The modern-day concept of a multi-instrumentalist who is actively in the pursuit of bridging disparate musical ends effectively doesn’t have many noteworthy representatives. Usually, we tend to associate multi-instrumentalists with one-man bands, while on the other side, if a musician is active in several bands/groups, said projects tend to overlap with one being usually above the rest in terms of quality – so to say. My point is that it’s very rare to see a musician who is proficient both in performing on a variety of instruments, who can be found in a diversity of places exploring different kinds of sounds. I’m aware this exposition is extremely vague, but trust me, it will all make sense as this article will progress.
Today, or rather, over the past few weeks, I have picked the mind of Raphael Weinroth-Browne in regards to the music he is a part of, in varying degrees. Some of you may know him as a session/guest musician for Leprous, others may be acquainted with his solo work, but the truth is that his grasp extends well beyond these examples. The Canadian cellist is a veritable monument to what is a wholly free and modern approach to engaging with the world of music, as it will fully transpire below.
Raphael Weinroth-Browne began the journey of music early in his life, playing a variety of instruments, eventually studying cello at university, in a classical environment. As a classically trained musician it is notable that he makes inspired and cursive use of improvisation in his music, more particularly in Kamancello and more recently in his solo works as well. More so, his propensity for highly original (or authentic) styles of composing music, which borrow freely from ideas that are seemingly worlds apart.
It is notable, in my opinion, as generally classically trained musicians tend to remain stuck around performance of classical repertoire and not much else in the way of musical expression. Which, obviously is totally fine if that’s the course one would like to take. My point is simply that this is a rare and glowing occurrence. Better than I could ever put it, Weinroth-Browne details how his musical upbringing formed him, or rather how he formed around it:
‘I think I’m fairly unusual in that. Despite spending many years studying classical music, I’ve always been more comfortable as an improviser. Approaching music from an exploratory perspective and riﬃng on ideas spontaneously has always come very naturally to me. So, it is more within my comfort zone than playing written music. I remember always feeling very relaxed going into Kamancello concerts because I felt that I couldn’t make any mistakes in an improvised context, whereas with anything scripted (even my own pieces) I tend to feel greater pressure in performance.
‘Although I started music lessons and reading notation at a fairly young age, sight-reading never quite became second nature for me in the way that it is for many classical musicians. I think this is because I see music as something that comes intuitively from inside of me rather than from a score. As a student, I was never fully receptive to what I was being taught; instead of following every instruction and rule to the letter I would be selective and embrace certain concepts and not others. I always had my own intuitive sense of the kind of musician I wanted to be and what skills would fit into that. For that reason, I was probably quite diﬃcult to teach at various points since I probably often acted as though I knew everything already. At any rate, I don’t think I ever became fully ‘trained’ and this resistance to the rigidities of classical music and burning need to be diﬀerent is probably what kept my improvising spirit alive over the years.
‘I think that everyone can be a good improviser. The important thing about improvising is to not place one’s focus on the quality and perfection of the playing but rather the overall feeling of the experience. It’s about getting into a good vibe, not focusing on one’s own performance. To get into this mode, classical musicians first need to give themselves the permission to improvise badly – to sound ‘ugly’ or ‘sloppy’ and to be more playful in their approach instead of being judgmental and critical of every note. Entering this more childlike state of play makes improvisation fun and opens up one’s awareness of diﬀerent musical possibilities. It also helps to think of playing an instrument as a form of speech and to talk with it in ‘spoken’ phrases rather than trying to play the most perfect melody ever written. I think that string players have a harder time with this because they are used to playing virtually nonstop in orchestral and chamber settings, whereas wind and brass players are more accustomed to short bursts of notes since they need pauses to breathe.
‘To be truly free as an improviser, it’s also essential to let go of any concerns about how others might judge one’s playing and to listen to and embrace one’s inner voice. I think that some of the best musical moments come from spontaneous first takes, before we have the chance to second guess ourselves and correct our ideas. So much of my written music originates from improvisation and I try to capture the exact energy and feel of the moment in the finished version so that hopefully I can preserve a bit of the initial spark that made the idea interesting in the first place.’
While primarily a cellist, Weinroth-Browne also plays piano and violin, the latter to questionable lengths as he expands on his mindset regarding other instruments than his ‘main’ instrument:
‘I almost always use the piano to compose unless I’m writing specifically for solo cello or an ensemble of two or more cellos. It’s by far the most intuitive and well-laid out instrument for composition and arranging since it doesn’t favor specific keys or shapes in the same way that string instruments do. Most classical composers used the piano as their primary interface for writing music.
‘I’ve been playing piano for a long time, almost as long as I’ve played the cello, so I’m very comfortable with it. The reason I’ve used it for composition on the last two Musk Ox albums is because it allows me to play the violin and cello lines together as opposed to writing them individually. I believe it’s much more effective to envision all the parts of a piece at once rather than adding them one at a time. The piano is a great tool for getting an overview of the music and planning out harmonic progressions and voice leading.
‘I should add that I’m totally incapable of playing violin, but I do understand the instrument very well and have a lot of experience writing for it.
‘To be honest, the solo material I’ve released thus far under my own name is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the music I’ve written and the range of styles and approaches I enjoy incorporating in my work. It just so happens that a long time ago I developed a reputation for being a cellist so in a way I’ve been a bit pigeonholed into a certain brand, but I see myself more as a composer and multi-instrumentalist and I hope to highlight those aspects of what I do more in future releases.’
We’re going to need to take a few steps back in order to get a more full-bodied perspective on Weinroth-Browne’s journey in terms of creating music. So, we’re going all the way back to the very beginning of the last decade, around the time we saw the formation of two very little-known bands, namely Argus Panoptes and Cholera, both of which gravitate almost entirely around the metal spectrum. While he was part of both bands, they have basically nothing to do with each other. The story around Argus Panoptes, from Weinroth-Browne’s perspective is rather brief too:
‘Argus Panoptes was an entirely diﬀerent group. Matt Barkley, one of the guitarists and the main songwriter of Argus Panoptes had put out an ad on an Ottawa metal forum online looking for a drummer. Of all the progressive metal projects in the region, this one was by far the most interesting to me musically so I reached out to him in summer 2010 and he provided sheet music for all of the material. After sending him a video of myself playing one of the songs, I was invited to join the band. I enjoyed my time in this group and we played a number of shows, opening for groups such as Unexpect, Hate Eternal, Anaal Nathrakh, and The Agonist. We began recording an album together but the group disbanded before we could complete it.’
Meanwhile, being a driving force in Cholera, we’ll be seeing what went on in more detail. I do have to say that I was caught heavily off guard listening to Prophecies of Annihilation for the first time, Cholera’s first and only album. Sure, it has a fairly crude/raw production, with a questionable (at best) tone choice (or possibility) for the instruments, but let me tell you that the music itself is nothing short of spectacular – when taking it apart on a compositional level.
It was a thoroughly impressive listen. I mean, if this was recorded with better equipment and top-notch gear, we’d be looking at one of the best metal albums out there – easily. I think that as a whole, the idea of it still holds up very well. Also, as a debut, it features a level of maturity and cohesiveness that even seasoned bands will not achieve around their second or even third release.
