For most of her career, experimental electronic producer Laurel Halo (born Ina Cube) has been comfortable and confident making music on her own. The work she’s made since 2010 has been completely self-assured, working with sonic palettes that range from the thrusting techno (as seen on her Detroit-inspired 2013 EP Behind the Green Door) to the soupy ebb and flow of her 2012 debut, Quarantine.
But after the release of her last album, 2013’s Chance of Rain, Halo started nudging open the gate to allow some other voices into her world. Her collaborators have been an impressively varied bunch of folks, including a live performance with former Velvet Underground member John Cale and a multimedia art project featuring Hatsune Miku, an animated pop star who’s huge in Japan.
Halo’s third full-length, Dust (released this past summer by Hyperdub Records), is the next step in this collaborative evolution. The surrounding shell of the album is made up of Halo’s jittery, synthesized productions and her unblurred vocals, while the core swims with other entities pushing through the murk to be heard. That could be an instrument, like the cello lines that Julia Holter added to “Do U Ever Happen,” or another voice, like that of poet Michael Salu, who reads Halo's lyrics amid the burbling percussion and saxophone swells on “Who Won?”
Considering how fluid the album is, it’s perfectly sensible that Halo remains a little cagey on the details of whether she was directing her chosen musical partners or whether she was open to their input. “It depends on the song and collaborator,” she says via email. “Some I wanted a specific thing from, others I wanted to be surprised.”
The musician who stuck with Halo for the whole of Dust, and who will be performing with her at Holocene, is percussionist Eli Keszler. His rattling, meandering rhythm work provides the right weight and foundation to allow the unbound productions to float and bounce. It’s like watching the Apollo astronauts cavort on the surface of the moon. Their combined efforts onstage during this short US tour will result, as Halo puts it, in “mostly planned chaos.”
“I take the tracks and bend them and shape them as necessary for a live context,” she says. “There’s a lot of unnecessary detail on the recordings that will distract the live sound. I’m tingling with excitement about sharing the stage [with Keszler]... I don’t want to give too much away. You’ll have to come to the show, no?”
One key to Halo’s success over the last few years has been her decision to relocate from the US to Germany. Originally from Michigan, she moved to Brooklyn right as her career as a producer and DJ was taking off, but in 2014, set up shop in Berlin, which she says has provided her with a wealth of inspiration.
“It’s a beautifully complex place, like most cities,” she says. “The weather is awful and the streets smell like cigarettes and dirt, and sometimes leaves and flowers. There’s an allergy to full disclosure. Flashy alphas aren’t necessarily dominating the conversation like they are elsewhere. I’m glad my practice didn’t go to die in Berlin.”