There are plenty of mammoth End-Of-Year lists doing the rounds at present. We do not feel compelled to lend our voice to the cacophony. Instead The Outer Church jumps straight to #1. Ladies, fish and gentlemen, our album of 2013 is THE CURRENT by Midday Veil.
Broken20 founders Ruaridh Law (TVO), Dave Fyans (Erstlaub) and Dave Donnelly (Production Unit) have been friends of The Outer Church for some time now. Given the label’s stubbornly individualistic approach to electronic music, not to mention their keen interest in various forms of esoterica, it was perhaps inevitable that a mutual respect would develop. Further instances of common ground soon became apparent: we were intrigued to learn for example that the skeletal hip hop of Donnelly’s There Are No Shortcuts In A Grid System (2012) was influenced to a considerable extent by the work of Brighton producer Req, whose four albums (1997’s One and 1998’s Frequency Jamsfor Skint, 2003’s Sketchbook and Car Paint Scheme for Warp) contain some of the most inventive, fascinating and downright haunting beat-driven music to emerge from these Isles. Synapses fired, words were exchanged, and Production Unit soon produced a worthy tribute in word and sound. Here…
"First of all, an apology. This missive and its accompanying mix were meant to reach you much earlier in the year. The delay is the fault of two people: me (Production Unit) and the musical artist Req. The fact it wasn’t delayed further is thanks to two people: me (PU) and the musical artist Req.
"The tardiness first, then… I’m becoming more convinced as time passes that the concept of ‘being busy’ doesn’t exist. Rather, it’s a byword for a combination of three things: woeful disorganisation, rudeness, and an inability to say no. I hope that in my case it’s mostly the first and last of these, which are surely the most forgivable, though they’re all annoying in some measure and ultimately contribute to the second. I had a live set to play two weeks ago and I wanted to completely rewrite it, thus it took a lot of work up to the eleventh hour. If it helps, as penance for my unreliability, I obtained a keen knowledge of The Fear along the way.
"My accomplice/scapegoat in blame is the musical artist Req, whose music fills this mix. It’s no exaggeration to say that his music is locked in constant battle against the forces of quantisation, the latter of which is a staunch ally of yer disc jockey type (e.g. me), what with the mixing and the blending and whatnot. Circumstances being as they are I mixed this in Traktor, and while there’s an engaging skirmish to narrate involving Good Old Vinyl vs Letting The Laptop Do The Work Because Everyone And Their Granny Can Beatmatch These Days, it’s not the main event, so let’s leave it for another day. Anyhoo, digital mixing requires the program knowing where the beats and bars lie, and assuming they’re rigid, whereas much of Req’s music refuses to conform therein (Lord, the troubles I’ve had with the last minute of Cars Girls Money Too, its meter swaying like a drunk at bedtime). Some tracks didn’t make the cut because they were too woozy, but seven or eight others just demanded inclusion, meaning I had to chop and slice them into new edits in Ableton. It took time, and, frankly, it was worth it because it means they’ll reach ears they otherwise wouldn’t.
"And thus onto why it wasn’t further delayed, which involves a bit of fanboy hero-worship, but, I hope, in a grown up, collaborative way. Fanman, maybe. This was a joint effort between myself (PU) and the musical artist Req, whose music fills this mix and who is one of my favourite producers.
"He’s not a household name by any means, and his productivity occurred for the most part in an era when online music journalism was scarce and brief, therefore I rarely happened upon him in the main medium of the time: printed music press. In fact the only occasion we intersected in that sense was a short piece in, I believe, Jockey Slut. The pertinent (though somewhat stock) question was put to him, “What advice would you give to aspiring artists/producers?” and while I’m not sad enough to quote verbatim, the response was along the lines of ‘Don’t sit there waiting for the next bit of kit to arrive before you produce. Do it now or you’ll spend a lifetime waiting.’ Now I can’t say it blossomed, fully formed, in my consciousness instantly, but a seedling took root and began to slowly germinate. As I began to work more on my own music (while the group I was in disbanded slowly) motivational self-sufficiency became imperative. I had to feast on a harvest of my own making, and I found that more and more I returned to a now fruit-bearing source - Req’s advice.
"To paraphrase a paraphrase, it’s important to make the best of what you’ve got, and to do so now. That holds for music production as much as any other pursuit, and it’s thus become a stalwart in my thinking. There’s every chance that I’d have stumbled across this revelation of my own accord, but when I think back it seems that hearing it from a reliable source brought me to it quicker. The attitude affects everything - bringing up my daughter, coping with her ill-health, making dinner, getting from A to B - but it requires responsibility if you see it through. It’s fundamentally not ‘make any old crap from whatever’s lying about’. It’s ‘make the BEST of what you’ve got, and do so NOW’. It demands honesty with yourself and integrity in your dealings with the world.
"The music produced by the musical artist Req, whose music fills this mix and who is one of my favourite producers, but whom I’ve never met, bears out this idea. It seems to possess a certain truth, displayed by ragged edges which confirm that, like the best people, its imperfections constitute in large part its attractiveness. It’s music that has pulled itself up by its own bootstraps and got out into the world, saying ‘This is me, here, now, doing what I do because I have to and because I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t.’ Though the focus is firmly on breaks and beats, there are frequent, naive plays at a specific kind of melody, evoking gaudy seasick circuses and thus the freak show soundtrack to the miniseries of Stephen King’s It. Their skewed chromatics aren’t ‘right’, musically, and they’re clearly quite under-produced, but they exist, and do so purely through the will of someone putting them there, hence I almost feel like I respect and know them on familiar terms.
"In case it’s not obvious, I’d have waited weeks and months to record this mix if I’d waited on the perfect opportunity. As it was, I made it on headphones at the dining table in an hour and a half I’d stolen from the myriad quotidian demands on my time. I know it’s not flawless, but (something of a crux, reader) it exists, here, now, etc, etc. You see where this is going.
"I didn’t always rate Req so highly, though I appreciated what he was doing. In the sixteen (sixteen! Blimey) years since I heard One it’s become apparent that his sound encompasses a large proportion of the music that’s filled my life in that period - hip hop, electronics, downbeat, ambient, drone, a general off-kilter aesthetic. Much like that advice to wet-eared producers like me, his music has encroached steadily, wrapping me in it until its intimacy is as keen as that of a childhood blanket. I think I really began to understand One when a tape rip soundtracked the writing of my university dissertation. I’d decamped from my flat to the parental abode with a few hastily grabbed cassettes for company, and as I scribbled about WVO Quine, Quantum Physics and its interface with the paradigms of possibility and probability (pretentious, I know, but the titles of philosophy tracts tend to be - and no, I’ve no idea if it was any cop) the assembled melding of boom bap, 4-track synth recordings and found sound hit home. True, in an environment that’s no longer your own, especially when you’re under pressure to finish a major task, music becomes the space you inhabit, so it’s not surprising that I sheltered in the arms of One, but it was a reckoning that became perpetual and I’ve been smitten ever since.
"And so, not to put too fine a point on it, I’ve found solace, inspiration and a wyrd moral compass through the musical artist called Req, whose music fills this mix and who is one of my favourite producers, whom I’ve never met and never want to. On that point: when I played The Outer Church last January the pastor of this fine institution said Req might appear, and linked me up to his Facebook profile in case I wanted to befriend him. I demurred. I met one of my heroes once. It was awful. He was quite boring and had a handshake like an old lettuce vomiting weakly onto my palm. Years ago I’d have jumped at the chance to meet an ‘idealised idol’, but ideals only exist in the abstract. What’s important, to me at least, is to grasp the imperfect now for all you’re worth, in eternal pursuit of those Platonic goals, here, now… again, perhaps you see where this is going.
"I hope this mix educates and entertains a few people who gather an understanding of Req, or of something at least. It’s deliberately cyclical (i.e. the tempo gathers pace throughout until by its end, it’s double the speed of the start, leading back irrevocably and repeating, the way that Req’s music has recurred and wound back towards me, or I towards it). For that reason, I thought the track title Mirror Beats might be an appropriate mix name. Like all portals, whatever their superficial destination and whether they’re circular or linear, this one really leads inward to an aspect of myself. But maybe it’ll work its way to an aspect of you too."
Req - I Req - Wasp Zither Req - Cosmic Elements Req - CCK Orchestra [Production Unit edit] Req - Stalking Req - 207 Kid Acne - Rubber Body Poppers (produced by Req) Kid Acne - Junction 20 (instrumental, produced by Req) Req - Seek [Production Unit edit] Req - JJ Smoke Req - Skit 2_Ryslide Kid Acne - Gyp-o-hop (instrumental, produced by Req) Req - Subculture Req - Java Bytes Kid Acne - Hooligan 78 (instrumental, produced by Req) Req - Love Ache Req - Dnop A Ni Selppir Req - Crack [Production Unit edit] Req - Razzmatazz Req - Navigator 2 Req - New Intro Req - What [Production Unit edit] Req - Itchin [Production Unit edit] Req - Cars Girls Money Too [Production Unit edit] Req - Drum Piano 1 [Production Unit edit] Req – Dharmas [Production Unit edit] Req - Mirror Beats Req - Vocoder Break Rock Req - Bonus Jam Req - Soul Plot Req - Mixtape 99 Req - Train Jam Req - Runout Scratches Req - Wasp Zither
Irish composer Amanda Feery contacted The Outer Church some months ago requesting advice on matters pertaining to the paranormal. Naturally, we obliged, the only condition being that she furnish us with a specially tailored sonic collage and commentary. Feery chose to assemble a mix of vocal music, which can be found below, along with some highly illuminating notes on each piece. "I work with acoustic, electronic, and improvised music," she says. "I’m interested in writing for anything or working with anyone that reinforces my musical ideas. I’m interested in the connection between creativity, memory, and everyday life - everyday flaws, fears, and passions, and how these translate into something musically meaningful. I’m determined to realise some of these ideas through a wider community, whether orally, or through non-conventional notation. Abandoning notions of ever becoming a pianist, I started composing seriously around 2006, and have been very lucky to work with peers, teachers, and musicians through various disciplines of film, theatre and sound art.
"I’m drawn to musical harmonies and timbres of vocal music that have a basis in nature, the body, and an uncanny connection to the past. I’ve come to believe that this goes back to our relationship with a very remote musical history, an evolutionary relationship with the voice, as far back to our ancestors - how song, and how harmony emerged and evolved. With regard to vocal timbre, there’s nothing that breaks me more than an open throat vocal sound, belted out right from the gut, at breaking point. I think that must hark back to our evolutionary makeup on some level, something to do with our ancestors in danger? Through mimesis and physical response, we know the tension involved in producing that quality of sound. Through our emotional affinities we understand the associations behind producing such a sound. I think the sounds that we vocalise that come to us so instinctively, when presented to us in the context of an already affective music, give the music itself a heightened meaning.
"In vocal music, for me, harmonically, less is more. I’m not drawn to complicated vocal harmonies. A small group humming a two-part harmony makes the hairs on my neck stand to attention more than a group tankering forth with a 7-note clusterfuck of a chord. There are 2-note musical intervals that have a very open sound that interest me. These intervals are found in many other scales and styles beyond Western music. I think that commonality must have something to do with how sound and harmony vibrates in our environment, what intervals sound consonant to the ear, whilst other intervals cause a literal dissonance. These are the intervals, from my own experience, that I find singers naturally tend to produce during improvisation, communally arriving at a concord.”
1. Meredith Monk - Dolmen Music (excerpt)
"Most of my first listens of Meredith Monk result in me scooping my jaw from my lap, as did this the first time I heard it. It begins liturgically and unfolds into a sort of ritualistic chant. You can clearly hear the gradual transition from a pure voice to a more open throat sound as the nasal phonemes burgeon from the texture. The voices rise in tension and the pacing is so effective - exhalations that expand and disperse across the vocal spectrum. The rest of the album is also incredible.”
2. The Watersons - Souling Song
"The Watersons’ harmony is in another dimension altogether. There’s no point trying to notate it or recreate it, you will fail. I’ve never heard anything like it. As much as I love a full choral sound, The Watersons are testament to how colourful and raw and flawed a smaller vocal group can be. All voices are exposed, with little room for gloss and perfection. It’s the imperfections and singularity of each voice blending together that makes their sound so individual. Their harmony is so instinctive and ephemeral that you’ll not hear the same song performed the same way twice.”
3. Orlande de Lassus - Motet for 8 Voices - Osculetur me Osculo
"When I was a dossy, unappreciative undergraduate student, the only worthwhile thing I did in the library was listen to CDs from their extensive collection. I was immediately attracted to the early music CDs, particularly Lassus. The celestial purity of the early music sound is one attraction, but with Lassus if you listen long enough you’ll come up against these jarring points, harmonies that sound more at home in contemporary music. It’s like a double-take for the ears.”
4. Gavin Bryars - Glorious Hill (excerpt)
"I love how this piece vacillates between the past and somewhere more contemporary - a palette of austere and chromatic sounds.”
5. Stefan Dragostinov - Planino Stara Planino Mari
"This is my ‘right from the gut’ choice for the mix! I first heard it in Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. It’s cut to the most amazing underwater scene in the Antarctic, a thick frozen sheet of ice for the sky with the deepest blues and turquoises dotted with luminescent sealife. Jaysus. I think it snapped the heart strings off of me when I heard it, and I’ve been trying to create the same affect in every piece I’ve written since, whether vocal or not."
6. Moondog - No, The Wheel Was Never Invented
"I had to include one of Moondog’s rounds. His album, Moondog 2, is a collection of 25 short rounds, sung with his daughter. I love rounds, because they are instant part-singing, instant community, belonging etc. I often wonder did our ancestors accidentally discover rounds and canons first, and vertical harmony was born out of that.”
7. Denson’s Sacred Harp Singers - I’m on my Journey Home
"When I talk about right from the gut singing, I had to include a Sacred Harp recording. I think the reason the Sacred Harp sound hits me at such a visceral level is because there is no real hierarchy in any of the parts. Each part carries a melody, it may not be the main melody, but there is melodic movement throughout the parts, no part is restricted to a ”harmonizing” part, if that makes sense. There is more freedom, and I think that translates into the overall sound.”
8. Karlheinz Stockhausen - Stimmung - Moment 51
"Stimmung is based entirely on overtone singing over a one-note drone, essentially one chord for about 70 minutes. This chord is continuously filtered though various phonetic inflections. The singers guide the vowel sounds full circle before moving on to explore another atom of the chord.”
9. William Duckworth - Sardina, from Southern Harmony
"I was introduced to this piece only last year. William Duckworth died last September, sadly. The title comes from the name of one of the Sacred Harp collections in dissemination, Southern Harmony. In this piece, Duckworth has rewrote, borrowed and abstracted material from the original hymn collection. The entire work is fascinating. This piece, Sardina, is based on one line from the hymn, ‘Evening Shade’. The pitches from the hymn are sustained and layered over each other, like scrolling through a waveform and timestretching one microscopic area.”
10. Bela Bartok - Bolyongas
"I used to sing this with other students in my ear-training class in college. We sang a lot of other Bartok and Kodaly short pieces. I can’t remember any of the titles, but I’d be able to sing them back to you because the tonic solfa was drilled into me! This was one of my favourites. I know it’s based on a folk melody, but I couldn’t tell you which one. Bartok and Kodaly collected a wealth of Maygar melodies, so it could possibly be based on one of those. Nice though, isn’t it?”
11. Rustavi Ensemble - Tsinskaro
"I first heard this in Kate Bush’s song Hello Earth, where it’s perfectly placed because Kate is a genius after all. I like how simple this piece is on one level, but not what it seems after a few listens. The accompanying harmony provides that wonderfully bare open sound that answers the solo melody throughout the piece. The melody, however, is dark. I feel like it’s withholding a huge amount of tension that’s trying to escape through the vocal embellishments. A lot of Georgian music I’ve listened to communicates a similar feeling.”
12. Sergei Rachmaninov - Praise the Lord, O My Soul, 2nd movement from the All Night Vigil
"The All-Night Vigil is an entirely a cappella piece set to Russian Orthodox texts. It is one of my favourite pieces, but I also return to it for scholarly, nerd-based reasons because the part-writing is so fluid, and it helps me with my own vocal writing. This movement is based on a Greek chant style of recitation, with an alto soloist.”
13. John Cage - Four2
"Four2 was composed 2 years before Cage’s death, part of his collection of ‘Number Pieces’. This piece is perfect for me because the harmonies are just given enough time to sit with you and seep into the bones. The harmonic changes, time-wise, seem to be spoton also. Total music of the spheres, if such a music exists.”
Limited Edition screenprinted t-shirt to accompanyThe Outer Church 28-track 2CD + DL compilation on Front & Follow. Available exclusively at the upcoming album launch events in Brighton, London and Manchester. More details here
Strictly limited first edition of 300 in letterpress packaging with inserts and poster by Alexander Tucker. Pre-order hereand here
Embla Quickbeam Crystal Sea Grumbling Fur Tilda Holds A Sword And Lilies Some Truths Some Truths #24 (Edit) Kemper Norton Melegez Pye Corner Audio Black Mist Black Mountain Transmitter Drawn In Silhouette Angkorwat I Hope He Had Position Normal Siegfried & Roy Ekoplekz Outercountry BrokenThree (TVO + Production Unit + Erstlaub) 96D Anna Meredith The Binks Hong Kong In The 60s Summer’s Bird Baron Mordant & Mr Maxted Roehampton By Night Graham Reznick Tomorrow In New York City Old Apparatus Patter VHS Head Freight Night The Wyrding Module Thrones Of Nitre Silver Pyre Frosted Tropic These Feathers Have Plumes An End To Drought Hacker Farm Bluebeam Robin The Fog Unnatural History Tidal Scry Baby Vindicatrix Huemmana Wrong Signals Waiting On A Beach Sone Institute Time Itself Paper Dollhouse Swans Time Attendant WHOA! IX Tab The Burned Wretch
Only recently, we warned you that young people in their hordes are dabbling in the Dark Arts. Here’s more evidence to support that claim. Occult Hand are Isablood and Henry, two horror film obsessives whose ectoplasm-drenched music incorporates elements of noise, found sound and improvisation. They may well be Brighton’s most exciting new outfit but that doesn’t excuse their blatant disregard for all that is good and proper. Or perhaps it does. We’re still mulling it over, actually. In any case, we collared the pair for a chat and invited them to put together a mixtape. Better the devil you know. Read on…
Hello Occult Hand. Please provide some information about the mix you’ve put together for The Outer Church.
1. Zardoz Opening Music Main Titles
Henry: "From John Boorman’s 70s sci-fi ‘flop’ Zardoz, starring Sean Connery running around in a mankini. I really love this movie though it took me several aborted attempts to watch and fully appreciate it. The musical theme running throughout it is based on the second movement from Beethoven’s 7th. A great version which sadly has never been available on a soundtrack or anywhere else. I would have put the original on but it was about nine minutes and you just can’t cut that shit up.”
Henry: "This is from the Hausu soundtrack. Fantastic movie, the soundtrack needs a reissue!"
Isablood: "I chose this because Hausu is probably my favourite film in the entire world."
3. Shopping - In Other Words
Isablood: “Shopping are my friends Billy, Andrew and Rachel. They kind of remind me of the brilliant post-punk band Devil’s Dykes. They’ve only been around for a few months and this song is just amazing. It’s coming out as a 7” in a few weeks.”
4. Emerson Quartet - Bartok: String Quartet #3, 1. Prima Parte
Henry: "From Hungarian composer Bela Bartok’s incredible string quartets, of which there are six, this is the first movement of the third. Recently my brother and I went to see the Emerson Quartet play this, along with pieces by Alban Berg and Janacek. It was amazing. Some of the most morose music I have heard. Real cut your throat stuff."
5. Harumi - Fire By The River
Isablood: “I don’t know much about Harumi. This record is from 1968, psychedelic Japanese stuff, it’s just enchanting.”
6. Pulsalamma - The Devil Lives In My Husbands Body
Henry: “Horrors of suburban life? You can almost dance to this.”
Isablood: “This song is SO GOOD!!!! You can DEFINITELY dance to it!!!! The lyrics are so funny, it was a toss up between this and Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat”
7. Hex On The Beach - Fire Mountain II
Isablood: “Hex On The Beach are from Australia, esoteric witchy catchy doomy gloomy. They did a cover of that Lady In The Radiator song In Heaven [from David Lynch’s Eraserhead] when I saw them last summer. I’ve always enjoyed the musical outputs of Maya - she was in Leopard Leg who were bloody fantastic [Agreed - OC], the Polly Shang Kuan Band and this brilliant band I played with once called Universal Orders, who did maybe 2 shows before splitting up. They were really special.”
8. Internet Club - Wave Temple
Henry: "I am wondering what people make of this Vapourwave stuff. While the name may sound a naff fad like Witch House or Chillwave, there is still something about this music I find really interesting. There are countless blogs where you can download this stuff - predominately digital releases only - for free. It’s a faceless music, almost like it has been made by no one. There is a plunderphonics vibe, being pilfered from 80s soul compact discs, shopping malls, waiting screens and other corporate muzak. Dead music repeating forever in stasis."
9. James Ferraro - Surveillance/Sounds From The Cam 2: Inside the Mutant Church (edit)
Henry: "Last year whenever people on the net discussed James Ferraro they always mentioned his Far Side Virtual LP and rarely went beyond it into his vast discography. Now, I really loved that record but he has so much other stuff too. This track is an edited segment from his KFC City 3099 Pt. 1: Toxic Spill CD-R. Some of the most incredible music. This stuff is the full on trip. Also check out music made under his Edward Flex moniker, titles like Do You Believe in Hawaii? and Maui Blackout/Liquid Bikini. Amazing stoner body builder workouts, bad 80s films, toxic waste, it’s all there. It’s like, what is that sound? What the hell is going on? For me, Ferraro’s music still has lots of mystery to it, something rare and exciting these days. A while ago I made a fake soundtrack to the original Grand Theft Auto PS1 game hugely influenced by KFC City but I never let anyone hear it or told anyone about it. Its called Mandarin Mayhem."
10. Scissor Girls - S-H-A-R-P-E-N-I-N-G
Isablood: "I have liked this band for yonks, they’re just brilliant. They’re a No Wave band from Chicago (I think), they were active in the early 90s, their live shows verged on performance art, they have really good videos. I think one of them was in Lake Of Dracula? So good."
11. Jaap Blonk & Dylan Nyoukis - Broken Magic
Henry: "From the collab LP Dubbletwee I downloaded on the Free Music Archive run by the WFMU people. WFMU is the greatest thing ever and the best radio station in the world! Anyway, I love this stuff. Music for boneheads! Hits the spot after a really hard day at work."
12. Goblin - Sleepwalking
Henry: "From the Phenomena soundtrack. What a movie, one of Argento’s best. There are also songs by Motorhead and Iron Maiden placed at really inappropriate times. I love all the Goblin soundtracks though this is a really 80s sounding one. It reminds me of 80s Tangerine Dream which I have been getting more into lately - Le Parc and all that Melrose years stuff."
Isablood: "Yeah the reason I chose this was because a) this is THE BEST Argento film and b) the music is SO FUNNY. This is obviously good, but like Henry says, some bits are just so inappropriate, it’s hilarious."
13. Blanche Blanche Blanche - Fireworks
Isablood: "I know very little about this band, I bought a tape on a whim and I really like them."
14. Krzysztof Penderecki: Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra - The Dream Of Jacob
Henry: "I wanted to just put Classical music on my half of the mix but there was just too much other stuff that I could not ignore. Penderecki is certainly one of my favourite composers though and I am dying to hear his stuff played live. It rarely seems to get programmed which is such a shame. Written in 1974, this piece was apparently a gift from the composer to Prince Rainier of Monaco celebrating the 25th anniversary of his accession. I wonder what he made of it. It is based on the biblical tale of Jacob and his dream in the desert of a ladder to heaven with the angels ascending and descending. It is full of foreboding and absolutely terrifying, much like his other work up till then. Is it any wonder that the word for dream in German is traum - relating to trauma?”
15. Valerie Dore - Its So Easy
Henry: ”Lastly some Italo-Disco. I just can’t help myself. I had obvious qualms putting old Val and Penderecki together next to each other but here we are. I love this stuff, seriously, and this is my favourite track by her. It is so funny, her singing is so off-key but my appreciation for this goes way beyond mere irony. Those synths, the cheap production, bad English yet total danceability are key to good Italo. This is a slow one however, for dancing close with that someone special. The Valerie Dore project was really sung by Dora Carofiglio and the model on the cover didn’t always match the singer on the record, a kind of thing typical of the genre. Make sure you check out her videos and dig that soft focus!”
Isablood: "I love this song because she’s so bad at singing! It’s such a dancefloor hit…ahem."
Thank you! So… what’s all this Occult Hand business about anyway?
Isablood/Henry: "Our friend Dylan who runs Chocolate Monk said he wanted the two of us to collaborate for a release on his label, but we were lazy about it… then he asked us to play with Thurston Moore for a Colour Out Of Space benefit - we could hardly say no to that!"
Is all your music improvised or is there an element of composition at work?
Isablood: "A bit of both? I tend to lean towards structure as I literally can’t function without it in anything I do. Henry’s the improv king. The music is often improvised but we pick out which samples/loops to make/use, for example I am really interested in abject theory in relation to horror, in particular Barbara Creed’s monstrous-feminine (in the horror film) - in one ‘composition’ we used a series of loops that link to those ideas, but it’s not a final piece, it’s an ongoing project/theme of mine I guess. When we play it’s mostly improvised but we have a rough idea of what’s going where. We want to get our cat Sissy Spacek more involved as we’ve made some recordings with her voice - the noises she makes are insane sometimes!!! We’d probably have the RSPCA after us though so I doubt that will happen."
Henry: "I am hardly the improv king! It is certainly what I am more used to in my music making. Occult Hand is the most structured thing I have done in a while in fact, though there is some improvisation within a certain framework. To be honest I cannot remember making some of the sounds and music. I find scrunched up loops that I made ages ago which sound as if they have been created by someone else, or an ‘unknown force’…!"
How did Occult Hand’s distinctive aesthetic develop?
Isablood: “It’s kind of a joke, the name comes from a secret society of American journalists in the 1960s who attempted to (secretly) get the phrase “It was as if an occult hand had…” in print. There’s a list on Wikipedia of where it has appeared, I think one appeared in January this year… anyway we thought it was funny. Initially we had some samples from ESP experiments and séances etc and so I guess it just worked, same with the video we made, which was footage of women being hypnotised and forced to confront events from their childhood. It was really important that we created a whole scene, but without taking ourselves too seriously. We have different outfits now that are a bit less DOOM AND GLOOM, except Henry had an allergic reaction to the make-up so we might have to re-think that. I love the theatrics of it all anyway, dressing up is so much fun to do. For me it’s as much about the performance as it is the music. We want to make a video (VHS) next.”
Henry: "A video with trailers, yes! We both love horror films. Most of my recent solo work has revolved around 80s horror films, Troma, that kind of thing. We want to bring that out in Occult Hand, and make it as slimy as possible."
Do you believe in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis?
Isablood: "I’d like to believe in all of that, I’m open to anything and I’m really interested in telepathy and things like that. I think it’s important to have a sense of humor about these things too. At the moment I’m reading a lot of astrology books for animals which are really interesting, and I have this amazing Sex Signs book by Judith Bennet - a ‘dramatic marriage of astrology, psychology and female sexuality’ written in 1980. It’s a bit dated but I find it fascinating and really funny. I started teaching myself palmistry too which I am getting better at, and I can read Tarot a little."
Henry: "Yeah maybe - the truth is out there, man! Seriously though, there is some cool stuff I have read about - spirit photography in sound as well as photographs. I like the idea of certain combined frequencies containing ‘artifacts’ and ‘voices’. This can certainly be true in white noise or static. In analogue radio terms the static noises between stations are referred to as ‘ghosts’. This ‘otherness’ - a netherworld you do not get with a digital set. Anyway I am sure there is an interesting project in there somewhere…"
Do you have first-hand experience of the paranormal? Do tell…
Isablood: "I did witness a witch get on a broomstick and fly off at the bottom of a field when I was about 15. We thought it was our Grandmother dressed up until she flew off. I’m not lying. Our friends have a ghost in their house in Lewes, I haven’t experienced it myself yet but a lot of my friends have felt a sudden chill and someone/thing leaning over them when they’re sleeping."
Henry: "I am not sure I believe in ghosts as I have never had any experience with this. Maybe I am not psychically attuned to those frequencies!!!"
What do you find terrifying?
Isablood: "The only things that really scares me is milk. I’ve never drunk it on it’s own and I have no idea what it tastes like but the idea of drinking it or even smelling it fills me with dread. As soon as I came out of the womb I rejected my mother’s milk. I HATE IT."
Henry: "Real stuff like going to the supermarket. Especially troubling if you do not have a list or plan of action. Unlike Issy though I like milk A LOT. I think it is good to do things that scare you. I once went to India for a month on my own and practically on a whim, which was terrifying at first but also very exciting."
Please rave about one book, one film and one record.
Isablood: "We’re both obsessed with horror films, yawn, I think we probably watch about ten a week. I can’t stop thinking about this film called Angst (aka Fear), by Gerald Kargl (1983). The film is based on the real case of the Austrian mass murderer Werner Kniesek. It’s amazing!!! It is probably THE most realistic/uncomfortable serial killer film I’ve ever seen and it features two of my favourite things – false teeth and an annoying dachshund. I suppose the premise is similar to that of Funny Games and home intruder type thrillers, it reminded me of Michael Haneke in its style."
