Julianna Barwick

The Magic Place by Julianna Barwick was released in 2011 on Mistletone/Inertia. You can hear the sublime title track on the Mistletone Soundcloud and purchase the CD via mail order here. Mistletone also just digitally released The Matrimony Remixes EP by Julianna Barwick, featuring remixes by Diplo and Lunice, Prince Rama, Helado Negro, and Alias Pail. Get it on iTunes and listen to the incredible Prince Rama remix Prizewinning on Mistletone Soundcloud.

  • “Barwick constructs opaque audio atmospheres from swarms of heavenly harmonies and cloudy drones, making music equal parts canonical and environmental” – THE AGE (4.5 stars)
  • “So beautiful it might indeed reach the ear of heaven” – SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (4 stars)
  • “A strange and beautiful album from a unique voice. Literally” – INPRESS
  • “Diplo described Julianna Barwick’s music as ‘like Care Bears making love’. Who knew the colourfully fluffy fellows had such a commanding awareness of the vocal arts? Barwick’s ornately crafted The Magic Place takes the singer/producer’s ethereal, church choir-bred voice to new heights. Built around intertwining a-capella loops and piano/guitar fragments, this stunning work skirts avant-classical and pastoral folk like it was meant to be.” – MUSIC AUSTRALIA GUIDE

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.

Julianna 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.

Her Mistletone debut The Magic Place (released in the US on Sufjan Stevens’ label Asthmatic Kitty),  is a nine-piece full-length album of magic and solace, bursting joy and healing tones. Julianna’s mostly a-capella music is built from her voice multi-tracked through a loop station. It’s the layered fragments and pieces that become an intricate pattern through technology; it’s the sound of a rising thing, a big group harmony as a splash of sunlight through a car window, a sound that feels like hope and ascendance and patience and intimacy.

Julianna’s inspiration is the church hymns she grew up singing; the way a roomful of diverse voices can join together to fill up a space. Says Julianna about her church singin’ days: “You could really hear all the layers, harmonies, rounds, the men and the women, the claps… everything. Some of those hymns are so beautiful.”

The Magic Place is named after a real place: “The Magic Place was a tree on our farm,” Julianna says. “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.”

Like Sigur Rós’s ethereal glossolalia, there’s a very particular joy in listening to Julianna’s music. Free of the constraints of narrative and traceable language, it’s the same joy in giving yourself over to opera in a foreign language, of letting go of your pesky rational mind and allowing the feeling to come through in the voices and performance.

Meet The Magic Place. It’s a great place to be…

“Barwick layers and processes and twists her utterances into figures that can alternately be described as familiar, soothing, alien, and tense. She might bring to mind the bright harmonies of Panda Bear or the mystical invocations of Elizabeth Fraser, but her approach is her own… It has the feel of a modest classic of post-millennial ambient music, the kind of record that sounds gorgeous and immersive on first listen and never loses its sparkle.PITCHFORK BEST NEW MUSIC (Rating 8.5)

The Age review (4.5 stars):

Singing in church choirs while growing up in rural Louisiana, Julianna Barwick loved how it felt to be in the middle of the chorus: in harmonious unity, swallowed up by sound. Her music attempts to recreate that sensation solo by using a loop station — an effects unit that layers sounds infinitely — to become a one-woman choir. Her ambient music is peer to fellow loopers such as Animal Collective bro Panda Bear and somnambulist droner Grouper but it’s very much its own thing. Barwick constructs opaque audio atmospheres from swarms of heavenly harmonies and cloudy drones, making music equal parts canonical and environmental. After two records testing these waters (2007’s Sanguine and 2009’s Florine), Barwick is the master of her idiosyncratic domain on The Magic Place. Named after a childhood birch, in the branches of which she would retreat into fantasy. The LP taps into imagination and escape, its rapturous suite of tone-songs — with apt names such as Envelop and Cloak — suggest cinema, the subconscious, transcendence, the firmament, heaven and any other realm of mystery and mysticism.


Sydney Morning Herald review (4 stars):

Though Bjork, Cocteau Twins and Grouper are all legitimate touchstones for Julianna Barwick’s debut album, The Magic Place nonetheless distinguishes itself thanks to Barwick’s feat of creating most of the music using only her voice. Saturated in reverb, repeatedly looped, and scrupulously layered, her singing grows into a one-woman choir that does not employ actual lyrics, but instead uses a language of sounds that communicate through the emotion of their delivery. Piano, guitar and electronics do participate, but receive treatment so similar to Barwick’s voice that the effect simply buoys her singing even higher. Raised in Louisiana, and a weekly participant in church choirs, Barwick has conceived a form of Glossolalia (speaking in tongues) so beautiful it might indeed reach the ear of heaven.


