘This Sense Of Intimacy And Of Love’

In this debut, Landau gets more sheer authority into each measure of music and line of text than some of our best people do in a whole score. And one of the reasons this is such a singular event is that it’s not just Landau. He is writer, singer, and composer but he’s something more: a Peter Pan who has led a big band of not-at-all lost boys and girls from Los Angeles to Reykjavik. A striking number of accomplished music people believe in Landau and are betting on him.

In Iceland, Landau is a new inductee in Bedroom Community, one of the most exacting and focused collectives of artists in the world. It’s the Bedroom Community label we have to thank for releasing this album.

How collaborative is it? The album, You Of All Things, is a work by:

It’s the smart Album of the Week selection at New York Public Radio’s Q2 Music, with a fine introduction by Daniel Stephen Johnson.

I want you to know
how often I think of you
consider your thought
mull over your every view
they stay with me always…
I want you to know
I want you to stay
want you to hold
want you to feel
safe with me
awake with me
stay with me
stay

In the music world, this release is called a 10-part song cycle. I’m telling you this is also a romance. Not the “shirtless men kissing beautiful women” stuff I’m constantly looking at sideways in literature. This is romance as a verb.

coverJodie Landau gets hold of an idea—maybe an idea of being in love with you. And then? He romances it. He romances you.

Jodie Landau is the music industry’s new Cyrano de Bergerac, a flirt of endless guile.

He yanks in every single thing he can find to play (he’s a percussionist), or write, or compose, all in the service of getting under your skin. He wants every musician, every engineer, every color, every breath, every possible way into your heart and your mind and he succeeds.

In listening to You Of All Things, you’ll get it. It is all about you. All about him romancing you. And if you can listen to the full album and not fall in love with this guy, then you need to go back and listen again.

“‘Can I write about love when I haven’t really experienced it?’ But of course I can write about love, and of course I have experienced and do experience love.”
Jodie Landau

My recommendation is that you start—I hope he won’t mind my suggesting this—with the final three tracks on the album. These are a pure concentration of a soul that somehow we all know so well. Why? Because you hear yourself in this. Maybe you weren’t as silver-tongued as this, but when you were 23? You thought you sounded this way, too. We all did. Landau actually can do it, in real time.

Such a lesson for writers lies in “as I wait for the lion,” the piece from which the album title is drawn. Listen for how he can go from a breathy vibrato-less hush into a soaring head voice on “you evolve.”

I try to write
as if I knew
I try to find
a thought of you
you of all things
you of all things
you evolve

Such a lesson for lovers rests in the penultimate piece, “stay going nowhere,” and Landau gives a cloud-racing fusion to this breezy piece, the singers of Graduale Nobile hanging on, wind in their harmonies, sunshine on their vocalise.

I want you to know
and yet I still bite my tongue
I want to embody it all
[embody it all…]
speak the truth
but feel that the words are wrong
[know this, know all…]

And finally, such a shy shrug awaits in the strummed muscularity of his sign-off, hang-dog in its simplicity:

you’re the choice I make
time and time again
and thought the hour nearly ends
I’d love to wait
silently gazing
and sway

When you’re done listening, you feel him still “silently gazing.”

‘No Idea A Little Over A Year Ago’

Happily for me, our romantic, Landau,  gives a great interview, too. He’s going to talk about romance and how limited our commercial concept of it is. He’s right. In my exchange with him below, he’s going to explain all you need to know about the process of working with Rountree as the producing mastermind in LA and Reykavik. I’m quoting him at a lot of length, not least because the sheer enthusiasm of his art comes bounding through.

“Some people have respectfully asked if the ‘you’ is a specific person.”
Jodie Landau

I’d be remiss in mentioning that there are other compositional forces here, as well, all writing for Landau.

For sheer musical dazzle, the composer Marc Lowenstein‘s two pieces titled “This” (“This – i” and “This – ii”) will keep you hitting repeat. Darkly energetic woodwinds and percussion, like a bad paddling going on in the next room, make a very tricky bed for Landau’s lower register as he sings his way in, in this case voicing texts from Rumi. The voices of Graduale Nobili rise to meet him, strange sirens over celeste, a rhapsody that at times becomes strident, demanding, so urgent.

There also is music here of composers Ellen Reid (the second track, “Orlando & Tiresias,” in which gender duality is, indeed an issue) and Andrew Tholl (the deliciously ominous “Memory Draws The Map We Follow” with its Holst Neptune celestial wind-up).

