Friday, May 27, 2016

99 - 80

I recently dug out the HOX Itness album from 1999 for a spin. Sometimes when listening to music, a certain logic of choice for subsequent listening suggests itself within the music. One track on Itness with a rather long, unchanging and insistent rhythm (and little else), made me think of Graham’s earlier 4-track pieces from 1983, collectively gathered on the 1996 WMO release, pre>He. Billed with a sticker on the CD cover as “Previously unreleased archive recordings from ex-WIRE man”, locating it squarely within second Wire hiatus. He would now be post-He and WIRE man, as an active member of that thriving unit, given fresh life with the tranfusion of young blood into the ranks.

This body of work, coming with the customary ‘archive sound’ warning, due to the raw and basic nature of the recording, is immensely satisfying for me, and is something I keep returning to. In fact the very nature of the recording is an inescapably essential part of the very fabric of the music, and the elemental nature of its articulation and atmosphere. Sometimes it fizzes like electricity, raw and volatile, as on the coruscating, flayed and relentless Dolass Violphin, and He Said “Argh...”. Other times it lurks and hums threateningly, as in the magnificent, stately slow ritual march of Lying In State, originally produced for the MU:ZE:UM Traces installation for MOMA Oxford, with Bruce Gilbert and Russell Mills. My first introduction to the work on the compilation came via an early Touch cassette, Meridians 1 (1983), which featured the He Said “Argh...” track. This piece presented such an utterly alien yet intriguing and highly individual soundworld that drew me right in. I was hooked.

Shortly after this I started artschool and a friend introduced me to the music of Dome, and this alien soundworld opened out further and well and truly got its tentacles deep into me. After revisiting the pre>He album, later in the day I felt like drilling down further in time and farther back in the back catalogue and spun Dome 3 and 4. Shortly after Dome 4 finished, and the short Atlas track ended proceedings, I happened across that very word in the book I was reading, in the same paragraph as the word halo, as it happened. Years ago I usen’t to know what to make of these synchronicities, thinking perhaps a strange pattern lay behind them, or a sign was being manifested, but now I look upon them with bemused detachment, thinking in this instance, ‘that was a good strike rate..’

The evening’s listening ended with 3R4, a particularly outstanding and durable piece of work, and like all of Dome’s output it conjures a particularly unique soundworld which seems to stand outside of regular time and inhabit a transitory, liminal space, an audio derive - a soundtrack of restless exploration, cinema for the ear. Like all the best and most original music, it sounds like nothing else. Only Dome could have made this music.

3,4 is a fine example of mounting tension and creeping unease, signalled by the backwash of a slow, breath-like sound, which gives way to intermittent foghorn type noises, guitar slashes, percussive forays and a deep, groaning bass that slithers thickly like a conger eel. Not unconnected, perhaps with the previous track’s intriguing title, Barge Calm - a slow trawl through murky depths is suggested. R unfolds with a slowed guitar loop that bristles with a visceral sense of the very machinery of its making; amplified wound steel strings scraped with hard plastic. Like enlarging a photographic image and repeating it, certain details are thrown into relief and patterns emerge. When this eventually fades, a more glacial calm descends with elongated vocal drones and intermittent sounds lending it a more widescreen feel.

Monday, May 23, 2016

70th birthday gift for Bruce

Bovine Oboes (for Bruce Gilbert)

From sixty seconds to sixteen minutes and sixteen seconds, this piece made to mark Bruce's 70th moves away from my approach to the one I did for his 60th. It mines a number of sources mentioned in Kevin Eden's 1991 Wire biography, Everybody Loves A History - music he grew up with, the songs of Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra, and the music, pre-Wire, that influenced him in his 20s, such as Captain Beefheart and Roxy Music. I used these as a springboard to create electronic soundscapes, twisting and stretching edits and loops I'd made in Samplr on my iPad. Some edits were left recognisable, and form some of the rhythmic and melodic content, as well as serving as cultural reference points. The title is made from two halves of two anagrams derived from Bruce's albums Ab Ovo and In Esse. As a gift for Bruce, the piece was put on a 3” CDR sprayed white, with a cover design aping the periodic table, with the element number being Bruce's age, and the scientific number being his birthdate. Not sure how I hit on the idea, but there's a nice link with the fact that Bruce's album, Ordier, was released on US label Table Of The Elements.

Bruce had a fondness for war movies in the 70s, so that gave me free reign to explore various war noises and related references, including the theme tune from the 70s TV series The World At War. I wanted to broaden the mise en scene of the piece by including ads and sig. tunes from some 70s programmes, the shipping forecast, Monty Python, and some of my own field recordings to further enrich this plunderphonic tapestry. Some points of reference in terms of compositional methodology for me were elements of John Moran's The Manson Family, An Opera, Nurse With Wound's Sylvie & Babs, and early 80s Touch compilation tapes, with their penchant for odd confections of media snippets, loops and field recordings. Though not a conscious ploy, one of the Beefheart songs that I used, Veteran's Day Poppy, forms an interesting link with the WWII references.

Some of the TV sig. tunes and ads get a bit of a space theme going, what with the appearance of The Clangers, Star Trek and Dr. Who, as well as the spoof sci-fi ad for a popular freeze-dried potato product, Smash (also a post-Bruce Wire song title). The William Shatner voice-over snippets, “to explore strange new worlds”,  and “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, can be taken as a lighthearted allusion to Bruce's sonic explorations. Cross-hatching some of the Sinatra material with the Beefheart songs threw up some fruitful collisions – a drum break from Moonlight On Vermont happened to nicely underscore a vocal snippet from Moonlight In Vermont, sung by Linda Ronstadt (born same year as Bruce). Amongst the studio goofery from Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica used in the piece, the “I run on beans” edit was echoed with a 70s ad for Heinz beans (“Don't be mean with the beans Mum, beans means Heinz !”). Some of the elements in this piece are woven a bit deeper in the mix, and won't necessarily reveal themselves on first listen. Other elements move around the stereo field to create a sense of momentum in a soundworld I like to think of more in terms of a radio play or cinema for the ears. It must be  heard on a decent hi fi with good stereo separation, or on good headphones – not computer speakers...


