5 Questions: Requiem

How does one even begin to describe the indescribable sound and vision that is Requiem?

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If you were fortunate enough to catch one of the two in-person performances at Rhizome in the fall of 2021, you know why I’m asking this question. On the one hand, I could tell you that DC musicians Tristan Welch (guitar, electronics) and Doug Kallmeyer (bass, electronics, production) anchor Requiem’s sound in gorgeous ambient textures and drones — drifting in and out of sonic boundaries seamlessly, veering from moments of sustained dread to awe-inspiring beauty. But that’s just part of what’s going on here.

As you can see from the above screen grab (taken from Requiem’s 11-09-21 performance at Rhizome), visual artist Monica Stroik draws a connection between the group’s sound and the boundlessness of natural phenomena — from deep sea images of colorful fishes and floating jelly fish to sweeping vistas of clouds in motion at sunset. At certain moments, the images move in a 360 degree, circular fashion. It’s almost as if Requiem wants us all to play God for a while.

To put it simply: Requiem’s art is only PARTLY about music. It’s about a total immersive experience — one that invites us to engage with the natural phenomena the project is celebrating.

The considerable talents of Welsh and Kallmeyer are tailor-made for this project — the former known for his acclaimed DIY ambient/drone releases and relentless DIY work ethic, and the latter for his extensive experience (and impressive CV) as an audio engineer and frequent music collaborator, not to mention his connections as a label head for Versus Records.

Outside of local shows, Requiem exists as a truly international project, with connections around the globe, mostly notably in the U.K., with cellist Simon McCorry. The trio of Welsh, Kallmeyer and McCorry have made two albums together and recently recorded a third.

While we wait for the next album to be released later in 2022, Welsh and Kallmeyer are continuing to play local shows, accompanied by the stunning visual art of Stroik. Lucky for us, Requiem is playing the Jan. 7th Livestream edition of We Fought the Big One. I got in touch with Tristan and Doug to learn more about this intriguing project of theirs…

1) Doug and Tristan – how did your involvement with the Requiem project come about? I know that outside of performing live in the local DC area, the project also includes the U.K.-based cellist Simon McCorry and other collaborators. What has it been like to work with Simon as well as each other?

Tristan: Doug and I have been working together for a little bit. Just musical friends really – we were doing our own thing but hanging out and making music together… which truthfully is not something I’m ever much interested in doing so obviously our chemistry was good. We have always been talking about how to release and present music – what’s important to us and what’s not. One night we were recording some of our sessions and kind of got into the idea of immediacy or maybe “honest music” is the better term. Just releasing music we had made without much editing, revamping or thinking. We put out a bunch of singles and to our surprise people seemed to like it. Simon is someone Doug had connected with through Verses Records and I’m thrilled he thought what we were doing was cool and agreed to record with us. The process with Simon is similar to what we’re doing (Doug and I) – focused on immediacy and feeling – we just happen to be doing it from across the ocean and we’ve ended up with two albums of material together.

Doug: Tristan and I met through the local DC arts community. We have shared shows, and worked on each other’s music and in various projects together over the past 4 years. We both wanted to do a project that would just be honest, spontaneous experiences and not get caught up in production aspects, the weight of making “product”. This approach makes a broader collaboration process simple. We send out a track, we get a track in response, and we do as little as possible to make it all work. This has allowed us to have two releases so far with Simon, who is based in the UK. I met him through running the Verses Records label, which Tristan has also released work on, so we reached out and began trading tracks. We all share full confidence in each others’ abilities. All the released music is one take per musician, a quick balance, and it’s finished. We are happy with the amount of acceptable material that has resulted. The upcoming release for Rusted Tone Recordings will be a bit more involved. We will be joined by Simon again, as well as Meg Mulhearn (Asheville, NC.) on violin and electronics, and Dmala Bozkurt (Istanbul, Turkey) on violin.

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2) I find that I am filled with many different emotions and feelings when I listen to Requiem’s music. There’s an unmistakable melancholy, but also feelings of dread and even anger (especially the track “Public; Domain” from Joy; Division). At the same time, I find Requiem’s music to be strangely uplifting and beautiful. Is there a particular emotion or feeling you are aiming for? 

Doug: It would seem by your reaction, the approach has imparted an honesty to the music that we were hoping for. The goal is to capture a full performance for each piece, so there is an underlying string of emotion from each player that is not broken.

