“We often let pieces of music sit back in our subconscious …” CYCLOBE im Gespräch

Ereignisblitze schlagen aus den Wolken. CYCLOBE sind wieder da. Oder waren nie weg. Oder kehren zurück. Mit “Sulphur-Tarot-Garden” und “The Visitors” liegen zwei (Wieder-) Veröffentlichungen vor, plötzlich herangespült – gleich einer untermeerisch wehenden Ölfahne. Dabei sind Ossian Brown und Stephen Thrower sicherlich dem Kreise jener zuzuordnen, die verstehen, dass große Kunst sich als Überwindung von Unwahrscheinlichkeiten äußert und dementsprechend wirken. CYCLOBE haben definiert ohne Definitionen verfassen zu wollen. Sie prägen ohne Daseinskult. Aber vor allem haben sie die Grenzen des Ausdrucks verschoben, indem sie diese erweiterten. Für all jene, die die beiden sympathischen Briten neu – oder wiederentdecken wollen, ist das nun folgende Gespräch…

? What do you think were the most important cross roads on the way of your project`s history?

OB: Releasing “Wounded Galaxies Tap at The Window” after a 10 year absence was a great crossroads for us. Performing our first concert in England; it was our second show but for me this was really our first concert, this was as I’d really wanted and hoped Cyclobe could be if we were to play live. Both of these mark big changes for me, on many levels, but very much so in how i feel we should be working, the scope and new complexity I feel we’re investing in it.

SET: The point at which we moved from recording on multi-track tape to recording on computer was pivotal. About half of “Luminous Darkness” was done the ‘old fashioned way’ and the mixing/production process was limited to what two pairs of hands could do in real time. Once we could edit and mix digitally the horizon really opened up. The next big one was the decision to make Cyclobe a live performance entity – that opened us up to collaborations with other musicians and in turn has changed the way we record.

? On March 24 “Sulphur-Tarot-Garden” and “The Visitors” will be (re-) released. What was the intention behind that?

OB: “The Visitors” came out 13 years ago but we feel it’s still interesting. We’re very proud of a few of the pieces we composed for that album. “Sentinels” is a piece we perform live now, but it’s become conjoined with “Son of Sons of Light”, which grew from “Sentinels”. It has a more predominant use of pipes and hurdy-gurdy, which we’ve been exploring more intensely, although those instruments have always been present in our work, from our earliest recordings. They’re such versatile and interesting instruments, so evocative, and they work magically with the other sounds and instruments we feel drawn to. We really wanted to incorporate something of the present into this new release of The Visitors, rather than have it solely as a ‚piece from the archives‘! So to reveal a few new pathways, but still very much not interfere with the original album as it was initially intended. We also wanted to present the work with new artwork, Fred Tomaselli’s ‚Black Acid‘ with Alex Rose’s new cover artwork, they really I feel blend and intensify the music, charge it… and the same in reverse. They all oscillate uncannily together. Alex’s picture is celestiographic, beautiful and phantasmagorical, I couldn’t have dreamed of a more appropriate and magical image, one that could conjure visually, so perfectly the feelings I have about those recordings. Fred’s ‚Black Acid‘ is just utterly awesome, riddled with hallucinatory ciphers! “Sulphur-Tarot-Garden” only received a very extremely limited release initially. It was something we very much wanted to make available as a celebration when we played our first concert in England, when we premiered the soundtracks along with Derek’s films at London’s Meltdown festival. We felt we’d like them to be made more widely available now, and completed as much as we possibly could, so with this release we have a final version of the ‚Tarot‘ piece we made, one we feel considerably happier with. I consider the first version more of a preliminary drawing. Also, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Derek Jarman’s death, so this release as well is really us celebrating Derek, his astonishing work and life. Stephen of course worked with Derek in several of his films, “The Last of England” and “Imagining October”, he also made a very brief appearance in Carravagio. In Coil he recorded “The Angelic Conversation”- soundtrack of course as well.

SET: I thought it would be appealing to put out two records at once after the long gaps between records that we always seem to fall into! (One’s a re-issue but it has been a long time since ‘The Visitors’ was available and it will be fresh to quite a few people.) Hopefully it will startle our fans – pleasurably! – to have a ‘deluge’ of material coming after a long drought. There’s more to come this year as well.

? How do you feel about these recordings when you hear it now?

