The Electricity Club: Documentary Evidence Interview (2018)

Those familiar with the story of how this blog came about – Erasure fan; found a copy of Mute‘s Documentary Evidence 4 inside my 12″ of said band’s ‘Chorus’; began collecting the Mute back catalogue; decided to write about it – will find an extended version of that story over at The Electricity Club website in an interview they did with me earlier this month.

I found this amusing, and slightly ironic: way back in 2003, when I started this here blog, I got in touch with Chris Bohn, then editor of The Wire and best known as NME journo Biba Kopf, to see if he’d be open to an interview. Kopf, for me, was synonymous with the Documentary Evidence pamphlet, as he’d written the Mute history that accompanied the catalogue listings at the back, and I couldn’t even estimate the number of times I’d read, re-read and digested those words. His response was along the lines of ‘Er… why?’ and so I shelved that as a bad, and slightly foolish idea. When The Electricity Club asked me to answer some questions, I could suddenly see Kopf’s point, and also my own naïveté.

In any event, I accepted, and the interview is now online here. Head over there and you can read about why Mute matters to me so much, musings on how much I love Taylor Swift (unashamedly), what it’s like to work for Vince Clarke, why I believe people have got it wrong about modern day Depeche Mode, and what electronic music I’m currently listening to.

I wrote most of my answers on a flight to Newquay to visit my father, who gets a mention in the interview. I only realised recently how important my dad is in the story of how I came to fall in love with electronic music… but that’s a story you’ll get to read another day.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Soundescapes – An Interview With Espen J. Jörgensen (2011)

Noise Activity

Five years ago, Mute returned to its independent roots after separating from EMI. One of the first releases on the newly indie imprint was Soundescapes by Mute stalwart Simon Fisher Turner and one-time collaborator Espen J. Jörgensen. It arguably should have set the tone for Mute Artists’ new beginning, returning the label to the noisy, DIY, uncompromising point where it all began.

On the occasion of the fifth aniversary of Soundescapes, I am republishing my 2011 interview with Jörgensen. This will be followed in the next few days by the re-posting of a further interview with both Fisher Turner and Jörgensen from around the time of the album’s actual release. 


Soundescapes is a collaboration between musical auteur Simon Fisher Turner and film-maker / soundsmith Espen J. Jörgensen. The first fruits of this collaboration, the track ‘Noise Activity’, was released on 16 April 2011 as part of Mute‘s Vorwärts compilation; with that title, it is not a terrible surprise that the rest of Soundescapes explores the outer reaches of sound design.

‘I record whatever I like and Simon does whatever he likes with it,’ Jörgensen tells me from his home in Norway. ‘It’s the ultimate democracy; or maybe democrazy is a better word for it.’ Built on a mutual respect for each others’ creative vision, Fisher Turner and Jörgensen have an agreement not to challenge one another. ‘I do whatever I like, and Simon treats the material the way he wants to,’ says Jörgensen. and ‘I don’t comment on the outcome. So you could say that I’m the composer and he’s the re-composer.’

‘Noise Activity’ also appears on the forthcoming Soundescapes album, scheduled for release on a freshly independent Mute in November 2011, replete with a personal endorsement from Daniel Miller. ‘We’ve been working on this album for two to three years,’ explains Jörgensen about the album, recorded over an extended period in between both the composer and re-composer’s other activities, namely Fisher Turner’s scores and solo albums and Jörgenson’s work as a film-maker. ‘Noise Activity’ is our ADHD song. There are a couple of others which are ‘upbeat’, but not as crazy as that; some are very ambient, both light and dark.’

Already familiar with Fisher Turner’s work, I ask Jörgensen about his individual style. ‘I don’t actively try to pursue a sound, and I’m not trying to not pursue a sound. I think a lot of it comes from how I work, which is is more like an exorcism. I try to lure sounds out of devices and instruments. It’s all from intuition. I never write anything. I can have a five minute session one day and then I won’t touch an instrument for a month or two. I don’t do anything if I don’t feel like it.’

‘When I record things it’s mostly to hear what sounds I get if I hook up an instrument, be it circuit bent, analogue or digital, to an effects box or whatever; or it’s from an urge to play or record a beat. I try to record the first time I test an instrument to capture that first meeting or “moment”. I also think that art-by-mistake can be exciting, but I don’t call myself an artist.’

Artist isn’t the only term that Jörgensen doesn’t feel applies to himself. ‘I’m not a schooled musician and I don’t consider myself a musician, and so I can’t really say that I’m influenced by anyone.’

I ask Jörgensen whether his day-job as a film-maker means that the process of film making informs how he makes music. ‘They’re two different worlds, though they’re also not. I think it has more to do with my approach and attitude when I head into the different worlds. I want to be more free with music, so that’s what I do. With film you can improvise and play with the camera, editing and acting, but in the end it’s a lot of work. Music’s a lot of work, too, but Simon gets the hardest job of all – he’s supposed to make my noise work in a context, or a song, if you like. Then again, I wouldn’t call all of the tracks on Soundescapes songs.’

‘I like to write scripts which are more like skeletons,’ he says, returning to film. ‘I think it’s more fun to be open-minded when you work. If you’re not too tied to the script you can make room for things. I think visually, but when I work I often feel, or hear, what kind of music would work well without killing a scene. When I was working with [Faith No More founder / bassist] Billy Gould on the soundtrack for The Sequential Art, my documentary film about comics, he never got to see any of the footage. I told him what I wanted in the form of atmosphere and rhythm, and we worked from there.’

