Montreal-based musician and artist An Laurence is set to release her debut album Almost Touching on May 20. Her three-city preview kicked off with a show in Ottawa at Red Bird Live on May 3. I spoke with her about her upcoming debut album and launch tour.
A multidisciplinary artist, An Laurence has always been interested in experimenting and collaborating. “I do pieces that incorporate movement and audiovisual poetry. Mixing different art and working with artists that have different kinds of interests—I really like to collaborate,” she said. Trained as a classical guitarist, she takes a lot of technique and style from it: “How it works usually, is that a performer interprets someone else’s pieces, so my [upcoming] album and the way I work is based on that. There were two pieces written specifically for me and we really worked together instead of them coming with a piece. We still have our specialties and roles, but we were in a really organic relationship,” she said.
We spoke at length about the idea for this album and the album itself. An Laurence said, “The idea came in 2019. I was primarily a performer and interpreter and had just finished my first show of five women composers in Montreal. It was for me and one of my collaborators, Sarah. After it ended, I was like, what’s next? What do I do?” She also explained a challenge for classical guitarists—not being able to build a career in part because of a lack of written pieces for the instrument. “In classical music, contemporary composers will not write a piece for guitar. [And if they were to compose] those pieces, if I researched them, I could see that they were written because of a commission. And I had this idea in my head and felt that even if I was the best guitarist in the world, I couldn’t have a career,” she said.
So she rounded up a collection of pieces that she had played in the last five years that had had a profound impact on her—“pieces I could remember that really marked me,” she said. “At some point I realized there should be a concept, and I shouldn’t just be putting pieces there, it should be intentional. All the pieces were about searching for something or nothing.” The pieces include Amy Brandon’s “Artificial Light,” Kim Farris-Manning’s “Almost Touching,” Elischa Kaminer’s “Chants D’Amour,” Shelly Marwood’s “Reconciling Duality,” and Arthur Keegan-Bole’s “Nocturne.”
Brandon’s “Artificial Light” is a technically demanding mixed-media piece with guitar and electronics: “The electronics in the piece are actually recordings of [Brandon’s] own piece, so I decided to digitally distort them, so that’s what the sound is. It feels like you’re running away from or after something, just to start the same thing all over again,” said An Laurence.
“I wanted to create a platform. Most of my opportunity, if I get hired to curate something, my work is featured, but I can also give a platform for other artists in the same field.”
Manning’s “Almost Touching” is a piece created by the two in 2018–2019. It is an important piece for An Laurence, so she saw fit to include it on the album. Marwood’s piece is about “this whole idea of reconciling different, contrasting parts of yourself,” to which she felt very close.
“Nocturne,” one of the coolest pieces of the bunch, is by UK composer Keegan-Bole. An Laurence didn’t know the composer before reaching out to him, but rather because she “heard this piece recorded on YouTube and loved the way the guitar and electronics were handled.” The piece was inspired by Keegan-Bole’s insomnia: “When he was having insomnia, he would listen to the radio—that’s why there’s the forecast in the piece—he would try to sleep while listening to and it would actually help him sleep.” The piece fits into the greater theme of searching as a “search for sleep—a very impalpable thing to search for that you can’t see/touch/reach for,” she said.
For An Laurence, the finished product, not only the music, is something she worked hard on: “For me, collaborating is not only doing the work, but managing the relationship. When the relationship is flourishing is when the collaborators have been cared for and it it shows in the piece.” These preview shows are a way to “honour every composer” by allowing them the opportunity to perform parts of their own work. “For the show, I didn’t want to just do the pieces. I wanted to create a platform. Most of my opportunity, if I get hired to curate something, my work is featured, but I can also give a platform for other artists in the same field/with the same issues,” she said.
An Laurence’s debut album Almost Touching will be released on May 20, 2022.