Small Sails
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Small Sails


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Small Sails"

“Small Sails don't just create ambient electronic soundtracks; they perform them with correlating cinematic footage for the full audio-visual experience. The Portland four-piece dreams up twee laptop pop, incorporating computers, vibraphones, keyboards, and finger-picked guitars with live film loop mixes. Fans of like-minded souls the Books and Prefuse 73 will find cuddly tunes here, as the pastel-hued instrumentals float by with breezy ease.” - San Francisco Weekly

"Sweet 16 mm"

“In 1967, the Bay Area's Brotherhood of Light transformed the average rock show into a full-blown psychedelic spectacle. Using 16mm film and Technicolor dyes and oils, the collective began projecting swirling visuals on larger-than-life backdrops at venues like the Fillmore. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and, of course, the Dead all got the Brotherhood treatment. The projectionists definitely livened up those 20-minute drum solos — Iron Butterfly, I'm looking at you — but ultimately, their improvisations couldn't continuously jell with the music. The aim is to gently guide a narrative idea, but at the same time it's not telling some specific personal narrative. It's sort of everybody's narrative," Rose says. "With the imagery and the colors and the sounds, it creates this space that opens up emotionally to a whole bunch of different places for different people. It's a platform for an open experience. The Brotherhood would be proud.”
- San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Full on pop machine"

"Small Sails, [makes] ambient pop that is upbeat, nimble, and fun as hell. [They] build gauzy, chime symphonies à la the Album Leaf. But where the Album Leaf is all about long shadowy valleys of Rhodes piano and spacious breathy pauses, Small Sails is a full-on pop machine with half-chanted vocals over tight percussion, bass-heavy beats, and micro-condensed indiepop riffs. And have you seen their live show with all the projected trippy shit? Wow."
- Portland Mercury

"A/V Club"

"It may take a much larger sail for the audiovisual quartet Small Sails to reach goals that, at this moment, are just beyond their jagged blue horizon line. Tour any record store and it’s clear we’re still waiting for the System of Creative Consumption—the messy network that allows us to “own” the artwork of others—to truly allow the
“multi” into multimedia art. Yes, CDs are more and more often coming with “bonus” DVDs, but rarely are they tagged “essential.” This would be the case for any Small Sails release: a total package, one where every pulsing beat is accompanied by its visual reflection, a gently pulsing image.

Someday—hopefully before the extinction of record shops—one bin will be christened the “A/V” section, but until then, Small Sails are bounded by their own artistic ideal, progressive as it may be. To hear the band tell it, their sweet and subtle compositions of ambient rock (yes, here we can allow the contradiction) are necessarily intertwined with the filmwork of band member Ryan Jeffery. The band’s ideal, according to frontman Ethan Rose, is simple: “The continuing evolution of sound and image.” It’s an ideal that cuts straight into the evolving dialogue of performance: Does visual accompaniment dilute musical composition? Do the two become inseparable? Live, these questions don’t need to be answered. Jeffery’s improvised collageworks of everything from ’50s beach scenes
to skyscrapers to early-20th century street scenes are stunning works in de- and recomposed film. While you’re experiencing Small Sails, there’s no need (or opportunity for that matter) to create that mental wedge between the mediums. It’s a stunning combination, on par with the recent A/V works by Rachel’s and the Books.

Multimedia ideals aside, Small Sails have no reason to be discouraged. I’ll recall the seminal Rachel’s album Systems/Layers, one of the most beautiful pieces of music written this century. It was written as live accompaniment for a play of the same title. Likewise, the most recent Small Sails release, Hunter Gatherer, is gorgeous in the darkest of rooms. It’s a move away from the band’s previous, strictly ambient project, Adelaide, and toward more powerful melodic arrangements, crisp beats and head-swaying rhythms. The most important difference between the two projects, though, is the sweet, soothing vocal display from Ethan Rose (who was recently featured in The New York Times for his solo project). Small Sails won’t find their A/V bin anytime soon, but, until then, their faux-ambient pastorals will occupy one of the most significant places in our city’s electronic bins. And for those of us willing to leave the house, we’ll have fourth member Ryan Jeffery and his dual projectors and reels of faded Americana as our secret.” - Willamette Week

"Hunter Gatherer EP"

“Listening closely to Hunter Gatherer is kind of like imagining yourself on a maritime adventure under starry skies, or galloping across African plains. The mostly instrumental EP synthesizes pliable melodies with drum and bass in a way that almost makes it as rich visually as it is aurally—and that makes sense, considering that the band often
supplements its shows with synchronized original films of the artsy variety.