Tristan: I think Doug and I have similar states of being. I think we are both discontent with the world around us but we are both naturally “happy” people. I think that could explain how the sounds can be grim, dark or brooding – but still have beauty, light and uplifting traits. I think it’s a tug of war between letting the world tear us apart but still trying to exist peacefully. We’re using music to express ourselves – it’s a conversation with sound. The world sucks and it’s full of pain but these sounds make it all feel a little better. We don’t ever really talk about how a piece should sound when it comes to an emotion – we might talk about things in a very musical sense – but never in an emotional sense. I think the music is a true representation of humans being pulled into directions they never intended to be pulled in.

20210523-3904 copy(Photo of Monica Stroik by Cameron Whitman)

3) Anyone who witnessed one of the Requiem live shows at Rhizome in DC this past fall would attest that visuals play a huge part in the Requiem live experience. How did you end up collaborating with Monica Stroik? What can you tell us about her incredible contributions to the project?

Tristran: I think Doug’s portion of this will be much better than mine – but I want to say when it comes to collaborating with Doug and Monica I truly just feel like I’m along for the ride. They have been doing projects under various names for a long time – honestly I’m just a fan. Currently they have something in the works called Oms. I want nothing more than for everyone to experience it. I don’t understand the technical side of the visuals really… but I know we’ll all sit around and talk about titles and themes – Monica will offer her input in the themes and general ideas – then kind of take it from there. We’re still working on various ways to completely make the audio/visual collaboration much more than a “show” and a total immersive experience. One thing we all like are big, expansive and overwhelming works of art. Monica creates giant paintings and does large scale projections, Doug and I love large expansive sounds.

Doug: Monica is also part of the Verses Records crew, is a visual artist and has been involved in video arts for over a decade. She has worked with many bands and galleries, doing installs and live performance pieces. She received an MFA from MICA in 2013, a large portion of the thesis being video mapping and animation.

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(Photo of Doug Kallmeyer by Cameron Whitman)

4) I understand that the Requiem project is currently recording with Simon McCorry, Meg Mulhearn (violin, electronics, modular synthesis, Asheville NC), and Damla Bozkurt (violin, Istanbul Turkey) for a 2022 release. How are the recordings going so far? What can you tell us about this new release?

Doug: The recording process is completed for this release. The more people involved remotely, the longer things can take (especially when the involved musicians are as prolific as the three mentioned!). One interesting aspect of this process is the order of who got what tracks, and when. Whenever anyone did something, it would be added to the initial take and sent out. So, there was no particular order, and the collaborators involved would often track simultaneously without being aware of each other’s contribution. This has resulted in some incredibly interesting moments, and some challenging. Unlike previous works, this is taking one extra step as there has to be some decisions made on what to use. There is also a very interesting thing happening with tonality and structure- for example, Damla doesn’t hear music in the given “western European” format, as her cultural background is completely different. So note choices are different, phrasing is different. Sometimes though, it’s as if there was a score written, the way the strings end up blending. We are very excited to share this, via Rusted Tone Recordings (UK) this year. There is more extreme dynamics and structure (by happenstance). It is nearly completed, sonically. Once done, we will give it to Monica for possible visual interpretations. 

Tristan: The new release is coming along. It’s going to be a bit different than the others. A little more “produced”. As many know – or if they don’t they should – Doug has had a long and successful career in sound. On this record there’s going to be a bit more using the sound board as an instrument. Which will be really cool with extra collaborators. We’re very excited to have a record with a diverse and dynamic group of collaborators. We’re mixing the record right now – but once again in my mind that’s still writing the record in a sense. I’m excited for it though.

20210523-3569(1)(Photo of Tristan Welch by Cameron Whitman)

5) As we do this interview, it’s January 2022 and the world has been brought to its knees by yet another COVID-19 variant and we are about to mark the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at the Capitol. It’s a dark time in many ways. What – if anything – gives you hope for the future?

Doug: These last few years have offered all of us one thing we were in scarce supply of- time to think. People are tired of being tied to the wheel, and we see it and hear it in all the necessary movements and reactions, the massive changes and expanded awareness we have seen in a short time. While the systems we are used to will resist these changes, they will have to accept them or fail. This gives hope.

Tristan: I’m writing this on January 6th, 2022. I honestly think I’m exactly where the government wants me. I’m hardly holding my head above water and have a hard time even understanding what the fuck is happening. I’m holding on for dear life to prop up shit that I wish would fall apart. I’m suffocating to maintain some sense of comfort. I know I have it much better than others and I’m grateful for that. My hope is that maybe, just maybe, music and art can be a uniting force for everyone that suffers in different ways and bring us together.

Listen to and purchase Requiem’s music on Bandcamp. Be sure to visit Doug Kallmeyer’s website and Requiem’s page and Monica Stroik’s page on the Versus Records website. And be sure to check out Requiem’s online show at the Friday, January 7th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE via Zoom. Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_REQUIEM. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

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