Named after a painting by his late father depicting downtown Los Angeles in a freak blizzard, David Sheppard first conceived Snow Palms as a vehicle for similarly evocative juxtapositions, pitching vaguely ‘Eastern’ flavoured mallet instruments (metallophones, glockenspiels, xylophones, marimbas, etc) against ostensibly occidental chamber orchestra arrangements, fluid classical guitar arpeggios and subtle electronics to create a kind of sono-geographic music – shimmering miniature landscapes in sound, evocative of secret places, enclaves of transcendence, terra incognita…
While such characteristics have regularly hallmarked two decades-worth of the multi-instrumentalist’s miscellaneous collaborative instrumental projects that include State River Widening, Ellis Island Sound, The Wisdom of Harry and Phelan-Sheppard, among innumerable others, Snow Palms’ 2012 debut album Intervals felt like the beginning of a new, vitally refocused creative chapter. Drawing on elements of library music, 1950s exotica, Moondog’s Elpmas compositions for marimba and various manifestations of ‘minimalism’ (musical and otherwise), as well as various manifestations of soundtrack music, the album instantly won a sheaf of approving notices for its ineffable blend of polyrhythmic percussion and richly melodic orchestration, partly achieved in collaboration with arranger-composer Christopher Leary (aka Ochre).
Following a 2015 solo album under Sheppard’s own name, Origin and Echo, the second full-length Snow Palms release, surfaced in the autumn of 2017. Two years in the making, the album’s 11 organic, glimmering and propulsive essays built on the foundations of the preceding releases, with a heavy quotient of metallophones, glockenspiels and marimbas at their core, while effectively eschewing the chamber arrangements of old in favour of soaring synth-scapes and a palette of spectral ambient and electronic textures. Mostly the work of David Sheppard working alone or in tandem with producer Giles Barrett, the album featured cameos from previous Snow Palms collaborator Christopher Leary (synthesisers), alongside Emma Winston (Omnichord), Lauri Wuolio (cupola drum) and Village Green label-mate Angèle David-Guillou (electric piano).
An essentially performative record, with tracks begun instinctively, without click tracks, using percussion, prepared piano and synths, and largely forgoing guitar, Origin and Echo was loosely predicated on themes of mirroring and rebounding, whether physical or metaphorical, inspired by everything from the gravity-defying parabolas of space flight to patterns of human migration and feelings of déjà vu summoned by nostalgic journeys.
In 2017 Sheppard, who is also a noted music writer and sometime university lecturer, began experimenting in the studio with another musician/producer-cum-academic, Matt Gooderson. Late of Wall of Sound recording artists Infadels, Gooderson, already navigating far from that band’s energy-blast electro-rock and brimming with renewed creative curiosity, was finding a way back to music-making that satisfied his more esoteric penchants and bonded with Sheppard over a mutual love of analogue electronica, minimalism, in all its forms (artistic and otherwise) and the theoretical worlds of Brian Eno, the subject of Sheppard’s acclaimed 2008 biography, On Some Faraway Beach.
Quickly realising that their shared preference for rich texture in support of transportive melody, and for chance as a compositional tool, alongside their distinct individual skill sets, offered a very particularly symbiosis – Sheppard’s microcosmic approach to percussion and cellular arrangement fusing potently with Gooderson’s modular synthesiser, piano and tape manipulations and all round production élan – it quickly became apparent that Matt Gooderson should join Snow Palms on a permanent basis. It helped that he and Sheppard cohered on contextual matters, equally, regarding Snow Palms as an outlier conduit for a wider philosophical outlook, the music’s ‘between the genres’ orientation and transportive tendencies analogous with a mutual dissatisfaction with the over-consuming, over-surveilled Google Earth world.
The new duo-helmed Snow Palms debuted their synergistic enterprise with a remix-cum-reimagining of ‘Cycle 12’, an orchestral piece by label-mate and renowned film music arranger Matt Dunkley (Inception, Black Swan, Iron Man), released on the 2018 Village Green Record Store Day compilation Commune. Built around a wordless, mantra-like sample of Gooderson’s classically trained singer wife Megan, with phalanxes of metallophones and xylophones set against Dunkley’s expansive string orchestrations, the remix offered a compelling dialogue between the analogue and the electronic, oscillating between two Snow Palms tropes – acoustic music that somehow sounds electronic and synthesiser music that has an inherent ‘organic’ quality.
The re-minted Snow Palms continue to be hard at work on new compositions, the first fruits of which will appear on a powerful two-track 12” EP (almost 18 minutes of music in total) on limited edition clear vinyl via Village Green in late October 2018. A-side ‘Everything Ascending’ sees David Sheppard’s signature pulsing electronics and crystalline glockenspiels augmented by Matt Gooderson’s synths, piano and glinting production, alongside the vigorous, rhythmic bass clarinets of Christian Forshaw (Michael Nyman Band, Icebreaker) and empyrean, semi-operatic vocal flights from Megan Gooderson (London Philharmonic Choir).
Over ten minutes in length, this is an undulating, inexorably unfurling odyssey, oscillating seamlessly between passages of mesmeric electronic pulse, choral-enhanced minimalism and immersive, gamelan-like ambience. The rhythmic undertow of ‘Everything Ascending’ is propulsive yet disorientating, speaking to a distinctly ‘off-the-grid’ ethos, the track’s unfolding, ever-spiralling momentum seemingly charting a course through locations that are somehow secret, with the power to surprise us.
While there may be echoes of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Steve Reich and Midori Takada’s Mkwaju Ensemble along the way, ultimately, ‘Everything Ascending’ proffers a uniquely rapturous sonic realm that is pure Snow Palms, predicated, according to Sheppard and Gooderson, on the idea of “pushing on - striving for optimistic, unburdened places, or perhaps states of mind, even as the world around us seems to be turning darker and ever-more entangled in itself”.
AA-side ‘Circling’, meanwhile, is a bold orchestral reimagining of one of the highlights from Origin and Echo. A response to their own remix of ‘Cycle 12’ by fellow Village Green artist and renowned film music arranger/orchestrator Matt Dunkley (Inception, Black Swan, Iron Man), this is a brilliant repositioning of Snow Palms’ music in the emotion-soaked cinematic idiom. The original’s rich melodic palette and powerful rhythmic undertows are beautifully reworked for elaborately layered, potently arranged strings.
‘Everything Ascending’ is the first step in a new direction for the re-minted Snow Palms, with David Sheppard now collaborating full-time with Matt Gooderson, and precedes more music and a new live show in the spring of 2019.
Praise for Intervals –
(“A nigh-on perfect amalgam of chamber and avant-garde music” – The Quietus; “Intervals possess an elegant formality akin to Steve Reich's "Drumming" and "Music for 18 Musicians", albeit in miniature form”— The Independent).
Praise for Origin and Echo –
(“Origin and Echo offers the heavenly tug of a cold and stunning night” – A Closer Listen; “In a nutshell, Origin and Echo is a record of infinite grace and lightness that makes you want to get high, to fly into the distance” 5/5 – Benzine).