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New Album: Dylan Ryan / Heather McIntosh / Devin Ryan, Light From a Curious Sky

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New Album: Dylan Ryan / Heather McIntosh / Devin Ryan, Light From a Curious Sky

Light From a Curious Sky…

This trio had already been making records indirectly together for decades before convening officially to record “Light From a Curious Sky.” Heather McIntosh and Dylan Ryan first played together in 2004 in the Chicago-meets-Philadelphia-via-Athens post-rock group, Icy Demons, bonding over a mutual love of film, and especially soundtracks.  Since that time, McIntosh has carved out a prolific career as a film composer.  She is an alumna of The Sundance Institute Music & Sound Design Labs at Skywalker Sound, a 2014 Sundance Institute Time Warner Foundation Fellow, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and co-President of the Alliance for Women Film Composers. 

The Ryan brothers began playing together in their parent’s basement during the mid-nineties, doing their best to imitate the records of Captain Beefheart, and Ken Vandermark.  Devin Ryan moved to the southwest in the mid-2000s and has since been heard playing with Opera Southwest and the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra. After relocating to Los Angeles in 2010 Dylan Ryan has since drummed with groups such as Red Krayola, Cursive, and Man Man, while also maintaining ties to the local experimental community, frequenting the bandstand alongside artists such as Bitchin Bajas, Jeff Parker, Patrick Shiroishi, Daniel Carter, Sam Gendel, and Devin Hoff, and releasing two albums under his name on the Cuneiform Records imprint.

Regarding the impetus for the “Light From a Curious Sky” record. Ryan explains, “Heather would hire me for soundtracks and we’d always end up chatting about some album in her collection and how fun it would be to do ‘something like this or that’… Devin and I had also been talking about doing something super loose, with no charts or songs brought in, just letting it come together up there on the mountain in Santa Fe where he was living.” The group embraced the opportunity presented by the serendipitous timing of the two projects in such a way that two duo recordings came together as one trio record.  The collection of pieces unite cinematic and improvisational aesthetics on one recording, drawing on free jazz, new age, minimalism, and psychedelia.

Structurally, the songs are shorter than those typically heard in the ambient or jazz milieux.  These pieces tend to be without lengthy solos, highlighted more by group interplay, arching improvisatory gestures, and drones around which the players caper nimbly. The forms and instrumentation differ from piece to piece. Some songs alternate clearly between sections, others move along in a more linear way with a focus on texture and repetition as compositional tools in lieu of chord changes and melody.  Other pieces are pure melody with (Devin) Ryan’s guitar or McIntosh’s cello taking the lead without chordal context shaping improvisational decisions. 

Each piece began as an improvisation. “We would hang out on the mountain, take a walk or whatever, then go in and play a bit. Kind of an ideal situation to record in.” Ryan adds, “The one thing we did talk about beforehand in kind of an overall throughline was letting everything breathe and playing slow. We would just do a take, listen back, and try to zone in on what we liked, each cut evolving within a few takes.” The sporadic use of the drum machine frees up (Dylan) Ryan to play vibes and synthesizer while the nature of the instrument brings a hypnotic percussive quality to the tracks on which it is used. Similarly, the occasional use of acoustic guitar brings into play a new timbre that the group capitalizes on.

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