For Jaime Fennelly, Mind Over Mirrors was once a comfortable retreat into unadulterated personal expression. The project first existed as a solo endeavor between 2007 and 2010, while Fennelly lived on a small island in Washington state’s Salish Sea, in between recording and performing sessions with a slew of elusive psych and drone notables, including Acid Birds (with Andrew Barker and Charles Waters), Peeesseye (with Chris Forsyth and Fritz Welch) and Manpack Variant (with Chris Peck), among other astral travelers.
Sonically, Mind Over Mirrors is apart from any of Fennelly’s other ventures. Utilizing a minimal setup of harmonium, oscillators, effects pedals and a modest array of various other odds and ends, the project’s recorded output is a consuming, overpowering take on textured, multi-layered drone music. Landing somewhere between Terry Riley’s pioneering, minimalist symphonies and modern, maximalist suites, Mind Over Mirrors’ music features a wall-of-sound effect that is simultaneously elegant and overblown.
Fennelly’s musical influences and inspirations come from somewhere entirely outside high-minded or “academic” composers. As Fennelly describes via email before embarking on his current tour with acclaimed fingerstyle guitarist Daniel Bachman, Mind Over Mirrors’ all-encompassing barrage of processed harmonium tones is more spiritually akin to Sacred Harp singing, the boisterous, Southern style of chanting that celebrates the untrained vocal. Sacred Harp singing involves enthusiastic, howling, often religious missives arranged in a four-part chorus, with every voice yelling the melody rather than seeking a perfect pitch.
“The harmonium operates as a sound generator, with the bellows expanding and contracting as it breathes through the metal reeds,” writes Fennelly. “This breathing approach may mimic the human voice… There is a repeating, cyclical and slowly evolving component which I’m interested in. I’m speaking of this connection purely in technical terms, but there [are] sheer energy connections too, which is way more difficult to give language to.”
Mind Over Mirrors recently returned with a new LP, The Voice Calling, out now on Immune. The album features the project’s new two-piece lineup, featuring Fennelly’s soundscapes and Haley Fohr’s (Circuit des Yeux) booming voice and moving lyrics.
Fennelly and Fohr met while sharing a bill at Austin Psych Fest in May 2014, just after “an intense, three-month period of constant solo touring,” writes Fennelly, who says he was tired of traveling and touring solo, and even took a two-season break from performing to start developing new material at home. After relocating to Chicago, where Fohr lives, Fennelly decided to reach out. “It was quite clear from the get-go that we connected,” he says.
The Voice Calling highlights Mind Over Mirrors’ new dynamic: dense but not overcrowded, alien but utterly human, precisely arranged but entirely organic. Fohr’s boisterous voice plays a huge role, but work on the album was underway before she entered the picture, says Fennelly.
“Most of the music was recorded before Haley came in, but it wasn’t very refined. It was still part of a larger, longer session where I was trying to sort out what worked with what.”
Things quickly fell into place; Fohr’s poetic lyrics fit seamlessly. As she explains, “The lyrics are treated the same way a poem would be. They are an abstract form of reality that can either stand on its own or be integrated into a larger sonic field, as with Mind Over Mirrors.” For a collaboration that’s only a few months old, the results are astounding.
WHO: Mind Over Mirrors, Daniel Bachman, Terminals
WHERE: The World Famous
WHEN: Monday, Feb. 9, 10 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $5
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