Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Category: Features (page 2 of 10)

Interview: Bryce Dessner

The Herald
27 August 2015

bryce-dessner
Many will know Brooklyner Bryce Dessner best as the guitarist in moody rock band The National, where he plays alongside his twin brother Aaron. But his sister, Jessica Dessner is also an influence on his approach to writing music. “My sister is a contemporary dancer, and I like the idea that dancers have this immediate, primary response to music. Classical music is often met with more of an intellectual reaction. I’m interested in exploring how music can lull and surprise the listener, and the different levels we react to it on.”

For Wave Movements, a work he has composed with his friend Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, they took inspiration from the ocean. After taking field recordings of the sea, and examining the restless rhythms, swells and irregularities it produces, they wrote a piece that mimics those sounds, to be played in synch with a black and white film by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

“[Sugimoto’s] Seascapes photos of water and air and the horizon have this naturalistic feel, they’re very slow moving and gentle, so we’ve explored different string techniques to reflect that mood.”

The multi-media performance was premiered earlier this year at The Barbican, as part of the Mountains and Waves weekend that Dessner curated, featuring minimalist works by Terry Riley and Steve Reich. For the Edinburgh International Festival date, Wave Movements will be performed live by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as a result of Dessner meeting up with EIF’s director, Fergus Linehan a few years ago and being asked to take his compositions to the Sydney Festival, where Linehan was also director.

“I like that Fergus is interested in opening up the windows a bit and letting something new in,” says Dessner. “He wants to broaden the horizons of classical music, and make a bigger statement. We can leave at the door those old ideas of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. Fergus is more about encouraging composers and musicians to take a risk, and he’s in a position to empower them to do that.”

The blurred lines between high and low art are a subject close to Dessner’s heart. Although many would consider his day job to be touring, writing and playing with The National – and he admits it does take up a chunk of his time – he’s also a very sought after classical composer, who’s worked with the LA Philharmonic, Kronos Quartet and Brooklyn Academy of Music amongst others, and is currently writing a ballet for NYC Ballet to be performed early next year. Dessner also founded the MusicNow festival back in 2006, where his pals Sharon Van Etten, St Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Bang on a Can All-Stars and Nico Muhly have all played.

“There are these old ideas about classical music being formal and sophisticated, but for me the exciting things happen when we get away from those old paradigms. Look at Tim Hecker, or Oneohtrix Point Never who play around with sampled electronic sounds in an orchestral way, or [US composer] John Luther Adams who takes inspirations from Alaskan landscapes, or me – god forbid I should play loud music in a rock club, and write classical music. But it’s like a writer doing poetry, and fiction, and journalism, or letting them blend together. It’s just about using different muscles.”

As well as Wave Movements, the EIF concert will also include Heart & Breath, a piece written by Reed Parry, based on body rhythms and breathing patterns that Dessner and Reed Parry perform live, and Ballades, a score originally written by Dessner for LA Dance Project.

“Ballades was inspired by murder ballads, a lot of them Irish and Scottish actually. I wanted to look into the European roots of US folk traditions, and maybe figure out why American culture is so defined by violence.”

Dessner’s played Edinburgh before, but more recently at the Corn Exchange or Glasgow’s 02 Academy with The National. He’s excited to be returning to Edinburgh, a city he describes as “so, so beautiful”, and particularly chuffed about where his music fits into the festival programme.

“The Edinburgh festival is well established, and has this huge reputation. But this year’s programme isn’t about turning its back on the historical traditions, it’s more about letting more people into the party.”

Wave Movements is part of The Russian Standard Vodka Hub Sessions at the Edinburgh International Festival tomorrow.

Read online at The Herald here (subscription needed).

Interview: Oneohtrix Point Never

The Herald
20 August 2015

daniel-lopatin

As a ten-year-old, in the pre-internet days, Daniel Lopatin was hooked on sci-fi cartoons. He’d seen the MTV series Aeon Flux, a dark and dystopic animation, starring an icy heroine in leather fetish gear, coupled with avant-garde sound design, and asked around to see if his friends could recommend anything similar. ‘Cartoons with serious themes,’ as he puts it. It was his boyhood gateway drug into Japanese anime.

‘Since animation is not tethered to reality, like practical sets and the budgets they require, it makes it possible to materialise all kinds of incredible forms,’ he says. ‘Animation on the whole is a better platform for speculating on the fantastical.’

So last year, when the experimental composer was commissioned to soundtrack a film for the BFI’s Sci Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder series, he turned once more to Japanese cartoons for inspiration. His research led him to Memories – a trilogy of short animations from 1995, based on the manga stories of Katsuhiro Otomo, who also wrote Akira. ‘Magnetic Rose’ is the first story, an opulent and trippy tale set onboard a destroyed space station, where holograms reflect memories and dreams. ‘Its pretty chaotic. There’s a lot of rubble and devastation.’