But it’s Landau’s own work you’ll feel, remember, go back to over and over. At times working in an undefended soprano, he can break your heart, then whip that airy sound into something sinewy and purposeful so quickly that you feel trapped by his stare:

you held your hand out
I volunteered
your eyes seemed so inviting
and so sincere
but so suddenly you go
I really wanted you to stay so so sweet
but then realized
you don’t
you don’t care for me at all
and then I realized
you won’t
you won’t care at all

Contemporary in his fixation on relationship, timeless in the musical insouciance with which he tempers the sound of his own profundity.

So I started there in our interview. After all, this is a lot of album for a guy in his early 20s.

Jodie Landau. Image: Hörður Sveinsson
Jodie Landau. Image: Hörður Sveinsson

‘Don’t You Americans Be Fooled By Our Faces’

Thought Catalog: Jodie, how long would you say that this album has been “in you?”—by which I mean, it sounds to me as if [this] work might have been developing in your heart and mind for a long time. Is that the case?

Jodie Landau: My music for the album was developed over the course of a year leading up to the recording sessions, while writing for this project and others. My writing process often stems from improvisation, whether vocally, at the piano, and/or at the vibraphone. Many of these pieces in particular stem from vocal improvisations. The melody for an invitation and “a ballad—for you dear” was a melody that one day came out pretty much as is.  This may be why it seems to have been “in me” for quite some time, or why it’s somewhat familiar and catchy. So maybe it was “in me”, or rather “around me”.

The pieces by [fellow composers] Ellen Reid, Marc Lowenstein, and Andrew Tholl were written specifically for this album and the preceding concert in Reykjavik. The scores were delivered a little less than a month before the performance and recordings.  These were quite an exciting challenge to get “in me”. in the body, in the voice, and on the vibraphone, in such a quick period of time.

TC: And can you describe the way you think of the collaborative elements of the work? …At times I can hardly tell where you leave off and wild Up takes over, although I realize that your work is the basis for virtually all of what we’re hearing.

JL: Collaboration is key to this project and to all my work.

Here’s a side story: For many of our wild Up concerts, we paint our program and band listing on large pieces of muslin using stencils. This is one of my favorite things that wild Up does, and I love being a part of the painting process.  In kind, we painted all of the lyrics/text and credits for our album release listening party and upcoming release concert. The credits alone took 13 hours to paint, partially because I was very cautious as I stenciled the names of 20 Icelandic singers. Painting this was such a wonderful reminder of how many people contributed their creative efforts to this project.

Throughout my time developing this music there were so many people who helped shape what the music became…Nick Tipp, our wild Up engineer in LA, and I worked closely together creating rough recordings of my material before we even knew this album was to be. Nick also then worked on the album helping me create some of the electronics and samples for stay going nowhere. Then there’s Kate Conklin, my voice and Alexander Technique teacher, without whom I would not sound the way I do on the album. This list could continue on forever listing more teachers and colleagues, and, of course, friends & family.

Ellen, Marc and Andrew each served roles beyond that of composer. Andrew plays violin on the entire album. Ellen helped me put together our Indiegogo campaign, and then in Iceland picked up rental instruments, printed parts, kept our rehearsals on schedule, etc. And, Marc Lowenstein was sort of our rehearsal pianist helping to teach the music to the choir, a vocal coach to me, and has given endless wonderful advice on my compositions.

“After one of our rehearsals, one of the singers went to Chris [Rountree] and in referring to their Iceland stoicism, said, ‘Don’t you Americans be fooled by our faces, we’re having a great time.’”
Jodie Landau

Christopher Rountree is the founder, artistic director, and conductor of wild Up. He is the lead intelligence with the collective.  He was also my key partner on this project. While this project stemmed from my idea to go Iceland and work with Graduale Nobili, Chris helped enable and legitimize this crazy idea.

As a conductor, Chris shaped these new pieces in a way no other conductor would have. Chris fostered an open environment for us all to create, both performers and composer alike, while being direct, pushing us, and always keeping us on track. Chris and I definitely did not agree on everything, and this was a major part of our collaboration. For instance, on one piece, he wanted to push it faster, and I wanted to pull it back. The resulting feel and compromise between us gave the piece the energy and momentum that he pushed for, mixed with the sense of movement within stillness that I desired.

Chris and I spent countless hours together writing the notes on the edits and mixes we received from Valgeir and Paul Evans.  It was incredibly important to us to give them succinct and specific notes while also putting our full trust in them.

And boy, did Valgeir and Paul work their magic. Without them, this would be a different album. They were so responsive to our comments but also always came back with their own incredible ideas.  I’ve never worked with people quite as patient, dedicated, and innovative.

