Simon Fisher Turner / Espen J. Jörgensen – Soundescapes (Mute Artists album, 2011)

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‘I think we’re both rebels,’ is how Simon Fisher Turner summarised Soundescapes, his distance collaboration with documentary film-maker Espen J. Jörgensen which was released by Mute Artists in November 2011. The product of a chance encounter following Jörgensen browsing MySpace in response to having heard Turner’s soundtrack to the David Lynch movie Nadja, Soundescapescontains thirteen tracks of adventurous sonic exploration, marking this out as the freshly-independent Mute’s most experimental release so far, and reuniting Turner with the enduring faith of Daniel Miller, whose original Mute imprint was Turner’s primary output for a large chunk of his career.

On the gatefold cardboard sleeve (which hides a fold-out poster), Turner is credited with ‘structure, rearrangements, composing, editor, voice, life recordings’ while Jörgensen is responsible for ‘sampling, circuit bent & analogue instruments, beats, oscillators, rain app, voice, composing’. From how the pair have described their collaboration, this demarcation of roles and responsibilities was crucial to Soundescapes‘ genesis – Jörgensen would effectively ‘feed’ Turner a diverse array of almost random recorded sounds, the sources of which were often not evident or known to the recipient, while over the course of two to three years Turner would process those sounds into the tracks via harsh edits into the thirteen songs included on the album. Just as Turner would be blind to the sources of the sounds, Jörgensen would often find it yet harder to identify his own sounds in the resulting tracks. Jörgensen’s sound sources included circuit bent instruments, snatches of conversations and pounded wood among others, none of which are remotely identifiable on the album. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this collaboration occurred without either side ever meeting one another, nor even speaking over the phone.

One condition of the collaboration would be that each side was unable to challenge the other, meaning that Jörgensen would not comment extensively on the final tracks Turner was sending him, while Turner would be the one to ask for more sounds or indeed decide when Jörgensen should stop the pipeline of noises. Jörgensen only commented on two tracks, one of which, ‘Tristfull’, includes one of the more identifiable sound sources in the form of a French rain shower recorded by Turner, soaking the backdrop with organic sound while layers of what could be tinkly music box sounds (but easily could be from something entirely different) dominate the foreground. Similarly ‘Drippex’, which starts with a snatch of wobbly, Marc Bolan-esque vocals (one of Turner’s own contributions) wanders off on nice gentle synth arpeggios, while closer ‘Twomen’ features snatches of what Jörgensen calls ‘bedtalk in Japanese’ and simple, layered baby xylophone loops. These are three of the prettier tracks here, a direct contrast with the busy ‘Noise Activity’ which Jörgensen originally described to me as the duo’s ‘ADHD track’ when describing its short abrasive punch to the eardrums.

Jörgensen sent me a photo of one of his favourite sound sources, a circuit bent Speak & Learn children’s education tool that I vaguely remember from my own childhood. That trademark electronic voice tone is evident (I think) on ‘Worry’, but instead of the friendly computer I remember, that voice is manic, distorted and uncomfortable to listen to, while all the while a regimented grid of pulsing not-quite-beats and synth squalls keep time. Elsewhere tracks blend together calm and serene tones with mechanistic cyborg confrontationalism, a case in point being the (almost) title track ‘Soundescape’ (early versions of which Jörgensen sent me as a ‘legal bootleg’), wherein vast blankets of Eno-esque drift clash with the abrupt intrusion of broken electronic machinery whirring to life.

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‘Selfcentred’ starts with drones and noxious clouds of threatening noise, concluding with brief snatches of what could be tiny orchestral loops if you listen really closely punctuated by patches of strained silence. Most tracks on Soundescapes are perfunctory affairs, generally lasting no more than four minutes or so, until you reach the hypnotic ‘Start At The End’ which stretches out its template of loops and grinding Throbbing Gristle-style industrial sound closer to the nine minute mark. Some Aphex-style detuned and distorted beats emerge toward the end of this album highlight, closing out the track with thunderous and gorgeous noise.

When I tried to import this CD into iTunes, the genre that came up was ‘pop’. Surely this should be ‘subversive pop’, given the often punishing sonic assault that the listener is presented with, and it is amusing to imagine a parallel dimension in which this is what pop music might sound like. For me, this noisy and adventurous release is a welcome, uncompromising, addition to New Mute’s diverse 2011 release schedule, a direct relative of its more sonically challenging material from yesteryear and a not-so-gentle reminder that Mute’s genesis lies squarely in electronic music’s wilder hinterlands. Sometimes you just need something a bit more edgy to clear your head, and Soundescapes does that many times over the course of its 40-odd minutes.

Originally posted 2011; edited 2018.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Simon Fisher Turner – De Dentro Hacia Afuera (The Tapeworm album, 2009)

Translated, literally, as From The Inside Out, Simon Fisher Turner‘s De Dentro Hacia Afuera was issued as a white cassette on the consistently interesting Tapeworm label in an edition of just 250 copies in 2009.

The pieces on the cassette date back to 2002 / 2003 and the pieces fill a side apiece of the cassette. Side A (‘Outside’) consists of a field recording made by Fisher Turner of the procession of the Virgen del Carmen at Carboneras in 2002. The B-side (‘Inside’) consists of piano improvisations for the soundtrack to I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, which Mute released as a download in 2003. Both pieces were edited, with Fisher Turner’s full blessing, from the original recordings by Tapeworm’s founder Philip Marshall.

