A Quietus Interview – Perceptions Of Sublime Simplicity: Thomas Köner Interviewed (April 17th, 2013)

Thomas Köner is a German composer and multimedia artist who has become renowned worldwide for his exploration and recreation in sound of remote, icy landscapes, generally situated geographically within the cold borders of the Arctic Circle. 2012 was a vintage year for Köner, one that saw his first album for Touch, Novaya Zemlya, released to rave reviews, and the reissue on Type of Porter Ricks’ 1996 album Biokinetics, the seminal debut of his dub techno duo with Andy Mellwig. Both albums showcase Köner at his very best, be it deploying abstract drones, whipping wind and crisp noises in thoughtful and evocative ways on Novaya Zemlya; or displaying an acute sensitivity to space and rhythm as one half of Porter Ricks. All of which has made him a perpetually fascinating figure in modern electronic music. The Quietus caught up with Köner to discuss his recent output, the contrast between live music and studio production, and the appeal of desolate, remote landscapes as inspiration for composition.

I saw you perform in Brussels, at the Meakusma event. What did you make of the concert? Were you pleased with how it went?

Thomas Köner: I liked it. I was impressed by the space [Brigittines Chapel]. I had prepared a different set for the night, different music things and some visuals, but when I saw [the venue] I changed it, switched off the lights. It was better in the afternoon, because you got a pitch-black space, without lamps, just tiny rays of sunlight from outside that would seep through the blinds. It was a magic moment.

Did you stay for the club night afterwards?

TK: Yes, I had a look, but didn’t stay longer than midnight.

How do you approach performing live in comparison to recording in the studio? Do you have to set up differently?

TK: Oh yes, they are completely different tasks, like swimming and skating: they’re both related to water but completely different. I don’t really think you can compare them. In classical music, the whole concept is completely disconnected. They’re celebrating (for example) a pianist who has never created a piece of music themselves and is just playing something they’ve found, the score, but still we consider this pianist to be a great artist; whilst the composer, who would have been in a similar situation, writing this music in the studio. They have two jobs that have their own qualities and talents, but I don’t think you can compare them to each other.

Did you perform tracks from your albums at the Brigittines Chapel, or do you only improvise when performing live?

TK: Yes, both [laughs]. I am composer of these things, so whatever I try that I didn’t write before would qualify as improvisation. And the moment you do it again, it probably becomes a pattern. In improvised music, [the musicians] have patterns that had been conceived once and that become like words, words that maybe don’t mean much, but if you shape a very nice sentence, you can even have hope to write a novel! On one level these would be improvisations, but you still have a sense of shape and form, even in things that are completely new. It was a bit different at Brigittines but usually I have two parts, one very known and the other completely unknown even to me. If you have a nice audience, you can test-drive things. You can never be sure that something is interesting for somebody else just by presenting it. It’s a collaborative thing. You want to be providing inspiration and an experience, so feedback is very important to me.

I was intrigued by the fact that, as you mentioned, you performed entirely in the dark. Could you please explain what the idea is behind this?

TK: From my personal experience, it’s a bit tedious to have a visual capacity that is not really in charge of everything. I find it a bit distracting, like in a symphony orchestra when they’re doing funny movements or playing with their ties. I would prefer it if they switched off the lights and let us enjoy the acoustics. Things like vibrations, which are felt. The other approach is to present something visual along with the music, which can also be distracting or counterintuitive. Also, we have a situation where you can hardly find anyone doing contemporary research in sound in a way that you would find satisfying to watch. [In my case, using] a laptop and a little plastic keyboard… You know what I mean.

The most interesting concerts are the ones that have the ability to be a complete failure. My most satisfying musical expression is a collaboration I do with the filmmaker Jürgen Reble and a performance we call ‘Alchemy’, where he projects a film loop and treats the loop with chemical as he’s projecting it. You really see what destructive or transformative changes appear on each film frame. I place a lot of microphones inside the projector and on the sound desk and the whole soundtrack is an amplification of the treatments. If Jürgen were to smash a cup of his liquids on the film and therefore the microphones, all the fuses would probably blow! There’s always a sense of immediate disaster. That’s very inspiring for me, but those are very rare situations.

Novaya Zemlya was one of my favourite albums of 2012. Why did you choose the island of Novaya Zemlya for inspiration?

TK: Some years ago, I was talking with a Russian soldier in Murmansk who had been stationed on Novaya Zemlya. I have a very keen interest in all things Arctic, so I was determined to deliver a topography of this space.

Without giving away too many trade secrets, how did you go about creating the tracks on Novaya Zemlya?

TK: When I’m composing, I don’t use the computer in the way I would in a concert. I do have a lot of instruments in my studio that I play and record and somehow arrange. All the inspiration for how the sound develops is something in the sonic quality of each event which is just extended in a way that becomes a commentary of the sounds that I play in the first place. For this piece, there are analogies to the situation in Novaya Zemlya and Arctic places: the military zone, the destruction… There are several versions of the piece, and the one that became the official one was maybe number five or six. I kept removing bits until it could not be perceivable as a musical flow. It became a sort of vast emptiness.

Where do you think your interest in remote, cold places stems from? How do you achieve the distinctive aesthetics on albums like Permafrost and Novaya Zemlya?

TK: [Laughs] I was probably born with it. I don’t recall getting a letter! I find it rather obvious to have a landscape that is so open yet also so intimate and dangerous and which speaks to your sense of beauty or your perception of sublime simplicity. These are things which you can also search for in music.

Your albums seem at first to be very austere, but further listening reveals layers that are very emotionally resonant. Would you agree? Is this a difficult to maintain that balance?

TK: Absolutely! The difficulty always borders on being completely idiotic, because you can easily perform very interesting things if you use the classical elements of music, as they have been used successfully for centuries, things like harmony and melody and rhythm: all these things that are readily available. Instead, if you refrain from using all those, and just work with leftovers and the spaces you design in-between these leftovers, it’s not a very desirable task, to be honest. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it!

Do you also have, in a way, a desire to recreate the environments of places like the Arctic circle via music? Would the term ‘psychogeography’ apply to what you do?

TK: I think I’m more interested in providing something like a layer that is also part of the environment I find myself in when I’m not in the Arctic. A lot of music lovers are based in urban situations and cities. So, even if you’re travelling in the Arctic, you’re still never there because what constitutes you, as a self, is a model and the environment is apparently created by the brain. It’s a representation in consciousness, a mental image, not an optical image. It’s the same for the sounds and for all the impressions that you could get. In a way it’s not even interesting to go to these places, because what is interesting to have a narrative that unfolds as a part of your life story. It’s all internal, a representation of impressions, which could happen anywhere. The music I do could filter impressions that you have, in your place, something you have created, rather than an illustration of [somewhere else].

Can you see yourself recording an album centred on somewhere geographically different, such as a desert or tropical island? I imagine you’d need to change your aesthetic and use different sounds…

TK: Certainly, yes, sure! Physical temperature is somehow correlated to speed, and speed is related to tempo, in music. In cold places, everything happens slowly. Movements are slowed down compared to things in a boiling volcano. The question for me is always whether it makes sense.

Last year also saw the reissue on Type of Porter Ricks’ Biokinetics, another fantastic album. Have you always been interested in beat-based music?

TK: I have very good memories of that project. We are still doing some things together… I’m very interested in music, and that of course involves beat-based music. I’m still very interested in it, in terms of composition and current discussions of how it’s been evolving. The difference between that and what I showed at Brigittines is that, with a beat-based approach, you are limited in a much stronger sense. You have fewer tools and you can never have empty spaces. It’s part of the service, but you can’t leave things too open for imagination, which I think is interesting for an audience. The beat and rhythm are so simple, in this context, that I always think that it’s the first thing you could abandon. But obviously not, because it’s the first thing that appears and the last thing to go in a club night. It’s kind of a paradoxical situation, but I love it.

I imagine the Porter Ricks tracks involved a very different creative process to your solo material. Would I be right?

TK: Not really! Should it? No, it shouldn’t. There are things that repeat [in beat-based music]. If you use a hi-hat, there are changes in its appearance but it will always repeat as a hi-hat, and there’s an element of luxury to be able to enjoy music [like Novaya Zemlya] that only repeats at a very small level. For Porter Ricks, we had elements that were repetitive, but others that weren’t. It was like buying the easiest ticket to get in and then to do what we’d do anyway.

And you are still working with Andy as Porter Ricks?

TK: It is a process. Andy is busy doing some compositions that he wanted us to do, but we haven’t recorded in a long time. You can’t do everything everywhere.

Finally, do you have any other albums and/or concerts in the pipeline?

TK: Yes… [laughs]

Ooh, is it all a bit of a secret?

TK: No, there should be a new album for Touch. We will continue this exploration we started with Novaya Zemlya, and that should be this year. I’ll continue to do re-releases of my work, as well as a DVD of a piece I did in 2009 for the hundredth anniversary of the Futurist movement. It had a strong visual component. I’m doing more concerts, including London in April, and I’m soundtracking a silent film by Murnau for the Louvre, which will be shown in June. Things like this! Concerts are rather boring. They just happen! I would prefer not to do them, but there are so many interesting things going on around them, and so many things I learn about my music and how it behaves in unexpected situations. And of course there’s the service of doing something that someone might find interesting.

Thomas Köner plays live at the Denovali Swingfest in London this Sunday, 21st April, at the Scala in King’s Cross. For more information and tickets click here.

A Quietus Review – Sonic Communication: Stephen O’Malley Talks Ensemble Pearl & Gravetemple (April 10th, 2013)

Stephen O’Malley must be one of the hardest-working men in metal. As well as being one-half-to-one-quarter of increasingly popular doom/drone powerhouse Sunn O))), he’s also been a member of a number of iconic metal acts over the years, from Khanate and KTL to Gravetemple, taking in a range of collaborators such as Eyvind Kang, Timba Harris, Attila Csihar, Boris and members of Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter, many of whom have cropped up on recent Sunn O))) albums.

