First of all, SI_COMM and ECM323 are established vehicles for your
multimedia excursions. How did the Level avatar come to exist ?
LEVEL is yet another manifestation of my recorded work, which has only
emerged relatively recently. The Si_COMM project is reaching increasing levels
of abstraction and minimalism - Si_COMM has become something very cerebral, and
I wanted to present something which would create access points to my work and
thinking which wasn’t as “difficult” to listen to and
interpret. Being primarily a visual artist and designer, I work with sounds
using methods analogous to visual imagery. For me, every sound I create has an
accompanying image or visual process in my head when I create it, this is the
only way I can work in the way I do. LEVEL uses the same processing techniques
as many of the Si_COMM recordings, but I use musical instruments as source
material to create texture, and stimulate my imagination and emotions. I have
always worked minimally, and this stems from a sculptural stimulus – that
of chipping away at the un-essentials until the true essence of a piece is
revealed. I am sure that many musicians will consider LEVEL pieces as being
quite empty, perhaps requiring other layers. For that reason, I have worked in
collaboration with artists and musicians to add to my pieces, or re-work them
in some way. This is an open invitation to anyone who would like to do so….
How long have you been producing sound pieces, and what influenced you to
become involved? Are you from a 'classically trained' background ?
I have only been making sound works for published CD’s for about two
years, apart from a few pieces I did for labels such as Selektion in another
guise. For a long time with ECM:323, I had been working in sound installation,
presenting sonic material alongside visuals in order to illustrate a particular
line of enquiry and to show the potential of sound, albeit in a highly
controlled way, using the audience response to complete the cycle of enquiry.
Most of this could only happen in a gallery setting, and it became something of
a personal crusade for me to try and get a recorded body of work together that
could then be built upon, and integrated with the work previously undertaken
I started Si_COMM initially as a solo project, although I have enjoyed
collaborating with others such as Andrew Lagowski
of S.E.T.I., whose genius for composition and technical
knowledge has enabled me to develop my own ideas in a more coherent way.
I have been “involved” in the experimental scene for about 22
years(!), after meeting Ben Ponton and Robin Storey of Zoviet*France back in
about 1983, having discovered their work in a Camden record store. I contacted
Ben, and we met up in London at the Town House recording studios. Back then, I
was concentrating my efforts on visual art, and went to present some of my
abstract work in the hope that he could help to get me commissions to do CD
covers. Ben gave me a lot of help and encouragement, and a few addresses where
I could get started, and I instantly became fascinated with the whole
experimental and avant garde scene, and quickly got absorbed with writing,
reviewing, CD cover design, promoting, etc and generally trying to make a
worthwhile contribution to the experimental scene in general, which was, and
still is, small and highly specialised.
I don’t have any formal musical, design, or artistic training,which I
think in some ways has benefitted my peculiar slant on things. I think in some
instances, those who are schooled in a particular discipline tend to become
blinkered by their education to some of the possibilities that exist outside of
the rule book. I have deliberately never “learned” about the nuts
and bolts of my art for this very reason. It enables me to think and create
outside of structures and frameworks that are already well established, and
possibly to do things that established practitioners would balk at. This is
really a manifestation of what Joseph Beuys would have called “connective
aesthetics” – a subject which I am currently studying for my
Your Level work is clearly influenced by reductionist principles. Do you
find you have a formal, structured approach to your composition ?
Far from it. My work really emerges organically, sculpturally. I
deliberately avoid trying to create music in the traditional sense, and I have
resisted being categorised as either a musician or composer, purely because
what I create is not music in my opinion. The impetus for the bulk of my work
comes from the desire to express something that cannot readily be categorised
or put into words. Of course, this is purely subjective. Most of the work I do
is the product of hours of experimentation, shaping and sculpting sounds,
trying to coax something coherent out of this mass of recordings, something
that resonates through the filter that is “me”. For those that know
of my work, I think it is obvious that I have embraced the whole concept of
working with patterns and “living processes” within the digital
domain- a place where I feel most at home with all aspects of my creativity. I
feel totally at home creating through my computer, and see it as a logical
extension of my own faculties.
I found the Cycla release extremely compelling yet there's always a danger
with atmospheric music that the listener can easily tune out. Does your
interest lie in creating a complete sonic journey or do you focus on the micro
elements that constitute the audio experience?
Both and neither! I really don’t set about creating a sonic journey,
especially with Level. For me the process is alive whilst I am creating it, and
it becomes something else entirely once it is released into the world. When I
am working on a piece, I am usually totally absorbed by it and have it living
visually in my imagination for a long time, before it ends up as a recording.
As I mentioned earlier, my methodology is highly organic, and I don’t
have tunes or sounds wandering around in my head like a composer would - it all
happens very spontaneously and sometimes very quickly. Its very often like
wrestling with a wild animal, very amorphous and difficult to contain. The fun
part that really engages me, is in sculpting the sounds, and making something
that has it’s own life and energy. One of the reasons why I don’t
classify myself as a musician is because I work in a highly visual way . . . I
have to have a reason for a recording to materialise, in fact most of my work
is fuelled by the desire to intuitively “illustrate” a thought
process, usually as a result of ideas burning away in my head for weeks, mainly
inspired by my research and the curse of an enquiring mind.