OB: I feel we’ve developed a lot since making this album, but I still feel there’s some very strong pieces on “The Visitors”. I’m glad it’s going to be available again after so long. It’s hard to get that feeling of remove from the work, a non emotional sense of distance to be able to make clearer judgements. I very rarely listen to our old recordings. I find it very difficult, it’s like reading old diaries. I try to remain focussed on new work as much as possible. Sentinels, If you Want to See That Nothing is Left and The Body Feels Light and Wants to Fly are all still very effective and interesting pieces.

SET: I’m still very positive about the old material, I think it all works very well and to my ears doesn’t sound dated. I still get a kick out of hearing “Brightness Falls From the Air”. Emotionally, technically and compositionally I think we really came into our own on “The Visitors“, there are not many things I would change. Well, nothing really, I wouldn’t want to change even the bits that don’t quite work for me, I’m happy to have let go! We agonise so much over the songs when we’re doing them, the last thing I’d want is to fiddle about with them again!

? What role do the albums play within the work(s) of CYCLOBE?

OB: Well they’re essential, in as much as they’re us saying, we’ve finished these pieces now, they’re becoming fixed in this state now. We work for many years on pieces of music, so committing them to vinyl is a good discipline, to know there is an absolute ending! A lot of our recordings are composed separately… so created ‚out of sequence‘. but the way these pieces work as constellations, how the ghost of one piece lingers and alters the experience of another is very important to us, how the psychic anticipation, and the memory of what’s to come also influences the present, laces it with slightly different inflections. We have many pieces of music that haven’t been released purely because there is no appropriate space for them to inhabit, in the form of a record and a sequence of recordings. We’re fascinated by the layers of narratives you can build by threading collections of recordings together, creating suites.

SET: The albums are like huge magnetic fields slowly appearing in our lives, pulling us into a dense and very charged cluster of activity. Quite stressful, very intense and exciting, and ultimately very satisfying, for the most part. Afterwards it’s like looking back on major surgery – you don’t remember how much it hurt but you’re nervous about it going through it again!

? Could you briefly point out your working process? How do you find concepts, ideas and how do you realize them?

OB: They all just arrive, inhabit. They’re not sought after, they just make themselves clear to us. Our recording process is a very long non-linear process, with pieces begun in some instances years ago, and perhaps worked on intensely for just a few weeks, but then discarded for periods of time, either because another idea has eclipsed it, or because it’s become impossible to proceed, with maybe a small but very precise sound or idea evading us. We often let pieces of music sit back in our subconscious, let them rest there and geminate until we’re able to find that elusive key. That could take a week, a month, a year, 10 years! In many instances pieces divide, segment, or shed layers to form new pieces of music.

SET: We tend to hurl ourselves into a period of speculative recording, with no guidelines, during which we try to generate as much new material as possible. From there, we choose whichever sections sound the most exciting or strange or suggestive, and start building them up into energy patterns that have more structure and complexity. The sense of what we’d like to achieve starts to crystallise during this process of refinement. Sometimes one or the other of us will return to the early recordings with a fresh ear and rescue something from the reject pile, or else it will offer itself as a solution to a problem on another piece. Behind each finished Cyclobe track there are all sorts of fragments and offcuts and mutant twins, some of which turn up in different contexts later. And every now and again we’ll take something that was just not working at all, and violently squash it until some sort of noxious fluids emerge! It’s a bit like the way that chemists play around with compounds looking for new psychoactive substances. You’re not always sure where the process is leading, but you know a good result when you come across one.

? What role does atmosphere play in your work?

OB: Atmosphere is essential, we’re not remotely interested in making music devoid of it. I’d couldn’t conceive of it. For a piece to really move and inspire us it has to have that heightened element.

SET: It’s a lovely word, ‘amosphere‘, although of course it’s incredibly vague. What we don’t do, I believe, is to march the listener into one place or another without leaving room for ambivalence. I don’t think we’ve done any pieces that are unrelentingly ‘dark’ or ‘doomy’ for instance. I think we mix together atmospheres in a way that breeds a shifting, oscillating sensation. Even the most downbeat pieces have a sort of elation in them too: “If You Want to See That Nothing Is Left” on “The Visitors” for instance, in one sense it’s got shades of grief and despair in it, but at the same time there’s a sort of swooning quality, an ecstasy, and hopefully a sort of elegance that makes the trip downwards worthwhile. More than specific atmospheres – ‘ominous’ or’ melancholy‘ or ‘contemplative‘ for instance, all of which are ingredients in various Cyclobe tracks – what appeals to me is to perch the listener somewhere in between those specific feelings, on the unstable boundary between one and the other. I like to think there’s a sense of immanence in our music, of energy close to erupting, but suspended and drawn out at the brink. I like those strange moments where you can’t seem to pin down a specific sensation, because it feels as though it’s on the border between emotions rather than being smack in the middle of one or the other; that’s the sort of sensation I like to create. It suggests a stepping outside, an awareness of a wider field of energy that you can tap into by not being too specific. And it has the virtue of opening up the longevity of the piece because depending on when you listen, you get quite different concentrations of one feeling or another.