Henry: "I don’t know, I watch too much crap probably. I want to watch Damon Packard’s Reflections Of Evil and Foxfur. The trailer for Foxfur is really funny and bewildering in a really great way. I can’t say I am amazed by a lot of new films but that is perhaps a boring point of view. I end up watching a lot of inconsequential 80s teen dramas and horrors as a result."
Isablood: "House Of Psychotic Women: An autobiographical Topography Of Female Neurosis In Horror and Exploitation Films by Kier-La Janisse. I haven’t quite finished it, but the topographical idea of exploring horror film from a positive female perspective is of real interest to me, there are so few positive portrayals of female neurosis in horror. This book highlights those experiences but at the same time comes from a very intimate autobiographical angle."
Henry: "At the moment I am reading Thomas Pynchon’s last novel, Inherent Vice. I love that guy. Gravity’s Rainbow is a favourite."
Isablood: "I haven’t bought any records recently, the last thing I got was Blood Stereo’s I Was Tucked Up Eyeless Inside A Fish CD-R. It comes with all these brilliant collage postcards that Karen Constance made, her paintings/collages are amazing. The Halloween III Soundtrack is so good, I love all John Carpenter’s soundtracks but this has to be the top. Death Waltz Records re-release loads of amazing horror soundtracks on vinyl with lovely new lithographed artwork. They’re releasing The Devil Rides Out soon which I’m really excited about. To be honest living with Henry drives me mad as far as buying Italo-Disco records is concerned. His brother put it well once when he said, ‘His record buying habit rivals my coke habit’.”
Henry: "Too many I guess. Most of what I buy are Italo-Disco singles. I just ordered three last night. It’s not fair on other kinds of music but what can I do? I am a guy obsessed. I have a lot of other cool stuff to get through – some Blood Stereo CD-Rs, got a couple of Borbetomagus CDs through the post today. A stack of tapes a friend found in the street and gave to me. I need to go through them all. Sometimes it is overwhelming how much music I acquire and is available on the internet. I have so many lists. I really want to get into Italian Prog, more African Soukous music….the time, you know? I have to pace myself."
Do you have some releases planned for the near future?
Isablood/Henry: "Yes quite a few planned in the next few months - We already have a tape Illustrious Pairing on 666ties Records, we’re doing a CD-R for Chocolate Monk, a tape on Night School Records and a 12" on our friend Scott from Sealings/Pheromoans label Untimely Demise."
It’s an undisputed fact that more and more young people are getting involved in the occult. But are they aware of the dangers inherent in asking a Shadow Person back to their house for a glass of cream soda or playing Knock Down Ginger in a registered thin place? Possibly not. So when we encountered the music of Swedish duo Death And Vanilla we were immediately concerned that their sweet but sinister pop music might encourage impressionable listeners to dabble in the Dark Arts. Although Anders and Marleen were quick to reassure us with their easy charm and impeccable Scandinavian manners, we would nevertheless advise caution when listening to the mixtape they have assembled exclusively for The Outer Church. You could be inadvertently welcoming The Hag into your abode! And that would be just awful. Download Death And Vanilla’s mixtape below and read on if you dare.
So, Death And Vanilla. Who are you and what on Earth do you think are you doing?
Anders: ”Death And Vanilla are Marleen and Anders. We’re clean, good natured, well behaved and all around nice people from Sweden.”
Marleen: ”We’re like rabbits you know, just sniffing around, checking things out.”
This mix you have put together - what’s the story with that?
Marleen: ”It’s a mix of songs and sounds that we like and that inspire us. There’s a bit of psych, some electronic library music, French 60s pop, psychedelic Italian OST, swedish 70s Progg etc.”
Anders: ”There’s some very melodic catchy stuff, some psychedelic stuff and some experimental stuff. There are vibraphones, moogs, great groovy rhythms, fuzz guitar, cool bass lines, Mellotrons and lots of echo and spring reverb. Put all of this into a meat grinder and out comes Death And Vanilla!”
The name of the group is both sweet and macabre! What made you choose it?
Anders: ”We had a list of names and they were all quite boring so we started moving the words around and came up with some new combinations. Death And Vanilla stood out. And it was either that or Small Fluffy Rabbits or Pants Are On Fire! so it was an easy choice in the end. We actually had the name before any music was written.”
Your music is often very unnerving. Have you gotten yourselves all mixed up in the occult?
Anders: ”We do like the supernatural and the occult as aesthetic sources of inspiration, but we think our music is very melodic and very pop. There are no occult themes in the lyrics at all really [A likely story - OC]. The lyrics always come last when we write songs and we’re basically just trying to find words that supports the melody in the best possible way and that also fits the mood of the music. The melody is the most important.”
Marleen: ”We like to experiment with different sounds to give the music an ‘otherworldly’ feel. To combine found sounds, abstract noises, samples from films etc with sweet melodies is something we really like. ‘Atmosphere’ and ‘feel’ are very important when we make music.”
Is it your intention to corrupt the young folks with pop music whose content may encourage them to dabble in witchcraft?
Marleen: ”Yes, clean, good-natured, well-behaved, all around nice witchcraft from Sweden. Ha ha, no you’re probably thinking of the swedish hardrock band Ghost, that’s their mission. We just want to eat cinnamon buns, watch cute animals on YouTube and make cool music. With subliminal messages that corrupt the minds of young people.”
What kind of books and films have you been reading and watching?
Marleen: ”Like most people we love films and books. Some of our favorite films are Picnic At Hanging Rock, Don’t Look Now, The Innocents, The Cremator, Repulsion, Le Orme etc. We take lots of inspiration from films like these that kind of pull you into their world and stay in your head for days after you’ve seen them. We like our music to be like that. You know that if you close your eyes you’re transported to some other place.”
Anders: ”I read all kinds of stuff but some of my all time favorite books are The Magus by John Fowles, The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and two Swedish HP Lovecraft omnibuses called Cthulhu 1 and Cthulhu 2.”
Your videos and sleeves are awash with occult imagery. Who is responsible for them?
Marleen: ”Good lord, are they? Well what do you know…”
Anders: ”The visuals are very important to us and we rather they look homemade or amateurish but have the right feel to them, than to hire someone with no connection to the band who just comes up with some “nice” graphics that has no feel to it. We want to take the listener on a trip and it starts right with the videos and record sleeves. All the graphics are made by me and so are most of the videos.”
You’re based in Malmö, Sweden. Is that a hotbed of witchery and occultism?
Anders: ”Yes, I met Satan on the way to the supermarket this morning! I grew up near a place where they used to hang people in the Middle Ages. The Gallows Hill was the name of the place. That could be a good name for a Doom Metal or Witch House band possibly.”
Marleen: ”I once attended a night time Sabbath [Aha! - OC] in a park in Malmö. My friend was into that kind of thing and I just went along to see what it was all about. I found it quite dull though. My grandmother and some of her friends meet every now and then to hold seances in the basement of a council building. I’ve never attended but perhaps I should. Malmö is good place to live, it’s a quite small city but has a big city feel to it, and there are lots of things going on all the time. It’s a very multicultural place with lots of people from all over the world and has many beautiful parks. It’s also a quite cheap place to live. One of the appeals of Malmö is the closeness to the European continent which makes you look south to Europe for inspiration, rather than north to the rest of Sweden.”
What scares you?
Anders/Marleen: ”Pitbull dogs, the two old guys on the balcony in The Muppet Show, early mornings, Phil Spector’s hair, spiders, North Korea, Cthulhu, earthquakes, horsemeat, being abducted by aliens, the strange man who cuddles pigeons every day near our apartment (we’re just waiting for him to bite their heads off) and… pitbull dogs.”
I dare say you have some evil plans up your sleeve. Care to share them?
Anders/Marleen: ”We’re planning to come to the UK soon and steal all your candy so watch out. Give us those Percy Pigs!”
Doris You Never Came Closer The New Wave The Shade Of The Sun Piero Umiliani Sequenza Psichadelica Persona Introducao-Monte Francois De Roubaix Mauvaise Nouvelle On Ne Part Plus Giampiero Boneschi New Situation Cecil Leuter Electro Sounds No 2 Shabazz Palaces Yeah You Träd, Gräs Och Stenar Sanningens Silverflod Gerard Manset Animal On Est Mal Ennio Morricone Come Maddalena Francisco Semprun & Michel Christodoulides Bric À Brac Piero Umiliani Jeunesse Problematique No 2 Krzysztof Komeda Cul-De-Sac (Orchestral) Les Roche Martin Tu As Peur Du Bruit Mario Molino Jerk Beat Älgarnas Trädgård Framtiden Är Ett Svävande Skepp, Förankrat I Forntiden
Ohio-based label Ranodebuted late last year with the subterranean hum of the Paradiba EP by Polish producer Synek. We described it as “a crawl through the long dark ventilation shaft of the soul.” This was followed by Keep Sheila On Acid's You Will Be The Same Tomorrow As You Were Yesterdayand dsic's Tiamat/Taniwha. Though the physical editions of all three releases have sold out they are still available to download from the label’s Bandcamp. On the strength of their output to date, Rano look set to take their place alongside similarly forward-thinking DIY labels such as The Geography Trip, Further, Broken20 and Cleaning Tapes. Here the label presents its exclusive OC Confessional mix…
"The concept behind the mix is loosely based on our Rano Radio sessions, which we hosted on Mixlrfor a short while. We used the broadcast to show our appreciation to the artists and labels we enjoy, and to let the world know what type of music we wanted to be involved with as a label. We thought it’d be a good way to let people know early on that we love a wide range of music. Our goal was to release unique sounds from all over the globe, not just from one specific genre or region. We thought the broadcast was an effective and fun way to convey that concept to people and connect with fans and artists.
"Our mix for The Outer Church aims to continue that tradition and showcase some of the music we enjoy, give listeners a glimpse at some of what we’re brewing over here at Rano. Many of the tracks featured in this mix are either recently released or due out soon from people we know.
"We open with a field recording from Fakepop entitled Birds And Crickets Market. What I love about field recordings is how they paint a picture in my mind and take me someplace. I try to imagine an environment just based on the sounds I hear. When you read a book and you get sucked into this other world, I get a similar sense of that with field recordings. I especially enjoy the bit in this recording when you can hear someone asking the artist if he or she is recording. I can imagine them sitting there with a Zoom H4n in hand just giving a nod and smile. This track was used to put the listener in a setting in which the rest of the mix could be built from.
"At the very moment you hear the words ‘are you recording’ in the Fakepop track, I bring in the second tune by Cementimental entitled When Civilization Ends, The Fun Begins. It’s a short piece but I like how it brings a little chaos into this part of the mix. It builds off Fakepop’s recording of all the commotion at the market and is a nice juxtaposition to the softness of our third selection by Stephan Mathieu. My favorite part of the track is the quote at the very end, ‘Man is an instance’. It gives the listener a powerful thought to dwell on as the emotive piano notes enter your ears and the chirping birds fade off into the distance.
"Next up is a song by Stephan Mathieu entitled Imagination. Much like The Outer Church, Stephan gave our label a lot of support and encouragement from the very beginning. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Stephan as an artist and as label owner. If you’ve purchased any music from his Schwebung label, then you know he has high standards. It’s something I admire in this digital age where many seem to take the cheap and quick approach to things. Even his digital formats are of the highest quality, right down to the high resolution artwork. I love this song and I’m lucky to have it! Stephan posted it on Soundcloud for download as FLAC for a very short while, and I didn’t hesitate to snatch it up. I’m glad I did because I think it’s since been removed. It is a beautiful addition to our mix and I love the emotion it brings. We wanted to use something of Stephen’s as a way to thank him for his help to us. Imagination pretty much plays in its entirety without too much overlap from the other audio, but at the very ending I layer in a fresh tune from the The Revenant Sea.
“It’s Been Following The Plane Since Moscow is brand new from The Revenant Sea and is available from our good friends at Auditory Field Theory. Besides the fact that it’s a gorgeous tune released by a label we are acquainted with, I wanted to use a track by The Revenant Sea because we were first introduced to each other by The Outer Church (although the introduction was to his alter ego Wizards Tell Lies). I skipped over the beginning of this track, because I thought the middle of it sounded better being mixed into the end of Imagination. I encourage everyone to have a listen to the track in its entirety on The Revenant Sea’s debut cassette.
"So here we are, four tracks deep into our mix and you still haven’t heard from a single Rano artist… until now (8m 43s). Our next selection is a small portion of an unreleased 'sketch' from the duo known as MICROFL▼RSCNCE. Independently they are known as Micromelancolié and Wolf Fluorescence. They worked together on a split tape on A Beard Of Snails Records and have recently merged to create MICROFL▼RSCNCE. The first of three tapes is out now on Patient Sounds Intl. The second tape will be available soon on Already Dead Tapes and their third and final tape will be released by Rano early in the summertime. We’re also working closely with the other labels to provide our customers with a few complete sets of this series. We’re glad to be working with MICROFL▼RSCNCE, and love how their tracks seem to unfold and constantly evolve. If you skip ahead on one of their tunes, you may wonder how they got from point A to point B, but the transitions have a very smooth and natural progression. I love their use of soft and distorted synth layers in this particular sketch. I’m not sure if this sketch will be released in its current state so it’s a real treat for me to be able to share this ‘work in progress’ with you.
"As we fade out of the MICROFL▼RSCNCE sketch, The Revenant Sea still fizzles along in the background as the foghorn-like sounds of Bembridge Harbour by Emptywhale make their way into our mix. I can’t remember exactly how I came across Emptywhale but I know I’ve been a fan of his work since first listen. I love his treatment of the vocals throughout this mellow piece of music. This track is taken from some demos Emptywhale has been pulling together for his third album entitled ‘Some Hollow Lullabies’, which I’m told is due to be released in a few months. He also has two free releases available on the Haze netlabel.
"Bembridge Harbour rolls right into a nice little remix by Antoniak/Navmort. I don’t know much about Antoniak/Navmort, but they have a wide range of music on Soundcloud and Bandcamp that I highly recommend. I found this remix of the RSS B0YS track 0MG as a ‘name your price’ download on Bandcamp. I really like the way the vocals on this tune work with the vocals of Emptywhale, while bringing in the first solid beat of the mix. I let this beat ride alone for a little while, only to have it smothered by the sinister drones of oh/ex/oh, one of my favorite finds from last year. I’m not sure if I stumbled upon him through Manchester label The Geography Trip or the OC, but I was blown away by what I heard. His V/H/S Unreleased Horror Themes is awesome from beginning to end, and the Extant album on The Geography Trip is one of my favorite records of 2012. oh/ex/oh was kind enough to share two tracks with me for this mix. The Necronomicon and Dark Moors both come from his The House In The Woods soundtrack and are mixed seamlessly together for that collection. I wanted to use these two tracks exactly like he intended them to be heard on his soundtrack, so he sent me the two tracks pre-mixed. These are the only two tracks on our mix that weren’t mixed by me.
"The pulsing ending of Dark Moors melts into an edit of Russell M Harmon’s Amidst Wolves by Synek. Our next cassette (due early April) will be Russell’s We Are Failed. He released this album as a digital last year but wanted to do a physical release with Rano. We loved his album and wanted to produce it, but wanted to offer something brand new to our fans. We talked it over and decided to commission remixes from several artists and offer a completely remixed version of the album on the B-Side of our cassette. This tune by Synek is one of those submissions but unfortunately (even though we love it) will not be released on the tape. Instead we chose a remix by oh/ex/oh. Since the edit by Synek will not be available on our cassette, we included it in this mix. We still want people to hear it.
"As Amidst Wolves comes to a close we bring in a fresh tune from our good friend Keep Sheila On Acid entitled The Prophets Silence Is Deafening. This is from the recent Erotic Theology cassette from Auditory Field Theory. You may remember Keep Sheila On Acid from our second cassette. We really like The Prophets Silence… because it’s not like other tunes we’ve heard from Keep Sheila On Acid This is much more structured than we’re used to, but it still maintains the psychedelic feel we know and love. Keep Sheila On Acid is one of the reasons we launched the Rano label to begin with.
"As percussive elements of The Prophets Silence Is Deafening fade off into the ether, the vastness of I Watched The Mountain Move, With Me In Its Path by Lumbers takes us over. We didn’t do this track justice by putting it in our mix. Only a small portion of it was actually utilized. It’s another one of our track selections I would strongly recommend you listen to in its entirety. Sometimes I have an idea of how a song will work within a mix but once I hear it I realise it doesn’t work like I thought. This is one of those cases. I ultimately decided it sounded better using only a portion of it rather than the whole thing. You’ll have to do a bit of homework if you want to listen to the rest.
"Metallic hits and tribal drums from Clay Wilson’s Pfizing pierce through the drones of Lumbers as field recorded rustling and bird sounds of Duna by Tension Co echo beneath. I recently purchased Clay Wilson’s album from Styles Upon Styles label in NYC. It’s the second installment from their Bangers And Ash series, a very brilliant concept at that. The Bangers side is more of a danceable style of music while the Ash side encourages the artist to take a more experimental approach. The result is a hell of an album and a dynamic view into an artist’s creativity.
"As I mentioned before we have Duna by Tension Co playing pretty much the entire time alongside Pfizing but we gave it some reverb to keep it sounding more distant. I really wanted to use this Tension Co track to reintroduce the sound of the birds that we used in the beginning. Sometimes I like to have some repeated elements throughout a mix just to give it a cohesive feel. Perhaps it has to do with my background in design but I always feel if you use an element in only one place it kind of stands out like a sore thumb rather than becoming united within a composition. I think the exotic birds sound perfect with the tribal drums of Clay’s track.
"We let Duna ride on by itself for a bit before Hundred by Loam creeps in. (41m 47s). We received this track from our friends at Cleaning Tapes, a VHS/Tape/Digital label from the UK. We don’t really have much info to share about Cleaning Tapes or Loam since they are both keeping their cards close to their chests. What we do know is that Cleaning Tapes has been ramping up their Soundcloud page with new music and we believe we’ll see a release from them soon. They are a label we’ve been following for well over a year now and we can’t wait to see what they come up with. They’ve announced a pretty impressive lineup of artists, including Wanda Group, Huerco S, Bantam Lions, Sagat, DTCPU, Microburst and several others we thoroughly enjoy. We talked to them about donating a track to us from their label and they sent us this track by Loam. She is an interesting producer I hope to hear more of.
"Next up is Freeze Time by Larry Crywater, a newcomer to the Rano family. Larry has been working hard sending us a barrage of music ranging from experimental and noise, to house and techno. We think Larry Crywater brings a unique sound to our label and our mix. I especially love the way he changes this track up in the middle and goes from the banging drums into some fuzzy ambience. It really made a nice entry point to mix in our next selection entitled 800mts by Reverse Projection. This track has (what I assume to be) some field recorded dripping elements that make it sound like you’re lost in a wet cave. Along with the mechanical clangs and industrial sounds going on around, I get the sense that I’ve wandered into a place I probably shouldn’t be and love the way the track blends into our next selection by Primitive Ear entitled Another Planet Up His Sleeve.
"Again it seems we went for a recording with some bird sounds, although I chose this one more for its mechanical breathing effect. This tune by Primitive Ear is available for free download on the Auditory Field Theory digital compilation and brings us close to the end of our mix. Last but not least is a tune from Flowers entitled North To The Tundra.
"Flowers is an older alias of Bantam Lions who recently released a 12” with Scenery Records and has some work forthcoming from Cleaning Tapes, as we mentioned earlier. I have so many tracks from Bantam Lions that it was very hard for me to choose only one. I narrowed things down after many listens and decided to use North To The Tundra. I love this selection for the ending of our mix because it’s fun, funky and has a positive vibe. I wanted to be sure to include a tune by Bantam Lions because he’s an artist I enjoy and we featured him on one of our first Rano Radio broadcasts. It also helps that I have a healthy selection of his work to choose from.
"In closing I’d like to thank all of the artists and labels who have contributed music, The Outer Church for being such a gracious host and all of you for checking out this mix from Rano. We truly appreciate your support!"
Fakepop Birds And Crickets Market Cementimental When Civilization Ends, The Fun Begins Stephan Mathieu Imagination The Revenant Sea It’s Been Following The Plane Since Moscow MICROFL▼RSCNCE Sketch 01 (Unreleased Excerpt) Emptywhale Bembridge Harbour RSS B0YS 0MG (Reshaped by Antoniak/Navmort) oh/ex/oh The Necronomicon + Dark Moors Russell M Harmon Amidst Wolves (Synek Sheep’s Clothing Edit) Keep Sheila On Acid The Prophets Silence Is Deafening Lumbers I Watched The Mountain Move, With Me In Its Path Clay Wilson Pfizing Tension Co Duna Loam Hundred Larry Crywater Freeze Time Reverse Projection 800mts Primitive Ear Another Planet Up His Sleeve Flowers North To The Tundra
The music created by April Larson is by turns sinister, violent, mournful and disorientating. It creeps like the night stalker. It hovers like a low fog. It shudders like a spooked infant. It crackles and vibrates with a weird energy comparable to that of Hacker Farm - with whom Larson has recently collaborated - but it has its own unique spectral identity. The official word? To wit: “April Larson is the surface world representative of a tribe of nāga located along the coast of Louisiana. She listens to music through customized headphones with speakers placed along the jaw and translates music into sense-data through a collection of three interlaced brains. Somewhere between Henry David Thoreau and Crawford Tillinghast, she continues her research in oneironautic listening and regularly delivers lectures on relevant tone-clusters to beehives and ghosts.” So there. Here, Larson presents a brand new track and a short four-part mix which serves as a fine introduction to her work accompanied by some highly relevant ruminations concerning dreams, gnosticism and creativity…
"I’m very private and it seems rather personal to talk about one’s dreams, in words at least, so that’s where the tracks come in, I think. My first album How Do You Know My Name? is based entirely on dreams I’ve had, some of them loosely connected. The vinyl crackle sample seemed appropriate for creating a dreamy atmosphere. Haywire is the listeners’ unanimous favorite track, I’ve found, probably because it’s got the most recognizable piano, but Eyes Like Embers is my personal favorite. It originated from a very vivid dream in which I met someone I believed to be the Devil, because of his ‘eyes like embers’. He and I spoke for a very long time about very vague things, and he had a wonderfully caustic sense of humor.
"Harbor House is another dream excerpt, a physical house that’s not exactly haunted, but not benignly inanimate, either. Harbor House Exploration Number One is one of many (sixty or so) exploration, experimentation and recollection tracks that didn’t end up on the final version of the A History That Never Occurred album. The spoken portion: ‘The fact that there exists no clear photograph of him; that every attempt to record him amounts to endless tapes of distortion and static…’
“It Was Misplaced (Fuzzy Angels Version) was the original title track for my second album. Eventually, however, I cleaned this track up nice and pretty. This static-y version became a bonus track that only made it onto every other copy.
“Voiding The Contract (Not Raw) is a version of the same track on my SoundCloud page, that track being an example of my foray into incorporating raw data, databending, etc. This is the original ambient version, or base, of the finalized track. The ideas behind the more recent tracks are attachment, revenge, sacrifices, demons and sigils and blood magic, what we perceive as freedom, and how we so often forfeit our souls to redeem our hearts.
"The above image is a stamp I carved several years ago of an ouroboros - the perfect image, in my opinion, as I have a fondness for snakes (I have six of them including pythons and a boa, they are my scaly children) and the symbol itself is so gnostically meaningful.
"I’m interested in the symbols of gnosticism/hermeticism, the parables and occult fiction. The last thing I read was Philip K Dick’s Exegesis at Christmas, I could only read about ten pages at a time because the abundance of ideas and interconnectivity was almost too much.
"I contacted Darren for copies of his albums and it was really my first introduction to noise/drone music, and it was life-changing! It opened up whole new avenues for meditation and fiction and integrating music with dreams and reality. Darren’s packages were beautiful and he was so nice and open about his processes of making music. Eventually I met up with him and a lot of his friends in Austin TX, where he put on a lovely live show with creepy projected videos of cackling CG heads on the wall of a beautiful wooden barn/studio.
"So, slowly, I started talking to his friends and supporters and one of them was Kek-W, whose farmpunk ways were very appealing as I grew up in the rural south, I got a copy of Hacker Farm’s album Poundland and loved it, etc etc. He asked a few days ago if I could contribute some words. I’d done so for Darren and I was happy to be of service! To be part of their amazing art is just… there aren’t words. I really and truly credit Kek and Darren for changing my life in such a positive and meaningful and artistic way, it’s given me a wonderful creative outlet. I’d always taken photos and written stories and tinkered with an old Casio and acoustic guitar, but blending all the arts together is fantastic.”
Download an exclusive new track recorded especially for The Outer Church here
The Outer Church stumbled into the waterlogged world of North Yorkshire’s Raining Leaf via their split release with the incomparable Paper Dollhouse. This was followed by the icily melancholic Frozen Landscapes EP and the ambitious 55-minute composition And Elohim Created - both released, like the split, through the artist’s own Chapel Yard imprint. Powerfully atmospheric and accompanied by the bleakly gorgeous monochrome photography that has become the label’s trademark, Raining Leaf’s music enfolded us in a beautiful gloom from which escape was neither likely nor desirable. We surfaced from our moist reverie just long enough to dash off a hasty missive and in no time at all a mix and interview materialised in the narthex…
Can you share some of the thoughts and feelings that went into the creation of your Ambient Purgatory mix?
"I’ve basically just picked things I think are really beautiful. The opening track is Venus by Don Yule, I sampled and reworked it right at the very end of one of my tracks called Los albores del Norte. So I thought the original can go first on this mix. Venus was released on Domestic who have put out two Raining Leaf albums. I poached Rubik from Domestic for an EP on my label so I have included one of his tracks along with a Raining Leaf one from the same release. Everything else on the mix is just stuff that I listened to a lot. I’ve been a dEUS fan since Worst Case Scenario so a song from that record is on there. To people who know me I guess there are no real surprises, if there is then maybe it would be Supercute. I heard that song on some online radio thing about six months ago and thought it would be by some freak-folk band so was very surprised to find out it wasn’t. I’d love their voices on my music. I don’t really listen to music that is similar to Raining Leaf, I don’t sit at home listening to drone or soundscapes or anything like that but it seems to be what I end up making. I really don’t know where it comes from. When I first started I wanted to do something along the lines of Múm, gnac and Labradford but I have no idea how to do it and just seem to have ended up where I am now wherever this is, some kind of ambient purgatory. So there are tracks on the mix by all three of those. I have listened to Labradford’s E Luxo So a thousand times and never tired of it so taken something from there too. The album has no track titles, just a list of recording credits which is why that track is called Dulcimers Played By Peter Neff. Strings Played. Or just the third track as I’ve always called it."
What inspired the creation of your 55-minute long track, And Elohim Created?
"Trouble sleeping. I’d made a couple of really ambient tracks to put on my ipod and help me try to drift off but they weren’t working too well. I noticed that one led seamlessly into the next though, and I just built it up from there really. Doing an album as one track was something I’d thought about doing on an earlier piece called Los albores del Norte but in the end I didn’t have the confidence to go through with it and instead it became the focal point of the Winter Solstice album. I’ve been collecting samples for a while, some field recordings, bits taken from freesound and places like that and thought I’d just try it and see how far I get with it. After it got to the seventeen minute mark something seemed to click. The titled is based on And Elohim Created Adam by William Blake. It’s meant to sound poetic rather than arrogant.”
Describe what your hometown means to you.
"Well my hometown is in Lincolnshire but I haven’t lived there for nearly 15 years. I now live up the road in York. It’s a nice enough place but I haven’t felt too much of a connection here to be honest. I actually prefer it going towards Scarborough and Whitby, near the moors. I do miss my hometown but I outgrew it. Every now and then I get a bit homesick and have to remind myself why I left there in the first place. All my happiest memories are there though, so that’s what it means to me really. Most of what I love about it has gone, its character has been knocked out. Every time I go back something changes and it’s rarely for the better."
So you feel a deep connection to the North Yorkshire landscape?
"Absolutely, It’s tough to describe though. I had the same connection to the peak district in Derbyshire when I was a child. Memories obviously play a vital part in these connections but I’ve always known I’d end up in North Yorkshire, It’s Raining Leaf country."
Presumably weather and atmospheric conditions are a major source of inspiration for the project?
"Yes they are, I began using sample/field recordings of wind, rain and storms initially to create a sense of atmosphere and I really love hearing them in music so I thought I’d make it a continual theme throughout Raining Leaf. Sometimes it feels like something is missing in my music and I stop to think about it for a moment and then realise it’s the sound of waves lapping on the shore, the wind through the trees or a birdsong. I’ve become quite attached to these sounds now. The titles come from whatever my mood is on the night I complete a track. It’s usually about 1am when I finish something so I just think of the night sky or some kind of imagery which the piece of music has provoked in my mind. The name Raining Leaf came to me a few years before any music was ever made. I was listening to Sonic Youth’s Murray Street while waiting at a bus stop one evening, and it literally started raining leaves from some nearby trees. The song playing was Rain On Tin and my train of thought just switched to Rain On Leaf (which ended up becoming the name of the debut album) and then to raining leaf. It stuck with me for ages and when I tried to form a band with a friend about two years later I picked the name Raining Leaves. We never got going though so that idea was abandoned. Eventually I started to make music on my own and Raining Leaf seemed the natural name to use. Around this point I was regularly getting hit in the face by random leaves and every time it happened I just thought to myself ‘raining leaf’. I was walking home along the river in York one afternoon and a giant one slapped me right across the face really hard, and I just thought ‘this is getting stupid, it has to be a sign.’ And Elohim created Raining Leaf. That’s really how it all began.”
