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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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Arts + CultureMusicAnn Annie scales modular marvels to chamber music heights

Ann Annie scales modular marvels to chamber music heights

Eli Goldberg's project, named for a Himalayan peak, expands from electronic landscapes to acoustic collaboration

In Ann Annie’s most popular YouTube video, a version of “Clair de Lune” sitting at over one and a half million views, the face of Eli Goldberg, the musician behind the project, isn’t even visible. His modular synth rig sits on a table, lighting up and beeping like an inquisitive robot, as Goldberg’s hands emerge from the side of the frame to make slight adjustments. What it is exactly that he’s doing will seem obscure to most outsiders, but that’s just as much of the fascination as the rippling soundscapes that emerge from the instrument.

It’s also exactly what made Goldberg want to explore the world of modular synthesizers—synthesizers with different functions that the user can connect to one another, leading to an infinity of variations and capabilities for bizarre sound. (Ann Annie plays the Lost Church, Tue/5, more info here.)

“I remember when I was a kid seeing the Daft Punk modular and thinking it was super wild,” says Goldberg. “I remember visually thinking that it looked alien and very odd to me. I wanted to dive in.”

A Portland, Oregon resident for most of his life, Goldberg first became interested in music thanks to video game and film scores. “I used to listen to the Legend of Zelda soundtrack a lot, years before I even played the game,” he says. “My first introduction to playing music was trying to learn the Legend of Zelda theme on this terrible little Casio piano.” 

Goldberg’s guest essay for Atwood Magazine, Finding My Identity Through Film Scores,” elaborates further on his youthful discovery of scores and soundtracks and how it helped him come to terms with his identity as a Filipino American adopted into a white family.

Eli Goldberg/Ann Annie

His intent with his ambient project was initially modest. “I wanted to make something that I could fall asleep to and like put on like a generative patch for a super long time for the whole night and it’d be different,” he says. Yet his interest in modular synths proved so strong that he sold his entire collection of instruments in order to start his collection. 

The decision proved prudent. Goldberg started posting modular synth videos in 2017, and most of his videos have attracted views in the tens or hundreds of thousands. 

The name Ann Annie comes from Annapurna, a Himalayan peak that claims the lives of one in five climbers who attempt to summit it. Goldberg, an amateur mountaineer himself, accordingly brings a rugged natural sensibility to his work. In his YouTube videos, he likes to set up his synths in front of breathtaking natural vistas, even going to far as to take his instrument on a road trip to Goblin Valley in Utah to capture a John Ford-worthy shot of the desert landscape. 

“There’s definitely a sort of meditative kind of trance state that happens, being out in nature,” he says. “I think being away from the city has the same healing effect that playing music away from everybody by myself does as well.”

In the last few years, Ann Annie’s music has transformed into something more like chamber music—perhaps a natural progression from that “Clair de Lune” video. The modular synth is still central to the soundworld, but Goldberg has cycled back around to acoustic instruments, and his guitar playing is a prominent feature of 2022’s By Morning, which fits nicely into the long tradition of ambient country albums initiated with Brian Eno’s Apollo in 1980.

His next album The Wind, scheduled for a June release, features Goldberg’s piano playing backed by rich string arrangements, reflecting the project’s transition to a more collaborative spirit. Goldberg’s current tour features several musicians from the larger Portland musical ecosystem, including saxophonist Blu Midyett—with whom Goldberg performs in the “classic Portland” indie rock band Jonny’s Day Out—and cellist Kate Koller. Guitarist Nay Mapalo, who opens the set as Adobo, will also join the “Band Annies” onstage.

“It’s been nice to have the band side of things,” says Goldberg. “I’ve primarily done Ann Annie as a solo project, but it’s super nice to get to play with the band and not have it be just me.”

ANN ANNIE 7:30pm, Tue/5, The Lost Church, SF. More info here.

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Daniel Bromfield
Daniel Bromfield
Daniel Bromfield is a San Francisco native and arts journalist whose work has appeared in the Bay Guardian, San Francisco Magazine, Resident Advisor, and various music sites. He ran the SF Rebirth blog, documenting all-ages shows in the Bay Area, from 2010 to 2013. His work can be found at danielbromfield.com

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