Akara
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Akara

Los Angeles, California, United States | SELF

Los Angeles, California, United States | SELF
Band EDM Classical

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Jun
02
Akara @ Raindance Presents

Santa Cruz, California, USA

Santa Cruz, California, USA

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Joshua Penman has traveled the world and he takes us along for the ride with his musical project Akara. When I first listened to his new album “The World Beyond”, I was so blown away by the orchestral arrangements that I thought for sure that they must have been sampled. A little homework proved to me that this is not the case and that Joshua is actually a classically trained composer turned electronic producer. The symphonic ensemble includes violins, violas, flute, cellos, horn, harp, mandolin and programmed percussion galore. This instrumentation is masterfully intertwined with electronic bass, drums and sound design weaving a cinematic otherworldly tale through sound. It is no surprise that Joshua has a doctorate in classical composition, sang medieval music, played in Balinese and Sudanese gamelans, studied six languages, lived in India studying ragas from a master indian singer, scored four films, and on and on and on.

All of these elements are brought together to take us on a epic mystical and cinematic journey that travels through far away lands. The ethereal and sultry vocals of Femke Weidema add a seductive and dreamy element that ties the story together…the fact that i don’t understand her language makes it just that much more mysterious. I initially wanted to classify this album as “gypsy dub” but the sound is far too traveled for such a generalization. There are many realms to be explored in “The World Beyond” … I recommend visiting them all :) - Mallabelmusic.com


Joshua Penman has traveled the world and he takes us along for the ride with his musical project Akara. When I first listened to his new album “The World Beyond”, I was so blown away by the orchestral arrangements that I thought for sure that they must have been sampled. A little homework proved to me that this is not the case and that Joshua is actually a classically trained composer turned electronic producer. The symphonic ensemble includes violins, violas, flute, cellos, horn, harp, mandolin and programmed percussion galore. This instrumentation is masterfully intertwined with electronic bass, drums and sound design weaving a cinematic otherworldly tale through sound. It is no surprise that Joshua has a doctorate in classical composition, sang medieval music, played in Balinese and Sudanese gamelans, studied six languages, lived in India studying ragas from a master indian singer, scored four films, and on and on and on.

All of these elements are brought together to take us on a epic mystical and cinematic journey that travels through far away lands. The ethereal and sultry vocals of Femke Weidema add a seductive and dreamy element that ties the story together…the fact that i don’t understand her language makes it just that much more mysterious. I initially wanted to classify this album as “gypsy dub” but the sound is far too traveled for such a generalization. There are many realms to be explored in “The World Beyond” … I recommend visiting them all :) - Mallabelmusic.com


I recently had the great, great pleasure of speaking to Joshua Penman, the mastermind behind Akara, a musical project that blends classical orchestration with modern-day electronic production. With the recent release of Akara’s second full-length album, ‘The World Beyond’, Akara has grown in the size of its fan base, playing sets at Sonic Bloom, Gratifly, Symbiosis, Lightning in a Bottle, Rootwire, and soon, Burning Man. Though still relatively unknown, Akara’s music is at a world-class level and I honestly believe is only shortly away from massive success.
Akara’s music touched me personally in a way different from must music I listen to. Rather than being bombarded with monstrous bass and piercing synths, Penman’s Akara took me on a musical expedition through worlds that seemed both real and foreign. The expansive sound coupled with entrancing vocals was something I honestly had never heard before, yet it sounded so perfect to me. It struck a chord with me deeply and has been constantly playing through my speakers ever since. Upon listening to ‘The World Beyond’, I made it a goal to interview Penman as I could tell there was so much underneath it all that went into this album.
Joshua Penman is a classically-trained composer who has a doctorate in classical composition, sang medieval music, played in Balinese and Sudanese gamelans, studied six languages, went to Burning Man three times, scored four films, and lived in India, learning ragas with a master Indian singer. His résumé is extremely impressive, but doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of who Penman or Akara really is. Luckily I was able to talk with Penman about the new album, his live band, and himself.
———