You recently released a split EP with Paper Dollhouse. Do you feel a particular kinship with their work?
"I’d read an interview Astrud had done and noticed that the way she’d recorded her album was very similar to how I was recording my stuff, using the built-in skype microphone to record and little things like that. We were doing something in a similar style but creating something quite different to each other. When we put it alongside each other it fitted together perfectly. We met each other when we were teenagers but I haven’t seen her for years now so it was nice to reach out to her again."
Are there any other current artists whose work you feel close to?
"Not really, probably just Rubik because I’ve been allowed to hear some of the new stuff which is excellent, it’s really dark. Evil genius."
Your artwork - as with all the artwork on Chapel Yard’s releases - is exceptionally evocative. Is it your own work?
"Ninety-nine per cent of it is. On a couple of the very early releases I used public domain images but at that point Chapel Yard was just an umbrella to release my stuff under than a label. It took until about the tenth release before I got some genuine continuity into the artwork with the black and white theme and started to take it all more seriously. Most of the photos are in or around the York area and are things I see on a regular basis so when I walk the fifteen minutes from the city centre to my house a pattern develops. When I get to St Mary’s Abbey it’s the cover of EP2. Four minutes around the corner I get to Scarborough bridge, as I cross it and look back towards the city it’s the sleeve of Frozen Landscapes. Step off the bridge and backtrack slightly and it becomes the cover of Dead Of Winter. Go about a hundred metres along the river and you’ll get to EP1 and a bit further along Cinder Lane it’s the cover from Silver Morning. Walk along the field from there and you’ll get to where I took the image for And Elohim Created. I might even design a Chapel Yard treasure map when I’ve done a few more of them. Plant clues at the location of each photograph or something.”
How would you describe the Chapel Yard aesthetic?
"I’m not entirely certain myself what the aesthetic is, I’m just playing everything by ear really. A lot of releases have been spontaneous, the Paper Dollhouse EP took the longest to get together, from agreeing to it and releasing it I’d put out a Raining Leaf mini album and a full album of completely new material none of which had even been conceived when the idea of the EP was suggested. It only took just over a month to get together which is still no time really. That probably gives you an idea of how obsessively I work on Raining Leaf.
"Musically, it just has to fit. There’ll be drone releases and hopefully some electronica kind of stuff, all depends who wants to work with it. I do everything myself which isn’t that much. I do no press. I drop no emails to anybody about new releases, I depend on word of mouth because it’s how I’d like it to be. I’m not here to play the game, I tweet and post on Facebook and then leave it for anyone who chooses to share it or not. Physical releases will all be homemade, there’ll be no sending CDs or tapes off to pressing companies or whatever people do. Just all done by me, in my house. A cottage industry."
What are your plans for the label?
"I’m currently doing some Paper Dollhouse/Raining Leaf CDs for EP2 and will make a few of EP1 which featured Rubik. Instead of making separate CDs for Layers and Silver Morning I’ve compiled them onto an album called Tales Of Industry and will do a CD run of that too. Then there’s EP3 which will hopefully be ready in the not too distant future, which will be another split EP with another one to follow that. Maybe even something without Raining Leaf, will just have to see what happens. I’ll be going down the digital distribution route for a year too just to see the effect it will have on sales. As for Raining Leaf, I’m not sure. In April it will be 12 months since the first EP came out, so in the first ten months I think I’ve put out 79 tracks if I include the four cover versions I made available on Soundcloud. So maybe I’ll aim for one hundred before then. Or maybe I’ll just call it a day after one year. Or I’ll actually take my time for once and write a classical album.”
Don Yule Venus múm K/half Noise gnac Observed vs Expected Hacia Dos Veranos Despertar Massive Attack Weather Storm Malcolm Middleton Crappo The Clown Rubik Drifted Away Bowery Electric Over And Over Supercute Haunted Hostel dEUS Right As Rain Raining Leaf Odda Zita Swoon Ragdoll Blues The For Carnation Alfredo’s Welcome Labradford Dulcimers played by Peter Neff. Strings played
Somerset’s Hacker Farm have been taking things apart and putting them back together all weird since 2009. Their new album UHF (Exotic Pylon Records) has gained considerable acclaim for its unique strain of confrontational DIY electro-rural noise, while its self-released 2011 predecessor Poundland is equally worthy of investigation, not least for its excellent use of crows. What a carrion! Here, ahead of their appearance at the sold-out February 16th edition of The Outer Church in Brighton with Kemper Norton and IX Tab, Hacker Farm’s Kek-W and Farmer Glitch pay tribute in word and sound to one of their formative influences: Mave.
"Mavis Slater - or ‘Mave’ as we call her - is a face familiar to generations of music-lovin’ Yeovilfolk. She’s like our favourite aunt or something.
"Mave is Mutter Slater’s mum - you know, that bloke from Stackridge -but we all know her as the lady who, over the years, has sold us some of our best-loved, most treasured records and CDs. She’s part of our landscape, our musical lineage. Everyone round here who ever played in a band owes her big-time - everyone! - she’s our accidental muse, the woman who provided the coal that fuelled our respective fires. Just ask Polly Harvey, or Mark Wilson from The Mob, or Tim Goldsworthy of Mo’ Wax/DFA infamy, or Wayne and Bruce from The Pineapple Thief: everyone knows and loves Mave. We all owe her an unspoken debt.
"Now in her mid-eighties, Mavis is the engine that underpins Acorn Records, its beating heart. Chris Lowe might pretend to run the shop, but we all know who really pulls the strings! Two, three times a week Mave is there, busy behind the counter. And whenever we see her the years melt away.
"I first consciously encountered her in the mid-70s back when she worked in Radio House, Princes Street. It was an oddly cool shop: old school TVs, stereos and radiograms in the front; albums, singles and listening-booths at the back. Stockhausen albums were stacked up next to Baker-Gurvitz Army and the Edgar Broughton Band: a vinylspotter’s wet-dream. To us snotty-nosed rural kids, Mave was “that funny lady”, the one who’d make an insightful and deliciously sarky remark when you waved some crappy album under her nose and demanded she played it. She was both knowledgeable and knowing, street-smart and a good laugh; in retrospect, Mave must’ve had the patience of a saint, dealing with all us cocky, annoying, hyperhormonal teenagers conducting our uncool teenage transactions in the shop, but never actually buying anything. Though, actually…
"I bought Neu ‘75 and Zappa’s One Size Fits All on the same day in a Radio House sale from Mave. Still have the same copies. Still adore them.
"A couple of years later, we would pile into Radio House every Saturday and rummage through the box of Punk seven-inches, elbowing each other out the way to get at the good stuff. I heard Donna Summer’s I Feel Love for the first time in one of the Radio House listening-booths. They were painted black, scuffed and decorated with the torn remains of promotional stickers and labels. Moroder’s sequencers pumped away on the tinny-sounding little speakers and my friend Ken said, “This is the future, man. One day, all records will sound like this. This and Kraftwerk…” And I nodded in sagely-uncool teenage agreement.
"Ah, those listening-booths! People used to get pissed-up in them on tinnies, pee in them, throw up, cop off and even, sometimes, try and have a surreptitious quickie. It’s true: Mave told me she once caught a couple at it.
"Rewind briefly back to the mid-70s and a couple of hippies - Rob Bacon and Chris Lowe - hit town after finishing college in London and open a tiny, cupboard-sized record-shop down the road from Radio House called Acorn. Man, I lived in there too: boxes and boxes of Duul, Can, Nektar, Hawkwind, Kraan, everything you can imagine… most days of the week, I yo-yo’d between Acorn and Radio House. Good times, man. Great times.
"So, when Radio House shut in the late 70s and Acorn moved to larger (more modern!) premises down by the bus-station in Glovers Walk, Yeovil, they poached Mave and the three of them headed off into local record-retail legend and the pages of Last Shop Standing. Rob’s sadly no longer with us - and, man, I sooo miss his acerbic wit and his opinions on Country Joe & The Fish, Dylan, etc - but Mave and the boys, well, they should be proud: they’ve seen them all off over the years: Our Price and Virgin and HMV and WH Smiths and….
"You know, I didn’t realise until half a lifetime later that Mave had worked in the record-department of WH Smiths back in the 60s, so I probably bought Monkees singles and Gerry Anderson EPs off her before I knew her. And I bet IX Tab almost certainly bought his Orbital and Coil albums from Mave in Acorn in the 80s and 90s.
"We all owe her a debt.
"Sometimes, it’s the smallest of things that change us, the little things that set events and subtle transformations in motion.
"We’re all ripples in a pond. But the ripples that quietly emanated from Mavis went much further and touched far more of us than she could ever realise or know. Sure, she didn’t make the great music that we bought, but she fed our dreams - helped enable us.
"It’s time to acknowledge that debt, though I don’t think that I - or any of us - could ever pay it back in full. Mavis has enriched us in ways that it’s difficult to quantify or describe. Just by being there, just by being Mavis.
"For years I wondered where it came from, all that music. Mavis is like a conduit, I guess - a Portal - the music flows out through her, into her son, into the world, into us…
"But where did it come from, the music? And where will it go?
"Well, wherever we let it take us, right?
"Mave, this is some love back. From all of us to you."
A recent conversation with South London based artist and electronic composer Paul Snowdon turned to the subject of formative influences: what arcane sounds kicked off the process that would culminate in the birth of his horological alter-ego, Time Attendant? On discovering that Snowdon’s creative secretions were initially stirred by the extreme end of early 90s Metal - not so unlikely when one considers the abrasive tones and textures of his recent Tournaments EP for Exotic Pylon Records - we invited him to pay tribute to the rampant morbidity and restless innovation of that unholy epoch. Soon after, the nasty, brutish and short Caput Mortuum mix arrived in our narthex, leaving a sulphurous odour that persists no matter how hard we scrub the stonework. Download it here and read on for Snowdon’s commentary…
"Here we go, retracing the musical steps of my teenage years… after a brief stint of early 80s electro, which at the time I found too camp and vacuous, I rapidly descended into the murky world of Heavy Metal in search of a more difficult, challenging and therefore more meaningful sound, or so I thought. Positively sprinting through Soft Rock, Glam Rock, anything ending in Rock, pausing for a while in Thrash Metal, some of which stuck with me. I wandered into Black Metal, didn’t like the theatrics, and eventually arrived at the gates of Death Metal, which gripped me with it’s powerful angry tales, confirming what it was to be human and vulnerable.
“By the time I was 15 years old I’d bought my first electric guitar and formed a Metal band, practising every Sunday in a drafty farm barn with a big old combine harvester as company. On discovering that it was really quite difficult to play as fast as my heroes, I drifted into Doom Metal, writing long elaborate riffs that were impossible to drum to, but great to zone out to.
“As soon as I was old enough to drive, I bought a van for the band and the next five years saw several oufits form and dissipate, with regular gigging slots around the scummy pubs of North Yorkshire.
“Then came university and being an art student, I thought I’d better stop listening to Metal and start listening to Jazz, ha! This has been my route into experimental music and the reason why Time Attendant sounds like it does, innit.”
1. Entombed ‘Left Hand Path’ (from Left Hand Path, Earache 1989)
"Back in 1989, Tomas Skogsberg, soon to become a highly respected metal producer, got together with Swedish death metallers Entombed to produce their debut album Left Hand Path, and practically invented a new guitar tone in the process, primitive, soily, grinding and disintegrating. A kind of super-heavy stuttering ‘FUZZz’ which phases around reverb-drenched vocals. Entombed are all dark magic and chainsaws. One of the first and best of this Metal subgenre."
2. My Dying Bride ‘Act 1’ (from Symphonaire Infernus et Empyrium, Peaceville 1991)
"Austere northern romanticism from Gothic Doom kings My Dying Bride. Quasi-religious lyrics, mournful violins and massive gloom! A Shakespearean darkness delivered with the brutality of a ripper murder. I would love to see and hear this bleak, old and seedy-sounding music accompanied by some classic lantern-lit scenes from the BBC archives."
3. Paradise Lost ‘Gothic’ (from Gothic, Peaceville 1991)
"Paradise Lost’s Gothic is a highly original album that doesn’t rely on heaviness to produce the right level of dread. Instead, icy harmonious licks from a guitar that sounds like a keyboard are saturated in delay and chorus, forming a kind of constant solo. Operatic female vocals and shifting visceral growls combine over a low mix of power chords and doom-style drumming. A classic."
4. Obituary ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’ (Celtic Frost cover from Cause Of Death, Roadracer 1990)
"It was at this point in my long walk through the undergrowth of Extreme Metal, age 17, that my old dad popped his head around my bedroom door and simply said, ‘I’d just like to say that I think your taste in music has really gone downhill of late.’ Ha! I don’t remember my response but needless to say, I did think I was on a righteous, rebellious path. I also recall feeling genuine fear on hearing John Tardy’s vocals - what kind of depraved human would make those sounds? Obituary’s music is quite simply about all the different ways we might expect to cop it but I find these bloody tales of mortality life-affirming."
"The poetically fantastical Lee Dorrian (ex-Napalm Death) croons away in dreary pain on this psychedelic, hippie-tinted, Dope Metal classic. Combining half-sung warbling vocals, flutes, keyboards and achingly slow riffs, all packaged up in Bosch-style artwork with a Tolkienesque twist. This is music without horizons as the drizzling grey sky of Cathedral’s home town of Coventry merges with faceless post-war blocks passed off as buildings. A pre-groovy Cathedral here, and a personal favourite."
6. Autopsy ‘In The Grip Of Winter’ (from Mental Funeral, Peaceville Records 1991)
"Death, doom and gore! Autopsy cover the lot. Theirs is a hollow, loose, downtuned and out-of-control kind of sound, emanating from muffled amplifiers and deadened drums, seemingly made from the bloodstained cardboard of a homeless heroin addict’s abode. Yet the genuinely memorable riffs will stick to your brain like flypaper, as we circle around the sticky mass of poison and decay. Conceptually perfect in every sense, Mental Funeral is a no-brainer!"
7. Slayer ‘Raining Blood’ (from Reign in Blood, Def Jam 1986)
"I wasn’t going to include Slayer in this mix, thinking them too obvious a choice, but then realised that no Metal mix could ever be complete without the best Metal band ever! The only way to close the mix, nuff said."
You may already be aware that February 16th edition of The Outer Church at Caroline Of Brunswick in Brighton will include live performances from West Country frictioneers Hacker Farm, Kemper Norton and IX Tab. In addition, we are very proud to announce that the event will also incorporate a special midnight screening of writer Leo Whetter and director Will Hutchinson’s zero-budget psychological horror film, Overhill. Shot on location in Cornwall, the film is sure to escalate the atmosphere from the compellingly weird to the utterly terrifying.
"It’s very hard to get lost in America these days, and even harder to stay lost." - Heather Donohue, The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The music of North Carolina duo Lost Trailevokes the Mythic America glimpsed in such films as The Blair Witch Project, American Movie and Cropsey - a haunted landscape steeped in folklore, as unknowably vast as imagination itself, and every bit as dangerous. The Outer Church’s first contact with Lost Trail came with the discovery of their excellent October Mountain album via Bandcamp. Further investigation revealed an outfit with a self-contained and highly immersive DIY aesthetic encompassing music, photography and film. We’ve been toying with the term ‘Disembodied Americana’ as a means of describing husband and wife Zachary and Denny Corsa’s spectral manifestations. In truth, categorising their marriage of sound and vision is considerably less rewarding than surrendering to its evanescent glow. The following interview with Zach and Denny was conducted via the white magic of electronic mail and is accompanied by an exclusive mixtape entitled Music For The Woods And Fields…
Tell us about the mix you’ve created for The Outer Church…
Zachary Corsa: ”I called this mix Music For The Woods And Fields, for reasons that will probably become apparent later in the interview. Essentially it’s a collection of pieces that inspire us either atmospherically or musically, sort of the ingredients that go into this big stew of influences that is our work. As expected, you’ll find a lot of woodsy-naturey sort of themes, and a lot of broken machines breaking down further.
"The Belong piece I included because October Language is an indisputable masterpiece in my opinion, and when I first heard this song in particular, it proved a fine example of the haunting beauty of taped music disintegrating as you listen. Esmerine is a fantastic Godspeed offshoot, much more chamber music inflected than Godspeed itself, and this piece features some incredible use of static as tension-builder and contrast. Mount Eerie’s album with Julie Doiron and Fred Squire, Lost Wisdom, is probably my very favorite album, if I had to choose. Phil Elverum’s imagery and whole extensive mythology is a gigantic influence on Lost Trail and on myself personally. Forest Swords is a newer project from Liverpool that has a perfect name, and the dude evokes his landscape musically very much the way we aim to ourselves.
"Library Tapes is an obvious pick, because David Wenngren is the reason I began Lost Trail. We started out very much in pale imitation of him, except I’m no pianist. Jean Ritchie is one of my very favorite mountain ballad singers, and delivers absolute chills with precision. Six Organs Of Admittance fall into a similar category as Mount Eerie, in terms of thematic influence. Tim Hecker is an obvious totemic inspiration to any experimental musician, and this piece particularly has a lumbering sort of charm, like a Wendigo blundering through a northern taiga. The M83 piece is a frozen tunda wasteland of a song in all the right ways, and if hard-pressed, might be my favorite song of all time. Mountain Man was included for their gorgeously spine-tingling harmonies. Pitchfork once described them as sounding like the practitioners of some lost backwoods cult, and I think that’s a very apt description.
"Set Fire To Flames (another Godspeed family band) were a huge revolutionary inspiration to me when I first discovered them, and I expand on that a little more later in the interview. I included one of my favorite Chopin nocturnes because it’s Chopin and thus it’s amazing. Boards of Canada have great nostalgic implications for me, as well as being one of the first gateway drugs I had getting into experimental music growing up. My friends and I used to drive back into the haunted woods behind my best buddy’s house at 2am, and turn off the headlights, and listen to ‘Gyroscope’ in the dark. No song sends me back to those times like ‘Gyroscope’. Finally, Sacred Harp singing is one of the most beautiful expressions of faith and wonder you’ll ever hear, and is an ongoing obsession of mine. Nothing we ever create musically will be as perfect as Sacred Harp singing."
How and when did Lost Trail come about?
Z: ”I had been in a number of bands since moving to Raleigh after finishing college. I knew I wanted to pursue music as a career, but my years living in Raleigh and Durham and playing in more traditional indie bands just didn’t feel right. The prevalent scene in central North Carolina was, and still is, folk-inflected indie rock, and I began to feel more and more that it wasn’t what I was meant to play. I felt no creative spark making song-oriented music at that point. When an alt-country sort of band I was in shared a bill with Andrew Weathers (at Nightlight in Chapel Hill), it literally changed everything. Andrew was an experimental composer from Greensboro making music unlike anything I was familiar with at the time (he’s since moved on to Oakland, to study at Mills College under Pauline Oliveros). I remember our cellist in that band confiding in me that she didn’t ‘get’ that kind of music, and that was the moment when I knew that this was the kind of music I wanted to make. Challenging, intellectual, with the ability to make a listener think as well as feel. It was a revolution for me. I come from a very small eastern NC town, and before college, and the rise of blogs and the like, I really had no exposure to what I’d call ‘deeper’ music (other than maybe Radiohead).
"I continued on from that band and played in a post-rock band for awhile in Raleigh, went on my first tour with that band, and eventually decided to try and do everything myself. With the exception of adding Denny to the permanent lineup in our second year, which was inevitable given the amount of field recordings and production choices she was contributing to the band, its been something we’ve held fast to, that DIY ethic. We have great friends who help us out with instruments we can’t play once in awhile, but that’s all. Now its been two and a half years, seven or eight tours, a dozen albums, and an absurd amount of splits, EPs, film scores, B-sides collections, compilation appearances, and the like. Meanwhile, we’ve started a tape label, held some memorable house shows here in Burlington, and I’ve continued writing for blogs like Decoder, MTYMNHKA, and A Closer Listen, something I’ve done for most of a decade."
What inspired the project’s name?
Z: ”I was in Cincinnati on tour with the aforementioned post-rock band, and I was already formulating the idea for my own project in my head. I asked Denny via G-Chat if she had any ideas for the project name, and she didn’t, nor did I. We moved on to a discussion (I don’t recall the context) about a bit of land she owns in the little southern Virginia town of Clover. The property includes a collapsed house, an even-more collapsed barn, and a trail that’s long since been lost. When she suggested ‘Lost Trail’ it seemed perfect, a summation of the intended mysteriousness of the project, coupled with our intention to keep the themes of the band grounded in nature. At times it hasn’t been the easiest name to deal with (people very much seem to want to pluralize it, and the amount of bad Lost Trail jokes I’ve heard is stunning), but it’s still very much in line with the overall mood of our band, so it wins on that account.”
You’ve already amassed a considerable body of work. Why release so much material?
Z: ”In a number of ways, primarily Lost Trail, I’m involved with music full-time. No day job. It was a decision Denny and I came to in the early days of the project, that if I was going to make a go of this career, I should focus all my attention on it and work as hard as possible (another reason for that DIY ethic we maintain so fiercely). I record almost every day, and over the past few years I’ve morphed from someone who valued my lazy time to someone who gets restless and uncomfortable if they aren’t working. I’m not just going to sit around all day eating cereal while my wife goes off to her day job. So I record. And if I spend my time on something, I’m going to at least toss it up on Bandcamp, whether I like it or not. Even the mistakes are worthwhile to share. It’s all a learning and growing process. This project started out very rough and unsure, as an experiment in making music on an instrument I didn’t know how to play (piano, very much thanks to that Library Tapes influence), and listening back to those early recordings makes me cringe in the best possible way. As its shifted back towards guitar drone and noise collage, we’ve learned more, but we still have a long way to go. Basically, I like sharing the process. That’s why we keep our old Bandcamp open for B-sides collections and the stray side project. A few people who’ve reviewed us or whatever have questioned us maybe ‘over-saturating’ with our output, but I can’t change my nature. My feeling is, if I spent time on it, I’m not just going to throw it away. I’m not a self-editing type of person. By now our fans know the difference between wayward experiments and the stuff we value enough for albums.”
What would you recommend as a good point of entry for the uninitiated?
Z: ”People’s favorite full-lengths of ours thus far seem to be A Stained August For The Jetcrash, which was released on cassette by Sunup Recordings (Minnesota), and October Mountain, released on cassette by Felt Cat (Iowa). October Mountain was full of a lot of atypical experiments for us. I think our most cohesive and representative work is definitely Jetcrash, though there’s an album we just completed, which I’m calling Blacked Out Passages at the moment, that might be better. We set out to deliberately record a concise summation of all our sounds and themes, and I think Passages achieves this handily. Also, the split we released with Theo’s Mystic Robot Orchestra, on Sarcastic Magician (Kansas), is a good entry point, I’d say.”
Denny Wilkerson Corsa: ”Eerie Light, Eerie Woods would also be a good entry point. That’s an earlier self-released album that I happen to like a lot. It was one of the first albums, and also one of the first ones I worked on. It was when Zach began to use more drone guitar in the music, so that was the album where the current sound of Lost Trail really began to take form.”
What do you consider your most successful release to date?
Z: ”Jetcrash and our score for our film Traumatic Attachments have probably gotten the nicest attention blog-buzz wise. Personally, I’m never entirely satisfied with anything we’ve done. There’s much that makes me wince and regret decisions I’ve made, looking back. We have obvious equipment limitations with the way we choose to do things, and that’s probably the most frustrating part of the process. But I’d say Jetcrash is probably our ‘best’ work.
"Honestly, I don’t know how healthy it would be for us to ever be entirely content with one of our albums, anyway. The struggle against financial and technological restraints drives this band, and I think we need to maintain that underdog sort of status in order to produce our best art."
D: ”There’s so many ways you can define success. It could be what sells best, or what people rave about the most, or what we personally like the most. Each album has been successful in many different ways.”
How would you describe your hometown of Burlington, North Carolina?
Z: ”Burlington is a small city of about 50,000 people in the very middle of the state. It’s very 50s-esque, it’s not considered a ‘cool’ place and it lies immediately between two larger and more cosmopolitan areas (The Triangle and The Triad). Neither of us are from Burlington; I grew up partially in western Massachusetts and partially in eastern North Carolina, and Denny is from Durham and Chapel Hill. We moved to the area because we wanted a large, old house to record in, and found a beautiful, spacious 1910 home for next to nothing. I wanted an escape from the indie crowd that I was surrounded in back in Raleigh and Durham. I never quite fit in with the people there, which is a shame, as I moved to the area specifically for its music scene.
"I’ve met some amazing folks on tour other places, but in my experience, the central NC music scene isn’t the most welcoming to outsiders. There’s unwritten codes and rules that I just didn’t match up with as a person. I may share most music and art tastes with those kinds of folks, but that’s kind of where the similarities end. If you make this kind of music in this state, unless you’re in Asheville or maybe Wilmington, it can be a real uphill battle. Local press coverage, reliable crowds, even band solidarity, is very hard to find. It was a very lonely time, living in the Triangle, especially once I changed to making more experimental music. Having house shows in Burlington, too, is always a challenge; most Chapel Hill and Durham kids are very reluctant to spend a night out here. There’s definitely a sense of superiority to towns like this; they have their own preconceived notions of what we’re like. But I’m glad we’re here, around authentic, genuine small-town people. That’s the kind of crowd I like to surround myself with.
"Our reviews always seem to make the point that we’re sort of mysterious, shady figures, but I think that’s largely because we live in a town that isn’t a major arts scene sort of city. We tour a lot because hitting the road and getting great crowds beats playing here to slim ones. The one real exception is Nightlight in Chapel Hill, which is one of the only places we play in central NC anymore. The 919 Noise folks, led by Bryce Eiman, are fantastic. Greensboro, too, has its bright spots; the house show/DIY scene there is stellar and growing fast. But essentially, I struggle with feeling like an outsider as a ‘weird’ NC musician. Probably always will."
D: ”Burlington is a town that grew around textile factories, particularly sock factories. It’s busy and full of sprawl, but it also has some great parks. Burlington City Park has some great rides, such as a historic carousel and train, and they hold some cool special events for the people of town, such as a large Halloween event with fireworks. Burlington was originally named Company Shops, and now there’s an organic food co-op downtown called Company Shops Market. As far as I know, they came up with the name ‘Burlington’ at random.
"Socio-economically, Burlington is definitely poorer than the surrounding cities, such as Chapel Hill and Greensboro. The biggest employer currently in town is a company called LabCorp (blood testing facilities). There’s many beautiful old houses in Burlington, and I certainly wish more people would move here from the surrounding areas and help bring life to some of these houses, and also to the old factories in town."
How important is Burlington to your work?
Z: ”Well, to continue from the above question, very. Burlington itself is a fascinating city, which is something people really miss out on by not checking it out. Its story is similar to a lot of NC towns; at one point, Burlington was the very center of the hosiery business in America. Textiles, namely sock-making, built this city. Of course, jobs have gone overseas and what we’re left with is some hardcore industrial abandonment and blight. While a sane person wouldn’t find that appealing to live in, that sort of decay, it’s absolutely ingrained in our music, and the atmosphere has been incredible here for creating our art. Aside from that, this town is full of genuinely kind and decent people, and downtown is coming back in a big way. The more people that move here that care about making things better, the better Burlington will become.
"This town definitely has a mysteriousness to it, an eeriness. It’s something our touring friends always note when they come through to play our house. It’s a very David Lynchian sort of vibe. You know the theory how there’s some places where the fabric of reality wears a little thinner? Burlington is one of those places. I call it ‘Other Burlington’. There’s like a surface Burlington, and then you’ll turn a corner into an unfamiliar neighborhood and you’ll know you’ve crossed over the threshold, into ‘Other Burlington’. Some of our music is very much inspired by that. After all, Burlington’s most famous resident is a female serial killer who poisoned numerous lovers and family members. This is definitely not your typical Mayberry-like small town.
"This band didn’t really start, in my opinion, until we moved here. And there’s some pride in the fact that we’re a band in a small town, making music no one else in this town is making, absent of any real music scene (aside from a couple really good punk bands). I’d like to think it would attract people to us, that we’re not just another Brooklyn/Portland/Austin/whatever band."
Which local sites are especially resonant for you? Can you reveal a little about Burlington’s local mythology and folklore?
Z: ”My whole life I have found abandonment and decay achingly beautiful, especially industrial decay, and in Burlington you can’t turn around without tripping over an abandoned textile mill or collapsing old Victorian house. Burlington is very much haunted by its past, still in the shadow of the serial killer I mentioned, and in the shadow of its past prosperity. It’s literally in the shadow of a towering, grand abandoned Army missile factory, a great and rusting old hulk east of downtown that’s appeared in our album art and film works a number of times.