The procession of the Virgen del Carmen takes place on 16 July each year in many Spanish towns, and also in other Spanish-speaking countries, marking the day of the appearance of the Virgin Mary to St. Simon Stock in Cambridge. Stock was the head of an order of the Catholic church which had fled from persecution where they were quartered in Monte Carmelo, now Israel, to Europe. The appearance of Mary to Stock in 1251 was not the first time the Virgin had appeared in the history if the order; in fact, the order was established because of Mary’s likeness in a cloud to some men investigating two prophets. Though some have subsequently cast doubt on Stock’s claims, the reassurance that Mary purportedly gave him, namely that those who wore the traditional scarpel – a cloth garment more or less in the shape of the Cross – would be freed from the fires of Hell has stuck and developed into the festival of divine celebration it has today.

Not that you’d necessarily deduce any of that in the recording Fisher Turner made on 16 July 2002. Here there are segments of chattering crowds milling and thronging around; a rousing brass marching band fades in and delivers a particularly uplifting song that feels like the soundtrack to some sort of Andalusian black and white movie (‘It would be great to play this tune to mum,’ someone is heard saying) before slowly moving out of focus; children chatter; babies cry; birds whistle, so does a man; a lone trumpet lets out a solitary blast before another rousing processional starts up, this one containing a funereal, maudlin middle section and a slightly wonky, out of tune tone; someone speaks above the crowd, prompting others to join in rapturously; what could be a piano pings out a brief high-pitched note; fireworks thunder in the sky; street sellers proffer their wares with repeated and insistent cries; a Latin pop song drifts in and out of focus with a singer sounding suspiciously like Andy Bell from Erasure; a cycle of strange industrial clanking rhythms and atmospheric drones and echoes is unfathomable as a source; someone’s shoes squeak playfully on a pavement.

Divorced from any obvious religious essence, the processions recorded here could have been captured anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world. The only real connection to divinity is the uplifting music, but none of those songs are exactly hymnal, and the church bells that toll at the very end of the piece. From the outside listening in, it feels like a public holiday that’s more or less forgotten why it was established, a bit like May Day, an excuse to kick back and unwind without knowing what you’re celebrating exactly. It all sounds pleasant, fun, the general buzz of people having a good time.

In 2003 Fisher Turner recorded the soundtrack to British director Mike Hodges’ I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, starring Clive Owen. When I interviewed Simon just after the release of that album he advised that his process of creating the soundtrack involved getting on set, hitting props, talking to the actors, recording stuff and generally making a nuisance of himself to try and capture the essence of a scene.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead was pretty much improvised from my end,’ Fisher Turner explained to me back in 2004. ‘As they shot the film I worked at home on material that the editor was able to put in as a rough guide for the scenes. I had a good budget so I could test things out in the studio, bring them home, and rework them on the laptop, and then send them to the editor. I think finally I’d made up 9 CDs’ worth of music for the film. A lot of it is very atmospheric and distant, more ‘sound design’.’

The final soundtrack would contain familiar Fisher Turner elements in the form of tapes and contributions from the likes of former Blockhead Gilad Atzmon, but at its core were segments of noirish piano playing, the improvisations for which are documented on the second side of De Dentro Hacia Afuera. In recent times we’ve become used to Simon Fisher Turner almost dispensing with melody completely, but gathered here are a variety of modes and themes that evidence a unique skill at creating filmic moods with a minimal, discreet set of notes. Styles here range from tentative jazz to experiments that appear to involve sliding objects along the strings, clusters of evocative notes and ominous chords.

‘Solo Piano Improvisation #54’ is remarkable in two senses – first, as a piece of music (as opposed to considering it an assembly of sketches), it works just as dramatically as the fully realised soundtrack even without its additions and processing; second, it gives a rare insight into the early workings of a Simon Fisher Turner piece. Fisher Turner has himself said that his pieces are never really ever finished, often continuing to evolve further beyond the point where they’ve been submitted to a director and used in the finished film. The distance between early ideas and finished piece is thus immeasurable, making this document all the more intriguing. Though edited sensitively into a sequence and narrative by Philip Marshall, the result is still a recording of a work at its earliest stages, yet still capable of standing up as a complete work in its own right.

Thanks to Philip at The Tapeworm and Simon Fisher Turner.

Originally posted 2013; re-posted 2018.

(c) 2013 MJA Smith / Documentary Evidence

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

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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

Olivia Louvel – Bats (If You Cross The Line SFT Remix) (CatWerk single, 2014)

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Beauty Sleep is the new album from Olivia Louvel, representing a beguiling set of song-based tracks that showcase the distinctive soundworld she resides in.

One of the most fragile tracks on the album is ‘Bats’ which is here given a very different reading by Simon Fisher Turner. Listen to SFT’s remix at Soundcloud.

‘Beauty asleep’ is available from Olivia’s Bandcamp page and is released in a special DVD-sized case. The album also features ‘In My Shed’ which takes a sample from Recoil’s ‘Stone’ as its source. The album was mixed by Paul ‘PK’ Kendall.

My review of Beauty Sleep will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence