- Mandrake Project
Mandrake Project Performing live for A Miraculous Container, March 2009
Background information Origin Pittsburgh, PA, USA Genres Cinematic Rock, Post Rock, Progressive, Ambient Years active 2002-Present Labels Overneath, Blistering Associated acts Polyphonic Spree, The Gutter Twins, My Jerusalem, The Twilight Singers. The Boogie Hustlers Website mandrakeproject.com Members Kirk Salopek
Past members Doug Korekach
Notable instruments Violin, Viola, Cello, Chapman Stick, Vibraphone, Glockenspiel, Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Flute, Trumpet, Trombone, Girl's Choir
Mandrake Project is a "cinematic rock" outfit officially formed in 2002 and based in Pittsburgh, PA. (Not to be confused with a former UK-based band of the same name) They are known for creating predominately instrumental music that defies solid genre categorization. The tag "cinematic" stemmed from listeners and critics' references to how the music fits to visual stimuli and thematic imagery from films. The band has also been referred to as crossover progressive, ambient, jam-band and even jazz-rock. Mandrake Project's eclectic music is accented by its shared membership with groups like The Polyphonic Spree, The Gutter Twins, My Jerusalem, The Twilight Singers, and The Boogie Hustlers.
The band unofficially began in late 2001 as the by-product of a nameless experiment involving key members of popular Pittsburgh-based groups of the time. The experiment was short-lived with the first proper group forming around bandleader Kirk Salopek in late summer of 2002. Lacking a vocalist or conventional lineup, the band created an instrumental act with members revolving on each others’ roles and instruments. Songs were built from rhythms and repetitive motifs, based on the core instrumentation of 2 guitars (Salopek, Fresch), 2 drummers (Zerbe, Colvin), and a Chapman Stick(Jamison). The result was jagged, heavily rhythmic and sometimes complicated compositions, evoking echoes of bands like King Crimson, Slint, and Led Zeppelin.
The band recorded three unreleased demos between 2002 and 2005. In 2005, just prior to the recording of the last demo (dubbed the Grand Theatre Session) A significant lineup change occurred as drummer/bassist Anthony Pecora joined the full-time roster. This addition eliminated the need for the Chapman Stick to be the only melodic low-end instrument and also added the possibility of a third drummer. Violinist Justin Greenwald also joined during its production, ushering a dramatic change in writing style for the band. This final demo recording exhibited a new-found penchant for juxtaposing electro/ambient soundscapes with aggressive rock numbers and long-winded free form improvisation, which would become the band's primary modus operandi.
A Favor to the Muse was entirely self-produced and independently released on the band's own Overneath Records in October 2006. The album contained influences from minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass to neo-Arabic ragas to sci-fi themes and dark jazz in the Angelo Badalamenti tradition. The album boasted a guest list of 16 musicians beyond the core members, in addition to a 40-piece girl's choir included on the "indie-symphonic" track "An Ode to the Spaceman." The song was included on the soundtrack to the independent film, Cure for the Crash, by Brian Paul Higgins. The movie, a docu-drama of sorts, explores the hobo/train-hopping culture in America during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It has appeared at various major film festivals and won Best Feature Film at the Seattle Truly Indie Film Fest in 2010.
In November 2007, Mandrake Project began the recording of their second album and first "official" label release, "A Miraculous Container." The collection of songs for the album was recorded over a period of about 10 months and was finally released in stores on March 24, 2009. In a bizarre twist of events, the band ended up signing a contract with Swedish label Blistering Records, who deal primarily with hard rock and metal acts.
Like A Favor to the Muse, A Miraculous Container would also host a cadre of guests including a vocalist, former New Invisible Joy singer John Schisler, which broke prior tradition of the band’s normal repertoire. He assisted with lyrics on two vocal tracks, "Movement" and "Through Lights," and arranged the Salopek-penned lyrics to the album's title track.
Despite the often confusing representation between the band and label, the album garnered critical praise in the months after its release in both press and AAA radio. In February 2009, a pre-release copy of "A Miraculous Container" caught the ear of John Diliberto, host of the nationally syndicated radio program Echoes. The album appeared on the show's Top 25 in June 2009 with artists such as Moby, Bill Frisell, Robin Guthrie and Leo Abrahams, peaking at #2 in August and earning a spot on the overall Top 25 for 2009.
This eventually let to an invitation to perform live for an installment of the show's acclaimed Livingroom Concert Series. One of the live tracks recorded during the concert, "Beauxsong" was included on the 15th Anniversary Echoes Livingroom Concert Series CD, Still Echoes, alongside artists as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma, Pat Metheny, Air, Al Di Meola and Brian Eno. In addition, Mandrake Project was added to both John Diliberto's Top 10 CD's and Songs lists for 2009, ranking #9 for Best Album with A Miraculous Container and #7 for Best Song with "And Five Makes Twenty." 
Jean-Phillipe Haas, French webzine critic at Progressia.net listed A Miraculous Container as his pick for the #1 album in 2009. Several other US & European music webzines and press offered positive reviews of the record as well in the months after its release.
The songs "And 5 Makes 20" & "LaLuna" were both used exclusively to score the short film "Pluck", by acclaimed British stage director Dan Jemmett.
Throughout 2010 Mandrake Project worked on a number of songs for a follow-up EP to "A Miraculous Container", but a chance meeting with Porcupine Tree's, Steven Wilson led the band to Rob Palmen and his fledgling label Glassville Records. The label hosts other acts like Paatos, Riverside & Sun Domingo. At the suggestion of Palmen, the band continued work past 6 songs and released their third full-length record, "Transitions" in July 2011.
While Mandrake Project has been active primarily in the studio, the live entity has existed in many forms as well with anywhere from 4 to 11 members performing simultaneously on stage. In the band’s early years it was common for members to swap each others’ instruments in-between or during songs and participate in whole group percussive forays. In recent years the performances have become less transient and more focused on individual members’ roles within the compositions. The use of Chapman Stick, once a centerpiece of the band, has been all but eliminated from any live performance.
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- ^ "John Diliberto’s Top Ten CDs & Songs for 2009". John Diliberto. http://echoesblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/john-dilibertos-top-ten-cds-songs-for-2009/. Retrieved 2010-01-14.
- ^ "www.progressia.net". Progressia. http://www.progressia.net/?rub=articles&articleid=687&part=page1. Retrieved 2010-01-14.
- ^ "Mandrake Project - A Miraculous Container". Progressive World. http://www.progressiveworld.net/html/modules.php?name=Reviews&rop=showcontent&id=4641part=page1. Retrieved 2010-01-14.
- ^ "Mandrake Project releases A Miraculous Container on Blistering Records". Pittsburgh City Paper. http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A60889. Retrieved 2010-01-14.
- ^ "Mandrake Project finds right 'Container' for its sound". Pittsburgh Live. http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/ae/s_617767.html. Retrieved 2010-02-04.
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