"This town is very much tied in with the culture of its river, as well, the Haw. The Haw is a lovely little body of water thats largely bounced back from years of mill pollution. We find it an inspiring feature to Alamance County. Really though, I’d say the most crucial locale in Burlington for us is our house, and all the history that goes with a home over a century old. Each day, I discover a new feature I hadn’t noticed before that captures my imagination further.
"This part of NC has deep roots in its history; Alamance County was the site of one of the first Revolutionary War battles, and there’s Quaker roots here going back to long before America was an independent country. North Carolina as a whole is beyond haunted by its past, more than anywhere else I’ve been in America. We wouldn’t make the same kind of music if we weren’t from here; we’re definitely a North Carolina band, and the past has a hold on us, too.
"We love camping at Cedarock Park and exploring the old mill village of Glencoe, in northern Burlington. Someone who lives on a steady diet of shitty indie-rock shows and nights at bars would undoubtedly find Burlington boring, but I think we have enough imagination, and enough of a love of history and the natural world between us, to think otherwise of this city."
There are references to the paranormal scattered throughout your work. Are these employed solely in a metaphorical sense or do they reflect a genuine openness to the unknown and the uncanny?
Z: ”Both. I think one reason the idea of ghosts and hauntings is so prevalent in ambient, experimental and noise music is that its the most powerful analogy for loss imaginable. Still, we aren’t setting out to make endlessly dark or enduringly sad music, just truthful music.
"On the literal end, I’ve had more than my share of unexplainable occurrences in my lifetime, and the other world outside of this one has been a lasting theme in my family history, as well. There’s moments as you get older where you look back at different events in your life and see the things that’ve happened to you, and you realize that it was a forked path, and you went one direction as a result of those experiences, and it colored everything that happened afterward. For me, that was a supernatural experience the summer I was sixteen, and the lasting fallout of that is very much present in the work of Lost Trail, as well. There’s ghosts everywhere, both literally and metaphorically, and some of us just feel their presence deeper than others.
"As I’ve said, Burlington, the state of North Carolina, even our old and crumbling house, are all full of ghosts. Our music is a reflection of that, but the moment you bring up that subject matter people either default their thinking to ‘Goth’ or ‘Metal’. We’re probably cheerier, sillier people than our music implies. ‘Dark’ and ‘Sad’ are unimaginative, reductive descriptions of any form of art. Human emotion is so much more complex than that. Thus so is our band’s music."
Your music often exudes an unsettling atmosphere of fogbound desolation. Is this an effect you aim for or something that just occurs naturally?
Z: ”I think it comes naturally to us. The contrast is important; uplifting music has to have a counter-weight of melancholy or it loses meaning, and vice versa. I’ve never tried to make music that’s bleak or merciless, or unrelenting in its dourness. It’s just what I naturally gravitate towards in my sounds. Complicated emotions in art make that art richer and more invigorating. It’s the art that people remember; people don’t remember just standalone sunshine and rainbows, they remember raw emotion and complex shades of feeling. Sometimes life is desolate and fog-bound; sometimes it’s incredibly moving and awe-inspiring, in equal measure.
"What can I say? It comes from ‘out there’. I’m just a conduit. I begin playing and this is what happens, for better or for worse. And for her end, I think Denny contributes some levity to the proceedings with much of her sound and production work. She’s an inherently cheerier sort than I am, and her contributions have a lighter touch. It makes her efforts more than essential."
D: ”I feel like that’s how drone music often is. Besides, I’m not cheerier than Zach – he always makes up jokes about everything and is generally not a very serious sort (except about his art). I don’t feel that the music is very unsettling overall, just that drones can sound somewhat haunting.”
Then again, it’s also oddly comforting at times…
Z: ”That’s what I hope for; a comfort, a catharsis, a way of working through difficult feelings or a reflection of stirring moments. I always view our work in landscape terms, describing a place or a feeling evoked in our minds. God knows music is a comfort and a cathartic release for me, so I can only hope it is for other people. When someone writes to us describing a transformative or emotionally resonant moment listening to our work, that makes it all pretty worthwhile. As selfish a pursuit as music can be, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t also want to affect people.”
D: ”I guess hearing extended notes is comforting because it sounds a bit like a calming hum.”
One of your songs is entitled ‘Hauntology’. What does this term mean to you? Do you feel it applies to the music you make?
Z: ”Hauntology is a concept from Derrida, that goes with our ideas and impressions of how the past impacts the present. The concept is that when the end of history approaches, people will orient themselves to the ideas of past living, i.e. more agrarian roots, more community involvement. North Carolina is in a constant state of hauntology, and for every shopping mall or new freeway this state builds, they can’t escape the implications of this state’s past on the present. That’s NC to me, a place struggling against the past by forcibly inserting itself into the future, almost as a scoffing sort of denial. But it’s like a double exposure; the original is always lurking there at the boundaries of the frame, beneath the newer image. No amount of Applebees and Best Buys can change that. And I think that plays into our music as well, in that we try to operate in those spaces where the wild and natural world intersect with the grimly man-made. Suburban sprawl in North Carolina gives way at a moment’s notice to dense, rolling forest and black swamp. This state will never stop being old. It’s one of the things I love about my home.”
You have stated that Lost Trail make “Music for the woods and fields more than for the city”. Can you elaborate?
Z: ”As people, nature and the natural world are far more important to us than cosmopolitan city life and all its artifices of culture and sophistication. I find more rewards of experience camping than I do in some teeming throng of khaki-clad IT workers drinking at some nightlife magazine-sanctioned hot spot. That seems false to me, a shell covering reality. Trees and rivers and mountains are the real world to me, not highways and driving ranges and appliance stores and office parks and chemical plants. That all seems false. Maybe it’s the New England in me, but this land is deeper than any of us, and it’s the land I respect. We’re bound to it, and as much as we try to dilute our connection to it with iPhones and Lolcats, it’s always there. When the Puritans settled here, they saw an endless forest full of hauntings and unknown monsters. What’s changed about that except we’ve tried to keep it at bay with Arby’s and Sam’s Club?
"We like our small-town life, we fit in here. The music exists for nature and places on the edge of nature, not steel and glass and concrete. I can respect musicians for whom the city is a fascinating landscape they wish to evoke (Burial is a great example of this), we’re just sort of the opposite. I was raised by a wildlife painter mother first in the shadow of densely-wooded northern hills, and later along a windswept beach, communing with nature by trails and salt marshes and nights drinking with friends in lifeguard stands. That’s my background. I can’t shake it. Nature was always emphasized as the true reality to me, not the messy life of cities.
"One thing that had a great impact on me culturally prior to Lost Trail was the years I spent at college, at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Mountain culture is an unavoidable presence there, and it has this uneasy time-warp intersection with the more modern culture of the university. My time in Boone was a tapestry of surreal immersion in that culture – from Thursday night bluegrass jams at the local community house, full of old-timers who couldn’t hold a pen anymore but could play expert banjo or dulcimer from memory, to just driving into dark woods and hills late at night, looking up at stray little campfires lost in the wilderness. It’s an ominous, almost-frontier landscape there, very isolated, and communing with nature isn’t really a choice, it’s mandatory. Old time music has a huge influence on Lost Trail, even though it isn’t readily apparent in our sound. I listen to more Carter Family and Stanley Brothers, more Almeda Riddle and Sarah Ogan Gunning, than I do any ambient or drone music."
D: ”When I think of city music, I think of loud nightclubs, people driving by playing music loudly. Things that one hears in crowds. Drone music is more appropriate for calm listening, maybe while watching what might be out a window in a country house – deer, trees, rolling hills, ponds, rivers, creeks. There’s a certain calmness required to appreciate experimental music, particularly drone, and it’s hard to find that calmness in cities full of traffic, movement, and noise – it may be fruitful to record and use those sounds in future recordings, but they can also be distracting.”
What led you to make the film Traumatic Attachments? What does the title refer to?
Z: ”I’ve always been interested in film; my great hobby outside of music is photography and film. It goes back to loathing that falsehood, that Apple culture ideal of digital perfection and false reality. I like damage and decay in my art, it seems more organic and real to me. Cassettes, Polaroids, Super 8 film, VHS, Holga… all of that is genuine to me. It’s full of unexpected variables and elements that can’t be controlled. It isn’t an ironic love, it’s a genuine affection for a scratched and corroded aesthetic. The thing I love about doing everything ourselves in Lost Trail is that our photography, our film, our poetry, all ends up within Lost Trail, whether it be film projections or album art or what have you. I’ve been thrilled with the renaissance of this ‘obsolete’ technology, as I was already there years ago. Our music is very colorful and visual to my synesthetic brain, so film and photography are just a natural extension of that. I take photographs when I want to relax; it’s a simpler, more uncomplicated form of art than music.
"We wanted to make a visual representation of some of our themes, mainly what I’ve discussed above, this idea of North Carolina as an unsettled territory on the border of suburban sprawl and the natural, depthless void. So we drove around shooting short, un-narrated bits of digital video, as Super 8 was too expensive to process at a feature length. I usually detest digital technology as a rule, but my digital camera shoots very poor quality video, with a lot of focusing errors and lighting errors and stabilization errors, so it seemed perfect for this sort of fragmented reality we were trying to represent. I like limitations and challenges, and working with what you’re given. There’s a purity in the sacrifice of not having everything be perfect.
"The film score aspect was something I wanted to try, because I’ve always said I’d love to move into doing more film scores eventually. We’re a very improv-based band, we don’t write ahead of time, we just sit down and the music comes out of its own accord. So having to write music specifically for images was an enjoyable challenge, and I hope we get to do more film work.
"As far as the title goes, Traumatic Attachment theory is the psychological idea of dependence on someone in an unhealthy relationship. It seemed an apt metaphor for that uneasy relationship between natural resources and the exploitation of land for human consumption. In its most developed areas, NC can often seem like a wasteland of logos shouting for your attention. We wanted to capture that in the film, but also in a way that was respectful of the strange, abstract sort of beauty that man-made spaces sometimes obtain. I have a fascination with electric lighting, and the shapes of certain shopping centers, and the strange grasslands and ponds and roadways you see surrounding office and industrial parks. These places are destructive, an evidence of consumerism gone awry, but there’s beauty in nearly everything. People sometimes need to adjust their stereotypical expectations of what constitutes beauty."
What is the difference between feeling (heart) and thought (brain) when it comes to making music?
Z: ”My biggest gripe with a lot of experimental music is that it’s very cold and clinical. It can come off as a scientific exercise. Sometimes there’s no discerning a human face within that icy sheen. I think playing experimental music with the heart more than the brain means trying to bring back an imperfect sense of raw punk ethos into the work, an unbridled passion. If there’s one thing I hope people never say about Lost Trail, it’s that we sound dead and cold and emotionless. We don’t sandpaper away our mistakes, we don’t edit out happy accidents that don’t go according to plan. We don’t ‘plan’ much in general. One thing I can’t stand about the current indie generation is the irony, the cold and sneering witticisms, the refusal to admit that yes, we’re human beings and we love things and hate other things and genuinely feel things and cry and get pissed off sometimes. I’m a heart-on-sleeve emotionalist, and I’ll never consider that a negative trait or uncool thing. I refuse to couch my humanity in witty too-cool irony. I mean, I love Pavement as much as the next dude, but fuck that lazy slacker attitude. I love music and I care about music, and I care about this world around me. I’m not going to hide that fact.”
D: ”I briefly learned how to play other instruments as a child (piano and clarinet) and thus learned how to read music, but this did not stick in my brain. I think if either of us knew better how to read music, then we may be more mathematical in the writing and recording process. However, we don’t, and that seems to work better for us. We can include sounds that we’ve recorded that don’t line up perfectly with the music we’ve written, but that fit well. Sometimes music sounds better when someone makes it up as they go along, and puts thing together that seem like they work together rather than planning things and making sure things are on beat.”
You seem fascinated by images of neglect and abandonment. How and when did this start?
Z: ”It’s been as long as I can remember. I grew up in a decaying industrial town in New England, and I find myself in a similar landscape as I near thirty. I don’t think it’s accidental. I find a lot of things beautiful in the natural world that others would agree with, and I also find many things beautiful that others consider an eyesore. Personally, I fail to see much of a difference between the woods and an abandoned factory thats been reclaimed by the woods. Once people are done with using a building for economic or living purposes, it takes on a whole new context.
"It’s fascinating the way nature reclaims a place; when I was on tour in Detroit, I found the ‘urban prairie’ situation there absolutely fascinating. It’s the closest thing we have in this country to ancient ruins, our Industrial Revolution now decaying as our Tech Revolution will one day decay. When deer and badgers begin to take up residence behind the Genius Bars of Apple Stores, or in the stockrooms of Jamba Juice, I’ll find that gorgeous as well. Remove things from their context, out of any ethical or social ideology, and the world opens up its beauty to you. It may be a pretentious ideal, but hey, it also happens to be a true one."
This element of decay and degradation is mirrored in your music, of course…
Z: ”And it always will be. I’m not going to suddenly become uninterested in urban exploration, that giddy thrill of going into a dark place that no longer functions as was originally intended, at twenty-eight years old. Musicians that claim their personal lives and quirks don’t influence their music are frankly full of shit. Our music is a reflection of who we are as people, and that’s as it should be. It isn’t something that should be fought. If it isn’t coming from some part of yourself that loves and feels certain things, then why even do it? Art is a way of presenting yourself as an individual to the world, and your perspective on that world and its interactions. I’m not going to present a fictional character, and I couldn’t make our music fictional if I tried. Lost Trail is a way of working out emotions, a way of commenting on what we see around us, in all its otherworldly and transfixing glory. Truth is, I’m an introverted, passionate, moody young artist in America. I have a specific perspective on the world that’s unique to my culture, time, and personality. Why pretend to be anything but who I am? Authenticity may be overrated (so says Pitchfork), but I haven’t seen enough authenticity yet, and music has never been an excuse to wear a mask or become someone else to me. Rather, with music, I become the most distilled and accurate representation of myself, if anything.”
Where does the medium of cassette tape fit into all of this?
Z: ”Lo-Fi is definitely an aesthetic affectation, not gonna lie. Part of it originally was poverty, and part of it was that I’m no good at tech stuff. I’ve never used a proper mic or a mixing board or phantom power in my life. That stuff is utterly gibberish to me, and I like how we do things, so I have no interest in learning ‘proper’ techniques. I don’t play guitar the ‘proper’ way, I play it the way I like to play it, so recording is no different. Studios are sterile and bland in my limited experience with them; I like recording in an old house where accidents can get caught in the mix; a train passing by, or a fire engine, or someone talking on the sidewalk. When I first heard the Set Fire To Flames albums, with all those little bits of incidental, accidental sound left in the mix, it expanded my mind to the possibilities of doing things differently. That seems real and organic to me. The fact is, I like the way cassette sounds better than anything else. The warmth, the hiss, the warbling, it creates an immediate nostalgic sense memory that goes with both our ideas of decay and abandonment and our ideas of the past and being haunted by the past. Digital recording’s icy glare just can’t accomplish that. We’re purists that way, nearly Luddites, and hell, I grew up with cassette so it means a lot to me. The first attempts I made at recording were with a four-track Fostex in my childhood bedroom. The album is important to us, the track sequencing, the art, the font used for the liner notes, all of it. You can manipulate tape recorders in a way you can’t manipulate digital machines, and unlike digital machines, each tape recorder sounds different. Our music would not be the same if we didn’t use tape. Static, damage, all of it is important for our work to sound ‘right’ to me. I always say I want our music to sound like it was found on a mangled tape dug up from the forest floor after twenty years of neglect. There’s that intersection of abandoned and obsolete technology with nature again, of course. No one’s ever going to wax nostalgic for the sound quality of mp3s, are they?
"It isn’t like we’re pioneers with this, of course. A lot of people influenced me on this end, growing up and recently. Boards of Canada, William Basinski, Belong, Set Fire To Flames, Tim Hecker. Nothing to me sounds as beautiful as guitar or piano on a damaged cassette tape. So we’ve made the move to doing almost all our recording on cassette, even the field recordings. I won’t say we never use digital pocket recorders, we do. And our mixing is done on Logic, by necessity and ease. That may make me somewhat of a contradiction in my ethics, but frankly, that’s the nature of modern America. Trying to find someone who has high ideals but isn’t also a little bit of a hypocrite is impossible. The system is slanted against independent living, period. And I think human beings are natural contradictions by their very nature, in the end.
"Cassette is just part of who we are as a band, our irrevocable identity. We have thousands; I buy them in bulk from a store called Scrap Exchange in Durham, the world’s best junk store. I find wonderful things on them for sampling, especially the hundreds we’ve dug up from the Edgar Cayce Past Lives Institute in Virginia Beach. If I got a nice fat recording advance from Drag City or Temporary Residence tomorrow, I wouldn’t spend it on a mixer or a new guitar or better pedals. I’d buy more tape machines, and maybe an Edison wax cylinder recorder or wire recorder while I’m at it. If there’s a new frontier for Lost Trail’s fetish for imperfect-sounding recording, it’s going back to even more ancient technology. The grittier our music sounds, the more real it sounds to me, the more naturally oriented. And tape sounds more like a forest floor than digital ever could."
Static is a recurrent texture in your work. Why do you think this is? What effect does it have on you as a listener?
Z: ”Static is a great way to represent tension and disquiet, and it contributes that counter-balance I mentioned earlier, when matched with a conventionally pretty guitar or piano melody. It always makes a song sound ‘fuller’ to me. I love shortwave radio static for all its whines and whistles, and I especially love vinyl crackle of all varieties. It just makes everything sound more ancient. The effect can be subtle or jarring, depending on whats required within the framework of the piece in question. There are times where I could just listen to different flavors of static and nothing else.
"I find static to be a comforting sound; it reminds me of growing up by the ocean. I remember a time of great stress once, years ago, when I turned on AM radio static to comfort me and calm me down. Static can be soothing, violent, or both, all at once. It’s a very dynamic element."
What role(s) do found sounds and field recordings play in your music?
Z: ”It rounds out the sound as well as static does, and it adds another element of emotion and intrigue that the music wouldn’t attain on its own. Listening to a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, the implications of someone’s voice and what they’re saying over a beautiful bed of strings can really add a layer of depth and feeling that the song wouldn’t have otherwise. Because Lost Trail is a primarily instrumental project, I find they’re an effective way to get across certain themes we want to communicate in a subtle manner. I delight in finding obscure dialogue samples to record, whether from YouTube or record fairs or just on the shortwave. As Denny’s gotten more involved with the project, she’s contributed the counter-balance of more nature-based samples, which really has rounded out the work. That’s how Denny joined Lost Trail as a permanent member; we would go out so I could record, and she’d get involved and find it great fun. Eventually I gave her her own pocket recorder, and she started bringing back some stellar stuff. As a non-musician, she has an instinct for sound and production ideas that I don’t have, having played guitar my whole life. She’s a great second voice and a superb second editor, and this band really began taking shape when she began to contribute more. As time goes on, we’ve begun to utilize her lack of experience in playing instruments as well. It’s always valuable to have someone playing guitar or keys or drums who doesn’t ‘know how to play’. It’s healthy for the creative process. There’s no ‘wrong way’ of playing things in our universe.
"Certain themes, as you’ve mentioned, come up in our work time and time again, and mostly through samples or song titles. As an instrumental band, song titles are very important to us, both the meanings of the words and just how they sound phonetically. I’m very synesthetic when it comes to both words and sounds as colors, and field recordings are no different. Religion/the fierceness of belief, travel accidents, the supernatural, these all seem to come up regularly in our work. It tells me something about myself, about subconscious obsessions I didn’t know I had. How they tie into the greater whole remains to be seen, in my opinion.
"One thing I’d like to do is try to incorporate more ideology-minded content into our work. We’re both passionate about progressive causes, it’s a big part of our lives, but finding an artful way to integrate that into our music without seeming preachy is a tightrope challenge. Godspeed pull it off remarkably, of course, but we’re no Godspeed. So we’ll see what happens."
D: ”It’s possible I’d never heard of found sound before I met Zach, but this is definitely a major part of Lost Trail’s music and what brought me into being part of Lost Trail. I carry around a little recorder and record things like lawn mowers, giggly kids, construction sounds, or whatever else I might hear while out and about alone or with kids (I’m a nanny). However, regardless of the fact that found sounds are relatively new to me, I enjoy recording various things, sharing them, and imagining how Zach will use them in songs later. One of the children I care for has even mentioned some sounds she’s felt I should record when I’ve had my recorder with me.”
Improvisational strategies vary from artist to artist, group to group. How would you describe yours?
Z: ”Our work basically is improvisation. I record bits of music on the spot that sound interesting, throw them all together on a screen, and move them around until they sound good. I very rarely overdub in the traditional sense; I’m much more interested in the accidental and messy collision of notes interacting with each other than I am with playing things to any sort of beat or mathematical, precise pattern. That’s part of the excitement of how we work; it’s unexpected until the end. When elements happen to mysteriously line up in interesting ways, it’s heaven. You can almost hear the click, like a puzzle we’re constantly working to solve.
"It’s well-known among our circle that I don’t love playing live. I find it very hard to reproduce what we do recording-wise in a live setting, since I obsess over the recordings for days until even one piece is close to ‘finished’. This music is very hard to get across live; people talk over you or complain about the noise, and it’s very hard to find an attentive audience and a receptive venue (not to mention, working purposely with shoddy, cheap equipment is always risky). We don’t play in bars or traditional clubs much; I find our type of music just doesn’t mix with alcohol, and I prefer anyone of any age be able to come if they want to. I remember being seventeen and pissed off that I couldn’t get into local punk shows; the idea of someone being a less valuable music fan because they can’t spend drink money at a bar is beyond insulting to me. Some of the best, most rewarding shows we’ve played have been to rooms full of teenagers. So we just tend to fit better at art galleries, house shows, DIY spaces, coffeehouses and the like.
"And as time goes on, the stress of live performance and the shortcomings of our sets have given way to renewed excitement, as we pretty much always perform improv sets now. Gone is the disappointment at not being able to reproduce songs live; we just do something new every time, and its become very rewarding. Lost Trail live is a wholly different entity than Lost Trail recorded. That’s as it should be. I don’t see a band live to hear them accurately reproduce their album to the letter. I’d much rather stay home and listen to the album on the couch, in that case.
Are there specific works of art, literature, photography and film that have a totemic value for Lost Trail?
Z: ”Absolutely, too many to list. All forms of art are as equally important to me as music; to me they’re just different views of the same face. I went to school for Creative Writing, so literature is an extremely important part of my life. Not every writer I love has specifically influenced Lost Trail, of course, but a few that have include: Don Delillo, JG Ballard, Algernon Blackwood, MR James, Sylvia Plath, James Howard Kunstler, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Delillo’s ‘White Noise’, especially, probably my very favorite novel. I’ve read four or five copies to tatters. For art, being raised by a professional artist, I was exposed to a great deal of visual beauty growing up. Matisse, Magritte, Goya, Bacon, and Bruegel the Elder come to mind as a few influences. There’s an obscuring of reality and of traditional features that I’ve always found deeply intriguing in Magritte’s best pieces.
"Photography-wise, I’m really into Justine Kurland, for one. One of her photographs is my very favorite album cover (M83’s Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts). That landscape, the highway coursing through the snowy patch of woods, really strikes a personal chord with me, and all of her work in general, these almost spirit-like female figures lingering at the edges of suburbia, in those wild places. Also Todd Hido for photography, and Weegee, Arnold Odermatt, Jason Koxvold, Francesca Woodman.
"For film, well, film is a huge deal to me as well, really only second to music, so that’s tougher to answer. I have a deep abiding love for slasher films from the genre’s Golden Age (roughly 1978-1984). I grew up with the better known ones but thanks to YouTube I’ve tracked down pretty much every obscure C-movie slasher in existence. I’ve seen literally hundreds. It goes with the sense of nostalgia, and the music, the atmosphere, all of it. Slashers tell us a great deal about that time period, the sociology of the eighties, and about memory itself. Horror films in general are a real treat artistically when done well, which they so rarely are. It’s a frustrating genre to be a mega-fan of. Outside of that, I’d say Michael Haneke and David Cronenberg are HUGE influences on Lost Trail aesthetically. There’s references to early Haneke films in the names of some of our first recordings. Also, David Lynch, Atom Egoyan, Harmony Korine, early Todd Haynes…those are the ones that jump out at me as having a big influence on Lost Trail directly.
"Denny, for her part, is a fan of a lot of contemporary folk music, and is a devoted abstract painter herself. If only I could get her to share my love of all those cheesy horror films…"
Lost Trail is to all intents and purposes an entirely self-sufficient unit. Is this a point of principle?
Z: ”Indeed. As I said before, I like the way we do things and for someone else to come and try to change that, that would be a problem. I wouldn’t be able to operate any other way. Lost Trail partially came out of being fed up with the artistic compromise of being in traditional bands…the petty power struggles, the constant schedule problems, same old story. I knew I was serious about music and that I would rather do everything myself and have artistic control, as egotistical as that sounds. Now I have a great partner I trust with artistic input and whom I consult on all decisions, but really, I can’t imagine being in a band with someone not my wife again. Temporary collaborations, yes, that’s different and fun.
"It’s just how I was raised. The only reason I’m pursuing art as a career is because I was brought up by a single mother who fought like hell to make art her’s. I wasn’t raised with the kind of cliched parental practicality bullshit that can snuff out so many young talented artists’ futures. I was always encouraged to pursue art professionally if I liked, but with a real business sense and a real independence. I trust myself to work harder than anyone else I could hire to help out. I know I’ll work hard at the film projections, the web design, the producing and mixing, the booking. It’s a kind of hardcore punk ethos I think we strive to maintain despite being an entirely different kind of music, and it’s just how I prefer to operate. I’m so used to it now, I have no urge to change. The last thing I’d ever want is for some record label slick to bully me into things I’m uncomfortable with, like working with an outside producer or recording in a studio. The only thing we farm out is mastering, and that’s because I can’t afford the equipment."
Lost Trail are part of the Living Room Visions collective. Who are the other members and what ties them together?
Z: ”I became involved with Living Room Visions through Marcus Eads, who runs Sunup Recordings in Minnesota. He favourited one of our tracks on Soundcloud and we became friendly, and soon enough I was part of this growing online scene of label owners, musicians, and artists that was really exciting. To have that kind of online family, that community, when I was lacking an in-person scene here in NC, was really rewarding to me. We really do support each other like a family. We love each other, and we help each other along as much as we can. There’s no competition, it’s all for furthering each others’ works. It’s interesting that with the Internet shrinking the world so much, music scenes have gone from city-based to more web-based, but I like it. We all have this general aesthetic of experimental, usually lo-fi, outsider sort of art. Most of us don’t live in the major cities, we’re freaks in our small towns doing something different, looking for folks to support it. Those who do live in the major cities are not on the cusp of the ‘scene’ there, either. But we have each other. And if we do find the success as a band that I strive towards, it will entirely be thanks to LRV. Our audience multiplied absurdly once we joined that group, and for that I’m eternally grateful. Having a family to back you up, a name recognition that means quality, has been such a blessing. More and more, people are catching on that LRV is one of the most exciting collectives of young musicians, labels and artists around. As far as membership itself, LRV is made up of a rotating cast of labels like Sunup, Ailanthus, Carpi, Holy Page, Sarcastic Magician, Lava Church, Illuminated Paths, and our own little label Wood Thrush Tapes; artists like us, Lasership Stereo, NYKDLN, Brandon Locher, FAVRTSM, Public Spreads The News, Lockbox, Clear Winner and folks like Joshua Rogers, a filmmaker from Broken Machine Films. His work is absolutely brilliant.”
You’re both Quakers. Can you explain what this means and how it informs your work as Lost Trail?
Z: ”We haven’t been Friends for very long, but I won’t pretend it doesn’t affect the music. Denny was raised Presbyterian, and I’ve been agnostic bordering on atheist most of my life, with Catholic background on both sides of my family. I suppose I’ve always felt some spiritual tug, but never thought there was anything out there that matched up to my beliefs. Denny began to miss having a spiritual community to count on, especially being fairly new to Alamance County, and so we began to look into the Friends, who happen to go back to the 1700s around here. Historically they’re very important to the county and to North Carolina in general.
"We attend a meeting called Spring Friends in the little town of Snow Camp. It’s an intimate meeting of about twenty to thirty regular people, which was ideal for me as I had no urge to be overwhelmed by a giant and intimidating spiritual situation. These people have been beyond welcoming to us; recently we suffered a break-in in which we lost some valuables and musical equipment, and the Friends have really pulled together and rallied behind us to help us out. I’ve never seen a community, faith-based or otherwise, that has each others’ backs so firmly. I can only hope that the younger Quakers continue the tradition, as it seems to be sadly dying out.
"I was shocked to find a faith that matched my personal beliefs to the letter. The idea that God is a light existing within everyone was so refreshing. There’s no need for some self-righteous asshole condemning you hypocritically from a pulpit. Everyone is on equal footing. And the use of silence is very calming and centering, something I need in my life. The broadness of ideals, the emphasis on simplicity, all appealed to me. I’m the most un-materialistic person I know. Stuff means literally nothing to me; I try in all I do to reject the trappings of a consumerist culture (well, as much as one can in 2012 America and still survive). If I had a way to live self-sufficiently at this moment, entirely off the grid in a cabin somewhere growing my own food and making my own clothes, I would. Maybe we’ll get there someday. I’d like to think so.
