Balam Acab – Free Contemplation

I’ve always made music since I was 13, regardless of whether people listened or not.” – Siobhán Kane talks to Alec Koone, aka Balam Acab.
It is hard to believe that Alec Koone is only 21, since his EP See Birds (2010) and last year’s full length WANDER/ WONDER are s o full of depth, weighed heavy with experience and an acute understanding and appreciation of the natural world, which informs the electronic musical landscape he has created in both pieces of work.

See Birds sounds so elemental, and possesses a kind of raw spirit, something Koone acknowledges.

“That EP was really just me throwing songs together for fun with no expectations or restrictions on what I was making, because no one had really heard of me before it came out. I basically came up with an idea for a sound and went with it for that EP, and Tri Angle got involved early on, through Myspace. We were both kinda starting our projects at around the same time, and Robin [Carolan] just sent me a message on Myspace and thats how it all started.

It makes sense that someone like Carolan would have been excited in Koone’s talent, as a regular contributor to the site 20 Jazz Funk Greats, he has a particular interest in less-obvious, but thrilling music, and has written widely on the mingling between the avant-garde and mainstream, unpicking the knots; and perhaps he could see how Koone’s work is greatly informed by classical music, though  perhaps by accident, more than design.

“I’ve always made music since I was 13, regardless of whether people listened or not, and I suppose all of my musical background and all of my influences come out in my work somehow. I think classical music influenced WANDER / WONDER a good bit because I was constantly surrounded by it in school, and it just came out subconsciously. I’ve been making music on the computer since I was 14 or 15, but when I was maybe 17 I finally felt like I had a grasp on the software I was using, and felt like I could create what I wanted to create in my head tangibly with the software. I actually don’t know anything about proper electronic music, and have never gotten super into it, but I have always been fascinated by how you can create any type of music you want to using software, be it metal, or the music I make now. I never listen to classical music by choice really, but like I said before, going tomusic school and being completely surrounded by classical music all day every day definitely subconsciously influenced me, and I do like to sample classical music.”

This early interest in music meant that Koone moved to Ithaca, New York for a while to study music education, but once his own music-making took over, he moved back to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, which has an evocative name, but not necessarily an evocative landscape, Koone expands.

“Yeah I’m in Mechanicsburg right now. It’s been nice to take a break from going to school to work on music and to tour, but I imagine at some point I’ll probably get a degree in something. I’m still pretty young. Mechanicsburg is your typical American suburbs. There isn’t really any music scene, and not really many things to do other than hang out with friends. The neighbourhoods are isolated by large roads full of Wal-Marts, fast food restaurants and car dealerships. The nice thing is if you drive a little bit you can get into the woods, mountains, or countryside and its quite beautiful once you get away from the suburban sprawl.

Nature is a sprawling theme in his work, and he seems repeatedly drawn back to water – the sound of which features heavily on WANDER/WONDER.

“I haven’t spent much time around the sea, but to me bodies of water have always drawn me to them for some reason. Water is calming and very enlightening. I feel like I am going to have to move away from the water-y aesthetic a bit though in the future since so many people are using water sounds in their music.”

The soundscape of both works share a contemplative aspect, and while there is a sense of introspection, there is also a sense of hope, rendered even through the artwork, a chink of light amid somewhat dark terrain.

“You know, I just saw the image when I was browsing for artwork and immediately thought it made sense. To me, the most meaningful thing that my albums represent are the periods of my life that influenced the creation and sound and emotions behind them. They are like stamps in time to me. I think its cool that it encourages contemplation, but I think it should be free contemplation. I dont want to say “Oh my music means this….and should make you think about that….”, because people are all different and respond to things in different ways and there’s never a definite right or wrong answer to anything.

Though Koone is disarmingly modest about his work, listening to something like ‘Dream Out’ illustrates just how talented he is, it is a transporting song, full of subsonic beats, and interesting ideas, and is something that his live show hopes to honour. The live aspect has been through a couple of changes recently,initially he had a friend appear to contribute vocal harmonies, but now Koone has stripped it back to just himself.

“Yes, I’m actually playing the shows by myself now. Live shows are very rewarding because you feel the positive energy of the crowd. The appreciation is much more tangible than it is when it is simply online or in print. When I was performing with a singer, we did add new vocal harmonies, but now the music is more similar to the records for the live show than it was at first, but the older tracks are definitely re-worked a bit. I needed to fill out their sound so they wouldn’t feel sparse compared to newer material. The newer material is also different as well, but not as different as it was with the live vocals.”

We talk about the world of field recordings, and Koone says that Animal Collective inspired him completely towards that world, and it is something he continues to be interested in, the hidden worlds, the undocumented music, the idea of folk music as all-encompassing, an invisible nurturer. 

“I do love folk music, and I like to sample field-recordings of really old folk songs in my music quite frequently. I have been thinking of it a lot, but I haven’t seriously sat down to make new music since WANDER / WONDER, except for a few remixes. I’ve pretty much just been playing live shows or working on my live set since that album came out. I’ll begin working on a new record after this European tour, I think.”

To get a sense of where he might be going for his next work, I ask him what he is listening to at the moment. 

E+E. Highly recommended. Its like Disney-esque, ambient remixes of pop and R&B music.”

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