The film already had a soundtrack of its own, by Yoko Kanno, which Lopatin describes as, ‘dreamy, sparse, beautiful choral stuff’, but he set about rescoring it with his own celestial, futuristic soundscapes. The result is a beautifully eerie, ethereal swirl of choir song, Japanese language, warped electronics and Eastern strings. It floats between the calm refuges of an ambient otherworld, into what sounds like the dark echoes of a chilling abyss.

‘I wanted to preserve aspects of the original’s environmental sound,’ he explains. ‘Once I found a way to more or less successfully separate the dialogue from the environmental and score sounds, I started working with them as raw materials. So it is less a matter of improvising over a film that’s been muted, and more about thinking of the whole of the film as a material entity and pushing that towards some new musical and environmental forms.’

Lopatin’s been making intoxicating electronic music since the mid 2000s, mostly under the alias, Oneohtrix Point Never – a play on words of the Boston radio station, Magic 106.7 – but also as Chuck Person, KGB Man, Infinity Window, Ford & Lopatin, Games and SunsetCorp. The latter was the pseudonym he used for 2009’s ‘Nobody Here’, his sublimely simple loop of three words from Chris De Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red’. Like a lot of his music, the track slotted neatly into the genre of hypnagogic pop, a term coined by David Keenan in The Wire magazine the same year. Keenan and Heather Leigh Murray, who set up Glasgow’s excellent Volcanic Tongue record shop – a weirdo treasure trove of avant-garde drones, Japanese psych, local acid-folk and everything in between (it’s online-only now after the Finnieston shop closed earlier this year) – stocked a lot of Lopatin’s rarities, and became friends.

‘Please give David and Heather a shout-out from me!,’ he chirps. Having played Scottish gigs booked by Cry Parrot, (Fielding Hope), and briefly toured the States with Glasgow’s Nackt Insekten (Ruaraidh Sanachan), and Edinburgh’s Usurper, (Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson), Lopatin is full of praise for the people making up the varied Scottish music scene.

‘They are sweet, intensely honest and just lovely people who care about music.’

For his upcoming Scottish date in The Hub, he says mysteriously, ‘I’m moving sounds around a room and giving them shape and texture and dynamics.’ He’ll also perform Bullet Hell Abstraction IV, a new composition commissioned by Red Bull Music Academy and inspired by video games (not for the first time either, his 2010 tape Ecco Jams blurred Sega theme tunes and Toto’s ‘Africa’).

‘They asked me to perform an original piece of music based on work by a Japanese video game composer of my choosing, so I chose Manabu Namiki, a musical hero of mine, and I created four pieces. He’s most famously a composer of great soundtracks to Bullet Hell or Manic Shooter games, which have a certain hypnotic feel.’

Hypnotic, hypnagogic, holographic; the music of Lopatin, sci-fi geek, synth manipulator and Japanese cartoon nut, somehow sounds like all of the above.

Magnetic Rose by Oneohtrix Point Never is part of The Hub Sessions at Edinburgh International Festival on Saturday.

pointnever.com

Read online at The Herald here (subscription needed)

Interview: Apphia Campbell on playing Nina Simone

Celebrating Nina Simone

Apphia Campbell playing Nina Simone in Black is the Colour of My Voice

Apphia Campbell playing Nina Simone in Black is the Colour of My Voice

The Herald
10 Aug 2015

What if Nina Simone hadn’t died when she did? The jazz singer would have been 83 years old this year, and chances are, if she was paying attention to the news, she’d be mad as hell and ready, as she once said, to ‘burn buildings’.

“I try and imagine if she was around now,” muses Apphia Campbell, a Florida born, now Edinburgh-based singer who has written a play about the blues legend turned black rights activist, who died in 2003.

“Would she be right back up there, singing those protest songs? Maybe she’d change the words of ‘Mississippi Goddam’ and be singing ‘Texas Goddam’ for 2015 instead!

“To hear her singing those civil rights songs back in the 60s, then seeing that forty or so years later we’ve not really moved on, there’s something incredibly sad about that.”

Campbell’s one-woman play, Black is the Color Of My Voice will return to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, alongside a new sister show, Nina Simone: Soul Sessions, where Campbell sings songs from Simone’s broad back catalogue, including ‘Sinner Man’, ‘Feeling Good’ and ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’.

Campbell’s not the only one sensing a fresh thirst for the story and songs of Nina Simone. Ruth Rogers-Wright will be starring in another Fringe play, Nina Simone Black Diva Power over at the New Town Theatre, barely a month after Netflix released the documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, a collection of rare footage and interviews with her family.

“Nina Simone’s brilliance would forever change the musical landscape and yet she never fully got her due,” explains documentary director, Liz Garbus, chatting to The Herald from Pasadena, Los Angeles. “She had been a very popular singer during the 50s, but she never compromised. After songs like ‘Backlash Blues’ and ‘Mississippi Goddam’, she was essentially blacklisted. They were considered too radical, and seen as commercial suicide. Some people gave their life for the black rights struggle, but it’s important not to overlook the price others paid too.”