"All of this matched with the fierce progressive ideals and dedication to social justice that comes with a traditional Quaker meeting, and I knew I’d found a match. It’s enriched and deepened our work in Lost Trail, given it an entirely new cast it lacked before, a greater context. Our music has always seemed very spiritual to me, which is why so many of the faith-based field recordings seemed to fit, even if I didn’t absolutely believe in what was being spoken. It was more the idea of the power of belief itself, the passion in these peoples’ voices, their inflections. Lost Trail very much seems to turn on the axis of powerful belief, which I never expected at the start of it."
Is your label Wood Thrush Tapes a straightforward extension of the Lost Trail aesthetic?
Z: ”No. Wood Thrush Tapes is largely a hobby, and a way to release our friends’ work in small runs for our own reward and theirs. Essentially, I like to keep busy. I’d love to have the money and time to develop it into a proper label, but alas, not happening. I never intended it as a vanity project to release our own work, but as an outlet for friends who needed short runs of things. What we’re hoping to experiment with in the future is unusual ways of releasing things. We’ve got a lot of stuff planned on the horizon that should be interesting to fans of odd releases.”
I’m fond of the track ‘Videoroom’ from the Longing album. But I’m intrigued - what exactly goes on in that room?
Z: ”It does sound a little sinister doesn’t it? Sometimes we really do pick track names just for how they sound. There’s an eeriness to the idea of a ‘video room’. Your mind doesn’t go to nice places when confronted with that image, it immediately reverts to the darkest option.
"It seemed a very Cronenberg type image to me at the time, I guess. Cronenberg’s early period (through maybe The Dead Zone, which is still the best King adaptation) really inspired that sense in Lost Trail of the frightening possibilities of dying technologies, how they take on almost anthropomorphic qualities, and usually in a forbidding manner. Videotape only seems eerier and eerier in its flaws and peculiarities as time goes on. It’s almost always disturbing or luridly illicit in its implications. Videos become like this hidden, shameful art form, full of blurs and warps and damage that just unsettle the soul. That’s one reason we love VHS so much. Technology, especially obsolete technology, may be made by human hands, but it’s colder than human, that’s for sure. And VHS will always be associated with voyeurism and wickedness on one level, and golden-tinged nostalgia on the other. Those two meet in very intriguing ways.
"Part of that return to obsolete technology I’ve mentioned, this fetishizing that we’re guilty of, of venerating VHS and Super 8 and Polaroid and the like, is definitely a reaction to the hollowness of perfection-craving digital culture, I think. Yet it’s an uneasy admiration, because as things age and disintegrate, they naturally take on a foreboding sort of light. Decay and the passage of time will always unsettle us, as it means mortality, death. The usage of VHS in the horror genre has gone absolutely insane lately. There’s definitely a sociological reason. An album like The Disintegration Loops is almost a technological genocide in its implications."
What are your plans for Lost Trail over the next few months?
Z: ”A lot going on, as usual. We just had a little 20-minute split tape with FAVRTSM come out on Sunup. Early in 2013, physical copies of another full-length that was recorded way back at the start of 2011 are finally coming out on a splendid new Alaskan label, Tired Sounds. Also another full-length next summer on Visceral Media, a music and film project coming out soon on a label I’m going to keep under wraps for now, new EPs for Birch Grove Recordings and Benadrone Tapes, and another full-length after that, probably late in the year, label pending. Additionally, there’s some film score projects planned, a collection of some of my poetry we’re working on music to go with, an 8” lathe cut release and a Minidisc EP (yes, Minidisc) that we’re putting out on Wood Thrush Tapes at some point soon, a straight field recordings collection, a couple of awesome collaborations planned, and a whole bunch of compilation appearances coming up. We’re also heading out on an East Coast tour with our bud Sebastian (Proud Father, a killer noise project from Jacksonville, Florida) in the fall of 2013, and at some point soon I have an IDM/tape loop side project, Cobra Mist, that I’m trying to finish up. Lots of releases coming up on Wood Thrush Tapes, as well, the first of which is a Linear Bells album /// in a run of 20. So, much going on! Keep up with everything we’re doing at our website and the Wood Thrush TapesTumblr, on Twitter and Facebook.”
Belong Who Told You This Room Exists? Esmerine Why She Swallows Bullets And Stones Mount Eerie w/ Julie Doiron & Fred Squire Lost Wisdom Forest Swords Hjurt Library Tapes But Now Things Were Different, With Birds Unable To Speak Jean Ritchie There Lived An Old Lord Six Organs Of Admittance Eighth Cognition/All You’ve Left Tim Hecker Chimeras M83 Gone Mountain Man Mouthwings Set Fire To Flames Omaha Frederic Chopin Nocturne #20 In C Sharp Minor Boards Of Canada Gyroscope Alabama Sacred Harp Singers Shelburne
Paper Dollhouse (Astrud Steehouder and Nina Bosnic), Angkorwat (Niamh Corcoran) and Embla Quickbeam (Rowan Forestier-Walker) recently collaborated on a new piece of music entitled Unicorn. The track was specially commissioned by The Outer Church and given away as a free download to everyone who attended the event on 17.12.12. You can listen to it here
Over the past decade, Washington DC emigre James Ginzburg has released a plethora of material under assorted pseudonyms, co-founded Bristol’s Multiverse organisation (with Rob ‘Pinch’ Ellis, Paul Jebanasam and James Fiddian) and established low-frequency research unit Emptyset (with Paul Purgas). In Spring 2013, Ginzburg will reveal a hitherto undisclosed talent for psych-pop songcraft when new project Faint Wild Light makes its debut via Digitalis. Similarly distinct from the bass-heavy explorations for which he is best known, Ginzburg’s mix for the OC is described by the producer as “a musical pause, a gap between years.”
1. William Basinski ‘Vivian & Ondine’
"Ideally all albums would be comprised of one repetitive track that played off until infinity. Conveniently, this piece, while only being 45:10, can be looped for an infinite listening experience."
2. Penguin Cafe Orchestra ‘The Snake And The Lotus’
"A touchingly somber guitar and shaker."
3. Hans Zimmer ’Journey To The Line’
"From the soundtrack to Terrence Malick’s excellent and somewhat overlooked The Thin Red Line. Hans does Arvo Part meets Steve Reich."
4. Brian Eno ‘Thursday Afternoon’
"According to my itunes I have listened to this album for 187 hours over the course of the last year."
5. Rachmaninov ‘Piano Concerto #4 In G Minor, Op. 40 - 2. Largo.1’
"To me this sounds like an ever-frustrated aspiration towards happiness, though perhaps it’s something of an auditory inkblot test, and to you it sounds like drunken 19th century Russian aristocrats grieving over their late night gambling losses."
6. Goldmund ‘Image Autumn Womb’
"They slept profoundly, desperately, greedily, as though for the last time, as though they had been condemned to stay awake forever and had to drink in all the sleep in the world during these last hours." - Narcissus And Goldmund, Herman Hesse
7. Susumu Yokota ‘Azukiiro No Kaori’
"My CD player broke and got stuck on this track for six hours sometime around 2002. At the time I thought that time was just passing very slowly."
8. William Basinski ‘Melancholia II’
"What I wouldn’t give to have my Melancholies sound like this."
9. Arvo Part ‘Fratres For Eight Cellos’
"I heard this for the first time towards the end of a week I spent on my own in middle of nowhere Wales during which I didn’t listen to any music. When I finally couldn’t bear silence any longer I put this on and I stared out a window at a half mined out mountain and I cried over that mountain for a while."
10. Johan Johannason ‘Melodia (I)’
"This tangentially reminded me of the section of Vivaldi’s The Rite Of Spring as its appears in the sequence in which the dinosaurs all die in Fantasia until I went back and watched it again and realised it had a less than vague, if any, connection to it. It does, however, work as an alternative soundtrack to that scene, if one is inclined to try it. If not, one can simply just imagine a terminally ill diplodocus while listening."
11. Vigh Mihaly ‘Valuska’
"This piece is from the opening scene of Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister’s Harmonies in which closing time Hungarian drunks act out an eclipse in a stumbling dance."
12. Nils Frahm ‘Keep’
"We tried to catch Nils Frahm’s set when we were at Decibel festival Seattle this September. Having driven up Mt Ranier to catch the sunset, we raced back to town and ran into the venue to find we had got the performance time wrong. We heard the final piece, this tune, through the auditorium doors, blocked from even entering."
13. Basic Channel ‘Q1.2’
"As if when the techno rapture came the kick drum was saved and taken up into the heavens leaving just a synth to peacefully mourn the end of days and the vacuum left behind."
14. Roly Porter ‘Caladan’
"Above and beyond its Asimovian textures and existential angst, it is the peculiar causality of Roly’s music that I find most interesting. Nothing happens when or in a way that I expect, so I always have the sense I’m peering through a window into to something that doesn’t belong in this universe."
15. Paul Jebanasam ‘Book Of Revelations’
"This is a studio recording of this track that never has seen release. A live version of it features on Paul’s Music For The Church Of St John The Baptist on our label Subtext. The instrumentation is Viola and Viole-de-Gambe both performed by Bristol’s Phil Owen."
16. Max Richter ‘Spring 1’
"Max Richter flipping Vivaldi. It reminds me of the 1998 trance classic by Binary Finary titled ‘1998’."
17. Ash Ra Tempel ‘Quasarsphere’
"If one evening I were to strip off all my clothes in a fit of lysergic revelatory ecstasy and ooze out of my front door, a polychromatic puddle of transcendent confusion, I would have the heavenly declarative trumpets play this to forewarn the doormat."
18. Pink Floyd ‘Echoes’
"One of my favorite records, ever. When I first listened to it in our new studio on our super hi-res monitors I noticed that they didn’t noise gate the vocals and you can hear the sound of David Gilmour’s saliva in the gaps between phrases."
19. Squarepusher ‘Iambic 5 Poetry’
"I bought this on vinyl in 1999 after I’d lived in England for about a year, so it conjures up that slightly odd, ill-adjusted and malformed part of my life."
20. Herbie Hancock ‘Butterfly’
"From Thrust, I think this is best mellow track of the early 70s Hancock stuff. I thought that a ride of the cosmic love machine was a suitable place to end a mix that threatened at times to be earnest and heartfelt."
Oscillating between tenebrous witch-folk and bleak electronics, Paper Dollhouse are the musical equivalent of a hologram projected from a frostbitten tree trunk. The solo project of Rayographs guitarist/vocalist Astrud Steehouder recently became a duo with the incorporation of longtime collaborator Nina Bosnic, whose contributions can be heard on the limited edition Rituals & Practices release for Folklore Tapes, a split with Rochdale acid folk savant Magpahi. Steehouder and Bosnic are currently working on the full-length follow-up to 2011’s A Box Painted Blackfor Bird Records and will perform live at The Outer Church on December 17th alongside Angkorwat and Embla Quickbeam. Here they discuss the Paper Dollhouse aesthetic and present an exclusive mix entitled Emerald Cave.
What is your Emerald Cave mix about?
Astrud Steehouder: “A dark embryo of sound that reflects what we’re inspired by right now to take with us in future recordings. It’s dense, laden with doom and in luminous in places. Like a massive cave with glittering icicles. It’s a winter mix. By the way, we love Skinny Girl Diet. They are 15 years old and they rule - we played with them recently and they were ace. Nina got a t-shirt - it’s cool and has a cat on it.”
Nina Bosnic: “Yeah, they have incredible raw energy and power to move and awaken. They will do incredible things. Our mix is about about new discovering and total inspirations.”
Your side of the Rituals & Practices release on Folklore Tapes was something of a departure from previous recordings. How come?
A: “It was an opportunity for us to work in a very different way, learning about Devon folklore via a vaguely academic route, picking up themes that resonated both within the tales and our lives at the time, and producing a response to the whole experience, or in some cases, like the spoken word stuff, recording the experience itself. Someone described it as Ouija theatre, which I can see. It was marked by the seasonal changes of spring and involved playing around with different methods and practices ourselves through meditative and transformative states. It was how we were feeling at the time. It’s kind of frightening in places I guess. We bought these black Moroccan robes and went to the cemetery and burnt coloured smoke at dawn in the garden which was fun. Blue smoke looks wicked in that light.”
N: “There was a lot of story telling and reading, walking and talking about the things we learned and read… thinking about the elements of the Devon folklore stories we were particularly inspired by. We were drawn to cemeteries and did a lot of recording at the old Norwood cemetery near my house. It was an eerie and miraculous time in lots of ways. It was special to experience it and let it into our lives. It is very powerful and it influenced our lives profoundly. I think this is the essence of folklore. It was a very special project to be a part of.”
The debut album was comprised of very sparse home recordings. How do you feel about this approach now?
A: “That whole record was recorded on the Skype mic of my mac into Garageband just after I had written each song. I appreciated the rawness and purity of it on reflection so it became a record but that wasn’t the intention at the time so I think there’s a complete lack of self-consciousness about it which I could never repeat. It’s slight but possesses a complete essence of what was happening, partly as you can hear the environmental textures in it. It roots it in experience, so provides this realism, but a lot of the content reads as a cerebral riddle. I wanted to do something a lot different after that, or at least be capable of it, and was listening to a lot of electronic stuff for a good while so definitely wanted to channel that love a bit into recordings, however it transpired. In as far as recording I’ve definitely improved my production techniques but I still love the sound of just a simple guitar and vocal. It can express a lot more than something with a lot going on in it regarding instrumentation and production. I have some old 4-track stuff that might make it on to the album; I like a mix of qualities and textures going on.”
N: “I love doing things in very simple ways. We spent a summer in Astrud’s garden listening to the subtle urban and natural sounds around us, writing and recording. To me it felt like a very raw process, unrefined and pure. There is something very beautiful about feeling in the moment, when you just know inside that something important and great is happening and shaping your life and you as a human being. It was a pivotal time for both of us and out of that those recordings were born, just like that, so quickly and simply. I think that personally I will always work in that way, a little by chance, a little by desire. It’s the perfect formula.”
You often post demo tracks online. Does this serve an artistic purpose?
A: “Mainly just to share what I’ve found or what is in progress like a sketchbook. I used to do a lot of art and my sketchbooks were often way more interesting to me than the finished work. Obviously the final product should be the refined culmination of all the work leading up to it, but there’s an open magic to the rest of it that you often don’t get to see. Sometimes I want to see how I feel about it if it’s exposed a bit. Some of those demos will rack up and not be released for a good while and others will be developed into records.”
N: “I think putting ideas out there while in the process of being formed can help shape the work. The practice of sharing ideas can inform development and growth. I naturally shy away from exposing my work to anyone so for me, as difficult as it sometimes is, it feels liberating to have work in progress online weather it is music or visual.”
Aside from the distinctive vocal, something like ‘Helios’ sounds very different to the rest of your music. How do you reconcile the dark electronic element with the more acoustic material?
A: “Referring to the first album, I guess so, but the electronic stuff has always been a very important part of the spectrum of music I’m into and want to reflect in terms of what I can produce myself so it’s pretty vital it comes out somehow. It was a very good gateway broken when I learnt how to use the drum machine for that track. I like ambient folk stuff but that’s only part of it and only reflects one aspect of what I want to say. In one way it was fairly deliberate releasing a very raw, mainly acoustic album knowing that the music was going to turn more electronic, to play with that traditional notion of a folk, pop chanteuse a little as it’s never what I viewed this project to be about, though I am a fan of that canon for sure. I like the apparently odd juxtaposition of ethereal folk and electronic tracks, but it doesn’t seem odd to me at all. As long as it flows and makes sense as a whole, that’s what it’s about. I like variety but I think, as you say, there is a stylistic link that is kind of impossible to detach from, it still emerges from the same filter as all the other stuff so I think overall there’s no reason why it can’t be reconciled.”
N: “The merging of the folk and electronic feels completely natural for us. I think those two elements, folk and then the more noisy or beat based songs, are a natural and compulsory development for us working together because of the things we are influenced by.”
You’ve recently become a duo. How has this affected the way you work and the music you create? Do you have specific roles within Paper Dollhouse?
A: “Yeah, generally it’s a lot more fun. Things can get fairly insular otherwise which has its benefits but isn’t always the healthiest way to be. Roles are in flux as we introduce more equipment and recording techniques. Live, Nina’s doing keyboard and I’m doing guitar but we have a sampler and pedals, soon to get a mixer as well. Nina played some shows with me right at the beginning then I did some stuff and shows on my own, now we’re properly writing recording and playing shows together. It’s great; we share a complimentary aesthetic so it works really well I think.”
N: “For the earliest Paper Dollhouse performances I had a completely different role, I guess we both did in a way. I started by operating a slide show, we’d set it up really close in front of us and I’d change the slides manually one by one with each song, incorporating the wholesome mechanical click and turn of the slide wheel into the sound of the music we were making. I was adding flute, clarina, shaker, thunder, speech and other ambient textures. We do have roles I suppose but they are in flux as we develop what we are doing and experiment with instrumentation and equipment. The visual element has always been really important to both of us. The projections we are working with at the moment is a piece Astrud made and very much reflects our visual ideals. We couldn’t play with just any visuals and we never have.”
Would you incorporate more band members in future?
A: “I think two’s good.”
N: “No, the balance feels just right. We both make or have made music with bands and other people too, Astrud with Rayographs and me with Liberez. I love both ways of working with people and it’s a different dynamic and energy with each project.”
What does the term ‘folk music’ mean to you?
A: “Stories, truth, an important simplicity that cuts through layers of bullshit supplied by and catered for society. I’m talking about the spirit of it rather than the style. There is a folk style of course which I generally like as well but I mean the point and value of it.”
N: “I grew up with folk music and I think that it helped shape my tastes and values. My parents have always played and sang old Sevdalinka songs which are Bosnian folk songs. I am fascinated by stories told through music passed on from generation to generation and how melody is preserved through people sharing songs. It is educational, informative and inspirational and I think that is important.”
Is folklore important to you?
A: “Insofar as it stimulates the imagination and recontextualises historical and seasonal imaginings in terms of potent external or divine forces it’s interesting. It creates culture to a certain extent in which is bound a sense of personal understanding and pride so I guess it’s important in that way. It depends how you define folklore; London’s is very much about violence, drinking, darkness and horror. And eccentric behaviours. You never know if what is happening now will become folklore. People need stories to explain things and to entertain themselves.”
N: “On a personal level yes, it gives me a sense of being part of something bigger and greater which may be spiritual and ceremonial. I think it is something which binds me to family and tradition. I think it can be a beautiful and empowering thing and can help forge a sense of belonging, identity and affinity with other people.”
Do you both have a strong sense of your own roots?
A: “Yes. Mine are pretty mixed culturally and geographically, I know that much but I’ve also always been in or near London which I’m sure has influenced my ideas and values. Musically it’s been a very interesting place to grow up. I’ve had the same friends for many years which is really important to me and I have a strong sense of who my family is. But there are so many ways anyone can be shaped, with the same origins, that it’s more about what’s happening now and how you choose to live your life. Who you are is always evolving. You could always trace it back to your roots which to an extent is interesting but really it’s only one variable about who anyone is.”
N: “In a way yes and no. I’ve always had mixed feelings and notions about my own belonging. My family are from former Yugoslavia and we moved to London when I was ten years old. I think cultural identity can be a complex thing and more so now in the 21st century than ever before. Mostly I feel like I am growing my own roots as I get older as opposed to having grown out of my own roots. I am aware of my family past but at the same time I am creating myself and my own belonging that isn’t necessarily connected to a physical place.”
Do you view your music as rural or urban?
A: “Urban but ethereal I guess. I like trees though.”
N: “Yes it is all connected to psychogeography. I am inevitably inspired, informed and shaped by the environments which I am a part of; nature and the elements as well as urban city surroundings, whether in positive or negative ways.”
Have you ever been haunted?
A: “Yes. In Blackpool. Terrifying. Shining Hotel. Very fucking weird.”
N: “I will always be haunted.”
Is God alive? Is magic afoot?
A: “We have no idea what’s really going on.”
How would you define the Paper Dollhouse aesthetic?
A: “Apparently bleak but in fact ardently escapist, luminous, spectral, layered.”
N: “A gloomy yet blissful half-dream state.”
Do you each bring in ideas from disciplines other than music, like photography, film, etc?
A: “Yeah we’re both really into a lot of visual stuff. I’m particularly into chunks of coloured light and am getting into making short films but too early days to give particular references. Just messing about really. I’ve got more into 60s psych posters recently and graphic novels, I really love that stuff.”
N: “I have always studied and done a lot of photography. I am interested in very simple, primal ways of recording images such as with a box camera and very long exposures. I have an obsession with light, cameras, sound, voices, words and dreams.”
Do you feel a particular kinship with any other artists or groups?
A: “Liberez, Emma Tricca, Old Apparatus - I don’t know, I should probably speak to more bands but you meet who you meet. Hopefully the kinship will grow naturally as you meet like minded folk.” N: “You’re Only Massive. We’re staying with them in Berlin this month, we love them. We also love School Tour and Patrick Kelleher from Dublin, we went on a mini tour in Ireland with them, we’d love to play with them again.”
Do you enjoy being part of the extended Finders Keepers family?
A: “Yes. They are all definitively wicked.”
Are you strongly influenced by location? If you could establish a Paper Dollhouse HQ anywhere, where would it be?
A: “At the moment it’s my bedroom which isn’t ideal. Somewhere near some nice trees with some wicked metallic objects and coloured glass. Get James Turrell to design a tree house. Wicked.”
N: “I love being in nature away from big cities. I’d love to live somewhere very remote on the coast maybe, reflect and write. We’ve been thinking about staying in the Yorkshire Dales for a week or so, walking, talking, recording sound and making music.”
You’ve expressed an admiration for the 1988 film Paperhouse. What is there about it that captures your imagination?
A: “The colour scheme, the duality of worlds, the bad dubbing. I just remember watching it when I was really young and it sucked me in and scared me at the same time, I think someone gets garotted. Therein lies the qualities of intrigue and obsession. Talking of which, I had exactly the same thing with Possession, of which FK recently released the soundtrack. I remember a naked couple getting hit with baseball bats or some such. I was genuinely thrilled to realize it was the same film because that scene had haunted me my entire life. Lord knows how I ended up watching these films so young. A TV in my room I’m guessing. That film was shot in the empty streets of wall-era East Berlin and there is a tracks are called ‘Kreuzberg 1’, ‘Helen Has Green Eyes’, and ‘Man With The Pink Socks’. Cool. I think it was all around the same age - I got really obsessed with Wayne’s World as well but I don’t know if that influence will be filtered so obviously through PDH. You know never know though. Sonic Where’s Wally. I’m getting a Where’s Wally advent calendar by the way, I’ve decided.”
N: “I never had a TV in my room… or an advent calendar.”
What’s your favourite kind of weather?
A: “Rainy, autumnal.”
N: “A clear blue Winter or Autumn sky, the cold, snow.”
Do you have an idea of what the second Paper Dollhouse album be like?
A: “More of an odyssey than the first. What we’ve recorded so far is pretty mixed.”
N: “An after-dark kind of album.”
What are you going to do now?
A: “Buy some coloured jack leads and listen to some more Holy Other on the Triangle Soundcloud as I’ve not heard too much of it.”
N: “Make us tea.”
Oophoi Cold Sun Julianna Barwick Cloak Diamanda Galas Birds Of Death Crime And The City Solution It Takes Two To Burn Oneirogen Excoriate Buddy Holly Phone Call (1957) Skinny Girl Diet Eyes That Paralyse Andy Stott Execution Aphex Twin Falling Free Broadcast You And Me In Time Tim Hardin Lenny’s Tune Paper Dollhouse Untitled Autechre VLetrmx21
The Outer Church first encountered Wizards Tell Lies via their second release for the First Fold label, 2011’s The Occurrence EP. A strange concoction of makeshift radiophonics, witchy atmospherics and post-Liars rhythms, it sounded bewilderingly unlike anything we’d ever heard. Their new full-length album The Failed Silence marks a considerable evolution, benefiting from a broader outlook and a more expansive sonic palette. Though credited to the trio of Fox (guitars, percussion, bass, keyboards, field recordings, vocals), Owl (‘The Orchestra of Lost Things’, drums, percussion) and Hart (acoustic guitars, bass, synths, sampler, vocals) Wizards Tell lies is in fact the work of one man, Wigan’s Matt Bower (not to be confused with the Skullflower/Total/Hototogisu fellow). Here he discusses the wild ideas that fuel his project and blesses us with an exclusive mix entitled Ceaseless Mazes & Scattered Angles.
Can you elaborate on the title of your mix for the OC?
"When I was younger I recorded Alien and Blade Runner to Mini Disc so I could listen to the films on the go. I became interested in the sound of film and how the music and audio, when divorced from the images, would ‘open’ the films out, reach out beyond their edges to excite my imagination. It made the films into something else, creating their own fresh narratives.
"I think with the mix I’ve tried to create a sort of audio map for unknown spaces, a filmic narrative. A lot of the music in it will be very familiar to visitors to the OC but I hope I have structured it in such a way that the tracks narrate a journey beyond their original intention to make something different and interesting.
"The title ‘Ceaseless Mazes & Scattered Angles’ actually comes from a short story by HP Lovecraft called ‘The Festival’ written in 1923. The story is set at Christmas time and the narrator is travelling to an ancient sea town (Kingsport, Massachusetts) where his relatives with ‘primal secrets’ have lived for centuries - the narrator has never been there himself. The title comes from a paragraph describing the layout of Kingsport as the narrator walks over the crest of a hill and the town is revealed. For a mix that describes, in an abstract way, maps and spaces, journeys to old dark places, I think the title works well."
How would you describe the orientation of the latest Wizards Tell Lies album, The Failed Silence?
"I had intended not to make another Wizards Tell Lies record for a while after The Occurrence so I could kind of regroup and rethink the approaches and the sound. But that didn’t happen. So that was the first part of it, actually failing to remain silent because once I had started rethinking the music and how I was approaching it, it was natural to just keep on recording. Bit simplistic, but true. It soon became obvious that there was an album somewhere in amongst all this stuff.
"The Failed Silence was about moving the Wizards away from the Forest Of Dark and out to other unknown/magical spaces where silence might pervade, like the sea and outer space. I wanted to see where that would take the music, imposing those backdrops on the Wizards. I suppose it’s a bit like playing games with it, ‘What if..?’, that sort of thing. Challenging the previous two releases creatively was important too – the sound had to develop, it had to be an artistic and sonic step forward. I hope that it is.
"From the start of recording, I had this image in my head of a tar black sea with shadowy unknown horrors moving just below the surface and that image worked as a template for the whole album in one context or another. From ‘Paralysed We Slumped Into the Gloom Of The Consuming Waters’ and ‘Another of Nature’s Treacheries’ to those pieces that have a domestic setting like ‘We Are In Your House’ or ‘To Him Who Had Been’ I think they all stay true to that idea. Having said that, I don’t think The Failed Silence is as dark or unsettling as the other two WTL releases but I did feel that it was important to close the album with a bit of hope, a touch of optimism, some kind of redemption for the listener and WTL. That’s where ‘Anabioein’ comes in. ‘Anabioein’ is a Greek word which means ‘return to life’ and that felt like an important way to close the album, to sign off and say goodbye to the record.
"Paul McIntyre, an editor friend of mine (and an excellent writer), wrote the press release for the album and he got these ideas straight away from his first listen. He wrote a beautiful little paragraph about each track, describing this journey through seas, outer space and dreams, seeing The Failed Silence as a medium that can be moved through and experienced. It added such a wonderful dimension to the whole thing and it helped me to clarify all these thoughts I had about the album."
How did you come to work with actor John Guilor?
"I had written and recorded ‘To Him Who Had Been’ (from The Failed Silence) as an instrumental piece but it lacked something, it needed a voice. I had experimented on the previous two WTL releases with vocals, mainly expressionistic noises really, but I never saw Wizards Tell Lies as having songs as such. I find singing a weird thing to do anyway so sung lyrics on the track wasn’t an option.
"I ended up writing this story based on the work of Nathaniel James (whose story ‘The Maddening Machine’ had inspired the track of the same name from WTL’s debut album). I had tried to narrate the track myself and asked a few other people but it always fell flat. My day job is as a TV editor and I ended up getting in touch with a director friend of mine called Iain Cash who I have worked with on and off over the years. I asked him if he could recommend anyone and he came back with two or three people and after listening to their voice demos I settled on John. He was perfect for it. His voice is full of colour and authority and it ended up being such a simple collaboration, such a pleasure to work with him. For one thing John is a really nice and interesting bloke and secondly he totally understands where Wizards Tell Lies is coming from. Without too much direction he knew exactly how to narrate the track and it glued the whole thing together really well. John has just been working with the BBC on the reconstructed third and fourth parts of the 1964 Dr Who serial Planet Of Giants, where he plays/voices the First Doctor (originally played by William Hartnell) - and he is brilliant at it. That is pretty cool. Very proud to have him on this album.
"The track ‘To Him Who Had Been’ features Italian musician Matteo Uggeri (Sparkle in Grey, Meerkat) on trumpet (he also plays on ‘Another of Nature’s Treacheries’). I have been in contact with him for a while now (via email etc) and, like John, he understands where Wizards Tell Lies is coming from. Another easy collaboration from my point of view but he was really worried about his contribution but I love it, it adds another much needed layer and texture to the music.