Bomber plane drone
Bombing planning meeting
Bomber pilots talkback
Air raid siren
Whistling bombs, explosions, fire
Lena Horne, Stormy Weather
Frank Sinatra, Stormy Weather
Arthur Lowe
The Red Army Choir
The World At War theme tune & German march
Rain field recording
Captain Beefheart:
I Love You, You Big Dummy
Moonlight On Vermont
Veteran's Day Poppy
Trout Mask Replica studio goofery
BBC continuity announcement
Tomorrow's World sig. tune
Frank Sinatra/Linda Ronstadt, Moonlight In Vermont
The Clangers opening voice-over & music
Smash ad
Star Trek theme tune
Dr. Who theme tune
Heinz ad
Bert Ford weather forecast
Roxy Music, Remake/Remodel
Monty Python, Bruce sketch and Philosopher's Song
Iceland harbour field recording
Shipping forecast
Decimalisation ad
ATV ident
Dad's Army theme tune
BBC control room talkback
PG Tips ad



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Terminal Pharmacy/Whelm/L-Fields

Three albums that could form a trilogy:

Jim O’Rourke: Terminal Pharmacy (Tzadik, 1995) - A gem that fails to age, from his prodigous and intriguing output from the early 90s, which involved a lot of composition for chamber ensembles, electronics and field recordings. He was still in his early 20s when these remarkable albums were made. His time in Dan Burke’s noise outfit Illusion Of Safety seeps through in this album, with its extended periods of quiet, sudden edits and understated sections that hover on the threshold of audibility. This music mostly seems to float at the edges of perception, appearing and disappearing, glowing gently, diminishing, creating a space for itself that draws you in and manages to knit in the sounds of your surroundings as part of the landscape. It feels quietly cinematic, from some forgotten place, an impression reinforced by the fleeting presence at one point, of some noirish 40s style brass music lifted from vinyl with surface crackle like a fireside ambience. My own listening preference for this album is a late night one, for some reason, just feels part of night time, with moments emerging and sinking back into the dark. Still remarkably fresh 20 years on.

indicate: Whelm (Touch, 1995) - produced the same year as Terminal Pharmacy, working as a duo with Robert Hampson, this feels like a kind of sister album of sorts, with intriguing prepared/processed guitar treatments and field recording elements which evince long sections that flatline until landscapes of delicate construction emerge low in the mix and hang beguilingly, like a weather front, before evaporating, the field recording elements lending it a widescreen depth. Another one that’s aged remarkably well. I had the strange experience, when scanning the artwork, of discovering two cards that I had never seen before, as they were stuck so snugly to the jewel case - sitting there for 20 years !

Michael Prime: L-Fields (Sonoris, 1999) - coming on the heels of the previous two, Michael’s compositions date from 97 - 99, using bioacoustic feedback from plants connected to oscillators, combined with field recordings (explained clearly in his notes). These pieces mine a similar territory and create a unique and intriguing listening space that feels as unstable and capricious as the weather. One track features the sounds coming from a local football match coming from some distant field, a signature sound of suburban life throughout my growing up, and still in my neighbourhood now. Not really sure why this sound intrigues me so much, but the wind-thrown fleeting snatches of shouted commands, the thin, strained, reedy blast of ref’s whistle, the feeling of distance the sounds carry, somehow fascinate me. Though it’s not strictly necessary to know why, the experience is enough. Mystery is a good thing in certain circumstances.


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Live at Project 1988

Live At Project, August/September 1988 - scanned from my original copy of US High Performance magazine, in a piece by magazine founder/editor Steven Durland, that covered this unique performance festival that I worked on, curated by Danny McCarthy for SSI's international sculpture conference, featuring Andre Stitt, Danny McCarthy, Alastair McLennan, Mick Shanahan, Jaki Aherne and Anne Tallentire, amongst others.

Great fun sourcing some of the materials for these shows: filling a cabbie's boot full of bloodied pig's ears outside a butcher's in Meath Street for Alastair's piece. A pig's ear, for those unaware, is a whole half of a pig's head, cut right down the middle. Out to the cash and carry on Richmond Road for catering size vats of ketchup and mayo for Andre's piece, plus bags of sand and cement from a builder's providers. Alastair's performance took place in what used be the burnt-out space (it had no roof), which is now the gallery. Andre had to be taken to the Eye & Ear after his gig after getting sand and cement in his eye. The flare that Andre used at the end was obtained from a ship's chandlers, if I remember rightly. Pre-internet, the quickest preferred document transfer was the fax ('member those ?). SSI's fax broke down at one point, necessitating Andre dictating his lengthy artist's statement to me over the phone. I remember the last two words - 'Eternally bombed', and how I had to ask Andre to repeat the words as I was having trouble with his Belfast accent. "Sorry Andre, 'eternally what ?' "BOMBED !" "Ah, bombed.. OK, cheers !"

For a long time this didn't feel so long ago, but it looks bloody ancient now ! B&W helps the effect I suppose. Also in that issue of HP was coverage of the UK performance festival, EDGE 88. The profile afforded us was invaluable. Interesting none of the Project Arts Centre staff at the time had experience with live work. A different guard to those working in 79, when Darkspace took place. Although they were student organised events, things like Paint It Red at the SFX, and Friday The 13th at NCAD, circa 84 were an important part of the general climate for this kind of work. Fights broke out and cars were set on fire outside the SFX. Quite a heavy time.

"Shouting at the ground won't enable it to hear any better."

Listening to this for the first time in quite some time, I'm struck afresh by how masterful it is – a very complete and focused body of work which has more than stood the test of time since its original creation in 1987. A friend lent me the LP sometime around 88/90 – hard to remember precisely at this remove – which I made a tape copy of. I wonder where he got it ? No Dublin record shops at the time would have had anything like this. I would normally pick up this kind of stuff whilst working summer jobs in London, between years in artschool in the 1980s. Perhaps he got it second hand in Freebird, back when it used to be in a cramped basement on Eden quay – the only arena for the occasional glimpses of the outer reaches of exploratory music, along with Base X (Basement Record & Tape Exchange), further along the quays, on Bachelors Walk (LPs were slipped into a plain brown bag with the BASE X stamp) . With a lot of trawling, I had gotten a few things like this over the years, and generally it would be priced lower, as they would've thought there was less chance of selling it, I guess. I remember my surprise coming across a copy of a Lovens/Lytton LP (“Was It Me ?”) circa 1985, a little bit ahead of the time I seriously got into improv, so it remained an oddity for a while (I still have it). I think I paid about 3 quid for it.

Anyway, this tape copy of Shouting At The Ground became a much treasured item until I got my own CD copy in Staalplaat in Amsterdam in the early 90s. These chronological reference points are important because all music is not only located within it's own time of production, but also within our own initial time of exposure, with all the attendant social, cultural and emotional reference points that gradually bleed into it. These aspects imprint themselves into and are threaded through the music like DNA, such that the experience of music is the closest we come to time travel. Our brain is temporarily reconfigured to those co-ordinates set down years ago. Though it's not like we go back in time to the exclusion of the present, because we experience the music in the present too, so the two times interweave, along with our two senses of self, in a somewhat out-of-register overlay.