Garbus’ documentary required a ‘worldwide scavenger hunt’ to find audio tapes, interviews, family confessions and diaries that would help trace Simone’s life. Originally a classically trained pianist, she became a jazz bar diva and latterly, an icon for black power. She became friends with American activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, as well as African activists including South African singer Miriam Makeba, who encouraged Simone to relocate to Liberia, where she lived in self-imposed exile for two years.

“She struggled against demons from both within and without,” says Garbus. “Her life was both a reflection of the legacy of racism in America as well as an extraordinary example of the power a righteous voice can bring to bear against even the most wicked historical legacies,” says Garbus.

For Campbell, a singer who keeps getting mistaken for Simone on her publicity posters for Black is the Color of My Voice, it was Simone’s struggle as a woman, and a musician, that seemed particularly fascinating.

“She was a dark character, someone who went through tumultuous times, with bouts of violence and depression, but through them she was always trying to find her voice – was it educated enough? Was it African enough? Was it real enough? Watching YouTube videos of her, I noticed how much her speaking voice, as well as her singing voice could change.”

Simone described her own voice as having the ability to change from ‘gravel’ to ‘coffee and cream’, but for Rogers-Wright, what was always consistent was the emotion she poured in.

‘Most singers don’t take that chance when they perform, but she dared to experiment, to say what she thought, to take you on an adventure of the senses, to show real depth and beauty, and the results were often incredible.”

In Black Diva Power, the story focuses on Simone’s friendship with Lorraine Hansberry – the playwright and black activist who encouraged Simone to become involved in the civil rights movement. Hansberry, who died from cancer, aged 34, urged Simone to carry on her legacy after her death, and Simone’s top ten hit ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ was inspired by Hansberry’s writing, which had been turned into a Broadway play of the same name the year before.

Both Campbell and Rogers-Wright admit they find Simone an intimidating figure to portray on stage. For Campbell, she has created a fictional character, Mena Bordeaux, inspired by the real-life spiritual cleansing that Simone embarked on following her father’s death, where she isolated herself for three days without cigarettes, alcohol, or access to the outside world.

Rogers-Wright saw Simone perform several times in London and was mesmerised, although scared off approaching her outside the venues because she was arguing or agitated each time.

“Nina believed she was the reincarnation of Queen Nefertiti, and sometimes, when you hear her sing in that emphatic way of hers, or even telling her crowd to shut up, you think, maybe she was on to something!

“Her music had a transformative power, it took her to a higher place, somewhere beyond even her shittiest behaviour. This show is a reminder to new and old fans that you can be a strong spirit, fight for what means the world to you, and that’s when unique things happen.”

Black is the Color of My Voice, Gilded Balloon, Wed 5–Mon 31 Aug, 1.15pm, £9.50-£10.50 (£6–£9.50); Nina Simone: Soul Sessions, Assembly Checkpoint, Thu 6–Sun 30 Aug, 8.50pm, £10–£13.50; Nina Simone Black Diva Power, New Town Theatre, Thu 6–Sun 30 Aug, 7.45pm, £7-£14 (£8–£12).

Read the article at The Herald here.

Interview: Jimi Tenor recalls making techno documentary Sähkö The Movie

Ahead of a rare screening in Glasgow, the director shares his memories of filming the 90s techno documentary

Jimi Tenor

The List
18 Feb 2015

Only the few will have seen Sähkö The Movie – regarded among certain technoheads as the ‘Holy Grail of electronic music documentaries’. Rarely screened live, besides the odd special event like Sonar festival, or a night at MoMA in New York, it’s coming to Glasgow for its 20th anniversary, and a special event in the Glasgow Short Film Festival. Although many won’t have laid eyes on it, there’s a chance some Scottish readers (especially clubbers of a certain vintage) could be in the film.

Jimi Tenor, director of the 44-minute documentary, and semi-legendary Finnish techno producer turned pop/jazz musician, remembers the mid-nineties trip to Glasgow where some of the film was made.

‘Keith [McIvor, aka JD Twitch) had his club at the Barrowlands – Pure. He invited me over for that which was a lot of fun. They liked a track of mine, ‘Take Me Baby’. It reminded him of Suicide and we all liked Suicide. Anyway, they liked it and released a 12” on their label [T&B] in 1995.’ (Warp Records later re-released it, and Hudson Mohawke covered it.)

‘After that Keith and I have stayed in touch, and worked on other events like Optimo and the Venice Biennale since.’

Two decades on, Tenor’s been invited back to screen his documentary at Glasgow’s Glue Factory, and play a live set, with support from the inimitable Golden Teacher.

‘It might be quite weird for Glasgow audiences to watch,’ says Tenor of his film, shot in 16mm and newly restored digitally. ‘Some of the clothes are quite funny, and it’s interesting to see the streets, the Barrowlands, a pool hall; how the city has changed since then.’