When listening to ‘The World Beyond’, I noticed a difference in the atmosphere of the album as opposed to your first album, ‘Extradimensional Ethnography’. Can you explain what was going through your mind with this album in contrast to your previous album?
“Obviously they are from a similar place, but I think that the first album has more of a soupy feel to it all, which was a production choice and a mixing choice. There’s a way that everything blends together, and I’m thinking a lot about India… some fantasy of Arabic and Indian music. There’s this idea that the extradimensional world is very a hazy, soupy, beautiful, soft dream. I think that when we get to ‘The World Beyond’, it all clarifies a lot, and crystallizes. It turns into something more solid, and it’s still otherworldly, you can see it better – the haze is gone. I was definitely thinking a lot about clarity, and I was thinking a lot about the classical tradition.
Something I really like about Akara, that I tried to go for in ‘The World Beyond’, is this idea of what my old teacher Louis Andriessen, writing about Stravinsky, called “The Apollonian Clockwork”. It’s the idea of this music that’s the perfect clockwork of interrelationships and we see the beauty of it because its this collection of tight things that are all contained and in their perfect place. There’s a real elegance in that. I don’t think elegance is a virtue that a lot of producers are going for, but for me it’s something I’m really going for. With the idea of elegance, I started thinking about Baroque music; that was definitely new compared to the first album. A lot of classical music wouldn’t fit in Akara; but theres something in the early Baroque with its simplicity and clarity that I felt I could touch and bring into this. ‘The World Beyond’ is also less chill-out too; it’s heavier, and more danceable. ”
‘The World Beyond’ features a very unique style of blending classical orchestration with electronic production. Could you explain the song production process?
“Some of them started with a core melody, some of them started with an accompaniment figure, some of them were written beginning to end, and some were written with the middle and then trying to figure out how to link the beginning and end to it. For a song like “Resonance,” I began with trying to find the core melody – and when I have that core melody, that jewel, then I can start working around it. I may at that point have some idea of chords or other figures. And slowly, I add production – drums and synths – as well as writing the orchestral parts, using MIDI instruments. Once felt the songs were properly “written” – if not totally produced – I went and recorded the orchestral parts. After that, I brought back the files, edited and produced them, and then finished the production. At some point, we tracked the vocals, mostly but not entirely before the orchestral parts. On ‘The World Beyond’ I actually ended up recording the strings twice because I realized just a string quartet wasn’t enough for this album; I was looking for an orchestral, big sound. So we actually made two recordings of mostly the same material and I layered them. Something really great comes from that layering. They’re in different rooms, and there’s a richness t - whiteraverrafting.com


I recently had the great, great pleasure of speaking to Joshua Penman, the mastermind behind Akara, a musical project that blends classical orchestration with modern-day electronic production. With the recent release of Akara’s second full-length album, ‘The World Beyond’, Akara has grown in the size of its fan base, playing sets at Sonic Bloom, Gratifly, Symbiosis, Lightning in a Bottle, Rootwire, and soon, Burning Man. Though still relatively unknown, Akara’s music is at a world-class level and I honestly believe is only shortly away from massive success.
Akara’s music touched me personally in a way different from must music I listen to. Rather than being bombarded with monstrous bass and piercing synths, Penman’s Akara took me on a musical expedition through worlds that seemed both real and foreign. The expansive sound coupled with entrancing vocals was something I honestly had never heard before, yet it sounded so perfect to me. It struck a chord with me deeply and has been constantly playing through my speakers ever since. Upon listening to ‘The World Beyond’, I made it a goal to interview Penman as I could tell there was so much underneath it all that went into this album.
Joshua Penman is a classically-trained composer who has a doctorate in classical composition, sang medieval music, played in Balinese and Sudanese gamelans, studied six languages, went to Burning Man three times, scored four films, and lived in India, learning ragas with a master Indian singer. His résumé is extremely impressive, but doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of who Penman or Akara really is. Luckily I was able to talk with Penman about the new album, his live band, and himself.
———