Graduale Nobili. Image: Finnur Ingimundarson
Graduale Nobili. Image: Finnur Ingimundarson

And of course… Graduale Nobili

They were the impetus for this entire project. They’re what brought us to Iceland and why we wrote this music. Working with them was unlike anything we’ve done before. Many of them have been singing together since they were very young and they have this impeccable unified, pure, and gorgeous sound. It was quite insane and wonderful teaching them an hour of new music… in a week. And some of this music is really hard. But they all pulled through so excellently. As group, they were fascinating. Some of them seemed to have perfect pitch, while others didn’t really read music but yet learned it all by ear.

Our experience with them and with Iceland, was also a wonderful meeting place for two different cultures, both musically and personally. After one of our rehearsals, one of the singers went to Chris and in referring to their Iceland stoicism, said, “Don’t you Americans be fooled by our faces, we’re having a great time.”

TC: Your texts are so rich. At times you’re working with others’ words and at other times, with your own. …I’m curious whether this kind of linguistic faculty (both with others’ text and in creating your own) has been with you as long as you recall? Or has it come to you recently?

JL: My own text often begins with the first words or syllables I sing when creating, refining or improvising a melody. If they don’t make sense, I’ll find similarly sounding or pleasing syllables.  I’ve always been interested in how words feel as they come out of my mouth or how they sound as they enter your ear. I also enjoy playing with words through repetition, alliteration, elongation, etc. and the ways in which syllables resonate both musically and emotionally.

“For each upcoming performance of this material, I am creating a slightly new arrangement based on the musicians who will play it. Vocally, I’m definitely writing for myself.”
Jodie Landau

TC: In pulling so many elements of the work together, you’re really embodying the trend we see today in so many of our best composers as performing creative artists. I sense that it might even be hard to trust this work in another performer’s hands and head and heart. How closely integrated is your idea of what you’re creating — at the time you’re working on it — to the concept of your own performance. Are you, in other words, expressly writing for yourself, or is this work something you see being handled by others?

JL: I like to write music for each person who plays it. All of the pieces on the album were written specifically for these wild Up members and Graduale Nobili. As I’ve probably mentioned, much of the music involves improvisation or modular notation. For instance, while some of the group has standard notation, a few players may have stemless, floating noteheads with instructions as to how to interact with the vocals or surrounding instruments, while also encouraging them to improvise. Without Brian Walsh, Andrew Tholl, Derek Stein, and Maggie Hasspacher from wild Up, the music would have been played and interpreted very differently. For each upcoming performance of this material, I am creating a slightly new arrangement based on the musicians who will play it.

Vocally, I’m definitely writing for myself. I’m very open to other vocalists interpreting the material, but for now I hope to continue performing it myself.

Jodie Landau. Image: Hörður Sveinsson
Jodie Landau. Image: Hörður Sveinsson

‘Relationships Are Absolutely Essential’

TC: “You’re a choice I make.” Without being overly personal, I hope, how central to your concept of yourself as an artist is relationship? You seem to be so eloquently focused on it here. For example in your lyric, “I try to write / as if I knew / I try to find / a thought of you.” — both in presentation and in creation, is relationship as essential to your vision as it seems?

JL: Yes. Relationships are absolutely essential in my music, and yes in my concept of myself as an artist.  Relationships between me and my friends, loved ones, colleagues, dancers, etc., Relationships between me and the musicians, me and the composers, and me and the audience.

First and foremost—as I’ve probably already said or will say many times—my music is what it is because of the people around me who help to create it. They are the core of my music and performances.

‘Can I Write About Love When I Haven’t Experienced It?’

Image: Daniel Christiansen
Image: Daniel Christiansen

TC: I hear  you singing to them, don’t I?

RL: All of my pieces are from the “I” perspective sung to “you”.  And while it is sung by me and thus often from my own perspective, the “I” and “you” at every moment can take on different meaning. Sometimes, I may be singing from me to someone else, while others it may be something I might want someone to sing to me, and sometimes both simultaneously. Likewise, I hope anyone listening to the music could have a similar experience. At any moment they can be either or both the giver and the receiver of these words and melodies.

Some people have respectfully asked if the “you” is a specific person. Occasionally it is, was at one point, or, can be. Whether it be the dancer who held out their hand in the midst of a performance and I was allowed to take it and follow them, or a friend with whom I have trouble communicating, or an imagined other… so on and so forth.

Recently, I’ve been talking with a friend a lot about internal personal relationships and they often bring up Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages (which I confess I have not read). They identified that my love languages are quality time and intimacy. And this sounds about right to me, and it seems to be quite apparent in my lyrics.