The Age interview:

One is not the loneliest number

Anthony Carew

July 8, 2011

Julianna Barwick, whose latest album <i>The Magic Place</i>, looks to the heart, not the heavens when making music.
Julianna Barwick, whose latest album The Magic Place, looks to the heart, not the heavens when making music.

She may sing by herself but Julianna Barwick makes up an entire choir.

JULIANNA Barwick is routinely described as a ”one-woman choir”. The 31-year-old Brooklyn-based singer’s music is almost entirely built from reverb-doused vocals, which she adds on in manifold layers, harmonising endlessly – and chorally – with herself.

It’s music inspired, suitably enough, by Barwick’s childhood in rural Louisiana and Missouri, which found her singing a cappella in church.

”I don’t think I’d make music like I do had I not been exposed to that music my entire life and grown up singing that way,” Barwick says.

”I really love that sound: layers of vocals, lots of reverb, that kind of decaying sound that rings in the architecture; that’s the way I’d always sing in church, that’s the music I have an emotional connection with.”

Though Barwick had been singing all her life, she only began making music in 2005, when a friend fortuitously loaned her a loop pedal, allowing Barwick – who’d never found straight ”songwriting” particularly fulfilling – to create huge walls of sound, solo.

”That changed everything,” Barwick recalls. ”I was really familiar with harmonies and rounds, choral sounds, and when I started playing with the loop pedal I was able to create those on my own. Music making became really exciting for me then.”

Barwick started performing around New York and slowly made her name in underground circles, releasing two small-run records, 2007’s Sanguine and 2009’s Florine.

Her latest LP, The Magic Place – issued by Sufjan Stevens’s Asthmatic Kitty label, released locally via Mistletone – has served as her breakout. With songs fittingly titled Envelop and Cloak, it’s a work of pure ambience: a suite of audio atmospheres, songs as whole ecosystems.

The Magic Place is, effectively, an abstract-impressionist album: its cloudy cuts never clearly defined, ”about” anything that a listener brings to the table. ”My music obviously lends itself to other people’s own personal interpretations,” Barwick says. ”I get tons of these long-winded, descriptive reactions: ‘it sounds like you’re standing in a field in Ireland and the wind is coming over the grass.’ People love to tell me I sound really sad. Or that my music is like a choir of angels. Or a dolphin love-song. [Diplo] said that it sounded like Care Bears making love. That one was pretty memorable.”

The singer herself ascribes no particular meaning to her own compositions. ”When I’m making music, these feelings are coming through me but I’m not thinking or analysing what they are,” Barwick says. ”I’m not necessarily trying to communicate anything in particular. I will just plug in all of my stuff and start singing. It’s very on-the-spot, whatever pops into my head.

”I really love to make beautiful sounds and what I make ends up being … well, I want to stay away from the word ‘spiritual’. Maybe more just from-the-heart. Really emotional. But it’s never about one particular feeling and I’m never trying to get listeners to feel a certain way.”

Why not ”spiritual”? Isn’t that fitting for music that sounds near-canonical? ”I just don’t feel like it fits,” Barwick says. ”I’m not trying to make spiritual music; I don’t want my music to be emotionally manipulative in any way. It’s not like I feel sad so I want to make music that’s sad, or feel elated so I want to make music that’s elated. It just comes out the way that it is. It’s really an off-the-cuff, improv experience in the beginning; I’m just searching for sounds that feel good that moment they’re coming out of me, that come together magically.”

Barwick has spent most of this year touring, something she’d done little of before. She’s played in 12 European countries, opened for Esben and the Witch and Okkervil River in the US and is planning her maiden Australian tour this summer. And she’s done it travelling solo: no crew, no management team, no backing band. For Barwick, the identity of one-woman-choir runs deep.

”I have no interest in having a band,” she says. ”That doesn’t feel like a progression for me. I know other people start out working by themselves and then add other people but that’s not what I will ever do. I really enjoy doing everything on my own.”

The Magic Place is out now on Mistletone/Inertia.