There are a lot of very cool ideas and all sorts of neat bits and transitions nestled in places I wouldn’t have expected them to be. The layering of the songs is also impressive for prog death standards, and even for any kind of standards to be honest. The way they all converge and diverge and complement each other is the mark of a very creative and ingenious songwriter.
Since I only basically accidentally found the album, you can imagine there’s basically nothing to be found about it anywhere on the internet, save for their Bandcamp page and a Metal Archives entry. So, I had to inquire further about who did what on this record, as well as how such a thing became a palpable reality. Weinroth-Brown takes it from here:
‘I’m really glad to hear that you found this album and that you enjoyed the material – it means a lot! Prophecies of Annihilation was my first full-length release and represents the sum total of my musical tastes and influences as a teenager. Matt [Buller, bassist] and I became friends in high school and we recorded Prophecies of Annihilation when we were 16 years old, although we were both 18 when the full album was mastered and subsequently released on Bandcamp. I’ve included the full personnel and credits for the album below. I essentially played everything except the bass and a few miscellaneous elements, which were added by guest musicians that I had invited to play on the record. Metal Archives covers most of the bases but not all of the details:
‘Raphael Weinroth-Browne: Electric guitars, classical (3) and steel string guitars (3), drums, lead vocals, keyboards, piano (3, 4), cellos (3, 4), oud (2, 3), darbukkah (3), saz(2), mallets (3)
Matthew Buller: Fretted basses, fretless bass (4), additional death vocals (2), mallets (4), djembe (3), additional agonized screams (4)
Rick Barkhouse: Keyboards (1, 5)
Renato Vettore: Additional Clean Vocals (1, 5)
Nick Gagné: Clean Vocals (2, 3, 4)
Nathanael Larochette: Classical Guitar (3)
Dean Watson: Agonized Screams (4)
“Death Choir” on Reminiscence: Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Nick Gagné, and Nathanael Larochette’
As it will be further elaborated, we notice how this project is the result of being able to express the bristling energy of youth in an artistic medium that complements it very well:
‘Matt and I were very young when we recorded Prophecies of Annihilation and were really just at the beginning of our adult lives. Both of us were starting university and our lives were changing. In my case, I was doing my undergraduate degree in cello; I had begun playing live with Musk Ox, and was becoming active in the local scene as a session musician and hired sideman for various live acts. Cello very quickly took over my life, both due to the intensity of my studies and the professional opportunities I was attracting. I had joined a number of bands by this point and was busy with school.
‘When I released Prophecies of Annihilation on Bandcamp, I had no concept of how to promote my music and no audience with whom I could share the album. I didn’t even have a Facebook account in those days. Very shortly after uploading the tracks, they were pirated and appeared on a number of Russian torrent sites (I believe this was common in the early days of Bandcamp and generally more prevalent in the pre-streaming era). I think that at the time I was expecting to finally make money oﬀ this monumental record we had created and felt immediately demoralized that it had been pirated. It felt like a huge letdown at the time, and I had the sense that no one was interested in the album even though we had received glowing reviews from many metal publications. I struggled to find people who resonated with this kind of music in my immediate area and to find musicians to round out the lineup so that we could play live shows.
‘As a result, Cholera, as much as it was my baby and something I was quite proud of, gradually faded into the background while the cellistic side of my life gained its own momentum like a powerful current that pulled me along into the unknown. Matt and I stayed in touch but gradually drifted into our own respective lives and saw each other in person very seldom – he joined another death metal band and toured across Canada before choosing to focus on his own music. I composed another two albums’ worth of music for Cholera immediately after recording Prophecies (around 2010-2011) but never began recording the songs. I still have them on my computer and hope to eventually release them in some way, although I feel far less connected to that style of music now, ten years later. Matt and I recently discussed the possibility of re-releasing or even re-recording some of the material from Prophecies, although at this stage we have no concrete plans for the band.’
Well, that sums it up for the more ‘logistical’ side of the project, so naturally, we’ll be moving on to the actual meat of the music and see what’s up with that in detail:
‘In my early-mid teens I was immersed in metal and discovered all of the bands that would remain my favorites in the genre to this day. My ultimate goal at the time was to compose a metal opus that would encapsulate all of my diverse musical preferences, from prog to death metal to Middle Eastern music and contemporary classical minimalism in one album. I found that many of the metal albums in my collection were diﬃcult to listen to from start to finish due to lack of variation in style, mood, dynamics, and instrumentation. During this period (the mid-’00s), ‘genre hopping’ was seen as quite daring and forward-thinking and it was championed by groups such as the Montreal avant-garde metal collective Unexpect. At the time, I wanted to do something less eccentric but no less epic and cinematic. I was highly preoccupied with the future – specifically with the future of humanity and the feeling that we as a species were racing towards irreversible catastrophes. As a young person growing up, I felt trapped in a world enslaved to capitalist ideals, corporate greed, religious dogmas, and seemingly blind pursuit of technological progress. I had read books about the collapse of civilizations and felt compelled to write about these topics in my lyrics. The lyrics to “Road Into The Fire” and “Enslaved Humanity” are written from an omniscient narrator’s perspective and herald the impending fall. “The Lost Traveler” and “Reminiscence” are written in the first person and recount the final days of a lone survivor in a post-apocalyptic world. Instrumentally, these pieces dig deeper into the more emotional and introspective moments of the album, particularly the intimate sorrow of the first 8 minutes of “Reminiscence”. “Prophecies of Annihilation”, the title track, is in two movements, the second a kind of litany of the diﬀerent incarnations of mankind’s downfall.
‘I had been learning to play songs by many of my favorite artists on both guitar and drums and was fascinated by the level of detail in each instrument. It seemed that there was a whole world of ideas, techniques, and nuances for each instrumental part. I learned a great deal from analyzing my favorite songs and wanted to implement the same level of detail in every layer of the musical architecture of my own compositions. I had also been writing metal-influenced pieces for solo piano around the same time.
‘Many of the songs on Prophecies of Annihilation feature portions of my piano pieces reworked for guitars alongside riﬀs that were initially written on guitar. At the time that I wrote these pieces, my primary focus was on crafting riﬀs, of which this album has no shortage. I loved long instrumental odysseys in the style of Dream Theater but with a more punishing, aggressive sound and more of a stark, austere quality, and virtually every piece (particularly the first three) on the album contains such passages. My main goal with Prophecies was to synthesize my favorite elements of the metal bands I enjoyed into one album that would hopefully appeal to any metalhead. I think the end result – and perhaps what gives the album its unique character – is that the music feels at once ancient and futuristic, and I’ve sought to pursue this same aesthetic in much of my work since.’
I wholeheartedly recommend listening to this album prior to diving into his other works, as I feel it offers a deeper perspective on his oeuvre. It’s equally worth listening to even after, or even without the other works. It’s just something else entirely and I say this as a person who was heavily invested with all kinds of metal for a very long time and still am to varying degrees.
As we move forward, we notice how Weinroth-Browne’s solo releases began around the same time as the emergence of The Visit along with him joining Musk Ox around then, with Kamancello taking its course a little later. While the session/guest musician spots have been occurring more regularly or more sporadically over the past decade or so.
As sparse (quantitatively) as his solo releases have been since their beginning, they were somewhat consistent, with singles being dropped between 2014 and 2018, followed by the now fairly well-known debut full length record, Worlds Within. The debut is itself followed by two other singles and a live rendition of it.
