Cabin fever: Adam Wiltzie

© Jonatan Gretarsson

Together with the pianist Dustin O'Halloran, former Stars of the Lid member Adam Wiltzie is releasing a new album for A Winged Victory for the Sullen. While waiting for real life to resume, the musician shares his top tips for coming out of the lockdown stronger.

This week, A Winged Victory for the Sullen are releasing the album Invisible Cities. It is derived from a book entitled Le città invisibili. Written in 1972 by Italo Calvino, the novel was published by Giulio Einaudi's publishing house. From the original story to the grandfather of the Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi, inextricable connections exist that lead, today, to Adam Wiltzie in Brussels. The American musician became acclimatised to the Belgian weather a long time ago. This is where he lives and where he constructs his musical world.

Italo Calvino: Invisible cities

A Winged Victory for the Sullen, a band that Wiltzie leads alongside the pianist Dustin O'Halloran, is at home in ambient, classical music and the creation of cinema moods. They thus seem like the perfect group to create the soundtrack for the show Invisible Cities by Leo Warner, a video-designer known for designing the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Adapted from the original manuscript, this production combines dance, theatre, design and audio-visual performance. “In spring 2019, we were putting the finishing touches to an album with A Winged Victory for the Sullen,” recalls Adam Wiltzie. “At the same time, we received an unbelievable offer: to compose the music for a transdisciplinary piece devised by Leo Warner. He thought of us when he was adapting the work by Italo Calvino. It tells the story of different cities from a utopian perspective. It's quite a psychedelic novel.”

When it comes to talking about literature, Adam Wiltzie is also eager to recommend a book by Robert Evans. “He was a big film producer, known for films such as The Godfather, Serpico, and The Great Gatsby. He wrote a book entitled The Kid Stays in the Picture. It's an autobiographical behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood. That book helped me to get through the lockdown. It's about the 1970s and the epic saga of American cinema. I am a real film lover. In fact, I often imagine my albums as soundtracks.”

It's only a small step from the world of film to on-demand video platforms. A step that Adam Wiltizie has hastened to take during the long months spent away from the stage. “When I was on tour, I never had time to watch TV. During the lockdown, I got a Netflix subscription... I loved the series Mindhunter. It's an excellent retrospective of the emergence of criminal profiling. Over the course of the episodes, it shows how the FBI studied the behaviour of serial killers and, eventually, invented a science for studying them. You should watch it. Straight away. Finally, I also loved the animated series BoJack Horseman. The main character is an anthropomorphic horse, a human with a horse's head, who is living off the remains of his success in the film industry. He is attempting to return to stardom, while leading a life of debauchery with a completely sordid entourage. I became very fond of that horse. He is funny, a bit pathetic, melancholic, really touching. His story is a device for exploring the problems of adult life. It's very sombre and incredibly cutting.”

When he isn't recording albums with his band, Adam Wiltzie is listening to those of others. “There is one vinyl in particular that I just have to recommend: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, an album recorded by the electronics engineer Leyland James Kirby under his alias The Caretaker. You can easily listen to it on YouTube but it's hard to find in record shops. In my opinion, it's one of the most beautiful recordings of all time. The music is a mixture of ambient, musique concrète, and sound samples from a mysterious collection of 78s. The Caretaker's work reflects the capacity of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease to remember songs from their past.”

Adrian Tomine: Shortcomings

“In a different style, there is an R&B album that I would like to recommend: Pleasure, Joy and Happiness by Eddie Chacon. In the early 1990s, he played in a fairly cheesy duo called Charles & Eddie. Then, he vanished into thin air for more than twenty years. Last year, in the middle of the lockdown, he returned out of the blue with this album. Sensational!” Not stingy with his cultural recommendations, Adam Wiltzie withdraws into his Brussels pad, but not before proclaiming his love for independent graphic novels. “I highly recommend every book by Chris Ware and Adrian Tomine. I love everything about them: the plots, the emotions, and, of course, the graphic style!”

Invisible Cities by A Winged Victory for the Sullen is out on 26 February (Artificial Pinearch Manufacturing)

Brussels in your mailbox?