October Project :: The Book Of Rounds
Musical Discoveries: Can you tell us about the genesis of this project?
Julie Flanders: The Book of Rounds was inspired by a "daily practice" that Emil and I kept for a while, exploring the use of rounds as affirmations or mantras—words and music that when repeated by singers or listeners could result in an accretion of positive effects and personal transformations. Each lyric is intended as a prayer-—a circle of protection. They were written for my son when he was going through some difficulties in his New York City public school at a tender age. I wanted to create a blanket of comfort and protection for him. These songs were meant as a softness in the midst of that psychic concrete.
Emil Adler: The lyrics of each round are meant to be spoken to others, to create safety and well-being for loved ones, and to create a feeling of well-being in oneself.
JF: I work in hypnosis, so I know that the words we say to ourselves have a tremendous impact on our health, self-esteem and personal outcomes. The rounds were written as a fugue of positive messages that could be experienced very directly and very dimensionally as the voices cascade around one another, creating a kaleidoscope of meaning and beauty.
Marina Belica: The music lifts the words beyond their literal meaning and into an enveloping and transformative message meant to be poetic and universal.
JF: The fact that the affect of the piece is created entirely through human voices is very powerful to me. I find it extraordinary and epiphanal that such a small choir can raise so beautiful a noise. I would hope that even a person who does not speak English could feel these songs as sacred—-as a language they could understand through their heart and through the positive feelings that the rounds are meant to evoke. I would love these songs to bring voices together into a literal harmony which can be brought back into people's lives and relationships. I hope these songs will encourage people to reveal their natural kindness and care for one another.
How did the direction of the work evolve from its conception to reality?
MB: It became more luscious!
JF: A round gives the impression of being simple and childlike. It invites singing. Yet it must have enough beauty to merit repeated singing. Find the part that feels good, and sing along!
EA: A round begins simply, but it increases in complexity because many people sing it with staggered entrances. Even though people are singing the same tune beginning at different times, the round still sounds beautiful—-and even MORE beautiful with more voices--—because it is built to work with a cascade of entrances. The melody harmonizes itself.
MB: We had been introduced to a very talented musician from Yale, Keiji Ishiguri, who had created a stunning a-cappella arrangement of "Return to Me" for Redhot & Blue, the singing group I conducted there. We asked him to bring his arranging skills to the rounds.
EA: We worked very closely with Keiji to define what we were trying to achieve, while also encouraging him to explore different ways of bringing in additional vocal lines.
MB: He nailed it. The arrangements of the rounds are gorgeous. They are sophisticated settings of what are very simple melodies. But all the rounds can be sung simply as melodies, too—-and they will still be effective.
JF: Also, the words by themselves can be repeated like affirmations or mantras.
EA: And finally, just listening to the rounds is also a perfect way to experience them!
MB: Yes, there is an unparalleled beauty to a-cappella singing.
Where exactly was it recorded, over what period of time, and who was involved in the final production and release of the CD?
MB: Given our history with the college, we wanted to mentor Yale students, and to record the rounds there. The recording was engineered by Ed Boyer, who has a lot of experience with a-cappella choirs.
EA: Ed is the go-to guy in a-cappella. He's a medieval sorcerer!
MB: The striking CD cover was put together by Mick Wieland. The swirling landscape on the cover is an echo of super-storm Sandy, which had hit just prior to the recording session. We felt that the healing nature of the music might help the people affected by the storm. We also wanted to raise money through record sales for the American Red Cross.
JF: And then when the Newtown tragedy struck soon afterwards—-and we learned that friends of ours had lost their son that day-—we decided to give a part of our merchandise sales to the Ben Wheeler Fund.
How has the response to the record been?
EA: We sold two million copies in the first 30 minutes!
JF: Seriously, the response has been really great. The fans have greeted it warmly.
MB: A few fans were a little confused by the fact that the three of us are not actually singing on the record. But we loved being in the producer's role, and allowing the students to shine.
EA: It was a joy to hear the work come to life in this way. October Project had actually road-tested the rounds for a couple of years. We even performed them at the Omega Institute with my son rendering them in sign language while we sang them with the audience.
MB: Many people have said that they couldn't help listening to the entire CD several times in a row, so taken were they by its beauty and transformative power.
JF: There is definitely a cognitive shift that occurs when listening.
What can you tell our readers about progress on the new October Project album, and when they might expect to hear the fruits of your work?
MB: We are incredibly excited about the fully dressed arrangements Emil is putting together with the band's old friend, Julian Coryell, including bass, drums and guitars. The album's definitely going to have some muscle.
EA: We have a bit of detail work yet to do. We're considering brass ensemble, string quartet, a few big choral moments, stuff like that—-all of which is more time intensive than you may realize.
JF: We will send Emil back to LA for one last round of refinement and hope to finish the album some time this year.
Is there anything else you want to tell us?
JF: This is a time in the world where how we learn to live with each other is crucial to our survival as a global species. Harmony is a literal phenomenon. It is a way of people coming together—-each holding a melodic individuality of beauty and grace—-and all of those individual voices contrasting into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
MB: A perfect time to sing a simple melody together.
EA: I'm going to LA?