Smile Politely: The music of all the different groups and artists you’ve worked with, as well as your solo stuff, are all pretty notably different. But the main similarity between them seems to stem from a desire to experiment. Do you make it a point to try and do something different and if so, what makes you want to do that? Or do you just go for it and use what comes out?
Sarah Lipstate: I was never really part of the song writing process for any of the more traditional bands that I played in. Noveller has been my main creative outlet for the past 5 years and I think that my music reflects a certain freedom that being a solo performer affords you to pursue whatever crazy idea you might have. Many of my compositions grow out of improvised recording sessions.
SP: You sometimes combine your musical and film projects to make music videos. What makes you want to combine the two different art forms?
Sarah: I wouldn’t describe any of my short film projects as music videos. I studied film in college and started shooting and editing my own super 8mm films during that time. When I wasn’t in class, I devoted most of my time to writing and performing music for my experimental duo One Umbrella. It seemed very natural for me to write my own scores for the films that I was making.
SP: Who/what inspires you as a filmmaker?
Sarah: Currently, I’ve been working exclusively with 16mm clear film leader and using hand-painting and sewing techniques to create camera-less films. I feel very inspired by all of the different possibilities with hand-treating film and the element of surprise involved, because you don’t really know what the film looks like until you finally thread it on the projector and see it on the big screen.
SP: Listening to Noveller, a lot of imagery gets evoked for me by the music. The album/song titles you assign to your music fit very well together. In a sort of inexplicable way, the album Desert Fires sounds like just that; a fire in a desert. What usually comes first when you’re writing, the music itself or the theme/concept for it?
Sarah: The song titles usually come before the music because I have to title and save each recording session on my computer before I even press record. Often, these titles reflect whatever is going on in my immediate sphere at that time. On occasion, they end up reflecting my frustration with having to come up with title after title on the spot. The track “Kites Calm Desert Fires” came out of a recording session that I titled “KCUF”, which if you read backwards reveals some of that frustration that I was talking about.
SP: I know quite a few guitarists who would jump at a chance to work with Rhys Chatham and/or Glenn Branca, or to play their music. How did those opportunities come about for you and what have they done for you as a musician?
Sarah: I heard about the call for guitarists to perform Glenn Branca’s Symphony No 13 for 100 guitars through a musician friend of mine from Dallas. He was going to fly up to participate in the performance and told me that he thought they were still in need of some players who could read standard notation. He gave me the email contact for Reg Bloor and I wrote her right away to see if I could participate in the piece. I was living in Austin for college at the time, but flew up to Montclair, NJ to rehearse and perform the piece. It was an amazing experience. About a year later, my duo One Umbrella was invited to play at the Table of the Elements Festival in Atlanta, GA, where Rhys Chatham was also going to be performing his classic, “Guitar Trio”. When I was asked if I would like to be one of the guitarists in Rhys’ ensemble for the performance, I was ecstatic. The show was amazing. My band One Umbrella opened the night, then Deerhunter performed, then I joined Rhys and 4 other guitarists for the performance of “Guitar Trio”. Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca’s music has had an enormous impact on me as a guitarist, and I feel incredibly honored to have played in both of their respective ensembles.
SP: I’m somewhat familiar with looping techniques, but to listen to Noveller and imagine how it could be created live by one person is challenging, to put it mildly. Do you recreate/approximate your recordings live or is a Noveller show a different experience from the albums?
Sarah: My live set is usually comprised of live arrangements of the songs on my records. Coming up with arrangements that I can pull off live with just two looping pedals and various other effects is pretty challenging at times, but it’s more important for me to bring the essence of the piece to the live performance than recreate it part by part from the recording.
SP: Seeing as the festival you’re playing here in town is a celebration of the guitar, it seems appropriate to ask questions specific to the instrument. Some of the time I can’t figure out quite what I’m hearing on a Noveller album. For instance, on your newest album, “Glacial Glow”, I want to say I hear cello and synthesizer. Are those instruments actually there, or are you just that tricky with effects? What are some of the effects pedals or other gadgets you like to use the most and how do you use them to create the sounds you do?
Sarah: The sole instrumentation on Glacial Glow is electric guitar. My passion is the electric guitar, and I enjoy the challenge of creating as diverse a range of sounds as possible with my one instrument.
SP: Why the guitar?
Sarah: My first instrument was the piano and then I played trombone in middle and high school. The electric guitar seemed like the next logical step!
SP: Who are some of your favorite guitarists?
Sarah: Lee Ranaldo, Rhys Chatham, Glenn Branca, Nels Cline, Lydia Lunch, Carla Bozulich.
SP: Any new music or film projects in the works at the moment?
Sarah: I’m currently putting together a double LP of 12 six-minute-long pieces that I composed for the ARTIFACT series I created in April. It’s going to be an amazing release!
SP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Sarah: Hope to see many of the readers at Ellnora!
Noveller performs tomorrow (September 10th) at 10 p.m. at the Krannert Center. The show is free,and is located in the Sonic Garden on the west terrace.