‘It’s a bit like a road movie, or a music video; there’s very little dialogue,’ explains Tenor, who was a key player on Finnish ultra-minimalist techno label, Sähkö Recordings (sähkö means ‘electricity’), founded by Tommi Grönlund in 1993. The film follows Tenor and labelmates, the excellent Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen (solo artists who performed together as Pan(a)sonic), as they share their ultra-sparse techno, weird noise music and self-made instruments with the world.

‘The quality is rough, but I think the Super 8 format is lovely. It was always supposed to be like that, but it’s not like, I don’t know … Harry Potter quality.’

‘It’s a piece of history now,’ he laughs. ‘It’s about those times, and the completely weird outfits we wore, those big plastic glasses I wore – and still wear now. The main idea behind what we were doing was to make something simple, nothing fancy. But we wanted it to be something hopefully a bit strange, and surprising.’

‘In those days the laptop thing hadn’t happened,’ he goes on. ‘We were using really heavy hardware back then. Sometimes my kit would weigh about 20 kilos. These days, flight luggage restrictions don’t even let you travel with that anymore! Back then they’d allow much more but I’d still board planes wearing three jackets, and all the pockets were stuffed with cables.’

Although Sähkö has earned cult status in some electronic music circles, Tenor stresses that a lot of the elements that fans love about the label’s sound sometimes came about through necessity, as much as design.

‘The equipment we were using wasn’t rare at the time – we just used what was cheap. Nowadays some of the bits have become really expensive, but it certainly wasn’t back then. We used unfashionable, second-hand, analogue stuff. It was a good moment for us to get hold of it – just as it was becoming out of step and they were switching gradually to new, digital equipment.

‘The main idea was that it was very simple, not complicated, so the audience could understand the system going on, and how roughly it had been made. I find often when people do stuff with laptops now, using a lot of samplers, the whole thing gets quite complicated. You listen, and it’s like, “what exactly is going on here?”. You can’t tell what was done at home, what’s happening live, when they are just pressing play … With our stuff, when something happened, you could see it happening. There was a live, improvised, noise side to what we did onstage, for sure.’

‘Obviously we wanted it to provide entertainment. It was always supposed to be enjoyable, just not in a predictable way. Now I may be a hippie with long hair, but I won’t be having an early night. I still hope to have a good party on the dancefloor in Glasgow. Of course I do – I’m still alive!’

Strange Electricity, The Glue Factory, Glasgow, Sat 14 Mar, part of Glasgow Short Film Festival.
jimitenor.com; sahkorecordings.com.

Read the interview at The List here.  View photos from the anniversary screening here.

Interview: Gazelle Twin

Behind the angst-ridden mask of musician-producer Elizabeth Bernholz

gazelle-twin

The List
12 Feb 2015

Elizabeth Bernholz, aka Gazelle Twin, is a Brighton musician making ink-black, intoxicating experimental pop. Her droning, bleeping, pitch-shifting electronic tracks are nightmarish, unsettling takes on everything from mental health issues, societal angst and body horror. She was The Quietus’s 2014 Album of the Year winner, and recently made music for the London Short Film Festival. Claire Sawers got a brief peek behind the mask…

As someone who’s been racked with anxieties, self-loathing and neuroses since childhood, how did you deal with the praise piled on you, particularly for your last album, Unflesh?
That’s the first time anyone has asked me that and it’s a great question. I’m not very good at taking praise normally, especially in person. It sometimes makes me want to cry, or feel sick and want to hide. It’s not that I am ungrateful – quite the opposite.

It’s an odd thing. I guess in this sense, being praised for making work about various traumas is also a very uncomfortable thing if I think about it too much. I try to focus on the fact that it’s maybe just my ability to communicate and construct something out of an experience, rather than the experience itself. Good press is like a drug though. I try to distance myself from it as much as I can as it’s easy to become addicted to that rush of reading good press, or receiving praise, and then the drop is a long one whenever the criticism is negative, or things just peter out and no one talks about it anymore. I’ve been incredibly lucky with this record that people are still interested!

What three things might people find surprising about you?
Behind closed doors I am pretty juvenile when I’m not totally stressed out from work or other things. I love watching comedies and getting far too addicted to TV dramas. People might also be surprised that I am quite shy, self-deprecating and easily embarrassed… that is, if they have seen me onstage lunging or barking at them.

Your videos and music seem to reflect deep-rooted, societal angst. Are we all fucked?
Hmm, yeah I think we are really. I can’t lie. It’s just a gradual demise from now I think, until total collapse. Until we start all over again, if we are that lucky.

What role can music play in making things less fucked?
I think it’s important that people have a way to purge their frustrations, anger, experience, no matter how personal or how political. The more that leftfield music is heard in the mainstream, the more creativity might be inspired, the more free-thinking might be adopted by younger generations. I don’t know, that’s a utopia of course, but young people need that. The world needs that. It probably can’t help war, famine, disease or natural disasters though sadly. Sorry Bob Geldof.