How do you approach computer music technology? In a field where
advancements are constant, do you feel a need to keep up with the latest
hardware and software developments? Can you give us an idea of what kind of
tools you use in your compositions?
Without wishing to sound arrogant, I think naming the tools of the trade
is largely irrelevant. It’s like asking an artist what paintbrush, and
what make of paint he uses (It’s perhaps only of interest to other
artists) - for me what is important is the end product, and how it moves or
influences the listener.For me, this can be achieved with almost ANY software.
I am convinced that any sufficiently creative individual can work with any
tools and come up with something interesting and engaging, as long as it is
faithful to the artists’ original intention. So in reply to you, no - I
don’t feel the need to keep up with the latest software developments, in
fact most of the software I use is now considered to be massively out of date.
Great creativity is most often forged out of extreme limitations, this is yet
another aspect of a minimalist approach.
What is interesting is that in the mainstream media, certain sounds and methods
go in and out of vogue in parallel with the latest hardware and software
developments, so you get a “trend”, which quickly becomes cliched
and boring. I prefer to use existing software in ways it perhaps wasn’t
designed for, and by combining it with other elements and forcing myself to
explore it to the full, this enables me to strive for more creative solutions
to any software limitations that may occur. Ultimately, I have always striven
to create sounds which have not been heard before, and invoke a unique audible
and cerebral experience in the listener, rather than trying to jump on any
bandwagon, or make some kind of fashion statement. Hardware is slightly
different, as I always try to improve on the quality and capacity of the PC, so
I have bought better quality soundcards, mixing desks, etc for that reason.
Although 'electronica' is now an independent section in my local CD library
I still find I have to look to the peripherals of modern day culture to totally
satisfy my hunger. How do you think the future of the marginalised genres will
be effected by the Internet and the distribution channels that it offers?
That’s an interesting question . . . I think the internet has opened
up huge vistas of possibility for those of us working outside of the
mainstream. Distribution and availability are always going to be problematic,
although the advent of small specialist web radio stations, and web-labels
(Polymorphic, Aural Pressure
, Radio 365) and the upsurge in the usage of MP3’s
etc have indicated that we are on the brink of a massive phase change in the
way we access sounds and images. When I embarked on this journey, it was never
intended to gain mass acceptance or adulation – in fact, I am inspired by
the idea that those of us operating at the periphery have a much greater
influence on culture than is at first realised. We are small droplets from
which great ripples are felt at a distance in time – the “butterfly
effect” applied to contemporary culture.
I think that culturally, we are now gradually creating a society linked not by
geographical location, but by areas of cultural interest - this is the advent
of the “noosphere
”, as predicted by Teilhard de Chardin over 50
My only frustration with internet based art in particular, is that there is a
distinct lack of censorship and quality control. Like the “cassette
culture” that permeated experimental art in the late 1980’s,the
mass availability of the means of creativity, and access to limitless software,
means we are now swamped by a whole sea of garbage, which is often very
frustrating for those who are looking for something more intelligent and
considered. Conversely, I am an advocate of free expression, and long may this
continue. The whole notion of “dumbed down” culture greatly
concerns me, but that’s another interview entirely! I personally enjoy
trying to track down interesting material, and I am fortunate, as I get sent a
great deal of brilliant work for my radio show, and I’m truly grateful
I was attracted to the experimental scene purely because of it’s obtuse
nature, and you had to actively go out in search of interesting material, an
early form of “surfing” without the internet. The search often led
to accidental crossovers with other artists and organisations etc, which of
course, made it all the more rewarding for me. I think Andrew McKenzie (Hafler
encapsulated this when he said in one of his books that in having to dig
for a bone, the dog’s senses and muscles are exercised, refined, and
sharpened, and in doing so, he is rewarded with a bone!
release on Polymorphic includes
a collaboration with guitarist Tariq Hussain. Is this a direction that you aim to further explore?
Definitely- first of all, Polymorphic have been tremendously supportive in
giving my more exploratory Level work a home, and the idea of a web-based label
of this kind pleases me immensely, especially as it becomes a viable and
popular forum for experimental work to be heard by a wider audience. From a
purely selfish point of view, it has also given me a vehicle for presenting
developmental work that I would not want released on CD, or presented in any
other format. I am more than happy for this part of my work to exist
exclusively in a virtual environment.
The idea of collaboration and cross-fertilisation is essential to a lot of what
I do. I always find that working with others is not only educational, but also
opens up areas that maybe I would not have considered before. The extreme
minimal nature of my work also lends itself to being layered or fused with
something else, and like many others, I always encourage re-mixing and
re-interpretation of a lot of my work.
Tariq Hussain is a gifted guitarist, and it was an interesting experiment to
juxtapose his free-form musical sensibility with my organic sampling - in some
ways we come from completely different creative worlds, but had enough in
common for something interesting to materialise. “Shimmer” was the
net result of several conversations, then an evening spent together improvising
and working with each other’s ideas, and as with all improvisation, some
of it worked well, some not so well, but the process was still interesting.