I think I first came across :zoviet*france: in the Rough Trade shop in Talbot Road in Notting Hill, summer of 1984. I was immediately drawn to the inventive design and packaging. Their LPs came in roofing felt, aluminium foil and string-bound hardboard sheets. This highly individual approach mirrored their sonic modus operandi. Their music was like nothing I had previously heard. There were no reference points. They created their own world with a very hands-on lo-fi methodology involving simple stringed instruments, percussion and FX pedals. The punk spirit of DIY and experimentation was very much in evidence. By the time Shouting At The Ground came out, they were several years down the road, and had reached a new level of sophistication and musical intelligence, still with the simplest of means.

Part of the :z*f: world, something that lent another layer of intrigue (they worked anonymously for years), was the titling, some of which looked like an invented language, or parts of another language cross-hatched with nonsense. It was a complete package – you entered their world, and it was like a road movie for the ears. Far from conventional narrative of any sort of course, it was a drift through strange lands. Each time I hear the opening track of this LP, Smocking Erde, there is a sense of excitement, of anticipation, as looped over-blown flute-like sounds usher us into a slowly unfolding landscape underscored with a subtly shifting, dusty, low hum. It occupies the space as a kind of gauzy, foggy, wintery presence.

The winter associations are probably not unconnected with the fact that was where my strongest listening memories are – late '89, in a flat on my own in Mountjoy Square, in a poorly heated, sparsely furnished Georgian room, with a second room as a studio space. The trade-off for this was that it was cheap – really cheap. Brace yourselves, but I paid the princely sum of 6 pounds a week for those two sizeable ground floor rooms (well, for one room, but I was given the second room at no extra cost). It was more of a caretaking rent really, at that rate, but who's complaining ? Life on the dole, you're not going to pass it up, are you ? This was thanks to the landlord, the late Uinseann MacEoin, an old school republican who liked to see himself as a benefactor of the arts, with properties in Mountjoy Square and Henrietta Street (two of the top addresses in Dublin before they became tenements) occupied by artists for low rents since the early 70s.

This track has another connection for me, and, though slight, is very specific to Dublin. Toward the end of the track, there is a part of the fading drone that sounds just like the engine sound of Dublin Bus at the time, those Van Hool engines that were ever present in my time in Mountjoy Square, as one of the depots was in the south east corner of the square, so I'd hear them returning there late at night. It's uncanny. It's an absolute sonic doppelganger. Listening to it today transported me back there (with a shiver). This short track prepares the ground for Palace Of Ignitions, using hammered dulcimer sounds, punctuated by a percussive tatoo, with gated reverb used to great effect, creates a kind of skewed orientalism. This then makes way for a longer exploration in Come To The Edge, a slowly cascading series of looped melodic fragments, animated like wind-blown banners. It creates an otherwordly vortex which really draws you in. It's underscored by a billowing hum that rises and falls, with a wind-like dynamic.

The next brace of tracks – Revenue Of Fire, Dybbuk, Camino Real, Stocc Blawers, Fickle Whistle, Hand Over Your Ears – work through a series of textures and themes they return to over the course of the LP: sounds like dying fireworks, plucking, skittering sounds, soft wind instruments and whistles, looped and treated. Then there's the dynamic shifts and sudden harsh melodic loops that hover, floating, encircling, motifs reworked in multiple variations. Carole The Breebate throws down a tangled clutch of melodic scraps, only to be interrupted by sudden insistent, speed-up looped alien voices, which dissappear just as suddenly.

Marrch Dynamic offers a slight, quiet echo of the second track with a different dynamic. Wind Thief is a last short report, using whistles and gated reverb like a second instrument before the development of the last two long-form tracks, which total about 35 minutes. Shamanay Enfluence rolls out a back-masked loop with heavier use of delay and reverb which has a particularly landscape-like feel with a strong sense of distance. There is the ever present drone, which is more like wind than some rancid new-age trope – capricious, unstable. Occassional watery textures issue through the landscape, along with warped, slowed vocal fragments. There is a sense of drift and of slowing down, like a breathing exercise. The final track, The Death Of Trees, layers a thicket of loops with echoes of previous motifs, with drawn-out etiolated sounds, stretched to exhaustion, decaying, ending, dissappearing. Gradual unfolding of rhythms and counter-rhythms generated by multiple delays – all reels out increasingly slowly, degenerating into a river of rhythms uncoiling and disarticulating to be subsumed in a sonic swell, a tide pull to oblivion.

The album title comes from a quote by Lamargi: “Shouting at the ground won't enable it to hear any better” The only other piec of text serves to further skew the pitch: elsewhere on the artwork are the words WE ARE GREEN. Dispensing with the more unusual stock for covers, this one has a regular printed cover, with an image which, again, adds to the intrigue of the :z*f: world – a field of cut straw against a cloudy grey sky, with a curious pair of dark grey half disc-like shapes overlaid in the foreground. They might originally have been monoprints, who knows, but it's figuration and abstraction in the same frame. Rural surrealism. Which seems to tie in with the description of their music as 'Industrial Folk'. What's interesting about this album for me is the move away from a previous approach involving the use of media clips and news fragments that located it in a strongly cold war hunted/haunted landscape. Shouting At The Ground moved into a purer sense of landscape, which was continued in the excellent 1991 release, Shadow, Thief Of The Sun. In between the two releases was Look Into Me (1990), which took an interesting swerve into a more cut-up musique concrete territory. Shouting.. and Shadow.. represent the pinnacle of the :z*f: achievement in my book, the heights of which they failed to scale since. But that's just my opinion, to be taken lightly. So, well done guys, you created something of lasting value which continues to resonate with me.

Monday, November 30, 2015

"In spite of myself, I'm a meticulous man."

Two old favourites, both released in 1982, that are very related for me, almost like two sides of the same coin, as related as night and day. Both exploring imaginary terrain, each in their own uniquely particular way; Eno, in the studio, with instruments, detritus and field recording, between 1978 and 1982, creating soundscape compositions, Gilbert/Lewis/Mills, exploring a particular location and its contents over a one month period to create similar narratives. Eno, in his liner notes, speaks specifically about the idea of landscape, memory, and a sense of place. He also mentions the notion of psychoacoustic space—the idea of using recording technology to create imaginary spaces and atmospheres: the suggestive power of sound. Where Eno creates exterior, rural, and perhaps more lyrical spaces, the world of Mzui is a wonderfully forlorn, and distinctly urban interior. On Land is like a daytime hike, Mzui an after dark dérive.

Strange to imagine Eno's starting points of Fellini and Miles Davis until he explains it further:
“In using the term landscape I am thinking of places, times, climates and the moods they evoke. And of expanded moments of memory too... One of the inspirations for this record was Fellini's 'Amarcord' (“I Remember”), a presumably unfaithful reconstruction of childhood memories. Watching that film, I imagined an aural counterpart to it, and that became one of the threads woven into the fabric of this music.

