ABSTRACT No. 4 : 1985
With a big Elektra deal under their belts and an album 'Machine Age Voodoo' completed, sure to be a hit and also sure to yield a couple of hit singles; the band are about to hit the headlines in a big way. Ensuing weeks will see them featured in every music paper you happen to browse through. So I thought I'd talk to mainman Graeme Revell about other important things...
What for you costitutes good music?
"I'm obsessed with originality really. I tend not to enjoy too much pop stuff even when it is done well, although I do enjoy well done soul music at the moment, although I'm sure it's only a phase I'm going through. But otherwise I'm always on the lookout for something that I haven't heard before."
You've always said in the past that your favourite music
was that produced by the experimenal German bands. What drew you
to that music?
"That was because I hadn't heard anything like it and because those bands were basing their music on European cultures, or going cross-cultural to Eastern music. Most of the other rock music being produced had African rhythms as their centre. It was just something that appealed to me really. I mean, as far as a band like Can went, you couldn't really say that they were doing anything phenomenally original, but it was good music."
Moving onto musical personalities would you class people
such as Holger Czukay or Brian Eno as important?
They are important. They're pretty true to their original conceptions, although I'm not too keen on Eno's muzak. That stuff to me has just an anaesthetising function; it doesn't make you think particularly. However Eno is important because he started off in the middle and took a fairly wide audience into a very interesting area. The same could be said of the Talking Heads and David Byrne. Amongst rock punters they are seen as innovative characters and I suppose that certainly says something. Czukay on the other hand has turned his career around a bit and is going almost commercial now. I do like his work with Jah Wobble, simply because I like dub music. Going back to good music, I think it's just coming up with a different style. I mean take the Moodists as an example; they've taken one tried and tested formula and are just using it again, to me that is not good or interesting at all."
But do you think it's possible to be original or
interesting these days? I mean, just about everything has been
said or done.
"No, I think it's still possible to be original and make money at the same time."
In what ways can you still be original?
"Well, I think one example is the Musique Brut stuff I am working on at the moment. Nobody has done stuff like that before. Nobody has released a record that contains only digital permutations of insect sounds before. Whether or not it works as apiece of music is another question. I mean, the digital revolution is just about to hit us, although unfortunately it's a bit of an elitist phenomena at the moment, because Fairlights etc are so expensive."
What other music are you working on away from S.P.K.?
Well, with the Musique Brut label I'm working with Brian of Lustmord. The first LP we are doing is the Adolf Wolfli project, which is with Nurse With Wound, DDAA, SPK and hopefully Hans Roachim Roedelius, ex of Cluster. Unfortunately Holger Czukay had other commitments. That should be a good album, it's based on Wolfli's work 85 years ago, he invented a new system of writing music (see photo) using different symbols, numbers and pictures. Each group is doing its own interpretation of the music which to me is extremely interesting as this guy was writing music 85 years ago and none of it has ever appeared on record. Then we are doing the insect LP which is based roughly on a Japanese idea in what corresponds to our Victorian times. they used to keep certain types of cricket in little gold cages, these crickets were prized for their song. The third LP is a quirky piece of mine that is dedicated to Harry Partch, which is using the facility of changing the tuning of the scale into quartertones, eigthtones etc, whatever I happened to feel like at the time. That uses the ethnic idea of a scale or tuning, but not using many ethnic sounds, mainly piano etc."
When are these albums coming out?
"They are all coming out at the same time, around this November. There is no precedent for any of them, so I think you can still claim that there is originality left in music."
Any other albums after that?
"We have plans to produce an album made entirely by mentally handicapped children. It's something we intend to follow up soon. All the proceeds from that LP would go back tho where the music came from. The whole idea behind the Musique Brut label will not be to make a profit and the packaging will be as good as possible with booklets etc."
Are these albums going to be completely independant?
"Yes, although we hope to get licencees for Europe, America and Japan so that everyone can get hold of them pretty easily without having to pay massive import prices etc."
If we could move away from music, and onto film and cinema?
"Yes I'm very dissapointed at the moment. Everybody thinks the music industry is in a sorry state, but the film industry must be almost dead. You've got the sorry sight of my favourite film maker 'Tarkovsky' (Solaris, Stalker, the Mirror), he made a film called 'Nostalgia' and it played at the Lumiere for a week and was then stuck back in the can. The whole industry is just centralised around Spielberg and Lucas. They have just killed off everybody else."
