So Gianpiero, our trusty Spanish writer and all-round good egg, got in touch with me saying that he had managed to schedule a last-minute interview with the noise-jazz-math-avant-garde-experimental super-pizza that is Ahleuchatistas. At the time I received the message I was stuck in a broken lift at work, utilising my one sturdy bar of phone reception to check my e-mails. The gig was that same night and we had nothing prepared. At the time I remember acknowledging the irony that Ahleuchatistas are renowned for their live improvisations, where they choose to not be prepared and, instead, exert a quick judgement as to the musical direction they will take in front of the audience. It seemed kind of fitting that we not prepare anything and, instead, ‘improvise’ our interview. But it didn’t really work out conceptually as, counter-intuitively, we had prepared ourselves to not be prepared. I was confused, sweaty, and I was still stuck in the lift.
Gianpiero did end up improvising his interview with Ahleuchatistas and, incidentally, the core of his interview pertained to improvisation. “There’s general ‘rules’, such as watching each other, and visually linking what you see to where you’re going, then a matter of listening and quickly reacting,” says guitarist Shane Perlowin, “it comes really easy to us, as we’ve been playing together for over 10 years and have therefore created a very strong connection, a natural chemistry that brings us together everywhere we go. We very rarely disagree over where to take our music, and we’re very rarely disappointed with it“. This must be a challenging feat for a band like Ahleuchatistas, whose music is highly dissonant and seldom carries a coherent rhythm. Choosing the right time to steer the sound in a new direction must therefore be quite complicated. “Apart from Ahleuchatistas, we also play loads of other music,” says drummer Ryan Oslance, “we produce soundtracks professionally and recently kicked off another project, so we play a lot of different things and in large amount, which makes our mutual communication more than straight forward, just natural.”
A question that arises then is whether or not this natural chemistry can be transmitted to an album. As it happens, a lot of what is heard in Ahleuchatista’s magnum opus Location Location was the product of long hours of improvising. “Basically we just meet at the studios and play for hours,” says Shane, “and I really mean that, 5 or 6 hours in a row, we are recording just about everything that comes out and that resembles what we musically are, prior to deciding what to take into account for a possible record, and deciding to play it again, re-learn it, and arrange it ‘as it was a song’“. What is heard on the album is, therefore, a carbon copy of a previous improvisation, the reprise of an unrehearsed performance. “‘Our National Anthem’ was recorded somewhere around 4 or 5 in the morning, after a whole day in session,” says Ryan, “we were completely brained out, and I think that comes through pretty clearly as you play it“.
Location Location is chaotic and complex but at the same time the compositions are prolonged and anticipatory, allowing the listener to relax and let their mind wander, void of any clear trajectory. “Nowadays we try to not match what the other person is playing, but to go against it in order to weave that kind of texture,” Ryan explains. A stellar example of this on Location Location is the song ‘Heraclitean‘, which forces hazy toned guitar with an almost Middle Eastern sensibility, over fast and heavily syncopated percussion. The album wanders across jazz, African, noise rock, math rock, and ambient electronica. “Location Location was never meant to be an album on its own,” says Ryan, “it rather came out spontaneously as we started digging through some of our old material. Some of this material has been played again, but some is just coming out of old recordings“.
Given their long hours in the rehearsal room and the many years of collaboration between the two, it seems unsurprising that Shane and Ryan have accrued a surplus of recordings, enough to construct an LP out of. It is the many years of practice and collaboration that probably makes live improvisation seem effortless for Ahleuchatistas. Their constant exposure to each other allows them to understand the other’s body language and create spontaneous and unrehearsed musical compositions without spoken instruction.