“The choice of sonic elements arose less from litening to music than from listening to the world in a musical way. When I was in Ghana, for instance, I took with me a stereo microphone and a cassette recorder, ostensibly to record indigenous music and speech patterns. What I sometimes found myself doing instead was sitting out on the patio in the evenings with the microphone placed to pick up the widest possible catchment of ambient sounds from all directions, and listening to the result on my headphones. The effect of this simple technological system was to cluster all the disparate sounds into one aural frame: they became music. 

Listening this way, I realised I had been moving towards a music that had this feeling: as the listener, I wanted to be situated inside a large field of loosely-knit sound, rather than placed before a tightly organised monolith (or stereolith for that matter). I wanted to open out the aural field, to put much of the sound a considerable distance from the listener (even locating some of it 'out of earshot'), and to allow the sounds to live their lives separately from one another, clustering occasionally, but not 'musically' bound together. This gave rise to an interesting technical difficulty. Because recording studio technology and practice developed in relation to performed music, the trend of that development has been toward greater proximity, tighter and more coherent meshing of sounds with one another. Shortly after I returned from Ghana, Robert Quine gave me a copy of Miles Davis' 'He Loved Him Madly'. Teo Macero's revolutionary production on that piece seemed to me to have the 'spacious' quality I was after, and like Amarcord, it too became a touchstone to which I returned frequently.”

Mzui's inauspicious beginings belie the alchemy of the process and the rare, flinty beauty of the outcome. A large factory space, in Elephant & Castle, commandeered as the artist-run Waterloo Gallery, was the physical terrain to hand that Bruce Gilbert, Graham Lewis, and Russell Mills took on, with various discarded items they encountered and put to great use. They worked 6 days a week for the month of August 1981, developing a series of sculptures and audio-visual environments for their own and the public's interaction. All recorded, with many tapes given to those members of the public who played in the space themselves. Apparently many of these willing participants went on to explore similar territory in their own work. It would be extremely interesting to try and track down these people and hear their Mzui tapes: it would lend a whole other aspect to the existing recorded document. Next to impossible probably, and, leaving aside quality control issues, the chances of any of these tapes having survived is most likely slim, but sometimes it's quite curious what Facebook can turn up in terms of connecting with parts of the past. 

Like Eno, the imaginative terrain they created on the album of edited recordings had a very strong narrative focus and sense of place, in which an entire environment becomes a sounding board. They played the space. Glass was smashed and things were set on fire. The floor was ritually polished. It became a living, breathing environment. A backlog of exhibition opening bottles created the stock for the pile of broken glass, which was coralled into a roped-off area after a visit from health and safety. A former Stevie Wonder stage set of astro turf was cut up to make blackouts. Quite surreal, and quite Dada, in its own way. The Dada connection given voice by the inclusion of a loop of Duchamp saying, "In spite of myself, I'm a meticulous man", toward the end of the LP. This quote was most likely sourced from the Duchamp interview published on an Audio Arts tape in 1975 (original interview in 1959), which is now available, (along with the entire Audio Arts output, thanks to the Tate) as a podcast:

The lo-fi nature of the Mzui recordings added rather than detracted from the record – giving it the urgency of reportage. This, aligned to the resourcefulness and intelligence in the approach to creating sonic environments, and further drawing out these elements in the editing process, is what gives the record its power for me – a power which hasn't dimmed since. It connects with me like electricity. I wrote a review some years ago:

A recent search on Google maps for Gray Street appears to show no trace of the former warehouse. Long gone of course, swallowed up in 80s gentrification no doubt. I used to walk near there quite a bit on trips to London in the early 2000s (to see Wire, co-incidentally enough), on my way down to that wonderful emporium of out-there music, These Records, whose delightful proprieters were always so patient with my slow trawls through their earthly delights. I never realised the Mzui location was so near.

Praise be to Cherry Red for having the bravery to put this out, as it must've been as near to commercial suicide as any label would want to go. The only other record I can think of in a similar vein would be 23 Skidoo's 'The Cullling Is Coming', itself largely a document of live work. Though that was on a smaller sub-label if I remember rightly – Operation Twilight. One thing that intrigued me for a long time about Mzui was its title. So opaque and inscrutable. Apparently it was provided by The Brothers Quay. Though an explanation was never sought.

New duo album with David Lacey

Room Temperature is very pleased to announce the release of a new duo album by Fergus Kelly & David Lacey, Quiet Forage, in a limited edition of 100. This is their second album since Bevel (2006), and is the result of various duo sessions recorded between 2011 and 2014 which have been edited into five tracks totalling 50 minutes. Fergus Kelly plays invented instruments, electronics and percussion, and David Lacey plays percussion/electronics. Orders can be made using the Paypal button on this blog, as I am currently experiencing difficulties with updating my Room Temperature site.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Congregation Of Vapours

This article originally appeared in The Visual Artists Newsletter, Sept/Oct 2012, describing the process behind the creation of my album, A Congregation Of Vapours, for Farpoint Recordings.

Anthony Kelly of the Dublin-based Farpoint Recordings label approached me in January 2011 with a proposal to produce an album of my work. I had been working on some new pieces involving electronics and field recordings, so this was an ideal platform to really expand and develop these investigations, and build towards a thoroughly thought through and finished body of work. I had been putting work out on my own CDR imprint, Room Temperature, since 2005, so this was also a very welcome opportunity to produce work without having to manufacture it myself, as I usually do all the designing, printing and CD burning myself, which is a fairly labour-intensive and time consuming process.

My recorded work has involved various combinations of field recordings, invented instruments and electronics over the years. Each new body of work either builds on and consolidates previous work, or is a conscious change of tack to keep things fresh. As an improvisor, in a live context, I work with a particular set-up and series of sound sources. This has a certain lifespan that comes to a conclusion once I feel I’ve exhausted all the possibilities it has to offer. Shortly before Anthony invited me, I had been experimenting with a new set-up, partly inspired by the work of Nicholas Collins, whose excellent book, Handmade Electronic Music, had given me a few inroads into DIY electronics. I was particularly taken with speaker feedback as a means of generating sound.

This involves placing contact microphones either directly onto speakers, or inside resonant vessels placed on speakers. The feedback is generated and controlled via the volume and EQ (tone) controls on the mixing desk. With just one vessel, it’s possible to achieve a rewarding series of rich tones, rattles and buzzes, which can be further manipulated according to where the microphone is placed, applying pressure, or moving across the vessel surface. Considerable complexity can be introduced when the number of vessels and microphones is increased.

I had collected a large number of metal containers of various dimensions, which I set up in a series of elaborate configurations. I made various recordings over a number months, improvising with these set-ups. I then forensically combed these recordings for worthwhile material. Feedback is a volatile element, which takes a fair degree of control to manipulate successfully, so a lot of experimentation was involved. A substantial series of edits were made, which formed a large percentage of the album’s sonic vocabulary.

