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"Parallel Worlds"

Parallel Worlds
With Maps And Transit, The Georgia Guitar Quartet's Kyle Dawkins Merges His Acoustic, Electric And Classical Tendencies

Kyle Dawkins
Kyle Dawkins knows how to play guitar. Not only that, but he can read it, make out with it, research its storied past, and sit on a stage with three other of his ilk and spin the avant garde into the accessible and back again. As a member of the Georgia Guitar Quartet, Dawkins has enjoyed a large measure of success in some esteemed circles. He released the solo guitar album Conasauga in 2002, and an ambient/ electronic album called Walls Became the World in 2005.

As Maps and Transit, however, he's been navigating below the radar for a while now on his own. Far from eschewing his love for things that are plucked, his brand of bedroom electronic music incorporates guitar, banjo and any number of things with strings, weaving them into ambient billows awoken by pastoral folk and caffeinated by beats with one foot on the dance floor.

This isn't as far from the GGQ as he could get, but it's a decided and refreshing difference. "Tendrils" and "Our Happy Life" are the two most readily available tracks to sample, as they are featured on Maps and Transit's MySpace profile (www.myspace.com/mapsandtransit). Both could fit comfortably on a Warp Records release were it not for the key ingredient in their sound: an organic touch over which the laptop never gains dominance. There's never a sense that anything is straying too far from beautiful simplicity; rather, there's the feeling one gets when first hearing the Books and their collage technique.

Dawkins recently answered a few questions to shed some light on this direction:

Flagpole
Not many of us know much about your work outside the Georgia Guitar Quartet. Could you give some brief background info on how Maps and Transit got started, what inspired you and how long you've been into ambient/ minimal techno?

Kyle Dawkins
I've been composing music on my laptop for the last five or six years. Mostly it's just been me tweaking and processing my own guitar/ banjo playing in ways that interest me. A lot of that stuff has been difficult to recreate live, so I've been taking a more minimal "real time" approach to my own music.

That's basically what Maps and Transit is, more of a live extension of the home stuff. The last few years, I've been inspired by people like Fennesz, Max Richter, et al. Type Records puts out some amazing music, too! Coming from a classical background myself, I've been inspired by artists who are marrying that tradition with modern technology and the colors and sounds of the world we live in now.

Flagpole
How is it to work alone in a more solitary sound world? I think of Maps and Transit's sort of style as involving time holed up, almost surgically layering sound, clipping and arranging, etc., but done in a less clinical way than most. How is it different from being in such a proficient and demanding genre such as classical?

Kyle Dawkins
With the quartet there are three other musicians to bounce ideas off of, so you get energized by the group dynamic. With my own stuff, it's just me alone with my own brain, so that can be hit or miss sometimes when I get the knobs and wires out and create something. With Maps and Transit, I've been embracing a less fussy approach - a lot more stripped down as opposed to stacking up as many sounds as my processor can handle.

Flagpole
What are your plans for the near future with Maps and Transit? Shows? Releases?

Kyle Dawkins
I'd like to play out more with this project just because I think it would work better live than a lot of the stuff I've written in the past. My wife Julie has been helping me out a lot, playing bass, mbira and glockenspiel on a few songs and some laptop manipulation.

We're playing a short set at the AUX event on February 23, curated by Heather McIntosh. We're also playing a couple of pieces at the Melting Point on February 11 as part of the Valentine's Day "Hoot" organized by Susan Staley.

Flagpole
It's obvious that the experimental scene in town has really started to get exciting, thanks to Long Legged Woman, Sweet Teeth and Chartreuse, to name just a few. Do you notice that things in this realm are starting to pull together? It would be fantastic to put Athens on the experimental/ ambient map.

Kyle Dawkins
Oh, definitely. There's some great stuff going on right now in Athens in the ambient/ experimental department. Athens has such an open-minded community of listeners that aren't hung up so much on genres. I think people around here just want to listen to good music no matter what kind it is.

I would love for more closet ambient/ experimental composers to get out and play live more, and not be intimidated that people won't get it.

Flagpole
Do you plan on shifting further in a beat-oriented direction or more ambient direction or do you predict you'll stay sort of in-between for a while?

Kyle Dawkins
I'm working on some songs for a new album. Some of the songs definitely have a more "rock" feel contrasted with more quiet introspective moments. The main pallet I've been working with mostly though is folk instruments: banjo, mandolin, guitar, etc. with various digital manipulations thrown in here and there.

