Track premiere \\ Dissecting Mammal Hands’ ‘Transfixed’.

Ahead of the release of their third album Shadow Work, we premiere Mammal Hands’ track Transfixed alongside an interview about its compositional journey. Pre-order the album.

A single, muted piano note sounds percussively at the dawn of Transfixed, a track that is one of Mammal Hands‘ favourites from their upcoming album Shadow Work. It reoccurs over and over, the snare slides in, and Jordan Smart‘s tenor saxophone introduces its voice with a similar theme. The intensity increases, harmonic details are introduced and Jesse Barrett breaks out into a rich rhythm with his brushes. Smart, with his pianist brother Nick Smart, begin an exploration together of euphoric melodic loops and rising patterns; Transfixed builds momentum whilst masterfully maintaining suspense. 

“there are more effects, field recordings and strings on this album than before”

Based in Norwich, Mammal Hands have already released two highly acclaimed albums on Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana label. Their newest piece, Shadow Work, is a notable step. It showcases their ability to create moving music with interesting compositional ideas; ever-shifting textures and time signatures take the lead. A key characteristic of Mammal Hands’ artistry is their approach to music-making; a collective enterprise that involves weeks of jamming.

Ahead the release of Shadow Work, we dissect the compositional process of Transfixed

\\ How were the first ideas for ‘Transfixed’ conceived?

Jesse: We’d been toying with the concept of playing one note in unison as a compositional starting point, just focusing on shifting textures and subtle dynamics. The track sort of blossomed out of that experiment. We stretched more ideas around that starting point, like a progressive unfolding of possibilities. That was a jumping-off point for a more improvisational, heavier ending.

\\ Was the track composed as a band or did one of you lead it?

Nick: Yeah, we wrote the track together. We jammed a lot of ideas out and we also wrote some specific modules in different time signatures. We then worked out how to shift through the different sections as seamlessly as possible.

\\ Do you ever compose for each other’s instruments?

Jordan: No, not really, but we are always open to suggestions from each other; it helps to keep the direction fluid and sometimes leads to some really interesting ideas.

Read our label profile with Gondwana

\\ Do you write scores, or are all of your tracks in your heads?

Jesse: We play all of our music from memory, we never use written scores.

Nick: Yeah, we don’t want anything to get in the way of us performing our music as well as we can. If you are focusing on a score it’s always going to detract from the performance because your attention is split between reading and playing the music.

\\ When did ‘Transfixed’ become a finished track?

Jordan: This tune in particular was one of the longer ones to compose. We spent a few months at least just working at it a bit in each rehearsal. We went through a lot of different versions before finalising it. I have a lot of files on my laptop of totally different structures and parts that never made it through the process.

\\ Tell us about the recording process for ‘Transfixed’?

Nick: We recorded it at 80 hertz studios at one of our sessions over the Summer. We did quite a few takes, recording for around an hour. Then we listened through what we’d done and picked the best first and second half from two different takes to make the final version.

\\ What music have you been taking inspiration from whilst recording ‘Shadow Work’?

Jordan: Too many to list, but a few names would be Max Richter, Jay Electronica, Ndagga Rhythm Force, Spiro, Nik Bartsch, Rival Consoles, Flook, and Tim Hecker.

\\ Did you think at all about how this album differed from your previous album, ‘Floa’?

Jordan: I don’t think we thought about it consciously but it’s always a good aim to try and move forward and build on previous ideas, so hopefully it does differ from previous albums. We didn’t want to depart too far from our band’s sound and part of that is to explore our instrument’s acoustic possibilities first; but there are more effects, field recordings and strings on this album than before.

Get tickets for Mammal Hands’ tour dates, including Union Chapel, London on 20 November. 

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EZH | Gail Tasker