"Making music can be satisfying in itself but when people understand where you’re coming from and want to contribute to it, that is a massive compliment. These creative partnerships are so important. Even these days in the ‘digital age’ when no one is really ever in the same room anymore and it becomes all a bit ‘Exquisite Corpse’ I find it incredibly inspiring and exciting."
You recently presented a series of portraits of Owl, Hart and Fox. What was the thinking behind this?
"The Fox, Owl and Hart avatars were created at the start of the project to enable me to distance myself from the project and allow me a degree of anonymity. This works too for anyone involved in WTL and I think the animalistic portraits act as an access point to the WTL ‘world’ and hopefully people buy into that. I have always seen WTL in visual terms, almost as if it was a film, and usually the tracks are initially written as little short scripts, so I do draw a parallel with actors playing a role in a film and musicians playing one of the animal characters in WTL. Whether WTL is a band or just one person, I don’t think that is important, what is important is that the music is as good as it can be and that it all works as a solid concept within this ‘world’ that I’ve created. It’s a bit of fun really and with a name like Wizards Tell Lies it is hard to take it all too seriously anyway!"
First Fold seems very much a collective rather than simply a label. What does it mean to you?
"First Fold has been so important to Wizards Tell Lies and me creatively. They allow the artists absolute freedom and they aim to create a really solid back catalogue of incredible music and art. Without their support, I doubt Wizards Tell Lies would exist anymore. It is such an incentive to create stuff when you have an outlet for it. It’s that old thing of ‘art is nothing without an audience’ and even if that audience is two or three people it doesn’t matter. The fact that these few people spend their money on the music or mention it or send a message of support or play it on the radio or people like The Outer Church ask WTL to contribute to something that makes it very satisfying, and the audience keeps growing in small little steps. All this, I would say, is down to First Fold putting this music out and really caring about who they work with and what they release.
"They are such a nice bunch of people and being part of a collective really does give you strength, bit clichéd but it is true. Knowing that they have my back and they will support me pushes me to create the best music I possibly can at any given time.
"It was really good to release The Failed Silence alongside fellow label mates Them Use Them’s The Muse, The Mountain album – I felt there was a common ground between those two records, like a brotherly bond, if you like, and it would be great in ten years time to re-release them together as a double CD or something. Who knows!
"A lot of opportunities have surfaced due to my involvement with First Fold and I know that without the label they wouldn’t have happened. French blogger Lapin Radin approached Wizards Tell Lies to create a new piece of music for his Des Cendres a la Cave blog. The track is called ‘The Hex of Ezra’ and follows on from the ideas built up on The Occurrence EP. It will be included on a free-to-download compilation that will be released just before Xmas. The compilation features, at the last count, some sixty artists from all over the world. A massive undertaking for Lapin but good for him for attacking such an epic project with constant enthusiasm and excitement.
"Being asked to do the mix for The Outer Church was another great opportunity. I always loved to create these mixes but never had much incentive to do it (or the time!) and it was great to dip into it again. But again without the OC being made aware of WTL through the releases on First Fold this would never have happened.
"I am also collaborating with Craig Earp (who is an artist and musician) on a series of prints and we have also talked about a potential music project between Wizards Tell Lies and his group Damrai Vent. We became aware of each other through First Fold (we both contributed to First Fold’s journal, Premier Pli 2). I find all this stuff very exciting and it’s great to collaborate as it challenges and questions your own creative ability. Never a bad thing.
"So, yeah, First Fold is really important to WTL and me personally-label boss Stuart Tonge (who performs and records as Papa November) has been incredible throughout my involvement with the label. It’s all down to him and his wife Katy Aquaye-Tonge (an artist and musician in her own right) really. Without Katy, Stu and I would never have met! I used to work with her in a record shop many years ago and this all came about when I got back in touch with Katy a few years. Stu liked what he heard of WTL’s early recordings and asked if I would do an EP or album and I jumped at the opportunity. I have never spoken to Stu about this but I think he and Ben Sadler (Them Use Them, he runs the label with Stu) were initially quite wary of the occult side of the project (I would be too!) but when I explained it was only a device for artistic expression they were cool with it. It has worked out amazingly well for me and WTL and I hope it continues far into the future as long as I have stuff to release and as long as they want to release it I hope we will keep working together."
Do you feel a particular kinship with any acts or artists outside of First Fold?
"Not sure about kinships but there is a lot of stuff out there that inspires and informs Wizards Tell Lies, quite specific stuff. Maybe a lot of what follows is obvious but being asked to talk about these things sort of gets you to hone in on those things and really concentrate on what inspires you to do whatever it is you do.
"David Lynch’s Rabbits and Eraserhead and his film score music, Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist and The Kingdom, Ridley Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner, George Lucas’s THX 1138, Jan Svankmajer, the Children of the Stones and Chocky TV Series, HP Lovecraft’s Dagon And Other Macabre Tales collection, William S Burroughs’s Word Virus collection, comics like Jamie Delano’s early Hellblazer issues and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series (and Dave McKean’s covers for those two titles), Liars’s They Were Wrong So We Drowned, Reload’s A Collection of Short Stories, Future Sound of London’s second Essential Mix (1995), The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Goblin’s soundtrack for Suspiria, Pan Sonic’s Kesto (234.48:4) Disc 2, Raccoo-oo-oon, Tom Waits’s spoken word tracks ‘What’s He Building In There?’ and ‘Children’s Story’. There are loads more but I find lists dull to read so I’ll quit while I’m ahead! It gives you an idea about where WTL comes from, and the sources I tend to go to pillage for inspiration."
Where are you based? How do your surroundings inform your music?
"I am based in Wigan and yes I think that my surroundings do inform my music. I live opposite a graveyard that is surrounded by woods. It’s a great place to go walking, to think and to record stuff. It’s definitely a serene place rather than a terrifying place but having said that, I haven’t been up there at night yet! There is also a vast country park nearby which is just woodland really. That is an amazing place, really inspiring particularly at this time of year as Autumn switches effortlessly into Winter. It does have a certain magic to it and I hope some of that rubs off onto Wizards Tell Lies’s world."
Urban or pastoral? Discuss.
"I can’t really put one over the other to be honest and I think that both have inspired WTL in one way or another, either directly or through other people’s art and creativity. David Lynch’s architecture and domestic spaces depicted in his films are very powerful and how he shows ‘the horror’ encroaching on that (Eraserhead or Lost Highway) is extremely unnerving, it stays with you. Jamie Delano’s early Hellblazer comics had urban settings and were made unsettling because of it. I think artistically an urban setting for ‘horror’ works really well because it is about it invading your own safe area, if you know what I mean, that is what makes those ideas universally frightening. But there is also a lot to be gleaned from the pastoral and how terrifying those places can be (Eden in Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist for example) especially when you are taken out of your comfort zone and you get foxes saying ‘Chaos reigns’ to you. Unsettling. As hard as people try to remove the pastoral from their living areas, nature will always win. Like Tom Waits sings in ‘Misery Is The River Of The World’: ‘You can drive out nature with a pitchfork/But it always comes roaring back again.’ Nature’s weird anyway and quantum theory shows how unimaginably strange and counter-intuitive nature can be. But again, there’s a bit of magic in all that and a lot of gaping-mouthed-wonder. I suppose it’s about trying to retain a childlike awe for these places (the forest, the sea and outer space) and trying to incite that via the artwork and music and not get too bogged down in fact and theological baggage. It can all work in its own universe to its own rules and as long as it is consistent then I think you’re half way there."
Have you ever had what might be termed an uncanny experience?
"I haven’t had any uncanny experiences as such but my imagination does kind of take over and no matter how rational you are about hauntings or whatever your imagination will win you over every time. I have been very lucky in my job as an editor and the sorts of shows I used to cut to be able to visit some of the country’s reportedly haunted buildings but not once have I experienced anything that would make me believe that they were haunted. It’s very cool to have visited them but I think once you hear the stories about places, that’s it, your mind is off with the tales and making you see and hear things that clearly aren’t there.
"But, having said that, my first house was weird. My wife and I completely gutted this old Victorian terrace and uncovered some very spooky stuff that made my head sing and my skin crawl. In the back bedroom under the floorboards, there amongst a load of hypodermic needles, were about a hundred paper crucifixes. This was really unnerving and a little bit terrifying. Not only that but all the doors were bolted from the outside and thinking about that now, it doesn’t seem that odd, but at the time I thought, ‘What the hell were they trying to keep locked up in that back bedroom?’ My wife had experiences of hearing her name whispered in her ear at very close quarters, a dark figure sat on the bed at the side of her. There were other things that happened but even though I am ninety nine point nine percent certain that ghosts don’t exist, I believe my wife. She has no reason to lie about these things. The light in the back bedroom with the crucifixes in would inexplicably turn on randomly and our godson, who was four at the time, saw a circle of children sitting on our kitchen floor and he also described a ‘man with a bad ear’. The next day we found an old hearing aid boxed up in a cupboard. Bizarre. There was a cupboard under the stairs and scrawled on the wall above the doorway it said, ‘I don’t like it in here.’ Awful and truly terrifying. This all makes me shudder as I talk about it."
How do you feel Wizards Tell Lies has evolved as a project since its earliest recordings?
"Even though at the very start I was obsessing over Ghost Box and obsessing over their obsessions I could never make music like they do, my mind is in another place. I love what they do and they have created this universe around themselves that works really well so why try to compete with that if you have nothing new to say? Reigns do a similar thing with each record. They had a different take on that whole world of Ghost Box spookiness but with a totally different approach and style. That really did inspire a lot of my early WTL recordings. I think as you take on inspiration, ingredients from here and there, you slowly whittle it down and focus your own intentions so that eventually it does become your own take on music or art. I am not quite there yet with WTL but it’s getting there.
"I think the WTL ‘world’ has become more elaborate and there are periphery characters/ personalities that inform the music and project as a whole. Gilbert Delaney (‘The Final Transmission of Gilbert Delaney’ from the self-titled debut), Ezra Parker (whose story inspired The Occurrence EP), Nathaniel James (whose work inspired ‘The Maddening Machine’ and ‘To Him Who Had Been’) all have had a hand in that universe. It has to be fun and creating universes is fun. It also must be challenging and creative and if it isn’t there is no real point to it on a personal level. You have to retain an enthusiasm for the stuff because if you don’t no one else will!”
Your releases come wrapped in beautiful artwork. What impression do you hope to convey with their presentation?
"Apart from the debut album and the mini-zine insert I made for The Occurrence EP I haven’t had anything to do with CD artwork. I think the question maybe should be for Gareth Courage who designs all the artwork for First Fold’s releases! I don’t usually have any input as that’s part of Gareth’s role within the collective. All of First Fold’s musicians send their finished EPs or albums to him and he disappears for a while and comes back with these consistently striking and incredible images. He seems to create them as a reaction to/interpretation of the music, and the images he comes up with work so beautifully for Wizards Tell Lies. Gareth’s images are incredibly important to me and the project because they add another layer to the Wizards Tell Lies ‘world’, they sort of extend it out beyond my own intentions and concepts."
"The Twilight Saga."
How do you feel about the future?
"Positively. I am a bit of a pessimist to be honest and I know this is a contradiction but I get a bit uncomfortable by absolute negativity, those doomsayers who say the future is going to be a dark and miserable place where Western civilisation has crumbled and society is screwed beyond redemption. There has to be hope and something to look forward to. Maybe it’s a naïve cliché but art and music helps. Family and friends too. If it does all end in December (unlikely) as the Mayans predicted I like the idea from Don McKeller’s Last Night of spending the final day on earth with your loved ones listening to exotica records while watching the world burn. Funny."
Are you looking forward to Christmas?
Wizards Tell Lies The Symmetree THX 1138 Extract Rhythm Devils Cave Paul Giovanni Lullaby Tom Waits Children’s Story Wizards Tell Lies The Maddening Machine Buffy Sainte Marie Adam THX 1138 Extract Papa November Banished Part II Zdenek Liska Et Cetera Giuliano Sorgini Torment Of The Dead Aphex Twin Untitled (Grass) Wizards Tell Lies How It Starts Mum & Dad Kiss of Death John Carpenter Ghost Story William S Burroughs Dinosaurs (Extract) John Murphy Welcome To Icarus II Thomas Koner Novaya Zemlya 1 David Lynch & Dean Hurley The Air Is On Fire VII (Interior) Vangelis One More Kiss Dear Main Remain Wizards Tell Lies The Remembering THX 1138 Extract Them Use Them Ghosts Along The Shore Daphne Oram Kia-Ora The Advisory Circle Swinscoe Episode 1 Wizards Tell Lies The Failed Silence Reload Enlightenment/Event Horizon Thames Television Ident
2012 has been an astonishing year for music. Here are some of the releases we’ve loved at The Outer Church, in no particular order: Production Unit There Are No Shortcuts In A Grid System (Broken20) Alexander Tucker Third Mouth (Thrill Jockey) Pye Corner Audio Sleep Games (Ghost Box) Oren Ambarchi Sagittarian Domain (Editions Mego) Black Bananas Rad Times Express IV (Drag City) Panabrite Soft Terminal (Digitalis) Killer Mike R.A.P. Music (Williams Street) Bear Bones, Lay Low El Telonero (Kraak) Slomo The Grain (Trilithon) Scott Walker Bish Bosch (4AD) Lost Trail A Stained August For The Jetcrash (Sunup Recordings) Raime Quarter Turns Over A Living Line (Blackest Ever Black) Hacker Farm UHF (Exotic Pylon) Blawan His He She & She (Hinge Finger) Stratus As The Crow Flies (Tummy Touch) Innercity Bloodcake (Amnesia Agency) Penalune Not All Clouds Are White (Broken20) Synek Paradiba (Rano) EL-P Cancer 4 Cure (Fat Possum) Kemper Norton Rough Music: Collision/Detection v6 (Front & Follow) KTL V (Editions Mego) Lindstrom Smalhans (Feedelity) These Feathers Have Plumes Hegira (Robert & Leopold) Vindicatrix Mengamuk (Mordant Music) Time Attendant Tournaments (Exotic Pylon) Van Halen A Different Kind Of Truth (Interscope) Anna Meredith Black Prince Fury (Moshi Moshi) Panabrite The Baroque Atrium (Preservation) eMMplekz IZOD Days (Mordant Music) Áine O’Dwyer Music for Church Cleaners (Fort Evil Fruit) Black Mountain Transmitter Playing With Dead Things (Auris Apothecary) Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury DROKK: Music Inspired By Mega City One (Invada) Young Smoke Space Zone (Planet Mu) Kiran Leonard Bowler Hat Soup (Self-Released) oh/ex/oh Extant (The Geography Trip) Fairhorns Doki Doki Run (Invada) Mirrorring Foreign Body (Kranky) TVO Red Night (Broken60) Air Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Virgin) Hong Kong In The 60s Collision/Detection v4 (Front & Follow) Jessica Bailiff At The Down-Turned Jagged Rim Of The Sky (Kranky) Steve Moore Light Echoes (Cuneiform) Robert Hood Motor: Nighttime World 3 (Music Man) Kemper Norton Carn 1 (Self-Released) Old Apparatus Derren/Realise/Alfur/Harem (Sullen Tone) Devin Townsend Project Epicloud (HevyDevy) Minack Downed (Self-Released) Nick Mott The Visitors (alt.vinyl) Mothlite Dark Age (Kscope) Beru Fire Eyes Gather Souls (Digitalis) Hexvessel No Holier Temple (Svart) Emptyset Medium (Subtext) Now Wakes The Sea Hot Cygnet Tape (The Geography Trip) Robin The Fog The Ghosts Of Bush (The Fog Signals) OGRE 184 (Self-Released) Jon Brooks Shapwick (Clay Pipe Music) Ship Canal Please Let Me Back Into Your House (19F3) Silver Pyre AeXE (Sedgemoor Recordings) 10-20 Magnet Marsh (Broken60) Soft Mirage Ionian Dream (Kinnta) The Haxan Cloak The Men Parted The Sea To Devour The Water (Southern) Bass Clef Reeling Skullways (Punch Drunk) Wizards Tell Lies The Failed Silence (First Fold) Abul Mogard Abul Mogard (VCO Recordings) Erstlaub Marconi’s Shipwreck (Broken20) Patti Smith Banga (Columbia) The Beach Boys That’s Why God Made The Radio (Capitol) Pye Corner Audio Black Mill Tapes Vol 3 (Pye Corner Audio Transcription Services) Ombre Believe You Me (Asthmatic Kitty) Rush Clockwork Angels (Roadrunner) Earth Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II (Southern Lord) Sone Institute A Model Life (Front & Follow) Umberto The Night Has A Thousand Screams (Rock Action) Imbogodom And They Turned Not When They Went (Thrill Jockey) Them Use Them The Muse The Mountain (First Fold) Oren Ambarchi Audience Of One (Touch) Majeure Solar Maximum (Temporary Residence) Emptyset Collapsed (Raster Noton) Lindstrom Six Cups Of Rebel (Smalltown Supersound)
Manchester-based label The Geography Trip made an auspicious debut this year with the sunken coastal drone of Now Wakes The Sea's Hot Cygnet Tape. The Outer Church received its copy with a rather fetching postcard, now firmly pinned to the notice board in the narthex. More recently the label hooked up with OC ally oh/ex/oh and will release the shadowy British producer’s beautifully vaporous full-length debut Extant on December 21st. Somewhere in the midst of all this excitement one thing led to another and the Trip found themselves making the OC an exclusive mixtape accompanied by an illuminating track-by-track commentary…
Hill Fort Listening Station: A Geography Trip
"I like it when sounds have a sense of journey about them. Ever since falling under the terrifying spell of Boards Of Canada's Geogaddi, I can rarely listen to anything without positing some kind of imaginary ramble through its whale-like sonic belly. That’s probably why I started The Geography Trip; a soundtrack for my personal reveries through abandoned quarries, the curated artefacts of my mental town-centre, the catalogued topographies of illusory coastlands. This particular Trip is about a journey to a strange transmitter up on a hill fort in Wales. I hope you like it.”
Enraptured by the curvature and sheer volume, our eyes bulge. The mast looms out of a bank of deepest green, thrusting forth with silent pulse. There is a momentary haze, a flutter of the heart. And then the horror creeps in, a gaunt shadow encircling the spine. Sheila has left her flask on the bus.
1. Black Mountain Transmitter ‘Black Goat Of The Woods’
"I actually listened to this when I walked over the hill fort. It genuinely scared the hell out of me, although I couldn’t place exactly why. The ominous circularity of nightmare and ritual, building and building like a mountain gradually looming into view. Except that you are hog-tied to wooden stakes and the path is lined with old skulls. Something to do with that, probably."
2. Robin the Fog ‘Cold Space and Peeling Oxide’
"Since my introduction to The Ghosts of Bush earlier this year I’ve found it almost impossible to stop listening. It feels as though I’m scuttling through a massive organic submarine, walls breathing and shuddering as load-bearing spines twist and buckle. It’s magnificent.”
3. Bibio ‘Dwrcan’
"This sounds like a scrambled transmission from a hip-hop protocol droid. The skewed beats are wires that entangle a CPU of melancholic binary memory. It has a combination of the rural and the exotic that is compelling; the mechanical beside the natural, the strange inside the familiar. And it reminds me of Boards, which is always lovely."
4. Moon Wiring Club ‘The Moontower’
"This is one of my hardy perennials, I play it a lot. It feels quite native, familiar somehow; the vocal samples all have that Edwardian accent that identifies them as being taken from programming for schools or something like that. Call it Hauntology or Psychogeography or whatever you like, for me it’s about finding your own personal buttons to press to transform the space you are in."
5. Chris Watson ‘The Forest Path: Meallan Na Ceardaich, Glen Affric, Scotland’
"Chris Watson makes recordings that sparkle and resonate. They seem to retain something from the surroundings that other field-recordists cannot cling on to. This is probably due to a combination of excellent technique and considerable experience, but I prefer to believe that he is unnatural and brilliant."
6. Boards of Canada ‘Audiotrack 13A’
"I suppose it’s kind of a cliché, but BOC are pretty much the reason I do what I do; from the very first second of ‘Aquarius’ heard on Peel, my mind had been re-programmed like a copy of Operation Wolf for the Spectrum thrown from a moving vehicle, spools fluttering in the breeze. And now my mind (the spooling tape) is entwined in some shrubs and disintegrating."
7. Heathered Pearls ‘Beach Shelter’
"I don’t know much about this. Someone mentioned it on Twitter and I fell in love with it, the sunkenness and murk. It sounds like a beach travelling in reverse."
8. Slowdive ‘Souvlaki Space Station’
"I had Souvlaki on tape when I was younger and I like the way this track feels like a gyroscope gradually slowing down in space. When the gyroscope stops spinning, the space station hits the edge of the atmosphere or something. So the astronauts are understandably miffed."
9. oh/ex/oh ‘The Resonator’
"This may seem like some kind of shameless plug, but it isn’t. This track makes my hairs stand on end. oh/ex/oh is a polymath in a land of monomaths and semimaths. Pre-order now to avoid disappointment etc."
10. At the Drive In ‘One Armed Scissor (Coda)’
"There’s a little coda on the end of ‘One Armed Scissor’ that’s like a vignette from a Radio 4 play about scientists escaping from a doomed laboratory. I thought I would mix it in here because it has a real chill to it and also I can be a bit of a pretentious dick sometimes."
11. Ship Canal ‘Sat Nav Wanker’
"I don’t know anything about Ship Canal, but someone put this on a mix for me and it’s incredible. Incidentally, I had a great idea for a comic about a superhero who lives in a submarine in a canal. If anyone wants to write it with me, get in touch."
12. John Barry ‘Countdown For Blofeld’
"The incidental pieces of music that John Barry made for film, but particularly James Bond, are my earliest memories of being moved in the way that I have attempted to move people with my label: to instil a sense of the abnormal and the ominous wrapped inside a sense of vast, cinematic soundscapes."
13. Chris Watson ‘The Blue Men of Minch: Moray Firth, Scotland’
"More Watson, for he is grand."
14. Kemper Norton ‘821.914’
"Someone, not sure who, reads Philip Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ above a beat that recoils into itself like maggots chewing at flesh. Chilling."
15. Jacob Kirkegaard ‘Heavy Water’
"For a while I worked as a writer in the office of a shitty travel company. I wasn’t particularly good at my job, so I used to pretend I was doing my work when I was actually listening to Jacob Kirkegaard and looking at pictures of haunted lighthouses."
16. Super Furry Animals ‘Some Things Come From Nothing’
"The Furries are the first band I really fell for, and I fell quite hard. They are certainly accountable for my considerable collection of bobble hats and my ability to say ‘sunny intervals’ in Welsh. More so, they exposed me to a kind of experimentation with sound I hadn’t heard before. This particular track uses a lot of Caribbean steel drums and for that I am truly thankful."
A Venezuelan artist living in Brussels, Ernesto Gonzalez came to the attention of The Outer Church via the recommendation of Norm Chambers aka Panabrite. Subsequent investigation led to Gonzalez’s latest album as Bear Bones, Lay Low (El Telonero, Kraak Records) becoming one of the OC’s favourites of 2012. We have a thing about crackling analogue electronics and bubbling lysergic melodies, you see. Gonzalez graciously accepted the invitation to discuss his music and put together an exclusive audio collage, which he named The Outer Trip.
What kind of mood were you aiming for with The Outer Trip?
"General trippiness and headbanging, which is essential stuff for me when it comes to music."
How do you account for the three-year gap between your two albums for Kraak, Vallée de Dith and El Telonero?
"While recording Vallée de Dith with my friend and Sylvester Anfang II bandmate, Willem, I kind of changed my whole idea of what Bear Bones, Lay Low should sound like. I started recording on tape again but this time with a 4-track instead of a dictaphone. Willem also introduced me to analog synths and I just really fell for the sound of those machines. So during those three years I just experimented in the lab and recorded constantly, amassing material for releases. From that I made three tapes and one LP: Smoked The Whole Thing (Sloow Tapes), Basement Surge (Cabin Floor Esoterica), Vagaciones (Young Girls Records) and El Telonero (Kraak). I like to think of each of my releases as full albums. Just because it’s on tape it doesn’t mean it should have less importance than if the music was on vinyl. The only thing that differs is the exposure and distribution, but music-wise, they’re all full-length albums. So it was three years of keeping it on an even lower key, trying out new stuff and recording, not only solo but also with other projects."
The music on El Telonero often reminds me of 50s and 60s electronic composers like John Baker, Joe Meek and Raymond Scott. Are you into these artists?
"Totally! Although I gotta admit that my main dudes are Bruce Haack and Mort Garson. Electric Lucifer and Black Mass are two records that opened my mind 360°."
Your music is very organic sounding, almost as though it were produced by the human body rather than electronic instruments. Where does this ‘warm’ quality come from?
"Produced by the human body: does that mean that it sounds like a fart? [in a good way - OC] I really hope so. Anyways, the warmth I guess comes from recording everything on tape. Mostly all the sounds I produce go first through an amp then through a mic and then onto tape. It’s a slower process than recording stuff on computer but I like it."
How do you go about putting a Bear Bones track together?
"Improvising is pretty much the basis of most of my stuff. For example the songs ‘Hazy Frog’ and ‘Persona’ both started out as improvisations on drum machine going through some tape echo but then I felt like making more of a psychedelic pop song for one and a funkier tune for the other. Sometimes I have a melody in my head and then make up other parts to build a song. I never write anything down though, I just try to record the whole song with one instrument first, for example the lead synth or the bass, so I can remember what I want to do with the song and work on it later. That’s another thing that I tend to do and I think it’s a bad habit: leaving something half done and then work on it later all while doing new stuff. Most of the songs on El Telonero are actually quite old, but I just kept them aside for that project."
What do you enjoy most about making music?
"Playing with sounds and machines and then hearing the result on tape. It’s like drawing or making a collage only you can bang your head to it. I also like jamming with other people, it’s like a cooler form of talking."
Do you consider the music you make to be a form of pop?
"I like making all sorts of trippy music, sometimes it can sound poppier, other times abstract. For El Telonero, I was aiming more for short and catchy songs but on stuff I did on Vagaciones I was aiming for some pure stream of consciousness shit, just recording with anything I had in hand. But all in all, I want to make underground and far-out music, fuck all that ‘I wanna make hits’ mentality, it’s not for me, Bear Bones, Lay Low is music for my people, the nerds."
Do you think your music has any identifiable Venezuelan or Belgian characteristics?
"I don’t think so… I don’t think any music I’ve made so far has a connection with my Venezuelan roots. It’s more related to western underground music, so in that sense, maybe it has more of a Belgian feel, but I don’t even know what the hell that sounds like."
You’re also a member of Sylvester Anfang II. Does this offer a different kind of artistic release to Bear Bones, Lay Low? If so, how?
"Yes, because it allows me to play regularly with friends and make rock music with a band. Sylvester Anfang II is looser and more relaxed than Bear Bones, Lay Low and the fact that you’re playing with five or six other dudes allows you to play an instrument differently, more in communication with the others instead of just yourself. Also, I get to tour and visit cool places and that’s something I really enjoy."
The music of Sylvester Anfang II is informed by an interest in the occult. Does the same apply to Bear Bones, Lay Low?
"The occult aspect of Sylvester Anfang II is mainly for aesthetic reasons. The music is the result of the vibe going on in the room when the four, five or six of us get together and jam. So in that sense, the music I make by myself follows more or less the same procedure. My music doesn’t have a direct relation with esoterica but it can certainly be inspired by it. I can feel inspired by occult writings and imagery just as much as by everyday stuff: it just fuels ideas for tracks."
There’s a bit of heavy metal and hard rock on the Outer Trip mix. Are you a big metal fan? Have you ever been in a metal band?
"Hell yeah, I love metal, mainly heavy, thrash, doom, death and some black metal, but I’m far from being an expert. I like digging into all sorts of music styles but it’s hard to have an extensive knowledge on everything simply because there’s too fucking much. It’s also important for me to know the history, the background and all this extra information that goes beyond what you hear on wax, so the learning process is slower but richer. But still, I wish I was in a metal band. Nothing experimental or out there sort of stuff, just straightforward, brutal and with sadistic lyrics."
Can you name any Belgian (or Belgium-based) artists we should all be listening out for?
