Julianna Barwick writes gorgeous layered tracks that create an ethereal ambiance throughout her new album, The Magic Place. Her work doesn’t include many decipherable words, but instead the music is built on layers of her voice and sparse instrumentation to create coat after coat of recording that results in something truly beautiful. The music feels like an angel singing Gregorian Chants in a massive cathedral.
The Magic Place is enjoyable to listen to and the listener can just focus on what is happening, but it is one of those albums that can also be used while reading, talking, or during prayer and contemplation.
While some listeners will be dissuaded by the lack of a traditional song structure here, those who delve into Julianna Barwick’s music and spend some time with it will undoubtedly be rewarded.
Julianna Barwick talked to us about her unique way of making music and her new album, The Magic Place, which was given a best new music rating on Pitchfork and was featured as a first listen on NPR.
1. For our readers who haven’t heard your work before could you describe a little bit about what you do and how you got there?
I’ve always loved to sing, but a few years ago I borrowed a pedal from my friend that had a loop feature – I started playing around with it and fell in love with it. I love building and building vocals, layers and harmonies, and ending up with a sound that is totally unplanned. That’s sort of where it all started and what I’ve built upon – these vocal loop-based arrangements – and as I’ve made more and more music I have added little things here and there, instrumentation and otherwise. It’s really free and visceral and spontaneous for the most part.
2. This album is a collection of music with no real words. Could you tell us some of the ways you communicate to the listener in this album?
I think the tones in my vocals relay a message; on some songs it sounds mournful, others elated, others content, etc. There is so much music that communicates emotion without words at all – instrumentals, ambient music for instance. I think the feeling and emotion of a song can come through without words to help it along. A lot of my favorite music has no clear verbal message.
3. What types of people do you expect will connect with The Magic Place?
Oh, I’m not sure. The people who have responded positively to my music have been all over the place! People who like vocal-based music, dreamers, people who like early 80s 4AD kind of stuff – it really varies.
4. Is there something you hope people will walk away with after listening to the new album?
I hope people connect to it emotionally. I hope it makes people feel good. I hope it inspires people to make connections with other people or to do things they’ve been wanting or meaning to do but haven’t.
5. What do these songs look like live? Could you describe a show to us?
I’m building every song from the ground up live. I start, usually, with one vocal line, loop it, and add layers and layers on top of it until it vaguely resembles the recorded song. It’s not visually astounding or anything! I essentially am standing behind my table and singing and twiddling knobs, but I love doing it so I hope that some people are into it too.
6. As you envision your music changing over time do you think it will include lyrics down the road?
Maybe. There are a few words on the last couple records, barely discernible, they are words that will pop into my head when I’m recording. I don’t give them much thought. Eventually I might write some more lyric-based works but for now I kind of struggle with committing to lyrics so it would definitely be a challenge for me for sure.
Download a free track from her brand new album The Magic Place here