The singles distinguish themselves as rather unique, at least as far as singles go. They come across as full-fledged works which have the momentum and breadth of something much larger. Each of them is vastly different when compared to the rest, offering very lively experiences. You could say that they’re practically a collection of short stories, but just not compiled in the form of an anthology.
“Shattered Dreams” is a highly dramatic and cinematic piece. Its overall mood definitely ties aptly around its title. It also has something almost theatrical/thespian in regards to its general demeanor and delivery.
“Ricercare” on the other hand is a highly impressive display of power. It boasts the kind of dynamism and energetic demeanor which I personally feel that misses sorely from the world of classical music. I’m picking up from it strong metal reminiscent vibes. I assume that metal plays a strong influence behind the piece. The songwriting also revolves around something very passionate and ultimately flamboyant. I think what makes it even more impressive is the fact that it is a live performance.
Of the singles, “Catharsis” was one of the more surprising works. There’s so little music made specifically for solo classical/acoustic guitar so I guess there’s also that impact as well. That’s not to say that the song itself isn’t all kinds of amazing. Due to its length and arrangement, it feels like it closely resembles a symphony in four movements, although with a much more minimalist manifestation overall. I also can’t help but feel that it takes heavy cues from Damnation/Ghost Reveries/Watershed era Opeth and it’s almost obvious that it’s an influence. I definitely love that aspect of it, which may make my opinions of the piece a little biased so to speak.
With its uniquely tender and unsettling tone and atmosphere, “Oubliette” takes a very vague shape, or rather, it approaches things without aiming for any kind of shape. Wherever it goes, it doesn’t want listeners to be able to pinpoint anything. Although I want to go back a little and say that maybe unsettling isn’t exactly the right word, even though it kind of fits. I guess it could be like some sort of ethereal scintillation? Either way, there’s an otherworldly quality to it as well as a kind of fragility that can’t be accurately portrayed in words. It features a very natural flow as well, making it seem as if the layers are melting into each other, with just one monolithic wave of sound guiding the listener throughout. Its character points ultimately to something profound as I see it.
I don’t want to lump “Affliction” and “Out of the Ether” together, but I guess that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. They’re undoubtedly very different songs, but they are also quite similar. More so in the sense that they’re the first staples of improvised performance as far as Weinroth-Browne’s solo output goes. There’s something wildly immediate and striking about the songs, something that’s definitely due to the improvisational nature of them. Weinroth-Browne’s energy transpires practically unfiltered through the instrument, as if it’s a loudspeaker for his mind and soul.
Both songs bare the marks of thoroughly rehearsed pieces and, to me at least, it’s simply baffling how they really aren’t.
Weinroth-Browne seems to agree with the depictions I offer and in turn, he offers some of his own, as well as plenty of detail about these wonderful works:
‘”Shattered Dreams” is one of my ‘early’ works that I wrote around the age of 19 during my undergraduate studies at university. At the time I was composing and improvising a lot on piano and had been toying with a very serene and minimal chord progression that would become the opening of the piece. This first theme remained undeveloped for some time, but joining the composition class at school gave me the impetus I needed to finish it, as we were expected to bring in new material every week for lessons. I wrote the rest of ”Shattered Dreams” over the course of a weekend in order to have it ready for my next class. At the time (late 2011), I had been listening to Animals As Leaders (the first two albums), Cloudkicker (Beacons) and Paul Wardingham (Assimilate Regenerate) on repeat, so the language of my writing was heavily infused with the vocabulary of instrumental prog metal. From what I recall, I had already set out to have a ternary form, with more austere and sorrowful bookends and a very busy middle section with many modulations to diﬀerent keys and use of various time signatures.
‘The A section develops around a single idea – the ground bass established in the beginning – but begins to juxtapose long cascading melodies with polyrhythmic patterns and ostinato phrasings. I enjoy this combination of complex clockwork with evocative, winding lines. The B section evolves out of the last motif of this part and takes it in a very diﬀerent direction. During the period when I wrote this, I was interested in exploring motivic development. Writing a larger scale work like this with many independent parts allows for a great range of possibilities in this regard. I’m glad that I chose to make a proper recording and music video for this piece since it has only ever been performed once in concert!
‘“Ricercare” was another piece that came into being very quickly and under pressure. I had been asked to compose and perform a new work for the 21C Festival at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. This was summer 2015 and I had been busy moving to a new place and working on The Visit’s album Through Darkness Into Light, among other things, and had not even begun to think about the piece until a few days before the performance. Improvising with my freeze pedal led to the free introduction, after which a barrage of riﬀs swiftly followed. I sketched out the form very quickly but it all fell into place the morning of the performance and the piece has essentially not changed since. Before premiering “Ricercare”, I had played many unaccompanied pieces from the standard repertoire, but had not written many full-fledged unaccompanied pieces of my own. I had also been playing live very frequently with The Visit.
‘“Ricercare” took the metal-influenced, virtuosic style I had been using in The Visit and took it a step further. It was written with the intention of being a sledgehammer piece – something that would immediately introduce my musical personality and playing style and disarm the audience. The arpeggios, the tremolo, the intricate riﬀs – everything is very characteristic of my preferences and hurtles forward from one idea to the next at full speed. For a long time, I used it as the opener to my live sets as it always felt like a comfortable and intuitive piece to start with, even though it can be quite a workout to play.
‘You may have noticed a pattern with regards to the way I finish my compositions; I generally need some sort of external deadline, and often an insuﬃcient amount of time in order to bite the bullet and see the work through to completion. I think I work most eﬃciently under pressure and as a result I actually try to engineer these conditions into my schedule to speed up the creative process and get things done.
‘Once again, you’re absolutely bang on with the observations! “Catharsis” was written in late 2012 at the request of my friend François Bergeron, who, at the time, was pursuing his master’s degree in classical guitar. He was programming a recital of music by Canadian contemporary composers. I distinctly recall him asking me to write something that was ‘master’s level’ and I didn’t hold back! Frank was also going through a diﬃcult period in the aftermath of a breakup, so the piece I wrote for him was intended to provide him with a kind of catharsis. The names of the movements correspond with diﬀerent stages of shedding one’s old skin and moving to the next level in life. “Ire” is pure anger – it is reactive and fiery. “Confusion” reflects a kind of destabilization, as though one’s center of gravity has fallen away and left one searching in a fog.
‘There are definitely sections in this movement that are written in an Opethian style, as you so aptly pointed out. I think the 12/8 riﬀs at the end of this part are particularly reminiscent of the songs “The Lotus Eater” and “Hessian Peel”. I had listened a lot to Watershed so that approach to writing was very much in my DNA and came out very naturally in this piece. “Reverie” is the echo of lost moments in time that sometimes resurface during periods of reflection, the reliving of intense passion and the beautiful instants that exist only as snapshots but that we wish lasted forever. “Absolution” is the decision to leave the past behind and to rewrite one’s narrative, immolating the remains of old trauma and turning the page to the beginning a new chapter that has yet to be written.
‘There are, in fact, many references to existing pieces scattered throughout “Catharsis”. There is a quote from a song by Animals As Leaders in the first movement and there is also a nod to the famous Aranjuez concerto, one of the most famous classical guitar pieces, during the final section. During “Confusion”, there is a very jerky and odd-sounding section that is supposed to mimic Meshuggah’s atonal polyrhythmic style.