Is life getting more or less terrifying for you?
People terrify me. The idea of having children, which will be my next big event in life, terrifies me. But healthy fear is a pretty good motivator most of the time.

Who or what makes you laugh?
French and Saunders. Arrested Development. Mulligan and O’Hare.

What’s your idea of hell?
Probably too dark for your readers, so I’ll go with something less graphic like being stranded at sea with my legs underwater.

What are you working on now/ next?
I have been working on a few side-projects and other music work, but have made a start on album three. It’ll take me a lot of work to get some of the ideas I have into shape. But I am excited to start something new.

Gazelle Twin plays the Art School, Glasgow, Fri 27 Feb, with Zamilska, hausfrau & Dick-50. Read the interview at The List here.
gazelletwin.com

Opinion: Fielding Hope’s contribution to Glasgow’s underground live music scene

The brains behind Cry Parrot is moving to London to become senior producer at Cafe OTO

fielding-hope

The List
11 November 2014

After putting on some of Scotland’s weirdest, most fun, independent, DIY, new underground music events for almost eight years, Fielding Hope, the brains behind Cry Parrot live music, is moving to London to become senior producer at Cafe OTO. While it’s not necessarily the end for Cry Parrot – he wants to keep putting on gigs in Scotland and will continue to help programme Counterflowsfestival – it can’t help feeling like the end of an era. Claire Sawers asks collaborators and admirers to share a few of their favourite Cry Parrot memories

Alasdair Campbell – AC Projects / Counterflows
‘It is an absolute pleasure and privilege for me to have been able to work closely with Fielding over the last four years. When I left my job at the Tolbooth to go independent and start Counterflows and AC Projects, Fielding became a natural ally and supported what I was trying to do from the outset. It is this collaborative spirit that sets Fielding apart among the vagaries of the music world, that and his sheer love of the music. Fielding has done so much for the scene across Scotland that it is really hard to quantify. His unflappable manner disguises a huge strength that he focuses on making every performance that he produces the most important event in the history of music. He can appear laid-back but he is never shy of telling it how it is. The Cry Parrot community is a really beautiful thing. My favourite Cry Parrot moment so far has to be Heatsick’s Extended Play with special guests Golden Teacher and Joe McPhee (of course musicians from Whilst and others joined this jamboree of magic) at the Glasgow School of Art at Counterflows 2014. The throng of revellers were still dancing when the lights came on at 3am. Four hours of ridiculous musical pleasure.’

Nick Herd – Braw Gigs
‘As a co-promoter for the Group Inerane show with Emily [Roff] and Fielding, there was a specific buzz in the air on that miserably cold and windy evening in 2011. It was probably a combination of it being upstairs in the Kinning Park basketball court, setting up a cheap and very generous pop-up bar and having such an incredible live act in Scotland for the first time – total synergy. Just one of those nights where everything aligned in the most righteous manner with the perfect mix of community, DIY and Saharan exoticism in the same confined space. A definite highlight!’

Keith McIvor – aka JD Twitch, Optimo
‘I’m very happy for Fielding and know he will do fantastic things for the fabulous Cafe OTO but this is a real loss for Glasgow. Fielding has consistently been perhaps the most daring promoter Glasgow has ever seen, bringing untold brilliant acts to Glasgow who might never have played here otherwise. He is also very rare among promoters in that financial success seemed to be very low on his list of priorities. He absolutely epitomises the spirit of free-thinking DIY passion that has such a strong current here and I sincerely hope someone steps up and tries to at least partially carry on the great work he has done, even though this is undoubtedly a very hard act to follow.’

Stewart Smith – music writer, The List’s jazz and world music editor
‘Cry Parrot has been a real game-changer, arguably the most important thing to happen to the
Glasgow music scene since Optimo started in 1997. They have a lot in common with Optimo: open-minded and internationalist, but with strong Glasgow roots. Moreover, they know how to bring the party. Fielding and his cohorts have built on the great work done by punk and indie-oriented DIY promoters like Nuts & Seeds in the ’00s, while also engaging with experimental music and underground club scenes. The results have been a joy. To pick a favourite Cry Parrot show is a near impossible task. I could go for Group Inerane’s blazing Tuareg rock at Kinning Park Complex or the righteous blast of post-punk and jazz that was The Ex & Brass Unbound, but perhaps the most magical of all was the most recent: Joe McPhee and Chris Corsano at Nice’n’Sleazy. A beautiful, intimate show from two endlessly creative masters of free jazz and improvised music. McPhee previously played the Cry Parrot co-curated Counterflows festival in April, throwing himself into glorious party jams with Golden Teacher, Heatsick and Whilst. The 74-year-old saxophonist and trumpeter is an inspiration. That Glasgow has taken him to its heart is testament to Fielding and Cry Parrot’s great achievement of bringing amazing underground music to a wider audience.’