This sense of blind faith and trust also informs the Soundescapes collaboration. Whereas Gould never got to see a single scene, in the case of Soundescapes, Jörgenson and Fisher Turner have never actually even met one another. ‘When I think of it, I’ve never spoken to him either!’ says Jörgensen about this distance collaboration. ‘Our relationship is very text-based. It might sound very odd, but it works very well. I don’t always have control of the outcome with the stuff I record, but I don’t want to control what Simon does either because he does such a great job with putting it all together.’

First published 2011; edited 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

onDeadWaves – Dusk Sessions #1 (Mute single, 2016)


The debut album from onDeadWavesPolly Scattergood and James Chapman / Maps – has been one of the major highlights of this year, a very special record that is definitely more than the sum of its parts – a major compliment since those ‘parts’ represent two very accomplished musicians in their own right, presiding over back catalogues full of towering emotional moments.

For Dusk Sessions #1, onDeadWaves offer up a new version of ‘California’, one of the few truly upbeat songs (albeit one about death) on the album. Here, everything is reduced to a whisper, giving the track an intimate edge that feels like little more than wind rustling through fallen leaves, or a quiet nighttime acoustic beach singalong for depressed Millennials.

The track is backed by an equally fragile cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, whose ethereality makes the version of ‘California’ seem weighty in comparison. Here the pair give a curious optimistic edge to a song that is essentially about having no emotional or capacity for feeling at all.

Dusk Sessions #1 is available on iTunes.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Mick Harvey – Delirium Tremens (Mute album, 2016)


I reviewed the third instalment of Mute stalwart Mick Harvey‘s project to translate the songs of Serge Gainsbourg from their native French to English, Delirium Tremens, which was released back in June.

Since this finally got published after a lengthy delay, Mute have announced details on the fourth volume, Intoxicated Woman – not bad going considering the twenty year gap between the second and third chapters.

You can read my Clash review here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

onDeadWaves – On Dead Waves (Mute album, 2016)



onDeadWaves
is a collaboration between two Mute artists, both of whom have been at the label during the EMI years as well as the new, independent-once-more phase – Polly Scattergood and James ‘Maps’ Chapman. Their debut album, On Dead Waves is that rare example of something that is far, far, far greater than the sum of its parts.

I reviewed the album for Clash and you can read my review here.

On Dead Waves is released on May 20. The duo play a free show in London on June 7. For more information, go to the onDeadWaves Facebook page.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Erasure – Snow Globe (Mute album, 2013)

  
As its Christmas, I’ve found myself listening to Erasure‘s 2013 seasonal collection Snow Globe more than anything else over the last few weeks. I truly think it is one of the best Christmas albums ever made.

Here is the small review of the album that I wrote for Clash upon its release.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Maps – I Heard Them Say (Mute Artists single, 2013)

  

single // I Heard Them Say

mute artists | 12″ mute499 | 14/04/2013

‘I Heard Them Say’, the first taster from the third Maps album Vicissitude, was released as an exclusive 100-copy, hand-stamped* 12″ in association with Manchester mail-order outlet Boomkat. Set to become a contributor to the pension plan of a select few record collectors** in the future, the 100 copies sold out pretty much straight away, creating a bit of a justified buzz for Vicissitude, which will be released in the summer of 2013.

James Chapman‘s music as Maps feel a lot like being subjected to hypnosis: his voice on ‘I Heard Them Say’ is whispered meditatively like a therapist as you involuntarily recall events and emotions locked well inside, while musically he offers a shifting, amorphous palette of sounds that feels hazy, lush and entrancing by turns. Sounds are layered in dense seams of locked-up feelings to create a sensibility that the kids would probably label chillwave (or hypnogogic pop if you’re one of those academic types over at The Wire). ‘I Heard Them Say’ is brutal, in a very subtle way – by the end, after you’ve been subjected to those enveloping synth tones, drones and pulses and Chapman’s quiet musings, you’re left with an uncomfortable feeling of unease (heightened by detached references to insanity) laced with something vague on the periphery that could be, but probably isn’t, optimism.

The 12″ comes with two mixes, one from Maps and one from Andy Stott. Chapman’s remix is sparse, fragile and dark, ultimately reaching the same emotional place, just more slowly and deploying judicious use of treacly reverb along the way. Man of the (underground) moment Stott’s mix is filled with crunchy percussion and beats between which whole universes reside, the bassline burbling gently to the surface every so often and Chapman’s rearranged voice washing in like a sonic wave. Toward the end the emergence of droning synths offers some respite from relentless slow-motion techno minimalism, becoming the soundtrack to a very dark sci-fi flick instead.

A digital version of ‘I Heard Them Say’ was initially available with album pre-orders via the Maps webstore.

* Sadly, the 12″ singles were not stamped by Chapman himself but by a friend in the Mute office. Talk about an illusion-shatterer…

** My pristine copy is currently available for purchase on Discogs

12″:
A1. I Heard Them Say
A2. I Heard Them Say (Maps Remix)
AA. I Heard Them Say (Andy Stott Remix)

First posted 2013; edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence