Qua and Mountains in the Sky – Close encounter

November 20, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, EG, November 7, 2008.

Two musicians lend each other their ears, writes Dan Rule.

It’s tough to even get a question in between the banter. Cornel Wiczek and John Lee have their own decidedly brotherly thing going on. Throughout today’s encounter at a Collingwood cafe, they manage to consistently finish each other’s sentences, gossip about new equipment and chuckle incessantly at in-jokes. “We’re so close, we even have a David Lynch club happening,” boasts Wilczek, deadpan.

It’s indicative the pair’s growing musical relationship. Despite their vastly divergent musical backgrounds, Wilzek (the 34-year-old classically trained composer behind the hyper-fragmented electronic craft of Qua) and Lee (the 33-year-old former Geelong band guy who now makes the fluid, electronically-inclined psychedelic tropes known to most as Mountains in the Sky) have become like two peas in a musical pod in recent times.

“I think it’s really important to have peers in your life as an artist,” offers Wilczek, originally a classical guitarist hailing from Adelaide. “Otherwise you miss out on a whole range of sensibilities that you wouldn’t bring to your music on your own.”

“And Cornel can tell me which key my songs are in and all that sort of stuff,” adds Lee laughingly. “Because I wouldn’t have had a clue about otherwise.”

Aside from releasing their respective new albums – the frighteningly brilliant, heavily abstracted pop of Qua’s fourth album Q&A and the shimmering orchestrations and colour-drenched melodies of Mountains in the Sky’s third release Electron Suite – through the same label within a week of each other, they plan to launch them together with one huge, multi-pronged set at the Corner tomorrow night. But the pair’s coming-together has very little to do with expediency.

Since meeting through a mutual friend at the start of the decade, the twosome have found themselves sharing an increasingly analogous artistic plane. It began with Wilczek, who spends much of his week composing soundtracks for film and television, mixing Lee’s second Mountains release Accipio (2006) and has since developed to the point of the two becoming mutual sounding boards for one another’s every idea and muse.

“In the last year it’s become this kind of joint obsession,” says Lee, who cites listening to hip-hop in the late 90s with the guys from the Avalanches as opening his mind to a world outside of rock. “We were always communicating with each other about what were feeling was important and all that kind of stuff, so they have ended up really informing each other.”

“We’d literally be writing a track and emailing it to one another,” adds Wilczek. “Having that extra pair of ears instantly opens up another perspective.”

It would be fair to suggest that their respective aesthetics can be heard on each other’s records. While Lee’s 2005 debut Celestial Son and the aforementioned Accipio swooned with sample based flourish and low-key, break-beat-bred grooves, the virtually sample-less Electron Suite – which features instrumentation from long-time collaborator Stu MacFarlane, Pete Cohen, Matthew Watson and Simon Parker – shudder’s with a more sprawling, deconstructive sensibility that seems to point directly to Wilczek, who again played the role of Lee’s mix engineer.

“I feel like I’m learning a lot more about sound,” says Lee. “Cornel has been a huge influence, not just musically but in terms of technology and learning how to use the tools that I’m using, which is really important. If you don’t feel confident with the tools that you’re using, you don’t necessarily push them as far as they can go.”

Q&A, on the other hand, pulses with a kind of asymmetrical pop energy that was hardly prominent in the shuddering minimalism and ambience of early records Forgetabout (2002) and Painting Monsters on Clouds (2004), and the unhinged improvisational flows of this July’s Silver Red.

For Wilczek, who enlisted Sydneysider Laurence Pike (of Triosk and Pivot fame) and James Cecil (of Architecture in Helsinki) on drums, the record was a chance to simply let go. “It was pretty much the simplest conceptual basis I’d ever come up with, which was making the record really fun and loud and really colourful,” he says.

Adds Lee: “We spoke a lot about the fact that we’re going to be making records for a long time and there’s a lot more time for making ambient music,” he pauses. “Like when we’re eighty and running marathons.”

Qua and Mountains in the Sky play the Corner Hotel on Saturday night.

Q&A and Electron Suite are out now through Love+Mercy/Shock


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