New age gets new life

Julianna Barwick uses little more than her voice to make heavenly noise.

Julianna Barwick released

Photo by Jody Rogac

Julianna Barwick released “The Magic Place” last year on Asthmatic Kitty Records and is currently working on a follow up.

Griffin Fillipitch


What: Julianna Barwick

Where: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave.

When: 6 p.m., March 8

Cost: Free


It would be easy enough to label Brooklyn-based singer Julianna Barwick as the indie Enya — or Inya — but that would be an oversimplification of what she does.

Looping vocal lines, layering them on top of one another and adding the slightest amount of instrumentation, Barwick builds powerful and melodic songs that are almost shapeless. They waft slowly but steadily, until the sound is big enough to completely envelop you. At times it sounds like a very talented choir was told to sing but given no other instruction.

However inaccurate the comparison is, Barwick probably would not mind being mentioned in the same breath as Enya, the queen of new age. By now she has heard her music characterized in plenty of different ways. Diplo, producer for acts like M.I.A. and Major Lazer, called it the sound of “Care Bears making love.”

“That was really creative and hilarious,” Barwick said. “I don’t think I’d ever let a description bother me. I like that there’s some variation. People can say, ‘This sounds like running in a field in Ireland,’ and another person can be like, ‘This really got me through finals.’ I love that it seems to run a pretty large gamut.”

 Two words that are hard to avoid when reading or talking about Barwick’s music, her 2011 album “The Magic Place,” in particular, are heavenly and holy.

“Some of the songs definitely have a hymnal quality to them,” Barwick said. “That’s undeniable. Even though my songs aren’t religion-based or anything like that, they definitely have that sound.”

This transcendent quality of Barwick’s songs is a product of her upbringing and a few other things.

“I went to church like three times a week when I was a kid,” Barwick said. “My dad worked for the church. It wasn’t a choir or anything, but the congregation as a whole sang together with no instruments.”

Though she records everything alone, Barwick’s songs often build to a big, enveloping sound, almost as though there is an entire congregation behind her. She doesn’t begin recording with that intention — or any intention really. It just happens.

“Everything is made up on the spot, and I go really quickly from there,” Barwick said. “It’s not a very laborious process. ‘The Magic Place’ took, cumulatively, like, two weeks to record. I work pretty fast. Nine times out of 10, I will just sit down, plug everything in and record whatever comes to my brain. If I love it, I’ll keep it and build on top of it.”

“The Magic Place” was released about a year ago on the indie label, Asthmatic Kitty records. Since then, Barwick has been featured on albums from Sharon Van Etten‘s “Tramp” and Korallreven’s “An Album” and has collaborated with artists like Ikue Mori and Helado Negro. The recent work with others may seem like a trend that will continue, but Barwick does not know yet.

“I can see the possibility of one day touring with one other person or even two,” Barwick said. “Not a band, really, but a guitar or a bass or a string instrument might be nice.”

That might be on the horizon, but right now Barwick is retreating from her collaborations and recently began work on her follow-up to “The Magic Place.”

“That’s going to be my focus for the next few months,” Barwick said. “I was in Iceland for a week and a half recording it, and I’m going back in May to finish it up. It won’t be wholly different from what I’ve done, but I feel like with every album there is a progression. It will sound like me.”