Interview: General Ludd

A new project from Glasgow duo Tom Marshallsay, aka Dam Mantle, and Richard McMaster of Golden Teacher

General Ludd

The List
21 October 2014

General Ludd fuses the talents of a bunch of Glasgow music acts we already loved. The duo of Tom Marshallsay (aka Dam Mantle), and Richard McMaster (from Golden Teacher, Lovers Rights and Silk Cut) was a shoo-in for good things, and recent DJ mixes and an upcoming EP of twitchy, bouncy house/ techno/ pop confirm suspicions – yup, it’s a match made in electronic heaven.

Where were you when General Ludd first came up in conversation?

At home flicking through the pages of [1960s Marxist text] The Society of the Spectacle.

Did you set out to make music that was going to sound a certain way? Or did it just kind of evolve out of the gear you were using/ the way you were producing it at the time?

I think we have some sort of process that we feel comfortable with now. It’ll inevitably evolve as we go along and is never fixed; the environments that are imagined when we’re constructing tracks are varied. Our sound doesn’t necessarily revolve around specific gear, but we tend to use this old Allen & Heath mixer we acquired, and if we have equipment that performs the same task as the computer we try to use that as you can access more immediate visceral responses from being hands on. There is this space in yourself when making music that almost feels out of your own body – it’s like you are looking at yourself playing or performing a task and you forget what you are actually needing to do. Whenever that happens it’s something that we focus on and that is an essential part of our production.

Can you sum up the General Ludd sound in five words??

Not really.

Why did you call yourselves General Ludd? (ie: the guy we take the word luddite from?)

I don’t think the Luddites were necessarily anti-technology or backwards looking (which is how the word tends to get appropriated), they were just protecting their craft from those who capitalised on running the mills where they made their living as artisans. By using the name of a mythological hero of a leaderless movement we hope to draw attention to the struggles of those who were trampled in order to establish the industrial empire we live and work within today … It’s about having a healthy sceptical attitude, although we don’t align ourselves with a specific ideology, critical thinking is important to us …

You’re well connected – with gigs at Berghain, and doing stuff for Huntley and Palmers, Optimo, Boiler Room – any other collaborations or projects in the pipeline?

We’ve been really lucky to work with people who are mindful, charitable and are into music for the right reasons. A lot of that just is the product of music in Glasgow. We just finished an EP and have quite a few plans in the pipeline.

How do you swap / work on music?

We’ve both been in Glasgow for around 7 years. We work together at a home studio that we’ve slowly constructed over the past few years. Our time does get limited by our various commitments but we’re always trying to be as productive as possible with our time together.

What do you both get from GL that is a bonus / missing thing from your other music projects?

The chance to make distilled productions outside of a ‘live context’ that are mainly focused for DJing. We also get opportunities to DJ as GL and that is a really exciting experience. Even just this last weekend we played in London at a Black Atlantic party at Village Underground with Golden Teacher and Optimo and it was such a great experience. It’s so exciting to play the music that we love to 1000 people and see bodies moving and smiles on new faces. Music can really transfer emotion in such immediate ways and it’s so exciting to be part of that exchange, that’s what we’re doing this all for.

What do you want from a crowd when you play live?

Communitas. Empowerment. Freedom. Party!

soundcloud.com/general-ludd

Read the interview in The List here.

Interview: Michel Faber discusses his new book The Book of Strange New Things

A personal tragedy and his decision to quit fiction have brought Michel Faber to a turning point in his career. Claire Sawers meets a writer who is considering his own literary legacy

Michel Faber

The List
9 October 2014

When Michel Faber began writing his latest novel, The Book of Strange New Things, he knew it would be his last. What he didn’t know is that it would end up being not just a farewell to his career as a novelist, but also to his other half, Eva Youren (in their case, the term ‘other half’ is practically literal). Faber’s wife – his unofficial manager / literary editor / mentor / PA / friend, or to give her a more grandiose label, his personal saviour (the reclusive Faber once thanked her for ‘bringing me back to earth’) – was diagnosed with a rare plasma cell cancer, and sadly died in early July.

‘The book was conceived before Eva was diagnosed,’ says Faber who, when we meet in the living room of his Edinburgh flat, is wearing several days’ stubble and a threadbare Rammstein t-shirt. The chameleonic, addictive fiction writer is probably best known for his Victorian sex-work epic The Crimson Petal and the White, and alien sci-fi thriller, Under the Skin which was recently adapted into a film with Scarlett Johansson.

He may be a little subdued today, but Faber hasn’t lost any of his ability to casually drill deep into the conversation, mining it unexpectedly, hitting hard insights while talking about his cats, or a pair of shoes. He’s just back from an American book tour, and pulls out Eva’s red ankle boots from his not-yet-unpacked bag. He beams sheepishly as he explains how he photographed the shoes next to things Eva would have liked.

‘The book was always going to be about grief; grief at how we treat each other and the planet. Loss of precious human beings. But I wasn’t expecting to lose Eva.’ Faber always intended his final novel to be ‘a journey into the darkness’, relying on the reader’s trust as he led them, and himself, into unmapped territory. An ‘obsessive shaper’, his work this time was deliberately much less planned. ‘Always being in control of everything, I felt uneasy. Really good books need a chaos element, something weird or inexplicable.’