His latest project to see an album release is Ensemble Pearl, an international quartet that includes Atsuo from Boris on drums, Michio Kurihara of Ghost and Boris on guitar, and William Herzog, from The Sweet Hereafter (amongst others) on bass, completed by O’Malley’s trademark guitar mauling. Their self-titled debut album was released last month on Drag City, and sees O’Malley expanding the palette of his heavy music in new and exciting ways. Meanwhile, Ideologic Organ, the imprint O’Malley runs under the umbrella of Peter Rehberg’s Editions Mego, will this month reissue a humungous demo album by Gravetemple, the guitarist’s trio with former Mayhem and current Sunn O))) vocalist Attila Csihar and multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi. This release will follow a two-night residency by the trio at London’s Cafe Oto this weekend, on the 13th and 14th of April.

Even with so much going on, The Quietus managed to catch up with O’Malley over the phone to discuss Ensemble Pearl, the weight of Sunn O)))’s popularity on his other projects, Ideologic Organ, and just how awesome a band Boris are.

How did Ensemble Pearl get together and start recording?

Stephen O’Malley: I was commissioned to make some music for a theatre piece in 2008 or 2009. That piece ended up being called “This Is How You Disappear”. One of the producers was a Japanese theatre company, so some of the work ended up being done in Japan, [and] so I was invited to work with some Japanese musicians in Japan. Of course, it was a great opportunity to do stuff with Atsuo and the Boris people again. They were really excited about it too, so we went into the studio under that commission.

We spent a week recording music in Tokyo and it was really productive, a really great time. Bill Herzog came over to work on that too. He’s been involved with Sunn O))) and was on the Altar album we did with Boris too. He’s played in the band and stuff like that and is also the bass player for Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter. Furthermore, he’s a very old friend of mine and Greg’s [Anderson, from Sunn O)))], we’ve known each other since the late ’80s, so it was great to invite Bill to come out too. After [that week], some of the material ended up being worked on for that score, specifically, but we didn’t go back to the entire [Ensemble Pearl] session until later. We kept going back to the rough mixes and, two years later, we decided to go back at it and finish that session as an album. We worked with Randall Dunn, our old ally, and voila! There it is. [laughs]

What’s the meaning behind the name Ensemble Pearl?

SO’M: I was kind of obsessed with this album called The Pearl by Brian Eno and Harold Budd. I think it’s from the early ’80s… Not so much with the music or the concept or anything, but the mood of that album is really incredible and somehow that was on my mind. And we just wanted to put a name to it. It’s not anything special, but it kind of means exactly what it says. It’s kind of… true. People like Michio, working with you, it’s really special, for me. Any collaboration is special, but that seemed to fit there. And the mood of that album I mentioned was a driving direction for characteristics not only for that session, but also for the music I was trying to do for that theatre piece.

Ensemble Pearl – ‘Painting on a Corpse’

As you referenced, you’ve worked with Atsuo and Bill in the past, so Ensemble Pearl has drawn comparisons with Altar. Do you think that’s a fair reflection of Ensemble Pearl?

SO’M: Well, maybe superficially because it involved some of the same people coming back together again. But on the other hand, you can see it as a continuation of a really long friendship and relationship between Atsuo and me. We’ve known each other for a long time. Altar was a great moment in Sunn O)))’s history, and in my own personal experience of playing music and being in the underground. It represented what is possible to do with a DIY project – which is what it was! – and it was pretty complicated, so it was incredible to put that together.

I had never played with Michio before that recording session [for the theatre score], so he was a new collaborator for me. Of course, he’d been involved with Boris for a few years at that point. It was pretty amazing – he’s an enigmatic musician, so seeing his technique, especially playing with tape, was pretty mind-blowing and unique.

I think that the spirit of Altar was very special to that period of time itself, and it also involved a lot of other people. Ensemble Pearl is not a continuation of Altar directly, but it seems that, as time goes on, a lot of comparisons are made to your history, just because there are more touchstones for people to try and understand the music itself. Which I think is positive, but at the same, of course there are going to be references to other records that I’ve played guitar on, or Bill played upright bass on, because those personalities are present. And hey, if we could ever have a chance of repeating the spirit of Altar, in any project, that would be extremely positive, because it was a really great moment.

You seem to regard it as a high-water mark…

SO’M: It’s one of them, that’s for sure. Even more than the music, for me it’s about the companionship of the players and that type of chemistry, which honestly doesn’t exist between all those people anymore. It was a period of time when we really came together. I think that the Ensemble Pearl session was very focused and telepathic, in a way, but it was much more private because there were four people involved and it was in a small studio. Altar involved 15 people, maybe, in total, and it was in Seattle, which is where Sunn O))) comes from, and a lot of the people were local. Boris came over specifically for it, and then we toured together as well. Eventually, we played some concerts together as Altar, which was a circus, but it’s one of the high-water marks, for sure.

Do you ever feel that comparisons with what you’ve done as Sunn O))), in particular, can overshadow projects like Ensemble Pearl?

SO’M: Of course. It’s the most recognised of all the music I’ve done, so it seems like a lot of people come to what I’m doing from that point of view as the main background, which is great. From my viewpoint, it allows me to do more, because there’s more interest. But I’ve done a lot of other music besides Sunn O))) in the past, before Sunn O))) was around. As a musician, there are different levels of importance on different performances, I suppose. I think it’s kind of a miracle that people are following this stuff, anyway. With Sunn O))), we’ve always said that we want to make the music to please our expectations, and it’s amazing that other people come along for it. I don’t want to compare something like Ensemble Pearl [to Sunn O)))], but if someone comes to this record because they know Sunn O))), or they know Boris, or they know Jesse Sykes, or they like the Altar record and think there’s some relation there, then that’s great. Time goes on, and this is a more current realisation of music for me, so if people want to follow that, it’s a gift that allows me to continue to do these abstract projects.

‘Blood Swamp’, taken from Sunn O))) & Boris’ Altar LP

It’s interesting that you use the word “abstract”. Do you see Ensemble Pearl as a follow on from the more experimental aspects of Sunn O)))?

SO’M: No, I don’t approach it from Sunn O))), y’know? It’s a separate thing, and we went in with different references. Music written for different vibes. Sunn O))) is a different animal, man. It’s a beast, and Ensemble Pearl is very focused… Of course, it’s experimental – it’s not a pop record! – it has a different purpose and has its own individual point to make, musically, and mood to achieve.

Were the tracks composed in advance, or were they improvised at the point of recording?

SO’M: I wrote a lot of the music in advance and we worked on that together as a group. There’s some improvisation too, and a lot of writing in the studio, but most of it came from parts I had written, or wrote in the studio. Improvisation is a critical tool for any record or band I’ve ever been involved with, and that’s certainly true about developing music in the studio. We developed it all, as a group. You can’t really write for Michio! You can show him and he extrapolates like an astronomical version of your score, or a weather pattern [laughs]. It’s great. Atsuo is someone I’ve worked with on a bunch of stuff and I think we really understand each other. He really helped develop the character of that music in the studio and the production of the material.

It sounds like there’s a special chemistry between you guys.

SO’M: I hope so. I felt it. I’ve got a long history with Atsuo. I met that guy in 1994, maybe, in Seattle and have kind of followed Boris all the time. We ended up doing some tours together, made Altar, they brought us over to Japan the first time, introduced me to a record label that puts out Sunn O)))’s records in Japan. He’s like an old ally. Same with Bill. When Michio got together with Boris, it was a leftfield decision that really worked well and transformed that band, heavily. It was cool to see. I love watching Boris go through all these chameleon stages. It’s pretty interesting, even if I don’t connect with all those stages. I appreciate it as a long-term conceptual work.

They’re one of the only bands capable of releasing two completely different albums on the same day!

SO’M: Exactly! It demands that people following them have a curiosity, even if they might be quite violently opposed to some of the moves [laughs]. The reason they might react that way is that they love certain stages of that group so much. It’s risky for Boris to do that, but on the other hand, one thing that might be observed is that they have a lot of trust in their audience to be intelligent and open-minded to track all of them.

Ensemble Pearl

Loren Mazzacane Connors once said in an interview that he could sort of tell if a band or artist was Japanese just by hearing them, especially the guitar. Do you think there’s a distinctive “sound” to Japanese rock or metal?

SO’M: Well he has direct contact with some of the hottest personalities. I mean hot in that it’s like a flame, where, if you get too close, you sort of get toasted [laughs]. I wouldn’t go that far, instantaneously knowing they’re Japanese, but there’s a quality, especially in rock, where they kind of get into psychedelic and improvised abstract realms automatically. It’s like a strange filter… It’s silly to generalise, but some of my favourite Japanese musicians and bands and albums seem to have a distortion of the very identifiable, regular forms of music. Early Boris sounded like Melvins, in some way, to be quite short, but you knew it wasn’t some band from Missouri playing slow riffs. It was touched a little bit by the psychedelic vibe, and there are a lot of groups like that, that have that filter. But I would never want to be able to identify a person’s nationality by their playing, unless it’s like a traditional folk music. Not with modern music – that would be a shame! But I see his point, I think…

That’s what good about Ensemble Pearl: it’s an international band, not just American, or Japanese, or even both. It’s wider than that.

SO’M: Y’know, it represents a Boris character too. They spent a lot of time touring in the US, and almost as much in Europe. They made a huge effort to do that, and it’s difficult to do, y’know, to travel across different continents. It’s not just one or two tours, we’re talking 15 years of touring, for them. Like I said, the first time I saw them was on their first tour, in ’94, with The Thrones, and we were blown away by this band we’d never heard about. Sometimes bands that are internationally-recognised aren’t as popular in Japan, or vice-versa, but they’ve achieved a balance because of their persistence and determination.

