An introspective narrative from the Pacific Northwest.
The Sight Below is the main recording alias of Seattle-based artist Rafael Anton Irisarri. Wanting to distance himself from the inevitable limelight cast by a release on a larger independent label, Irisarri cut a shadowy figure around the time of his debut full-length under the name, 2008's Glider on Ghostly International. The record introduced his Gas-influenced works to an audience well beyond the confines of the US ambient/experimental scene (Thom Yorke was apparently a fan), its live guitar-fuelled drones making their heavily processed mark upon the wider electronic music world.
Irisarri has since continued to expand upon his light yet arresting approach from his Seattle base, either under his own name on albums like The North Bend and Reverie, or as The Sight Below. The city also provides the backdrop for Substrata Festival, the event behind which Irisarri is the driving force. Began in 2011, the two-day festival aims to "create an intimate space where the boundaries of performer and listener are blurry." Tim Hecker, Scanner and Lawrence English are all set for involvement for the 2012 edition. Irisarri was also in curatorial mode earlier this month with the release of Air Texture Volume II, a two-disc collection on which he was asked to compile selected ambient works alongside Loscil.
Alva Noto, Angelo Badalamenti, Biosphere and Cluster & Eno represent a flavour of the artists featured on Irisarri's mix for us, 80 minutes of music that gently challenges the notion of "ambient."
What have you been up to recently?
I just returned home from a two-month period living in Europe and playing shows with ORCAS (duo with Benoít Pioulard, released on Morr Musc), solo or as The Sight Below. At this moment my focus is Substrata Festival, which will be happening August 3 - 5. Aside from this curatorial project, I'm working on several remixes and a large stack of mastering work in the queue.
How and where was the mix recorded?
I curated this mix between Seattle, Brussels, Rotterdam and London, as I was on the road when I conceptualized it. I finalized everything one evening in Berlin.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
I wanted to weave an "ambient" mix that combined music traditionally associated with the genre (Harold Budd being a really good example) but also ended up selecting music which is not necessarily considered ambient but relates to the introspective narrative of the mix. One of the most rewarding parts of the curatorial process is re-discovering pieces of music and re-contextualizing in a way that people who would not normally appreciate the music can find a point of entry to the artist presented.
Tell us about the idea behind Substrata Festival?
I started Substrata with this basic premise: to create an intimate space where the boundaries of performer and listener are blurry, where the invisible plane that exists between the audience and artists is constantly breached. In simpler terms: to provide a space that is both inspirational and stimulating. I've always been inspired and fascinated by simplicity—I find beauty in the space between words, sounds, and/or images.
Substrata is small and definitely not for everybody, and that's fine. There are by far way too many festivals catering to the masses out there pushing corporate products/agendas (is it me or almost every week a new one pops up somewhere?). Substrata is not one of them. This is a completely DIY endeavor, meaning no corporate sponsors, no city grants, no agents, no middlemen, no egos, no b.s.—everybody gets treated exactly the same way. For example, there are no "headliners" among the artists, or the "backstage" area is actually the Will Call at the venue, to facilitate and encourage interactions between the artists and the audience, the exchanges of ideas and culture.
Substrata is entirely supported by the community of advance sound listeners around the world. I'm forever grateful to everyone who's contributed to our fundraising campaigns. I'm amazed by the kind of support we've gotten so far—about half of our attendees are coming from outside Seattle. It is humbling and I'm hoping people will find their experience worthwhile. We have put in countless hours to make it all happen and make it special.
What are you up to next?
I'm working on a special live A/V commission as The Sight Below for Touch (UK), which will premiere at the Touch.30 event during Decibel Festival on September 28. I'm also planning fall and winter tour dates and festival one-offs, compiling remixes for ORCAS, recording new material for The Sight Below, and working on a series of interdisciplinary collaborations with other artists.