‘The calm arpeggiated part after the long tremolo section in “Reverie” was intended to be in the style of Musk Ox, with the kind of part that Nathanael might come up with.
‘Something few people know about me is that I studied flamenco guitar in my teens; I tried to incorporate the rasgueado techniques and sheer intensity of flamenco with the riﬃng style of progressive metal, while retaining an emotional core throughout.
‘“Catharsis” ended up becoming an extremely challenging work for classical guitar, which is part of why it has been performed by very few people. My friend Daniel Ramjattan is undoubtedly its champion, having performed it far more times than anyone else and helping me create an oﬃcial score that is now available for purchase. This has led to some monster players such as Matt Palmer incorporating it into their repertoire. Daniel will also be releasing a brand-new recording of “Catharsis” by the end of the year on his debut album Inspirations.
‘As for “Oubliette”, from 2013 through 2015 I was a member of the group Flying Hórses and when we recorded our debut album Tölt, the project was still a duo. My bandmate had asked me to compose a cello piece to round out the album since it was some 35 minutes in length and she wanted to release an album no shorter than 40 minutes. So, I composed this piece, knowing that it would essentially be the album closer and with the feeling that it should start in Ab, picking up where the previous track left oﬀ. I had some fragments of a sketch I had written for SATB choir and built around it, scoring out the full piece in notation software.
‘It was recorded and mixed fairly quickly, and we used a real Space Echo box to process the outro and warp the repeating melody, almost like melting wax. The opening chords are very neutral, like shafts or streaks of light. The middle section is a brief moment of sentimentalism, of tears and loss. This anguish echoes out forever into the final section, giving a feeling of inexorability, a point of no return that marches on and on. I see “Oubliette” as a very experimental piece in that it doesn’t necessarily have any true destination other than to spiral out into an endless void. I would love to try performing it with a cello ensemble or to write more music like it in the future.
‘“Affliction” and “Out of the Ether” are very characteristic of my raw, (and precisely as you say) unfiltered thought process while playing cello. They also reflect my aﬃnity for Middle Eastern modality, particularly when playing hyper-expressive material. I’m definitely in my element speaking in this ‘voice’ on cello. Aﬄiction was actually a solo that I recorded for some of the Leprous livestreams in late 2020/early 2021 for the song “Contaminate Me”. I only ended up recording one take, and after hearing the isolated audio of my performance, I had the idea of releasing it as a single since it seemed to stand on its own. It’s rare to capture the energy of the moment in a music video, but I think that we were able to do that here since the music came out so spontaneously.
‘“Out Of The Ether” also originated as part of a session for another project. I was recording some improvised solos for the latest album by the band Killitorous; the take that became “Out Of The Ether” was too long for the purposes of their album so I kept it for myself to release later. Like “Aﬄiction”, it’s completely unedited, with very minimal mixing. The opening section utilizes quarter tones in a style very reminiscent of Persian classical music, while the second part is driven by rapid arpeggios.
‘Arpeggiation has always appealed to me as a cellistic technique since it propels both the harmonic and rhythmic activity so eﬀectively, whether it’s in a solo or group context. There are also so many interesting ways of varying its timbre and texture, and it’s one of the few techniques that allows for large intervallic leaps on the cello. During this part, I was aiming to achieve a kind of explosion of intensity as it was originally recorded for a technical death metal album with a lot of focus on virtuosity. The music video was shot at a theatre very close to my home in Ottawa and I think it suits the mood and context of the piece perfectly.’
Afterwards, naturally, the first question that popped in my mind was, why release the singles as disparate entities over a long period of time? Which, of course, was immediately followed by wanting to know if this trend will continue, and if eventually there will be a compilation of these – for the sake of convenience mostly. The answers are satisfying:
‘There are a few reasons for this. Some of my pieces, such as “Shattered Dreams” and “Catharsis”, are standalone ‘classical’ compositions, which I believed would only work in the context of an album if surrounded by other works that used a similar instrumentation, ideally recorded during the same sessions. The “Shattered Dreams” project was quite challenging to realize in the studio and the video editing process was quite lengthy as well. It was recorded in August 2013 and finally released in November 2014 – the turnaround was slow and the production cost relatively high. I think it made sense at the time to release it as soon as possible instead of waiting to accumulate other similar material.
‘In the case of “Ricercare”, I had booked a live recording session for a video series called Shot In The Dark spearheaded by Dean Watson. I took advantage of the opportunity to make a video of the piece just to get it out there and have a sample of my solo work to share for promotional use. While I still haven’t made a proper studio version of this piece, this live take, as rough around the edges as it is, has had a far greater impact than I could have imagined. In the case of “Oubliette”, I was essentially kicked out of Flying Hórses and lost the rights to this piece because we had signed a digital distribution deal for our first record, so releasing it on Bandcamp and YouTube was my only way of at least partially reclaiming ownership over it and generating a meagre amount of revenue. “Aﬄiction” and “Out Of The Ether” were quick bite-size pieces that are strong statements on their own and I thought it would make sense to keep momentum by releasing them in the lead up to “Worlds Within Live” and “Inheritance”. The overall pattern here is that my singles were mostly intended as YouTube music videos, which I also added to my Bandcamp for those interested.
‘From 2012-2016, I recorded full-length albums with Musk Ox, The Visit, Flying Hórses, and Kamancello. It wasn’t until 2016 that I began giving myself permission to be a ‘solo artist’ in an oﬃcial sense and to build any kind of momentum doing this. In general, my focus has been on making albums. Some of my video projects and leftovers from other sessions end up becoming singles because it’s better to release them quickly rather than letting them sit on a computer until they become irrelevant, especially now in this age of nonstop content.
‘For the future, I will aim to release a mix of albums and standalone singles. Some of these singles will be produced and polished, while others, as in the past, will be more raw or miscellaneous. I think that if I reach a point in the future when there is suﬃcient interest, I might release a physical compilation of my earlier single releases, but for now, I don’t believe that there is enough demand to warrant this.’
Moving on to Worlds Within, we’re now delving into some of the true heft of Weinroth-Browne’s musical discourse. Weinroth-Browne mentions in an interview that he doesn’t really like nor care for Worlds Within being labeled as a post-rock record or as a post-classical album. While I do agree with the general thought, I can’t help but notice that it does bear strong resemblances to both 20th century classical minimalism as well as post-rock. Picking the record apart, it can be understood where this stance comes from and how it’s not a stylistic label that’s deemed appropriate and/or fitting.
If I’d depart from the more conventional means of labeling music, I’d refer to Worlds Within as a sound sculpture. It has this like, megalithic quality about it, as it was shaped from one massive and continuous slab. I most definitely registered it, while listening, as one single unitary thing, rather than a collection of tracks which simply flow well between them. It was fairly unsurprising to hear that it was indeed conceived as such. Although, I’m not sure I grasp the motivation behind having it split into tracks due to this artistic decision.