Like Sunn O)), they’re very loud, so it must be demanding on you, the artists…

SO’M: I think any live show is, at the same time, extremely energising and extremely exhausting. One reason you do tours is that you don’t recognise that exhaustion [laughs], and just bathe in this rite, this powerful energy, daily. But I wouldn’t change it for anything, it’s a gift to be able to do live shows like that.

What was behind the decision on Ensemble Pearl to get Eyvind Kang involved on a track (‘Wray’)? I know you’ve worked with him on Sunn O)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions.

SO’M: Well, the second part of the production of that album took place at the end of 2011, and we decided to finish it as an album. I spoke with Randall Dunn about mixing it in Seattle at a studio with a great API desk and take an analogue turn with it. So we went to Seattle and did that, and a lot of the production decisions were made at that point. It defined the character of what we were looking for, with a production heavily inspired by ’50s rock or surf music, in a way, from our point of view. It might not be very obvious, but it’s something Randall and I have talked about for a long time.

Anyway, Eyvind’s living in Seattle and he’s someone I’ve been working with and collaborating with in different ways, so I invited him to come contribute to the record. The thing is, ‘Wray’ is primarily a piece by Timba Harris. He’s another viola player, and a friend of Eyvind’s. We worked with both of them on some Sunn O))) records and stuff. Eyvind came in and did an electric violin solo on ‘Sexy Angle’, but Timba Harris is very present on ‘Wray’, although it’s not only him. But besides those two moments, everything on the album is purely Michio, Atsuo, Bill and myself. There are no synthesisers or other types of instruments, it’s only guitars, bass and drums. And percussion! I want to make that clear. There are nice illusions on the record, people are hearing different things on different tracks. The ‘Giant’ track seems to be sparking people’s imaginations as far as the instrumentation is concerned, [yet] that track is purely guitar, purely Ebow guitar played by Michio. So, again, we’re working with this idea of phenomenology and spectral music in a way, but more for rock than contemporary music.

Is it a sense of going for the source, getting things back to a more streamlined structure, in a way?

SO’M: For me, there’s nothing like being in a room with people you connect with and just making music right there. That’s the best way of writing music, and that’s what Ensemble Pearl was. A lot of stuff I’ve worked on has involved more production or taking things from one place to another and adding elements here and there. But Ensemble Pearl was recorded in a very small studio, the four of us meeting every day for seven days or something, and getting on with it, as a band. For me, that’s the source, that’s the way I started playing music and I know that’s how a lot of these other guys started playing music too.

William Herzog, as you mentioned, performs with Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter, so there’s a folk/country background there. Do you think there’s an element of that in Ensemble Pearl, with the open spaces that exist across the album?

SO’M: Bill’s done a lot of bands. He was in a band called Citizens Utilities, on Mute. He plays with a guy called Joel Phelps in a band called The Downer Trio, where he actually plays drums. He’s played bass on all the Jesse Sykes albums, I think, and toured with her a lot, and he’s also an amazing singer. I don’t think his point of view for music is genre-based, it seems to me he’s always searching for the correct character to introduce into the music, but then again he’s like a real musician kind of guy. I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s a country music influence in Ensemble Pearl, but then again the entire background of every player is involved at the point of playing, so it’s possible, I guess. I didn’t think of that. Bill is more open-minded…

I didn’t necessarily mean to infer that it came from Bill, specifically, but there are a couple of tracks that made me think of recent Earth records, like Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light, and I wondered if that was planned in advance.

SO’M: I love Dylan [Carlson]’s playing and the Hex, Or Printing in the Infernal Method record has been influential. I don’t think I’d heard the recent records when [Ensemble Pearl] was recorded, but I won’t deny Dylan’s influence, for sure. The Hex record has such beautiful space and spare playing, and I can hear that in Ensemble Pearl.

What are the next plans for Ensemble Pearl? Are you planning to tour and release some more material?

SO’M: I’d love to work on a second record, and we’ve talked about meeting and doing that. I’m not sure about live shows. I guess it depends on an opportunity or an invitation that would allow us to fly everyone to the same place. Boris is quite active, as you know, it seems they’re doing a lot of touring this year. Maybe that would open up some opportunities to do an Ensemble Pearl concert or set up shows or something, but there’s nothing planned right now. It’s kind of in a holding pattern, I guess. The record has come out and got a really great reaction, more than I was expecting, which is very pleasant, of course. Hopefully, if there’s an opportunity presented…

Something like All Tomorrow’s Parties.

SO’M: Yeah, something like that. I don’t expect anything from anyone in that way, but hey, we’ve had support to do much more complicated logistics before, so it could happen. But one thing is sure, which is that we’ve talked about getting together to work on another recording, which I would really love to do, possibly with a vocalist involved.

Excerpt from Gravetemple’s Ambient/Ruin LP

This month or next will also see the reissue on Ideologic Organ of Gravetemple’s Ambient/Ruin. What was the impetus behind that?

SO’M: Well, that was originally a demo that we made in 2008 for a small tour. It was released in 300 copies at that time. I just wanted to put some material on vinyl, and I loved those recordings. They’re pretty strange! We’re spending a lot of time in Europe this year, and we decided to try and play together again as a trio, doing a bunch of concerts. Again, this is a group of people, Attila, Oren and myself, who have been playing stuff together for several years now, since 2003 or 2004, so it’s a continuation of a longer musical relationship.

I wanted to have something tangible to have as a souvenir of those concerts and also to bring it out there. Attila is especially great on this record, he did a lot of his recordings in Japan when he was visiting Mount Fuji. It’s kind of a concrete record, in a way, in our way. That group did about three tours and put out three recordings so far, and this is the second one. It’s not new material at all, but it’s relevant. Before this tour, we’re going to spend some days in a studio in London, actually, working on, y’know, whatever. Stuff to play live. It’s primarily improvised, so I want to get the chemistry going again. It could be the beginning of a series of releasing these other CDs on vinyl, and maybe new material too.

It’s quite different than Ensemble Pearl in most ways [laughs], but the similarity, and also the similarity with Sunn O))) and all my different projects, which seem quite disparate at times but actually are not, is that it’s based on collaboration, friendship and camaraderie between the musicians. The communication is possible at a very deep level, and then the sonic results can be quite different, but that type of really human communicative experience is the whole reason to do any of that stuff. I’m really lucky to have several friends with pretty strong identities and ideas to be able to do that with.

Would I be right in thinking that, for Ambient/Ruin, you guys all recorded your parts separately, and then put them together at a later date?

SO’M: Like I said, it was a demo before a tour, so we wanted to work on something constructive before getting together on a stage. Some of the material was actually recorded live from a tour of Israel we did, and, like I said, it’s a kind of concrete thing that we did in that way. We were trying to take a flavour and then build something together, and even though that process was not done in person, it did inject some vitality into the pre-production of those concerts. Oren, especially, is so productive and has so many ideas for production…

I can imagine working with Attila Csihar must be an unique experience. He’s a phenomenal vocalist.

SO’M: Definitely! It’s very simple: he’s a legend [laughs]. Let’s leave at that. He’s an unique musician and an incredibly generous person. He’s a legend. He’s Attila.

For the upcoming concerts at Cafe Oto, will Gravetemple be performing material from Ambient/Ruin or will it be totally new?

SO’M: It’ll probably be totally new. It’s not supporting a demo from 2008! And anyway, playing at Cafe Oto encourages improvisation. That’s why we wanted to do that, and I’m glad they were up for that, too. It could potentially be quite blistering in that space, but not necessarily. We’ll see what happens. The idea is that we’ll be in the studio, as I said, in London, for two days, and I think it could be super-productive, actually. I hope so.

This will be your fourth showcase at Cafe Oto for Ideologic Organ. Are you liking running the label?

SO’M: Yeah, I like it. I’m not the right person to run a record label as a business, I suppose, but luckily Ideologic Organ is a partnership with Editions Mego, so I’m more of a curator and the business side of things and the distribution are taken care of by them. I’m pretty fortunate, and have been able to bring out some incredible recordings by people. There will be more things happening this year, as well. I don’t know what the full lifespan of this label will be, but it’s also prodigious, so far.

Thank you so much for your time, Stephen, it’s been great to talk to you.

SO’M: Thank you for taking an interest. Have a nice Easter. Go egg a church!

Gravetemple play at London’s Cafe Oto this Saturday 13th April and Sunday 14th April. For information and tickets, click here. Ensemble Pearl is out now on Drag City. Gravetemple’s Ambient/Ruin is released this month on Ideologic Organ.

A Quietus Interview – Razor Blades In The Dark: An Interview With Merzbow (April 3rd, 2013)

With his collaborative album with Balázs Pándi and Mats Gustafsson just released, Joseph Burnett catches up with the enigmatic Japanese noise legend to discuss the making of the album, the modern noise scene and his remarkably prolific output.

For over thirty years, Merzbow (aka Masami Akita) has been the biggest and most recognisable figure on the international noise scene. Indeed, he has defined the contours and aesthetic of the genre, from his pioneering use of tape loops to create hulking industrial vistas in the late 70s, to his switch to laptop-generated static noise at the turn of the century. A cluster of harsh noise releases in the 90s, meanwhile, produced masterpieces such as Venereology, Pulse Demon, 1930 and the jazz-inflected Door Open at 8am.

