New minimalist duo Snow Palms make music by beginning not with a concept, but with a process. Their contemporary classical sound world takes elements from 1960s Minimalism, the sound palettes of exotica and ambient, and the traditional instruments of Africa and Southeast Asia. At their core, Snow Palms excavate kinetic and resonant architectures that oscillate between the acoustic and the electronic; in the patterns and processes of systems in tandem with the vibratory energy of the universe.
Snow Palms began as the solo project of multi-instrumentalist David Sheppard (State River Widening, Ellis island Sound), and is now expanded to a duo with arrival of equally multi-faceted musician and producer Matt Gooderson (Infadels). Sheppard began the project in 2011, subsequently releasing two albums: 2012’s Intervals, which defined the project’s pointillist textures and idiophone palette, followed, in 2017, by Origin And Echo, which approached ideas of mirroring and rebounding in abstracted concept and concrete processes. Gooderson joined Snow Palms soon after its release, when the pair began spending time together in the studio. Initially intending to undertake purely exploratory experiments, their playing together quickly coalesced into a distinctive sound that Sheppard recognised as a continuation and development of his Snow Palms signature. He invited Gooderson to ‘join the band’, and they released a bold remix of Village Green labelmate composer Matt Dunkley’s ‘Cycle 12’ for RSD 2018, followed by the double A-side EP Everything Ascending in 2019. They performed their first live gig at the prestigious Purcell Room at London’s Southbank Centre last July, before lockdown scuppered plans for more shows.
David Sheppard is a musician, teacher and writer, the author of acclaimed biography On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno. He is a lecturer and music journalist (regularly contributing to MOJO, among other magazines) and records solo under his own name. He named Snow Palms after a painting by his late father that depicted downtown Los Angeles in a blizzard.
Matt Gooderson is a composer, producer and academic, who wanted to be a musician since being a child, after his experience growing up in a music loving family with his sister Sara who was disabled, with whom he bonded through music. He later formed the electro-rock group Infadels, and toured the world for a decade, before reclaiming a more grounded life in Ashdown Forest and studying creativity. As well as Snow Palms, Gooderson is now head of Popular Music at the University of Westminster, makes solo records and runs a podcast on creativity called Play in the System.
In the augmented Snow Palms, Gooderson harnesses the improvisational potential of modular synths, and fuses it with Sheppard’s love of acoustic mallet instruments. Locked to their mutually agreed methodology and philosophy – that their music is not so much concept driven as process driven – they have prised apart a distinctive space between the acoustic and the electronic. They play with the uncanny feel of acoustic instruments made to approximate electronic sounds, and how the rigid rhythms of electronic instruments might be programmed to sound organic. “That liminal sweet spot between two worlds of sound has some sort of inherent meaning and poetry, and that’s where we always want to get to,” explains Sheppard.
Their sound frequently calls to mind the interlocking patterns of gamelan and the resonances of shakuhachi. They are inspired by Midori Takada, Caterina Barbieri, Underworld, Brian Eno, Hannah Peel and more specifically, Philip Glass’ Music In 12 Parts and Music With Changing Parts, and Steve Reich’s Music For Mallet Instruments Music and Organs. Gooderson says that their influences shape part of their core philosophy, which asks: If you were to pick the baton up from the minimalism of the 1960s, where would you go with it? Their answer, is to Snow Palms. “We know we have reached our destination when we become listeners to our own music,” says Gooderson. Sheppard concurs: “It’s about feeling music as a kind of place; music as a location. Snow Palms music offers a feeling of being transported. It’s a search for the sublime. I think we’re getting there!”
‘Everything Ascending’ sees Snow Palms mainstay David Sheppard’s signature glinting electronics and crystalline glockenspiels augmented by the modular synths, tapes, piano and production skills of Matt Gooderson, the vigorous, rhythmic clarinets of Christian Forshaw and the soaring vocal flights of 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.
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.
Two years in the making, 'Origin and Echo' builds on the foundations of its predecessor, 'Intervals' with a heavy quotient of metallophones, glockenspiels and marimbas at its core, but largely eschews the latter’s chamber arrangements in favour of soaring synth-scapes and a palette of spectral ambient and electronic textures.
Despite that, 'Origin and Echo' is a more performative record than was Intervals, its eleven organic, kinetic pieces meticulously constructed by David Sheppard from initial percussive skeletons largely essayed instinctively, in free time, without click-tracks and with almost no guitar. The album is 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.
'Intervals' is a mellifluous, chiming sound-world, ineffably marrying liquid gamelan soundscapes with English orchestral pastoralism (‘Atoll’, ‘White Sea’), Krzysztof Komeda-esque soundtrack mystery (‘Snow Light’, ‘Swimming Figures’, ‘In Camera’), beguiling, Yann Tiersen-like themes (‘Premonition’, ‘Blue Yonder’) and playful woodwind/strings/percussion face-offs infused with the spirit of Moondog (‘Motion Capture’, ‘Delta Switching’). Echoes of Terry Riley’s minimalist opus In C flicker amid the pulsing keyboards and interleaved raindrop xylophones of ‘Index of Rivers’ while the teeming, pointillist coda of ‘Light Museum’ nods to polymeter mallet master Steve Reich.
The duo's stunning debut performance