When listening to ‘The World Beyond’, I noticed a difference in the atmosphere of the album as opposed to your first album, ‘Extradimensional Ethnography’. Can you explain what was going through your mind with this album in contrast to your previous album?
“Obviously they are from a similar place, but I think that the first album has more of a soupy feel to it all, which was a production choice and a mixing choice. There’s a way that everything blends together, and I’m thinking a lot about India… some fantasy of Arabic and Indian music. There’s this idea that the extradimensional world is very a hazy, soupy, beautiful, soft dream. I think that when we get to ‘The World Beyond’, it all clarifies a lot, and crystallizes. It turns into something more solid, and it’s still otherworldly, you can see it better – the haze is gone. I was definitely thinking a lot about clarity, and I was thinking a lot about the classical tradition.
Something I really like about Akara, that I tried to go for in ‘The World Beyond’, is this idea of what my old teacher Louis Andriessen, writing about Stravinsky, called “The Apollonian Clockwork”. It’s the idea of this music that’s the perfect clockwork of interrelationships and we see the beauty of it because its this collection of tight things that are all contained and in their perfect place. There’s a real elegance in that. I don’t think elegance is a virtue that a lot of producers are going for, but for me it’s something I’m really going for. With the idea of elegance, I started thinking about Baroque music; that was definitely new compared to the first album. A lot of classical music wouldn’t fit in Akara; but theres something in the early Baroque with its simplicity and clarity that I felt I could touch and bring into this. ‘The World Beyond’ is also less chill-out too; it’s heavier, and more danceable. ”
‘The World Beyond’ features a very unique style of blending classical orchestration with electronic production. Could you explain the song production process?
“Some of them started with a core melody, some of them started with an accompaniment figure, some of them were written beginning to end, and some were written with the middle and then trying to figure out how to link the beginning and end to it. For a song like “Resonance,” I began with trying to find the core melody – and when I have that core melody, that jewel, then I can start working around it. I may at that point have some idea of chords or other figures. And slowly, I add production – drums and synths – as well as writing the orchestral parts, using MIDI instruments. Once felt the songs were properly “written” – if not totally produced – I went and recorded the orchestral parts. After that, I brought back the files, edited and produced them, and then finished the production. At some point, we tracked the vocals, mostly but not entirely before the orchestral parts. On ‘The World Beyond’ I actually ended up recording the strings twice because I realized just a string quartet wasn’t enough for this album; I was looking for an orchestral, big sound. So we actually made two recordings of mostly the same material and I layered them. Something really great comes from that layering. They’re in different rooms, and there’s a richness t - whiteraverrafting.com


Akara’s sophmore release ‘A World Beyond’ is quite a follow up to their debut ‘Extradimensional Ethnography.’ Producer Joshua Penman had a tall order to fill from his fans (as well as from his own creative muse, I’m guessing). Akara’s first record is a stunning other worldly creation of electronic/classical orchestral epicness, and this second album has without a doubt taken the project up many notches.

Joshua has been generously sharing in depth insights about his creative process through his facebook posts. One of the points he has shared which I have found particularly impressive, (and completely maddening), is that he worked for over 2000 hours on this record. To this listener, it is obvious, as the songs are dripping with this intentionality. In our current world of music, especially electronic music it seems, there appears to be a push for new releases to keep the attention of the wildly stimulated and distracted consumer. What I appreciate so much about Joshua with Akara is that he did not push to release his next new thing. He, instead, took his sweet time to fully realize something extraordinary and breathtaking.

Overall, this record drops into some darker, richer, edgier and more beat driven spaces than the first album, making it comprable to some of the dancier electronic music out there. But there is really no dance music out there that has gone into the depths of focus on composition as Joshua has with his craft. There is a special melodic muse that follows us throughout both albums. The elven futuristic chants of the angelic androgenous gorgeous mixture of vocals carries the whispers of the awakened future from other realms; where language has merged completely with prayer and beauty, and every utterance is one of the illumined heart. The timeless melodies seem as though they are both calling and responding to prayers made long ago, and still yet to come. The dance of melodic themes from album to album is poetic, and invokes a space of familiarity, sanctuary and reverence.

The movement between songs is ecstatic. It is a sweet surrender for the listener. There are detailed spirals of running lines behind the scenes in the backdrop of the long held notes of the vocals. There are subtle layers in between which develop into lucid sonic explosions of the mystical. Everytime I’ve listened to this album, the visual space that is generated for the imagination to unravel is exquisite. I tend to envision that I’ve entered into the dream of an angel who can see all the complexities, all the geometries of creation and hold them magestically as they spin around and spill forth through all timelines. At the heart of the record, the iconic and moving centerpiece ‘Evensong’ (swoon) comes on. Time stands still, and I am transported into a crystal palace of living realization; the eye of the inner storm. In a song I am made present to the story of love revealing its most precious secrets to itself. Straight out of the heart of middle earth, or some Fae paradise just as spectacular and filled with magic. I am reborn in that space, and re-emerge for the second half of the record as I dance the dance of a purified and awakening soul.

It doesn’t really get better than Akara for me when it comes to the cutting edge of electronic composition. This album is stunning. It is an album beyond anything I have heard. The vision, the intention, the attention to detail. I’m surprised this level of creative genius hasn’t been outlawed yet. Do yourself and the world of music a favor and buy this album. Share it far and wide. May it inspire all of us who are fortunate to come upon its wisdom and beauty to embody our own genius.
- mandakinismuse.com


Akara’s sophmore release ‘A World Beyond’ is quite a follow up to their debut ‘Extradimensional Ethnography.’ Producer Joshua Penman had a tall order to fill from his fans (as well as from his own creative muse, I’m guessing). Akara’s first record is a stunning other worldly creation of electronic/classical orchestral epicness, and this second album has without a doubt taken the project up many notches.