Rightly hailed by Paul Hegarty, in his seminal book Noise/Music, as an artist who reached the apex of noise’s potential as an artistic genre, Merzbow has been a clear influence on a wealth of subsequent noise artists and groups, from compatriots Hijokaidan and Incapacitants to Western acts like Wolf Eyes, Vomir and The Rita. He has also collaborated frequently with other artists, from underground figures such as Nordvargr and Richard Ramirez to international stars like Genesis P-Orridge, Richard Pinhas and Sonic Youth.

Ever prolific, Akita has released a glut of albums in recent years, notably his 13 Japanese Birds series, which highlighted his ongoing ecological and vegetarian activism, and last month released a stirring collaborative album, Cuts, with frequent collaborator Balázs Pándi on drums and ever-enthusiastic free-jazz saxophonist Mats Gustafsson.

The Quietus caught up with Merzbow to discuss the album via e-mail, and to get the great man’s thoughts on working with other artists versus recording solo, the modern noise scene and his remarkable output.

How did you come to record Cuts with Mats Gustafsson and Balázs Pándi? Who was the driving force behind the organisation of the recording? I know you’ve performed with both of them in the past…

Merzbow: Balázs and I started working together around 2009. We toured Europe and America. We came up with the idea of playing with Mats when we were touring Europe in 2011. It was Balázs’s idea to make this trio. I’ve known Mats for some time, as we also played together several times, so I had no problem playing with him. Cuts was recorded in a studio, the day after we played in Budapest.

How did the recording process work? Were the tracks recorded live and improvised, or did you work to a pre-arranged structure?

M: We recorded several improvised sessions at the studio there, and I brought the music back to Tokyo and edited it. I didn’t change the structure of the tunes so much. As far as overdubs go, there is only one sax part transferred to another place, but that’s it. My edited version was sent back to Budapest, and Balázs re-edited it.

Was it tricky finding the time to record with Mats and Balázs, given geographical differences and busy schedules?

M: Oh, you know, the drummer was Balázs then. I started working on the production with a drum sound around late 2008. I was originally a drummer, but I have rarely used drums on Merzbow recordings. So, I thought of this as a new attempt. On the Japanese Bird series, a series of 13 albums, I played drums on almost every tune. Maybe it was only natural that I was invited and started playing with Balázs. Of course, he is a much more powerful and technical drummer than me. His drumming is connected to metal, grindcore [and] free jazz, so it is very easy to play with him.

Merzbow, Mats Gustafsson & Balázs Pándi

I saw you perform in London a couple of years ago, also with a drummer. Do you have to change your approach to your music when working with other musicians?

M: As far as gear, I use the same thing, with more oscillator use than usual setups. Mats used a circuit-bending effector a lot. Mats knows how to do noise business really well.

You record regularly with different artists, from Richard Pinhas to Boris. Does collaborating throw up different challenges to performing solo?

M: Solo live is harder, there are many more things to work on. I need to prepare the structure, what to do with rhythms, etc. Improvisation plays a very, very small part in my solo shows. On the other hand, I don’t have to think about anything except my own part when working in a collaboration, so I can focus more.

Mats, of course, is known for his free jazz work, and there’s a jazzy side to Balázs’ drumming. Are you a fan of jazz? I believe Door Open at 8am was inspired by jazz drummers – do you think there is even an element of jazz tradition in your solo recordings?

M: In the late 70s, I was playing the drums in an improvisation unit. Back then, I was strongly influenced by European free music, such as ICP, FMP and INCUS. Also, I remember listening to ESP DISK, BYG, Sun Ra and other free jazz albums a lot. I don’t really understand jazz musically, because I come from rock music. I discovered Coltrane through listening to Frank Zappa and Soft Machine, those kind of things.

Of all the major noise figures, your music seems to me to work around notions of rhythm. Would you agree? Is it important, even in noise music, to build up a level of forward momentum?

M: On some pieces, I put emphasis on rhythm, and some others I don’t… I haven’t really met head-on with rhythm until now. My music should stay very distinctive from “beat music”. So, in my case, if I produce a piece with heavy rhythm, the next one I’d come up with would be a piece with no rhythm, it will be different by the circumstances of the moment. I use rhythms and loops on the stage nowadays, but in my studio production many of the pieces are constructed without rhythm parts. Lately, I kind of like to use processed polyrhythmic tracks, polyrhythm, such as the Latin percussion rhythm on 60s Miles or Marion Brown’s Geechee Collection, which I put in the background of pieces using the Granular Synthesis program.

Could you give me a bit of background on the album title, Cuts, and track titles? Titles like ‘Evil Knives. Lines.’ or ‘Like Razor Blades in the Dark’ suggest quite violent imagery… Was there a concept or central idea behind these titles, and the album itself?

M: These ideas are by Mats and here is his answer: “No concepts. Life ain’t a concept. Music is not a concept. The titles are poetic abstractions of something that is with us all the time, not necessarily in music, but in life. Everybody’s life. The [track] titles are inspired by a great book by an amazing swedish artist, Leif Elggren, a collection called Something like seeing in the dark (Firework Edition no 118). All the answers are in there. The central idea with the music is the persons behind it.”

I notice the cover art features a bird, and you released a series of albums based on birds. What do birds represent for you?

M: I am a Vegan, Straight Edge Animal Rights. So, I like the image of the bird. I like chickens and pigeons the most but crows are good too. The cover art image was created by a friend of Balázs. I really like it.

The three of you certainly sound very tight as a trio. Would you consider recording in this set-up again in future, or would you say this is going to be a one-off? Do you have any plans to tour with Mats and Balázs?

M: I would definitely like to play with this trio again, but we have to work on the scheduling. It is rather difficult to find the time for all of us to be available. We are working on a tour of Japan in October right now.

You also took care of the mixing of the album. Was that a difficult process? Do you gain as much pleasure from mixing as you do from performing? How did you decide which elements to prioritise or enhance in the mix, if at all?

M: I’ve always mixed my music by myself. of course, there will always be some complications here and there, but it’s never a problem.

You yourself are as prolific as ever. I count at least eight solo records in the last year. Is it a challenge for you to keep this inspiration flowing, or does it come naturally? Do you record everything you perform?

M: For me, creating music is a completely natural thing. I’ve been doing so, and I will continue doing so. I record almost everything I play at home. I don’t record live by myself because live is kind of… a routine.

Are you aware of the current noise scene, which you have obviously influenced quite a lot? Are there noise artists that you feel a particular affinity for?

M: I don’t really know anything about the current noise scene. I always pay attention to the the extreme metal scene though. I recently worked with MB (Maurizio Bianchi). I have known him since 1980 but it was my first time to collaborate and work on music with him.

Will we be seeing more Merzbow releases in 2013? Will people in the UK be lucky enough to see you perform, solo or with others?

M: My new album devoted to birds in New Zealand will be released very soon in the States. I am currently recording music for Animal Rights, a three way split – production is going on in Norway. I’m working on a 3 CD set which will be produced in Hong Kong. Some albums done live in Australia are set to come out, including a duo with Oren Ambarchi. A Grindcore project called MERZGRIND with Balázs is also happening, and we have signed to Relapse. Other than that, I have shows in Taiwan in July, the States in September, and New Zealand in November.

A Quietus Interview – Altered Head Space: An Interview With Anthroprophh (January 31st, 2013)

“The intention was to create music in [a psych-rock] vein, as it’s a genre that dominates my record collection, but I wanted it to be a bit more sparse and minimal as the record went on, and not just sketches.” Paul Allen, erstwhile guitarist with Bristolian heavy psych band The Heads, is discussing his new solo project Anthroprophh, whose debut self-titled album has just been released through the ever-reliable Rocket Recordings, home of Gnod, Goat and Teeth Of The Sea. Anthroprophh essentially encapsulates the sound of modern psych-rock, as espoused by all those bands: it’s heavy but subtle, driving but fleet-footed, taking in a range of moods and atmospheres, the kind of music you can head-bang to gleefully in a mosh pit, or be serenaded by as you while away a sleepless, hash-hazed night. It’s a style anchored in the rock traditions of the post-’67 era, but equally one that’s keen to look forwards as well as back.

While roughly half the album’s tracks are laced with the sort of fuzzed-out riffs and pounding percussion that will be familiar to devotees of Allen’s parent band, there’s far more going on than a simple re-wiring of The Heads’ earlier successes. “I think it has similarities to the Heads for obvious reasons,” he says, “and isn’t necessarily a break or reaction to the band, it’s a kind of a continuation of what I would have presented next to them.”

In particular, Anthroprophh finds him fully succumbing to his love of krautrock, which he readily cites as an influence. “There’s an Ash Ra Tempel and Achim Reichel influence in there, along with Hawkwind,” he reveals. “For me the thing that had the most impact in relation to that genre was when Julian Cope published the Krautrocksampler book back in the mid-nineties. It opened up a new world of musics I mostly didn’t know existed due to it being in the pre-internet days and those sort of records never really turning up in record shops.” And despite the sturm und drang that dominates tracks like opener ‘Hermit’, Allen’s initial point of departure was in fact the kosmische drone sounds of Berlin’s Cluster, something that quickly becomes apparent on spacey, almost ambient tracks like ‘Precession’, with its minimal percussion, and ‘Ende’, which feature drifting synth lines and moody organ textures. “I think some of my favourite pieces of music are quiet these days, so it was nice to do something that was like that, that almost crumbles towards the end. I think sometimes it’s easy to cover stuff with heavy noise, especially in a live situation.”

This varied approach comes to a glorious head (no pun intended) on the 16-minute ‘Entropy’, which evolves gradually across several phases, taking in the cosmic ambience of Cluster’s Zuckerzeit or A.R. & Machines’ ‘Einleitung’ (from the wonderful and sadly obscure Echo album) before stretching into free-form percussion and distorted avant-rock, evoking Klaus Schulze’s deranged polyrhythms and Manuel Göttsching’s acidic guitar with Ash Ra Tempel. “‘Entropy’ was based on just one basic riff on an old Futurama guitar which I just added layers and layers to as it went on,” says Allen. “I had some problems with the percussion on it and had to get Jesse from [Bristol band] the Big Naturals to add the main bongo and snare. It nearly didn’t get completed because of these issues and the track drove me a bit crazy!”