With supremely cruel irony, Faber has noticed before that his books sometimes end up being ‘anticipatory, almost prophetic’, and The Book of Strange New Things – about a Christian missionary’s voyage to another planet – was no different. In this part dystopian travelogue, part epistolary love story, Peter and Bea are separated while he goes to preach to the indigenous people of Oasis; a foetus-faced species who speak with otherworldly, asthmatic voices, sounding like ‘a field of rain-sodden lettuces being cleared by a machete’.

As Peter makes progress with the Oasan people, Bea is back on earth, witnessing it short circuit in freak weather disasters and spasms of civil unrest. ‘It’s an enormously sad book, obviously. Heartbreaking things happen in it. I was writing it, line by line, as Eva became incredibly ill, and later when I lived with her in the hospital where she died. But I didn’t think it would be fair to make it the ultimate feel-bad book. I couldn’t do that to people.’

Faber wanted to find some consolation, without straying into cheesy, sentimental territory. ‘So often the “uplifting” thing just ends up being really platitudinous. Pathetic and specious. I really wanted to avoid that.’ And he has. On the surface, The Book of Strange New Things reads like an Orwellian bad dream, if JG Ballard and Kurt Vonnegut found themselves wandering the sterile hallways of a space base filled with piped-in Patsy Cline songs, maggot-based hybrid foods and out-of-date lesbian porn mags. It’s a morose, matter-of-fact allegory on modern life, but one enlightened by Faber’s gentle, resigned wisdom. the-book-of-strange-new-things

‘I’m not normally superstitious,’ says Faber, ‘but I didn’t write any dedication in the front of the advance proofs. All the other books were dedicated to Eva, but for this one I was a bit spooked. I was very much hoping for a remission, that she’d live longer; it felt almost like inviting bad karma.’ The finished copies, to be published three months after her death, will say, ‘For Eva, always’.

‘Eva said she’d like a dedication. This one was very precious to her. She’d worked on it a great deal, as with all the others. It’s obviously valedictory, and about saying goodbye to the flesh.’ As the person who initially jumpstarted Faber’s career and coaxed him out of his crippling shyness, Eva was ‘distraught’ at the prospect of him giving up writing fiction. ‘She was worried about me just shutting myself away as I tend to do. But I’m trying to say yes rather than no, and I want to live the sort of life she’d have liked me to live after her death.’

Although Faber says he’s written his last novel (‘Most books and works of art disappear down the plughole. If one of my books is destined to be remembered by anyone, it’s probably already out there’), he’ll continue writing poetry and non-fiction, with plans for a book on music theory ‘which will probably appeal to 178 people in the whole world’. He also talks of an intriguing plan to possibly ‘collaborate’ with Eva, and add to some of her own unfinished writing. ‘We discussed that. We had some wonderfully precious and intimate times and the relationship definitely deepened towards the end. It’s hard to think that might be extinguished.’

The Book of Strange New Things is published by Canongate, Thu 23 Oct.
Read the interview at The List here

Interview: Peter Zummo

The trombonist and Arthur Russell collaborator reinvents the cult composer’s work with an experimental sextet

peter-zummo-6tet

The List
8 October 2014

’Let’s just say, I can sometimes have an attitude about the cellist who’s going to play Arthur Russell’s music. When we were choosing the right musician, I think it’s fair to say I expressed a few opinions,’ Peter Zummo confesses, laughing quietly down the phone from his home in Staten Island, New York.

As someone who worked and shared a music studio with the cult composer – the one-off, mysterious genius that was avant-garde / proto-disco producer / musician Arthur Russell – Zummo is understandably a bit picky about anyone attempting to recreate the distinct cello sound of his friend. ‘It was never just about sentimentality with Arthur, he played with this raw energy and supreme intelligence, it’s important not to get the wrong interpretation of that.’

But Zummo – himself a noted experimental composer and trombonist – is giving the seal of approval to Oliver Coates, the cellist who’ll join him onstage, alongside Ernie Brooks (guitar) and Bill Ruyle (hammer dulcimer, percussion) with live beats and processing from JD Twitch and Bass Clef. As a half American, half British sextet, they plan to play live over selected tracks from Russell’s vast back catalogue.

‘Keith [McIvor, Glasgow’s JD Twitch] has isolated the rhythm of ‘Is It All Over My Face’, for example. He’s taken an extended sample and remixed it – that will be the foundation that we play live on top of.’ While Zummo is keen ‘to check back in with the original songs’, he also thinks Russell, himself an endless reshaper (there were 40 tapes with mixes of the same song found in his apartment when he died), would want them to push the sound forward. ‘He moved fast, he didn’t believe in repeating himself. If he was alive today, he’d be into totally different stuff, so I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to rework his stuff, rather than spin out the same concept.’