Another approach that got the hook in me at that time was the use of no-input mixing board. I had been aware of this ‘instrument’ since seeing the masterful Toshimaru Nakamura perform with it in London in 2000, but it wasn’t until seeing San Francisco-based sound artist Joe Colley perform with it in Dublin at the I&E Festival in 2007, that I was really taken with the possibilities it offered. Colley’s performance was inspirational. We swapped CDs, and his recorded work became a particular touchstone for me, amongst other things.

In layman’s terms, the no-input mixing board involves connecting your inputs and outputs the ‘wrong’ way so they create feedback inside the desk itself, which is manipulated with volume and EQ controls. This can be very lively and difficult to control, far more volatile than speaker feedback, but when you manage to tame the beast, the results can be quite wonderful. It creates a pretty powerful range of pulsating tones, which, because of their monophonic nature, establish an especially monolithic and insistent presence. This can be best heard at the beginning of the album’s fourth track, Pattern Recognition.

The next stage in the album’s construction was the editing together of the feedback and no-input edits, and further processing this material in ProTools editing software. This is where the material really began to find its form. A deliberate strategy was to take some of the building blocks and subject them to considerable extremes of intensive processing – taking sound as raw, malleable matter, stretching it to the point of collapse, pulling it inside out, further distilling and cross-hatching it where it breeds inscrutable new forms, at once physical and phantom in nature. Chasing the process along a Moebius strip of endless decay and regeneration, where sound is repeatedly cannibalising itself, the tracks were grown from residual traces of empty spaces, ventriloquised into being – a void given voice – where feedback makes dimension audible. As a starting point, I liked the idea of beginning with nothing – pulling matter from emptiness, sound from silence. The appeal here is also connected with the punk spirit of DIY and experimentation, and the idea of using basic materials and rudimentary approaches – a considerable influence on my practice as a whole. No need for hi-tech gadgetry.

The lengthy editing process created a broad range of disembodied, atomised artefacts, which were then woven together in layers to establish their own space for the listener to navigate, volatile and capricious as the weather. Threaded through this speculative fiction was documentary reality in the form of field recordings, which augment and galvanise a particular sense of place and narrative flow, sitting uneasily between the created and the real.

Field recording is an activity I’m constantly engaged in; just as some people use photography, I have built up an extensive archive of recordings from all manner of environments, to stitch into future work. The recordings used on the album date from various points in the archive, the oldest being a thunderstorm recorded in New York City in August 2006, which features in the closing track, Breathing Room.

The textures of field recordings and electronics have an interconnectedness for me, and a parity of presence. The ceaseless surf of traffic, the hums and drones of supermarket fridges and myriad other machine presences – sounds we daily swim through with varying levels of awareness – intersect on this album with magnetic fields of prepared noises, aural detritus and sonic fallout, to form a climate of disturbance and disruption. A seepage of spectral broadcasts, corrupted signals and insidious transmissions – tactile yet immaterial – suspends us in sound.

Listening is a really important part of the editing process. I would usually put rough mixes on CD and audition them at home for a period of time, let them settle – hearing them in much the same conditions as the listener. If there are areas where I find I’m losing interest, then it’s got to be pruned. I shouldn’t lose interest for a second. I’ve got to be totally involved all the way.

The next stage of the project involves titling and design. This goes through a similarly intensive process for me, where a large range of options are tested and trashed until I arrive at something I’m happy with. I keep a notebook of potential titles, and words and phrases which might become titles. The inspiration for these can spring from a number of sources: a book I’m reading, a film or exhibition, a magazine or online review / article, a snatch of conversation (misheard or otherwise), public signage / posters.

Sometimes the compositions will suggest titles, or words and phrases, which need developing to become proper titles, rather than simply reference points. Quite a bit of the time I’m completely stumped. It can take weeks for titles to emerge that feel right. Titles are important as they seal the work, give it an identity and act as an entry point. I tend to avoid literal titles, preferring them to maintain a bit of openness, ambiguity, uncertainty and mystery, whilst still feeling absolutely right for the work – organically linked if you like.

What interested me about the phrase ‘a congregation of vapours’ was not the Shakespearean reference (where Hamlet, melancholic after his father’s death, describes the earth as "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours”) but the suggestion of the album’s soundscapes being a gathering of elements as insubstantial as gas. I’m fascinated by the dichotomy between sound as both a physical presence and a ghostly emanation.

Similar to titling, the design also acts as an entry point. The cover image is from a painting of mine from a number of years ago, where the source photo was processed to create a lot of dropout, putting it on the cusp between abstraction and figuration, not unlike how the soundscapes work. Though it’s not illustrative in that sense, it works in parallel.

A key aspect in Farpoint’s approach was the inclusion of a written element. This is done with a view to the future archival / curatorial value of the project and, as such, enriches it and provides another entry point for the audience. Paul Hegarty’s impeccable credentials as purveyor of and writer on noise meant that his response was entirely apposite and intriguingly articulated, for which I was very grateful, as indeed I was for the input of Anthony Kelly and David Stalling of Farpoint throughout the project. They were a great pleasure to work with, conscientious and professional to a fault.

Farpoint organised a launch at The Goethe Institute on May 23rd 2012, where I performed a solo set, improvising with some of the elements employed on the album. I also created a sound installation, Breathing Room, for one week in The Goethe’s darkened bunker space, using speaker constructions and fluctuating light. As a development of soundscape compositions previously created for CD, this work took the space inside the compositions, turning it inside out, to become a space to walk into and occupy, to be enfolded within the soundscape. Many thanks to Jonathan Carroll and Barbara Ebert for facilitating this.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Interview with Brian Marley

The following interview took place across a series of emails with Brian Marely during 2011, looking at the background to my practice, my influences, my approach to composition, and some of the ideas behind the Long Range album. Sincerest thanks to Brian for his encouragement and patience. 

What do you do and why do you do it ?

I am a visual artist and improvising musician. I trained as a painter, but also tried various media including sound, installation/performance and photography during my studies. My visual work since leaving college in 1987 largely centred around photomontage, and in recent years has moved into painting (still using photography as source).

I began using sound pretty much from the start in college, using found metals, initially to record with, and later use in live work, inspired by the work of Test Dept., Einsturzende Neubauten, z’ev & Bow Gamelan. I was also inspired by the work of Dome, :zoviet*france:, Hafler Trio, Strafe Für Rebellion, Nurse With Wound and others, and began constructing very simple tape collages which were used for tape/slide works and installations. 

Apart from a brief flirtation with guitar in my teens, I am not musically trained. I got the hang of drums some years later and really enjoyed the physicality of that instrument, but never played in a band. Since college, I have continued in the vein of constructed and adapted instruments and tape collages.