The same kind of influences have been present throughout Allen’s musical history, especially during his tenure in The Heads. The latter are the living, breathing definition of a cult band, drawing praise from the likes of Julian Cope while casually influencing a whole new generation of wannabe tripped-out rockers and sailing cheerfully under the radar, seemingly unaware of their many admirers or any backlash against psych-rock, which is often viewed as mere fodder for doped-up stoners. “I think for the most part the critics have been favourable of our sound, or maybe I have just ignored them”, Allen muses. “Except for the first Heads LP which got zero out of ten in the now defunct Vox magazine. I don’t think we ever felt connected to the stoner rock scene really, but a lot of those so-called stoner rock bands didn’t want to be called stoner rock either. It’s difficult to feel any connection with other psych rock bands when you are in that strange little microcosm that is a band. Only from the outside looking in can you see definable links.”

It does seem, however, that with fellow Heads guitarist Simon Price also making solo forays as kandodo, now is the time for members of The Heads to start flying solo. Allen admits he’d been considering doing so for a while, even going so far to send some demos in Rocket’s direction, although they initially declined. “Most of the music I recorded was experimental analogue keyboard music with occasional guitar based sketches. Some of these I managed to sneak on Heads LPs, like ‘Assault on BS3’ on Under The Stress Of A Headlong Dive in 2006. After buying some new recording and editing equipment I started working on the album in Christmas 2011.”

For Allen, working on Anthroprophh material proved to be something of a creative shot in the arm. “I had just become obsessed with record collecting instead [of being creative], and although it’s great and expands your musical vocabulary it can become overwhelming,” he says. “Too much stuff, and no time to listen or absorb much of it. All other bands had become infrequently active or had ceased to exist (like Fuzz Against Junk). Also I had really enjoyed Von Himmel’s Space Communion album and wanted to create similar krautrock-inspired music that had a primitive rhythmic quality that sounded like it was created in a cave. Also to try and avoid the Neu! drumbeat approach which has been over-used.”

Anthroprophh differs from Price’s kandodo in that, on several tracks, it features the aforementioned Big Naturals in addition to Allen himself. The latter are a remarkable noise-rock duo consisting of drummer Jesse Webb and bassist/electronics whizz Gareth Turner, whose self-titled debut was released last year on their own Greasy Truckers label. An appropriate hook-up, then, and one offering yet another clear sign that Bristol is one of the places to be to get your fix of heavy psychedelia – but it also indicates that there’s more to the local scene than noise and fury. High-octane thrills might be supplied on tracks like ‘Hermit’, but there are deeper layers to peel back when delving into the album’s Cluster-inspired mood pieces. It’s all likely to coalesce most effectively when Allen takes Anthroprophh onstage as something of a power trio alongside Webb and Turner, something he’s planning to do imminently. “I do have a few gigs in the UK in the early part of this year with Big Naturals that will cover all aspects of the heaviness and more spacey stuff,” he reveals. “We are up for doing more when the offers come up – it is like starting all over again really. I need to get out there again and play before the agoraphobia kicks in.”

A Quietus Interview – Supremely Demolished Beats: An Interview With Pete Swanson (November 21st, 2012)

The release of Pete Swanson’s Man With Potential at the end of last year caused quite a stir both within and outside the noise community. Swanson was one half of famed noise duo Yellow Swans, who had achieved considerable critical success with seminal psych-noise albums Psychic Secession, At All Ends and Going Places, before disbanding in 2008.

Compared to their dense layers of hazy, caustic drone, the beat-driven, post-techno assault of Man With Potential was both a surprise and a triumphant evolution. Since then, Pete Swanson has continued to explore this furrow with the Pro Style EP, but has also found time, alongside his studies, to revive his Sarin Smoke project with Tom Carter of Charalambides. Their Vent album is one of this year’s best releases, and proceeds from sales of the album will go to helping Carter with his medical bills following a serious case of pneumonia last year.

The Quietus caught up with Pete via e-mail to discuss Sarin Smoke, his solo career and how he views his music’s evolution.

We should probably start with Sarin Smoke. How is Tom doing? How did the project get together?

Pete Swanson: Tom is on the road to recovery. He’s been back in New York for a few months and his health has been improving slowly. His body went through a lot leading up to and during his hospitalisation last summer so it’ll take some time for him to fully bounce back. But in general, he’s back to playing occasional shows and his energy and enthusiasm are as strong as they’ve ever been.

Tom and I started playing in 2005 or so in Badgerlore, which was the two of us, Rob Fisk and Ben Chasny. We all really enjoyed playing together and experimented a bit with instrumentation and combinations of players since we all had several other projects going on. Tom and I ended up recording an LP for Three Lobed and a one-sided LP for Wholly Other around that time. I hadn’t played guitar with anyone for years at that point, and it was great to play with such a sympathetic musician. Tom and I both left Oakland after recording and before any of our records had been released.

Following the breakup of Yellow Swans, I got back into playing guitar more, and Tom and I were booked on the same bill in Oakland, a few days before the 2010 installment of On Land. Tom’s solo set that night was very different to what he had been doing when we had last played together – with this sort of dying battery, hyper layered, monolithic psychedelia that really jived with what I was doing at the time. We decided to close the show with a collaborative set, which was only the second Sarin Smoke concert. Fast-forward a year and I found out that I was moving to New York for graduate school. With Tom so close geographically, it would’ve been ridiculous for us not to play.

How did you guys go about making Vent? Is it mostly based on guitar?

PS: Vent is entirely guitar. I don’t want to limit the future possibilities of the project, but I’ve always seen the project as a guitar duo that plays psychedelic rock in some form. There are no synthesisers or anything, it’s just densely layered guitar. It’s a relief for me to be in a project where I’m not focusing on routing and wiring and instead can focus on something with such a tactile interface.

Both Tom and I are invested in improvisation and all of our recordings have resulted from the two of us banging out some sonic common-ground in real time. We do have conversations regarding what we think is successful about one improvisation over another and we both will propose potential shifts in direction, but our music happens spontaneously.

Do you find improvisation easy and the best way to record?

PS: One aspect of contemporary music that I really loathe is the focus on perfection in recording. I generally see the processes that have been developed for creating records as promoting a premium on “correctness” and diminishing the emotional potency of the original performance. While I have some preconceived framework for just about everything I do, there is always a strong improvisational element and I always track everything live to stereo. I don’t get hung up on mixing at all, I just track everything live, throw away 99% of everything I record because it’s not up to standard, and then sit on the solid tracks until I’ve got something resembling a release together.

I think it’s very important for musicians to be willing to scrap their work for the sake of the integrity of their discography. So many artists treat their work with such high regard and I see that working against those artists. Just like the pursuit of improvement in recording quality and doing things the “correct” way. I always encourage people to develop their own recording process so they have more control over how their work is presented. Additionally, the quality of the recording is often as important as the content of the recording, and having a unique presentation of sound can be very compelling. So many people make serious mistakes by going into the studio as opposed to just digging deep into their own process and developing their own sound that is appropriate for their own work.

Do you think you’ll get the opportunity to tour with that material?

PS: With Sarin Smoke?  I’m not sure Tom would be up for a grueling schedule like that and I’m extremely busy with grad school. I have enough trouble scheduling tours for my solo work.

How does working with Tom differ from your collaborations with other artists such as Gabriel [Saloman, the other half of Yellow Swans]? Do you approach each collaboration differently?

PS: Every collaboration requires a different approach. If I’m able to work with someone over a longer period of time, I’ll develop a set-up that is appropriate to the dynamic dictated by our shared aesthetic goals

You’ve also this year worked with Mike Shiflet – how did that come about and what was it like?

PS: I’ve known Mike for years. He booked a Yellow Swans show on our first US tour in 2004. We’ve been in touch fairly regularly since then. He wrote me asking about the possibility of a split and it was an easy call. I love where Mike’s taken his music over the last few years.

The whole noise scene from that era seems to remain pretty close-knit, despite aesthetic deviations and geographic shuffling. I’m very appreciative of the fact that I first gained some recognition in such a small and inclusive subculture of people who remain creative and engaged.

You’re considered to be one of the major figures on the American and international noise scenes. How do you feel your music has evolved in that respect? Do you have much involvement with noise music, beyond your own?

PS: I don’t really consider myself to be a “major figure” at all. There’s regard in certain circles, but on the larger scale, very few people are interested in my work…

I’ve always felt like an outsider in any culture I’ve been involved in. When Wolf Eyes, Hair Police, No Fun, etc were going on, I was on the far end of the US in Portland, fairly removed from what was going on in the Midwest and out east. I was very focused on representing noise/experimental music on the West Coast when Yellow Swans was having some degree of success, because hardly anybody else was representing that work. I stopped running a label and putting on shows and mastering stuff for other folks, mainly because of time constraints brought on by my pursuing education and prioritising that over my musical activities. I do still try and help out people whose work I hold in high regard and advocate for artists to get onto bigger labels. I do this sort of thing very rarely, most recently for Bulbs and Justin Meyers.

In general, I’m much less engaged with social music culture than I’ve ever been, and spend a lot more time listening to new music and working on my own sounds. I wish I had more time to be more engaged with music, but I’ve made some pretty serious choices the last few years and I’m resistant to put that all on hold to go play shows and put out tapes again. It would feel like a step backwards for me.

