San Francisco is made for heady soundtracks. When a heavy morning fog reminds you that fall is just around the corner, there's nothing like bundling your ears up under a pair of headphones and watching the white skies compress the city into a misty oasis. It's perfect timing, then, that internationally recognized electronic musician
Christopher Willits just released a new collection of cinematic songs. The Bernal Heights resident's blissful, mostly instrumental compositions complement the aesthetics of a cloud town and its gray subway systems, giving new points of light to both types of visuals. Willits is an artist who seems to exist in the same ether as his music, hosting audiophile events in the East Bay under the Listen tag and eclectic live showcases here in S.F. as Overlap, when he's not globetrotting. He recently traveled to New York, the U.K., France, and Japan — sampling fresh fish and raw horse neck and connecting, collaborating, and recording with appreciators of his “folded guitar” technique. That phrase, which he brought into the name of his 2002 release for 12k, Folding, and the Tea, describes a custom-made process of merging his six-string and a laptop, crafting melodic patterns that drift through your eardrums. He's released more than a dozen discs in the past six years, for such esteemed labels as Ghostly International and Ache, and he's included on rosters in Japan, Belgium, and Ireland.
The latest output from this prolific Mills College graduate comes under the moniker the North Valley Subconscious Orchestra . The release, titled The Right Kind of Nothing (Ghostly), fuses Willits' skills with those of Brad Laner — best known as the founder of Los Angeles' '90s-era heavy noise poppers Medicine (Laner also records solo as the Electric Company). “I've always been a huge Medicine fan,” Willits writes via e-mail. “Very inspirational guitar work for me.” Linking up through mutual friends at the local label Tigerbeat6, Willits and his hero easily merged ideas. “The whole time I was just trying to ignore the 1995 part of my mind yelling, 'Holy fuck!'” he admits. “We kept talking, [and] it just seemed natural for us to get together and make some sounds. I luckily played it cool enough — no teenage-style autograph requests — to make it to his Eichler Studio in L.A. and jam a number of times throughout 2005. It felt very comfortable to work together, and I think the music shows that.”
Songs on The Right Kind of Nothing are one- to five-minute bursts of ambient, shoegazing electronica, minimal electro pop, skeletal sketches of chimes and bird chirps, and thickening static rolling over wayward beeps and blips — like a sonic marriage between Slowdive and Plaid. “We just wanted to make an LP with all the sounds we wanted to hear, from sweet vocal melodies to krautrock grooves to huge walls of melodic guitar noise,” Willits explains. Nothing is available only as a digital download, so you can pop it straight into your iPod (check www.christopherwillits.com for info) and let the ebullient human hums and sparkling guitar folds alight among your travels around the city.
Not one to sit and wait for the next project, though, Willits has another solo album coming out soon (Oct. 17, to be exact), and says it features more vocal harmonies, string arrangements, and drums alongside those cascading guitar sounds. And that's not even mentioning his myriad other collaborations — with famed Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and sound artist Taylor Deupree, both slotted for 2007. Oh, and in the meantime? “I'm learning how to make clothes, trying to make friends with these nasty raccoons outside my place in Bernal Heights, and I want to redesign my garden.” Apathy seems to be one of the few options unavailable to Christopher Willits.