The album has an incredibly laminar flow, like few things I’ve had contact with musically. The pacing of the album is nigh meditative; however, it manages to maintain an engagement factor which succeeds in keeping the listener drift or doze off in any way. I’d say it requires your active attention so you can’t really listen to the whole thing with half a heart or half a mind. I’m also not certain what’s the angle of the emotional impact of it. It feels peaceful as much as brooding (for the lack of a better word). Let’s hear some insider information from the man himself on all of this and how it all came to be:
‘I love your ‘sound sculpture’ description. That certainly sums up the way the record was made, both during the writing stage and in the studio. It began as a crude block and was gradually refined into its final shape. I chose to split the album into tracks in order to show where the divisions between movements occur and to allow certain portions to be played as standalone tracks or singles. This was also the first release of my career where I seriously considered the streaming market and made an eﬀort to cater to it. Having more songs to stream on an album is always advantageous since it generates more revenue and makes it less likely for listeners to skip tracks. Fortunately, the division between pieces hasn’t discouraged most people from listening to the record from beginning to end.
‘While composing the album, I had no specific intent regarding its emotional impact or reception. It was an extremely intuitive project, one for which I had no real expectations. I chose to pursue the material because the early demos fascinated me and I wanted to explore this world in greater depth by making a full album from the material that was taking shape around the initial “Unending”/”From Within”/”Tumult” themes. The decision to make this particular record instead of recording other solo compositions arose from a sense of urgency. I had been on tour with Leprous for a considerable portion of 2018 and realized that my time at home to realize creative projects and record albums of my own material was very limited; I needed to seize the moment whenever I could. I had been away for most of the fall with a European run, followed by a week in Amsterdam performing with The Visit and Kamancello, followed immediately by five weeks doing a US/Canada tour. I returned in December and gave myself a week to consolidate the demos I had amassed earlier in the year before entering the studio. I had other solo material fully composed but it was very technical and centered around virtuosity, so it would have demanded much more practice and preparation. I wanted to begin recording immediately, and Worlds Within was much easier to approach from a technical standpoint, particularly since its foundation was built from many small looped components.
‘In retrospect, what I find interesting about this record is that it exemplifies the way art emerges organically, often for no clear reason, and moves like a living spirit through the creator in order to give itself life. This might be why many artists have diﬃculty explaining the origins of their work and breaking down the intention behind it. Worlds Within has an elusive, feminine energy about it that is very diﬀerent from much of my other work and it has definitely stretched my creative horizons. It’s a non-linear journey that never tries to show oﬀ, instead beckoning the listener further into its cryptic world and revealing its secrets after multiple plays.’
Earlier this year a live version of Worlds Within was released. I’m generally skeptical about live albums and don’t pay much attention to them as a whole. There’s a plethora of reasons involved with that and this isn’t the most conductive medium to go about those. So, naturally, even though I loved the album I was reluctant at first about listening to its counterpart. I eventually gave in to myself and went ahead. I was in for quite a few series of surprises. I was ultimately quite taken and impressed with the live performance of Worlds Within. Worlds Within Live sounds almost like a different album if you really dive in the details. I do believe that a discerning listener is needed to uncover all these details. I mean I didn’t even reach all of my conclusions after several side-by-side listens. Both in the literal sense and emotionally something more manages to be evoked throughout the live record. All the fine details are enchanting to say the least and they are accompanied by a sense that the entire affair is so much more organic and tightly knit. The whole performance almost breathes, as if it’s alive and pulsing with a lively shimmer. So, what’s the deal with it? Weinroth-Browne elaborates:
“I chose to revisit Worlds Within as a live album not to one-up or surpass the original studio version, but rather to explore the universe of this music more deeply and with a diﬀerent perspective. It was an opportunity to extend the lifespan of the Worlds Within album cycle during a period of no touring and to oﬀer fans a companion record and a closer look at my process as a creator and performer of music.
‘The initial intent was simply to make high-quality videos of the full album, akin to a pre-recorded livestream or live DVD. Most of my audience is outside of Canada and sharing these performances has helped me to stay connected with some of my most supportive fans who may not have the opportunity to hear this solo material at a live in-person show any time soon.
‘In 2020, I had the opportunity to reflect on what Worlds Within meant to me and I believe that through this the live album I’ve been able to communicate my ideas in greater depth, both by way of my performance and by sharing my thoughts around the concepts and thematic ideas surrounding the compositions. I was also able to expand on the visual aspect of the album with new cover artwork, CD layout/designs, and photos that all relate back to the imagery of Worlds Within.
‘Since Worlds Within was created largely in the studio without the intention of being performed in real time for an audience, I had to make some small modifications in order for it to translate live. This resulted in me performing the full album as 4 separate parts in a concert setting. I’ve omitted certain sections of the studio album and extended others with improvised solos that highlight the expressive side of my playing and cater more to the live energy and emotional intensity of this format. I think that being forced to perform the full album in real time actually made the overall form tighter and more fluid, which may correspond with the organic feel you described. The live album has the advantage of being recorded in a better acoustic space with a superior close mic on the cello. We did a few of the solos on the studio album at The Workshop, but most of it was done in engineer Dean Watson’s basement. The Workshop is a big barn in the woods (Inheritance was also recorded there) and my cello sound translates well in that particular room. The endpin is ‘plugged’ directly into the wood floor and the space feels ample without producing excess sound reflections. On the live album, you can feel the sound breathe much more and I think that adds greater emotional poignancy and intensity to the material.
‘That said, this method of recording all the layers in real time using a loop pedal was far more limiting from a mixing standpoint than the studio album where every layer was recorded individually, allowing much greater freedom and flexibility in post-production. I’ve always loved reworked versions of songs and even full remix albums in the way they reinvent the original work, stripping it down to its core and building it back up from scratch. I think Worlds Within Live oﬀers something similar.
‘Part of my goal with this project was to make a quick follow-up to Worlds Within that would be cost eﬀective and not overly time-consuming. I see it as a snapshot of me playing this music in 2021; maybe I’ll record a concert with an audience in 10 years and it will be diﬀerent – who knows? I didn’t obsess too much over this album and I think I realized the material to the best of my ability given the conditions and time I had set aside to work on it.
‘I’m not too concerned with which version fans or critics prefer; that was not the reason I made this live record, and I believe that pitting the two against each other is like comparing apples and oranges. Worlds Within Live was a direct response to the times we are living in; artists need to release music more often now to stay relevant, and the coronavirus pandemic has limited our ability to commune with music in a live setting. Making this live record felt like a project that was manageable, not overly ambitious or costly, and suitable for addressing these issues. It has certainly served its purpose in bolstering sales and streams and generating greater interest in my solo work, and for that, I’m grateful.’
Now, let’s visit The Visit. I’ll see myself out for that one. Anyway, this is actually the part of Weinroth-Browne’s work I’m most excited to tell all of you about. The Visit, besides the solo singles, was the most emotionally resounding experience for my tastes. I vibed with the output at a very high level. Heather Sita Black’s vocal performance is an amazing musical complement to the cello performance to say the least. The way these musical layers intertwine is also borderline mystical in the way they’re composed. It’s a very rich sound which seems to be highly dramatic and epic with tons of dynamics and lush atmospheres/soundscapes. Part of its drama I’d also attribute to a more shred infused approach to some of the cello parts. That is, when looking at “Offering” and “Between Worlds”, the first two singles.
The full-length record, Through Darkness Into Light takes the above with a tender/intimate twist and adds Eastern influences in the mix. How did the idea of the music as The Visit happen? What is the creative process and where do these ideas come from? It’s a novel mixture of styles and approaches which I don’t recall hearing anywhere.