Joshua has been generously sharing in depth insights about his creative process through his facebook posts. One of the points he has shared which I have found particularly impressive, (and completely maddening), is that he worked for over 2000 hours on this record. To this listener, it is obvious, as the songs are dripping with this intentionality. In our current world of music, especially electronic music it seems, there appears to be a push for new releases to keep the attention of the wildly stimulated and distracted consumer. What I appreciate so much about Joshua with Akara is that he did not push to release his next new thing. He, instead, took his sweet time to fully realize something extraordinary and breathtaking.

Overall, this record drops into some darker, richer, edgier and more beat driven spaces than the first album, making it comprable to some of the dancier electronic music out there. But there is really no dance music out there that has gone into the depths of focus on composition as Joshua has with his craft. There is a special melodic muse that follows us throughout both albums. The elven futuristic chants of the angelic androgenous gorgeous mixture of vocals carries the whispers of the awakened future from other realms; where language has merged completely with prayer and beauty, and every utterance is one of the illumined heart. The timeless melodies seem as though they are both calling and responding to prayers made long ago, and still yet to come. The dance of melodic themes from album to album is poetic, and invokes a space of familiarity, sanctuary and reverence.

The movement between songs is ecstatic. It is a sweet surrender for the listener. There are detailed spirals of running lines behind the scenes in the backdrop of the long held notes of the vocals. There are subtle layers in between which develop into lucid sonic explosions of the mystical. Everytime I’ve listened to this album, the visual space that is generated for the imagination to unravel is exquisite. I tend to envision that I’ve entered into the dream of an angel who can see all the complexities, all the geometries of creation and hold them magestically as they spin around and spill forth through all timelines. At the heart of the record, the iconic and moving centerpiece ‘Evensong’ (swoon) comes on. Time stands still, and I am transported into a crystal palace of living realization; the eye of the inner storm. In a song I am made present to the story of love revealing its most precious secrets to itself. Straight out of the heart of middle earth, or some Fae paradise just as spectacular and filled with magic. I am reborn in that space, and re-emerge for the second half of the record as I dance the dance of a purified and awakening soul.

It doesn’t really get better than Akara for me when it comes to the cutting edge of electronic composition. This album is stunning. It is an album beyond anything I have heard. The vision, the intention, the attention to detail. I’m surprised this level of creative genius hasn’t been outlawed yet. Do yourself and the world of music a favor and buy this album. Share it far and wide. May it inspire all of us who are fortunate to come upon its wisdom and beauty to embody our own genius.
- mandakinismuse.com


With the sound of Chinese cymbals, Akara opens their second album with appropriately-titled “Unlocking the Portal” taking us to The World Beyond. It’s their second album of music inspired by “the luminous beings,” and it’s not long before those beings make their presence heard in the voice of Femke Weidema, singing in her imaginary language.


As they did on their previous recording, Extradimensional Ethnography, (CD of the Month in November 2011) Akara creates a fantasy ripe for progressive rock fans, Tolkien acolytes and New Age savants. But those glib descriptions undersell the beautifully orchestrated and arranged sound that Joshua Penman deploys. There are elements of Philip Glass-style minimalism, Afro Celt Sound System’s electro-globalism and Dead Can Dance’s spiritualism, but Penman’s sound is as distinctive as any of them.

Like the best progressive rock, Penman’s compositions shift gears and moods, moving from gentle pastoral moments into darker, driving, dystopian atmospheres. That happens all in one track: “Adoration of Light.” But unlike a lot of progressive rock, this is 21st century music, full of dubstep beats and world music flourishes. He seamlessly merges electronic and orchestral sounds, Indian mandolin and concert harp. Penman plunges Mark Kroll’s harpsichord into space echoes before launching it into orbit on “The Royal Antechamber,” as the harpsichord riff morphs into a sequencer groove. Flautist Karmen Suter is featured on most of the album, creating flute choirs on “Resonance” and staccato choreography on “The Sky Dancer” across a deep electronic bass groove.

Femke Weidema is the heavensent voice that carries the story of Akara. She’s like a high priestess proclaiming to the congregation one moment, then singing gently, like a like an archetypal agrarian woman spinning yarn in another. “Evensong” is a baroque aria replete with harpsichord and strings that provides a respite from the driving rhythms to follow.