Although Zummo initially wasn’t keen to get involved in the growing Russell revival following his death in 1992 (‘I figured we should let him rest in peace!’), he is pleased he eventually let himself be talked into it. Zummo featured on 2011’s debut album from Arthur’s Landing – a collective of ‘Russell alumni’ – musicians who’d all worked with him at some point, on his more introspective, acoustic work (World Of Echo) or his pioneering disco projects (as Loose Joints and Dinosaur L). Arthur’s Landing visited Scotland that year to play the Tramway alongside Chris and Cosey, curated by Optimo DJ Keith McIvor. McIvor first got in touch with Zummo, asking if he could re-release his Zummo With an X, a gorgeous record of Zummo’s from 1981, featuring him on trombone, Russell on cello and Bill Ruyle on tabla. ‘I took over mastertapes with me, and Keith ended up putting the record out on Optimo. From there I seemed to start building up a lovely bunch of UK contacts.’

And so it is that Zummo finds himself, four years later, returning to Scotland.

‘Some people find it odd to have live instruments playing over a pre-recorded track, but that’s exactly how Arthur used to perform, back in nightclubs in New York in the 70s and 80s. If he wanted to create street level interest, he’d go into a dance club, do a cameo performance, with him singing, or playing cello, or with a guest vocalist over a track that he’d prepared.’

‘It’s the same now, if the rhythm is tight enough, then the trombone can just float on top.’

Summerhall, Edinburgh, Thu 16 Oct.

Interview: Matthew Herbert

The List
15 July 2014


Experimental musician Matthew Herbert’s latest project records the sounds of 20 different pianos, each one with its own story

Matthew Herbert remembers his grandad playing church hymns at home on an art deco piano, his black patent shoes tapping out accidental percussion on the wooden pedals. That same piano was sampled for a new work by his grandson – 20 Pianos – which will be played in Glasgow as part of a mini tour.

‘It’s not just the sound of 20 pianos – it’s 20 different stories, and 20 different rooms,’ says Herbert, the prolific – and freakishly multi-disciplined – electronic producer, composer and DJ who over the years has made deep house records, glossy pop productions and more recently, recorded the sounds of a pig, from farmyard to slaughterhouse on One Pig. He founded his own virtual country once online too.

But today he’s talking pianos. ‘That art deco piano immediately makes me think of my grandad – such an interesting and important man to me,’ says Herbert. ‘He was a conscientious objector during the war, and I remember him giving me a copy of Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto – I was only ten!’

In the past, Herbert – a restless experimentalist, who is also creative director at the relaunched New Radiophonic Workshop – has made music and sound art from crisp packets (his first live performance), birdsong (for a recent Boiler Room session of the British Library’s Sound Archive), apples (on 2005’s Plat du jour) and human skin (on 2002’s Bodily Functions). But for 20 Pianos he was interested in sampling a ‘disparate, democratic spread’ of pianos.

‘I knew I wanted a very expensive one, a royal one, a really battered school one, one that had witnessed some really difficult times … I think the selection is pretty amazing in the end.’

The witnesser of ‘difficult times’ ended up being a prison piano, recorded in situ in Wormwood Scrubs and at one time tinkled on by inmate Ivor Novello; the expensive one was used by John Lennon as he wrote ‘Imagine’; and other oddities popped up unexpectedly too. Glasgow Royal Concert Hall supplied a tiny ship’s piano that was played on a yacht that sailed to New York, and Finchcock’s Musical Museum in Kent unearthed one that was played by a Victorian cult leader – who ran a harem of 60 women disciples.

Once recordings had been made of all 20, Herbert sampled them and wrote a composition, for solo pianist. It will be played on a small wood block, that Edinburgh-based Yann Seznec (also of the New Radiophonic Workshop) has turned into a virtual piano, making a MIDI keyboard from touch-sensitive copper tape.

‘I wanted it to look really simple, domestic and plain, with not many wires,’ says Herbert, who met Seznec collaborating on a project about ‘a musical virus’, and invited him to work on his One Pig project.

‘Ever since then we’ve been friends. Yann’s like the missing piece in my jigsaw – before, if I wanted to do something particular on stage I’d have to track down the right hardware. Now I just ask him, and he’s able to make it himself.’

The end result, when performed live, is a bit like, ‘one pianist walking through a piano museum’, says Herbert, who just released a house EP on Accidental Records a few days after DJing in Ibiza.

‘It’s designed so you can hear two pianos at a time, or five, or ten – there are 20 fragments, and the pianist improvises with them. When you hear all 20 played altogether, it sounds pretty special.’

‘Music shouldn’t be about making ready meals – I try never to repeat myself,’ he says. ‘I try and make music that pushes outwards, and helps create a new language. And when I’m not doing that – I make deep house, because it’s fun!’

Matthew Herbert’s 20 Pianos, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sat 2 Aug.

matthewherbert.com

Read the original interview here at The List.

Older posts Newer posts

© 2017 Claire Sawers

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