There’s also something raw, unprocessed in the music of The Visit which I can’t exactly put into any palpable manner. As if the musical ideas are plucked out of the ether of the soul and launched without hesitation or alteration towards any existing listeners. I’m also extremely fond of the fact that for the most part, there aren’t any actual lyrics, but rather ‘gibberish’ which works in a melodic sense with the music. I particularly enjoy it because it lets me paint details on the existing musical canvas as I’m listening, so it gives me room to be creative as well as a listener. A type of ambiguity I rarely find myself enjoying, as I like to be spoon-fed the whole deal when it comes to music hahaha. Based on Weinroth-Browne’s input, it seems like I’m onto something:
‘The Visit is very close to my heart and I still feel that I’ve written some of my best music for this project.
‘Heather and I met in early 2013 at an intimate house concert where I was playing a solo set. She had reached out to me shortly before about collaborating on a performance the following month. At the break we began improvising together and there was an immediate and undeniable chemistry between us. We began meeting on a weekly basis to improvise and explore various musical landscapes. Through this process we developed a creative vocabulary, which became the foundation for The Visit’s sound. At a certain point, the once-improvised ideas crystallized into set structures and we began to compose long pieces out of the musical worlds that we were exploring.
‘In January 2014, we released our debut single, “Between Worlds”, a 15-minute track that spanned a vast dynamic and musical range, from neoclassical minimalism to a climax reminiscent of extreme metal. This piece paved the way for our style and encapsulated our diverse influences. “Between Worlds” was my favorite thing to play when we began performing it – this music felt very exciting, even cutting-edge in a way.
‘During mid-to-late 2013, we composed five other pieces, all of which would later appear on Through Darkness Into Light. These pieces arose from the musical connection between the two of us and the intense energy resulting from this bond. Most of the pieces on the album were written very quickly in the span of two or three days. All of The Visit’s music to date features very non-standard, open cello tunings. I would improvise in these tunings and try to create a specific, immersive tonal and sonic world, and then populate it with diﬀerent riﬀs, patterns, and variations. Gradually, a structure would emerge. Once this form had been established, Heather and I would improvise around it and she would compose vocal melodies. Initially, all of our pieces were wordless like our first “Between Worlds”. Heather is such a strong singer that she can use her voice like an instrument in a highly compelling way without needing words to convey emotion. Our first performances had no lyrics, although after a few months she began setting many of her vocal lines to text. The first lyrics she penned were for the verse in “Oﬀering”, which begins over eight minutes into the track – quite unusual but very striking when it happens! This was the beginning of a conceptual thread that would tie all of the five pieces on the album together thematically.
‘I really love how you described our music. The songs we’ve released so far are the result of many converging influences. At the time that we wrote them, I was heavily influenced by the virtuosic vocabulary of 20th century solo cello music such as the “Kodaly Solo Sonata, op. 8”, which extends the range of the cello with alternate tunings and employs all sorts of challenging techniques to give it a self-accompanying, almost orchestral sound. I was also a huge fan of instrumental progressive metal and djent. At the same time, I wanted to capture a kind of intimate sadness and fragility in the music. Heather and I instantly connected and we were very much in tune with one another in our musical energy and intensity. Our music emerged very organically, without very much prior discussion. What intrigued me about it was the way it combined very defined structures, rhythmic designs, and patterns, with unbridled emotion and fluidity. It had the technicality of the metal bands I enjoyed without the rigidity, and the free flow of some of the acoustic acts I listened to, but with more discipline and direction. I was definitely preoccupied with getting the most out of the cello, and to play music where I could stretch out and show what I could do, hence the ‘shreddy’ riﬀ-based approach. Playing ‘rhythm guitar’ on cello has always been my strong point, much more than melody, in my opinion, so I was in my wheelhouse here. I feel that Heather was my muse when we wrote our first compositions and her energy and desire to make music together was the impetus for me to lay the groundwork for each piece.
‘The raw character of our music comes from the stripped-down arrangements and the spontaneous and grassroots way in which they were created. I was 21 and had just moved out of the house and Heather was renting rooms in friends’ apartments. We refined our songs jamming together in parks, in an apartment lobby late at night, at the bottom of empty stairwells at the music schools I was frequenting, or in the tiny rooms we were renting out. We had no extra gear and wanted to have music that we could play anywhere, under any circumstances. Ottawa has very few adequate music venues and most of the ones accessible to small artists in 2013 were small cafes that could fit up to 75 people. We managed to write songs that could translate in intimate venues or acoustic settings while conveying an epic grandeur and maximalist approach. On our album we added very little in terms of extra processing and post-production. We spent very little time mixing it so I think the record also has quite a raw quality. I often wish that we had been less rushed and taken more time to work on it, but at the same time, I think that it was good that we didn’t hesitate to release it.
‘I’ve spent a great deal of time this fall working on our new record. It will see a convergence of the compositional approaches taken on Through Darkness Into Light and Worlds Within. While I think it definitely marks a change of direction for us and will no doubt surprise fans of our past material, I’m very excited about these new songs and have been thoroughly enjoying working on them.’
I think it would go without saying that I strongly recommend listening to The Visit, at least once, regardless of preferences and tastes. It’s really a musical act that defies definition in any clear way, it defies conventions on musical levels, and it defies logic as to how it can be this good. As we slowly waded through, we now look on at what’s up with Musk Ox.
I had quite a fair deal to say about their latest record, Inheritance, which is an absolute banger, no matter how you look at it. Since I have already covered it, as well as the band being extensively interviewed across other platforms in regards to this universally acclaimed record, the segment on the band itself will be proportionally shorter.
I actually didn’t even care about Woodfall after hearing Inheritance, which is not at all what my usual reaction is to bands of such caliber. I think I was just too infatuated with Inheritance and I was just listening to it on repeat like a broken drone. Don’t make the same mistake I did, go listen to Woodfall if you enjoyed anything else from Musk Ox, and Inheritance too. Scratch that, just listen to all their stuff as it is, especially if you’re into folk that grounds itself around modern classical and progressive songwriting.
Woodfall embraces a lively and energetic delivery with a sweet, nigh nostalgic/wistful air surrounding it. I rarely make associations between seasons and music, but I was smacked dab in the face with the idea of spring as I listened to this. Well, spring, in the romantic sense of the word. I was imbued with flashes of nature blooming yet again, colors rapturously exhaling themselves back to life, fragrances washing about through the fresh air, as the sun gently caresses my body tattered by winter. Naturally I wanted to know what went on with a record that stirred up such a reaction. So, it goes like this:
‘Woodfall was our first foray into writing for Musk Ox as a trio lineup and I think it could be summed up in one word: ambitious. The album began with a series of five guitar sketches, all of which were quite long pieces. Our idea was to make an epic concept album in the prog tradition with an acoustic ‘neofolk’ ensemble. Whereas the debut album presents the idyllic beauty of the earth in a more innocent way, Woodfall’s central themes are humanity’s relationship with and impact on nature. Nathanael sent me the guitar parts and I very eagerly composed the cello and violin parts for the album.