The World Beyond is an ambitious album that succeeds far beyond its means. I don’t know whether there are worlds beyond, but this recording is a non-stop, out-of-this-world journey. - Echoes (NPR Radio Show)


With the sound of Chinese cymbals, Akara opens their second album with appropriately-titled “Unlocking the Portal” taking us to The World Beyond. It’s their second album of music inspired by “the luminous beings,” and it’s not long before those beings make their presence heard in the voice of Femke Weidema, singing in her imaginary language.


As they did on their previous recording, Extradimensional Ethnography, (CD of the Month in November 2011) Akara creates a fantasy ripe for progressive rock fans, Tolkien acolytes and New Age savants. But those glib descriptions undersell the beautifully orchestrated and arranged sound that Joshua Penman deploys. There are elements of Philip Glass-style minimalism, Afro Celt Sound System’s electro-globalism and Dead Can Dance’s spiritualism, but Penman’s sound is as distinctive as any of them.

Like the best progressive rock, Penman’s compositions shift gears and moods, moving from gentle pastoral moments into darker, driving, dystopian atmospheres. That happens all in one track: “Adoration of Light.” But unlike a lot of progressive rock, this is 21st century music, full of dubstep beats and world music flourishes. He seamlessly merges electronic and orchestral sounds, Indian mandolin and concert harp. Penman plunges Mark Kroll’s harpsichord into space echoes before launching it into orbit on “The Royal Antechamber,” as the harpsichord riff morphs into a sequencer groove. Flautist Karmen Suter is featured on most of the album, creating flute choirs on “Resonance” and staccato choreography on “The Sky Dancer” across a deep electronic bass groove.

Femke Weidema is the heavensent voice that carries the story of Akara. She’s like a high priestess proclaiming to the congregation one moment, then singing gently, like a like an archetypal agrarian woman spinning yarn in another. “Evensong” is a baroque aria replete with harpsichord and strings that provides a respite from the driving rhythms to follow.

The World Beyond is an ambitious album that succeeds far beyond its means. I don’t know whether there are worlds beyond, but this recording is a non-stop, out-of-this-world journey. - Echoes (NPR Radio Show)


Discography

The World Beyond (LP) Aug 2013

Extradimensional Ethnography (LP) Sep 2011

Both are on Pandora, both have been featured as CD of the month and undergone heavy rotation on the NPR show Echoes (130 stations) as well as several other assorted independent radio stations.

Photos

Bio

Akara is a symphony for the post-digital age. Elegant classical composition combined with detailed psychedelic production; mystical, devotional vocals with lyrics beyond language combined with deep synth bass. Akara's music is a genre entirely its own. Independent of dance music trends without being unaware of them, Akara combines fragments of Baroque and Medieval music, twentieth-century minimalist music, Indian classical, and gamelan, with psydub, glitch-hop, dubstep, and downtempo grooves.

Fully composed for and recorded with a small classical orchestra of top-notch players, and featuring the ethereal vocals of Femke Weidema, Akara's sound is a high-quality, cinematic, intelligent musical journey through consciousness.

Akara is created and curated by Joshua Penman, an award-winning composer with performances in Carnegie Hall, by seventeen full orchestras, and by choruses, bands, and chamber ensembles around the world. Joshua has also scored five films, holds a doctorate in classical composition, played in Balinese and Sundanese gamelans, and studied ragas in India with master vocalist Devashish Dey.

The name Akara comes from the Indonesian words for "root or vine" and "ritual or performance" and the energy of the project is inspired by the trance rituals of Bali, the shamanic ceremonies of the Amazon, and the new visionary art and culture of Burning Man and the West Coast festival scene.

Onstage, in its largest incarnation, Akara is seven musicians and a laptop, along with a troupe of dancers and performers. Akara's stage show represents a new kind of ritual performance for our postmodern, soundsystem age. At home on headphones, or whenever you close your eyes, Akara is a new kind of ritual performance for your mind.

Akara has performed at many of the premiere US visionary festivals, including Symbiosis, Lightning in a Bottle, Sonic Bloom, Rootwire, Burning Man, and more.

"... the cutting edge of electronic composition ... beyond anything I've heard ... I’m surprised this level of creative genius hasn’t been outlawed yet." mandakinismuse.com

"... an ambitious album that succeeds far beyond its means ... a non-stop, out-of-this-world journey." Echoes (NPR)

"Akara’s music touched me personally in a way different from must music I listen to ... something I honestly had never heard before, yet it sounded so perfect ..." whiteraverrafting.com

"The most profound musical experience of my life." Liza Hunter, facebook