What for you is a good film, to ask another qualitative
"A film can be be good in terms of brilliant camera work such as Orson Wells or Hitchcock, where the texture is good. I think that usually happens in black and white, although sometimes in colour films too, such as Tarkovsky where everything liquifies, or a Nic Roeg film like 'Eureka', which wasn't a good film but in places it used really surreal elements. Actually Roeg is another example; 'Eureka' ran for a couple of weeks and was then finished, they must have taken out a morgage for the next one to be made. Really talented people like that must get so frustrated because of the current state of the art."
Where have these films gone wrong then, how do you make a
"I think you have to be very careful, the lowest common denominator of human culture is geared at about the 14 year old and unless you hit that you might as well give up. Either that, or do the most way out thing you want to do and forget about success at all. I just hope somebody can get some international syndicate money together at some point and start producing lower budget films again that are imaginative."
To move onto literature...
"I have great admiration for the work of Deleuze and Guattari (Anti-Oedipus, Schizophrenia etc). I'm actually contributing to an album being prepared at the moment for which they are writing the text. As for literature in general, I must admit, much to my chagrin, that I haven't read much recently. I've been re-reading some Michel Foucault (Birth of the Clinic, Madness and Civilisation), he died recently so I thought I'd better go back and read everything again."
The thing about literature is that it doesn't seem to have
to aim at any particular market...
"That's right. It seems that there is an appreciation for good literature among people, an underground author must sell more than an underground recording artist. Literature seems to have that bourgeois legitimacy about it that music hasn't got. Good books tend not to age either, there is an attitude that makes an old book quaint or interesting, whereas most people tend to treat a record as completely out of date a few years later, I really like reading old books. For example, I'm very keen on Huyssmans at the moment, he wrote Down There and Against Nature. He was the first person in the framework of a novel to build in a lot of non-fictional material, particularly about black magic. I'm not particularly into black magic, I think it was interesting in the Middle Ages, but all this Crowley stuff I can't be bothered with. It may as well be Gary Crowley as much as Aleister, they're about as important as each other. But Huysssmans intrigued me. At one point one of his main characters put on a black dinner for his guests; the food was black, the wine was black, everything. This intrigued me because that kind of preoccupation at the end of the last century was exactly the same as the preoccupations at the end of this century. For some strange reason, even though the dating system is arbitrary, we tend to have this millenial feeling about the end of a century, or particularly the end of this century. The year 2000 will bring about a great millenial fever - a few world wars and so on."
Anything else, not necessarily literature, that you are
particularly interested in at the moment?
"I've always wanted to have an insectarium with high sensitivity microphones to mike up the little battle that would be going on in there. It would be really psychopathic I'm sure.Unfortunately the technology is not really good enough at the moment. If anybody has the money to do that please let me know, anyone out there! I'd love to hear it, the sounds of Praying Mantis' killing etc. There's something I found out when I was playing on the Fairlight too, trying out human screams; If you take it down one octave you get the exact replica of a wolf howl, if you take it up three octaves you have a rat's cry. It's proof in front of you of what they say about all animal cries being the same, just at different frequencies.
I'm very interested in the idea of what Foucault was writing about around 1830 when he investigates autopsy reports from 1775 and 1825, 25 years either side of the end of a century. The total perception or discourse (halfway between what you see and what you say) of what you saw is like two different worlds seeingit. It's almost like an enormous rupture happening. I think the same will happen again at the end of this century or early next, particularly with technological aid. I think we have the capacity to bring into our bandwidth many things that happen outside it now. For example, light; now we can only see a certain bandwidth or spectrum and everything outside that is invisible to us, but with machinery you can bring it in. Other examples - very high sounds you can slow down, microscopic things you can blow up, those factors will become, in art, the most important movement. Electron microscopes are slightly out of my price range at the moment. These are all things I'm very much looking forward to getting into. Technology is only just startin to help out in those areas now."
Do you think, looking at another side of improving
technology, that the whole idea of test tube babies is
frightening? In another few years you could have acheived an
"I believe it's starting already. A doctor in Vermont, America, claimed in one dubious magazine that he had cloned frogs and when asked if he had done it with humans he said something to the effect of 'I wouldn't entirely discount that possibility'. He was being coy but it's perfectly feasible. I would imagine that it's relatively easy to do as they can do test tube babies. All you'd need is a liver cell and some other sample.. Yes it is frightening. It all boils down to politics, who's in control etc. In every period of history there are three main stages: First of all you get military technology, that spins off into medical technology, and then down the line somewhere you get spin-offs into creative technology; that's what is happening now, cheaper version of what has gone before. Circuitries taht we use now for creative purposes were originally military technology. So you go through destructive, though functional and to creative, that seems to be the way it works. You just have to hope that the destructive doesn't get it's way too much and wipe all the creativity out. When I really object to is people such as Spielberg and Lucas getting hold of these things at much higher budget level and just totally perverting the whole thing and using it in the most unimaginative way possible. There is just no imagination in those films. It's just like walking into a bloody toyshop, a ceap one at that. Ballard said something about it being really retrogressive cowboys and indians. It's not futurism or science fiction at all; it's just fantasy land."