‘This felt like the most logical way of writing the record. The pieces were very long and detailed, full of notes and odd-time patterns, so they were diﬃcult to jam out and write together in a room. Our violinist at the time had just moved to India so it would have been very challenging (and likely ineﬀective) to compose together as a duo and then add the violin afterwards. In summer 2010, I spent several days at the piano composing parts and transcribing them into notation software. I also reworked some guitar parts and added new ones such as the minor key middle section on “Serenade The Constellations”.
‘The result was five very long and dense compositions – I remember us listening to the entire album as a midi playback and taking in what we had written. It was both impressive and daunting. The pieces were extremely demanding to play and the recording process was diﬃcult in that we had no prior experience of making a record in this way; we were figuring it out as we went along. We also had not done any preproduction prior to the sessions, so none of the pieces had been revised or refined from their original versions. While the actual writing process of our last two records was virtually the same, the recording and mixing processes were quite diﬀerent, which I believe played a significant role in the way each album sounds. Woodfall is very dry with all three instruments panned oﬀ from each other while Inheritance features much greater use of reverbs and more interplay and cohesion between instruments.
‘I’m glad that we decided to revisit this style and approach on Inheritance and learn from our experience making Woodfall. What I find interesting in retrospect is how much the tone of the two albums diﬀers. Inheritance feels considerably darker, even though tracks such as “Memoriam” and “Ritual” are in many ways ‘descendants’ of “Windswept” and “Arcanum”, respectively.
‘In retrospect, I’m still quite baﬄed by how Woodfall reached so many people and was so successful considering that we’ve always been an independent band and have never really toured as Musk Ox. I think that the longevity of the album provided a useful incentive for us to deliver a follow-up and to try and improve on all aspects of our artistic craft, from composition to performance to production.’
It seems that Musk Ox is commonly defined as a neofolk band. Which to me at least, kind of makes sense. Weinroth-Browne mentions in a different interview that Musk Ox is more focused on intricacy and detail than a lot of neofolk artists, where I underlined that there’s barely any such representation in the genre. So, what would that be owed to? Well, that’s simple:
‘We’ve never really seen ourselves as a neofolk band – we became associated with the genre early on but never set out specifically to make that kind of music. I think we always wanted to write and perform music in a more metal style and I think our compositions reflect this. I would also attribute the focus on intricacy to our personalities. We both pay a lot of attention small details and the architecture and design of the work, from a note-by-note scale all the way to the overall form of pieces and albums. We also generally enjoy writing complex parts with a lot of nuance and activity, and this was very much a conscious focus on Woodfall, whereas I think it happened more naturally on Inheritance. Nathanael and I often have long talks about music that we enjoy and I think one thing we always come back to is our appreciation of records that clearly took a great deal of time and energy to make. We both deeply respect these kinds of albums – this is part of why so many of our own releases have taken so long to complete. We view each new project as a kind of mountain we have to climb, for better or for worse.’
If you made it this far you are just as passionate as I am, so you’ll definitely want to hear all the ins and outs about Kamancello as well. I was quite enthralled with the tunes when I was first acquainted with them. It’s a unique thing in a lot of ways. There are very few artists that approach this blending of the Western with the Eastern, or more particularly Middle Eastern in this case. The only two notable examples that come to mind are Eishan Ensemble and Jaubi, although they are vastly different when compared to the output of Kamancello. I also can’t really name a band that plays entirely improvised music in any adjacent area that makes such effective use of stylistic fusion. As Weinroth-Browne notes that he isn’t familiar with either of these bands, he continues:
‘I grew up listening to Persian classical music and was introduced to the kamanche first through the work of Kayhan Kalhor, and later attended Persian music concerts in my hometown growing up. From a fairly early age, I had a keen interest in exploring this music and was also fascinated by the idea of musical fusions and combining styles and idioms that I hadn’t heard together before. For this reason, by the time I met Shahriyar in my early twenties, it just felt natural to get together with a kamanche player and jam and it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
‘All of our live performances and our three albums are fully improvised. We’ve always had a very strong musical connection and aﬃnity. I think our musical personalities are very well matched so when we play together there’s a kind of telepathy that happens where we can anticipate each other’s next moves. When we play it’s almost a deeper level of communication where ideas flow very easily and seamlessly.
‘In 2017 we were approached by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra about performing a concert with them, so I actually arranged a piece called “Convergence Suite” using parts of our own improvisations as well as one of Shahriyar’s kamanche pieces to create a notated ‘double concerto’. This was the only time we’ve really played something scripted, although the piece contains various spots designated for improvisation as well.’
I was quite surprised with the level of unity that’s present in the music of Kamancello. It’s all very well done, setting itself apart from anything I’ve heard before. I think it all connects to the organic and effortless flow.
‘Some people are very musically compatible and ‘get along’ easily when improvising together, and Shahriyar and I happen to have this type of chemistry when we play. I would say that what I do in this context is not entirely Western – I try to inhabit the Kurdish/Persian world in my own way, since I don’t have formal training in these traditions, which I think leads to more unique results. I also draw on other elements of my musical vocabulary where it feels appropriate, sometimes adding some chordal movement in the bass or playing rhythms with the bow that are reminiscent of metal. Something I truly appreciate about Kamancello is that I can speak in my own voice in this project and that when we perform, we come together as equals and have a conversation. We have vastly diﬀerent cultural backgrounds and life experiences but I think the dialogues in our music are not so much about making two diﬀerent languages coexist, but rather creating a new musical language. We really listen to each other and try to ‘keep the ball rolling’ when we play, but at the same time, the roles of melody and rhythm, lead and support, are shifting constantly and there are often contrapuntal lines that play against each other in unusual and unexpected ways. I feel that we had many moments like this on the track “Emergent” from our second album Voyage.’
I would also note that there’s a deeply meditative aspect to the music that pours from Kamancello, something which I’m not entirely sure where to place. It’s not just evocative in that sense, but it also manages to speak to the listener as well. One would wonder whether it is a conscious approach which reveals itself in the finished work, or instead, an inadvertent characteristic of the creative process employed in this particular setting. Weinroth-Browne states that it’s the latter:
‘This meditative feeling comes in part from the free, non-rhythmic introductions that many of our pieces have. Beginning ‘in the air’, without a rhythmic pulse or beat cycle, is very common in music from the Middle East, Western Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, and it helps to establish an atmosphere and set the tone for the rest of the piece. I think this kind of playing evokes a spiritual or sacred atmosphere and a sort of ecstasy as it builds in intensity, so that when the rhythmic cycle finally comes, it represents a release. What might also contribute to the meditative feeling in our music is the repetition of cycles or motifs over long periods within the same mode.
‘I think that repetition with slight variations and slowly evolving textures takes both the performer and listener deep into the music into a very visceral and emotional place rather than a heady and intellectual one. One doesn’t notice changes so much consciously as physically, as though the music is somehow working its way through the body from the inside out. During our live performances in particular, we tend to play for very long periods without pausing and during these extended improvisations, our sense of time disappears altogether and becomes distorted, depending on the feeling the music evokes.’