I've always loved the sound of things you have to pluck, so I'm sure those will be my main - Flagpole Magazine


"Walls Became The World"

Accidental prescience can be a bitch—just ask Kyle Dawkins. “Sticks and Stones,” a track from the folktronic Georgian’s newest album Walls Became the World, includes snippets of a National Weather Service alert urging the residents of Greenville and Spartanburg, SC to “move to higher ground” due to imminent flooding. Dawkins may have been 650 miles off target, but still it’s difficult to listen to the piece without reflecting on recent meteorological events. Judging from the way “move to higher ground” is repeated, it’s a safe bet Dawkins intended the phrase as more than expermental window dressing, only now its weightier significance covers far more emotional terrain than he could have ever possibly imagined. Maybe it’s not on the same level as Kid A “predicting” 9/11, but thankfully Dawkins has plenty more to recommend him, which is exactly what I’ll do now that I’ve committed the novice avant-critic’s laziest sin and overemphasized one of the scant instances where actual words are present on a mostly instrumental album. For starters, Dawkins lives and records in Athens, a town chiefly recognized for R.E.M., Elephant 6, and two decades-plus of consistently great indie-rock (well, that and football). Alt-country and granola-jam have gotten toeholds in recent years, but stuff like hip-hop and experimental has largely lurked in the shadows of CMJ fodder. Comparative isolation’s actually a blessing for Dawkins, however, emerging unmolded by any sleekly impervious school and thereby freely locating his own entry point in the conversation between organic and electronic music. Dawkins’ value to the ongoing dialogue is readily apparent—rare are the artists who approach folktronica from a “folk” perspective rather than an, erm, “tronica” one. His previous album, Conasauga, dwelt almost wholly in Appalachian ruralisms and pristine fingerpicking, and you can hear that ornate classicism in the well-mannered portions of “Warpaint” and “The Nest.” For the rest of Walls Became the World, however, Dawkins injects his Fahey with a liberal helping of Four Tet. It sounds like an oversimplified recipe for The Books, but Dawkins is noticeably darker and less busily cerebral than the celebrated duo. “Everyday (this happens to you)” and the title track roughly bookend the album with brisk electronic fits, starts and stutterings offset by moments of genuine rusticity, so classically formal they almost feel like Renaissance Faire geekery next to the safely modest shorthand favored by most plugged-in acoustic dabblers (and I mean that in a very good way). In between, however, Dawkins reveals a predilection for harsher, almost industrial tones and heavily treated guitars that’s both refreshing and potentially troublesome—the former because it runs so counter to the genre’s occasional damning placidity, the latter because it means Dawkins sometimes resembles the instrumental interludes of Nine Inch Nails. Not the worst indictment in the world, but it does cause Dawkins to lose some of his idiosyncratic flavor. Ultimately it’s a minor concern since Dawkins is already so compositionally resourceful and conceptually intriguing, qualities evinced in equal proportion on “A New Place,” which begins outside with birds and feet trampling grass, then opens a literal door on a lovely acoustic melody, some studio-fucked voices, a burst of creeping bass and childlike Casio tones before sending us back out the door and into, of all places, the rain.

Josh Love - Stylus Magazine


"Walls Became The World review"

For his second solo album, Kyle Dawkins went for a fuller studio sound. The pieces on Conasauga consisted mostly of one- or two-part acoustic guitars. The arrangements on Walls Became the World are much more developed and include piano, percussion, and treated voices, along with various samples and textures. The album is entirely instrumental (except for the occasional whisper) and, as on the first disc, blends simple melodies and elaborate structures. Listeners already knew Dawkins was a seriously gifted guitar player and wrote fine guitar pieces; this album showcases him as a composer and studio critter. The result is unexpected and in a category of its own, as the music falls somewhere between American folk guitar, the post-rock ethos, the carefree pastoral quality of Scandinavian folk, experimental music (the textures in "The Hatching Ground" or the use of field recordings and deconstruction/recomposition in "Sightings," for instance), and a certain Zappa-esque quirkiness. Pieces like "Everyday (This Happens to You)" and "A New Place" have instantly hummable passages framed within complex compositions that cover a lot of ground in the few minutes they last. This may all sound very demanding to the listener, but it's not. The first eight pieces of the album go down admirably well. "The Hatching Ground" and "Sightings" -- the more difficult numbers -- are tucked at the end of the track list, just before a bonus track hidden at the end of the last piece, in which Dawkins pays tribute to a few Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia (as goes the title of the Smithsonian Folkways collection the samples are taken from).

Francois Couture - All Music Guide


Discography

Songs for Divining (set to be released January 2010 on Solponticello Records)

recordings by Kyle Dawkins:
Conasauga (2003 Solponticello Records)
Walls became the world. (2004 Solponticello Records)
Songs for Divining (set for January 2009 on Solponticello Recordings)

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Bio

Kyle Dawkins and Julie Phillips are the core duo of Maps and Transit. Together, they create minimal, multi-layered soundscapes featuring elements of primitive electronica, tribal Southern psychedelia and ambient rock. "...an organic touch over which the laptop never gains dominance. There's never a sense that anything is straying too far from beautiful simplicity; rather, there's the feeling one gets when first hearing the Books and their collage technique." (Flagpole Magazine, Athens, Georgia)

Kyle Dawkins has released two solo recordings under his own name, Conasauga (2002) and Walls became the world.(2004) In addition to being the primary songwriter for Maps and Transit, he is also a member of acclaimed chamber ensemble The Georgia Guitar Quartet. He lives and works in Athens, Georgia.

Julie Phillips is an acclaimed writer, trapeze and aerial silks performer and instructor at Canopy Studio (one of the South's only aerial arts studios). Maps and Transit's live shows often incorporate live trapeze/dance in conjunction with Julie's skills as a bassist and multi-instrumentalist.