? What are some of your early musical influences? And have you always drawn inspiration from resembling sources during your artistic career?

OB: Well I rarely listen to music now, and I hardly ever listen to ‚experimental‘ music. I listen to friends music… and I go to traditional recordings mostly, Greek, Turkish music, Romanian, Albanian song, Morrocan singers like Hadda Ouakki. British singers like Shirley Collins, Kate Bush I’m also very fond of, and John Jacob Niles, the American balladeer. He sung and played the Appalachian dulcimer and lute. Kate Bush has always been a great inspiration. If there’s ever been a sense of another artists influence being present in our work, it’s never been one we’ve contrived or really been aware of, at least whilst composing. We’re very much absorbed in the work and the sound, our personal way or relating to each other and the unique ambitions of the piece we’re working on whilst we’re in the studio. What bleeds in externally is really on a very subconscious level. Niether do we wish to draw from someone elses work, in a quoted way, reasemble it or avoid it paticularlly. .. it’s really just not something we consider.

SET: Early Roxy Music gave me a taste for the grand and the opulent mixed with the sinister and melancholic. The early Residents records for their openness to experimentation and their ability to conjure an absurd but exciting new world. Captain Beefheart for his wonderful soprano sax playing. Faust for the sense of conflicting ideas and approaches being thrust together violently. And the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, in the 60s and 70s, for their DIY sound synthesis and bizarre early synthesiser jamming.

? In 2004 Jhonn Balance passed away, Sleazy in 2010. Can you describe what you have lost?

OB: We lost our very dear and close friends, so we’ve lost all that that entails. It’s still very shocking to really meditate on them both having gone, the sadness when I sit and consider what might’ve been if they were still with us, what we could all be doing together now and ow we might’ve grown and developed together. So absolutely first and foremost I lost great friends, family… but family that I could really communicate with in a very inspiring and imaginatively fired way; engrossing, playful, maddening, invigorating, perplexing and beautiful friends.

SET: Ossian puts it perfectly. We’re missing out on so much pleasure and companionship that we never dreamed would be taken away so soon. I still find that I want to know what they’re doing, what they think about this or that. I want to play them things we’ve done, to hear what they’ve been conjuring. But it’s finished. In a weird way I feel less connected to my own past now, they were such a large part of it that I feel as though a chunk of my life has dissolved along with them.

? Will there be CYCLOBE gigs in Europe in general and in Germany in particular in the near future?

OB: We do intend to perform again, but how near in the future, in the realms Cyclobe operate in, is really something we’re not able to say right now! We’re hopeful to play more, and would like to visit more countries to perform. We only want to play when the event and the space really is right for us though, when the stars are in the correct alignment! We’re very happy with the musicians we now work with, I feel we’ve achieved a good and interesting way to translate our recordings into pieces that can be performed live. There’s a great intimacy and trust between us, the band are very sensitive and in tune with what me and Steve are reaching to achieve with Cyclobe.

? What do you feel that live elements add to the finished recording?

SET: If by ‘live’ you mean music played instrumentally in real time, well, we tinker with every element of every sound on the records, so there are not many stretches without the intervention of either my sonic scalpel or Ossian’s! That said, we’re working on a 12” EP at the moment in which the basic elements are two unbroken ten minute performances on the hurdy-gurdy, so maybe that’s changing.

? What can you tell us about your future plans?

OB: We’re about to begin work on the final sessions for our next full length album, the follow up to „Wounded Galaxies Tap at The Window“, those will take us through the summer months. We’ve also been working on a new collection of recordings, with a much more raw elemental sound, centring mostly around our recent work with pipes and hurdy-gurdy, organ.

SET: I can feel a sort of gnarled and smashed up atomic spaghetti explosion on its way. Cyclobe have been too sweet and gentle recently, it’s time we mixed up some death-concrét.

Fotos:1 Ruth Bayer, 2 Karsten Wollniak

Vielen Dank an Ed von Dense Promotion für die Unterstützung!

(D.L., S.L.)


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