Seasons of life underscore Swim Ignorant Fire's latest album, 'Glow'
Stephen Holliger began releasing music as Swim Ignorant Fire in 2005. Since then, he’s put out a staggering 25 albums. Some are full-length, others bite-sized; all employ a sprawling range of sounds mixing electronica, sampling and conventional instrumentation which mostly falls in the ambient, experimental space.
And until recently, Swim Ignorant Fire was largely a solo endeavor. A new 3-track release called “Glow” nurtures what Holliger hopes will be a long-term collaboration with local bass clarinetist Stefen Robinson and Champaign-Urbana's Nate Hahn, who specializes in the typically twangy pedal steel guitar.
It’s a unique instrumentation, combined with Holliger’s piano and a restrained bit of electronics.
“This is something that’s definitely a new step,” Holliger said. “I’m learning to finally let people in, and I love not knowing or directing or coercing anybody into a vision. I like seeing what people can bring to the table.”
To that end, Holliger gave Hahn and Robinson a loose structure with which to improvise. Each musician recorded his part separately; Holliger laid them on top of one another.
The result is an airy and atmospheric malaise, with each player cutting through periodically to form a subtle melody.
“Glow” is thus meditative, but not monochromatic. Holliger calls it “sad cosmic country.”
“The change of season gets everyone a little seasonally depressed,” said Holliger.
Accompanying videos show decaying cornstalks clapping against each other in the wind, ready to be tilled under for the winter.
“Cornfields and harvest are symbiotic with a lot of that change—also a lot of recycle and growth.”
A previous album, “I Don’t Know How Much Longer I Can Hold This,” was compiled as Holliger’s grandmother, Rose, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Holliger noticed a cardinal frequently pecking at his window after her death. A few months later, he and his wife found out they were pregnant. "Glow" refers to Gloria, their daughter-on-the-way—or Glow, for short.
“This whole year has been this circle of life motif,” Holliger said. “And that can connect itself to the seasons changing in the Midwest.”
Released in July, “I Don’t Know How Much Longer I Can Hold This” was the inaugural album from No Below Editions, a new boutique label formed by local experimental musicians and visual artists. Printmaker Lisa Lofgren developed the cover art for a limited run of cassette tapes.
Yes, cassette tapes.
“I feel like we’re losing attachment to physical media,” Holliger said, noting nostalgic themes coursing through most of his music and the warm sound quality of tape.
Similarly, “Glow” is available on 7-inch square, lathe-cut transparent vinyl.
“With tape and lathe, there’s a degradation that happens over a certain amount of plays,” Holliger said. In that way, the improvised tracks continue to change over time, even after they're “done.” But for Swim Ignorant Fire, physical media is also about contributing to the archive.
“It’s just a really good thing to have,” he said. “With most of the improvisers that I’m now with, it’s very hard to find physical things that these musicians have. In my small way, I really want physical captures of the things that are happening in this town.”