"Recording with my partner Glen (aka Hellvete from Sylvester Anfang II) on our electric/acoustic drone duo appropriately called González & Steenkiste (new tape out now on Feathered Coyote!), putting together future Sylvester Anfang II releases, digitizing and putting online my bootleg collection (got some hot performances by Mik Quantius, Avarus, Roscoe Mitchell, Bartha Rose, Family Edan… all caught on tape!) and trying to find a label who would want to put out some of my solo shit. Anyone who wants to put out a tape or anything please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Fernando Rodríguez El Otro Huevo de la Serpiente (excerpt) (1984, Cuba) Wimela Amaradeva Goyan Kavi (1972, Sri Lanka) Théâtre du Chêne Noir Le Bonheur (1971, France) Archaïa Vol du Phénix (1977, France) Cirith Ungol Death of the Sun (1984, USA) Angel Face 12 1/2 (1985, France) Necronomicon Prolog (1972, Germany) Poltergeist Aphrodite (1971, Belgium) Marcus Satan (1979, USA) Circuit Rider Just for Today (1980, USA) Moolah The Hard Hit (1974, USA) Temple Radha-Krishna Radha Madhava (???, France) Los Units Fuera las Guerras!(1973, Spain) Miaux Etude des Têtus (2012, Belgium)
US filmmaker Graham Reznick’s feature length debut I Can See You (2008) attracted considerable acclaim for its hallucinatory take on the backwoods horror subgenre. Indeed, this ‘psychedelic campfire tale’ is so revered here at The Outer Church that we’ve screened it twice, most recently as part of Dublin’s Darklight Festival. I Can See You is certainly visually impressive - but like V/H/S, The Innkeepers, The House Of The Devil and Stake Land, the film benefits additionally from Reznick’s expertise in the field of sound design. Along with his frequent collaborator Ti West, Reznick is a member of Larry Fessenden’s NYC-based film collective Glass Eye Pix. He is also the founder of Aphasia Films. Here, he discusses his upcoming filmThe Designer and presents his exclusive Science Fiction mix.
Graham, what’s the story behind the mix you’ve created for The Outer Church?
"It’s based on an evolving set of playlists I’ve been listening to for a few years while both reading and writing science fiction. For me, the precise tone of music and sound are very important to the creative process - so I tend to build these hyper specific playlists based around really narrow constraints. Songs to listen to while writing horror oriented chase sequences (the ghost rape theme from The Entity), songs to listen to while writing science fiction oriented ‘we can build it’ montage sequences (Tangerine Dream’s ‘White Eagle’), songs for writing scenes about bumming around in the desert with a bottle of whiskey (Ry Cooder’s Paris Texas soundtrack) - that kind of thing.
"Songs from these playlists often end up being used as temp music while I edit, and definitely listened to over and over while I write. Two years ago I wrote a feature adaptation of my short film The Viewer, called The Teleport, and I created a playlist that was meant to be listened to while reading the script. The general tone of the mix shifted and pulsed with the general tone of the script, if read over a two hour period. That mix grew and evolved into a much larger collection of music that I rely on now while writing – and most recently, while writing The Designer.
"There’s a lot of music left on the cutting room floor with this version of the mix - mostly because I wanted to keep it concise. Great stuff by Steve Hauschildt, Plaid, Proem, Aphex Twin, the theme from John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness… another two or three hours. But that’ll be for the sequel…
"It’s a collection of music of a particular tone, as well as some sound design and some ambiance - all stuff that helps me get into a particular headspace. Hopefully anyone who is reading or writing science fiction (or who just wants to hear some good electronic tunes) can listen to it and get into that headspace too."
You encountered a striking coincidence while listening to Public Information’s recent mix for the OC…
"While listening to the beautiful opening track [‘Open Scenery’] I clicked back over to the tracklist to see who made it… and it turns out it’s a professor of mine from NYU, whose class I still attend as a guest lecturer a few times a semester! Brane Zivkovic - good dude. I emailed him to verify, and it is indeed his work, from when he was scoring films back in the late 70s! Funny how those things pop up."
You’ve recently finished work on your new film, The Designer. What’s the premise?
"It’s a new science fiction film that’ll be told at first, in part, via several vignettes which will be available online. Those vignettes will then be reconfigured and absorbed into the overall narrative of the feature, and presented in a different context, revealing their tragic hidden meaning. The basic gist of the story is that it’s about a journalist searching for a video game designer who’s gone missing while his most recent hit game has begun to take over the world. It’s a bit like In The Mouth of Madness crossed with eXistenZ… by way of Short Cuts.
"My day job for the past year has been co-writing (with Larry Fessenden) a new video game for Playstation 3 called Until Dawn. We wrote all the dialogue for the game, which is very cinematic, and it was a thrilling and illuminating experience weaving a narrative through the paths and forks of a long-form (at least seven hours of play time) video game. I’ve been avidly playing video games my whole life, so this project brought to the surface a lot of ideas I’ve had about gaming and the coming of age of the video game mentality as a technology. The ‘game-ifying’ of basic tasks and learning as tool for a new type of living that is becoming more and more prevalent. These ideas all kind of swirled together into The Designer.”
It sounds like quite a departure from the woodland trauma of I Can See You…
"It’s a whole different thing - I Can See You was about watching a whole world disintegrate through the eyes of someone losing their connection with reality. It was pure subjectivity. The Designer is broader in scope - there are several main characters and stories we follow so there is a much more consistent world. Well, up to a point…"
What can we expect from the soundtrack?
"I can’t officially say too much about personnel yet but we’ve been talking to someone very exciting - a like-minded collaborator who I think will bring a heck of a lot of talent to the soundscape of The Designer. It’ll be an (almost entirely) electronic score. And I’ll be doing a lot of sound design/scaping as well, playing around with some very caustic and expressive electronic sounding feedback techniques I’ve been getting into lately."
Which resonates more for you, horror or science fiction?
"That’s a tough one for me to answer… I’ve been sitting here stumped for a few minutes. I think in part because I have a hard time with the genre boundaries. If you think about horror, and what defines it… to me, that would be the exploration of fear - and real gruelling fear is often based in experiencing the unknown, the unknowable. Experiencing a brush with ‘the unknowable’ creates an emotion akin to watching the world fall apart in front of you - reality breaks down, nothing makes sense anymore if THIS monster/evil/ghost can exist! As for science fiction - if, in the broadest sense, science fiction is about our relationship to technology, and if you think of technology as the creation of tools that reshape or adjust reality (even in a pedestrian sense - a new type of can opener means a new type of reality of opening a can) then you can make the connection that science fiction is also primarily about an evolving relationship to reality. And the kind of science fiction I love the most (Philip K Dick etc) is about reality breaking down… that’s where the overlap happens, for me, between horror and science fiction.
"So I guess the short answer would be… I love both horror and science fiction that deal with the effects the breakdown of reality has on the human mind. If our relationship to the world around us is severed, or injured, or mutated - what becomes important? What’s left?"
Speaking of science fiction, were you impressed by Panos Cosmatos’s Beyond The Black Rainbow?
"I was really into Beyond The Black Rainbow - but for me it exists in a space sort of outside the usual narrative film, closer to an experimental mood piece. Which is awesome. I wish more films like that were made. It was less concerned with telling a traditional story and more concerned with putting the audience in a very controlled, unique headspace. I think that’s really exciting. I think the recent prevalence of good, long form television has created more room for feature filmmakers to have fun with the cinematic form and bring people into a world without the constraints of traditional film structure and devices. Beyond The Black Rainbow has its flaws but it also creates a unique world better than most films I’ve ever seen. Enter The Void is another recent film that similarly created a successful and poignant headspace rather than a traditional narrative. Even further down the rabbit hole is Inland Empire - a vast, moving painting of a film… a dense abstract successor to Lynch’s more narrative works.”
You’re known as a sound designer as well as a director…
"Sound is just one piece of the puzzle for me. Growing up I had always considered my trajectory as heading in the direction of being a visual artist; before I discovered film as an art form I imagined I would pursue art school at some point. Then I spent a lot of time reading and drawing comics. Then I got into movies in a serious way and realized what I’d really wanted to do was create moving, live narratives, not just static work. So I got interested in all aspects of filmmaking - from the conceptual storytelling side to the nuts and bolts of shooting, editing etc. I think one of the reasons I’ve become known for sound work is mostly because not that many filmmakers are that experienced with sound. In a relative sense. In film school, nearly every director has dabbled in cinematography, or editing to some degree, and almost certainly writing. But the directors that have a working knowledge of sound editing and design are sort of far and few between. Because of that, and because I always sound designed my own films, I would often be asked to work on friends’ films.
"Ti West (who directed The House of The Devil, The Innkeepers etc) and I grew up together in Delaware and made films together, came to NYC to both go to film school, and when Ti got his first opportunity to make a feature, The Roost, he brought me on as a sound designer (among other things, for example I co-wrote the radio show within the film). And all those contributions led to my relationship with Larry Fessenden, who produced The Roost which led to his producing I Can See You a year or two later. I’ve continued working as a sound designer for Ti and occasionally also for other Glass Eye Pix directors, partially as a way to support myself but also because I get to collaborate with friends that I have a lot of respect for. I’ve averaged about one or two a year.
"The most important point I can make in regards to this is that whether you’re doing sound design, or directing, or editing, or writing or whatever, you need to be well versed in all the other aspects of the process. None of them exist on their own. I wish more directors would make an effort to understand the possibility of sound design."
Which instances of your own sound work are you most proud of?
"Maybe the headphone/microphone sequence in The Innkeepers or Sam’s kitchen scene during her escape from the attic in The House Of The Devil."
Do you recall a watershed moment where the power of sound design first became apparent? Like, for example, the scene in Kubrick’s The Shining where Danny is riding his tricycle down the corridor and there’s an audible contrast between the polished floor and the carpet…
"I’m not sure I have one that’s stuck with me, consciously, throughout my life… but as an adult having gone back to movies I saw early on there are moments that come back to me as being impactful because of the audio. The Tin Man’s oil can in The Wizard Of Oz, for example. Something about the way that thing sounded always freaked me out as a little kid - and probably left a deep impression regarding the power of audio. The Pink Elephants scene in Dumbo I’ve referenced as a touchstone for me for a lot of reasons (loss of reality), not least of which is the horrifying sound of the soft, chant-like singing. I recently wrote an essay for Criterion on the sound design in the scene in Picnic At Hanging Rock where the girls disappear into the rocks. It’s some of the greatest sound design ever. I’m sure there are many more."
Given the standard of the soundtrack music you’ve composed (particularly the excellent ‘Today In New York City’ from I Can See You) have you considered concentrating on that more fully, perhaps making an album?
"I’ve definitely amassed quite a collection of music from film and music I’ve made separately over the years but I haven’t yet pursued putting it out there in album form. I’ve been writing more music lately and plan on focusing on putting together some new work this winter so perhaps I’ll try and make an album of it. I tend to occasionally spend a brief, intense time making music and when I’m done, I get distracted by a film project and no one ever ends up hearing it (or it ends up in the background of films, like in Samantha’s headphones in The House Of The Devil or Greta Gerwig’s scene with AJ Bowen). There’s literally albums and albums worth of stuff, electronic, psych-folk, ambient - sitting on my hard drives. One of these days I might put some online."
Do you prefer electronic or orchestral soundtracks?
"There are definitely benefits to both. I have a lot of love for the classical approach and I also love the energy and tone of an electronic score. Risky Business is one of my favorite scores because the Tangerine Dream stuff is such an unexpected but perfect style choice. I can’t really think of a recent analog for such an exciting counterpoint approach.
”Jeff Grace is one of my favorite composers, especially from a string based standpoint, and we’ve been lucky enough to work with him on nearly a dozen films at this point (all of Ti’s films, Stakeland, Bitter Feast, I Can See You etc). I feel like many composers rely on easy musical tricks these days rather than coming up with strong themes and motifs and memorable melodies – Jeff calls this ‘writing to the samples’ since many composers just end up building off pre-fab samples rather than actually composing original music.”
How did ‘Spray It On’ - the song that pops up in I Can See You - come about?
"I’m a big, big fan of Nic Roeg, and when I was writing I Can See You I had recently seen Performance for the first time. There’s a brilliant section where Mick Jagger, dressed as a businessman in a suit, suddenly breaks into a music video, right in the middle of the film (and this was 1970!). I had been struggling with giving the late second act turning point in I Can See You a great setpiece -something that would really abstract and memorably showcase Ben Richard’s tipping point moment into unreality, and Performance put that idea in my head. As for what it’s about… it’s a sexual jealousy dream." [note: the song is available for free download here]
Can you identify your favourite use of music in a film?
"This one is so hard for me to answer… there are so many moments. Just because I was thinking of it earlier, the Tangerine Dream score in Risky Business comes to mind. The opening ten minutes to Prince Of Darkness, which is a continuous piece of music that ebbs and flows with the scenery, sets up such a beautiful tone for the world of the story while literally pulling you through scene after scene of setup. The opening 10 minutes of music in I Can See You was heavily inspired by that section of the film."
Which filmmakers do you feel make the most effective use of sound?
"Lynch is the easiest answer for me – and hearing that he was his own sound designer on several films is what helped urged me into learning about sound in the first place. Carpenter has a brilliant touch for the overall sonic landscape of a film, usually through music, but there are times when his sound design is second to none. The ‘Brotherhood of Sleep’ messages in Prince Of Darkness, for example."
Have you seen Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio?
"I haven’t but I’m really eager to! Looks like a great riff on the 70s sound design world hinted at in DePalma’s Blow Out – I couldn’t be more into that. And Broadcast are great so I’m psyched to hear the soundtrack as well."
You were involved in the making of indie horror hit V/H/S…
"I did some light sound design on Ti’s segment, Second Honeymoon. There’s only so much sound design you can do with found footage, if you’re playing it straight, but you’d be surprised at how much sculpting can be done with ‘realistic’ audio. Oh, and I play ‘Local DJ’ which is part of my ongoing effort to beef up my IMDB page with entries for playing ‘Local DJ’."
Do you have a favourite segment of that film?
"Hard to pick a favorite – there are so many great contributions from some great filmmakers! It was fun to see [‘mumblecore’ pioneer] Joe Swanberg shoot a piece that was both horror and scripted (by Simon Barrett)."
Which emergent filmmakers should we be looking out for?
"I feel both biased and lucky to say that a lot of my friends who I went to school with have their first features currently out or shooting soon. Chris Ford, who plays Kimble in I Can See You just wrote Robot & Frank, and wrote the upcoming Eli Roth produced Clown (which are directed by Jake Schrier and Jon Watts, respectively, both of whom are in the deleted final boardroom scene in I Can See You seen on the DVD). AlsoJaffe Zinn, who made a brilliant film called Magic Valley a year or two ago and is currently in post on his new project, Children. And of course, Ben Dickinson, who played Ben Richards in I Can See You, premiered his awesome Tarkovsky-esque hipster apocalypse movie First Winter at Tribeca this year. There are so many more people I’m very excited to see breaking out, it would be hard to name them all!”
What are your plans beyond The Designer?
"I have several scripts I’ve been shopping around for the past year or so; hopefully as The Designer comes out I’ll be able to set up one of those as my next project. Last year I wrote the first draft of a science fiction novel, so I’m hoping to soon have time to really dedicate to finishing the revisions, and maybe to write another."
Download Graham Reznick’s Science Fiction mix here
Laurie Spiegel From A Harmonic Algorithm Noise Graham Reznick The Viewer Wind Mark McGuire Clouds Rolling In Eduard Artemiev Untitled (From Solaris) Tangerine Dream Sunset Drive (From Wavelength OST) Crickets Steve Moore Light Echoes II Eduard Artemiev Untitled (From Solaris) Tangerine Dream White Eagle Chants (a Geinoh Yamashirogumi mutation) David Holmes Johnny Favourite (Exploding Plastic Ambient Mix) Eduard Artemiev Untitled (From “Solaris”) David Kristian Norak Howard Shore A Slow Burn (From Videodrome) Laurie Spiegel Appalachian Grove I Graham Reznick Stretcher Highway Oneohtrix Point Never Russian Mind Guitar Feedback Outer Space Memory Bomb Tangerine Dream Monolight Laurie Spiegel A Harmonic Algorithm (ver. 1981) Fire
Kiran Leonard is a 17-year-old musician from North West England who already has several albums of dizzyingly ambitious progressive-psychedelic pop under his belt, which must be uncomfortable ha ha. The recently remixed and remastered album Bowler Hat Soup serves as a fine introduction to his body of work. Leonard also makes hip hop as Beat Nurse and electronic music as Pend Oreille. The latter’s ‘Distance' is especially beloved of the OC and shares a seasick/homesick melancholy with the likes of Dolphins Into The Future, Boards Of Canada and Jürgen Müller. Leonard is currently working on an extended composition dealing with the subject of the Mayan apocalypse, scheduled for release this December. Would A Man Living In Los Angeles? is a fully-annotated (see below) digital collage of sonic obsessions pieced together exclusively for The Outer Church.
1. Igor Stravinsky discusses performing Le Sacre Du Printemps for Diaghilev
"Poor Igor. His voice was not this high. He was tender. I love how he says ‘my dear’. 59 times."
2. Sun Ra ‘Rocket #9’
"This is from a recording called Space Is The Place. I really like that album. Sun Ra was a great improvisational pianist. His was a music up in the air. You should also get his albums Live In Praxis ‘84, Sleeping Beauty and Jazz In Silhouette. ‘Discipline’, wow, what a great song."
3. Sun City Girls ‘The Brothers Unconnected’
"John F Kennedy."
4. At The Drive In ‘Ebroglio’
"Julio Venegas [late friend of ATD-I’s Cedric and Omar] injected rat poison into his arm and it shrivelled up. I went to see At The Drive-In this summer and it was the best gig I’ve ever been to. Cedric was in the zone. I wish they had played this song, it is very beautiful."
5. Excerpt from 4 Hours In My Lai (BBC documentary)
"This documentary is very poignant. I did not want to use any excerpts from [US soldier and My Lai massacre participant] Varnado Simpson, it is far too sad. The woman is speaking Vietnamese, she is talking about losing her family."
6. Jonwayne ‘Story One’
"Jonwayne is great. I think that his beats and his lyrics are great. This is from his mixtape I Don’t Care. You should download it. Can you believe it is free?”
7a. Angelo Badalamenti ‘Dinner Party Pool Music’
"From the Mulholland Drive soundtrack where they’re at that dinner party and suddenly Naomi is someone else and you’re like wait what."
7b. William S Burroughs ‘Bradley The Buyer [Excerpt A]’
"From Call Me Burroughs. Naked Lunch is my favourite book."
8. The Magnetic Fields ‘I Think I Need A New Heart’
"Stephen Merritt is an axe-wielder. This song has such a great rhythm, I like how thick it is."
9. Cassetteboy ‘Job And Bosie’
"The Parker Tapes is a really good album. 98 tracks or so. Most people just know Cassetteboy for making funnies with alan sugar and videos these days, but a decade or so ago they were making great records like this. They still do, actually. The Parker Tapes is my favourite. Apparently they arranged the whole thing on a cassette recorder. Can you imagine? It took seven or eight years to make. It’s mixed in with a bunch of weirdly-assembled hip hop beats. Sounds really great."
10. The Fabulettes ‘Try The Worrying Way’
"Girl group fantastic. I love old songs like this that are about such strange things. Very inventive lyricism, I think, even if it’s not poetry."
11. “Mike Tyson is Alexander Jack Dempsey”
"Mike Tyson is like, wow, he’s really hyped on this one."
12. Minutemen ‘Jesus And Tequila’
"RIP, D Boon, you were a great lyricist. Mike Watt is a great bass player and George Hurley is a great drummer. I think he makes a living fixing cars now. I don’t know, maybe I heard that from an unreliable source. Double Nickels On The Dime is a sprawling album, 70 minutes or something, I’ve got it on CD. When I learn to drive I will blast this song in the car."
13. Alemayehu Eshete ‘Mekeryershin Salawq’
"Ethiopia! Ethiopian! Ethiopop!"
14. William S Burroughs ‘Bradley The Buyer [Excerpt B]’
"Another clip from Call Me Burroughs. He has a wonderful way with words. I remember this part of the book vividly. I wanted to make a hip hop album where instead of having MCs spit over my beats, I just had samples from this record. I never finished it because I lost the desire to make beats. I might never get it back. It’s very hard to do properly."
15. Guernica ‘Shishou Miya’
"My friend Kelly showed me this band. In case you couldn’t tell, they are from Japan. Their music is very rich. I think it is idiosyncratic and yet enjoyable. That is hard sometimes."
16. Dirty Projectors ‘Two Doves’
"I originally wanted to go with something from The Getty Address but that record is tough. I can never get through the whole of it. What a fantastic recording, though. I like the second part of Slaves’ Graves And Ballads and their new one, their new one is my favourite, but this song is very beautiful. Dave Longstreth is a talented composer. I hope to meet him someday to ask him why he doesn’t like Frank Zappa, and if that therefore means he is unfamiliar with the soundtrack to 200 Motels.
17. Mrs Miller ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’
"Mrs Miller was a singer from California. She made four or five successful novelty records featuring her beautiful voice. When she asked the label if she could take singing lessons as she wanted to learn how to sing properly (she was in on the joke) they dropped her. She did a lot of charity work and died in the 90s."
18. Death Grips ‘Fuck That’
"This is one of the greatest records I have ever heard in my life. No competition, except maybe with three or four records I can think of. This is one of my favourite songs off The Money Store. The bongos!!"
19. Suicide With An Escape Clause [from Jam]
"Chris Morris is really good with words. Jam is a terrifying television show. Nightmare television. I once watched the whole series at night with my friend Ben and we had to go for a walk after and just, I don’t know."
20. Minack ‘Rohtang La’
"Really great beats from a producer from the south of England. Kind of like a warped Clams Casino, though I prefer this guy’s stuff to Clams’s. I mean, if The Conet Project was hip hop? I don’t know, I sound like a dick when I try and make comparisons like that. Go to his Bandcamp and download some great stuff, very underrated.”
21. Blossom Dearie ‘The Shape Of Things’
"Wonderful lyrics. Great voice. Apparently she was not very nice? Shame. This whole album Blossom Time was recorded at Ronnie Scott’s, it’s really cool. Like, I mean Miles Davis cool, you know? I wish I could write lyrics like this. Some of the best lyrics ever written were written in this style, and in this era."
22. William S Burroughs ‘Uranian Willy [Excerpt]’
"Burroughs is my paste."
23. The Gerogerigegege ‘Boys Don’t Cry’
"This album is so good! It’s 35 minutes long (roughly) and there’s 77 tracks and it’s just all stuff like this! As the title implies, it is in fact a cover of the famous Cure song of the same name. Juntaro [Yamanouchi, the project’s founder] went a bit off the rails a decade or so ago, nobody knows where he is. I hope he’s okay."
24. Negativland ‘Aluminum Or Glass: The Memo’
"Negativland made a concept album about the Pepsi Corporation [Dispepsi, 1997]. These lyrics are very frank and meaningful. I like the song a lot, and the album. The first line of the song is where we get the name of this mix. Speaking of which I hope you enjoyed it."
When Pittsburgh synth-rock duo Zombi emerged in the early 2000s they sounded remarkably fresh and distinctive; it’s only in hindsight that we can appreciate how prescient their blend of kosmiche synth sequences, prog rhythms and horror/sci-fi soundtrack dynamics would prove to be. Though coming from a rock background (and indeed their music bears traces of tech-rock titans such as Genesis, Rush and Van Halen) they prefigured the vogue for stroboscopic arpeggiation by a good few years. Recently, Zombi’s Steve Moore and Anthony Paterra (co-founders of tape label VCO Recordings) have established themselves as solo artists of note, the former under his own name, the latter as Majeure. Moore has gained additional acclaim for the glossy dance-pop he makes under the Lovelock moniker as well as his collaboration with Ulver’s Daniel O’Sullivan as Miracle, and his latest solo album Light Echoes is his first for the reliably excellent Cuneiform label. Read on for a revealing interview with the man himself and a mix created exclusively for The Outer Church…
Steve, tell us about this mix you’ve created for The Outer Church…
"Some songs that inspired me while I was working on Light Echoes. Probably no surprises. Just music I like."
Your new solo material seems considerably less rhythmically orientated than a lot of your recent work…
"Definitely. After the last Zombi album [Escape Velocity, 2011], the Lovelock album [Burning Feeling, 2012] and the sort of outsider-techno stuff I’ve been doing, I wanted to take a break from working on anything with a ‘beat’."
Is there a theme or concept running through the new album?
"Not in the narrative sense, but there are unifying sonic elements. Simplicity, consonance, muted tones, wide registral space, repetition. The sounds are the concept."
The sleeve art is beautiful. What’s the story behind it?
"My buddy Shawn Brackbill took this photo in LA a few years ago, and I’ve wanted to use it for an album cover since he first posted it on Flickr. When I first saw it I thought it looked like a collage, with elements of nature and industry, the past, the present, the future (of the past). We cropped it down a little to make it look even more surreal.”
"They’re a great label, I’ve wanted to work with them for years. I met Steve Feigenbaum in Baltimore last year when I opened for Richard Pinhas. He seemed receptive to the idea of working together, and I thought this album might be a good fit. He was the first person I sent this album to and I’m honoured he agreed to release it."
How do you feel your music has evolved in general since your earliest solo works? For example, how do you feel about The Henge?
"I wouldn’t say my music has evolved, that implies progress. I just like to try new things. In my opinion Demo 2003 has all my best material, or at least all my favorites. I don’t think I’ll ever top ‘Fever Dream’. The Henge is an odd one though. It feels alien to me. I wandered a little too far out of my comfort zone on that one. Maybe that’s what makes it interesting."
Does the title of The Henge refer to rumoured Nazi experiments with UFO tech and anti-gravity fields?
"This is actually the first I’m hearing about this. Very interesting stuff. The song title ‘The Henge’ was inspired by a trip to Stonehenge and Avebury Henge. Pretty literal, I know, but these places really resonated with me. I’d love to visit the Ring of Brodgar if I ever make it back to Scotland."
Are you inspired by conspiracy theories, secret technologies and the like?
"I find conspiracy theories and secret tech really interesting but it doesn’t inspire me, at least not consciously. I’m more often inspired by natural history, astrophysics, quantum physics. Reading science magazines and blogs makes my head spin in a very useful way."
Can you tell me a little about the impact of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on your life and work?
"Watching Cosmos as a kid had basically the same effect on me that listening to tons of Zeppelin would have on a young guitarist (or drummer, or bassist, maybe singer). It shaped my idea of what was ‘cool’. Science, natural history, outer space, synthesizer music, computer animation. It just stuck with me."
Both yours and Anthony’s solo projects have been extremely well-received. How has this external activity impacted on your collaboration?
"Our external activities haven’t really affected the band, they’re the result of changes within the band. We burned ourselves out touring back in 2006. We weren’t making any money on the road, we owed Relapse many thousands of dollars, I couldn’t find work between tours, couldn’t pay my rent. Things weren’t going so well. We made the decision to quit touring after our last full tour in Spring of 2007 (with Trans Am and Psychic Paramount). After that we downgraded to ‘studio project’. I’ve been living in New York since 2007 so now we do most of our writing individually and trade files online. Not necessarily as fun, but possibly more productive than getting together and ‘jamming’. And now we have a lot more time to work on solo recordings, which has worked out well for both of us."
Last year’s Escape Velocity was perhaps the least rock-orientated Zombi album to date. Is this direction likely to continue in the future?
"No. If we do another album it will be more along the lines of Cosmos or Surface to Air. We’ll save all the non-rock stuff for the next Moore/Majeure record."
Do you agree that recent history has shown Zombi to have been ahead of the curve in several ways, specifically the incorporation of ideas from previously neglected areas such as kosmische music, sci-fi/horror soundtracks, etc?
"I think you’re right, but also I think the more recent trend in retro/kosmische synth artists and groups is part of a different movement with different roots. Before we formed Zombi, Tony and I were playing in math-rock/post-punk/no-wave bands. I view what we do as a blend of these genres filtered through our AOR-prog upbringing. Or maybe vice versa. Either way I don’t think we have a lot in common with the newer waves of synth artists and groups. We belong in some sub-genre of rock."
When you’re creating a piece of music, are you painting a landscape, shooting a scene or writing a story?
"Sometimes I’m inspired by something visual but once I start working I get absorbed into the Soundworld. Where sounds are the landscape. And the story."
Miracle’s Fluid Window was one of 2011’s finest albums. What does the future hold for this project?
"We have a new album finished, should be out in January."
What else do you have lined up?
"I have a 12" out now on L.I.E.S. called Panther Moderns, and another coming soon on Future Times called Zen Spiders. 2011’s Primitive Neural Pathways is getting a US vinyl re-release through Dangerous Age, and I’m working on a cassette-only release for VCO.”
Finally, what are your favourite albums by a) Van Halen and b) Genesis? And why?
"My favorite Genesis albums are from the Banks/Collins/Rutherford trio era. It’s hard but if I had to pick I’d say either Duke or And Then There Were Three. For Van Halen, again I can’t pick one. 1984 is kind of obvious, but there are some real clunkers towards the end of Side A. I can’t handle ‘Top Jimmy’ or ‘Drop Dead Legs’. Side B, however, is flawless. Fair Warning is probably my favorite. That album goes out with such a bang. The last four minutes of that album are the best four minutes of music Van Halen, or pretty much any other band, ever recorded (‘Sunday Afternoon In The Park’ and ‘One Foot Out the Door’). The runner-up goes to Van Halen II."
Wm Jeffrey Boydstun Metamorphosis Van Halen 1984 Heldon Perspective I (Ou Comment Procede Le Nihilisme Actif) Michael Stearns In The Beginning… Michael Stearns Elysian E Genesis Entangled Arvo Pärt The Beatitudes Klaus Schulze Synthies Have (No) Balls?
The Outer Church presents a guest contribution from one of its most valued advisors, Brighton’s own scholar of celluloid insalubriousness, Matthew Wackett. This morbid individual’s encyclopedic knowledge of sinister cinema is second to none - as you’ll be able to experience when he unveils his forthcoming website. Until then, scroll down for a few well-chosen words from the bloodsoaked cinephile regarding John D Hancock’s deeply affecting 1971 psychological chiller Let’s Scare Jessica To Death…
“I sit here and I can’t believe that it happened… and yet I have to believe it. Dreams…or nightmares. Madness… or sanity. I don’t know which is which.”
