Curator Caroline Spang sat down with musician Andrew Livingston to discuss his new album, News from the Oort Cloud, released at Brooklyn’s C’mon Everybody in December 2018.
“I hope this record will be about whatever people want or interpret or need it to be about. For me these are songs about isolation, solitude, loss, impermanence, love and the beauty in all of that.”
The album title refers to the theoretical cloud of debris surrounding the solar system, how does the reference to space reflect your own curiosity about science and the universe?
I am endlessly fascinated by all branches of science but especially astrophysics and astronomy. I am amazed that we as a race can even begin to question where we fit in the context of the cosmos. I love wrestling with the infinite or the seemingly infinite. Astronomy lays the big philosophical questions at our doorstep and I just love it.
The Oort Cloud is a rather ambiguous concept as it is outside the current possible human reach. Likewise, your work as a musician lingers outside the familiarity of genres…it escapes definition. How does this parallel theme recur in your life and work as an artist?
I am so fascinated with the Oort Cloud. It’s at once both dense (with space debris) and extremely cold, isolated and desolate. It is an immense frozen rotating desert wasteland of incomprehensible size. In this record I use it as a metaphor for isolation. At times isolation is precious solitude and other times it is solitary confinement. I guess it is a matter of trying to find an elusive and changing balance. It occurs to me that I can’t really adequately and fully define life or death. Wrestling with this and my own isolation is a lot of what this music is about.
News from the Oort Cloud not only incorporates classical, electronic, and folk sounds but it also explores themes of the unknown within space and within human nature. During the composition of this album, was it at times difficult to comprehend the project?
The creation of this music was definitely a very contemplative process. It took a little while for me to really find the language of the album and to give myself permission to indulge in it. It was a longer process for me than I anticipated. There was an amount of music I made for this record that just didn’t make the cut. I think of it as one piece in which the songs are really just chapters. Some of the songs I had to cut just didn’t fit with the narrative of the project. That said, what the album has become really is what I wanted and meant to express.
The titles within the album have underlying contexts. For example, Psalm 103 has biblical origins. What is the significance behind this title and what philosophies are important to the composition of this album?
Impermanence and mortality are also concepts that pull at my heartstrings. I am not a particularly religious guy but I feel like Psalm 103 in the bible is a meditation on the impermanence of mankind. The sanctity of life, the question of what life and death actually is, what life really means, and why and if it has value are things I wrestle with in life and on this record. I hope this record will be about whatever people want or interpret or need it to be about. For me these are songs about isolation, solitude, loss, impermanence, love and the beauty in all of that. I guess I keep the metaphors a little vague and try not to over explain what is going on for me in each song. I try to use as few lyrics as possible to convey what I need to. The songs with words are all lyrically very spare. The Psalm is a poem that really jives with my aesthetic so I was glad to include it. The bible is a joy to read if done without an agenda.
Lastly, what is your composing process? What sort of environment is most conducive to your creativity? Is creating music reciprocal to ideological contemplation within your work?
I have a few different composing processes. Sometimes it just feels like writing down or recording a thing that’s just kind of “there” and I’m not sure where that comes from. At those times I feel like I am just a secretary getting down a memo from somewhere else. Other times it is a very meticulous process of whittling out things that aren’t supposed to be there. Process of elimination.
I try not to be too precise about where and when and how to work. I form superstitions very easily so I try to avoid them. Maybe that’s mild OCD tendencies. I can get very particular about all kinds of crazy things I need to create. I have in the past. Not as much now. My main needs are that I definitely need privacy and I prefer to not have time constraints. I find time flows differently when I’m making things so I want to have space to allow for that. I may need 2 hours or 15 minutes or all night or week. I need to be alone in order to not judge myself. If others are within earshot I imagine how they are judging what I’m doing which is really me judging myself.
I do think creating music is reciprocal to ideological contemplation within my work sometimes. Other times it's really just “this sounds cool.” When I was in graduate school I tried to get more clinical about music in a way but at the end of the day I think I’m just a hopeless romantic and not really an academic. It is emotional. I don’t really know what any of it means.