The vocals on Hunter Gatherer are mostly soft ahhings and oohings intoned in a manner that makes it sound like something is actually being said. It’s a little like catching a breeze-blown conversation on the verge of sleep or momentarily hearing a real word formed in the rustle of some leaves. In “Lawn Makers,” electronic chirping punctures the otherwise brooding pitch and reverberation. In “Corners,” the tone extends, then collapses and expands again for a sound like drops of rain falling into the ocean. However sentimental or mystical all that may sound, this EP’s strength is its nebulous harmonies, nailed down by small sonic details. It’s these layers that ignite the imagination and make Small Sails an adventure.”
- Missoula Independent

"Come Sail Away"

Hundreds of miles away in Chicago and short on cell phone minutes, Ethan Rose takes a break from his longest tour yet. His Portland-based quartet, Small Sails, is slowly crossing the United States, inching their way to Ithaca's Cornell Cinema stage. Small Sails sounds at once instantly familiar and strangely foreign. Cricket chirps, mechanical clicks, and acoustic guitars all swirl together in a haze of ambient electronics. The stop-and-start of "Corners" could be a collaboration with Cornelius; the open road expansiv-ness of "Somnabulist," a long-forgotten piece by The Books. The lo-fi vibraphone delicacy of "Earthbound with Parents" sounds like a three-way marriage between San Diego bands Pinback, The Album Leaf and Tristeza. And "Aftershocks and Afterthoughts," the closing track on their tour EP, has a proggy Tortoise-esque sweep, while the synth stabs and garbled vocals recall the upbeat bounciness of Four Tet.

If there is a "spokesperson" or front man of Small Sails, then Rose is it. The programmer/keyboardist/vocalist/guitarist of the group, he also enjoys success as a solo artist (his record, Ceiling Songs was Glenn Kotche's favorite record of 2005) and as a notable figure in Portland's vibrant arts scene. Rose's relaxed, easygoing manner is the first giveaway to his Pacific Northwest roots, and Small Sails reflects this lo-fi approach to making music. "They kind of fulfill different creative spaces for me," says Rose. "With Small Sails, obviously it's a more collaborative effort. There's more pop structure in what we're doing with traditional songwriting. With my solo stuff, it's more loose, more ambient - beatless, rhythmless music. It's more of an exploratory thing for me. I just play around with different ideas and I play around with personal space." Member Ryan Jeffery, who handles the 16mm film projectors, is just as much a member of the band as the other three. "He put its just as much effort and time into compositional ideas, but just in a visual ways," says Rose. "I've always been interested in video and sound installation and I wanted to take those ideas and develop them into live performance. It creates a complete space." Rose insists that despite their visuals, the music itself can stand alone, through headphones or on a stereo at home. "Performing and recording music are two totally different worlds in how we appreciate them," Rose says.

Although all of their film now is original material, Rose used to search for "found footage" and match it up with the songs. "We would go around and buy old 16mm movies ... documentaries, school films, nature documentaries, and then just chop out certain sections we thought would fit with the songs," says Rose. "Since then, we shoot all original stuff," says Rose. "It's taken us a while to figure out what works well. We do all the songwriting and compositional stuff first. Then we'll hand Ryan a song, and he'll go out and shoot things. It's his creative space." But the film does not unfold in a traditional, linear manner, Rose insists. Like their atmospheric, experimental songs - which avoid choruses, dominating singing, and overt "hooks" - the film is also an ambient pastiche of images, loosely held together according to the music. "There's an implied narrative," Rose says. "There's no specific 'story' that's unfolding in some dramatic way. There's definitely a pace and a pulse and characters involved, but the idea is to leave it loose for the audience." The sound of Small Sails depends largely on the delicate balance of organic, or "found" sounds - birds singing, player piano rolls, wind blowing, broken music boxes - and new, original sounds - stringed and acoustic instruments, feedback, computer interruptions. Rose's label, Locust Records, has said this about him: "By making use of found objects and automated musical instruments as source material, his work is an exploration of order and accident."

Rose explains that about 30 percent of their music is electronic, like their drum machine programming and synthesizers. "But we try to balance those electronic elements with live and acoustic instrumentations to give some sense of an earthy kind of tonality," Rose says. "Ultimately, that's what's exciting for us, to combine old acoustic guitars, traditional pop song structure, with new ideas or styles." Rose confesses to working with nostalgia and memory on a subconscious level. "What makes those things interesting to me," Rose explains, "is you have these associations to music boxes or player pianos. And by taking them and chopping them up, rearranging them, there is still a remnant of something that we can hold on to. But at the same time, it stretches it a little bit. And that is exciting or interesting, but also grounding. It's something that you can listen to or appreciate, but also it takes you a little farther than something that is just totally easy to listen to."

- Ithaca Times


1. Don't Wake Me EP- Limited CD Release
2. Hunter Gatherer EP- Limited CD Release
3. V/A The Rorshach Suite - Moodgadget Records
4. New Full Length March 2007 on Other Electricities



Small Sails is a music and film making collective from Portland, Oregon. The music is a gorgeous post-electronic tribal thing and the films are performed live at their shows using original reel-to-reel footage and dual projectors.
Their new music is different, too: chanting, humming vocals hint at tangibility while remaining half-submerged; rhythms are a baby-bouncing jumble of eclectic percussion and twittering electronics; and achingly gorgeous melodies get stripped down to the still-gleaming bone.

To experience Small Sails' live show is to become immersed in a seemingly unparalleled rhythm and energy. The visual and sonic interplay are hypnotic and their on-stage chemistry and fluidity are nothing short of warm and inviting. Through their unique, multi-faceted coaxing of the senses, they create an environment that commands undivided attention and adoration.

A field of dandelions plowed over, inner-city kids jumping double-dutch in gritty streets, birds and waterfalls, playground vocals, clicky electronics and warm, spacey melodies – that's what Small Sails looks and sounds like.

Small Sails have toured extensively, performing almost 100 shows in 2006.