Fear, paranoia, recovery, a return to the earth. Cloaked in mist and silence, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a corrective to the post-hippie dream of getting back to nature, urban romantics rejected by the outskirts. The Bad Life. It’s one of those dreaded ‘psychological horrors’ that it’s okay to like in polite society. Only this one wheedles its way in by virtue of how uncomfortably close everything is, even in those big pastoral landscapes. From the outset you’re trapped with these people and their ill-fated decision, you’re condemned to play along with their doomed fantasy of rural bliss. Try to escape and you’re sucked back in. You’ll never leave. You belong here. You belong here.
Jessica (Zohra Lampert) is recovering from an unspecified psychiatric condition and upon release from an institution accompanies her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and their shaggy cine-hippy friend Woody (Kevin O’Connor) to a fog-wreathed home in stillborn Connecticut. Their wheels are a hearse replete with “LOVE” and the peace symbol stencilled on the side like macabre Merry Pranksters. They stop on the way so Jessica can take grave-rubbings in a cemetery. Cue a spectral white-gowned girl materialising next to a limp American flag. Blink and she’s gone. Jessica fears she’s relapsing. Whispering voices crowd in on her. The town residents, a bandaged gaggle of senior delinquents, eye the coffin-car with beady hostility. Upon arrival at their foreboding new home a red-haired girl Emily (Mariclare Costello) is squatting and plans to continue her era-appropriate indigent lifestyle. When she’s invited to stay she accepts. She never leaves. She belongs here. A local antiques dealer recites a town myth about the Bishops who lived in their new home in the 1890s, the drowning of their teenage daughter, her vampiric second life spent roaming the countryside. Jessica’s head crowds with fears, accusations, secret terrors. A photograph of the Bishops found in the attic reveals the striking resemblance between the drowned girl and Emily. Fear, paranoia, the earth growing over you. Sinking into the soil. You’ll never leave. You belong here. You belong here.
Carrying the film on skeletal shoulders, Zohra Lampert is extraordinary as Jessica. Mannered in a way that exudes disturbance, she is an alien aping human behaviour, the deliberate nature of her speech and behaviour designed to conceal her dislocation from those around her. Her inner thoughts are uncomfortably high in the mix as if she doesn’t have the strength to mute them. As the audience we’re privy to her interior life in a way her disinterested husband isn’t, yet it doesn’t often feel like a blessing: they’re 3am fears, hissed malignantly. The mask she wears is one of healthy optimism, an almost childlike earnestness making her gradual collapse resemble a Blue Peter presenter losing a psychic war. We never discover the origin of her breakdown, but her glassy-eyed otherness suggests an LSD fugue she’s yet to escape and perhaps never will, an off-ness betrayed by her unusual phrasing and hypnagogic demeanour. Jessica is translucent, ill-designed to cope with the inner and outer forces assailing her and we share in her terrors with uncomfortable intimacy.
Alternating between simple melodies plucked on an acoustic guitar and primitive electronics reminiscent of Phillan Bishop’s incredible whines and shrieks for Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s Messiah Of Evil, Walter Sear’s soundtrack blasts its cold breeze through almost every scene, harmonising with the constant wind blowing over the bucolic landscapes. The clash of the unnatural tones of the synthesizer with the rural landscape augur poorly for our “refugees from urban blight”: doomy buzzes promising nothing but trouble, the soil growing over you. Meanwhile beautifully shot postcard scenes of misty lakes and fields soaked in sunset increasingly resemble fearscapes of ominous intent. A film of whispers becoming shouts, of escapes becoming traps, of recovery meaning return, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a quiet masterpiece of American horror.
In the grim, gristly days when The Outer Church was merely a parasitic thought-form spiralling its way through the void in search of a host, the future Sounder Of Clarions chanced upon a paper-clad disc entitled i) in a London audio boutique. Credited to Silver Pyre this intriguing object conjectured a form of hypnotic folk-infused music which eschewed both hirsute cosiness and post-industrial posturing. Then came ii) which bypassed the nascent Wedger Of Portals entirely. There followed many years of silence until word arrived that Gary Fawle - the hermetic craftsman responsible for these mysterious artefacts - had completed an opus entitled AeXE which demonstrated his ongoing interest in the psychotropic properties of the British landscape. Its strains soon echoed through The Outer Church’s cloisters and were found to be as nourishing for the soul as they were pleasing to the ear. Before long the hand of fate conveyed Silver Pyre to the Church gates bearing gifts of word and sound…
Describe the Greensleeves mix you have created for The Outer Church…
"It’s a collection of some of the sounds and sentiments that influence me musically."
What have you been up to since the first two Silver Pyre EPs?
"Well, I left Somerset after these were finished, I’d got to a point where things felt a bit too hermetic. The inevitable thing that can come about when you immerse yourself in a rural place, social skills dwindle, the moment you realise you’re muttering and laughing to yourself a bit too much its time to venture out. So I moved about a bit, spent time in London again, then moved to Norfolk, took a job working for a farmers co-op, travelled around between farms, cycled a lot and discovered the waterworld of the fens. I lived in a disused Factory where I’d set up studio, and started to make the basis of AeXE."
The album was created over a three year period. Can you describe its journey?
"It started in a vague way in Norfolk, and then manifested more when I moved to Bristol. It felt like a craft, and new ways of producing needed to be explored. My studio set up was quite minimal at the start point, so a lot of the production needed to be layered and reduced continuously to get the desired aesthetic. On much of this record, I don’t sit down and write a structure of a song or a track, I find a sound, rhythm or riff that evokes something in me and this takes a while to tease the rest out. There were a lot of ideas thematically that I needed to weave through it. And some of them are quite expansive. Landscape and historical layers, nature’s reclamation over industrial pasts, archaeology, mythology etc. It takes a while to scale this down to a palatable level. It also happened that I would do some sessions with Tom Bugs (of Bugbrand Modular Synths) and then go away and completely rework structures. Each track on AeXE has had many previous guises.”
What do you feel are the connections between folk music and rave?
"For me its probably the rural association. I’m a bit too young to have been part of the heyday of the pre-Criminal Justice Bill free party scene. But I’d hear lots of stories that were steeped in mystery, of things happening in odd local rural places around where I was growing up. The time I got into electronic music was when I was becoming more conscious of the landscape around me, and that was listening to a lot of the stuff that Warp and others were putting out in the early 90s, which was reminiscent of rave music, but more reflective, and pastoral. Going to free parties since, the whole thing has felt like a rural gathering, and this happens at a reasonably local level and is about a DIY mentality. Folk music is regional in heritage and ultimately reflective of local tales and stories, and used to be a social thing where you’d gather and make merry. Although people sitting around singing about apple harvests is quite different from a brace of skeletal figures gurning in front of a megalithic-sized soundsystem in the rising sun. But there is something that seems ancient and in tune with nature about a free party in the countryside."
Who else do you believe is effectively blending folk and electronic music?
"I don’t know if I’m honest, Folk as a concept is a lot different to a bearded man in a plaid shirt singing about hedges on a worldwide-distributed record. I do quite like things that are plain derivative of traditional things though, at times. Traditional folk melody is everywhere in music, I like some of what Richard Youngs does, but that’s more of an evocation of a folk sentiment. But again I probably feel ‘folkier’ in the pastoral sense about a good electronic record with plenty of space. I like music that allows you to daydream, and I tend to daydream of landscapes, and good hearty rural activities. A good electronic record takes you there."
Has anyone ever told you that your vocals occasionally recall those of John Foxx? Especially on ‘Calendar’…
"Funny, when I met David Edwards (aka Minotaur Shock) to talk about him coming in to play in the live shows he mentioned this. I can’t recall having listened to Foxx or Ultravox. But 80s pop music always seems to come through with me. I listened to the charts a lot as a kid, and there are so many great melodies in 80s pop songs. What I remember thinking about a lot of the Warp stuff in the 90s such as Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, was how the 80s pop melodies were there.”
How has growing up amid the Somerset landscape influenced Silver Pyre?
"I think the place where you live has to influence you. The combinations and contradictions of that landscape, the layers of history, manmade and natural. The Nuclear Power Station on the fossil strewn coast. The ruins of the industrial revolution lying concealed where nature has reclaimed. The Somerset Levels, with their carved-out drainage ditches running through the relentless flow of the M5. A giant man, made of willow, alongside this motorway, a symbol of the Somerset Levels, now shrouded by a vast Morrisons supermarket depot, a symbol of our current general mentality. Homogenised new housing estates with names like ‘Orchard Way’, an odd homage to what they’ve been built on. The mysticism of Glastonbury, ancient and new age. Also on a wider view of the British landscape, neolithic heritage and settlement and how this runs underneath our everyday lives. How certain hills were strategic points and can be viewed from each other, and how waterways linked trade and brought invasions. Its pretty interesting that a farmer can dig up a Saxon hoard when looking for a lost hammer with a metal detector. All these layers, we’re by and large not conscious of, but they’re there and are in most cases the reasons why our towns, villages and cities have been established where they have."
I understand you recorded some of the album in unusual settings…
"The nature of the way this came together meant that a lot of it could be recorded on the hoof, so a lot of it is in a more traditional studio environment but some of it isn’t. I did record some vocals in a lime kiln on the Levels, but more than anything I did this for fun as opposed to some elevated shamanic ideas."
Can you describe the relationship between your music and Sam Douglas's artwork?
"He’s an old friend from childhood. We both returned to the homeland at the same time, he’d just come back from a lengthy cycle trip in Iran to jump into the ditches to wash the dust off and I’d come back to wash the London grime off. We probably rediscovered a lot of the area and themes together. He has a similar method of repetition in his painting technique where it’s a continual layering and rubbing away. I tend to think in visual images too. There are many other similarities but it’s probably best to view and listen."
You perform live in three distinct configurations - solo, duo and trio. What are the relative merits (and drawbacks) of each?
"Performing solo means I tend to reduce things, it’s more electronic and minimal. When David Edwards comes in, his vast creative input comes too, there is inevitably a spot of rearranging, and some of his characteristic production values come in. When Dave Collingwoods is added, then the percussion plays a big part, he’s such a big presence with his drumming style, flair and ability, that it’s really exciting to watch live, and space in the arrangement needs to be made for this to happen. In all three cases it’s a bit more dancable and upfront than the record. Drawbacks are that each one takes time to figure out!"
How would you assess the importance of the mythic in your own life, as an artist and otherwise?
"Its just nice to view life through a colourful lense, and give mundane things a story. I think I’m probably compelled to feel a sense of the metaphysical nature of things too. It makes having to go down busy roads or through industrial estates and shopping centres more bearable. In John Cowper Powys’s Wolf Solent, the main character at the start of the book is returning to Dorset by train and has a visions that he is bounding across the landscape as a giant would in great leaps and strides. I can relate to that! In terms of art, I just like things to be multidimensional, open to wide interpretation, and the mythical and mystical allow you to do that."
Have you ever had any brushes with the supernatural?
I started doing lots of location recordings during the first two EPs, recording people a lot. I’d hooked up with a psychic group in Glastonbury to record their exploits. So they’d stake out a haunted house overnight, do various incantations and communicate with the dead. I recorded them for a few weeks when they’d meet at one of their houses, and I’d sit in a corner, impartial with a microphone and headphones, while they’d do various things to invoke spirits. What I saw in these times was something happening as a result of their energies bouncing off each other and their concentrations as they focused into the ether. I’m not sure it’s supernatural, it seemed a bit more terrestrial.”
Shirley & Dolly Collins A Song Story Pt 1 B12 Obtuse Linda Perhacs Parallelograms Bochum Welt Extra Life Gary Fawle A Sedgemoor Recording St Etienne Like A Motorway (Skin Up You’re Already Dead) (Autechre remix) Bert Jansch Silly Woman Drexciya Intensified Magnetron Robbie Basho A North American Raga Carl Craig Goodbye World King Midas Sound Come and Behold (Green Gartside rework) Robert Wyatt Alien Black Dog Productions Jauqq Mark Hollis The Daily Planet Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland Track 2 Grace Jones Nightclubbing Shirley & Dolly Collins A Song Story Polygon Window If It Really Is Me
London-based labelPublic Information concerns itself with new and archive music from a variety of genres including electronics, noise, psych, industrial, house, dub and techno. The label’s latest release is a striking collection of tracks handpicked from the vaults of Canada’s Parry Music Library entitled Tomorrow’s Achievements. Here, PI mainman Alex Wilson presents an exclusive mix focusing on neglected Library Music gems from the 1980s. Over to you, Mr Wilson…
"The Library Music of the 1980s is an oft-maligned beast. Deemed inferior to it’s hipper, stranger 60s/70s incarnation, it pales in comparison to its older brethren in many respects. An increasingly naff sound and a cheesy video game sheen came to dominate the decade’s palette. Cold digital synths and clunky computers instantly bring to mind all those regrettable 80s signifiers: shoulder pads, rolled up shirts, bad haircuts, brat-packers… BUT in amongst the dross, there are some gems to be had (usually a solitary track on an album of duffers) and if you look hard enough you’ll find some cracking music which uses the computers and digi-synths to great effect. Here’s half an hour of Public Information’s favourite electronic works from the period, including some shameless self promotion…"
"Not at all electronic but a beautiful, sad string sequence from an album full of this kind of thing. Every Library label has a ‘pastoral’ record in its catalogue (the sleeve in this case is all summertime yellows, workers in the corn, green meadows) and this is one of the better examples of the genre - mercifully, not a lute in sight."
2. Steve Joliffe ‘Earth Dawn’ (from Earth, Bruton Music BRJ 24 1983)
"The Bruton sleeve blurb says, ‘Folky surrealistic impressions of life on earth past, present and future’ which basically translates itself into a record of mad, squiggly electronics and an omnipresent flute. Sometimes that flute is bad, here it’s lovely."
3. Jean Dowgierd/Marek Billinski ‘Birth Of Drugs’ (from Input-Output, Coloursound Library CS57 1986)
"Another one from the Coloursound catalogue (ran by the husband and wife team of Gunter and Waltraud Greffenius!) this is really oppressive, dark electronics from an equally strange record."
4. Paul Williams ‘Poseidon’ (from Aquarius, Parry Music PML 168 1987)
"First of two tracks from our new compilation of Parry Music, there’s a smattering of this vocodered choral/vocal sound on the album; here it’s used to spooked, unsettling effect. ‘Poseidon’ is a perfect, evocative title."
"I owe the intrepid Mr Panabrite [aka Norm Chambers] and his Lunar Atrium blog for this one, so in his words: ‘Courtesy of Bruno Nicolai’s library label Edipan comes the first installment in the three-part Insound series, showcasing early 80s Italian electronic composers utilizing computer technology to realize their compositions.’ Wonderfully tripped-out stuff.”
6. Klaus Weiss ‘Dirt Track’ (from Sport Sequences Vol.1, Sonoton SON178 1982)
"Klaus Weiss is a bit of a library ‘star’ having performed on a raft of excellent records in the 70s and 80s. He was also a mean jazz drummer. This is Klaus flexing his forearms into super tight, groovy drum shapes set against a growling synth bass lick. The ‘Dirt Track’ in question hopefully refers to motorbike racing and not anything sinister."
7. Jeff Newman ‘Blackbird’ (from Technospheres Underscores: Nature And Technology, Sonoton SON 266 1986)
"Sonoton again, and here’s a chap called Jeff Newmann who shows off his gear on the sleeve “[Oberheim System, Moog, Sequential Circuits, Kurzweil K250]” and then brings us a snappy bit of synthy 80s sci-fi."
8. Johann Timman ‘Trip Into The Body’ (from Trip Into The Body, Hansa International 1982)
"Strictly speaking this isn’t a library record at all, but carries a Library-esque central concept. As the title suggests this is anatomical electronics from Mr Timman; a track-by-track voyage through the brain, heart, blood, blood cells, windpipe, lungs and the ‘tympanic cavity’. Great LP, made better by a gatefold that opens out to a full nervous system diagram and photos of Mr Timman jamming on a keytar."
"Despite all my longing for this to be a balding Geordie and former footballer… further research told me otherwise. This French Mr Shearer recorded a few albums of groovy synthpop in the 80s, Marathon Life is easily the pick and features a couple of tracks from fellow Frenchman, Serge Bulot."
10. Phil Davies ‘Shifting’ (from Lagoon, Magicabus MAG 006 1986)
"More Gallic space-disco from a bloke called Phil Davies on small French imprint Magicabus. Library music’s poison chalice strikes on this album; whilst this track is a cracker the rest of the record is largely limp, cheesy, new age ambient."
11/12. Benoit Hutin & Joachim Sherylee ‘Tact’ and ‘Diabolical Plan’ (fromElectronic, Musax 10.024 1980)
"A pair of sparkling cuts from Frenchman Hutin and Joachim Sherylee’s Electronic LP for Musax. Sherylee is a nom-de-library for Jacky Giordano, who allegedly produced/co-wrote much of the Black Devil material with iconic figure Bernard Fevre, which Fevre controversially disputes. Library Music trivia!"
13. Hermann Langshwert ‘Integrator’ (from Technoworld, Parry, PMLCD 1129 1984)
"We close out the mix with another one from our Tomorrow’s Achievements comp. This is just the right side of bad-80s but it’s one of my favourite Parry Tracks. Danceable, almost. The drums are heavy, the melodies taut, the atmosphere is… chase! All I can see in my minds eye is a Police Academy car chase which, for certain times and moments, is just perfect."
Christopher Horne was a member of Boards Of Canada alongside Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin before striking out on his own as Christ. Under this name, Horne has released a series of evocative, characterful albums and EPs including Blue Shift Emissions, Pylonesque and Distance Lends Enchantment To The View. His latest work is the soundtrack to Stefan Larsson’s animated science fiction film Cathexis. Horne spoke to The Outer Church about his life in electronic music and assembled an exclusive mix of cherished tracks…
Describe the mix you’ve put together for The Outer Church.
"I thought about this for quite a while, and then decided to do a mix of the tracks that are on the top of the pile, so there’s no real flow or structure to it, it’s just a collection of tracks that I‘m listening to a lot at the moment. A lot of them have been in rotation for a long time at my house. Some for over 20 years, so I guess that means they’ve probably influenced me somehow."
How did you come to score Cathexis?
"I’ve been keeping my eye on Stefan’s work ever since he did the video ‘Yuki’ for my track ‘One Sunny Cloudy Day’. The video shows these kids interacting with a mad robot tree… it’s very grainy, and kind of beautiful. A few years later he made ‘Polygon Graffiti’, which accompanies ‘Odyssey 31’ from Distance Lends Enchantment To The View, which was my last record for [now defunct Scottish label] Benbecula Records. I kind of got interested in this concept he kept returning to about Aujik, a people in an alternative future, where technology and nature are seen to have spiritual qualities - kind of like Shintoism taken to the logical extreme. It sort of coincided with a bunch of stuff I’m quite interested in like futurism, the concept of the singularity and AI, that kind of stuff. He approached me about tracking a film project he had in mind and it all grew from there. It was exactly what I needed at the time because I’d been involved in other aspects of life than music and hadn’t written much for a while. Truth be told, I was feeling kind of uninspired, and the film gave me a new structure to hang ideas on. It gave me a new approach, so to speak, in that I was working on tailoring the music to the imagery, instead of creating imagery through the music."
How did you find the experience of scoring a film? Did it take some adjustment?
"Well, Stefan and I worked more or less completely in tandem… obviously I was aware of the general atmosphere of some of his other projects, so I started by sending him about an hours worth of unfinished or unreleased stuff, to see how he felt about it. From there, the music guided his visuals as much as the pictures created a foundation for my music. We chatted a lot via email, and over the year we worked on it, came to a place where we were both very happy with the results."
Are you working on new material besides the soundtrack?
"I’ve mostly been involved in remixes for other people since the soundtrack was wrapped up. My remix for Skytree's track 'Antediluvian Dub' is pretty widely available, and is a gentle foray into dubstep. I did a super-punky, 1977 styled remix for Sleeps In Oysters. It’s a complete rework of their track ‘Don’t Drum For Other Girls’, and I just took the vocal and built a track around it. It’s out on Seed Records. Incidentally, I can’t recommend them highly enough. They’re one of my favourite bands at the moment. I just completed a remix for Pumajaw's track 'Tallulah', which is kind of dark and heavy on the percussion. It should be out on herb recordings at the start of next year. Actually, I'm doing a gig with Pumajaw and Engine 7 later in the year, and I quite fancy getting Pinkie from Pumajaw up on stage to do the vocal for the remixed version. Should be fun, even better if we can pull it off. Other than that, I've been busy reconfiguring the new tracks for live performance, and editing together the video backdrop, which will feature a generous slice of the Cathexis movie, some other bits and pieces by Matt Brown, David Lumsden, Brennan Stasciewicz, Paul Lambie, and some bits I put together myself.”
There’s a distant, wistful quality to much of your music. Does this reflect your character?
"Nah… nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a pretty intense kind of person. I’m animated and quite loud, and I think nostalgia and wistfulness are over-rated in the extreme. That was then, this is now. That’s not to say I don’t love the imperfections which came about in years gone by from using less than perfect recording equipment and techniques. It’s so easy to create something perfect and polished nowadays, I like to make music that sounds a bit injured, and I’ve always loved music that has an inderminate emotional quality. Something that can be uplifting one time you listen to it and disturbing or deeply saddening on another occasion, to wax pretentious for a second. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how I want things to sound though… it just comes out that way. To be honest, I don’t spend that much time thinking about my character, either."
I’m always interested in how an artist’s immediate physical environment influences their work. Do you find inspiration in your surroundings?
"My studio is the only room in the house I can smoke in, so it kind of stinks a bit like a 1980s school staff room. I haven’t decorated it since I moved in about six years ago. Prior to that I think it might have been touched up in the early 70s by the guy who used to own it, so there’s a lot of brown, and vomity wallpaper. It’s full of keyboards, computer bits, guitars, drums, old tape machines and a three foot tall plaster icon of St Christopher which a mate found in a skip. I’m genuinely pretty much unaware of what’s around me when I’m actually making music. You can tell when I’ve had a particularly productive period because the room ends up a total tip, with cables, instruments, bits of paper, discs and ashtrays everywhere. Beyond that, the area I live in is pretty quiet, and quasi-rural, so I have the luxury of headspace to imagine stuff in. It feels a lot less claustrophobic than living tenement life in Edinburgh, where you can hear your neighbours shagging, and the building work starts at seven in the morning."
You’re fond of Bob Rafelson’s 1968 Monkees film, Head. That’s an OC favourite too. What do you like about it? What’s your favourite part?
"I haven’t seen it for years, and I’ve recently been trying to track a copy of it down. I went through a phase in the late 80s and early 90s of dropping a bunch of trips and watching really intense films like Hardware or Jacob’s Ladder… Head was one of the movies that featured quite often, but it wasn’t like the other ones. It had a narrative that sort of made sense in that particular state of mind. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen it straight. I understand that [Head co-writer and co-producer Jack] Nicholson pieced together the scripts in a similar state, so I guess that kind of tallies up. I really like how tracks like ‘Circle Sky’ mark the coming of age of The Monkees as a real band in their own right, even though ironically, the film ultimately pretty much shut the band down for good."
Do you generally find inspiration in cinema? Which films have had the most impact on you as an artist?
"I am inspired massively, in a general sense, by good cinema. I love watching the masterpieces… films like Alien, where the attention to detail… every set, every flashing light, every background noise is perfectly placed to create a completely believable universe, which makes the film all the more terrifying. In terms of influence upon my music… I’m not so sure. Music is more abstract than that. Like, I don’t have a cinematic scene in my head that I’m scoring when I’m writing (up until the Cathexis project) and I don’t have a story or situation in mind when I put a track together. I look for things that make me emote, and I guess secondarily I hope my stuff has a similar emotional impact on those that like it or listen to it. I suppose you could say that’s a loosely Hitchcockian angle. As for films… moviemakers seem to be going in a similar direction as those that make technology-based music in that the technology is fetishised for what it can do, and there’s no restraint. As a result there’s a less human quality, and it ceases to have an emotional impact beyond, you know, ‘That’s really impressive.’ There’s a lot of shit, soulless movies making it to the cinema these days. So yeah. Star Wars."
How do you feel your creative process has evolved over the years?
"I guess I’m more of a ‘producer’ these days than just simply a musician. Probably in the loosest sense though. In the early days, I’d record instruments in flat, and boost the hell out of portions of the EQ spectrum I wanted to stick out. These days I’ve learned a lot, and I’m quite careful about placing and carving sounds that sit alongside each other in the mix. I like to end up with a final mix that doesn’t need to have a hefty limiter, and invasive EQ treatments. To be honest, the process changes for each track, depending on the instrumentation used, but loosely speaking, I’ve tried to move away from computer trickery as much as I can with my music, and try to use the computerised portions of my setup more as a multitrack recorder than a sound editing and processing tool. But like I say, it pretty much depends how I feel."
You recently put up your back catalogue for sale on Bandcamp at 50p per release. What was the reasoning behind this and was it successful?
"Those recordings are all deleted now, and I own the publishing rights since benbecula shut up shop, so I basically thought I’d make them available at a reasonable price. Even at the sale prices, which I’m considering making a permanent feature, not only do people often pay more than the minimum, sometimes a lot more, but I would pocket only a little less than I would make on the sale of a vinyl album after production and distribution costs, so people who want the records can get them cheap, and I can still afford to buy cigarettes. It’s been remarkably successful. I’ve sold a lot of albums since the advent of Bandcamp, so I guess there’s still demand for the old stuff. I suppose it goes to show that there’s still a big wedge of the record buying public who are willing to pay for music if the prices are reasonable and they know the bulk of what they pay goes to the artist directly."
How do you feel post-rave electronic music has changed since the early days?
"I kind of see the world of electronic music nowadays in similar terms to the overblown prog rock scene of the late 70s. There’s a general sway towards being the most precise producer, or creating the most unbelievably complex breakbeats and glitches… in a lot of cases, for me, this is at the expense of the direct relationship a listener might have with the music, in an emotional context. I like to keep things simple and focus on the emotional quality in the melody and the production. I listen to something like Selected Ambient Works 85-92 by The Aphex Twin, and it’s so simple… the production isn’t super tight, but the sheer atmosphere and emotional range in it is undeniable. Of course there are artists creating mega complex stuff that stick out and are obviously incredible musicians, but there are also a lot of pissing competitions going on."
What happened to Benbecula? They were a terrific label in their time.
"Quite simply, the Crofter [note: Chris is referring to Benbecula founder The Cosmic Crofter] got sick of ‘treading water’ as he put it. As he said, ‘It was never meant to be an art project.’ Sales were dwindling, while fan numbers were rising… it’s pretty simple to see that’s unsustainable, especially with a small label where one release may finance the next, with a few risks taken here and there. I think a lot of boutique labels are going the same way. There’s arguments for and against the causes of this… market saturation due to the availability of technology, file sharing and all that. I don’t think any one of them has the full picture, but I think it’s fair to say people nowadays would rather spend £400 on a device to play music on and download the bulk of their collection for free than spend money on music, particularly for something as nebulous as an mp3 file."
How is the electronic music scene in Scotland at the moment? Is there a close network of artists or is it pretty disparate?
"There’s some pretty exciting stuff happening, both Plum [aka Shona Macguire] and Araya [aka Keir MacCulloch] from Benbecula are going on to bigger and better things. Plum’s got a self-release out called The Seed. It’s really tight stuff. Keir is now one half of Capitals… quite different to Araya, but top class. They’ve been getting some pretty solid attention for the last few months. Frog Pocket has a new album out which is splendid. Like, goosebumps good. There’s a really healthy scene through in Glasgow. Less so in Edinburgh, but I’m hearing new stuff all the time which is quality and full of fresh ideas. The music changes but the scene stays the same. You need to look to find the good stuff, you know? In terms of a network of artists, you kind of get to know most people on the scene, and Scotland is relatively small in population. Not so much a network, just proximity. I think not being part of a local label kind of detracts a little from that sense of community though, because there isn’t so much opportunity to play as often with labelmates. I do think musicians, or artists, people in general in fact, genuinely do have access to an international network… it’s as easy as instant messaging and sending a few files here and there. You actually can have real-time dialogue with artists from anywhere in the world. That’s a pretty broad horizon."
What has been your single most powerful musical experience to date?
"If I had to nail down one particular experience, it would probably be the Cocteau Twins on the Blue Bell Knoll tour at Glasgow Barrowlands. I went through to the gig by myself. I can’t remember why. I think I must have been about 16 or 17… got myself right to the front. I was just besotted with Liz Fraser’s voice, and so blown away that there were no backing vocalists. She did it all solo, and it just didn’t feel like anything was missing at all. Yeah, it was a magic gig. Probably that one. If I had to pin it down to one. But I couldn’t. Not a chance."
Sleeps In Oysters Tonite I’ll Shed My Skin Cocteau Twins Beatrix Nitzer Ebb Without Belief Aphex Twin Tha Elbow Ribcage Schneider TM & Kpt Michigan The Light 3000 Alias & Tarsier Last Nail Prince Raspberry Beret Stevie Wonder Living For The City