In “as I wait for the lion,”  “I try to write as if I knew” in some ways stems from the type of thought: “can I write about love when I haven’t really experienced it?”  But of course I can write about love, and of course I have experienced and do experience love. Too often the concept of love is related to and limited to romantic, non-platonic, sexual types of relationships. “We’ve seen the things we love, but find them separate, if only we’d forget.” And I hope to forget this instilled idea that love in the romantic sense is somehow separate from or grander than supposedly separate types of love.

In Bjork’s piece “Thunderbolt” on Biophilia, she sings “My romantic gene is dominant and it hungers for union, universal intimacy all embracing.” These words strike me so heavily. I relate to them so profoundly.

In my life, in my relationships, and in my music, I desire to create and to allow for this sense of intimacy and of love; unbound.

Image: Lauren Pray
Image: Lauren Pray

TC: Lastly, can you fill us in a bit on  your background? I’d love to know where you’re from and what influences have brought you to this point— with Bedroom  Community, no less, and Valgeir, these are such icons for us. Is this where you thought you were going (I’m smiling, so glad it’s where you DID go), and where do you go next, what projects are ahead?

JL: I was born in raised in Sherman Oaks, California. I’m so fortunate to have been raised within a family that always supported and fostered my interests in music. I attended Oakwood School in North Hollywood, which has a small but very strong music program, and during the summers, hosts the Academy of Creative Education (ACE). As I began to write music, this is where I had the incredibly fortunate opportunity to have my first scores played by the faculty. The faculty is comprised of many CalArts teachers and alums.

ACE is where I first Marc Lowenstein, played in ensembles with Vinny Golia, had voice lessons with Kate Conklin, who has been my voice and Alexander Technique teacher for six years, and worked with David Johnson, who later became my percussion teacher at CalArts, and whose son, Ivan Johnson, taught jazz band and new music ensemble at Oakwood, founded ACE, and to this day is my close friend, collaborator, and the father of my godchild. Since graduating high school, I’ve spent July every summer teaching at ACE.

“Too often the concept of love is related to and limited to romantic, non-platonic, sexual types of relationships. ‘We’ve seen the things we love, but find them separate, if only we’d forget.’ And I hope to forget this instilled idea that love in the romantic sense is somehow separate from or grander than supposedly separate types of love.”
Jodie Landau

In wanting to stay close to the music community I had acquired—but to get a little outside of the CalArts bubble—I attended USC as a composition major… for a semester. I then transferred, inevitably, to CalArts as a percussion major, and later joined the Performer-Composer Program.

In Fall 2013, I was the multi-percussionist in The Industry’s “invisible opera for wireless headphones” at Union Station, Invisible Cities by Christopher Cerrone. [Here is our #MusicForWriters piece on Cerreone and Cities.] In spring 2014, I composed a score for Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY’s “mouth to mouth” which I performed live with wild Up.

Jodie Landau working percussion with wild Up
Jodie Landau working percussion with wild Up

I’ve been working with wild Up since 2013, as a percussionist, vocalist, and composer, as well as, as “flux admin staff” and more recently a production manager of sorts.

Since working on our album in Iceland, I was invited on tour to sing music by Valgeir Sigurðsson with Ballet National de Marseille and ICKamsterdam in the premiere of Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten’s “Extremalism” which premiered at the Holland Festival and Montpellier Danse in June.

Next week, on October 16 I have my album release concert with wild Up at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles. We then travel for wild Up’s New York debut on October 20 at Roulette in Brooklyn [as part of the Sonic Festival]. Following this, I’m excited to return to Iceland to perform shows during Iceland Airwaves with Bedroom Community. From there… we’ll just have to wait and see.

“Is this where you thought you were going?” I certainly had no idea a little over a year ago, that along with wild Up, I would join Bedroom Community. It is such an honor and an absolute dream. And it fits perfectly. Valgeir, and BedCom, and Greenhouse Studios are such an incredible family and collective of musicians, that it is a wonderful extension of and expansion upon my musical family in LA. TC mark

More From Thought Catalog

  • http://porteranderson.com/musicforwriters-jodie-landau-in-iceland-romancing-you/ #MusicForWriters: Jodie Landau in Iceland - Porter Anderson

    […] Read more […]

  • https://thoughtcatalog.com/porter-anderson/2016/05/composer-lewis-pesacov-a-5125-year-love-storys-moment-in-eternity/ Composer Lewis Pesacov: A 5,125-Year Love Story’s Moment In Eternity | Thought Catalog

    […] of Forever on June 24. The recording features the work of the Los Angeles-based ensemble wild Up (see our Music for Writers coverage of wild Up’s work with Jodie Landau), and it just may be the only big of music you hear this week that includes a part for conch […]

blog comments powered by Disqus