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Pop and Circumstance

After years of quietly making music with impeccable underground cred, it would seem that Marc Bianchi and his longtime partner/sometime bandmate, Keely, have created a monster with their musical project, her space holiday. Last year, they released a second album, Manic Expressive, which received accolades from the music press on...
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After years of quietly making music with impeccable underground cred, it would seem that Marc Bianchi and his longtime partner/sometime bandmate, Keely, have created a monster with their musical project, her space holiday. Last year, they released a second album, Manic Expressive, which received accolades from the music press on both sides of the ocean. But the holiday -- which is mainly Bianchi's effort -- has taken its toll: Because of the vagaries of touring and its effects on a relationship, as well as the specters of burnout and doubt lurking around every corner, Bianchi is nearing a crossroads that will determine the future of his endeavor, which was once just a hobby.

"To be honest," he says, "I'm glad that people have liked the record, but I think that pop music is a lowbrow form of art, and I think it definitely has its place, but I'm not going to do this for a long time."

To varying degrees, her space holiday has been active for roughly seven years. The band was born when Bianchi, a veteran of several hardcore groups on the West Coast -- including Indian Summer and Calm -- formed a record label, AudioInformationPhenomena. Then, in 1996, he began writing and recording as her space holiday. He released a few EPs and records here and there on various indie imprints in the United States and Japan, issuing eight recordings from 1996 to 1999. Bianchi then realized that the project had gained some exciting momentum. "It was a lot more rewarding than the record label," he says, explaining why he decided to go full-time with the project.

In 2000, Bianchi and Keely released Home Is Where You Hang Yourself on New York's Tiger Style label. The double album is a breathtaking foray into melodic electronic experimentation; Manic Expressive is a mesmerizing followup. The recording has drawn comparisons to artists such as Radiohead and Air, though the music lacks Thom Yorke's emotional gymnastics and Godin/Dunckel's self-conscious stylishness. "I am a huge fan of Radiohead and Air, and I'm flattered by certain things," Bianchi demurs, "but the music not only doesn't sound like that at all, but quality-wise I'm not comparable to those people. Those bands are perfection in terms of what they do; they're definitely important bands. My music is a really, really slight, minimal project."

The latest collection from her space holiday is mellow, relaxed ambient electronica that takes its time to get where it's going and rewards patient listeners. Drum machines and pre-programmed strings are used to express "the beauty in everyday things," according to Bianchi. So songs like "key stroke" -- with the programmed sound of a door shutting, backed by a semi-danceable beat -- can make you both swoon and bob your head at once. It strikes just the right emotional note: easygoing melancholy. Manic Expressive is a record that demands multiple listens. The nine tracks are so smooth that they're capable of slipping right past those who make the mistake of relegating them to background noise. Given full attention, the music is surprisingly striking.

"I don't make minimal music as a choice; a lot of it is very simplistic because of the limits on my music-making," Bianchi says with characteristic modesty. "A lot of people use a lot of intricate melodies, and I think that my one advantage is that I know what my limits are." He agrees that listeners must make an investment in listening to Manic Expressive. "The record demands your full attention, because it's so slight that there's nothing there that's going to jump out and grab your attention. You have to have an open mind and want to check it out and give it a fair chance, because it's not a flashy piece of work."

One of the more outstanding moments on the record comes when Bianchi lashes out mildly at the media. On the poignant "spectator sport," he dubs one side of a taped conversation in which a reporter asks Bianchi how Keely feels about him writing songs about her and whether they will get married; a plaintive guitar-and-synth track plays as a backdrop.

"That song itself originally had samples from Breaking the Waves," he explains, "but we couldn't get it cleared in time. I did an interview with a writer from San Diego a year or two ago, and I had to record it for him because he didn't have any recording device, so I took all my answers out and left his questions in." At times the writer rambles on about his own relationship style and doggedly pursues the topic of Bianchi's feelings for Keely. "A lot of it had to do with the press in London," Bianchi says. "Obviously, there are a lot of personal elements in the record, and a lot of it has to do with my relationship with Keely, and I totally don't mind talking about that, but I think it's more so...we had such personal shots taken at us from the press in Europe, so it's kind of a dissection of the interview process."

Journalists can be forgiven for exploring personal themes when dealing with an artist who writes so candidly about intimacy -- and tours with his girlfriend. Bianchi is quite accommodating when asked about how he and Keely balance their joint professional and personal lives. "It's been pretty rewarding. It wasn't until we did the last three tours in a row, though, that it's definitely a little bit harder on the relationship," he says. "When you're with someone every single day, 24 hours a day, it kind of takes the mystery out of the relationship. But we've already been together for eight years, so that was probably gone a while ago."

In a way, Bianchi and Keely's union doesn't differ from many professional partnerships. There is a built-in understanding of each other's lifestyle, which allows each partner wiggle room to pursue singular interests without being stifled. "Keely started doing this just to help out, and she enjoys traveling, but I know it's not something she wants to do full-time; she has other interests," Bianchi explains. "Imagine being on the road for months on end and kept away from your own artistic endeavors. There'll be tours here and there where she'll stay home, and we'll get other people to play just because I don't want her to sacrifice all her time and creative energy on something she's not 100 percent into."

It seems as though her space holiday may be turning into something that Bianchi isn't 100 percent into, as well. He's now at a point where he hasn't made actual music in a long time, having been caught up in the business end of keeping interest in Manic Expressive alive -- touring, giving interviews, marketing, in addition to struggling with the idea of whether what he is doing is actually "art."

"Since I came from a background that included playing with other people and stuff being started on the guitar, that's what I equate actual songwriting with," he says. "I spend 98 percent of the time not actually playing, just editing. So I don't know if it's a valid form of music. On the one hand, you could say that the end result is all that matters, but there's not much difference between me putting the songs together and me writing code for a program.

"After a while, I would like to take a break," he adds. "The only thing I feel is natural for me is making music, and I want to find something else -- even if it's just for a year -- to start fresh with. I just have no idea what that would be."

Imagining Bianchi mopping floors at Wal-Mart or cashiering at Whole Foods is somewhat depressing, but people have done stranger things while searching for inspiration. The world is full of opportunities to take a breather from a passion grown stale, and Bianchi's ability to successfully capture love and longing seems to indicate that wherever life takes him, he will be able to speak of it eloquently in song.

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