It’s easy to loose yourself in music. Julianna Barwick discovered the process of looping when borrowing a friend’s guitar pedal and got lost in the process of creating. She started experimenting, and has since developed a style that is almost ethereal. Her music just doesn’t sound like it belongs in this world- layers upon layers of her voice echo in cyclical patterns that ebb and flow in a way that captivates emotion while transcending space and time. In Julianna’s case, loosing yourself in the music is an attribute aided immensely by the lack of discernable lyrics in almost any of her songs.
Julianna has said that she doesn’t care much about the actual words she’s singing and works highly intuitively. How, then, do we evaluate something that connects with us so deeply, yet doesn’t have a clear set of quotes to do some of the work of expression for us?
Looking at the background of an artist and her work can be a part of understanding and verbalizing the emotional of the music. Born in Louisiana, Barwick was raised in Missouri and found a love of reverb through singing acoustic hymns in church and finding tress that reflected the noises she made. She currently lives in Brooklyn, did her first tour in Europe, and recorded her most recent album in Iceland. While her music is often compared to ambient musicians like Brian Eno or Enya, she’s a huge fan of artists like Drake and Rihanna. Barwick is almost literally all over the place, but definitely not in a bad way.
Up until her most recent two albums, Barwick’s recording and writing process consisted of experimenting with her voice and the looping pedal in her bedroom. On her third release, The Magic Place, she made it out of the bedroom and into a real studio, but for her newest release, Nepenthe, producer Alex Somers (known best for work with Sigur Rós and Jónsi) invited Barwick to Reykjavík to collaborate. The new album has earned more comparisons to Icelandic music in general, and has added basic instrumentation and includes guest appearances from Barwick’s mother, members of múm, and a teenage choir.
Barwick rarely, if ever, writes her songs ahead of time, so how she’s feeling the day of recording greatly affects the results. She acknowledges and embraces the emotional power of music, on both the creative and receiving side, and the title of the newest album is a reflection of that understanding. “Nepenthe” is a name from ancient Greek literature and mythology for an Egyptian medicine given to help forget pain and sorrow.
In an interview with Secret Thirteen, Juliana is asked about the title of the album and the powerful effect of music:
“I don’t think I intentionally think about healing power of music while I am making it, but for me personally it definitely is cathartic to make music and that’s healing. So, I don’t think it is something that I intentionally do, but that’s kind of the way it ends up being for myself, because I make all of my music just sort of on the spot and so there is a lot of feeling there, but in general I find that the most therapeutic thing for me to do is to listen to music. When I am feeling sad or feeling happy or anything music is the super super huge important part of my life, so I understand the power of that."
Even though it might not be put into exact words in her mind or in lyrics, Julianna’s music can be understood as example of how music can be a strong place of refuge for those of us who need some quiet, uninterrupted time to be still and get lost.
For all that evaluations of background and influence are worth, though, it is really valuable to just go to listen to the music, or go to her live performance, because art is ultimately about an experience. One of the beauties of that is that every experience can mean something to different people.
~ Kendra Kamp