Julianna Barwick And The Magic Place
Julianna Barwick’s experimental soundscapes are in part informed by her experience growing up in Louisiana and Missouri, singing weekly with her church congregation and school choirs. Her loop-based compositions replicate the soaring textures of a large choral group using only her voice, a loop station and some occasional instrumentation. Barwick starts her songs quietly, usually with a single refrain, and then builds the pieces up until she’s created a complicated, weaving sonic architecture. Her extraordinary range and vocal technique propels the music into a variety of different emotional spaces, from feverish to tranquil.
“The Magic Place was a tree on our farm,” says Louisiana-raised Brooklynite Julianna Barwick. “It was in the back pasture. It was one tree that grew up, down and around. You had to crawl in and once you were inside, it was like there were different rooms, and you could actually lay in the branches. We named it ‘The Magic Place’ because it really was magical—especially for a kid… and that’s how I feel about my life right now—without trying to sound too hippy dippy or cosmic, this year has definitely been a magical one.”
…her music feels homemade. We know that she spent a lot of time in church as a kid, so it’s tempting to think of her work as a digital update on sacred hymns. The heavy reverb and layering brings to mind cathedrals, light refracted through stained glass, some kind of surrender to or celebration of the eternal. But while Barwick can seem to be reaching for these grand themes and overwhelming statements, there’s something in her music that brings it back down to earth. It feels human, imperfect, and intimate, and the line of communication is one-to-one. Despite her music’s often epic sweep, it can feel like she is whispering in our ears. So the sense of the sublime, which permeates every note of her material, ultimately works on a humble scale.
As mentioned in the earlier commentary on Gillian Welch, what both of these musicians achieve is an unraveling of easy rural-urban binaries; as listeners, we have to follow their lead. When we imagine rural identity as a cultural or social marker (see the Irish, for example) and not as a fixed geographical term, then (again, see Irish arts and culture) everything becomes richer and more inclusive.
As I also mentioned in that previous piece, it will lead to some challenging conversations, but perhaps also some moments when we can see a continuum of expression and lived experience–if we placed The Magic Place alongside One Hundred Years of Solitude, or a novel by William Faulkner, or, closer to home, the church music of Ms. Barwick’s youth. Even a consideration of Sacred Harp music, so different on many material levels, would open up an interesting discussion of the ways the two musics share similarities but also telling historical, cultural, and community-based differences: