Published Aug 23, 2013"Solo violin record" barely hints at the amazing range of sounds and atmospheres presented in Arcade Fire violinist Sarah Neufeld's brilliant debut, Hero Brother. Recorded in clandestine locations in Berlin, Neufeld's agile playing is transformed by thick, naturally-generated noise in acoustically unique spaces. It's not about classical music, nor is it about Neufeld strutting her stuff up and down the fretboard. "It's more about music. I don't think in terms of virtuosity ever," she declares. "It's kind of the default idea around a violin in jazz or classical music. I've never really thought about it that way. It's the instrument I'm writing for — my most natural vessel of expression. This is really about the musical narrative world of the pieces."
Refreshingly, Neufeld takes ownership of the names dropped in her bio: minimalist composer Steve Reich, classical/folk innovator Bela Bartok and solo violin icon Iva Bittova "I don't mind coming out and saying this, but you can hear these influences, they're there. And I think this first solo attempt is going to be really cognizant of those influences." Neufeld met producer Nils Frahm in New York and was sold on his notions of how to commit her compositions to tape. "The recording locations were his. It was his baby," she says. "I came to Berlin and I was completely open. I was really excited to be recording in places that weren't just recording studios. It had been a dream of his to capture the sound of Tefeulsberg, this abandoned geodesic dome on top of a mountain. You have to climb up 30 flights of really scary dark stairs full of broken glass to get there. We weren't supposed to be there." The sound of the wind leaking into the dome combined with reverberant water drops weave in and out of tracks on the record. You've got to hear it to believe it.
She recorded Hero Brother as an independent project, but the album is out on Constellation. It's a good fit: while the label is no stranger to atmospheric instrumental music, the clincher was Neufeld's admiration of their artist- and community-focus. They were cool with her hitting the road before the album drops in order to accommodate Arcade Fire demands later in the fall, following the release of their album. Playing a variety of live stages reconnects Neufeld to the essence of her compositions, stripping away the magical production tactics: "I've been working hard on how it comes across live and really get inside the music. I played in churches, in a basement, in a former brothel, in a park, in a theatre. I love taking it live, it's really fun. You get more of me and less of the geodesic dome."