I’ve been passionate about music from an early age, and my love of the post-punk spirit of DIY and experimentation found a crossover with the farther reaches of sonic exploration coming from the Fine Art approaches to sound as a sculptural medium. I then discovered improvised music and was smitten.

I have pursued this area of exploration for over 25 years because it’s really where my heart’s at. I’m in my element. It’s a completely obsessive and highly fetishised world for me. I’ve always loved the idea of making something from discarded materials, the idea of transformation, base metals (literally) into… not quite gold, but something beautiful or intriguing at least.

The materials inspire a particular approach with all their tactile and evocative qualities. Whole worlds can be constructed with these sounds with the compositional possibilities of the computer (4 track in the early days forced a particular discipline that’s served me well since). That’s the other side of it for me: the idea of making your own unique soundworld, evolving a voice that establishes a particular presence, one that hopefully moves beyond your influences and into something different, something engaging and satisfying.

Brian Eno’s work in the 70s and early 80s was another significant inspiration for me, especially his On Land album. In his liner notes, he speaks specifically about the idea of landscape, memory, and a sense of place. He also mentions the notion of psychoacoustic space—the idea of using recording technology to create imaginary spaces and atmospheres: the suggestive power of sound. This absolutely got the hook in me.

When making a piece, what do you begin with – a sound, an idea, an instrument? You say the ‘materials inspire a particular approach with all their tactile and evocative qualities’, but what comes before that?

It usually starts with the intention to use a certain combination of materials, whatever I’m particularly keen on at the time, let’s say found metals, which I use a fair bit of on Long Range. For that album I quite methodically made high quality clean recordings of a lot of individual metals in a close-miked fashion to really capture all the resonance and texture. A lot of variations of each metal were recorded – struck with wooden and rubber mallets, creating drones on surfaces with fans and rubber balls, scraping with various items and so on. This meant that I had a load of separate files that I could move about in Protools and edit together in various ways.

   The Sky Above Our Heads by Fergus Kelly

Did improvisation play an important role in the making of the pieces on Long Range? If so, how did you then use this material?

I made recordings of improvisations on the contraption I was working with at the time, which incorporated a frame drum, a large coiled spring, an egg slicer, alarm bells and other metals. I then forensically combed all these recordings for useable material, some of which I edited into loops, some of which was used in longer forms. Another previously unexplored element I wanted to experiment with for Long Range was inside piano, which I did after I made a number of preparations with large screws jammed between the piano wires. Shortwave was also an element I wanted to incorporate as I’ve always loved its textural warmth, a quality like fireside crackle. On top of this I had a bunch of field recordings going back a few years that I hadn’t used yet.

When I began I had absolutely no preconceived idea about how I might structure the material, apart, as always, from the idea of moving on from and either developing or switching gear from my last finished product. The starting point was establishing a sound palette, and then using Protools as my canvas. The process of making various combinations is where things really start to spark my imagination and ideas start flowing from that. This can then involve bringing in additional sources, like bass for example, which I hadn’t used in many years (my first improv set-up involved a prepared bass). For Long Range I used it in a more musical, though minimal manner, as a kind of anchor.

Rough structures start to emerge once I start to articulate the material. Sometimes I will deliberately decide not to use processing, to keep everything clean, as a kind of discipline. Processing was used a fair bit on Long Range, but combined with enough clean material so that it’s not too biased in one direction. I decided to employ a larger, more varied palette than I had done in quite some time for this album, and allowed more overtly musical and rhythmic structures to enter the work. Sometimes I work with a deliberately more limited palette, which does force a particular kind of lateral approach.

Improvisation is essential in building the material from the ground up, mainly because I can’t conceive of structures in the abstract as someone traditionally trained would do. But then that is only one system. Mine is another, admittedly more labour-intensive and time consuming one. I’m approaching it from an artist’s perspective – painting and sculpting with sound. Sound as raw, malleable matter to be manipulated - prodded, poked, pushed, pulled, beaten, hammered, scalded, stretched, scarred, chopped, diced, dessicated, burnt, and glued, taped, nailed and bolted back together again.

The editing of the material is where the pieces find their form. The painterly/sculptural analogy is apt as the sounds get built up and hacked back quite brutally, cross-hatched with other material, further distilled and recombined, depending on what’s working or not. Pieces can start out relatively long and end up a fraction of their original length, which is what happened to Sweating Rust, which was about 9 minutes originally. And sometimes shorter pieces that weren’t strong enough to stand alone end up being stitched together into a larger piece, as in the case of the longest track on the album, Wavelength, which is comprised of edits of about 3 or 4 shorter pieces.

 Listening is a really important part of the editing process. I would usually put rough mixes on CD and audition them at home for a period of time, let them settle – hearing them in much the same conditions as the listener. If there’s areas where I find I’m losing interest, then it’s got to be pruned. I shouldn’t lose interest for a second. I’ve got to be totally involved all the way.

Do you have an ideal listener (apart, of course, from yourself)? What should the listener bring to the experience, and what might be gained?

I’m not sure if there is such a thing as an ideal listener, as each carries their own baggage, and is therefore out of your control, but in terms of what they should bring to the experience - they should approach the work from an open perspective and be attentive to the detail as much as the broader picture, and allow the work the breathing space to grow with repeated listens. In terms of what might be gained, I always find that the music that has really engaged me and has had lasting power has been music that creates a very particular and unique space, somewhere you literally inhabit, that really fires the imagination, and is somewhere you want to keep returning to over the years – part of an ever expanding and enriching constellation of musical reference points built up over long periods of time.

Does your politics influence the way you make music? Are ethical considerations brought to bear?

I suppose choosing to make music from discarded materials could be construed as taking an oppositional stance­ ­- opposed, that is, to the given orthodoxies of music making and instrumental training. I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying it was a deliberate stance against traditional approaches, just a more attractive and exciting one for me. The post-punk spirit of DIY and experimentation had very significant influence on me in that regard. The possibilities just seemed wide open. There was a directness and a simplicity that was really appealing. It was also a much quicker route to producing music by sidestepping years of training. Of course, it’s not just musical ability you bring to the table, it’s imagination and intelligence too.

Ethics wouldn’t be consciously brought to bear… but could the use of waste material be construed as an ethical decision ? Does the fact that I use other non-waste materials weaken that ? Does it matter ? Ethics would apply more to improvising with others – parity between players, an openness of approach, listening as much as playing, no hard and fast rules, no grandstanding etc.

Should art be subsidised by the state, or by corporate sponsors?

