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Bonobo: Challenging Music's 'Borders,' Finding A New Frontier

Bonobo's new album is titled <em>The North Borders</em>.
Andrew De Francesco
Courtesy of the artist
Bonobo's new album is titled The North Borders.

If you've ever paid attention to the sounds between the stories on All Things Considered, the music of Bonobo may sound familiar. Bonobo is the recording name for British composer and DJ Simon Green, a star of the electronic-music world. Green's new album, The North Borders, began when he was playing his thumb piano alone in his attic studio — a process culminating in the creation of a track called "Cirrus."

"The way I make music is often to kind of treat instrumentation like I would a sample," Green says. "The main thing that I did [with 'Cirrus'] was just to take the decaying tails of two notes of that thumb piano and then put them against this kick drum and make it into some kind of cohesive whole. I'm just trying to sort of push the ideas of what can create melody, what can create rhythm, and how drum sounds don't necessarily need to come from drums, but can come from a different place."

When traveling, Green often visits record stores in search of samples. The basis of the song "Transits" is a recording of a vibraphone and harp that he'd found in Boulder, Colo.

"I put it into the sampler and I played around with the tuning and did some processing to it," Green says. "Again, it's about sort of re-contextualizing the sound and bringing it into a very different place from where it started."

To create his moody compositions, Green doesn't just sample from records. He carries a little microphone around so that if he hears an interesting sound, he can capture it — generating his own samples of the outside world.

"There's noises of a truck's air brakes being used as a sort of melodic refrain somewhere on this record," Green says. "I also recorded, you know, dropping coins into water, or in the subway, recording train doors opening. It all eventually ends up in the music somewhere."

While Green pushes the boundaries of instrumentation, the new album's title, The North Borders, questions geographical boundaries. Green says the idea for the title came from the flight he often takes from New York to London.

"There's all these places that you fly over, from Iceland [to] the northern territories of Canada, all these huge frozen expanses which I fly over regularly, and I never know what's down there," he says. "And I like the imagery of borders and moving away from traditional geographical fixings. The North Borders has that sort of nonnationalistic sound to it."

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