I’m actually constantly alienating people in the noise community with my work as I move forward. Some of my choices have turned off harsh noise folks, drone folks, etc. I can’t be concerned with appealing to any particular micro-audience, and I hope that each of my major release loses a few listeners and gains more. If you’re not turning people off, you’re not progressing.

How would you say your music has evolved, from the early days of Yellow Swans to now?

PS: I don’t believe it has changed very much. I’m still concerned with creating extremely cathartic, physical electronic music. I think the greatest development has been regarding clarity of vision. There’s a lot that hasn’t changed at all.

Yellow Swans were a much-admired and popular duo. Do you miss performing and recording with Gabriel? Were you aware of the impact Yellow Swans had at the time?

PS: I’m still not sure I understand the impact that Yellow Swans had. We were always aesthetically marginal, but had a lot of critical success. That didn’t translate into money or record sales, but it did allow us to travel a lot and to put out a lot of music. Since I hadn’t been playing live much for several years, I didn’t ever really see the impact of Going Places, but since I’ve been touring more and getting back in touch with music-world types, I’ve got a lot of very positive feedback for the work Gabe and I did.

The greatest reward for me has been meeting people like Tom Krell from How To Dress Well and a few of the guys involved with Tri Angle records who are all younger artists who are doing excellent, highly-regarded work that have all voiced appreciation for Yellow Swans. It’s very flattering to see your previous work be assimilated into others’ work. It’s a similar style of influence that groups like the Stooges and Velvet Underground wielded in their time, they were the bands that inspired generations of music. I doubt Yellow Swans will have the same degree of effect, but it’s amazing to me that that work is still relevant to younger people who are just starting their music careers.

I miss Gabe for sure. We had a very close working relationship for seven years. He’s still a good friend and we keep up. I don’t miss working with him though. I’m very happy for my autonomy, and my current life demands make collaborating with someone full-time completely impossible. I don’t think there will ever be a Yellow Swans reunion, but I think that people can scratch that itch via my work or by Gabe’s work. He’s got an LP coming out on Miasmah at the end of November that I think will resonate with some Yellow Swans fans. Hopefully we’ll hear more from him. He works a bit more slowly than I do…

Do you find that your solo releases are informed by both your previous work with Yellow Swans and your collaborations with other artists? I would venture that Going Places seems to have echoes in Man With Potential

PS: There is absolutely continuity between Yellow Swans and my solo work. I spent years developing an instrument (comprised of many elements) and an approach to playing. I don’t think I could fully reject that history at this point. I’m focused on process and constraints for producing my music, and many of the elements that were used throughout Yellow Swans are now used in my solo work. Virtually nothing has changed beyond the primary sound sources. I traded my bandmate for a modular synthesiser.

If you go back through the discography of Yellow Swans, you’ll find several elements recurring in Man With Potential. In certain regards, MWP addresses similar concerns that I was attempting to address in Bring The Neon War Home. Everything I do is part of this trajectory that is informed by my taste, my experiences and the developing processes and playing strategies that I’ve employed. Old fixations pop back up all the time.

Man With Potential received a lot of praise when it was released. Were you prepared for such a reaction?

PS: I had zero expectations for Man With Potential. I recorded the album in December 2010, it came out a year later. Between recording and releasing the record, I moved across the country to start an extremely demanding academic program at Columbia University, so all of the critical success of the record has only recently turned into any feasible opportunities for me to capitalise on. My program has slowed slightly and I can make occasional weekend trips to Europe for festivals, but that’s about the extent of what is possible for me currently. I just have to study on the plane.

It was also a departure from your previous solo material, with a use of beats and synths over guitar drones, almost sounding like techno. Have you always had an interest in techno and other forms of “dance” music? Could you imagine tracks such as ‘Misery Beat’ being played in a club?

PS: I don’t really think Man With Potential is that much a departure. It seems like there is some critical consensus that it is new for me, but there was a long build-up through several of my tape releases until I got to my split LP with Rene Hell and the Challenger tape, which are more direct predecessors to MWP. There were also a lot of beats in Yellow Swans music through the years, but most writers seem to be most familiar with At All Ends and Going Places, which were the least beat-oriented of the records.

If you listen to all of my music, you’ll hear some consistency in sound vocabulary with repetitive melodic patterns, drum machines, frenetic high-end noise. The inception of Yellow Swans was based on a desire to make electronic music that was physical and cathartic. Both Gabe and I came out of an avant-hardcore background and all of our friends were getting into techno and IDM, we both found the music to be intriguing, but not impacting. I connect to a lot of that music now more than I did when I was younger, but I’m also more successful at making electronic music that is aggressive and cathartic.

Listening back, MWP is the record of mine that is most explicitly informed by Chain Reaction.  My current work is maybe more informed by Drexciya. Both are artists/labels that I’ve been interested in since my early twenties. It’s not like I only listen to noise…

I actually recorded the track ‘Pro Style’ with the intention of making a ‘dancefloor’ track. The 12″ is sort of my play on the 12″ form, and I actually would love for it to be played out. I think the same could feasibly happen with ‘Misery Beat’, but the music remains pretty outre despite my attempts to make tracks that are dancefloor-ready.

How did you go about creating the album? Did you have to approach it in different ways to previous material?

PS: I recorded Man With Potential during the same three-week session as I Don’t Rock At All using the exact same approach that I used for Going Places and the vast majority of Yellow Swans material. It was all recorded live to stereo and then edited down to more essentialised forms of the pieces that I was working with. I would set up a particular sound vocabulary for each piece and then I would improvise on that framework for an hour or two. There are no overdubs, no digital treatments. It’s all live, improvised electronics. On I Don’t Rock At All, it was all live, improvised guitar recorded and processed using the exact same methods.

Do you feel the Pro Style EP is a progression on Man With Potential? Is this a sign that you’ve “made your home” in beat-driven music?

There’s no way I’ll be stuck on beat-driven music forever. It’s a form I find interesting right now, and since I’ve been so inactive, it’s taking a bit longer for me to get bored with the approach. Following Man With Potential‘s release, it was made very clear to me that there was interest in seeing this music in a live context, so these EPs I’ve been working on lately, including Pro Style, all result from the process of trying to hash out how to make this music work in a live context. Since the music uses such complicated gear and routing, there’s absolutely no way I could perform a piece consistently, so I had to devise a way of making the music that has a consistent impact and features a similar vocabulary to MWP. It was an interesting challenge, and the recent work I’ve done and the shows I’ve been playing have been a hell of a lot of fun.

So can UK audiences hope to see you perform over here soon? Are you planning any further releases?

PS: I’m currently working on a few UK shows in January. Due to my academic schedule, I can’t really hit the road to the degree that I did previously. My live dates are increasingly rare, so if you want to see me play and I’m coming somewhere in your area, it may be years before I make it back.

I’ve got a few releases in the works. The next thing will be the Punk Authority EP on Software. It’ll come out in March and is basically a mini-album. 32 minutes of supremely demolished beats with more melodic hooks.

A Quietus Interview – Bleak Psychedelia: Michael Gira Of Swans’ Favourite Albums (November 13th, 2012)

Michael Gira and Swans have cast long shadows over 2012, via two critically hailed albums (one live, the other the monumental The Seer) and an extensive series of tours and gigs. Whether appearing solo or with the full backing of his near-legendary band, Gira projects an incomparable aura onstage, an intensity so potent it transfixes the imagination.

As we discovered while quizzing the man on his thirteen favourite albums (or the thirteen he thought of when contacted – he’s keen to stress this isn’t a definitive top thirteen) on the eve of Swans’ performance at OFF Festival in Poland, that intensity doesn’t just apply to his shows or records, but to interviews as well. It’s rare that talking about music is this scary…

You can go here to listen to a Spotify playlist from the 13.


Miles Davis – On The Corner

I didn’t discover that until ten years ago but I love the grooves on it and it’s interesting in that there’s no melodies. It’s sounds like electronic music, except it has the fortunate aspect of being played by humans. It’s influenced obviously by James Brown, one of my favourite artists. James Brown is like the Bach of modern music, a fantastic composer, so complicated and yet so much below the hips as well. I love On the Corner because it’s kind of abstract but also so compulsive. I guess it’s uncharacteristic for Miles, and it caused a lot of controversy at the time. I’m not so fond of, say, Bitches Brew, with the electric guitar, but I also love Sketches of Spain, with the great arranger, Gil Evans, who also did Out Of The Cool. I like really arranged and cinematic jazz. That’s enough on that one!

Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine

Well, this is one of any I could have chosen. I’m not fond of when they started using computers, like on Computer World. I found it interesting to learn in a recent biopic that those drum sounds were actually played with chopsticks. In the punk days – when did this come out, like ’78? – I listened to it obsessively, not for any reason, I just thought the songs were beautiful and that it was a new way of making music. But that was just secondary to how beautiful the songs were.

Did any of those sounds filter into how you made music?

I would say that it influenced the early way of making music with Swans. It’s changed, obviously, considerably over the years, but in the early days it was very diverse and ranged from The Stooges to Throbbing Gristle to Brian Eno, and Kraftwerk. Just people using sound as a way of making music. Obviously, I was a bit more visceral, but that was inspirational to me. It was very liberating, the idea of abandoning structures and making something immediate.


David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

That’s just a brilliant work of art.

He’s one of the only living people to have a blue plaque up in London, where the cover photo was taken.

He deserves it. He had ten really good years. The rest has been really dismal, unfortunately, in my opinion. But that album is a masterpiece in terms of arrangements and songwriting, everything. It manages to sort of rock, but at that same time it has this sort of cabaret song aspect to it, and from a producer’s point of view, which I suppose you could call me, it’s impeccable: no sound gets in the way of another sound, it’s always changing with every four to eight bars. It’s to me as good as, if not better than, Sgt Pepper’s. One of the best rock albums ever made.


