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Alex York - Black Tupelo CD


Alex York’s Black Tupelo comments on the obscured line between American folk music and spiritual minimalism. Through sampling across analog and digital media, including vinyl, cassettes, and YouTube, Black Tupelo derives all its sonic material from recordings of Powers / Rolin Duo. In the past, York has primarily sampled jazz musicians, but gravitates towards acoustic drones on this record, which lend to collage and layering. In approaching these samples, York was inspired by a Roscoe Mitchell live performance in which he plays with a video recording of himself, as well as the call-and-response recording technique of Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt’s Made Out of Sound. Applying these concepts to his own method, York also adds pitch shifting to the samples and doesn’t shy away from including little idiosyncrasies, such as the resonance of someone bumping into an instrument or tuning during a YouTube live performance. To make each element a little fuzzier, York’s samples passed through many permutations amongst tape, computer, and MPC, ultimately forming a complete blend of analog and digital.

The title of the album, Black Tupelo, refers to the species of tree found in the foothills of Appalachia where Alex York grew up. On the record, he emphasizes the minimal qualities of repetition, drone, and timelessness that are characteristic of the region’s folk tradition. According to York, he draws upon and transforms folk to “create minimalism’s spiritual and meditative qualities.” Structured folk and blues on recordings struggle to capture the minimal aspects of the tradition, such as how live folk performances can continue for several minutes, droning throughout on half of the instrument’s open-tuned strings. York cites The Carter Family as a significant influence, describing them as “ghost music, spiritual music” with a lo- essence. Listening to their records is “like listening to a folk band play three rooms away, from outside of the venue, from outside of the church,” he said. For York, there has never been a place where American folk music ends and spiritual minimalism begins.(Hannah Blanchette)

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