Written by: Alex Green
“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed,” Charles Darwin once wrote.
If he’s right, then the Pure Phase Ensemble will be around for years to come.
Designed to be a global artistic collective, Pure Phase Ensemble was created as a sonic challenge specifically for Gdansk’s annual SpaceFest festival. Put together by the Nasiono Association, the December festival finds Polish musicians pairing with other musicians from around the world in a series of collaborative workshops where the challenge is to create original music which will be debuted during the festival.
It’s high pressure stuff, and adding to that pressure is the fact that the singular set is also recorded live for an album which will later be released.
Curated by Spiritualized saxophonist Ray Dickaty and Nasiono Records’ Karol Schwarz (KSAS) and featuring a new musical director each year, the Pure Phase Ensemble is a perfect example of how a collaborative, improvisational environment can yield rather stunning work.
Past musical directors have included Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab), Chris Olley (Six By Seven), Steve Hewitt (ex Placebo), and Jaime Harding (Marion). This year’s guest musical director is none other than Mark Gardener of Ride, who has had himself a busy year. Along with reuniting with his old band for a successful and ongoing tour across the world, Gardener took on the PPE challenge and found himself immensely satisfied and energized by the extemporaneous and creative environment.
And it shows.
The collective’s Pure Phase Ensemble 4: Live At Space Fest is a jaw-dropping piece of music. From the churning psychedelia of “Notatki” to the breathless beauty of “Morning Rise,” this is some of the most moving music of the year.
You can buy the album here:
Gardener was kind enough to find the time to sit down with Stereo Embers to have a chat about PPE.
Stereo Embers: The process for Pure Phase Ensemble is really appealing to me because it seems to encourage creativity, spontaneity and the shedding of inhibition. What are the rewards of this process?
Mark Gardener: It certainly does do that. The rewards were the feeling of the concert when you’ve worked hard during a week–when at first there was no music–and then after five days we played a great musical set to a very appreciative public in Gdansk at the SpaceFest! festival. That was a great feeling for me and great to see how much the other musicians I worked with enjoyed that night along with the process of pulling the music together.
SE: And on the other side of that, is it stressful to know that you have a certain amount of time to bring something to the table?
MG: I like that challenge and that’s a healthy kind of stress as it really focuses the people and the music and keeps all very fresh and spontaneous. It’s easy to overwork and mess up music that at one time was fresh and instinctive.
SE: How has your involvement with the PPE changed the way you look at songwriting?
MG: It hasn’t changed the way I look at songwriting because many Ride songs and other projects I have collaborated with have worked and come together quite quickly in this way. I don’t have one way to write songs–I try to keep the process varied, as this keeps it interesting and allows for more experimentation and hopefully stops you repeating yourself.
SE: Do you think it’s ever possible for an artist to feel self-actualized, or is it in their nature to never feel content creatively?
MG: For me it’s always changing. I have felt self-actualized at times with many songs I have written or performed and that can make the experience of performing those songs confident and cathartic, but of course I’m always striving to better what I’ve done and yes, maybe I’ll never feel I have ever reached my true potential and will never be totally content creatively. Many artists feel blessed and condemned at the same time and that has a lot to do with never feeling content and I feel that, but I guess that’s what keeps you going as you still believe the best is yet to come.
SE: I saw you in SF a few months ago with Ride–you’ve never sounded better. Do you think you’re hitting a new creative stride?
MG: Ride are definitely hitting a new high and creative stride as we’re stronger people and better players and musicians now and have taken the reunion very seriously. We rehearsed more than we ever did and realised that it’s only worth coming back if you are going to be better than you were in the first place. That was the challenge we took on . The big shows we’ve played have demanded that from us and we are delivering consistently and we’re loving it.
SE: A supergroup like the Pure Phase Ensemble is a fabulous concept, but a risky one, because one worries that such strong personalities together could make for some trouble. But this project seems quite the opposite–why do you think it works as well as it does?
MG: Because none of the players have big egos. We have open minds and we learn from all new musical situations we find ourselves in. Music is so far from being an exact science and that’s what keeps it interesting.
SE: What’s been your favorite musical moment in the last six months?
MG: That San Fran show was up there for me along with pretty much every other Ride show we’ve played in the last 6 months. I don’t have one moment I have many moments playing again with Ride !!