Do you want to talk about media control?
"No not really. A few people, not mentioning any names, go on about it all the time. I don't think we are necessarily controlled too much. I'll give you one example of a friend of mine who gets grants to make video's, and he often lets handicapped children make video's themselves. He isn't very interested in the finished product because it's usually appalling, but he says at some stage or other they said 'Is that what they do on the news?' and as far as he is concerned that is the moment that's important. I tend to agree with him, people that want to realise it do realise it, most people don't give a shit and some people turn it into an actual fetish. That's why I don't get into this junk culture too much. This sort of sitting around and watching B-grade movies all the time and thinking 'Oh what a laugh'; that doesn't interest me at all. But getting back to media control, as far as i'm concerned you should just get on with as many different things as you can. Just thinking about it though, there is one interesting example of how a culture can be completely destroyed or taken over; There are Nomads in the Middle East who have since time begin made a trek or pilgrimage every year, an annual migration. Anyway, two or three years ago they postponed it so that they could watch the final episode of Dallas. I could not believe it, there are probably lost tribes in New Guinea, not even discovered yet who watch fucking Dallas. It's appalling and really disturbs me a great deal. But then there are a lot of of things that disturb me; All this stuff about body building. In the USA it's a real excuse for unemployment I was reading something in Time magazine where someone was saying they'd created so many jobs, even in the recession when Europe hadn't created any. But the thing is these jobs have been creatde in hamburger joints, or aerobics instructors, all these completely useless jobs. Lets talk about something else. How about something dark and forbidding something really moody; what the public wants to hear about. Blood & all that kind of thing, strenght, will and power!"
Go on then.
"It's pathetic; they've become so fetishised that they've lost all meaning. Every group has got some name like 'Death this or that', and the original use of what we were talking about death and society has become fetishised and glorified. People tend to use up one little fetish and then move onto the next one. Once you've gone through metal you go onto rubber or whatever. All those albums with rhetorical sleeve notes about strenght, muscle, all with no content. It's just slogans, all advertising.
You'd think that groups would have enough suss to lay off
the heavy bullshit ! (Yes Roger-Ed)
"Yes, that's right. An endless stream of bands with the same image the same clothes. England has just gone a bit over the top with this. People have got to the stage where they can't even make a statement about something without first thinking 'Is it cool', or 'Is it in this week'. In fact, one of the few things I agreed with Nick Cave about was when he said that when the Birthday Party first came to England they thought they had to be totally original to make it. It turned out to be the complete opposite; if you are original you won't make it."
Do you see no way out ?
"Not in the pop world, all that Frankie nonsense. The massive hype machine that runs just about everything. 'Two tribes' was just a recycled David Essex riff that even Icehouse had already ripped off with a song called Love and Motion a few years ago, which they had a number 1 in Australia with."
How about the Malcolm McClarens of this world ?
"Pathetic really with his claims to originality, I don't admire him at all. I think he's the biggest plagiarist that ever hit the earth. Having said that I do like the recent single 'Madame Butterfly'. But all this Soweto stuff, he ought to have been shot for ripping that off.
Going back to doom and destruction it's very poetic and very seductive for Psychick TV. For people who've nowhere to go it looks great, but sooner or later they must sit down and think 'what is it', and the answer is nothing. Conversely, the commercial stuff around at the moment isn't much better. The only good thing about the electro explosion is Kraftwerk being recognised, as well as people like The Pointer Sisters and Herbie Hancock, who've been making classy music for a number of years. Any other questions?"
Just one, politics?
"The only way out really is through individual creativity. I think communism is the best model, but it gets perverted too much. People are too greedy, but there are too many material goods around, too many seductive things. The Russian government is nothing to do with communism. The communism I mean is that Marx talks about in the third volume of 'Das Kapital'."
From here the conversation turned into a longer discussion of the Fairlight and a joint slag off of most of it's users. We then went on to discuss Beethoven's chances in the upcoming American Hard Court championships at Forest Hills. We were both agreed that if this boy can repeat the devastating lobbying and volleying which he has shown on grass, but at the same time control his tendency to swing away on his second service and backhand returns, he could earn his position as no2 behind burly Roger Chopin of Puerto Rico. However, neither of us could forget the time when in the Third Movement, the Scherzo, Beethoven in his customary breaking with tradition, clapped his hands behind his back and butted one of the line judges. Roger The Milk Maid
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