The state should most definitely support cultural production as a matter of course, as any country should do who value the arts. Art will always exist outside of this, but support structures are vital to allow things to develop and flourish. It hardly needs to be said how profoundly impoverished our lives would be without art (in the widest sense, across all media). Believe it or not, as I type this, I’m listening to a compilation I made a few years ago, and The Ex song Listen To The Painters is now playing, where GW Sok implores: We need poets, we need painters, we need poetry and painting…

Corporate sponsorship is another fact of life, and pretty important when it comes to larger scale events, such as film and theatre festivals, which rely heavily on corporate sponsorship as well as Arts Council support.

How does your music change when you present it in performance? Is it important that the musicians playing with you know your music intimately? Do you bone up on their recordings prior to the gig?

The music changes to something which can be played in real time, so it’s a purely pragmatic approach – what can be activated, played, kept going with two hands. And also what I can reasonably transport – all the better if I can get it all in a kit bag or two, slung across my back on the bike ! It’s been a years-long battle to reduce the amount of gear I hoof to gigs. Unlike studio composition, where you can spend days, weeks, and months finessing material, on stage you are one of a number of voices composing in the moment, and responding accordingly as things develop.

Musicians’ prior knowledge of my music I wouldn’t necessarily regard as important – more important to listen and engage in a fruitful way. This works both ways – I like to jump in the deep end without much in the way of preconceived notions, keep things fresh.

What were your most profound influences – musical and otherwise? Have they stood the test of time?

There’s a range of influences across the spectrum that would have had influence in general terms, and an influence in terms of what I’ve produced. Here’s a handful, nothing exhaustive. This lot have certainly stood the test of time:

The side project of two members of Wire - Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis, working under the name Dome, made a deep impression on me. Coming from artschool backgrounds, they were basically approaching composition in a very healthily open-ended, lateral and exploratory way. I first heard their albums in foundation year in artschool and I was really inspired. There was a simplicity and inventiveness borne out of that friction between technical limitations and creative freedom. But with considerable imagination and intelligence they forged utterly unique soundscapes that were, by turns, industrial, poetic, bleak, absurdist, surreal.

One LP they made for Cherry Red in 1982, Mzui, had a particular appeal for me. This was based on an exhibition they had been involved in the year before with visual artist/designer Russell Mills where they made an audio visual installation from discarded material found on site which they invited the public to interact with, as well as playing it themselves. Edited highlights were compiled for the album.

This record was an epiphany for me. It made connections on a few levels: the notion of sound as landscape, the narrative qualities of sound—the idea of sound articulating a sense of place. The simplicity of using the space itself as the source was really appealing. There was a certain DIY punk aesthetic to that, which is, of course, predated by the idea of the found object in various twentieth century art movements. Then there was the nature of the sound itself: cold, gritty, matter of fact.

It's very evocative—there's a sense of the inevitable somehow, the feeling of events overheard almost, rather than recorded specifically. It often has an icy, brutal, almost terrifying beauty, wrought from the simplest of base elements. The record is seemingly random at times, yet at others carefully composed and intelligently articulated. There's a wonderful sense of depth, like the deep shadows of a Caravaggio painting, with some sounds occurring very far away, whilst others literally brush past the microphone.

On a similar level, in terms of creating utterly unique, skewed soundscapes, the work of :zoviet*france: knocked my block off, especially the ‘mid period’ work of such albums as Misfits, Looney Tunes And Squalid Criminals, A Flock Of Rotations, Assault And Mirage, Gesture Signal Threat. Their means were really simple, and very DIY: some non-European traditional instrumentation, fed through various effects, looped and processed, some vocal sounds and a fair dose of quite odd media clips, one of the most memorable being from a preacher’s broadcast about the truth behind the Jonestown massacre. 

Like Dome, this music was completely unlike anything I had previously heard. It had a very strong voice – it could only have been produced by :zoviet*france: I always get a very isolated, abandoned, cold war ambience from these albums, a paranoid, haunted/hunted quality which continues to inspire me.

Like a lot of improvisers, the music of Morton Feldman has had a lasting influence. I find it repays repeated listens, and grows each time. I never get tired of his music. The simplicity, the grace, the intelligence, the austere beauty, the space between the notes, the sense of scale, from micro to epic… endlessly inspiring.

The Bow Gamelan had a huge impact on me when I first came across their work via an Audio Arts cassette circa 1984. They appeared on some of the early years of more adventurous arts programming on Channel 4. One particularly memorable bit of film on Alter Image showed them playing in rapidly advancing tide waters, till they were quite literally up to their neck in it. I had also read about them in Performance magazine, and was very lucky to get to see them in the ICA in 1986, with Bob Cobbing. They also played on a pontoon by the Ha’penny bridge in Dublin in 1990, an appearance marred by a particularly persistent car alarm that would not stop, despite Paul Burwell’s and z’ev’s vigorous attempts to silence it.

Superficially, there was a continuity with the music of Einsturzende Neubauten and Test Dept., but Bow Gamelan had a more playful, restless spirit. I just found their music incredibly exciting, the clamour of metals and fireworks, the animated machinery, and the core trio running around, more like technicians than musicians, keeping the whole enterprise from total collapse. Someone once memorably described them as a cross between Turner and Apocalypse Now. Sums up their shows up pretty well.

Some of the metals, especially the beer barrel ‘caskophones’ (which sounded like a cross between temple gongs and church bells) had a particular sound colour that, to this day, still brings me out in goosebumps. It really connects deeply with me for some reason, right down to the marrow – I’m completely in my element, lost inside it.  Another instrument they used that had a similar effect were pyrophones – metal pipes ‘played’ with blow torches to create incredibly haunting, mournful drones, somewhat like a cross between aircraft engines and organ pipes.

I used to work summer jobs in London during my years in college (no summer work in recession-hit 80s Dublin). I was going into my final year in Fine Art after Bow Gamelan’s ICA show, and it completely fired me up to make metal percussion contraptions, including making beer barrel gongs by slicing them in two with an angle-grinder, and cutting metal pipes for pyrophones. The sculpture department became my new playground. Over 25 years on, I still have the beer barrels, which feature on Long Range, along with various metals collected over the years.

My introduction to the music of AMM came when I got a copy of The Inexhaustible Document, which really had a profound impact on me. Here was music as geological event. As subtle, capricious and occasionally violent as the weather. Glacial movements and tectonic shifts. Music as séance. The interplay of three very distinct personalities was a highly combustible mix, an equation so much more than the sum of its parts.

What really got the hook in, when listening on record, was not really knowing who was playing what, even though the instrumentation of guitar, piano and drums was what you might call fairly straight ahead. Never had these instruments sounded so unlike themselves. It was an intriguing and fascinating approach to music. Seeing them perform on a number of occasions further enhanced my enjoyment of the music as I could see how the music was constructed in real time.