Throbbing Gristle – 20 Jazz Funk Greats

It’s a sort of pop album, some of it, although ‘Discipline’ is hardly a pop song! That was something I looked up to at the time, and it was inspirational, I guess. I wasn’t really thinking of it that way, I was just a fan and enjoyed it. Their single, ‘United’, was very beautiful, and I’ve always admired Gen [Genesis P-Orridge] from the early days of COUM Transmissions.

I was a fortunate art student, in that I knew about COUM Transmissions. I followed him the whole way, and I was so fortunate to meet him about ten years ago. He remains a hero to me, in the way he lives his life as an act of imagination. He seems to have immense courage and dedication to living life as a magical act. I don’t care about it being groundbreaking electronic music or anything, that doesn’t matter to me at all. I just find the atmosphere, the will and the intent behind it to be really beautiful.

Were you drawn to the confrontational aspect of their music?

I don’t think it was confrontational, I think it was insistent upon making something happen at the moment, and if people liked it, they did, and if not, fuck them. It’s a simple notion that Swans has always had. People have always assumed it was confrontational, but it wasn’t really that. It was extreme, but not an attack on anyone.


The Stooges – The Stooges

That’s another one I listen to constantly. I heard that when it came out. I didn’t know anything about them. I was in a bar in Germany, where I was living, very young to be in a bar – I was 14 – and the bartender was a kind of hippie guy who knew music and he’d play that. I didn’t hear it again until the punk days, and it always resonated with me because of the song ‘We Will Fall’. It’s fantastic, what can I say? Iggy’s a brilliant lyricist in his own way and the production on that album by John Cale is stellar. It doesn’t get any better than that and, again, I don’t care about them being the forefathers of anything, I just enjoy the music.


The Doors –  Strange Days

Another one that shaped my DNA with the aid of illicit substances! Just a beautiful voice, beautiful production and it has ‘When the Music’s Over’ on it, which is a masterpiece. A great performance – I don’t know how many overdubs it has on it, probably none! There’s a very early use of synthesiser on there at one point. In retrospect, I think Jim Morrison’s pretty corny, but it works with the music, and to be blessed with a voice like that is an act of God.


The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!

That I listen to, again, contemporaneously. When I was 12 or 13, and with the aid of various substances, it implanted itself in my mind and I obsessed over that record. I had an instinct: I didn’t gravitate towards the light pop music of the day, I liked the really unwholesome aspect of the Mothers. They were much more an affront than punk ever was to modern consumer society, they were just outrageous. America was very conservative at the time. It was very outrageous, but the music was there too. ‘Help I’m A Rock’ is a fantastic piece – it’s as freaky as Can, for sure, with a fantastic groove and tape sounds coming in and out. A brilliant piece of music, and I guess that whole double album was an influence on the Beatles making Sgt Pepper’s, which would have rankled Zappa! So he did We’re All In It For The Money, another great album. I like Zappa for the first three albums and then I don’t care one bit about him.


Nick Drake – Pink Moon

I didn’t know about that until Jarboe introduced me to Nick Drake in the 80s. I was blown away, I listened to him constantly, for a long time. For better or for worse, I’d be hearing him and revisiting early Dylan convinced me that it was time for me to start trying to write songs on acoustic guitar. It took a long, long time to figure out how to do it. Unfortunately many early attempts ended up on record [laughs].

Drake was inspirational to me in thinking about the simplicity and about creating something that has genuine power and truth in it, with very simple means, as opposed to Swans, which relied on volume. There’s nothing wrong with that – we still do it! – but at that time I wanted to venture into doing things in a very simple way. As far as Nick Drake goes, he was an absolutely amazing guitarist and singer, totally genuine and lacking in irony or solipsism. Truly beautiful and honest. That’s what I look for – I don’t like cynicism.


Henryk Górecki – Symphonie No.2

I just found about that recently. As opposed to the “pop hit”, Symphonie No.3, which is very beautiful as well. Symphonie No.2 is an apocalypse, with a series of percussive stabs in real odd time signatures that really, in a way, sound like Swans, in retrospect because I didn’t hear this in the early days. It sounds like the end of the world, but at the same time it’s very compelling and uplifting, with a very beautiful lament at the end of the symphony. Like Penderecki and Ligeti, it just speaks to me in a very natural way.


Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks

That’s an album that I come back to every five years I guess, and listen to obsessively, and then don’t listen to for a long time. I haven’t listened to it for quite some time right now but it’s been important to me throughout my life. I can’t pontificate on its value, culturally, but to me it’s just had a lot of resonance in personal situations I’ve been in.

I recall listening to that album when I was peripatetic at one time, driving around in my van across America, sleeping in state parks -this was in the mid-to-late 90s – just driving around. I’d escaped where I was and just spent several months by myself, cooking food on my propane burner at night, drinking a six pack, going to bed and then driving again in the morning. I remember driving through Montana in a pretty torrential rain, listening to this album and just crying, weeping. It was one of those moments where an album just kind of conjoins exactly to the circumstances of your life. Does it give you hope? I don’t know, but it’s just such a beautiful record. It’s so extreme and heartfelt, so I guess it gives you hope in that way.

Of course, it has really quiet, beautiful moments like ‘Buckets of Rain’ and ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’. ‘Idiot Wind’ is the infamous one because it has this really wonderful line “We’re idiots babe/It’s a wonder we even know how to breathe”. It’s a break-up song. I don’t think you can get any better than that, I think it’s one of Dylan’s best. It’s not really groundbreaking in any way, because it’s a work of art, except for that stupid-ass song ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’. It’s like this goofy moment that ruins the whole album! [laughs]. I try to edit out the fact that it’s his “most personal record”, because I don’t really care about his personal. It has to some meaning to other people too. Maybe because it’s so personal is why it’s so universal. I don’t know.


Arvo Pärt – Tabula Rasa

Again, I discovered that with Jarboe in the 80s. We were in a record store and just liked the cover. I just gravitated towards it naturally. There’s a piece on there called ‘Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten’ with these shifting time signatures, and it keeps cascading over itself and never seems to rise. It’s very deep and emotional, I suppose, it goes to the back of your head. Arvo Pärt’s music is really important, I think. It’s a little tedious sometimes when it’s only the vocal pieces but, some of the big symphonic efforts go to the deepest place possible. I guess he’s very spiritual, but all of us hopefully are.


Howlin’ Wolf – The Chess Box

Well, that’s my hero!

When I saw you solo at Cafe Oto, I was thinking of him.

Well sure, he’s a true inspiration for me. Let’s just say he’s my demon, the guy that lives with me always. He’s a sort of litmus test: does what I’m doing hold up to the Wolf? People talk about the blues being dark, and he has that aspect, but it’s really visceral and fun at the same time. It’s just great music. His voice is operatic, as far as I’m concerned: he goes from this deep, low growl to a falsetto, which I just found out was inspired by Jimmy Rodgers, the yodeling cowboy. Any black man in those days had to find a schtick, you had to stand out from other people, and that was one of his ways. He worked it as much as possible, as well as getting down on his knees and shaking his ass in the air with a tail hanging out.

He was very crude, but also like an angel and he, to me, having grown in the rural South, is like a titan. He didn’t have his first pair of shoes until he was 13, he pushed a mule around like a deadbeat, learned to sing by banging a can or stones – it’s inspiring. I guess it’s the same as prison work songs. He could never play guitar that well, ‘cos his hands were like catcher’s mitts in baseball, huge, but he was a showman and by dint of will and raw talent. He managed, along with Muddy Waters and a few other, to change the face of modern music and culture. That’s magic if there ever was.


Pink Floyd – Ummagumma

That’s very meaningful to me. The live part, particularly, because of the ever-ascending song structures. Things just keep building and building, to the heart of the sun, really. It’s psychedelic rock at its best. They were always looking for transcendence, and this was them at their height. I like that era better, in some ways, than the one with Syd Barrett. I lost interest in Pink Floyd pretty much after Meddle. I had the good fortune to be a runaway kid in Europe and I went to this rock festival in Belgium and saw them playing then.  And it was transcendent. It’s stuck with me throughout the years, and it’s another piece of music I hold up as a litmus test. It’s an experience, something really profound. Pink Floyd was the best psychedelic rock band ever.

I’ve heard Pink Floyd described as “bleak psychedelia”, and that’s something that comes to mind with Swans, particularly The Seer

Well, at times, we have the same dynamics. I don’t want to be pretentious, but we’re going for an epiphany. The electric guitars and sounds are amplified to something extreme and played repetitiously and just slowly grow. I liken it to stacking up strings in a symphony. Electric guitars have the possibility for total self-immolation and simultaneous actualisation.

A Quietus Interview – Intricate Shadows: An Interview With Raime (November 5th, 2012)

Raime are a London-based electronic duo who have painstakingly built up a reputation for distilling uniquely bleak and oppressive post-dub music that seems to perfectly reflect the gritty atmospheres of urban life, as well as the despondent and cynical political climate of our times. Live, their repetitive, mesmerising beats are allied to gloomy, haunted synth lines and unexpected textures, often to a backdrop of uneasy, abstract vocals. It’s dark music, sure, but you can dance to it (albeit very slowly), making Raime the most interesting and successful fusion of industrial ethos and club culture since Burial first appeared on the dubstep scene.

After three EPs/12″s on the Blackest Ever Black label, this month sees the release of their first full-length album, Quarter Turns Over A Living Line, which has already received emphatic reviews. It’s a slower-burning and more spacious listen than their earlier EPs, and finds them incorporating a greater amount of live instrumentation into their working process than ever before.

In the wake of Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead’s appearance at Ether on London’s Southbank, and before they jetted off to Krakow for Unsound, the Quietus caught up with them at Andrews’ flat to discuss the album, performing live and how they create their singular music.

