A Winged Victory For the Sullen on the Power of Classical Music

A Winged Victory for the Sullen plays in Palmer Lake this weekend.EXPAND
A Winged Victory for the Sullen plays in Palmer Lake this weekend.
Nick & Chloé

One of the finest and most well-respected ambient music projects going, A Winged Victory For the Sullen is performing tonight for the first time in Colorado at the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts. Formed in 2011, AWVFTS is a duo comprising Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O'Halloran, along with supporting musicians who bring the band's majestic compositions to life.

Wiltzie is a founding member of the influential modern classical/ambient legends Stars of the Lid, and O'Halloran co-founded dream pop outfit Devics. In 2007 the two met backstage following a Sparklehorse show in Bologna, Italy, at which Wiltzie had been a performer.

Soon, Wiltzie and O'Halloran, both self-taught, began recording and collaborating with classically-trained musicians. The result was the group's 2011, self-titled debut.

Both musicians have done scores for film — O'Halloran most famously for Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette — and they recently wrote music for a Wayne MacGregor modern dance piece, which became the 2014 album Atomos. But classical music and working with that style of music isn't something that just suddenly occurred to Wiltzie and O'Halloran.

"It starts in early childhood," says Wiltzie. "You hear classical music because it's sort of in the air. Over the years, it, without us realizing it, was seeping into what we were doing even in our earlier days. To make the next step, to work with classically-trained musicians, you have to make a conscious decision to learn their language if you want to incorporate it because it changes everything about how you're writing music."

"We experimented with string players in the early days of Stars of the Lid, but I wasn't writing anything, I just asked them improvise. But you can only go so far with that. Classical music in general is going to be precious to me, because when I think about Bach or whoever, the music is so perfect. The way the chords rub on each other, the way he patterns his transitions, it almost seems as if it's from another world that I can never reach because it's so perfect. It's something we treat very seriously, even though we feel unprofessional about our approach to music at times. These people, like Chopin, have this influence and hold on us and we want to bring some of their influence on us into what we're doing."

"I think artists like Gavin Bryars and Morton Feldman create space in their music and you realize that virtuosity doesn't always have to play a role in making beautiful pieces of art," says O'Halloran. "That's a liberating concept so that we can step into our own space and feel confident in that. We've played with a lot of great musicians who appreciate what we do as well, so it's nice to have found a place where we're comfortable and we feel respected by the players who perform with us."


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