I noticed that the self-titled record doesn’t seem to go in any particular direction as far as an emotive charge is concerned. Whereas, Voyage and Of Shadows transform into more ethereal affairs, with almost dreamy textures, coming together under seamless deliveries between their phrasings and ideas. Is it just me? Weinroth-Brown offers us some details about this, and not only:
‘All three albums were recorded in a single session. We used all but two of the pieces we recorded and later I organized them into three separate track listings. The first four tracks from the self-titled album were the first four improvisations we recorded, in that order. “Solitude” and “Ascent” were done slightly later, but I thought they fit in with the rest. The idea of this release was to present the most direct and straightforward pieces as our first statement, but to also curate a collection of contrasting improvisations that could stand alone as well as part of the album. We also filmed videos for all of the first four pieces so it made sense to release them in advance as promo material. Of the three albums, I think Voyage is my personal favorite. It definitely focuses more on lengthy, more exploratory epics in contrast with the debut and Of Shadows, which contain more concise pieces. As you mentioned, it does have a more ethereal quality.
‘The mix is slightly diﬀerent on Voyage as well, which contributes to its more breathy, airy sound. These four pieces (“Emergent”, “Tenebrous”, “Voyage”, “Threnody”) were done at the end of the sessions. Of Shadows contains what we considered to be the ‘B-sides’ which led us to put out the material as a digital release only. Despite this, many people enjoyed this album the most. I think it is the most homogeneous of the three records. All of the pieces were done in a sequence during the middle of the session. It has a more nocturnal character, partly because of the tuning and key that we played in for most of the album. To speak to your comment about the more seamless delivery, I would attribute that to us being fully warmed up and venturing increasingly deeper into a kind of flow state as the session progressed. With every take, our music making became more honest and we had less to prove. We were more focused on exploring diﬀerent directions and building the overall musical arc rather than trying to squeeze in our individual ideas. I felt that by the last few pieces (specifically “Emergent” and “Threnody”) we had reached a deeper level of communication in our improvisations.’
Now the real question is, are we truly listening to microtonal scales in Kamancello, or do the melodic phrasings revolve around the usage of harmonic minor scales? To me at least, they have fairly similar sounds in a good number of contexts and some people substitute one for the other and what not. So here’s the scoop:
‘Yes, there is microtonality in our music, but it is definitely subtle. Some of Persian modes resemble the harmonic minor scale very closely, but one of the diﬀerences is that the augmented second interval in Western music is actually slightly smaller in Persian music, so that it contains three-quarter tones instead of semitones on either side. In general, the concept of pitch is quite fluid in our music since our instruments are fretless and we tend to work in a variety of diﬀerent tunings (I used 4 or 5 tunings on my cello over the course of our album recording session).’
Finally, we take a look at Weinroth-Browne’s track record as a session/guest musician. He has played cello for Leprous, Woods of Ypres, Altars of Grief, Distoriam, Dzo-nga, Fates Warning, Frostbite, Hexenklad, Killitorous, Solace of the Void, Sweeping Death, Thrawsunblat, Volur, and Wake of Sirens. Weinroth-Browne gives us a good deal of details as to how he ended up playing for more than a dozen bands and how it all basically works:
‘My work as a session musician began in my late teens, and has only increased every year since then. I always felt a strong drive to be a working musician, to be ‘hireable’ and to cut my teeth in as many contexts as possible. In the beginning, I mainly wanted to gain as much experience as possible and make a name for myself. In retrospect, I would say that during the first 5 years (2009-2014) of my career I was more focused on attempting to gain exposure through guest appearances whereas since 2015 or 2016, I began seeing it more as a job or professional skill that I could oﬀer. What I failed to understand as a young up-and-coming musician was that a reputation takes years to build and that the exposure that I wanted early on would eventually come with time.
‘I would consider 2009 as my first year as an active and ‘visible’ musician in the industry. At this point I had done a couple of guest spots on singer-songwriter type records but it was through playing with Nathanael Larochette in Musk Ox that I became involved with Woods of Ypres and played on The Green Album when I was 17. The following summer (2010) David Gold reached out to Musk Ox about contributing to the band’s next album. I think Nathanael was not particularly interested since there might not have been room for classical guitar, but I jumped at the chance to collaborate again. I received rough mixes of what was to be Woods 5 (but ended up being Woods 4.5) and composed cello parts for all the songs. There were five tracks, only two of which were actually released on the Home 7”. David reached out again in summer 2011 about the real Woods 5. I remember spending a great deal of time writing parts for this album and familiarizing myself with the material. I did these projects for free as there was apparently only enough money to cover Dean Watson’s fee. I remember at the time being very invested in this collaboration as I felt that the songs had great potential and that it would further my career. While I was certainly disillusioned by the initial results, I’ve seen over time how working with Woods of Ypres early on has contributed to the path I’m on now.
‘In 2014, Joel Violette (lead guitarist from the final Woods of Ypres lineup) reached out to me about working on his own project Thrawsunblat. Again, I worked quite meticulously arranging cello parts for the band’s third album Metachthonia. In the years since, it became apparent to me how many metal bands (particularly in Canada) were influenced by the musical legacy of Woods of Ypres, such as Altars of Grief, Hexenklad, and Solace of the Void, all of whom approached me in part because of my association with the band. The other guest appearances you mentioned came as the result of other work I’ve done, mostly through The Visit and Leprous, although the Fates Warning gig came quite randomly through a fellow string player in Ottawa and not at all via the metal scene.
‘My involvement in projects as a session musician varies quite drastically depending on the artists for whom I work. Some will send fully notated scores, while others will provide midi but no actual notation. In many instances I compose and arrange parts in advance, or I improvise them, sometimes laying down the cello arrangement spontaneously. I believe that part of the reason I’ve received so much work in this area is due to the fact that I’m open to any of these approaches and have sought to be versatile. Every session presents a unique challenge and keeps me sharp.
‘Session work has been one of the cornerstones of my career for the past ten years and it is one of my primary sources of income. I’ve never approached bands or artists about collaborating – they always invite me to guest on their albums and I almost always say yes. With every year, I’ve had more people reach out about session work.
‘The projects I’ve worked on and continue to participate in range far beyond the metal genre and I believe that they’ve helped me improve considerably in my craft as a cellist, specifically on records, and have prepared me for the technical and musical challenges of my own albums, while also stretching me in new and unexpected directions artistically. As I mentioned previously with the singles I’ve released, I enjoy micro projects that can be completed in a short period of time and my session work provides me with the opportunity to focus on delivering very specific material in a limited time frame and often forces me out of my comfort zone, expanding my musical vocabulary and requiring varied approaches to studio tracking.
‘Most of my early session gigs came from my reputation as a live performer and from word of mouth, which led to my ‘branding’ as a cellist. Honestly, I haven’t had a chance to market my other instrumental skills since I’ve been so busy just keeping up with all the hired work I do on cello. In more recent years, I’ve noticed a shift where clients approach me because of albums I’ve played on and due to my activity on social media rather than live performance. Particularly over the pandemic, I began to work increasingly for international artists rather than Canadian ones. 2021 has been by far my busiest year for session work, with over 40 diﬀerent projects. I plan to limit my availability for sessions in the future in order to free up time to work more intensively on my own records.’
If you made it through this exhaustive foray in the musical world of Raphael Weinroth-Browne, I thank you for taking the time to dive in ‘together’ with us into it. It was definitely worth it for me, and I hope it was for you as well. At this point all I have to say is – go listen to all the music mentioned above, because, if you’re not acquainted – you’re missing out big time. To make things convenient, you have some links below where you can follow each project on your platform of choice.