I was surprised you didn’t actually perform at the Blackest Ever Black showcase [at Corsica Studios, 13th of October]. How come? Did you stay to the end, though?

Joe Andrews: No. We had a show at the Southbank, and had a really long day. I think I kept on until 4am. [to Tom] How about you?

Tom Halstead: About 5, I think. I lasted until just before Source Direct [laughs].

I don’t actually remember Source Direct! It seems like quite a tight-knit circle of bands around Blackest Ever Black…

JA: It’s interesting because it’s become a tight-knit circle, mainly because of Blackest, obviously – there’s a focal point which is Blackest, but actually, since our beginnings, we’ve never had a way for people to contact us. The Facebook that’s up is not ours, someone did it for us. So every contact there’s ever been, apart from live stuff, has always been through Kiran [Sande, head of BEB]. To begin with, it was just us, and Kiran putting out our record, and in the communications, others would be cc’ed, like Karl [O’Connor, aka Regis]. Blackest has just become the hub, and over time we just met all these amazing artists, man.

TH: And doing live shows…

JA: It’s amazing to think that two years ago no-one could have expected this.

I’ve seen you perform three or four times, so was disappointed not to see you on Saturday. Do you enjoy performing live?

JA: Yeah, it’s bloody great, but there are times when you don’t enjoy it so much. It’s the other level, I think, but hopefully the records work on both levels.

Do you find it hard to adapt your music to a live setting?

TH: Recently we’ve recorded a lot more live instrumentation, and that’s really helped in terms of how it works when we play if live. Our early stuff was a lot more sample-based and now we’ve moved towards live instrumentation.

JA: Live, it’s always been a sort of mix of live editing and live structuring, loops, etc. You’re not making a drum pattern live, you’re playing a loop. We love it, and for the last show we did we had friends make a video especially for us to use. They got in touch with quite a famous modern dancer, who’s got a quite extraordinary body, and went to a disused warehouse in Portugal to film for three days and night. They created this fucking bonkers visual element, and now it really feels like the two are working together. We’re really aesthetically led anyway, and now it feels like a real show, rather than just a couple of dudes behind laptops.

How did you come to start making music together and to found Raime?

TH: We’ve known each other for a long time, since we were teens, and had been making music independently. It wasn’t until four or five years ago that we realised we had kind of shared visions and that actually we wanted to get closer to a voice and to express ourselves through music. And it was five years ago that we started to join the dots from UK industrial stuff and contemporary things…

JA: We’d shared records with each other ever since we first met, and I think that exchange always gives you a level of trust, man. You obviously have your own things that you’re into, and sometimes you part, for a year or whatever but we always come back to one another. There’s always been a sort of mutual respect for one another, musically, so you join a few dots, as he said, and you start to get a great deal of inspiration. Also, there’s a level of desire about what you want to hear and see happen in music. We’re obsessive record collectors, and so there’s a huge amount of time when you’re a fan, where people are creating and you’re consuming. And a lot of that time you’re waiting for someone to make the next thing, and I think there came a point when were like, “Fuck man, I’m not quite hearing what I want to hear”, or “That’s incredible – maybe that vibe or acoustic idea has been lost. Why don’t we feel confident enough to join some dots?” Which is such a terrific feeling.

Your album was preceded by, I think, three 12″s and several mixes and mix tapes. How do you feel you’ve evolved from the first release up until now?

JA: I think we’ve evolved quite a lot, but stylistically I don’t necessarily think we have. We’ve just refined it… Obviously, the first EP was kind of a stab at doing something and then as you go through you’re trying to hone it, and I think that’s what we’ve done.

TH: You’re trying to get your idea across more clearly.

JA: Yes, just communicate better! You have got something to communicate, so you’re literally trying to say it as succinctly as possible. With us, we’ve got quite a few reference points that are dear to us, but at the same time we have this intention not to just ape something. It’s almost like a Rubik’s cube attitude where we piece it all together. In terms of understanding what you want out of something, we have had times where that Rubik’s cube has lasted for months and months! [laughs] The record was more fluid because, hopefully, we were a bit more in control.

That ties into my next question – do you see Quarter Turns Over A Living Line as a culmination of all those previous records, and that you’ve been building up to this point?

TH: I think it gave us a bit more freedom to open up a bit more. The previous record, Hennail, was a lot more percussion-driven, a lot more clenched. We felt with this, there’s less percussion, more space and more tracks to get different sentiments across. When you’re putting out two tracks, you’re trying to say a lot in those two pieces of work.

JA: We tried to squeeze everything in there! You feel like you’ve got something to say, and you haven’t said it all. With an album, we could plot it, and it was such a great freedom. We thought it’d be the opposite, actually, we always thought we’d do 12″s; I don’t know why it took us so long to work it out [laughs]. We realised we could develop a coherent piece of work. It was never meant to be a collection of tracks, it was always meant to be a piece of work, you know what I mean? I don’t know if it’s achieved that, but having that idea in it made the creative process a lot more interesting.

As you say, Hennail and other previous releases were very beat-driven, but the album features more atmospheric and experimental tracks. Was there a conscious effort to push the boundaries of your sound?

JA: Absolutely. We grew up with Detroit techno, jungle, all the sort of dance-based musics, so that’s really part of us, and we’ll always have rhythm in there somewhere, but actually, in the last five to ten years, we’ve been opening out into drone, doom metal, noise, early industrial, more experimental stuff, and that’s become just as integral, and we wanted to include those influences. The way that we learn about music is by listening to that. And we wanted to have a go at that, to see if we could do it.

TH: We didn’t want to be restricted. Hennail was difficult, in that sense. And we didn’t want to get caught in that snare.

JA: Percussion in the way we use it is sort of in a dance music format, and because we’ve grown up with that music, you’re pre-programmed to understand those structures in a 4/4 structure. When you’ve got a beat going, your brain is already waiting for that snare or hi-hat to come in, and you know when that’s going to happen. One of the points for us was to try and change the listeners’ knowledge of when that’s going to happen, so they feel a little lost in it, but without losing the security that that structure gives you.

TH: That’s the hardest part, finding the balance between being contrary to how you expect rhythmic things to work, and actually making a coherent work.

JA: Yeah, and that balance and trade off is one of the things that interests us. Security and non-security.

Your music has often been lumped in with ambient dub or dubstep, but that seems a tad reductive. Would you agree?

JA: I don’t ever want to say to any journalist, or anyone, that they can’t call it what they like, because I’ve been doing the very same thing, as a fan and a record collector, and that’s the condition in which you work. Those genres are certainly part of our musical heritage, but I’d hope they weren’t the only parts. I’m glad you feel that they aren’t the whole picture.

Well, I think that when you guys first emerged, dubstep was pretty much on everyone’s lips, so it was an easy connection to make, but to my mind you always seemed closer to industrial music and jungle, as you’ve mentioned.

JA: It’s difficult, because dubstep has now become a little bit passe as a term and if you go back to the beginnings, to those iconic labels like DMZ, the music was absolutely incredible. We’d never say that it wasn’t an important part of electronic music, it’s just that at this moment in time, it feels almost like a negative thing.

TH: It’s become so branched out that it’s become a blanket term, so it’s not really pinning anything down.

JA: Our first influence was probably Mo’Wax, you know, DJ Shadow and trip-hop. When I was 15, I bought my first Mo’Wax record and was absolutely sold on it, man. It was just the coolest fucking thing I’d ever heard. And then we’ve just gone through everything: Detroit techno, jungle, house music… And then there’s the flip side, which is all the sort of avant-garde, industrial and doom stuff.

TH: Those things kind of came a bit later for us.

JA: I think we’re just hungry, and we get obsessed. Record collecting is still a massive part of our lives.

How did you go about creating and recording the tracks on Quarter Turns Over A Living Line?

TH: We did a lot of recordings, by ourselves and with other musicians. We did recordings with cellists, drummers, some guitar stuff. There’s quite a lot guitar on the album, actually, but then you go through it with a fine-toothed comb to pick out those interesting inflections or textures and start constructing them. We get a big archive of things that excite us and start putting things together to see if there’s synergy between the sounds or interesting juxtapositions. Track by track, we begin with the material we each have and work on sketches before bringing them to the table and looking at whether we can work them up. It’s been a healthy way of working.

JA: For example, Tom will put a guitar through some effects, make half an hour’s worth of sound and then we go through it and pick out bits. A nice sound can be patched to a drum patterns and what’s exciting is you get certain points or textures that match. There’s an element of chance in that match, and as soon as we’ve got it, we’ll throttle the hell out of it!

It sounds very intricate…

JA: It takes hours [laughs]. It’s an amazing process to do with someone else. You’ve always got someone to discuss it with. The other person kind of limits you.

TH: It’s really important to have that discourse, because it’s really hard to have it with yourself.

JA: There’s a core of what we’re doing that we both know we’re trying to reach. There’s an absolute specific idea. And you’ve got the reassurance that the other person shares that idea.

Going back to Blackest Ever Black, the label is noted for its somewhat bleak aesthetic, which runs through their artwork and the music of most of their acts. Do you have a particularly gloomy outlook on life? Could you say Quarter Turns Over A Living Line is a reflection of these somewhat depressing socio-political times?

JA: Um, I’d never describe myself as chirpy [laughs]. I definitely can take things quite seriously…

TH: This is a difficult question…

JA: A loaded gun! We are definitely pretty serious when it comes to music and the sentiments within that music. But everybody has a laugh sometimes, it’s not like we go around in a continual state of depression. But we’re pretty serious. I think there’s a natural instinct to hone in on the darkest elements of life when you’re being creative.

You can read this interview, and listen to a Soundcloud playlist of the album, here