Anenon: music does not come from music

Los Angeles-based producer Brian Allen Simon has been making music for nearly a decade under the name Anenon. His most recent composition, Tongue is an abstract exploration of the present moment; the act of turning feeling into musical form. Simon's work seems to celebrate the ephemeral, the changing aspect of tone, of rhythm; born as his music is in the heat of improvisation. It's in this improvisation that Simon seems to be reaching to get down to the absolute primacy of existence: the breath. Which is maybe why the saxophone is so central to Simon's music, the great tool of exalting exhalation.

It's fitting that Tongue begins with bird song; as an admission of place, a time-stamp of geography. The album closes with the familiar sounds of the shuffling of someone in the studio, someone finished with a session. And in between those bookends, Simon's most mature work to date and certainly his most accomplished. This album is an artifact of an artist continuing to hit his stride, confidently speaking in his own voice.

Recently, Brian took some time to discuss his composition and recording process on the Tongue project, the reverie of the Italian countryside and the pleasures of mastering manual transmission.

- Eric Hurtgen

Your work seems to exist at the intersection of multiple musical genres—free jazz, abstract experimental techno and ambient—as if your curiosity can't be contained by genre. Does this seem like a fair assessment of your work?

I think this is a pretty fair assessment, but it also gets kind of tricky when talking about intersections of genres in my work. My curiosity has more to do with what I'm capable of as an artist and person rather than what I'm capable of taking from different genres to generate new music. Free jazz and Ambient music have always been constants for me as a consumer of music, and Techno less-so. It's unfair to the artists that are understood in the context of these genres if I said that my curiosity about them only generates small motifs or ideas in my work that a listener can then relate back to said genres. I'm not trying to deconstruct. What I’m most interested in when it comes to studio work is generating ideas on the fly through improvisation and going back and sifting through those ideas to generate new material. Finding the seeds to grow. Sometimes the ideas are already fully formed and sometimes they’re not. Having saxophone, piano, and synthesizer at the front of a lot of my music makes it easier for one to say that the music comes out of Free Jazz, or Techno, or Ambient. I don’f fully relate my own music to any of those genres though.

Yeah that's a very good point. Obviously comparison is sometimes helpful until it's not and I think those comparisons break down pretty quickly in your work. Have you always been interested in improvisation—was that there when you started or did that develop over time?

I started in improvisation but I didn't know it at the time. I was making beats and electronic music and DJ'ing in the late 90's / early 2000's before I ever picked up the saxophone. There were no manuals at the time. Improvisation was the only way to do it. The improvisation at the time was a lot less skillful than it is now. A lot less automatic, but in a way, my entire learning process is based in improvisation. To this day, I rarely play songs and when I "practice" on the saxophone it's more about a mood and improvising rather than figuring out a tune or going up and down every scale. I do practice scales and arpeggios but they're always in the context of just simply playing. My friend Sam shared a couple of more classical leaning books that he says he used to practice out of and I found a PDF of one but I haven't made it past the third exercise since I downloaded it over year ago. I think basing the majority of my work in improvisation is really the only way to get to where I want to go.

That makes a lot of sense...and how did improvisation figure into the new album?

The whole thing is more or less improvised every stage of the way. Some improvisations happen in real time, others slowed down. I don't have a plan and I don't notate anything ahead of time, so in that sense the whole thing came together in a sort of weird creative fever state. Most elements connected and clicked in a way that felt like it was out of my control, I just followed the leads.

And you recorded this one outside of the country, is that right?

Yeah, I recorded this at an artist residency called Villa Lena. It's located in the countryside of Tuscany, Italy, up in the hills, and half way between Florence and Pisa. It was beautiful and quiet up there and all of the other residents were very much into getting work done too. We would all get into our separate work zones during the day and then hang out and cook and drink wine and grappa at night. I rented a little Fiat Panda stick shift and would drive around the country when I got bored or tired of working blasting Cymande and Ryuichi Sakamoto on the car system. Lots of solo trips to eat pasta tartufo at the local restaurants or to go buy natural wine at the nearest little organic market. It was really a wonderful and dreamy time.

Ah man, Cymande is the absolute best and so are stick shifts.

Cymande rules. I taught myself how to drive stick shift in the countryside of Portugal a couple of years ago. I accidentally put diesel fuel in my automatic rental car and just completely fucked the car up. It was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done. We had to wait on the side of the road for hours for a tow and a taxi to pick us up to where we were staying which was like a two hour drive. We were staying near the city of Evora and all they had were stick shift cars so I watched a few Youtube tutorials before going to pick the car up and somehow managed to roll out of the rental spot. It took a few days but luckily we were staying in the middle of nowhere and there were plenty of open roads to practice on. I’ve since driven stick in Lisbon, Paris, and Tuscany now so I feel fairly accomplished as a manual driver, especially as a guy from Los Angeles.

It literally is the best. My wife and I have a VW Golf and it's a manual by choice. The cars are cheaper too. Speaking of Los Angeles, your last project was so tied into that landscape. Did that break with LA change what you were doing at all or change your approach?

I’m always trying to switch up my recording process and approach to composition. There are always organic gradual shifts in how I’m recording and playing live. LA is going to influence me no matter where I am but getting out of the city and into some fresh air with nothing to do but work on music for a month really put me in a great place. I got to work right away in Italy and was banging out material as if it was as natural as my breath. It was also totally a timing thing. I was working on this music about a year on from the release of Petrol and had some things brewing in me that were just ready to get out. I think the biggest shift on this record is the amount of live saxophone and piano playing and really not being too overwrought with any of the editing, really just letting things breathe and flow.

You've always had such a close relationship with the visual arts—you've done lots of performances in galleries and museums, has that always been a connecting point for you?

Getting into visual art was just kind of a natural extension of me being bored when looking for inspiration within the music world. I hit a wall pretty quickly and turned to other arts. Keith Jarrett has a great quote that’s something like “music does not come from music, that’s like saying babies come from babies.” I think a lot of artists fall into this trap, looking to their own medium for ideas. Even now it’s hard to take inspiration from visual art in general, the art world is so fucked. What i’m looking for are things that have gravitas to them. Things that simply feel true. Things that remind me of how ephemeral everything is. These are becoming harder and harder to find. It could be as simple as a great conversation. Food is a big thing for me nowadays. Wine too. I can’t think of anything that expresses it’s own environment as well as food and wine. My fiancé got me into natural wine over the past few years and now I’m obsessed. A huge part of the natural wine movement is focused on the idea of “minimal intervention.” All one has to do is grow the grapes in a way that respects the grapes and the land and basically magic will happen throughout the process of making the wine. The less of your own hand in the process, the better. I think music and art can really benefit from this way of thinking. All one needs to do is build a foundation and set things in motion. The music will take over. Just listen.

Anenon's Tongue is available here.