The “PROBE” collaboration with S.E.T.I explored the notion of
posthuman existence. Generative music defines the parameters in which a musical
system can live and breath without human intervention. Does the notion of
generative music engage you?
To an extent, yes. I did a lot of work and research into generative, and
emergent systems a few years back, which filtered into my installation work.
There are tangible connections between natural emergent systems and synthetic
generative systems, which will eventually have an influence on all aspects of
creativity. I think there is a fundamental desire in all of us to create life,
and digital systems are now more than capable of emulating this faculty at a
very rudimentary level. I think we are living in tremendously exciting times,
perhaps the next great leap for humanity as we make the slow transition from
being carbon based to silicon based life forms, or maybe something in between.
At the moment, of course, we are still in the infant stages of this transition,
but you only need to look at the huge developments in physics and medicine to
see where this all leads to in, say 100 years time. Creatively, this transition
yields possibilities that we can only barely imagine. I can already see music
and art being created in a globally networked way, where the notion of one
originating artist will become a relic of the past, and intellectual property
ascribed to one person an impossibility. The seeds for this have already been
sown in the “sampling era”, and access to digital technology has
only compounded this problem further. I have already indicated this transition
in the Four Acoustic Solids CD, where I sent out four base sounds to other
artists to transform in whichever way they chose, but ONLY using my original
sounds. The results were stunning, as my original “sonic DNA” was
transformed beyond recognition. My authorship of the original sounds became
redundant. Once again, the copyright industry is being forced into a very
tricky position, and I can only barely imagine how much more complex this will
become many years hence. I definitely feel that the music of the future will be
a life form on its own, comprised of a digital equivalent of DNA, which evolves
and adapts to a tune of its own making.
The ECM323 project investigated a visual representation of fundamental
sonic artefacts such as resonance and feedback. Can you give us an insight into
your preoccupation with audio visual interaction?
- I was always fascinated with sound, particularly how it was applied in
industry and medicine, but like many, I wanted to see how it could legitimately
be visualised. I experimented a lot with sound waves being passed through
water, and these experiments eventually formed the basis of my first successful
installation work, TRACE. I also did some work with small lasers placed onto
speakers to create laser trace patterns,and used video feedback and sonic
feedback in gallery pieces, which were at a fundamental level, generative
systems. The next logical step would have been to create digital sound forms,
and make my own generative music, but I felt this area had been well covered by
people like Brian Eno and Todd Machover at MIT, so there was little left to
explore unless I was able to afford more complex equipment and programming -
well beyond my means at the moment.
I have always been interested in patterns and pattern making, and certain
critical relationships between sound and architecture, and my current
preoccupation is with architectural forms translated into sound, and how sound
manifests itself within man made structures.
Do you have any plans for a live incarnation of Level?
Quite a few people have asked me this, and the simple answer would be no.
This is made more complex by the fact that I resolutely insist that what I do
is not music, but sonic art, despite the fact that my musical friends and
associates vehemently disagree. The point could be argued forever.
I have always struggled with the idea of live work, as I would not want a live
event to be presented as a “gig”, or LEVEL as a “band”.
That is not what it is, and not what I represent. If another opportunity came
along to create an event in a suitably serene and contemplative space, such as
a gallery, then a LEVEL live incarnation may happen. As with all my
installation works, I can be very fussy about the mode of presentation, and I
like very much to involve the audience in some way. I think it is terribly
important now to involve audiences in the creative process, particularly if
they are not artists themselves. As I hinted at earlier, we are living in a “dumbed
down” society where people are ever more exposed to un-stimulating, one
way passive entertainment, which does little to spark the imagination,
encourage the cross fertilisation of thoughts and ideas, and empower or
energise people in any kind of creative way.
Any future projects on the horizon?
Too many … ! I am currently re-working the Hyperlanguage piece that
I did with Andrew Lagowski of S.E.T.I, - we will get together shortly to
re-edit those recordings we did for Resonance FM last year, and hopefully get
it released at some point. I have also been in negotiation with a group of
architects to create sound sculpture for public spaces- provisionally called
ARCHISONICS, this project is close to my heart at the moment, as it is very
much a direction I would like to move towards, as it satisfies all of my
creative impulses. The next LEVEL CD is half way completed, and I already have
labels waiting for that, and I have also just completed some Si_COMM re-mixes
of tracks by John Watermann for Cold Spring (SWARM compilation). There is a
slim possibility of Si-COMM doing a live presentation in Paris for the launch
of “VIBRO 3”, a French published audio magazine which has a Si_COMM
piece on it, but this is still in the early stages.
I have one or two other collaborations in the pipeline when I eventually get
more time, perhaps later in the year. I would also love to start a “sound
laboratory” in a gallery space, using other sound artists to regularly
come together to create interactive sound environments in a public space. I
have already made some preliminary investigations, and this may materialise
early next year.