In the first part of this sizeable chat with classical composer, producer and generally lovely bloke, we covered recording methods, sound quality, the ringtones inspired ‘24 Postcards In Full Colour’ and his early release, ‘Memoryhouse’. Time to bring things a little more up to date, including some reflections on his new album, ‘infra’, released on July 19th, which features tracks named only ‘infra’ or ‘journey’ along with a number to differentiate between them. Below you can find various additional parts from our conversation, the key parts of which will appear in a feature for Clash Magazine which will arrive at the start of August.
How did the original version of ‘infra’ come about?
I got an email from Wayne (McGregor) who’s the in-house choreographer at the Royal Opera House and he’s kind of really into music and he just kind of emailed me and said do you want to do this thing? Which was great, really interesting. There wasn’t really a brief. The brief was it was twenty five minutes, which is kind of ideal. So I just took it from there really.
And what did you set out to do?
It was interesting, because I saw some of the animation (shown above the stage performance, created by Julian Opie) and little bits of choreography. We had one or two conversations about this idea of journeys and also about there being two levels on the stage. That started me thinking about lots of images and there’s lots of things that return in different ways. It’s like turning a bit of sculpture in your hands to get different perspectives on the material.
How does the album relate to the original piece?
When I started recording it, I thought well, this music was originally made to be heard with dance and I just thought well, listening to something is different and I’m allowed to do something different that the music in the performance didn’t have to do. I wanted it to more immersive more complete in a way, so it could stand on its own. In recording it, I started to find new things in the material I wanted to explore and it was kind of nice just to take another trip through it and so this whole other kind of region of music evolved which is the journey pieces.
With the tracks named ‘infra 1’, ‘infra 2’ and the like, what can we read into the order of the tracks?
I kind of employ lots of different ways of thinking about the music, I’ve got forensically detailed plans but sometimes you just have to kill the plan and just go with that kind of weird logic where you don’t know why you’re doing it but you just have to go with it. There was a certain amount of that I wanted to keep ‘infra’ alternating with the ‘journey’ pieces in the order it was. But then I started to make it and it made sense to have these kind of clusters of material.
‘infra 4’, which closes out the first half of the record, is a hugely emotive piece. Is there a particular message or feeling you’re trying to convey with such an intense track?
I guess one of the reasons I do work at all is because I’m interested in the intensity of that experience; there’s something kind of very real about it. It’s kind of difficult to analyse why you do things, and I’m probably not the best person to do that, but I guess I’m trying to get the maximum energy out of the material. On ‘infra’ it’s a weird kind of emotional world because it’s got a sort of hallucinogenic quality, some of it’s quite bleak. It’s got a lot of emotional moments so for me, I’m interested in communicating that very powerful feeling.
To what extent does your take on classical music borrow from the more conventional classical artists of the past? You’ve made no secret of borrowing certain phrases previously.
Well, I guess all music is kind of about music. I think there are very few people who make things that have just never been done. We make music because we’re into music; it’s sort of in the back of your head that there’s all these things kicking around all the time. Whether it’s The Kinks in terms of a rock band or some kind of a classical thing for me. It’s kind of under the surface, it’s a sort of background thing. Sometimes I’ve used, deliberately, kind of quotations for specific reasons, like in the ‘Waltz For Bashir’ score there’s a bit of Schubert that floats around quite a bit. I guess it’s just that I’m a music fan so everything kind of feeds in.
You also borrowed from the literary world for ‘The Blue Notebooks’, featuring readings from Kafka. What was the thinking behind that?
I just found these texts and thought they were fantastic. I started thinking about storytelling music and a way to present them, like a fan. You find something and you want to tell your friends about it, this is me telling everyone about these texts that I’ve just found. I started thinking about how those words and the music could live together, how they could connect and bounce off each other really. It just kind of evolved like a collage between those two elements, which seemed to make sense to me. That was a voyage of discovery for me.
Then, for ‘Songs From Before’, you brought in Robert Wyatt to read from Murakami…
Obviously, way back, Soft Machine were just an amazing band and he’s an amazing singer who’s done so much great work over the years. Also, the Murakami texts are quite romantic, but I didn’t want any kind of romantic delivery and I knew Robert’s voice and thought he’s so kind of plain and straight ahead and he would be perfect for it because it would go against that maybe quite sweet language and I thought it was fantastic, he did it so well.
In terms of other people’s music, what are you currently enjoying?
I’m always listening to stuff on the classical front, from really old music to experimental things. I’ve been listening to a lot of early electronic music recently, like early Stockholm and all that very weird bleepy music coming out of the radio studios in the fifties and sixties. And then, on a more kind of contemporary side, I’ve been listening to the Eleh records. They’re kind of, they’re deliberately obscure, it’s kind of electronicy, almost like test tapes, but sort of quite trippy. On the pop side, I like the Micachu record, really well made and really great production like an explosion in a sweety factory.
Opportunities to have alternative music selected or curated for you are getting thin on the ground. Having originally released ‘Memoryhouse’ on its label, presumably Late Junction is an important radio show for you?
It always had interesting things going on, along with Mixing It. I got my musical education like everyone did from John Peel. That was an incredible thing, what was amazing about it was that it was THAT place and everyone got it there. The whole media universe has kind of atomised into all these little things. It’s probably out there, it’s just not that easy to find. You haven’t got that one place where you can go and hear everything that’s creative and alt. that’s going on. I don’t know if that whole mainstream marketing thing is worth now than it was – it certainly feels worse.
Although ‘infra’ is only just about to be released, can we expect more releases in the near future?
There’s a possible couple of film scores, including one for a really nice film for David Mackenzie, ‘The Last Word’. Aside from that, I’ve got a project coming out, hopefully next year, it’s kind of a big piece that’s going to be split across three records. That’s called ‘Voices From The Black Sites’ and I’m sort of deep in that at the moment.