The DIY aesthetic in art as much as music has always been important. I was really into the work of the Dadaists and Surrealists as a teenager, and artschool broadened my frame of reference to other work in the areas of Arte Povera, assemblage, and photomontage. In particular the work of John Heartfield, Ed Keinholz, Christain Boltanski and Anselm Keifer. Performance was also important, as a direct means of engaging an audience, and the employment of very rudimentary materials and processes, unusual locations and extended timeframes. In particular the work of Joseph Beuys, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, and Andre Stitt had considerable impact.

I’ve always been really keen on film, and certain filmmakers made a particular and lasting impact, such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanely Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Terence Davies, Derek Jarman, Jan Svankmayer, and the Coen Brothers.

As a keen reader my first hugely important point of reference would be Beckett, who I was introduced to in my final years in school, and would account for most of my limited theatre-going. More recently, writers I’ve found particularly inspiring would be Iain Sinclair, Will Self, Chris Petit and Derek Raymond.

I’m struck by the sound in “Double Blind” – my favourite track on Long Range, by the way – that seems to be made by a human voice (it has something of that quality) but is more likely to be a rubber mallet rubbed on piano strings generating a principal sound and a harmonic halo. “Double Blind” seems a very simple track, but I suspect, from the range of sound sources listed on the CD sleeve and from the title itself, that it has quite a complex structure. Can you say something about how you made it?

You’re right about the rubber mallet – it’s rubbed on an aluminium lid that has a coiled spring stretched across it (it’s in the header image in my blog). The spring in this instance acts as a resonator for the mallet sounds, giving them a particular depth. The sharp attack sounds are bowed telephone bells. The sound leading directly into them is the sound of mallet-struck piano strings prepared with a large screw, which has been reversed, sounding like it’s magnetically attracted to the bell sound, which acts like a release, being on a symmetrically opposite volume curve. The panning loop that occurs some way in is a battery-run coffee whisk moved rhythmically between the left and right microphones.

Titling usually is a painful exercise for me, with the odd exception of titles that seem to come from nowhere, yet make perfect sense, in a way that’s hard to explain – perhaps it’s an openness and ambiguity, a level of intrigue that makes them stick. Anyway Double Blind, for me, had a somewhat inscrutable and opaque feel. It was giving nothing away – take it or leave it, hence the title. 

I know you’re a lover of Balinese and Javanese gamelan, and there are numerous bell sounds and other tuned metals on Long Range. In the main, they seem to mark off blocks of time rather than contribute to the more rhythmic elements in the music; or, as in the latter stages of “Wavelength”, there’s a feeling of broken melody, like a music box losing more of its teeth with every turn of the handle; or there’s the slightly more ritualistic one-note tolling that anchors “Sweating Rust”. Is that how you see things?

I like that image of the music box… It’s a question of structure, dynamic and atmosphere, and what feels like the right way to achieve a good balance of these elements. Continuity between tracks on the final cut is as much a part of this too – the overall structure and dynamic shifts in the entire body of work. I’m one of those people who likes to hear albums all the way through.

Many years ago I used to create very rhythmically dense music – tons of layers, lots going on. Now I like to strip it back, create a bit more space for sounds to breathe, allow sounds to sit longer. It’s not an absolute rule, as I still like to create a richness through layering, but individual sounds are very carefully chosen. It’s interesting for me to approach things from the point of view of how little rather than how much I can put into a piece.

In terms of atmosphere, I perceive the metals (at least on this album) more in terms of sound colour than rhythm, so the single note tolling allows the particularities of individual metals to ring out in a way that’s very satisfying for me. That’s possibly Feldman’s influence too, amongst other things.

With a track like Sweating Rust, there was specific intention to see how reduced I could make it in terms of instrumentation, and also to create a somewhat more extreme dynamic by making it very quiet. As well as the sound colour and ritual quality of the bell sounds, there’s also their close perspective, in contrast to the sense of distance the rest of the sounds evoke. A bit like a ripple in a still lake, or a drop of ink on wet paper.

Your work is strong on atmosphere and each track has a distinct presence (distinct from each other yet distinctly yours). Do you have a particular atmosphere in mind when you start to compose a piece? If not that, what’s the first thing that gets a composition going? And when does the title of a piece come into play?

The choice of materials would be the kick-start to a composition and they would suggest atmospheres once I start to articulate them, and I would develop pieces out of that. The feel of the work gradually becomes apparent, even despite one’s self, and a signature emerges from a particular approach, like a drawing style, your musical personality is embedded in it.

I keep a notebook of potential titles, and words and phrases which might become titles. The inspiration for these can spring from a number of sources – a book I’m reading, a film or exhibition, a magazine or online review/article, a snatch of conversation (misheard or otherwise), public signage/posters. It’s very interesting how some of these notebook entries will suit so well music which has yet to be formed. It’s a  question of feel. Solitary Latitudes jumped off the page from Conrad’s The Secret Agent. Very poetic. It was perfect for the track in question as the piece felt like it was orbiting some forgotten space.

Sometimes the compositions will suggest titles, or words and phrases which need developing to become proper titles, rather than simply reference points. Quite a bit of the time I’m completely stumped. It can take weeks for titles to emerge that feel right. Titles are important as they seal the work, give it an identity, and act as an entry point. I tend to avoid literal titles, preferring to maintain a bit of openness, ambiguity, uncertainty and mystery, whilst still feeling absolutely right for the work – organically linked if you like.

Long Range is a good example of a title that came from nowhere, but immediately felt right. There was an openness and ambiguity there that I liked. Long range what exactly ? Long range weather forecast ? Long range missile ? Long range lens ? Long range thinking ? The image chosen for the cover was an important part of the title and overall identity, and also acts as a visual entry point. It’s a Stellavox reel-to-reel tape recorder that I photographed in my studio. It’s a particularly beautiful example of streamlined late 60s/early 70s utilitarian design. It has a cold war feel to me, reminiscent of Coppola’s The Conversation. On the other hand, it could be used for field recording for film or TV of the time, so it has an archival feeling too. Part of the reasoning behind the image was to do with what I designed before, and trying not to repeat that. The previous covers had followed a certain model of industrial imagery – rust, decay, dereliction etc. I felt it was time to shift gear somewhat, even if what I produced still has a somewhat industrial feel, albeit more muted.  

As Room Temperature is your own label, you get to control every aspect of production – look, feel and sound. Is that degree of control of great importance to you, or would you be happy to hand over certain aspects of production to other, interested parties?

The control is paramount as I’m an obsessive perfectionist – it has to be right, in every aspect, no matter how long it takes (within reason of course). Why sell yourself short ? Long Range went through two complete cover changes – in other words two ideas were brought laboriously to completion, mock-ups made etc., but something didn’t feel quite right, so I changed tack.

On the other hand I wouldn’t be averse to handing over certain production aspects, like design, on the basis that it then became a collaboration with someone whose work I liked, so that aspect is seen through different eyes, adding another layer to the work.