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GETTING TO KNOW: Karneef, the Montreal loft scene’s soul experimentalist

May 6, 2014

Photo: Antoine Bordeleau

Montreal soul man Karneef is a rare specimen of someone who lives, eats, and breathes their music.

His debut LP, Love Between Us, caught attention when it was released last November for its jazz-fusion-meets-funk vibe; it combined complexity with pure fun, like the Talking Heads and Frank Zappa reinvented for the post-Internet loft crowd. The album was especially sleek sounding thanks to his hiring of professional jazz musicians to play bass and drums in the studio, offering a tight, organic compliment to his laptop compositions.

All of this created the question of how Karneef would recreate the album’s sound in concert, and especially how he would maintain its tech-y foundation and spastic, freeform improvisation. We caught up with him recently to discuss his innovative live setup, as well as his recent Swimming Remixes project and Renata Morales-directed music video.

AUX: What’s your live setup? How do go about recreating the album’s sound?

Karneef: We’re a quartet, we have four computers, and everybody is responsible for their own design or environment. Everything is virtual. We use drums that transmit signals rather than actual acoustic events, and same with guitar. We also use a couple of isomorphic controllers which are sort of designed to replace the western keyboard in a modern context because they have displays and they show things like musical modes and “where is the tonic,” etc. All the procesisng is soft, there’s no pedals, no amps, no drums, so there are very few acoustic events on the stage itself, except for the voice and the sounds of the pads being hit.

Why did you pick Renata Morales to direct the video for “Swimming”?

It’s more what I like about her as a person, and what I like is that she’s very spontaneous like me, and she believes in the power of being prepared fundamentally to improvise. It’s kind of the foundation of jazz music, and seems to be as much the foundation of her work. My Mom said [the video] was visually stunning, which counts for something.

How did you pick out artists to remix your music on the Swimming Remixes? Do you enjoy seeing your music in the hands of others?

I sent out the stems to friends, people I thought might enjoy it, and I thought I might enjoy hearing what they create.

Remixing is kind of a tricky thing because you send out a bunch of stuff, and it’s like sending out your key ingredients and then waiting to see what comes back. I’m very lucky because I really enjoyed hearing every one that came back when I listened to them.

What’s your next project? Are you working on any new music?

The next thing I’m going to do is a bunch of songs with a video component for the entire record. It’s going to be a like a 70-80 minute movie in surround sound, multi-channel, and I’d like it to be presented in a theatre context. Later when it’s adapted to, you know, being put in a portable media kind of thing, I’ll have to rethink how it’s going to be disseminated. I’m about five tunes in, and things are getting a little more orchestral. I would say I’m just letting the jazz take over, and not being afraid of being a little bit out—you know, more wild, more notes.

[magazine month=”May” year=”2014″]

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